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The Ninth Gate (1999)
The Ninth Gate is an intense, exciting & well-acted thriller with great direction and cinematography. The story concerns a man named Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) who collects books relating to Satan. He hires Dean Corso (Johnny Depp in another great performance), a rare book dealer, to track down copies of the book "Nine Gates of The Shadow Kingdom". 3 are known to exist: Balkan's and 2 others owned by collectors in Europe. He wants Corso to seek them out and compare them to see which, if any, are authentic. The book is said to have the power to conjure Satan. As Corso goes about his mission, the movie engrosses you with its suspenseful and spooky story and the beautiful European scenery. Lena Olin plays a woman whose husband owned a copy of the book, which he sold to Balkan before commiting suicide in the film's opening scene. She is trying desperately to get it back. Emmanuelle Seigner, director Roman Polanski's striking wife, appears from time to time to aid Corso and saves his life several times.
I don't want to give too much away, but I was truly stunned reading comments on this film by how few people really understood it. I thought it was easy to follow and by the end, we knew, at least I did, what was going on and what the Seigner character's purpose in the film was. The final scene has been roundly criticized on here. I thought it was a great ending. I had never seen a Polanski film before, but now I plan to see some of his others, like Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown which I've never seen but heard alot about.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Roberts and Finney shine in inspiring true story
Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape) is an inspiring true story. Julia Roberts stars as Erin Brockovich, a twice divorced mother of 3. She takes a job at a law office and is intrigued by a certain case. Her further investigation finds evidence of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company letting hexavalent chromium, a poisonous substance, into the local water supply in Hinkley, CA. Many residents of the town are getting sick and Julia convinces her boss (Albert Finney) to take on the case. All of their time and money is devoted to helping the people. It is reminiscent of A Civil Action, starring John Travolta, another true story about big companies poisoning the water supply in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Roberts is wonderful in this role. Her chemistry with Finney, who adores her even though they drive each other crazy, is terrific. Aaron Eckhart is good as George, the biker who lives next door and takes care of Erin's kids while she's out of town working the case. Roberts, not a large-breasted woman, provides a great advertisement for the Wonderbra in her low-cut outfits. Overall, a very entertaining and inspiring film with nothing objectionable, aside from Roberts' frequent use of the F-word.
Bob Roberts (1992)
hilarious political satire
"Bob Roberts" is the writing and directing debut of the very talented actor Tim Robbins. It is filmed in documentary style, telling the story of Bob Roberts, the conservative son of hippie parents who is running for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania. His message is conveyed through a series of folk songs. His albums and videos are reminiscent of Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin' Bob Roberts), but his songs have titles like "Drugs Stink" and "This Land Was Made For Me" and lyrics like "what's right is right, what's left is wrong".
It's funny to see the very liberal Robbins play a character like this. The songs, written by Robbins and his brother David, are very witty and biting and get his point across beautifully.
Bob pulls a crazy stunt near the end to try to sway voters in his direction which I'm surprised no real politician has done. James Spader does an absolute perfect parody of a news anchor. A very funny movie, particularly the songs Robbins sings. Brilliant satire. The final shot in this movie, like the one in Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, is very powerful.
Cradle Will Rock (1999)
bravo, Tim Robbins
Cradle Will Rock, written and directed by Tim Robbins, is a terrific movie. He tells a fascinating story (mostly true, we're told at the beginning) about the social and political climate of the 1930's. It centers on the Federal Theater Project's production of Mark Blitzstein's musical "Cradle Will Rock". The musical and the entire FTP come under fire when an employee testifies before Congress about the alleged Communist themes of the plays. Around the same time, Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) is all too willing to pay artist Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) to paint a mural for Rockefeller Center's lobby until he sees the finished product. And Mussolini's former mistress Margherita Sarfatti sells Rennasaince paintings to rich American businessmen. When the government shuts down the FTP, producers Orson Welles and John Houseman scramble to find a new venue to house the show. The impromptu performance of it at the movie's climax is quite stirring.
This film has a terrific cast, featuring such talents as Emily Watson, John Turtorro, Susan Sarandon, Bill Murray, Joan Cusack, Angus Macfayden and Hank Azaria. It is a tribute to Robbins' skills as a director and screenwriter that he was able to mix in all of these talented performers without having anyone stand out too much from the rest. Robbins as a writer, actor or director has made alot of great films. He might not make the type of films that become Hollywood blockbusters, but are always entertaining and thought-provoking. We're lucky to be blessed by his artistic gifts. 8/10
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Scorsese scores again
Martin Scorsese is in my opinion the best director working today and one of the greats of all-time. Bringing Out The Dead joins the list of brilliant pictures he has made which includes Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino and The Color of Money.
It tells the story of a hellish weekend in the life of a NYC paramedic (Nicolas Cage). He is troubled by visions of a young girl who he was unable to save. Cage is brilliant, as usual. Ving Rhames, John Goodman and Tom Sizemore are very good as the rowdy paramedics Cage rides with. The lovely Patricia Arquette (Cage's real-life wife) is good as the daughter of a patient Cage brings to the hospital. I don't think I'd ever seen her in anything before.
Scorsese continues his tradition of making engrossing films with strange and interesting characters with a great choice of music. He is a great New York storyteller, with Spike Lee and Woody Allen right alongside him. This is a very good film. It's not Scorsese's best and maybe not even in his top 10, but well worth watching. Even one of Scorsese's lesser films would be better than alot of other director's best.
The Green Mile (1999)
strong drama with great acting
The Green Mile is a very good movie based on Stephen King's serialized novel. I have read most of King's books and this is one of his very best. It is adapted nicely to film by Frank Darabont, the man responsible for the film version of King's story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. Shawshank was a great movie too, with brilliant performances by Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. I'm hoping Darabont will adapt more King stories.
The acting is the highlight of The Green Mile. Tom Hanks, one of the best actors working today, is great as Paul Edgecomb, a death row guard. David Morse, Barry Pepper and Jeffrey DeMunn all give strong performances as fellow prison guards. Doug Hutchinson (Eugene Tooms in two early X-Files episodes) as creepy guard Percy Wetmore and Sam Rockwell as sadistic killer "Wild Bill" both give standout performances. James Cromwell, Michael Jeter and Bonnie Hunt are good in smaller roles. Harry Dean Stanton is hilarious as a drunk janitor used in run-throughs for the executions.
However, the best performance is turned in by newcomer Michael Clarke Duncan as John Coffey. Coffey is one of the most inspiring characters I've ever seen in a movie and I hope to see more of Duncan in the future. He deserved an Oscar for his performance. This film ranks with American Beauty and The Insider as the very best films of 1999.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
This film is based on Stephen King's story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It was part of a collection of four short novels, among them Apt Pupil (adapted by Bryan Singer) and The Body (made into Stand By Me by Rob Reiner). Shawshank was a great story and the film adaption by Frank Darabont is brilliant. The film is highlighted by the strong performances of Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
This movie has everything you could want in a film: inspiring story of people persevering through bad times, strong directing and acting (two of the very best actors of today) and one of the classic endings I've seen in a movie.
Shawshank is well-made and inspiring. It has joined my personal movie hall-of-fame, which includes The Grapes of Wrath, High Noon, Goodfellas, L.A. Confidential and Bugsy. I also reccomend The Green Mile, Darabont's most recent King adaption.
The Color of Money (1986)
great pool movie
The Color of Money was not only the first R-rated movie I ever saw, it was my introduction to brilliant filmmaker Martin Scorsese. I have seen and enjoyed most of his films. This is among my favorite Scorsese films.
The script by Richard Price (Clockers) is strong. Paul Newman reprises his role of Fast Eddie Felson from The Hustler. Tom Cruise plays Vincent, the talented young pool player who reminds Eddie of himself when he was younger. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio was never sexier than she is in this movie.
The pool scenes are filmed nicely. The chemistry between Newman, Cruise and Mastrantonio is very good. Once again, Scorsese's choice of music is superb (particularly Eric Clapton's "It's In The Way That You Use It"). Newman won a much-deserved Oscar for his role in this film. A strong effort from the talented people involved make this one of Scorsese's best, although it doesn't quite reach the level of masterpieces like Raging Bull, Goodfellas or Casino. 8/10
Raging Bull (1980)
brutal, intense Scorsese classic
This is a true film classic. It tells the true story of Jake LaMotta, a talented but emotionally unstable and self-destructive boxer. Robert DeNiro (Oscar for Best Actor) gives one of the great acting performances ever, ranking with Henry Fonda in Grapes of Wrath, Denzel Washington as Malcolm X and Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, it helped to launch the careers of Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty and Theresa Saldana. It is one of the most intense and electric movies I've ever seen. The fact it was filmed in black and white adds to the film's gritty atmosphere. Raging Bull has been hailed by critics and moviegoers as the best film of the 1980's. Scorsese certainly deserved an Oscar for this one, although he lost out to Robert Redford (Ordinary People). He's the best director out there. Combined with DeNiro, one of the best actors in the world and both at the top of their games, you have a true masterpiece. 10/10
Mean Streets (1973)
early Scorsese masterpiece
Mean Streets was a brilliant early film by Martin Scorsese. It was his first ever collaboration with Robert DeNiro. Their very successful partnership has produced some of the best movies ever made: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. It also helped launch Harvey Keitel to stardom.
Keitel as Charlie and DeNiro as Johnny Boy deliver great performances. Scorsese's direction is strong. Even close to 30 years ago, these three men show the talent which would eventually place them among the very best in the business. Scorsese uses a great selection of popular music in Mean Streets and that has become a trademark of his.
Mean Streets easily ranks with Scorsese's best. 9/10
a Stone classic with brilliant Hopkins
No matter what you might think of Oliver Stone and some of his wild theories, he is undeniably a talented filmmaker. Nixon ranks with Platoon and Born on The Fourth of July among his best films. The subject is Richard Nixon, our 37th President whose involvement in the Watergate scandal led to his becoming the first president to ever resign. Anthony Hopkins is brilliant as Nixon. Joan Allen gives a strong performance as the first lady, Pat Nixon.
The film includes all the important moments of his political life from his time as vice president to his famous debate with John Kennedy to his 2 terms as president to Watergate and his resignation. One of the best scenes is when Nixon confronts a group of young war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.
All the President's Men (1976)
great journalistic thriller
All The President's Men, directed by Alan J. Pakula, tells the story of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They were the Washington Post reporters whose uncovering of the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon. It is very entertaining and features two of the top stars of the 70's: Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. Jason Robards won an Oscar for his portrayal of Post editor Ben Bradlee.
Woodward and Bernstein report on the original break-in at the Watergate Hotel and their investigation reveals a deeper scandal involving some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. They are helped by the mysterious source, Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). This movie features strong performances by Redford, Hoffman and the large supporting cast. It was one of the best films of the 1970's and probably the best movie ever about the newspaper business. 10/10
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
two outstanding actresses
Girl, Interrupted is the engrossing true-life story of Susannsa Kaysen and her time in a mental hospital in the 60's. Winona Ryder, a very beautiful and talented lady, stars as Kaysen. This is probably the best role of her career, although Angelina Jolie has gotten most of the press for her Oscar win. Jolie is electrifying in this movie. She is a great actress and will likely win more Oscars in the future.
It is thrilling to watch these 2 together on screen. They are probably the best actresses of their generation and have a nice chemistry in this film. I hope they work together again. The supporting cast is strong, led by Whoopi Goldberg as the head nurse and some lesser-known actresses playing the other patients. This was one of the best movies from last year, spotlighted by the performances of the two leads.
He Got Game (1998)
compelling basketball movie from Spike Lee
Spike Lee presents us with another compelling and well-made film. This time, the subject is college basketball. Jesus Shuttlesworth, played by NBA star Ray Allen, is a top high school prospect. He is being pursued by alot of top colleges. The governor is an graduate of Big State and offers Jesus's father Jake (Denzel Washington) an early parole if he can get his son to commit to Big State. Jake is in jail for killing Jesus's mom and their relationship is understandably strained and tense. The scenes with Allen and Washington are convincing and intense. The basketball scenes played by Allen are great. He really does have game! Adding to the realism, many top college coaches and NBA stars like Dean Smith and Scottie Pippen appear as themselves in an ESPN report about Jesus.
Everyone wants a piece of Jesus, whether it's his father, the colleges recruiting him, his uncle who helped raise him or even his girlfriend (the sexy Rosario Dawson). They all want something from him, either his presence on their team or a part of the wealth he'll get one day in the NBA. Jake wants not only an early release, but to rebuild his relationship with his son.
Lee's script is well-written and his direction strong, as usual. The tension between father and son and Jake's relationship with the hooker he meets (Milla Jovovich) are the high points of the film. The song in the closing credits even manages to bring together Public Enemy and Stephen Stills! 8 out of 10
Kiss the Girls (1997)
exciting thriller with 2 top stars
Kiss The Girls is based on the best-selling novel by James Patterson. It features strong performances from the two main stars. Morgan Freeman plays Alex Cross, a Washington D.C. based detective and the main character in most of Patterson's books. When his young niece attending college in North Carolina is kidnapped, he joins the hunt for Casanova. He kidnaps beautiful young women and keeps them in his underground hideaway in the woods. Dr. Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) is one of Casanova's victims who was lucky enough to escape. She helps Cross in his search. Judd and Freeman are both great actors and always fun to watch. They have a strong chemistry in this film.
Kiss The Girls is suspenseful and entertaining. The plot has alot of twists that keep you guessing till the end.
intense urban crime thriller
Spike Lee is a very talented director. He has joined Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese as the best New York filmmakers. Clockers is an intense and riveting thriller revolving around a young drug dealer named Strike and a murder outside an Ahab's Burger restaurant. The main suspects are Strike, played by Mekhi Phifer, and his straight-shooting brother Victor, who works hard to support his wife and kids.
Strike works for Rodney (Delroy Lindo) who is a father figure to him and who has hired many neighborhood kids to help run his drug business. Strike lures one of the local kids into working for him by letting him play with his train set. Regina Taylor is the boy's mom and she is determined that he will avoid falling into a life of crime. Harvey Keitel and John Turtorro play detectives Klein and Mazilli. Tom Byrd is great as Errol Barnes, a wasted junkie with a scary look in his eyes.
The most interesting part of this movie is the relationships between the characters and how they deal with the situations life has placed them in. Written by Lee and Richard Price, based on Price's novel, Clockers is a violent, gritty and realistic film. As you would expect from a Lee movie, the characters are complex and well-written with strong performances from the actors.
Malcolm X (1992)
Spike Lee's Malcolm X has to rank as one of the great film biographies ever made. Lee, a very talented director, makes probably his best film. He profiles the life of Malcolm X, one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Denzel Washington, an amazingly talented actor, gives a great performance in the title role. He doesn't just play X, he becomes X. It's scary how much he looks and sounds like the real Malcolm X.
This is one of the best films of the 90's and a peak for both Lee and Washington. How those two and the film avoided Oscar recognition is a big mystery. They certainly deserved Oscars for their work here.
Mystery, Alaska (1999)
Fun movie with great Crowe
I first saw Russell Crowe in L.A. Confidential and was quite impressed with him. He has not only the looks and talent, but the special charisma to be a big movie star. He plays John Biebe, the sheriff of Mystery and one of the town's hockey stars. The big game every Saturday is a major event, much like college football or basketball in alot of small towns. When a former resident of the town returns to profile the team in Sports Illustrated, the National Hockey League comes up with a marketing idea: send the N.Y. Rangers to Mystery to take on the team. This will bring great exposure to the town, but there is alot of tension.
The residents of the town are afraid of being embarassed on the ice by the Rangers. John is in danger of losing his spot on the team to much younger and faster Stevie Weeks and losing his wife to Charlie, the SI writer with whom she once had a relationship. He has helped bring the Rangers and supplied the town with its own Zamboni in the hopes of getting people to like him. The local judge, played by Burt Reynolds, is bitter for never getting to play in the Saturday game and never misses an opportunity to criticize his hockey-playing son for not passing the puck or playing defense.
This movie is entertaining and has an impressive cast. It was co-written by David E. Kelley, but like his other movie efforts, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday & Lake Placid, lacks the magic of his excellent TV writing (The Practice, Ally McBeal). However, if you're a fan of Kelley or Crowe or love hockey, you will enjoy this film.
Not Kelley's best writing
David E. Kelley is a brilliant writer. The early episodes of Picket Fences & Chicago Hope, the later episodes of L.A. Law and just about every Practice & Ally McBeal ever made are examples of his great talent. The only problem he has is trying to convert that TV magic to the big screen. His movie scripts are enjoyable, but lack the energy and excitement of his great TV writing.
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday deals with a man (Peter Gallagher) who loved his wife so much, he just can't let her go. The wife's ghost seems to appear to him on the beach and he spends hours talking to her while neglecting their teenaged daughter (Claire Danes). The dead wife is Michelle Pfieffer, the best-looking ghost I've ever seen in a movie! The tension between father and daughter grows and the arrival of Gillian's sister (Kathy Baker from Picket Fences) and her husband makes things even more tense.
This movie has a good cast who all give strong performances and there is a memorable scene with Claire Danes and Laurie Fortier in thong bikinis, but the movie is hurt by Kelley's weak script, which is not up to the level of quality we've come to expect from him.
The Fugitive (1947)
beautiful and moving
This underappreciated film was one of many great movies from the team of John Ford and Henry Fonda. It is one of the most beautiful and moving films I've ever seen. Fonda plays a Catholic priest in a small Mexican town at a time when Christians were being persecuted by the Government.
SPOILERS: He is forced to go on the run and later finds sanctuary, but is tracked down by a man he had come across before. The man tells him about a thief named El Gringo (Ward Bond) who is dying and wants to make a confession. It turns out to be a trick, as the man is a police informant. The police lieutenant who had bragged earlier, "the last priest was shot 6 months ago", has a child with a woman that helped Fonda, who baptized the child. He offers to save Fonda if he will renounce his faith, which he will not do. On the way to the firing squad, the man who betrayed Fonda asks for his blessing. The lieutenat is shaken when he hears the gunshot. Soon, a new priest arrives to comfort the crowd of mourners gathered at the church.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Another classic from Ford-Fonda team
The team of director John Ford and actor Henry Fonda were responsible for some of Hollywood's very best films: Grapes of Wrath, Young Mr. Lincoln and the underappreciated The Fugitive (one of the most beautiful and moving films ever made). They are together again in My Darling Clementine, telling the story of Wyatt Earp. Wyatt and his brothers come to town. When the young brother James is attacked and killed, Wyatt makes himself marshall of Tombstone and his brothers become deputies. They are trying to stop the Clantons, a family of killers who are terrorizing Tombstone and who were responsible for James' death. Fonda plays Wyatt, who later teams up with Doc Holladay, played by Victor Mature. Walter Brennan, the great supporting actor, is Old Man Clanton. The famous battle at the OK Corral is filmed nicely by Ford.
This is a highly enjoyable movie, spotlighted by the strong acting of Fonda, Brennan and Mature and by Ford's brilliant direction. Another triumph for the outstanding duo of Ford and Fonda. Ward Bond, a veteran of many Ford movies, appears as one of the Earp Brothers.
Summer of Sam (1999)
brilliant Spike Lee film
Summer of Sam deals with the Son of Sam killer, but is mainly about how it affected the people in the city at that time. 1977 was a wild year in New York. Disco was at its peak, there was a brutal heat wave, Reggie Jackson had the Yankees in contention again and a man was terrorizing the city, killing young brunettes with a .44 caliber revolver. In this film, Mira Sorvino and other brunette girls are seen dyeing their hair or wearing blonde wigs.
Vinny, played by John Leguizamo, is the main character. The movie shows his interactions with his wife (Sorvino), and his friends as the summer of '77 unfolded. His friend Richie, with his wild punk mohawk and fake British accent, rubs Vinny's macho Italian friends the wrong way and they start to suspect he might be the killer. Vinny has problems staying faithful and uses drugs. His marriage starts to fall apart.
David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, is played by Michael Badalucco from "The Practice". Adrien Brody is brilliant as Richie. The very sexy and talented Sorvino and Jennifer Esposito are the female leads. This film captures perfectly a wild and scary time in the big city.
Embrace of the Vampire (1995)
Watch it for Allysa
Embrace of The Vampire stars Allysa Milano, who grew from a cute little girl on "Who's The Boss?" into a stunning young woman with apparently surgically enhanced boobs. She is sexy and always fun to watch whether she's in something good (Charmed) or not so good (Hugo Pool). This movie falls somewhere in the middle. It's not great, but still entertaining.
Martin Kemp, former pop star, has built a respectable acting career with his role in The Krays and several British TV shows. He plays a cursed vampire who must seduce an 18 year-old virgin or he will die. Milano is the virgin, whose boyfriend is pressuring for sex. Charlotte Lewis and Jennifer Tilly, the most talented performers in this film, are the ones with the smallest roles.
This is one of the better bad movies I've seen. If you've ever wanted to see Allysa's boobs and butt, you will love this movie. She would be worth watching even if she'd kept her clothes on.
Stewart shines in charming comedy
Jimmy Stewart was most famous for playing gentle, clumsy characters often taken advantage of like Mr. Smith or George Bailey. Most of his later roles were more complex and serious like in Liberty Valance or Broken Arrow. One exception is his performance as Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. This is a fun and heart-warming comedy even if it does deal with a drunk who sees a six-foot tall rabbit invisible to others. Jimmy truly shines here, in one of his most memorable roles. Josephine Hull, best known as Aunt Abby in "Arsenic and Old Lace" is great as Stewart's much older sister who has long been embarassed by Elwood and his drunken fantasies. Stewart has the difficult task of talking to the rabbit and responding to it as if it was really there and does a great job.
This is a very funny movie and is worth watching over and over. Like Mr. Deeds, Elwood shows that the people we often think of as being crazy are usually saner than they might seem.
Broken Arrow (1950)
not the usual western movie
Although the story is entertaining and the performances of James Stewart, Jeff Chandler and Debra Paget outstanding, what makes Broken Arrow a landmark film is its portrayal of the Apache Indians as something more than savage killers. Indians in the movies were always seen as brutal and inhuman. Here they are seen as people who want what the "white men" wanted: to live in freedom with their families on their own land and to live their lives in their own way.
Jeff Chandler is terrific as Apache leader Cochise, who he would play twice more in other films. There is a moving scene when they return from battle and he recites the names of those killed with a pained look in his eyes. Cochise and Stewart's character have a relationship which grows from mutual respect to a true friendship as they try to work out peace between the whites and indians. Stewart is looked on as a traitor by his friends and things are complicated further by his relationship with the young Apache girl played by Debra Paget.
I cannot think of another western in which indians have been portrayed as real people with emotions who hurt, who love. When this film was released 50 years ago, blacks, asians and American Indians were still being portrayed using the worst kinds of racial stereotypes.