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Beloved (2011)
4/10
Too long and morose
10 March 2013
I rather enjoyed the first 45 minutes of "Beloved." Ludivine Sagnier, one of my favorite actresses, plays a 1960s French woman who is confused by love. I was still with the story as the years passed and Sagnier matures into Catherine Deneuve, in a nifty bit of casting. However as the story shifts to that of daughter Vera, it all becomes a bit too morose for me. Vera for some reason becomes obsessed with a man who cannot love her back. It's hard for us to see any reason for this obsession. It simply appears the young woman is eager to destroy her life.

There are very strong echoes here of the Truffaut film "The Story of Adele H." Truffaut, however, was well aware he was filming the story of a woman's descent into madness and hell. In "Beloved," director Christophe Honoré takes a similar story but shoots it in a very different light. He seems to think there is something so very romantic about desperately loving someone who cannot possibly love you back.

Honoré throws in everything but the kitchen sink here, covering topics from Aids to 9/11. But, at around 2 hours and 20 minutes, it's all too much for such a morose topic. I probably should have turned it off after those first 45 minutes.
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7/10
It's really 1963 to 1968
12 May 2012
(I am reviewing the U.S. home version of this which is a bit over 2 hours...not the 184 minutes listed here. I am guessing the extra time includes some of the extras.)

Let me start out by stating the obvious: If you are a fan of The Hollies you will not only wish to view this documentary, you will wish to add it to your DVD collection. It is a well made, revealing look into one of the very best of the British Invasion groups. There are extensive interviews with Allan Clarke, Graham Nash, Tony Hicks and Bobby Elliot and some wonderful behind the scenes looks at the group working together. In fact, the scene of them recording "On a Carousel" at Abbey Road Studios alone is worth the price of the DVD.

I was left, however, slightly disappointed with the film and I believe it's because it really shouldn't have had "1963-1975" in the title but rather only "1963-1968." That's because this documentary, like many other looks back at The Hollies, seems to want to end things with the departure of Nash in 1968. The post-Nash years here are given very short shrift.

It is quite meaningful to me that ten months after Nash left and was replaced by Terry Sylvester, The Hollies had their biggest hit with "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." In fact, that song plus "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" and "The Air That I Breathe" are probably my three favorite Hollies songs. All came after Nash left. What exactly does that say?

Nash and Clarke were best friends from the age of six, and it's obvious in this documentary that Clarke was stung by the departure of Nash and never really warmed up to replacement Sylvester. Curiously and significantly, there is no interview with Sylvester in this documentary. Again, what exactly does that say?

Hopefully what it says is this: The ultimate documentary of The Hollies story from 1963 to 1968 has been made. But the window (so to speak) has been left open for the story from 1969 and beyond to yet be made.
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Thirst (I) (2010 Video)
2/10
Lacey's biggest misstep
18 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Oh, my. Where to begin? Lacey Chabert is not only the star of this movie but is listed as one of the executive producers as well. That leads me to surmise that this film was intended, at least in part, to showcase Lacey's talents and get Hollywood to view her as a serious actress. If so, the effort backfires.

In order for this premise (stuck in the middle of a desert with very few provisions) to work at all the characters have to make some pretty stupid mistakes. And our characters do. Driving 80 miles into the desert without any sort of backup plan in case of car trouble is, in fact, beyond stupid. As the movie and the stupid decisions continue it becomes increasingly hard to either believe the story or feel any sympathy for the characters.

Thank God for Noelle (the lovely Lacey)! She is cast as a Captain Kirk here, keeping her cool while the others around her are losing theirs. But her hero status is all too clearly a plot device, again, to showcase her "talents." At one point Lacey performs emergency brain surgery using s screwdriver and a rock. I kid you not! She can do this, but she isn't smart enough to realize they should travel at night and stick to the road!

As a person who rarely laughs out loud even at things that are supposed to be funny, I actually found myself laughing out loud at some of the plot twists. (Did someone mention breast implants?) Of course, the movie also has to show us several "gross out" scenes for seemingly no other purpose than to get some junior high viewers to say "Oh! Gross!" Not only do we get to watch characters drink their own urine, we have to watch them take in every last drop. "Ewwww! Gross!"

Need I say more? This is a really bad movie with only one redeeming feature: The lovely Lacey Chabert who I have always liked in the past. "Thirst", however, is probably the biggest misstep in Lacey's career.
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Iron Man 2 (2010)
3/10
All spectacle, no substance
1 November 2010
"Iron Man 2" suffers from an all too familiar problem these days. Hollywood has become so good at giving us great special effects that this is what they are content to do. Plot? Dialog? Bah! Who needs them! We've got great special effects!

Take this as an example of the supposedly funny dialog in this movie: "Where are you going?" "New Mexico." "Land of enchantment." "So I'm told."

Whoa! Zip! Bam! Bing! Move over Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn! Honestly, was anyone really laughing at dialog that lame? The deeper problem isn't just that the dialog is bad, it's that the makers of the movie didn't care! Everything would be forgiven, they felt, because of the wonderful special effects.

I pray that Hollywood soon moves beyond our current "can you top this?" phase and returns to the basics of good film making: Plot, characters, dialog.
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2/10
Manipulative + Plot Holes = Don't Waste Your Time
4 November 2009
I suspect there are going to be two different reactions to "Lost and Delirious." Some people (most likely teenaged girls) will look past the many faults to find a theme that really resonates within themselves. Others won't be able to move beyond those many problems and will find the film shallow and manipulative. I'm afraid I belong to the latter group.

Problem one: Manipulative. At one point in the movie there is a minute long close-up of one of the characters (Pauline) crying while a sad song plays in the background. Five seconds wouldn't do I guess. That is about as manipulative as movie making gets. The movie isn't trying to tell you a story; it is trying to make you cry.

Problem two: Really bad plot holes. The movie is set at a girls boarding school and follows the lesbian affair of two of the students there. When the couple breaks up, one of the girls (again Pauline) rather quickly goes off the deep end. She starts exhibiting increasingly erratic and violent behavior. Nobody at the school does anything! The staff just stands around wringing their hands and thinking "Oh dear." Worst of all, as Pauline begins to stalk her former partner, nobody even thinks that it might be a good idea to move the girls out of the same dorm room! "Stalking" and "Violent" yet nobody seems to think separating the two girls might be a prudent idea! What is so ridiculous is that these were very easy plot holes to fix. Why not a 30 second scene of the staff moving Pauline to a different dorm room? No, no. Far better to have a minute long scene of Pauline crying.

I suppose if I were younger and had not already seen so many better made movies with a similar theme I might have had a different reaction to "Lost and Delirious." Hmmmm. Let me think. Yes, if I were a teenager I might have given the movie 3 stars instead of only 2.
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Planet Terror (2007)
2/10
Lost me after 30 minutes...
30 July 2008
This movie seems to be quite divisive. Some people love it while others absolutely hate it. There is actually a pretty simple way to tell which side of the coin you will find yourself on: Within the first 20 minutes of this movie you will see the following:

1) A guy gets his testicles cut off by another guy who carries around a jar full of testicles.

2) A patient comes into a doctor's office with growths on his tongue. The doctor squeezes one and it pops like a zit spewing blood all around.

Now. If you are thinking to yourself "Cool! I want to see that!" then by all means give "Planet Terror" a watch. On the other hand, if you're saying to yourself "Um...no thank you" then take a pass.

I don't judge. Looking all the comments here on the IMDb, it appears that there is quite a market for this type of movie. As for me, I gave up after 30 minutes. Life is too short, you know?

Oh, okay. I will judge just once: Robert? Quentin? Is this really the sort of schlock you want to be remembered for?
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4/10
Angelina with nothing to do...
24 February 2008
"A Mighty Heart," about the tragic kidnapping of journalist Danny Pearl, is a movie you want to like. You want to get caught up in the story, feel the sadness and experience the outrage. Unfortunately, for all the potential, the movie is curiously uninvolving and unemotional.

Other reviewers have claimed the reason for this is the style of the movie: Short takes jumping from scene to scene with so many flashbacks that it becomes difficult to follow. This is true, but I would like to point out an even more fundamental mistake Director Michael Winterbottom and his screenwriters made. They chose the wrong person to be the lead.

The movie focuses on Danny's wife, Mariane Pearl, which seems only natural since it's based on her book. Yet the character, played by Angelina Jolie, is given precious little to do here. She worries, paces, cries and occasionally gets mad and curses. But she doesn't do anything to drive the action forward.

This is Screen Writing 101, folks. The protagonist initiates the events in a movie. It is by his or her actions that the scenes of the movie unfold. He/She does not simply sit back and watch as other people propel the movie forward.

Therein lies the problem. Jolie was obviously cast in this movie as a showcase for her talents. ("Hey, let's get you another Oscar, Angelina!") But she doesn't have anything real to do! So instead we get a long scene of her wailing and slamming the walls.

It's all too bad because the potential for a great, Oscar-worthy, movie is here. In this case, however, a star struck Hollywood forgot about the story in favor of the actress.
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The Ring (1952)
8/10
A boxing movie ahead of its time
20 January 2008
While obviously made as a "B" feature in its day, "The Ring" is a surprisingly good little flick deserving of far better than the relatively low rating (a 5.6 as I write this) it is currently receiving here on the IMDb.

"The Ring" starts off as a typical boxing "rags to riches" story. A young kid gets into a street fight just as a boxing manager happens to be passing by. Liking what he sees, the manager vows to turn the fiery youngster into a star.

Halfway through the film, however, the "rags to riches" storyline begins to turn and a much deeper side is revealed. More than a decade before the civil rights movement became a large issue in American society, "The Ring" tackled head-on topics such as stereotypes and racial discrimination.

The issues raised are still very relevant today, 56 years after this film was made. Are professional sports truly a way out for impoverished minorities? Or just an unobtainable illusion? And is becoming white the only way for minorities to become accepted into our society? (What could be whiter than a ring name of Tommy Kansas?) All this and a young Rita Moreno, too!...as the "girl next door" love interest.

"The Ring" is not a perfect 5 star film, but it was a movie truly ahead of its time. If you give it a try sometime I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
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9/10
It's Roberto Benigni: Enough said.
29 December 2007
Good news: Roberto Benigni is one of the most gifted comics in the world today. Not so good news: His results on screen have been wildly uneven. Watching "Life is Beautiful" and then "Pinochio" back to back should give one proof of this claim.

Fortunately, "The Tiger and the Snow" is one of his better efforts and perfectly demonstrates what places Benigni above most all of his contemporaries. He is not just a buffoon; he has a heart.

"Life is Beautiful" was criticized by many as being unrealistic and I'm certain "The Tiger and the Snow" is receiving similar complaints. These critics miss the point. The situations Benigni puts himself into may be absurd, but the emotions are not. "Life" was about a father's love for his son and how he would do absolutely anything to protect that son. "Tiger" is about one man's love for one woman.

This is a selfless love which expects nothing in return. Whether she reciprocates or not is irrelevant. He loves her and will do absolutely anything for her, even follow her into a hell on Earth.

After watching "The Tiger and the Snow" I immediately logged onto the IMDb website to see what other Benigni movies I have missed somewhere along the way. I have come to the conclusion that any Benigni movie, even his less successful ones, are well worth seeing.
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9/10
Sorry Warren, but the original remains the best.
17 November 2007
If you're keeping score...

"Here Comes Mr. Jordan" was remade in 1978 as "Heaven Can Wait" and again in 2001 as "Down to Earth." It inspired a sequel, the 1947 movie also entitled "Down to Earth" and that sequel itself as remade in 1980 as "Xanadu." Whew! Doubtless it has served as the inspiration for several other films and TV shows as well. For all that, however, the original remains the best. Sorry, Warren.

Oh, did I mention it was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert Montgomery) and Best Supporting Actor (James Gleason)? It won two awards for its writing. Yes, it was pretty popular in its day.

The plot now may seem overly-familiar, but that's only because of all the shows that have been inspired by it since. Boxer Joe Pendleton is killed in a plane crash, but oops, not really. He was taken to Heaven too soon and now must somehow be returned to Earth in a different body to live out his days.

Snappy writing, fast paced direction and excellent acting combine to make this a very fun ride. There aren't a lot of belly laughs here, but you will likely find yourself smiling all the way through to the end. And then you might find yourself brushing away a tear at that ending. All in all it truly defines what people mean when they say "They don't make 'em like that anymore."
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Gentleman Jim (1942)
9/10
One of the best boxing movies ever made
11 November 2007
I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of boxing movies and as such there is only one thing that prevents me from calling "Gentleman Jim" the best boxing movie ever made. That is the Robert Wise/Paul Newman flick "Somebody Up There Likes Me." That movie might be number 1, but "Gentleman Jim" is a close number 2.

The movie doesn't just chronicle the rise of James J. Corbett, it also shows the sport of boxing at a crucial time of transition. In the late 1800s boxing was moving away from the brutal days of bare-knuckle rules to the more "gentlemanly" days of the gloved, Marquis of Queensbury rules. And the sport was moving away from the days when it was an illegal spectacle and towards a time of acceptance and respectability.

"Gentleman Jim" is not a realistic look at those days. It is romanticized and, yes, even a bit hokey at times. But always delightfully so. Errol Flynn is perfect as the "Gentleman" Jim who really isn't a "gentleman" at all but merely a fast talker from a working class family. Alexis Smith is quite ravishing as the upper class woman with whom he has a love/hate relationship (and we all know it is, of course, love that will win that match in the end).

At the end of "Gentleman Jim" the great John L Sullivan (whose famous line was NOT "I can lick any man in the world" of course...romanticism again) hands over his belt to Corbett. This is truly one of the best scenes in any sports move ever made. Realistic? No. But wonderful. Hey, if you want realism watch "Raging Bull" instead. That is a much more realistic boxing movie. But "Gentleman Jim" is a lot more fun.
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300 (2006)
3/10
Trying way too hard to be an epic
27 October 2007
Movies are made in the spirit of their times. I always felt the original 1962 version of this story, "The 300 Spartans," suffered a bit too much from a forced cold war, communists vs. free world analogy. But then, it was 1962.

"300," on the other hand, is made with that modern day Hollywood belief that better special effects make better movies.

This is a movie trying too hard to be an epic. No one can simply say lines, they have to make pronouncements. No shot is finished until some (needless) computer generated graphics are used. No character development is needed, just give this guy some lobster claws for hands and call it good.

The tale of the 300 Spartans is classic and some of the magic of that story makes it through here. But modern day Hollywood has become so good at creating special effects that they forget about the basics of storytelling: plot and character. Give me the original 1962 movie, faults and all, over this over-wrought remake any day.
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2/10
Insulting
1 April 2006
Back in the bad old days, before the advent of modern medicine, people with conditions such as epilepsy were treated horribly. Not understanding what caused these conditions, such people were often thought to be possessed by demons. They were shunned, beaten and locked away in asylums or even prisons.

Today we know better than to treat human beings in such a manner. Or do we?

The problem with "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is that it asks us to take a large step backwards in our thinking. In the disguise of "keeping an open mind" it asks us to reconsider what modern science has taught. Hey, maybe those crazy acting people with this so-called epilepsy are really demonically possessed after all!

The movie pretends not to take sides. It wants us to believe it is presenting the facts in a fair and balanced manner. But the film does take sides. It is very clear the message the makers of this film wanted to convey. Just watch the courtroom scenes.

In presenting his case, the prosecution is clamped down on hard by the judge. He is not allowed to ask any questions with even a hint of speculation attached to them. Yet when the defense makes her case, suddenly the judge allows all sorts of wild speculation. "Why do you think God allowed Emily to suffer so?" Would any courtroom allow such a question? Only in a movie such as this.

Oh, the acting in the movie is fine. The cinematography is good. In fact, there is plenty to admire about the way the film was made. But first you must get past a theme which is way past insulting. People with epilepsy and other such conditions have challenges enough in life without having to overcome people wondering if they might be possessed by the devil.
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3/10
My Fair Lady Reincarnated
25 August 2005
"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" is nothing more than a New Age update of the "Pygmalion" / "My Fair Lady" story: A professor attempts to turn a common girl into an upper society woman. This time, however, instead of using language skills, the professor tries to do so by hypnotism and past life regression.

You know a musical has problems when reviewers constantly mention the sets and the costumes before they mention the plot and the music. The songs are instantly forgettable. (No "Get Me to the Church on Time" here, I'm afraid.) And the plot goes nowhere. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there is no "there" here. The characters wander through the story without ever getting from point A to point B. Professor Chabot claims several times that he will get to the root of Daisy's troubles, but he never seems to do so.

All meaningful conflict is avoided. For instance, there comes a time when Chabot's university demands he either stop his research into reincarnation or resign his position. Now there is conflict! Will he give up his career for Daisy? Alas! Nothing comes of this development. A scene or two later the university changes its mind and tells Chabot to continue on with his work. So much for conflict.

The talent was certainly assembled for this movie: Directed by Vincente Minnelli. Written, in part, by Alan Jay Lerner. A cast of Yves Montand, Bob Newhart and Jack Nicholson. And, oh yes, starring Barabara Striesand who was nearly at the top of her game at this point in her career.

But it all falls flat. Lerner's attempt to reincarnate his greatest success, the previously mentioned "My Fair Lady," is as doomed to failure as Daisy's attempt to revive the greatness of her own past.

If you enjoy movie musicals, there are far better choices than this.
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D.E.B.S. (2004)
2/10
Don't. Even. Bother. Seriously
6 August 2005
The frustrating thing about D.E.B.S. is that there is a ghost of a interesting idea here: Take four hot co-eds, stick them in school-girl uniforms, claim they are part of a secret spy group and have them fight crime. Okay, it's not "Gone With the Wind," but I'm with you so far.

Unfortunately, the good ideas stop right there. The script seems only half written, as if somehow an early draft got shot instead of the finished one. And second rate directing and acting do very little to improve matters.

So much comedic potential is wasted. For instance, Amy's speech at the Endgame celebration should have been a very, very funny bit with all sorts of double-entendres: "She held me in bondage!" "She used handcuffs!" "My heart was pounding the whole time!" It's supposed to be a comedy, right? But no, we don't get anything like this. Unfortunately, I just spent more energy coming up with funny lines than the writers of this movie did.

The worst problem with the "D.E.B.S.", however, is the villain. A movie such as this lives or dies with the effectiveness of its villain, and I'm afraid this one dies. I mean, Jordana Brewster as a global criminal mastermind? Please. I'd have trouble buying her as a playground bully. She is nothing more here than a giggly teenager.

Think what a somewhat older, slightly more mature (dare I say "better"?) actress could have done with the role of Lucy Diamond. How about Parker Posey? Or Christina Ricci? I suppose the makers of this movie couldn't afford such talent and so we were given Jordana Brewster instead. Too bad.

There may be a narrow demographic group who will enjoy this movie. Giggly teen-aged girls interested in seeing a rather tame lesbian love affair might actually get a kick out of "D.E.B.S." But if you don't fit into that category: Don't Even Bother. Seriously.
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Bliss (1997)
3/10
All Theme, No Plot
14 March 2005
The trouble with "Bliss" (I generously rate it a 3 out of 10) can be summed up very quickly. It is all theme and no plot. So intent was writer/director Lance Young in telling us his views on sexual abuse and healing that he forgot that a movie must first have a story to tell.

"Bliss" seems much more like a Psychology student's graduate school thesis than it does a legitimate movie. The major plot points become mere afterthoughts: How does Joseph discover that Maria is visiting a sexual therapist? He accidentally sees her walking into the office. How does Marie discover that Joseph is seeing the same therapist? She accidentally sees him walking into the office. That's how much imagination was put into developing the story.

Director Lance Young has cast the movie well, but his actors have little to play with and all end up looking rather foolish. As the lead actress, Sheryl Lee is a perfect example. She simply plays a toned down version of Laura Palmer from "Twin Peaks" fame. In fact, this movie could almost have been titled "Laura Palmer Didn't Die But Instead Got Married And Became A Rather Boring Housewife." Although that title would not have sold a lot of tickets.

Of course, don't take my word for all this. If you really want to see how good or bad this movie is, simply check out writer/director Lance Young's credits here on the IMDb. Made back in 1997, "Bliss" is still the only credit in either his writing or directing career.

There is a reason for that.
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6/10
Good acting, bad acting, big plot holes...
20 December 2004
It is a mystery to me why "The Professional" is rated so high here on the IMDb...#62 as I write this. To be sure, there is much to admire here. But for everything director Luc Besson gets right with this movie he seems to get something else quite terribly wrong.

Let's start with the positive: Natalie Portman as Mathilda is a revelation here. Young, beautiful and very, very talented, it should come as no surprise after watching this movie why George Lucas wanted her to play a major role in his second "Star Wars" trilogy. And Jean Reno as Leon is her perfect counterpart. Reno underplays his role beautifully and the two stars develop a true screen chemistry.

Oh, but now the negatives. Gary Oldman, normally a wonderful villain, is way, way over the top as the DEA agent Stanfield. He "chews up the scenery" to quote other reviewers I have read. (That's not a compliment.) And Oldman's lunatic rantings lead me to the main problem I have with the movie: Plot holes.

In order to fully believe the events of this movie you must accept that Stanfield is at least somewhat capable of behaving in a normal manner in society. After all, he holds an important position in the DEA. And he must have a supervisor or two, doesn't he? Could the raving lunatic we see here really function in that role without raising a dozen red flags? I don't think so.

Of course, Stanfield has a merry band of followers. Dozens, it seems. One has to wonder if every cop in the city is as corrupt as he is. How in the world do they burst into someone's apartment, kill his wife (in the bathtub!) as well as his teenage daughter and four year old son...again all without raising any red flags?

And speaking of that pivotal scene, it is also hard for me to accept that Mathilda's father, knowing what is coming, would not have had his entire family out of that apartment by Noon.

The biggest plot hole, however, is the relationship between Mathilda and Leon. As well acted as it is, the lone wolf hit-man deciding to "adopt" a 12 year old girl just does not ring true. It is far too clearly a mere plot device.

While watching this movie I was often reminded of the film "Taxi Driver" which deals with many of the same themes. "Taxi Driver" is a movie that deserves a high ranking in the IMDB top 250. "The Professional" does not.
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9/10
A film that stays with you long after the final shot
14 February 2004
Zhang Yimou's "The Story of Qiu Ju" is not a masterpiece as is his film "Raise the Red Lantern." It doesn't have the epic qualities of "To Live" nor is it as visually stunning as "The Road Home." But "Qiu Ju" may well be Yimou's most thought provoking film, leaving you pondering the messages a long time after the film has ended.

Qiu Ju's husband has been kicked ("where it counts") by the village chief. The only bit of justice Qiu Ju wants is an apology. It seems to be a simple enough request, but her search for the apology proves to be elusive as she encounters a legal system more interested in its own red tape than in the needs of ordinary people.

But this is not "Erin Brockovich" where the sides of "good" and "bad" are easily defined. The people in the legal system Qiu Ju encounters are genuinely decent folks. They are also, unfortunately, a bit clueless. And Qiu Ju is not beyond reproach herself. At the conclusion of the film even she is realizing that she has pushed the matter too far.

Just how far should one go to seek justice in this world? Even if you are totally in the right, does there come a time when you must let the matter rest for your own sake as well as everybody else's? There are no easy answers.

This is another great performance by Gong Li in the title role. She may be one of the most beautiful women in the world, but here she is not above playing "dowdy." And as usual, Zhang Yimou is nearly flawless in his direction. He gives a wonderful tip of the hat to the late French director Francois Truffaut in the end, echoing that famous final shot of Truffaut's "The 400 Blows."

But this is a film that will stick with you well past that last shot.
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Happy Times (2000)
9/10
The wrong things; the right reasons
7 February 2004
Zhao is a 50 year old unemployed loser making one last attempt at finding love. He courts a portly divorcee, but keeps having to lie to pass himself off as a better catch than he really is. Eventually, of course, the lies backfire. Zhao tells his sweetheart that he is the manager of a fancy hotel. She responds by foisting her blind stepdaughter off on him, confident that he can easily find her employment at his fancy hotel.

What follows is a funny, unlikely and touching relationship between Zhao and the blind girl Wu. While Zhao is terribly misguided, constructing elaborate deceptions to keep Wu "employed" at the non-existent hotel, he does these wrong things for the right reasons. Zhao does find love, but it isn't the woman or the love he expected.

This is an excellent film and there are three big reasons why: First of all, it's directed by Zhang Yimou who may well be the best director alive. This isn't a masterpiece like "Raise the Red Lantern," but seeing the phrase "Directed by Zhang Yimou" should be enough to tell you the next two hours will be well spent.

The second and third reasons are Benshan Zhao as Zhao and Jei Dong as Wu. Zhao is a respected Chinese comedian, but the role here is really a mixture of comedy and drama. Zhao gives the mixture exactly the right touch. But the real revelation is Jei Dong. I found myself wondering through the entire movie if she were really blind. She is that good. (And I still don't know the answer.)

Don't expect a laugh out loud comedy if you see this movie. It is very funny in places, but frequently that humor is very uncomfortable. And frequently happy times aren't really what they seem.
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Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963)
Still the Beaver after all these years.
27 October 2002
It is easy to criticize "Leave it to Beaver" today for being an overly romanticized look at family life in the late 50s/early 60s. Because, well, it is an overly romanticized look at family in the late 50s/early 60s. But so what? This is a well written, well acted sitcom. I love it for the show that it is and I don't worry about the more realistic show it could have been.

Ward and June Cleaver are raising two sons: Wally and Theodore, who everyone calls by the nickname "Beaver." (To answer an earlier reviewer, the nickname came from older brother Wally who couldn't pronounce "Theodore" when his little brother was born, instead pronouncing it "Beaver.)

Beaver is definitely not a Bart Simpson, constantly making trouble and outwitting his dad. No, Beaver is a kid who gets into trouble usually because one of his friends (Larry, Richard or Gilbert) talks him into it. It is then usually up to Ward to help straighten the situation out and gently but firmly teach Beaver the lesson to be learned.

Wally and June are equally as important. Wally is the older brother we all wish we had. And who else but June could look so perfect while fixing up a batch of our favorite cookies?

One of the biggest reasons why the show was popular then and is still popular today, however, is the supporting cast. Eddie Haskell. ("And might I add Mrs. Cleaver, that is a lovely blouse you are wearing.") Fred Rutherford. ("See you in the salt mines, Ward.") Larry Mondello. Miss Landers. Mary Ellen Rogers. Gus the Fireman. All have endured for more than 40 years and become permanent fixtures in our pop culture.

Overly romanticized? Sure. But so what. Years from now when people have forgotten almost all of the sitcoms airing today, The Beaver will still be bringing smiles to our faces.
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Resident Evil (2002)
5/10
From Dusk Till The Ghosts of Mars
22 September 2002
"Resident Evil" follows the all too familiar path of a couple other recent movies: "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "The Ghosts of Mars." All three start with an interesting plot but end up just being about zombies instead. (Or vampires. Or whatever.) It's as if in all three cases the writers got bored halfway through and said "Oh, heck. Let's just throw in some zombies." (Or vampires. Or whatever.)

I don't mean to suggest that "Resident Evil" is terrible. It's okay. But the frustrating thing is that, like those other two movies, it could have been so much more.

In fact, the initial plot is rather intriguing: We are set in a secret, underground facility where biological weapons are being created. But something has gone seriously wrong and the computer that controls the facility has started killing off the people who work there. Now an outside team must penetrate the facilities defenses and attempt to take control of the situation.

And then...! And then...! Zombies!

Milla Jovovich stars as a helpless female who needs protecting at first but soon becomes a tough chick with moves that would do Jackie Chan proud. Okay, her transformation is explained by a memory loss that is slowly regained, but it seems the producers wanted it both ways: Helpless and tough at the same time. Michelle Rodriguez is at least consistently the tough chick throughout. But her constant "I'm tough, get out of my way" routine gets old quickly.

In fact, it is interesting that Rodriguez is second billed in this movie. This seems to be the case only because there was no one else to give second billing to. The male characters are all poorly drawn and very difficult to keep track of. I kept forgetting which one was supposed to be the bad guy.

Sure, some of the action sequences will keep your interest. Milla's battle with some zombie dogs make the movie worth giving a chance if you have nothing better to do some evening. Still, the next time I decide to watch a zombie movie I think I will pick one that is a zombie movie all the way, and not one where the zombies were thrown in because the writers got bored.
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Training Day (2001)
Two thirds of an excellent movie
12 August 2002
I have very mixed emotions about "Training Day." I want to say it was one of the best movies of 2001. However...

Denzel Washington is great, very much deserving of the Academy Award he won. And Ethan Hawke is quite good as well. Not to mention Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Cliff Curtis and so on and so on. For the first 70 minutes, I was loving it. However...

About 70 minutes into the movie the movie takes a wrong turn from which it never quite recovers.

But those first 70 minutes! Wow! What a movie! Jake Hoyt (Hawke) is a young LA policeman who has just transferred into the narcotics division. His first day on the job, a training day, he is introduced to and will serve with Alonzo Harris (Washington). Hoyt knows he must make a good impression on Harris or he will be washed out of the department.

Hoyt quickly discovers, however, that Harris is a very unconventional policeman. Hoyt does things "by the book." Harris does not. Hoyt knows there are certain lines a policeman must not cross. Harris doesn't care what lines he has to cross as long as he gets the job done. So who is right and who is wrong? Is a little bit, maybe even a lot, of rule breaking okay for the police as long as they are succeeding at their job? In the narcotics division, do the ends justify the means?

If the movie had stayed at this level, "Training Day" could have been one of the best cop movies ever made. However...

70 minutes into the movie it takes that wrong turn. And for the last half hour it devolves into just another Hollywood Good Guy vs. Bad Guy movie. A very stylish and well done Good Guy vs. Bad Guy movie to be sure. However...

See it for Washington's performance. See it because, whatever its faults, it is a very well made movie. However...it could have been so much more.
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Ali (2001)
Details, details, details
23 June 2002
They get the details right.

When Will Smith/Muhammad Ali is knocked down at the end of the first Frazier fight, Smith has the details down almost exactly. The way he slowly gets up and then puts his right hand on the ropes is exactly they way it happened in real life. This movie gets the details right.

So what is wrong?

They say the mood in Ali's locker room before the Foreman fight was one of deadly gloom. Not even Ali's corner men really thought he could beat George Foreman. Not only was he facing the end of his career, but Ali's men were extremely worried that Foreman might seriously hurt their man. It was Ali himself, the one man in that locker room who really thought he could win, that lifted the mood. "Are we gonna dance?" He kept shouting to Bundini Brown. Soon Brown was answering: "All night long!"

This scene never makes it into the movie "Ali." And that is precisely the problem. While director Michael Mann was so intent on getting the details right, he forgot about the mood. The overwhelming odds that Ali faced, not only in the Foreman fight but in the first Liston fight, the fight with the Supreme Court and in so many other instances in his life, are glossed over. Instead, we are only given the facts.

Wham. He beats Quarry. Wham. He wins in the Supreme Court. Wham. He faces Frazier. All the scenes are presented, but we never feel their impact. Ali in the course of this movie goes from the most hated man in sports to the most loved. But we never feel the change. Again, we are only given the details.

See this movie if you want to see a great performance by Will Smith. Heck, you'll even forgive Smith for "The Wild, Wild West" based on his marvelous performance here.

But if you really want to learn about Muhammad Ali and what made him one of the most incredible figures of the 20th Century, you are better off looking elsewhere. In fact, the documentary "When We Were Kings" is a far better place to start.
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The Prime Gig (2000)
Have I got a deal for you!
20 June 2002
As someone who used to work in a telemarketing gig in Las Vegas (two months of my life I would rather forget about), I can tell you that the first half hour of "The Prime Gig" is the most realistic look at telemarketing ever filmed. The look, the feel, the characters and the situations all ring incredibly true.

One of those characters is Penny (Vince Vaughn), the best salesman in this small time operation. He is the typical big fish in the little pool, but the title promises that he will soon achieve the big time. Of course, he does move on to a "prime gig," and this is where the realism of the movie breaks down. But becoming less realistic doesn't mean the movie becomes less engaging. As much as I enjoyed the first 30 minutes, the last hour is pretty powerful itself.

Two things sustain this movie and make well worth watching:

First, the acting. Besides Vaughn the cast includes Ed Harris, Julia Ormond, Wallace Shawn and George Wendt. All are excellent.

Secondly, at the heart of this movie is a morality tale. Director Gregory Mosher has peered into the depths of the American telemarketing industry. He has looked at the small time operations and the prime gigs.

And what he has found is disturbing. He has found a greed that does not care who it hurts. A greed that will rob an elderly woman of her life savings without a second thought. A greed that will rip off employees as easily as customers. The ending of this movie may be predictable, but it is still very powerful.

So while others on this site have bashed this movie, pay them no attention. You will love "The Prime Gig." Trust me! Hey, would I lie to you? Just give me your trust, and I won't let you down!
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Original Sin (2001)
Un-original sin
26 May 2002
Hollywood has long had an unfortunate tendency to take good foreign films and mess them up in Americanized remakes. "Original Sin" is hardly original in that regard. Never mind what the credits claim this movie is based upon. Director Michael Cristofer has merely remade Francois Truffaut's "Mississippi Mermaid"...while throwing in a bit of Truffaut's "Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me" for good measure.

Unfortunately, Cristofer is not Truffaut. What's worse is that Cristofer seems to understand this only too well. Lacking Truffaut's cinematic style and ability to create suspense, Cristofer tries to shock us with graphic images instead. Oh sure, most men will appreciate seeing Angelina Jolie nude and most women will enjoy seeing the many shots of Antonio Banderas' rear. But do we really need to see Billy spit into Bonny's mouth? Or cut notches into her back?

The rest of "Original Sin" suffers from comparisons to "Mississippi Mermaid" as well. Antonio Banderas doesn't even come close to being Jean-Paul Belmondo. And Angelina Jolie's beauty and talent both pale next to that of Catherine Deneuve.

Worst of all, once again we must suffer through an Americanized ending. I swear, one day Hollywood will do a remake of Romeo and Juliet and have them both survive in the end. After all, that is what the test audience will demand.

Too bad the test audience for this one didn't say "Ah, forget it Cristofer. Truffaut already did it better."
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