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37 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Above average but could have been better if they'd wanted it to be., 11 August 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A young man caught up in some "ex-gay" therapy organization asks PI Donald Strachey to find someone, slams a check in his hand for $5000 then winds up dead from an apparent overdose before he can tell the detective who he's looking for. Strachey suspects foul play and investigates the charismatic leader of the local anti-gay therapy group to see if they had something to do with the kid's death. Sure enough, secrets are exposed and more death comes and clues pile up and a little luck helps Donald in the end.

I wish I could say I loved this little murder mystery, but "Shock to the System" is one of those projects that could have been so damn good in the hands of people who really cared. And I'm not referring to the actors. Chad Allen gives a fine, sometimes heartbreaking performance as Strachey. He's given able backup by Sebastian Spence as his life-partner and Nelson Wong as his new secretary with an attitude about his title. Even Morgan Fairchild does nicely with a thankless role.

But director Ron Oliver and writer Ron McGee offer up such perfunctory work, and cinematographer C. Kim Miles lights everything at night so minimally that you can't see half of what's going on, you wind up with incoherent shots and second rate staging and a plot that has things happen because they have to happen at that point for the story to move along. I know this is supposed to be a noir-ish flick, with nods to "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" and "Out of the Past" and all that, but it's done without any sense of style, meaning or even a hint of passion to it. Compare the plots of those great movies to this one, and it comes across as written by a 13 year old.

From here be spoilers so read not further if you don't want to know.

Consider the murder of Larry, who was helping Strachey's client, Paul Hale. The guy's been invisible for days. Strachey can't find him. Nobody's seen him. But finally he surfaces in a place where it would be hard to get to him. He has just enough time to fill Strachey in on what was going on and drop an important clue when the lights go out. Strachey goes looking to see what's up, pistol drawn. And the killer kills Larry then has a shootout with Strachey and gets away. It wasn't just clumsily written and staged, it was absurd. How could the killer know Larry was there unless Stachey lead them there? How would the killer know Strachey would go the wrong way down the corridor to give said killer a chance to kill the kid? And if the killer DIDN'T know Strachey was there, how did they know to be there at the exact right time to find Larry? None of this is explained in the end. In fact, the final explanation makes no logical sense, not even when dealing with a warped mind. It was nearly insulting.

BUT...and this is a big one...the script does delve somewhat into the question of ex-gay therapy and its philosophical and moral meaning. And the questions such people can raise, even in a relatively well-adjusted gay man -- like what would life had been like if I hadn't been gay? For raising those issues and for the lead actors, I give it a 7...which is above average, but it really could have been so much better if the director and writer and DP had really cared.

Mamma Mia! (2008)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Cotton candy no good for tummy but sometimes good for heart, 19 July 2008

I never saw "Mamma Mia!", the play. Never cared one way or the other about ABBA -- though I did enjoy how neatly their music fit "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." And I understand that in a musical, all you need in the way of a story is just enough to link the production numbers. So I wasn't planning to go see this movie -- until I saw not only was Meryl Streep in it but also Colin Firth and Christine Baranski and Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard, and I'm thinking this'll either be a major train wreck or glorious fun.

The story's simple -- as it should be. Girl lives on fantasy island but don't know who daddy is. Invites three likely candidates to her wedding but doesn't tell mom. All three come and chaos ensues...along with big production numbers and lots of joy and laughter after all the tears.

Well -- it wasn't glorious fun, but I left the theater smiling and humming the music. And that's despite Phyllida Lloyd's nearly catastrophic turn as director. Who the hell decided just because somebody's directed a play on a stage they know how to direct a movie? Her clumsiness came damn close to ruining the did the editor, who really must have been on coke at the time or else has a major case of ADD. I think it works better for a musical if you can see the numbers come together as all of a piece and not four-thousand, three-hundred and fifty seven different pieces, like they do on music videos.

But -- and this is the film's saving grace -- the actors barreled right over Ms. Lloyd's mistakes and blasted through the jittery editing to provide performances that can be intoxicating. Meryl was fun and sexy and actually decent as a singer, and Christine and Julie backed her up, bigtime, in the musical numbers -- turning "Dancin' Queen" into an anthem of GRRL power and memories of youth was beautiful. I was shocked at Pierce Brosnan's tinny voice; he's Irish, for pity's sake, and don't ALL Irishmen sing beautifully? But he has charisma to spare and his charm made up for it. Same for Colin Firth and Stellan in thankless roles. It shows what not only talent but experience and professionalism can do with a bad script and characterizations. Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper -- they're pretty and have nice voices, but they still have a lot to learn about commanding a screen.

Overall, however, this was a pleasant experience and I did not want any part of my $12 back. It was like going to a carnival and seeing all the sights and eating too much popcorn and cotton candy and getting a bit of a tummy ache...but having had a joyous time of it all, considering. If you go in with that expectation, you'll have fun, as well.

But there's no way ANYBODY'S ever gonna say this is in the same league as "Singin' In The Rain."

Hellbent (2004)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Joyously cheesy fun., 12 June 2008

A hunky slab of beef is running around on Halloween killing cute young men who're having too much fun, and he's keeping their heads as trophies in this fast-moving horror flick that was surprisingly good.

The lead character is a gay wanna-be-cop named Dylan who, despite his hunkiness, has a solid reason why he's not allowed to be a boy in blue (which I will not divulge here). He's got the needs for a surly hottie he sees outside a tattoo parlor and later during a Halloween party. But he and his friends are being stalked by said killer for not being nice to the dude in the park. And therein lies the suspense and horror.

Yeah, you pretty-much know who's gonna die by the end of act 1. Yeah, some of the acting is merely so-so. But happily, Dylan Fergus, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips and Hank Harris fill their roles nicely (you actually believe these guys are roomies and friends) and make you care about their fates. And Bryan Kirkwood's surly-boy still manages to draw you in, even when he's more than a little threatening. Good jobs, guys.

Paul Etheredge-Ouzts does a better job of writing the script -- the scene in the car en-route to the party was especially nice -- than he does directing. He's not bad, just not up to the level of everything else. And while the technical aspects are fine, the editing could have been tighter and the special effects a bit more special.

But honestly, considering the junk that comes out for the gay community -- trash that's little more than an excuse to get pretty boys nekkid and in bed -- this is a welcome antidote. I wish I'd seen it in a theater packed with a bunch of screaming queens, because it was joyous cheesy fun. Hey...maybe this Halloween...?

3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A lot of pretty but not much more, 8 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well..I finally saw "Boy Culture". It's won awards and is considered a fine example of a gay-themed movie and all that, but this movie depressed me. It's just another shallow story about impossibly beautiful young men having sex with other impossibly beautiful young men while one who happens to be a "very selective" whore (whose "clients/disciples" look like a group of really nasty guys, so how he's "selective" is beyond me) is mentored by an older man who finally gets him to have real sex with him then he finds out the truth and everyone learns a life lesson, and it did little more than bore me, even with the eye candy. It came across as little more than an excuse to have half-naked guys jumping each other's bones without it actually being porn, and the story stands for nothing more than a line upon which to hang this semi-sleazy laundry.

The actors playing X, Andrew and Joey don't really fill their characters -- though Darryl Stephens does come close. Derek Magyar has one expression and one tone of voice and one hangdog aura through the whole thing; I cannot see why anyone would think he's worth the huge fees he's supposedly paid. Jonathan Trent's twink was over the top, though his near-moment of confession was nice. The best actor in the whole group was Patrick Bauchau, but to be honest he has a lot of experience behind him.

Now to be fair, I DO think all these actors have a lot of potential, it just wasn't tapped here. I think they were let down by the writing and directing. Q. Allan Brocka and Philip Pierce give the actors awkward dialog and dumb situations, and Brocka directs them in the most A-B-C way possible. In fact, the final "meet" on the stairs between X and Andrew, where they work things out, was so hysterically dumb, I actually dropped my glass of Dr. Pepper in reaction.

So I'm glad I watched this via NetFlix. If I'd paid to see it in a theater, I'd have been upset, because all we have here is a lot of pretty and not much more.

Disturbia (2007)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Shia saves the day...barely., 29 March 2008

"Disturbia" is built around a clever idea -- let's update Alfred Hitchcock's brilliant "Rear Window" to modern day, center it around a troubled teen-aged boy and place it in a nice upscale neighborhood where the veneer of life is perfect but the reality is venal and vile. And the way the premise is set up IS clever. While driving home from a fantastic fishing trip with his dad, Kale Brecht has an accident that kills his father. Feeling responsible for it, he crashes into anger and withdrawal and winds up threatened with jail. To show his leniency, the judge instead sentences Kale to house arrest, to be monitored by an ankle bracelet he cannot remove and that sounds an alarm if he goes more than 100 feet from its relay system. To top it off, his mother cancels his electronic distractions -- video games, web servers, even cuts the cord to his TV -- so all he has to keep himself occupied is spying on his neighbors, one of whom is a beautiful new girl who loves to swim in a string bikini (any teen boy's fantasy)...and another of whom he slowly comes to believe is a serial killer from Texas (cliched but cool). Great set-up with lots of potential, right?

Too bad a "clever idea" doesn't always translate into a good movie. Of course, if would help if the script by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth wasn't lazy (hero in trouble? let's have somebody show up to cause a distraction and save him) and didn't have holes in the plot so big the QE2 could sail through them (how does a kid with no internet privileges get hold of the original blueprints for a house?). Or if it actually had some basis in reality (the entire ending borders on the ludicrous and raises questions that cannot be answered). It would also help if D J Caruso had at least some semblance of style or ability to frame a sequence so it made sense instead of just "pointing and shooting and sometimes moving at the same time and let's make it work in editing" (which was nearly flawless -- the editing, I mean).

In fact, the one true saving grace in this all-too-typical-train-wreck-of-a-modern-thriller is Shia LaBeouf. He gives Kale a depth and humanity that is not earned by how he is written. He's the only reason I give this movie ANY stars. The one other actor who comes close to achieving this is Carrie-Anne Moss, as his mother, and that's in spite of her character being little more than a cypher. Aaron Yoo and Sarah Roemer do what they can with their one-note characters, and David Morse tries...he really keep from seeming too obvious -- but none of them can overcome the stupid writing (Syd Field 101, anyone?) and ham-fisted directing.

To top all this off -- not once, anywhere in the film or credits, is any acknowledgment made of Hitchcock's masterful filming of or John Michael Hayes' brilliant script for "Rear Window." To say that's poor manners is to be kind; to me, it only adds to my sense that today's "filmmakers" are so busy being lost in their own cleverness they're ignoring the fact that they have yet to achieve even one-percent of the ability of the filmmakers of the past...and refusing to acknowledge that they could learn wonders from them if they'd just stop and think and pay attention to reality. But that's the problem with failed movies like "Disturbia" -- the guys who made it DO think they know what's going on. And that, in and of itself, really is disturbing.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
I don't get the hype over this movie., 18 February 2008

Talk about a movie not living up to its promise. I finally went to see "No Country For Old Men" because so many people were waxing eloquently about how wonderful it is and how deep and meaningful, I felt like I had to see it for myself. And while it's well-made, it's not the Coen Brothers' best or even most meaningful film. Not by a long shot.

The story is simple -- a man stumbles onto a pile of loot and decides to keep it, and all hell breaks loose, with bodies racking up left, right and sideways. And that's all there is to it. Yes, this story has wide open "Texas" landscapes (mostly shot in New Mexico) and taciturn heroes (a sheriff who's seen too much and a cowboy who thinks he's smarter than he is) and a "really nasty" villain who somehow manages to wander around with this huge cow-killer thing but not get caught by the Texas Rangers (preposterous) or even get noticed by the locals or chased or anything, even though he starts the story off by strangling a deputy fool enough to turn his back on him. Granted, this is set in 1980 and they didn't have the insta-communication we have today...but the casualness people in this movie have towards a COP BEING KILLED? In Texas?! Puh-lease! But that's just the beginning. From that point on, we're treated to a non-stop series of incidents where absurdity is piled onto ludicrous blindness and stupidity is mixed in, all in the name of making some "grand statement" about the sadness of violence and evil and Latino-devils. I sat there numbly watching this movie just keep going and going like some EveryReady Bunny ignoring its illogical storyline...and finally all I could wonder is, "Why do people think this is so damn good?" Seriously, the Coen brothers did a ten-times better version of the story in "Fargo," and nailed every point they wanted to make about violence and greed.

On the good side, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones and Kelly Macdonald did wonders with barely written roles (especially seeing as how Kelly's Scottish). The cinematography was fantastic. The sound brilliant. But I don't get the wild praise for Javier Bardem's killer, Chigurh; it seemed very one-note to me. However...I did find it interesting he's the most honorable man in the group, the only one you can count on to keep his word. Woody Harrelson and Tess Harper were wasted. As for the ending that people seem to think is a let-down or just trails off into "huh," to me it made perfect sense...considering how I feel about the rest of this meaningless movie.

Of course, it'll probably win the Oscar, thanks to all the hype. But if you want to see a well-done film about money and violence and good men making horrible decisions that have disastrous consequences and the evil man chasing them, check out Sam Rami's "A Simple Plan" (which must be where Cormac McCarthy got his idea for his book). You get a LOT more meaning and none of the hype.

Atonement (2007)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Oh, what a wicked web we weave....yada, yada, yada., 2 February 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This will be a short review because I refuse to add to the tedium of this movie. And as someone who dislikes pushing a story to unfold too quickly, for me to call this thing tedious is a big deal.

The story, such as it is, revolves around young Briony Tallis, who sees a few incidents that could be and are misconstrued. After each incident, the story jumps back and shows us that what she saw has an innocent explanation, but she still uses them to send the gardener, Robbie Turner, to prison for a crime he did not commit. Then comes World War 2 and Dunkirk and the story shifts to the long distance longing of Robbie and Briony's sister, Cecilia, and how Briony begins trying to atone for her lies.

Of course, the production values are good. The acting is good. Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy make a surprisingly acceptable couple. Sometimes the director gets a little carried away with things, but not ridiculously so. I got no complaints there. And let me make clear -- I have not read the book "Atonement" is based on, so my only reference concerning this story is the movie. But if the book is anything like this overly-self-important "film", I'll never go near it. I hate being lied to by a storyteller -- and that is what this movie does about, maybe two-thirds of the way through. I won't say what that lie is, but it all works around that age-old saying, "Oh, what a wicked web we weave when first we practice to deceive." The movie should have paid attention to its own message.

Stray Dog (1949)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Like doing a 110 in a Ferrari...and totally worth the ticket., 1 February 2008

I just finished watching the Criterion edition of Akira Kurosawa's "Stray Dog," and I honestly cannot think of a better thing to say than, "Oh, my God!" This movie, clocking in at just over two hours, so mesmerized me with its story, naturalistic acting and technique, I honestly did not notice the time. And when it was over, I was drained.

The story is simple -- a rookie detective's pistol is stolen from him and, as he frantically tries to track it down, winds up being used in crimes that grow more and more violent. Sounds like the kind of thing tossed off every week in one of the "Law & Order" series or any other fake police drama on TV. But the way Kurosawa and his co-writer, Ryuzo Kikushima, take this story and layer in shame and guilt and responsibility and reality and acceptance and understanding and pity and anything else you can consider a decent human emotion is breathtaking. Try finding anything like THAT on "CSI" or "SVU".

As Murakami, the rookie, Toshiro Mifune internalizes his usual intensity and lets his eyes and expressions convey his growing sense of shame and horror when his pistol is used first in a robbery and then again in an even worse crime. As his mentor, Det. Sato, Takashi Shimura offers a gentle honesty and low-key approach to life that is not tempered by any pity for the criminals; he even tells Murakami that he hates them...and says it so simply, it's like it's the most natural thing in the world. The bond that grows between these two men...the chemistry between the heart and soul of the movie, but the incidental characters are just as important. A pickpocket who feels pity for Murakami and brings him a beer and some food. A young showgirl who just wants something pretty in her life. A poverty-stricken sister worried about her brother. A gun dealer who loves baseball. A hotel owner with the hots for one of his maids. All add to the tapestry of Tokyo in the immediate post-war period and expand upon the emotion of the piece.

Add to this Kurosawa's already masterful technique and sense of storytelling, and you have a thriller more gripping and involving than just about anything churned out by today's Hollywood (the "Bourne..." series excepted). The closest American film I can think of that even begins to approach this movie's combination of an honest, tedious criminal investigation and real human emotion is "The Naked City", which was made in 1948. And that movie still had its "Hollywood-ish" elements in the home scenes with Don Taylor's detective.

"Stray Dog" isn't just a movie; it's like a Ferrari that seems to merely purr as you drive it...until you look at the speedometer and realize you're doing 110. On top of this, the Criterion edition of the movie has a wonderful documentary about the making of the film. Watch the show, first, then watch the documentary to savor it. It's totally worth the ticket.

104 out of 140 people found the following review useful:
An elegant work showing a filthy world, 31 January 2008

"Michael Clayton" is the name of the best lawyer in the powerhouse litigation firm of Kenner, Bach, & Ledeen. So good, he's not allowed to waste himself in court; he's used to clean up the messes the firm's rich and powerful clients cause -- and he's damn good at his job. Problem is, it's destroying him from the inside out. At's doing so until he slams headlong into a problem that forces him to see the decay growing within. That problem comes in the form of a brilliant but guilt-ridden attorney named Arthur Edens, whose spectacular meltdown during a deposition has thrown a HUGE class-action suit against a conglomerate called UNorth into turmoil. Michael is sent to get him back under control...or else, thus setting in motion what is, in my mind, one of the most breathtaking suspense dramas I've seen in years.

Starting with a tight, stunning script by Tony Gilroy, this movie has every cylinder firing in perfect sync. The acting is, without exception, exceptional. George Clooney takes a vile human being and inhabits him with such sympathy and understanding, he becomes just another man fighting to keep his life going who IS still capable of decency. (The moment where, after Michael's son has seen a beloved uncle who's an addict come groveling for forgiveness, he stops the car and lets the boy know he's stronger than that uncle is so right and so perfect, I nearly wept.) And Tilda Swinton's litigator, Karen Crowder, is so desperate and unsure, you can almost understand why she makes some of the decisions she does. And Tom Wilkinson blazes across the screen as Arthur Edens, who has finally seen the evil within himself and wants to make it right but who, despite all his legal brilliance, is still naive enough to think he can get away with it.

The direction is taut, cinematography and editing cool and precise, and all are at the service of an elegant work that uses the suspense genre to illuminate a filthy world that has been glossed over by money and power. Magnificent in every way.

8 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Clunky storyline and dated attitudes, but surprisingly fun, 29 January 2008

Ah, the Thirties. What could be more elegant and enjoyable than an ocean liner to the Orient, with two heartbreakingly beautiful people having a shipboard romance while criminal intrigue sort-of-kind-of goes on around them and they are watched over by a genial Japanese man who may or may not be a good guy? And that's really about all there is to the slapdash plot of the first movie in the Mr. Moto series. Yes, there's something about diamond smuggling and murder, but the main point of this story seems to be to introduce the world to the polite but dangerous gentleman from Japan.

And that is something that surprised me about this little movie (it clocks in at under 70 minutes) -- just how dangerous Mr. Moto is. Throughout the first hour he is presented as someone who's more interested in making an allegiance with the smugglers than stopping them. The movie begins with him in disguise looking into the San Francisco end of the smugglers, seeing -- but not reporting -- a murdered body and getting away so he can quietly head for Shanghai. He shows he's a black belt in jiu-jitsu by tossing a few disrespectful drunks around, including the son of the man who owns the ocean liner he's traveling on. And he kills a killer in such a way that no one can find the body...then calmly, albeit a bit sadly, continues his secretive journey. It's not until the last few minutes of the movie that his real purpose and superior intelligence is revealed. To have a Japanese man out-thinking all the sneaky Caucasian minds around him is really quite startling for 1937, considering the casual xenophobia of the time.

"Think Fast, Mr. Moto" may be an obvious attempt to capitalize on the hugely popular (and usually much better) "Charlie Chan" series of mysteries, but it works very well in its own right. Peter Lorre does a fine job (of course) pretending to be Japanese, but something that I've never understood is why Thomas Beck never got to be big in Hollywood. He has such a natural grace in front of the camera, and he's extremely good-looking. The same holds for Virginia Field, though she did have more of a career than he. The production values are above average for a "B" movie and the pace is relatively brisk. If they'd just done a better job with the script, it could have been on the same level as "Charlie Chan in Shanghai." But as it is, it's still surprisingly fun.

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