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The Boxer (1997)
12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Day-Lewis and Watson: Outstanding!, 2 April 2003

Jim Sheridan's films are always powerful. Shakespearian in their intensity of character conflict, they bristle with grit, are masterfully acted, and propel themselves the way John Ford's best films do. I consider him, even with his limited output, one of the great A list directors. No, his camera work isn't stunning crane and rail ballet, it's old school - but GREAT old school - Zinneman, Ford. And if you're a filmgoer who likes to care deeply about characters, Sheridan makes your kind of film.

Acting doesn't get better or more truthful than Daniel Day Lewis and Emily Watson working together. They're absolutely believable - inspiring actually - as a couple struggling through forbidden love after 14 years apart. The dialogue they work with is A plus and written by Sheridan; thus it's probably tuned collaboratively during rehearsal. Very organic. Great (!) work by Gerard McSorley, Brian Cox (L.I.E.) and David Stott as Ike.

Yep, Northern Ireland as Sheridan portrays it can be dreary, as commented here. But it's also full of humanity, drunkeness, hope, cruelty, love, loyalty, oppression, and a desperate longing for change - all the stuff of true drama. The action commences at the moment Ireland is on the cusp of real but fragile peace. Boxing and the IRA? A one two punch.

I love this film and I'd watch it again with any friend who wanted to see an excellently written and played picture. If you want your blood to boil from some fine performers playing strongly written characters, check this out. Not quite "Elizabeth", but powerful. Good enough dramatically (albeit not quite visually) to sit on the same shelf with Raging Bull.

Daniel Day Lewis the ONLY reason, and reason enough..., 13 March 2003

A film of Shakespearean proportions and ambitions. Unfortunately Shakespeare didn't write or direct it. And it shows.

That said, Daniel Day Lewis is ASTOUNDING as Bill Cutting and worth enduring all GONY's weaknesses for. I have rarely seen such an outrageous character played with such truth, and that includes any of DeNiro's work with Scorsese. DeNiro's Jake LaMotta is a great performance, but LaMotta's not an outrageous character, so it's easier to locate and act LaMotta's truth. Travis Bickle... still not as outrageous. Cutting is a character of Falstaffian size and Day Lewis tackles him full on for three hours with boundless Cagney-like energy. DDL is THE actor to beat on March 23rd.

My cineaste friends all wonder what this film would have been without Day Lewis, and we conclude not much. A few sparks from DiCaprio and Diaz, but nothing special. Fabulous production design, good editing by Thelma S. as usual, but about as much structure as Bringing Out the Dead, which is to say, hardly any. (Where's Paul Schrader when you need him?) Scale, sets, character count and budget do not an epic make. Scorsese is simply not an epic director and probably never will be. Scorsese is without peer when he directs what he knows. No one else could create a Good Fellas. But Age of Innocence should have been a warning; stay away from history. House of Mirth is much better Wharton. Marty is simply not a David Lean, he's not a Spielberg, not even a Polanski (my vote for Best Director this Academy season). Maybe Harvey and Bob W. knew this and it's why they blanched when the GONY budget kept balloooooning.

This is a hugely distorted history by a man with one theme on his mind - the workings of force, intimidation and mob dynamics on a struggling underclass - and that theme is an important nail to hammer over and over. Scorsese knows it New York style better than anyone - for OUR era, culled from his own childhood. But apply the Scorsese touch a century and a half earlier and you wind up with melodrama, and that's what this inauthentic "epic" is. Except for Day Lewis, I'd rather watch "Who's That Knocking" again than this. Or Michael Mann's Insider, which has compelling story with its grit, and no need for axe and cleaver mayhem (see Braveheart for that).

If you're an acting fan, you'll be drawn into GONY again and again if you run across it on cable - thanks to Day Lewis. If you're a Soprano's fan, you can thank Martin Scorsese, because without him, there would be no Tony Soprano. But all that notwithstanding, buy or rent Marty's best work - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Good Fellas, Cape Fear, etc - not this shapeless shantytown opera.

50 out of 74 people found the following review useful:
Forrest Gump Meets the Conversation, 9 January 2003

About Schmidt is Forrest Gump through the lens of Sartre or Camus. Warren Schmidt has a handicap, but it's the same handicap most of the people standing on line at seven p.m. at your local Wendy's have. The real star (or anti-star) of About Schmidt is the mediocre architectural landscape of America. Every room or box Warren Schmidt enters in this movie is as devoid of caring and vitality as he is: the retirement banquet room, Warren's house, the tire store, the hired wedding reception room. Schmidt's director and production designer take care to place us in the same life-draining, cheap structures we inhabit and deal with everyday. No prettifying. This is the drab landscape of Fargo revisited, but without the irony. The steady doses of violence in Fargo allowed you an escape route. But there's nothing ironical about a wasted life and a 66 year old widower spinning his wheels in the same rut, now partnerless and foundering. The combination of Jack, this story and these settings is effective and compelling. The result would be, I think, inevitable. The tone and attitude is not consistently managed, even by Nicholsen, whose worn-out, mannered schtick pops up occasionally. Yet the final effect is impossible to fend off: mundane American hell with droll comedic diversion. We experience a downfall as poignant as the smell of bacon cooking in Denny's at eight a.m.

Like Forrest Gump, the film depends on extensive voice over narration, V.O'd by Nicholsen as letters to Schmidt's newly adopted six year old Tanzanian foster child. Through these ridiculous sharings of sextagenarian angst with an African boy, we register Schmidt's internal grievances - thoughts we would never know about otherwise without his commentary. The slow dragging score drains vitality from each transition, as if cinematic momentum would be antithetical to the point of the tale. Back and forth we rock from a single minor chord to a second one, getting nowhere. The mood, the landscape, the buildings, the people say it all: Schmidt's on the road, but he might as well be sitting home in his lay-z-boy. The cushy bucket seat of a 35 foot Winnebago makes a good substitute.

Casting Jack Nicholson may have been the only way this story could have come to the screen. I've racked my brain to think of one other actor who could have pulled Schmidt off. Tony Hopkins? Not with the same comedic finesse. Gene Hackman reprising his role in Coppola's The Conversation or doing his Tennenbaum hamming? Don't think so. Only Jack has the mix. He does some hilarious bits in this, but overall the mood is somber, glum, inert. Can this be how that other famous Warren from Nebransas - Mr. Buffet - lives?

I was confused, amused, depressed and wierdly disoriented by About Schmidt as I left the theater. I commented that it wasn't a film I'd go see again. Thinking about it a day later, I'd hold to that IF it meant returning to the theater and paying. BUT - were I to run across About Schmidt on cable, I doubt I could tear myself away from it any more than I could from a crack up at the Indy 500. And I think that chance encounter might happen more than once, maybe for years. After all, this is the America I know and mark time in myself. A recommended film going experience.

The Gift (2000)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Story Ripped from Billy Bob's Own Life, 28 December 2002

"The Gift" isn't a thriller in the pure sense, but fans of "Slingblade"or "A Simple Plan" won't be disappointed. This Billy Bob film is superior to both, largely due to his screenplay and Blanchett's extraordinary performance. Those following Billy Bob know his own mother had the gift and was a locally active psychic when he was growing up. So the caring and firsthand knowledge he's written into his characters give "The Gift" authenticity and charge. His plot lacks the unpredictability of thrillers like "House of Games" or "Sixth Sense", but what it lacks in surprise, it makes up for in depth. Its on screen power comes from Raimi, Thornton and Blanchett's detailed observation of Annie as a widowed mother of three making ends meet by doing readings. There's such a transcendent yet maternal tenderness imparted by Cate Blanchett to her role that when Annie's home and kids are breached, you feel it in your gut. If you want to see an actress who completely understands her character, watch Blanchett in this. Her performance is comparable to Gillian Anderson's performance in "House of Mirth" or Streep's in "Sophie's Choice". I became deeply involved in Annie's ordinary yet extraordinary life and, through her, became involved with the characters around her.

Giovanni Ribisi explodes as Buddy, and the usually flat Keanu Reeves provides the right physical menace as Swank's out-of-control redneck husband, Donnie. The rest of the cast measure up well with Hillary Swank, Greg Kinnear and Michael Jeter standing out. The climax stretches credibility a bit, but the twist at the end will touch you. Yes, you'll respond to Raimi's usual thriller moments, but it's the degree to which you care for the characters, and the time and care taken by the director, writers and cast to accomplish this that are the film's great achievements. Don't miss it, if only to see Cate Blanchett at the top of her game.

41 out of 47 people found the following review useful:
Film Masterpiece Rewards Repeated Viewings, 26 December 2002

Anyone with years of experience making or watching film will recognize virtuoso work by Terence Davies, his cast and crew here. This admittedly languorous film rates ten out of ten for me and ranks close to Fanny and Alexander for its emotional control and depth. Get the DVD! With $8.7 million Terence Davies did what Scorsese could only impersonate with Age of Innocence, and which Merchant and Ivory haven't done for a long time. Davies has created the suffocating, cosseted and unforgiving social milieu of New York and Tuxedo Park circa 1905-07. The sets, the sense of place, the stunning cinematography of Remi Adefarasin (Elizabeth), and most of all Gillian Anderson's virtuoso performance combine with Davies' excruciatingly seductive pacing and scoring cues to track in loving detail the missed opportunities and downfall of Lily Bart. Every line Wharton used to describe Lily's inner life is there in Anderson's face and in Davies screenplay and direction. If the film feels stiff to younger viewers, it's because it's deadly accurate socially. That gilded society WAS stiff, unforgiving and precoccupied with keeping out the nouveau riche. Anyone who has tried to gain entry to a social register or the DAR might have a easy time understanding the upper class world of New York in 1905.

I must commend Davies for the risky choices he made in casting Eric Stoltz as Lawrence Selden and Dan Ackroyd as Gus Trenor. Ackroyd's boisterous girth works here because Gus Trenor is both gatekeeper and gatecrasher of this social circle. He and his wife are major forces in deciding who's in and out. Ackroyd is not the deepest actor, but neither is Gus Trenor deep. In fact he's to great degree, a backslapping facade. Despite his wealth and high standing, Trenor is pragmatic and doesn't turn his nose down at courting filthy-rich newcomers desiring social elevation - men like Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia) - if it means Trenor makes a buck. And yes, Eric Stoltz is not a "convincing" choice for a romantic lead, yet he's perfect for the role of Lawrence Seldon, since Seldon balks repeatedly at being Lily's leading man anyway. The sexual charge and arch, ambivalent fencing between Lily and Lawrence is intensified by something indescribable that happens between Stoltz and Anderson in every scene played between them. I can't figure out why it works, except that these two fine actors "found each other". Stoltz's tenor crispness - his not quite boy, not quite man-ness - adds to his character's elusiveness, cowardice and vulnerability. Finally, Laura Linney is devastating as Lily's reptilian nemesis, Bertha Dorset. For me, she evokes some of Glenn Close's lethal devilishness and charm. It is Lily's sense of propriety, her fine upbringing, that makes her incapable of finishing off Bertha in when she can, and should.

Davies' laser accurate sense of place and character sets House of Mirth apart. He's successfully created the last years of Wharton's treacherous gilded world, when carriages were what fine people still rode and automobiles were considered vulgar. Davies' production designer, art director and set decorator have created sumptuous yet stifling enviroments where Davies and his players can move us back one hundred years into a time we can only imagine and smell when we tour a Vanderbilt Mansion. And he did it without Titanic's budget. It's clear from his commentary that Davies had to repeatedly make do and it sounds like this production was a struggle. All I can say is, limitation is sometimes a fortunate mother. I hope Davies, now 57, will soon be up and running with a new film. I'm suprised to see no new project listed yet. If I were a producer, I'd pounce. This director has the magic. And excuuuse me...! No new projects listed yet for Gillian Anderson?

A short note to the Snatch fans that have dissed this film here: I loved Snatch too, loved it, but where's your freakin' RANGE kiddies? SNATCH and HOUSE OF MIRTH were my TWO FAVORITE films of 2001. Tell ya what. Go back to your videogames and Hollywood spectacles and only comment on classic adult film when you've spent a few more years watching much of the worlds great film literature. If HOM is too slow for you, let your hormones rage for a few more years and come back when you're ready to pay attention to human, not cartoon, reality. Meanwhile, don't drop your smirking, restless, impatient and limited verbiage on films like this one.

Cast Away (2000)
See It More Than Once and You'll GET IT., 20 November 2002

I saw Cast Away in wide release two years ago and it was a strong experience then primarily for Hank's marathon performance and the interpersonal chemistry between Helen Hunt and Hanks. But in my second viewing the film's deeper mythic level hit me. Few films go so deeply or for so long into one man's psychic solitude and what he must construct for himself psychologically when isolation and deprivation is imposed upon him. The fall from grace and all that comes after it, the watch, the wings, the burial, Wilsons arrival and departure, the rope back to the raft, the final visit with Kelly. Zemeckis obviously went to the wall for this film. It's not standard Hollywood fare, it takes all the time it needs, which accounts for the slams posted here by those seeking more spectacular mindless fare. No music, just the sounds of the environment. Hanks ain't gussied up either. Well shot, well scripted, well directed, and the elements rage. Hanks is even more brilliant in the final scenes of the movie than he is when left to the mercy of Planet Earth.

Cast Away would be unique opportunity for any great actor, and Hanks sinks his teeth into this. Sorry Gump fans. Forrest Gump doesn't hold up as well to repeated viewings. Hank's Gump character work starts feeling forced in a few scenes. His Chuck Noland in Cast Away is perfect and natural and shows him once again at the top of his game. 2000 Oscar goes to Hanks, not to Russel Crowe - my vote.

9 out of 10

63 out of 78 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant Filmmaking and Acting, 11 October 2002

Ten out of ten. One of the greats, with memorable characters you'll think about for days. This great film got caught in MGM/UA distribution purgatory. If it could have busted out of the indy circuit from day one and gotten into general release, it would have been favorably compared with "The Graduate" and Kieran Culkin's performance with Dustin Hoffman's debut performance in that Mike Nichol's classic. MGM/UA blew it.

Culkin is a great young player with a look and resources evoking both Hoffman and Robert Downey. He's naturalistic and great to watch. Smart, funny, urbane writing by first time director Steers is never "on the nose". Yet underneath the evasive, sarcastic stripped down dialogue he pulls hard hitting emotions from his ensemble. Not a false or wasted scene and more than a few really powerful ones. Every player is at the top of their game, from Kieran Culkin to Amanda Peet, Jeff Goldblum to Susan Sarandon, Bill Pullman to Claire Danes to Ryan Phillippe. They're obviously guided by a director who knows how to work with an ensemble to get an overall tone.

Igby is the anti Ferris Beuhler - a smart wanna be who's wise mouth and attitude usually piss off those around him - his mother, his brother, his godfather. Torn between those who don't get him and those who do (Peet, Danes), Igby paints all his relationships with the same sarcastic brush, his vulnerability only busting out when he's pushed to the limit. Culkin's perfomance is not to be missed. The key women, Sarandon, Peet and Danes all play fully formed characters. Goldblum is perfect for his role, his usual facile acting style well suited to the South Hampton prince he plays; his best turn in years.

Seers has style and flow, and his final cut is aided by the excellent music choices he and his music supervisor, Nick Harcourt arrived at. Cameron Crowe couldn't do better. The Igby soundtrack is tres alt moderne and every cut is great.

Warning: Actors are blocked (brilliantly) for wide screen format. So this film will suffer from TV / video screen ratios as the Graduate does. Either go see it in the theater NOW or wait for letterbox!

To Live (1994)
40 out of 41 people found the following review useful:
An All-Time Top Ten Film, 15 June 2002

This is Zhang Yimou's and Gong Li's crowning triumph -- a top candidate for the greatest Chinese film of all time. Splendidly photographed and composed, consumately acted and faithfully scored, "To Live" is a three or four hour film novel lovingly packed into two hours and fifteen minutes. For a long time, Ingmar Bergman's "Fanny and Alexander" stood by itself as the greatest family epic in my moviegoing experience. "The Best Years of Our Lives" ran a distant second. But since 1995 "To Live" has moved into a very close second.

Most Chinese who lived through Mao's Revolution say this film tells it like it was at the simple townsperson level. Though it can serve as an overview of Chinese history 1944 to 1970 or so, unlike Lean's "Gandhi" or "Lawrence of Arabia", this is not a hero's biopic. Instead we see a foolish, once rich but now fallen heir and his wife blown about by the winds of fortune for three decades and challenged as parents trying to raise two children under increasingly harsh and punitive communist tyranny. What you sense in this film, that I've never seen before in any Chinese film, is how the ethical and moral principles that have prevailed in Chinese culture for 2500 years - a mix of transcendence and pragmatism, humility and grit, cosmic harmonic balance and social duty - allows an ordinary couple to accept unbearable tragedy and keep going. It also shows what this survival strategy costs them in their Communist context. The screenplay is full of cosmic irony. It makes us aware, without shouting, that this is just one family among millions. As Yimou's transitional screen message says: "...leaving no family unaffected". It is to that extent, a tribute film.

Maybe ten hours of Kieslowski's "Decalogue" might accomplish the same broad survey of of human happenstance and emotion. Maybe Kurosawa in three or four hours. But never in two plus hours have I seen the scope Zhang Yimou achieves here. "To Live" also contains as wise a moral lesson as any film I've seen, and it's a gentle one despite the surrounding violence. I couldn't paraphrase the lesson for you. I wouldn't try. Just watch. It will reach you non-verbally in about 90 minutes. Just know, this isn't Shakespeare, Hollywood or soap opera. It's something else.

Gong Li's work is as powerful as anything Streep or Sarandon have ever done in the west - which is all the more inspiring since the camera doesn't lavish star-level attention on her. As her husband, Ge You turns in an emotionally riveting, charming, sometimes funny and devastatingly honest performance. The direction is sure handed, the shooting unfailingly gorgeous. Zhang Yimou's cinematic canvass has never been so big or his palette so colorful and controlled. Full of spectacle, great sweeps of time and onrushing tides of humanity, "To Live" is still, in the end, a sweet and poignant epic with an intimate, observant heart. Great story telling. Do not miss! Try to view a letterbox version on a big screen.