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Felicia's Journey 12.14.99 ticketticket

Like pulling the back off an old painting to find a heretofore unknown masterpiece - Felecia's Journey is such a discovery. About mid way through, I felt as if I were watching a Hitchcock film that no one knew existed. Bob Hoskins plays Hiditch, a serial killer driven to insanity by his mother (see the obesely hideous mother of Frenzy's pathological murderer leaning out an upstairs window or Psycho's portrayal of motherhood for reference) and Elaine Cassidy plays Felecia, his next intended victim. Hoskin's talents are well established but the newcomer, Elaine Cassidy is a sight to behold.

If you have never seen Birmingham's bleak industrial landscape or Ireland's ancient beauty, this film will suffice. The contrast between Ireland's ancient abandoned churches and Birmingham's peopled but sterile factories is awesome to behold. Felicia's innocence and Hiditch's carefully constructed veneer hiding his pathology, Felicia's hard, cold father and Hiditch's apparent warmth and compassion illustrate the almost endless contrasting images Atom Egoyan and Paul Sarossy deliver as director and cinematographer. This film is made even more remarkable by the total absence of graphic violence. A terrifying and haunting film.

Fight Club 10.27.99 ticketticket

Oh My God, is there really a whole generation that can only feel alive when pummeling each other? Is this some kind of twist on the Myth of Sisyphus? The only valid action one can take in a meaningless existence is to end it. The only worthwhile action one can take in a worthless world is fist fight? The protagonist (Norton) disfigures a handsome underling because he wanted to destroy something beautiful. It would seem the message is contra everything. Scary stuff. Reminds me of The Siege. I saw it in the theatre when it came out last year. The story of a military take-over of an American city in response to unrelenting terrorist attacks. The audience cheered when the terrorists blew stuff up. I felt like I'd wandered into a theatre in Libya and the good guys were the bad. Contra everything.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 07.14.01 ticketticket

An animated (ultra-realist school - where every strand of hair is visible) version of another video game I never heard of. The Leonid Meteor crashes to Earth carrying vestiges of some alien civilization (Phantoms) bent on the destruction of humanity. They manage to wipe out most everybody and everything except for a dozen or so "shelters" with shields that prevent Phantom entry. The fellow who invented the shields is seven-eights of the way to inventing a device that will cancel out all the Phantom creatures. Seven-eights because seven of the eight spirits required have been identified. These spirits include a deer, a plant, a sparrow, our heroine, and some other sweet life forms (a dolphin and a puppy maybe?). The last life form turns out to be, yes, one of the Phantoms. The Gaia theory underpins all the "science" in this story, hence the use of the word Fantasy in the title. Not that there's anything wrong with that. When we are told, though, that the Phantoms are really just unhappy ghosts destroying everything because they're mad and confused, I start thinking of Ghostbuster's or Scrooged. Once I'm that distracted, I begin to hear Steve Buscemi and Donald Sutherland instead of the goofy pilot and wizened scientist they voice for. It's like getting a tune stuck in your head. It forces all other consciousness to the side while it repeats it's catchy refrain, "yummy, yummy, yummy, I got lovin in my tummy," for example. But we digress.

The characters are two dimensional, as befits a computer game/cartoon. The bad guy is wholly and totally bad, even down to wearing black gloves ALL THE TIME. The good guys are noble, self-sacrificing, kind, clean and reverent. The wise old scientist is only a haircut or two away from Dr. Zorba. The only unusual character would have to be Gaia. One would expect an earth-mother image but instead we get something from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a multi-tenacled, slimy looking thing. My Gaia looks sleek, urbane, and inclusive.

Finding Neverland 09.08.04 ticketticketticket

The literary genre known as fantasy underwent a sea change in the second half of the twentieth century as it sought to incorporate and digest the horrors of the First and Second World Wars. Fortunately for us, J.M. Barrie penned his inspired Peter Pan before either of these two global nightmares were realized. As a consequence, the fantasy world of Barrie dealt with demons of a more comprehensible nature, evil pirates and snapping, ticking alligators, based on wicked guardians and the ravages of a creeping time. A few short decades after Peter Pan's debut, Tolkien's fantasy epic of the Ring would present a more universal and all encompassing evil and a violence all but unknown to the genteel world of Victorian England. The Shire was as close as Tolkien could get to the idyllic world of Neverland imagined by Barrie and brought to life in Marc Forster's Finding Neverland. Life may have always been nasty, brutish and short but it became much nastier and an order of magnitude more brutish in the first half of the last century.

Forster's Finding Neverland, based on the Allan Knee play and David Magee screenplay, must be seen in the context of the time in which it took place. The long afternoons in the park and the summer house of Barrie's adulthood are a giant step removed from the world of his youth as well as foreign to most audiences today. The Barrie trapped in a failed marriage and the Barrie desperately trying to please a grief stricken mother are a bit closer to home and give us a figure with whom we can relate. All this matters because it is too easy and a sad mistake to see J.M. Barrie and this film as something removed and irrelevant to the more sophisticated audience we would like to imagine ourselves to be. Instead, Finding Neverland is a most rewarding and enriching lesson in the possibilities of simple goodness and limitless belief in a better world. Although this tidbit is not a part of the film, J.M. Barrie was a victim of an embezzling accountant who stole over thirty thousand dollars from him. Barrie hired the thief's brother in the same capacity and kept him employed for thirty years. We do learn in the film that Barrie's childhood was not without incident as he lost a brother in an accident. The harder part of that story is revealed in the movie and gives us insight into one of the driving forces in Barrie's life.

The acting in Finding Neverland is first-rate, made even more so by the obvious restraint of all the characters in keeping with the Victorian times. Depp shows us anguish and joy in turns and with absolute authenticity, Winslet is transparent and effortlessly believable as the struggling Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Julie Christie wicked and powerful, Dustin Hoffman a wonderfully grounded foil to Barrie's soaring Pan, and Freddie Highmore as the troubled young Peter Llewelyn Davies is a grand surprise. Even Radha Mitchell as Barrie's long suffering wife delivers a performance of which I thought her incapable.

Finding Neverland does wrap a little too neatly but if I learned anything in this experience it is to be a shade less cynical. I'll try.

The Five Senses 08.06.00 ticketticketticket

One of the opening scenes in this densely beautiful film takes place in a hallway shot through with bright sunlight. The character is walking away from us, alternately silhouetted in sun and shadow. Each of the characters in Jeremy Podeswa's second film effort will challenge us to see both sides, the obvious and the hidden. We live much of our lives as slaves to our senses. Podeswa compels us, as his characters are compelled, to look below that surface and find the truth of our lives, if we can.

Gabrielle Rose as Seraph, the massage therapist, and Molly Parker as Anna her customer, open the film. Anna's daughter can't sit still and Seraph summons her own teen-age daughter, Rachel (Nadia Litz), to watch the child while she finishes the therapy session. Phillipe Volter, as Richard the eye doctor losing his hearing, is eavesdropping through the heat shaft on Anna and Seraph's conversation. In the first five minutes, we are introduced to four of the six major characters of the film and three of the five senses. Magic lies in Podeswa's subtle opening of this orchid of a movie. Most filmmakers pouring so much character and story into the opening scenes would have us searching for a pen to keep track.

The story takes us through three days in the lives of five characters; each struggling with crises brought about by their sensory deceptions or deprivations. The doctor Richard loses his hearing, Rachel wanders off to watch a couple make love, loses sight of her charge and turns everyone's life upside down, Seraph touches but can't feel, Mary-Louise Parker (a brilliant and wholly engaging talent) as Rona, bakes cakes for a living but thinks taste doesn't matter, and Daniel MacIvor as Robert, the house cleaner, is obsessed with finding love through smell.

This is a first rate film. If it has a weakness, it is in Podeswa's choice of title. I would have enjoyed making the five senses connection on my own.

Flags of Our Fathers 03.02.07 ticketticket

Yet another telling of the Ira Hayes story. If I have to see it one more time I think I'll scream. American Indians must hate it. I mean Native Americans. Is Native capitalized? I've always struggled to name my group. WASP? Old White Guy? Whatever. Certainly an able demonstration of war scene reconstruction. And refreshing to hear the truth of the great heroic moment. And I guess we can't be reminded too often how unbelievably callous and stupid our leaders, and we, can be. But as a companion to Letters From Iwo Jima it was certainly The Other Sister.

Flawless 11.28.99 ticketticket

Tough guy learns humility and compassion when he takes singing lessons from a drag queen. The lessons are necessitated when he suffers a stroke while attempting to help out the drag queens' lover. DeNiro plays an ex-cop that can't help but get involved when he hears gunplay upstairs from his apartment. On his way up the stairs to stop the bad guys he suffers a stroke. When he doesn't come in for physical therapy his doctor arranges for a hip, black, physical therapist to come to him three times a week. The hip therapist recommends singing lessons. On his way to the singing coach he falls on the sidewalk outside his building. Unwilling to risk further embarrassment, he goes upstairs to the drag queen to ask if he'll teach. Toward the end of the film, we get the explanation (from the drag queen) that DeNiro was willing to take lessons from a drag queen because he could never be embarrassed in front of such a low life.

The appreciation or enjoyment of any work or art is influenced by an infinite variety of factors, some major, some minor. One of the critical factors in appreciation of film involves the viewers suspension of disbelief. When Luke Skywalker dons blinders and employes the force to guide him in blocking the practice beacons' laser beams on board the Millennium Falcon, my level of enjoyment of Star Wars dropped appreciably. Suddenly I was watching a movie again, aware of the plot and the scene's role in plot development. No way this kid can hear about the force one day and develop the ability to totally sublimate his sense of sight to it in 2 minutes of instruction. Unrealistic, don't buy it, can't believe it.

I did believe Obi Wan could wave his hand at a star trooper and the star trooper would move on. I did believe a beam weapon could obliterate a planet and Sir Alec would feel it across a galaxy. So why did the helmet thing give me such trouble? Because it involved something I know a little bit about. Enough, at least, to know what I was seeing could never happen.

From time to time I pretend I can't see. I feel my way around with my eyes closed. I don't know why, I just do it. The impact of losing your sense of sight, even in a pretend way, is enormous. It is overwhelming. That Luke could sublimate that loss in a matter of seconds and depend entirely on a new sense he never knew he had is patently absurd. When it happened, I checked out of the experience and became aware of the reality of the movie, the theater, those around me.

To surrender to the experience, in addition to the requirement that we suspend disbelief inherent in any imaginary event (like reading a book or watching a movie), requires a focus that excludes distractions. The effort to hold the book erect, the crunching popcorn behind you, the overloud sound system (increasingly common as we bathe in the new sound technologies - remember Technicolor and the overly colorful clothes in those first clumsy efforts) all must be shut out. Only then the experience can be fully appreciated. The artists must do their part and not try to carry us to a place we know can never go, while we do our part focusing on the event so entirely that the experience becomes all our consciousness registers. In this state, we "lose ourselves" in the book or film or experience at hand.

The reason we are so uncomfortable when an actor addresses us directly (besides its rarity) is it attacks our suspension of disbelief. Woody Allen explored the phenomenon in depth in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Mia Farrow begins a relationship with Jeff Daniels from the theater audience. Jeff Daniel's character literally steps out of the screen and into the theater. We become acutely aware of the experience and entirely disengaged from it.

Where did Flawless cross the line? No way DeNiro ever climbs those stairs to seek help from a man he despised the day before. The character, notwithstanding DeNiro's incomparable abilities, doesn't support this radical change of heart. Within a matter of days, DeNiro's character moves from total hostility to abject depression to tolerance and even love. The director as much as admits this failing when we are treated to a Yaseetimee scene explaining how DeNiro's character could bring himself to take lessons from a person he otherwise wouldn't save from drowning. It just doesn't work and its failure prevented me from buying the entire premise of the film.

Without that suspension of disbelief, I was left to enjoy a remarkable performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. No small consolation.

Fog of War 03.06.04 ticketticketticket

Robert McNamara comes across in Errol Morris' Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara the way he must have when he was the Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, smart and charming. Morris' documentary consists of three parts McNamara interview and one part archival footage. McNamara was 85 years old when Morris made the film and he wants to share the lessons of his life. The film is built around eleven lessons; lessons like empathize with your enemy, you must do some evil in order to do good, and get the data. What is most compelling about this film is the obvious truth that McNamara was doing what he thought was right. Arguably responsible for the deaths of millions in Vietnam and World War II, he would probably have been put to death as a war criminal had we lost either war. McNamara was the product of a middle class Irish family and a Berkeley/Harvard education. During World War II he was selected to help guide the Air Force's fledgling statistical analysis department. In it he reviewed the effect of the Air Force's bombing runs over Germany and then Japan. He did the work that led his superior officer, the archetypal military madman General Curtis Lemay to threaten court martial for any pilot returning from daylight bombing runs over Germany without having flown over the target. Until then, one in five planes returned to base without dropping a bomb. When McNamara studied the reasons for the aborted missions he found them spurious. Lemay threatened court martial and the aborted missions dropped to near zero. More ominously, later in the war, McNamara concluded that the B-29 Stratofortress, by flying high enough over Japan to avoid anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighters, was grossly inefficient in hitting targets. Lemay's solution was to load them up with incendiary bombs and go in at five thousand feet. The results were dramatic. McNamara tells us about burning half of Tokyo and 100,000 of its citizens to death on one night. He goes through a list of the Japanese cities and the percentage destroyed in Lemay's firebombing raids. American city names replace the Japanese on screen and we get to relate to what such destruction might mean to us, half of New York City, ninety percent of San Diego, forty percent of LA.

Morris plays the Oval Office tapes from both Kennedy and Johnson's discussions with McNamara over Vietnam and it looks like Kennedy would have gotten us out while Johnson got us in deeper. They both relied on McNamara, though, and he served them with pride and loyalty. This is a man with a job to do. Whether as president of Ford Motor (which he left after five weeks to join the Kennedy cabinet as one of the "best and brightest"), head of the new statistical service in World War II, or Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam disaster, McNamara is efficient, dedicated and loyal. He recalls the selection process that led him to the Statistics office in the Air Force. In the early days of computing, IBM was asked to find the best and brightest for this new Air Force department. Intelligence, accomplishments, aptitude, judgment, test scores were all reduced to chads on a punch card and the cards fed through the "computer." McNamara's card made it through, along with a handful of others. This was the selection process. We don't hear of any person involved in his selection, only a computer and punch cards. McNamara's on the job performance was driven by statistics and graphs. The decisions to fire bomb Japanese population centers, install seat belts and padded dashes in Ford Motor cars, commit 15,000, then 200,000, then 500,000 young men to the Vietnamese jungle, were based on the statistical analysis of Robert S. McNamara. The S does, in fact, stand for Strange. We learn this when McNamara tells us of his courting and marriage. He loved his wife dearly and yet tells us his job may have indirectly caused her death. "But, everyone in my family benefited from my job as Secretary of Defense." Odd.

As an old man, McNamara now assesses his life by another tool. He tells us of perception, judgment and morality, concepts that seemed to play little part in his previous life. We can't help but be charmed by this aged, articulate man with the smug smile and arrogant demeanor. Was this man a monstrous war criminal responsible for the deaths of millions and the architect of the beginning of the end of American moral superiority or was he a really smart guy who merely mastered the new science of statistical analysis and used it to further the interests of his employers? He seemed like such a nice man.

The Forgotten 09.24.04ticketticketticket

On my way home for lunch one summer fifteen years ago, I stopped at the light with a Mercedes ahead of me and two cars in the lane to my left. A glance into the rear view mirror and I went stiff and instantly queasy. A pickup truck was headed for me and there was no way it could stop in time. Like most things, it reminded me of a movie scene. In order to visualize the vertigo Jimmy Stewart was supposed to feel in the film of the same name, Hitchcock had the camera quickly zoom in on Jimmy while the camera itself rapidly retreated on the track. The result is very disorienting and makes one a bit queasy. I knew it would be a hard crash. She knocked me and my little VW convertible into the Mercedes. The DA later said he had never seen a blood alcohol level that high outside of the morgue. She had apparently swilled most of a fifth of Vodka and jumped into her truck headed for God knows where. She was already on probation for DWI and I think she got some jail time out of it. I got a sore back and some new friends at her insurance company out of it. As I watched a car zooming into the passenger side of the car driven by Ash (Dominic West) my body went stiff the same way it did before I was clobbered by the drunk. Ash was driving Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) to a hotel outside the city. It must have been a good twenty seconds before I made my body relax again. This is going to be one scary movie, I thought. Boy was I right. Ash and Telly are trying to find out why they are the only ones that remember they used to have children. Gary Sinise plays Telly's psychiatrist and Anthony Edwards plays her husband. Alfre Woodard is a deightfully wise cracking Detective Anne Pope. Later on, even though you know something scary is about to happen to her, nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for what does happen. The ratings should be changed on this film to prevent anyone with heart trouble from getting in.

I have always been a little ashamed of my affinity for science fiction. My father read sci-fi paperbacks by the grocery bag full and I don't think I ever told anyone until now. Science fiction has forever been viewed as a junior league fiction genre, like romance novels or westerns. Funny, too, because I easily dismiss westerns and romance novels as beneath me but enjoy science fiction as much as anything I read. Why is this, I wonder? Is it because there is just so much trashy sci-fi that the whole genre gets a bad name? Did H.L. Mencken or Lionel Trilling once pronounce it so, or is it actually, objectively inferior? Is it that the whole concept of life outside earth is just too "out there?" I don't guess any of this matters, of course, and I do digress, but be warned, The Forgotten has an unmistakable science fiction theme to it and it is introduced early on.

Director Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy) certainly can't be accused of saturating the market (eight films in twenty years) and none of his prior work even hints at this level of nail biting suspense. Whether the technology finally caught up with his vision or the cast of Sinise/Woodard/Moore pushed a good film to superior status or the story is that intriguing (least likely), Ruben's The Forgotten achieves first rank status in the world of suspense thriller. If you buy a soda, drink it from the armchair holder, don't risk holding it or you're liable to end up with a chill to go with your thrill.

Formula 51 10.18.02 ticketticket

What if Hollywood were in Nebraska? Would the swooping shot from the ocean to the coast to the protagonist zooming down the Pacific Coast Highway be replaced by the protagonist appearing and disappearing through amber waves of grain as he wound his way down US 183? Like the story that begins with some mood setting malarkey about the "mist over the moor" or the "moon light on the meadow", you might as well stamp, "LACKS ORIGINALITY" across the opening credits. Not that Formula 51 lacks originality. The professional hit man is a hit woman (Emily Mortimer), the evil drug lord is nick-named The Lizard, but his real name is Meat Loaf, and the hero, Samuel L. Jackson as Elmo McElroy, wears a kilt and hits five irons off a garbage scow. I italicize hero because Elmo is a college grad with a degree in pharmacology who turned to the dark side when he was busted in 1971 for smoking pot as he drove own the aforementioned PCH.

Fast forward thirty years to today and we meet Elmo again just before he flees to England after blowing up, he thought, the evil drug lord and his ring of evil drug lord underlings in a particularly dastardly and way-complicated sneak attack. He has a really cool looking double flask spinner thing mix two chemicals into a third flask. The Bunsen burner underneath is lit when The Lizard calls his cell phone. The resulting explosion kills the geckos. The Lizard, however, is inexplicably blown downward into a huge pile of discarded dolls. The dolls must have been partial compensation to the director, Ronny Yu, for his previous smash hit, The Bride of Chucky. Chucky is, as I recall, a doll animated by an evil spirit and we can only guess where The Bride of Chucky took us. But I digress. The left side of The Lizard's face is disfigured with purple scar tissue that, we are left to assume, is from some previous dastardly plot to blow him up. He appears to be blow up proof until the last few minutes of Formula 51 when, can you guess, he gets blown up from the inside after imbibing a cocktail (complete with frou-frou umbrella) prepared by master chemist Elmo. Oh, sorry, if you thought the thoroughly evil drug lord might escape the sort of nasty retribution that thoroughly evil drug lords always get, then you don't get much, do you?

Almost forgot. The plot. Elmo makes up a great new drug called POS 51 (not formula 51 as the title would indicate, but then the title was originally The 51st State, England don't you know) and wants to sell it for twenty million dollars. That's why he is off to England. The Lizard is in hot pursuit, utilizing the services of Lady Hit Woman. Elmo must make his deal and disappear before The Lizard catches up with him. He enlists the aid of Felix DeSouza (the talented Robert Carlyle from The Full Monty), Iki (Rhys Ifans, Hugh Grant's underwear-wearing roommate from Notting Hill), and Dakota, the hit woman, who, as it turns out, is Felix's ex-girlfriend. England is pretty small, after all, so it's not that much of a coincidence, really.

Let's see, what else?

Caution, gore galore. When people get shot, and quite a few do, we see everything larger than 50 microns in slow motion. There is some torture, a couple of car chases, the obvious consequence of a particularly potent batch of laxative Elmo mixes up when he tires of cracking heads with his golf clubs. Oh yes, the golf clubs. Elmo's weapon of choice. He carries them with him everywhere, unexamined through customs, unchecked into the hooligan filled soccer match between Liverpool and Manchester, and uses them often and with great skill to dispatch irritating skinheads and police.

Take heart, though. Director Ronny Lu gets back on track with the soon to be released Freddy versus Jason.

Can't wait.

The Fountain 11.25.06 ticketticketticket

None of writer/director Darren Aronofsky's previous works prepared us for what was to come. Pi, the black and white story of a mathmatical genius mixed up with Wall Street thugs and Jewish mystics in no way foreshadowed the terrifying reality of addictions that was Requiem for a Dream. Neither film prepared us for Aronofsky's latest departure from proven success, The Fountain, an entirely entertaining story of love, loss and the quest for immortality, beautifully filmed and powerfully presented by two compelling actors, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. We are reminded early on of the Genesis story of the two trees in the Garden, one of Knowledge and one of Life. God banished us from the tree of Knowledge and hid the tree of Life. It seems he hid it in the rain forests of Guatamala where the loyal order of Franciscans are experts at hide and seek. The Queen of Spain (Weisz) sends her faithful Conquistador (Jackman) to bring back some sap. This is just one of three concurrent stories, the second is set in the present with Jackman as a medical researcher and Weisz as his wife, the third in the future with Jackman on board a bubble headed for a dying Mayan star. The Fountain is yet another entirely fresh, fascinating work from the visionary Aronofsky.

Frailty 04.18.02 ticketticket

This is a hauntingly scary film. Dad's midnight vision converts him from an utterly normal good fellow to an utterly normal good fellow who periodically destroys demons in human form. One son goes along with the nightmare, the other can't believe it's really happening. Even dad says it must seem really nutty. Bill Paxton is disarmingly charming as the freshly minted homicidal maniac and Mathew McConaughey is understated and powerful as the adult version of one of the boys confessing to a scary Powers Boothe as an FBI agent. Maybe is was Boothe's Jim Jones portrayal but this guy always scares me. The young version of McConaughey is played by a strong talent, Matthew O'Leary.

Paxton directs handily. The imagery, lighting, pacing, and close-ups all contribute to the story and do not distract. Well acted, well told, scary movie.

Freedomland 02.25.06ticket ticket

It must be difficult for an actress as supremely gifted as Julianne Moore to settle for a role or script not equal to her talent. Freedomland has some moments of awkward dialogue, "let go and let God" chief among them, but they aren't delivered by her. Her scenes are as arresting and consuming as any I've seen in a while. Where Felicity Huffman succeeded in creating a character at once utterly alien and wholly human in Transamerica, Julianne Moore lunges for our throat, grabs it and hammers away at our heart in her extraordinary performance in this otherwise good film. Edie Falco does more with a look than most actors do with a soliloquy and it was a treat to see her outside the HBO series. This is an ultimately sad, sad film and not alone for the obvious story but for the long tragic scene with a finally believable Samuel L. Jackson losing consciousness to the sight of a hardened and hateful young man watching him fall. Our stubborn refusal to see each other as more than coded stereotypes plays strongly in a film about lifes crippled survivors and wasted victims.

Frequency 05.03.00 ticketticket

Guy film of the month. It begins with a super macho rescue scene wherein the fireman crawls out of the manhole a split second before the column of exploding flame erupts. Of course, he is in the tunnel when the explosion occurs, but races up the six-foot ladder and onto the street just ahead. Not even Ben Johnson on steroids can outrun an explosion, up a ladder even! His boss is busy ordering him out of the area, but our hero insists on rescuing the poor trapped city employees. Ron Howard had the good sense in Backdraft to have a rookie die as a result of the super hero's reckless machismo.

Helpless women being murdered, helpless wives unable to "save" their husbands, and helpless wives waiting for their hero to come home are the roles afforded women. A little stupid science, a lot of father-son bonding, plenty of baseball, lots of crime scene photos of murdered women and at least one point blank shotgun blast make this movie the testosterone cocktail of the month.

Frida 11.13.02 ticketticket

Distinguished by Ms. Hayak's convincing portrayal and the innovative directorial style of Julie Taymor, Frida is two hours of rewarding and satisfying cinema. Challenged with the task of recreating on-screen two larger than life visual artists, Ms. Taymor paced us through these event laden lives without subsuming their humanity to their history. We got to know Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, an accomplishment of no small matter considering the drama surrounding these characters. When Leon Trotsky and Nelson Rockefeller make cameo appearances in a film (Geoffrey Rush and Edward Norton respectively), there is great danger of docudrama domination. Taymor (and screenwriter Clancy Sigal) managed to tell a story that touched the Russian revolution, Mexico's flirtation with communism, the beginning of the sexual revolution, and the lives of at least one of the past century's great artists, while holding focus on the very real lives of the main characters, Frida and Diego.

I would disagree with the characterizations of Ms. Hayak's acting as breakthrough only because her talent has been evident from the beginning. Like Tom Cruise, her good looks have proven an obstacle to her "accreditation" as a serious actor. I guess if you're going to be the victim of prejudice, beauty bias can't be as hard as gender or race...

Friday After Next 11.25.02 ticketticket

This, the Friday After Next Friday, has Craig (Ice Cube) and DayDay (Mike Epps) reprising their roles as this generations Laurel and Hardy. Ice Cube takes on the Ollie role and Epps plays Laurel. Although some might cringe at the comparison, both conventions are enormously stupid, heavily reliant on slapstick, and share an equally limited appeal. Take away the scatological humor, the pubescent sexual imagery, the foul language, the homo jokes, the dope and the ageism and what you have left is... nothing.

Friday Night Lights 10.10.04 ticket

I went to a 4A (big) Texas high school. I even attended the University of Texas at the same time Earl Campbell (famous football player) played. Football was huge. I never went to a game. The only football game I've ever seen in person was between the Houston Oilers and the Oakland Raiders at the Houston Astrodome. I sat really high up and the players looked like little bugs on the field, lining up in rows and then scampering all about. I was a big fan of the Houston Oilers up until the time they lost the chance to play in the Super Bowl in the greatest collapse in the history of professional sports. Since then I haven't even watched a football game on TV. As I grow older, I seem to have less interest in professional sports every year. Last night I went to bed during the fifth game of the Astros playoff series with the Atlanta Braves. The Astros won and I was really happy for them but it would'nt have mattered much had they lost.

I think sports are great for what they do for the body and mind but the industry of sport is fatally corrupted by money on the professional level and the weak egos of parents (mainly dads) on the amateur level. I did coach a Little League team one year and it was delightful. Kids that had never played much got to play on our team and everyone learned about baseball and the importance of a positive and committed attitude. We lost more than we won and a few of the parents came by to say how much they appreciated the experience but most hated what I did and I even got a few late night calls from threatening parents with ideas about their child's playing time.

All this is by way of disclaimer. I didn't think much of Friday Night Lights and my dislike for football, I'm certain, played a big part. Thornton is one of our great actors and he acquitted himself well. The kids on the team were good, especially the quarterback, and the balance of the cast was more than up to the task. The frequent use of hand helds was, I suppose, intended to lend an air of immediacy or reality to the scenes in which it was used but it was mainly just distracting. The football shots were unremarkable and the sub-plot around Boobie Miles and his knee injury felt inserted and not integral. There were no surprises in Friday Night Lights, no unique perspectives, no serious character study, no drama. I'm not sure what we were supposed to get from this film but if anyone is surprised to learn that high school football is inordinately important in small town Texas then they would probably learn a lot about a movie that exposed our culture's materialistic tendencies or fashion's unrealistic portrayal of women's figures. I'm just not sure these are stories that I'm particularly interested in seeing on screen, but that's just me.

Friends With Money 04.16.06 ticketticket

Does money make any difference? Do friends? Would seem enough money does and friends don't. That is if Joan Cusack and Greg Germann (the incurably inappropriate lawyer from Ally McBeal) are any indication. Of the three couples and one single girl we get to know, only Cusack and Germann's characters hold immunity from the thousand tiny cuts flesh is heir to. The perennial sad-sack Catherine Keener has the worst of it and the least money. Everyone is friends and noone is saved by theirs. The most friends have to offer is a little balm Maybe it's just my mindset these days (see Down the Hole) but writer/director Nicole Holofcedner paints a not too encouraging if ultimately winning picture. Ms. Aniston brings sufficient reflected charm to the project but Frances McDormand infuses it with an energy and angst that enervates if not thrills. She alone, as usual, is well worth the price of admission.

From Hell 10.21.01 ticketticket

If artistic direction, set design and cinematography can make a movie, they make this one. The London of 1888 is as close to Hell as anyone should ever get in this life. We never see sunlight. The sky at dusk is a breathtaking blood red. Smoke stacks are belching black soot. During the day, the sky is either low, gray and oppressive or pouring rain into the nasty London streets. One dim morning we see our heroine and her friends awakened by being unstrapped from a church pew and dumped into the aisle. The poor seek shelter wherever they can. The floor of the church is filled with bodies and latecomers are seated in pews and a belt run across their chests to hold them in place while they sleep. Into this already nightmarish existence comes Jack the Ripper, one of the original serial killers.

The Hughes brothers, products of a less virulent version of Hell - television of the 1990's - feel compelled to darken the already failing light of nineteenth century London with convoluted conspiracies and drug dependent detectives. Detective Abberline (Johnny Depp), when he isn't busy untangling the meaning behind Masonic rituals, spends his time cooking laudanum into his absinthe and smoking opium. No contribution to the plot or character development, this is gratuitous drug abuse at its worst.

The actors (Depp, Heather Graham, and Ian Holm) seem to have mailed in their performances. The fault may not be with the actors, though. The characters in this Hughes brothers tale are secondary to the art of the film, typical of the current generation of filmmakers. When the art of the film is as powerful as it is in From Hell, they can be forgiven their oversight.

Frost/Nixon 12.27.08 ticket ticket

One of the great storytellers of his generation, Ron Howard can have you perched on the edge of your seat in anticipation or sinking in a cringe of dread even when he is retelling a story you thought you knew. His film of the Apollo 13 odyssey set the bar for dramatic recreation and so it was with near breathless anticipation that I bought a ticket for Frost/Nixon.

Most of my fellow theatergoers were breathless as well, if the collection of oxygen tanks in the aisle was any indication. I felt real sympathy for the sweet couple in the row in front of me as they sat through the overloud, overlong, and overwrought infomercial that supplants what was formerly silence or soft classical music preceding the previews of coming attractions. These days, arriving early means sitting through three or four extended bits extolling the virtues of the soon to premier remake of Knight Ryder or next seasonıs Closer or, in this case, multiple close-ups of an aging Patrick Swayze as he raved about the unprecedented nature of his new television series, The Beast. I, as is my wont, had the headphones at near maximum volume yet still had to skip the softer songs lest the inane patter from the screen seep in. Surely this sweet couple in front of me werenıt enjoying either the pathetic attempt to generate ³buzz² over a tired Dirty Dancer or the hip thirty second spots for the new Lexus (whoosh, screech, stop sideways) roadster.

I once thought the pardon of Nixon was correct, put it behind us, healing and all that. Now I think his pardon was the step onto the slippery slope that brought us here. With the tacit acquiescence of the other two branches of government and quiet acceptance of the people, our Executive branch has attacked and destroyed a country that did not attack us, illegally wiretapped tens of thousands, trampled the most basic contract between a government and its people by imprisoning without charge or hearing, and most incredible of all, claimed the right to torture. No one is seriously discussing impeachment, much less a criminal trial, and yet the laws of our country, the Geneva Convention, and our Constitution have all been deliberately and repeatedly violated by men who have every expectation of retiring to comfort and luxury.

So yes, I for one am fully prepared to watch Ron Howard plunge the depths of the corrupt and dangerous times presided over by Nixon and his diabolical collection of amoral attorneys. I didn't see that movie. Instead I saw a movie about a desperate British talk show host in over his head and a tired and sick old man trying to recapture a faded glory. I might of thought I missed the subtlety of Howard's condemnation of Nixon if it weren't for the character of James Reston played by Sam Rockwell. Here was the outrage that should have permeated this story and he was made to look hysterical and narrow. The rest of us were apparently supposed to feel satisfied that, for a brief moment near the end of the Frost/Nixon interviews, Nixon appeared deflated and resigned to his ignominy.

I fear we will have to be satisfied with the hope that Bush will one day feel bad about what he's done. Don't hold your breath.

Full Frontal 08.04.02 ticketticket

Full Frontal is a movie within a movie within a movie within a movie, ad nauseum. About halfway through I figured out how to tell which was the movie and which was the movie within a movie, or so I thought. The "tell" was the grainy, natural light, handheld. Grainy meant this was the "real" part. But that didn't last. I was so busy trying to figure out which was which I missed whatever it was Soderbergh was trying to do. Or did he have a weekend free and some leftover film stock and extra battery for his digital?

Catherine Keener pushed all this self-indulgent Soderbergh/Coleman Hough nonsense aside when she was on screen. The depth of her talent can be overwhelming. One scene in particular, and there were several, made wading through this confusing miasma more than worthwhile. She meets her sister in the lobby of a hotel after a fight with her lover. Her anguish and attempt to disguise it is one of those rare moments of acting prowess that transform a mundane experience into one sublime and precious. Funny Games 03.28.08

He's trying to get me to see Funny Games, a remake of the German original by the same director, this time starring Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, a film I had grouped in the torture porn category -
On Mar 25, 2008, at 1:17 AM, He emails:
Fritz Lang made "Testament of Dr Mabuse" criticizing the Hitler regime. The characters of the film are implicated in the terror of Hitler Germany as Lang places the slogans of the regime in their mouths. "Funny Games" implicates the audience. It really is quite good. A good deal of the actual torture takes place off camera; we only hear the screams of the tortured and view the pained faces of those who love them, or the faces of the perpetrators. It is the same with the torture performed by this government. We are guilty. All of us. Yet we never have to actually see it. We see the evidence of snapshots; we are removed from the act. Are there monsters in the world? Few but their functionaries are numerous.

On Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 3:06 AM, I reply:
I saw Funny Games today. The second time he turned to the camera I almost walked out. It was as if he were challenging me to do so. I didn't, of course, because I am complicit. In all of it. Lang was ahead of his time, Hitler wasn't even Chancellor when he made his film, just another radical party chief. Like Hagee...

He responds:
The fascist ideas of his party already had currency in the population. The evidence I have found of this is from various artists writing in the mid to late twenties. A curious thing happens at the end of World War I, a question that does not escape the German artistic community, What was that all for? In the mid 20s while the city comes to live at night, artists depict visually the destruction of the city, the urban milieu because it is inherently flawed. This answer is to the question: What's the point? What are we doing here? Will we just periodically engage in massive slaughter? Everything was so new. Rapid expansion, sensory overload, even the comprehensive lighting of the city at night would be a bit hard to take - it's a disruption of all that came before. Night into day. This is insane. Some thought it should just be destroyed and we should all return to woods so to speak. That was their radical vision. But of course it is very close to its "opposite": that we must not destroy the city but make it highly organized, central and subservient to itself. That is, there is no meaning in life but to do one's duty. This return to nature, these questions about freedom are all foolish. Duty to the whole is key. If everything could be organized...if everything had its place, then all would be well. It seems as though today we have these same "competing" visions on the fringes of things. from the fringes.

On Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 9:48 AM, I write:
I think you are absolutely right. Of course the society was rife with a variety of radical threads. I tend to think the economic one drove them into Fascism. The reparations imposed by the victors of WWI drove Germany into financial collapse. All of Europe, except maybe England, was in a state of hysterical recoil from the destruction of WWI. All the social mores were disintegrating. But Germany was driven into the economic gutter and I think the people reverted to their Maslow driven needs for food and shelter and were thus willing to accept anything that promised them bread and bed. Hitler wasn't magic, he was just the right demagogue at the right time. I think we are very close to that now. A nuke in NY or DC or even St. Louis would, I think push us over the edge. We were willing to devastate a country that had nothing to do with Sept 11, legitimize torture, and elect an idiot because he had Richelieu as his VP, over two buildings and a couple thousand folks. Imagine what we would be willing to do if a million were killed and a city made uninhabitable. If McCain is elected and it happens when he's president, he's likely to simultaneously nuke Syria, Iran, North Korea, and even China. And I don't say this to make en esoteric point. I believe it could actually happen. Where do we go when it starts?

On Mar 26, 2008, at 2:39 PM, he replies:
Your last question is very important. It would be the height of humanity to resist in any way possible such a destructive, horrific act. So the question could be "where do we go?" and this will be the right question for most people. And that's ok; one should never make such enormous demands of people. Besides compulsory resistance leads to Bad Regime Part 2. Where to go? I have no idea. Resistance. The rich countries, industrial Europe, they're all on the same page. Sure, they will say no and belly ache but they will be looking for an angle. And they surely will not resist. I mean, all the dead bodies this country has piled up over the years and which of the powerful countries resisted? Not one. Germans may have believed Hitler for the reasons you have written. However, I think that something deeper and more insidious is involved. It was not just economic hardship that created the Third Reich. It was this sense of meaninglessness, this utter lack of any reason for existing. We produce everything, all the time, everywhere. We are slaves to our productive capacity. We have never been able to make any sense of it. Why so many kinds of toothpaste? Or soap? Is this how I am to individuate? Is this how I form a self? Of course it isn't and we know better. We want answers. We want to know why. Hitler provides this answer. Why are you here? To do your duty. You have pain in your life? It is the fault of the Other. I feel this nation slipping into that trap. If the show "24" is any indication, we have already fallen into it. So where do we go from here? How do we provide answers? Religion doesn't work. Consumption doesn't work. What does? I don't know but I'm working on it. It seems to me that one key is to be as unencumbered by possession as possible. For most of the world this is very easy. But there is more to it than refusing material. We have to stop trying to possess one another. And this is difficult. Who wants to be alone? Who wants to live with the fear of another's liberty? It is difficult. It is as if there are no words for it. I am rambling. I age.

On Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 10:08 PM, I answer:
I listened to some Iraq veterans talking about their criminal behavior and asking forgiveness of the Iraqis and Americans. One of the guys said to the audience, mainly vets but he was talking to you and me, you are just as guilty because we are doing this in your name and you're doing nothing about it. There will be no widespread resistance as long as the people are narcotized by religion and consumption. I do want to take issue with your last paragraph. I don't equate not possessing another with being alone. I don't think I possess my partner and I don't think she possesses me. The key, I think, is to make sure the power dynamic is equalized. Much more difficult than it seems but nonetheless possible. It took me a long time to get it right. And I'm still working on it.

He writes
I misstated in my last paragraph the issue of equating not possessing another person with being alone. I think that many people do make this connection. I do not. It is obvious that you do not either. It does take a lot of work. We are constantly encouraged to possess others generally and as men we are encouraged to possess women. It is high time we took this notion seriously: we need to rid the world of domination in all its forms. Simply the act of working toward this goal would bring vast improvements. Would we ever get it right? Probably not. But at this point we, as a whole, do not try very hard. Personally, I put a lot of work into ridding my life of domination in all of its forms. I do not attempt to dominate animals or humans. I try to keep earth-dominating activity to a minimum as I do place my survival first. But these are all individual choices. Like the ones we make at the store; they take the same form as consumer choices. The tired mantra, I'll do what I can. It seems like most of the time that is all each one of us can do. Why do we so frequently fail to combine against this tide of insanity unleashed by the powerful? Historians do not like arguments that stem from some ideas about human nature - these ideas are products of particular places in particular times and have not the universal bearing they presuppose. It is so difficult to hear those soldiers tell us that we are complicit. I can hardly listen to them. It's because they are right.

On Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 7:45 AM
Do you think your mere existence indicates a movement toward the objective? I mean you came to this awareness, why can't others? Is it the Maslow thing? I don't want to seem like a devotee but mass upheavals, the Russian and French Revolution, the Vietnam era protest marches I'm afraid found their origin in bread in the first two and survival in the latter. I guess the larger question is will we ever, as a species, move on the basis of enlightened awareness or always the baser drives. The whole male/female possession thing I fear is about procreation. Do we treat others better now than 500 years ago? A hundred? A thousand? I think maybe so. The Magna Carta might have been the big leap forward. Despite its thrust toward the liberty of the privileged, it was nonetheless the first attempt to move away from despotism as the primary organizing principle of the social order. I wish we had a better understanding of pre-agriculture/pre-literate humanity. I have always thought that the surplus that came from agriculture originated our top-down social order and abrogated any possibility of communal living.

He concludes:
Gerhard Lerner proposes in The Creation of the Patriarchy that male domination stems directly from male domination of animals. Herding animals provided men with a source of wealth that was not directly dependent upon women. Before herding women were the source of wealth in the form of children. If we examine the deities of nearly every culture on the planet there is a move from female deities to male ones. An example: the early Greeks had female goddesses as the head of the pantheon. Women were the source of life as they gave birth to children. Later we see male deities taking this role (Athena born from a male, Zeus). Female deities become evil as in the case of Medusa. Eventually, men dominate all intercession with the divine. They are priests, prophets, etc. Further, men wished to pass their wealth to their progeny. In order to ensure that the children to whom they pass the herd are actually their own there was a prohibition placed on women: they could only have sex with one man. Then follows what Levi-Strauss calls the "exchange of women."

Galaxy Quest 12.29.99 ticketticket

Clever, fast paced, and funny. Makes fun of the genre (StarTrek), fandom, and itself.

Gangs of New York 12.24.02 ticketticket

Gangs of New York concludes with a naval bombardment aimed at a riotous mob of nearly five thousand looting, burning, lynching but otherwise law-abiding citizens. Angry over the draft they are, and the Army and Navy are summoned to quell their four-day binge. The real lawlessness is to be found in, but of course, The Gangs of New York. The Navy's cannons inadvertently catch the two leading gangs, the Dead Rabbits and the Natives just as they are about to begin their governance-deciding rumble. Sixteen years prior, they fought to the apparent finish and banishment of the Dead Rabbits. Liam Neeson, "the Priest," and the last honorable man killed by Daniel Day-Lewis ("the Butcher"), had ruled over the Roman Catholic/Irish Dead Rabbits gang until meeting his demise at the end of a filet knife wielded by, yes, The Butcher. The Priest's son, Leonardo DiCaprio ("Amsterdam"), witnessed his father's death, went to reform school and graduated to become the Butcher's assistant, all the while plotting his revenge. Now only a master filmmaker like Martin Scorsese could use street gangs, Irish immigration, Tammany Hall, the Civil War, and New York's conscription riots as background for a story about power, honor, corruption and vengeance. Unfortunately, Gangs of New York is not that movie. Scorcese has fashioned an entirely new film genre - the Hodge Podge. The interesting parts of this story could have as easily been told in Daguerreotype and voice-over by Ken Burns.

The less interesting and apparently obligatory romantic triangle between Amsterdam, the Butcher and Cameron Diaz (Jennie) was thin, inconsequential and took up way too much time. The effort to cast the Butcher and the Priest in some sort of heroic shade was misguided if not utterly without aim. Scorsese has so little faith in his audience that we too felt bludgeoned by the time the Priest delivers his soliloquy on the strength of character of the Priest he murdered. His attempt to fashion a more meaningful story through the lives of a handful of gang members fails miserably. All the shame, too, as the social dynamics of gangs and the societal failures that create them would have made an interesting story. Alas, this was the story not told.

Garden State 08.14.04 ticket ticketticket

Steve was the kind of friend everyone should have - funny, smart, well connected, always up for fun. One day he came back to his trailer with the dope and couldn't wait to tell me how completely wasted the dealers were. "Man, they are totally out of it, cash and drugs are everywhere and these guys can barely talk." "Wow," I said, thinking they were probably not wise to consume more of their product than they could safely handle. "We could go over there and kill them and take all the money and drugs and no one would ever know," Steve says. I laugh nervously. "No really man, we could do it." "Yeah, lets think about that for awhile," I say hoping Steve would soon forget his plan. He did but I didn't. I think that was the beginning of the end of my Bohemian lifestyle. If Steve was representative of the Bohemians I figured I needed to move out.

The supremely talented Peter Sarsgard put me in mind of Steve, really cool guy with a missing morality gene. Sarsgard plays Mark, Largeman's (Zach Braff) friend from the old days. Largeman has come home for his mother's funeral. He runs into Mark at the funeral. Mark's smoking a cigarette waiting for the funeral party to leave. Once gone. he'll check the body for jewelry before burying it. Mark is the gravedigger.

Largeman's mom was a quadraplegic as a result of shove her nine year old son, Largeman, gave her. Largeman's father, a psychiatrist, has been treating his son for depression ever since. Largeman is not so sure he's depressed but then he's been so medicated he has no way of knowing. Mom drowned in the tub and Largeman comes home for the first time in nine years. To call this a dark comedy would be a bit of an understatement. An existential The Graduate, Garden State is entirely the product of an apparently highly gifted Zach Braff. Braff wrote and directed. He was so convincing as the medicated and unmedicated Largeman that I may have to give his TV sitcom, Scrubs, a look. And that is saying a lot.

Ian Holm as dad and Natalie Portman as new girlfriend are only two of the several actors and characters that give this already inspired comedy heft and hilarity beyond anything I've seen in a long time.

Gerry 04.20.03 ticketticketticket

gerry - (verb) to hose a situation or opportunity, (noun) one who hoses a situation or opportunity, (Proper noun) the name shared by both, and only, characters of the movie of the same. In addition to learning this new word, I learned what a "high hill scoutabout" means, how one can "crow's nest" ones way into a "rock maroon" and, not incidentally, how easily we can slip away, from everything.

Two guys, Casey Affleck (Ben's little brother in all ways) and Matt Damon, hike off to see "the thing" at the end of the trail. It's a really great "thing" but we never see it. Disturbed in their quest for solitude by a woman and her kids on the trail, they take a detour. "No problem," as it all curves around to the same thing. If only. A couple of wrong turns and some aggressive hiking later and they are lost, big time; eventually resorting to following animal tracks in a vain search for water. One scene, lasting what must have been ten minutes, begins just before dawn and follows their shuffling, wasted gait until the sun comes up. The scene is interminable and puts us closer to the experience than the best jump-cuts and synthesized music could ever hope to. This is Gus Van Sant moviemaking, personal and ugly. And different. Very different. Precious little dialogue, even less context, and plenty of extended takes. Early on we see the two side by side from about a foot away from Casey's face. Damon's profile is visible and not as their pace varies slightly. We hear their crunching footsteps in time and not. A miniature study in motion, the shot fascinates, and lasts three, maybe four, minutes. An eternity in these MTV days.

Gerry is rich beyond measure. It is an existential allegory, a struggle between the romantic and practical, the heroic and the ordinary, a suspense story, a drama, and a cautionary tale. See this movie, if for no other reason, it will help you appreciate your ordinary day, your ordinary life, your ordinary friends. Hold on to it all for dear life.

Ghosts of Mars 08.28.01 ticketticket

The fellow I saw this film with said he liked the way it kept retelling a scene from a different character's perspective. "You don't miss anything, that way," he said. Carpenter can definitely tell a story. From Halloween to Escape From New York, to Starman, In The Mouth of Madness, and Ghosts of Mars, John Carpenter again and again tells a simple story directly and clearly. You may hate the tale and abhor the gore but you can't dispute Carpenter's mastery of the craft.

The ageless war between good and evil is found at the core of most of his work. The evil can be faceless and relentless (Michael Myers in Halloween), clear and personified (Lee Van Cleef and Isaac Hayes in Escape From New York), or ethereal, revenge seeking killers (The Fog and Ghosts of Mars). The good are usually tainted but noble and living on society's fringe (Michael's failed psychiatrist Dr. Loomis in Halloween, the crook Snake Pliskin in Escape From New York, and the jaded, drug-using Melanie Ballard in Ghosts of Mars).

Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) finds herself saddled with the difficult duty of fighting off ancient Martian life forms possessing the miners of Mars while recovering a notorious murderer (played convincingly by Ice Cube), all the while resisting the advances of her male chauvinist pig partner (Jason Statham as Jericho) and watching out for the rookie (the gifted Clea DuVall). Quite an order, but she's up to it. Well, sort of. The murderer does get away (he was falsely accused anyway), everyone on her squad is killed, the ancient Martian life forms are nuclear blast resistant, but, she sure looks fine failing.

Seen as a parable of our destruction of the rain forest and the terrifyingly lethal bugs that we seem to set free in the process, this is a meaningful and significant slaughterfest. Otherwise, it is just another tightly told John Carpenter tale of good and evil and some places in between.

Ghost Ship 10.27.02ticketticket

It was either one of the Exorcist or Damian movies where an elevator falls several floors before being halted by the emergency brakes. The stop is sudden and the fellow caught in the elevator is injured but clearly grateful to be alive. We then hear a whistling sound as a cable torn loose in the accident begins its descent from the top of the shaft. Aided in its fall by the counterweights, the whistling sound gets louder as the cable reaches terminal velocity in its approach to the halted elevator. It slices through the elevator and separates the injured fellow from his legs as it passes. It is a memorable scene and has remained with me for two decades.

Ghost Ship director Steve Beck must have seen the same movie. His first film, Thirteen Ghosts features a particularly gruesome slicing scene as some bad guy (lawyer) is sliced lengthwise by fast moving glass. The glass remains in place long enough for us to get a good shot of the still functioning internal organs. Like the plastic overlays from Compton's Encyclopedia. Ghost Ship takes slicing to new heights as a whole deck-full of revelers is sliced at midsection by a ships cable. Of course, the slicing is done with such speed that the half inch cable leaves everyone standing for a few seconds. We must move through this level of horror slowly to insure maximum effect. People tumble every which way in pools of blood. One lady tries to drag her lower torso over in a reassembly effort. OK, I guess you get the picture. Not content with showing us the scene once, Beck finds a way to rework it into the story near the film's end so we can see it again. Gruesome beyond reason.

Almost as bad is Mark Hanlon's story. Ferriman (Desmond Harrington) appears in a seaside bar soliciting Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) and his salvage crew to grab an ocean liner he spotted from the air. Next thing they know they bump drifting ocean liner last seen in 1962. It is, of course, a ghost ship. Thirty minutes of creaking doors and water-filled galleys later and the salvage crew starts getting bumped off. Except Epps (Julianna Margulies), who befriends a little girl ghost with a heart of gold. She tries to warn Epps and the crew off the ship but too late. Turns out Ferriman (hello - Ferry Man) is busy filling out his quota of sinning souls so he can deliver them to the Big Boss. Satan apparently needs 100% cabin occupancy before he can claim the chaff our Lord has cast out. Theology takes some odd turns in international waters, but who am I to question the workings the Evil One?

Ghost World 09.03.01 ticketticket

Another comic book makes the movies. I confess to an end to comic book reading around the time The Silver Surfer made his Marvel Comics debut. I have picked up a comic from time to time and been lectured by my juniors on the validity and flexibility of the comic format. I even read someone recently claim Bugs Bunny as a profound philosophical voice. I will nonetheless forever think of comics as literature's little league. It was in that frame of mind that I sat down to Ghost World. Now I want to find some Ghost World back issues. Apparently, I've missed something.

Ghost World is a serious and impressive look at the isolation, aimlessness, and ennui that, only from time to time if we're lucky, infects and effects us all. Thora Birch as Enid (she's been acting since six and played Harrison Ford's daughter in two of the Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, government servant/spy) and Scarlett Johansson (acting since ten) as Rebecca, have just graduated from high school and are taking their first tentative steps into the real world. The real world you and I inhabit, as opposed to the Real World that MTV would have us believe exists. You know, the one where half a dozen or so boys and girls live together and explain their lives to the camera and millions of their peers. The one where the work ethic is taken from Friends. Enid and Rebecca find themselves in the real, real world. The one where people need a roommate so they can get a decent place, the one inhabited by weirdoes and creeps and insufferable bores. The one where the buildings are dilapidated and the streets are dirty. Where the only jobs to be had are at the fast fried food place or the local theater or at the airport metal detectors.

Ghost World takes us into that world and shows us around. We get to know Steve Buscemi's version of Everyman - part geek, part obsessive, part big-hearted loser. In the process we meet a variety of Ghost World's inhabitants, including Norman, who sits at the bus stop every day on a bus line discontinued years ago, Daniel Clowe's (the Ghost World comic's originator) version of Waiting for Godot. Ghost World has an existential feel. A wasteland of characters thrashing about in a pointless search for meaning. The world of comics meets Samuel Beckett. With a twist.

The Gift 01.26.01 ticketticket

Good old fashioned murder mystery thriller made exceptional by the presence of Cate Blanchett. Keanu Reeves should stick to playing evil bastards, he's really good at it. The good guy/sensitivity thing just doesn't work for him. Like Neil Young singing the praises of gender equality, Keanu as anything other than mean (or stupid - remember Bill and Ted?) rings hollow. Hilary Swank is back, finally, as an abused housewife. She's great but Cate Blanchett is extraordinary. Her scene on the witness stand testifying to her "Gift" is a classic. Greg Kinear is good, again.

Girlfight 10.07.00 ticketticketticket

It's the same stare. Full head shot close-up. Chin tucked, only the bottom third of the pupil visible, staring malevolently out from under the brow. The sort of stare that makes you think it may be the last thing you ever see. Malcolm McDowell first displayed it in the opening scene of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Michelle Rodriguez (as Diana Guzman) makes it real in Karyn Kusama's Girlfight. McDowell is seen in a futuristic bar preparing for some ultra-vi with his gang of thugs. Diana is seen across an inner city high school hallway between classes. A Clockwork Orange is about a future gone wrong; Girlfight about the present gone wrong. Bodies drift back and forth across the screen as we zoom in on the stare. Her baggy army surplus jacket with shows us a blank space where the name should be. Behind her stare is rage. In the next scene she is throwing a classmate against the lockers for disrespecting her friend.

McDowell's rage in A Clockwork Orange is about a hollow future in a decadent and materialistic Britain. Guzman's rage is about no future in a violent and uncaring Brooklyn. She (Diana) lives in the projects with her aspiring artist brother and beer drinking dad. Dad is paying for boxing lessons for Diana's self-described geek brother. She cold cocks one of the young boxers at the gym because he sucker-punched her brother in a sparring match. Diana is adrift and about to be expelled from school for fighting. She hooks up with her brother's trainer and learns to box. The New York State boxing commission has recently introduced "gender-blind" boxing into the amateur ranks and Diana soon finds herself in the ring with male boxers.

From the cheap furniture of her project apartment to the burnt-out gym coach at school, this movie is all about real. Guzman came from a New York City casting call. She learned to act and box on the job. It is the writer/director, Kusama's, first film. She is a boxer and it shows in her treatment of the sport. The fight scenes spare us the slow motion, blood-spurting horrors of other boxing films (Scorcese's Raging Bull) instead concentrating on training, footwork, and combination punching. The fights are a spinning, bouncing array of angles and shots.

Ultimately, this is not a movie about boxing. It is a movie about growth. It is, more importantly, about the shallowness of our gender biases. Kusama's and Rodriguez's skills, behind and in front of the camera, deliver this message without apparent effort. No condescension, no patronizing here, just good story, well acted and well told.

Girl Interrupted 01.26.00 ticketticket

Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder, in addition to their interesting family histories and unusual names, are wonderful to watch. Both accomplished and powerful actors capable of carrying a weak movie. Girl Interrupted is a weak movie. Or maybe I'm not particularly interested in angst or the 60's. The 60's may have been a social and cultural phenomenon of the first magnitude but the historical verdict won't be in until we're all dead so why keep trying to re-live it? The 60's are over, disco is dead, Keith Richards looks like he ought to be and who really cares except people trying to make money off it?

The portrayal of the world of psychiatric medicine was relevant. Psychiatry has always been the dark science. How can we ever know to what extent Freud's sexual identity influenced his theories of infantile sexuality? Was Skinner a closet fascist, and so inclined to identify conditioning by external forces as pre-eminent in our psychic development? Were Piaget's children normal or extraordinary? Were his theories of child development unduly influenced by his perception of his own children? Try as we might, we cannot dispassionately or objectively examine our own behavior. That is why most psychiatrists are themselves in therapy, not because they're a mess but because they are inherently incapable of assessing their own mental health. By extension, the science itself is inherently incapable of performing its self-assigned task - determining the causes and cures of abnormal behavior. It is, more than any other form of medicine, a hit-or-miss proposition. Witness the new panacea of psychometric drugs. Try wellbutrin and see if it makes you feel better. If not, we'll switch the dosage. Or try you out on some other seratonin re-uptake inhibitor.

All that aside, the current state of the science, at least as practiced in the insurance company bottom-line dominated health care world, bears an uncanny resemblance to the psychiatric world portrayed in Girl Interrupted.

The psychiatrist is around for legitimacy but is rarely seen (Vanessa Redgrave), the therapist is who the patients actually see (and they are about as competent and motivated as the one in this movie), the street-wise nurse (Whoopi) serves the same role as psychometric drugs (try this and try that until something works), and the patients themselves are primarily responsible for their own care. Nobody in the system really knows what's going on and the only ones that genuinely care are the other patients and those that live with them.

In case you don't know, your health insurance plan, if you have one, and if it covers mental health, works like just like this. A psychiatrist can be seen once a month max and can therefore not participate in the patient's treatment other than to prescribe drugs. Insurance will pay for a "therapist" to see a patient regularly. A therapist whose annual salary (paid by the HMO) is less than half that of a licensed psychiatrist. Would you take your car to someone who is paid half what real mechanics are paid? If you did, would you expect it to be fixed properly? If you're lucky enough to have family members who can cope with the nightmare of mental illness and love you enough to go through it for you, you may stand a chance.

Otherwise, I'll see you on the corner holding a cardboard sign and talking to the air.

Girls Can't Swim 04.17.02 ticketticket

Ostensibly about the relationship between two teen-age girls, this seductive French drama starts slow and ends with a surprising power. Gwen (Isild Le Besco) is testing her sexuality and her parents as she moves quickly through the local boys. Her best friend, Lise (Karen Alyz), can't see her this summer because she's failed a class and must repeat, or so she says. The two exchange innocent but passionate love letters instead. A dramatic turn of events brings them together after all, jealousy separates them and tragedy binds them in the end. There is nothing superficial about this film and the passion and pain felt by these two leading teen-age women is abundant and sometimes hard to take. The camera likes Lise, in particular, and she seems to fill the screen. My only complaint would be director Anne-Sophie Birot's portrayal of men as shallow, cruel, and inconsequential. Not that we're not, mind you, it's just hard to see it.

Girl With A Pearl Earring 01.10.04 ticketticket

Everything in this beautiful film looks like a Dutch master's paining. Somber, shadowy, almost grimy surroundings with rare splashes of color and beauty to stave off the dark. Has to be the countryside. Dark more than it's light, cold more than it's warm, this is one awful place to be. And the people aren't much better. Colin Firth's portrayal of Johannes Vermeer has us feeling sorry for this poor wretch, pinched between his cunning mother-in-law and controlling patron, Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson). He never smiles and seems to paint begrudgingly. We get to learn a little about the craft, though, and it is the only time he seems to enjoy himself, teaching the young maid Griet (Scarlett Johansson) how to mix paints. I thought there was always an art supply store, even in the sixteenth century, but it turns out colors were created with mortar and pistol. Vermeer's studio is the converted attic of their home on the canal and from the looks of the collected works, almost everything was painted in this cramped room. Most of his paintings have light streaming in from windows on the left with the subject in the corner. Light was a big deal for the painters of this period and Vermeer was one of the best. One of his best known works is The Girl With A Pearl Earring which, if we believe the story, was commissioned as a private piece for the gratification of his seamy patron, Van Ruijven. Wilkinson is appropriately vile and Essie Davis plays his whining and mean spirited wife to perfection. Scarlett Johansson is delicious as the innocent and smart Griet (where do they get these awful names?) but the real star of this film is the cinematography. The lighting and framing of almost every scene makes you think you have wondered into the Dutch masters room at the museum. Girl With A Pearl Earring is a breathtakingly beautiful cinematic achievement to which the story and actors are secondary. Eduardo Serra is the master behind this masterpiece. We see him too rarely. In two of his previous American films he showed the same sensibilities, Passion of Mind and Unbreakable. He is an inspired cinematographer and one of only a handful of choices for a film about a great work of art. Great choice, fine film.

Gladiator 05.07.00 ticketticket

Thomas Cahill's How The Irish Saved Civilization begins with a description of the barbarian hordes of the north walking across the frozen Rhine river to come face to face with the imperial legions of Rome. This was the beginning of the end for the Roman empire. The glorious Roman Republic had come and gone. Rule by the Senate had long since been replaced by imperial rule. Marcus Aurelius, emperor in the late second century, is busy fighting the barbarians with his great general Maximus. At Marcus Aurelius' death, his son, Commodus, made peace with the Germanic tribes of the northern frontier and hurried back to Rome to celebrate himself. The next one hundred years would see forty-six Roman emperors. The previous three centuries saw rulers with names like Pompey, Julius and Augustus Caesar, and Hadrian. The average length of time an emperor held office was more than ten years. For the next two hundred years, with rare exception, no ruler remained at the head of the Roman Empire more than three years. Within another two centuries the Dark Ages would begin its descent on the Western world. The fabric that held the west together would evolve from Roman Tunics to Catholic vestments. Gladiator is set in the time when it all began to fall apart.

Ridley Scott's trademark dark, gloomy, and grimy sets are perfectly adapted to this period. Everything is shrouded in mist or covered in dust or bathed in sweat and blood. "At my signal, unleash Hell" is the command Maximus gives his commanders before decimating the barbarians from the north. After the battle is won, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) congratulates his general, Maximus (Russell Crowe), and snubs his son, Commodus. Before morning, though, Commodus, played by the creepy Joaquin Phoenix, upon learning of his father's intent to name Maximus his successor, murders him. Maximus refuses to pledge loyalty to the new Emperor and seals his fate. Eventually, Maximus and Commodus meet again in the Coliseum with not so predictable results.

We see the weakness and failure of Rome with crystalline clarity in Commodus. Commodus is representative of a lower, more venal class of ruler. One without great passion or vision. In these lesser men's hands, Rome's fate is sealed. Full of spite and vainglory, he condemns Maximus and abandons the northern empire to the barbarians. Is the history of great civilizations a history of the tragic flaws of an individual? Can so much turn on the behavior of a single individual? Without the crushing reparations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, would Hitler have ascended to the Chancellor's seat? History is replete with events with a single individual at the center. Mohammed, Ghengis Khan, Napoleon, Charlamagne, were these men the product of their times or did they bend their times to their will? And what about the Commodus' of history? Are these weaker, flawed leaders just as responsible for events that did not occur as men like Charlamagne were for events that did? Is there always a Chamberlain to facilitate a Hitler, a Commodus that precedes the Fall of Rome?

These are questions unanswered and unaddressed in Scott's film. Gladiator is a nonetheless compelling look at the times that preceded the Dark Ages. And what about the Dark Ages? What director would be better suited for a look at the Dark Ages than Ridley Scott?... Tim Burton

The Glass House 09.16.01 ticketticket

The Glass House is Daniel Sackheim's first foray into the world of feature film direction. He has made the rounds in television realms taking a turn ar Judgung Amy, X-Files, Harsh Realm and Millennium, among others. Some minor errors in the continuity department notwithstanding, he acquits himself reasonably well. One character goes over the cliff in a car with his hands duct taped behind his back and manages a Houdini without so much as a by your leave to the audience. One wonders if the sixty minutes to resolution restraint of television contributes to Mr. Sackheim's failure to address certain requirements of the suspension of disbelief rule. Would anyone, much less a sixteen-year-old valley girl, have the presence of mind to accomplish what our heroine manages? Some of her antics are worthy of a Sherlock Holmes mentality. The last sixty minutes of the film is a headlong rush from suspense to scare and back again. As if our attention span might drift away of someone weren't about to be caught or killed at any moment.

Leelee Sobieski (of Deep Impact and Joanne of Arc, TV version, fame) plays our crafty heroine avoiding the evil clutches of Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Passion of Mind, and Timecode) and his drug addicted doctor wife, played by Diane Lane (Lonesome Dove and The Perfect Storm). All are superb actors and keep this routine action/suspense drama from sinking into mediocrity. Bruce Dern has a small role as an estate lawyer and underplays the part perfectly.

The real crime in this film is not committed by any of the characters but by the writer. He (Wesley Strick) has created a cast of characters with absolutely no redeeming value. The parents are killed when they get bombed at dinner, the step-father is a drunk embezzler in debt to the mob, the step-mother steals pain medication from her patients to get high, our heroine is a spoiled, duplicitous plagiarist, and her little brother would sell his soul for a new Nintendo. Shouldn't we have at least one person we care about?

Godsend 05.09.04 ticket

Greg Kinnear does well, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is alright, and DeNiro is just fine. A friend once told me saying someone is just fine means they don't have any mud on their face but it doesn't really mean they look fine. When all you can say about DeNiro is that he is just fine something is terribly wrong. Like giving Monet a paint by numbers canvas and a set of K-Mart tempera colors. He'll do just fine, thank you but you'll not get a Water Lilies. Greg and Rebecca lose their eight year old in a tragic car accident (is there any other kind?) and Becky's old graduate professor, DeNiro, turns up and offers to clone the little buckaroo. This is a sci-fi/horror film so you know right away the cloning may not go as expected. Writer Mark Bomback approaches some interesting explanations but never gets much closer than I could get to Mrs. Romijn-Stamos. He eventually lands on some dopey explanation that undoes what halfway decent science had been represented up to that point.

The scary parts are pretty scary but director Hamm lives up to his name with way too many shower curtain pulls or closet door openings or light bulbs going out at just the wrong time. Not cheesy exactly but definitely in the dairy section. A section I'm avoiding these days. You should too.

The Golden Bowl 05.27.01 ticketticket

James Ivory (Howard's End, Remains of the Day, etc. etc.) directs this Victorian period piece. It is a story (surprise!) about marrying for money and convenience, repressed desire, and betrayal. Like all British (particularly Merchant/Ivory productions) period pieces it is supported by beautiful sets and meticulous care in costuming. Unlike most British period pieces, though, The Golden Bowl is ultimately passionless. Perhaps Uma Thurman (cover your ears) can't act and maybe Jeremy Northam couldn't convince even a drunken Nazi corporal he is an Italian prince. Or maybe the bizarre references to "American City" were too much to take. The whole surreal atmosphere surrounding the references to "American City" (as if we were referring to leprosy by its more formal name, Hansen's disease) collapsed when New York newspapers were used to inform the last scenes. Continuity please!

Anjelica Huston, Nick Nolte and Kate Beckinsale (from The Last Days of Disco, Pearl Harbor, and Serendipity) acquit themselves nicely.

The Golden Compass 12.07.07 ticket ticket

Never read any of the books on which this is based. Having read the Tolkein trilogy early on I eschewed all other fantasy fiction as pale imitation. Someone convinced me to read The Narnia Chronicles and I devoured them. But then eschewed all fantasy fiction as pale imitation. And then Harry Potter... Yet I pity those peers stuck in the "classic rock" syndrome of the 60's for whom Moby Grape represents the Grail. Without KTRU and i-Tunes I too would likely be stuck with the music of my youth and never known the pleasure of Secret Machines, Beirut and the Silversun Pickups. The New York Times Book Review doesn't serve the same function as Rice University's radio station. It should, but then the editors are likely way less cool than the music gurus at Rice.

The big controversy of the film is Hollywood's stripping the anti-religious themes from the book and replacing them with anti-authority ones. Personally I think we have a lot more to lose from the voice of authority than the voice of religion. Yes, yes they are often one and the same and no government critic is likely to suffer the fate of Sinead O'Connor who ripped up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live and said "Fight the Power." She was concerned about the church's anti-birth control stance and the result it visits on countless millions of women. Poverty, abuse and disease were better choices to the soon-to-be-saint of a Pope than a condom or a pill. How anyone can be so crazy as to presume to have a better channel to a god and then use that "authority" to control the fate of hundreds of millions of people is something I hope I never understand. But I digress. The money folks at the studio were so afraid of a fundamentalist backlash that they would only spend two hundred million dollars making a movie if they could be reasonably certain it wouldn't offend what's left of the Christian right. A real shame for everyone involved.

I thought I would have trouble with the whole soul living in an animal buddy thing and I did find myself wondering how the people kept from stepping on all those little creatures flitting about but then I guess you get used to it. I did and was soon worried more about Lyra Belaqua (Dakota Blue Richards, surely not her real name, won the role in a ten thousand strong casting call in England) than an errant foot. She holds The Golden Compass (an inerrant truth telling device much like a TV Evangelist) and the Magisterium is out to get it, and her. They send a deliciously wicked Nicole Kidman and her time on screen is, as one would expect, the high point of the film. Everyone else is just acting but she functions on some other level. A level occupied by Samantha Morton, Meryl Streep, Benicio Del Toro, and very few others. Lots of adventure, tons of great actors (Derek Jacobi, Tom Courtney, etc. etc.) and a gazillion sub plots. This sanitized series will be with us for some time to come. They better sign Nicole to the sequel.

Gone Baby Gone ticketticket

I finally figured out where duality comes from. Night and day. Our first experience as sentient beings is the cycle of light and dark. Light, safe and warm, dark, cold and scary. So this is what makes us think in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, Hannity and Franken, et cetera ad nauseum. Rarely is the choice betwen doing the right thing and the wrong clear or simple. But of course, I can't be certain I'm right about that lest I join the ranks of the ugly. Doesn't it seem those absolutely certain are more often ugly than not? Either in flesh or spirit. The rest of us wander from existential crisis to muddled uncertainty until the end. I guess if we wander with the likes of Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard we could do worse. These two penned the screenplay of Gone Baby Gone wherein Ben's brother Casey plays a private detective hired to find a missing little girl. His girlfriend, Angie (the suddenly striking screen presence Michelle Monaghan) and he strike up an uncomfortable partnership with two detectives in the missing child unit to find this precious little girl. Mom, though, is a real piece of work, and things turn murky fast. Heading the unit is Morgan Freeman and he formed the unit after his little girl was abducted and killed. Webs spin ever more out of control and we're led to two apparent conclusions only to find both wrong. We're well disposed to shift again when we're finally confronted with the choice upon which this deeply thoughtful film turns. I've rarely been so unsure which way a film was going to go and even less sure which way I wanted it to go than Gone Baby Gone. Some brilliant film making and some hard choices.

Gone In 60 Seconds 06.09.00 ticket

Retired car thief Memphis Raines (Nicholas Cage) leaves retirement (running go-karts for children) to save his little brother Kip (Giovanni Ribisi) from the evil limey that filled the vacuum created in Long Beach auto theft by Raines' retirement. Angelina Jolie plays Memphis' old flame, Sway (I am not making these names up) who comes back to "help Kip." Memphis assembles his old gang (and some new youngsters) for an all-out assault on expensive cars, fifty in one night. And that, rest assured, is all the plot you'll get. This movie is about stealing cars and driving fast.

I left the theater and immediately booked a flight to Long Beach. Any town where one gang can steal fifty cars in one night and not even see any police (save a rent-a-cop with Sergeant York-like marksmanship) is the town where I begin my criminal career. The one car these guys steal just for fun has fifty pounds of heroin in the trunk. I thought Long Beach was a nice place to live. Clearly it is the criminal Mecca.

Nicholas Cage is believable when he's angst ridden but not when he's the bad guy, Giovanni Ribisi is an extraordinary actor waiting for a great role in a great film (Boiler Room was a near miss), and unless Robert Duval is being paid by the line, he should have had a larger role. He lends everything he touches depth and character. To restrict his presence in any film is a huge oversight. Angelina Jolie needs to follow Kate Winslett into some odd films and roles before she ends up typecast as the resident sleaze.

The pace is frenetic, the action scenes are, as usual, too full of jump cuts and devoid of continuity. Remember the car chase in Bullit? Several minutes long and riveting because it was continuous. By the time Gene Hackman chased the bad guys in French Connection, action scenes were already on their way to the edit room for enhancement. The progression continued unabated until action scenes are now little more than a series of chopped close ups on either side of a combination of five second special effects. In fact, extended shots are fast becoming a rarity. Is our attention span so short, as we are told, or have the McEdit directors behind these films not been exposed to the opening scene of Hitchcock's Frenzy? Here is a tracking shot from above London, down the Thames, under the bridge, up the street, down an alley, up some stairs, and back again. Without a visible edit. It is the singularly most compelling opening shot in all filmdom. The McEdit kids should be required to see it before being allowed behind the camera.

Ever notice how the bad guys usually meet a fate roughly equivalent to their badness? The more evil the bad guy the more horrible the death. What is that about? Are we so filled with anger and spite toward the bad guy that we can only be satiated by a particularly horrible or grisly death? We get to see the bad guys cowardly visage as he falls to his death (oh, gee, hope I didn't spoil it for you). I didn't mind his murderous psychopathology nearly as much as the disrespect he showed baseball. For that alone he should have been crushed to death by his own diabolical device.

The Good Girl 08.17.02 ticketticketticket

One of the great crimes of the twenty-first century is the marketing dolts tendency to tell the entire story of a film in the trailers. One of the more blatant examples in recent memory is Swimfan. The trailers tell us of a swimming phenom seduced by the new girl in school who, when rejected, slips swim phenom steroids in his vitamins. Swim phenom is kicked off the team and swimfan pursues relentlessly, eventually running his girlfriend off the road and then dumping her, confined to a wheelchair, into the pool to be saved by swim phenom. So, if you want to know what happens in the last ten minutes of Swimfan, buy a ticket and go. My guess is the girlfriend is saved and swimfan dies some grisly underwater death.

The Good Girl trailers are all consumed in the first five minutes. The reason for this may not be an awakening on the part of studio salesmen, though, as the trailers are almost all funny quips and The Good Girl, while very funny at times, is much more than a comedy. Jennifer Aniston (Justine Last) demonstrates a depth of talent heretofore unsuspected. Charismatic, cute, and comedic have all surfaced in Friends, but when we see her walking across the Retail Rodeo floor as if gravity won't allow her feet to do anything but shuffle and her shoulders only stoop, we are awakened to a phenomenal talent. Her portrayal of a plain Texas Jane with dying dreams is letter perfect. Her husband Phil (John C. Reilly) and his buddy bubba (Tim Blake Nelson) are housepainters by day and potheads by night. Her days are spent at the Retail Rodeo, a small town five-and-dime populated by a bizarre cast of characters. Cheryl (Zooey Deschanel) gets booted from blue-light special announcer to cosmetics assistant when she gets a little too creative on the PA. She is delightful as a gothic wannabe.

The new cashier, Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener's love interest in Lovely & Amazing and the soon to be released Moonlight Mile) catches Justine's eye and The Good Girl makes a ninety-degree from her miserable life. This is a small town, though, and their secret won't be long kept. Aniston's performance compels us to accompany her as The Good Girl turns dark and dangerous. Director Miguel Arteta controls the descent, though, and punctuates with humor. This is a powerful story told in profound performances topped by a surprising Jennifer Aniston.

Good Night, and Good Luck 10.05.05 ticketticket ticket

Between Walter Cronkite's 1968 assessment that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable and Anderson Cooper's angry comment about politicians congratulating each other while 20,000 of their constituents struggled in squalor at the Convention Center in New Orleans, a great tub of hacks and sycophants lay claim to the mantle of journalist. Pandering to the lowest element of American society with stories of strippers and billionaires or attempting to grease their own slide into comfortable mediocrity with tales of Gate's boundless generosity or imbedding themselves in Baghdad hotels to report on Operation Carpet Bag, journalism of the past thirty years has done its best to shame the memory of the towering figure of integrity and courage that was Edward R. Murrow. George Clooney has done a first rate job or reminding us what journalism is supposed to look like. David Strathairn plays Murrow and Clooney Murrow's producer Fred Friendly. Filmed in black and white, Good Night looks and feels like a documentary, rarely leaving the newsroom and giving us zero insight into Murrow's private life. And maybe that's the way it should be, the cult of the personality and the worship of fame has brought us to the point where no boundaries exist and every aspect of the lives of the famous becomes grist for the mill of sensationalism. I harbor no illusions that this film will change anything. But it helps to be reminded that there was once a time when being a journalist meant something good and honest. Now it all depends on whether you work for Murdoch or GE. Good luck indeed.

The Good Shepherd 12.23.06 ticketticket

The Untold Story of the Birth of the CIA is The Good Shepherd's subtitle. Timely offering as was Clooney's Edward R. Murrow film. For the slow learners in the audience the filmmakers include a character (played by the director Robert DeNiro) who serves as both the original founding impetus and the conscience of the CIA. He insists on civilian oversight, and he is slowly dying. Not hard to see which way DeNiro's leans on this one.

Heavy-handedness aside, The Good Shepherd is riveting filmmaking. Having learned at the feet of the master Scorsese, DeNiro never lets anything get in the way of the story. It moves quickly, if not always clearly, through the early post war years up through the Bay of Pigs, the first public CIA catastrophe. Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, William Hurt and Timothy Hutton all add to the film while Angelina Jolie detracts. She never looks young enough to be a college age paramour for Matt Damon. Maybe it's the lifestyle and not just the five years difference in their ages or maybe it's just bad makeup. No matter.

What does is yet another voice crying in the wilderness to straighten out the path that we have allowed to become so bent as to be almost unrecognizable. Are we all crooks as DeNiro's General Sullivan suggests? We should never forget that the men who penned those words upon which we founded this grand and glorious experiment in government for and by the people owned and bred some of those people.

Gosford Park 01.23.02 ticketticket

Robert Altman is the visionary director behind M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville and The Player. He is also the disparate dissolute responsible for Brewster McCloud, California Split and Popeye. It is as if Altman's drummer moves in and out of this and some other dimension where cohesion and style are anchored in alien bedrock. The strength of his vision and his skill as a film maker, though, render even his worst efforts tolerable.

The first ten minutes of Gosford Park carry both Altman extremes. The opening scene has the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) commencing her trip to the McCordle's gaming party in a downpour. The chauffeur orders the maid to help with the tarp over the front seat, and then both stand at attention, in the rain, while the Countess is led to the car by her butler. Only after the Countess is comfortably seated can the maid and driver get in the car and out of the rain. This spare scene tells us volumes about what is to follow. The next scene takes place at the McCordles as the guests, other maids, valets, and footmen arrive. Helen Mirren as the McCordles' housekeeper directs traffic downstairs and assigns everyone to their rooms. The scene is one of utter confusion as the servants are renamed upon arrival. Altman has no pity for his audience as we struggle to catch names and associations. This crucial scene, wherein we fail to establish connection between servants and those whom they serve, can only work on paper. Reading a novel, one can flip back and forth to make those connections that make the balance of the story make sense. In film, however, the director has only the one opportunity to lay groundwork upon which to build the story. Scene one in Gosford Park works brilliantly, scene two fails utterly. Much of the rest of the film we struggle to keep characters straight. This distraction drives a stake into what might have been one of Altman's best efforts.

Gosford Park is two stories, one about love, revenge, and sacrifice, the other about the evils of class distinction. The first story is the one we see, the second, more damning lesson, is only felt. There are two worlds in Gosford Park. One inhabited by the real and passionate servant class, and one propped up by dead aristocracy. Only the McCordle's daughter, Isobel (Camilla Rutherford), is given human qualities. Her parents and their guests are shallow, desperate, and artificial caricatures. The servants, though, are creatures of flesh and blood, leading lives filled with passion and sacrifice. Alan Bates resurfaces in film after several years in British television, as the McCordles butler. He, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins as the cook, Emily Watson as Elsie, the head housemaid, Kelly Macdonald as the Countess of Trentham's maid, and Derek Jacobi make this lesson in class distinction fun to watch in spite of Altman's odd lapses. As the dramatic turn at the center of the plot is revealed, Bob Balaban as a crass American film producer, is heard pitching a story over the phone to Hollywood paralleling the drama revealed on screen. The absurdity of this device may give us an insight into the Altman imbalance. The character and the sub-plot appear to serve only as a vehicle for venting Altman's disgust for the Hollywood machine. This personal aside only distracts and ultimately detracts from his work. Interestingly, though, when Altman's contempt for the breed is the sole focus of his work, as it was in The Player, it works. Its presence in Gosford Park, though, is like the elbow in the ribcage after a clever remark, uncomfortable and out of place.

Gothika 11.21.03 ticketticket

I promise I paid attention throughout. Nobody was chomping popcorn in my ear or kicking my seat. I didn't drink too much water before I went in and I was feeling just fine. And I still haven't a clue where the title comes from. I almost didn't go when I read somewhere it would make me jump out of my seat. I'm not a fan of the jump out scare. Sure enough Gothika had several of those. Ghost story movies can't really help it though, so I endure for the sake of Robert Downey, Jr. and Halle Berry. She's certainly all over the map these days, from Best Actress to Bond girl in eighteen months ranks high on the diversity scorecard.

Gothika is no Devil's Backbone but I was in no danger of dozing off. Not quite clever but quick, not new but different, Gothika was short enough to make it worthwhile. Downey's character was too obviously a red herring, his mannerisms went from tentative and smarmy to strong and directed too suddenly to be believed. Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) finds herself suddenly an inmate in the psychiatric ward where only yesterday she was treating criminally insane women. The good doctor is understandably exasperated but her disorientation seemed a little forced. Is this overacting? Penelope Cruz's character, Chloe, was right on the money. Like I know anything about how the criminally insane should act.

The story eventually morphs into a "ripped from Fox News headlines" lurid sex drama, unnecessarily I thought. We seem to have uncovered a sub-genre of horror film wherein some dead person comes back to help the living find the person that killed them. The Ring and Feardotcom did this last year. I wish we could look into some Lovecraft or Poe stories before we remake this one yet again.

The Green Mile 12.12.99ticketticket

I may have been the only person on the planet that didn't know this was a Stephen King story. As the weirdness came upon me I was unprepared. It took a few minutes to get back into the film.

Still believe in capital punishment? See this movie and tell me capital punishment isn't about vengeance. The faces of the witnesses to the execution betray the truth about capital punishment. It is the society attempting to reclaim the power it lost when the murderer acted. It is the state saying the 6th commandment doesn't apply. It is the parent saying kill that man that killed my child.

A moving and difficult movie to watch. We are not spared the view of several inmates killed in the electric chair. Interesting, though, that when one of the bad guys is shot to death I didn't mind too much. When one of the bad guys gets electrocuted I am very uncomfortable. What's that about? The methodical and ritualistic manner in which the state goes about its murder is scarier than some guy with a gun? Maybe so. The state, to whom we already grant awesome power over our lives, holds the ultimate power to end our life. This is more disquieting than the knowledge that some disgruntled worker could come bursting in here and snuff out my life.

The Grudge 10.26.04ticketticket

I'm not so sure I like scary movies anymore. More than once I squinted my eyes almost shut because I knew something horrible was about to happen and I didn't want to jump again. Maybe that's a testament to the type of scary movie this was, the kind that lets you know in plenty of time something horrible is about to happen. Like when Yoko (any relation you think?) goes up in the attic and takes about an hour to make a full circle with her lighter. You know something's going to happen you just don't when. When the master of suspense (Hitchcock) did something like that he let you in on it. Remember James Stewart watching Grace Kelly roaming around Raymond Burr's apartment as he was returning unsuspected. "Yeah, me to Jimmy, I can't take this" was how Hitchcock made it bearable. We were in on it, now we're helpless audience victims. I don't like it.

All that aside, The Grudge was a pleasant surprise. I've always had a crush on the Vampire Slayer and I'm happy to see her transcending television. The rest of the cast was unremarkable with the exception of the detective in charge (Ryo Ishibashi). I thought his reactions to the surveillance videos were perfect and his scene with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the police rooftop was superior. The rest of the movie was Ok but the sequencing was a little rough and I think we should have had some clue why she was somehow able to see the previous events in the house as if she were there but then I don't know that much about the inner workings of rage-death-grudges.

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