19 Reviews
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Altered Minds (2013)
A Masterful Blend of Ingmar Bergman, Eugene O'Neil and Roman Polanski
23 October 2013
Writer/director Michael Wechsler has fashioned a top-notch psychological thriller, which blends elements of the three above-mentioned masters of their craft into a wholly unique film.

The Shellner family reunites during a cold winter holiday for the last time, as the patriarch (Judd Hirsch) is succumbing to cancer. An internationally-renowned psychologist, Dr. Shellner is most famous for his work with war veterans suffering from PTSD. When horror novelist son Tommy (Ryan O'Nan) arrives at the gathering, his behavior starts out being erratic and escalates into borderline-psychotic rants, hurling accusations at his father of terrible abuse he heaped upon his children as they were growing up. Tommy's siblings (Jamie Ray Newman, C.S. Lee, Joseph Lyle Taylor) and their concerned, caring mother (Caroline Lagerfelt) slowly put the pieces of the twisted puzzle together, building to a shattering climax.

This is the kind of film that proves you don't need a mega-billion dollar budget of special effects, explosions and guys in tights and capes to make for an entertaining, thought-provoking evening at the cinema. There isn't a false note in the entire production. Direction, script, cinematography, and especially the performances are all top-notch. Kudos to all involved.

I shall look forward with great anticipation to more work from Mr. Wechsler in the future. 10/10.
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There are no words...
31 August 2009
It's fair to say I've been a cinefile my entire life and have seen (conservative estimate) over 2,000 movies during my 40+ years. It's also fair to say that AFTER LAST SEASON is, by far, the worst.

Technically inept, incomprehensible plotting/screenplay, and acting that would make most community theater troupes look like The Royal Shakespeare Company, all contribute the ingredients that cook up a Mulligan's Stew which makes any film by Ed Wood look like an epic by David Lean, in comparison.

A friend who saw the film with me has a theory: this film was a huge scam (a la Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS) to dupe its investors out of the (supposedly) $5 million it cost. I hope, for reason's sake, this is the case! An old anecdote about Orson Welles, in conclusion: During his later years, when Mr. Welles would be invited to a movie or theater premiere that turned out to be abysmal, and he was forced to "congratulate" the director afterward, the great man would walk up, take the director's hand in his, and in his best bass baritone, look at the director meaningfully and say "There are no words." Indeed.
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Much ado about other, better movies.
7 February 2008
A Brooklyn nightclub owner (Joaquin Phoenix) must choose between his family of cops (Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall) or the Russian mobsters that are bankrolling him. With his third feature since 1994's Little Odessa, writer/director James Gray proves that he has a fine cinematic eye, but still can't write a script with a shred of originality, or create three-dimensional characters that we give a damn about. Also like his previous two films, there is an overwhelming feeling of heavy self-consciousness, which weighs down the entire proceedings. Hopefully Gray will come up with a story that's more from his heart and own life experiences, instead of continuing to make movies about all the movies that he's seen. 5/10
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The Brave One (2007)
B-Movie dressed in A clothing
7 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
THE BRAVE ONE makes a fatal mistake from its first frame by trying to be much more than it actually is: a B-movie exploitation film. Yes, it's got A-level talent before (Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard) and behind (Neil Jordan) the camera, but its script is so derivative of every vigilante movie ever made, that it literally lifts scenes from two of the genres best: DEATH WISH and TAXI DRIVER. Both those films worked so well, and became deserved classics, because the filmmakers knew exactly what kind of stories they were trying to tell:

TAXI DRIVER was a brilliant mediation on the symbiotic relationship between urban decay, post-Vietnam ennui, and the violence that lies within every human heart, particularly when faced with the loneliness brought about by feeling disenfranchised from society. It was a metaphorical message driven home with the force of the .44 Magnum that Travis Bickle uses to purge his id at the film's finale.

DEATH WISH not only embraced the fact that it was a sleazy, B-movie exploitation film, it gave the idea a big bear hug, and a sloppy kiss to boot! It never tried to be introspective, meaningful, or even dare to dip its toe into the world of metaphor. It was "see Charlie Bronson kick ass" for 93 blood-soaked minutes.

Both films featured an alternative universe of New York City: TAXI DRIVER's resembling something that Dante might have written as part of "The Inferno," and DEATH WISH offering a surreal version of the Big Apple that sometimes bordered on science fiction: where bad guys were literally around every corner, ready to rob, rape, maim and murder you at a moment's notice.

Not only does THE BRAVE ONE shamelessly steal the 1970s NYC alternative universe, which simply doesn't exist anymore in post-Rudy New York, it lifts entire sequences from both films: In TAXI DRIVER, Travis Bickle busts his vigilante cherry by taking out a gunman in a convenience store. Jodie Foster, TAXI DRIVER alumnus, does the same in THE BRAVE ONE. In DEATH WISH, Charlie Bronson blows away a knife-wielding thug (future cable movie director John Herzfeld) on the subway. Guess what, Jodie does it times two in THE BRAVE ONE! I guess the development exec who green-lit this Joel Silver production wasn't old enough to have seen either of the aforementioned films when they were released (let alone have a Netflix account), so he or she should be absolved of not screaming "Plagiarism!" upon their first read of the script.

In between blood-letting, Foster's radio host records introspective monologues on her tape recorder about the primal nature of man, and other lofty subjects. The film's best moments occur between Foster and Howard, who do have a few interesting talks about the idea of vigilantism, but it's not enough icing for the entire cake. In attempting to merge the sensibilities of TAXI DRIVER and DEATH WISH, two very strong films that still hold up 30 years later, THE BRAVE ONE winds up giving birth to a bastard child with no real identity of its own. It is neither entertaining, nor meaningful enough to stand as an updated statement on the vigilante genre that DEATH WISH spawned in 1974, and TAXI DRIVER (should have) ended in 1976, although the genre continued unabated for many years after, reaching a nadir with the nauseating EXECUTIONER series, starring Robert Ginty in the early '80s.

Here's hoping THE BRAVE ONE doesn't give rebirth to the genre.

And by the way Jodie, Terrence and Neil: the three of you should have known better! 6/10
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The craziest, most psychedelic children's show ever!
17 February 2007
I was a small child when this ran during its one season in 1970, and it had a profound effect on me, although at the time I had no idea why. While some people argue that "H.R. Puffinstuff" was the most psychedelic, drug-fueled kids' show of all-time (and of that period), I would say it comes in a close second to "L.L."! Watching "L.L" now, you can almost picture the haze of pot smoke and LSD trips the creators and writers of this show must have gotten their ideas from! It's like a stoner's PhD thesis! "L.L." is a surrealistic masterpiece worthy of Salvador Dali (wonder if the old boy ever watched it? Now THAT would be something to behold!). It's easy to understand why it only ran for one season, and equally easy to see how it has achieved the cult status it enjoys today. Truly a time capsule of the late 60s/early 70s, thank goodness that it's now preserved for posterity on DVD! Children and heads of the world unite!
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The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese Hits the Streets Again!
3 October 2006
Please don't make negative comments like some of the aforementioned people have been doing if you haven't seen the film yet! I have seen it, at a press screening last week. Not only is it the best film of the year so far, it marks a return to form for Martin Scorsese, and ranks with the likes of GOODFELLAS as being one of the best in his canon of films.

I'm a fan of the Hong Kong film, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, upon which this is based. While THE DEPARTED keeps the basic structure of the original, it is very much its own movie, so much so that the screenwriter, William Monahan, didn't even watch the original film while adapting its screenplay, thus enabling him to infuse the script with his, and Scorsese's, respective visions.

All the actors are first-rate (yes, even Leo, for all you DiCaprio bashers out there), and turn in some of their best performances to date. THE DEPARTED is sure to garner a host of Oscar nods, if not wins, including (hopefully) Scorsese's long-overdue statuette for Best Director. Plus, with actors like Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin playing supporting roles, that says a lot about the quality of the film they signed up for! THE DEPARTED is tough stuff, not for the faint-of-heart. That said, it is a must-see for adult viewers who long for intelligent, gritty stories to grace our movie screens once again.
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Father Figure (2006)
"Jesus ain't done s**t for me, man."
8 July 2006
Filmmaker Adam Schlacter has fashioned a poignant, honest tale about love and loss, fathers and sons, and the delicate nature of family. When a young man is looking after his younger brother on a desolate beach, they encounter a wandering preacher, who begins to sermonize at them. Soon the young man realizes that the preacher is his estranged father, resulting in a heated, and cathartic confrontation.

There's nothing more difficult than telling a fleshed-out story in short amount of time. While this film, which was produced for Esquire magazine's annual student film-making competition, runs only six minutes, it manages to convey a wealth of emotions and tell a story of depth and resonance in the process. Kudos to all involved! 10/10
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A heartfelt, honest portrait of adolescence...
8 July 2006
...and innocence lost. Writer/director Adam Schlacter has set his film in a Latin American country, but it's a universal story to which anyone from any background can relate: the lesson that childhood is a brief blip on the radar of life, and that nothing is permanent. Schlacter draws expert performances from his mostly-juvenile cast, and the film has an unpretentious air of authenticity throughout. So many "student" films are helmed by a show-off director, who is dying to constantly remind the audience that he or she is behind the camera, giving us nausea with swooping camera moves, or MTV-style editing. Not so here. You don't notice how well the film is directed until the second or third viewing, so assured is Mr. Schlacter's directorial hand.

Kudos also to excellent editing by Stephanie Hernstadt! 10/10.
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Touching and funny
6 June 2006
LEFT AT THE RIO GRANDE is magical realism at its best. Writer-director Kevin Abrams has fashioned a story that is both personal, and metaphorical, to create one of the most touching experiences I've had at the movies in quite some time! Hard to believe this is a grad student thesis project, as it plays like a feature made by old pros! Beth Robbins gives a wonderfully nuanced turn as the childless chief of a border patrol station near the Rio Grande River in Texas. When a swarm of heavily pregnant Mexican women start coming across the river into the U.S.--some far too old to seem to able to bear children, the chief knows something strange is going on! I won't reveal any spoilers. Just watch for this film if it happens to come to a film festival or cable network near you! Kudos to one and all involved with this terrific film.
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Auteur (I) (2006)
Funny, witty and wise
5 June 2006
I saw AUTEUR at a recent American Film Institute showcase and was blown away! This is one of the best Hollywood satires ever made! It ranks up there with masterpieces like THE PLAYER. Kudos to Kevin Abrams, Alex Simon, Jeff Siljenberg and Stephanie Hernstadt for a job well-done.

Beau Clark is nothing short of brilliant as Eric Pelham. He is a face to watch, as are the rest of the supporting cast: Victoria Profeta, Jack Rubinoff, Jonathan Coogan, Lee Schall, and veteran character actor Granville (Sonny) Van Dusen as Jack Burton, the cheesy movie star to end all cheesy movie stars! Do yourself a favor and seek this film out. It runs just under 30 min., but I kept wishing it were longer. Make a feature version, kids!
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When is Hollywood going to stop remaking great movies?
12 March 2006
I attended an early screening of this film and actually dozed off about 20 minutes into it, remaining in that state for about another 20 minutes. In spite of a few chuckles, the 2005 incarnation of the classic black comedy THE LONGEST YARD, is yet another example of a big studio lacking the imagination and ingenuity to tell NEW stories, by remaking a great film from yesteryear (which Paramount has done recently with films like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and ALFIE, also with middling results).

First problem: who is going to buy diminutive Adam Sandler as a former NFL pro??? He simply doesn't have the physical attributes of a professional athlete, and right away, the film loses credibility with his casting.

Second, Chris Rock is relegated to spitting out lines from a script that sounds like it was written by committee (which it undoubtedly was) and as a result, most of his lines fall flat. If the filmmakers were smart, they would have just "let him go," so he could improvise with his very unique, brilliant brand of edgy humor. He is utterly wasted.

Third, poor Burt Reynolds, who headlined the original 1974 version of the film, looks like he can't wait to get paid and go home to Florida, now playing the role of Nate Scarborough, the aging former gridiron star that was played by the late Michael (HILL STREET BLUES) Conrad in the original. I'm a big fan of Burt, but he completely phones it in here, another example of a fine actor who is wasted in this corporate "product." Finally, the original LONGEST YARD was a tough, bone-crunching, "hard R" film, even by today's standards. The characters were very well-developed, from Eddie Albert's corrupt warden, to Burt's tormented, self-loathing Paul Crewe, to Ed Lauter's sadistic captain of the guard. Helmed by the great Robert Aldrich, the film was a potent mix of very black humor, and very tough, violent drama. Watching it today, it not only holds up beautifully, but even feels contemporary. The remake, by contrast, is a watered down, PG-13, middle of the road piece of Cool Whip. What was an edgy, tough film for adults, has been made into a "safe" film that will offend few, in spite of a few "poo-poo, pee-pee" jokes, aimed at the junior high crowd. There is NO character development in this at all. Everyone in the film is presented as a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out. We never gain any insight into why they do what they do, why they are who they are, or how they even wound up in prison to begin with.

The moral of the story: GET OFF YOUR LAZY BUTTS, Hollywood! There are a plethora of great writers and directors out there who are waiting tables, and who have amazing, contemporary stories to tell to the world. Give them that shot. That's your job. Quit remaking great films from yesteryear. Even if you do them relatively well (as in the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake), they still will never stack up against the original. It's kind of like covering a song made famous by Sinatra or the Beatles: once it's been done in "signature" fashion, everything else is going to seem like a forgery.

* 1/2 out of 10
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A thoughtful look at what might have been...
8 March 2006
Stephen Vittoria performs a public service with this dynamite doc on George McGovern, a man who embodies what all Americans who aspire to public service should be. McGovern's inherent decency cost him one of the nation's most crucial Presidential elections in 1972, running against the original king of dirty tricks, Richard Milhouse Nixon. Although McGovern's platform was somewhat vindicated when Nixon's White House was outed by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as the most corrupt administration in American history (with Tricky Dick's resignation soon following), the tragedy of his loss, and his subsequent fade into the background of American history still resonates.

Hopefully our best and brightest young people will see this film and will be inspired by Sen. McGovern and his message to enter public service, and contribute to making this country and this planet a better place. As of right now, we have nowhere to go but up! Kudos to you, Steve, and bravo Senator McGovern!
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Collateral (2004)
30 July 2004
Another big summer movie disappointment, loaded with talent behind and in front of the camera, a big budget, and all the ingredients of what should produce a good film, but winds up being hopelessly mediocre. If anything, this is so derivative of the original "TERMINATOR," that all originality goes out the window from the first few frames on.

Tom Cruise, while you're great playing all-American types like Jerry Maguire, or conflicted all-Americans like your character in "MINORITY REPORT," you simply aren't an edgy badass! This film, and "THE LAST SAMURAI" prove that in spades.

While "COLLATERAL" has a couple tense, exciting scenes (particularly the shootout in the Koreatown nightclub) courtesy of director Michael Mann, one of our finest filmmakers, the film is overall very predictable, with uninteresting, cardboard characters. The attempts at fleshing out said characters during Cruise and Jamie Foxx's conversations in the cab seem forced at best. Fine actors like Mark Ruffalo and Bruce McGill are wasted in throwaway supporting roles.

Overall, a real letdown. I expect more from a top flight director like Michael Mann, who usually shoots for the top. This one just made me feel like everyone was aiming for the middle. 5/10
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Funny, sad and true
9 April 2002
Very funny, and very honest, depiction of climbing the ladder in Hollywood and all the humiliations, frustrations and disappointments inherent in the process. As a former struggling writer in Hollywood, I not only lived much of this story, but saw many friends burn out, crack up or just fade away like the characters in this movie. Kudos to writer/directors Terry Keefe and Michael Wechsler for their humor and their insight. I assume they chewed some of the same dirt we all did. Seeing this film just reinforces the fact that I did the right thing by returning to the family ranch here in Texas to raise Ostrich and Llammas. They're good eatin'.
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Best film ever about N. Ireland conflict.
31 January 1999
This movie really surprised me. It's one of the best films on

the Northern Ireland conflict I've seen, ranking with "Cal,"

"The Crying Game," "Michael Collins," and "The Boxer" to tell

the very personal story of two brothers feuding in the middle of

the cease fire declared several years ago. As someone with a

younger brother, the story really touched and resonated with me

on a very deep level. Kudos to the writer and to the entire

cast, especially the Irish actors who played the brothers and

the entire supporting cast. It's an experience I won't forget.
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Easily the best of Don "the Dragon's" films.
19 November 1998
This is a solid martial arts/action thriller that has Don "the Dragon" Wilson as an ex-CIA assassin teaming with his teenage son to track down the men trying to kill them. Easily the best of Wilson's numerous martial arts movies, this one effectively combines good writing, stunt work, action scenes, and editing to create an entertaining film that can be appreciated by action fans.
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The Alien Within (1995 TV Movie)
A fun and scary sci-fi flick!
19 November 1998
Lots of fun in this underwater thriller as a team of scientists and miners battle a mind-controlling alien parasite that takes over their bodies. The thrills and the laughs never quit in this nifty micro-budget flick, that harkens back to the best of Roger Corman's drive-in classics from the 1960's. Clever writing and direction that overcome the low budget make this one a sure-fire bet for a fun evening in front of the TV.
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Suspect Device (1995 TV Movie)
A mind-blowing thrill ride!
19 November 1998
This one's a mind-blower! Constant suspense and action, along with some of the wildest and most entertaining plot twists I've ever seen in a TV-movie. Especially noteworthy are Stacey Travis and the actor who played the hippie mad scientist. Just when you think you've seen it all, the filmmakers throw in a nuclear blast just for fun! This is a four-star popcorn movie if there ever was one! Great writing makes this one a winner!
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Piranha (1995)
A terrific and funny remake of the horror classic!
19 November 1998
This is a terrific, and very fun update, of the 1978 John Sayles-Joe Dante drive-in classic. This one has it all: gore, laughs, movie buff in-jokes, gorgeous babes, and some genuine suspense and scares. Well-directed and keeps just enough of the original script intact, while adding a lot of clever new writing, to make this a fun ride to grab from the video store. Check it out!
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