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The Handmaid's Tale (1990)
Tiresome Trip For An Otherwise Respectable Cast
The amazing thing to me is that after they assumedly read the script, the best-known cast members decided to stay with this awful and generally predictable project. In a story line reminiscent of any and all prior renditions of "The Crucible," "Salem Witch Trials" or "1984," this film's thread was spiced up a bit - perhaps to make it more tantalizing and therefore to sell more broadly.
There are metaphors aplenty portending the slippery slope being espoused by modern forces that seem intent on robbing individual freedoms from the women of today's generation, as well as those in decades and centuries to come. So? Where's the freshest possible representation of that viewpoint? It won't be found here.
My message to the upper-echelon cast members and to screenplay architect Harold Pinter: Whether you chose to, or had to, get involved with this film to repay a studio or any other entity's contractual I.O.U., you could have and should have considered redirecting that indebtedness until you found something much more worthwhile. Did the only ongoing surprises have to be the regular costume color changes? Or the occasional tryst? Or the occasional execution? Finally, the ridiculously recurring women's lavatory scenes made me wonder if the channel which aired it on television in my locality inadvertently repeated some reels.
Too bad; I'm hoping to find all of you in more productive and memorably good, not forgettably bad, endeavors.
United 93 (2006)
Fair But Not Great
This film generally met my expectations, but didn't strike me as well as it might have for the following reasons:
1) The FAA and military dispatch center scenes demonstrating the early confusion on the ground were overly drawn out. So were the scenes of the terrorists in their seats wondering when to strike. Those could have been distilled down and their relevance could have been made just as forcefully. Even if there was some semblance of trying to stay true the actual timelines of those two aspects, and to whatever extent they had to be compressed to fit the film's 91 minutes, there just seemed to be far too much of both.
2) I would have replaced the monotony of those minutes with scenes showing the other ends of the passengers' final phone calls. In particular, I would have wanted to see and hear the call received by Lisa Jefferson, a cellular company's customer center supervisor, who was in contact with Todd Beamer. She was interviewed extensively by the news media once the event ended and the facts were known, so portraying her on screen either by herself or an actress could be deemed "old news." However, if writer//director Paul Greengrass were to prepare a complete a docudrama for future generations, showing her significance and including her actual words could have added much to the context. The same can be said about the loved ones, friends and even voicemail devices on the ground that other passengers reached.
3) Todd Beamer's iconic statement of bravery on behalf of all the other passengers, "Let's Roll!", which I had expected to be treated as a resounding call to heroism, was handled almost as an under-the-breath throwaway line. He might have really said it the way it was ultimately shown, but it called for more of a "Hollywood moment."
4) Among the epilogue's titles, I was left with a quite unexpected negative reaction because it seemed wholly unfair for Greengrass to mention the lack of effective military air accompaniment, thereby implying a sense of ineptness. There was no useful purpose served by such "Monday morning quarterbacking." Had armed military aircraft successfully been scrambled, obtained positions alongside UAL 93 and brought the aircraft down, we as a nation would search our souls for generations about whether the right decisions were made and if the right actions were taken.
On a positive note, Greengrass deserves credit for making this very good decision: Abundant casting of the actual people who were doing their best on the ground under enormous unprecedented pressure. It was a definite plus. After all, who could convey their words, actions and states of mind better?
The Contender (2000)
This Is Must See D.C.!
And that title for this review doesn't simply mean District of Columbia where the setting takes place, it means Deception and Cunning. What a superb script that writer and director Rod Lurie has created. His words drip with persuasive eloquence, calling for one to muster up his or her finest listening skills so as not to miss a single word or phrase of the rich dialog. Ah, if only today's real politicians were that legitimate and Lincolnesque in their deliveries. Nor can I imagine a more cohesive ensemble being brought together for this film. Joan Allen's unwavering resolve and dignity. Jeff Bridges' role as a most nurturing president. Sam Elliott's staunch stand as a loyal adviser. Gary Oldman honing his high art of nastiness. Christian Slater as a relatively new kid on the congressional block. All I can say to all of you and all the rest is, "wonderful, wonderful, you've created one for the ages." If anyone should ever read any review that describes this film's plot as being essentially too linear, don't believe a word of it. This story line has numerous zigs and zags, including several fast-paced mind re-routers near the very end. One last point: This film does have a not-so-subtle leaning that those aligned with the political left or political right might find to be either refreshing or repulsive. I'll entrust readers of this review to determine which is which.
Lost and Delirious (2001)
A Completely Preposterous Premise
My problem with this far-fetched and tedious work evidently lies in what the source material gave the filmmakers to work with, that being the novel and/or the screenplay. I have read neither. It is impossible to fathom that signal after signal of the central female character's dramatic psychological decline either went unnoticed or was deliberately ignored by such an inept staff of boarding school instructors and administrators. If the goals of the school included creating a headstrong group of adolescent girls, they accomplished that and regrettably more, resulting in conditions where, to bend a phrase, "one of the patients was running the asylum." There is not one iota of redeeming value to warrant seeing this film. The girls are inexperienced and throw the word "love" around in a way that makes it a totally misunderstood commodity. Peripheral tidbits come and go as mere fillers, offering no beneficial reasons for being integrated into the plot. If those were meant to serve as symbolism, they failed in their mission because they were shoe-horned in as central story items instead of being eased in the way true adolescent life would evolve. By toning down the script's language throughout and substituting innuendo in the lesbian scenes, instead of everything that required the "R" rating, during another era this film could have been a product shown in entirety as a half-hour "Twilight Zone" episode. The central female character's name being "Pauline" also reminded me of Melanie Lynskey's role as another Pauline in "Heavenly Creatures" (1994), a film costarring Kate Winslet. That movie was based around an actual tragic event that occurred overseas, following similar life experiences by adolescent girls and misguidance by adults, but in more home-based and parental proportions. It will take the viewer some effort to be forgiving about the lack of adult monitoring in the "Lost and Delirious" school setting. After muttering, "Oh, c'mon!", to myself so many times, this film made such effort not worth it in any way.
The Temptations (1998)
Charles Malik Whitfield, D.B. Woodside, Terron Brooks, Christian Payton and Leon had their singing and stepping roles down absolutely cold. It was hard to believe they weren't the original Temptations. Scenes and voiceovers depicting how Berry Gordy's successful Hitsville USA machine worked provided good background. While it was run as a serious business, one can also see that it functioned like a fraternity, with major love and minor hate relationships, a place where everyone in all the departments rated every aspect of everyone else. An act had to have genuine talent to become a part of the fold. There was brief mention of a few other Motown solo and group acts; that brevity was a plus because that left more time to know and understand the prime characters. I only wish there had been more, and/or more lengthy, runs of their legendary songs showing their syncopated moves. The reprise of their signature number at the end of the film was an outstanding enhancement. The film triggered a wide range of emotions in the various fates that befell the group's original members - emotions capably shown by the actors in their roles, also emotions among the viewers watching them: surprise, hope, excitement, pride, shock, pity, and sorrow, among others. The never-ending shifting sands of whether David Ruffin would stay in the group or be out for his own reasons or the reasons of others eventually became a bit tedious. Also, the periodic revolving door among the Temptations and the opportunistic creation of counterfeit groups boasting the same name frequently required good concentration to keep all the individual players straight. However, on those two points, Otis Williams who wrote the book was there, and the film's executive producer Suzanne De Passe was there, so those events deserved their screen time. As one of the frequent writers of material for the group, William "Smokey" Robinson was portrayed by an actor and also actually appeared himself. The real-life Smokey's presence was a spectacularly captivating musical moment; the song he wrote and sang near the film's end could very well be the greatest musical tribute of all time to a departed loved one. "The Temptations...Forever" is a recurring theme during the film. This movie's story line and the performances of the five lead actors will help ensure that it stays that way.
Boiler Room (2000)
These Guys Can Act!
The large and well-selected cast turned in very powerful performances. They crafted a convincing range of emotions, from cunning cut-throat manipulators of their clients' personal wealth during office hours, to brief examples of their "boys will be boys" shenanigans after hours. The story line is built completely around their personal financial greed, the hapless victims they scammed to realize it (with the greatest focus on one of them), and a well-sustained sense of mystery that plants seeds of possibilities along the way. The ending was not at all predictable; it could have gone in any of several directions. The viewer gets the impression that if these predators could yank even the last remaining penny out of a client on his (they targeted males) deathbed, they'd gleefully do so and view it as a major coup giving them full bragging rights. There's a hint of information about how legitimate stockbrokers earn their credentials and that was enlightening. The romantic angles are minimalized and that serves to benefit the film. The language is consistently coarse, but certainly seemed realistic for the characters' ages, their business sector and their work ethic. For everyone who enjoyed "Glengarry Glen Ross," "Wall Street" (both of which are alluded to in the film), or even more appropriately "The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron," this feature will really score a bulls-eye.
Walk the Line (2005)
Absolutely Stunning Performances
There isn't much one can say about the creative quality of any biopic's story line. Either the original book writers, screenplay adapters, producers and directors opt to remain faithful to the facts or they don't. We in the audience trust them to sort out all the different data tidbits they are presented with and ultimately remain true to the facts. Serious Johnny Cash fans probably already knew this entire story line from its earliest beginnings; casual fans probably recalled the middle of his life and the outcome; but along the way everyone seeing this film couldn't help but become enlightened. What makes this marvelous gem so exceptional is the quality of everyone's performances. For baby boomers who grew up listening to Johnny Cash and for others who now follow them, "Walk The Line" wasn't a film "about" Johnny Cash. Instead, thanks to Joaquin Phoenix's phenomenal performance, it became a film "including" Johnny Cash. I will go to my grave believing that without question Joaquin Phoenix deserved the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in 2005. It should be regarded as the gold standard for delivering all future biopic roles. For goodness sakes, this man used his own singing voice, and he was right on the money in sound, gestures and demeanor all the time. Kudos also to Reese Witherspoon for her performance that earned the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, as well as to the entire supporting casting for maximizing the believability of this historical masterpiece, most notably: Ginnifer Goodwin (as Johnny's first wife), Robert Patrick (as Johnny's father), Sandra Ellis Lafferty (as June's mother) and Dallas Roberts (as Sam Phillips). Moreover, the set recreations of the period were very believable. Not many films achieve IMDb ratings of 8.1 or higher, which is the rarefied air earned by "Walk The Line" at the time of this posting. I think that says it all.
Great visual impact but a sub-par story line
My likes: The opening deck-running scene was exceptionally creative and captivating and set the stage for an enjoyable movie experience. Stacy Ferguson was wonderful in her singing role. The rest of the cast was well-selected and performed admirably. The elaborate sets and special effects were both stunning and completely credible. My dislikes: I would have preferred to see substantially more character development. I expected and therefore felt slightly cheated that there wasn't more of an in-depth focus into the individual backgrounds and personalities of the passengers, the captain and the crew members around whom the story unfolded. What histories and hopes did each bring to this sailing? The rather abrupt ending was somewhat of a frustration as well; that general sense of disappointment was almost palpable in the theater where I saw it.