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The Duel of the Fates Has Just Begun....
15 April 2000
I would hope that people who truly love and respect the STAR WARS story as much as I do will put behind any unrest they have for the 1st episode. It was spectacular and it is JUST the first in a line of three films we have to travel back to that galaxy far, far, away. If you hated the first episode, you have forgotten what it was like to experience that place from the very start.

No doubt, the 1st of George Lucas' saga is the best (with EMPIRE coming a close second), but the excitement is there, the galaxy has expanded, we see a younger version of Sir Alec Guiness played well by Ewan McGregor, and Lucas is behind it all more than ever. Watch Episode IV - A New Hope and remember what we will be arriving at. For God's sake, use your imagination. Any naysayers are forgetting what you were witnessing the first time around.

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Annie Hall (1977)
Woody's 1st Serious Artistic Achievement Mainly Because of Diane Keaton.
27 January 2000
Until 1977, Woody Allen films were mostly screwball comedies. Pictures like BANANAS and EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX... were episodic comedies, films that seemed more like short television sitcoms along the Monty Python vein. He finally reached his full potential with what seems to be everyone's favorite Woody picture, ANNIE HALL. It is without a doubt one of his better films and foresaw a lot of the narrative techniques and content you can see in his great films of the past decade. This is Woody playing himself, more or less, for the first time, but it is Diane Keaton as the title character who steals the show in a heartwarming performance that won her an Academy Award.

Woody plays comedian "Alvy Singer", a comedian who hates anything that is not New York and who cannot seem to function outside of it. He is constantly bickering to best friend Tony Roberts about New York being considered a target for anti-semitism. He is, for the first time in his long filmography, playing himself, a self-hating Jew who has broken relationships with women. He even talks directly to the camera describing his paranoid self in the movie's first shot. After some brief intercutting of failed marriage footage, "Alvy" meets the peculiar, but sensual "Annie Hall" from Wisconsin.

At this point in ANNIE HALL, the film goes back and forth in time revealing the peaks and valleys of this sweet romance. "Annie" is a lonely girl, plain-looking, but with a quality Woody and the audience can't quite put a finger on. She grows more and more lovable as the story of these complete opposites evolves. It is still hard to figure out what makes Annie so delightful to the eyes and the mind. She is simple and endearing, which makes her more attractive to you as you watch. It is great acting by Keaton, who is so original in her choice of wardrobe and mannerisms (especially her need to relieve tension a certain way).

The film contains Woody standards like his fear of driving, his fear of bugs, or things that move in the dark ("you have a bug the size of a Buick in there"), and his mockery of Los Angeles. The scenes in L.A. are some of the funniest I've seen in all of Allen's films especially the physical condition that besets him as soon as he gets off the plane. "Alvy", like Woody, is always writing something too.

ANNIE HALL is not my favorite Allen film. That honor goes hands down to MANHATTAN, made just 2 years later. Keaton has a major role in that flick, as an intellectual "Annie" you could say. His great films of the 90's MIGHTY APHRODITE and DECONSTRUCTING HARRY are direct descendants of ANNIE HALL because of the overlapping narrative, Woody's talking to the audience or to imaginary people, and adorable love interests.

The one thing true of this film is that it is his warmest in regard to New York relationships and that is made completely possible because of Diane Keaton. "La-di-da, La-di-da," became as familiar to the American vernacular as "Yada-Yada" has in recent years to Seinfeld fanatics. ANNIE HALL is complex in structure, yet deceptively simple and entered Woody into the big leagues of artistic filmmaking.

RATING: ***1/2
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Painful Opening of the Cinematic Curtains.
25 January 2000
I first saw BIRTH OF A NATION in a film class and I found it very hard to stay awake. That was 8 years ago. My eyes stayed open this time to witness a film of monstrous racism and an epic feeling of sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan. Of course, I know all of the significance and importance of the movie and how director D.W. Griffith invented the language of modern cinema, at least as far as the silents go. I must say that the influence, techniques, and legendary status of the picture goes out the window because of some idiotic ideas and horribly racist scenes that made my stomach churn.

Its a shame the first ever feature length film has few moments that can only be appreciated unless you consider them within the context of time. Filmed in 1914, there are massive crowd scenes, re-enactments of critical moments during the civil war, and even the first known depiction of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (done quite well by the way). Griffith's huge mistake was to show the KKK as heroes and to sympathize with the Confederacy ideals of a Southern republic.

Word has it that Griffith was raised by African-Americans and even loved them. He pays them no respect or even any credit for anything in this miserable play on race. That's really the problem. Innovative techniques aside, Griffith must have never realized the pain that is surely felt by African-Americans today who must study this film or even see it for its renowned "importance". BIRTH OF A NATION is for buffs only and believe me when I tell you this. I could not look past the white actors playing blacks as drinking, jumping, would-be rapists in dark-face.

And what is with the "mulatto" who tries to create a black empire only to be foiled by the "glorious" clan members ? Griffith shows great empathy for the clansmen who look a lot more ridiculous in their clown outfits than the actors in black-face. I don't mean to sound like a civil rights activist (I am a white guy from the suburbs), but BIRTH OF A NATION is a document not only of the racism that existed in the 1800's, but also of the early 1900's. The first ever film to tell a cohesive story, feature-length style, should be forgotten. Luckily, Griffith was able to redeem his social image as far as history has written it with some more imaginative films.

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The Sting (1973)
A Lightweight, Clever Throwback to the Big Cons of the 1930's.
24 January 2000
At first sight, THE STING appears to be nothing more than a television movie. It is entirely plot-driven with no real stand out characters or personalities. What makes the film work is excellent production design and a delightfully clever plot filled with many surprises. The movie is feather-weight emotionally, but the depth of the "con" and the way it is fashioned by screenwriter David Ward leaves you with a pleasant experience.

This is more Redford's film than Newman's, who reunite with George Roy Hill, director of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The legendary actors were more flesh and blood in that film, but here, they are merely players who carry the story along. With lesser actors, THE STING may have been a forgettable piece of work. Redford does all of the dirty work after Newman's initial "hook", but the omniscient presence of Newman, as big-time grifter "Henry Gondorff" exists throughout. A mysterious gloved character, a crooked cop, the FBI, and a seemingly bigger con-man "Doyle Lonnegan" (played by the late, great Robert Shaw) are some of the players who are involved in some events that seem to be manipulated by an unseen force. Is Newman as good as he claims in trying to clean out Shaw? We'll see.

The film is shot simply by Hill. No tricky angles or contrived camera movements are used. The action takes place simply in front of us. The production design by Henry Bumstead and James Payne recreates old-time Chicago through the use of built sets, matte paintings of a smaller sky-line, and some location shots. It gives the film an almost artificial look which is fitting considering it is a direct homage to the 1930's and the gangster pictures that so dominated that decade. The story is even furthered by title pages describing "the set-up, the hook, and the sting". They are turned like pages in a book, adding a drop of elegance to a crooked world. An iris is even employed in some scenes.

THE STING is definitely lightweight entertainment. It does not provoke much thought or insight into what is happening on screen. Fun is the word for this amusing little film that depicts a masterful plan for a big steal which would be impossible to pull off today. Look out for Ray Walston in a hilarious role announcing horse races and their results as they are "happening" just after receiving word of the "real" race results from a back room in the betting house. These are good con-men.

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The Talented Mr. Damon is Great in this Tense Psychological Thriller.
22 January 2000
Warning: Spoilers
There are a lot of reasons to see THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. It is not your typical, run of the mill Hollywood thriller. In fact, it is refreshingly chilling and Matt Damon turns in what is by far his best acting job to date. He is able to shed the "Will Hunting" image here with a juicy role. It is a personality twisting story unlike, say, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE, which was highly conventional and more of a slasher picture. I would equate it more with Ingmar Bergman's PERSONA. The audience is never totally clear as to why "Tom Ripley" wants to consume another personality which is all the more mysterious.

Anthony Minghella, director of ENGLISH PATIENT, sets the stage in late 1950's Italy, an exotic locale which adds to the suspense. As the film progresses and it becomes more apparent there is something deeply wrong with Damon, you almost begin to root for him to get away with his malicious acts. He is so effective as the quietly psychotic Ripley because his actions do not seem planned. He just kind of takes what is not his without reason.

The beauty of Rome, Venice, and Gwyneth Paltrow tends to hide the inner turmoil going on with Damon's character and Jude Law is oblivious to it most of the time. The madness builds slowly and Law, as the target of Damon's consuming desire, realizes it too late. Law has the looks and mannerisms of a 50's matinee idol which fits perfectly within the context of the film.

Some people have said THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is like a Hitchcock film for the 90's. I would have to agree. Damon's ability to portray a fully realized, human leach is amazing at times and the fact that I actually had some sympathy for him proves it. There are scenes of utter shock and dismay, but it is the drowning build to the inevitable murder and mayhem that grabs you.

RATING: ***1/2
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An Absolute Wonder Which Cherishes Its Influences - The Best Animated Feature Ever !
22 January 2000
Animated movies have long been considered strictly for children. The old Disney classics that started it all are indeed aimed at kids, but are still very watchable, even for adults. With the advent of TOY STORY and its countless mimics, animated feature films have taken long strides to be considered worthy of serious attention. THE IRON GIANT is just such an animated piece. The 87 minute wonder is, to put it mildly, incredible. Everything about it is good. I've also never seen so many influences and references in an animated film before.

This is a movie with a heart the size of the title character. A gentle, gigantic robot is rocketed to earth and befriends a 10 year old boy. The kid has a single mother (voiced nicely by Jennifer Aniston) and he is just looking for a friend, whether it be a squirrel, or even a 50 foot tall machine. The familiar premise is obviously out of Spielberg's E.T. One scene even has the giant reaching out his finger to the boy in much the same way ET did to 10 year old Elliott when he departed this earth. E.T. was an out of this world fantasy that took place on this earth. Here, it is animated and almost just as effective.

IRON GIANT takes place during 1957 in a small town in Maine. The 1950's was a time when the American public was fearful of atomic bombs and the possibility of alien life off the earth. Live-action sci-fi films of the 1950's always depicted the arrival of "dangerous" alien life and our efforts to destroy it. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is an influence on this film for evident reasons. Ultimately, the characters in that classic learn from the extra-terrestrial being and realize the dangers of the A-Bomb. It is amazing to see an animated feature which can relay this same type of message some 50 years later.

A beautiful and touching ode to BAMBI is witnessed about halfway through. It also brings back some tearful moments from the key scene in that great, hand-drawn film. Here, we see both hand-drawn imagery coupled with a computer-generated "iron giant". The title character is actually a 3D composition done digitally, mixed with the 2D action surrounding him. There are some highly imaginative shots of the robot mixing in with the film's environment. At one point, he appears to be a lighthouse until the lights begin to blink. I guess robots must blink too.

Enough analysis. I loved this movie. It is ranked #81 on the top list by other user authors for a reason. Not only is it escapist, fantastic entertainment for kids, adults, and seniors alike, it is an animated picture like no other. It combines the joy of SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO, the commentary of 1950's science fiction, and the wizardry and laughter of TOY STORY and its sequel. Do not miss this enchanting flick.

RATING: ****
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Poetic - Powerful - Simple: The Greatness of Cuckoo's Nest.
22 January 2000
The opening shot of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is a bleak glance at an Oregon morning. Stirring, haunting music plays gracefully on the soundtrack and a car approaches. Inside the car is one of film history's most remarkable characters. "Randle McMurphy" is about to bring hope, humor, and a glimmer of reality to some disturbed people in a mental hospital. Jack Nicholson as "McMurphy", is something of a paradox. Is this guy crazy or is he really the lazy, conniving criminal most believe him to be? That is the magical mystery and start to a journey into mental illness and the effect this man will have on some truly messed up men.

Milos Forman directs this all-time classic, which swept the Oscars deservedly, and holds up so well 25 years later. It is a simplistic film about small people living in their own small worlds. Manic moments are mixed with poignant acting all leading to an astounding climax. Not before or since CUCKOO'S NEST has a collection of different characters had such an impact on me. You could write a book report about each of the patients in the ward. The two most important people here are, of course, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.

Nicholson has his greatest moments in this picture. One brilliant scene has him doing an imaginary play-by-play commentary of the 1963 World Series to the group, who are not allowed to watch the game on TV. It is a poetic sequence and Nicholson goes crazy with his delivery, describing baseball with colorful anecdotes and profanity. "McMurphy" immediately makes an impression on the crazies and shows them how they don't have to stick to the "normal routine". He knows their names right away, he sprays them with water, he makes impossible bets with them, he introduces them to fishing, and he even gets a suffering young kid (played well by Brad Dourif) a "date".

Louise Fletcher plays one of the more reprehensible human beings in film as "Nurse Mildred Ratched". She is a hardened woman, one who makes the daily meetings with the group a contest to see who will win. Her stubbornness and lack of compassion for the poor guys is rather one dimensional. That's perfect because that is exactly who she is. Her strong will to keep things monotonous leads to a final showdown with the free spirited "McMurphy" in what is easily one of the most shocking and disturbing climaxes in recent memory.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST does not try to make a statement about mental illness or how the unstable should be treated. Rather, it is a very simple portrait of the long days and hilarious scenarios that can come about when a mixed bag of suffering people are thrown together. Mental illness is nothing to laugh about, but the fact that Nicholson is not really crazy (at least in my opinion) allows us to be amused. He seems to love his compadres in the hospital. He is mislead, however, into thinking he can do as he pleases.

There is no denying the power of CUCKOO'S NEST. The two main powerhouse performances are golden, the cinematography is morbid and gritty like it should be, the "Chief" is great as Nicholson's right hand, ah, protagonist, and you care a lot about what will happen as the film moves on. The famous, final shot ironically happens to be an exit of a major character into that bleak, Oregon morning.

NOTE: I have never read the book and I find it hard to believe author Ken Kesey has never watched the filmed version. Comparing a book to a movie is impossible. They are 2 distinctly different artistic methods of story-telling.
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Easy Rider (1969)
A Far Out Document of the late 60's Encapsulates Counter-Culture America.
20 January 2000
Not many films have documented an era of American culture the way it must have really been. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES captured the reality of the post-war 1940's. TAXI DRIVER is a masterpiece of social distortion and paranoia exemplary of the 1970's. No film other than EASY RIDER captures the late 1960's as seen by the American counter-culture. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's story of two men who go in search of America and 'freedom' is a bona fide sign of the times. I may not have been around at the time, but it is great to see a film portraying the long-haired, hippie attitude towards an America in turmoil in the form of a biker flick, circa 1969.

EASY RIDER is an exploration of vast and desolate parts of the country. Of course, the stop at Mardi Gras is a necessity, but what Fonda and director Hopper are trying to tell us is that there was no 'freedom' as they saw it. The sprawling journey shows filmgoers the multiple frictions and shattered idealism of a generation in the midst of cultural change. Sex, drugs, and music were exploding socially and 1960's ideology may have come to an end in 1969, literally and figuratively speaking - much like it shockingly does in this film.

Peter Fonda plays cool "Captain America", otherwise known as Wyatt, while Hopper is a paranoid prophet of the hippies as "Billy the Kid". The stunning DVD version of the film notes the importance of Laszlo Kovacs, the director of photography. Much of the film consists of Kovacs' simple shooting of the riders as they travel spiraling highways and bigoted backroads. It is some beautiful footage and essential to the trip. A major deal is made, much grass is smoked, and the film takes off from there. Their ultimate goal is never clearly defined, but Fonda's final comment to Hopper may sum it up for viewers. Did they find what America was supposed to be about? I guess not according to Fonda.

There is a surreal experience at a commune the Kid and Wyatt stop at. These scenes are out of a Fellini film. One significant shot paints the commune with a 360 degree pan across the faces of the live-in hippies. The expressions on the faces all seem different, some grinning, others just zoned out. Kovac's amazing camera work (especially on the road with the bikes) along with a virtual who's who in rock music of the late 60's makes for a sometimes visceral filmgoing experience. The immortal 'Born to be Wild' blares over the opening title sequence and everyone from Hendrix to The Byrds are heard throughout.

EASY RIDER also contains one of Jack Nicholson's 2 or 3 most memorable performances, even to this day. As drunken lawyer "George Hanson", he creates an amazingly funny and perfect counterpoint to Hopper and Fonda. He realizes what the general public can think of the "long-hairs" and puts himself in danger just by traveling with them. A bizarre notion of alien presence in the U.S. government is part of a hilarious conversation Nicholson and Hopper have over Whiskey and smoke. His scenes on Fonda's chopper with the golden football helmet are absolute, cinematic classics.

Credit must be given to Fonda, Hopper, Nicholson, Kovacs, and Terry Southern for giving a new face to movie-making. They captured the era in a raw, jump cutting fashion. Maybe the hippies were not entirely right by trying to live off the land, or smoking dope all the time, but they may have been onto something.

RATING: ***1/2
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A Dizzying, Entertaining Peek Into Pro Football...Stone Style
14 January 2000
Sports movies are tough to make. Creating the essence of the actual event is the toughest. Most films fall short in the editing process of the event or through sheer carelessness and lack of knowledge. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY is somewhat of an exception. It is hard-hitting and bloody like NORTH DALLAS FORTY. It is actually conventional when you think about it, like a warped RUDY. It is a hell of a lot more realistic than say, NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. These are all football films with varying degrees of success (except ROUGHNESS), but Oliver Stone, in his usual over the top way, throws a dizzying, mind-splitting film at us, much like the sport itself. This is why I liked it.

Oliver Stone began a wicked spell of filmmaking with JFK, evident in its editing style. Fast-paced, black and white mixed with color, documentary-like methods ensued in NATURAL BORN KILLERS, NIXON, and the ghastly U-TURN. Nothing is new here with ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. Football is a battlefield Stone chooses to depict and depict it he does. Even the most ardent fans of the sport do not really know what it is like for a quarterback to drop back and get rid of a piece of pigskin before 11 players maul him. You certainly get the idea watching this.

Al Pacino is the dried up head coach of the fictional Miami Sharks and he barks out the usual coaching cliches you hear in press conferences after real games. Pacino also seems to be sleep-walking through the picture. At times, he appears drunk even when he is not supposed to be. Cameron Diaz's character, a young chick owner, (yeah right) destroys any credibility the film may have had going in (Even the NFL would have nothing to do with this movie). Her constant bickering is so over-done, you almost feel like hurling much the way Jamie Foxx does every time he enters a game as the team's 3rd string quarterback. Realisticly speaking, this is not a very sane film about football. It is a maniacal celebration of the game. The scenes on the field are the ones I cherished. Beware of the locker room or domestic sequences.

No one has ever put such energy into football scenes in a film before. He definitely had some good consultants. There are some comical cameos - Johnny Unitas and Dick Butkus play opposing coaches. Lawrence Taylor can actually act a teeny bit and Jim Brown shares the film's best off the field scene with Pacino in a bar. Stone tries to show us how the game has changed. He resonates past glory with quotes from Lombardi, dissolves showing Red "the Galloping Ghost" Grange, and even Unitas handing off to Ameche. TV has changed everything, says the coach, and he is right. It seems to be all about the money nowadays.

That is the message, but you'll find yourself losing that idea in the lunacy of ANY GIVEN SUNDAY and the bone-crushing, ear-damaging football scenes. They are filmed and cut with such raw intensity, you feel like playing afterwards. This is definitely a film for football fans only unless you like big, sweaty men. Is there a big game at the end that needs to be won? Yes, and this surprised me considering how unconventional Stone usually is. Basically, surrender your senses and thought process to Stone's most entertaining film in quite some time.

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Magnolia (1999)
mag*no*li*a - a tree with large, fragrant flowers of white, pink, or purple
7 January 2000
Warning: Spoilers
A serious wake up call to the land of cinema has arrived with the incredible film MAGNOLIA. Human pain and suffering, as well as the ability to avoid making familiar mistakes, are hypnotically explored in P.T. Anderson's intricate motion picture. This is the best movie I've seen in over a year and hopefully will set a new example of realistic cinema depicting real human loss and tragedy. You grow and suffer with each and every character in this huge ensemble movie.

MAGNOLIA is indeed a sort of tree with varying branches of people, situations, and irony. To get into any plot aspects would be absurd. This is a 3 hour film that flies by so fast, you want more. You won't like every character, but you will find every character extremely interesting. I've rarely ever seen such deep character portraits in a major motion picture. The title makes much sense after witnessing such vibrant, different colors of the human spirit.

P.T. Anderson has arrived, especially after BOOGIE NIGHTS, which he parallels with this effort. His prior film had many of the same human aspects of right and wrong, life and death, but were guised by the porn industry. This guy just explodes with presence and energy, swallowing us with the events on screen. His camera roves everywhere and does not miss a beat. It takes place over a 24 hour period with roughly 12 major players whose lives interlock in multiple degrees of seriousness and sadness. Some begin sad and end hopeful, but these are the few and the lucky ones in this picture.

The standouts of the huge cast in particular were Julianne Moore as the shattered wife of TV mogul "Earl Partridge" (Jason Robards), existing now only to watch him die before her eyes of cancer. She is one of the unlucky ones, a character who made so many mistakes that she cannot do over. Philip Baker Hall is great as the host of "What Do Kids Know?" a game show with a truly engrossing side-plot. Hall is also dying and may have done irreparable damage to all around him.

John C. Reilly is the centerpiece of this extraordinary film. His cop character is the moral middle at the center of some nasty events. He is also the most likable character because he knows how to treat people, unlike most of the others. He sees how mistakes can't always be made up for. I must also mention Tom Cruise in a career altering performance that took some courage to do. He is completely original, yet not the end all and be all of a film for once.

This particular day, as captured and presented by writer-director Anderson, has had a profound effect on me. If you see it, you may know what I mean. Some scars last forever in this life and we all suffer and feel pain equally. MAGNOLIA is like FIVE EASY PIECES on speed. We see numerous people just trying to get along under some extreme circumstances in a labyrinth method, much like the structure of the film's title.

RATING: ****
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Summer of Sam (1999)
A Flashy Departure For Spike Lee...
29 December 1999
Spike Lee goes berserk with SUMMER OF SAM, a twisted revisiting of the Son of Sam killings, New York, 1977. Lee steps away from his usual message pictures depicting the differences between blacks and whites and plunges us into the small Italian neighborhood within the largest city in the United States that serial killer David Berkowitz terrorized for months. The "Son of Sam" himself (played by Michael Badalucco) is placed in the back seat and Lee presents a community and an era for that matter in complete chaos.

SUMMER OF SAM has its good points and its bad points. We get to know this locale very well whether we like it or not. The characters who populate the neighborhood are funny, sad, and stupid all at the same time. You get a feel for the smells and the language of that time in that place. 1977 was the year of Disco's peak, the uprising of British punk rock (represented well by the Adrien Brody character "Ritchie"), and the Yankees were on top of the baseball world. These characters are truly nuts in their vigilante approach to finding the killer. Hell, Reggie Jackson (#44) may be the .44 caliber killer.

Aside from seeing into a sometimes gripping and stupefying world of violence and flash, the film does go overboard many times. Lee continuously rams the sex aspect of the period into our minds and Berkowitz is not seen or known enough. I did not expect a Berkowitz bio at all, however a more focused look at the killer would have proved more effective. The relationship between "Vinny" and "Dionna" (John Leguizamo and Mira Sirvino) is well-done, but over-told. True, "Vinny" is the movie's central character, but he has barely a redeeming quality and is a hard-headed product of his environment.

The cinematography and overall sound of SUMMER OF SAM is awesome. It looks grimy when it should and the use of The Who on the soundtrack is emotionally rousing, especially during the inevitable climax. I liked the picture mostly for cinematic reasons than for historical or emotional ones. The fictional neighborhood pieces are not as good as the small glimpses of Berkowitz, who does indeed chat with dogs. It did remind me in many ways of Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING, but this film has a larger canvas to paint. It works despite the shortcomings.

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Andy, We Hardly Knew Ye...
27 December 1999
Andy Kaufman was an original, no doubt about it. His biting, often strange humor infuriated people to the point of hating him. Those who got the joke saw through it all and chuckled at how the butt of his antics (the audience) became annoyed and distraught . Ultimately and sadly, the joke was on Kaufman himself. MAN ON THE MOON arrives at this conclusion after a series of episodic Andy moments, most of which fans have seen over and over again throughout the years.

You sure wish you could get to know this flawed man and what made his outlandish mind work. As David Letterman once said, "sometimes, you look at Andy, and you are not sure who is behind the wheel." You never do get a real sense of who he was in Milos Forman's strong, but nearsighted film.

There are fabulous moments sprinkled throughout, however. The first 5 minutes of the picture may have some of those same Andy haters leaving the theater, a further testament to his misunderstood humor. Forman and his screenwriters have created a brilliant and ingenious method of beginning a Kaufman biopic. Jim Carrey plays the erratic comedian masterfully in what is by far his best performance to date. There are times when we see Carrey playing him as a goof off-stage, lying, demanding, and acting just flat out bizarre. I ask myself whether or not this is the real thing. Certainly, the many people involved in the production of the film (in particular Bob Zmuda and Danny DeVito) knew Kaufman well as a pro and a friend, but the joke may still be on us as far as finding out what he was really all about.

Forman's direction and the screenplay basically play off the hopes that most audiences will be unfamiliar with Kaufman's work. This is fine, however, there are times when a true fan can mimic what is happening on screen. MAN ON THE MOON is merely a succession of scenes showcasing his talent, or lack of, leading to a mildly emotional climax.

The question of whether or not Kaufman faked his own death is not really touched upon, but some subtle glimpses at film's end could keep you guessing. R.E.M.'s classic tune fittingly ends what turns out to be a loving tribute to the guy. Andy's antics did p*** a lot of people off. The film shows how he was able to create the illusion of what could be authentically unbelievable. Were the wrestling injuries real? Did Jerry Lawler really slap him on Letterman? This is mostly left to your imagination for some time, but it is amusing to see who was in on some of the madness with him.

The sickly humor of the piggish lounge singer "Tony Clifton" creates some huge laughs. Clifton was Zmuda and Kaufman's favorite creation. I think Forman and company with the help of Andy's pals use the Clifton character, who was the alter ego of Kaufman you could say, to show the tragedy of his comedy and his untimely death. Clifton was the ultimate Kaufman fake-out, but he was able to live on while Andy was only mortal.

What a curious man he was and who better than Carrey to play him (I mean really, WHO better). His performance is the glue that holds MAN ON THE MOON together, barely. I just wish I got to know Andy Kaufman much more over the course of the 2 hour film.

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Spiritually Uplifting, Yet Overall, A Green Bore...
12 December 1999
This highly anticipated film from writer-director Frank Darabont touches on so many aspects of human nature and of human feelings that it cannot satisfy on every level. THE GREEN MILE is a long film, a film that you realize is long. This is not good. Darabont, director of the great SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, thankfully does not try to reenact that picture here. This is like SHAWSHANK turned inside out. The guards at the Louisiana State prison are "nice" (with the exception of one), and the hero (the incredibly impressive Michael Clarke Duncan) "John Coffey" is original like Tim Robbins in SHAWSHANK, but not as resourceful. He does, however, have an incredible gift that is the backbone for how the audience will feel about him and the predicament he is placed in for the next 3 hours.

The film is simply overkill and tries to dabble in too many different notions of the human condition within these prison walls. It was done so much more precisely in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION that you can hardly believe the same guy made the two movies. GREEN MILE would have been better off staying almost entirely on the relationship between Tom Hanks and Duncan, which is really all you will care about. The performances are all good, but too many characters are introduced and the inevitable is very clearly seen early on. You pretty much know what will happen to each character based on the simple Hollywood variations on good guys and bad guys.

Duncan, who plays the massive African-American man accused of rape and murder and sentenced to spend his last days on the "green mile", the cell block which leads to the electric chair, is quite a find. He is sure to get Oscar notoriety and deservedly so. He reminded me a bit of Brock Peters from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, who was in a very similar situation. The two performances combined paint one of the ultimate portrayals on film of racial injustice in this country, especially in the 1930's. The film eventually dips into the supernatural quite impressively and surprisingly, but it is marred by the frequent attempts at humor and the sometimes annoying sub-plots. See for yourself and decide whether or not you would have edited it differently.

Long pauses and drawn out characterizations are a drain on the viewer's senses as you watch. There is a gruesome execution scene that quite frankly indents the moral hypocrisy that is the electric chair, into the mind's eye. The scene is shot with such force and brutality, it is hard to watch. This brings up the point of the film's muddled message about the wrongs of capital punishment. Are the guards really against it, or is it just when they have grown close to a prisoner when they don't like it? Again, decide for yourself.

I was disappointed by THE GREEN MILE. It will no doubt garner a lot of award attention wrongfully. Frank Darabont loves making films about prison but maybe he has swung just one too many times at that ball. At times while watching the flick, I thought I should "get busy living, or get busy dying," as said "Red" in SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. The movie is that boring and that drawn out. There are exceptional moments (like the tie-in to the year 1935 and the film TOP HAT), but finally, you must have some more passion and more life on the screen for such a story to really work.

Rating: **1/2
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Possibly the most ambitious film ever made...
1 December 1999
Francis Coppola's descent into madness back in the late 1970's was all about APOCALYPSE NOW, one of the most incredible pieces of art ever placed on the screen. It is violent, beautiful, ugly, and damn dark at times. As a war film, APOCALYPSE NOW does not move me anywhere near the way PLATOON and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN did. Those two pictures deal with war in a more combative, realistic way. You grow and bond with the troupes in those flicks. Here, you are engulfed in complete madness, something that seems apart from actual war. It is more of a morality play into the soul and our "hearts of darkness" than a war film.

Do I think Coppola made a mistake trying to base a story about the Vietnam War on Joseph Conrad's fictional "Heart of Darkness"? Sure, and I think he feels that way too. Vietnam and the U.S involvement in the war has nothing to do with what Coppola was trying to do. He once said "My film IS Vietnam," referring to APOCALYPSE, but is it really? Not at all. What results is unbelievably hard to assess except to say it is sheer brilliance. It transcends the horrors of war and seemed more of a personal film with Martin Sheen representing each of us as a complex human being on an impossible mission. It is like traveling to Hell and back, many scars obtained, many feelings drowned out.

Everyone who knows a dime about movies, knows the battle itself it was to make this ambitious film. So many images burn into memory: nepalm explosions to the tune of the Door's "The End"; Wagner blaring from speakers placed on some U.S. helicopters about to blow up a Vietnamese village; a soldier surfing to the Stone's "Satisfaction"; the final ritualistic slaughter we witness during the film's dreary ending. This is all fantasy. The war is nowhere to be found in these and multiple other sequences. Vietnam is merely a backdrop to display a truly insane trip up a river where one clearly defined character (Sheen as Willard) meets a fuzzy character (Brando as Kurtz) and no real resolutions are found. It is the trip that does it for us.

Wondrously eerie sights, sounds, and experiences pulsate throughout APOCALYPSE NOW and the first three quarters of the film are perfect. Under the conditions Coppola and crew were working under, it is no wonder they had no ending. Brando truly ruins what Sheen, in what is probably the most underrated performance of the 70's as "Willard", had done to the point of arrival at Kurtz' compound. What the hell is Brando talking about? At least Sheen comes through at the end giving us a hint as to what the journey meant to him.

This film ranks way high on my list because of the mystery of it all and the absolute audacity with which Coppola paints his descent into madness.
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Does Not Capture the True Spirit of Irving's "Legend", But Still Mildly Fun Anyhow.
21 November 1999
Director Tim Burton's hands are all over SLEEPY HOLLOW, a century-ending update of Washington Irving's classic ghost story of a headless horseman who terrorizes a small New York town. The story is set in 1799 and even uses some quips about the coming of the 19th Century to tie it together with our time. Its visually delicious, sometimes chilling, but unevenly odd and bloody. Heads sure do roll and the murders are surprisingly displayed as bloody massacres, all beheadings considered.

SLEEPY HOLLOW is fun. There is no doubt about it, however Depp is mis-cast and the screenplay is amazingly thin. The appearances of the headless horseman are not done as well as Burton is capable of doing. Sure there is mist, vapor, and howling winds. We are never truly scared by his attacks. They are brutal to say the least.

Burton's villain is reminiscent of "Batman" in appearance sometimes and he, of course, uses Depp as "Ichabod Crane" as his own alter ego. Do you ever notice Burton's main protagonists look like Burton himself (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ED WOOD, even BEETLEJUICE)? I like the small doses of Burtonesque filmmaking, but a full length feature it cannot make. Danny Elfman's (another Burton regular) exciting score adds much to the sometimes dreary flick. Depp never seems entirely comfortable as "Crane" and more humor was needed to flesh out his character.

Its funny how some people complained about the early BATMAN films not being cartoonish enough, only dark and even depressing. Here is a dark picture literally that may have worked better with a more cartoonish touch. I know this is horror but isn't the original spirit of Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" more colorful and comical? Yes and this picture needed more spirit and less schlock.

An important note: SLEEPY HOLLOW contains one of those scenes that make you want to split - when the "bad guy" tells his or her venemous story about how they were able to reak evil verbatim, leaving less to the viewer's imagination and more lines of dialogue. Why not run some title cards explaining it all? These points must be thought of, but I must say SLEEPY HOLLOW is fine, simple entertainment from a master filmmaker who I thought would provide a lot more.

Rating: **1/2
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Cinema Verite Fright...
25 October 1999
Is THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT a masterful ghost film or a gimmick to create a multi-media event? It is both. The picture, shot on super 8 video and 16mm film displayed in a squared, documentary-like frame, is quirky, annoying, and spectacularly scary. The scenes at night quite frankly scared the hell out of me. The gimmick that THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is created confusion and wonder over whether or not the footage shot was real life. Now, we all know the truth, but the French term 'cinema verite' is defined by this grisly film.

A guaranteed cult classic, BLAIR WITCH has "Heather, Mike, and Josh" heading off into the allegedly hexed woods of Maryland looking for the Blair Witch or whatever else may exist up in those hills. For most of the film, it is very unclear. The beginning excerpts ingeniously set up the three participants to believe they are a) experiencing the supernatural, b) being played like a fiddle by the suspicious townspeople or c) just completely out of their minds. Its up to the viewer to decide but my money is on option A.

Most filmgoers know that the filmmakers Sanchez and Myrick used their MAC cards and cookie jars to put this phenom together and I commend them. This is a tour-de-force thriller that does indeed seem real. Its all improvised and 'verite' like and the best part about the movie's many chills are based on the basic premise that scares most of us: We are generally frightened by what we cannot see. Many times throughout the film, the screen is completely dark with sudden bursts of screams and grainy scenery. For the sake of the suspense, the film may have been better if we did not know the gimmick. The realism is sometimes smothering.

True, the hand-held camera can make you achy in the head, but the way the actors play off each other is magic and not for the faint of heart. I viewed the film on DVD with someone who was not feeling too well because of the dizzying camera, but somehow the black and white and color and rain blend together and allow Myrick and Sanchez to do what they were attempting to do. Spooking an audience with unseen forces is so effective and I was reminded of Robert Wise's original THE HAUNTING from 1963 with the groans and the cries and the shrieks. A baby's giggle can be heard during one spellbinding scene when the tent the 3 students sleep in takes on a life of its own.

Much has been made about a similar film made in similar fashion by some other young auteurs well before THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT was released. I never saw it and if it was as good as this film we would've seen it. Nonetheless, this past summer shocked and surprised me with the amount of good horror pictures around. In the woods, no one can hear you scream either.

Rating: ***1/2
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Altman Does Americana Again...This Time Even Funnier Than Usual...
18 October 1999
Robert Altman is the king of all filmmakers in two regards: 1 being hisability to cast anyone he wants in a picture, and 2, his keen eye and skill at putting together a carousel of characters, situations, and dialogue that uniquely captures a piece of the American way. Just see NASHVILLE, his 1976 masterpiece about mayhem in the heartland and the overwhelming political element in this country (even in the country singing capital of the world).

COOKIE'S FORTUNE is Altman at his simplistic best, light years from the ferocity of THE PLAYER and still as fresh and innovative as his first classic, M*A*S*H.

Glenn Close delivers a Gloria Swanson-like portrayal of a demented southern belle whose bell seems to have rung one too many times. Her performance is over-the-top but effective. The "fortune" of the film's title is not exactly what you'd might expect if you know COOKIE'S FORTUNE's premise, however Close keeps the viewer thinking maybe she knows something we do not.

The fact that she eats a certain note is stunningly hilarious.

The rest of the cast is great. Ned Beatty talks about fishing as if it was a form of breathing for him and he never strays away from this simple-mindedness. Neither do any of the less-than-brilliant characters. Charles Dutton is the dramatic centerpiece and pillar who exists at the most important points of this charade Altman is depicting. He and Liv Tyler have some nice moments together. Racial harmony is even touched upon with Dutton's conflict and is integral at tying the film's sometimes loose ends together (at times you remain confused as to who is Cookie's daughter or daughters and whether or not Tyler is the granddaughter).

Keep an eye out for Chris O'Donnel's best performance in years, however brief it is. His simple police officer brought me to laughter many times, partly because O'Donnel is masterfully overplaying him. That is the point.

There are many motiffs surrounding the goofy citizens of this small town (police tape, open glass doors with guns behind them), but the film is indeed as simple as it appears which is good. Altman still employs the overlapping dialogue and scenery he so expertly displayed in SHORT CUTS and THE PLAYER. See the film for an entertaining romp with a glint of American commentary that is enough to make COOKIE'S FORTUNE both important and delightful.
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Altman Does Americana Again...This Time Even Funnier Than Usual...
18 October 1999
Robert Altman is the king of all filmmakers in two regards: 1 being his ability to cast anyone he wants in a picture, and 2, his keen eye and skill at putting together a carousel of characters, situations, and dialogue that uniquely captures a piece of the American way. Just see NASHVILLE, his 1976 masterpiece about mayhem in the heartland and the overwhelming political element in this country (even in the country singing capital of the world). COOKIE'S FORTUNE is Altman at his simplistic best, light years from the ferocity of THE PLAYER and still as fresh and innovative as his first classic, M*A*S*H.

Glenn Close delivers a Gloria Swanson-like portrayal of a demented southern belle whose bell seems to have rung one too many times. Her performance is over-the-top but effective. The "fortune" of the film's title is not exactly what you'd might expect if you know COOKIE'S FORTUNE's premise, however Close keeps the viewer thinking maybe she knows something we do not. The fact that she eats a certain note is stunningly hilarious.

The rest of the cast is great. Ned Beatty talks about fishing as if it was a form of breathing for him and he never strays away from this simple-mindedness. Neither do any of the less-than-brilliant characters. Charles Dutton is the dramatic centerpiece and pillar who exists at the most important points of this charade Altman is depicting. He and Liv Tyler have some nice moments together. Racial harmony is even touched upon with Dutton's conflict and is integral at tying the film's sometimes loose ends together (at times you remain confused as to who is Cookie's daughter or daughters and whether or not Tyler is the granddaughter).

Keep an eye out for Chris O'Donnel's best performance in years, however brief it is. His simple police officer brought me to laughter many times, partly because O'Donnel is masterfully overplaying him. That is the point.

There are many motiffs surrounding the goofy citizens of this small town (police tape, open glass doors with guns behind them), but the film is indeed as simple as it appears which is good considering Altman has sometimes gone nuts in his films (THE WEDDING, GINGERBREAD MAN). He still employs the overlapping dialogue and scenery he so expertly displayed in SHORT CUTS and THE PLAYER. See the film for an entertaining romp with a glint of American commentary that is enough to make COOKIE'S FORTUNE both important and delightful.
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Ghostbusters (1984)
Film Has Endured the 80's and Stayed Sharp Through the 90's
12 October 1999
Bill Murray is one of the best wise guys in the business. I was amazed to find out on the GHOSTBUSTERS 15th Anniversary DVD that Murray had little to do with the dialogue his classicly blase, fiercely cynical 'Dr. Venkman' cuts loose throughout this good comedy. Credit Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis with "getting into Bill's mind" as Ramis puts it and presenting Murray with a gag-a-second character. Murray also lends his own comic genius through his delivery and facial gestures (especially with his classic cross-eyed, curled-lip look). Together with a fun premise and above average special effects, GHOSTBUSTERS will never be a relic of the 80's and should always be a refreshingly humorous spook show.

Murray rules the screen, mauling his geeky para-psychologist partners and hitting on a young blonde while conducting shock therapy experiments on her. Aykroyd uses his standard machine gun delivery of obscure (or should I say made up) facts and anecdotes and Ramis is just enough for the ultra-dork 'Egon'. The funniest element in GHOSTBUSTERS happens to be Rick Moranis in a splendid role as a small-time accountant who has parties for clients only and becomes mixed up in some extremely supernatural events. Along with Sigourney Weaver, Moranis has the most difficult physical tasks to topple.

This was a picture I loved when I was a kid. I must have went some 12 to 15 years before I saw it again and I was alarmingly impressed. It has endured. The special effects are not only good, but they are comedic and add even more laughs throughout the 'Busters turbulent jobs. The DVD version has tons of goodies included and is an essential addition to any Saturday Night Live fan's movie library. SNL is the very essence and reason for GHOSTBUSTERS, where Murray and Aykroyd starred. Director Ivan Reitman created his meal ticket here and can pretty much do any comedy he wants now.

It is a shame John Belushi was not around to play one of the 'Busters, for he was originally cast. The movie is already well-paced and engaging so just imagine how frenzied the pace would have been with Belushi. Regardless, GHOSTBUSTERS is one for the kids, teens, and adults alike. It has spanned these phases for me and still works wonderfully.

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Office Space (1999)
Work Does Suck and So Does This "Comedy"...
23 September 1999
Director-cartoonist-writer Mike Judge is obviously a talented and funny person. "Beavis and ButtHead" is a personal favorite of mine on TV and even the film version, while too long, hit the mark. OFFICE SPACE is what the title says: space. This movie is so lifeless and implausible you almost cannot believe what you are seeing. And how did they get Jennifer Aniston to do this muck? She must not have read the script. Judge should stick to voices and cartoons rather than making an alleged comedy about the 9 to 5 struggles of twentysomethings.

There are so many ways this film could have been better. First off, an effective lead actor would have sufficed. Ron Livingston plays the "hero" of the non-working class with the energy of a turtle. I know he has the zap on him from the job, girl, etc... Couldn't a more genuine method of having him crack (like say a Jerry Maguire-esque wig-out) been even a bit funnier? What was with the hypnotist? Was Judge trying to mix "drop-dead", gross out humor together for us to sympathize with the dork's problem? The whole portion of the film where evaluations take place are ridiculously sour and the Livingston character's evaluation makes not a drop of sense, nor is it funny. We all know this would never happen, which is OK, but after he gets his evaluation, why does he leave and why do we care? We don't.

The "scam" the three butt heads come up with is so dull and stupid, you wonder how they became employed in the first place. There are also "Beavis and ButtHead" caricatures sprinkled throughout. One character (played by Judge himself) is amazingly like B & B's hippie teacher in speech method and another is Principal McDICar all the way. What Judge should have done is made this flick and had Beavis and ButtHead sitting on the couch destroying its lameness.

Aniston is here for window dressing only and must cringe at any mention of this so-called comedy. It seems as though some people are embracing OFFICE SPACE as their generational spokesmovie about the monotony of cubicles and bosses and annoying "Miltons" who work in every office across this country. I sure as hell am not. See FALLING DOWN, a drama about losing it over the job with Michael Douglas that is ten times funnier than OFFICE SPACE by accident. Even CLOCKWATCHERS, in essence the female version Judge may have drawn upon, has some reality in it. Material like this needs some reality, some real characters, and a lot more introverted observations about working the 9 to 5 grind. B & B are rolling in their graves.

Rating: *
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Bowfinger (1999)
Good Spoof of Hollywood with the Comic Pairing of 2 Modern Legends...
21 August 1999
Steve Martin is a very perceptive person, especially in regards to the nature of Hollywood and the town that surrounds it. He proved adept at this with the decent L.A. STORY in 1991, but here he takes it to a rampant, more delirious level. It is reminiscent of his early humor from the 70's. Having written BOWFINGER, he also could not have come up with a better idea to cast Eddie Murphy as a head-case movie star. Murphy is a comedic weapon in this picture which has a laugh in almost every scene either because of Murphy's antics or because of what Martin and company are doing to him. A movie is being made starring Murphy's character "Kit Ramsey", but he has no idea what the hell is going on.

Martin paints the town once again with some familiar gags and rips, especially at the religious mind-set of many stars in Hollywood. "MindHead" is probably a stab at scientology, which so many of the actors and producers take part in out there. "Kit Ramsey" reminded me of Martin Laurence in real life, sort of a manic personality. Murphy no doubt takes liberty with the material and creates his first genuinely funny character since Axel Foley. It is good to see him pairing up with the likes of Martin and seeing the true comic genius that has always existed within Murphy. BOWFINGER is a huge departure from his recent star vehicles, most of which disappoint.

Steve Martin turns in an equally sensational slapstick performance as low-budget director "Bowfinger" with a hint of do or do not, there is no try. You will be reminded of ED WOOD during many scenes because of this mad cracker of a director, who will stop at nothing to get his flimsy film made (even if it includes carrying a very unusable "cell" phone and shooting footage of security screens capturing the story he is trying to make). Director Frank Oz keeps the pace relentless and the chuckles plentiful as a new revelation halfway through extends Murphy's ability to make us laugh.

It turns out there is a "Kit Ramsey" look-alike out there and Martin and the gang audition him to be an errand boy and to showcase his butt as a stand-in for "Ramsey". This character is even funnier than the original and the film's best scene has this awe-struck, goofy loser (also played by Murphy) running across a busy L.A. highway risking life and limb and braces. Heather Graham is an effective caricature of the "dumb" blondes who supposedly get off a bus every day in California and ask "Where do I become a star?". There is more to her than meets the eye and she seems to have a good idea of how to get what she wants.

BOWFINGER is not exactly original. We have seen this before in GET SHORTY and the aforementioned ED WOOD. This film may be superior because the characters are so hilarious and the story spares us nothing that you cannot help but laugh. It is an uproarious comedy with a sometimes tender side that brings Eddie Murphy back into cinema form and has the viewer stomping and spitting popcorn with BIG laughs. Check it out.

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A Vision of Reality the Way it Shouldn't Be...
20 August 1999
It is a wonder to see a film from the 1930's so definite in its view and opinions, yet so touching and revelatory. Jean Renoir's GRAND ILLUSION is a film of great importance, one that improves with each viewing. Having just finished the picture again for the first time in some 7 years, I was struck by its freshness. It is an Anti-War film set during World War I that is something to watch. It demands intense viewing.

This is a French work of art by the great Renoir, who would make his most acclaimed film, RULES OF THE GAME, two years later. If you ask me, GRAND ILLUSION is the superior pic and holds up immeasurably better. The small doses of humor and original characters in this film foresee the classic "shooting party" of RULES OF THE GAME. With this movie, Renoir uses prisoners-of-war and the ludicrous element of war so prevalent in early 20th Century Europe and merges them into a film not unlike a play (an extremely well-written play). The viewer has no illusions as to whether or not a war is happening. We happen not to see any battles or gunplay, rather, the human element between men and women who are not so different no matter their ethnicity.

Renoir's camera is an incredible tool used throughout. He probes the characters at the various prison camps with some smooth dolly shots and brilliant use of focus and pull-backs. It seems like an extension of his hand, much like his father's paintings. One striking scene has some weary soldiers singing the French "Las Marseilles" after getting third hand knowledge of a French victory over their German captors. Any scene with Erich von Stroheim is interesting because he is human and not some mindless German dictator so many people would come to know at the time of the film's release. He is a broken man, scarred by war and looking to gain a friend in the enemy. This is rare.

As far as prison camp films go, these guys seem to have it easy, however the fact that they are officers gives us some explanation. The story-line effectively moves from escape attempts to human realization of the situation they are in. Parts of it reminded me of STALAG 17, Billy Wilder's 1953 classic no doubt inspired by GRAND ILLUSION. This is Wilder's film without the Hollywood touch, realist and sometimes drab. Abel Gance's J'ACCUSE would follow a year later. If you want to see some anti-WWI films with two completely opposite methods of warning beneath the surface, see these two flicks back to back.

The illusion of reality is shattered by war, Renoir is telling us. If only it could be as simple as those amazing shots of the countryside from inside the German woman's house: a breathtaking, simple look at a peaceful scene the way it should be.

RATING: ***1/2
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A Back-to-Basics Spook Film That Proves You CAN Scare Without Computers...
11 August 1999
THE SIXTH SENSE is a refreshing and absorbing ghost story that is much more than meets the eye. It is great to see a major Hollywood release go back to old school fright methods. Do not expect to see thrill-a-minute, falsely produced chills. This is a truly original piece of atmospheric filmmaking that earns the viewer's responses, which include frequent oohs and aahs and an occasional scream.

Writer-Director M. Night Shyamalan, a Philly native, presents a plodding build-up to one of the best payoffs I have seen in a thriller in the past few years. Seeing the film, I knew the young boy (played incredibly by Haley Joel Osment) has a "gift" and sees certain people walking around no one else can see. Shyamalan seems to have taken a page out of Spielberg's JAWS, where the shark is never fully seen until crucial climactic scenes, and applied it to the boy's problem. It is most definitely a problem if you are interacting with people who supposedly no longer walk the earth. You may be unsure as to what he really is seeing until the great frights and charms of the picture hit you. You know when Shyamalan means for us to get it and become involved.

Bruce Willis is so reserved it is scary in itself and he plays off the boy very effectively. SIXTH SENSE takes place on some other plane of existence it seems. That is how I felt. Sometimes you wonder whether people are seeing the main characters, who are all, in varying ways, mixed up in this whirlwind of terrifying sights and dimensions. It is not manipulative and the scares do not need manufacturing. We are led through them as a good script should put an audience through.

Toni Collette has picked up a good South Philadelphia accent and is simply flabbergasted as to what the hell is going on with her seemingly gifted, yet sick, young son. Osment as "Cole", the boy star of the film outshines even Willis and shows he is capable of playing a character deeper than Forrest Gump Jr. (yep, that's him). There is a lot of religious reference to afterlife which is fitting and the so-called "twist" is indeed a twist to remember.

All involved in this surprising production should be proud of the fact that you can still keep an audience in traction with moody story-telling and visuals and NO computer-generated effects. Compare this to the current release THE HAUNTING and realize how much better these bare bones are.

Rating ***1/2
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1999: A Sex Odyssey
20 July 1999
As long as you don't buy into the hype that surrounds pictures like EYES WIDE SHUT, you can watch without prejudice and assess what you are seeing more precisely. Let me say that Stanley Kubrick's final film is a psychological and visual masterpiece. The ridiculous media hype generated by the famed director's meticulous filmmaking methods and the film's allegedly "pornographic" style with stars such as Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman is flat out sad. It is an extremely GOOD film with some truly GREAT moments. Kubrick's swan song is his best work since A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in 1971.

Short-attention span viewers beware: Stay Away! Go see ARLINGTON ROAD if you want generic, meaningless entertainment. Smart, discerning moviegoers with an eye for art and unique cinema must, and probably will, see EYES WIDE SHUT. This is an engaging and excrutiatingly candid look at sexual obsession and jealousy within a man's mind and heart. Sex is what human beings, specifically males, think of most. What an exploration into a few days in the life of a jealous husband who falls into some strange and disturbing sexual situations.

Is the film soft-core porn? Absolutely not. The sex scenes are very mild in accordance to what has been reported through both rumors and initial reviews. Is the film about sex and only sex? In a way, yes. Sex involves passion and love, jealousy, and danger. These 4 elements are tied together with such disturbing subtlety, quite frankly I was spellbound. Sex also involves temptation and aftermath, which is also pertinent to the rather linear story. Kubrick and company do not go over the top. They merely present to us a dangerous nightmare maybe not entirely unlike the Kidman character's sexual dream and revelation.

EYES WIDE SHUT is long, but seems bitterly quick and I couldn't help but shake my head in amazement at the people who walked out on such a superlative piece of work. This is not a commercial Cruise-Kidman film (thankfully). Marketing has made it appear to be one. It is a labor of love that will always be looked at through a microscope.

The performances are good and I think Kidman may be underused here. There are some brief moments when the Cruise character reminds you of "Mitch McDeere" of THE FIRM and will figure it all out, but Kubrick fans will know better. The sinister two-note piano key played throughout the movie goes so well within the foreign New York atmosphere (it was all shot in England) and so many of the great director's trademarks emerge (a bathroom scene, steadicam shots, extraordinary set decoration, gloomy lighting). The title is a nifty way of naming a film the TV networks would call "The Misadventures of Dr. Bill". They truly are misadventures, but a motive is there.

Do yourself a favor and see Stanley Kubrick's farewell stamp to his legendary career. It is by all means a thriller, with dark thoughts, sexual double-crossing, kinky parties, and all that Kubrickian stuff that never fails to leave you in awe.

RATING: ****
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Junkies on the Run - DRUGSTORE COWBOY Style...
7 July 1999
Another film of the drug/gangster sub-genre, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE is upper echelon material as far as these pictures go. It is also a sibling to DRUGSTORE COWBOY unintentionally. There are so many similarities because it is impossible to make this type of movie nowadays without being repetitive. No matter. Director Larry Clarke (KIDS, ew!) and main booster James Woods himself dive into that disgusting and sometimes frantically hilarious world of sex, drugs, and driving around. The film works because there are some good characterizations here and people who actually show some concern for each other throughout the haze of it all.

Melanie Griffith plays "Sid", James Woods' girlfriend in the story and delivers some of the finest moments of her career. Not since WORKING GIRL have I seen such a likeable and ballsy portrayal from Griffith, who is a junkie with a knack for mothering the 2 teen runaways and a potent trigger finger when one is needed. The runaways are the children Woods and Griffith parent vicariously through in the most unusual of ways. The kids (Vincent Kartheiser, Natasha Wagner) are a version of Bonnie and Clyde, while the adults resemble a warped Ozzie and Harriett. It all adds up to a group of 4 remembering DRUGSTORE COWBOY. This crew needs drugs and they get them by stealing from pharmacists just as Matt Dillon's crew did.

The setting is the early 1970's I guess, and the music reflects the period well. Funk and blues reign over the film's violent and illegal activities while adding a sense of romance to it. You get that feeling in your heart that it won't last (a la BONNIE AND CLYDE, DRUGSTORE COWBOY). Woods character starts out cynical and wise to the "life", but turns ugly as you figure him to do. The young kids who looked up to him throughout grow tired naturally, but his reluctance to grow old possesses him to keep them around. This is where Melanie Griffith is able to shine. She is a sweet, attractive woman who happens to stick needles in her neck. Nobody's perfect.

James Woods was born to play the creep. He has some great lines in ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE. His stories are funny, his trademarks are constant (booyah!), and his fits are worth the price of admission. He is so good at coming across initially confident, eventually desperate and evil. Woods must have had much faith in director Clarke's abilities and the casting of Natalie Wood's daughter, Natasha is a nice, offbeat touch. This is low-budget, nasty fare, a descendant of the countless druggie flicks of the 70's, 80's and PULP FICTION. It is sometimes amazing to see how low actors will go to capture this wild world of fun and drugs in the dark.

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