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63 out of 83 people found the following review useful:
Battle on, Xena!!!, 12 October 2003

One of the best TV shows ever.

Xena: Warrior Princess is the thinking person's fantasy/action show. A perfect mix of often dark drama, wacky/campy comedy, action, angst and romance, it was poignant, thrilling, funny, suspenseful, sexy and much more. Set in the fantasy world of a creatively reinvented antiquity, X:WP offers us the ultimate female hero: strong and vulnerable, tough and soft, brave and caring, heroic and deeply flawed, she's all warrior and all woman. We follow Xena's journey on her quest for redemption as well as Gabrielle's growth from a naive peasant girl to a reluctant warrior. And there are other fascinating characters: Ares, the God of War who is determined to lure Xena back to the dark side but is eventually changed by his love for her; Callisto, Xena's victim and nemesis who manages to be sympathetic even at her most evil; Joxer, the bumbling warrior wannabe with the heart of a lion.

Of course the show had its weak moments, especially in the last three seasons. At its best, however, it featured smart writing and creative directing, enhanced by the wonderful acting of Lucy Lawless as Xena, Renee O'Connor as Gabrielle, Kevin Smith as Ares, Ted Raimi as Joxer and Hudson Leick as Callisto. (Alexandra Tydings' Aphrodite, Paris Jefferson's Athena are worthy of mention as well; so are Karl Urban as Julius Caesar and Marton Csokas as Borias, Xena's lover in her days as a warlord.)

I have to comment on one of the reviews which mentioned Xena and Gabrielle being out for revenge against men and complained that the heroines beat up men all the time but never get hit themselves. Hello? Did this person even watch the show? I suspect not. Some of the most prominent villains on the show were women (Callisto, Najara, Alti), and many of Xena and Gabrielle's allies were men. In fact, the episode "The Dirty Half Dozen" explicitly repudiates hostility to men. X:WP's feminism was never anti-male or heavy-handed.

Bottom line? If you haven't seen this show, get the DVDs (or VHS) and give it a try. Start with the premiere, "Sins of the Past." The first half of S1 wasn't all that great (the show had yet to find its footing) but watch "Hooves and Harlots" and "The Reckoning." If you're not hooked yet, try "Ties That Bind," "The Greater Good" and "Callisto." You'll probably want to stay on for S2.

The Yards (2000)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Quietly riveting drama, 3 November 2000

A young man, just out of prison, wants to go straight but is drawn back into crime as a result of circumstances beyond his control, and ends up being hunted by the law and betrayed by his friends. A close-knit family is torn apart due to its involvement in crime and corruption. Sound familiar? Yes, it's been done before; but James Gray manages to steer admirably clear of "crime drama" or "urban corruption" cliches and to create a haunting, moody film driven by character and not "action." There are no credibility-defying stunts or chases here, no inventive new ways to kill someone off; the fight scenes are realistically messy and un-melodramatic. And yet the suspense at times is almost unbearable. What matters is that Gray actually makes us care about his characters; one can even feel sorry for the "bad guys," who in a way are also victims of circumstance. A couple of plot developments may be unconvincing, and in at least one scene Gray sacrifices plausibility to drama: Several police officers walk into a borough council meeting and deliver a tragic news to two people right in the crowded room, leading to a dramatic reaction. (In real life, of course, they would have been asked to step outside.) But these are minor problems. Some critics apparently thought that the ending of the film was lame and hackneyed. I totally disagree. For once a hero in a film makes the morally right choice without grandstanding. How refreshing.

The film is beautifully shot, for the most part well-written, and above all, wonderfully acted. I have been a Mark Wahlberg fan ever since "Boogie Nights," and I think this is his best role and best, most natural performance since then, except maybe for "Three Kings." (I agree with another IMDB reviewer who said that in his other recent performances you can see the acting. People may not realize that "The Yards" was shot RIGHT AFTER "Boogie Nights" -- its release was delayed by nearly two years because of Gray's perfectionism in editing the film. I hope this doesn't mean that Wahlberg's best work is behind him and that he has become "hollywoodized"... I hope it just means that he needs a good director to bring out his natural talent.) Without a single false note, he conveys Leo's desperation, fear, and tenderness toward his mother. Joaquin Phoenix also does a superb job as Leo's friend-turned-traitor Willie, who is not really an evil man but ends up doing evil things out of a desire to save his own skin. A virtually unrecognizable Charlize Theron is very good as Leo's cousin and Willie's girlfriend Erica. And the "elders" -- James Caan as the sleazy, weary family patriarch, Faye Dunaway as his wife, Ellen Burstyn as Leo's mother -- are superb.

Because Miramax has refused to give this film the backing it deserves (evidently the suits believe audiences are too dumb to appreciate an intelligent movie that doesn't have gore and explosions galore), it may not be around much longer. Run, don't walk, to see this gem!

Riveting, haunting psychological thriller, 15 October 2000

"The Talented Mr. Ripley" is a finely crafted, well-acted, visually stunning chiller that leaves you with a sense of horror far more searing than grotesque onscreen violence. It explores profound questions of identity and selfhood, yet never turns into heavy-handed preaching. Without divulging too much of the plot, Ripley is a human chameleon who assumes others' identities because he feels that, as himself, he is worthless. Pretending to be somebody else is the only way he can rise to a higher station in life. The line that sums up his story is, "I've always felt that it's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody." He achieves his goal but at a terrible price.

Apparently, in the novel on which the film was based, Tom Ripley is a cheerful sociopath who gets away with his crimes and goes on to enjoy the good life. The film's Ripley is far more fragile, torn and vulnerable, and while he manages to fool the law he does suffer a terrible punishment -- the loss of his only chance to be truly loved for himself, for his REAL self. One could say that the filmmakers didn't have the nerve to replicate the novel's completely amoral atmosphere in which evil triumphs. But they have also given us a far more human, far less alienating protagonist.

The story pulls you in right away and moves at a fast, involving pace, though the film also takes the time to develop the characters and relationships. The tension mounts steadily, reaching an almost unbearable pitch toward the end of the film. It's enough to make all but the most nitpicking-prone viewers overlook a couple of holes in the plot.

Before I saw "Mr. Ripley" I thought Matt Damon was a bit too "clean-cut" to play the part, but I was won over by his excellent, moving, often mesmerizing performance (even if, at times, he didn't give Ripley's dangerous, sociopathic side enough of an edge). Jude Law, one of the most talented and beautiful actors working in film today, plays Dickie Greenleaf with a perfect combination of easy golden-boy charm, insouciance, and arrogance bordering on casual cruelty. Philip Seymour Hoffman is wonderful as always, in the little time he has on screen, playing a rich obnoxious snob. Gwyneth Paltrow is good, though I don't think this is her best performance.

All in all, a riveting, provocative, haunting film.

Gattaca (1997)
5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Intriguing but not as profound as it wants to be, 15 October 2000

"Gattaca" is intended as a cautionary tale about genetic engineering. The film takes place in a future world, not too far removed, where destiny is determined by genes: all babies (except for a few "accidents," known as "invalids") are genetically engineered to near-perfection, people are hired on the basis of their genetic profile, and the imperfect products of accidental births are relegated to low-status menial jobs. Our hero, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), is an "invalid" who wants to rise above his genetic destiny. So, in an elaborate scheme, he buys the identity of Eugene Morrow, a genetically perfect athlete crippled in an accident, and gets the job he always dreamed about in a space-exploration program. Complications ensue as Vincent/Eugene is threatened with exposure and, at the same time, becomes involved in a risky romance with his beautiful co-worker Irene (Uma Thurman).

One problem with the film, in my view, is that the model of the future society in "Gattaca" was not sufficiently well-thought out. The narration (voice-over by Vincent) informs us near the start of the film that genetic discrimination ("genoism") is technically illegal but companies get away with genetic profiling under the guise of testing blood and urine for drugs. Yet throughout the rest of the film, the second-class citizenship of the "invalid" is taken for granted by the legal authorities. Nor does it make much sense that people would be hired for challenging and demanding jobs simply on the basis of a genetic test, with no interview and no testing of skills -- as Vincent/Eugene is hired at Gattaca. Even in a gene-obsessed society people would know that you can't always judge a worker on the basis of his or her POTENTIAL, which is all the genetic information can tell us!

The message of the film is that biology is not destiny; it is statistical probability, but the probability can be transcended by the individual spirit and will. It's a good message, no question about it. But its value is undercut by the fact that the futuristic model of genetic determinism challenged by the film is highly improbable and muddled.

The problems of the film are compounded by a weak murder-mystery element tacked onto the plot, and by the dull and bland acting of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. The most impressive and moving performance by far is that of Jude Law as the real Eugene Morrow -- arrogant, self-pitying, self-destructive, cynical, and yet in the end capable, it turns out, of true nobility.

Visually, "Gattaca" is powerful and striking; the film does a great job of creating the cold, sterile, inhuman look of an inhuman futuristic society. Particularly fascinating is the scene in which Vincent/Eugene, out with Irene for an evening on the town, loses his contact lenses; of course, Irene doesn't know that he has very poor eyesight. Seeing nothing but a blur of flashing light, he has to cross the street and then pretend to look at a beautiful sight Irene wants to show him.

Unfortunately, the visuals often end up overwhelming the story and the characters. "Gattaca" is worth a look, particularly for those who like futuristic films, but it does not live up to the importance of its subject.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Great story, terrific cast sunk by crummy screenplay, 2 July 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


I had looked forward to seeing "The Perfect Storm" for the last couple of months. Ever since seeing "Boogie Nights" on cable I've been an enthusiastic Mark Wahlberg fan. Wahlberg and George Clooney had great rapport in "Three Kings," and my expectations for TPS were raised even higher when I learned that John C. Reilly (so terrific in "Boogie Nights") was going to be in it as well. It also sounded like a riveting story.

Well, I am sorry to report that TPS was a major disappointment. 6 stars out of 10, tops. Even though it breaks many of the conventions of the Hollywood blockbuster -- unglamorous characters, unhappy ending -- it ends up being just another big movie where the special effects overwhelm the human side of the story. Not because the F/X are so good (yes, they're impressive, though the computerized water still looks a bit fake much of the time) but because the human side is so badly developed and badly written.

The actors, for the most part, do the best they can with their paper-thin characters. Clooney, I thought, was no more than OK as Captain Billy Tyne (he was much better in "Three Kings"). John C. Reilly, as Murph, was very affecting in the scene with his son, but then after that he had nothing to do except for that stupid feud with William Fichtner's character, Sully (which had no point except to set the stage for the cliche scene where Sully saves his life and they finally bond). Wahlberg, as Bobby Shatford, was excellent in the early scenes with Lane and with his mother (convincing performance by Janet Wright as the mother, but Lane mostly alternates between two one-key modes: shrill and grieving). Once on the boat, though, he and Clooney had surprisingly little chemistry.

What's more, there is a major problem with the characterization of Bobby Shatford, Wahlberg's character. In the scenes with his girlfriend Christine (Diane Lane), it's pretty clear that Bobby wants nothing more than to settle down with her and the fishing's just the best way he can make a living (the safer jobs on land don't pay as much). In fact, he promises her that he's giving it up after this one last trip (and of course, if you didn't already know the boy wasn't coming back, that line was a dead giveaway). Yet suddenly, once they're out to sea, it turns out that Bobby LOVES to fish -- it's not just a living, it's a passion. So which is it?

The crucial scene where the fishermen make the fatal decision to go back through the storm packs little emotional punch, because it is made too easily. Someone (Bobby? Murph?) should have been opposed to it. That would have set up some REAL dramatic conflict, as opposed to the contrived conflict between Muph and Sully.

And the dialogue... dear Lord, the dialogue! If I had a dime for every cheesy line in this movie it would have more than made up for the $5.50 I spent on the matinee ticket. "I thought the sea was your home." "I think she's a helluva boat. -- With a helluva crew. -- With a helluva skippuh." "He's my precious boy and you're the woman for him." Not to mention gems like "This is the moment of truth.... this is what separates the men from the boys," or Clooney's pretentious ode to the glories of being a swordboat captain.

I can't even say that the movie delivers on the promise of white-knuckle thrills. The Coast Guard rescue scenes were good but too long. As for the action on the Andrea Gail, much of it was repetitive (Clooney and Wahlberg getting pelted with water). Frankly, too, this is where knowing that they all die undercuts the suspense.

Yes, there were some very good scenes. The scene between Wahlberg and Lane where they wake up in the morning. The humorous but moving little story line between Bugsy (John Hawkes) and Irene (Rusty Schwimmer), the woman he tries to pick up at the bar. Later on, one scene that was very powerful, both visually and emotionally, was when the sun suddenly comes out and the guys think that the storm is over and they've made it -- only to realize, seconds later, that it's NOT over. That was a lump-in-the-throat kind of moment.

Finally, great scene of the Andrea Gail's demise: Wahlberg swims out of the capsized boat while Clooney stays behind and we see his figure being swallowed by pitch-black darkness; then the boat seems to right itself, only to sink instantly; and there is Wahlberg, a lone speck of humanity in a vast raging sea, amidst hurricane-force winds, torrential rains, giants waves. What a terrifying and poignant image; what a powerful expression of the tragedy of man crushed by nature's wrath. And then the filmmakers had to go and ruin it all with Bobby's maudlin psychically telegraphed speech to his girlfriend -- "Can you hear me, Christine? I love you... there's no goodbyes, only love" -- and the ghostly apparition of Lane in the left corner of the screen. I am not a cynic but there's a big difference between true feeling and mawkish sentimentality. I thought the scene of Kate and Leo's final farewell in "Titanic" was corny beyond belief, but this takes the cake.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any hokier, the movie ends with a replay of Clooney's "isn't it great to be a swordboat captain" speech... it's bad enough that we had to hear it the first time around! I half-expected to see a ghostly apparition of Clooney smiling beatifically at Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio from fisherman heaven.

Bill Witliff, the screenwriter, should henceforth be known as Bill Witless.

Wahlberg deserves a better screenplay. Come to think of it, so does just about everyone else in this movie.

Unforgiven (1992)
115 out of 134 people found the following review useful:
Unforgettable, 6 June 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Unforgiven" may well be Clint Eastwood's greatest triumph as an actor and director. In this grim, dark, and yet strangely beautiful story of former gunslinger William Munny (Eastwood), who comes out of retirement for one last job, Eastwood deliberately sets out to demystify the old West. This is evident in the conversations between Munny and the Schofield Kid (Jaimze Wolvett), who has a romanticized image of the old-time gunfighters, and between sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) and hack journalist W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek). Yet the "demythologizing" message doesn't feel forced; it is woven effortlessly into a gripping story that powerfully conveys the human cost of violence.

Moral ambiguity pervades the film, which has no easy resolutions and no customary clear lines between good and evil. Will and his friend Ned (Morgan Freeman), nominally the heroes, have clearly done many bad things in their lives. When they come to Big Whiskey as hired killers, it is ostensibly for a just cause -- to punish two no-good cowboys who slashed the face of a prostitute. Yet, as we know from the beginning, the version of the attack that is reported to Will and Ned is highly and grotesquely exaggerated. While the cowboys certainly should have been punished, we may legitimately wonder if death is a punishment that fits the crime. The agonizing death of the younger of the two cowboys, who didn't do the slashing and clearly felt bad about what his partner had done, certainly doesn't look like justice.

The ostensible villain, Little Bill, is not just a villain. He is a sheriff determined to preserve law and order in the town. One can't blame him for wanting to keep paid assassins out. In a violent society, there's no way he can do his job without using violence. Unfortunately, he also takes a sadistic pleasure in his brutality -- even though he also seems to want a peaceful, quiet life in the house he's building.

One might say that Munny's heroics in the guns-blazing climax undercut the film's purpose of dismantling the mystique of the Old West and its gunfighters. But the truth is, "Unforgiven" is both an homage to and a deconstruction of that mystique. While Munny acquires almost mythic stature in that scene, his actions are still morally shady, and his exchange with the nerdy Beauchamp quickly dispels the romantic aura. What's more, his "rise" to heroism can also be seen as a fall from grace and a reversion to his old ways.

The film may be just a tad slow at times, but at 2 hrs 10 minutes, it remains nearly always gripping. (As for those IMDB reviewers who've knocked the movie because there are too many scenes where Eastwood's character is weak and pathetic, falling off his horse or getting beat up -- why don't you just go see some Arnold Schwarzenegger flick!) Not only are the principal characters well-developed, but even minor characters come across as real people with individual traits; the credit is due both to the excellent screenplay and to the superb cast. The scenes between Will Munny and Delilah, the prostitute who was slashed, are very touching without being at all "sappy." Eastwood is simply superb as the tortured and self-loathing Munny; Gene Hackman fully matches him as Little Bill; Morgan Freeman exudes a quiet dignity as Ned; Wolvett acquits himself well as "the Kid." Add to this a scene-stealing performance by Richard Harris as the elegant, vicious gunslinger English Bob, and terrific work by Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher as the prostitute Strawberry Alice, and Anna Levine as Delilah.

"Unforgiven" is a modern classic, a must-see for those who appreciate intelligent, high-quality filmmaking.

Deathtrap (1982)
2 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
OK suspense film, fun to watch, but no "Sleuth", 6 June 2000

I'm partial to suspense films with a lot of surprise twists and double- and triple-crosses, and "Deathtrap" certainly provides quite a few of those. It also has some good, mordant dialogue (particularly in the discussion of criminal wrongdoing and celebrity in the modern age) and an excellent performance by Michael Caine. However, the finale is rather muddled and needlessly melodramatic, the gay romantic subplot lacks all credibility (and chemistry), Christopher Reeve's performance is uninspired, and the psychic lady only provides unnecessary distraction. In general, the film suffers greatly by comparison to a truly great thriller like "Sleuth" (also co-starring Caine), which has a much tighter structure, superior dialogue, a more inventive plot, and the great Laurence Olivier.

Sleuth (1972)
Brilliant!, 6 June 2000

If you love cleverly written psychological thrillers where the plot takes twist after shocking twist, "Sleuth" is the film for you. Not much can be said about the story without giving away some of those twists. Suffice it to say that it is also one of those rare suspense films that can be watched again and again, even when you know what's going to happen next, due to the scintillating dialogue, the top-notch performances, and three-dimensional (if not very sympathetic) characters. While "Sleuth" is not an "intellectual" film, it actually does make you think about some serious issues of class and of what concepts like gamesmanship, honor, and payback mean to people of different social status.

7 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Two excellent actresses stuck in a mediocre "empowerment" fable, 5 June 2000

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I have absolutely no problem with a revisionist, "feminist" retelling of the Cinderella story in which the heroine is a more assertive and self-reliant character -- as long as it's well done. The problem is that "well done" is not a phrase I would use with regard to "Ever After." I suppose it's an OK movie if you're a 13-year-old girl, but it is an insult to the intelligence of any adult viewer, male or female.

The movie is ALMOST worth seeing for the wonderful performances of the radiant Drew Barrymore as Danielle (the Cinderella character) and the deliciously wicked Anjelica Huston as the stepmother, Baroness Rodmilla de Ghent. (Then again, I saw it on cable and didn't even pay the price of the rental.) But these fine talents are wasted by an inane script with banal dialogue, characters who are both improbable and trite, and absolutely no sense of historical reality.

I understand, of course, that this is not a historical film and is based on a fairy tale. Yet the filmmakers chose to move it to a concrete setting in 16th Century France, and to introduce such real-life characters as King Francois I and Leonardo da Vinci. If they do that, they should make at least a minimal effort to strive for some historical accuracy. Yet the royal couple behaves more like modern upper-middle-class American parents; what we get here is a family with all the glamour of royalty and none of its class prejudices. There's also a lot of confusion about the heroine's social status. She is repeatedly described as a commoner, yet her name is "Danielle de Barberac"; the "de" is generally a signifier of nobility. In fact, normally under the laws of that time, if the Baroness had married a commoner, she would have assumed her husband's status and become a commoner herself (and if Danielle was a commoner, so was her father).

I don't mind Cinderella being reinvented as feisty, independent or educated. However, when she is turned into an intellectual, a champion of social justice, AND an amateur athlete and swordwoman all wrapped into one ... well, that's a bit much.


I can accept the scene where Danielle rescues Prince Henry from the gypsies by hoisting him on her back and walking off (after the gypsy leader promises that she can leave with anything she can carry). In fact, I don't know if the filmmakers knew this but this scene resembles an allegedly true story from the Middle Ages when a city was under siege by an enemy force, and as part of the terms of surrender, the leader of the enemy forces promised to let all the women leave town, taking away anything they could carry. The women walked out of the city carrying their husbands on their backs.

On the other hand, the scene where Danielle gets away from the evil aristocrat to whom the stepmother has sold her as a slave is simply laughable. She holds a rapier to his throat, forces him to hand over the key to the shackles he has put on her, and simply walks out of his castle free as a bird. How ridiculous. The moment the rapier wasn't at his throat anymore, he would have simply either run after her, tackled her and thrown her to the ground, or called his servants who would have grabbed her. I guess it was so important to make sure that she wasn't rescued by the prince but rescued herself that reality could fall completely by the wayside.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Charming, unusual sci-fi flick with shoddy f/x but great dialogue and acting, 4 June 2000

I've always had a weakness for time-travel stories, and "Time After Time" is one of the best. Yes, the special effects are pretty cheesy, even by 1979 standards I suppose -- but they only take up a very small portion of the film, and one thing I liked was the snatches of radio broadcasts that illustrate H.G. Wells' rapid progression through the 20th Century. And yes, the plot had some holes in it (of course). On the plus side, the film has smart, crisp dialogue (e.g., having extracted a major concession from Wells in exchange for sparing a victim's life "on his word as a gentleman," Jack the Ripper remarks, "Just one more thing, H.G. I thought you might have noticed by now that I am not a gentleman"). The characters are believable and fully fleshed out, and the acting by all three principals -- Malcolm McDowell as Wells, David Warner as Jack the Ripper, and Mary Steenburgen as Amy Robbins -- is superb. McDowell in particular gives an amazing performance, for once playing a nice guy. (Very different, incidentally, from the historical Wells, whom one could describe with a lot of adjectives but "nice" wouldn't be one of them.) Here, he is a sweet, somewhat naive intellectual who is more at home among books and theories than in the real world, and who finds it hard to let go of his faith in human goodness even when confronted with unspeakable evil. (It's such a shame that in the past 15 years, McDowell he seems to have resigned himself to shlock roles like the villain in "Tank Girl.") And there is real, convincing chemistry between McDowell and Steenburgen --who, in fact, fell in love during the filming of "Time After Time" and later got married.

What I really admire about "Time After Time" is how well it pulls off the "fish out of water" aspect of the time-travel story, as 19th Century Englishman Wells wanders around San Francisco in 1979 and discovers such things as MacDonald's, plastics, movies, telephones, etc. One particularly good moment is the taxicab ride as seen through Wells's eyes -- it really gives you a feel of how bewildering a car ride would be to someone not accustomed to that kind of speed. (Guaranteed to make you dizzy!) Even funnier, though, is the interaction between Wells and Amy Robbins, the banker who invites him on a date. In his world, Wells was quite a radical when it came to attitudes toward women and sex -- a proponents of equal rights for women and of free love. In 1979, he finds himself in the very unfamiliar role of a fuddy-duddy, as the modern liberated woman quickly leaves him in speechless shock!

Highly recommended, especially to time-travel story fans. 8 stars out of 10.

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