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Harsh Realm (1999)
Never Given a Chance
Harsh Realm was an intriguing premise which was unfairly dismissed out of hand before it got a chance to show what it could become. Aside from movies such as 'The Matrix', or if you want to go back even earlier, 'Tron', the concept of virtual reality is still largely unexplored in popular television and cinema. Had it been allowed to develop naturally, who knows where Harsh Realm might have led us as it explored the worlds within our world.
Scott Bairstow, the quietly earnest Tom Hobbes, and D.B. Sweeney, throwing a more cynical view on things as Michael Pinocchio, were great leading men, giving wonderfully nuanced performances that were just beginning to grow in strength as they worked out their characters quirks and foibles. Supporting players Rachel Hayward as Florence and Max Martini as Mel Waters did much with little, while Terry O'Quinn's Santiago was a suitably driven dictator and Sarah Jane Redmond added many shades of grey to the ambiguous Inga. Perhaps the only performance that failed to impress came from Samantha Mathis as the saccherine Sophie, but given time she to could have shone.
That's not to say it was all good. The dog, although very cute, quickly became a plot liability, while episodes like 'Three Percenters' and 'Leviathan' were hardly stand-outs and the pilot needed a second and even third viewing for this reviewer to understand the complex story line. But in the mix you also get episodes such as 'Reunion', 'Manus Domini' and 'Cincinnati' which are rich in character development and great stories to boot.
Who knows what might have happened had Harsh Realm been allowed to run a full season. It might not have lasted the distance, but then again, maybe it could have. With careful nurturing it could have turned into a thoughtful, contemplative show that questioned our very reason for being, or else simply a rollicking good adventure series.
As it is, Harsh realm lives on in the minds of a few dedicated fans and is a prime example of why nervous network executives should give second thought about pulling the plug too early.
If you have the chance SEE IT!
I first saw this on TV when I was about thirteen or fourteen and I was absolutely rivited to the screen every Monday for weeks. When they repeated it due to popular demand about three months later I was hooked all over again. It is one of the most amazing television experiences of my life. It is simply sublime.
The acting, the dialogue, the action, the sets, everything is wonderful. Nicholas confronting Sqeers is still one of the most thrilling things I have ever seen and could Smikes' death be any sadder?
Roger Rees is the ideal Nicholas, exuding the right amount of boyish naivety and pluck, David Threlfall was a wonderfully sincere Smike, while special mention must go to Edward Petherbridge whose portrayal of Newman Noggs contained the perfect balance of humour and pathos.
All in all I couldn't recommend it more highly. Ten stars at least.
Hear No Evil (1993)
Could Be Better
With it's convoluted plot, hackneyed script and not so surprising 'twist' ending, this movie is not one of the best thrillers to come out of Hollywood in the past ten years.
Marlee Matlin seems to be sleep walking through her role as Jillian Shanahan, a deaf woman who is unknowingly given a rare stolen coin and is now being pursued by the various parties who want to get their hands on it. Martin Sheen as the corrupt policeman Lt. Brock does a play it by numbers bad guy routine, while the usually good D.B. Sweeney as the insomniac restauranteur/rock climber Ben Kendal appears to be wondering how he got mixed up in all this, both figuratively and literally.
That is not to say it doesn't have its moments. The scene where Jillian's friend is attacked is quite chilling and the part where Jillian teaches Ben to swear in sign language is cute. And Ben's morning grumpiness definitely struck a chord with a fellow insomniac.
But over all the whole thing doesn't quite gel. Matlin and Sweeney have little chemistry and their characters seem to fall for each other a bit too quickly to be plausible. You have to wonder why Ben would go to such lengths for a person he hardly knows, while Jillian is too much the damsel in distress, even though she's supposed to be this fiesty, independent woman who has risen above her disability. Sheen comes off the worst as the bad-guy cop who beats up suspects while listening to opera. His character has no shades of grey and is just your standard authoritarian thug who deserves his comeuppance. The funeral scene is embarrassingly trite and the whole FBI sting sequence is corny and contrived, while you can just see the 'surprise' ending coming a mile a way. Watch it once then forget about it.