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A warm film that premiered at Sundance
24 February 2009
This under-the-radar film about a guy who swims a good length of the Hudson River in NY State down to NYC, is one of those warm indie films that deftly balances drama with some humor. No surprise that it snagged actors like Joseph Fiennes, Elizabeth Reaser (adding another fine performance to her growing career since her debut in the great "SWEET LAND"), Justin Kirk, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Mary Tyler Moore in a notable supporting role.

The reason behind his swim I won't divulge here, but it makes for some powerful moments. As he swims, his 2 friends go along with him in a guide boat, and they come to shore for breaks, which leads to some great moments in the film. It's not all on the water. But when it is, it's riveting. As a viewer, I felt like I was swimming right there with him at times.

And the swimming scenes show off the wonderful Hudson Valley, and Joseph Fiennes looks like he really...um...took the plunge. That's really him in the water. Kudos to the filmmakers who must've been on the river an awful lot. (And to the camera people!) Hopefully this film finds its audience in other film festivals and in a future release.
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Entry Level (2007)
Enjoyable comedy about job seekers
29 July 2007
Seeing this film at the Stony Brook Film Festival out on Long Island, the promise that filmmaker Douglas Horn showed with his short "Full Disclosure" is fulfilled with his first feature film.

Dryly funny, but not a workplace comedy like "Office Space" is...this looks more at the funny ennui that can happen when job seekers keep running into each other at job interviews. D.B. Sweeney and Missi Pyle start a friendship in those dull waiting rooms that leads into something more, but at the same time, great character turns by the other actors (like Kurtwood Smith) makes this an enjoyable ride. It also makes you hungry, as D.B. is a cook that is looking for something new to earn money at...but he can't stop making great sandwiches for everyone he meets.
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8/10
Could get Oscar nominations
29 July 2007
Saw this film at the Stony Brook Film Festival where my short film preceded it to an audience of about 1000 people! No surprise that it won Audience Favorite for feature films there...the whole theater gave filmmaker Michael Schroeder and actors Christoper Plummer and M. Emmett Walsh a standing ovation! A wonderful film of a crotchety old gaffer living with other retired film people in an LA nursing home for industry people, who comes alive when a young film student enlists him for film-making advice, and then actually making something.

I can easily see Christopher Plummer get Oscar and other nominations later this year...and I also hope that M. Emmett Walsh gets noticed for Best Supporting. He lights up the screen when his love for writing in the film gives him a new purpose later in his life.
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Sweet Land (2005)
10/10
Spread the word about this gem
16 November 2006
I can't add anything to what the positive commenters here have written. Just that if you live in any city where this film is playing or is about to play, now in November of 2006 (the website is www.sweetlandmovie.com where you can see the cities)...go grab friends and support this indie gem. I've seen it twice already, and it still moves me whenever i play the trailer on the website.

That gorgeous poster now on my wall is a daily reminder. If there's any justice, this film will be a dark horse contender in the Oscar race a few months from now. Let's hope the word spreads in LA, where it opened today.

The vast movie-going public, not counting young kids who are used to fast paced stories, will LOVE this film. It deserves to be more widely known.
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King Kong (2005)
Also saw it premiere night
7 December 2005
But not the premiere, but a huge press screening that had extra seats to fill. (One of 3 that day at one of the largest theaters in NY.) However, I did see the cast and Peter Jackson earlier Monday in front of a huge King Kong replica in the middle of Times Square, posing for the press, and hearing Mike Bloomberg proclaim King Kong Day.

The film is a huge achievement. Peter Jackson took great pains at lovingly making a 2005 version of the 1933 film. In a word....this film works.

I'm only the 2nd commentator here? I know the message boards are busy...but wow. This film is gonna do incredible business. I'm surprised. From now until perpetuity, watch the comments grow...and grow....and grow......
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Saved! (2004)
What would Jesus.....watch?
6 May 2004
Saw this film at the Gen Art Film Festival in New York in April, which thoroughly charmed the packed house on the opening night of the festival. And then won the jury award for best film a week later after some VERY worthy films also played. But "SAVED!" deserves it. (Many of the actors were there at the screening, showing their faith, pun intended, in writer/director Bryan Dannelly.)

All the actors are great, especially Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandon's real life daughter, as the rebel of the high school. Her relationship with a wheelchaired Macauley Culkin is extremely touching without being maudlin. Jena Malone does her usual great work, and Mandy Moore risks losing a good chunk of her "A WALK TO REMEMBER" fanbase playing a wayyy too intense Christ lover. She burns a hole through the screen at times, she's so good.

You hear going in that its a comedy about teens at a Christian high school...and you cringe a little, especially if you're of that faith, thinking: here we go again. But then I remembered that being Catholic, we have certainly taken our lumps in movies and TV shows in the past. Is it time for young evangelicals to be in the satirical spotlight? Why not? It's a free country. And, as someone I heard say recently: if you're strong in your faith, then it can withstand anything.

Especially this, a really sweet and witty movie, that has one a little choked up at times. Practically everyone is seen as a flawed human being (aren't we all?) but who nonetheless have Faith enriching their lives. And to those over the age of 18 who think its only about kids, I'm here to say that the adults in this film have a strong storyline too.

Of course, there are those who won't go because they think they're going to be preached to, and there are those who won't go because they think their faith will be besmirched. In my eyes...Jesus would watch this and approve. It's about understanding each other...and isn't that a lot of what He preached?
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Godspell (1973)
9/10
Still moving
10 April 2004
Saw this in its original release, on a spring afternoon school trip to a large movie theater on Long Island, which is sadly gone now, like most large single movie theaters. I was so moved by this film that i wore out the soundtrack within a couple of years.

And speaking of buildings being gone, it's so poignant now to see the World Trade Center in this film while it was nearing its completion. With the cast singing the end of the song "All For The Best" on top of one of the towers, how eerie to think that spot doesn't exist anymore. (Also strange that in the beginning of the film, as John the Baptist wheels his cart off the Brooklyn Bridge, the camera pans to show the skyline, and with the Twin Towers there, there's a sound segue to the street scenes...and it's the sound of a jet engine!)

But maybe its appropriate that this film has moments of the Twin Towers in its infancy. Not only in the beginning, in the gorgeous first shot from under the Brooklyn Bridge, and in the song segment...but also when Jesus is on the pier and speaks away from everyone, and the Towers are there again in the shot behind him to the right.

In an odd way, this movie that always meant a lot to me, and count me in as one of the non-religious people out there...its one of the ONLY ways i can see the World Trade Center and feel happy. What other films that shot right at the Twin Towers have the life-affirming qualities that "Godspell" has? I don't know of any, to be honest.

And on that note, I always push this film to people, as one of the outstanding New York movies. Except for the mansion scene...you're at all these exterior locales, with New York empty of people...and to this very day, Manhattan comes alive with memories of this film when i come to a certain location. (Bethesda Fountain was first viewed by me in this film...so every time i go there, one guess what comes to mind.)

Watching it as an adult far from 1973, do I think the film would have aged better with less goofy voices from the performers? Sure. Could the film have been a little longer with the excised songs from the original song still in? You bet, and it still wouldn't have been longer than 105 minutes. Is the ending still one of THE best endings I've seen in a movie musical? Hands down, yes. How brilliant. No stage version of "Godspell" could have done that. Jesus' teachings still matter to many people in the modern day. (And yeah...get past the 1973 fashions and cars...all those scenes of modern NY in the beginning, and the last shot, still hold true today.)

Lastly, for those who were shell-shocked by Mel Gibson's film...i say use this as an alternative. Religious faith needs some smiles and toe-tapping now and then.....
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Easy (2003)
A wonderful film at Sundance
2 March 2004
As someone who works at the Sundance Film Festival as a volunteer assistant manager/crowd control, I have seen many films in my 7 years there. But this film, which showed in January of this year, 2004, was selected as a special film to show to volunteers the same night as Opening Night. What a good choice.

The indie world's version of a romantic comedy/drama (meaning, its not predictable, it's very realistic, and it STILL entertains), "EASY" is a film that should please most audiences who watch it, primarily the female movielover. This film, to my male eyes, accurately shows what a sexually active, yet celibacy-curious, young woman's life can be like, especially when she meets two men who are right for her, though at slightly different times. (Hollywood would have her meet them the same day....though she almost does here. One of them happens to host a local TV show that she watches at home.)

The beauty here, and what i won't spoil, is you don't know which guy she will end up with. (There's absolutely no guarantee that she'll end up with anyone, period.) Actually, "the beauty here" is the lead character, played by the I-dare-you-to-not-fall-for-her Marguerite Moreau. Reminding me of Barbara Hershey in her 20s, Ms. Moreau holds the film together like Super Glue, and deserves credit for being an actress who, in these slightly prudish times, allows herself to be realistically filmed during sexual moments. Adding to the film's cohesiveness are the performances by the other actors, including Emily Deschanel, Zooey's equally talented sister, and the two guys played by Naveen Andrews and Brian F. O'Byrne.

Writer/director Jane Weinstock probably deserves some of that credit, as an actor can only do something truthfully, if he or she feels there's someone they can trust behind the camera. It's a film that made me bemoan my current non-existant love life, as it shows the fun and the messiness inherent with strong sexual relationship.

This is not a heavy film, by any means. It's as if the DNA of Nora Ephron was spliced with John Cassavetes. And on top of the expert storytelling...is the great soundtrack by Grant Lee Phillips. Not only are some of his past songs from his solo albums used (where I nodded my head during one lovely red-tinged sex scene, aware that a song that i already loved, was being used PERFECTLY), but he also supplied the score throughout.

Enough gushing. Someone take this film, and give it to the movie-dating Saturday night crowd. (As far as I know, it's still looking for a distributor.) Watch more heads start to nod, as the music and images and acting and writing/directing all gel together to make an "EASY" winner.
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Good but stagey
5 January 2004
Knowing for so long that this is considered one of the greatest movies of all time...I hate to differ.

It's incredibly good, don't get me wrong. Very powerful and moving at times. But for a film that has great exteriors in its later segments...why the heck does this film begin like a staged play? The officer and the mechanic go for a plane ride...and then they're captured by the Germans. It felt like the room in the first scene was just next door to the German camp. Did Renoir have a very low budget? I'm not even saying I want a full-tilt action sequence of the plane being shot down....just a couple of exteriors between them embarking on their flight and being captured. (I'd accept them standing on the damn airfield by a stationary plane!)

I'm not saying that in 1937 French cinema, it was easy to show a plane being shot down. But come on, ten years earlier, "Wings", the first Best Picture winner, has great plane sequences. And i believe "Hells Angels" in 1930 did too.

In other words, if Renoir had Marechal and Rosenthal escape from the prison in one shot...and then he'd cut to the interior of Elsa's farmhouse when they first come upon it....it wouldn't have been as effective as how he DID shoot it, with them traversing the countryside and all.

To me, visually, the film is unbalanced, with too many interiors in the very beginning, and powerful exterior moments later on. As a character piece, about soldiers of all stripes in WWI Europe, its still effective, and I'm sure it was a groundbreaking story for its time. But as an overall film that stands the test of time? In my book, it doesn't hold up that well. And as one who LOVES old movies as much as modern ones, I can't be accused of being unclear as to how all movies were more talky back then. I'm fine with talky. Its just that Renoir's visual scheme was a little too flat for my tastes. I know you can't do much with a POW camp...but for all the platitudes this film has gotten, i feel that had it been more visually creative to match the exemplary dialogue and acting, it would have deserved to be called ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES EVER.

And is it me, or does Jean Gabin look a lot like Kenneth Branagh??
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Mystic River (2003)
Sometimes bad people get away with it
3 January 2004
Commenting on the post that doesn't like the ending due to Jimmy getting away with murder....

Isn't it refreshing that a film ends with a bad guy getting away with murder? It reflects real life, and that can add weight to a movie that makes it stronger. Of course, if people don't want real-life concerns in movies....if they only see them as escapist entertainment...then these kinds of endings will frustrate them.

But i say bravo to a story, and especially a Hollywood film, that shows the world isn't just black and white, but VERY very gray.
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Wow....powerful film!
16 November 2003
Just saw the film tonight at a preview screening in Manhattan, with Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, Shoreh Aghdashloo, and writer/director Vadim Perelman in attendance for a discussion afterward.

This is a powerful film, that puts you through the wringer emotionally. (I saw this in the same week as "21 Grams". Whew! I think I need to see "Elf" again for balance!!) All the characters are shown with their shades of gray, which Ben, Jennifer and Shoreh said onstage is what attracted them to the script.

Gorgeously done (maybe the score is a little too heavyhanded), regardless of whether this is "an Oscar film"...this is a film that makes your heart race as the fate of the characters comes to an emotionally heartrending conclusion. As a viewer, i went thru ALL the emotions with these characters...and when you see the film, you'll know what i'm talking about. Just when you think you've made up your mind about someone...you're not done.

Another quibble: i could have done without the very first scene of the movie, which sets you up for a tragedy. From that scene, the whole film is a flashback, until that scene comes back in its right moment. I think it would have been overall a tad more effective film, even more effective than it is, if the film just started with the Borani family on the beach at the Caspian sea.

And is Jennifer Connelly possibly the most gorgeous woman ever? Her character is having financial problems...and i kept thinking "Find a modeling agency nearby. Financial problems solved!" But she acts the pants off this character. And Sir Ben Kingsley.....this is the same guy who played Gandhi and the cockney gangster in "Sexy Beast"??? Ye gods! As an Iranian colonel trying to maintain order in his life in America, as things start to unravel...he has added another great role to his pantheon.

Oscar, Shmoscar. Just watch this film, and revel in an emotional bath. And i dare you to not shed even one little tear when tea is served up on the widow's walk.
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Hair (1979)
This film STILL gets to me
7 September 2003
Just came home from a special showing of "Hair" in NY. But first a little history:

I saw this film when i was 18, (a pivotal time of life to watch this film) when it was first released in spring of 1979. Knowing the history of the groundbreaking stage show, but never seeing it, i was interested to see that the movie critics were near unanimous about how good this film was (and still is...the mark of true film classics) and really liking film musicals but aware they're just not filmed as much as they should be...i set out to see the film within its first month.

Knowing it takes place a lot in Central Park, I walked with some friends through it before seeing it at the large Ziegfeld movie theater, then and now, one of the few single screen theaters in Manhattan. Once the film began...seeing Central Park again after having just walked through in on a lovely spring afternoon...made me connect with the film strongly.

As the critics said, it was a more plot-driven story than the stage show, with dazzling choreography, editing, and acting. I was simply blown away by it. (I painted a denim jacket duplicating the original poster art!) Through the years, i turn on people to this film (no pun intended), and every single one of them says "That was a GREAT film!" Even meeting and getting to know Annie Golden, who plays Jeannie in the film, was fruit borne by this movie. (She invited me to see her last "Cheers" episode, she did four of them as Cliff's girlfriend.) And yeah, she is cute and tough, like in the film.

I've met Michael Weller too, praising him on his screenplay (note to other IMDBers...Milos Forman did not write the script, you gotta give Michael Weller his props). And i asked him and Milos Forman at a DGA screening whether there are deleted musical segments...the soundtrack album has Charlotte Rae singing "My Conviction" and someone else singing "Frank Mills". I believe they said yes. Can someone say "future DVD extras??" But Milos still was the driving force behind this film, and God love him. The film still gets to me. Like tonight:

I just came from a free outdoor showing IN CENTRAL PARK of the film. Twyla Tharp, the great choreographer for the film, gave the introduction, saying that Milos loved the park once he got successful with "...Cuckoo's Nest", so i wonder if he prodded Michael Weller to write the script that he did, with so much Central Park in it. And earlier in the glorious sunshine, i walked just down the hill from where the film was later shown, and i saw the bandshell where Berger and Claude wake up, and the steps-and-tunnel where the songs "Manchester, England", "Colored Spade" and "Ain't Got No" were shot. I can't think of a more perfect place to see this film. (It was a pristine print!)

Lastly (y'all still with me?), the film choked me up all over again. Maybe it was the location of Central Park at dusk. Maybe it's because we're in a questionable war situation again. But i gotta say: the creativity in this film, where most of the songs give me a high each time i see their film segments, to just the touching way these characters from 3 different backgrounds (urban hippies, cowboy, and rich debutante) can form an incredible friendship, to the "Tale of Two Cities"/"Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan" ending, where one gives his life for another...what's not to get choked up about? Throw in that last shot of the "Let The Sunshine In" chorus swelling and the film freezes into sepia history......I'll never stop recommending this film. It's timeless, about a period in time. It's entertaining. It's thought-provoking. It's never dull. (I know: some people disagree. But ten minutes after any part of this film, you're in a different moment.)

So keep spreading the word, folks. Just like the young woman who came with me and having seen it for the first time, LOVED it tonight...like all true classics, it'll sadden and delight people for years to come.
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Casino Royale (1967)
8/10
Just saw this in a theater
4 February 2003
As a longtime admirer of this sloppy-yet-lovable film, I just HAD to go to a one-day only reissue, shown with "What's New, Pussycat?", during a Peter Sellers retrospective at New York's Film Forum theater today. Having not seen this film in a long time, I was delighted to see the film work its magic on a packed movie house, though no doubt many of those people were probably fans of the film all along. Actor Paul Giamatti sat right in front of me, direct from his triumph at Sundance with the upcoming "American Splendor", and he was giggling away like the rest of us. (And the film-savvy Film Forum audience immediately laughed at the German Expressionist sets of the Berlin section of the film, well aware that the set designer(s) were paying homage to "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari".)

This was an absolutely BEAUTIFUL print, with some reels of the film in breathtaking color, seemingly as fresh as it must have been in 1967. (Particularly the Mata Bond dance in India. My god, those REDS....) On a big screen, the Scottish castle scenes were oh-so-lush, and the slow-motion Ursula Andress moments during "The Look Of Love" had us all in its thrall. You gotta love a film that has so many inventive highlights, though structurally, after a good first hour, it soon loses its way. (I want a behind-the-scenes documentary on this film NOW, not just a commentary on DVD. You just know there's a lot of deleted scenes around somewhere...)

And even though the film implodes into absolute ridiculousness in its final half hour, a lot of the film holds up well as a decent comedy. Maybe this is in contrast to just watching "What's New, Pussycat?", which to me is a lamer comedy. That film has its pluses, and it holds together decently as a story, but "Casino Royale" has much better laughs. Previous writers here on IMDB have pointed out the highlights, so I won't bother here.

And naturally, the music still sounds great. Next time, I'd love to see this print reissued in a Digital Stereo print if possible, and coming out over big speakers in a larger theater. After years on TV, this screening was revelatory.

Speaking of the music: having met Burt Bacharach in LA in the early 90s, I remarked to him then how much I love the then out-of-print soundtrack of the film. He took my address...and a week later, a home-made cassette of the soundtrack came to my then-LA home, with the sound of the needle going onto the vinyl!!! Sadly, that tape is lost...but I'm glad to have the CD, which when it came out, I told him about, and Burt said he was stopping at the local Tower Records in Marina del Rey to pick that up himself! How important was that to me? Let's just say the theme song to this film is one of my favorite pieces of music...EVER! A pick-me-up if there ever was one.

Lastly, what a great assortment of women in this film. But the best one? My god...Barbara Bouchet...........!
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Adaptation. (2002)
For those who hate the last bit of the film
4 December 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this film at a preview screening in Manhattan. Reading the comment from Edward here, and knowing how some people reacted around me at the screening, I think there will be a LOT of people missing the joke.

(Mild spoiler here...no details given.)

When the film seems to go off the rails, with the characters doing some unorthodox actions, seemingly not in tune with the traits we've seen up to that point, this is an extremely clever way of showing us how hack Hollywood writing supposedly gives the audience the button pushing moments they crave, even though they're pretty much asinine. I have to confess, I was a little thrown once the brothers start to spy on Susan Orlean from some unexplained skyscraper. That should have been the clue. Once things started getting REALLY nuts, with heightened emotions and surprising twists of the plot, this was, in its fourth wall shattering way, the part where the less talented brother's influence, and Robert McKee's influence, started to poison the film, and the screenplay.

What seems like a movie losing its mind, and taking a MAJOR left turn into stupidity, is the whole point. Once Charlie Kaufman returned to Hollywood, I was expecting a happy resolution with the violinist he secretly loves, and sure enough, there it was! It's no accident that the song "Happy Together" ends the film. It's the way audiences are SUPPOSED to feel after most Hollywood pap.
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American Gun (2002)
I was blown away by this (forgive the pun)
25 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film at the recent Hamptons International Film Festival, in a packed house on the extra day of screenings, when several films are shown for free as a thank-you to the community the day after the film festival officially ends. Everyone was riveted by the story, and I noticed the same thing from the paying customers earlier in the week. Many people walk out of the film somewhat shocked and quite moved.

This film is masterfully done, despite what another reviewer says here.

A strong performance from James Coburn, and equally good performances from Virginia Madsen (one of the most underrated actresses around since the 80s), Barbara Bain, Alexandra Holden, and Ryan Locke playing a younger version of Coburn. The parallel stories of his youth, and his current tragic life, are done well. Images of the past sit side by side with the present day.

As befits its title, this film spans America as James Coburn looks for the history of people who used the gun that recently killed his daughter. Like all good "road" movies, the journey here ends satisfyingly. The story has a damn good surprise for the audience in the last 15 minutes, and like other films that do that, it makes you mentally go back to what one saw as the film unfolded. In other words, I certainly want to see this a second time, and see it from the new perspective that sitting through it once brings you.

I'd talk more about what impressed me about the story, but that would be one big spoiler. Suffice to say that this film is best viewed fresh. If someone were smart, it would get a theatrical release. That way Coburn gets a well deserved Best Actor nomination?....
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9/10
Favorite film at Sundance
27 January 2002
All I have to add to the other reviews here, of which I'm in total agreement with, is that the WRITING soars in this film, which is appropriate as it is about a writer in L.A. Not a screenwriter, as one might think. During the Q & A after the screening, the filmmakers mentioned that the story was originally set in NY, more of a literary town by nature, but that they had to shoot in LA at the last minute for budgetary reasons of some kind.

Again, some of the lines in this film equal the power of great lines from films from Hollywood's Golden Age of Dialogue. And I wasn't the only one to notice it.

It's coming out in October 2002. Circle those calendars.
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6/10
A decent film about border crossing troubles
27 January 2002
Seeing this film as a pre-screener for a film festival, I'm in no way connected to this film, which seems to be the suspicious case with the previous two comments, especially the one from Texas. Not because of where it was from, but in the virtual press release that it seems to be.

This film is a well made potboiler, with good performances all around, although my suspicions about the lead actress not necessarily being the best one they could find (I do freelance casting) were confirmed when i saw she co-wrote and co-produced the film. She's good, but I'm sure someone else could have been better. (Take note, Mr.Skin.com! She ain't shy.)

The story held me, and Brad Johnson is extremely good. Hey Hollywood, get him a new TV series or TNT western! And get Brian Bloom one, too. (An excellent villain.) But if you're gonna use Charlie Daniels on the soundtrack and give him a main credit, give him more than the title song. (If he wrote the score, it could have done with a little less Mexican guitar during the shootout scene. A little cliched.)

And how the heck did Adreienne Barbeau agree to such a nothing role? (I won't give it away why it's so short.) I just cast an indie film with star talent attached, and I'm amazed they got her to do such a small role. (Cowboy)hats off to the casting director!

If anyone sees this in a video store, it's a good 97 minutes to spend. If you see it at a film festival, you could do worse. If you see it at a theater, don't expect greatness. Just a well done good vs. evil film making you root for the hero, and hiss the bad guys.
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Nurse Betty (2000)
Little cinematic touches in this
1 September 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Not to recount the plot (does EVERY reviewer on this site have to do that?), here are the moments that make this film work(Spoilers):

-the intense colors in the film....green for the hotel room, blue in the diner scene at the end, the red in the Formosa Cafe, green lighting on Freeman and Rock in the car....these are the "Technicolor" moments when this lost girl from Kansas leaves her drab life behind, just like in you-know-what.

-the bookend scene of Betty being served by a waiter who hands her the bill without looking, just like she did to Morgan Freeman in the first scene with the coffee being poured.

-When Morgan Freeman takes his last look at Betty, with the strong light on the side of his face, he goes to face his impending death, while inside, she wears a star on her simple shirt, a foreshadowing as to her future career.

-Though it seems ludicrous, Greg Kinnear doesn't see that this could be a truly crazed fan. He and his show buddies just accept that it's the mark of a brilliant, struggling actress. They're as deluded as Betty and Freeman's character are.

-and isn't that director Labute as the pizza man near the end?

Overall, one of those films where I have no idea how its going to end. Yes, I figured that the hitmen would meet their maker, but still...as a fellow screenwriter, its great to be pleasantly surprised as to how it all wraps up.
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Magnolia (1999)
9/10
Possibly overlong, definitely worth absorbing
12 September 2000
Warning: Spoilers
First off, (SPOILER ALERT) you tell me what other movie shows frogs raining from the sky. I relish films that show me something I've never seen before. And for those viewers who absolutely hate this, then don't watch movies that use visual poetry, for effect. No, it's not spelled out for us, why this happens. But I defy you to not get the willies watching that. And quite simply, when you have people of all walks of life (well, non Hispanic, and having lived in LA, that is a flaw to me) leading lives of quiet and not-so-quiet desperation, with the endless profanity that modern society seems to need to use so much, including young genius kids who you think wouldn't need to talk like that, then it makes perfect (non)sense to me that an apocalyptic scene of frogs raining from the sky would need to happen. Why don't the characters comment on the nightmarish scene? It's life in LA...calamities happen. And besides, Altman already used ("Short Cuts" SPOILER ALERT) an earthquake at the end of a multi-character LA quilt of a film.

My other question to those who HATE this film, is this: when characters, and therefore actors, put their hearts and souls on the line, and the filmmaking is involving, unless you're someone who only likes by-the-numbers "Hollywood" storytelling, one should embrace, or at least respectfully disagree with a filmmaker and the actors for trying something bold and different. And I didn't love all of this film...I thought the opening ten minutes moved waayyy too frenetically for setting up a story, one of those show-offy things Paul Thomas Anderson loves to do, but he more than made up for it later. Also, during a good part of the middle, the quiz show scenes for example, the orchestration on the soundtrack was laid on too thick, for my tastes. And I love good orchestration! Also, when was the last time a quiz show was this brainy? That seemed not-of-this-time, unfortunately for modern society.

But still, something to watch a second time, for the grace notes, the manic moments, the tortured faces, the song they all sing in their private spaces, sitting or lying on the threshold of what seems to be a defining, life-changing (or life-ending)turn in their wide-screen lives...this is why it's in the top 60 votes for IMDB.
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9/10
A rarity these days, an ORIGINAL movie musical
12 September 2000
Taking one of the lost genres of cinema, the movie musical, and filming it with the new technology of digital video, Lars Von Trier, and the galvanizing Bjork (mark my words, as I write this on Sept. 12th, that Bjork will get an Oscar nomination, if not win Best Actress, in March 2001) create a film that reduced a jaded NY audience of indie film people to stunned silence when we left an early screening of it. Maybe some of them disliked it, as that seemed to be the case at Cannes a few months earlier for its world premiere. But this film makes me say something that I rarely say to any film not yet on video...I just can't wait to see it again.

It's not perfect (too much shaky hand-held camerawork, the young boy not onscreen in the important final scenes) but what it does get right, are original, and i mean ORIGINAL musical segments, reminding me of "Pennies From Heaven", where a sad soul imagines themselves in Movie Musical Land. With the hundreds of video cameras set up at various angles, and the songs written and sung by Bjork in her own unique fashion, and the lush colors standing out from the washed-out colors of the non-musical story, I know I was seeing rare movie art, in the best sense of the word. To have musical sequences, as we start cinema's second century, shot with brand new technology, is to me a very good sign that the musical can live again. Not since "West Side Story" has a film musical made me speechless, and not since, not a surprise, "Breaking The Waves" has a story moved me so much in its final moments. Lars Von Trier, Bjork, and the excellent supporting cast have created a new classic. To those who scoff at this film, well, keep dancing in your own darkness. I'm not saying you're wrong, just that I feel sorry for those who won't let the music and the rhythm move them as they do for Selma in this story. You see these sequences as folly, the delusions of a simpleton. (As one of the characters says to her, dismissing the "stupidity" of people suddenly singing and dancing.) I see the musical moments as imagined here as the highest a soul can dare to dream. If it ends in tragedy, then at least it wasn't a wasted life.
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The Unspoken (1999)
7/10
A curious film, one half great and one half bizarre
5 September 2000
This film is beautifully shot, with a great soundtrack of different kinds of music to it. A naturalistic film that reminded me of Nicholas Roeg's "Walkabout", in that two characters live a natural life, only in this case its in an abandoned roadside motel in the heartland, not the Australian outback. When the film comes to its second hour, the second half of the film, I wasn't sure if the plot was worthy of the entrancing first half of the film, when the two lost souls, the lead man and lead woman, find each other and "set up camp." When a secret is finally revealed, it's sort of worth it. But the dynamics of the two newer characters with the two original ones is truly interesting. I'm being vague here, as I discovered this on a videotape from a film festival reject pile, and feel like others should discover it the way I did, not knowing a thing about the gradual story. I disagree with the programmers of this not-to-be-named festival. I think this would have been a good film to show. It won't please everyone, but people who love a visually arresting film with an unfolding secret will stay with it. All in all, very well done.
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4/10
A film where the actors deserve better
4 September 2000
This is a film where the actors are all fine, especially Brigitte Bako and Erik Palladino, in a film where every one of the three couples meet in a situation that feels verrrrry forced to be either cute or to set the story in motion. In other words, it feels like they are contrived movie scenes, not like real life. Even if women who work at peep parlors ever go out with one of their customers, it just doesn't seem realistic at all the way it is written in this film. Also, when one of the characters meets the overweight woman in the film, it feels artificial, the way they look at each other seconds after arguing. Again, the actors are all good, and moments of this film are nice, but overall yet another indie that could have used some rewriting before production got rolling.
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Dog Story (2000)
A married couple have to pay off a debt, and the choices they make are what makes this indie work.
18 July 2000
Not expecting much, this film pleasantly surprised with an involving story, good acting, fine editing, and a dog that is either the best animal actor in ages, or this film had a great animal wrangler!

Coming in crisply under 90 minutes, this inexpensive film has a tight modest-budget look to it, with a plot that could have been tired, but is infused with humor, tension, and the best dog eyes since Benji.

This puts many indie films to shame.
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8/10
Very tight drama of an agoraphobic sister with a leg injury, her affected husband, and her visiting free spirited sister.
13 July 2000
At times, this film feels like a spring that's wound up and will let loose at any moment. I won't give away whether it does or not, but getting to the end of the film is satisfying for those who like intense character studies. Fine performances all around, especially for Daniel Aukin and Sarah Adler who it appears on IMDB did this film as their first role.
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7/10
A slightly confusing yet beautiful film with strong images.
13 July 2000
In the edenic French seaside seen in this film, I wonder if the American Naval men in this film are symbolic of the "conquering Americans" who run the danger of overwhelming the "innocent beauty" that are other nations. I might be reading too much into it, but when you think about it, they could have been any group of soldiers/sailors from any country. Imposing male lust knows no national boundaries.
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