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The Mentalist (2008–2015)
fun show
20 May 2010
This is not a particularly deep show, but like Columbo before it, detective work can be really fun when it involves ratting out the culprit using a subtle but brilliant reading of people and clues.

Patrick Jain can be arrogant and annoying yet witty and clever - a fascinating and strangely lovable (not to mention hot) protagonist. The supporting characters are likewise amusing. Show also has great dialog.

I'm curious to see where Jain's feelings for the psychic lead... this is a new development in his character, and he's a little hard to read. Anyway, it's one of only two shows I try to watch every week - excellent writing, acting, casting directing.
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Grey's Anatomy (2005– )
totally unrealistic to the point of ridiculous & annoying
20 May 2010
Sadly overacted, unrealistic, predictable series with 10 carbon copies of one character. The surgeons & residents all stammer, grow speechless, have the same tone, similar reactions, lines, mannerisms, tears streaming down their faces... and these are doctors in a hospital. Have the show's creators and writers ever been in a hospital? It's all unheard of.

I worked in a hospital with surgeons for 7 years and never ever saw one of them cry or scream of grow out of control the way these characters do every day on the job. It's totally ludicrous - doctors are very cool-headed in their work, to the point of almost lacking compassion at all - especially surgeons. They are criticized for being totally heartless, but you have to be to cut into human flesh. THey are never melodramatic the way ALL of the characters on this show are... not to mention the rotating bed partners and switching up sexuality -- although most surgeons are sleaze-bags, the philandering is usually with nurses, not with other doctors and never same-sex. Grays features all kinds of unrealistic craziness. Please give the American public a break and stop producing and airing this silly junk.
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Miami Medical (2010)
well-written medical drama
9 May 2010
Very nice medical drama - not too different from ER, with great characters and some depth. Much better than the uber-soapy, silly, superficial Gray's Anatomy.

One downside: way too much makeup on the female actors - they are too glossy & hair perfect, etc. such that it takes away from the story (I used to work in surgical settings, and this is far from realistic & really distracts from the content) - the men are much more true to life, and the women should look similarly simple Nice production, pretty good acting, great writing... the lead character is very interesting
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Taken (I) (2008)
fast-moving action thriller keeps surprising
17 March 2009
Good movie in many respects - twists and turns and fast-paced drivenness keep you on the edge of your seat. Neeson was great as usual. The actress cast as his daughter was too flighty and silly for my taste - I wouldn't let a hyperactive, over-emotional screaming-prone teen go to Europe, either. She acted like a tiny child without a thought. Anyway, I like how the film opened up with Neeson protesting the trip and also liked many of the mysteries along the way and his awkward but caring relationship with his silly daughter.

Don't think they should have included Neeson shooting the French police exec's wife's arm though - seemed incongruent with the character's moral bent and history with her. Point about sacrificing a family member is not well-made with faint apology afterward.

How is it that Neeson is instigating showers of gunshots and never takes a hit until right before finding his daughter? we don't even see him put on a bulletproof vest or see any reason to believe this at all. And what happened to the girl he rescued in order to sober her up and ask about his daughter? I'd like to see that thread sewn up, as long as we're dealing with as heavy a subject as sex trade - as long as we're taking on the social blight, why not some resolution to the system, somehow? At least a suggestion that there's a care beyond family. A few regrettable points where the script missed and perhaps overly choppy camera-work - do we have to become dizzy to get his frantic emotions? it's too forced. The ending is clapped on cliché - why not show the difficulties they would obviously have leaving the country in the wake of the father's blood-bath? And some deeper, wizened daughter. How is is that through all this, she doesn't even change? Yeah right. More character development is a must. Overall a fine story and nicely made film with important subject matter and potential for more thought.

Where have we seen this script before? Perhaps reworked in many scripts, but especially from 'Target' from the 80s starring Matt Dillon as the rebellious teen and Gene Hackman as the former FBI father who surprises his son with his know-how, savvy and worldly connections when the mother/wife is kidnapped? All teens need their parents to be a brave role-model, so this kind of film fulfills those fantasies. Plus a nod to social commentary on sex trade without sugar-coating makes this worth seeing.
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excellent real-life film
17 March 2009
This film masterfully avoids the Hollywood glitz and hype (and message-drivenness of late) by following the antics of a slightly dysfunctional but not ridiculous American family. (no 'Royal Tenenbaums' here) The scenes are 'everyday' and easy to relate to while carrying meaning, engaging and moving the audience forward.

The "everyman" sense you get from the father especially and the "everytown" feeling you get from their small town really connect with almost anyone from a "real" family with generic problems.

Good script and casting.... love the "D-ball" town rivalry and simplicity of relationships - in all their evolving glory. The awkwardness and sports-talk speaks volumes of truth about the divide yet understandings between generations.

I can't believe this was produced on a low-budget. Really a breath of fresh air, this year. See and support this film! I hope we can see more of these produced.
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Duplicity (2009)
fun but a bit disappointing
17 March 2009
I was really looking forward to something like the Bourne movies... another from Tony Gilroy who seems to be making a splash these days. But these "who's telling the truth and who's a trickster?" films are getting old. Too many are rolling out of Hollywood. I thought 'The Departed' by Scorsese did the best job in recent years - a much more satisfying movie, in my book. With meaning. Dealing with pizza and baldness for the sake of wealth? Not very high stakes.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a fun romantic comedy, this does combine that element with the spy/intrigue/thriller. It was fun fluff - more like the Oceans franchise - and don't mind leaving the theater saying "what for?" or wanting something mindless with eye candy, this is a film for you. Not bad or a waste but don't expect a work of genius.
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Taking Chance (2009 TV Movie)
advertisement for Marines
12 February 2009
I seem to be one of the few.... the proud... no I mean I'm in the minority to be left feeling emotionally manipulated rather than inspired by this movie. I do have a couple family members who have served in the armed forces, but this was not a story so much as a travelogue and commercial for servicemen (specifically the Marines).

I too was glad the production was devoid of the usual Hollywood political agenda, but I was wondering if there was any point to this movie other than to tell a story that was important to someone for purely sentimental reasons, or maybe in hopes of comforting those who have lost someone at war. Maybe since I've lost people in other ways, it seemed a bit hollow. Many people live heroic lives and die tragic or heroic deaths. Many are killed in the line of duty - police, firemen, airplane pilots, etc. It seems like this film was a tribute for the sake of those who want to know how their deceased KIA was handled but not a film for the public on the whole.
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Alexander (2004)
overblown gore-fest
23 June 2008
I like many epics and spectaculars and I love historical dramas, but this tale of an important classic figure is unfortunately a self-conscious parade of high emotion and gore instead of story or art. schmaltz everywhere - seriously over-directed, over-acted and emotionally manipulative with cameras and ECUs (extreme close-ups).

with an serious line-up of A-list actors (although I've never liked Angelina Jolie - Ferrell is great as the star and Anthony Hopkins narrates with Val Kilmar playing an interesting role), it's not the casting that tanks it. the use of the actors and the cameras and editing flamboyance and the lack of dialog are the downfall of this pretentious drama. Unless you like long, drawn-out battle scenes with everyone bleeding and heads rolling, this is not worth seeing. even without paying extra, watching the pic on TV is a complete waste of time.
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great film but conclusion flawed
21 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
this was a great film... I expected clichés and there were some, but it still really got me in a big way.

However, I was sorely disappointed at the assumption that a teacher staying with the same students over many years is ideal - the conclusion was flawed. As a teacher, I did this for a few (4th - 5th - 6th) and that was nice in some ways, but I don't think it's always ideal for three reasons: (1) students need new mentor-blood in their lives - teachers have weak spots and one of the problems with homeschooling is that one lifelong teacher prevents students from being well-rounded and growing (2) a gifted teacher can influence a group of kids in one or two years - doesn't have to become like a permanent parent to have impact (3) schools that lack effective teachers need to spread the blessing to other classes and students too - it's good for the school to have an effective teacher impact a new batch of students (perhaps the same result would have come with a new group who also needs it) after a year or two (4) some teachers don't see improvement in a student up close - in their mind, they may have labeled a kid. This can hold a student back in old patterns and prevent growth. Kids need fresh eyes to show them who they are in order to develop healthy identities, to recognize their full potential and gifts.

The only positive aspects of the suggested approach would be it's benefit for the teacher - it's easier to not have to start over and encouraging to see the long-term effects up close. There is some benefit for the students in retaining the emotional bonding, in the continuity and healing of trust issues. But should other kids miss out for this benefit for one class?

The movie was not a slam dunk for me simply because these issues were not hashed out in conversation, drama and debate for the audience.
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movie sermon about how awful Christians are
12 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
wow - if there was ever a "message movie," this has the most ridiculous caricatures of Christians I've seen yet from Hollywood - the font of Christian bashing.

I've never met any Christians like these clowns - and I've known literally thousands of Christians (and have been hurt by many and seen hypocrisy and countless atrocities - but far MORE acts of good will, honest, kind and ever-giving hearts). Beyond the obvious "Christians are mean-spirited, busy-body, judgemental kill-joys" theme, and the rest of the plot is a total cliché: feel-good, rich-boy-meets-poor-gold-digging-whitetrash-girl ...and they really fall in love, only to have him cut off by his rich father but they marry anyway and show THEM by living happily ever after. Never seen this story before.... ho hum. Acting is even overdone and unbelievable. While I endure many a boring, sappy movie, this one has nothing at all to offer - complete waste of time. skip it.
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Gothika (2003)
could have been decent - but too many loose ends
10 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
who cut all the essential scenes? Like how the cops knew to find her at the farm house, Willow Creek? And how the doctors figured out she was sane? How she beat the charges with the supernatural explanation? Sometimes drama was over-hyped to make it more of a spoof than a story.

And was it the director who kept disrupting the story, distracting by sexualizing Halle Berry - like where'd her pants go whenever she was in the hospital? All the other patients had pants. And why the nude shower scene? Really. Why did the spirit keep appearing in unlikely places & unnecessarily like in the pool? There should be a reason for the appearances like locations of crimes, etc. Unprofessional film-making ruined what could have been a good movie.
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Underclassman (2005)
trying to balance this out
29 December 2007
I don't usually give praise to many movies - am too critical. However, like a few others viewers who cared to remark, I'm shocked that so many on IMDb gave this flick such a low rating, so I have to retaliate.

The reason I give this props is twofold: (1) I usually hate sophomoric humor and many films directed at a teen audience. However, Cannon's quick-witted, disarming lines made me laugh the whole way through. His dry, comic delivery is underrated and unpredictable, to say the least. As for the racism observations, I'm white, and I think that charge is ridiculous. Sure, there's racial humor, but get a funnybone - it's a joke. can't you laugh at yourself? We whites tend to have a stick up our butts - the characters played off each other. Why react with such sensitivity? The comedy definitely shines.

(2) At least 4-6 of the characters develop to some extent. It's a kind of coming of age story for Cannon who proves not only his professional sense and skills but his interpersonal growth with peers. He's not sensitive to the rejection and pushes through, adapting his behavior until he wins confidence. A lesson for most of us. While it's true that most characters are foils by comparison to Cannon, the lead, the supporting cast are NOT completely flat characters. The Captain, two other police officers and at least two students and one teacher come to put things in new perspective or grow up, in one way or another.

In short, this is not just the mindless fluff other viewers seem to see. Yes, there were clichés, and the script was often predictable, but welcome to 95% of big or small screen writing in America, these days. If you like sardonic wit, humorous ghetto-talk and a bit of silliness with some serious undercurrents, growth and bonding - lessons of friendship - ignore the dissing and take a look for yourself. It made me chuckle for over an hour and made my day.
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Speak (2004)
one of the best TV movies I've ever seen
5 January 2006
I study TV movies, and this is one of the best i have ever seen in acting, writing and many categories. Kudos to these filmmakers for raising the bar on made-for-TV pics! The drama of high school is effective without repeated clichés and the parenting is not flat, white or black, either. Told mostly through flashback as a girl wrestles with her pain and how to press through, the story is interesting without confusion. Many quality film techniques make this a rare feature. While presenting a clear message as usual in this genre, the writer, director and actors avoid many of the typical categories and resolutions without compromising characters. Believable and really outstanding work. I hope these filmmakers make a lot more such features.
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Eve's Christmas (2004 TV Movie)
interesting "what if" story
16 December 2004
Does God send an angel when we wish on a star, like some fairy godmother or genie in a bottle? A little silly notion of prayer, but yes, sometimes He bargains with us and gives us second chances. Anyway, with some strange theological musings, this "what if" journey makes for some amusing mind bending. Typical reflective, feel-good, Christmas fare... better than some that try time-travel (and warps), this one takes the viewer to muse about how life's choices affect our trajectories.

The lead, Elisa Donovan, was not great in the role of a hard-core business professional, but as her alternate character, the giggly bride, she fit better. She seemed to be smiling almost constantly rather than depicting a multi-faceted character - could have brought more depth. Cheryl Ladd, James Kirk and some of the others were good.

While the film is supposed to laud the choices of home and family over career at all cost, sort of promoting the American Dream (you can have it ALL if you aren't greedy for gain), it could also be depressing for those who find themselves alone for Christmas, for whatever reason - 'what went wrong and why can't I undo it like Eve could?' Potentially disastrous "what if" story for some -- not exactly as universally positive a message as "It's a Wonderful Life," but thought-provoking, cleverly written screen story.
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18 August 2004
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the pinnacle of filmmaking. The acting, direction, staging and story are wonderful. Newman plays a son of a self-made tycoon who has become a wayward, has-been athlete, resenting his beautiful, chatty wife, played by Taylor. The complexity of family relationships, developing self-awareness of characters and discussion of life throughout make Tennessee Williams' story a masterpiece, and the cast and Richard Brooks pull it off amazingly well. The best scenes are the one between Burl Ives ("Big Daddy") and Paul Newman ("Brick") near the end, when they hash out their differences and what they think of each other and their hearts both soften toward one-another and toward everyone else, as a result. Really profound stuff not to be missed by both literary and cinema buffs - and anyone that wants to think more deeply about family baggage and how to resolve and think through issues.
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inspirational and moving
25 June 2004
In step with today's documentary fad, Disney presents an inspirational, slightly goofy documentary featuring real-life story slices from Americana – people like Appalachian mountain folk and famous musician wannabes. For example, you'll meet a blind mountain-climber, an Indian elder and a rug weaver. After being fired from cooking-related jobs, Ben Cohen realized he mainly liked to eat, and developed Ben & Jerry's fabulous ice cream. Heart and Soul spotlights everyone from unique mothers, bike messengers, artists and marathon runners (one of whom has Cerebral Palsy) to more eccentric cliff-dancers and outright lunatic fringe. One guy specialized in blowing up junk. This collection of creative dreamers who love life plucks on the heartstrings without being schmaltzy. Definitely worth a look.
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Tarnation (2003)
1 June 2004
It took me awhile to believe that a distributor was pre-screening this totally self-absorbed home movie. But when I learned that this film-hobbyist allegedly made it on $218. I sat up and took notice. You can do this all with a little camcorder and a Mac? Wow. Move over, Blair Witch Project and other groundbreakers. Although it's suspect that he could get the music rights alone for under $40,000, the ridiculously (legendarily) low production cost is intriguing. Some of Tarnation's footage is creative and collage-like, but I have to admit I took breaks when it got boring. It has too much 'everyday life' in a family that doesn't care whether it lives or dies - and doesn't want to be on camera. It becomes torturous at times to sense watch people forced to mug for a camera. The filmmaker makes little attempt to comment or find meaning - just bares a lot of naked emotion. It's a typical "student film" coming of age memoirs flick. If you've been misunderstood, alone and neglected most of your life, with literally certifiable people in your family, you may find Tarnation cathartic - it may be your story and worth a look. Otherwise, ignore this home movie anguish.
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Open Water (2003)
to ski or scuba dive
26 May 2004
Two yuppies decide to go to the Bahamas instead of skiing. But scuba diving does to turn out to be the relaxing recreation they were looking for....

The movie's everydayness is both its strength and weakness. The script doesn't draw the audience into the characters enough, making it difficult to engage. There needs to be more initial daily life and caring to make the conflict/ensuing troubles meaningful. On the other hand, their hum drum everyday lifestyle and ordinary, non-witty banter make them seem like everyday professional young people who could be anybody (who would vacation in the Bahamas and scuba dive). While based on a true story, the plot needed a little more embellishment to work as screen entertainment. And it would have been nice to have a little more to the ending. As an indie film, though, it is still admirable work.
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4 April 2004
A husband and wife dancing team down on their luck finds some money that gets them into a lot of trouble - and the husband on death row for murder. His one pair of shoes condemns him. After an open-and-shut trial and conviction, the wife ends up taking on his case herself as the clock ticks toward his execution. Camera flashes between husband in cell contemplating his life and impending death while his wife and others (with varying levels of interest and investment) work toward a resolution and possible alternative outcome.

Truly wonderful Film Noir murder mystery with intrigue, a twisting plot and surprise ending. Keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole way. Highest quality acting, directing and script.

Sadly, there seems to be only one print of this film in the world.
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30 March 2004
A very, very, very slow-moving, aimless movie about a distressed, drifting young man. Not sure who was more lost - the flat characters or the audience, nearly half of whom walked out.

Attempting artiness with black & white and clever camera angles, the movie disappointed - became even more ridiculous - as the acting was poor and the plot and lines almost non-existent. Very little music or anything to speak of. The best scene in the movie was when Gerardo is trying to find a song that keeps running through his head. He goes to a used record store to buy it for his lover and has to sing the song for two sales clerks before they find the album. Cute scene gave promise, but it went downhill from there. The rest of the movie lacks art, charm, meaning... If it's about emptiness, it works I guess because it's empty. Wasted two hours.
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17 March 2004
Really outstanding, gripping movie - excellent in every way. I rarely give 10s or 1s, but this is definitely a 10.

The movie opens with an Auschwitz Survivor's Association meeting, a sort of "class reunion" type gathering where people are joking and reminiscing, etc. Quickly, the tone changes when wounds are opened and one woman returns to the scene of the crime, to relive it in her mind. She unexpectedly meets a young German man who is photographing the place, making an archaological record of it. He meets her and wants to join her trip down memory lane. It gets more and more interesting, with a great deal of psychological complexity throughout.

The only thing I would change is the ending. I won't say what happens, but she needed to remember the letter. It would have been better punctuated, as a story. Beautiful cinematography, writing, acting, the whole bit. Outstanding!
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fine story and filmmaking - but needs editing and true acting
15 March 2004
This really could have been a good story. The cinematography and costumes and setting were realistic, and the historical research behind it was admirable. Stonewall Jackson and General Lee come across as fairly noble (when believable) characters - while thinking they were doing God's will by killing as many Yankees as possible. They were southern gents who were fiercely loyal to their homeland of Virginia. And the Jeff Daniels character is quite interesting. One of the most interesting parts for me were the scenes with the slave woman and her family who stayed behind. I wish the story had more of her written into it! Unfortunately, the battle scenes needed to be a lot shorter and the acting less stilted. The monologues sounded like pontifications rather than sincere. Still, I did like the elements of faith - who stares down the barrel of guns without thinking about God and the hereafter? On the whole, the film is a thought-provoking, Southern US POV on the Civil War that rounds out Civil War cinematic history. Definitely worth a look.
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powerful story
6 March 2004
In a Japanese POW camp, a Scottish band of soldiers learns about a very different culture - the hard way. They also learn from the more refined and educated among them the meaning of serving each other and their enemies, to the point of self-sacrifice.

The film begins rather slowly (and overly-sentimental) but becomes an incredible story with great acting and characters, powerful philosophy and imagery. Many gripping moments of self-realization, facing reality and appreciation for life and death. The depth of relationships, self-sacrifice and lessons learned leaves the audience with a lot to process. Overall, very inspiring and well-made.
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Profound and Unique
27 February 2004
This rendition of Christ's life is unique in many ways - as most people have heard from the incessant media coverage. Besides being centered on Jesus' last 12 hours (plus 12 brief flashback segments interspersed), the depiction emphasizes the clash between good and evil, sacraments and the courage in the face of suffering more than I expected (from the dozens of film clips I had seen on TV). Very bloody 9-minute scourging scene and emotionally high-pitched throughout yet presented with amazing artistry and contrasts. While I found it slow in some places and too black and white, in trying to show the extent of Christ's suffering, Mel Gibson succeeded brilliantly. Truly one of a kind and a much to be admired oeuvre.
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Frida (2002)
True art is born of pain
27 February 2004
Another interesting life of an artist, depicting the truism of how the best art comes out of pain. Unlike Basquiat, this tormented artist is not discovered by the art community young or become a meteor that burns out. Nor is her pain primarily self-inflicted. Like all artists, she is very emotional, yet the story is not cliche in how it plays out. I was a bit disturbed about a story about Mexican artists using all Euro-looking actors rather than any of Indian ancestry (no plain women at all - it was like a beauty pageant). Where is the realism of "Real Women Have Curves?" I think it would have helped the story to resist the glamorization. Otherwise, very interesting, well-told, well-acted cinematic story.
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