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gkearns

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29 reviews in total 
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8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Slaying innocents, 29 January 2003
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There are some SPOILERS in this review. I can't say I felt particularly uplifted by the movie. I think I caught what Dana Rotberg was saying, but I took my own sense of the character of Alma (I believe that once a movie is released the story and its characters no longer belong to the director). Maybe my idea isn't so different than what was intended, but Rothberg's intentions were kind of fuzzy. Alma was a child, an innocent (I saw sleeping with her father as pure child love, as well as wanting to keep the baby), but her family, her society, and her god did everything in their separate and combined powers to crush her (Why, oh why do we slay our innocents?). There was nothing in her beautiful child soul that called for redemption. BTW: There were three other innocents in the movie - the wife of the circus owner, the strong man, and Noe - but they, like Alma, were powerless. Alma was right to question the story of Abraham and Isaac: it does lay bare the twisted evil of religious belief. I hold no pious disapproval of her revenge ploy; it was quite appropriate. Of the fire? I have no problem with that. It was the Angel of Fire's heaven in a hellish world.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A character of substance, 3 April 2002
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD It's a theme that's been done before: the fan who gets caught up in a character she finds in a book/movie/soap opera/whatever. And it's been done well before ("American Dreamer," for one). And the concept of her fantasy being dangerously caught up in another's reality is not unusual either. But "Nurse Betty" imbued its Betty (a.k.a. Dorothy from Kansas, Alice in Wonderland) with a complex mixture of honesty, heart, courage, love, trust, power, and vulnerability. I've seen some great movie performances, but none with more depth and heart than Renee Zellweger's Betty. Betty here is a Soap Opera junkie. She lives a drab, harsh existence as the wife of an abusive philandering boor. A couple of hit men kill him brutally (they scalp him) while she watches from behind the kitchen door. The trauma sends her reeling into the made up character of Nurse Betty in her favorite soap opera. Immersing herself into the role, she sets off for L.A. to meet Heart Surgeon Dr. David Ravell, the Soap's resident stud, played by Greg Kinnear, whom she believes she loves. Unfortunately, the car she uses has a major stash of dope hidden in the trunk, and the hitmen take off after her. The story from there on is good, but of secondary importance to the characters of Betty and the lead hitman, Charlie, played with great sensitivity by Morgan Freeman. For Charlie, Betty herself ironically has become a beautiful fantasy. Nurse Betty is not a totally separate entity from the life she used to live. She carries into her fantasy life the virtues and strengths of her natural starting-point character. Fact is, in the very first scene, even before she slips into her alter ego, depth and complexity of character can be read into her face, her brittle tone of voice, and her trusting, honest eyes. Then on into her unfolding fantasy, I was always aware of the down deep strength of Betty's character. The movie was a comedy, but you couldn't belly laugh at her honest soap opera naivete, because it's played so sincerely from start to finish just a thin brittle veneer above the terrible violence she was witness to and that shattered her life. In or out of fantasy, Renee Zellweger's Betty was a character of substance - a character to care about.

Panic Room (2002)
13 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
These heroes are human, 31 March 2002
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THESE COMMENTS As a "suspense thriller" "Panic Room" does its basic job - lots of tension and scares. But in some ways, it isn't scary-thrilling in the same way as many others. Meg and Sarah aren't dealing with invulnerable monsters, nor with genius homicidal maniacs. The bad guys here are seriously flawed - that's the point. One of the three, Junior - the more or less leader, is an emotional and intellectual dimwit. Raoul has about a dozen more IQ points, but his invented-sinister nature make us rightly wary of him (he enters the picture in a ski mask for effectiveness - Junior calls "Joe Pesci"). Burnham is the genius of the outfit; he had worked on the design of the house's complex security systems and knows the girls' protective strengths and weaknesses. But he is by nature non-violent, unwilling to go all the way to hurt or kill. But together the three are a truly scary potent force, all together possessing: twisted emotions, amorality, and brilliant mind. Their imperfections give them a more realistic unpredictable sinister-ism than the typical scare movie villain. But the girls are flawed too. Meg (Jodie Foster) is recently divorced and is emotionally brittle. Eleven year old Sarah (Kristen Stewart) has serious diabetes. Her blood sugar must be constantly watched with a wrist monitor; over-excitement can send her blood sugar level plummeting, requiring an emergency shot to prevent her slipping into a coma. At the start of the movie, she has more or less alienated herself from her parents; she puts up with them, but is rapidly losing confidence in them. But she possesses a typical naive eleven year old ability to cooly assess situations and possibilities. Her impulsiveness becomes a power. The growth of the characters of Meg and Sarah, individually and together, is the beauty of this movie.

MORE SPOILERS AHEAD I've put "Panic Room" down as one of my all-time favorites, and I'm looking forward to its someday DVD release. The characters of regular people Meg and Sarah fit right up there with the best of superheroes. They are human, with human weaknesses, which they rise above, and indeed use, in their battle for life. The panic room starts as a prison for the girls, but is later ironically turned into a prison for the bad guys, who cringe in fear of the intrepid mother. But the story isn't just about politically correct women's empowerment. SPOILER If they escape, it will require the cooperative effort of each of four flawed humans.

As usual, Jodie Foster is outstanding as Meg, the brittle single mom who digs deep into her character to find the power required to battle for the life of her child. Kristen Stewart's Sarah is one of the truest depictions of the heart of an eleven year old I have ever seen.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Their love destroyed; their love redeemed, 10 March 2002
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***



There are SPOILERS in this review. I found out why I liked this film so much when it first came out twenty-plus years ago: it was a good movie. Most reviewers followed the movie's publicity hype and assessed the movie on a linear structure: the story of a girl who with the help of her lover surmounts overwhelming obstacles to achieve a dream. And I can see how they might on such a basis view it as a failure. But then the linear structure was not the goal of the story in the first place. If you really look at what's happening in the movie, you'd also have to redefine "dream" before it makes any sense in the story that's actually told. In the end, the "A story with dream" may have little to do with ice skating.

(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD) Grooming Lexie (Lynn-Holly Johnson) for the next Olympics is a major challenge for Deborah (Jennifer Warren), the world class figure skating trainer. Most girls start their trek by the time they're seven, devoting another decade to shaping their art and learning their figures and the skills of competing before they're considered ready for the big time. At sixteen Lexie is considered by many to be already over the hill. Through Deborah's demanding tutorship, television personality Brian's (David Huffman) television hype, and Lexie's determination and natural talent, amazing progress is made; sponsors are even lining up to back her run for the gold. What no one considers, least of all Deborah and Brian, is that skill isn't the only thing skaters become enured to by starting their training early in life. There's the give and take in the community of skaters, the learned knowledge of the ways of judging, the back-biting, the dog-eat-dog mentality that girls around the business since early childhood take for granted, but that for Lexie is a whole new world of naivete. In order to compensate for those years of rugged experience, a girl in Lexie's position will need to have strong props. Lexie's props? She's never been out of Waverly, her Iowa home town. Her mother is dead. Her father looks on Lexie as a surrogate for his dead wife, and refuses even to come to the bus depot to wish her well on her journey. Her beloved Nick leaves her at every important turning point in her life. Beulah (Colleeen Dewhurst), Lexie's home town mentor, is the only one who has ever treated Lexie with respect, but even she has an agenda. She wants desperately for Lexie, through her skating, to get away from the trap of small town America - which she herself was never able to do. So time after time we see a basically fragile Lexie totally confused by what she experiences in her new life. At a major Christmas television special in New York where all the world-recognized girl skaters will be putting on an exhibition, all the girls are stunned by the public emotional collapse on the ice of the French champion, but quickly get on to the next stage of the show; however, Lexie stands open-mouthed and frozen by what she has seen on the TV monitor. At the required cocktail receptions, Lexie doesn't understand why all the sponsors want to touch her and crowd her. It is not a hidden intention of the director and author that we should know that LEXIE HAS NO PROPS. After the exhibition, when Nick is cold to her on the telephone, Brian takes advantage of the obviously vulnerable girl - but he is incapable of support; what he calls love, yes; but support? no. So when she reaches the height of her quest, the gold medal at the sectionals, and sees Nick coming towards her, she is for the moment in seventh heaven, but when he sees Brian hugging her, the guy who always walks away from a struggle turns his back on her - a door slam that Lexie is no longer able to cope with. (SPOILERS)Depressed and alone, she leaves the victory reception, goes to the hotel ice rink, and does the only thing she has confidence in for herself, she skates - and falls - and hurts her head - and is permanently blinded. Now she has nothing. She returns to the farm and vegetates. Even her father has reached the end of his self-centeredness, and confesses to Beulah that he doesn't know what to do, that Lexie will die if not checked on her nothing course. Most viewers of this movie think that the climax is the big moment, when, totally blind, she skates the best performance of her life. I don't think so. I found the actual turning point - the climax, if you will - comes when after Marcus' plea, Beulah looks for Lexie and finds that she has crawled to the attic, and in the dark there she is putting on her mother's clothes (shallow movie?). The ensuing sometimes violent confrontation is as down and rough dramatic as you'd want. (MORE SPOILERS) But Lexie decides to put on the skates again. This time Nick, who has also learned a lesson, is a true helpmate - not doing things for her, but encouraging her to do what she can do ... and not walking out on her. After a long arduous re-learning period, Lexie goes again to the sectionals - this time with all her props in place: Beulah, Nick, and her father. The scene of the happy foursome in the car going to the sectionals could easily have been the last scene for its resolution of the story.

8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Ghosts I grew to love, 1 March 2002
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This review review contains plot SPOILERS.

"When Pigs Fly" is an almost anonymous little movie I stumbled onto while checking the filmographies of some of the impressive kids in "A Little Princess" - in this case, Rachel Bella. Settings: the run-down section of a seen better days industrial port town; the "Rose of Erin" bar, where workers used to gather to enjoy a few convivial drinks and songs around the piano, but now just a run-down bar with pool table and a bar-dancer; and a run-down old house, now subdivided into small apartments. The house is owned by Marty, inherited from his father. Marty is a never has been jazz musician, who dreams of glitzy gigs that never were, and teaches piano now and then to tin-eared pupils. Sheila, still pretty, is the bar-dancer. She likes Marty, and when her boss, Frank, ordered the old shed out back to be cleared out, she took the one decent piece of furniture, an old wooden rocker, and gave it to Marty ... that's when the fun began. Mystically attached by coincidence to the rocker are two ghosts: Lilly, Frank's once wife whom he murdered fifteen years ago, and Ruthie, an eternally nine year old girl who died of a fever many years before that. There is a touching bond between the ghosts: each needs and loves the other; each would have a lonely and fearful eternity were it not for the other's devotion. They become enmeshed in Marty and Sheila's life, and Marty and Sheila become enmeshed in their past life and present situation. (MORE SPOILERS AHEAD) Together the four of them embark on bringing Frank to his just deserts for having abused and murdered Lilly ... and for having ruined the "Rose of Erin." No big spooky deal; just some fun capers that free him of his ill-gotten fortune, and provoke him into accidently admitting to the police that he had murdered Lilly. Unlike the standard ghost tale, this doesn't release Lilly and Ruthie from the rocking chair, but with Marty and Sheila's help the chair - and its occupants - find a home way better than that dark, miserable old storage shed they had been stuck in for years. But Marty and Sheila are released from their dead-end existence and look forward to a brighter life ahead, thanks to Lilly and Ruthie.

Alfred Molina (in a role poles apart from his urbane aristocratic town patron in "Chocolat) reads the role of the loser Marty with sensitivity. Even though he leads an aimless existence, he is ever a nice guy. It is no stretch to see him at first fearful and then loving of his ghost friends. Marianne Faithful is delightful as the Ghost Lilly. And Rachel Bella's giggling ghost wins your hearts, without resorting to childish gimmicks. Her devotion to Lilly glows with her every look and touch. Maggie O'Neill brings real heart to the role of the not-so-tough, not so worldly-weary bar dancer. And Seymour Casssel is great as the cruelly ominous bar owner Frank.

The movie looks like it was made on a tight budget. So much the better - the process didn't get in the way of the basically poignant story it tells.

Heat (1995)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A war of gods, 22 January 2002
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

***SPOILERS AHEAD*** The two principal players, Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) were gods, of course. Vincent was the God of Light, and Neil the God of Darkness. In the famous restaurant confrontation this was spelled out unequivocally. Neil (Darkness) would let nothing or no one stand in the way of achieving his ends; Vincent (Light) would let nothing stand in the way of his stopping Neil from hurting innocent people - that defined their purposes. Neil would never attach himself to a relationship (with a mortal) that he couldn't walk away from with thirty seconds notice; Vincent would never let love (of a mortal) stand above his work (*SPOILER* in the end, Neil turned his back on Eady; and Vincent walked away from Justine and Lauren during their time of greatest need) - that defined their stature as gods: gods cannot let their affairs be affected by mortals. Even their battles were Olympian: that bank robbery was like World War II. As the story of two gods at war, what was there to be concerned about? One would win, one would lose. *SPOILERS AHEAD* So equally godlike and equally strong were they that the final outcome was determined by luck: the sudden brilliance of the landing lights that outlined Neil's shadow. Their brotherhood as gods was also reflected in the end scene as Vincent held Neil's hand. The waiting and hurt Eady lived, died, cried, raged? No matter; this was a story of gods. Lauren lived, died, broke down, recovered, attempted suicide again? No matter; this was a story of gods. Charlene lived, died, went to jail, cried, built a better new life? No matter; this was a story of gods (and sub-gods, in her case). So, once their godliness and purpose were defined in the restaurant, I didn't really care that much for either Vincent or Neil. But overall, I really liked the movie, because Eady (leaving a gently secure life to fly off to Hawaii with an outlaw), Justine (sleeping with a nobody just to get Vincent to care), Lauren (attempting suicide in her step-father's apartment), Charlene (protecting her flawed godlet for some deeply passionate principle) were real humans with real, profound, interesting stories to tell. They're what made this three hour movie truly worth while sitting through. Vincent and Neil were gods, but these women were saints; and, as I see it, they carried the movie.

For Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, this movie didn't really stretch their acting talents. Playing gods, they could show no human vulnerabilities, and feel no human emotions, except anger - which only required them to yell or smash a guy's head against a wall. On the other hand, the female actors were involved in roles of real human drama: the roles they played required them to portray emotions, unreasoned loyalty, vulnerabilities, personal hopes, disappointments, and hurt; and they did fantastically well with the challenge. So kudos for a job well done should go to the ensemble of Amy Brenneman (Eady), Ashley Judd (Charlene), and Diane Veneron (Justine). And a special note of appreciation should go to Natalie Portman for her brief, but electrifying, poignant portrayal of the brittle, hopeful, hurting adolescent Lauren.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A messiah who learned how to cry, 15 December 2001
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD)Ninety years ago Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the classic book of childhood, "The Secret Garden," unleashing into the world of literature one of the most remarkable characters ever, Mary Lennox. Mary is a plain-looking ten year old child who was raised in India. She was all but completely ignored by her self-absorbed parents and put under the care of ayahs, who indulged her in order to keep her from bothering her parents. She had no friends or playmates of her age, so she never experienced the give and take of interacting with other children. Thus, she grew to the age of ten generally helpless, unable to care for herself, demanding, and lacking in basic social skills. Contrary to some critical opinions, Mary isn't so much nasty-bratty as haughty-arrogant. But she had a seemingly insatiable thirst for learning, and the capacity and wisdom to read and understand the ways of her world. And she had a driving will to achieve her goals. She also was able to recognize and appreciate offers of friendship and love from whatever source. (SPOILERS)Considering the depth and power given her character by author Burnett in the first half of the story of "The Secret Garden," it's ironic that with the introduction of Colin Craven, her cousin, Mary seems to be elbowed out of the way in favor of a bigger emphasis on Colin's story line. Indeed, in the original story and most of its movie incarnations, she isn't even given the privilege of sharing in the dramatic ending where Colin and his estranged father are at last united. It's especially ironic in light of the fact that it was through Mary's efforts that the garden and its magic were resurrected, Colin grew strong, and the reconciliation of Colin and his father was enabled. "The Secret Garden" is not Mary's story; however, it's the story Mary made possible. (SPOILER)Director Agnieszka Holland, a devoted admirer of the original novel, understood Mary's importance, and brought the story around in a full circle to end in the scene where Lord Craven, Colin's father, gives Mary her deserved recognition. "You brought us back to life, Mary," he tells her. So this movie starts with an arrogant child throwing her name at you, not caring whether you like her or not, and it ends with a messiah who "learned how to cry."

The whole cast was great, especially the children Heydon Prowse (Colin) and Andrew Knott (Dickon) and especially, especially Kate Maberly who played Mary with such power and depth. Also, recognition should go to Maggie Smith as the intimidating Mrs. Medlock, John Lynch as Colin's somber bereft father Lord Craven, and to Laura Crossley for her heart-warming portrayal of the bright, sensitive, humble Martha.

Sunday (2001)
10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A remarkable portrayal of a twelve year old., 17 November 2001
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The character of Domenica (Mimi), as played by Domenica Giuliano, ranks among the truest portrayals of a twelve year old I've ever seen in any movie. Domenica has lived in an orphanage since her mother left her. (SPOILERS AHEAD). She's worldly wise; she's hip; she's loaded with pre-adolescent energy; she's sexual; she's childish; she's adult; she's giving; she's loving; she lies; she's vulnerable; she's tough; she's a survivor; and she's constant in her determination to make a better future for herself than her past has provided for her. (MORE SPOILERS) In her determination to escape to a better life, she saves her earnings from helping the younger ones at the orphanage, tending children who can't take care of themselves, and running errands. She also skims money from donations to the orphanage she cons from sympathetic people, which she shares with friends from her street gang. The story tells of a dying detective, Sciarra, played by Claudio Amendola, on his last day on the police force, whose final assignment is to accompany the child Domenica to the morgue to identify the corpse of the guy who had raped her some time before. (MORE SPOILERS) Sciarra is determined to carry out his assignment. Domenica, who has a deep fear of dead people, and has no interest in reliving her rape trauma, is stubborn, charming, skillful, and manipulative as she strives with equal determination to stall the inevitable.

(SPOILERS) Of course, there is a bonding. But the story of the love that develops between these two lonely people is never cloying. The final parting scene is deeply affecting in its simple tenderness.

Great work by actors Domenica Giuliano and Claudio Amendola and the director Wilma Labate.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Yixi, a truly heroic literary character, 12 November 2001
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The remarkable story of Yixihuoma (Yixi) is given as a gift to her hurting, modern world, computer hip, granddaughter, Dawa - and vicariously to us, the maybe hurting, modern world, computer hip theater audience. (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD) In far off mountainous, isolated Tibet, the beautiful Yixi finds herself loved by three men in her life. While she is betrayed or deserted in different ways by each of the three, they never stop loving her - and she keeps alive in her heart her a constant love for them. She also has an awesome devotion to her husband (one of the three) and children, at one point making an arduous trek across Tibet's forbidding mountains and through the mountains' treacherous weather to find them and save their lives. And she was beautiful when she was young ... and when she grew old. And she sang beautiful tone poems of a beloved Tibetan poet. Actresses Danzengzuoga and Laqiong portray this steadfast, devoted, powerful, sensitive, loving character with pure dramatic artistry. Dawangdui and Renqingdunzhu, as her husband Jiacuo, and the rest of the ensemble cast deserve recognition for their worthy contributions to this fine movie. Special notes of recognition go to Director Fei Xie for bringing Yixi to us, and to the cinematographer, Quanyi Zhang, for bringing a fabulous lost horizon to life.

10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Moral conundrums, 19 October 2001
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

(THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE) What a flock of moral conundrums this little movie throws at us. Rhoda is every bit a little girl. She is not evil. Basically, no one has to fear turning his/her back on the child. Well, almost no one; the point being she was never out looking for a victim. (SPOILER) This is the key point that LeRoy (Henry Jones) misunderstood about her, which proved to be a fatal mistake. He thought he could see right through her because he thought she was just plain bad, like him. She wasn't "bad" in the normal way of things. She loved her dolls and toys. She loved to read fantasies and have her mother read to her at bedtime. She loved to play imaginary hostess with her new tea set. She loved for adults to make over her. (BIG SPOILERS AHEAD) In this story there are three people we know she has killed. The little boy who won the penmanship medal she felt she was more deserving of. Old Mrs. Post in Baltimore, who promised the girl her fish bowl when she died. And, of course, Leroy, who threatened her. She was capable of great lies when pressed for motivations, but was unafraid and even forthcoming if her cover collapsed. To her there were very logical reasons for her acts. (SPOILER) That's what LeRoy missed. Had he realized that when she had reason, she would stop at nothing to achieve her purpose, he would never have turned his back on her after he threatened her security. The conundrum here is that she is only different by degree than many typical everyday people who dodge thoughts of right and wrong when it suits their purposes. (SPOILERS) When her mother realized Rhoda had committed murder, she told the girl to go ahead and burn the incriminating evidence. Her grandfather had let his daughter grow into adulthood without letting her know about her shocking roots. Her teacher, perhaps the only one who really understood what was going on, just asked the mother to move Rhoda out of the school, rather than going to the authorities with her suspicions.

Then there was the bigger conundrum of our own attitudes about children. Rhoda gave out exactly what she thought the adults wanted from her - and she did it very well. She was the unreal, dream, story-book, Shirley Temple-like, non-sexual, pretty little girl people love. When things heated up, she by-passed the subject by turning on the "little girl language" the adults would eagerly eat up. Her selfishness was considered cute and natural. (SPOILER) Even at the end, most of the adults in her life looked on her as that wonderful story-book little girl. We do that a lot in this world, assessing one another by pre-determined stereotypes. Had Rhoda been publicly exposed, there would have been a clamor to analyze her behavior for the warnings we could look for in other children so "this kind of thing can never happen again." Many normal, innocent, sweet, pretty little girls would soon find themselves subjected to cruel psychological behavior mod preventive therapies. Sound familiar?

Patty McCormack was phenomenal as Rhoda. You could see her "reading" adult faces for reactions to her words. You could watch the evolution of decision cross her face at key moments. Hers was never the face of sinister evil. But she portrayed real childhood; and she portrayed determination; and she portrayed hate; and she portrayed jealousy, anger, and rage; and she portrayed happiness and glee. Patty McCormack did not portray Rhoda as any one-dimensional troubled child. There was a depth to her performance that was every bit equal that of any adult, legend or not, in any movie before or since.


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