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Has Captain Kirk (William Shatner) not only lost his ability to captain
his ship but lost his mind? At episode's beginning, Captain Kirk is
irritable, irrational, and nearly insufferable. And then he takes the
Enterprise into the so-called "Neutral Zone", an area of the galaxy
which is off-limits to Federation fleet ships under current treaty with
the Romulans, the nemesis of the galaxy. The Neutral Zone acts as an
interstellar buffer between the Federation and the Romulan Empire. Kirk
violates the treaty and is immediately confronted by Romulan military
Their commander is a beautiful but highly intelligent Romulan woman, simply called "Commander" (Joanne Linville). She is aware of the violation of the treaty and will not let the Enterprise return to Federation space without making a point. She desires to take the Enterprise and crew hostage, and to execute Captain Kirk as an example to other wayward starship captains. She then finds a strange ally in Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) who, after beaming to the Romulan ship with Kirk, confirms that Captain Kirk is suffering from delusion and insanity. An unexpected subdued flirtation evolves between the Vulcan and the Romulan. Both Nimoy and Linville play their rolls perfectly, subtly engaging but never overt. Captain Kirk appears to become more infuriated when the Vulcan appears to have betrayed both him and the Federation.
This is one of the best episodes from the original Star Trek series of the 1960's. It exploits the rivalry of the Romulans and the Federation, and it has some of the best acting of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy combined with a compelling and unpredictable storyline. Highest marks also for Joanne Linville as the Romulan Commander who never raises her voice, even when she condemns Captain Kirk to death.
Interestingly, about 13 years after the release of the original novel
"The Pelican Brief" by John Grisham which centers around the
investigations and theories involving the assassinations of two Supreme
Court Justices, two Supreme Court Justices' careers also ended close to
the same time. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her plans to
retire in the summer of 2005 which was followed by the unexpected death
of William Rehnquist in the Fall of the same year. It's always a bit
spooky when real life follows fiction, although as far as is known, the
departure of Rehnquist and O'Connor had nothing to do with "foul play"
or political currents, or did it?
In "The Pelican Brief", two diametrically opposed Supreme Court Justices, Rosenberg and Jensen, are assassinated by unknown assailants for unknown reasons. Rosenberg was an aging liberal whose days on the court were probably numbered. Jensen was a conservative in the prime of his judicial career. While the first assassination is advantageous to the current sitting US President who we learn is a Republican, the second assassination makes no sense in terms of the first.
At a law school near New Orleans, an ambitious young law student, Darby Shaw (played with unending believability by Julia Roberts) is dating one of her law professors, Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepherd). After both professor and student learn of the assassinations, Darby decides she can crack the case. (Callahan had interned with Rosenberg when he was a law student.) While law enforcement believes the assassinations were probably enacted as revenge by a disillusioned losing party in a former case, Shaw decides to research deeper to unearth something political which Rosenberg and Jensen might have had in common. She engages in her own investigation of sorts and writes an essay on her findings, a "brief".
She passes her brief to Callahan who doesn't take it too seriously. He takes a trip to Washington D.C. to attend the funeral of Rosenberg where he meets a former classmate, Gavin Verheek (John Heard), who now works in the legal department of the FBI. Callahan offers the brief to Verheek who in turn passes into the FBI. The FBI begins believing the brief is a much more serious theory of the assassinations than either Callahan or Verheek had realized, and the brief ends up in the hands of the president.
Back in New Orleans, Darby is fearing for her life when tragedy suddenly strikes. She believes the brief has opened up a kind of Pandora's Box and doesn't know who's after her nor whose after some of the people around her. Is it the CIA or another secret organization which has decided to kill her because of the brief? She contacts Washington D.C. political reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) to help her. The plot then becomes about whether Darby and Gray can confirm the theory of the brief before they are assassinated themselves, like the Supreme Court Justices.
A very well-done and spot-on political thriller, all from the mind of John Grisham. Julia Roberts is 100% convincing as Darby Shaw, the-opinionated-law-student-turned-political-target whose brief is shaking the foundations of the political hierarchy at the highest levels. Washington is equally as intense as Gray Grantham, a "Woodstein"-type reporter trying to get to the bottom of political corruption wherever it festers. A few name talents appear in smaller roles, notably Hume Cronyn as Justice Rosenberg and John Lithgow as Smith Keen, editor of Grantham's newspaper the Washington Herald. A compelling film from start to finish with an outstanding cast.
Unlike the recent James Bonds films where 007 uses cell phones, laptops
and the world wide web (the days of the lethal ballpoint pen are over),
the recent film "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." relies on the sensibilities
of 1960's thriller films and televisions shows as its setting and
culture. Not only are the cars and the old-style phones from a bygone
era present, secret agents kiss the hands of beautiful but wicked
heiresses, the managers of hotels offer complimentary champagne to
their guests in lavish rooms, and everyone dresses as if they just had
a shopping spree, spending $1000's at Neiman Marcus. There are even a
few split-screen sequences. This was the way these kinds of action
films and shows were presented from circa 1956 to 1969 before the
counter-culture dismissed them as being elitist. During the era, Cary
Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Sean Connery, and Diana Rigg often starred in
these light-hearted entertainments which often combined action and
comedy, and now three new actors have taken the reigns to offer us a
recap of these films with higher budgets and high definition.
Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill ), a dapper Sean Connery-type whose character we learn at the story's beginning had broken some serious international laws is the American's star agent among their counter-intelligence/espionage syndicate. Instead of allowing his talents to waste away in prison, the counter-espionage division has drafted him into their organization. At least he's no longer behind bars. His missions involve rescuing dissidents from the so-called "Eastern Block" controlled by the USSR after World War II. At his disposal are fast cars, automatic weapons, and sarcastic wit, all used equally.
Solo's current assignment is to "liberate" Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), an auto mechanic residing in East Berlin, East Germany. The organization wants her rescued, not because the counter-intelligence organization is benevolent and wish her to be "free" in the west, but because she's the daughter of a German nuclear scientist who turned during World War II but has now disappeared. He's possibly working for a criminal syndicate who wants to sell nuclear weapons to the highest bidder, run by a sexually alluring but no-holds-barred baddie name Victoria Vinciguerra. (She could easily date Hans Gruber, the baddie from the first "Die Hard" film.) After a chase in which Gaby and Solo confront and escape from a KGB operative who would give the Terminator a run for his money, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), Gaby and Solo are given an assignment in Rome and paired with another operative. Much to their dismay it's also Illya Kuryakin, the KGB agent who tried to stop Gaby's defection. Turns out the Soviets are just as fearful of this underground syndicate as the Americans, and Kuryakin has been assigned to partner with Gaby and Solo. Which is one of the points of this film: this film has a lot of unexpected twists and turns, this one being the first of many. At times, to show us what's really going on, the film has short flashbacks where a previously unseen nuance is revealed. As this device isn't used too often, strangely it works.
So the three go to Rome with Kuryakin posing as Gaby's finance and Solo assigned to find out about Victoria. Many of the devices, settings, and scenarios used in the films and shows of the late 1950's to 1960's are present: the daytime social gathering, in this case an auto race, the lavish hotels, where Gaby and Illya pretend to be a couple in love, and the American agent causing a bit of romantic interest in the evil but alluring woman who runs her crime organization like a dicta-tress. She wears draping silk and chiffon while planning her next Lex-Luther-like endeavor. However, as intriguing as Victoria is, Gaby, on the "good" side, is even more enchanting. Vikander plays Gaby with the vulnerable appeal of an Audrey Hepburn along with the European strength and sexuality of a Sophia Loren, and a little bit of Diana Rigg thrown in for good measure. Even her hairdo is a throwback to the era with a little bit on the top with soft waves cascading down her shoulders. Her personality and demeanor may be closest to Joanne Linville who played the Romulan Commander in the Star Trek episode "The Enterprise Incident" which originally aired in 1968.
Overall, a pure fun and escapist film. There are some moments where while one very dramatic action sequence is occurring, something else, often more mundane, is happening at the forefront. There are a lot of in-jokes about the films and sensibilities of the action films and shows which were popular several decades ago. An unexpected chemistry evolves from the three leads, Cavill, Vikander and Hammer. What makes it work is they are all somewhat different which makes their interactions interesting and compelling. Solo is the Bond-type who doesn't take things too seriously while engaging in his missions contrasted with Illya whose temper easily flairs when he feels he's being insulted. Gaby's character lies somewhere between the two, serious but not easily enthralled with the American or the Russian. The three are essentially reluctant bedfellows in a dangerous game, until an interesting twist reveals one of the three may not be "on the level".
At the risk of sounding like I'm giving too much away, there's a
strange bookend at the end. The film begins and ends in a typical
south-mid-west Protestant church in America. Two characters who were
killed at the beginning and appear again as the final two figures seen.
If you haven't seen the film yet, you won't expect where they show up,
and hopefully I won't be accused of offering a "spoiler". Endless
speculation and debate about their reappearance has been written about
ad infinitum, even by reviewers during the time of the film's initial
release in the mid-1980's.
The first scene is a Protestant church in rural America where "Rock of Ages" (not the Def Leppard version) is a mainstay of the musical repertoire. Edna Spalding (Sally Field in an Academy-Award winning performance) is the wife and mother in a family of four in the rural south in Texas in the midst of the Depression. She is married to the unquestioned man-of-the-house, Royce Spalding, the sheriff of this small town. As the film progresses, we learn his role in the family was far more than simply the "bread-winner". In addition to providing a good income, he took care of all bills, the finances, the mortgage on their house, even discipline.
However, we don't learn about his role as head of the household by seeing him pay the mortgage and the bills, etc. At the very beginning of the story, Royce is killed at the hands of a young black man, Wylie, who was playing with a gun while drunk, a deadly combination. We get the sense Wylie had no intention of killing the white sheriff, but, as it was in those days, the accidental shooting signed the epitaph of Wylie as well. The two bodies are brought to their respective families and friends, with a brief appearance of the lynched Wylie being dragged behind a truck passed the house of the Spalding residence. This act will change the course of the Spalding family.
After the social gathering mourning the deceased at the Spalding residence has ended, and the fried chicken and coffee cake have been consumed, Edna is dealt a curve ball care of the local bank via their powerless lackey, Mr. Denby (Lane Smith). After stating his willingness to help Edna in anyway, Mr. Denby tells her the bank would prefer if she sold their home and property in order to pay off the loan for the house. Inappropriately, he makes other suggestions about how to temporarily break up her family since they will be effectively homeless. (It is a snapshot into why life insurance became popular in the wake of the Depression.) She declines his suggestions and offers different ideas about how to create income for her family, but Denby rejects all of them, as if a woman was incapable of doing such things. His only concern is about the bank receiving its payment.
However, Edna resolves to make a go of trying to create income for her family. She solicits the help of Moze (Danny Glover in an Academy-Award caliber performance), a middle-age black man who offered his help earlier in exchange for room and board. They decide to plant cotton in the nearly 40 acres of land owned by the Spaldings. Shortly thereafter, Mr Denby returns to the Spalding residence, and being the good Christian that he is, offers an arrangement which will make the bank happier about her keeping the property. He proposes to have his brother-in-law, Will (John Malkovich), a blind man injured in the Great War and currently unwanted by his family, to rent a room at the Spalding household as way to generate income. At first Edna declines the offer until she realizes she's not in a situation to refuse income, and so Will moves in, called Mr. Will by the kids and Moze.
The five members, Edna, Moze, Mr. Will and the children become a new family from the ashes of the old. During the story, Edna learns to do all the things her husband used to do, such as creating income and signing checks, even disciplining the children with corporal punishment. At first, Mr. Will despises his circumstances, but gradually comes to care for and even love the children and Edna and even Moze. When a tornado descends upon the town, the family becomes unified in a way they hadn't expected. And towards the end, Mr. Will defends Moze, and this rings of some of the themes present in "To Kill a Mockingbird", both the book and film.
There is one side story which distracts from the main storyline: Wayne, the husband of Edna's sister Margaret is having an affair with the local schoolteacher, Viola. Several scenes involve these other four characters interacting with one another. Unfortunately, these scenes were not as interesting as Edna et al, and it diminishes their storyline which is really the main focus of the film. As much as I like the talent of Ed Harris, Lindsay Crouse, and Amy Madigan I would have preferred their sequences cut with more screen time offered for the developing relationships between Edna, Moze, Mr. Will and the kids.
Still, a fine film with incredible acting work. This may be the best acting of the three leads, plus honorable mention of the two young actors, Yankton Hatten and Gennie James as the kids Frank and Possum. Field certainly is as compelling as ever, but the other leads Glover and Malkovich not only keep up with her stride-for-stride, but make the story compelling from start to finish. And the two small roles of the sheriff and Wylie reappear at the very end, as if to remind us what led to the paths taken by the main characters.
Ever since the brilliant remake of "Ocean's Eleven" with Clooney,
Damon, Cheadle, et al, heist films have been in vogue. There are about
two or three per year since circa 2001, a few have been outstanding,
most are about average, and a few are duds. They are entertaining, more
or less, but sometimes they rely on too many known plot devices. Some
of the exceptional ones include the first "Ocean's Eleven" film (not
the Sinatra one), "Inside Man", one of the cleverest of such films, and
"The Score" (also with Edward Norton, by the way), which keeps you
guessing all the way. (If you want to see a really great heist film set
in Victorian England, I suggest "The Great Train Robbery" with Sean
Connery and Donald Sutherland produced in the 1970's.) Some average but
descent fair include "Tower Heist", and "The Art of the Steal". Among
the less memorable ones include both of the "Ocean's Eleven" sequels,
"Ocean's Twelve" and "Ocean's Thirteen", and the remake of "Fun with
Dick and Jane". The present film, "The Italian Job", despite a few nice
moments, fits into the middle category of being marginally enjoyable
but not great.
Mark Wahlberg plays Charlie Croker, an up-and-coming sophisticated thief who uses high tech to achieve his plundering aspirations. His mentor is older thief John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) who helps him plan for a heist to lift $35 million in gold from a safe which happens to be in the hands of the Italian Mafia in Venice, Italy. Like Ocean's Eleven, they use a team of safe-crackers and embezzlers who enact the theft. Everything goes as planned, almost too easy, until after the heist is completed, everything goes wrong.
Without giving away what happens exactly, the thieves lose the gold, which is possibly the best part of the film, The film then focuses on about the thieves finding out where the gold resides and how to retrieve it while also getting revenge on those who stole the gold from them which was stolen originally from the Italian Mafia, who also must have stolen it from other people. They also solicit the help of Bridge's daughter, a crackerjack safe-cracker, to lift the gold. The film then uses a lot of Ocean's Eleven-type devices, describing each of the henchmen which will be involved in the heist to retrieve the gold lost from the original heist.
While the film has a couple of unexpected twists, particularly at the beginning, unfortunately it lapses back into tried and true formulas. There's lots of the standard car chases, some subplots and a few characters get "offed" for their troubles. Despite the shortcomings, Edward Norton offers a stellar performance in the clothes of one of the most ruthless characters I've ever seen him play. His performance saves the film. At the same time, I felt some of the other characters were rather flat, especially Mark Wahlberg as the Danny Ocean equivalent in "The Italian Job". Sometimes I find Wahlberg just a bit too humourless and rather stiff. Clooney in the first "Oceans" film is always playful with lots of unexpected comic relief. The film in question is a descent effort, but again the script needed more work, and the ending was a bit predictable. I was hoping for a major unexpected twist at the end, but it never happens. The film tries to be another "Ocean's Eleven" using its devices but little of its charm. I guess my expectations are too high.
There's an old adage in filmmaking which says sometimes "less is more".
In Steven Spielberg's feature-length debut, "Duel" achieves a lot
within a surprisingly small scope. And yet within a film which was shot
in less than two weeks on a shoe-string budget, Spielberg managed to
create a highly suspenseful film worthy of Hitchcock. The original
clocked in at 72 minutes as a made-for-television "movie of the week",
and was subsequently expanded to 90 minutes for release in Europe.
The elements of the film are surprisingly sparse: a small cast of characters, an unchanging setting, and a deceptively simple plot. Let's explore them in reverse order. The main characters include a middle-age/middle-class driver (Dennis Weaver), a red compact sedan, in this case a 1970 Plymouth Valiant, and a nameless tanker trunk from the 1950's with the word "FLAMMABLE" in large bold letters at the back. The truck and its faceless driver seem nearly one, which is why I characterize the truck and driver as a single character. The action takes place on Route 14 in the California desert, about an hour's drive north of Los Angeles in Southern California near Palmdale.
When we first see the truck, we already sense something menacing. An older engine protrudes from the cabin like a large snout in front of the wind-shield eyes. The entire body is oiled and brown, as if having fought in many battles in the past. The engine doesn't hum, but rather breathes and groans like a large sentient creature, a la King Kong. Its smokestack and other areas constantly spew smoke like a dragon. And occasionally it sounds its horn, a loud menacing grunt. It's obviously an older vehicle but seems to have lost none of its energy, strength and speed over the years.
The plot concerns David Mann (Weaver) and his unassuming compact sedan driving off Interstate 5 onto Route 14, a two-lane desert highway in the middle of nowhere, and encountering the large tanker truck. The conflict is an updated version of a duel. Instead of a noble knight facing a black-clothed foe with swords, the duel is between the vehicles. The truck seems determined to destroy the small red Plymouth, the automobile equivalent of a little minnow being pursued by a vehicular shark. At first Mann doesn't understand he's being pulled into this dangerous game. The only times we sense someone else behind the wheel of the truck is when an arm motions Mann to pass him, not because he's being a courteous driver but because he wants to continue "the game". Because he's over-matched by the far-larger tanker, Mann realizes if he's going to survive the game, he'll have to outwit this dragon, a bit like Frodo versus Smaug.
This is first-rate suspense on the level of Hitchcock with almost no lag at all. We see the story from Weaver's point of view the entire time, and like him, we don't know why the truck is playing this deadly game of cat and mouse, or car and truck. When we first meet the truck, it is menacing but we're not sure what its intentions are, and the pacing gradually reveals its desires. We are given very little information about the human characters except Mann is on his way to a business meeting, and he had a dispute with someone before he left. At first Mann is worried about missing his meeting, but as events unfold, that becomes a very small concern. Dennis Weaver as Mann offers a stellar performance, believable to the very end.
The premise of "Race to Escape" is somewhat better than other reality
shows. Two teams of three contestants each are blind-folded and placed
inside separate rooms. Their blind-folds are removed and they have to
figure out how to escape from their respective rooms. Each room has a
large door with five bolts, and each bolt can be retracted by entering
a four-digit numeric code into a keypad device near the door.
Throughout the room are many objects and furniture, some replicas of
artifacts, some modern, and some strange puzzles. Some of the objects,
but not all, contain clues, and five different objects contain the
numeric codes. Each team has one hour to find the codes and place them
one-by-one into the device to release the bolts of the door and do so
before the other team to be declared the winner. A set amount of prize
money is announced at the beginning of the round, but the prize can
There are a few catches. Once the teams have gone beyond a certain amount of time, even if they win, the prize money, usually beginning at $25,000, will decrease. Also, if too many wrong codes are placed into the keypad box sequentially, the box will lock-up for two minutes, thus giving their opposing team an advantage and/or also sacrificing the amount of potential prize money. There is one out: either team at any time can opt to get the answer to one and only one clue, but they have to sacrifice $5000 of their potential prize money plus give minutes worth of time as a trade-off. Also, the clue answer cannot be for the last clue.
While I found the clues compelling and the objects interesting, there seemed to be a couple of problems. One issue I had was the host, Jimmy Pardo, often interrupts the flow of the show and reveals the answers to the clues being looked for by the contestants. Unfortunately, given the format of the show and the layout of the room, the audience can't really play along and try to answer the clues, because the objects are scattered around the room/set. The camera tended only to view an object when the contestants noticed it.
I enjoyed one viewing of the show, but because I couldn't really "play along" and find the answers, it's mainly watching two teams of three people run around and scatter for the answers. Because I was given many of the answers by the host, I knew what the contestants were trying to solve. I think the show would be more interesting and possibly more successful if we as the audience had the opportunity to look for and decipher the clues ourselves, somewhat in the same way a murder mystery allows for the audience to figure out "whodunnit". Of course this would mean rethinking how the room is laid out and/or how the camera shoots the show so the audience could clearly see the many different items. As it stands, I really can't play along, and therefore, I find the show less compelling.
I found nothing redeeming, let alone compelling or interesting, in Mark
Wahlberg's character Jim Bennett. Certainly, I don't believe audiences
always have to "like" a character but they have to be interested in
them enough to look forward to their behavior and what happens to them
even if you'd never have coffee with them. Edward Norton has made a
career of playing unlikeable characters, but they are always
compelling, such as Worm, in a similar vein, from "Rounders". Not
unlike Bennett, Worm is vain, selfish, and downright stupid, deciding
to cheat at cards playing poker with a bunch of municipal cops. But
something about Worm always made him fascinating. Worm had strange
charm and charisma.
In "The Gambler", not only is Bennett vane and selfish, he's also insufferable. When he's clearly ahead at the casino, he'll lay all his winnings on one gamble and then lose. And then he'll do the same thing at another table, constantly losing $1000's at a drop of a hat. His judgment is so bad he makes Worm of Rounders look like Albert Schweitzer! And he does so with not even a crack of a smile, just a perpetual frown. Worm, in his own weird way, is not only tolerable but compelling. Bennett is never so. And then we find a few scenes into the film, he's actually a literature professor. Then I thought, okay, he's a lousy gambler, but maybe he's an inspirational teacher. Wrong. He's just as insufferable as a teacher as he as a gambler. He chastises his students, telling them they have no chance in literature except one student, which he singles out. He tells the rest in fact that they're all losers. He makes Professor Kingsfield of "The Paper Chase" look like a kind-hearted softie. I started feeling like I wanted to avoid this character, and therefore the entire film.
So when the main plot sets in regarding Bennett putting up is own life as collateral, I didn't care. I could have cared less what happens to Bennett. The plot device is somewhat similar to "Rounders", where Mike McDermott and Worm put their lives on the line to cough up $15,000 before midnight or they'll turn into pumpkins. As dislike-able a character as Worm is, he's still fun to watch and it's entertaining to see what Worm will do to get himself into more hot water yet again. However, I had no such feelings for Bennett. I started feeling like, yeah, maybe it'll be good for the poor university students if he bites the big one. They wouldn't have to endure his long scolding sessions in which people are either James Joyce's or failures, and maybe someone could be put in his place who actually teaches. Although there is a fine supporting performance by Jessica Lange, ultimately, I couldn't root for the gambler. I just didn't care what happened to him.
While he is most often associated with "Psycho", a dark brooding
psychological horror tale, Hitchcock also knew how to have fun. "To
Catch a Thief", which incorporates elements of action, suspense and
comedy, is one of his best efforts of this type. Hitch often employed
the likes of Cary Grant when he needed a more light-hearted character
residing in Europe, and he used the incomparable Grace Kelly when he
needed a witty love-interest to keep up with his male lead. This is a
completely enjoyable and entertaining film with Grant and Kelly doing
what they do best with Hitch at the helm.
In the French Riviera, near Monte Carlo and the Mediterranean Sea, some burglaries have disrupted this otherwise sleepy locale. The targets are jewels owned by French aristocrats and/or wealthy bourgeoisie in expensive houses. Nearby is a former jewel-heister residing in the same vicinity, John Robie, nicknamed the "Cat", played with subtle confidence by Cary Grant. The authorities are convinced the Cat has returned and is wreaking havoc on the community, but Robie insists he's not the one causing millionaire wives to sob at the loss of their priceless jewels. Robie realizes he will have to catch the burglar himself otherwise he'll probably be put on trial for the thefts.
Two Americans, Jesse Stevens and her daughter Frances (Grace Kelly), not only reside in the French Riviera but they also boast owning expensive jewelry. The Cat decides to solicit their help by pretending he's an American businessman who has taken a cursory interest in the thefts. However, Frances has heard of "the Cat" and the burglars, and she begins to suspect not only that he is the Cat but also he's responsible for the current thefts. Grant must play a game of "cat and mouse" in which he uses the Stevens as bait to catch the real thief and all the while staying out of police custody. We as the audience begin wondering who is the real thief and will he be easily apprehended, or have we been playing the fool in believing Grant?
A wonderful film, purely for entertainment value and not to be taken too seriously. The film was shot on location near Monte Carlo, especially on the narrow streets of the French Riviera. Legend has it that the Crown Prince of Monaco saw the cast shooting the film, spotted Kelly, and introduced himself. Shortly thereafter, they engaged in a media-driven romance ending with their marriage. In a tragic twist, Kelly, while driving on those same roads shot in "To Catch a Thief", lost control of her car which plummeted down the steep slopes, causing her death in 1982. Kelly was a real princess, both on and off screen, and hers was one of the most-publicized tragedies of a member of European royalty since before the death of Princess Diana only 16 years later. Interestingly, both princesses died in auto accidents.
Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse) is a celebrated psychiatrist who, at
the beginning of the film, we learn has just published a bestselling
self-help book. However, she is not as good a therapist as she is a
writer. She interrogates her patients with subtle intimidation which
causes them to pull away from her well-intended treatment. One of her
patients comes to his appointment and claims an underground speak-easy
of gamblers are out to get him because he owes a large gambling debt.
Her patient tells her she must speak with "Mike", and Ford decides to
She wanders into a shady bar with a gambling room at the back. There she finds Mike (Joe Mantegna), an amiable and well-dressed man who happens to engage in gambling. Turns out her patient's gambling debt is not as high as he had said. Mike makes the psychiatrist a deal: if she'll help him out in a current poker game, he'll forgive the debt. She agrees, and thus becomes enraptured with this cutting edge world of gamblers and grifters. She learns Mike is a grifter, a con artist who uses deception and cunning against marks who willingly give him money.
Dr. Ford, bored with her position as a psychiatrist at a local medical institution, decides she'll devote more of her time to writing. Her subject: gamblers and grifters who live on the periphery of mainstream society. She insists Mike teach her everything about con games. Not just gambling games, but the games he plays to extract cash out of unsuspecting victims, many of whom don't realize they are being conned.
David Mamet's foray into the world of grifters is one of the better offerings of its type. Similar fair include "The Sting", "The Film-Flam Man" and "The Grifters". Mantegna in particular makes the perfect con artist, whose charm and likability pull in marks from all social strata. In an interesting scene, Mantegna demonstrates why the "con" of "con man" means confidence in which the grifter gives his confidence to the mark. He compels a young soldier-in-training (William Macy) into giving a sizable amount of cash to a complete stranger at a Western Union office. A well-done and thoroughly entertaining film.
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