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"E-Ring" (2005)
9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
What "West Wing" did for the White House, "E-Ring" does for the Pentagon, 9 November 2005

Into what has become a recent sub-genre of network television -- that of the government operational-situation drama -- NBC's newest entry, "E-Ring," boldly enters the arena.

Sharing the same network as the hugely successful "West Wing," "E-Ring" draws inescapable comparisons to its popular predecessor. Simply put -- what "West Wing" did for the White House, "E-Ring" does for the Pentagon.

Helmed by Hollywood uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, E-Ring is set in the all-powerful outermost ring of the Pentagon's five concentric corridors, where special-ops military responses to the ever-changing world situation are planned and executed. As one might expect, such an open-ended, dynamic setting lends itself to an almost limitless list of scenarios -- ripe for the traditional hour-long TV drama format.

The basis for "E-Ring" centers around a newly-assigned special-ops Army major, Jim Tiznewski, or "J.T.," played superbly by Benjamin Bratt. The series follows Tiznewski from his initial posting to the Pentagon from his former field-operations status as he reports to his new C.O., played by film veteran Dennis Hopper in a canny bit of casting. Along the way, the pair deal with up-to-the-minute intelligence reports from around the globe, determine which are deserving of immediate military attention and then apply the appropriate response.

Bratt and Hopper are joined by a well-placed supporting cast, including Anjenue Ellis as the tough-as-nails Marine Sargent who serves as the logistical guru who holds the Spec-ops planning office together; Kelly Rutherford, who plays the high-ranking civilian counsel acting as a legal liaison between the Pentagon and the White House; Joe Morton, as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Spec-ops who serves as the ranking decision-maker for Bratt and Hopper; and, in another bit of brilliant casting, former "Brat-Packer" Andrew McCarthy as a slippery Congressional liaison (a casting choice not unlike that of Rob Lowe in the early seasons of West Wing).

Although original plans for the series apparently called for Bratt's character to be married, those plans were changed in favor of having "romantic interests." It is hard to imagine that the first of these "romantic interests" could be improved upon -- at least from a plot standpoint -- as his first live-in girlfriend is a covert CIA operative who sometimes "unofficially" hands him key bits of intelligence. This development should remain an interesting sub-plot for many episodes to come.

What impresses me, as a viewer, is that the show has the ring of authenticity. Although I have never served in the military, a friend of mine has -- even spending time in the Pentagon itself -- and reports that, although the show has the usual amount of TV glamorization added to it for dramatic purpose, it has enough accuracy to hit close to the mark. Characters in the show might bend the rules occasionally, but respect for chain-of-command is inherent throughout.

Also impressive is that the show does not take on a level of high-handed moral "preachiness" which might mar a lesser show. The main theme to "E-Ring," if there is one, is that the military takes care of its own -- because others won't -- and this is done with a minimum of political strings attached.

Between the excellent cast, intelligent story lines which are suitably complex without being burdensome and the high-quality Hollywood-like production values undoubtedly insisted upon by Bruckheimer, "E-Ring" has the potential to be a sure-fire hit -- providing NBC gives it enough of a chance for it to find its audience.

Grade: 9, out of 10.

Alexander (2004)
7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A mess of a film...too bad, because it could have been so much better, 24 February 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The latest effort from Oliver Stone - an epic film biography of one of history's greatest figures, Alexander the Great - held much promise prior to its release. Finally, an epic history, as told by an epic filmmaker.

Unfortunately, with its release - and subsequent departure from U.S. theaters just five weeks later - "Alexander" failed to live up to its lofty expectations. My (honestly) unbiased opinion: It was a mess, and I can see why it faded so quickly.

First off, let me say that I maintained an open mind going into the film - prepared to accept whatever depictions of homosexuality were depicted. That was neither my motive for going to the film, nor my source of disappointment in it.

Secondly, I am not a Stone-basher. Like most directors ... well, like most highly-acclaimed directors anyway... he has shown streaks of brilliance ("Nixon," to my mind, is his most underrated work in that it actually depicts one of the 20th century's most controversial public figures in a sympathetic light, at once tragic and touching) as well as the occasional streak of over-importance (yes, I was one of those people who found "JFK" overbearing and too pretentious). I've even congratulated him for his occasional forays into blatantly controversial topics, especially when they carry such a satiric relevance to modern society ("Natural Born Killers" comes to mind).

Thus, it was with great disappointment that I exited the theater having watched the mess that was "Alexander." I really wanted to like this film and I guess that was why I was so disappointed with it - if anything, perhaps my expectations were too high.

My chief disappointments were as follows:

1) Dialogue. There was entirely too much narration; even for an exceptional vocal talent like Anthony Hopkins. Good films explain themselves through implied or indirect action and/or dialog - those which resort to an inordinate amount of narration or title screens are making up for those deficiencies. Also, what actual dialog there was was extremely superficial - aside from Alexander himself, there seemed to be little or no character development amongst the central figures of this film (meaning: I had little or no interest in the fates of any of these characters by the end of the film - other than that of the actual historic record, of course).

2) Psudo-accents. The polyglot of accents employed was mind-boggling - from Alexander's (read: Farrell's) Irish brogue (?!?), to Val Kilmer's bland American as Philip, to Angelina Jolie's "Natascha" (a la Boris & Natascha of Rocky & Bulwinkle fame) impersonation - and everything in between, including the occasional "Scottish" hoplite, of all things. For our international readers here, I would think this would be the most upsetting to you - it is merely the latest "Hollywoodization," depicting foreign-speaking peoples by using broken-English or, primarily, British actors. This is one area where I think Mel Gibson's "Passion" had it right - I would much rather hear a foreign tongue being spoken on film and read subtitles than watch a dubbed or oddly-accented film like this. Anything else, to me, is an insult to my intelligence.

3) Plot. Not that I'm opposed to the occasional cleverly-constructed non-linear plot line in film -- David Lynch remains one of the most brilliant directors of all time -- but when the film in question is a large-scale historical epic like this, I appreciate following the progression of the plot along its actual historical timeline. Without giving away too many spoilers here, by the time in "Alexander" where we learn - finally - what happened to his father, it is way too late in the film to even care that it happened.

4) Action/battle sequences. OK - for a big, epic historical film like "Alexander," this should be the bread-and-butter of the story - the icing on the cake, if you will. Instead, we're left here with only two big epic battle scenes....TWO - out of the multitude of dramatic, epic battles and campaigns waged by Alexander during his reign - and this in a nearly 3-hour film! Of the two battles depicted, the first, Gaugemela, employed so much CGI that it looked more like a computer game - really, I enjoyed the History Channel's recent "Decisive Battles" series more than this scene. And the other battle scene - where the Macedonians are fighting the Indians - had entirely too many close-ups and quick cutaways to even follow the action. Not to mention the climactic scene where Alexander encounters the war elephants - I nearly laughed out loud when Stone kept cutting back and forth between the elephant and Farrell's ever-widening eyes! It reminded me of the scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail, where the castle guard keeps watching in the distance for the approaching knight...watching...watching...until the final cutaway when the knight has already stabbed the guard and is on his way into the castle.

Ultimately, I found much of this film to be indefensible, if not unwatchable. Not to say that it didn't have any redeeming qualities -- I thought the use of Vangelis for the soundtrack was both brilliant and appropriate (Vangelis is Greek); and the recreation of ancient Babylon was almost breathtaking in its beauty - one example of where the CGI actually worked in this film.

But, in general, it seemed as though an awful lot of exceptional actors were wasted and/or mis-directed in this film - including, quite possibly, one of Colin Farrell's poorest efforts.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
OK, But Incomplete..., 13 April 2004

As the much-heralded "fourth film by Quentin Tarantino," "Kill Bill

Vol. I" is, at best (or, by definition), merely an incomplete story.

Although Tarantino's loyal legion of fans waited years for this film,

they unfortunately were rewarded with this half-baked project -- an

homage to the Asian "grind house" cinema of the 1970s and 80s.

Admittedly, this film has some brilliant cut-scenes and was shot

with the same cinematic intensity as Tarantino's earlier

masterworks, although thematically, it is really more closely

related to "True Romance," a film which he penned but did not


Like "True Romance," the plot of "Kill Bill" revolves around an

anti-hero who is betrayed and then spends the rest of the film

plotting her revenge. In this role, Uma Thurman turns in a career

performance -- perhaps her best since her last appearance in a

Tarantino project, 1994's "Pulp Fiction."

Speaking of casting, Tarantino offers a few brilliant choices here --

as he often seems to do -- resurrecting long-forgotten screen idols

and highlighting up-and-coming talents. David Carradine plays the

title character and focus of Thurman's venom in the film; Darryl

Hannah returns from Hollywood exile for a brilliant cameo

reminiscent of her villainous turn in "Blade Runner;" Vivica Fox is

memorable as an assassin-turned-soccer mom; and Michael

Madsen also returns as one of Tarantino's favorite bad guys. The

one lackluster casting choice here is Lucy Liu, who has a rather

typecast role as a bad-ass martial arts master.

Cinematically, Tarantino is on his game here, offering forays into

various genres such as revenge film, road film, samurai film and

even anime. Unfortunately for the viewer, the sum is less than the

collected parts, as each set-piece stands well enough alone but

fails to blend together.

Ironically, if Miramax studio head Harvey Weinstein had left well

enough alone, "Kill Bill" would have been an epic, 2-and-a-half

hour genre-basher, worthy of the rabid praise being heaped upon

it by his legion of fans, as well as placing it among one of the best

action films of the past decade. Unfortunately, greedy marketing

tactics led to this would-be great film being whacked into two

parts. Although there is nothing either new or wrong with cinematic

serialization (it worked well enough for the Lord of the Rings

trilogy) -- in this case it is an unwelcome artifice, providing a

cliffhanger ending to "Vol. I" which Tarantino never intended to


As a result, I considered giving "Kill Bill Vol. I" an "incomplete"

grade, but I believe a more proper score is 4 out of 10 -- just like

the film itself, I took the grade of 8 which I would have given it, and

cut it in half. I will likely give "Kill Bill, Vol. II" the other 4 points when it comes out.

(Wait a minute - I just thought of something - does that make "Vol.

II" the "fifth film by Quentin Tarantino?" Ah well, another debate for

another time...)

More than just "Dances With Samurai", 1 December 2003

Truly one of the better films I've seen so far in 2003 (which may or

may not be the highest criteria I could give a film, but it will have to

do). Even if you are not a Tom Cruise fan (he's actually quite good in

this one), this is a film not to be missed! I jokingly refer to it as

"Dances With Samurai," because plotwise, it is very similar to

"Dances With Wolves," although really, I think, it is much better. In

fact, while the first half of the film is like "Dances With Wolves," the

second half is more like Braveheart - so if you liked either of those

films (or both), you will definitely like this one! This qualifier begs a debate on the merits of remaking old

plotlines for Hollywood movies, but when a film such as "The Last

Samurai" comes along and is clearly better than its predecessor, I

have no problem in giving it praise. For fans of historical epics, this will not disappoint - nor will it be a

disappointment to those with an interest in Japanese culture, as it

focuses on "Bushido," or the code of the Samurai warriors. Also, one last detail - I enjoy films such as this that do not insult

my intelligence by having the courage to present the actual

language of the country being portrayed. Although there aren't

many parts of this film with Japanese dialogue, I would much

prefer hearing Japanese being spoken and read subtitles, to

hearing Japanese actors speaking in a fake, broken English


2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
OK - If you can get past the many glaring inaccuracies., 7 April 2003

As far as war movies go, "The Battle of the Bulge" isn't the worst ever

made - but nor is it very memorable.

Compared to other popular World War II movies of its era (such as "The

Bridge at Remagen" and "Anzio"), "The Battle of the Bulge" is pretty

standard fare. Portraying the biggest land battle on the Western Front

of the European Theater and taking place during the closing stages of

the war, this film featured a large, star-studded cast, plenty of action

and, no doubt, a hefty budget.

Where it goes wrong, however, is in the details. Although certain

historical events (such as the infamous "Malmedy massacre") are accurate

and are well-represented in the film, other events (such as the large

tank battle near the end) never happened.

And speaking of the tanks, none - I repeat, NONE - of the tanks shown in

the film were ever used - by either side - during WWII. What tanks you

see in the film were U.S.-made M48 Walker "Bulldogs" or M60 "Patton"

tanks from the 1950s and 60s. In some ridiculous scenes, M48s can be

seen fighting M48s - some with American stars painted on them, some with

German crosses.

Finally, the biggest insult - to both viewers and the veterans who

fought in the battle - was that most of the film was shot on the sunny,

dry, desert-like Spanish plains - not at all like the densely-wooded

terrain of the Ardennes forest during one of the worst winters ever

recorded in west-central Europe. The final tank battle scene is actually

shown taking place on dry, sandy, snow-free terrain!

So, through no fault of the actors (Hank Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan

and Telly Savalas were all as good here as they ever were), I have to

give this film a 5 out of 10. Perhaps if it had starred John Wayne and

had been renamed as "The Sands of Belgium," I might have been tempted to


0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Not a masterpiece, but among the best of post-apocalyptic action thrillers., 1 April 2003

Set in the near future, "Reign of Fire" is the latest film among the growing genre of post-apocalyptic action thrillers. Compared to other films of this type, it ranks somewhere between the "Road Warrior/Mad Max" series and "The Postman." The story begins with a young Quinn discovering a hidden cave in a newly-renovated section of the London Underground - then stumbling upon a fire-breathing dragon which has been trapped there for eons. Unfortunately, no explanation is given as to the origins of the dragon but suffice to say that the dragon emerges from his slumber, kills Quinn's mother (a wasted cameo appearance by Alice Krige), then begins to terrorize the world. Skipping the worldwide destruction which ensues, the film next jumps 12 years in the future and shows a grown-up Quinn (played capably by Christian Bale) leading a rag-tag group of survivors who live in relative peace in northern England. The dragons, however, have multiplied a thousand-fold, and now dominate the earth. At this point, Matthew McConaughey enters as the robust leader of a group of American dragon-slayers. Again, it is best not to think too hard about how a group of Americans ended up in England in such a chaotic world - although it would have been interesting to actually see how they did it, based upon their explanation of it in the film. In any case, from this point forward, the film's action really picks up and, at times, is very compelling. In retrospect, I wish the point of view for the entire film had been from the perspective of the Van Zan character (McConaughey), as he actually tends to "steal" the movie away from the Quinn character. Rob Bowman's direction of `Reign of Fire" is well done, really, considering that he began as a regular director of several "X-Files" episodes, as well as the "X-Files" movie. In fact, the entire film has a certain dark "eerieness" about it which looks not unlike an extended episode of that now-defunct series. The effects are well done, too, although too limited in their scope. We see the flying dragons from time to time, and they do look convincing. What is missing, however, is the context of how destructive the dragons are. We see only the results of their destruction in brief, panoramic CGI views of a destroyed London - nothing more. If only this film had had a bigger budget, we could have seen more backstory about the dragons, but alas, this is missing. Obviously, viewers should NOT go into "Reign of Fire" looking for an Oscar winner - and WITH a healthy dose of suspension-of-disbelief - but given those parameters, it can be quite entertaining.

More "chick-flick" than date movie..., 11 February 2003

I got dragged to this one by my better half and -- what a yawner! First of all, this is THE "chick flick" of all "chick flicks." I read a poster for this movie somewhere which had a tagline stating something to the effect that it was a "chick flick for guys." What a load of crap! Although this film boasts two stars, a guy (McCaughnahey) and a girl (Hudson), approximately 85 percent of the story is told from the perspective of the girl. Now, normally, I wouldn't mind sitting through one of these rom-coms as long as I enjoy watching the female lead. But as much as I liked Hudson's multi-dimentional performance in "Almost Famous," she's stiff as cardboard in this one -- although, luckily I don't mean that in a physical sense. In fact, guys, perhaps the best part of this movie is the dress she wears in the next-to-last scene (the one in the movie poster) -- there's lots of "moving parts" to that dress, if you know what I mean. *wink* Another thing -- this is a technical point -- what's with all the "twos" in this flick? McCaughnahey has two best friends giving him advice, Hudson has two best friends giving her advice, and the plot's main antagonists -- are TWO FEMALE sales reps. What is this, was SAG giving out a two-for-one deal to the casting director? All these characters only serve to unnecessarily complicate the dialogue and flow of the movie. Finally, I'm not so shallow as to paint all rom-coms with the same brush -- there are some good ones out there if you look hard enough -- but this one is slow-moving, and LONG, coming in at 2 hours and 15 minutes! I mean, what is this, Lawrence of Arabia? Sheesh! In fact you could easily cut 30 minutes from this film and it might be just long enough. (I should note that I NEVER complain about the length of movies...usually.)

So, guys, don't say I didn't warn you! If your female counterpart is pressuring you to see a chick flick this weekend, steer her to ANY of the other nameless rom-coms out there -- by all means necessary! Save's too late for me...

Rating - Only 2.5 out of 10.

Gettysburg (1993)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good as a movie, not as a history, 14 January 2003

First off, no movie ever made based on historical "facts" has been without fault -- be it a hybrid characterization, compressed time frame, "loose" facts, etc. Hollywood is Hollywood and History is History -- if you want true facts, watch a documentary, if you want "infotainment" watch a movie.

That said, as much as I love the movie Gettysburg (being a fanatical amateur historian), I cannot honestly place it in my top-five (three, four, or whatever) movies. However, it is as close to being an accurate representation of historical facts as Hollywood is willing to get.

For my top movies, therefore (which all happen to be period pieces), I must choose those which accurately reflect a certain period, without becoming caught up in historical facts.

In no particular order:

. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: As real a depiction of combat which has ever been placed on film. Brilliant in that it accurately portrays the D-Day landings and breakout without becoming hung up on the facts -- the only "true-life" character in the movie is George C. Marshall.

. SCHINDLER'S LIST: Ditto, above, substituting "Holocaust" for "D-Day landings" -- although the story is based more on facts than Saving Private Ryan. Exemplifies Speilberg's genius in being able to tell a good story accurately while remaining loyal to the subject matter.

. UNFORGIVEN: Hands-down the best Western ever made (plus one of Clint's best performances). Again, accurate, without relying on facts, Unforgiven is probably the truest (?) depiction of the "Old West" on film, showing that not all historical figures from that era were larger-than-life characters -- nor were they all "good guys" vs. "bad guys." Actual history is replete with such grey areas.

. The GODFATHER, Parts I & II: I include parts I and II together, because I consider them two parts of the same movie (and don't get me started with Part III). Again, these follow the same patterns for success in historical filmmaking in that they accurately reflect historical eras, people and places, without having to be slavish to actual facts. Plus, they offer a brilliantly classic story line that rivals Greek tragedy.

Honorable Mention (also in no particular order):

A Thin Red Line; Empire of the Sun; Gallipoli; Breaker Morant; Lawrence of Arabia; Glory; Goodfellas; Braveheart; Gladiator; Last of the Mohicans (1992 version); The Bounty (1984 version); Age of Innocence; The English Patient; Dr. Zhivago and yes, last but not least, GETTYSBURG.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.

P.S. -- Throw in Animal House -- apropos of nothing, except that it's my favorite goofball comedy.