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Side Effects (I) (2013)
interesting flawed complicated psych thriller
11 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The immensely likable Jude Law and limpid eyed sexy Mara Rooney anchor this flick, which starts out very well, then becomes too trite and dubious. I'm beginning to think that one shouldn't read reviews at all- if you weren't told that she kills her husband it would come as a really tremendous shock.

The actors are really good- the dilemma agonizing, but Laws conversion from a hapless victim whose life is trashed to a Machiavellian manipulator outmatching his tormentors is unbelievable.

Would the devious shrink Catherine Zeta Jones really threaten him and confirm the conspiracy? Would they let him remain Mara's doctor after the tragedy, without review? The wife leaves him after receiving the compromising photos, but she was there- she knew there was no time for them to have romance + the negligee photos prove nothing. Would Mara actually give up the game SO easily. And lastly, most idiotically, would the DA allow Law to destroy his cooperating informant/witness and be re-institutionized and zombie-ized??

The first hour is great and gripping, the second way too facile and dubious. That said it is a tense watchable movie and Rooney an interesting new actress.
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Wonderful smart quirky heartwarming romantic tale of love, redemption, + craziness
18 April 2013
This really is a great movie- a tour de force by Jennifer Lawrence, who has exploded out of the gate (meatiest woman's role since Mulholland Drive), but Cooper is brilliant too, even DeNiro and Tucker are good, whom I usually find tiring- DeNiro is the most human I've ever seen him as a neurotic superstitious compulsive bookie who has passed on his problems to his son (like Claire's dad in "Homeland"), and finally makes one forget the Good Fellas' scumbags; + Tucker doesn't do that gay scream. America's mistreatment of men is manifest- you get sent to loony bin for beating up some guy ravishing your wife in your shower??? Russell truly deserved an Oscar too for writing or directing this very smart, wordy, brilliant script. But it is crazy slutty tough tender erotic glib wounded gamin JL (her cop husband has been killed), who shines in every scene. I didn't want to see a movie about manic-depressive or OCD "nuts", my father was the latter, but Cooper and Lawrence are so funny and entertaining, and really admirable, AND Russell slickly tapers down the harrowing wildness (suspiciously so in Lawrence's case- she ain't taking meds?) till you love these people. She obviously was a real dancer (if that wasn't body doubles), and has the rubber physicality and athleticism (like say Jessica Alba) previously evident in Hunger Games, that is very sexy and allows her to morph into different characters and moods.

The ending is surprising and really wonderful, and the entire cast, from the lip-biting worried mother, to the stolid brah, to the dubiously patient parole cop, to the football-mad Indian shrink are tremendously likable and appealing. Check this out- for woman it is really romantic; for men it is has sports arcana galore and JL; for business it has the power of positive thinking; for families it displays the infinite value of true loyalty, love, and support; for film buffs it is a superbly crafted and inspirational tale.
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Looper (2012)
Enjoyable character study even if premise is dubious
1 April 2013
Seriously disagree with the many reviews trashing this movie. Yes, the basic premise is idiotic- sending people back in time to be killed, but watching the relationship between Gordon-Levitt and his older self Bruce Willis is loads of fun, Gordon Levitt is becoming the go-to young actor for action flicks ("Shutup, kid")- he plays the young Bruce stupid: even after there is no reason to kill his older self, he keeps trying as though it's a point of honor. Yes, the paradoxes of time travel are unresolvable- EVERY movie has huge holes- don't let it bother you. It is so entertaining I saw it again 2 days later (very rare)- it helps to understand the convoluted plot- watching one target's fingers and limbs disappear as his younger self is butchered in the past is viscerally chilling, but I missed it the first time.

Emily Blunt is solid, sexy, and very credible; and Jeff Daniels has a meaty role as mob kingpin manager of the past.
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Vanilla Sky (2001)
Deep haunting moving examination of Reality, Illusion, Truth and Dreams
30 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I'm frankly mystified at the powerful negative reactions this movie arouses- I think it is one of the best science fiction and meaning of life movies ever! Reviewers raved about the sterile AI but pretty much ignored this gem, which packs a deep emotional impact, especially to those who lived through the 60's (Crowe has woven in 60's-70's photos and music with the consummate skill of a Madison Ave wizard), but the simple and incredibly potent dilemma is this: If you have the ability to live in a seamless fantasy world of illusion... or the shattered reality of your broken dreams.... which would you choose? It embodies the literate moral quandary that all great sci-fi has, and truth be told- probably won't remain fiction for 70 years. At some point they will develop neural interfaces that allow people to be jacked into computers and experience artificial "life"- at first it will be sex fantasies, of course. But eventually, simulations will get better and better till people can choose to live their very lives in the Matrix (to, ah, coin a phrase). If drug addiction is bad now, imagine how far people would drop out with such an option.

VS is sometimes melodramatic and visually garish, but one must realize- that FITS- it is ALL a creation of Cruise's mind, and he is choosing cloud colors from Monet's paintings and theatrical drama, just as we do in our dreams. What is the reality of this movie? Is it all a coma-induced dream, or is he really living the Lucid Dreams of the cryogenic company he signed up with. Huge themes of immortality, eternal youth, true love, man's penchant for destruction and psychological sabotage jockey around for position- people that panned this movie are soulless nerds with no sense of curiosity about any of this. Life is a mystery and this ventures to ask some Big Questions.

Another classic theme is someone who has it all (Cruise inherits an empire), loses it all, them gains it all back- so there's a lot of pathos there, letting Tommy play the gamut from smug radiant winner to broken loser- he can be a great actor when pushed (Born on the 4th of July) and he's far better here than most of his roles.

Cameron Diaz is simply terrifying here- frankly her unhinged wild lustiness always gave me the creeps- this is exactly what I imagined her capable of- an obsessed deranged Fatal Atraction ex, and her reappearances are as shocking as the best horror flicks. Penelope Cruz is a little too Betty Boop cute and adorable here, though Tom liked her enough to do a corporate merger (they should have picked a 3rd spelling of their name- Crooz?), while Jason Lee plays the angry aggressive friend a little too broadly.

If you've never seen it, DO. It is a preview of our future.
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Cloud Atlas (2012)
Magnificent brilliant sweeping sci-fi love revolutionary masterpiece from Watch twins
6 January 2013
This is a MASTERPIECE from the Wachowsky twins- a magnificent sweeping sci-fi love revolutionary story splayed across 3 centuries, 6 societies, with the often fast cuts between story lines as finely crafted as the best symphony. It all holds together and comes clear in the end (actually must watch it again)- incredible acting tour de force by every one of 10 or so major actors, who each play 4-7 roles- you won't believe or realize 1/3 of them till the picture credits- Hanks + Berry are amazing. The photography is beautiful, the acting spectacular, the multiple story lines so exquisitely done that the Watch Twins have invented a new form of film making that approaches a 3 hour classical music video in its audacity and emotional wallop. Although complex, the stories are laid out and intercut so perfectly that they aren't hard to follow, and build to simultaneous climaxes that scream with tension.

At its root it is about throwing off the shackles of slavery and fear that bind us all, with a few recycled ideas from the Matrix- but with the gov bankrolled banksters cackling as they bleed us suckers, and the Republicans (+ Dems) turning the US over to the rich as they make the planet uninhabitable... who can doubt some revolution is necessary. (Note- one Watch twin has become a woman with sex-change: Lana, which adds some poignancy to the sad gay story line. Well, they are from another planet, aren't they?)

All audio is English, except the Hawaiian 22nd century pigeon, which maybe I can write a subtitle track for, since I lived on the Big Island (real locations used?- Honoka'a, Waipio Valley, Kohala Mtn.?, Mauna Kea?, where I worked on biggest telescope complex on Earth) for 2 years, Maui for 1. Whites are oppressed, beaten, and killed there now; so undoubtedly will be in a century or 2 (which this courageously portrays)- it is the most violent racist place I've ever seen... as well as the most magnificent geological meteorological biological oceanographic place on Earth. Also blew into San Francisco in '73 in first contact with Pacific in first Great Trip, and am a journo with big interest in nuclear power/war and AGW, so film is paralleling some of my life.

FIND IT, WATCH IT NOW. You will be blown away. This is Best Picture material, and I've picked 3 or 4 of them without seeing other nominees way before the AA.
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serviceable TV level thriller of venal government corruption
24 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This movie starts out with a corrupt Brit PM giving away the position of some Brit soldiers in Afghanistan who supposedly killed the Saudi king's jihadi nephew, to his assistant in exchange for not canceling an $80 billion arms deal. They are expendable grunts in the kind of brutal treacherous exchange that one could imagine happening, but immediately, the figure is outlandish- no single arms deal has ever been $80 billion- America has probably given that much to Israel in the last half century. John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings is almost too over the top as the blustery bastard PM, casually dispensing with the lives of his underlings, as the plot unravels. The coordinates of the title are annoyingly round numbers- military units don't travel 40 miles just to get to even numbered GPS coordinates.

Heather Peace plays Capt. Jill Mandelson, captured by oh so evil Taliban as the only survivor after her commando unit is wiped out, and later also as her twin sister in Britain. The torture scenes are the lamest and most unpleasant of the movie and the whole thing drags there- she is soooo tough, she takes months to just give up her name, claiming to be a CNN reporter. While relatively slickly shot, it has the look of a TV movie- Peace has starred in multiple TV series- London Burning, Coronation St, The Chase, and sometimes waxes too arrogant and self-confident. French Intelligence are the heroes of this flick (a nice touch, considering all the grief they received from America for being right about Iraq), monitoring the betrayal, attack, capture; then arranging Mandelson's rescue through their extensive Middle East contacts. Aurélie Bargème is quite credible and appealing as the sexy, cool, concerned French agent injecting some decency into the stew. Back in England, Mandelson is ordered killed by the King's adviser, because the PM, finding the "guilty" soldiers were already aboard the Nimitz, gave them the coordinates of another unit, and the PM again dubiously obliges to help in her domestic assassination lest the King wreak vengeance on his adviser for the foul-up.

Almost bailed out on this in the first 15 minutes, but it gets better as the plot moves along. Her sister, an ex-Intelligence operative, discovers what is happening, with the aid of French Intelligence, and sets up an elaborate wildly implausible plot to kidnap the PM's assistant- Sarah, played by Marina Sirtis (Councilor Deanna Troi of Star Trek) and torture her live on the Internet with a slow-acting poison. Over a day, Sis somehow demands apologies for Gulf War Syndrome and the Invasion of Iraq, without ever getting to the pointed question of her sister till the assistant is 1½ hours from death. Luckily she's a computer whiz, so all the PM's men can't find her, but wouldn't they simply immediately yank the live TV network coverage?

Director-producer Tristan Loraine, a former airline pilot and documentary producer, deserves credit for at least allegorically calling attention to the monstrous lies used to start the Iraq War, which still provokes great rage in Britain and have engendered a serious investigation of Tony Blair. In America it has been whitewashed and categorically ignored by the media, Congress,and Obama- it is simply not mentioned, but there is a deep subterranean sickness at the vicious manipulation and betrayal by Bush and the neo-cons to start that misbegotten invasion, and the vast cost it has entailed in lives and treasure- now estimated at $2-3 trillion, with 30 years of disability payments.

Still, this is a weak movie- save your movie minutes for something a bit more edifying.
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I Am Legend (2007)
Oscar nomination worthy performance in terrifying movie
24 July 2009
Thought this was a turkey from the arrogant title (oh, it's from the original book), and I'm really not a big fan of Will Smith, who I long thought cruised to great fame with a modicum of talent. But, this is a dandy, terrifying, sci-fri, zombie-vampire last man on earth movie.. and Will Smith turns out a tremendous nuanced performance. The shot of him cringing in the bathtub as night falls is an indication of how good he is in this virtual nonstop monologue, on screen almost every second, but he cycles through every emotion: hysteria, desperation, longing, madness, resolution, denial, disbelief, terror, agony… all told it's an Oscar nomination worthy performance.

The creatures are fearsome hairless mutant humans, able to run 40 mph, climb walls, take 5 shots and keep coming.. and of course with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. The hiding from light of course is vampire behavior and zombies are supposed to be slow and dull witted, but who says genres are fixed in stone. This movie looks good- the scenes of an abandoned derelict New York are magnificent, the music is moving and ominous and the whole premise is deeply terrifying. Smith makes this movie work, and it really is a tremendous piece of work.
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knockout impressive movie
23 December 2008
Just saw this in Kiev without knowing a thing (except it was in English) because Evan Rachel Wood is a great actress and going to be a major star. This has all the tension and nail-biting suspense of Rukrainian Vadi Perlman's House of Sand + Fog- too much considering the subject. (I could have questioned him at Molodist FF, but saw listing too late). Wood made her bones in this movie- being erotic, sharp, deep, beautiful, wounded, terrified in utterly effortless and unaffected acting. Uma is not my favorite actress- showing the deeply neurotic side of her that I think is real, but it works perfectly in this movie- as she displays the PTSD that every person back from Iraq knows too well. The parallel track of what is going on with her wanton, wild, and maybe damaged daughter adds more tension- has the poison of that event somehow soaked into her daughter? The cinematography is excellent as it charts the deep feelings between 2 best girlfriends, and the mystical internal turmoil over time and memory, now and then, real and illusion.

My only problem is that I know this subject intimately - I reviewed the book Copycat Effect: , which proves that almost any publicity about these mass shootings causes kids and adults to reenact them, usually on anniversaries of previous events. "Eyes" showed the shootings again and again in lovingly graphic detail and I don't think this subject should get any major movie play- it's just too dangerous. See if, in a couple of years, some schoolyard shooter doesn't say he saw this movie 20 times. On the other hand, emphasizing the pain and horror of these events is also recommended by shrinks.
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brilliant haunting evocative look at McNamara's life and tortures
26 June 2006
We helped choose the title of this movie in a Morris questionnaire at an advance screening at Brown U. in 2002. My title was "The Wars of Robert McNamara", since it is about his inner travail and guilt even at the murderous bombing raids of Japan, where we were killing 50-100,000 a pop in the 1000 plane firebomb raids for the last 8 months. I remember seeing the statistics and being stunned- Americans had become scientists of death. The title "Fog of War" is pretty hackneyed. The movie is a brilliant haunting evocative look at McNamara's life and tortures in the powerful positions he held. The most moving stuff is his deep qualms about the murderous raids on Japan, which he planned as Curtis LeMay's deputy. Most stunning was his revelations about the near end of the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Cubans actually had 162 live nuclear warheads on the island, and Castro's recommendation was to USE THEM if we invaded. Everything the US did was based on our belief that they had NONE. I actually heard that a few days earlier from McNamara himself, at a concurrent conference on the Missile Crisis, and questioned him after ( It was a stunning revelation, like being punched in the stomach, since I'd done several big articles on the threat of nuclear war.

McNamara is still smart, wily, and unwilling to be forced into any unwanted admission. He does show sorrow and pain at the results of his actions in Vietnam, and Morris's expert merging of historical audio show Mac and Kennedy were advocating withdrawal as far back as 1963. A fascinating character study, an important historical document, and a slick merging of media, music, man, and movie.

Michael Hammerschlag
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Munich (2005)
Powerful masterpiece on the horror of war, risks of vengeance, and costs of killing
15 June 2006
June 14- The ambiguity and confusion of counter-terror terror has never been so accurately portrayed- nothing ever goes exactly as intended, and the firefights and bombing scenes are very realistic and harrowing. This actually shows the effect of a machine gun ripping through a human body, not the TV cartoon violence of thousands of shots without ever hitting someone. The killing of the gorgeous Dutch seductress assassin (a Montreal Naomi Watts type) is one of the most horrible ever displayed. "Such a waste," she says as she's killed. The shadow war of retaliatory killings unfold as regular Palestinian terrorist events happen in the background, sometimes in apparent retaliation (vaguely remembered from my semi-youth).The Munich massacre was searingly and relatively accurately depicted. The incredible moral quandary of becoming what you hate, and are warring against, is vividly displayed and has immediate application to America, where our Bike Boy President and his nitwit neocons are disemboweling the Bill of Rights, sanctioning torture of innocents, and lying us into a conflict of faiths that could last generations.

Munich is based on a semi-discredited 1984 book: Vengeance, which already produced a 1986 movie: The Sword of Gideon. "Munich" doesn't claim strict historical accuracy. Many of the Israeli assassination targets had little or nothing to do with Munich; amazingly the alleged mastermind Abu Daoud(who was shot 6 times by Israelis but survived) claims the unwitting financier of the Munich kidnappings was Mahmoud Abbas- current Palestinian Authority President. Much confusion exists over whether the remaining 3 terrorists were later killed by Israeli hit squads or not- 2 may have been, but at least one was alive in 1999 for a documentary One Day in Sept.

Spielberg addresses the book controversy at the beginning of the DVD, saying "Vengeance" was attacked but never discredited. He does avoid the most atrocious event of the Mossad vendetta- the killing of the wrong man in a street in Norway, which publicly outed the whole plot. The Palestinians aren't cardboard cutouts, in the most impossible scene PLO gunmen and the Israeli hit squad share a safe-house after a long standoff ("ETA- Basque!", scream the Mossad men). After, Eric Bana and a PLO guy argue about Palestine and the Palestinian has the same motivations- honor, homeland, family, stopping them from killing us. No way they wouldn't make them for Israelis, though.

According to a new book, Striking Back, the tragedy in the 1972 Olympics was the result of incompetent, pompous, cowardly German officials. It was run by blithering blow hard Bavarian bureaucrats, who because of the German Constitution, had almost complete autonomy- nothing of the rescue was run by the national German Gov.- it was all Bavarian and Munich police, who had no anti-terrorist training. In fact, there was no such thing in demilitarized Germany- no SWAT, no special forces, no anti-terrorists. The top Israelis who flew in were ignored and abused- their offer of a counter-terrorist squad rejected. Because they had no experience at all with Germany, because of..... the past (only 27 years from the death camps), they thought the Germans would run the rescue with their usual devastating efficiency and effectiveness. They couldn't have been more wrong.

First the Munchkens had a group of assault cops dressed on track suits assemble on top of the Israeli building- in full view of TV cameras airing footage to the Palestinians. Forced to retreat there, they sent the terrorists and captives by 2 helicopters to a military airfield, where a 727 was supposed to take them Cairo, but an ambush by sharpshooters was actually planned. 6-10 Munich police dressed as crew simply bailed out of the plane while the helicopter was in flight without telling anyone- it was suicidal, they thought. They were probably right- they still were wearing their police pants with Lufthansa jackets. They thought there were only 5 hijackers; when there were 8 (4 were employees at the Olympics); they had only 5 marksmen there out of 29 in the area, they had no proper searchlights, no night vision gear or scopes, no radios, no generator power, no armored cars, no forces or plans to storm the plane if things went bad.

"Later it was discovered that one of the snipers never fired a shot, and yet another sniper was positioned directly in the line of friendly fire, without any protective gear"-Wikipedia They just opened fire- killing 3 terrorists- and commencing an hour and a half firefight. The remaining terrorists quickly knocked out the 3 light stands with grenades, so snipers were firing in the dark. The Chermans refused to storm the plane, and insisted on waiting for armored cars. When they appeared, however, the hostage takers, realizing the game was up- blew up one helicopter with hogtied hostages with a grenade, and wiped out the rest with machine gun bursts. The Germans did kill 2 more hijackers after the massacre; 3 survived and were released 2 months later when Black September hijacked a Lufthansa jet. They were flown to Libya for a heroes welcome. German firefighters refused to go in and put out the fire even when the terrorists left- one hostage died of smoke inhalation.

To their credit, German officials did offer to exchange themselves for the Israelis, or an infinite amount of money, and one cop was killed in the shootout. Somehow the story got promulgated that all the hostages were safe, and Israelis and much of the world wept in relief. Then, like in the West Virginia mine disaster, they wept much more. The good Bavarian burghers stonewalled the Israeli families for decades, denying the existence of any documents about the case, giving them nothing in info or compensation (Israel also did nothing) until 2002. Finally- in 2004, they offered $114K to each of the 36 family members, now only 27. Disgraceful.

Truly a masterpiece, and a film that will have you thinking, and remembering- long after you see it.
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Human Trafficking (2005– )
Essential docudrama on unexposed nightmare network of monsters
21 December 2005
Kudos to Mira Sorvino (who has become a crusader on this), Lifetime, and producers for making this important expose of this vicious crime. The 4 hour opus charts a single Russian mobster as he kidnaps, rapes, and transports girls into America and around the world. Of course Mira and Donald Sutherland as ICE agents heroically chase the villains, but in reality very little is done to control these vicious predators- police are usually the problem, since they have no understanding or sympathy for the plight of captive "whores", whom they punish and bully for their supposed crimes.

I was a reporter for over 2 years in Russia, and have seen the monstrosity of these criminals and awesome beauty, sweetness, romanticism, and eroticism of the girls there- who are brought up to defer to and please men. In a place where people would make $20 a month, girls would jump at any Western job, which could give them a real life. Lured by an imaginary secretarial or maid job in Europe, they would have documents taken and quickly be raped and broken into total submission. Huge numbers are sent to Israel, where the government ignores problem. But all over the world, Russian girls are wanted by traffickers and johns for their great beauty, literacy, and skills.

An incredible NPR report explained how young girls are shipped to filthy Mexican nightmare brothels where they have to service 30-50 clients a day, then smuggled into America, where they are handed off to other pimps at Disneyland. By this time they are so terrorized and shattered that they don't even try to get away.

A Russian father improbably joins the traffickers to find and rescue his daughter.

If anything this docudrama soft-peddles the horrors- but TV couldn't take the unvarnished truth. It should be mandatory viewing for every American, especially all law enforcement. This hideous crime should be treated as seriously as genocide, since it is. As Sorvino says in the end, the shelve life of these girls before they are used up, killed, or diseased is 4 years, and some 800,000 are trafficked every year- several Darfurs, Bosnias, Kosovos, Iraqs put together.
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Hanging Up (2000)
Interesting, light and heavy look at family dynamics and obligations
12 December 2005
Only saw the end of this, but it's interesting in the dynamics and relationships of three good actresses, and the last performance of venerable Walter Matheau, playing, as always, a curmudgeon. There's something courageous and amazing about an actor playing a dying person just before they die- art merging with life, like in On Golden Pond (spent a day on that lake-Squam, and it is hauntingly restful). The movie has both fluffy and frivolous relationships between the sisters and heavy scathing honest transgressions between Meg and her drunk Dad.

It was timely to run across this now, because in a further intersection of life and art, I have to call the nursing home now, and see if my mother, 5 days without food or water, is still with us.
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Wicked prescient commentary on our surveillance culture
3 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I thought this was quite the brilliant movie, with the essential amorality of various police agencies vividly displayed. They all are listening and recording every word, but each care only about their own little bailiwick, non of which includes John Anderson. More so, almost, they care about nothing, and realize the essential meaningless and futility of their lives, as they live their lives secondhand by eavesdropping on bad guys whose crimes and threats are never revealed. In the end, they realize that all their actions are illegal and destroy all their tapes and evidence of this caper.

The genius Sydney Lumet parlayed this clever irony into an obsession with police corruption: Serpico, Prince of the City, Q & A, etc., where he explored the continual lure of the greed and power on cops. He was about the only director to explore this common corruption until the scathing Training Day and The Shield. The Anderson Tapes presage the era of omnipresent taping, where much of any person's external life is videotaped without their knowledge and permission by so-called security cameras. London has over a million cameras on street corners intersections, stores, and US cities are copying that. In this movie, we are brought back to the "quaint" world of yesteryear where government agencies understood that these privacy violations are wrong.

Sean Connery is, as usual in his non-Bond, films, superb. His gritty hood exhibits the macho authenticity and believability he brings to every film (only maybe Denzel does the same), and the supporting cast is excellent too. While not at all a comedy, there is a definite tongue in cheek aspect here in the blindness and moral ambiguity of the many police and spy agencies monitoring the heist- all in vain.
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Way overrated but interesting
6 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Not sure why reviewers loved this movie so much. In many ways it poorly done, with audio that is way too quiet, utterly gratuitous cameos by Mike Tyson and Lori Singer (look Ma we're in NYC), stilted dialogue in the Count's business transactions. Neve Campbell is nude in this (in the first minutes), and shows serious erotic chops, esp. in the lesbian scene, and if that's what you're looking for, it could be worthwhile. But though I've always found her extremely beautiful, she has a grating brittle pouty childishness that I've always found irritating. It's really not believable a spoiled rich girl would be with such a cheap hustler like Weller, and both mouth literate talky NY dialogue that their characters would be incapably of. Weller's public menage a quarter in Central Park is ridiculous- cops would be on them in seconds.

It is a takeoff of "Indecent Proposal", but the premise is ugly. SPOILER. That anyone proposing anything like that should be terribly punished- and she manages to idly destroy both men- and this is supposed to be empowering. She is a real ballet dancer, and dancers are by turns lovely, self-centered, cruel, masochistic, and obsessed with the power of sex and romance; but at 31, she's maybe approaching an 18 year old maturity. I doubt many women would refuse $1 million for a night or more of passion, but this offensive idea is supposed to justify her treachery. The Count dubiously dies like a fruit fly, on command from one punch.

Really short at 1:17, the only other appeal of this besides sex with Neve is the clever dialogue between Weller and her, and Weller's desperate hustles.
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City of God (2002)
perhaps the most amazing movie ever done
4 June 2005
This is probably the most amazing movie ever done. Seriously, run and rent this movie- it was in such demand, I had to wait 3-4 months to get it from the library (though now Hollywood Video has unlimited movies for $10/month). No matter what your believe, your faith, your world ; it will blow you away. It's simply stunning- I spent 3½ hours watching a 2:10 hours movie- because I had to stop and watch scenes over again because I couldn't believe what I had seen. This is a great movie, one that bears watching again and again, so you can see all you missed. Watched at normal speed, this has the impact of a shotgun shell to the chest- it's so concentrated and such a potent mix of film-making wizardry that it's overwhelming. It's not for the weak of heart or stomach – one has to accept the casual exchange of bullets and death without crawling in a corner. But, for someone who has moved past that, it is the most impressive thing I've ever seen: the trials and tribulations of a group of Brazilian slum dwellers that will etch itself on your consciousness.

Everything about this movie is brilliant- the film-making, the effects, the story structure, the twists. This thing hooks you and yanks you like a marlin, along with the boat. It is a exultant ride through the poor underworld of Rio de Janeiro and you better just hang on and ride. Again and again this movie swivels and twists, with it's point of view and origin, as participants expire, and one isn't sure who to root for. It will have you laughing, and gasping… in horror and recognition of the most basic and base human conditions.

It starts with close-ups of chickens being slaughtered and hunted and the message is clear: one must kill or be killed- you're either the killer or the dinner, and the only job available is robber. The 720° circular pan transition flashback in the beginning where Rocket is caught between the armed gang and police is probably the best of film; this thing is so consummately skillful that it will leave you in the dust like eye-level Indy cars. It's impossible to be too critical of this movie- it yanks you do far out of your fame of reference into the brutal nihilistic world of the Rio de Janeiro favela that you only just marvel and gasp, and accept that it's beyond your understanding. It is the rise and fall, along with many others, of a crime boss, punk, ruthless psycho killer named Little Zee, and a story of salvation- of intelligence and luck- of a photographer Rocket (and his semi-good brah Goose) who makes a life apart from the milieu, but documents it ….. and it's all breathtaking. One really doesn't notice that it's subtitled- one so identifies with the characters.

My only objection is that the concrete row houses are light years ahead of actual conditions in the fetid squalid hillside shanty towns that 10 million each live in by Rio, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Mexico City (they show the real places in the 50 minute documentary). The rooster gets away. You won't.
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Delightful talky romp of druggie artists
4 June 2005
Portia de Rossi reveals herself as not just beautiful, with those long blonde tresses- but beautiful-happy as a entrancing flaky model in this Paris apartment-bound clever relationship movie between her and a heroin addicted famous musician, and a noble pizza guy who takes ivory chess pieces as payment. I haven't seen that much from her, besides Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, where she never has enough time, but she really shows the radiant shine behind in her smile in between tearful admissions and hot monkey love. Michael Goorjian is no slouch as the smart talky rock star hiding from fame in an apartment without food, money, or drink. This is a fun and cute movie, despite the drugs, with lively and witty banter of jet setters who are actually real and interesting people.

Only thing, I hated the black and white, because I wanted to see the lush colors in lush Portia.
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Revelations (2005– )
It's the End of the World... and I feel fine
21 April 2005
REVIEW: Wed + Sun 9pm NBC: "It's as probable for a tornado traveling through a junkyard to produce Buckingham Palace than for life to emerge from the Big Bang," says the teacher at the start of Revelations… and he's the scientist. The series, produced by Omen maker David Seltzer is relatively well done, with the likable Bill Pullman playing a scientist whose daughter has been kidnapped and murdered by a Satanist who excised her heart in a ritual sacrifice. Pullman goes to Chile and helps capture the fiend, and later is confronted by a Nun (the other-worldly Natasha McElhone – the wife in Solaris) whose sister has died in an apocalyptic cult in Africa, and who drags him to the bedside of a young brain dead Florida girl who was hit by lightning. Of course, this girl is talking.. in Latin, and it's about the end of the world. Evil secular doctors are eager to harvest her organs while the Sister's foundation staves them off (doctors love to pull the plug on speaking patients). The girl draws a stick figure (with ancient writing) that is the same as Pullman's daughter used to. The parallels with the Florida Schiavo allow-to-die circus are probably coincidental, but jarring. Signs abound: a shadow of Jesus on the cross on a Mexican cliff, a lone child pulled from floating wreckage of a Greek ferry, the Satanist chopping his finger off without bleeding.

I personally love these apocalyptic movies, but feel this is in so many ways a sop to the religious right, whose penetration into government is alarming. It feeds the creationist fervor, the cheap exploitive political acts behind the Schiavo carnival of fools. At the first meeting the Sister wisely advises the dubious Pullman to start contributing to religion. "All the signs and symbols are currently in place for the end of days." They allow Pullman to visit the killer of his daughter in prison, dubiously unmonitored, who chops his finger off in the feeding slot, and doesn't bleed. This sends Pullman on a quest for the Answers, being dragged kicking and screaming towards the Truth, like Gregory Peck so long ago in The Omen (actually saw that world premiere in LA). Portentous Bible quotes start each section. When the girl dies, Pullman holds her hand, and she.. awakes. Personally I don't think we should rush this apocalypse business- some nightmare virus may make it real for hundreds of millions soon enough. Not as intense as I thought, but then NBC isn't cable. Rating: 6 out of 10
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magical moving portrait of space exploration
11 February 2005
Can't figure out why so many people and critics hated this movie. It is a wonderous homage to 2001 with scenes that will take your breath away, they are so visually stunning. The dopes who think this is too slow need to get back to Bruckheimer pap; this movie has a continuous ominous tension that makes you watch every second; and the risk, wonder, and courage of space exploration are constantly on display. Some knockout scenes are the meteorite impact with droplets of bloods floating everywhere (who's shown that in any space epic?), the DNA sequence, the orbital transfer by spacewalks. Cheadle is great as a deranged lone survivor, Robbins and Sinese are good as steady calm spacemen who make life and death decisions in seconds (what astronauts do- they don't scream and emote). Do I think there are aliens on Mars- no. But maybe there are giant fish in the planet wide water ocean on Europa (see my article on Titan landing).

Michael Hammerschlag Hammernews
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21 October 2003
This is a tremendous movie that succeeds on every level: a who dunnit (and how dunnit) murder mystery; a hall of mirrors where one is never sure who is pulling the levers; an excellent study of the changing mentor/student relationship of writer Winslet and her smartest and oldest intern in the world as they are slammed by gut-wrenching body blows; a gripping countdown to a REAL deadline; and a devastating indictment of the death penalty. Every part is perfectly cast and acted and should (if this is considered a 2003 movie), garner 1-2 of the top 4 Oscars. Spacey is masterful, a clever doleful shattered puppet master, Linney is luminous- always pushing on the edges of her own self-confinement, Winslet is superb as the tart jealous reporter who affects great cynicism but earnestly wants a great noble cause (trust me on this- journalists have no colleagues, only competitors); and Parker masterfully spins all these elements together in a tornado of tension that reaches it's crescendo only at the end.

This is a movie that will wound you, and trouble you; that will (like `Jacob's Ladder') make you grab anybody coming out the theater to argue what it meant, what they knew, what you think. The real Austin and Huntsville prison, Texas locations and local casting help the movie ring true- in almost every way- and the cloudy and rainy photography build the atmosphere of impending doom. It isn't an overtly preachy movie- the audience is left to make up their own mind and must connect the dots on a sweeping puzzle, but the denouement is as powerful as anything I've seen since the `English Patient.' My one quibble is the somewhat gratuitously nude death scene was so horrible (and a little false- I've tried that as scuba training) that it simply overwhelmed all senses- one wanted to run screaming out of the theatre. I did notice on the DVD that that has been trimmed down.

A great movie, and moving discussion of an important political issue. 9 ½ out of 10. I've talked with Repub. Il. Gov. George Ryan, who commuted all death row inmates in Illinois after he discovered they'd freed more innocent DR inmates (17) than they'd executed (12)! In his words, `The system is rotten to the core… arbitrary, capricious, unjust, racist, unfair- especially to the poor.' ---- Michael Hammerschlag
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The Bear (1988)
Best animal film ever made
14 September 2003
This is simply the most perfect animal movie done, the bears- a huge grizzly and cute little cub- are better actors than 95% of Hollywood and the British Columbia scenery is breathtaking. It captures one's heart with the plight and adventures of a cub after it's mother is killed in a rockslide, and the close in photography of these obviously well-trained bears (Strassburg?) is incredibly- never obvious. Shot with ambient sound, the animals are the stars in this movies, the one dimensional humans aren't cookie cutter monsters, but part of the landscape and capable of growth. The idea that man can change his murderous ways is the most hopeful thing in this film- and I didn't think the denouement unlikely. The only thing a tiny bit hokey is the human making cute breathy noises for the cub.

Bears are truly magnificent beasts- several decades ago a black bear lunged at me outside the Smokey Mountaintop shelter at 3am, and I still have the scar (from running into the wire with cans that alerted us when the bear came in- other shelters had heavy chain link fences). At Bear Country, SD I watched 400 pound bears play tag 30 feet up a scrawny tree, leaning out on branches too thin for me, waiting for the inevitable crack and tumble. CRACK! The bear, without missing a beat flipped his claws into the trunk and didn't drop an inch. When you see these huge creatures ride a little bike in the circus, they really transcend their clumsy brute image. I hiked into Yellowstone River canyon in the beginning of June when the bears were coming out of their dens, hungry and irritable, and spent much night time blowing my whistle at the night (like when a buffalo came up to a foot from the tent). Once I watched a grizzly running down the canyon slope at 30 mph on a grade so steep a human would have picking his way step by step. Later a listened to lecture, snowed in at Old Faithful, where a ranger explained how the bears ate a Swiss tourist: "they only found the arms". Owww-ey.

Michael Hammerschlag
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Max Headroom (1987–1988)
The most brilliant TV series ever made
17 May 2003
Anyone who has Taped episodes, contact me. This was on FX?? When?

This was the most clever, prescient, witty, well produced, and subversive TV series ever created. I saw some of the shows, but then was expeditioning and missed many. MAX HEADROOM (the 85-86 TV series- I'm not familiar with the other permutations)was brilliant on 5 levels at once, like old Firesign Theatre skits, where one can watch again and again and see different levels each time. The money and production values were unprecedented (now each ER costs $14mil, God nows what Friends runs) in it's sly depiction of a media controlled hilarious nightmare world. Gonzo droll Matt Frewer did bang-up work as both a real TV reporter, controlled by the lush Amanda Pays via continuous links, and the sly double-entendreing computer generated Max. This was a searing critique of media run amok- everything was some brilliant trashing of some current or future trend (with Fear Factor losing me forever at the bull penis eating portion, they were prophetic). It saddens me that Frewer is trapped in lame para-psychological claptrap when he was so good in this unknown gem. Mike Hammerschlag
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The Omen (1976)
The most frightening movie ever made
5 June 2002
This is a brilliant chilling masterpiece with letter-perfect performances by a great cast. Everything about this movie, from the Gregorian chanting to the monstrous nanny to the creepy child to the dogs of hell, evokes a sense of suffocating, ominous, impending doom. This tension and horror ratchet up step by step until the viewer is overwhelmed by the unknown approaching apocalypse. Every death is accompanied by slow-mo shattering glass (first time that was done), shocking mechanics, and strong premonitions. Even the slo-mo bullet was real- the novel and clever cinematography, like the tyke's bike view, puts you into the skin of the characters. The reluctant Peck, the dawning Remick, the persuasive Warner are dragged progressively into the hideous center of an eternal mystery that they are powerless to resist. The most terrifying scene ever filmed is the attack of the monstrous demonic nanny and I still, when people talk of their mother, have to suppress a yell, "I saw his mother: his mother was a jackal!"

I saw this movie at it's world premiere my second day in LA, after a legendary cross country odyssey, I picked up some hitchhikers in New Mexico, and they put me up. The next day we picked up some Swedish girls in a park and the hitcher kids got us all in free into the world premiere showing in Westwood of this movie, which I knew nothing about. It rattled and shocked me deeply, more than any other movie, but incredibly the Swedish girls were laughing throughout, till I was ready to strangle them ("what's the matter- it's just a movie?"). Blondes apparently do have more fun. The rest of the audience was terrified into near silence, except for gasps of horror.

------Michael Hammerschlag
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The Omen (1976)
The most frightening movie ever made
5 June 2002
This is a brilliant chilling masterpiece with letter-perfect performances by a great cast. Everything about this movie, from the Gregorian chanting to the monstrous nanny to the creepy child to the dogs of hell, evokes a sense of suffocating, ominous, impending doom. This tension and horror ratchet up step by step until the viewer is overwhelmed by the unknown approaching apocalypse. Every death is accompanied by slow-mo shattering glass (first time that was done), shocking mechanics, and strong premonitions. Even the slo-mo bullet was real- the novel and clever cinematography, like the tyke's bike view, puts you into the skin of the characters. The reluctant Peck, the dawning Remick, the persuasive Warner are dragged progressively into the hideous center of an eternal mystery that they are powerless to resist. The most terrifying scene ever filmed is the attack of the monstrous demonic nanny and I still, when people talk of their mother, have to suppress a yell, "I saw his mother: his mother was a jackal!"

I saw this movie at it's world premiere my second day in LA, after a legendary cross country odyssey, I picked up some hitchhikers in New Mexico, and they put me up. The next day we picked up some Swedish girls in a park and the hitcher kids got us all in free into the world premiere showing in Westwood of this movie, which I knew nothing about. It rattled and shocked me deeply, more than any other movie, but incredibly the Swedish girls were laughing throughout, till I was ready to strangle them ("what's the matter- it's just a movie?"). Blondes apparently do have more fun.

------Michael Hammerschlag
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Summer Lovers (1982)
Sweet Classic about Mange a Trois on perfect summer isle
25 May 2002
This is a wonderful movie- described by many as an escapist fantasy, but letter perfect in it's depiction of the awkward relationship of European-adventuring couple Gallagher + Darryl Hannah in her most resplendent role (Rent this one-she is nude in 60% of it and have no idea how they pared it down for AMC), the difficult mechanics of a 3-way relationship, the sexual politics of the steamy Greek Isles, the carefree tentative joy of gorgeous twenty somethings on the loose in paradise.

The location on the fabled Greek Island of Santorini (Thera) is breathlessly beautiful- it was annihilated in 1600 BC in a titantic volcanic explosion that wiped out the whole Eastern Med, and probably the source of Atlantis legends- 10 years later ('92) I visited (maybe subconciously from the movie) and still think it's the most beautiful place in the world- 1000 ft. cliffs with 10 stories of whitewashed interconnected blue-roofed buildings in a brilliant white strip along the top (town of Fira), black sand beaches on outer side, 2500 ft central mountain w Roman/Hellenistic/Dorian acropoli, entire intact buried Minoan city (Acrotiri-prominently featured) with 3 story bldgs and gorgeous color frescos- a Pompei that's twice as old, central volcano in the middle of grotto, impossibly aquamarine Agean, 7000 years of habitation. I blew through 5 36-exp rolls of film in the first day and burnt myself right through 30 SPF though it was March (the sun reflects off the whitewashed bldgs), which was a nice change from the Russian winter I'd just endured. The Greek Isles are sybaritic mating Shangri-La's for Europeans, packed with spectacular slick semi-naked Euro women (mostly Mikinos).

Valerie is a sweetheart too, a slightly flaky French waif with huge sad haunting eyes- maybe she knew she only had 7 years left. The relationship is driven more by the women than Gallagher, as often really happens. I accidentally saw it in Chicago at the near end of an exhausting 4 mo. cross country expedition (with Officer + a Gentleman-hell of a twin bill) and was really moved by it, or rather the incredible Hannah, whom I instantly and totally loved. Think Jackie Kennedy made a bad mistake banning JFK Jr from marrying her- his life would have been far more fulfilled with this magnificent sweetheart than with the hard eyed Bissette, who reportedly demanded he wait for her sister and take off for Martha's Vinyard 1 1/4 hours later than he wanted, into the deadly dusk.

This movie uses songs more perfectly than almost any movie I can think of- "I'm so excited", "Everbody needs a little time away"- Chicago, at just the appropriate points. Do check it out- exp. the video, because the un-self conscious unaffected unenhanced Hannah is unequaled, and the movie is a sweet libertine gem. -------------------------------------------- Mike Hammerschlag
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Magnolia (1999)
Powerful, searing reflection on life, death and redemption
16 June 2001
Truly an amazing movie. Paul Anderson takes the most serious of subjects: dying, guilt, and redemption and infuses them with so much understanding, perception, love, and yes, fun that the movie is a steady tour de force. Even the frogs was a touch of Mexican fantasism that no one blinked twice at.

Performances are roundly powerful, and intense; and multiple threads of stories hurtle towards an agonizing climax. Anderson's love of the characters is evident throughout- they are tortured, damaged, losers- but... who isn't. I would have liked to have Cruise's conversation with my father before he went. Have no idea why this movie has an ill-deserved R rating- apart from alot of "f__"'s and a couple of flashes of sex- this isn't an R movie, and it's circulation was probably badly hurt by it. A long (3 hr.), but captivating and arresting film: harsh, brilliant, funny, sad, and hopeful. This isn't Cruise's movie- he's just one of an ensemble- but his pathological over-intensity was never used to better effect. 'Seduce + Destroy' Interesting concept. Mike Hammerschlag
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