movies h-i

johnwstiles.com

Hancock 07.07.08 ticket ticket

Almost impossible these days to avoid film characters from comic books, graphic novels, even toys. Ken and Barbie are supposedly in negotiations with Jerry Bruckheimer for a Christmas release of their honeymoon extravaganza. Imagine my surprise when I see a preview for a drunken bum super hero. A glimmer of imagination appears. Only to be doused by a crazy stupid back story of a three thousand year reign of superheros winnowing down to Charleze Theron and Will Smith. Oh, did I spoil it for you? Relax, you want to know this going in, it relieves some of the disappointment when you realize where this insipid story is headed. The first half isn't wasted with Will Smith, the most charismatic actor in several generations, playing a rude, inconsiderate drunken super hero challenged by flying drunk and prone to really bad landings. He meets up with a do gooder marketing executive (Jason Bateman) intent on repairing his bad public persona. When Charlene (as Bateman's wife) reveals herself as Hancock's better super-half, the film takes a dive from which it does not recover.

Hannibal 02.19.01 ticket

What in the world went wrong with this movie? Directed by Best Director nominee Ridley Scott, screenplay by Pulitzer winning playwright David Mamet, starring Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, and Julianne Moore. Someone should be made to answer for this trashy, disgusting waste of celluloid.

Some examples (I probably should just stop now, but...), Gary Oldman plays the horribly disfigured billionaire, Mason Verger, "only surviving victim" of Hannibal's Lecter's gruesome murder spree ("fourteen we know about"). We are treated to repeated close-ups of Verger's scarred, misshapen, droopy face. How come a billionaire can't afford plastic surgery?
A Washington D.C. cop thinks he's in charge of a massive drug raid when Agent Starling arrives on the scene and cuts him down to size with her witty banter. Are we to believe no one talked beforehand about a drug raid involving three different police agencies? How did they all know where to be? Didn't they "synchronize watches?"
Ray Liotta has the top of his skull removed and his brain sliced up while engaged in polite dinner conversation?
Lecter decides to cut off his own hand rather than harm Agent Starling (who managed to handcuff herself to him while pinned to an icebox by her hair, a feat Dr. Lecter manages by opening the door, tossing her hair in, shutting the door and ripping the handle off the icebox while holding her against the icebox door).

The aforementioned Ray Liotta brain-for-dinner scene is important because it marks the depraved depths to which someone (Scott? Mamet? DeLaurentis?) sank in the making of this movie. It is not correct that because it can be imagined it should be illuminated in a carbon arc light.

God save us from the digitalization of film. Story replaced by technical mastery.

Brain food indeed.

Off with their heads! Or at least the tops of their heads...

The Happening 06.13.08ticketticket

Sadly, M. Night Shyamalan's latest scary movie will likely suffer from its pro environment theme. His first R rated film, it is filled with graphic images of people succumbing to some mysterious pathogen that appears to cause self-destructive impulses to run rampant. We know this in the first ten minutes. The balance of the film has Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel struggling to escape the deadly airborne toxins. The film opens with Wahlberg as Mr. Moore, Philadelphia high school science teacher querying his students to proffer an explanation for the sudden disappearance of the honey bee. Shyamalan closes in on Wahlberg's face as he suggests the bees have disappeared from natural causes we can only speculate over. We may never know what exactly caused bee hive collapse syndrome, he says. He's interrupted by the arrival of the vice principal to announce the first "attack" in Central Park in New York. Shyamalan wastes no time in moving us headlong into the terrifying paranoiac atmosphere gripping the population. He doesn't let go until the final credits roll. Superior film making with a charismatic cast and a deeply frightening underlying theme, will the earth revolt against its primary predator? Has it already begun to do so?

Happenstance 02.11.02 ticketticket

For some surely twisted reason, I enjoyed seeing Audrey Tautou being miserable and even mean. Maybe the relentless naivete of her role in Amelie caused the cynic in me to surface.

We see this film in order to learn that nothing happens by accident. That, in fact, the flapping of the wings of a butterfly over the streets of Paris will yield a typhoon in the Pacific. Even the most random and seemingly inconsequential actions can, and will, bring the most startling and poignant results. Uh-huh. When the credits rolled on this quirky French construct the person next to me mumbled, "finally." I have to agree. Under an hour and this would have been charming. At an hour and a half, though, I wanted to scream, "I GET IT ALREADY!" Two characters, one a taxi driver, and one a wandering Bald Soprano, tell us in straightforward and unequivocal terms what this movie is teaching us. I can only assume writer/director Laurent Firode thinks us, to a person, so dense and unaware that we must have his message hammered into our thick skulls to appreciate the intricate connections that unite all life. I'm not so sure I want to be intricately connected to anyone who figures me for a dullard. Audrey Tautou makes this extended and condescending lesson bearable, she is just too cute.

Hard Candy 04.23.06 ticket

Better to spend your afternoon faking your way into a twelve step meeting for recovering pedophiles. Although Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson demonstrate some advanced acting techniques the point to this dreary lecture-drama appears to be to let us in on the well kept secret that pedophiles are bad and can seem normal. OK, got it, can we dispense with the screaming and crying and wise-beyond-her-years teenage girl dialogue?

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets 11.15.02 ticketticket

I have a friend with a problem. A big one. He sold all his stuff and dropped out of school. He spends his days sleeping and his nights getting high. He says he has no problem, that he is just fine.

The guy that runs the warehouse used to tell me how important his job was to him and how he would do whatever it took to keep it. He lost it last week. He told everyone he found a better one.

I interviewed a guy last week who said he wanted to be a journalist. He has a degree in journalism but no one will hire him without experience. He wants to hire on as our warehouse supervisor and do volunteer journalism on the weekends. I have another friend who works part time at a coffee shop and lives with friends so he can devote more time to doing journalism.

In The Breeders almost never heard tune from their rarely heard CD, Last Splash, the singer tells the story of Driving On 9. She is riding shotgun with her shotgun-carrying father in search of her soon to be husband. She gazes out the window, "wondering if I want you still, wondering what's right."

I know a lady who quit her job to take up teaching. She said she wanted to do something that mattered.

Sinead O'Connor's career never recovered from her cry of "fight the real enemy" as she tore a photo of Pope John Paul in two on Saturday Night Live.

Texas' school books are being rewritten to satisfy a small group of fundamentalists bent on shaping the minds of children their way.

Choices all. Some good, some horrible, some hidden.

Dumbledore tells Harry "it's not our abilities that make the difference, it's our choices." In the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we learn that Potter's wand is one of a matched set. The other belongs to the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort. In this, the second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we learn that some of Voldemort's powers were passed to Harry when he survived the evil wizards attack. It would seem Harry and Voldemort are cut from the same cloth. We see the same theme in the Star War series. Luke Skywalker's father is the dreaded Darth Vader. This theme speaks to the heart about what it means to be human. It is the same story told in The Garden of Eden. It is all about choices.

The Chamber of Secrets is a masterfully told tale of wizardry, wisdom, and choices made. As much as I decry the digitalization of cinema, without it, this delightful book would never make the transition to cinema. From the house-elf Darby to the flying car to the rogue bludger, the utterly fantastical becomes, for nearly three hours, utterly real. This is fantasy at its very best, simultaneously soaring, fascinating, and grounded. There is a moral here, unlike the muddled message of films like Batman Returns, where everyone is a victim and the bad guys can't help but be bad. In the Potter stories, the bad guys are bad and the good guys good because they choose to be.

It is all about choices.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 11.19.05 ticketticket

I bought this installment at an airport bookstore. I think I'd finished it in three days. It was thrilling and I couldn't wait for the next one. The fifth has already arrived, The Half Blood Prince and it was the bloodiest yet. I don't see how she (author J.K. Rowling) can keep going much longer but she hasn't faltered yet. Twenty minutes into the new film by veteran director Mike Newell and I realized I could remember nothing from the book. The Tri-Wizard tournament sure, but the events - nothing. I vaguely remembered some of the characters, Krim, Delacour and the irritating news reporter Rita Skeeter. Reminds me of that over the top awful woman on Court TV that sounds like she's from Georgia and thinks everyone should get the chair. Anyway, I can't remember a thing from the Narnia Chronicles so I don't know of it means anything or not that so little of the Potter books stick with me. Harry never did, Ron and Hermione seemed more interesting and that seems to carry over to the screen. The soul splitting stuff from The Half Blood Prince is pretty interesting but the rest of it is about as substantial as water. Just me I suppose. Anyway anyway, this is what big Holiday movies are all about, a winning franchise, characters we are familiar with in situations that threaten and test them. Don't misunderstand, this is a wonderful film, but it is absolutely an escape extravaganza, and that's OK too.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince 08.03.09 ticketticket

We're almost done, thank goodness. It will be a decade when Part Two of the final book is finally in theaters. The sequels and spinoffs will likely begin then as the last few dollars are wrung from Rowling's books. Books. Soon to go the way of Dumbledore.
A friend asked me to pick up some books for her at one of the mega-chains recently. I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity to pick up one for myself. "Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places" was featured in the NY Times Book Review and looked interesting. I've learned it's almost impossible to find a book on your own in one of these stores and the computer terminals the employees use for searching are off limits to customers so I'm compelled to ask an employee. He looks it up on the nearest terminal and says it's in earth science. I follow him up the stairs and stop in earth science as he rounds the corner to geography. After a minute he comes back to earth science and we look together. Not here, he says, maybe it's on display. No there either. Now the computer said they had several copies but they seemed to have disappeared. Well, I say, I need to pick up five books that are being held for my friend. Oh, they'll be at the front desk he says. I'm looking for five books being held for my friend, I say to the young person behind the counter. You'll need to go to the pillar with the computer, she says, and points to a pillar about twenty feet away. I don't see any computer so I keep looking. Right there, she says, like I'm a blind fool. I see a pillar but no computer. The computer she references isn't visible from where we stand. I can only guess her instruction to go to the pillar with the computer makes sense to her because she works there and knows that the computer is attached below our sight line. Why she is unable to wrap her brain around the fact that she is telling me to go to a place that doesn't exist will be made clear the next day when she is flummoxed by the concept of a discount AND tax exempt status. She possesses a purely linear thought process, like a serial printer. No matter how many times you ask your computer to print a document, if the first print job went awry the following print jobs will stack up in the cue awaiting their turn. Like the wind-up toy that runs into the wall and keeps running into the wall until you pick it up and redirect it. Like the student taught to pass a test, she has never learned to think, only recall. One of the underlying causes behind the dissolution of political discourse, people can only repeat talking points and buzz words. But I digress.
Arriving at the pillar I can now see the computer suspended at waist level that was invisible from the front desk. An older fellow ambles up carrying a stack of books under one arm. He's destroying the binding by carrying them one armed but only those with work experience in a library would know this. Like only those with experience in a professional kitchen would know not to carry a saucepan of hot oil anywhere (sloshing 450 degree oil can permanently disfigure). I tell the older fellow I'm looking for five books being held for my friend. He tries looking them up on the computer and announces the books are not on site. Less than ten minutes ago another fellow told me Cold was on site when it wasn't so applying my ability to reason (I started school before Sputnik so most of my teachers grew up reading instead of taking tests) I infer if this fellow says the books are not on site they probably are. I ask as kindly as I can for a manager. He squeezes his little microphone and a few minutes later a manager appears. As soon as the manager shows up the older fellow wonders off. Now you'd think he'd want to stick around and learn something but what do I know. The manager listens to my story and, like they all do these days, apologizes for any inconvenience, and says the books were supposed to be delivered by FedEx but they haven't arrived yet. Maybe they'll be here later this evening. All the FedEx trucks in the city are heading for their terminals at this point in the day with the shipments they started picking up a few hours ago. It's after five and deliveries were finished by three, like every day in every city in the world, but it isn't fair to expect this guy to know that so I just smile and say thank you.
Returning the next day I repeat the process but this time am armed with the email from the bookstore employee which I hand to the girl behind the counter. She enlists the aid of her co-worker and within five minutes they've located the books (they were in the same spot where they were yesterday when FedEx was blamed for not delivering them). She rings up the sale and I ask her why it is that the amount on the register is higher by twenty dollars than the amount indicated in the email. She again enlists the aid of a co-worker who enlists the aid of a manager who resolves the problem presented by more than one deviation from the standard transaction (tax exempt plus a discount). He doesn't show the two employees behind the counter how to do this and they aren't particularly interested. I take my books and leave.
Rowling's books don't appear to have started any trend toward reading. An isolated phenomenon, their magic probably in their magic. Who wouldn't rather wave a wand and clean up a mess? Who wouldn't want to look into a pool of water to assay the intent of others? I won't have to re-watch all these Potter movies to confirm what I suspect is true - no one picks up a book outside the classroom, no home has bookshelves, and no adult is observed reading anything other than a newspaper with imbedded video. Oh well.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 07.10.07ticketticket

Thoroughly entertaining if a bit overwrought but then the fate of the wizard and muggle world hang in the balance. And so on and so on. I'd have to see them all together in one sitting to rank the four (so far) and I can't imagine I'll ever manage that so to say I liked this one better then the first three isn't saying much more than I saw it most recently. Not surprisingly, the books author is a woman, the most interesting characters are the women. From the delightful but nearly typecast at 17 Emma Watson to Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, a nasty Helena Bonham Carter and an even nastier Imelda Staunton, the women of the Harry Potter films hold more interest for me than their male counterparts. I do nonetheless look forward to the Half Blood Prince, featuring, as it hopefully will, Alan Rickman as the tortured Severus Snape. Wonderful series of books, entertaining series of films so far.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 06.12.04 ticketticket

Handing the Harry Potter franchise over to relative newcomer Alfonso Cuaron was a huge risk. His gritty Y tu mama tambien was a low budget Dogme95 type film and about as far from the special effect laden Harry Potter as righteousness is from Don Rumsfeld. Cuaron's dark sensibilities infuse the latest Harry Potter with the same threatening and edgy spirit that surfaced in Rowling's third book. Entirely true to Harry's impossible adolescence, the Prisoner of Azkaban departs from the bright and cheery life of children to the fuzzy and frightening world of puberty. This is an angry Harry, even an angry Hermione makes an appearance. Ron is as clueless as ever but that's why we love him. Gary Oldman, character actor extraordinaire, make his appearance as Sirius Black and we meet Professors Trelawney (Emma Thomson) and Lupin (David Thewlis) for the first, and not last, time. Richard Harris' Dumbledore has been replaced by Michael Gambon and is none the worse for wear. The Dementor's make their first, and hopefully last, appearance in the Harry Potter series and they are as scary as any "you know who" apparition. These ghostly creatures that suck your soul with a kiss might be analogous to advertisers or politicians but Rowling is rarely so obvious in her personifications of evil. Suffice to say they are scary, scary creatures. True to the teen age, this is the scariest and moodiest installment yet.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 11.16.01 ticketticket

Fantasy fiction has forever struggled with film. From cheesy special effects to pathetic cartoon efforts, fantasy fiction has never been able to make the leap from page to silver screen. Until the digital age. Giant three headed dogs, evil trolls, flying people, and fire breathing dragons are all faithfully brought to life in this, the first of seven Harry Potter films to come. Seven is probably conservative. As James Bond far outlived the dozen Ian Fleming novels, Potter is liable to outlive J.K. Rowling's four, and planned seven, novels.

The ghosts that occupy Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were the only disappointment in the two and a half hour debut. The ghosts and the commercials. In a shameless display of hucksterism, I watched nine, count 'em, nine commercials before we even got to the previews. The last commercial was for the new Harry Potter video game. All was soon forgotten as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, and an absolutely perfect Alan Rickman presented as Dumbledore, Professors McGonogall and Snape. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson all acquit themselves nicely as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

The real attraction in the Harry Potter story is, of course, the heroic quest. This underlying structure is clear and cogent in the books but not quite so clear in the film. Adventure takes the front seat in the first film, as will always be the case. When the experience of reading a four hundred page book is collapsed into a two and half hour visual display, no matter how life-like or faithful to the text, much of the involvement by the audience/reader is, by necessity, compromised. The displays of courage, loyalty, sacrifice, and uncertainty so full and rich in the properly told heroic quest too often are reduced to the adrenaline rush of the action sequence or teary close-up. The resulting experience is shallow by comparison. Shallow experiences can, nonetheless be fun and exhilarating and The Sorcerer's Stone is nothing if not fun.

Heartbreakers 03.24.01 ticket

Let's see, should I begin with how this was one of only three movies I have ever been prepared to walk out of, or should I just write horrible, horrible, horrible and be done with it? No, I must be more clear. If not, one might be tempted to see the film out of curiosity.

Robert Dunn "wrote" the screenplay and David Mirkin "directs." That neither of these two can find work but every four years or so is a fairly clear indication either those who employ them have attained their positions recently or they suffer from medium-term memory loss. Even more telling is that neither one of these hacks does the same job twice in succession. Dunn acted in Showgirls in 1995, wrote the screenplay for Sweet Lies in 1988, acted in Breathless in 1983, and co-wrote the screenplay for Renacer (a film that tells the story of a chalkboard eraser from the perspective of the chalk) in 1981. Mirkin acted in the Last Resort (a 1986 impish sex comedy set in a Resort), wrote the screenplay for Pure Luck in 1991 (remember that smash hit?), and directed his masterpiece, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, in 1997.

Please don't go. If this tripe makes any money, the studios may employ Dumb and Mirky before 2005. You have been warned.

Hearts In Atlantis 10.01.01 ticketticket

"By the director of Shine," the banner ad declares. "By the author of The Green Mile," reads the billboard. Scott Hicks also directed Snow Falling on Cedars but we don't see that touted. The marketing gurus don't claim Stephen King's "Christine," about a car possessed by an evil spirit, as a reason to see Hearts In Atlantis. Rumor has it the former Greens Party presidential candidate stole the story line from "Christine" and repackaged it as "Unsafe At Any Speed." Or maybe Stephen King stole Unsafe At Any Speed, the working title of Christine was, after all, purported to be "Monza'a Under the Bed."

"By the same folks that brought you Rice-A-Roni" isn't, as far as I'm concerned, compelling marketing strategy. As if the reflected glory of some other book or film or food can be borrowed and plastered over the new product to make it better than it is. I think that sort of marketing trifle is an altogether wasted effort. But I digress.

Anthony Hopkins plays a clairvoyant on the run in the fifties. I think he could play an uprooted tomato plant if he chose. He so completely inhabits a character as to transform the vehicle in which he plays. All else becomes secondary, the scenery, the story, his fellow actors. A great actor at the top of his craft. Always worth watching. Check out Magic from 1978, it was the first glimpse he gave us of the Herculean talent to follow.

Hellboy 04.21.04 ticketticket

Had The Devil's Backbone not been such a haunting film I don't think I would have bought a ticket to Hellboy. The comic book mine tapped out in 2002 with Spiderman. Not even if The Green Lantern Meets The Silver Surfer would this thin medium support any more redos. But The Devil's Backbone was director Guiellermo del Toro's 2001 original about an orphan caught between the evil of today and the evil of the past set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. I had hopes. But there was nothing original about Hellboy. Not unless the absurd qualifies as original. Hellboy, you see, was a cute little demon that jumped through the portal opened by the Nazis in a last ditch effort to turn the World War II tide. The portal to the dimension of the seven Gods of chaos. Well, I guess so. One might think one god of chaos would be enough. But seven? Holy multiples of chaos, Hellboy! In any event, Hellboy gets adopted by the kindly scientist and goes to work for the government fighting various evil creatures. Hellboy has playmates in flamestarter Selma Blair and Aquaman David Hyde Pierce. Sort of a poor man's Fantastic Four/Three. Back to the absurd part. The head evil guy is Rasputin. Sure, Rasputin was a pretty bad guy, but one would think, what with the whole dark universe of evil creatures to choose from, why Rasputin? OK, what else? Oh yes, the head of the Bureau of Bizarre Crime Fighting Entities is an entirely dull Jeffrey Tambor. Ho-hum Hellboy.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army 07.14.08 ticket ticket ticket

During the summer of my sixth year I awoke half a dozen times in the middle of the night with a fever of 104 or so. The doctor, also awakened in the middle of the night, had my parents pull out all the stops to get the fever down. Pneumonia would be preferable, they were told, so I was dipped into an ice bath. Twenty years later I read a Time Magazine article associating earlier than actuarial death from natural causes with high fevers in childhood. The first time it happened I remember waking nauseous from a very frightening nightmare. I was walking around inside my brain among huge and terrifying gears, all spinning wildly. They were an awful shade of yellow. I leapt from bed and made a mad dash down the hall to my parents bedroom. My mom says if dad hadn't stuck his arm out I would have crashed the wall at full speed. I hadn't thought about it in decades, until yesterday. It all came back in skin crawling horror as I sat in for Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II. The Golden Army of the title comes to life via a huge swirling mass of dizzying gear crunching. This guy must have had the same dream I had.

Near the mid point of Hellboy II our heroes descend under the Brooklyn Bridge to a cleverly hidden Troll Market. A Diagon Alley gone evilly wrong, the Troll Market scenes from Hellboy II are some of the richest, most twisted, frightening and imaginative depictions ever rendered in cinema. It is simply not possible to take in all that del Toro presents in these scenes. The result is an overwhelming sense of wonder and awe, something I thought had been lost in the rush to digitally render scenes only previously attempted in animation. We were introduced to del Toro's fevered (now I get this expression) imagination in The Devil's Backbone, saw it mature in Pan's Labyrinth, and now it bursts forth in all its terrifying glory in Hellboy II.

There are some unfortunate aspects to the story. The blatant borrowing of Tolkein's ring saga is not so cleverly rendered as a golden crown divided among elves and men in an age long past. John Hurt all but Gandalf's the young Hellboy in the films opening scene. The ancillary love story between Sapien and Princess Nuala was thin at best. Selma Blair lends much as Hellboy's girl, Liz Sherman while Jeffrey Tambor merely bores again.

Not being a fan of the original comic book, my comic book life began with Green Lantern (when I started reading) and ended with the Fantastic Four (when I discovered the library), I was intrigued by the offhand comment about Hellboy's destiny involving the destruction of the human race. When Liz is presented with the choice between Hellboy's continued life (and the inevitable destruction of humanity) or his death (and the alternative extension of humanity) she hesitates for all of a half a second and chooses her beau. Not twenty minutes later, Princess Nuala faces a similar choice with more personal consequences and makes the sacrificial choice. What are Mignola and del Toro telling us here? That elves are our better selves? That we are easily hobbled by Hobbesian choice? The truth is I don't particularly care. Today I saw the future of fantastic film and it isn't in tired reworkings of past classics but in the imagination and execution of the most creative director working in film, Guillermo del Toro.

High Crimes 04.13.02 ticketticket

I wonder sometimes if the world is really as full of evil conspirators and co-conspirators as the movies would have us believe. I mean certainly the world doesn't lack for bad guys. But if we believe what we see on the sliver screen there are no good guys. Or so few that Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, and Meg Ryan can play all of them. Not that Ashley Judd can't play a good person, but she starts off High Crimes getting her client's rape charge dismissed on a technicality. Her law firm is all congratulations - doesn't anybody see anything wrong with this? At any rate, her husband is accused of murdering six innocent people in San Salvador in 1988. Her husband is played by the talented James Caviezel (Frequency, Angel Eyes, Pay It Forward) and it seems he has an alter ego as a Special Ops Marine on the lam. Enter Morgan Freeman, the alcoholic former Marine attorney. Up against the big bad Marines, these two are determined to see justice prevail. Yada yada yada to a surprise ending. What, no way! I can't believe it! OMG!

OK so nothing original here, unless you count the Amanda Peet performance. She is invariably delightful. This time she plays Judd's ditzy little sister. Morgan Freeman is always good and Ashley Judd just may be around for the long haul. I can see her moving to mega-star with the right vehicle.

High Fidelity 04.15.00 ticket ticketticket

Nothing more complicated, nothing more dynamic, nothing more dangerous and nothing more rewarding than relationships.

From the biological to the social to the spiritual, relationships function or fail to function on platforms we are just beginning to, or may never, understand.

Our knowledge of biological imperatives changes with each new revelation from the laboratory. Pheromones pre-dispose us to like, even love each other. Species propagation operates as levels we will likely never comprehend. We wander through the labyrinth that is sexual desire with barely a candle to light the way. To borrow Homer Simpson's alcohol reference, it may be "the cause and solution to most of the world's problems." Certainly one of the prime motivators and just as certainly one of the least understood factors in relationships.

And who knows what secrets are locked in genetic predisposition? Statistically significant variances are found in the X-chromosomes of gay men. Mother-child, sibling, extended familial relationships are all influenced by genetic factors to degrees at which we can only guess. The mother knows something is wrong with the child that lives in a different state.

The biological pre-requisites for a relationship are, in the final analysis, largely out of our control. Like the forces that control the weather, we struggle to understand them while recognizing the ultimate futility (or danger) of attempting control. These are forces we don't understand well enough to control, even if we could. Deflect the hurricane (good) and reduce the rainfall (bad), lowering the water table (real bad) and furthering subsidence in coastal areas (disaster) which augments tidal flooding (catastrophic), etc. etc. ad infinitum. Fortunately, we are not yet engaged in manipulating the apparently immutable biological forces that establish the foundation on which relationships exist. Assuming the biological parameters are such that a relationship can commence, whether it does or not will be largely dictated by social considerations.

Status, culture, mores, and morals each take their turn at sabotaging or strengthening the relationship. Often, biological imperatives slice through many of these constructs and relegate them to a secondary role. There they may live indefinitely or they may re-present later to wreak havoc. Socialization skills are skills of adaptation. Adaptation is about the long-term. It is in the long-term that these social mechanisms may carry the day. The day to day business of co-habitation demands a minimum level of social accommodation. From privacy to courtesy and from honesty to loyalty, the social fabric that binds us all must bind the pair as well. Violate the social contract individually and the result will be the same as the collective violation, revolution.

The final, and ultimately most rewarding, platform upon which we work out our relationships is the spiritual. Spiritual as in not temporal. Here we meet philosophical issues. Here we bind ourselves with belief, hope, and meaning. It is on this most ephemeral plane that souls form a relationship. Bodies form relationships on the biological plane. People form relationships on the social plane. But souls form relationships on the spiritual plane. The relationship formed here tastes of the eternal.

Relationships are what the film, High Fidelity explore. More specifically, the failed romantic relationships of John Cusack's character, Rob. It is enough to know that he decides to marry his long time girlfriend because he's "tired of the fantasy." The fantasy to which he refers is that women wear lingerie. He learns, to his expressed dismay, in the real world, women often wear cotton underwear. Amazingly, it appears we are to be happy that he has finally "grown up." It would seem this story was crafted by some beer drinking audiophiles in their early twenties as their image of what adulthood would be like. At least I hope it wasn't actually written by an adult.

The bright spot is the acting of Jack Black as Rob's semi-friend Barry. He is funny and frenetic and flawed. Something this movie might have aspired to once. As it turns out, it's just flawed. And, if this is the state of the typical male's perception of relationships, frightening.

High Tension 06.15.05ticket

I have no excuse really. I knew this was a low budget slasher film going in. That it was French maybe or there seemed to be more press than usual surrounding its release are the only two explanations I can offer. Neither is strong enough to use as an excuse. Dirty broken down truck driving psychopathic killer stops at a lovely country estate occupied by a husband and wife, their small son and, for the weekend, their college age daughter and her good buddy, Maria (Cecile de France). Ms. France is cute and all and may be a talented actress but will in all likelihood trod the path already worn by Marilyn Burns. Following her starring role in Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ms. Burns livened up Helter Skelter as a wacked-out Linda Kasabian before peaking in the memorable, "Eaten Alive." And maybe not. Jamie Lee debuted in Halloween and has thankfully stayed with us. Ms. "of France" is not the real story of High Tension, though, the noise is. What an awful lot of dreadful noise. The buzzing of electricity through the high tension wires dominates the first half hour and is sufficiently distracting that we almost don't notice the hefty servings of gratuitous sex and slash served up as appetizers for the main course of more focused slashings.

I apologize. I apologize to myself for going, to you for asking you to read about it, to future generations who may be compelled to endure what could become a cult classic for no other reason than the funky mix of dubbing and sub-titles.

Highlander: Endgame 09.03.00 ticket

"There lives among us a race of immortals whose origins are lost in time..." Yes, and they are playing a game that involves decapitation (the only way to kill an immortal) in pursuit of a prize. They come from Scotland, apparently, and even though they are immortal, their history (the one lost in time don't you know) appears to have begun in the sixteenth century. Their weapon of choice is the sword (decapitation, remember?), they communicate telepathically, and, they team up a lot.

The "Watchers" are ordinary humans charged with the responsibility of keeping at least one good and one bad immortal alive. As long as at least one good one and one bad one are alive, the game continues. And none of us want the game to end, of course. That would mean no more sequels (like two aren't enough). The watchers do keep score. One of their members shows us the "confirmed kills" of the three major characters in this drama. With each kill an immortal grows stronger by ingesting the spirit of the slain immortal in a pyrotechnic display the likes of which mess up TV reception for miles around.

OK, I think you have the major elements of the plot. Now let's swordfight! En guarde you bad immortal you!

The History Boys 03.11.07ticket ticket ticket

The History Boys is smart, funny, touching, sensitive, sweet, and subversive. Eight of the brightest boys this working class school has ever produced are vying for entry into England’s version of Harvard and Yale - Oxford and Cambridge. The school’s Headmaster, a smarmy old twit, brings in a consultant to hone the boys and give them the “edge” they’ll need. The sharpener is a slick young fellow keen on the fresh approach, the odd angle, the alternative view that will distinguish his charges from the mass of boys jockeying for position. His method stands in contrast to their “General Studies” teacher, Hector. Hector is an aging, rotund, throwback more interested in kindling the boys interest in learning than pumping their scores on an entrance exam. His interest in the boys extends well south of their fertile minds as he occasionally gives them a lift on the back of his motorbike. His ineffectual fumbling is tolerated by the boys as they each take their turn on Hector’s hot seat. These are some world weary boys, to be sure, but they never lose their charm and we never cease to be entertained.

Originally a multiple British Tony award winner, the play’s author also wrote the screenplay. The theater cast appears en masse in the film (shot in an amazingly brief six weeks) and their comfort with each other and the material shows through. In the words of two English beermakers, “…use the stage actors in the film? Brilliant!” The History Boys is brilliant indeed.

A History of Violence 10.02.05 ticketticket

My first Cronenberg film was Scanners. I'd like to maintain I "discovered" him back then but the truth is I didn't know who he was and only recently made the connection to that dimly remembered "B" movie. I say dimly remembered and that too is true except for the exploding head. That I remember like it was my first Roller Derby game. In Los Angeles as a rebellious teenager I switched back and forth between the moon landing and Roller Derby. Roller Derby had more action and only time will tell which had more historical significance. But I digress.

Crash was the first Cronenberg film I went to see as a Cronenberg film. I wasn't overly impressed as I recall but it was pre-review website so I have no written record of my feelings at the time. No matter, A History of Violence is as distinct as any film I've seen in the past six months. The immediacy of the camera, the raw passion of the gifted cast, the intense and unfiltered violence and its grisly aftermath all testify to the film's originality and branding.

A History of Violence is about a small town diner operator crossing paths with some major gangster types. What the gifted Mr. Cronenberg is telling us is not as clear as his cinematic stylings. We are all capable of violence? Violence is always wrong? We can't escape our past? The family that kills together stays together? I'll be mulling this one over for a while, help would be appreciated. In the meantime, kudos to Ed Harris as the grouchy gangster, Maria Bello as the surprised wife, Viggo Mortensen as the surprising husband, and young Ahston Holmes as their pugalistic progeny.

Hitman 11.21.07ticketticket

Car pulls up in the rain. Teletype across the bottom of the screen spells out London, and then a hyphen and then England. Uh, London is in England, yes, are you thinking I don't know that? Later we see Moscow followed by a hyphen and then Russia. Whoa, somebody decided to add the country to London and England. I don't mind that the target audience for this film is early teen boys. The Russian sex slave dressed in mini skirts or less might appeal to a broader audience but making sure I get that London is in England means these guys think their audience is dim. Well, at least I won't miss any plot points. The voice over tells us there is an organization so secret it's known only as "the organization." They do have a logo, though, some sort of red mashed up scimitar or something and they put it on their laptops, their secret listening device boxes, their luggage. They bar code their primary product on the back of the skull. And they all shave their heads so the bar code is clearly visible. No one asks about it, though. Interesting. I mean if I saw somebody with a bar code tattooed to the back of their skull I'd probably aim a laser wand at it and see what the fat content is or whatever. But then the bar code is probably embedded with some really super secret stuff like the unit's identity. Which, by the way, we learn is "number 47." So why not just tattoo "47?" Shows what I know about super secret stuff, huh? But then I'm supposed to be fourteen, interested in skate boarding and Hannah Montana. OK, I can do this. Stop thinking and just wait for shit to get blowed up.

The Holiday 01.03.07ticketticket

Yet another example of profound acting talent saving an otherwise pedestrian effort. The art of the romantic comedy died when Cary Grant left film and Donald Ogden Stewart stopped writing screenplays. In their place we have Cameron Diaz and Nancy Meyers. This isn't a bad film, it is a sad film. Sad in its aspiration to intelligent comedy and miss. Without Kate Winslet and Jude Law this would have been almost unwatchable. And why two and a half hours? Girl loses wrong boy, girl finds right boy - maybe ninety minutes, even if it is times two couples.

Hollow Man 08.05.00ticket ticket

Scene One Act One - Mouse scurries about a clean metal floor (obviously laboratory) before being gripped by what appears to be an invisible hand. Mouse is bitten in two, blood cascades around the teeth and down the jaw of a very mean looking set of primate teeth.

Scene Two Act One through Scene Five Act Three (inclusive) - Major jerk doctor with God complex bullies everyone around him, becomes invisible jerk doctor and unbuttons every blouse in sight. Note: Have jerk doctor with God complex refer to himself as God for the under seventeen crowd that sneaks in.

Act Three Scenes One through Eight - see Mission Impossible II Act Two Scenes Three through Seven.

Note: Make sure tranquilizer guns can be found in every drawer in lab. Supply everyone with infra-red goggles so they can spot the invisible jerk, discourage their use at all critical moments (max suspense). Sell script for 1.3 million to studio with big special effects capabilities.

Special Note: Don't let research team seem too sciencey. Use phrases like "We're going to take him down" and make sure girl lead can punch like Tyson.

Mix well, serve in Summer.

If Verhoven never directs another movie it'll be too soon. This sixty year old pubescent sees everything in terms of breasts, cussing, and slugfests. "Leave my girlfriend alone." My goodness.

Hollywood Ending 05.03.02ticketticket

In the "body of work" perspective of Woody Allen, one can only stand in awe of his insight to the neurotic jumble of hopes and fears that most of us so carefully conceal.

In the more narrow perspective, that insight is still brilliantly visible. Take the bar scene from Hollywood Ending, for example. Woody, as Val Waxman, the nearly washed up Hollywood director, agrees to meet his ex-wife and current producer of his last hope for cinema salvation in a bar for a quick drink. Ellie (the ex) is played by the intensely charismatic Tea Leoni. She tired of holding the neurotic Val together and opted for the more sedate California movie mogul played by the enigmatic Treat Williams. Val and Ellie begin their meeting lightly enough, exchanging pleasantries about the upcoming project. Without warning, as if a switch were suddenly thrown, Val launches into a vitriolic tirade at Ellie. Just as suddenly, he switches back. And then forth and back again. We get to see the internal dialogue of apoplectic anger suddenly burst forth only to be sucked back beneath the surface through an effort of will. A will, in Val's case, not strong enough to keep his true feelings in check.

The medium perspective, that of a two hour film, bears up not as well. The wisecracks grow tired, as if we've heard them, or their cousins, too many times before. The construct, clever as always, cannot generate sufficient energy to carry us to the Hollywood Ending.

A Home at the End of the World 08.07.04 ticketticket

Act I - Little Bobby Morrow, nine, climbs atop a headstone and announces to his brother he can see tomorrow. What does it look like, his brother asks? Pretty, Bobby answers. Little Bobby just came on to the window pane LSD his big brother gave him and he's having a grand time. Later that evening, Bobby's big brother accidentally runs through a sliding glass door and dies. A door Bobby just slid shut.

Act II - Bobby's mother and father die and Bobby is adopted by neighbors, the Glovers. Mom Glover (Sissy Spacek) and Jonathan Glover (Dallas Roberts) make Bobby feel right at home. Mom smokes pot with the boys and Bobby and Jonathan become special friends.

Act III - Bobby and Jonathan and Clare (Robin Wright Penn) struggle to balance several complex relationships. Jonathan is gay, Bobby bi and Clare is in love with both. No one actually talks about any of this, Jonathan and Clare are too conflicted and Bobby just wants to be happy. The one thing Bobby can't do is be alone and that doesn't seem to be a problem. Bobby is just adorable you see, plus he bakes a mean cherry pie.

This is an exceedingly strange story told by the Pulitzer winning author of The Hours. What Michael Cunningham is telling us isn't clear. Bobby is an innocent along the lines of a Billy Budd. No guile, no irony, no bitterness. The tragedies in his life have only made him more gentle and more loyal. Is Bobby whom we should seek to be? Is he love personified? A haunting character played brilliantly by the apparently limitless Colin Farrell. This is one subversive film that defies the reductive quip. I'll have to come back to this again in a few days.

Hostage 03.15.05 ticket ticket

Bruce Willis lying on the ground combing his beard talking a crazy man out of killing his wife and child holds up a sign to the SWAT shooter "No One Dies Today." Well, you'd never guess. Sure enough, down to the "blood on the hands" and child dying in his arms cliché, Hostage makes good on the promise to deliver plenty of action and thrills. Two big problems. The Madonna scene at the end when psycho killer Mars (the excellent Ben Foster from one of the three television shows worth watching – Six Feet Under) gets love from a look and the confusing shoot out where the instigator, evil accountant Walter (the ubiquitous Kevin Pollack) starts the killing but then sort of changes his mind and walks home. All this is based on a book, which probably does a better job of explaining everything as books often do. Speaking of books, read the absolutely first rate Kafka On The Shore, it is an extraordinary accomplishment in literature. It doesn't explain things very well either, but it was worth the reading where Hostage wasn't really worth the seeing.

Hotel Rwanda 01.10.05 ticket ticketticket

Dear, dear America, such fine ideals, such promise, such hope. Having lost several brave young men in a senseless anarchy in Somalia (immortailized in Ridley Scott's brilliant Black Hawk Down) America wasn't about to send more young men into another African anarchy. Result: 900,000 men, women and children hacked to death. The world fairly turned upside down this month over the 150,000 victims of an epic tidal wave. Six times that many died in the mid 90's because the white world wouldn't be bothered. That's about the size of it.

Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo and Nick Nolte bring this disgusting episode back to painful life. Take the kids, maybe they'll do better than we did.

The Hours 01.19.03 ticketticketticket

The Hours opens with Virginia Woolf wading into a stream, pockets filled with rocks. She leaves notes for her husband and her sister. She has reached the end of her patience with a crippling mental illness and ends her life in the stream near her home. Fast forward to 1951 suburbia and we see Laura Brown lying in bed, Woolf's novel on the floor. She drags herself out of bed to the sounds of her painfully normal husband scurrying about. Fast forward again to today as Clarissa Vaughan prepares to host yet another party.

The Hours takes us into the lives of these three desperate women. Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman), Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) each struggle with their individual hells. The thread tying these women together is Wolfe's novel, Mrs. Dallaway. Virginia Woolf is writing it, Laura is reading it, and Clarissa was branded "Mrs. Dalloway" by her now dying friend Richard Brown (Ed Harris). Laura Brown's neighbor is played by Toni Collette, her husband by John C. Reilly, Clarissa Vaughan's daughter by Claire Danes and Clariss'a lover by Allison Janney. Every performance tendered in this exquisitely complex and rich drama is true. Woolf's husband, magnificently played by Stephen Dillane, shows us the pain of caring deeply for his deeply disturbed wife in a perfectly rendered controlled sob as he acquiesces to the demands he knows will mean more pain and damage for them both. It is only one of many scenes that strike the heart in this painful tale.

This is a rare film without flaw, meaningful and passionate as it shows us both sides of the struggle to life, the failed and the broken success.

House of Flying Daggers 12.17.04ticket ticketticket

Macbeth with cool graphics and breathtaking cinematography. Set in the waning days of the Tang Dynasty, the House of Flying Daggers is a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of the corrupt and bankrupt government of "running dogs." Takeshi Kaneshiro (Jin) is sent underground by his boss Andy Lau (Leo) in hopes of capturing the new head of the House. Their plan commences with Jin making the acquaintance of the local brothel's newest addition, the blind and beautiful Mei (Ziyi Zhang). Jin and Mei soon find themselves on the run, always heading north to escape the local police force hot on their trail. The plot hatched by Jin and Leo is as complex as anything found in Shakespeare and the end as bloody.

Along the way we are treated to some of the more beautiful scenes in recent memory as the hunted couple traverses an ever changing autumnal landscape. Punctuated by the frequent attacks of the local police and now the regional General, arrows, daggers, and bamboo spears take on lives of their own as the world of magical realism introduced to western audiences by the seminal Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is taken to the next level of depth and complexity. Neither film is fairly categorized as "kung-fu" as both deal with issues more compatible with Romeo and Juliet than Fists of Fury. Loyalty, love and passion are the dominant thematic elements in this House of Plot Twists and Surprises.

House of Mirth 01.21.01 ticketticketticket

If Gillian Anderson is successful in breaking the stereotype of her X-Files Dana Scully character she will have The House of Mirth to thank. She fills the screen with a mesmerizing performance as Lily Bart, a complex, confused, and confusing character. The film is based on the Edith Wharton novel and is set in turn of the century (one before last) New York. The story is of the trials and tribulations of a single woman, Lily Bart, as she seeks out her place in the social order. She is the focus of scandalous, and false, rumor and becomes a spectator as her life spirals out of control and crashes on "the rubbish heap." She is spectator in that she is unable to save herself yet always acutely aware of her descent. She has the means to arrest her fall but does not deploy them in her own rescue. She comes to her end as the victim of jealousy, lust, and, most tragically, innocence. One of many treacherous betrayals occurs publicly at the hands of a woman she has previously sacrificially protected. Lily graciously accepts her humiliation. Manners are paramount in these social circles.

This story is about far more subtle and fascinating behaviors than cruelty and avarice. This is a story of failed self-discovery. Lily Bart is crushed by the merciless response of that world she so desperately seeks to understand. Seeking friendship she is met with betrayal, love is answered with empty ritual, family ties unravel, hope dissolves. Culprits abound but cause escapes. Was she to blame for her own demise? Was it her innocence or her failure to accept the narrow strictures of the society? Like all genuine works of art, this film yields more questions than answers.

House of Sand and Fog 01.11.04 ticketticketticket

The tagline on the poster for this film says "Some dreams can't be shared." OK, the Colonel (yet another amazing character developed by the master Ben Kingsley) had a dream, to recreate the villa by the sea he enjoyed as one of the Shah's henchmen. But Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) is a recovering alcoholic/drug addict living alone in her father's old house, unable to move out of bed to open her mail. We meet her answering her phone from bed. A minute into the two minute conversation with her mom, we see a tear drop out of the corner of one of those devastatingly beautiful eyes. This is one unhappy gal. Things go from bad to worse as she is evicted and tries to get her house back. This is a powerful film of great sadness. It's not clear if the misery that follows these doomed characters around is entirely of their own making. The Colonel seems to be trying really hard to make a better life, Kathy is clean and sober when we meet her, in spite of her husband's recent departure. Everything these poor people do makes their situation worse. Reminds me of Deep End where Tilda Swinton plays a mother trying to extricate her son from a terrible jam. Everything she does makes it worse. What is this message? When in trouble do nothing? We get what we deserve? If anyone knows, I'm all ears. But I digress.

And now I'm too depressed to go on. Sorry. Oh yes, new tagline. Don't dream, open your mail.

The Hulk 06.21.03 ticketticket

I never much liked The Hulk. His older brother The Thing (from the Fantastic Four, not the James Arness Thing) never did much for me either. I think the reason is unlike most superheroes, these guys transmogrify. Instead of donning a cool cape and boots they turn really ugly. The Thing turns orange and The Hulk green. Who can relate?

Anyway, it was a must see and I saw it. Beside one scene with Jennifer Connely's eyes mesmerizingly reflective in sunlight, and a couple of inspired gestures from Nick Nolte, there isn't much to see. The Hulk jumps really high and sort of flies, is impervious to bullets (of course), rockets and even Hellfire missiles, punches through San Francisco streets like they're made of notebook paper, and growls super loud and mean-like. There is a semblance of a story with his dad (Nick Nolte) and the General (Sam Eliott in yet another reprise of his slow talking country self) opposing each other thirty years back and reengaging through their kids (Eric Bana as The Hulk and Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross). The story doesn't hold much interest though, pitting as it does, the evil military against the cute young scientist.

The bad news about this movie is that Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility) has apparently completely lost his mind. Split screens abound, scene after scene dissolve into swirly fuzzy colors; the film has the feel of a music video with unlimited budget. We are constantly aware of odd camera angles, overdosed color, and jump cuts from close up to panoramic shots, as if he were trying for a comic book feel but has never actually read one, just thumbed through a couple to get the general idea.

Maybe this will spell the end of the comic book mining machinery and we'll start looking for stories again. Yeah, right, and maybe they won't remake Peter Pan again this year...

The Hunted 03.16.03 ticketticket

Benicio Del Toro is as exciting to watch as anyone in a long time and I hate it that he got caught in this entirely dreadful blood spurting nonsense. William Friedkin continues to cement his position as a one-hit wonder (see Rules of Engagement which is not the one hit, Exorcist was) with this, his latest trolling for audience share. There is so much wrong with this mess I think I'll just stop here.

Hurricane 01.12.00ticketticket

The DJ on the radio tells me I have five minutes to call in and claim my tickets to the Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue concert. I'm sitting in my car about three hundred yards from a telephone. The two things I remember about the concert were that the acoustics were terrible and Dylan looked white as a ghost (greasepaint). I loved the song about Rueben Carter but he was as remote to me then as was Hattie Carroll a 51 year-old Negro maid, and another victim of injustice from a Dylan song. A politically and socially connected youth in Baltimore is sentenced to 6 months following his conviction for her murder.

This film is powerful and moving. The bad guy is so wholly bad and the good guys are so good one can't help but feel a little underestimated by the filmmaker. Denzel Washington gives a tremendous performance.

I Am Legend 12.13.07ticketticket

Even a Will Smith feature needs a science advisor, or at least a science fiction advisor or even a (un)reality checker. As anyone alert to film is aware, the new Will Smith film is about a virus gone awry decimating everyone except Will and some spooky looking evil monsters. I'm not spoiling anything for you if I point out Dr./Colonel Robert Neville's conclusion early on that the virus has robbed the infected of the last vestiges of humanity. They want to bite, kill and eat anyone lucky enough to be immune. They must not taste good to each other, though, because they only want to eat Dr./Col. Neville. They also seem capable of some rather sophisticated trapping skills. So, are they robbed of humanity or not? They even seem to have a leader. Dr./Col. Neville does a few things that don't make a lot of sense, like telling these creatures who have dropped all semblance of humanity including language - they just croak and scream - that he's trying to save them. It doesn't take much to drop the suspension of disbelief in any film but particularly a science fiction/end time thriller. I Am Legend inadvertently lifts the curtain through some sloppy dialogue versus plot errors as well as more than one weird act from the Doc/Colonel.

Courageously, no effort is made to make Smith cute or charming and he still lights up the screen. Sad coincidence to the Michael Vick story surfaces and is hard to watch but that will fade over time.

The title - isn't that what the satan character says is his name in the Bible or The Exorcist? If so, no connection is made to that reference. The organized and purposeful evil creatures, Neville's occasional odd behavior and finally, the disinformation of the title make me wonder if anyone looks over director Francis Lawrence's shoulder. Someone should. After all, he comes to feature films on the heels (or hips) of Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears. Warner Brothers should have assigned a mentor.

I Am Sam 01.27.02 ticketticket

Add Sean Penn's name to the growing list of great actors called to portray the mentally or physically challenged. From Cliff Robertson in Charly to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, to DeNiro in Awakenings and Flawlesss and John Malkovitch in Of Mice and Men and The River, the challenge of the challenged seems to beckon. Sean Penn has joined the first rank in this narrow subset of acting. I Am Sam is unabashedly and unashamedly maudlin, manipulative, and melodramatic. Everyone should see a movie like this at least once a year as a cynicism check. If this movie doesn't move you to tears you are way too hard. This is a good script in the hands of great actors. The dramatic vehicle is a trifle too obvious and the bad guys a little too unlikable to make this work as it might have, but within its contained intention - make you cry - it works just fine. Laura Dern in a small role seems to become more elegant every year.

Identity 04.25.03 ticketticket

Scary, clever, and not overly long. Clea DuVall and Amanda Peet in a film together! John Cusack and Ray Liotta carrying the narrative. How could you go wrong? Spending too much time explaining maybe, but that didn't happen until we already knew what was up. May be worth seeing again to check for clues, or maybe just to watch Ms. DuVall and Ms. Peet.

I Dreamed of Africa 05.10.00 ticket

Woman is almost killed in a car crash. Decides her life lacks meaning. Moves to Africa with wandering spirit soul mate. Takes son with her. Soul mate killed in crash. Son dies from snakebite. She lives happily ever after. Get Maurice Jarre to write the score, Basinger to play the woman and away we go to Africa. Jarre's swelling strings reminded me of another epic he did, Dr. Zhivago (how old IS this guy). Whenever we panned across the rift valley I half expected to see Lara coming out from behind a bush. If only everyone who wanted an infusion of meaning in their lives could afford to buy 50,000 acres of African savanna, and feed a small itinerant band of African warriors in exchange for their serving as her private police force. Wouldn't life be grand? Oh, the occasional storm would blow and the occasional loved one would die a horrible and meaningless death, but by God, I'll never be bored again!

Scarlett lives!

I Heart Huckabees 10.21.04 ticket ticket

The danger in reviewing a film about competing existential detectives investigating conundrums and coincidences in the lives of several characters is, of course, falling into the easy trap of arguing their respective philosophical positions positing action or inaction, morality or amorality, joy or despair in the face of apparent meaninglessness in a universe connected or chaotic. Having recognized the danger it can be relegated to the wings and the players can take the stage.

The players are Lily Tomlin, Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, and Jason Schwartzman. Despite having read that director David O. Russell's methods drove some cast members crazy and others to their trailer, the result seemed cohesive and structured. Mr. Russell is alleged to have thrown alternate dialogue at the actors during their scenes and created such a chaotic environment that I expected the film to have a choppy if not amateurish feel to it. Instead, the finished product was, more than anything else, fun. The characters were interesting and the narrative forward moving. The laughs were intellectual and slapstick and never felt contrived, no small effort in a film about the search for meaning in life. The ending felt wrapped a little tight but a small price to pay for a thoroughly entertaining diversion.

I, Robot 07.19.04 ticket ticket

If Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy is the gold standard of science fiction (it is) then I, Robot is an alloy of superior quality, but an alloy nonetheless. Its exploration of a future where robots live with us and for us is an arresting tale of arrogance and humanity. The arrogance that allows us to believe we can create life (albeit artificial) and control the result and the humanity that will forever separate us from the machines that do our bidding. Our hero, an edgy recovering Chicago cop named Del Spooner (played by one of the creators better efforts, Will Smith) is posthumously summoned by Dr. Alfred Lanning (the weighty James Cromwell). Dr. Lanning sends Spooner a holographic coded message just before he "falls" from his fifty-second floor office. Coincidentally, US Robotics (didn't they use to make modems?) is on the verge of the biggest release of robots in history. This new robot upgrade is the Windows of robot upgrades and soon there will be one robot for every five people on the planet. Windows has a glitch, though and the Blue Screen of Death may soon become a literal reality for us hapless humans. We think we're safe, though, because the Three Laws of Robotics, Robots can't hurt people, can't let people be hurt, and must protect themselves unless to do so would conflict with law one or two, seem the perfect logical protection. The robots, though, extend the logical imperatives of their laws and develop a plan with which we may not be entirely satisfied.

Underlying the plot, of course, are more meaty issues like free will, the nature of consciousness, and process theology. These weighty subjects, as they must be in any Hollywood blockbuster, are relegated to obscure chatrooms while the sexy Will Smith, cool futuristic cars and robot violence are the portals for I, Robot.

As for me, I'd have been willing to spend a little more time with the theory that God evolves in response to his Creation and the robots manipulation of their three Laws. Process theology holds that Creation is an ongoing process, that God is evolving in response to his creation. As opposed to an omniscient, omnipotent God creating life in a known and predictable framework, process theology holds that God invested life with the power to exist and evolve without his finger forming the inevitable future for us to live out. The robots in Asimov's I, Robot evolve beyond their creators expectations or control and Spooner (a stretch here, Spooner wasn't the creator) finds himself evolving in response to their development. A real challenge to work into the screenplay without putting everyone to sleep but one that would have taken I, Robot to the next level. How sad is it that a comic book story Spiderman can carry off the presentation of truly meaningful thematic elements better than a work by one of science fictions giants?

Igby Goes Down 09.22.02ticketticket

The dialogue and theme share sophomorism. Sadly, although sophomoric myopia is the subject, I don't think Burr Steers intent was to so thoroughly imbue the material. The presence of some measure of Gore Vidal's pretentious, albeit brilliant and charismatic, genetic code in nephew Burr's (after his Uncle's novel? how ghastly) can be blamed for the author/directors tendency to take his subject too seriously. My guess is there is some measure of schizophrenia and matriarchal dominance in the Vidal family history and we are, after all, to write what we know, but still. Spoiled upper east side rich kids and their trust funds will only be of interest if some larger matter is at stake. The Great Gatsby this is not. This is about plain old dysfunction. The dysfunction of upper east side preppy kids. The kind that should only matter to other upper east side preps. Housekeepers clean up messes, trust funds beckon, friends live in studio/lofts, the kids wile away the afternoon smoking pot in Central Park. We should all be so dysfunctional.

Igby (Kieran Culkin) is thrown out of every good prep school on the east coast. He develops a friendship with a Bennington drop out (Claire Danes), sponges off his filthy rich god-father (Jeff Goldblum), makes it with his godfather's girl (Amanda Peet), all the while despising his big brother Oliver (Ryan Phillippe). He, Oliver, is despicable, so much so as to be unbelievable. He doesn't do anything awful, he's just smarmy and superior and pretentious.

Come to think of it, none of the characters in this study of the aimless elite do much of anything. And they're all unbelievable. Now unbelievable can be OK, sophomoric can even be fun, and a send-up of elitism can be instructive. But Igby Goes Down is none of these things. It is dark without matter, mean without moral, introspective without interest.

The Illusionist 10.07.06ticket ticket

When the credits revealed this was based on a short story I got a little nervous. I shouldn't of course, so was Brokeback and it was as good as they come. But nervous I was. As I watched Giamatti twirl about and all the secrets revealed I was sadly vindicated. There just wasn't enough story here to make this worthwhile. Sherlock Holmes films are all largely based on short stories (Doyle wrote few full length Holmes tales) and the only ones worth watching are Basil Rathbone's. The rest are just tedious tales of clever tricks. The Illusionist doesn't quite warrant the clever tag but tricks abound. I'm not sure what the deal is with Ms. Biel. She doesn't seem particularly gifted but maybe I haven't seen enough yet. Director Neil Burger's only previous work was a pseudo documentary about the Kennedy assassination. His clumsy lovemaking misdirection close-ups and the final scene with Giamatti figuring everything out were as awkward any two scenes in any film I've seen in a while. Edward Norton is always worth seeing and Giamatti has his moments but the Crown Prince character was nothing short of dreadful. No fault of Rufus Sewell, this was one poorly drawn character. A hackneyed mess of a movie, what a shame this what I returned to the theater for.

I'm Not There 11.30.07 ticketticket

It's official. Cate Blanchett can play absolutely anybody. I've always thought so and the proof is in her channeling the Dylan from DA Pennebaker's Don't Look Back. Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, and Marcus Carl Franklin each take a time or shade from Dylan's life and Todd Haynes imagines the rest. Much of what we see actually happened, including Pete Seeger having to be restrained from taking an axe to the sound cables to stop the electric Dylan from despoiling the Newport Folk Festival, and much is imagined. Richard Gere and the Riddle Missouri sequence were a bit of a stretch for me but then I never did figure out what the leather cup in Desolation Row was about. The film is challenging, entertaining and different but without Cate Blanchett it would be much less of any of these things. Charlotte Gainsbourg was a huge surprise and wonderful as was Juliannne Moore as a sold out Joan Baez (not that she has, much is imagined don't you know). The film began with Stuck Inside of Mobile which sets the mood perfectly for what follows. The only sad part was all the old people in the theater.

Impostor 01.12.02 ticketticket

Gary Sinise, one of the great acting talents of our generation, was clearly in need of some additional funding for his first love, Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company. He could have picked a worse project. This suspense drama is a first-rate action thriller. Fast, exciting, intelligible, and well ended, The Outsider is good Saturday afternoon movie fare. Vincent D'Onofrio creates a special character and nearly steals the film from Sinise. He plays a government agent charged with hunting down and neutralizing what the government believes is a human/clone/bomb, Spencer John Olham (Gary Sinise). Madeline Stowe, always watchable, plays Olham's wife.

The film is set in the future and Earth is at war with Andromedians. I wonder if Andromedians call themselves Andromedians? And, why does the future always have to be so grim, why can't the future have Tuesday Weld lounging around a fountain eating fruit like in The Time Machine. Oh yeah, the Trogladytes made all that possible. Now where do we get some Trogladytes? Maybe we could wage war on some alien culture, subjugate them, and live the life of Riley. This is sounding a little too familiar, I better go.

In America 01.03.04 ticketticket

One of the disadvantages of living in a minor media market is the great spanse of time between many film's openings in New York/Los Angeles and here. Released in 2002, In America came to our town in November 2003. One of the advantages is I can walk to the Landmark Theater's local outlet. Though tonight we drove as it looked like rain. Found parking, paid the new 2004 price of $8 bucks an settled in for what I expected would be a sappy two hours. Wrong again, In America was intelligent, emotionally honest, and warm. It was hard to watch Samantha Morton play Sarah without seeing her as Agatha, one of the pre-cogs from Minority Report.

Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In The name of the Father and The Boxer) tells his own story of overcoming the loss of a son, Franky. Sheridan is played by Paddy Considine, his daughters by sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger. Big sister auditioned for the role and when done told the crew her little sister was waiting in the car and would be perfect for the remaining role.

Djimon Hounsou plays a scary fellow that lives downstairs in the junkie flop house Sarah and Johnny call home. In America takes us into a family struggling to overcome the loss of one of their own. It is a sad but rewarding story, well acted and compellingly told.

In Bruges 04.29.08 ticketticket

If you've been to the theater in the past two months or watch a lot of TV you've seen ads for In Bruges. Ralph Feinnes (Harry) smashing a phone to bits, Colin Farrell (Ray) remarking on how boring Bruges is or telling some overweights they can't make it up the windy stairs, or a cute hotel proprietor telling the boys they must be crazy. Looks like one madcap movie, packed with laughs. You may not have seen the scene where Ray accidentally puts a bullet in the forehead of a little boy in church. Ray picks up the note the dead boy had brought with him, "for being mad, for being bad at math, for being sad," his confessional crimp notes. Unbearably sad. This is five minutes in. Although In Bruges is, in fact, loaded with funny scenes, the film revolves around Ray's attempt to live with what he's done. Colin Farrell continues to impress in offbeat roles (see Cassandra's Dream), Ralph Feinnes, Brendan Gleeson and Thekla Reuten and Clemence Poesy make up a flawless cast.

It looked so silly I wasn't sure I wanted to go until I noticed the director, Martin McDonagh. I downloaded 2005 Academy Award short film winner (the only other work by Martin McDonagh) titled Six Shooter. In Bruges' Brendan Gleeson appears along with a brilliant Irish actor Ruaidhri Conroy. Six Shooter is about a young matricidal murderer, a couple whose child just died and a man whose wife just died. And it's also very funny. I've played Conroy's monologue for a half dozen people and then told them not to watch the whole film.

Don't see this film for a laugh. You will, but it isn't a funny movie. It is profoundly sad. Like reading Charles Ferguson's No End In Sight expecting to glean an understanding of how things could have gone so wrong and ending up crying for a country's people. The movie is billed as a comprehensive look at the Bush administration's conduct in Iraq. It is that but underneath it is about the heartless and unconscionable damage done to a population of already traumatized people. The shame of being an American these days is almost too much to bear.

In Good Company 12.06.04ticketticketticket

Selma Blair and Marg Helgenberger spend too little time onscreen. Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace make a good comedic couple but Scarlett Johansson steals the show. What her face does when she sends Carter (Topher) packing is an extraordinary display of acting prowess. With barely ten words she communicates a universe of conflicted passion. It is alone worth the price of admission. Even without, this is a funny, smart and balanced comedy of the sort we see far too few. Without giving away too much, and the value is not in any surprises, it doesn't fall into the predictable and easy trap of the million before it. A delightful way to spend an afternoon.

In July 01.29.02 ticketticketticket

In July opens with a scene out of Quentin Tarantino's handbook. A Mercedes screams to a stop in the desert as a solar eclipse darkens the landscape. The driver opens the trunk and sprays an aerosol deodorant over a dead body. A man approaches the driver from out of nowhere and asks for a ride. The driver reacts poorly and the stranger almost becomes the second dead body. After a little back and forth, the driver agrees to give the stranger a ride. The stranger is a student teacher on his way to Istanbul. He tells the driver his story. A few days ago, he bought a ring from a charming street vendor (July) in Hamburg. The ring, he was told, is magical. The next woman he meets wearing a symbol like the sun on his ring will be the woman he will marry. July gives him a pass to a festival that evening. She plans to attend wearing a sun symbol. When she gets to the festival, though, she is too late. He has already met a woman wearing a sun T-shirt. Her plan fails. The following day, she (July) begins her summer vacation as always, by allowing the first car to stop determine her destination. The first car to stop for her is, of course, driven by the student teacher (Daniel). Daniel is on his way to Istanbul. "It worked," he tells her. "What worked," she asks. "The ring, I've met the woman of my destiny and I'm on the way to Istanbul to tell her of my love." Daniel and July set off for Istanbul with entirely different agendas. July is played by Christiane Paul and Daniel by Moritz Bleibtreu of Run Lola Run.

Although put off a bit by the opening scene, the longer I watched the more enamored I became. Of the story, the script, the characters, and most especially, Christiane Paul. She is charming and beautiful and brings to mind a young Audrey Hepburn. Moritz Bleibtreu has a way to go to match the sophisticated charm of Cary Grant, but he is a versatile and gifted actor. I mention Hepburn and Grant because In July is closer to their classic romantic comedies than anything produced in the past thirty years. This is an altogether marvelous and uplifting film that should not be missed.

An Inconvenient Truth 06.20.06 ticket ticket ticket

Al Gore explains his dedication to the apocalyptic life of the lonely messenger with the story of his son's near death when struck by a car. It was his recognition of the truly important that led him to abandon the quest for public office in favor of an attempt to awaken enough of us to the threat posed by global warming. In the clearest possible confirmation of the hopelessness of his cause and the depths of our cynicism, most everything we read is speculation on the likelihood that he'll run again. And in the clearest possible confirmation of what we missed when the Court elected George Junior, he concludes his presentation with a nearly convincing argument that it's not too late and we can make a difference if we act now. Hope. That's what we lost.

The Incredibles 11.07.04ticketticket

Maybe it's the level of expectation for Pixar films now or maybe it was the first fifteen minutes of The Incredibles that made the hour and a half seem like seven. And maybe it was the resemblance to the story line from the first Spy Kids film (the kids team up with Mom and Dad to hunt down an evil genius on a tropical island) that made this story seem markedly Un-Incredible. Finally, though, I think it was the fact that none of the characters were particularly interesting (with the obvious exception of fashion consultant to the super heroes, Edna E. Mode). Holly Hunter made Elastigirl potentially charming but she never charmed for real.

Really cool CGI, a few funny lines, but mostly more of the same brilliant work from Pixar. Ho-hum Steven, is this all you can do?

Inside Man 04.16.06ticketticket

Bamboozled by Spike Lee's leap from personal racial perspective to Hollywood thriller? It's entertaining (he's always got game), smart (always ready with the answer), and doesn't pander (sucker free). Get on board the bus and enjoy another genre bending Spike Lee Joint.

The Insider 11.24.99 ticketticketticket

After watching endless trailers endlessly I was about to not see this movie. Big mistake. This is what storytelling is all about. The pace is perfect, the path is fascinating, the detours minimal but interesting. Michael Mann is the director. This work stands head and shoulders above any of his other work. Executive producer of Miami Heat in the 70's, director of The Jericho Mile, Heat, and The Last of the Mohicans, Mann is playing way over his head in The Insider.

Two sides to this conundrum, what are the causes that underlie the extraordinary and exceptional performance from the otherwise ordinary person and why would the exceptionally and extraordinarily gifted individual fail to live up to potential? Everything falls into place for that one moment or one event? To what extent can the individual control or fail to control all the elements necessary for extraordinary performance? Is it a question of will? Is that what differentiates Michael Jordan from Warren Moon, will?

Insomnia 05.27.02 ticketticket

Yes, Memento was a precious jewel of a film. Fortunately, I did not see Insomnia expecting a prequel to Memento (Christopher Nolan directed both). Instead, and nearly as bad, I went expecting to see Hilary Swank put to rest the awful memories of The Affair of the Necklace. Despite, or maybe because of, my hopes, I lay awake all night trying to apprehend this ephemeral wisp of a film. Alas, as it started to come to me, I drifted off to sleep. I woke with a start this morning and still can't remember what about this film left me so unsatisfied. The fog, which played a pivotal role, continues to envelop me. Was it Pacino's one note performance? Swank's obsequiousness dissolving too quickly into obfuscation? Williams' wanton waffling between accidental killer and calculating psycho? Maybe the Norwegian screenplay was translated by the same fellow that penned the now famous Norwegian TV series, "Adam's Spleen."

But seriously folks.

Insomnia is what it was intended to be, a psychological thriller. While we do spend time in suspense over the physicality of the crime and accident, the more meaningful suspense is reserved for the psychological. Like Sandra Bullock's Murder By Numbers, Insomnia features a cop with issues. Unlike Bullock's Mayweather character, though, Pacino's Dormer is haunted by his own actions, accidental and deliberate. In the same way that Memento explored the shared worlds of memory and reality, Insomnia takes us into the shared worlds of behavior and motivation. Is Hap cutting a deal for his family or against Dormer? Did Dormer see clearly enough in the fog to shoot? These are the questions posed by the original Norwegian screenwriters. It would appear Christopher Nolan has once again peeled back the surface, as he did in Memento, to reveal the more meaningful questions beneath. If we do not, or more importantly, can not, know why we do the things we do, to what extent are we responsible for our actions? Do we attach motives to actions in a desperate existential desire to define? Do any of us really know why we do what we do? Are we accountable in any event?

What with all these heady questions floating about, why did I find this film unsatisfying? None of these questions occurred to me while, or even soon after I watched this film. It took a couple of days. Have I imbued the film with a load of psycho or philo babble? Was there nothing below the surface of this movie? Am I making up my own meanings?

OMG, I'm caught in the vortex of psuedo-significance! Help me someone!

The Interpreter 05.29.05ticketticket

No wonder this one came and went so quietly, it's pro UN! No room for messy bodies of deliberating diplomats in the Pax Bushama. Plot the troublemaker on the Axis of Evil, threaten "action" and watch the old women and children run for cover. God it's great to be an American! But I digress.

Sydney Pollack is one of our great directors (They Shoot Horses, Absence of Malice, Out of Africa) and an accomplished storyteller. The Interpreter is a suspense thriller starring two of our most talented actors at the top of their game. Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman make us not care about the weaknesses in this story of political intrigue and personal vengeance. I'd pay ten bucks just to watch these two walk in the park. They're worth it.

In The Bedroom 12.27.01 ticketticket

If you stack New Englanders odd, anti-social behavior up against the gracious hospitality typically demonstrated by Carolinians, it is a wonder that the Mason-Dixon line wasn't drawn at the Charles River. Actually, I'm surprised those guys ever agreed to the Articles of Confederation, much less the Constitution. "Live Free or Die," indeed! One summer, many years ago, I spent a couple of weeks in a cabin in New Hampshire. I ventured into Maine on a day trip and by the time I left again for the relative comfort of New Hampshire, I was checking to see if my likeness graced any drawings in the local Post Office. What a cold, surly lot.

I had nearly forgotten these curmudgeons were still a part of our country when I recognized their almost British accent emanating from the screen as In the Bedroom began. The opening credits were played against scenes from the local fish cannery. Maybe that's why they're so grouchy, all that salted fish. In the Bedroom is the story of the catastrophic end to the December-May romance between Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei) and Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl). Sissy Spacek plays Frank's mother in her most powerful role since The River in 1984. In a virtuoso performance that will surely earn her an Academy nomination, she and Marisa Tomei overcome the profoundly slow pace and weird camera sense of the latest actor turned director, Todd Field. For the first half-hour I couldn't figure out what was wrong. It dawned on me when he held a five-second close-up of a license plate, and panned up to show us a man waiting in a car. Hmm, I thought, does this license plate have anything to do with anything? As it turns out, no. Another extreme close-up of old grizzled Maine lobstermen followed by, well, nothing. This fellow needs a strong editor. The clumsy direction aside, Marisa and Sissy make this worthwhile. The story is utterly sad, however, so don't go expecting to be infused with the glory of the human spirit.

Oh yes, in the bedroom refers to lobsters. The trap, apparently, is a bedroom, and if a female is closed in with two males, she'll bite their claws off. This is somehow related to the story line, I guess, but I couldn't see how. Frank's mom (Sissy Spacek) is certainly ferocious at times, but Frank's lover (Marisa Tomei) is the one with two male suitors. Unless we are to see Frank and his dad as the two males trapped with Ms. Spacek. Or maybe Natalie is the female lobster and Frank's dad and Frank are the lobsters in the trap with her. Or maybe that lady riding by on her bicycle is the female lobster or maybe she's a female impersonator - Dame Edna with her claw bitten off or...

In The Cut 11.01.03ticketticket

I guess some one could look at me, my life, the way I dress, what I say, what I do, what I don't do, and hate it. Not hate like angry but hate like disgust. I could give people the creeps, I guess. No guessing about the characters in Jane Campion's latest work, In The Cut. These people are awful, they look nasty, talk nasty, are nasty. Now maybe you don't think so but then you'd have to live in the dark, never bathe, and talk like you never worried that your mom might overhear. Like Frannie (Meg Ryan) and her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Frannie meets Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) as he canvasses the neighborhood in search of a serial killer. He likes her and they go out. The serial killer is also out and about and we get to guess who it is. No lacking for suspects, Frannie is tutoring an angry young black man while trying to break up with a crazy old boyfriend (Kevin Bacon). Detective Malloy is no Joe Friday and his partner has been suspended for nearly killing the guy sleeping with his wife. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has their life together in this grimy thriller. Every shot is filmed with a palsied hand-held with a smudged lens. I actually got a little dizzy at one point, but I guess that's the point.

Lately I've become concerned with why movies get made. This story, for example, is certainly not unusual. The Piano (Campion's great film from a decade ago) was different and fascinating. In the Cut is different only inasmuch as Campion makes it so through her direction. And that difference was more disorienting than informative. My view of these folks (Campion's perspective) is furtive, sneaky, voyeuristic. Why? What am I to make of this? Maybe there's something I should glean from these people. Maybe my life is too insulated, too comfortable? Or maybe this was supposed to be just what it was. A scary murder mystery. If so, I wished I'd gone to the museum. Guessing whether it was Professor Plum with a candlestick in the study is more fun with people I know and love. Besides the gift of great performances from Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo and Kevin Bacon, I walked out of the theater the same as when I entered. And that's OK, I guess, but I'd hoped for more from Ms. Campion.

In The Mood For Love 05.06.01ticketticketticket

An enormously beautiful film, Christoper Doyle, (co-credited cinematographer with Mark Lee Ping-bin) somehow made every shot rich and vibrant without distracting from the story. One shot in particular will stay with me for a while. It's a shot of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (Mr. Chow - the cuckolded husband) from behind at his desk as he's smoking a cigarette. The smoke drifts up and into the light cast by a fifties overhead fluorescent. An ordinary scene made remarkable by lighting. Hotel corridors, alleys, rain showers, everything is achingly beautiful. We watch Maggie Cheung as Su Li-zhen, Chow's partner in suffering, endlessly ascending and descending stairs and each time it is as if we have never seen it before. A remarkable piece of filmmaking.

I must confess to a little confusion over the story but that is probably more a testament to the depth of the film and my occidental nature than any weakness in storytelling. A movie to watch again and again.

In The Valley of Elah ticketticketticket

Paul Haggis may be the most gifted screenwriter working in Hollywood. He penned and directed this anti-war film without once making an anti-war claim. His misdirection takes us into the investigation of a stateside murder of an Army vet of Iraq. Tommy Lee Jones turns in yet another profoundly moving portrayal of an ordinary man in torment. He gives life to all our torment over this stupid, endless war. Fly all flags upside down until this nightmare is over.

Iris 02.28.02 ticketticket

The story of Iris Murdoch, English novelist, philosopher and Alzheimer victim. Told in flashback, Kate Winslett plays Iris as a young woman, Judi Dench as iris in her later years. We see precious little of her as an adult and prior to the onset of Alzheimer's. Perhaps intentionally, we get to know Iris Murdoch as a headstrong and liberated woman in England in the fifties. She predates the sexual and lifestyle liberation of the sixties and displays both its good and bad characteristics. She is a free thinker, unrestrained by the stuffy societal norms of modern England but self-absorbed to the point of hurtfulness. She holds happiness as the ultimate good but suffers not when her pursuit hurts others. Who knows, of course, who she really was as her story is told by her husband, the benefactor and victim of her larger than life sense of self.

Judi Dench is again remarkable and moving as the great worker of words who suffers the exquisite torture of watching those words slip from her mind and pen. Kate Winslett continues to stretch and defy categorization as she takes on yet another challenging and "off the path" role. The path, of course, was perfectly laid out for her after Titanic. To her enormous credit, she avoided the path more traveled by and that has made all the difference. Watching her selection of roles is nearly as much fun as watching her in them. A surprising Jim Broadbent plays the intellectual John Bayley to perfection (Golden Globe for Best Actor) and Hugh Bonneville as the young Bayley is excellent. A superior film.

Iron Man 05.14.08 ticketticket

A bad guy that lives in a cave. A greedy, selfish, arms dealer. A beautiful and pure American gal Friday. A sleazy journalist. Something's missing... Oh yeah! OK everyone, we're missing a cliche, find that dog! Like an old fashioned country/western song, Iron Man really clicks when all the old cliches are in place. Add a Hank Williams to sing it and you've got a hit. The charismatic Robert Downey, Jr. adds a third dimension to the latest comic book story brought to film. As long as he and Gwyneth Paltrow as gal Friday are on screen Iron Man is a delight to watch. Once the metal suits take over, though, Iron Man might as well be Transformers. And had my imagination been crippled by video games and DVDs I would probably have loved it all the way through. I had the great good fortune of being born before video was the primary formative tool of young minds. I had to read or play with blocks and logs to escape my little world. Had I had a hand held flashing, beeping, thumb activated first person shooter game as my introduction to the wider world I too would probably be wildly entertained by a dogfight between a flying metal suit and an F-15 fighter jet. I'm with Ray from In Bruges, Had I grown up on a farm and was retarded I'd probably love Bruges, but I didn't and I'm not, so I don't.

Irreversible 03.17.03 ticket

I knew I would see this film when I read that people walked out on it at Cannes. Films aren't arbitrarily screened at the Cannes Film Festival. I don't know if Warhol's Sleeping made it, the eight hour film of Joe Delassandro sleeping, literally. Anything this controversial must be seen. Like Mapplethorpe's photographs or Picasso's explosion of the borders of the canvass, something significant is happening, either artistically or culturally and should be observed.

The alternative position is nearly as compelling. Knowing that the revulsion people felt is over the graphic depiction of violence, should I allow these images to become a part of my consciousness? Can we apprehend the horror without seeing its depiction? If I have a voice and can raise it to influence others, do I have a responsibility to make it as authentic as possible? Obviously, yes, but then where do I draw the line? At my comfortable theater seat? Do I traverse the city's denizens in search of horror and tragedy? Do I sit in the emergency room of the city's charity hospital and soak up the atmosphere created by the wounded and dying? I don't engage in those, more real pursuits of authentic experience, so is the theater experience one of a voyeur?

Irreversible is the story of a murder and rape, told from the conclusion backward. Watching the subjects of what we already know will be a gruesome conclusion is made more difficult by that knowledge. The subjects are Alex (Monica Bellucci), Pierre (Albert Duponetl) and Marcus (Vincent Cassel). We last saw the charismatic Cassel as Paul in Read My Lips and he continues to impress.

Seen in Freudian terms (I find myself grasping for the familiar to make this ghastly difficult film approachable) Noe casts Paul as the Id, Pierre as the SuperEgo and Alex as the Ego. Alex is the former girlfriend of Pierre, a bookish overanalyzer and the current girlfriend of Marcus, a party animal. Alex connects the two men and encourages their alter-selves. In a brilliant scene, the three share a subway ride where Pierre tries to find out where he failed and Marcus succeeded with her. It's all in good fun and is the social high point of the film with everyone having a little fun while touching deeper issues of sexual attraction and fulfillment. All of this happens before the tragic end, which we saw in the beginning. In that context, the intimacy and comraderie is particularly poignant and painful.

A word about technique. Noe segues backward from scene to earlier scene by slowly rolling the camera in ever widening, sweeping arcs. The purpose is anybody's guess. The effect is disorienting and dizzying. It does serve to break suspension of disbelief and maybe it's Noe's little gift to keep us from getting too immersed in the shattering violence. The ticket taker pointed to a sign taped to the window, no refunds for violence overload. "That bad?" I asked. "It's a great film," he answered. Maybe. Be warned.

I Spy 11.01.02 ticketticket

First, the inevitable and invited comparison. Beyond the title, the names and the broad character sketch of white guy spy, black guy athlete/spy, there is no comparison. The names were borrowed (Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott) but the characters inexplicably inverted. Kelly Robinson was Robert Culp in the original TV series and Eddie Murphy in the remake. Alexander Scott was played by Bill Cosby in the original and Owen Wilson in the remake. The comparison ends, as it should, there.

Kelly Robinson (Murphy) is the super middle weight champion and enlisted by a phone call from George W to help Scott (Wilson) recover the "next generation" Stealth fighter stolen by the evil Gundars (Malcolm McDowell). Rachel (Famke Janssen) is on site in Hungary, holding the fort for the good guys. The film belongs to Murphy and it is a delight to see him out of the fat suit. He is wonderful as the wise-cracking egomaniacal champ while Owen Wilson reprises the timid/underdog role that is becoming a little too familiar. There are some clever lines, fun but not overbearing action sequences, and despite three too many kicks to the groin, I Spy is fresh and entertaining.

The Island 07.30.05ticketticket

I've finally started buying DVDs and one of the first was Michael Bay's Armageddon. I remember crying as Liv Tyler's hand pressed against the screen as she said goodbye to daddy Bruce Willis. I cried again when the little boy ran up to his dad and yet again when Willie "shook the hand of the daughter of the bravest man he ever knew." But that's not why I bought it. It was the Paris hit that did it. The Arch de Triumphe battered and still standing after one of the Volkswagon sized meteors hit it. I fear I declared Mr. Bay the new king of the mega action movie but I'm too afraid to check. That he has an unreleased film about Transformers may yet cause me to find that reference and strike it. Mr. Bay directed the new pretty people, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, in The Island and sure enough one scene has Ewan as Lincoln Six (his white jump suit name) release a truckload of locomotive axels into pursuing SUV's. That scene ranks right up there with the meteor shower from Armageddon. I didn't cry though. Maybe that's the writing of Caspian Tredwell-Owen (The Island) versus Robert Roy Pool (Armageddon) but who knows. I really liked The Island but, from what I read about the box office, there are only three of us who did. The kissing scene reminded me of the back seat of my friend Jamie's dad's car and Pam. Ahh Pam. Broke my heart she did, and then ran off to Chicago to be a lawyer. First kiss. Thank you to Mr. Bay for that memory.

Italian for Beginners 03.03.02ticketticketticket

At breakfast Sunday, I learned of some bands that threaten lawsuit if played on commercial radio. I understand the desire to remain unpolluted by the forces of commercialism. When the drive for purity becomes an obsession though, one can't help but wonder if artistic expression has already been compromised. If the avoidance of commercial influence requires the retention of lawyers, has the battle been lost before it began? Pearl Jam took on TicketMaster several years ago and attempted to break their monopoly on ticket sales. Regrettably, they failed, but thankfully, they moved on. If a band's message is so fragile as to risk loss if heard on the same frequency as a Mattress-Mac commercial, it is a message too weak to last beyond the ears of the listener. If I grasp the message in a hearing in concert or from a self-produced CD, am I unable to share it with another? Can it only be transmitted in its original form? Is it so pure as to become tainted by any external influence? If so, then I submit it is transient and temporary as tissue. Why can't those so opposed to commercial influence simply pledge to avoid the pitfalls of commercialism by joint effort and group accountability? Like the signers of the DOGME95 Manifesto. Lone Scherfig delivers on the promise of the Dogme School, in this utterly fresh and compelling drama of the lives of nine perfectly normal folk. Normal in the sense that none of the actors is called upon to save the world and none possess any super powers and no extra-terrestrials appear throughout. We see seven of the nine in an introductory Italian class. Number eight is a hairdresser with a mom in the terminal stages of cancer, number nine an Italian waitress. We follow them with handheld camera (pledge number three from the Dogme manifesto) without benefit of musical soundtrack (pledge number two) as they move about real places (pledge one) in real light (pledge four).

The ensemble cast is extraordinary, the stories alternately powerful, heartbreaking, hilarious and uplifting. Although I enjoy the million dollar special effects and artificiality of a Lord of the Rings as much as the next lemming, it is encouraging to see movement in the opposite direction. Hopefully, the Dogme movement will remain true to its founding manifesto and not become obsessed with waging war on commercial cinema.

The Italian Job 06.06.03 ticketticket

Oh Mona, there really is nothing new under the sun! Not Ed Norton. not Donald Sutherland, not Charlize Theron, not even the fresh Mark Wahlberg can lift this pedestrian drama out of the pit of predictability. See if any of this sounds familiar, an old retired thief (Sutherland) is brought out of retirement by his youthful partner (Wahlberg) for one last job. They get away with it, but greed gets the best of one of this otherwise merry band of robbers and he (Ed Norton) takes the whole take for himself. Youthful partner sets out to right this wrong and enlists the help of the daughter (Charlize Theron) of his now dead partner. She, you see, breaks into safes for the police department. Her dad broke into safes against the police department. The irony Mona, the irony!

This isn't an awful film, but everything is just so boring. Car chases, safe picking, helicopter dips, computer hacking, it's all been done to death. Nothing new under the sun, sure, but do we have to read the same newspaper over and over again? Well, do we Mona?

Who's Mona? I have no idea. Never known one.

home | contact us