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polystyreneman64

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Annie Hall (1977)
199 out of 249 people found the following review useful:
Allen's best, and one of the best films ever., 17 March 2003
10/10

The film that bested Star Wars for the 1977 Best Picture Oscar, Annie Hall is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking that transcends its simple, romantic premise to create a stunning portrait of not only 70's pop culture, but of human nature cumulative. Directed and co-written by Woody Allen, who has since directed other gems such as Hannah and Her Sisters and The Purple Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall also stars Allen as Alvy Singer, a neurotic, death-obsessed comedian who seems unlucky in love and life. That is until he meets Annie, brilliantly played by Diane Keaton, who is beautiful, fashion-savvy, carefree (she likes using expressions like `la di da'), and a terrible driver.

Annie and Alvy's relationship is an unlikely one. She's a Midwestern girl, straight out of white-bread Wisconsin; he's a life-long New York Jew who grew up (literally) under the Coney Island roller coaster. He's been seeing a therapist for the past 16 years; she only `needs' one once she meets him. She's an extroverted aspiring singer; he's an introverted, world-despising imp. Yet Allen and Keaton are so perfect in their roles, they improbably make this couple one of the most memorable ever.

The plot revolves around Alvy's chronicles of loves lost and a retrospective on his relationship with Annie, with whom he has since parted ways. At the end of the film, we see Alvy try his hand at stage-writing-he writes a play about his relationship with Annie, but gives it a happy ending. Yes, Annie and Alvy don't have a fairy tale ending to their relationship, but Alvy certainly wishes they had, even though he learns to live with the acknowledgment it has failed.

The best part of Annie Hall is its incredible screenplay-the best ever to be written. Not a word is wasted nor a line unquotable. Except here, while Allen's early films had thrived on streams of one-liners, Allen doesn't go for cheap laughs-each line is simultaneously hilarious and poignant. Everything is part of a greater whole. We laugh because it's funny, but there's a greater dynamic at work in Annie Hall. This is a story not exclusively about a relationship between two people, but also a musing on 70's politics, drugs, East Coast/West Coast rivalry, narcissism, religion, celebrity, and several other topics with which Allen deals with extraordinary ease.

Yet Annie Hall would not be among my favorite films of all-time if it were just Woody Allen ranting and raving about what he likes and dislikes. There are other Allen films that serve that purpose, i.e. Deconstructing Harry, and they're not nearly as good. What separates Annie Hall is its grace, the believable chemistry between Keaton and Allen, the unique direction (ranging from split-screens to cartoon imagery to on-screen subtitles of what the actors are thinking), but mostly because it's the rare film to find a perfect balance between sheer entertainment, humor, and poignancy.

When the dust had settled, Diane Keaton deservedly won an Academy Award for her performance, Allen took home Oscars for direction and writing, and the film beat out Star Wars for Best Picture, which most people consider a complete sham. Evidently, those people didn't see Annie Hall, for if they had, they'd recognize that the acting, writing, and even the direction in Star Wars can't hold a candle to Annie Hall, one of the best films ever made.

10/10

Totally transcends its "prison drama" subgenre--one of the best films ever!, 17 March 2003
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

**POSSIBLE SPOILERS (nothing too specific)**

Watching The Shawshank Redemption is a downright religious experience; it is truly a film to treasure, and one that nobody who sees it will ever forget. Director Frank Darabont's translation of a Stephen King novella to the screen is not a great film because of the story itself-the plot is actually quite simple and could be carried out in under an hour with relative ease-but because of the way the story unfolds. Shawshank is a lengthy film (clocking in around 150 minutes), but it doesn't feel so long because the leading actors are spot-on perfect, the pace is beautifully metered, and the emotions (which are never the least bit contrived) build to one of the tensest climaxes in American cinema.

The story is told not from the perspective of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), banker imprisoned for a double-homicide he didn't commit, and the main character in this epic tale, but from the perspective of Red (Morgan Freeman), `the only guilty man in Shawshank Prison.' Red has been in Shawshank for twenty years; he's a well-liked inmate among his peers because he's the guy that can obtain some of the luxuries of the outside world. If you want a box of cigars or a poster of your favorite pin-up girl, Red's your man. Often, throughout the course of the film, we wonder why Andy isn't telling the story-after all, he's the character we sympathize with most. In the end, we know why, and we're glad Red told the story, since the film ends up being more about him than Andy. Andy, instead, is just the vehicle for Red's realization that hope and perseverance can free the human mind.

While Red is the resourceful handyman, Andy is the smartest man in Shawshank. He hatches a plan to get the other inmates to accept him by having the guards provide them with alcohol, he comes to be the tax preparer for all the guards in Shawshank as well as several neighboring prisons, he revamps the prison library, and even becomes the personal accountant to the warden, a cold man who, we learn, is just as criminal as any inmate. Yet all the while, we don't realize just how smart Andy Dufresne is. We believe he'll get his revenge on the legal system that landed him in jail, but this movie isn't about vengeance. It's about making the most of a bad situation, and about the lengths a person will go to free himself-physically and spiritually.

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards in 1994 and lost all of them, mostly to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction (both solid films in their own right). In any other year it may have won all seven. Freeman definitely deserved every possible accolade for his performance, while Darabont's direction and Roger Deakins' stark cinematography bring great effect to the story. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most successful films ever on video, and rightfully so. It's one of the best films ever.

54 out of 58 people found the following review useful:
A gripping, intense character-driven study of human nature in the corporate world, 17 March 2003
9/10

Neil Labute's In the Company of Men is an amazing motion picture, one of the best films of 1997 and a shocking indictment of the ego-driven corporate world in which we live. On the surface, the film, expertly written by Neil Labute in his first feature effort, seems to be a cruel tale of misogyny. Lurking beneath the surface, however, is the film's true message, one which depicts the business world as a battle of survival of the fittest, a harsh world where men sacrifice their integrity and compassion in favor of oneupsmanship and greed.

Fed up with their failures with members of the opposite sex, two co-workers, Chad (Aaron Eckhart) and Howard (Matt Malloy) decide to play a cruel prank on an unsuspecting female victim. They will both date her, and then after a six-week period, they will dump her, a plan they've devised after years of being tormented and unlucky with women. They eventually choose their prey, a deaf typist named Christine (Stacy Edwards) and begin their quest, asking her for dates, sending her flowers, and sharing intimate moments. All this seems like a pleasant surprise to Christine after years of no dating--but, of course, she doesn't know the plan the men have hatched.

I don't want to reveal too much more about the plot than this. I will say that the film has two climactic scenes, one expected and the other inevitable in retrospect. The first climax makes the movie a success, the second makes the film great--only then do we see Labute's true intent.

Labute's cast of no-names is uniformly excellent. Eckhart, who has since become a Labute staple, delivers a fascinating performance as a truly despicable character, the smooth and fast-talking Chad. Matt Malloy is excellent as Howard, the "weaker" of the two men, and Edwards is great as the hapless deaf typist, presenting her character as likable, intelligent, and sensitive, not just a stereotypical handicapped woman. But the real star of the film is Labute's script. Judging by this, and his three more recent films (Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty, and Possession--all quality films), Labute is a writer-director to monitor for years to come.

A noteworthy comment about In the Company of Men is that it has been marketed as a comedy. Those of you expecting slapstick humor and romantic charms might be better served seeing another movie. In the Company of Men is NOT comedy. There are elements of black humor, especially one particularly depraved scene involving one of the men and an office intern. However, In the Company of Men is more tragic than comic, a look into the tarnished male psyche brought on by years of corporate stress and paranoia. I couldn't help but think of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, another film about corporate greed in today's world when I was watching this one. However, while Glengarry plays as more of a character-driven mystery and morality play, In the Company of Men is much more insidious, and it offers no solutions in the end. In fact, the final shot of the film is, in my mind, one of the most memorable in modern cinema. Just who exactly has the upper hand?....

9/10

Magnolia (1999)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A modern classic that will be remembered for years to come, 17 March 2003
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

A magnum opus of truly epic caliber any way you look at it, Magnolia is a classic that should stand the test of time to be revered as one of the most influential films ever. However, there are many people who will hate this film, who will find its ending completely absurd, and its premise too hazy to make any sense of what's really going on. My response to these critics would be A) the ending is set up in the film's prologue. Though the exact happening is not explicitly foreshadowed, nor can or should it be, director Paul Thomas Anderson reminds us upon the film's inception that things happen every day that cannot be explained, that sometimes when life seems so ordered, there's always the chance, though slight, of something happening to knock the world completely awry. And B) the premise of the film revolves around characters who are sharing the same life experience, in some way or another, with each other. I don't understand those who say Magnolia is too convoluted in its plot--maybe those people just didn't pay attention.

Let's talk about the cast, and try to work out how they're related at the same time. Jason Robards plays Earl Partridge, a television tycoon on his deathbed. Julianne Moore plays Linda, his wife, and Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays Phil Parma, his nurse. Meanwhile, Earl's long-lost son, Frank `T.J.' Mackey, is a self-help sex therapist played brilliantly by Tom Cruise in what's easily one of the top supporting performances I've ever seen. Philip Baker Hall plays Jimmy Gator, host of the longest running game show on TV, `What Do Kids Know?' Jeremy Blackman plays a young contestant on the show, while William H. Macy plays Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, a champion on the show in the 1960's. Gator's wife is played superbly by Melinda Dillon, and his daughter Claudia, sparklingly portrayed by little-known actress Melora Walters, is a depraved cocaine addict to whom he rarely speaks, for reasons we learn later in the film. John C. Reilly is a bumbling, though good-natured cop named Jim Kurring who comes to serve as Claudia's love interest. There are more characters, and even these here have more interactions than originally meets the eye, but you get the point. This is a film of sheer magnitude.

Basically, the camera follows all these characters around for one day. Except this isn't just a normal day.it's the day when the proverbial crap hits the fan. Jimmy is dying of cancer. He visits Claudia and she screams for him to leave. Earl is dying even more rapidly. He intimates to Phil that he wants to see his son for a final time. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, since they haven't spoken for over ten years, and Frank is a celebrity. Not the easiest guy to track down. Blackman's character, Stanley Spector, also seems set to explode--his father's dominance and the stress of being on a game show seem to be getting to him...meanwhile, Donnie smashes in the front of a 7-11, gets fired from his job at an electronics store, and has to forgo his planned corrective oral surgery (which he doesn't really need since he has straight teeth already). Linda is about ready to go off the deep end; she might as well be dying too, since she's downright miserable. Claudia snorts coke, cranks up her music, and consequently disturbs her neighbors, leading Jim to come to check out the scene. If it all sounds confusing, it isn't--Anderson, whose prior credits include the sprawling Boogie Nights, is a great storyteller with an uncanny ability to manage a great number of characters at once. What's more amazing is that these are all characters we learn to like, perhaps because we can empathize with the sadness that exists all around them.

By the end of the film, we're ready for something to happen, and something DOES happen, and it might not make the most sense in the world at first, but after everything else that happens that day occurs, nothing seems too bizarre. Some have said that the climax of the film has Biblical overtones--this is definitely a possibility (there's even a sign that appears briefly on screen near the film's climax that suggests what Anderson's intent was), but I feel the ending is more a reflection of what can happen if everyone faces up to their problems. We'd certainly be living in a completely different world!

I absolutely adore Magnolia. Yes, it's long (195 min.), misery-laden, and a wee bit (ok, quite a bit) over-the-top, but it doesn't seem long (I was disappointed that something so wonderfully visionary had to end at all), and all great art requires a degree of pretension. The writing is top-notch, Jon Brion's musical score fantastic, the acting brilliant--particularly Cruise, Hall, and Walters-and the direction nearly flawless. Magnolia is a stunningly original work that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a challenging film to see with a group of friends (for discussion afterwards!) or one to treasure on a rainy afternoon.

10/10

One of the most visually stunning films ever, 16 March 2003
10/10

What Dreams May Come tells the story of a family torn apart by tragedy and despair. It offers a stunning, arresting vision of the afterlife and preaches that love can conquer any physical (or metaphysical) boundaries. It so happens to be one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, and one unfortunately dismissed by most critics as being corny and overly sentimental. I would argue that it is instead a masterpiece, and one of the best films of the 1990's.

Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra star as Chris and Annie Nielson, a successful couple who have, seemingly, the perfect suburban life until tragedy strikes when the couple's two children are killed in an accident. To make matters worse, Chris, a doctor, dies in a car accident several years later. These events leave Annie, an art curator and aficionado, in a state of emotional wreckage from which she is seemingly unable to recover. Meanwhile, Chris begins to relish the afterlife, a world where everything is coated in paint like an artist's palette. He soon discovers that his mortal wife is able to communicate with him--through her paintings; her increasingly bleak artwork begins to populate his otherwise sublime world. With some help from friends he encounters in the heavens, Chris sets out to save Annie from her personal demons--a challenge much more difficult than he thought possible.

The director, New Zealander Vincent Ward, follows up his previous film Map of the Human Heart with another great visual work. While that film explored the barren landscape of Alaska, What Dreams May Come creates a whole new world, a world not unlike the depiction of the heavens seen in Renaissance artwork. Robin Williams is the perfect actor to play Chris, an immensely likable character who we grow to sympathize with and who we want to see succeed in his final quest. Annabella Sciorra is absolutely wonderful as Annie; look at the despair in her eyes, for example, when she is haunted by Chris's ghost at his funeral--you can practically feel the goosebumps yourself. Her performance was definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination. Cuba Gooding, Jr. also performs well in a smaller role.

Some may find the romance in What Dreams May Come a bit too sentimental and many find its conclusion too tidy, but the mood of the movie is one of hope, of restoring and rejuvenating love, and the ending is definitely true to this mood. Anyway, the visuals in What Dreams May Come are most important, and they make it worth the price of admission alone. This is a rare film, abundant in imagination and beauty alike. And it's one of the few movies that's ever inspired me to want to make movies myself. I give What Dreams May Come my highest recommendation. 10/10

Chicago (2002)
Proof that the musical, as a film genre, is not dead after all., 16 March 2003
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

**SPOILERS POSSIBLE**

Chicago is a rousing spectacle of a motion picture, a first-class debut feature from director Rob Marshall, and proof that the musical, as a film genre, is not dead after all. Set in 1920's Chicago, it tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), an aspiring singer/dancer who, in a fit of rage, kills her lover and is sent to Death Row, where she meets up with her idol, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a once-huge star who is serving jail time for a double homicide of her own. With the help of her supportive, cuckolded husband Amos (John C. Reilly), her money-grubbing yet successful lawyer (Richard Gere), and Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), the prison warden who serves as the "Mother Hen" to the women on Death Row, along with some fabrications of her own, Roxie is able to win her innocence. The story itself may be simple, but it's punctuated by a great set of songs, all sung by the cast members themselves, including Zeta-Jones' slinky opener "All That Jazz" and "Give 'Em the Old Razzle Dazzle," where Gere preaches the virtues of bending the truth in the courtroom to obtain a favorable ruling.

All in all, Chicago is lightweight entertainment, but the film raises many questions to think about in the post-O.J. Simpson era. How much of a role does the media play in building a star? And is it possible to swindle a jury into letting a guilty person go free based on one's lawyer and one's star power?

One aspect of the film I thought could be better is if, in some cases, the musical numbers were better integrated into the story itself. Sometimes it's glaringly obvious that Chicago had previously been a stage production with several of the songs being performed against a solid black background, but this does not serve to distract from the sheer entertainment value of the film. I also thought the film ran perhaps a bit long; it seemed to lose some momentum in the closing minutes before the finale. Gere's performance is weak compared to those around him--it's not bad, but it pales in comparison to the knockout performances delivered by Zeta-Jones, Zellweger, and Reilly, to name a few.

However, Chicago's faults are few. This film is definitely a success, and one that will probably have a big night come the Oscars. Chicago is one of the most fun moviegoing experiences I had in 2002. Go see it! 8/10