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Pan's Labyrinth 01.12.07ticket ticketticket

This is a story of how we deal. Some immerse, some escape, some fight, some keep still, and some, chameleon-like, shift from one to another. Ofelia, no coincidence, loses everything held dear and escapes. Her mother, Carmen, tries to keep still. Her step-father, Capitain Vidal immerses, and Pedro fights. Mercedes moves from keeping still to fighting. And so goes Guillermo de Toro's latest horror show, (see The Devil's Backbone), Pan's Labyrinth. If del Toro, Inarritu, and Cuaron have anything in common other than their Mexican roots and an abundance of film making talent, it is an unwillingness to pretend the world is something other than a violent, hellish nightmare. Guillermo del Toro's violent hellish nightmare spans an imaginary underworld and Franco's Fascist Spain of the 1940's. Step-father (Sergi Lopez) is a ruthless Fascist commandant of a government outpost, mom is sickly pregnant with the Capitain's son, and Ofelia her ten year old daughter. Ofelia encounters a fairy who leads her through an ancient labyrinth on the outpost property to a Faun bent on restoring the underworld's lost princess. Ofelia may be the missing royalty but she must prove herself first.

Religious, Christian if not Roman Catholic, themes abound as sacrifice, blood of the innocents, and the Trinity suffuse the Underworld. But this is no simple morality tale, nor is it just a fantasy. It is a dense and beautiful, if terribly violent, exploration of character and the choices we all make in dealing with an ever deteriorating human story.

Panic 03.11.01ticketticket

Neve Campbell can so act, she just needs some practice with the big boys. She certainly gets it from Donald Sutherland and William H. Macy as father (Michael) and son (Alex) in this "dark comedy." Comedy is complicated enough without tying it to wierd appellations like "dark." What does that mean anyway? That what's funny is also tragic and depressing? Audiences laugh at the wrong times enough anyway, I don't think they need any validation for laughing at tragic, pathetic scenes.

Back to the movie. The family business is murder for hire and Alex is beginning to not like his job. He's estranged from his wife (the eerily gifted Tracey Ullman - how can she be all those different people?), seeking professional help from John Ritter (not even the beard can hide the shame of a decade of Three's Company), confiding in mom (Barbara Bain from the original Mission Impossible television series) who betrays his confidence (that he's seeing Tex Ritter's son, the shrink), to his dad who immediately contracts him to kill his own shrink.

Then he meets Sarah (Neve Campbell) and "feels alive again." Middle aged men in crisis should be chained to lawyers and driven off a cliff. Sarah confronts him in her apartment (he's been stalking her) and asks if his plan is to sleep with her until he feels better and then dump her for life back at home. It's a great scene and sufficiently truthful that when she does decide to have the affair after all it doesn't work. The film collapses but we stick around because William H. Macy and Donald Sutherland are worth watching.

Panic Room 03.30.01ticketticket

Jody Foster buys a 4,200 square foot brownstone on the Upper West Side and moves in with her daughter. One spoiled rich kid nut case (Jared Leto) one really bad guy (a surprisingly evil Dwight Yoakum), and one good guy doing just this one bad thing, (Forest Whitaker), trap Meg and Sarah Altman (Kristen Stewart) in the Panic Room, a modern-day version of the castle-keep. Barely fifteen minutes in and everything is in place for this suspense thriller.

Directed by David Fincher, (Fight Club, The Game, Seven, and Alien3) this is all about clever Meg and conflicted Burnham (Whitaker). Early on, we get a tracking shot across the apartment between the slats in the back of a chair, under a toaster, over a fork, through the French doors and around the corner. Digital enhancement has arrived, and in the hands of Mr. Fincher (oh yes, I forgot - he also directed Madonna: The Video Collection and Aerosmith: Big Ones You Can Look At) it can transform a film into a science experiment. We go inside phone cables, between floors, into the walls and a cloud of otherwise invisible propane gas. The clever filmwork detracts from what might have been a reallly scary film. The fluidity of the camera perspective allows us to feel less trapped and turns Panic Room into an altogether unremarkable film made worthy by the performances of Foster, Stewart and Whitaker.

Paragraph 175ticketticketticket

If I were to tell you of a documentary film about the Nazi treatment of gay men in World War II, your first reaction might be to recoil. The horrors visited on any victims of the Nazis does not make for a pleasant moviegoing experience.

If, though, I were tell you that the film was the product of the same team that delivered The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads: Stories From The Quilt, and The Celluloid Closet, you might be inclined to rethink your initial reluctance.

Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein have made yet another award winning film about what it means to be gay.

The 1871 German Penal Code, Paragraph 175, states, "An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex... is punishable by imprisonment." The Nazis, in a homophobic frenzy to protect the "master race" from corruption by gays, expanded Paragraph 175 to cover kissing, hugging, and even fantasizing. More than one hundred thousand men were arrested by the Nazis under its provisions and somewhere upwards of fifteen thousand were sent to concentration camps. Most died there. Less than ten of these men are known to be alive today. Seven were interviewed for the Friedman/Epstein documentary. Two declined outright. One of the seven, Karl Gorath, shows us a photo album. As he turns the black construction paper pages of the album we see more and more place holders with no pictures. Klaus Muller, a young German historian employed by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, asks Karl about the blank spaces. "Bad memories, I don't want to talk about them," he answers in German. He looks up and into the camera lens and waves his hand back and forth as if to say, "cut." I asked Rob Epstein recently about the inclusion of that particular scene. He replied, "We struggled with that scene, with how to have it read with the viewer (not) as a deficiency of the film. He's the person that just won't go back." Most documentary filmmakers leave uncooperative interview subjects on the editing room floor. In a testament both to their wisdom and courage, Rob and Jeffrey leave the non-interview intact. Karl's silence speaks loudly to the depth of the suffering these men endured.

I asked Rob how making Paragraph 175 had effected him personally. He took a deep breath before answering, "In unexpected ways. It made me think about aging and how would I like to imagine myself as an old gay man."

Paragraph 175 is not nearly so much about life in the Nazi concentration camps as it is about getting on with life in the aftermath. These men found ways to cope with what happened. Some through denial, some through action. Take the example of the two youngest victims, one a German Jew, the other a French gentile. One emigrated to Israel after the war, helping found the state of Israel. He returned to Germany in 1979 to work with fellow survivors. The other, Pierre Seel, married after the war only to divorce when he broke his silence about what happened. He has a particularly poignant comment for his interviewer, the German historian, Klaus Muller. "I swore I'd never shake the hand of another German," he says. Arrested in the French province of Alsace-Lorraine, Pierre warns Klaus, "I am trying hard not to hurt you while you're trying hard to understand me." Watching Klaus and Pierre's struggle to avoid inflicting pain and gain understanding is one of many compelling and mesmerizing interchanges in this powerful film.

The film opens with Rupert Everett (An Ideal Husband and The Next Best Thing) narrating the story of Berlin in the 1920's and 30's. The evolution from gay mecca to a gay holocaust took place in a few short years. The head of Hitler's Brownshirts (the precursors to the SS) and one of the original founders of the Nazi Party, Ernst Roehm, was gay and made little effort to conceal it. In part, due to Roehm's well known gay status, as the Nazi's rose to power, the gay population in Germany felt it had little to fear. As the early Nazi power base shifted, and the homophobe Heinrich Himmler gained ascendancy over the elite Stormtrooper wing of the German General Army, Roehm's fate changed from favored son to hunted criminal. On June 30, 1934 he was dragged from his bed and executed. The fate of Germany's gay and lesbian community was sealed. On the anniversary of Roehm's execution Paragraph 175 was modified to allow wholesale arrests.

The seven men who are the subjects of Paragraph 175 were arrested and imprisoned for the duration of the war. They talk of their lives before the war and after. Each has their story to tell and each story will haunts the viewer long after. When asked who he could have talked to about his experience in the camp, Heinz F., stoic, reserved, sophisticated, talks of his mother's unwillingness to listen. Klaus probes, "Could you have talked to anyone?" Heinz F. replies, "My father," and begins to weep. His father dies before Heinz is released from prison. Gad Beck talks of making love on the train en route to the camp. When Klaus (the interviewer) asks for clarification, Gad replies, "You are so slow, darling, so slow." From Heinz's aloof stoicism to Gad's carefree glibness, we see

Paragraph 175 has already earned multiple awards at festivals throughout the US and Europe. I asked Rob, the owner of two Oscars, four Emmys, three Peabody awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship, what the awards mean to him. "In your everyday life you don't live with the fact that you've won awards, you're going about what's right in front of you, the project you're working on, you know, the tasks of life. In terms of my career, they do mean something. They validate a body of work and I'm very proud of that. The body of work Rob refers to includes some off-the-beaten path features. Where Are We? is the result of a cross-country road trip in a min-van. Rob and Jeffrey interviewed any and everyone they encountered about their joys, disappointments, lives and loves. Rob tells the story of gaining the assignment for their most unusual documentary so far, Xtreme: Sports To Die For, "The head of documentaries at HBO was watching an extreme sports event and thought, 'My God, these people could kill themselves,' and gave us the project as an assignment. We went to the second year of the X-games in San Diego and hung out there for awhile just as research and found a real interesting sub-culture." The result is a film not as much about Xtreme Sports as it is about the culture it spawns and supports. Rob and Jeffrey's willingness to look below the surface lies at the heart of their success as filmmakers.

Theirs is an unusual partnership. Few films list "co-directors." I asked Rob how do they co-direct?.

"There's no set formula, we're both present on the set most of the time and, if for some reason, something takes us away, we trust the other to steer the ship. If we're doing an interview, (only) one of us is doing the interview and confers with the other during reel changes. We go into an interview very well prepped. We spend a lot of time working out what we expect the direction of the interview to be so we're like minded going in. And we trust each other's instincts. In the editing process, we're both very involved. We both have very strong editing backgrounds (Jeffrey worked with William Friedkin on The Exorcist and Martin Scorcese on Raging Bull) and so we're directorial in the editing process. That allows for a lot more arguing and disagreement. We have similar sensibilities (though) so when we argue it's usually because something is not working and we have to find another way."

I asked Rob how they met.

"I was living in San Francisco in 1975 and working on the film Word Is Out, a very early landmark gay documentary. Jeffrey saw the show in New York and wanted to meet the filmmakers and came out to San Francisco. One of the filmmakers hosted my 24th birthday party and Jeffrey was at that party. We've been partners in film for fourteen years, we were partners in life for ten and we've remained family as our relationship changed."

I read that Rob answered an ad for volunteers for Word Is Out in pre-production and ended up as a co-director on the project. I asked him how in the world that happened.

Rob laughed, "A very brave move on the part of Peter Adair (a pioneer in gay and lesbian cinema who died of complications from AIDS in 1997) to bring in a neophyte. I guess he saw the possibility that as a young person, a young gay man, I would bring all of that into the film, which I did. He encouraged and nurtured and allowed me to grow in that process with a watchful eye but with a free rein. Solely Peter's brilliance and generosity that allowed that to happen."

From his very first work, Word Is Out, to his latest effort, Paragraph 175, Rob Epstein has repeatedly demonstrated the sensitivity toward his subjects and open-mindedness crucial to documentary filmmaking. Rob talked about his approach to the subject and subjects of Paragraph 175.

"Going into it, I think we expected to have a much closer sense of camaraderie with these men. (However,) their experience was so different from anything that we've experienced that it really wasn't the case. (We were) outsiders from every respect, these were German men, Christian men, and subjected to abuses we can not even fathom." Instead of drawing back, though, Rob finds common ground with these men. "I'm not yet an old gay man, but I might be someday. I think about that in looking at these men and how they're dealing with the last years and months of their life and looking back at the lives they've lived."

Paris, je t'aime 06.14.07ticketticket

One of the more enjoyable experiences I've had in church was called an instructed Eucharist. We participated in a normal Sunday communion service with the added feature of a narrator explaining each step, placing the torches, for example, in the historical context of serving to illuminate the letter from Paul or the Gospel of Mary (yes, there really was one, in fact about thirty "Gospels" have been discovered, we get the four a bunch of Bishops voted on keeping about sixteen hundred years ago) that served as the centerpiece of the service in the first and second centuries of the church. Without the narration one is left to witness the ritual of the candles being walked back and forth during the gospel reading for no apparent reason. The early service were illegal and held in secret, in fields before dawn, for example, where light was risky business and used only as absolutely necessary.

If we are going to be treated to eighteen directors it would be nice to have a tourguide. Otherwise, what we see are eighteen short films with a similar theme. Nice but a little overwhelming. I began waiting for the end around vignette ten. Maybe I'll rent the DVD and hope for an instructed je t'aime.

Passion of Mind 06.17.00ticketticketticket

Fall asleep in New York and wake up in the French countryside, Fall asleep in the French countryside and wake up in New York. What's a girl to do?

Demi Moore is the suffering heroine (Martha/Marty), Stellan Skarsgard the French, and William Fichtner the New York lover. Too often this genre lapses into heavy psycho babble and endless sessions with the shrink. The psychiatrists (she has one for each life) are, thankfully, kept in the background. Passion of Mind stays with the character, not her illness. Is she the mother of two children longing for the excitement and passion of single life and career in New York, or a too busy professional longing for the simplicity of motherhood and the country life? Both characters are filled to capacity (by Ms. Moore's acting and their respective lives) and yet appear to search for more in an alternate life. Is this a psychological drama or an exploration of the choices facing the modern woman? Either way or both, an accomplished piece of film making, acting and writing.

For those keen on action, better stay away. Although some scissors make an appearance, no one gets slashed, no cars smashed, and nobody chases anyone else in their car. It does, though, entirely entertain.

The Passion of the Christ 03.04.04 ticket

The longer I wait to write this review, the madder I get. Even assuming Mel Gibson created this demagogic work with the purest of motives, love of God or his faith or whatever, it is a shameless work of exploitation. He will make countless millions from The Passion and I suppose that's his right. But it's still wrong as can be. Even putting the religious demagoguery aside, The Passion caricatures the Romans and the Jews in a way that even Mark, Matthew and Luke wouldn't have dared. It is impossible to imagine these Romans as capable of defeating anybody, much less ruling over the known world for centuries. They are a loutish bunch of drunks and stumblebums. Pilate and Mrs. Pilate somehow escape Mel's broad brush and emerge as good people, victims of the evil Jews. The Jews are universally awful. How anyone could look at this film and say it isn't anti-Semitic is a mystery. These guys may have been a brood of vipers, but Mel makes them look like vipers dipped in vinegar. They are prominently featured at every point in the narrative overseeing the torture and death of Jesus of Nazareth. More importantly, we do not see anything resembling motive for their fierce attack on Jesus. Nothing about the moneychangers tables being overturned in the temple, only vague references to Jesus' threat to bring the Temple down, none of the Jesus baiting the Sanhedrin engaged in prior to his arrest in the garden of Gesthamene. These guys seem to want Jesus killed just for spite.

The Devil makes several appearances. Interestingly, Mel chose a woman to play the Devil so what we get is Satan as a vaguely effeminate creature. Herod makes an appearance and here Mel makes it clear that Herod is as gay as they come. I'm not sure how clear the Gospel's are about Herod and the Devil being homosexual but then who am I to question Biblical scholar Mel Gibson?

And the scourging. Gracious! We really are over the top here. We can only hope Mel doesn't decide to do Joan of Arc next, I'm not sure I could stand twenty minutes of cooking flesh. As for the argument that this is realism, no one, even Jesus, could have remained conscious, much less alive for this torture. Where in the Gospels is the part about the scourgers getting carried away and having to be stopped by Pilate's aide de camp? Must be the Australian translation.

And speaking of translations, I think it important to make the point here that a significant number of people who consider themselves Christians do not believe that the Bible contains the literal word of God. The thought that the Bible was written by God or at least edited by His surrogate, the Holy Ghost, is a relatively recent phenomenon. In reaction to the Age of Reason and the accompanying elevation of science to the level of Truth, threatened religious figures declared the Bible the inerrant Word of God. In response to the obvious problems presented by countless translations, exclusion of several Gospels (Thomas, Phillip, etc.), and the reality that no such thing as a Bible even existed in the first three centuries of Christianity, it was decided that the Holy Spirit (used to be Ghost but that put off some so the less controversial Spirit was substituted, one can only assume at the direction of the Holy Ghost/Spirit) must have controlled all translations and publications. The point here being that Gibson's "authentic" rendering of the Passion is no more or less accurate than the King James version in terms of a genuine rendering of the historical event (if such an event even took place - there is no external historical validation of the Passion).

Most surprising of all, we manage to get through the two hours without feeling much for Jesus. He is clearly a victim here, not the Jesus who boldly accepts his fate after the prayer in the garden. Gibson manages to make this Jesus a pitiful figure, victim of the monstrous Jews and cruel Romans. And, as anyone who knows anything about crucifixion will tell you, the nails in the hand thing doesn't play. The bones of the hand won't support the weight of the upper body, the nails were driven in at the wrist. And the blood, I don't remember anything in the Gospels about Jesus having more blood than anyone before or since. But then The Passion isn't about realism. It's about making a buck. Shame, shame, shame, Mel.

The Patriot 07.01.00ticket

Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) and his six children eke out a living on a huge South Carolina plantation where, in the late 1700's, black men live free. Ben's son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) joins the Continental Army to throw off the oppressive yoke of King George. Gabriel's girlfriend delivers a stirring lecture to the unwilling townsfolk (including her dear old Dad) when they resist Gabriel's call to arms at Sunday meeting. They all drop their Bibles and grab their muskets, even the Preacher. Ben, Gabriel, and their band of forty thieves keep English General Cornwallis from taking his army north by burning up bridges and attacking supply lines. The evil and murderous British colonel and the good but psychopathically murderous Ben Martin seek out and find each other on the battlefield in the film's penultimate battle scene.

If, by some miracle, these shallow and impossible constructs don't get in the way of your enjoyment of Mel Gibson's latest man against empire epic, you'll love this movie. That is if you don't mind the fact that the hero tortured to death a hundred or so Frenchmen in the French Indian war, or that the French military consultant (played by the gifted Techeky Karyo) insists on shooting to death wounded prisoners of war, or that our hero's ten-year-old son, pressed into sniper duty by his dad, announces he enjoys killing.

Surely, these are meant to convey the horror and moral ambiguity of war, right? Well, if that doesn't do it we'll toss in some decapitating cannon balls, some legs blown off, some legs sawed off, several stabbings, a suicide and, hmm, well, oh yes, let's lock up the townsfolk in the Church and burn them alive.

All this film lacks is genocide and nuclear holocaust.

Paycheck 12.30.03 ticket

Another Dick novel brought to the screen. Please Hollywood, discover Clarke and Asimov please. Not that Dick is dull mind you. But we've seen it four times now and it doesn't seem to change much. The seedy hotel as refuge, the light machines that penetrate the brain, the evil business tycoon, Phillip K. Dick is the Barbara Kingsolver of science fiction, take a story, change the locale and the characters and rewrite it over and over again.

John Woo, as the dean of action films, teamed with Ben Affleck, fledgling action hero, and Uma Thurman, action heroine par excellence to bring the Dick novel Paycheck to glorious car-chase, liquid-hydrogen-explosion, hermetically-sealed-lab life. This is one edge of the seat thriller alright. What with the king-fu stick work and the overly aggressive fire suppressant technology, my poor heart could barely stand the strain. But I had to stick it out to the final frames to see if our hero and his gal would defeat the evil business tycoon and his deadly security chief. I shan't spoil it for you, you'll have to see for yourself. Just make sure your pacemaker battery is charged up for this thrill-a-minute action-packed death-defying blockbuster. Or, better yet, drive really fast the wrong way on a busy street. If you don't hit anything you will have captured the essence of Paycheck. If you head on, though, you'll be spared the fate the rest of us share, more Dick movies.

Pay It Forward 10.28.00 ticketticket

Young Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) responds to his seventh-grade teacher's (Kevin Spacey as Mr. Simonet) social studies project by doing something really big for three people, who, in turn, do something really big for three people and soon, everyone is paying favors "forward" for total strangers. Arlene (his mom), the struggling alcoholic (Helen Hunt) is initially opposed to this hare-brained scheme but soon falls in line and reconciles with her mother (the long lost Angie Dickinson). Jon Bon Jovi pops up as Hunt's abusive husband. Hmm, will this project work out? Will it change the world? Or will it change just enough people to make everyone live happily ever after? Or, will there be a surprise ending? Tune in tomorrow, same bat-channel, same bat-time.

Everyone in this cartoon is broken and tragic. Broken and tragic is too limited. Crushed, twisted, tortured, haunted might be closer. Mr. Simonet is horribly scarred, Arlene, abused as a child by a succession of her mother's boyfriends, hides booze bottles all over her house while holding down a job as stripper, Trevor hates his mom and lives in fear his drunken father wil someday return, Trevor's friend is beaten regularly by the school bullies, the parade of misery is unending. Hunt's tattooed AA sponsor seems to be the only one with her act together.

Kevin Spacey went a little over the top, Helen Hunt was her usual mesmerizing self, Haley Joel is a phenomenon (hope his parent's aren't nuts) and Jon Bon Jovi occupied space.

Leslie Dixon was responsible for the screenplay. She wrote the screenplay for the only movie I walked out on in the past two years, the pathetic remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. "I don't want to spend another second without you" is an actual line from this movie. Uttered by Kevin Spacey as he pins Helen Hunt against a row of outdoor lockers at the junior high. How can you have lockers outside? Won't the books and stuff get wet? Does it actually never rain in Las Vegas? Oh yeah, this is filmed in Las Vegas. The only plus, besides Helen Hunt, was seeing Vegas as it really is, a dusty dirty hole for broken people and broken dreams.

The final scene of the movie was entirely lifted from a genuinely original film, Field of Dreams. The camera pans back over swelling strings and meaningful lyrics as an endless row of cars makes it's way to the shrine. All I could think about was the parking nightmare.

Pearl Harbor 05.30.01 ticketticket

Tora Tora Tora meets 30 Seconds Over Tokyo for the MTV generation. This movie is all about images - American heroes, blown up battleships, Japanese treachery. All told without the benefit of dialogue or character development. This is a movie (like Armageddon and The Rock, director Michael Bay's previous efforts) that can be watched without sound of any sort and still be understood. Add the sound and all you get is some real stupid dialogue and big drums. Rarely will the camera play a more active and distracting role than in this epic (three hours would make almost anything seem like an epic). Aerial shots are invariably spinning, the heroes are made larger than life by shooting from the waist looking up, air combat shots are all about jiggling, blurry, in the cockpit action, the horrors of post-attack Pearl Harbor are relayed by shooting the hospital scenes out of focus, and whenever something blows up (and a lot of stuff blows up) the camera serves as a magnet of some sort drawing debris toward it at break neck speed (wow, that was really scary).

That the story is bereft of any discussion of our efforts to compel the Japanese to attack (save an uncommented and sub-titled discussion of the loss of their oil supply), that the nightmare of the attack itself saw only slightly more screen time than the aerial combat over Battleship Row as our heroes made fools of the cowardly Japanese pilots (in one scene four of them are tricked into crashing into each other!), that the love triangle worked out happily in the end, and that the racism and segregation of the armed forces was overcome by some good boxing courtesy of Cuba Gooding, should, in and of themselves, be insufficient reasons to avoid this film. Combined, however, with transparent jingoism, ham fisted direction and the resulting reduction of our introduction into World War II to near-cartoon status, though...

The Perfect Storm 07.01.00ticketticketticket

A category five hurricane collides with a strong nor'easter (low pressure/storm moving southwest into the New England coast) as a strong Canadian cold air mass arrives on the scene, and The Perfect Storm is born. Really, Sebastian Junger created The Perfect Storm when he wrote the book in 1997. Actually, Captain Billy Tyne (George Clooney) created The Perfect Storm when he sailed all the way out to The Flemish Cap for swordfish, putting himself on the other side of a northbound Hurricane Grace. No, truth be told, it was Bob Brown, the owner of The Andrea Gail (played by everyone's favorite villain, Michael Ironside [remember Scanners - man was he awful!]) who scrimped on repairs. Oh, alright, it was the weatherman for Channel 9, he named it The Perfect Storm.

Sparing the usual "book was better" (because it talks about the nature of buoyancy and wave strength and fishing and the sea) riff, this is one thrilling movie. As the theater lights came up I heard a gentleman behind me complain (don't read this if you want to be surprised and haven't read the book and can't tell from the previews) "everyone died!" I had a scary moment when Billy Shatford (Marky Mark, oops Mark Wahlburg) began talking to his girlfriend from the bottom of a one hundred foot wave and it looked like he was going to make it (Hollywood strikes again!), but, they stayed true to the book. Interestingly, the crew's "take" from the first voyage was cut in half for the movie. Bobby and his girlfriend, Chris (Diane Lane, who turns in the film's best acting), walk away from the evil owner with just over $2,000. In the book, it was over $4,000. Hmm, is the target audience so poor that $4,000 would seem enough to keep the crew from going out again?

The storm sequences are terrifying. One shot in particular has us zoom from the upper atmosphere satellite perspective of the well defined category 5 hurricane, all the way through the storm to the surface of the sea. A surface tossed by one hundred foot waves and nearly two hundred mile-an-hour winds. Very scary and utterly convincing. A masterful job of film making.

Alas, although there were moments when George Clooney was as believable as the storm shots, he remains an acting enigma. Who can't help but love him, he roughed up the director of Three Kings who was abusing a gaffer. But the hangdog thing has got to go. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (female Captain of evil Brown's other boat) represents the world of female ship captains well but someone should have stopped the hysterical "don't go there Billy" radio scene, it was totally out of character.

Great action movie, good storytelling.

OK, the truth about who really made The Perfect Storm - Gordon Lightfoot. His endless paean to brave men killed by a cold and ruthless sea, The Edmund Fitzgerald, made a whole generation of us fools for any good disaster at sea.

No, The Titanic was a different kind of disaster.

Personal Velocity 12.21.02 ticketticketticket

Are there choices? Do we have the freedom to make them? Or are we fooling ourselves?

Between genetic predisposition, substances ingested or not in vitro, affection or affliction in the first three months, education, peers, the media, churches, and the government, how can we possibly think we are free to make ANY choices. To succumb to that belief, true or not, however, would be to surrender any hope or aspiration. If we are nothing but a product of our chromosomes and influences visited upon us before we are old enough to defend ourselves then we should probably just embrace who we are and be done with it.

These questions are posed and answers suggested in Rebecca Miller's stunning triptych, Personal Velocity. Kyra Sedgewick (Delia), Parker Posey (Greta) and Fairuza Balk (Paula) deliver career-best performances as three quite different women, each struggling with "choices." Delia was the school slut, we are told by an omnipresent narrative voice-over (John Ventimiglia), who one day fell in love with a man who hated her. We are witness to a particularly jarring scene of spousal abuse (the clinical version of a punch to the jaw and multiple slams of her face into the table) spurring Delia to take the kids and leave. Greta's choice is to drop out of the high power world of her dominating lawyer father (Ron Liebman) and settle in with the comfortable hunk husband. Paula's choice involves the fetus growing inside her. Each of the three characters are thrown from their worlds by events beyond their control... or are they? Despite the almost surreal events tossing Paula about, does she ultimately make her own choice? Greta struggles with her conscience but is she ever really free to decide? Delia acts and then reverts, is this a choice or the lemmings' leap?

Like her father, the playwrite Arthur Miller, Rebecca leans toward the fatalistic, her characters seem less in control than controlled.

The Pianist 01.05.03ticketticketticket

The Good War continues to speak to us. Unlike The Great War and The Great Depression, the two other seminal events of the twentieth century, the mines of The Second World War continue to yield treasure after treasure. The Pianist is a treasure hard on the eye, though, and harder on the soul.

The Hell of the Warsaw ghetto comes out of the history book onto the screen and into your face. The reality of life in that ghetto is made manifest by filmmaker Roman Polanski. More than once we see sidewalk traffic unimpeded by a dead body, even the body of a child. But these scenes come to us almost as asides. The Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (portrayed by an awesome Adrien Brody) survives the ghetto. How is the story. The accommodation to horror, the cruelty of the Germans, the betrayal and the kindness of strangers are the background against which this story is told. The long stretches of isolation endured are at the heart of the story. Not for the faint of heart.

Pieces of April 11.08.03 ticketticketticket

I've said several times in the past few weeks I need to see some good movies. What I really meant to say was I need to see some movies about real life, real feelings, real people. Taking nothing away from Underworld or Matrix Revolutions, I was feeling like I'd been on a diet of candy. I needed some vegetables, or some oatmeal, something that's unquestionably good for me. Pieces of April did the trick. The story of a bad child in a family falling apart. The bad child moved out long ago. She was bad too, throwing matches at her baby sister, running away, drug rehab. Her mother is dying now and she throws a Thanksgiving dinner for the family. She lives in a five story walkup in a really bad part of New York. You know nothing is going to work, you can see this train wreck coming from the first reel, but we, like dad (Oilver Platt), hope nonetheless. Mom (Patricia Clarkson) tossed hope out a while back, little sister expects nothing but bad and little brother is too stoned to care. We spend half our time with the family en route from the suburbs, and half with April (Katie Holmes) as she struggles to make the dinner that will put everything right. Everyone is brilliant, the direction is immediate and intimate, this was one superior film. I feel much better now, ready for Scary Movie 3 even (kidding).

Pinero 01.26.02 ticketticketticket

Mandy Patinkin, as legendary Broadway producer, Joseph Papp, introduces playwright Miguel Pinero to the opening night audience as an artist bent on telling the truth. Pinero, played by Benjamin Bratt in a performance of astounding power, tells a news reporter that there are no butterflies floating around his head as he walks down the street. His reference is to the magical realism of Latin American novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is the gritty realism of the streets of New York and the cells of Ossing State prison that Pinero is telling the truth about. The challenge for Director Leon Ichaso was how to communicate the harsh reality of the life and death of Miguel Pinero along with the power, beauty, and majesty of his poetry. Ichaso answered the challenge by creating an horrific montage of scenes from Pinero's life. Flipping forward and back in time, from color to black and white, from the needle to the searing light of truth in verse, Ichaso allows us a terrifying glimpse of the fiery meteor that was Miguel Pinero's life.

The film, as did Pinero's life and poetry, spared nothing in delivering the awful and awesome truth. Pinero's drug abuse, misogyny, self-destruction and creative genius were laid out, unadorned, for all to see. Benjamin Bratt delivered a once in a lifetime performance for this once in a lifetime role.

Pirates of the Caribbean 07.12.03 ticketticketticket

Disney pirates have a keen sense of humor, a lifetime supply of Miss Clairol Eyeliner, a command of the language, a code of honor, and want nothing more than a fresh bushel of apples, once they rid themselves of the curse placed on them by the pagan gods of the Aztecs that is. Flamboyant pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is enlisted by the poor, honorable and cute Will Turner (Orlando Bloom - Legolas from The Lord of the Rings) to save his true love Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley from Bend It Like Beckham) from the clutches of the evil Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Round and round the Caribbean they go, swashbuckling and avasting for all they're worth. The digital magic is unleashed as moonlight reveals the bad pirates true nature - the undead! And we thought the Aztecs were bad for playing soccer with the heads of their enemies! Seems the curse will keep these poor souls roaming the earth until all the gold is restored and, sharp intake of breath here, the blood is repaid with blood. OK, we're good, plenty of story, lots of special effects opportunities, great cast, no weighty themes to slow us down, no nakedness to threaten a PG-13 rating... we're gonna give Pixar a run this summer!

Well, maybe. Depp's Jack Sparrow character is so over the top that it commandeers the story and the screen. From the makeup to the beaded beard, the oddball gestures and the goofy walk, we are left gawking at a portrayal, not a character. Couple Depp's silliness with two sets of Rosencrantz and Gildensterns and the narrative thread drowns in cheap laughs and stupid sight gags. The root of this problem is the director, Gore Verbinski. A master of the craft of moviemaking, he is a dreadful storyteller. Yes, Veronica, there is a difference. Jump cuts, camera angles, special effects, zooms, and dissolves do not a story make. An MTV video perhaps, a beer commercial certainly. This is the same fellow responsible for The Ring and The Mexican. He is way too busy showing off and not nearly busy enough watching the product of his heavy, tool-laden hand.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest 08.29.06ticket ticket

Will the sequel never die? I can barely remember anything about the first Pirates film other than being entertained and not hating it, so they might as well have replayed the original with a different ending. They could have made nearly as much money. Depp seemed to take Jack Sparrow to some gay place where prancing is the only allowable means of transport. Maybe he pranced as much in the original and I just can't remember it but it sure seems to be the dominant characteristic of his character this go-round. The silly sword fight on the beach as Keira Knightley does her best girly girl impersonation gave the impression of having been inserted to insure we exceeded the two hour mark. Why does every film with a budget of 100 million have to last more than two hours now? Is there some new budget to length formula being applied by the accountants?

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End 05.25.07 ticketticket

This latest capitalization on a franchise begins with a series of manacled citizens being marched to the gallows. We see eighteen people hung while a proclamation is read suspending civil rights during the emergency. The emergency is piracy. Pirates are the heroes in this film, the government is ineffectual and the real bad guys are the East India Company. They were the Halliburton of the seventeenth century. The pirates all join forces to fight The Company and start off by bringing Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) back from the dead. The trip there is so cold that one of the pirates accidentally breaks his frozen toe off his foot. The audience tittered. I left soon after. What a waste of time, talent, and treasure. Oh, but there is a new reality TV show about pirate treasure where a lovely group of bullies and thugs (the mainstay of reality TV participants) sail on an old looking ship to find buried gold. Who said nothing good can come from wringing the last million out of a movie franchise born from an actor channeling a drug addled rock and roll granddad?

Pitch Black 02.25.00ticketticket

The most interesting thing about this movie is the lighting. Before the eclipse plunges us into pitch black for the second half of the film, the cinematographer, with washed out colors and severe yellow and silver filters, creates a surreal and visually rich environment. Good thing, because the second half of the movie takes place during an extended eclipse. Thankfully, the expected but nonetheless heart-stopping leaps from the dark are kept to a minimum. In one scene, a doomed crew-member lights the surrounding dark with a spat stream of brandy and reveals a host of nasty flesh eating bat-like creatures closing in for the kill. Probably the scariest and most memorable scene of the movie.

In this theme (a band of disparate souls fight for survival and most perish), who lives and who dies often serves as the vehicle for delivering the message. In this case, the evil murderer (Vin Diesel), a father and his daughter survive. The heroine, who is initially portrayed as a merciless coward, dies saving the father, daughter, and evil murderer. The father maintains a steadfast faith in Allah, the daughter starts out as a twisted teenage boy (on a variant on the Abraham-Sarah in the land of the Pharaoh theme) and ends up as a needy girl.

OK, take the first half of the film (brightly lit against light washed out backgrounds of silver and gray) against the second half (pitch dark with color rich lighting from yellow flames or blue glowing bugs or neon color tubes) and take the cold cowardly captain, nasty teenage boy, merciless murdering criminal, good guy cop of the first half against the brave savior heroine, needy young girl, the redeemed murderer, and drug addled bounty hunter of the second half and what do you have? Things aren't always what they seem? A depiction of our innate duality? The vehicle used to deliver this message (light vs. dark, good people become bad and vice versa) is obvious. The message within appears to be have faith (the father), be yourself (the daughter), and allow others to help you so you can be free to help others (the evil murderer). Cool.

Planet of the Apes 07.28.01 ticketticket

Tim Burton, fortunately if you like dark surrealism, dark sets, and a dark view of humanity, leaves his indelible and unmistakable stamp on his work. Even the creepy Legend of Sleepy Hollow was made still more sinister by Burton's trademark dirty and dimly lit set. Even worse, or better, depending on your sensibilities, Tim Burton's work is rarely about the story, or even the characters. His work is about his vision. A vision that is bizarre, jaded and cruel. From Jack Nicholson's tortured Joker in Batman to Danny DeVito's horrific portrayal of the Penguin in Batman Returns, to the twisted soul responsible for Edward Scissorhands' appendages, the bad guys in Burton films aren't just bad, they're sociopaths of the lowest order. They seem to go our of their way to inflict pain and suffering on their victims without the least show of remorse. And, most frighteningly, it's not their fault. The Joker is who he is because he's horribly disfigured, the Penguin because his parent's abandoned him, the Headless Horseman because he was cuckolded.

Planet of The Apes must have seemed easy pickings for Burton's dark vision. Not content with an ape culture that subjugates and abuses humans, Burton creates a new, particularly dastardly ape snarling and spitting at every opportunity. Tim Roth, the perennial evil overseer gets this one dimensional role. This guy is so horrible even his friends are afraid of him. Utterly no redeeming qualities, whatsoever. The "good ape" (the one that believes in "separate but equal"! treatment for humans), played by Helena Bonham Carter, is made to look ineffectual and silly as the spoiled daughter of an upper-crust (or peel) ape family. She develops a crush on our hero (look here for Burton's telltale bizarro touch - a little inter-species sexual charge). Most tellingly, our hero (Mark Wahlberg as Captain Leo Davidson) can't wait to get off this awful planet and back home. Now here's a guy who's only on this planet because he disobeyed orders to "save" his monkey. His real motivation was more about playing macho-pilot. The results are disastrous for everyone. Then, when the entire human race looks to him for salvation, he shrugs them off as misguided and foolish. "Go hide in the hills," he tells everyone. When presented with the opportunity to return home, he is gone faster than you can say "Kill them all."

Too much grunting, too much hissing, too few redemptive actions, and too much flirting with inter-species romance, not that there's anything wrong with it!

The Polar Express 11.22.04 ticket ticketticket

Last night I dreamt I was escaping from someone in a car. I often dream I'm in a car driving somewhere fast over bad roads. Cliffs appear, high center ruts are everywhere, I have to drive over rock piles and an escape ending crash is imminent. If it's a good dream I fly over the rough spots and escape into the sky, a bad dream and I ground the car and have to run for it. Running for it never ends well and I usually wake up when it gets too scary. About an hour into the hour and a half Polar Express the kids find their way into a pneumatic tube that hurtles them back to the North Pole equivalent of Red Square. Their trip in the tube is as close to the good dream escape as I've ever seen in a film. And this has nothing to do with "performance capture," the technology that allows Tom Hanks to play five different roles in Robert Zemeckis' techno-extravaganza of Chris Van Allsburg's The Polar Express. With little tiny mirrors pasted all over his face and body, Tom Hanks facial expressions and body movement can be captured and reproduced digitally as Santa, a ten year old boy, his dad, the Express' conductor, and a ghostly hobo. The visual effects of The Polar Express are sufficiently compelling to keep us from being creeped out by Hanks' multiple roles.

This latest toy takes today's Hitchcock's one step closer to the masters dream of being able to make movies without those troublesome actors. Performance capture, at least at this early stage, remains a cartoon rendering of the real thing. By the time movies are rendered entirely by computer I'll be safely ensconced in six feet of dirt, real dirt thank you.

As Christmas stories go, this one is sweet but nothing special. Little Timmy (never did catch his name) is about to dismiss Santa as a figment when the Polar Express pulls up at his house one late Christmas eve and takes him to the North Pole. The trip takes up most of the film and surprisingly, little Timmy has to climb around outside the train for a while and that sure is scary. My goodness, my goodness, hope he doesn't fall off! Well, I shan't spoil the surprise for you and I'm sure it'll keep you guessing all the way to the middle. Merry Christmas all and to all Good Night!

Pollock 03.04.01 ticketticket

I felt like I came in twenty minutes late or something. The strong negative reaction Pollock has to his mother is never explained. His mental illness appears to be some form of manic pathology but we have to guess he was never diagnosed. Clearly he was an alcoholic, but he could drink beer till the cows come home without a problem? Maybe Mr. Harris (an extraordinary acting talent) should have spent less time on the painting and more on the person. Or maybe that was the point.

In an interview Harris gave after the film came out, he said the act of painting was all-important to Pollock and that was what he tried to capture. He certainly did that. The painting scenes are the best in the film. Especially the recognition on Pollock's face when he knows he's onto something with the drip and splatter approach.

There is a beautiful scene early on when Pollock and Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) first come together in her apartment in New York. There is some intimation in that scene and in the embarrassing scene with Amy Madigan as Peggy Guggenheim that Pollock has some sort of sexual problem. Like the relationship with his mother, his alcohol abuse, and his emotional problems, though, Ed Harris (as writer/director/star) leaves us guessing.

Oh well, I guess I'll drive off the road and into a tree. Whatever.

Possession 08.18.02 ticketticket

Based on a really big British, Booker prize winning book by Antonia Susan Byatt, Possession is the story of a 19th century poet and his muse, and the modern day literary critics who unearth some unholy secrets about their subjects. Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow are the moderns and Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle the dead poets. The possession of the title refers to just about every kind of possession possible. Possession of the letters of the dead poets, the possession of obsessive romantic love, possession of birthright.

While Paltrow and Northam were their imminently watchable selves, the unexpected surprise was Jennifer Ehle, an accomplished stage actress. This is a dense and complex tale, told well by director Neil LaBute. His only misstep was in casting his college pal, Aaron Eckhart. Now I don't know if you have to be a Mormon to go to Brigham Young University but I have to look askance at anyone who associates themselves with a religion that teaches, (a) we possess the secret criteria for entry into heaven, and (b) if you fall short of that criteria, but are a really good Mormon, you can still get your own planet to rule when you die. Eckhart's shallow performance has nothing to do with this odd religion, I'm sure, but it was sufficiently distracting to interfere with what was, otherwise, a rich and interesting film.

A Prairie Home Companion 06.10.06 ticketticket

We are indebted to Altman for getting Garrison Keillor's hokey, never-ending radio program committed to film. I saw the "radio show" live in Los Angeles a decade or so ago and wondered at the time how it could last. A throwback to old time variety hour radio, Prairie Home was, for me, distinguished by the news from Lake Woebegone, Keillor's imaginary Minnesota small town. The good time songs and corny jokes aren't likely to appeal to anyone born after the doo-wop era.

It would seem the only way Robert Altman is interested in beginning a film these days is with a complex deep focus shot of myriad actors milling about. It's a remarkable achievement in organization and serves to introduce a number of characters allowing the story to advance more quickly. This time we are backstage at the final broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. Meryl Streep makes the whole thing worthwhile with her incandescent performance as an aging country siren. Her surprising voice makes her time on screen as delightful as anything Prairie Home can offer. Kevin Kline's turn as the bumbling Guy Noir is too close to Clouseau for comfort but his abundant charm compels nonetheless. Lily Tomlin seems like an old friend with too much edge to be welcome and the Woody Harrelson - John C. Reilly country duo are so crass as to be distracting.

In spite of it all, we are happy to have a copy of the radio show around for re-viewing as we age.

The Prestige 10.27.06ticket ticket

Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson and even Piper Perabo deliver delightfully gripping performances as the actors in a magicians feud. And I almost forgot David Bowie as Nikola Tesla! Christopher Nolan combines part Memento, part The Fly, part Houdini and part Sherlock Holmes to brew up this dark and delicious drama. Cleverer souls will no doubt have this all figured out long before the end but I was clueless until it was spelled out. Interestingly, another clever magician's movie debuted this month. The last time two such similar treatments came out together Bill Clinton was President, the US was pressing for a free Iraq and scientists were speculating that something called dark energy was to blame for the accelerating speed with which every thing in the known universe was racing away from everything else. The Prestige/Illusionist back then were Deep Impact and Armageddon. Deep Impact didn't make much of one but Armageddon still comes around once a week on cable. The Illusionist will likely go the way of Deep Impact. I can imagine seeing The Prestige again on cable in a few years and thoroughly enjoying Ms. Johansson, in much the same way I still choke up when Liv Tyler spreads her huge hand across the TV screen of her sacrificial dad (Bruce Willis) as he gives up his life to save all mankind.

The Princess and the Warrior 07.18.01ticketticket

Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) stars as Sissi, a nurse in a psychiatric hospital in Germany who is almost killed and then saved by the same man. The man, Bodo (Benno Fuermann), is marking time since his wife's death in a freak gas station accident. Sissi too appears to be marking time in her role as psychiatric nurse. Although beloved by the staff and patients, her days are repetitive and lonely. When these two "frozen" characters meet, their lives begin to spin out of control.

Tom Tykwer, writer/director, is determined to show us the synchronicity surrounding our lives. Bodo tries his hand as gravedigger. His first job is to bury Sissi's friends mother. The friend sends Sissi on an errand that puts her in the path of a truck whose driver is distracted by Bodo.

Even without the abundant, if not mesmerical, talents of Franka Potente, this is a film worth watching.

The Princess Diaries 08.07.01 ticketticketticket

About ten minutes into this film, her grandmother, the Queen, (played by the apparently ageless Julie Andrews) informs the Princess/Mia Thermopolis (played magnificently by Anne Hathaway) that she is of royal blood. Mia's reaction is delivered in two drawn out exclamations, "shut" and "up." An entire chorus of young girls in the front of the theater matched Mia's "shut up" syllable for syllable. They must have seen The Princess Diaries several times to get their timing down so perfectly. If I had the time, I would probably go back three or four times myself. This is a delightful film in every imaginable sense.

Anne Hathaway is a compelling talent. The faces she makes behind her grandmother's back are reminiscent of Jim Carey's elasticity, her screen presence is enormous (read she's a knockout), her dramatic gifts were convincing in their limited display, and she is supposedly a gifted singer. I found myself looking for other films she's appeared in (none, only one "in production," The Other Side of Heaven).

Heather Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse), as Mia's best friend, delivers her usual (at 19, no less) rich characterization.

Even more accomplished is Garry Marshall's direction. This is a movie about a teen-age girl caught up in the classic Pygmalion story. The story's perspective never shifts from Mia. Marshall resists the temptation to present an "adult" interlude. Garry's sister Penny Marshall was asked once about the construct behind Big (which she directed), with Tom Hanks. She impressed on Hanks early, she says, the importance of playing his role without comment. The moment you wink, she explained, you lose the audience. They have to believe you are a kid or the movie is lost. He pulled it off, of course, and Big became a modern classic. Garry Marshall's disinclination to give the adults a wink is, in large measure, responsible for the success of The Princess Diaries.

The script is intelligent and funny. The Queen's "goodbye trolley people" is alone worth the price of admission. The only distraction is the overdone hairdresser role. Anachronistic and unnecessary, it must have something to do with Marshall's machismo. The only blemish on an otherwise sparkling gem of a film.

Proof 10.01.05 ticketticket ticket

I assumed, of course, this was a suspense thriller, a la Cher and Dennis Quaid's Suspect. The "proof" of the title would (in my muddled mind) be the kind admitted into evidence. I was corrected almost immediately as the tortured face of Gwyneth Paltrow filled the screen alongside scribbled notes of pi and If then{}'s. As Caroline, also gifted daughter of one time groundbreaking math genius of a father, Robert, Ms. Paltrow spent the past five years caring for him. Anthony Hopkins plays the not just over-the-hill math wizard. Note the unthinking use of the term "wizard" to denote the mathematically gifted. Odd that a science so deeply imbedded in everything that is should appear so mysterious and otherworldly to the larger swath of the population. Music is so closely aligned with math that once upon a not too distant time they were conjoined. The Music of the Spheres is a book by a friend that delineates the Age of Reason's effort to divorce music from mathematics. All is math, of course, from planetary motion to the morning commute. Efforts to isolate math have rather more served to impoverish than clarify or enrich. But I digress.

Ms. Paltrow delivers a stunningly powerful and pained performance worthy of her immense and ever growing talent. Her counterpoint is Catherine's lighter than air sister, Claire, played by the mercurial Hope Davis. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a balanced performance as a hopeful wizard wanna-be, digging through the sisters dads' papers. Robert flits about the margins as the film takes place shortly after his death, but when he alights it is to punch out an indelible image of fear and trembling at a once brilliant mind teetering on the brink of blathering. Madness and mathematics will forever be linked in mainstream filmdom by the brilliant A Beautiful Mind and in the less travelled parabolas of filmdom by the dense and inspired Pi. Ultimately, Proof is not so much about math as it is about mathematicians, their sadness, their loyalty, their (and our) struggle to sort out the chaff from the substantive. Brilliant acting in an even brighter script about the dark and cowering terror that seems to haunt the math genius gene.

Punch-Drunk Love 10.31.02ticketticketticket

From the inspired genius that was Operaman, Adam Sandler morphed into the insipid Happy Gilmore, then the water-thin Bobby Boucher. Every time I watched an old Saturday Night Live I was saddened by Sandler's subsequent terrible choices. And along comes the highly unlikely Paul Thomas Anderson (his previous debacle, Magnolia, is as bad as it gets) and Adam Sandler is reborn.

Punch-Drunk Love is a wholly different film. Rich in every way, from visuals to sound to story, it is sharp and it stings. Sandler's performance is profound and, at long last, once again inspired. As the emotionally stunted sibling of seven strong sisters, he struggles to survive in a sad venture selling decorative toilet plungers. The film opens with Sandler (Barry Egan) on the phone at a desk in a warehouse verifying the apparent marketing error that will allow him to bank frequent flier miles by purchasing a few hundred dollars of Healthy Choice pudding. Stepping outside at dawn, he witnesses an horrific accident followed by a taxi screeching to a stop and depositing a harmonium in the street before speeding off again. What makes the scene particularly memorable is Anderson's use of sound. Egan walks out in absolute silence and in silence watches a speeding van approach. Sound returns as the van crashes. As if it weren't there until it wrecked. Barry's life follows the pattern. Odd, busy, disorienting sounds follow Barry. Though most of his time is spent in emotional silence, it is punctuated by radically inappropriate violent outbursts. His character is forever on the verge as we nervously await the cataclysm. The visual contrasts are as sharply drawn. Colors are often surrealistically vivid, figures seen in silhouette, movement blurred. Characters are finely chiseled, personalities clear and strong. Phillip Seymour Hoffman once again delivers an overwhelming performance, this time as a seedy phone sex service owner.

What elevates this film from offbeat to off-the-hook good is Adam Sandler. What a delight to see this great talent restored. Hope abides.

Punk Rock or The Decline of Western Civilization (the movie) 09.06.99ticketticket

Documentary film on the LA punk rock scene in 1979-80. Disturbing on more levels than I care to consider.

The film opens with a series of shots from different clubs and different bands. They each read a notice to the club's patrons that warns them their presence is consent to be filmed for the documentary. The lead singer of The Germs is clearly a challenged reader. We learn later that he consumes large quantities of any drug/alcohol available before taking the stage. The band's manager complains that she can't get him to sing into the microphone. She claims to have tried everything except gluing the mike to his face.

The manager of one of the clubs explains the punk sound as rock & roll on speed (most rock carries a beat in the 100 per minute range while punk reaches 150) with folk music protest lyrics.

Dancing to any music at 150 beats per minute is virtually impossible. Movement in the audience is either non-existent (these folk are masters of the dispassionate stare)or consists of violent crashing about - the moshpit.

The film then progresses through concert footage and interviews with several of the periods better known punk bands. Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, X, Circle Jerks, and Fear are featured. Most of Black Flag lives in an abandoned church. The filmmaker asks one of the band members what he thinks of another band members haircut (what used to pass for a Mohawk). The questioned member pauses for several seconds as he considers his answer. Finally, he responds with, it's OK. I had the impression he was crafting the answer. We are told Black Flag means anarchy.

A skinhead who looks to be maybe 15 explains the need for an outlet for his aggression.

He's asked where the aggression comes from.

Anger, he says. The ugly old people, the buses, the dirt, you know, it just really makes me angry.

Catholic Discipline's lead singer, kickface boy, doubles as a critic for the punk rock magazine, Slash. He spends several minutes explaining to us that New Wave never existed but was made up by people who couldn't deal with punk. One of their songs, Barbie Doll Lust, tells us of a boy who carries a Barbie doll in his pants pocket.

Fear closes the movie. This group insults and curses the audience until they begin to charge the stage. The band and the audience conduct a spitting war with each other. At one point a particularly angry young woman climbs onto the stage and is beaten down by security guards.

The disenfranchised come in many guises, the homeless, the impoverished elders, immigrants, and youth. Too often we mistake life condition for chosen lifestyle. These people are victims. They have no place in the society. The society has no use for them and they know it.

One of these kids is asked by the filmmaker, "where's your father?"

He responds with, "I don't know who my father is, I hate society."

He laughs.

Chilling.

The Pursuit of Happyness 12.27.06 ticket ticket

I woke during the night with the image of a massive ball of dust circling a birthing star billions and billions of years ago. As this agglomeration of dust circles the new star it collects ever more and larger particles until the mass begins to concentrate and a core is formed. This core begins to heat from its concentration, dust that formed the planet begins to melt and bubble up from the interior, interacting with the virgin atmosphere and forming water. Billions of years hence, this ball of dust will incinerate as its star depletes its store of hydrogen and begins to expand.

I reach out my foot and touch hers and try to stop thinking.

I dream of traversing hell in a metal rail car with anonymous fellow travelers as we are subjected to hacking and burning by the demons that surround us.

Last night I saw The Pursuit of Happyness. I was relieved to see the misspelling was a cause of consternation to the main character and not some cutesy new coinage. Even still the film's title is incorrect. It should be Surviving Mizzery. This true and ultimately inspirational story is of a single father and his son in 1980's San Francisco. Starring the charismatic and gifted Will Smith (I just rewatched Enemy of the State with Smith and Gene Hackman ? a smart, funny, delightful thriller) along with his real life son and a talented Thandie Newton, The Pursuit of Happyness take us from struggling to desperate and back to struggling again before releasing us with (as one of my favorite lines from the Book of John New Testament puts it) the sure and certain hope of a better future. The ending, as jubilant as it was, was apparently not enough to hold the nighttime terrors at bay. Look for a walk through by the man the film is based on, Chris Gardner, in the film's final scene.

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