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6 reviews in total 
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Adrenaline (2007/I)
8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
mildly intriguing, 21 September 2007

I just caught this movie at the Calgary International Film Festival. The gimmick is that the entire movie was filmed in one continuous shot; the plot is basically about what happens when a man's new car is taken over by a mysterious voice on the vehicle's navigation system. What follows from there is good enough to make you forget about the gimmick of the continuous shot, but it's not really great. For the first 15 minutes or so, I was actually more interested in trying to figure out where the movie was taking place than what was happening to the main character.

Director Robert Lynn took questions after the showing at the festival and gave some interesting background about the making of the movie. They evidently couldn't film onto tape--since digital tapes max out at 63 minutes--so they taped a computer hard drive to the camera and shot it straight to disk. He also claimed that they did five different takes of the movie, one of which featured an unplanned flat tire. The voice of "Harvey" was broadcast from a trailing car into actor David Alford's bluetooth headset during the filming. However, the connection got lost about 2/3 of the way through the movie (when Alford spits out of his car window). Remarkably, Alford was somehow able to do the rest of the take (with appropriate timing and everything) from memory. The people on the streets of the city also weren't aware that a movie was being filmed; supposedly, you can see someone diving out of the way when a gun is being fired at one point.

Overall, I'd say it's a well-done attempt to realize an ambitious movie-making idea, and worth a look.

1 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
up and down, 3 June 2005

This movie--and the documentary that preceded it--taught me a lot about the history of skateboarding but made me think about much more than that. On the surface, it tells the story of a group of young boys who created a unique skateboarding style in Venice Beach in the mid 1970s that went on to influence the whole world. But at its heart, this movie is a story about the American Dream, writ large across the concrete, urban face of the late twentieth century. It's about rising up from the bottom to the heights of glory and then coming back down to earth again. Much like a skateboard ride up and down the edge of an empty swimming pool.

While this movie is spottier on the history of the Dogtown skateboarding style than the earlier documentary, it does help the viewer out by focusing the story on the three main dogs from the "legendary" Zephyr skateboarding team: Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacey Peralta. It follows them as they serendipitously develop their own style of skateboarding in the schoolyards and backyards (and empty pools!) of their neighborhood, Dogtown, and then go on to revolutionize the world of skateboarding with it. And then it shows you how they struggle to deal with the trappings of their own success.

Since the story is based on actual events, the movie's "plot" doesn't follow the typical narrative structure of having everything lead up to a climax, or a happy ending, or what have you. So the viewer is mostly left with a portrait of the three main characters' distinct personalities, and their unique approaches to dealing with the events that are rapidly unfolding all around them. Which only seems appropriate, since skateboarding is a sport where the object of the game is to express your own personal style.

What's interesting about the way the story progresses is that it shows that each of the main characters' strengths is also a weakness--whether that be Alva's egotism, Adams' recklessness, or Peralta's reliability. Thankfully, the movie doesn't try to wrap up all those flaws neatly by making it seem like "that's why they all needed each other", or something obnoxiously happy like that. It's just the way they are. And they each have to live with the consequences, good and bad.

Another aspect of this movie that I like is the way that it captures the randomness and spontaneity of the small kernel of creative insight that led to a revolution. In that way it reminds you that there will always be something pure and right burning at the heart of whatever the characters decide to do with their lives. I think (or hope) that everybody has moments of clarity in their lives like that. Like the moment that you realized you were in love with the person you would eventually marry. Or the excitement you felt when you first discovered the work that would become your career. Those moments that you can always go back to when you can no longer see through the institutional build-up in your soul.

In that sense I feel like this is a movie with a universal message to tell. A message about how to synthesize the passion and freedom and creativity of youth with real life.

Good stuff.

Madison (2001)
6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
An apple pie of a sports movie, 26 April 2005

This is, to my knowledge, the only feature film ever to be made about professional boat racing. And it tells what is probably the most compelling story the sport has ever produced: how the little river town of Madison, Indiana, came to host the 1971 APBA Gold Cup race (the sport's equivalent of the Indy 500) and how driver Jim McCormick struggled to lead Madison's community-owned racing boat, the Miss Madison, into the race.

As a sports movie, "Madison" feels fairly similar to the Disney baseball movie, "The Rookie", which came out a few years ago. It places the sports story squarely within the context of family life, and its fundamental message is that of the value of community--especially small-town communities like Madison. (Hoosier rocker John "Small Town" Mellencamp even provides the narration for the movie.) Since this is a story about small-town underdogs taking on the big city favorites, it resembles other Indiana sports movies in many ways--"Breaking Away", "Rudy", "Hoosiers", etc. Its storyline is not really unique in that respect. But the movie is reasonably well done, and it really pulls you into the excitement of boat racing in the final sequence, through some really nice cinematography.

I guess I can't help but feel like there was a missed opportunity here, though. It is unlikely that there will ever be another movie made about professional boat racing, so it would have been nice if "Madison" could have taught us more about what makes the people who are involved in the sport tick. There is one interesting comment made towards the end of the film about how "only someone who's raced boats can understand why so many men have given their lives for the sport." There was a lot behind that statement, I think--especially when made in reference to a sport which has such a notoriously dangerous reputation as boat racing. I just wish I could have come away from this movie with an even better understanding of where it came from.

Besides that...this is a nice little movie, and a fine tribute to Jim McCormick and the people of Madison. Go ahead and take your kids to it, and don't forget to stick around for the final credits...

Miracle (2004)
it shoots, it scores, 8 February 2004

When I first found out about this movie, I was reluctant to go see it because I could still remember too well the way the story played out in real life. Even though it happened 24 (!) years ago already (and I was only five years old at the time), I can still remember the names of all the guys on the team: Eruzione and Craig and Ramsey and Broten and Christoff...I remember my Dad having to explain to me the concept of a tie after their game against Sweden. And I remember, of course, the way they beat the Soviets on that February night in the most famous hockey game ever played. Up in our home in snowy, small town Minnesota, my family (even my mother and my sister!) gathered around our TV to watch the game, echoing each shout of `U-S-A!' as it came to us across the airwaves from Lake Placid. When the U-S-A finally won the game, everyone in my family jumped up for joy and started spontaneously hugging each other in wild celebration.

This movie can't quite make you that excited about hockey, but it gets pretty darn close. Yeah, I finally caved and went to go see it once I started seeing all the positive reviews come in. I found out that they were all well deserved.

The tone of this movie reminded me quite a bit of another Disney sports film-the Rookie-in that it carefully places all of the sports drama within the broader context of family life. While this will definitely help it appeal to a wider audience, it does mean that it's fairly short on hockey for most of its first half. Nonetheless, once the movie gets out onto the ice, it does a terrific job of translating the speed and the excitement of the game onto the silver screen. The attention to detail is really quite remarkable. The moviemakers found dead-ringers to play guys like Mike Eruzione and James Craig. The Minnesotan accent that Kurt Russell puts on in playing US coach Herb Brooks is really impressive (and amusing!). And they even get the timing of each important goal right.

I also admired the way they treated the Soviets--the nominal bad guys--in this film, too. They weren't portrayed as blatantly evil in some hopelessly simplistic, Disney way, but rather, just the way they were: supremely confident, impassive and intimidating. We also get to see that, despite all of their confidence, they're human, too. They start cracking under the pressure when the American team keeps coming back, and we see them looking on forlornly when the USA players finally win and celebrate their `Miracle on Ice'.

I've often thought that someone from another country could never really understand how much this hockey team meant (and still means) to Americans. In the years that have gone by since 1980, people have typically told this story in the context of how America was down on its luck at the end of the 70s and didn't really believe in itself anymore. This movie will tell you much the same story. One of the most fascinating sequences in the film, in fact, is an excerpt of a Jimmy Carter speech from 1979, in which he talks about how Americans have lost their characteristic confidence and faith in the future.

But I've always remembered the Miracle on Ice as being much simpler-and much bigger-than all of that. Thoreau once pointed out that people only really come together in times of great sorrow or great joy. For instance, I'm sure that every American still remembers what it felt like when the country came together in the wake of the great tragedy of 9-11. The Miracle on Ice was like that, but different-it was something that brought us all together simply because it brought us all great joy. For those who can still remember what that felt like, 24 years ago, this movie is sure to bring the smiles back to their faces. And for those who never got to experience it for real, the first time around, it may just make them want to jump up and hug someone. :-)

Yojimbo (1961)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Three wrongs make a right, 8 December 2003

A friend of mine had been hyping up this movie to me for several months, so I finally sat down to watch it tonight. Overall, I'd have to say that it lived up to its reputation. Even though I wasn't really in the mood for it at the start, it drew me in and kept me glued to the TV screen for two full hours.

I think enough people have already commented on the plot of the movie (and how cool they think Toshiro Mifune is), so I won't waste your time with more such drivel here...Instead, what interested me most about this movie tonight was how many elements of it I'd already seen before. For instance, close to the beginning of the film, Mifune's character kills a couple of henchmen and then lops off the arm of another--and then you see the poor guy's dismembered arm, lying on the ground, still holding on to his katana. It's impossible to watch this shot and not immediately think of the bloody arm that Obi-Wan has dismembered in the cantina scene in the first Star Wars movie.

Elements of Star Wars are all over this film, in fact: from the moment Mifune pops out a couple of floorboards to leave his hiding place (think of Han and Luke on the Millennium Falcon) to the sweeping, horizontal wipe transitions you see between each scene. Like Obi-Wan, Mifune's "Man with No Name" is a wandering, mystic warrior--one of the last of his kind. And the mercenary element of a character like Han Solo is lived out large here, too, by Mifune's character.

But that's just it. As someone has already pointed out here, this movie began the 1960s/1970s "deconstruction of the Western"--the good/bad distinction disappears, and there's just Mifune's Yojimbo to play two despicable rich men (and their cronies) off of each other. When Mifune actually does something decent for another human being in the film, it comes as kind of a shock. But at the end of the movie--when he comes back to fight the "bad" guys--he's not fighting them for any noble purpose, or to help out the poor, old townspeople. He just wants payback.

This is the kind of nihilistic, beyond-good-and-evil stuff that we've seen so often (and loved so much) in action films ever since. It's not about the triumph of principle over chaos--it's about the triumph of the individual over the masses. We've seen this thing so many times by now that I think it's difficult for us to appreciate in a film that's seen so many years go by (and been copied as often) as Yojimbo. In fact, those who are looking for lots of melodramatic action sequences and overly drawn out fight scenes will probably be disappointed by this "action" movie--its violence is too curt to be really satisfying.

What strikes me now, though, is that one of the reasons movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones and everything else that came out of the Lucas/Spielberg era were so successful is because they injected the old good vs. evil theme back into the Western-style movie. They just had to transfer their settings to places far away from the American West. It's like--after Kurosawa and Leone and Eastwood and Don Siegel had had their say--we had to go somewhere else besides the Old West to get what we were really looking for.

There's no such triumph of good over evil here. Just one badass dude making the best of a bad situation. Check it out if that's the sort of thing you want to see.

Uncle Nino (2003)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Old School meets New World in warm-hearted family fare, 22 October 2003

I saw this movie last night at the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Director, Producer and Music Director were all on hand to answer questions from the audience after the show.

Uncle Nino is a story about an Italian-American family living in suburban Chicago which suffers--as the Director put it--not so much from being "dysfunctional" as they do from being "disconnected" with one another. Each of them is struggling with their own challenges in life alone: Bobby is having a hard time fitting in at a new school, Gina loves animals and wants a puppy dog, Dad is facing a lot of pressure at work, and Mom just wishes that everybody could sit down to eat dinner at the same time together.

Into their life steps Uncle Nino, a surprise visitor from Italy, who brings with him a passion for music, gardening, Abraham Lincoln, good wine, and his family--in short, all the simple things in life that really matter. While Uncle Nino's old-school ways seem a bit eccentric at first in the flashy world of modern suburbia, the Micelli family soon learns that his presence may have been just what they needed to help them re-connect with one another--even as Uncle Nino struggles to make a connection with a broken part of his own past.

Uncle Nino is an unabashedly warm-hearted movie and, as such, may not have a whole lot to offer the cynical movie-goer (you know who you are). Judging from the reaction of the Festival audience last night, however, the movie seemed to touch a nerve with a lot of people who were just looking for a movie with a positive attitude towards family and life. The Director, Robert Shallcross, even mentioned in the Q&A session after the show that he began making feature films because he was frustrated with the lack of movies coming out of Hollywood that he could take his family to go see. If you find yourself and your own family in the same predicament, then Uncle Nino might be the movie for you.

It is interesting to note that the role of Gina is played by Joe Mantegna's real-life daughter, Gina. And Uncle Nino himself is named after the music director's (Larry Peccarello) own Uncle Nino! Also, the Abraham Lincoln element was an idea of the actor who portrayed Uncle Nino, Pierrino Mascarino.