12 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Monument Ave. (1998)
One of the most overlooked flicks of recent years
14 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Eventually, Monument Ave will get its due. It is a terrifically realized slice of hoodlum life, a story about a near escape from a cycle of hopeless violence and dis pear. Dennis Leary proved he could act right here.

It also suggests, along with the better-than-it-had-a-right-to-be Beautiful Girl, that Ted Demme was just tapping the surface of potentially great career when he died. He and Leary may have combined on a handful of classics if Demme had lived.

As much as I like The Departed and Mystic River, this is the movie that really captures the gangster life in South Boston. If you like movies like Force of Evil, Friends of Eddie Coyle and other hard-edged crime pictures, check it out.
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The greatest performance from one of America's greatest actors
3 February 2007
How is The Last Detail not in the top 100? In represents one of the heights of 70s film making, a film absolutely impossible to imagine being made today. It is profane, raunchily funny, ragged, ultimately bleak and brilliant. I cannot think if any independent film of recent years that matches it for honesty, devotion to the art of acting and willingness to go where its characters lead.

The film represents a brilliant collaboration between the actors, writer (Robert Towne) and the underrated director (Hal Ashby). The actor's rehearsed, improvised and found the core of their characters, all of which was used by Towne in revising the script and by Ashby in finding and filming the emotional core of each scene.

To watch The Last Detail again and to see Nicholson's brilliance in it is to be reminded why people once thought that film could important. Any serious student of film and acting needs to watch it.
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A Very Under rated film
20 November 2005
(I tagged this as having spoilers but I don't think it really does. That's more or less a precaution) A lot of reviews--both here and in the media--were hung up on whether the story was 'true' or not. My feeling is...who cares? It is probably 'true' enough in the sense that this is what Travis Walton believes happened to him but whether or not it has external reality should have nothing to do with your enjoyment of the film.

And it is enjoyable, placing us outside the events so that we (and James Garner's character who is the audience's surrogate for the most part) don't know what really happened. It builds nicely and logically until we relive the experience subjectively through one of the characters. The final coda is the events effect on the participants.

It is well done, well acted and the finale is scary especially for the feeling of helplessness it evokes. I have always expected this film to enjoy a revival--as soon as people start accepting the movie for what it is: a well told story.
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Perhaps the saddest comedy ever made
16 September 2005
A wonderful film, filled with great understated performance and sharp, intelligent dialogue. What really distinguishes the film, however, is that undercurrent of sadness throughout. The story is underscored by affairs, loneliness, suicide, disappointment, the fear of losing ones job in a world where that had disastrous consequences. Most of all it was set in a world that no longer existed, having been ripped apart by the beginning of World War II. In fact, the film is barely a comedy at all if you compare the percentage of serious scenes to the comic scenes. Yet funny it is--listen to Margaret Sullivan's harsh dismissal of Jimmy Stewart and watch his pained expression as he replies that her comments were a remarkable blend "of poetry and meanness". It's funny, pointed, and sad all at once. A remarkable achievement and one of the ten greatest screen comedies ever made.
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Far and Away, the Best of the Three
5 June 2004
If the only criteria you have for a Harry Potter movie is absolute fidelity to the book, then you will be disappointed in this one. But if you understand that the filmmakers (especially screenwriter Steve Kloves) need to condense the increasingly long novels into acceptable screen time while preserving their essence, then you are at the right stating point.

They condense and take some liberties, but this movie looks and feels like Hogwarts in a way that the first two never did. It has a beautiful texture and look. The film is content to let magical things happen along the edges and the background without having to land heavily on each moment. The result is that you feel so much more a part of this world then you did previously. The three leads have improved wonderfully and I can now imagine them having post-Potter careers.

There is no point in recapping the plot. If you are interested in the movie you no doubt read the book. Accept some differences from the sources, however, and you will enjoy the best Otter yet.
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Shrek 2 (2004)
Merely Good--Not inspired
19 May 2004
Shrek was funny, fresh, and slightly off kilter. It was a breath of fresh air and that rarest of all animals: a kids movie with genuine laughs for grown ups.

Shrek II has plenty of great gags and visual jokes--but that is all they are. Just gags. The freshness is gone, and the story carries little weight. In the first movie, the jokes were funny AND they revealed character and moved the plot. Here they are one unconnected laugh after another.

You will enjoy Shrek II. It is funny. You will probably laugh more often than your kids. But it is just not special, surprising, engaging movie the original was.
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Stone Reader (2002)
Enjoy it for what it is.
19 April 2004
It seems those few critics and IMDB (and Amazon) reviewers who criticized it--occasionally while still giving it a favorable mark--are intent on complaining about what the movie ISN'T rather than what it is. Sure, the fictionalized shots of guys getting the book in the mail, etc., violate The Great Ethics of Documentary Films brought down from Sinai by Moses. (You know, Thou Shalt Not Recreate). And, yes, he does meander a bit and delay the pay off, but...so what?

This is more a conversation about books than a movie in any conventional sense. Complaints that some many interviews don't move him towards the goal of finding Dow Mossman miss the point that the interviews are themselves interesting conversations about the love of good books. Visiting Sealy (the NY Times reviewer who inspired him to read the book) doesn't solve anything--but who wouldn't want to hang around with him a couple of days discussing great reads? Of course, when he finds Dow, what do they do? They immediately talk about books! Love of books permeates everything here, most poignantly and surprisingly in the clearly emotional response the agent Carl Brandt has to being reminded of what he considers a great book and reflecting on a missed career.

Let's put it this way: if you love books, if you love talking about novels, if you get a thrill of excitement when you over hear a conversation about a book you love, then you will enjoy The Stone Reader. It is not conventionally well made, but thank heavens for that. It could be "better", but I doubt it could be more enjoyable.
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An excellent film that may be fading from memory
1 April 2004
Quick: what movie am I describing?

An eccentric writer is rescued from emotional isolation by a working class woman with a chronically sick son. A small dog plays a key role in the story.

Chances are you thought of As Good As It Gets, with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. The comparison is interesting for a number of reasons. FOr one, it shows how essentially the same logline or story concept can be treated very differently. But more interesting is that the comparison shows the lack of depth in the admittedly enjoyable As Good As It Gets.

Take for example, the children. Hunt's son suffers from chronic allergies and she is constantly frazzled with worry about him. Having introduced this heavy theme, you might expect the story to revolve around this emotional issue. Instead, Dr. Harold Ramis shows up unexpectedly (summoned by Nicholson) and--a bad joke about HMO's later--the boy is cured.

In Accidental Tourist, William Hurt plays the writer of travel books for people who hate to travel. He gives them tips on how to travel in their own portable cocoon. Yet his life is shattered (before the film begins) when his son is gunned down at a McDonalds in a random shooting. This withdrawn man withdraws even more, finishing off his marriage. Yet when Geena Davis forces her way into his life he begins to connect again. But she has a chronically sick boy. (She explains, almost blithely, at one point the number of things that could kill him or put him in the hospital.) There is a wonderful moment when Hurt finds the lonely boy walking home from school (being ignored by his friends). They chat a moment, then Hurt's voice over (which frequently quotes from his travel books in ironic contrast to the story) says, "Business travelers should never take along something they couldn't bear to lose." As the voice over says that, the little boy's hand slips into Hurts and they walk home together.

It's a small, wonderful moment. There are no miracle cures from super doctors. Instead there is the acceptance that love requires risk, that you have to accept the possibility of loss. It's a deep, mature, moving film, wonderfully acted, that also manages to be funny without sacrificing any of its depth. It is Lawrence Kasdan's best film and deserves renewed interest.

PS: The similarities between As Good As It Gets and The Accidental Tourist cannot have escaped James L Brooks attention. After all, he cast Kasdan in a cameo as Nicholson's shrink. Yet as far as I know, I have never seen a critic comment on the similarities.
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Into the West (1992)
One of the best Irish Movies
28 August 2003
This is a deceptively complex movie. The basic plot outline of the Traveler boys stealing their horse back and leading police on a cross country chase suggests a simple boys adventure tale. And so it is. But it is also a commentary on Irish society. After all, it is a policeman and an industrialist who combine to steal the horse and change its name from the Irish Tir na nOg (based on an ancient legend) to National Security. (Do you really need me to point out the obvious symbolism there?) The subtext of the movie is about Ireland's beleaguered unique culture and identity fighting to assert itself. Of course, if you choose to focus solely on the plot and the humor, you'll have a great time. But if you look beneath the surface, you will find so much more.
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I am in the minority on this...
8 May 2003
but this just may be Scorsese's best film. It is certainly the most effective love story he ever wrote. (Or should I say the most effective love story between a man and women?)The trick is recognizing that it's a love story in the first place. Cage, who squandered his acting chops after Leaving Las Vegas, is brilliant here. He plays a paramedic who has been beaten down by the nightly horrors he sees into a walking dead man. Yet, terrifyingly for him, a spiritual essence still sparks within him. Too bad: it is far easier to be dead in the world he inhabits. As a walking dead man, he would feel no pain, but he is haunted by the memory of people he couldn't help and desperate to reach out and connect with someone, to find peace within himself. Despite the parade of horrors, this is Scorsese's most affirming, spiritual film, and the last shot is his most beautiful.
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Terrific--one of Bogart's Best
27 March 2003
Anyone looking for a murder mystery or thriller will be disappointed. Yes, it has those elements, but In A Lonely Place is about the personality of a writer. Dixon Steele is an artist whose contradictions resolve themselves only when he is writing and only when he is writing something he is interested in. As soon as he steps away from his typewriter he is bitter, angry, self-destructive, violent. In its way, this is as good a portrait of an artistic personally you will ever see.
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A light, enjoyable movie
6 February 2003
It does have one scene of note. Pons plays an opera singer hiding out with a jazz band. The band knows nothing of her identity. She sabotages their singer (Lucille Ball in an early role) and is forced to go on stage as a substitute. Well, she only knows opera; the band only knows jazz. She sings "The Blue Danube" with both her and the band segueing from classical singing to jazz and back. It's a really delightful number, very inventive. If the movie is ever on TCM or AMC, it's work a look just for that
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