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The Laramie Project (2002 TV Movie)
9/10
Powerful film of a powerful play
10 March 2002
I had the great privilege to see the play 7 times in New York City and 4 times at the New Jersey Repertory Theater. It is a powerful work of theater. The film is able to capture the power of the play, although of course you lose the intimacy of being there with live actors. Nevertheless, it is a deeply moving and insightful film about an American tragedy.

Moises Kaufman, the Tectonic Theater Project, and HBO are to be commended for such a daring production.

See this film. It will make a deep impact on you.
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Frightening and Thought-provoking
7 March 2002
This is not an easy film to watch. But it does show all the different views of the death sentence.

The performances are impressive, the scenes are terribly realistic, and the moral is presented without being sermony. This is definitely not for someone seeking light or pleasant films. But it is worth seeing, if only to get the viewer to confront his/her thoughts on death and the death sentence.
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Studly Panic
3 March 2002
Josh Hartnett is the person who makes the movie believable and worth seeing. The story verges on being irreverent, but it is his charm that makes takes the edge off any potential nastiness.

The story of a young man who decides to give up all sex for Lent is punctuated (get the pun?) by lots of symbolism since the story takes place in San Francisco -- city of towers and bridges with towers. And there are plenty of other Freudian symbols if you look for them.

The point of the story is that getting to know someone is much more important than having mindless sex. Yet the story trips itself up on its moral at the end. Nevertheless, it's a cute date movie and has some real fun in it.
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Illusion vs. Reality
3 February 2002
Whether it's a true story or not, the film offers an odd and provocative perspective on what is real and what is illusion.

There is an interesting political theme too, considering that the reporter is a political commentator who observes how we demonize people in the world. Maybe we create our own horrors.

The name of the town is ironic (even though it is real) -- Point Pleasant. For the time period of the story, it is anything but pleasant.

Great use of creepy FX, light and dark, symbolism (bridge of and to death). Is is a good old-fashioned horror flick. If you like to be spooked, try this one.

One wonders where the Mothman was before 9/11 -- or did people just not listen?
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Odd fish film
2 February 2002
The purpose of the film seems to be naughty nudity.

We get some hockus-pokus about our relationship to the sea. Then the scene that gives the film its title appears -- one of the nude girls is frightened by a handsome young merman who comes up from a lagoon and talks to her, evidently wanting her to join him in the sea. She declines, but evidently she has fallen in love with him.

The oddist thing about the film is that there is almost no dialogue and you have to figure out the plot -- what plot there is. It is mainly just a nudity film. But, as I said, the merman is cute, and if all you want to do is watch an old nudie flick, this is OK.
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Beautiful look at intellect
6 January 2002
In John Nash's search for originality, we are taken on a journey into the discovery of what makes a human being. Clever dialogue and well-developed characters give us an insight into genius that has rarely been achieved in any other film.

The story involves the struggle of the individual against society and "reality" -- whatever that is. The atrocities as well as the imagination of the human mind are portrayed as Nash searches for a sense of meaning in a seemingly meaningless or possibly insane world.

Through him, we discover that logic only has real meaning when it is integrated with the heart in love. Putting that idea into words makes it sound cliche, but the film is definitely an original work of art and intellect -- as well as heart.
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Encyclopedia of teen movies
3 January 2002
The title is true. This isn't just another teen movie.

It's a conglomeration of scenes and quotes from all sorts of teen movies. It even includes cameos. Some of it is forced. Some of it is clever. It's not original, but it's amusing.
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Ali (2001)
Lengthy saga
3 January 2002
The heading "lengthy saga" is redundant, I know. But this film shows its lengthiness a bit too much.

We follow the saga of a hero through the civil rights movement as he attains his title and his own identity. The cast is excellent. The boxing is realistic.

But the film lingers and becomes indulgent. It could have been cut down to a more focused running time without losing the meaning.
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One too many
3 January 2002
Combine the remakes of THE HAUNTING and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL with GHOSTBUSTERS and you get an interesting story.

This one is about a machine from hell that gives its owner infinite power. And interesting cast and a strangely artistic set give the film its own touch of creepy originality.

But I thought it got a bit too confusing with so many ghosts and so much mumbo-jumbo. Still, it was a fun scary film.
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Fun with magic
3 January 2002
The film gives us a good use of FX to create a magic Alice in Wonderland world. It is a bit overly long, but it's fun because of an engaging cast and good use of mythological archetypes.

The hero's quest is told once again. This time, it's a combination of STAR WARS, ROBIN HOOD, PHANTASM, and DEAD POET'S SOCIETY. It even offers an interesting parable about people who are different and whom the world shuts up in cupboards -- or closets.
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Much ado about a piece of jewelry
3 January 2002
I liked the excellent cast. I liked the good FX. I liked the beautiful locations.

BUT! The film is much too long.

The hero's journey is told once again, and this is only part 1 of 3. I'm sure the book fans are thrilled, but I thought a more condensed version would have worked better.

It's a Wagner opera with computer FX.
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Teenage Caveman (2002 TV Movie)
Odd, hyped-up remake
26 October 2001
Despite a decent cast, the film seems too heavy-handed and slap-dash to be taken very seriously. It certainly doesn't measure up to the earlier film of the same title. I got the impression that the film maker just wanted to have fun with the genre.
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Interesting morality play
26 October 2001
Made during the "I was a teenage..." cycle, this is more thoughtful than those other teen exploitation films. The story is told simply and yet with a serious purpose that makes us look at our technology as the mixed blessing which it is.

Don't let the title put you off. This is better than average and has some surprises.
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From Hell (2001)
The beginnings of our own time
21 October 2001
As Jack the Ripper boasted (in the film) that he gave birth to the 20th Century. The horror of the human mind is the hell into which we see here. It is a truly unsettling view of the monstrousness of twisted thought, something far more terrifying than any physical deformity.

The imagery and atmosphere are excellent to create a dark underworld hidden by the prim and proper veneer of the Victorian world. Insanity, drugs, power, misguided loyalty, and religious fanaticism -- all things we see in our own time -- are played out in this unnervingly dark mystery that would have Sherlock Holmes stunned and gasping.

Depp gives a spooky, restrained performance, and Holm is wonderful in all elements of his presentation. The eyes of death have never been more dramatically revealed. And the real horror is that this story is based on one theory of what actually happened in the notorious Ripper crimes.

If the Ripper gave birth to the 20th Century, what more horrors await in the 21st?
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Laura (1944)
Beautifully done
13 October 2001
This is one of the classics of film noir. Though its bare-faced melodrama is showing, that's simply part of the noir atmosphere.

Clifton Webb is at his best here, showing his full range of moods from cynical to compassionate to downright nasty. The rest of the cast is also strong with a full range of human pettiness as well as goodness. In effect, the film is a wonderful morality play.

Of course, the theme music plays in practically every scene, but it works very well in all of its variations. See this one and enjoy the film noir formula that transcends itself, making this such a beautiful classic.
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She Creature (2001 TV Movie)
Has its moments
5 October 2001
This mermaid movie is a mish-mash of various legends with some vampire-lore and ALIEN left-overs thrown in. Top it off with a mumbo-jumbo introduction about the idea that the Queen is the most powerful creature of all.

The mermaid is beautiful -- when she is a mermaid -- but when she turns into the "Queen," for some reason she has a flat chest. Add some telepathy between two empathic women, some lesbian hints, and a slow-moving plot -- well, we get lots of atmosphere which doesn't really pay off.

The film seemed more an exercise in horror FX and mood than a genuine monster movie, but considering it seems to be modeled on monster flicks of the 1950s, I guess the film-makers hit their mark. If there are to be more films in the series, I would hope the creators of the films go into more of the lure and enchantment of the mermaid instead of using a mermaid merely as a stand-in for some other kind of monster.
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Einstein Revealed (1996 TV Movie)
9/10
Excellent biography
5 October 2001
In a brief time (which is, of course, relative), we learn a great deal about a modern genius, the man that TIME magazine called the "Man of the Century."

The narrations, the impersonation of Einstein, and the illustrations are all very well done. What I find particularly enlightening and touching is a short sequence I use in teaching a class on study skills aimed at making students more likely to succeed in college. Einstein explains why he was what others considered a genius. He very simply points out that he kept the mind of a child and asked the simplest questions.

What is space? What is time? Why is the grass green? Why is the sky blue? These are questions children ask. Adults don't bother with such questions either because they think the questions are silly or because they think they know the answer or because they think there are no answers. Yet childlike minds such as Einstein's work on such questions. All human beings could use their minds to such purposes instead of for greed, killing, and destruction.

The world might be a better place if people used childlike qualities to seek enlightenment rather than mundane dreck.
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The Closet (2001)
Anything can happen in a condom factory!
30 September 2001
This amiable and amusing film is delightful as it plays around with political correctness, homophobia, machismo, and business management.

The dull-witted and just plain dull main character keeps his job by pretending to be gay -- at the suggestion of a neighbor who is an industrial psychologist that once lost his own job BECAUSE he is gay. With that premise, the film is off to a wonderful series of misunderstandings and revelations as our hero discovers a great deal about life, people around him, and most of all, himself. The fact that all of this takes place is a very prim, high-tech condom factory makes the comedy all the more lively.

I wasn't expecting the lift that the film gave me. It has a flimsy giddiness about it lacking in most comedies about being gay or straight or anything else. See it if you get a chance.
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A fish out of water
28 September 2001
The premise is interesting -- retelling "The Little Mermaid" by combining it with "The Prince & the Pauper."

There is a sense of culture shock for the "mermaid" as she falls in love with a young man. He lives in a poor part of LA while she lives in her father's rags-to-riches palace of a home -- where her father went when he escaped the same poor neighborhood. The point seems to be that a person must remember his or her roots to be fully alive.

The story is a bit hard to believe because of things like the "witch" talking the mermaid's father into letting his daughter do whatever she wants even though she's only 15 years old. But the movie is amusing fluff and can be enjoyable.
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Zoolander (2001)
The truth can be told
28 September 2001
Yes, now the truth is out. It's worse than anything Oliver Stone could conjure.

Male models are behind all political assassinations! Who would have thought it? Lurking behind those handsome dumb Himbo faces there was really -- well, nothing. But that's what makes them so dangerous as lean, mean, brainless -- gorgeous -- fighting machines.

As Zoolander searches for the answer to the ages-old question, "Who am I?" he goes back to his coalmine roots, becomes ashamed of being a mermaid (actually a "Merman!"), battles evil in the St. Adonis Cemetery, and falls in love. Socrates would have been proud of the way Zoolander learns to "Know Thyself."

The film has a zany sense of humor as it borrows freely from THE X FILES, JFK, FIGHT CLUB, THE GODFATHER, and 2001, among others. This satire is delightful in its sheer silliness. What a great comedy at a time when we need it!
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Bamboozled (2000)
Satire & Sermon
20 September 2001
This film is a bitter satire of racial divisions, media, and culture in general. The main premise is that people are forced to make a living from humor that degrades their own self-respect. Along the way, various tough issues are raised. What is art? What is truth? Who decides what art and truth are? What is the mentality we call history? And as all of these questions are contemplated, we realize that we must "Feed the Idiot Box!" The idiot box is not only TV but also news, films, music, books, and all forms of exploitation masked as entertainment or information.

While Spike Lee acknowledges that he used A FACE IN THE CROWD and NETWORK as models, I was reminded of AMERICAN PSYCHO, especially with the use of voice-overs. The film wanders back and forth between satire and sermon. In this respect, the voice-overs were intrusive and came across more as lectures than as insights. I think the film would have worked better if the actions had been allowed to speak for themselves.

In any event, this film is an interesting look into the way culture distorts reality and then turns the distortion into reality. Life imitates art, and art imitates life. Can we tell the difference? Interesting and disturbing question.
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The Big Sleep (1946)
Great Performances
18 September 2001
This is the Bogart that always is imitated but never duplicated. Listen to his voice as he delivers some striking and very funny, even off-color lines that somehow got passed the Hays censors.

Don't even try to follow the barrage of names and who did what to whom and why -- it's all part of the detective/film-noir shtick. Just enjoy the interplay between Bogart and Bacall -- and between Bogart and every other "dame" in the film.

The dialogue is sharp and the performances are worth watching.
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Rock Star (2001)
All About Rock
7 September 2001
Mark Wahlberg didn't want to wear a loincloth in the recent remake of PLANET OF THE APES, but he gets to show off his lean torso a lot in this interesting cross between ALL ABOUT EVE and the Rock world.

The goal is raunchy rock, man, in this satire of show-biz and fame. Wahlberg starts out as a copy machine repairman who copies a rock group called Steel Dragon. He dreams his dream so hard that he not only becomes Steel Dragon in his head but in reality -- or the rock version of reality.

The plot follows a naive young man and woman on the roller-coaster of fame and high times. The boundaries between reality and fantasy blur with alcohol, drugs, and sex. But the strange journey eventually takes the two main characters back to themselves and their own music. Along the way, they must deal with the issue of what is really valuable in life.

This is an interesting character study and a bit of fun too.
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Anastasia (1956)
Royal Fairy Tale
7 September 2001
Based on the legend about the sole-surviving daughter of Russia's last Czar, this film is very well done with an excellent cast, international locations, and an evocative soundtrack.

This was Bergman's return to American film after being shunned for having an extra-marital affair at a time when America was caught in the height of self-righteous McCarthyism. She proved that she could still hold the screen even with the likes of her very powerful co-stars.

The story follows the progression of a lost soul from suicidal depths to resurrection as a lost princess and concludes as a fairy tale. The elderly empress points out at the end that the play is over -- go home.
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Plenty of Atmosphere
3 September 2001
I think the point of the movie was simply to give us classic horror-flick atmosphere for its own sake.

We have a DUEL-like truck from hell, a sewer that's not a sewer, a glimpse into Frankenstein's lab, an abandoned church, ravens, cats, spooky old ladies, macabre visual jokes, and a tall man the likes of which we haven't seen since PHANTASM. It's a devil of a comic flick if you can figure it out.

The theme seems to be the idea that evil can smell fear on a person -- and gobbles it up. Maybe the lesson is that you are what you eat. Or maybe it's a vegetarian statement. Or perhaps it's a commentary on our industrial-technological society's blindness to the supernatural in the universe. Heavy, huh?

In any event, the film has no tidy resolution, thus making me believe that it exists simply for its own scary atmosphere or it is an amusing parable about something such as I suggested.

Being a horror-movie fan, I liked it. It may not suit your taste, but then the movie-makers weren't cooking up something for everyone.
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