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Major Crimes (2012)
A worthy follow-up to "The Closer"
In some respects, this first season is a rehash of its progenitor, "The Closer." We have familiarity with most of the cast, including the new protagonist, Capt. Sharon Raydor, portrayed by Mary McDonnell, who has been a recurring character for the past three seasons. The creators' job is to somewhat rehabilitate this character and make her more likable. The device they use is the "adoption" of a street kid who is a material witness in a serial murder. They also have her slowly winning over the squad who was intensely loyal to former chief, Brenda Leigh Johnson, who is no longer seen.
The transition has been slow and plodding. The cases pursued by the squad have been less than potent compared to the prior series.
However, as the season progressed, the good news is that the series got much better. The emphasis on making deals in order to close cases has been deemphasized and the cases have more of the twist and turns that "The Closer" had in its cases.
The device of incorporating the street kid, Rusty Beck, into Sharon Raydor's life has been effective. It shows us another side of a character who, until exposed, had been an anathema to fans of "The Closer." In fact, by season's end, young Mr. Beck has been "adopted" not just by many of the fans and Capt. Raydor, but by the Major Crimes squad itself.
The other new character introduced, Det. Amy Sykes, was also distasteful in introductory episodes. However, by season's end, she also gained her footing and became an integral part of the squad.
There are still problems. It's incongruous when the FBI's Fritz Howard is around that no mention of Chief Johnson is made. Johnson, Gabriel and Pope are unseen and, with the exception of Pope, seldom mentioned.
However, the play's the thing and the quality of the stories have been much more compelling. The characters are even more "familiar" with one another with a simple device of addressing one another by first names.
All in all, "Major Crimes" has developed into a solid series. I'm looking forward to next summer's 13 episodes.
United 93 (2006)
Do Not Go Gentle...
British documentarian Paul Greengrass has constructed a chilling re-creation of the events of that morning by focusing on the one of four flights that did not reach its target.
Greengrass and his collaborators interviewed over 100 friends and family of the crew and passengers of United Airlines flight 93. The result is an absorbing theory of what happened on that morning.
The movie opens with a rare, for this film, moment of melodrama. A man, presumably in a Manhattan hotel room, is praying in Arabic. His companions soon tell him, "it's time." We quickly move to Newark International Airport where we view routine happenings. Pilots and flight attendants arrive for the flight. Passengers, including the soon-to-be hijackers, are passing through airport security. The plane is being loaded with luggage, food and, ominously, fuel.
We're taken to various other locations: Air Traffic Control in Boston and the FAA's command center located in Herndon VA. In Herndon, we're introduced to Ben Sliney. It's his first day on the job as National Operations Manager for the FAA. At this point, the day is normal.
Sliney meets with his staff as the plane is loaded and taxied onto the tarmac. Because we, the audience, know what is about to happen, there is palpable tension in the unfolding of routine events: the stowing of carry-on luggage, the taking of breakfast orders, a pre-flight checklist.
While United flight 93 waits on the ground for over 30 minutes for takeoff clearance, American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175 have taken off from Boston and are in the air. Greengrass takes us to Air Traffic Control in Boston where a controller notes a problem with American 11. It is off-course and he can't contact the pilots on the flight.
Back at Newark, the pilots of United 93 finally are cleared for takeoff. A familiar command is given. "Flight attendants: prepare for takeoff." For United 93, the point of no return has been reached.
Greengrass masterfully unfolds the events of the morning taking us from the plane to the decision makers-turned-bystanders at air traffic control centers in Boston, Cleveland, and New York. Sliney and his crew desperately try to gather information as one hijack after another becomes apparent.
This is a docudrama. However, what separates this film from the melodramatic fare that normally occupy this genre is the near-total lack of melodrama. Greengrass assembled a cast of largely unknown actors to dramatize his work. In fact, a sizable portion of his cast includes actual participants in the various ground locations to which we are taken, especially the aforementioned Sliney.
However, the key cast member, which goes uncredited, is our memory (, or in the case of those not alive on that day, history). We remember what happened that day: in New York, in Washington, and on Flight 93.
We sit and watch a meticulous and dramatic re-creation of what may have happened that morning on Flight 93. Since no one survived, we will never know what actually happened. However, Greengrass' interviews including anecdotal accounts of telephone calls from the plane, cockpit transmissions, and other events probably come the closest to giving us a sense of what happened that day.
Charlie's Angels (2000)
When is a comic strip not a comic strip?
When is a comic strip not a comic strip?
When it's Charlie's Angels, the movie follow-up to the series of the 80's. This time around, the Angels are Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Diaz. Go-between and sidekick John Bosley is none other than the irrepressible Bill Murray.
Clearly, the architects of this film intended it to be self-lampooning and the movie definitely comes off as cartoonish. The ladies are able, capable, and without, really, the need for men in their lives. They depend on themselves and each other. And, like their television counterparts before them, they really have only one want, need, and desire: to meet their boss, Charlie Townsend, voiced now as in the past, by John Forsythe.
Forsythe as the unseen Townsend is the only connection to the past, other than that of producer Leonard Goldberg. There are no allusions to the Angels of the past, or of the former Bosley. Just as well. Other than the formula of three women detectives working for an unseen boss, there really are no connections to the series.
Actually, the feel of the film seems to owe more to James Bond than to Charlie's Angels. It opens on an airplane where an apparent bomber meets his apparent contact, Mr. Jones, played by LL Cool J. Their interaction leads to a Bond-like opening sequence that establishes the Angels and their penchant for teamwork and danger. An updated opening, akin to the series' `once upon a time' billboard, follows.
What follows is the meat, so to speak, of the film. There's a computer industrialist (Sam Rockwell) who has been kidnapped by his nemesis, Roger Corwin (Tim Curry). The industrialist's partner, Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch), hires Townsend and the Angels to retrieve the industrialist and his software, which has been hijacked by his competitor.
There are few surprises in the film, authored by Ryan Rowe (The Love Bug), Ed Solomon (Men In Black), and John August (Titan A.E.), save for one or two and, if you think hard -- I did -- you can guess the direction of the film's plot. There are some casting surprises, though, like the aforementioned appearance of LL Cool J. Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, and Tom Green lend their comic talents to the mix. However, the plot line is so thin that you'd do best to just sit back and enjoy the endless action that unreels before you on the screen.
It's no coincidence that this movie is one hour, 38 minutes long. With commercials, there's just enough of a film to fit a two-hour TV-movie time slot. Which is probably where this movie belonged in the first place.
My score: 5.5
Is there life out there somewhere?
Bear with me.
A young girl is encouraged by her widower father to explore the world and beyond; soon left orphaned, she turns inward and relentlessly pursues the signs for intelligent life in the universe, only to be thwarted at every turn by an evil nemesis and yet be assisted by a mysterious shadowy figure with the power to make his machinations stick. Add to this a love story between our driven scientist and a fallen yet equally driven spiritualist and you have all the making of a mass of hokum that in lesser hands would go downhill faster than a Radio Flyer on Mount Everest.
However, we are in the hands of Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back To The Future) who masterfully weaves the framework drafted by Carl Sagan into a marvelous tapestry.
Jodie Foster is Ellie Arroway, the driven scientist who needs empirical evidence for anything to exist in her world. She's part of a SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) group about to have their funding pulled by Dr. David Drumland (Tom Skeritt), who at the film's open is the director of the National Science Foundation. Arroway's childhood traumas and fascinations have fused to turn her into this driven force; she is a woman with a vision and she is not easily deterred. Ellie briefly becomes involved with Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), a man who nearly became a priest, but who admits that celebacy was a problem for him, which makes him no less devout as a messenger for God's word.
What evolves is a story that explores the relationship between society, science, and religion. Its characters, which could easily fall cartoonish in the wrong hands, are well-drawn and expertly directed by Zemeckis, who had some prior experience with 'toons and apparently was aware what to watch out for.
Lest you think my opening was a criticism of Carl Sagan and Ann Dryan's screen story, it was not. Sagan and Dryan provided a good story structure for screenwriters James Hart and Michael Goldenberg to build on. Zemeckis, aided by Alan Silvestri's music, keeps it all in tune and doesn't provide us with pat answers, and yet keeps us interested.
One of the more endearing qualities of this film is its true-to-life representation of what would happen in America should what happens to Ellie happens to us. From beginning to end, every part of her experience rang true.
So, for a thoughtful way to spend 2½ hours, rent or purchase this film. You'll enjoy it.
My Vote: 8
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
The greatest war film of all time!
This is not an easy film to watch. Clearly, that was not its intent.
The story begins in current time at the Normandy American Cemetary in France. An elderly man, followed by his family, walks as if compelled toward a single grave. When he arrives there, his memory takes a different journey back to the beaches below on the date, 6 June 1944.
From this moment on, especially for the ensuing 25 minutes, we are thrust into a story that, if it is hard to view, must certainly have been harder to live. As the troop transports approach Omaha Beach, the eerie sense of calm gives way to a landscape that when all is said and done is one of the most powerful statements ever put on film.
When all is said and done, two brothers surnamed Ryan have died on the beaches of Normandy. Another has died within a week in the Pacific. It is discovered that a sole surviving brother has parachuted somewhere in France. It is the assignment of a survivor of Normandy and his platoon to find this brother and return him home.
Director Steven Spielberg is a master at bringing emotion to the surface and he does it once again with a film which is gut-wrenching. However, the movie isn't all blood and gore; it's the story of young men and boys who fought and died to preserve a way of life and to eliminate the evil that they saw.
Tom Hanks heads the cast as Capt. John Miller, the man who is given the mission to find Pvt. Ryan and bring him home. In one sense, it works against the film to know that Matt Damon plays Pvt. James Ryan, but not so much that you can't appreciate the nuances which Miller and his platoon come up against time and time again during their mission.
I agree with those who say that Spielberg puts us, his audience, into the film and sweeps us up and carries us along from the opening moments until the film's end. It is a masterful piece of filmmaking that makes us feel that we have survived, although we were never in danger.
Saving Private Ryan is a masterpiece.
My vote: 11!!
Message in a Bottle (1999)
A moody love story begging for redemption.
This is the story of a journey of the heart for Theresa Osborne, a researcher-writer for the Chicago Tribune and a divorced mom with a young son, Jason. When Jason's dad takes him for a summer visit, Theresa's journey begins at a deserted beach on Cape Cod when she finds a message in a bottle.
The message Theresa reads quite obviously tugs at her soul as she proceeds to share it with her hostess at the bed and breakfast where she's staying, with her co-workers back at the Tribune where she returns one day early, and with her boss, who does her the favor of sharing the message with Chicago.
Theresa sets out on a mission, with the paper's encouragement, to find out who the message was written by and the story behind it all. Using her job's resources, she tracks down the author in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He is Garret Blake, a terse ship-builder and restorer whose discomfort with the world around him is alleviated only by his passion for the sea.
Kevin Costner (Blake) does well with roles that don't require a lot of overt emotion and he does well here. Robin Wright-Penn as Theresa was very good as the reporter who gets all too caught up in her story. A special mention of Paul Newman here doing yeoman character work as Blake's father Dodge, who understands his son's pain all too well and who tries to help all around him keep their emotions in check and headed in the right direction.
The movie's downfall comes from a meandering plot from screenwriter Gerald DiPego ("Phenomenon") and a decidedly downbeat denouement. However, the acting, locations, and direction of Luis Mandoki are good, bordering on excellent.
My score: 6.5
A modern western classic. 10!
I'll tell you how much I like this movie. I bought the VHS and soundtrack. Six weeks later, I learned of its DVD availability, I immediately bought it.
I can't think of another Western in the 15 years since this film was released that I've enjoyed more, not even "Lonesome Dove", and that's saying a lot. I was praying that it would be released on DVD and it's nice to know my prayers were answered.
The cast is one of the finest of the mid-Eighties: Danny Glover, Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, John Cleese, and Brian Dennehy. And these are just the principals.
Silverado is a sweeping Western demi-epic that takes some classic genre cliches and weaves them into a modern classic, emboldened by Bruce Boughton's masterful score. The master of this all is co-writer and director Lawrence Kasdan, who has given us some other gems like "Body Heat" and "The Big Chill".
The DVD release is great news and I was only disappointed that it didn't include additional scenes featuring Rosanna Arquette, deleted from the theatrical release.
Double Jeopardy (1999)
A lousy script mars great performances.
This film had the potential to be a great thriller and one reason it gets even two stars was for a marvelous Hitchcockian sequence in a New Orleans cemetery that was actually pulled off by director Bruce Beresford. The climatic scene was near-perfect as well. What falters is the overly contrived script by David Weisberg and Douglas S. Cook, who were responsible for The Rock, where they did a much better job. Weisberg and Cook sets up situations and then don't follow their own rules. So, instead of a taut thriller where you wonder how our heroine is going to accomplish her goal, the whole thing comes off as lethargic.
I love mysteries; I wanted to highly recommend this film, but in the end, I can't. "Double Jeopardy" may be an OK way to spend a rainy afternoon, to view at a discount movie house, or to rival a TV-movie, but as a top-notch thriller, it doesn't make the grade.
My vote: 5
The Sixth Sense (1999)
A contrarian view
I may want to see the movie again, if only to see if I missed anything during my nap. As for the so-called surprise ending? Well, I won't reveal it here, but I will say that if you had your thinking cap on and were paying attention, it wasn't much of a surprise.
My vote, subject to revision: 5 And I'm being kind.
For Love of the Game (1999)
An excellent baseball movie; an above-average romantic comedy/drama
The framework is a major league baseball game. The memories are those of an aging pitcher, Billy Chapel, whose day is not going well at all. His team, the Detroit Tigers are out of the pennant race and expected to lie down like a dog at the behest of the New York Yankees. Moreover, the team has been sold and Chapel is expected to be traded to San Francisco when the sale is announced. His lover, Jane Aubrey, has told him that she "can't do this anymore" and she's headed to London and out of his life. As his catcher, Gus Osinski, told him, it's just not his day.
We're often told that baseball is like life; it meanders and goes along paths we may not expect. And so it is with Billy Chapel, who is pitching his heart out while he relives his life.
If you like baseball, you'll love this movie. Kevin Costner, who co-produced, must bring something extra to movies about baseball because of his love of the game. This film is one of those that truly has something for everyone and almost completely pulls it off. I heartily recommend it.
My vote: 7