396 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Spider-Man (2002)
Superb adaptation; has a lot of parallels with Smallville
11 June 2005
Sam Raimi's Spider-man has a lot of parallels with Alfred Gough's and Miles Millar's Smallville television series which chronicles the adventures of a young Clark Kent. Both Peter and Clark are high school students struggling to fit in. Both have a love interest that seems out of reach; Mary Jane for Peter and Lana Lang for Clark. Both budding superheroes come from modest households and yet also have warm and caring adoptive families. Both of them have rich best friends who flirt with the darker side of human nature; Harry Osborn and Lex Luthor. Eventually both their best friends will become their nemeses. And the fathers of their best friends, Norman Osborn and Lionel Luthor, both extend genuine fatherly admiration for Peter and Clark respectively.

As for the movie itself, Spider-man is an excellent translation of comic book to silver screen. Along the way there were some liberties taken, like the fact that Peter's ability to shoot webs is another result of the genetically modified spider's bite rather than his manufacturing of web shooters as was shown in the comics, but all in all the spirit of the source material is maintained. The action sequences and CGI were thrilling upon first viewing in the cinema and they hold up fairly well today although it has to be remembered that technology pushes ever forward. But the action scenes are only a secondary pleasure of the film. The primary pleasure is in watching the relationship between the characters unfurl. At the risk of sounding like a sap, I thought Tobey and Kirsten did a marvelous job in showing how young Shakesperean romantic love develops. I truly felt the euphoria that such an emotion generates. To use a cliché, the two had great chemistry. The warmth and caring of the Parker household was also very touching and the tragedy of Ben Parker's demise, frankly, gets to me every time. To me, however, the most intriguing relationships are the ones between Harry and Norman and Harry and Peter. The viewer can empathize with Harry's yearning for love and recognition from the senior Osborn and the jealousy he must feel at his father's interest in Peter. The scene where Harry concedes that his father was 'right about M.J., right about everything' and Norman admits that he 'hasn't always been there' for his son was played to great effect by James Franco and Willem Dafoe. The relationship between Peter and Harry is also a marvel (no pun intended) to watch unfold. We see their almost brotherly camaraderie at the field trip turn into understated awkwardness and tension over Harry's interest in Peter's girl. The mutual empathy over the parallel losses of their fathers briefly brings them together again until Harry swears a vendetta against Peter's alter ego meaning they are now enemies. Great stuff! I can't wait to see how this develops in further installments of the franchise. All the secondary characters are well cast also. Special mention must be made of Bonesaw (played by real life wrestler Randy 'Macho Man' Savage) and J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons who to a degree reprises his role as Sheriff Pearl Johnson in The Gift which not coincidentally was also directed by Raimi). If I have one minor quibble it would be that I wish that the Peter's first love from the comics, Gwen Stacy, could somehow have been written in. She is such a great character. Then again, to do so would probably dilute the Pete-M.J. story arc. The two-disc editions have a wealth of info and special features, more than enough to satisfy the most ravenous curiosity over the film.
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The Gift (2000)
Defamation of Southern folk (SPOILER)
3 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
While The Gift is an undeniably riveting thriller, it is also a very unflattering portrayal of Southern folk. Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves), the most openly devout Christian in the film, rails against "Jews and {blacks}" (Barksdale uses another word). He also beats his mousy wife (Hilary Swank) and sports a rebel flag. The clairvoyant pagan Annie (Cate Blanchett) is of course a paragon of virtue and her only real friend is a mentally challenged and sexually exploited mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi). By offering no counterbalancing virtuous Christian character, the filmmakers are irresponsibly suggesting that all devout Christians who are sympathetic to the Confederate cause are uncouth rednecks. The justice system of the South is also defamed. The lawyers are some of the smarmiest seen on screen in recent years and Sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons), while admittedly brilliant comic relief, looks like he couldn't tie his shoes much less solve a murder case. The character is totally out of place in a serious thriller like The Gift and appears to have been written only to insult the justice system of the South. SPOILER: The fact that the killer is revealed to be the shy and reserved school counselor, Wayne (Greg Kinnear), is a suggestion that even the most well adjusted and educated Southerner is a potential killer. On a bright note, Katie Holmes is a very convincing adulteress.
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Shrek (2001)
Has hidden messages
30 April 2005
Shrek has hidden messages that will likely sail right over the heads of its target audience. The resettlement of the fairly tale creatures in the villainous Farquaad's (ruthless and cruel Anglo-Saxon) kingdom is an allusion to the resettlement of Jews in ghettos carried out by many European principalities during the Middle Ages (at the time of Martin Luther, I think they were expelled from England, France and Spain but tolerated, with restrictions, in some German city states). The filmmakers seem to be suggesting that just as Farquaad did not appreciate the fairy tale creatures and their magical and unique abilities and may have in fact been afraid of them, so, too, were Europeans afraid of Jews and their foreign culture and thus unjustly persecuted them. Apparently, all for no good reason. Shrek, the ogre, of course, represents how the African would have been received in medieval European society. He is feared and misunderstood as a stupid, grotesque, and violent menace. Of course, we are shown that in his private moments, he is anything but these undesirable qualities and his moral fibre transcends his physical ugliness. The fact that the fair princess Fiona is revealed to really be an ogress is to confirm that well worn cliché that we are all the same inside. In a classic fairy tale, which Shrek is the antithesis of, written by someone like Hans Christian Anderson for instance, Farquaad would be the hero, Shrek the villain, and Fiona would indeed be the fairest maiden in all the land.
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Decent political thriller
22 April 2005
I have never read any of the Jack Ryan books by Tom Clancy so I don't know how faithful of an adaptation this production was. That said, director Phillip Noyce does a competent job here in blending the realistic-looking (to my untrained eye) action sequences with the dialogue scenes to create some genuine suspense and tension. To be honest though, I watched this only because Harrison Ford was starring. In 1994, he was still the quintessential action hero in cinema (some say he has been for 30 years). In fact, when Nicolas Cage started making action movies in the mid-nineties, he said he modeled much of his work on Ford's. That has to be one of the highest compliments one leading man can give to another!
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Bullitt (1968)
Rings with authenticity
26 March 2005
Despite having aged somewhat, Bullitt remains a tough, gritty, and altogether realistic portrait of police life in late sixties San Francisco. The film is of course most renowned for the spectacular (even by today's standards) car chase in which star Steve McQueen famously did his own stunt driving (I wonder what the insurance policy was like?!) Although McQueen didn't really have to stretch beyond his already established screen persona, he is perfect in the role. He is Bullitt like Connery is Bond. Maybe the role was tailored specifically for him. He also has Jacqueline Bisset (Cathy), who can more than hold her own with any Bond girl, to come home to! She adds a welcome domestic quality and the audience feels relieved that despite the unforgiving profession Bullitt works in, at least he has a good woman at his side. The location photography in beautiful San Francisco, the to-the-letter accurate procedural dialogue, the political infighting with the smarmy D.A. Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) and the brutally violent action scenes all complement the fine performances to create an entirely engrossing authentic crime drama. Watch for the great Robert Duvall in a minor role as the cabbie.
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The Wrong Man (1956)
Wrongfully accused
1 March 2005
In the Bible, the scriptures tell us that it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to be condemned. Master director Alfred Hitchcock proves this biblical maxim in his sparse black and white documentary-style thriller based on the real life account of C.E. Balestrero (played by Henry Fonda in an appropriately understated performance). Almost from the opening frames, we see how this simple but financially struggling family man, has his dignity and pride stripped away as complete strangers look at him with all the suspicion, contempt, and fear of a dangerous criminal, all because of an unfortunate resemblance. Seeing this wrongfully accused man be clinically processed by the police, court, and prison systems makes the audience realize just how flawed the justice system can be. However, before one condemns the system, it should be remembered that at least in the Anglo-American legal system, that scholars like Alan Dershowitz rightly praise, there is an attempt to remedy miscarriages of justice. By comparison, in the Third World they simply throw away the key!
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Elmer Gantry (1960)
Exposé of the perversion of religion
1 March 2005
In Elmer Gantry, Burt Lancaster, as the titular character in an Oscar winning performance of a lifetime, shows us dramatically, and even comically, how unscrupulous people can usurp the name of religion and twist it into a justification for the narrowest of self-interests. Despite his vices, however, Gantry at all times retains the sympathy of the audience because we sense he is basically good (but also weak as even the most devout Christians admit they are). This is in no small part due to the charisma, and yes, pleasant features, of Lancaster. As for the love triangle, on the one hand I could understand Gantry's desperate desire to escape his less than glorious past and take up with the saintly Sister Sharon (Jean Smimmons) but on the other hand, troubled and imperfect Lulu (Shirley Jones) seems to be the one more in need, and in a certain sense more deserving, of getting her heart's desire. Besides Lulu and Gantry can sympathize more with each other's weaknesses while unblemished Sister Sharon would eventually tire, I'm sure, of forgiving Gantry's inevitable submissions to temptation. On a final, and undoubtedly, cynical note, one can see Elmer Gantry almost anytime one tunes into a televangelist broadcast.
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The Outsiders (1983)
Fairly good adaptation
26 February 2005
First let me say that this will not be a comment where the author will be gushing about how "hot" the cast is! Like a lot of people who have commented on this film I, too, read the book first in school and then proceeded to seek out the film to see how the story translated to the screen. I thought esteemed director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) did a fairly competent job of adapting the book (there will always be somerevisions and omissions in such an enterprise). He preserved the essence of the class struggle: the eternal conflict between those who were better favored by birth and station (Socs) with those less favored (Greasers). Coppola elicited more than competent performances from the young up-and-coming cast he assembled. All in all, a very good coming of age film.
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Shane (1953)
Shane was a true man of the West
26 February 2005
As the frontier of the West was pushed relentlessly forward and stakes to valuable tracts of land were competed for sometimes fairly but often underhandedly, it took a rare stock of man to survive and prosper and what's more to do so honorably. Alan Ladd in his signature role as the titular character is one such man. It is difficult for us living in the present to understand just how precarious mere survival was in those days and how arbitrary justice could be towards barely accused and untried persons. Shane knows there is a better way than dispensing justice out of the barrel of a gun and yet he also knows that it is the only way when there is no rule of law. During the ending, after our hero has disposed of his nemesis with the assistance of his young admirer, when Shane rides off into the sunset, both his adopted family and the audience lament the loss of one of the last of the dying noble breed.
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Something is slightly off
26 February 2005
I really wanted to write a glowing review of this film but I just can't and the frustrating part is I'm not entirely sure why I can't (it's not the historical inaccuracy). I love the genre and I really like the stars, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and the supporting cast backing them is stacked with recognizable talents such as Dennis Hopper and DeForest Kelly (McCoy on Star Trek). There was a lot of rousing action and the scenes taken individually are certainly well constructed. And yet something is missing from pushing it over the top into the elite tier of Westerns with Shane and High Noon to name just a couple. Still, it is a safely above average film and more than worthwhile viewing.
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