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Highwaymen (2004)
8/10
Beautiful and Suspenseful!
31 August 2004
I was lucky enough to just catch a broadcast of "Highwaymen" on TV and even

with network "neutering," it was still something I couldn't take my eyes off. The eerie, mood-enducing opening, throwing a seemingly random mix of visuals to

start out the story really grabs you -- a lonely car on the open road, a skillful driver with an unknown sense of purpose, and then...a collection of prosthetic parts in his trunk. Very strange. So you're immediately hooked. Jim Caviezel

looks like the dark-haired twin of Ralph Fiennes and is wonderful as the

focused/obsessed hero, out for revenge for the death of his wife, murdered by a serial hit and run killer. Rhona Mitra is a fantastic female lead, caught up in the fury as the killer's escaped victim.

I think one of the best things about this film is that it's so clean and simple -- really lean storytelling, with no "fat". No overly maudlin side stories, no

screaming teenagers running in their underwear -- it's an grown-up suspense

movie that sometimes borders on the supernatural in its eerie moments. It

reminded me of "Seven," with its haunted sense of dread that permeated every

scene. "Highwaymen" doesn't have a specific place or time. The locations are nameless, merely backdrops for the story to really unfold and remain in focus. Without having a sense of place, it gives viewers an underlying sense of

discomfort -- almost feeling lost, that something like this could really happen to anyone, in any place.

The performances are really subtle and well-played. Caviezel and Mitra are

both gorgeous actors who carry off so much with a quiet expression. Caviezel is the strong, silent anti-hero, but doesn't pander to the audience's desire for a clean-cut good guy. His character is flawed, obsessed, and selfish, and yet,

within his obsession is the moral principle to do the right thing. He is

unapologetic and charismatic all at the same time. And a damn fine driver as

well. I was very pleased to see that Rhona Mitra wasn't stuck in a "save me!" victim role; her character has experienced traumas throughout her life, but

remained a strong survivor. You sympathize with her pain, but never think of her as completely helpless -- more like a cornered animal, waiting to attack.

I'm not talking about the killer because I don't want to spoil any of it -- the unfolding of his story is creepy and takes its time to reveal itself.

Definitely give this movie a try. It's not overly gross or gory. Just a really strong, solid suspense movie.
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Fantastic and Beautiful
19 November 2003
If you have cable and the SciFi Channel, you may have had the

pleasure of catching this little gem. I kept seeing it in parts and

even in the little snippets, it drew me in and had such a haunting

quality. It was on the other night and I just sat and watched it all the

way through and despite the fact that I'd seen some scenes

before, it still held such a wonderful presence. It's hard to really

describe the movie -- part love story, part fantasy, with a little bit of

the Big Question over exactly what the afterlife is. The

cinematography is absolutely picturesque, almost like watching a

Merchant Ivory production, but with a bit of fairy magic thrown in.

Ben Kingsley is an interesting addition to the cast. I wish there

was more characterization done on all the main roles. You get a

sense of where everyone comes from in terms of motivation, but

more background would have made for a richer film. The pace is

sometimes inconsistent, moving quickly in the beginning, then

slowing, then speeding up again. But the film's dry English wit

makes for enjoyable moments of irreverence. It's still just an

overall beautiful film. Very bittersweet and heartbreaking in

moments. The end is shot with such care and emotion. As

fantastic as the premise is, the heart of the movie is something

everyone can understand -- the loss of a loved one and the chance

to rekindle a spirit burdened with sorrow. A funny bit of irony -- the

actor who played Watson in the BBC Sherlock Holmes series is in

this movie and he plays (har har har) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
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Secretary (2002)
Peculiar Love Story
5 August 2003
I watched this with my boyfriend and we both thought it was

romantic... in a weird sort of way. It's really just an old fashioned

love story where boy meets girl and both have a shared affinity for

some kinky good-lovin'.

An interestingly told tale, it grabs you right from the beginning and

makes you want to keep watching to see where the characters go.

You're absolutely mesmerized by the transformation of Lee and Mr.

Grey -- great casting. I'm a huge James Spader fan and it seemed

like he really hit the jackpot with this truly unique character. It's not

some angry man/submissive woman story. Both characters have

an equal hold on one another and they both hold the power of

change over each other's lives. It's extraordinary to see the focus

and sense of power Lee has over her boss, even in her most

submissive poses. This movie has nothing to do with subverting

women or portraying men as physical monsters.

Love is everywhere. Even in the most unique people. I recommend

this movie to people willing to see a new twist on the old love story.

It's also quite funny and poignant; not gratuitous at all.
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Signs and Wonders (1995– )
Thoughtful and Unique Drama
22 July 2003
Warning: Spoilers
(Some spoilers; just trying to describe the movie)

This was a telefilm produced by both the US and the UK and shown on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. It's really like watching several seemingly different stories unfold, and the satisfaction of seeing them all tie into one another. It's a patient story, so I don't want to say it's "slow" or "boring" but I advise people to really let the film set its own pace, reveal its complex characters and the bigger story of what faith means to a person. It's not a religious story, but it shows multiple views of personal faith: the conflict between a logic-minded son and his father who is a church leader; the effect on Christianity and strict parenting which alienates a daughter and allows her to be vulnerable to a mysterious cult. It also touches on the secular blind faith behind historical institutions -- how our own histories are like Biblical passages, unwilling to be rewritten or reconsidered. I was really impressed by this story. It left more questions than answers, and that's what made it so compelling and unforgettable. The story picks up the pace when James Earl Jones' character, a de-programmer, is hired by the mother of the family who lost their daughter to the strange doomsday cult. In order to get her back, they essentially have to kidnap her and brainwash her again to get her back to normal, a process that is intentionally uneasy, meant to make you think cult de-programming is no different than cult re-programming. But don't get me wrong -- this in no way sanctifies cults in any way. To loosely quote a character from the movie: there are signs and wonders everywhere -- it simply depends on what you want see.
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Jack's Back (1988)
Hidden gem! Great Spader movie!
25 June 2003
I caught this on TV late at night. Thought it would just be some

typical 80's slasher movie, but I was pleasantly surprised to see

what a genuinely well-made thriller this was. It's a basic potboiler

story, but thoughtfully executed and James Spader is excellent in a

dual role as twin brothers. It's got a little bit of everything --

reincarnating the Jack the Ripper myth, twin brothers who are (of

course) total opposites, a bit of the paranormal, a great whodunit

mystery, and some genuinely creepy scenes. Spader really makes

this watchable -- the story's solid enough, but his performance is

just so much fun to watch. He plays one twin, who is the affable,

friendly doctor who works in a local free clinic, and then his

anti-hero bad-boy twin brother who works a minimum-wage job,

has shady connections, but ultimately shares his brother's sense

of justice and good heart. And Spader's performance isn't the

typical uber-yuppie, not a whiny preppy wimp, and not a total

psychopath. He's just playing an average guy trying to do the right

thing, save the girl, and clear his brother's name by finding the real

murderer. It's good stuff! For James Spader fans, I think it's a great

chance to see him do yet another unique job of character

interpretation.
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The One (2003 TV Movie)
6/10
You know what? It was actually pretty cute
10 March 2003
Not a terrible way to spend a rainy Sunday night, folding laundry.

It's not anything we've never seen before: boy meets girl, boy falls

in love with girl, girl is already engaged to very successful Mr.

Perfect pro-hockey player. But anymore now, it's not the stories that

drive these kinds of predictible romantic potboilers; you have to

have likeable actors who can pull off likeable "cute" without looking

like annoying Olsen Twins "cute". In this case, they hired some

very cute actors to play easygoing, made-for-TV quirky characters,

especially Richard Ruccolo, whose characterization of a goofy, but

sincere caterer, keeps the schmaltzy moments grounded and you

can't help but root for him -- he reminds you of a best friend who

was always the nice guy who deserved a good relationship or just

someone your mother would want you to bring home. Watching it

makes you have to admit to yourself that for even the most devout

cynic, there is still that miniscule part that still wants to give true

love a chance.
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About Schmidt (2002)
9/10
Finding the Meaning of Life (some spoilers)
3 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I feel silly warning that there are "spoilers" in this review -- it's not like this is the Crying Game or the Sixth Sense. You don't go through the whole plot of the movie and find out at the end, shock upon shock, that Jack Nicholson's character is actually the long-dead ghost of a transvestite (but that would be pretty wild). If anything, this film contains an almost surprising absence of rigged plotlines and silly twists. In a strange and haunting narration of dry humor and sad moments, you watch a man reach what's been called the Golden Years and wonder what's so damn golden about it. On the verge of Winnebagoing around the country in his new life of retirement, Jack Nicholson's Schmidt is struck by the sudden death of his wife of over 40 years. In thinking about hi wife before her untimely demise, he realizes the spark of their marriage fizzled long ago, and to him, she's nothing but a necessary caretaker with annoying habits. The shock of her death remains muffled by his own ennui about his own measure of his life. His only daughter lives states away, too busy with work to visit, and is about to marry a mullet-sporting, yet sincere, dimwit -- a man unfit to marry (in Schmidt's mind) his perfect, treasured princess. He feels as though he's failed in his professional life, now obsolete, with only dreams and regrets to dig away at him.

Before his eyes, he realizes that his life is at the end stretch and he asks the ultimate question: what have I done with my life -- what do I have to show for myself? As he drives his huge, but empty Winnebago out to his daughter's wedding, Schmidt travels the road and the paths of his own thoughts, coming to terms with the ghosts in his life to realize one of life's ultimate truths -- that it isn't what you make of your life, but how you touch others' lives and how they affect your own. In lesser hands, this movie could have been a sappy, sobbing mess, but the story is so rooted in the reality of life, its unfairness, and its quiet moments of grace, that this uninteresting nobody, Schmidt, becomes an elevated figure representing everyone's need to feel a part of this world. Jack Nicholson gives a fantastic performance, portraying private, lost moments of grief when he realizes how important his wife was to him, and how she really was so much more than just a homemaker. He comes to realize his daughter has grown up and that his idealized vision of her as his shining, perfect little girl must be broken to accept the fact that she has her own life and makes decisions that he may not always approve of. In that realization, he makes his own sacrifice and growth as a person, letting go of his unrealistic ideals to show his ultimate contribution to the world -- his ability to be the better man, to wish good upon others, and to not ruin their happiness for the sake of his own. In that moment, while he still feels he is a failure in letting his child enter an unfit marriage, the viewer sees that sometimes it is in the things that you give, even at the expense of your own personal satisfaction, that truly marks your place as a decent human being in the greater scheme of things. In the end, Schmidt eventually realizes this and is finally able to weep, for his wife and for himself.
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Wire in the Blood (2002–2009)
Suspenseful British Drama at its Best
15 January 2003
I was lucky enough to have a copy taped from BBC America (cheers, Mom!) -- if you're a Robson Green fan, it's a fantastic showcase for his acting. Not as cavalier as his "Touching Evil" series; his "Wire in the Blood" character of Tony Hill is much more reserved, quirky, and, being a criminal profiler, is more internalized with his processing of information. Even if you're not a Robson Green fan, this will surely garner him new followers. There were three full-length movies: "The Mermaid's Singing", "Shadows Rising", and "Justice Painted Blind". The first two, "Singing" and "Shadows" are adaptations of author Val McDermid's books;

"Justice" is an original script based off of McDermid's work, but closely follows her style and she was directly involved with its creation, so I think it's a respectful homage to her work as a whole, so I don't think her fans will be disappointed. All three deal with strange and grisly serial killings, the profiling of possible suspects, and the drama involved with tracking down the unique killers. Set against the backdrop of the bleak, lonely hills of the north of England, the movies are all gritty and disturbing (but not overly-so), and they really show the darker side of human nature and the lengths at which a profiler like Tony Hill is willing to venture to capture the killer. The supporting cast is brilliant; Hermione Norris as D.I. Carol Jordan is just wonderful to watch. Intelligent, sincere, and admirably professional, it's as much her story as it is Tony Hill's. The chemistry they have is marvellous to watch and not at all contrived. Personally, I think "Mermaids" was the best; it was the first, it clearly had the most detailed characterizations and plot complexity, and was definitely the most vicious -- some scenes definitely not for the faint of heart. But still compelling and highly recommended. The other two are still great, well-plotted and suspenseful, but slightly less edgy as the first. I recommend seeing the series in its proper order, to catch little references to past storylines.
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Touching Evil (1997–1999)
Brilliant Start for a Compelling Series
15 January 2003
I actually saw part of this series while in London, and about a year later, PBS's Mystery! series picked it up (thank God) and was lucky enough to see all of the "Touching Evil" movies. While I only caught part of it in London, I was immediately compelled by what I saw -- gritty and dark storylines, pushed by characters that were convincing in that you really felt like they witnessed some of the most vicious aspects of human nature. The plots orbit around Robson Green's portrayal of cop Dave Creegan and his serial crime investigation unit as they barrel through London, tracking down serial killers. It's easy enough to say he's the archetypal anti-hero -- he's just gone back on the job from a near-death gunshot wound to the head (he's got a little scar), his family life's gone down the crapper (wife and kids left him), and he really is married to his work. But he's the anti-anti-hero; a Dirty Harry who's a real person. He struggles with his personal life as he tries to be emotionally supportive of his ex-wife's new life (what a concept, eh?), and you can see the pain on his face as he watches his small children with first-hand knowledge of the real evil out in the world. All the "Touching Evil" movies are well-done; each story is unique in its serial killer's modus operandi -- all very macabre. The moody filming adds to the bleakness. The deadpan cold moodiness is very similar to that "X-Files" ennui, and its gritty perspective of policework is very "Prime Suspect". The characters are all believable -- serious, professional, and very real. No ex-Playmates or pretty-boy faces, just compelling acting against some pretty grisly storylines.
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