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Sobibor (2018)
10/10
A haunting depiction, worthy of its Oscar nomination
13 September 2018
Holocaust films are easily made exploitive, because, in the words of the late and great Roger Ebert,, "we do not need movies to convince us of the evil of ... the Holocaust," but rather, it is a subject better served in "films ... about the ways good men try to work realistically within an evil system to spare a few of its victims." To merely recount the violence that human beings are capable of perpetuating against each other makes for transgressive reflection rather than a useful one, because it denies us hope. Sobibor passes Ebert's test: From the first scene to the last, the horrors of the Holocaust are contrasted against the humanity of its victims and the courage that they ultimately find to rise up and fight back. It helps that the Sobibor camp is more cinematically satisfying, as it represents one of the only successful uprisings in concentration camps - 400 prisoners successfully escaped, led by Russian soldier Alexander Pechersky, and the third act breakout generates genuine tension as the heroes slowly begin to implement a plan that begins with individual acts of violence and ends with a convincing revolution. It is one of the great prison-breaks in the movies, made all the more jaw-dropping when the closing scroll reminds us that it is all true. In contract, Inglorious Basterds (a great film) had to create a fantasy ending that was as emotionally satisfying as the history featured in Sobibor. The scenes leading up to the escape depict the daily lives of both soldiers and prisoners within the camp, in both its banalities and horrors, and there are some truly gory and disturbing moments here, but they never feel unnecessary because of the way that lead actor/director Konstaintin Khabenskiy depicts these events through the eyes of the prisoners who, slowly but surely, refuse to be victims any longer. Khabenskiy makes for a dogged and convincing hero, but it is Christopher Lambert's depiction of Karl Frenzel, the Nazi administrator of the camp, that really elevates the film's tension-Lambert plays the part as a man barely holding onto his sanity, having internalized the suffering that he constantly orders and witnesses. It is the most chilling portrait of an unhinged Nazi official since Ralpph Fiennes in Schindler's List. Less successful is Khabenskiy's decision to suggest a romantic connection between Pechersky and a female prisoner that he knew before the war, mainly because I struggled to believe an opportunity for such a romance convincing in this setting; nevertheless, this relationship is well-acted and leads to one of the best character exchanges in the film. Sobibor is the Russian submission for the 91st Academy Award for best foreign language film. The film was shot in Lithuania, in six languages: Russian, Polish, German, Dutch, Yiddish, and English. This helps give the film the epic scope of a truly international production, and that is exactly what it feels like. This is one of the best films centered on the theme of the Holocaust that I have ever seen-well-acted, handsomely stages, filled with sobering imagery, and ultimately, a satisfying resolution that makes an often difficult journey worth taking. What begins as a tragedy ends as a victory; the film's success, and whether or not we accept the set-up of the first two acts, hinges on the execution of the escape. Khabenskiy absolutely delivers. I would be very happy to see this film appear on the list of nominees.
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7/10
What Makes a Zombie to Wander?
19 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I see what Romero is getting at with this genre-blending experiment. He shoots the movie like an old B-western and utilized all the standard clichés. Heroes never miss, villains can't shoot to save their lives; people stand around and wait to get shot; there's the Good (Crockett), the Bad (Muldoon), and the Ugly (O'Flynn), who are all really just chain-smoking opportunists; posses and horses and cowboys with shifting alliances. The zombies are reduced to the "other" a la Native Americans in cheesy, pre-revisionist era westerns who just sort of wander about as an inconvenience; you get the impression that the characters think of interesting ways to kill them in order to survive the boredom and monotony of a territory overrun by unwanted "savages". So many of the criticisms about this film being cheesy are, I believe, deliberate attempts at Romero mirroring (but certainly not transcending) the old school western, and I admire him for constantly subverting our expectations.

Unfortunately, where Survival fails is providing a reason to exist in the first place. I don't think that Romero, as skilled a filmmaker as he is, has given us any clear progression in his themes. Everything here seems recycled from his previous films - the irony that the villain is actually correct, the shootout between humans while zombies just wander about picking up the leftovers, human nature's tendency for tribalism and dehumanizing anyone who isn't a part of their team, et al, are all points he's already made.

What he has done with Survival is recycle these ideas in a very entertaining way. But for the first time while watching one of his zombie films, I'm finally getting the impression that Romero's zombie universe is running out of steam. Perhaps it is time for him to hang up his undead hat and make a different film altogether. I'm reminded of the line in Scott's "American Gangster": "Quitting while you're ahead is not the same thing as quitting." Still... a very decent film. 7/10 (the lowest rating I've ever given a Romero zombie film)
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3/10
Only truly talented filmmaker could make a movie this bad.
23 July 2006
I have enjoyed every previous Shyamalan film, from "Wide Awake" to "The Village." But this one was totally out of control.

Those who defend it say that you must get into the correct mood for it - you have to see it as a bedtime story. But children aren't stupid - how many kids do you know who could sit through a story like this being told to them without asking, "Why...?" every ten seconds? It seems like Shyamalan didn't have answers, so he kept inventing them as he went along, with plot constantly piling on top of itself faster than he could maintain it. The greatest bedtime stories are simple, interesting, and imaginative (Wizard of Oz, E.T., Mary Poppins). This one is so confusing and self-indulgent that I simply think that Shyamalan lost control of his ideas. He should have scaled down.

Shyamalan has blasted film critics for liking "Signs" (his best film) and flogging his other work (which I guess means only "The Village" - all his other films got good reviews, did fine at the box office, and/or were nominated for awards). He said on his NPR interview, "They like my popcorn film, but they get upset when I try to make a film that has a message." Paradoxically, "Signs" has a GREAT message (looking for signs and meanings in all little subtle banalities of life), but I can't for the life of me figure out what message (if any) "Lady in the Water" has. OF COURSE we don't mind if you make a movie with a message, Mr. Shyamalan. Just tell it well.

It takes a truly inspired filmmaker to make a film this ambitiously bad. I believe "Lady in the Water" is the "Zardoz" of our generation.
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On the Line (2001)
1/10
It's those eyebrows....
7 February 2003
It's repulsive to me when I see singers trying to use their success as an excuse to try acting. It's like they look in the mirror and they see Marlon Brando staring back at them (because we're all drama kings and queens on the inside anyway), and since they have the money and influence, they decide to give acting a shot. So, parts that could have gone to rising stars go to singers with enough star power to attempt a shot at the Hollywood spotlight. A good idea? From what I have seen of singers-turned-actors, with the exception of Will Smith, the late Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi, and Kevin Max (of dc Talk), no singer has the business of trying to be an actor. Period. Bass and Fatone, AKA "Lance" and "Joey," as they have been dubbed by all the users here writing about how amazing this film is (who, apparently, are on a first-name basis with NSync) fall into that category. Fatone mistakes characterization for making loud, obnoxious fart-noises, and Bass thinks that raising those big, bushy eyebrows and looking wide-eyed substitutes for boyish-charms. No, actually...there's no charm there. It's just boyish, "Lance."

Granted, if the movie had been any good, we could forgive Bass and Fatone's horrid performances (and Richie Sambora for that matter--a brillaint guitarist who needs to stick to the guitar) and focus on the intelligence of the script. Unfortunately, there's nothing here we haven't already seen before. The "keeps missing each other by a split second" plot is played up to the max (and I do mean MAX! Not one cliche is left unturned), as is the "Hey, you're my best friend and you betrayed me by dating my girl!" misunderstanding, which would, I am convinced, never be a subplot in a movie ever again if either party would just stick around and explain themselves. If my negative review isn't clear enough, that doesn't happen in this movie.

It's a sad thing when you can watch a trailer to a film and have the movie figured out, down to the very "t," before you walk into a movie. I'm one of those guys who likes to insist that films aren't cheap entertainment, but rather, an overlooked expression of art. Make a mental note: Anyone who would ever attempt to prove my claim wrong could reference this film, and I would be helpless to reply.

As far as the "chick-flick" genre goes, this one is near the bottom ("Pearl Harbor" being the VERY bottom of the list). As far as movies in general go, this one is beyond the bottom of the list, and is dangling somewhere in "bad-movie" hell, wondering what went wrong. Ironically, the same can be said for NSync's career about now, too.

I can't help it....I'm going to say it...Forgive me, but I cannot resist: To On the Line I say...."BYE BYE BYE!!!!"

Sorry.

1/2 out of ****
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10/10
A step back from Fellowship--flawed, but engaging **MAJOR SPOILERS**
20 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
*SPOILERS* I've seen it, I've sat on it, I've thought about it, and I'm going to go see it again tonight. For now, here is my verdict:

There are a lot of things I can forgive for the sake of poetic license. Among them:

1. Faramir. My FAVORITE character from the books. Period. At first, I was pissed off. Now, I understand that poetic license had to be taken to make the character and his interaction with the movie for tense. In the end, he resists the ring, and his character was shown having the integrity and strength that Boromir lacked. Not exactly the brilliant foil for his older brother and father that he was in the book, but the tension helped with Galadriel's monologue about the "sons of Gondor taking the ring."

2. The different ending. Or rather, the cut-off point being different from the book. They killed Boromir at the end of FotR anyway, so having also altered the beginning, I can see why they would save Frodo's capture for the beginning of RotK to maintain better story arcs.

3. Aragorn's fall off the cliff. A little pointless, but for purposes of dreaming about Arwen, I guess it works.

4. A three or four page passage taking forty-five minutes in the movie: Okay, for purposes of being climactic, Peter Jackson did a similar exension for the ogre battle in Moria in Fellowship. Sure, it would take longer than the book described, and focusing on this for the film worked.

5. Reduced role for Frodo. After all, they cover the most significant parts. At first, I felt like they did not focus on the ring and that it played second fiddle to the human story, but I realized this was necessary to see HOW powerful the ring and Sauron's influence really was. By focusing on Helm's Deep, we realize the stakes were higher. In FotR, we understood that the ring was dangerous, but all they did was talk about it and search for it. It was buildup for the war. In TTT, we see the battle that the ring is causing in full-throttle. Frodo's reduced part was necessary, and they still got his mission and temptation across. The way he stroked the ring, and his fall into the lake because of its influence were very effective moments. So is his obsession with Gollum (after all, he sees himself, doesn't he?). At first, I'd have liked to have seen more, but now that I have considered it, they portrayed it as much as was necessary. Galadriel's monologue was also necessary to remind us just what was at stake, and that this entire battle was about the ring.

What I cannot forgive:

1. The lack of characterization in Gandalf. Where WAS he?!!?!? If I hadn't been familiar with the original story, I'd have been completely confused as to why he was now "the White." I can understand McKellen's (wise) choice to play the Grey and the White as two seperate characters. But I cannot forgive the emptiness of the role. How was he different? How were his powers different? How was his personality different? These ideas are never explored. He just comes in, has a few lines, and disappears. GANDALF IS LORD OF THE RINGS! Couldn't we have at least seen a little character development.

2. Lack of characterization for Saruman. Again, just a few lines, and he's gone. No sense of forbidding and power that he had in the first film. In fact, they could have used archive footage from the first film for his part (though the "exorcism" from Theodin was well-done). The scene where he watched the Ents destroy Isengard was laughable...he just stood there and looked p***ed off. At the very most, they could have developed the reltionship between he and Grima a little bit better. Which leads me to.....

3. Grima's character going nowhere. If Saruman was POSSESSING Theodin, why was Grima needed at all? He just uttered a few lines, looking imposing in the film's first act, and then disappeared. I understand that Peter Jackson sees the Lord of the Rings as a nine-hour movie and that we'll see more of Grima later, but he could have given us some sort of sense of completion for the purposes of waiting one more year. Though I did like that single tear fall from his eye as he beheld the army (a sly reference to his role in Exorcist III, as the film already referenced The Exorcist anyway).

4. Some lazy storytelling. I enjoyed the Exorcism of Theodin scene, but I had a hard time figuring out if Saruman was in his domain or if he was actually thrown out of Theodin and was with the others in the castle. There are also a number of plot holes. How could Boromir fight in the woods and get shot with arrows quickly, and yet Aragorn and Gimli could fight on the draw bridge fifty times the number of orcs that Boromir was fighting and remain unscathed? I just don't understand this. It's just lazy story telling. Some of the pacing was a bit off, too. WAY too much time was spent with Merry and Pippin with the Ents. I love the Ents as much as the next fellow, but speed us up already. By the time they're in the woods deciding whether or not to join the war, we've having enough exposition and decision making from all the other characters. I for one would have rather seen them cut to the chase.

What I liked:

Fortuntanely, I loved all the rest. The development of Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas was wonderful. We get a better sense of these characters (I especially enjoyed the competition between Legolas and Gimli). Gimli served as the comic relief, but it didn't take away from the character's integrity. Aowen and Theodin were wonderful additions, as was Faramir, even though his change was controversial. Treebeard was inventive, and Gollum was the most convincing CGI character I have ever seen. The battles were epic, and every square inch of the screen is loaded with detail.

Peter Jackson has taken a fantasy story and has filmed it like it was a historical World War II film. The realism and the stakes presented works, and most of this approach blew me away the same way an effective historical war film ("Saving Private Ryan" or "The Longest Day") would. If Fellowship belonged to the Hobbits, Towers is the story of the humans' continuing battle, and they all must make important choices. Does Aragorn stay at Helm's Deep and fall for Aowen? Does Theodin lead his people into an attack? Does Aowen love Aragorn? Does Arwen leave with the elves or stay for Aragorn (she's a elf, but she wants to be human, after all)? Does Faramir do the duty of his position to please his father, or does he do what it right? All of these questions are strongly developed. And the payoffs are wonderful and show the power of the human spirit, much like war films.

I trust Peter Jackson, and I look forward to Return of the King. That said, The Two Towers was overall a step backwards from Fellowship, and I hope that Jackson does not get over confident in his ability. He had to PROVE himself with Fellowship. Lord of the Rings in arguable the greatest fantasy series ever written, and it has harbored millions of fans. There were a lot of expecations from fans. Perhaps too many. He had to prove that he could look past all of the weight of the trilogy's momentum and make a great film out of the books we all love. And he did. He brought us a masterful film which, like The Godfather, made us appreciate the original text even more and also spun the ideas in new directions. This does not give him permission to slack off with the rest of his work. Develop those characters more. Keep the pacing interesting. Don't compromise getting a film done quick and making money over quality. In other words, DON'T PULL A LUCAS!!!!

But I love you, Peter. And I know that Return of the King will be a satisfactory wrap-up to this wonderful series of films that you're making.

Final verdict: Seven out of ten, *** out of ****.

(Fellowship: 9.5 out of 10, **** out of ****)
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The Matrix (1999)
Overrated, but still a good flick for what it is.
26 April 2002
Like everyone else on the planet, when The Matrix first came out, I was blown away by the film. I thought it was cleverly written, with visuals that were mind-blowing, and the style was amazing. Immediately upon its release, it was being hailed as the sci-fi film of the 90's. At first, I was completely agreeing to this notion. Then I watched it again, and a funny idea occurred to me.

The Matrix is really not very original. While it is a very entertaining film, originality is not one of its good elements. I like the film as an action picture now, but I certainly do not think that it deserves the title of issuing a bold new standard in sci-fi.

There are a few reasons for this: first of all, Neo has little character development. His performance is limited to a series of "Woahs," and "I don't believe it." Case in point, Keanu Reeves did a good job in the part....an actor whose range is limited to Bill and Ted and, well...Point Break. That's because he had so little to do. Morpheus, Cypher, Trinity, Tank, and Agent Smith all came off much better than Neo.

Second of all, the storyline isn't very original. Last year, I had the pleasure of watching Dark City for the first time. It flied vastly under the radar when it was first released, and it was certainly a quieter, more thoughtful film. It occurred to me while watching that the plot line, from the characters to the basic premise, is very much the same as in The Matrix, and it was released a year before. I'm sure you've all heard this argument before, so I won't go too far into it. But I will say this: Dark City, visually and story-telling wise, is a far superior film, IMHO. The complex themes that both film rises are better developed in Dark City as well. The Matrix seems to fall into the pattern of action movie in the final act, where Dark City maintains its deep philosophical elements throughout. I think it is a pity that The Matrix was able to set up such a realistic world that was so intruiging and inventive, and then push the audience into overkill by having the final third of the film being a long shootout/martial arts fight. Granted, it was the finest shootout/martial arts fight that I have ever seen in a film, but I felt that after it introduced all of its philosophical elements in the first two acts of the film, the final, violent act was rather mind-numbing and a shift in the wrong direction.

That leads me to the action scenes themselves. So many have said that this film sets a new standard in sci-fi. I don't see this at all. The great sci-fis are followed by a series of rip-offs and films clearly inspired by them (Star Wars=Battlestar Galactica, Conan=Beastmaster, Alien=Creature, E.T.=Mac and Me, etc.). The Matrix has found few if any sci-fi films that have tried to rob it of its interesting new action style. Instead, its style has turned into a fad for action films that is quickly fading. After The Matrix, we saw a release of films such as Mission Impossible 2, Charlies Angels, Beowulf, The Art of War, and Mummy 2 that ripped off its style. And it is a style that is quickly growing old.

The great sci-fis are usually films that are released before the general public is ready for them. The ones now considered classics opened to scathing reviews upon initial release, and many of them bombed at the box office. It was only audience reaction to them later that proved their worth and re-evaluation by film experts. The best of best were failures upon initial release--remember initial reactions to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, 2001, Blade Runner, Highlander, Dark City, and even Star Wars? These are now considered paragons of the genre. On the other hand, The Matrix did stupendous at the box office, and even went onto rival Episode One (an inferior film, by the way) at the cinema. I'm not so niave as to say ALL the good fantasy/sci-fis have to fail first before becoming great....Battlefield Earth and Lord of the Rings proves otherwise on both ends of the extreme. I am suggesting that The Matrix was simply a big, summer blockbuster which, because it had a plotline that appeared original because only smaller, quieter films had used it before, and because it had a lot of loud (but smart) action at the end that is appealing to the average moviegoer, was hyped up to be something greater than it really was.

**1/2 out of ****
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Alien³ (1992)
How about a director's cut, Mr. Finscher?
15 April 2002
The Alien movies have always been about their characters, with the creatures themselves taking back seat to the human reaction to them. In "Alien" (****), there was animosity on the ship as the seven astronauts were initially torn between their job and their desire to go home. They had to put their differences aside in order to fight their common enemy: the alien creature bent on eating them. In "Aliens" (****), the military must overcome hysteria, deception, and clausterphobia in order to escape from an entire army of alien creatures. These films are classics for a reason--the strong characters are what take center stage and manage to balance logos with ethos, making for very powerful character studies within a sci-fi/horror premise.

When "Alien" 3 came out, none of that character chemistry was present. While I can name you nine prominent characters, besides the continuing character Ripley, that were effectively created to stand out from the second film (off the top of my head: Hicks, Hudson, Bishop, Vasquez, Gorman, Newt, Burke, Drake, Apone) only three characters come off with any depth in number three, one of which who is inappropriately killed just as his character development was beginning to pay off. As a result, despite impressive visuals, great direction, and powerful performances by the leads, the film lumbers when it should have soared.

Given the quality of the other films in the series (even the fourth film that followed, "Alien: Resurrection" (***), which restored the rich characters), I couldn't help but wonder just what in the world happened during filming that undermined the characters of this film. Then I get wind of the twenty or so minutes that were cut out of the final version. For a complete listing of the scenes, look on the alternate versions page. After reading the script for Alien 3, I must confess that these scenes, when restored, not only bring the film up to greater heights than it achieved in its final version, but it was the best, darkest film in the series. Why on earth these brilliant scenes of character development and thematic discussions were cut is beyond me. They shape the film to have a very good theme and the characters are the most intruiging of the series. Great scenes explaining the motivations of Morse, Golic, Junior and others were lost on the cutting room floor. These scenes weren't only important for character development, but they were also necessary to shape the story and give it a rounder and broader thematic purpose.

With the success David Finscher has had in his recent films (deservedly so--"Fight Club" remains one of the most powerful cinematic experiences of my life, and let me tell you, I've had quite a few), I hope that he is able to restore "Alien 3" with a director's cut. If he reissues scenes to restore the fluency missing in the plot and characters, he would recreate a film which not only would become the best film in the alien series, but also one of the finest horror thrillers ever made! I can only hope that he find time and motivation to take on such a project, as it would be the most effective director's cut since "Blade Runner."

Final cut: ** out of **** With restored scenes: **** out of ****
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To be fair, one scene had me rolling on the floor.
10 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
(this review contains spoilers)

Some comedies borderline stupidity, where you can admit to having guilty pleasures watching it and you even catch yourself laughing frequently. "Ernest Scared Stupid" is not one of these films (and for that matter, neither are other films in this series, included but not limited to "Ernest Saves Christmas," "Ernest Goes to Jail," and "Ernest Rides Again"). In fact, this film doesn't borderline stupidity...it bathes in stupidity, drinks it, eats it, and sleeps it. Essentially, the character of Ernest is a one-punch gag which somehow evolved into a series of stupid, pointless movies which glorify the redundant stupidity of a character who gives Jar Jar Binks a run for his money on the "annoying-and-must-die-o-meter" (and I say this with all due respect to the late Jim Varney, the very talented man playing Ernest who demonstrated wonderful talent in films like "Toy Story"). I do not like the Ernest films. Quite frankly, they are an insult to my intelligence. If this was the purpose of these films, as some may argue, I'd rather be entertained by smarter comedy than this, like the Marx Brothers or even the Three Stooges, who at least had more sincerity and personality than, well....this guy.

These reservations aside, I must make a point about this film. I believe Roger Ebert made a statement in a review of "Dumb and Dumber" that some films that are not funny at all will occassionally contain at least one scene that it so funny, with timing so good, you are caught offguard and find yourself laughing uncontrollably. Believe it or not, there is one scene like that in this film. With a great buildup and a payoff that is absolutely side-splitting, I am amazed how such smart comedy found its way into such a stupid film, and it makes me wonder what, with better writing and more personality, the Ernest films COULD have been.

The scene I am referring to towards the end, when Ernest and the evil troll face each other. In an ancient book, the only way to kill the troll has previously been revealed, but one of the letters is missing: he can only be defeated by "mi*k." Now, all the viewers realize, from the clues dropped throughout, that the word is milk, but Ernest, through the course of the film, has a difficult time figuring out what the word could possibly be, what with his limited intelligence and all. In any rate, when he and the Troll finally spar off, Ernest pulls out of his pocket a container of Bulgarian "Miak," and he exclaims, "EAT MIAK AND DIE!" The Troll's reaction is of course confusion, and the timing of the scene and the way it was played between the two characters made me laugh so hard, I thought I was going to have a brain annurism.

Of course, it might have been only a lightly humorous scene, and the fact that it was funny in such an awful film left a greater impact than it should have. In any case, it remains Ernest's one good moment in his entire career.

* out of ****, without that scene, it would have been less.
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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2000 TV Movie)
At least Coppola doesn't call it "Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
26 January 2002
When it comes to interpreting classic horror novels to the silver screen, Francis Ford Coppola is a funny one. Having already directed "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (a bad film) and co-produced "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (a good film), it seems only natural that he would try his luck with a version of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." Unfortunately, the only thing you'll find in common with Stevenson's mini-novel and this film is the title.

One can only imagine how this funny little film got into production. Coppola must have never even read the script. I imagine his agent gave him a call and said, "Hey, they need an executive producer for another Jekyll and Hyde picture. You've already done Dracula and Frankenstein. Another wouldn't hurt...we could sell them in a three-in-one DVD pack, because we're clever Hollywood marketers. What do you say?" Well, someone got fired over this deal, and I have a feeling that it was Coppola's agent (and quite possibly Adam Baldwin's as well).

Adam Baldwin, judging from his previous work (thankless but well-acted roles in "Independence Day" and "The Patriot"), was an ideal choice to play a young, charismatic Dr. Jekyll in Victorian London. Instead, this treatment gives us a Henry Jekyll who adopts a martial-artist crime fighter secret identity as Mr. Hyde, a being he mutates into (think the Incredible Hulk) after being revived from the dead by a mysterious herb while vacationing with his wife in Hong Kong. He then seeks out to avenge the death of his wife by transforming into Mr. Hyde, kind of like a really ugly caped crusader. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that he is the prophesized "White Dragon" or something to that effect, destined to save the world, yadda yadda yadda.

The makers have taken what would have been a mediocre martial artist movie and made it worse by adding the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde theme, and loosly at that. My question is, who put this thing together? Judging from its low production values, I can only assume that it was originally a made-for-tv, would-be television pilot in the tradition of "Invisible Man," and, when it didn't find a distributor, was dumped on video as a feature film for the sake of Coppola's name. While some of the martial-arist fighting is indeed quite nice, for a cheap production like this, and Adam Baldwin shows potential as a would-be Jekyll and Hyde, I cannot recommend this film on any level. Gothic horror fans will find no Gothic horror, and martial artist fans won't find anything that hasn't already been done better.

To be fair, however, Coppola's previous efforts at Gothic horror have featured deceiving titles: "Bram Stoker's Dracula" had little to do with the Bram Stoker's novel, and "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" was more an effective homage to it than a literal interpretation. At least he successfully leaves the "Robert Louis Stevenson" out of the title (it might be because he is tired of Stoker's ghost haunting him and he'd rather not take his chances).

Final verdict: C-

*1/2 out of ****
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1/10
Great storytelling, no story
18 November 2001
Warning: Spoilers
**SPOILERS**Before I briefly state my views, I must confess that I have never read a word of or even picked up a Harry Potter book in all of my life. I had many friends rave and rant about them, and at my work, I often see my co-worker's kids sitting in corners, waiting for their mothers to take them to school, reading the latest chapter in the series enthusiastically. But because I have never read Harry Potter myself, I have no understanding of the series, the characters, or the plotlines outside of the world this movie has created. Therefore, this is a review for viewers like me: They haven't read the books, and they're curious to see what all the hype is about.

Well....judging soley from this film, it's not about much, I can tell you.

Overall, I would rate this film as either a C- or a D+. Since, if you're still reading this review, you've probably already seen the movie, I shall simply state my opinion without elaborating too much on the happenings of the film. There are a lot of cool ideas presented here....A LOT of cool ideas. In fact, I am not ashamed to state that every idea presented was involving and a work of genius....masterpieces to themselves. For the first hour, I was completely engrossed in the world that this movie had created...indeed, this was a magical movie. From the moving stairs to the floating candles and the interacting paintings, this was the stuff of a master artist. Just the goblins set the film apart....never have I seen a film-creature look so convincing.

Unfortunately, after a while, the wonderful pictures get bogged down and dull due to the absense of a storyline. There was no story or plotline to give this film a firm foundation to stand upon....nothing to move these wonderful ideas that I was watching along. As a result, the move becomes a patch-work of cool-looking ideas, but with no backbone or soul behind them. Eventually, since there is no real storyline, the film just gets old and boring, regardless of how neat the pictures are. I wasn't the only one in the theater drawing these conclusions...indeed, about 90% of the audience were all children, and in the final hour, they were all chattering away to each other, ignoring what was going on in the film, and I could see the parents around them glancing at their watches.

In the last twenty minutes or so, a plot is finally found, but it's so painfully contrived....so cliched and predictable, that it hurts to watch it (i.e. "You defeated your enemy with love;" Harry's team winning all the points and earning the trophy, etc.). This is a pity, because the plotline seemed to be good, and if the director had just cut the film's length in half and spent more time developing this story, we could have had a real winner on our hands, on par with other children's fantasys like "Wizard of Oz" and "E.T."

Veteran British actors such as Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, John Cleese, John Hurt, and Maggie Smith are wasted in throw-away roles, though the lead youngters certainly aren't bad.

All in all, a dissapointing effort, made even more dissapointing by the fact that there were so many likable qualities to it, among them the ideas presented and the visuals achieved, which set it apart from any other film of its kind. Watching this film has not motivated me to read the books; however, I shall certainly be in line to watch the second film. Hopefully, with a better story for the viewer to follow, the visually and undeniably magical world of Harry Potter will be a truimph the second time around.

*1/2 out of ****
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Mean Guns (1997)
10/10
A brilliant study of the depravity of man with a weak ending
18 November 2001
I just finished watching "Mean Guns," and, considering the action-stinkers that have been coming out in the past few months (Domestic Disturbance, The One), I found it to be a breath of fresh air. It uses cliches and violence combined with strong, intelligent characters (scattered in there among very cliched characters) to tell a modern-day parable on the depravity of man and the need for redemption. Very dark, very violent, but it needed to be to make its point on how low human beings can allow themselves to become. I won't go into detail about the plot...that's not what users comments are for. Just read the plot summary. I shall, however, explore the film's philosophy.

The mambo music, which plays in the background as the characters shoot at each other, works to show how lightly society now sees and deals with violence, and in the end, the film points an accussing finger at all the viewers who allowed themselves to be taken in by the "engaging" (intentionally cliched) storyline, and suggesting that in our enjoyment of such a raunchy picture, we place outselves on a level no better than the horrible killer presented here. There is one particular scene in which two men mercilessly slaughter a man, and the soft, classical-guitar piece playing in the background effectively shows how comfortable we have become as viewers to such gruesome displays of violence. Indeed, what we are more focused on here is the fact that the music is beautiful, despite the very bloody acts of violence that we are witnessing. Such audience-manipulation packs a powerful punch.

Only the conclusion drags on...and on....and on..... The need to tie up all loose ends is irrelevant. The point is already made by the time the movie's final scenes begin, but they try to tie them all up in any case. As a result, the ending simply lumbers when it should have, as the rest of the film does, soar.

Still, Lambert and company are great in their roles. Who new director Albert Pyun was capable? Final verdict: A-. Very solid.

***1/2 out of ****
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10/10
A re-evaluation of a previous review
14 October 2001
With a new "Spider-Man" movie due out this May, an upcoming sequel to "Blade," and "X-Men 2" to start filming soon, I thought it would be appropriate to review some of the previous attempts that Marvel Comics has made to get their characters onto the big screen. It's no questions that their films have never been as successful as their arch rivals, DC Comics, especially in the nineties. While there was a successful TV Incredible Hulk series in the seventies, a never-released, low-budget "Fantastic Four" flick, and an *ahem* film version of "The Punisher" that is not even worthy of mention, at the end of the day, the only cinematic interpretations of their heroes that are worth commenting on at all are "Blade," "X-Men," and "Captain America."

In an earlier review, written back in my naive, less-educated-in-Cinema-days, I stated that "Captain America" was the greatest super-hero film ever made. This is not a true statement, and it was one I made having not seen the film in a few years, and the flaws were less-apparent in my mind. Yes, there are many flaws in this film: Some of the dialogue is cheezy, many of the characters are underdeveloped, and there is simply not enough time spent with Captain America in costume. However, in the heart of this film there is a very sincere, very respectable tribute to the golden-age superhero, and I feel that the movie is still very much worthy of praise.

Without going too much into detail about the nature of the plot, I will say that it successfully sums up sixty years of comics into one movie. Both the characters of Captain America and his facist counterpart, the Red Skull (brainchild of Hitler in the comics, created by Mussolini and sold to the nazis here) are depicted as much more tragic than in the comics. Both characters are well-constructed and sincerely acted by Matt Salinger and Scott Paulin, and the film is basically a tribute to old 1940's serials with two strong characters taking center stage.

When I say a tribute to 1940's serials, this is exactly what I mean. Every plot point, every character save Cap and the Skull, serve nothing more than to move the story along from action scene to action scene. Many things happen that make little sense- for example, upon being revived in the nineties after being frozen in ice for fifty years, Captain America is found by a conspiracy theorist who has been piecing together his story for years. How does the guy find our hero? He just happens to be driving through Northern Canada and stumbles upon him. Once the Red Skull realizes that Cap is still alive, he determines that the hero must be out to destroy him. Now, Cap has been out of commission for fifty years, and the Red Skull is now a mysterious, Corleone-esque kingpin. In this film, they only encountered briefly in the 1940's before Cap was frozen in ice. Why on earth would Skull jump to the conclusion that hey! Cap is thawed out, and his first objective will be to stop the Red Skull? In another part, realizing that the Skull is hiding in Italy, Cap jumps on a plane fro the U.S. and flies there. Um.....how did he get on board of that plane? Surely his passport wasn't perserved with him in the ice?

But nevermind....these plot holes, and many like them, are irrelavent to what this film is trying to do: Put our hero in a series of spectacular action scenes and watch how he gets out of them. It is not trying to tell a serious story, it is simply trying to give us some silly, comic-book action in a movie-serial kind of way, and the movie does just that. Our hero is strapped to a German rocket headed toward the White House, dodges nazi villians in Northern Canada, is amazed in some cleverly-written scenes how many American products are made in former enemy lands of Japan and Germany, fights the Red Skull's henchmen in Italy, and finally has an explosive showdown with the Skull himself in the kingpin's castle, where the villian threatens to blow up all of Western Europse with an atomic bomb which he receives from a piano. All this combined with the fact that the Skull is responsible for the deaths of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, and now he plans to use a brain transplant to make the new economically-aware U.S. President his slave.

It is impossible to take this film any more seriously than you would take an old serial or a four-part issue of the Cap comic book, and this kind of treatment is exactly what a Captain America movie needed. As a result, the low-budget, occasionally hammy acting, and confusing storytelling only add to the film's effect and heighten director Pyun's well-choreographed action sequences. There is just something grand and, dog-gonnit, patriotic about the President of the United States leaping from a tower in order to keep the Skull from using him in is experiments, only to be successfully caught and saved by Captain America, who is crawling up the wall vigorously. In real life, this would have ripped both their arms out of their sockets, but in this movie, what difference does it make? It's such a well-shot scene!

This said, Cap and Skull are well-developed, and they hold the film together when it threatens to go over-the-top in its comic-book silliness. Cap fights the Skull and fails to defeat him in the 1940's, only to be frozen in ice and thawed out in the nineties, where he learns that, because he failed to defeat the Skull, his arch villian is responsible for the deaths of many historic figures. Feeling he has failed his country, plus realizing his old girlfriend is now old with a family of her own, Cap is a determined, meloncholy hero with nothing to lose. There is a sincerity to the part that Matt Salinger brings, and with his niavity and his boyish-good looks, it looks as if Cap is truly a hero from the 1940's, who has stepped out of his time and into ours and is truly amazed at the changes that have come (though attempts to give him lines featuring old 40's terms such as "Gee-wizz" and "holy mackeral" don't come off so well). The Red Skull watched the slaughter of his family as a small boy in the 1930's, and this tramautizing event that led to his transformation into the monster he now is has bittered him over the centuries. In a film which emphasized overacting, he probably has the sublest role, yet he still has the film's best over-the-top lines ("Assassination isn't worth the trouble. It took two years to find Sir Hans. Three to find Oswald. The King job alone cost us over twenty two million dollars. What do we get for our troubles? Saints. Martyrs to the cause.") Must like Michael Corleone in the "Godfather 2" (though on a much smaller level), in the film's final scenes, he builds himself up as a great, powerful crimelord, but to the viewer, he simply comes across as pitiful.

In the end, "Captain America" is a fun, low-budget, patriotic, feel-good action flick which works in a Saturday Matinee sort of way. While never released to theaters here in the U.S., it made the theaters, perhaps ironically, overseas and, as a result, built the bridge for the bigger-budgeted, more-serious Marvel Superhero movies that came years later and are still to come. Certainly worth watching, certainly worth owning, certainly a tribute to sixty years of "Captain America" comic books.

*** out of ****
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Pearl Harbor (2001)
1/10
An insult and a travesty
11 September 2001
Not in any way to make light of the terrible, horrible tragedy that took place today, but since the attack at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is being compared with the attack on Pearl Harbor, I shall briefly make my point by bringing it up:

Imagine, several years down the road, someone making a movie about the terribly tragedy at the World Trade Center, turning it into a pointless action movie which glamourizes the deaths of thousands of people in some action scenes (using, of course, amazing special effects), and then sugar-coating it with a fictional love story that has nothing to do with the event and suggesting that it is a more important topic to cover for most of the film than the event which it is supposed to be honoring.

Thus is the nature of "Pearl Harbor." It doesn't honor the tragedy of sixty years ago....it desensetises people to its horror and rapes its impact on the nation. This is a film spitting on the honor of our fighting boys, and it should have never been made.

zero out of ****. Less than that, even. To give it zero stars, I am suggesting that it is worthy of being even considered or watched, and I refuse to rate this film on the level of a "movie". It is betraying to a nation.

My heart and prayers go out to the loved ones of those killed in Washington and New York today.
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Great plot and nice ideas in an underdeveloped movie
23 May 2001
"The Crow: Salvation," the fourth installment in the popular series of murdered men brought back from the dead to avenge their deaths, is certainly a step in the right direction after the travesty of previous entries. The first Crow, which is best known for being the film in which Brandon Lee was killed (duh), is a cult classic directed by Alex "Dark City" Proyas, and even today, it is regarded as probably the greatest of the gothic/action/modern noir films. It's sequel, "The Crow: City of Angels," starred Vincent Perez, and while it featured some nice ideas and beautiful images, it was nothing more but a poor remake of the first film lacking all the heart of the original. "The Crow: Stairway to Heaven" came next, and it was two episodes of the TV show of the same name re-edited into a motion picture and released as a sequel to the first film. Instead of being a remake in disguise as a sequel like "City of Angels," "Stairway" goes ahead and just literally remakes the first film with the same characters, basically the same plotline, and none of the magic (though Mark Ducascos as the title character certainly demonstrates a type of charisma in his martial arts).

Now comes "The Crow: Salvation." Eric Mabius stars as Alex Corvez, who is wrongly executed for the murder of his girlfriend and returns from the dead to take out the real killers, with the help of his dead girlfriend's sister and a lawyer friend. As a sequel, it thankfully works because it has a premise completely different from the first film (something the other sequels failed to pull off) and it stands on its own, introducing its own magic and its own intruiging plot elements. It certainly is a good film and a good sequel, and while some points in the movie seem contrived, what film nowadays doesn't have at least a few obvious plot points?

The bad: Much of the film is underdeveloped, especially many characters. While the plotline is good, it seems rushed much of the time, and the viewer has to draw their own conclusions about many things. Some of the dialogue is also atrocious.

The good: Well well, there's much more of that. Eric Mabius as the central character shines throughtout. For the first time, we have a character in one of these movies *not* ripping off Brandon Lee, but instead, bringing his own qualities and characterizations to the character. The results are an effective performance that makes us forget about Lee altogether...at least until the film comes to a close. The plot, something of a murder mystery, would have made a good film even if it hadn't been a Crow film, and the images and notions presented only add to the appeal, especially with the character of the Crow itself, which at the beginning, acts as if this is just a routine thing to bring someone back to the dead, and that he's done it before. Later, however, it genuinely gets intruigued by Corvis' vendetta and begins aiding him more.

All in all, this is certainly much more acceptable that previous entries, and it succeeds where the others failed: Introducing new elements into a Crow franchise that, so far, has been nothing more but rip offs of the first film.

*** out of ****
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Mild Indy is better than none at all.
17 May 2001
I had a look at "Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues" because it had Harrison Ford in the credits. I am a huge fan of the first three movies, and I was enthusiastic about the decision of George Lucas to release the movies and all of the episodes of the TV show, because I always thought that the adventures of Young Indy were very watchable. I had no idea that Lucas edited the show into movies for this plan until I saw this in a store, and this one is one of many of those very films.

There is one distinguishing factor, however, wish separates this from the other Young Indiana Jones movies: Harrison Ford has second billing as an older Indiana Jones, and the film's bookends feature him recalling his adventures as a younger man as he goes searching for an ancient Native American artifact. He only has about ten minutes of screen time, but his presence alone is worthy of notice. This is his fouth outing as the whip-weilding archeologist, and he basically eats the role up for the few lines he has and then collects his paycheck. I liked the look of Indiana Jones from 1950. He aged well, still holding his whip and wearing his hat, but now with more rugged features and a beard. I'm curious to see more movies about what happened in between The Last Crusade and Mystery of the Blues.

My question, however, is this: Could this then be the fourth Indy movie? Technically, since it is the further adventures of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, this could be the case. Even though it is labeled here as chapter 20 of the series, suggesting that it is merely one of many episodes of the show, it's alright because in the official process in chaptering of the series that Lucas placed on each video box, even the Ford films got numbered, and Temple of Doom came before Raiders of the Lost Ark in the chapters, despite the fact that it was released later. Whether Mystery of the Blues is the next chapter in the film series or not, it is still bound to appease the fans of the films until Ford dons the whip and hat again for another big screen outing, which is due to start filming in a few years.

As a movie itself, it's pretty mild. Young Indiana Jones has always had less action in his adventures than the elder Indy, but that is only because the TV show was attempting to be social commentaries, as Indy sees the world and its history as it truly was, and over-the-top action sequences would have bogged that idea down. There have always been several scenes of action thrown in other Young Indy episodes, however, but this one is lacking even those. Instead, the movie focuses on Indy's quest to discover jazz, and he meets important historical figures in pursuit of that. There is a lot of music and a lot of discussion on racial prejudice, but there is no action for most of the film (with the exeption of Ford's segment at the beginning, which features a fun car chase through snow). Later, as Young Indy gets tangled up in some prohibition wars with his college roomate Elliot Ness, there is one excellent action scene, and it is great welcome. However, it only shows what is needed throughout the film: Some intense action sequences. That would have made the movie tick much better, and it would have been much more engaging.

However, as a film itself, it is certainly not bad. What could have been cliched in the racial tensions expressed is actually quite brilliant, featuring Indy actually facing reverse discrimination, and the scenes dealing with gangsters and Al Capone are quite intruiging. The idea of playing the blues provides a nice segue between showing two different wars that were being fought in the 1920's within America: racism and prohibition. These two domestic battles are paralleled with World War I throughout, and it is all well-written and excellently acted by Sean Patrick Flanery as Young Indy, who doesn't look a thing like a young Indiana Jones, but he makes up for it in his performance. I was never bored with the film, and it was entertaining in a way that I wouldn't expect an Indy film to be. However, the overblown action scenes were missing.

As an unofficial fourth Indy movie, it will do till Ford, Lucas, and Speilberg decide to do another big screen film. But I'm holding my breath!

*** out of ****
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North Star (1996)
Well acted, but a little too old fashion and tame
19 March 2001
Had "North Star" been made in the 1940's or 1950's and had starred John Wayne or Charlton Heston, it would have been hailed as an exciting wilderness adventure, featuring excellent chase sequences and solid characters. However, it was made in 1995, and while the story had a good deal of potential as a great, if mindless, adventure story, it unfortunately is too tame for modern viewers. They will probably be either very bored or just not interested. While the characters are effective and the story is loaded with some great stuff, it simply pales to films of its kind, including "Cliffhanger" and "White Fang."

That said, the cast is excellent, if a little miscast. James Caan is the villian, a man maddened by the isolated confounds of Nome Alaska. Having lived there for many years, I knew many people in his situation, and he does as a good a job as possible showing the effects such desolate surroundings can have on the human spirit. He nails the performance and shows why he's the celebrated actor that he is, and he makes dialogue such as "Nobody dies until I tell them to die!" sound miraculously believable.

Christopher Lambert also brings passion to the role of the half-breed Indian who is trying to protect his land from Caan. While it is obviously a miscast (he's part Eskimo like I'm Clark Gable!), he does a commendable job as a man torn between loyalties, protecting a land from a native people who don't necessarily trust him. I don't think he was the ideal choice for the role, simply because he's obviously French, but the subtly and haunted characteristics that he demonstrates here shows a great deal of flair and concern for making this film work.

Between he and Caan, not to mention an altogether underused Catherine McCormick, they almost manage to lift this tame adventure story above standards. Unfortunately, good perfomances can't save it. Only style and more over-the-top actions scenes would have, and that is where the movie is lacking. Still, it's not a bad film to watch during the dog-days of summer for a little pick-me-up.

**1/2 out of ****
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The Patriot (2000)
Seems like two movies stuck together
17 January 2001
I shall be brief with "The Patriot," a cross between "Saving Private Ryan" and "Braveheart" in the Revolutionary War. It seems like two different movies stuck together: One is a serious, if typical Hollywood war film about a fictitious character parading around trying to make the country free. Though it is fictitional, it works thanks to great battle scenes and an excellent Mel Gibson. While it is impossible and foolish to view it as a serious movie about the horrors of war, it works as a by-the-numbers adventure story, and I found it enjoyable viewing( though it is loaded with cliched material, i.e.: there's always the tolkien black man fighting for his freedom, ever since "Glory," a much better war movie, made it famous, though "The Patriot" hardly takes such an important subject as seriously as it should be taken).

The other part is not so gratifying. Some scenes seem downright cartoonish, and not appropriate for a film that is intended to be taken as seriously as this one claims to be. The scene where Mel Gibson, in an effort to recruit men for his malitia, explains, "God save King George," only to and knives thrown at him is enjoyable enough, but it plays too much like a Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon to be shown here. There are also a few scenes which play like a bad TV-movie, especially those which take place in the church where Heath Ledger's character goes recruiting for soldiers in a church. Those scenes were predictable and corny. That plus the fact that Ledger's girlfriend was a horrible actress, on the level of a guest star in a bad "Christie" episode.

So here's what we have: An excellently-produced and well-acted drama using the Revolutionary War as a backdrop fused with often cliched subplots and scenes which are too goofy and not serious enough. Hence, it's hard to tell what this film is trying to be: Campy or emotionally charged. For this reason, it lumbers when it should soar, and it is disappointing where it should be outstanding.

**1/2 out of ****
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You simply can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss
21 December 2000
Pretty much, if you're a fan of Dr. Seuss's original story, you'll be a fan of this, as it is simply a reading of the beloved Christmas story about the "Mean One," presenting the original artwork by Dr. Seuss himself, straight from the book. Walter Matthau's narration doesn't make us forget about Boris Karloff, but he does a job that isn't anything to be ashamed of. His narration brings to mind that of a grandfather reading to some grandchildren, so that in itself will evoke some good, fire-time Christmas memories for most viewers.

In any case, it is light-years beyond the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey collaboration, and it shows just how brilliant and lyrical Suess's original work is, and how it needs no tinkering.

***1/2 out of **** (Just for the record, Karloff's version gets ****, and Carrey's gets 1/2)
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Beowulf (1999)
10/10
Superior entertainment, and as faithful to the poem as it could have been.
18 October 2000
`Beowulf' is a theatrical release that went straight-to-video in the United States because of some complications involving distributing. It was picked up by Mirimax around the same time `The 13th Warrior,' the other recent interpretation of the classic poem, went to theaters. Because that film was a flop both critically and financially, Mirimax played it safe and skipped the theatrical release for this, dumping it straight into a Blockbuster near you.

Reactions from this version have varied. People have tended to either like it a lot or hate it with passion. There is good reason for this. `Beowulf' is one of the great works of the English language, and it has been studied by both literary scholars and adventure lovers for centuries. It inspired such classic fantasy works as the Lord of the Rings and Dungeons and Dragons, and it has and will be reviewed by every English class that ever had, does, or will exist. Because of the difficulty to convert the original poem into a film, a lot of changes have been made, to the anger of a lot of literary purists. For one, the location has been changed to a techno, midievel future, and the great Hall of Herot has been converted to a battle-outpost, where technology has taken a step backwards. Only a few traces of a superior technology exists, such as night vision and methane-run torches, and everything else has been reduced to a typical sword and cross-bow environment, combined with outrageous-looking primal weapons. In other words, we've got Mad Max meets Dragon Slayer. So now, Hrothgar is the leader of the Outpost, and he's got a beautiful daughter named Kyra who's got a deadly secret. Unferth has also had his name changed to Roland for no apparent reason. Some subplots have been added which discuss Hrothgar's relationship with Grendel and his mother, and Kyra's relationship with Roland.

The most dynamic change, however, is in the character of Beowulf himself. No longer is he a happy-go-lucky, adventurous fighter for good, but a dark, depressed man who is a little more than mortal. The son of a demon and a woman, he wanders the earth looking for evil. `The only way I can stop from becoming evil is if I fight evil,' he says, and thus is his explanation for coming to this outpost and fighting the evil darkness called Grendel, an evil creature who is terrorizing the place every night by killing all of the guards. Beowulf, sort of like an anti-Hercules, has fast healing power and is decked out with all sorts of cool weaponry. He's got short, bleached hair and he's dressed in Matrix-style leather, and he's a lot more dark and weary than the Beowulf of the epic poem.

Such changes are making a lot of Beowulf fans enraged. I am a fan of the original Beowulf poem as well and have been studying it for years, and I can say that the changes didn't bother me. I applaud them, in fact, in their effort to make the story more applicable to the high school/college students who will be studying the ancient work. These changes don't improve the story, but they don't take away from it, either. Any student who might not be interested in studying the text might pick this up and like it, and their interest in the original source will increase. The changes work mostly due to the fact that it film still keeps the whole of the story intact, and it takes it very seriously. Purists need to realize that it would be nearly impossible to make a film about `Beowulf' and keep it 100% true to the original poem. Changes HAVE to be made due to the complexity of the work, and these changes work very nicely.

The film as a whole plays like an extended episode of `Xena: Warrior Princess' with a larger budget, meaning it is dark and brooding when it needs to be, and campy and action-packed with its tongue stuck firmly in its cheek in other places. This style works. While `The 13th Warrior' might have been superior to this visually, this film far surpasses it in capturing the essence of what the poem was all about: A battle with a supernatural foe. The original work was made to entertain and to fill the listener with a sense of wonder, and this film does just that, thanks to a good cast (mostly) and some well-shot action sequences that are both over the top and subdued, depending which is necessary. The setting was also well thought out by the producers. While `The 13th Warrior' used with open spaces, this `Beowulf' captures the clausterphobic feel of the poem, with mostly interior shots of this run down outpost where most of the action takes place. The techno music also works, giving a video-game feel to it in many spots, which is fine because of the video game potential the whole story has (besides, if they had video games in 900 A.D., around when the poem was written, they would have been about Beowulf!).

The monsters also work. Grendel is a fish-like monster in the tradition of Predator, with a mist surrounding him at all times. It's replicated straight from the poem, and the Witchmother is also a powerhouse of special effects, who is a combination of Grendel's Mother and the Fire Dragon from the poem (whose scenes are missing due to plot restraints).

Christopher Lambert is surprisingly good as Beowulf, playing the part subtly and without overacting. Like in the book, he is a man of few words, just wanting to fight and get the job over with. Though the motives are different: The Beowulf of the poem lives for the fight. This Beowulf simply wants to overcome the evil within in. While I don't think Lambert would work in a literal, literary version of `Beowulf' (he would have to be a large, brawling person, like Vin Deisel or Russell Crowe), he does fine here, as a hero torn between his lust for evil and his desire to fight it. He's got just the right tone, and his eyes speak multitudes. His understanding of this kind of Beowulf is right on target, and he holds the film together and plays the straight man when the fights get outrageously fun (`I've been waiting for you. Our evil has drawn us together. I'm like you. I'm one of the damned,' he tells an attacking Grendel in the film's best scene action scene, which takes place in the flooded cellar.) . The rest of the cast is effective as well, especially Gotz Otto as Roland (Unferth), who manages to evoke both sympathy and power in a satisfactory performance.

All this said, however, there could have been a few changes made. The actress playing the Witchmother is horrible. While the character is complex and she's got some great and very important lines, it is clear that she was cast in the role for her figure only (They probably told her, `You just strut what you've got. We'll teach you how to act.'). Every line she says she ruins, and it is only the rest of the excellent cast which manage to keep the scenes featuring her less-than-adequate. The ending is also a disappointing, as many of the characters simply cop-out and the resolution never has time to sink in after a spectacular final battle.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent version of the epic poem, both fun and thought-provoking. Students be warned though, if you're studying the text at school, this is not a substitute for it. It is, however, a good companion piece for it, and whether you've read it or not, you will find it extremely enjoyable.

*** out of ****
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1/10
Best since the first one for fans, but non fans beware!!!!!
4 September 2000
About five minutes into "Highlander: Endgame," the last film in the franchise which has given "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" a run for the money in the most "unique" fans, I realized that in the Highlander series, there are two separate universes that exist: The universe in which Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) became the final immortal and won the prize in 1986 (in the first film), and the one where, in the year 2000, the fight is still going on. In this universe, which was established in the TV series, Duncan MacLeod, Connor's younger brother (Adrian Paul) is the runner up for the prize, the major fight that took place in the first film was not the final battle between the last two immortals left, but merely one of many battles that were still to come.

This film takes place in the latter series, and the final battle is at hand at long last, and it's down to two good immortals: Connor and Duncan, and an ancient, evil immortal (Bruce Payne) who has a posse of other immortals following him like he's some kind of anti-christ. He's also got a deadly agenda against Connor for something that took place in the past. It's cleverly written, so I dare not give anything away.

"Endgame" is a sequel to the first film as it took place in the TV series' universe, and a continuation of the TV show, which went off air some two years ago. In order to fully appretiate this film, the viewer needs to be familiar with both...and like them. Otherwise, he or she will get confused and bored. Make no mistake: It is a film by Highlander fans FOR Highlander fans, and little explanation is given for anything in this, because it assumes that anyone watching will be familiar with the premise and the rules of the immortal game upon entering the theater.

As a serious film critic, I found the first film to be a masterpiece. Combining full-throttle thrills, an excellent premise, and top-rate performances, Highlander introduced us to the world of the immortals, and the premise was so thought-provoking that it drew the viewer in, and it made it easy for he or she to suspend their disbelief, if only for two hours. It deservedly joined the rank of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" as one of the most successful and influential sci-fi films ever written. The second film didn't do so well, but the director's cut was definitely worth watching. "The Final Dimension" was a poor entry, and it was the last to take place in Connor's world, where he became the final immortal and took the prize.

With all of this said, as a fan of the first film, I can tell you that if you liked it, you will fall in love with "Highlander: Endgame." It's name implies that it is the final chapter, and it is, but not to the film series....no, this is the final chapter in the TV show, and it nicely caps the series. It is a most satisfactory wrap-up, with all the elements that made the first film and the TV show successful: Great camera-work, intruiging characters, flashbacks from all around the world, engaging conflicts, and some of the finest sword-fighting sequences that I have ever seen put to film. And the surprise ending in which one of the MacLeods makes the ultimate sacrifice will leave no fan with a dry eye (and if you are a fan who's seen it already, DON'T PANIC! Remember, this is not the same universe as that of the film series!).

There are also some nice touches that only fans will enjoy: It was wonderful to see Heather, Connor's old wife, again, if only for a few brief moments. Watching the training sequences between Connor and Duncan are also well-written (and NOT a rip off of the stuff seen between Connor and Ramirez in the first film). The different aspects of immortality that are explored are nothing short of ingenious, and the characters of both Connor and Duncan are very nicely developed. Joe and Methos's cameos from the TV show are also appretiated.

If you're not a fan, walk away slowly with your hands raised in the air. If you like the series of films and the TV show, enjoy this gem which nicely seals the Highlander universe. Indeed,for those of us who have come to realize that "there can be only one," this might be the best film of the summer!

***1/2 out of **** (best since the original).
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U-571 (2000)
short n' sweet
29 April 2000
Great film. Tense, haunting, very impressive. One of the best navy films made, cause it borrows from the best (Das Boot, Red October). One complaint, though:

DAD GUMMIT, IF YOU'RE GONNA FEATURE JON BON JOVI AND BILL PAXTON, *USE* JON BON JOVI AND BILL PAXTON!!

That's all.

***1/2 out of ****
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10/10
A strange mix
20 March 2000
"To Kill A Priest" has all the things that can make a movie great. Great direction, a powerful cast, good chemistry between well-defined actors, and a strong premise. Where is falls short is in the core. It is almost told from a newsreel's perspective, briefing the audience on an event rather than actually presenting any specific theme. Therefore, many multiple themes can possibly be drawn out of this, and while this fact keeps the film from being a masterpiece, it certainly doesn't make it a bad film.

Inspired from actual events, the story centers around Father Alec (Christopher Lambert), a young, charismatic priest who isn't afraid to go against the system in his home in 1981's Poland. In a land ruled by Communism, he is a strong voice for Soliditary, and the people love him. Likewise, Stefan (Ed Harris) is a secret police officer who loves his country and he thinks that communism is the only way, and people like Alec are only getting in the way. He is emotionally disfunctional, and his family life is a wreck. Haunted by a painful past, he thinks that if it is possible to eliminate Alec, the people of Soliditary would run scared.

Hence, the film presents two sides of the story, about two men who love their country and their people, and how they each interpret what they believe to be Poland's needs. Along the way, the film also speaks of both corrupt polititians and cowardly priests (led by Joss Ackland and David Suchet, respectively), and how Alec and Stefan both try to use both to get their work accomplished. Both provide very powerful defenses for their visions and actions, and both are very committed to a destiny which will collide them together.

Mostly, this film is a collection of excellently-directed bits of dialogue which are magnificent to behold. The scenes in which Lambert tries to defend his work to Suchet sizzle with intensity, likewise do the scenes between Harris and Ackland. The subplots involving Joanne Whalley and Pete Postlethwaite are also compelling and thought-provoking, and the performances of all the actors are nothing short of majestic.

What then, is missing? The fact that the film takes no sides, and presents both sides of the argument equally. Therefore, though the bits of dialogue at the beginning and end seem to lean towards Alec's cause, the center of the film never really states which side it is taking....that of communism, or that of soliditary. Because of this, any message that the film is trying to make is lost in the balance to time spent on each argument. This might have been the point of director Agnieszka Holland, but if it is, then it was a bad idea. It would have been more effective if he had chosen to follow one of the arguments and run more rampant with it. If this had been the case, than history might have been changed with the ballot for best picture at the Academy Awards of 1989 reading "To Kill A Priest."

However, because of this flaw, the film is very compelling, in spite of itself. Most thoughts of communism nowadays only bring to mind thoughts of stereotypical, mustache-twirling villians. However, due to the time spent on both sides of the spectrum, this is proven not to be true. Stefan commits the acts he does because he honestly believes he is doing what is best for his family, and he isn't ashamed of any of it. This side presented to communism is quite intriguing, and it shows that one doesn't have to be evil to be on the side of evil. Hence, due to the lack of a single theme, multiple themes are presented, and while they might not be as powerful as a film with simply one to expand on, the emphasis on them all is thoughtful, if uneven.

*** out of ****
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DeepStar Six (1989)
Good cast, so-so script
17 March 2000
"DeepStar Six" is just another "Alien" clone, to be ranked with all "Alien" clones as just another time waster. This might be what it deserves, however, it can be noted as a few notches above other "Alien" clones for its excellent cast, which, even when the story and writing become pretty silly, sticks to it and keeps things running smoothly. The characters are pretty convincing as well, epecially for such low standards as this. And while most of the film is talkly and uneventful, I will proudly state that the last half hour are great and very tension-filled. I was very pleased with the climax, and even the monster was acceptable. If the whole film had been as surprising as gripping as the last half-hour, this might have been the greatest "Alien" clone around. Instead, it's just a pretty good, low-budget flick that's worth watching once or twice if it comes on cable.

**1/2 out of ****
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003)
What more do you want in a teenage TV-Show?
4 March 2000
What does this show have that "Dawson's Creek" doesn't? They both are about teenagers and college students and their battle for soul-searching. They both feature arguing and disfunctional romantic relationships.

Here's the difference: On "Dawson's Creek," they releave steam by punching someone. On "Buffy," they rip a vampire's throat out.

This is got it all: See Buffy fight vampires. See Buffy slay demons. See Buffy get her butt kicked by Adam the Frankenstein. See Buffy fight a mummy alongside Oz the werewolf.

Who could ask for more? Cheezy fun.
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Pitch Black (2000)
Dynamite
20 February 2000
Warning: Spoilers
"Pitch Black"'s basic premise, while certainly intriguing, doesn't really offer anything new that really advances the science fiction genre to new heights. Movies like this rely on tenser things to make them work: Memorable characters, gripping, terrifying scenes, and stylistic choreography. "Pitch Black" has all three.

I have always believed that an effective science fiction film is one while introduces the viewer into a whole new world of its own and then invites the viewer to suspend their disbelief and go along with it. If the science fiction film is good, then the viewer will be so intrigued by the notion of the film that they will allow the movie to suck them into it, and they become lost in this film's new world. Few films have achieved this style of brilliance. The "Star Wars" saga did. "Dark City," one of the best sleeper-films of 1999, did. "The Matrix" did. The first "Highlander" film did. And now, "Pitch Black" can be added to that list.

The very essence of this film, the plot notwithstanding, is in the execution of making the viewer feel absolute terror in this strange, barren, desert-like planet inhabited by creatures of the night, in which space explorers crashland on after a hull breech. It works, thanks to realistic characters and stunning choreography. The two principal colors in this film are black and white, with most of it taking place only with the lights shining on the faces of the actors and the alien creatures flying overhead. The characters are not the standard "good guy" and "bad guy" cliches either. There are several significant characters here: A super-human serial killer, a morphine-addicted bounty hunter, a captain with a secret, a Muslim priest, an athiest, an antique dealer (who, *spoilers* has one of the best death scenes in film history), and a child. All of them present both evil sides and good sides, and a cast of characters hasn't been so motely in a sc-fi film since "Aliens"

This film, however, cannot be compared to "Aliens." Nor "The Terminator," or "Predator," or other successful sci-fi thrillers. This film is simply "Pitch Black," in a league of its own. And it works.

An early prediction: This film will either become a sleeper and quickly get dumped to video, or else it will achieve the status of "The Matrix." It will probably be either one or the other, with little in between. We shall see.

On a personal note as well, keep an eye on Vin Diesel, who plays the mad serial killer. If any producer reads this, he might be a good choice for the role of Beowulf in the upcoming version that Roland Emmerich's company is working on. He's well built and has a lot of screen presence. Just a thought, boys.

**** out of ****
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