Fri, Feb 28, 2003

: Cradle 2 the Grave

The early reviews I saw gave this a mediocre grade, but I don’t know why. It’s a decent action flick. There’s cool stunts, high-tech thievery, bad guys, good guys, pretty girls — what more do you want? The plot’s mildly interesting: a black thief steals some black diamonds that a really bad dude wants. He kidnaps the thief’s 8-year-old daughter to force the thief to give him the stones. Jet Li comes in as a Taiwanese govt. agent seeking to return the stones to his country. He and the thief team up and become reluctant partners. Sure, the plot’s convoluted, but what action flick (other than the classic Die Hard) has a plot that makes sense? The action stuff is pretty good, though some of the scenes go on too long. I guess the better you are at martial arts the more hits it takes to actually down a man.

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Thu, Feb 27, 2003

: About Schmidt

Excellent film. I hesitated seeing this thinking it would be boring, but the director does a good job of using unexpected camera angles and editing to keep even the slow scenes well-paced. It’s the story of a man who retired after 32 years at the same insurance company, and is rather lost. His daughter’s getting married and lives far away, and he wonders where his life went. He doesn’t even recognize his wife of 32 years. Then suddenly she dies. Now he’s all alone in this brave new world. He gets in the RV and drives across America, learning about himself, and eventually shows up for his daughter’s wedding. The ending is simple and effective, like the entire film. This film is all about character, not about plot. There are a few stereotypical things, but mostly this is fresh and different and interesting. Like the basic main character’s simple life, the film is not particularly deep or insightful, but it is pleasant and mildly thought-provoking. Jack is terrific as always. Good stuff.

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: The Rules of Attraction

This nightmare is like some film school dropout’s hideous concoction. It’s a mess. There’s no story or plot, the characters are all horribly self-indulgent idiotic losers, and the director tries to make up for all that with fancy camera tricks, quick edits, freeze frames, and showing entire scenes in reverse. Here’s a tip, moron: if it doesn’t make sense going forward, running it backward won’t help! The story, what there is of it, is a bunch of college kids out to score drugs and sex. That’s pretty much it. It’s one party after another. It’s vulgar, dumb, and disgusting. Even the young and pretty cast can’t save it. Pointless. Unquestionably one of the worst films of all time.

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Wed, Feb 26, 2003

: A Philosophical Investigation

Author: Philip Kerr

Fascinating book. I’d never heard of British writer Kerr, but he’s definitely on my list of writers to check out. This is a story about the search for a serial killer, but he’s an unusual one in that he’s a philosopher and thinks his killings are rational and justified. The female cop who trails him is great, and she and he have fascinating intellectual discussions. Great stuff if you’re into philosophy. The story’s set slightly in the future (2013) and so there’s fancy new computers and other technology. As far as the mystery or tracking of the killer, it’s so-so: in this particular book the focus is more on the side elements, like sexual harassment of the policewoman and the philosophical discussions. In that respect the story’s a little light. But there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s very well written (Kerr has a great feel for language though, at least in this novel, he frequently uses $10 words where a fifty cent one will do). Overall, two thumbs up.

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Tue, Feb 25, 2003

: Spy Games

Director: Tony Scott

I don’t know where this film came from: I just saw at the DVD stores. I never heard of it in the theatres. I can’t figure out why. It’s got a great cast, good story, and a good director. I watched it with trepidation, figuring its direct-to-video status might portend bad things. But it turns out to be an excellent film. It’s a bit overcomplicated and overdrawn, and too many flashbacks are always irritating, but when everything’s wrapped up, it’s a great story. The plot centers around two spies, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. Redford’s retiring: today’s his last day. But he arrives at the CIA to learn that Pitt’s been captured by the Chinese and will be executed in 24 hours. The CIA, however, will not acknowledge his existence and plan to let him die. Redford’s character has to figure out a way to save Pitt without his bosses knowing. It seems impossible but Redford is very cool and does it right under the noses of the higher ups. That’s the basic plot. There’s much more in terms of character, when we learn that Redford recruited Pitt, that Pitt loved a woman, that Redford gave that woman to the Chinese (she was a wanted criminal) and Pitt had gone in to rescue her and got himself captured. But all that is icing on the cake. The fun is in learning how the CIA operates, and this isn’t James Bond type stuff but real spy stuff. Impressive. More of a thinker than an action film, though there is some action (in flashbacks).

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Mon, Feb 24, 2003

: Lost in La Mancha

This is the story of a film that was never made. Terry Gilliam, one of my favorite directors, wanted to create a film based on Don Quixote. It’s been his pet project for a decade, but he couldn’t get financing. He finally got it financed in Europe at a record-setting $32 (for Europe), but according to Gilliam, that’s only half of what he really needed. What followed is a comedy of bad luck and mismanagement. Because of the tight budget, actors were hired at reduced rates and the production had to fit within the schedule of the actors instead of the other way around. Thus there was minimal pre-production time with the actors, leading to a number of problems. Then the production schedule was so tight that they couldn’t miss a single day: combine that with location problems, such as military F16 jets flying overhead constantly in the desert location (they’d been told the base was only active an hour a day), and a sudden flash flood that ruined equipment, caused them to lose a couple days shooting, and changed the color of the desert meaning earlier footage wouldn’t match. Then the lead actor, Don Quixote, played by 70-year-old French actor Jean Rochefort developed prostate problems and couldn’t ride a horse or continue. Production ground to a halt and it was basically up to the film’s insurers to decide if the film could proceed. To replace the main actor would mean refinancing from scratch, so that wasn’t a simple option. Basically, everything that could go wrong went wrong. Definitely mistakes were made: the insurance wasn’t quite the right kind (it covered lost equipment but not lost shooting time), some of the people in the production didn’t make good decisions, etc. What struck me most profoundly was that what killed the film was dozens of small things, not any huge catastrophe. In other situations these problems could have been overcome, but with such an ambitious project, such an impossibly tight schedule, and inadequate financing, it was made for disaster. Gilliam is still trying to get the film made, and it would be nice to see it happen, though I suppose it will be years off and probably with a different cast. It’s very unfortunate and this is a sad film in that regard, but it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of how films are (or aren’t) made.

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Sun, Feb 23, 2003

: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Not as pathetic as I expected: in fact, I kinda liked it (or at least one aspect of it). What I liked was the approach and premise: a young woman who’s getting ready to be married has an antagonist relationship with her mother, who wants nothing to do with the wedding (and the daughter doesn’t want her there). But the old woman’s three friends (the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) drug and kidnap the daughter and take her back home in order to explain to her who her mother is and why she’s not as bad as the daughter thinks. What follows is flashbacks to the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’s childhood and youth (played by two generations of actresses) as dark family secrets are revealed. Eventually, of course, the daughter and mother reconcile. What I didn’t like: first, the dark secrets revealed aren’t very dark, secret, or particularly interesting or exciting; second, watching a bunch of old woman talk like sailors and whine and reminisce isn’t my idea of quality entertainment; and third, the whole “Ya-Ya” thing, though portrayed as childhood girls club, had mystical elements that echoed occult-type ceremonies and left a bad taste in my mouth. It would have been okay if they’d left that stuff in childhood, but seeing 60+ old women do it was bizarre and uncomfortable. Still, the film wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I liked some of the characters and scenes.

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: Dead Alive

Director: Peter Jackson

This is Jackson’s terrific follow-up to his first effort, entrails of a zombie try to strangle the hero! My favorite scene is one is which a zombie is given a spoon to eat with and he’s so dumb and impervious to pain (he’s already dead, remember) that he shoves the spoon so deep in his throat it comes out the back of his head! Just awesome.

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: Brothers

Author: William Goldman

This book is a sequel to The Marathon Man, a novel I haven’t read, but it seemed like it was readable on its own. First, let me say that this is a superior book, so superior in fact, that it overcomes some major flaws. The first flaw is the opening few chapters which are poorly written and meaningless. The main character, who was supposedly killed in the first book, is the ultimate assasin, and he’s not dead, and the first chapter puts us into his stream of consciousness as he recovers from his injuries on a deserted island. Unfortunately, Goldman begins and ends every sentence with an ellipsis (three dots), and without understanding who this guy is or what the situation is, not a word makes sense, and all the dots and abbreviated sentences make reading tough. This chapter is followed by a scene involving two young kids, brothers, who are tragically killed in an explosion. What makes that confusing is that in the stream of consciousness portion, the guy talks about his brother, leading me to think this was a flashback of him and his brother in childhood, and the explosion that kills them blows that away, leaving me bewildered and puzzled. More incomprehensible scenes follow, but these are longer and more interesting, and they’re soon explained. The thing about the kids isn’t explained until the very end of the novel, however, which is a long time to go without understanding anything. However, once the novel gets going, it’s excellent. The assassin character is interesting and deadly, and Goldman does a great job keeping us in suspense while still keeping his main guy almost superhuman. We constantly think he’s failed and lost, but in the end he always wins. Very cool. The climax is terrific, and everything pays off in the end, making this a very exciting novel. The actual secret of the kids is a bit bizarre and never technologically explained (it’s like technomagic, I guess), but it does make some sense. I won’t reveal it here since that would spoil the book. I recommend you skim through or skip the first chapter or two — you won’t miss anything, and you’ll be a lot less frustrated. It took me a while to get into the book because of the poor start, but once it got going I couldn’t put it down.

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Sat, Feb 22, 2003

: Gosford Park

Director: Robert Altman

While I’m a huge Altman fan, this is unwatchable. The premise has promise: a group of upperclass people gather in 1930’s England for a weekend shooting party and one of them is murdered. We get to see a lot of the relationship between the servants and their employers. Unfortunately, the first twenty minutes is spent introducing characters one by one as they arrive, and if you’re like me, after ten minutes you already have no idea who is who. There are like 50 main characters and each has one or two servants. I was completely lost from the start. Then the film meanders as we see the people in various scenes, learn the relationships, but basically we care for none of these people, there are so many it’s impossible to remember who’s who (I tended to them of them by actor names instead of characters). This continues for over an hour, as the “exciting” murder doesn’t take place until more than halfway through this long film! By that time I was so bored I didn’t care any more. I fell asleep and woke up during the credits. Even though I had no idea who had committed the murder, I was so put off by the film’s glacial pace and arrogant, empty characters that I didn’t even care! I had interest in rewinding and watching the ending I’d missed. I could barely figure out who had been killed let alone stir up any compassion for him or any of the others. And this was one of the best films of 2001 (it was nominated for Best Picture)? What a lot of rot! I’ve lost all respect for the Academy. This is just a PBS period piece with a lot of top actors that’s like some sort of literary health food concoction — “it tastes terrible, but eat it, it’s good for you.” I’ll bet none of the academy members who voted for it had even seen it. If it had been shortened to 30 minutes it might have been interesting, but at over two hours it’s just boredom on a disc. My vote for one of the worst films of 2001.

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: The Sadist

This is a low budget film from the 60’s that has gained a cult rep. The acting is poor (only one professional actor in the group), but the story’s interesting, though the title’s misleading. The title made me think this was a serial killer type story, but the lead bad guy’s a kid, a twenty-year-old punk who has no respect for life and murders indiscriminately. He and his girlfriend take hostage a group of schoolteachers on their way to a baseball game when they had car trouble and stopped in a small deserted town where the murder and his girl were hiding out. The kid shoots one of the teachers for fun after making him get on his knees and beg for his life. The other two know they’ll be next, and they stall for time trying to fix the car and plot their escape. Interesting concept, claustrophobic atmosphere, tight direction, but mostly notable as this was the first film for Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (though he’s credited as William). The lead bad guy, played by the producer’s son who wanted him to be a star, is pathetically bad (he later dropped out of acting saying his father had pushed him into it), but a few others aren’t too bad. Still, while “shocking” at the time of its release, it’s mild like a TV movie for today.

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Fri, Feb 21, 2003

: Dark Blue

Back when the whole Rodney King thing happened I didn’t have a strong opinion: like most everyone else, all I had seen were the TV news clips of the cops beating King with batons. It seemed incredible that the jury would acquit the four cops. However, I later saw the full video on Court TV: in the full video you actually see the officers surrounding King, ordering him to comply, King lunging at them, the way initial attempts to subdue him failed, and the eventual beating footage shown on the TV news over and over again. I found it fascinating that the TV news never showed King acting violent, something the jury got to see. That still didn’t change my mind about the verdict, but it did make me think that it’s unfair for us to judge the jury since we didn’t see the actual evidence presented in the trial. All we got to see is the biased footage the TV news showed us.

Well, minutes into this film I knew where this was going, for the film opens with the Rodney King beating, and once again, only the cops’ actions are shown. Cut from that to a white cop making racist remarks and a black assistant police chief who’s the good guy and you’ve got an excellent idea of which side this movie’s going to take. Not that that’s wrong, just interesting, and a point to keep in mind. I don’t like being manipulated.

The story’s about corruption and cover ups in the LAPD at the time of the King trial. The main characters are an older bad-ass police sergeant and his young new partner whom he begins to train in the ways of “the end justifies the means” police work. As the young cop’s conscience waivers, the King verdict comes down and L.A. explodes into violence. The climactic riot scenes are really well done and frightening: people looting, flipping cars over, burning and breaking, and dragging white people from vehicles and beating them. The ending is a bit different and I won’t give it away here, but I liked it. That surprised me, for if you’d told me what happened in advance I would have said I wouldn’t like it, but it ultimately did make sense. Overall, a good cop film. I doubt you’ll learn anything new about race relations, and the film doesn’t unveil anything new about the King situation, but it is interesting and the dynamic between Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman is excellent.

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Thu, Feb 20, 2003

: Coma

Author: Robin Cook

Surprisingly well-written book for the genre. I’ve seen a bit of a movie and knew some of the story, but I’d never bothered with the book. It’s definitely Cook’s best. The characters are more defined and the writing style is more polished: much of his later work is rushed and cheap by comparison. He still throws in all the required elements of a paint-by-numbers thriller: gratuitous sex, violence, etc., but it’s well-done. The story is about a female medical student who is trying to figure out why so many patients at a Boston hospital are ending up in unexplained comas. During her investigation, she offends all her superiors and puts her medical career at risk, but she’s positive something sinister is going on. Plot-wise, it’s routine by today’s standards, but what makes the story compelling is the fact that the lead character’s a woman struggling to get by in a man’s domain (far more of a problem in the 70’s than today when female doctors are more accepted) and as a lowly medical student is a terrific underdog (arrogant doctors with decades of experience don’t want to hear her absurd theories because they would be shown up by a mere student). An excellent read, made even more interesting by today’s standards — it makes you realize how much things have changed in just a couple decades.

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Wed, Feb 19, 2003

: Frida

An absolutely amazing film. It’s the biography of a remarkable Mexican artist of the early and mid 20th Century, Frida Kahlo. I’d never heard of her before this film, but one of the things I liked is they displayed a lot of her artwork in the film and it truly is excellent stuff, rather Dali-like (Dali’s my favorite artist) with abstract and contradictory images mixed together. Frida’s story is one of trouble and struggle: a bus accident leaves her severely injured and the doctors say she’ll never walk again (but she does), and then she marries an unfaithful husband, and eventually her back and leg problems (which cause her pain all her life and lead her to an addiction to painkillers) mean she has to have her leg amputated. In every way Frida was controversial: she was an outspoken woman, an artist, politically she was a Communist, and she apparently was bisexual. Some of this stuff is celebrated in the film, some just presented, but it’s always done artistically, and that lessons the effect of any preaching. Salma Hayak in the lead role is incredible: she actually pulls off the early teenage schoolgirl scenes with complete believability as well as the 47-year-old woman Frida eventually becomes. (I loved that, for a it always annoys me when films use a different actor for the young character and the young actor doesn’t look anything like the real adult actor.) The movie is sad yet triumphant — like Frida herself, it celebrates life and living. There’s quite a bit of humor, from the infamous dance scene with Ashley Judd to great lines like the one near the end when Frida is caught drinking by her doctor and she says, “Let me drink this one tequila and I promise I won’t drink at my funeral.” Wonderful film.

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Mon, Feb 17, 2003

: The Great Escape

A classic I’d never seen, and it’s easy to see why it has such a good reputation. Based on a true WWII escape by POWs in a German camp, it tells about a daring attempt to escape 250 men (ultimately only 76 manage it and most of those are caught). The idea of the prisoners was to keep the Germans busy and distract them from the war effort, and in that regard it was an apparent success. The escape itself is fascinating and mind-numbingly difficult, but what I liked about the film is that it doesn’t end at the escape but shows us what happens to the escapees. However, I did think the German guards were too much like “Hogan’s Heroes” — completely different from the brutal reality of The Pianist.

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Sun, Feb 16, 2003

: Exocet

Author: Jack Higgins

Surprisingly well-written tale about espionage during the British-Argentina war over the Fawkland Islands. Basically the Argentinians need Exocet missiles desperately so they can sink the British battleships, and go on the open market to look for some. British intelligence is out to stop them from getting some. Things get a bit complicated as the French and Russians are involved, everyone with their own motivations. The plot promises a bit more than it delivers: the resolution is lightweight and rather routine. But what the book does offer is an intriguing love story and character studies. A beautiful woman, roped into working with British intelligence, seduces an Argentine pilot, only to really fall in love with him. Her conscience bothers her terribly as she spies on him, but in the end it’s the British who betray her. Fortunately, all ends happily for the good guys (and gal). The bottom line: the story’s routine but the writing is above average and the characters worth knowing. The only real character flaw is that enough though I wanted to believe it, I found the way the two main characters fell in love at first glance across a room unrealistic.

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: Time and Tide

This film is about scenes: just watch for the interesting ones and enjoy them. Don’t even try to understand the incomprehensible plot that shifts from one place to another at a confusing and frantic pace. Perhaps partly due to the fact that it’s in Chinese, and the dubbing and subtitles didn’t match at all, I couldn’t follow anything. I kept getting characters confused with each other (Were there two pregnant girls and which was which?), and I had a hard time following anything. But the action sequences were cool, especially the climax of a gun battle while a woman is giving birth, and the film’s direction has some real flair in places. Overall, however, I found the thing made no sense at all.

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: Bad Taste

Author: Peter Jackson

Director: Peter Jackson

Peter’s first film, shot over three years on weekends, is a cinematic masterpiece. Okay, perhaps “masterpiece” is not the word, but it’s certainly an incredible achievement. It’s a gory B-movie trip, and it’s hilarious. The plot’s great: a representative from an outer space fast food chain has arrived on earth with his cronies and is packing up humans for alien consumption. So far they’ve taken over an entire village of 75 people. This is just a trial run to see if the product’s a hit, but with four billion “cattle” on earth, there are big profits to be had. The New Zealand government sends in “The Boys,” a group of scientists and gunfighters to find out what’s happened to the remote town, and of course, they discover the aliens and what follows is lots of bloodshed. Lots. Terrific action, editing, and gory special effects, astonishing with the minimal budget. (Peter spent $11,000 of his own money for the first 75 minutes shot on 16mm, then used funds from the NZ Film Commission to finish the film.) The special effects are really impressive even by modern standards: headless zombies, guy cut in half, body falling down a mountainside and bouncing. But the key to everything is the humor. In one scene, a guy has part of his brains fall out the back of his head. He replaces the missing piece of his head, but then something’s not quite right — he’s a bit out of sorts. So he takes up some of the brain matter he finds scattered about, opens the head wound, and stuffs in the brains! Then he’s okay! In other scene, a guy’s Uzi runs out of bullets, but he realizes the alien zombies are pretty dumb, so he pretends to shoot and makes ch-ch-ch-ch sounds with his mouth. The alien dude flails his arms and staggers as though bullets are tearing him apart until he realizes he’s fine! In another classic scene — believe me, there are dozens and dozens — a dead alien lies propped against a wall, a single bullet hole in his forehead gushing blood like a faucet… into a glass which he’s holding in his hand! Oh, there’s just too much of that — it’s awesome. This is definitely a midnight movie you can watch over and over and over again and always see something new. Amazing.

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Sat, Feb 15, 2003

: Daredevil

Spoiler alert: in order to comment on this I’m going to reveal key plot points, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read this. First, this is a well-done film. The look is excellent (the “radarvision” is something we haven’t seen before and well done), the action amazing, the acting above average. The barely-there plot’s not even too dumb by comic book film standards. However, there are a couple key flaws that really ruined the film for me.

The story begins with a hero’s backstory, how he was blinded as a kid and developed super senses as a result, including a kind of radar. He builds himself up physically and mentally, and when his father is murdered, vows to seek justice for those who can’t afford it. He grows up to become a lawyer by day and the vigilante Daredevil at night. So far, everything’s great. Then, as the lawyer, he meets the beautiful Elektra. They have an oddly confrontational initial meeting, which blossoms into true love. She’s a strong character that matches his strength, and we know it’s destiny that they be together. Then the bad guys kill her father and then her, and the movie goes downhill from there. When Daredevil finally confronts the killer of his girl and his father (of course they’re the same bad guy), he doesn’t kill him. How lame is that? Even worse, a hospital room scene that shows up during the credits reveals that the bad guys’ associate didn’t die when Daredevil threw him from the church tower. Now I know the filmmakers would tell me they didn’t want to go with the cliche happy ending with the girl surviving the attempt on her left, but they turned right around and a did an even stupider cliche by having the hero not take his vengeance and kill the murderer. What’s up with that? The result is bizarre: no bad guys die in the film. They murder dozens of good people, and though Daredevil defeats them in the end, they all live and he goes on with life alone. That’s better than having the girl survive? Lame! First, Elektra’s character was one of the strongest in the film: you’re stupid to kill her off. Second, by letting all the bad guys survive while all the good die you’ve sent a horrible message to audiences. Finally, the whole film becomes a downer. Nothing about the ending makes it any less depressing.

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: Hardball

Routine, saccharine tale about a loser with gambling debts roped into to coaching a projects kids baseball team. He gradually learns to love the kids, they soften up to him, and the team of losers and misfits wins the championship against all odds. Hooray. Predictable as rain in May, but still competently done. Fun if you don’t mind being shamelessly manipulated.

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Fri, Feb 14, 2003

: The Salton Sea

The worst thing about this movie is the title: it’s meaningless and tells you nothing about the film. I thought it was some kind of thriller, but it’s more of a dark mystery. It’s about drugs and drug-dealing, though we soon learn that the narrator, a supposed druggie, isn’t, and has a secret agenda. Overall the thing feels rather uncertain of itself: like the main character, who pretending to be something he’s not, so’s the film. It is an action flick? A drug pic? A thriller? A mystery? A revenge picture? It doesn’t know and seems to waiver oddly between them. The actual plot, once we get halfway through and start to figure it out, is surprisingly clever and impressive, but we have to wade through a lot of crap to get there. The best thing in the film is unquestionably Vincent D’Onofrio as Pooh-Bear, a drug dealer who did so much crack he lost his nose and wears a plastic one. He’s hilarious, unrecognizable, and an amazing character. Unfortunately, he’s not in the film enough — but the movie’s worth watching just for his performance. Other than that, the movie’s okay, though the second half is better than the first (which is unusual).

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Thu, Feb 13, 2003

: Windtalkers

Director: John Woo

Somber WWII film, with plenty of graphic action and gore. The extended battle sequences are impressive, giving me a better understanding of the big picture of how a war works. For example, in one scene the group of men radio the ship of shore the coordinates of where to shoot the big guns, successfully blasting out some bunkered enemy troups. I never thought about the foot soldiers and the battleships working in cooperation like that. Educational. Unfortunately, what intrigued me about the film — the Navajo “codetalkers” — isn’t enough of the plot. (I love codes and code-breaking stuff.) Instead the Navajos are merely pawns in the game, and we get to see racist treatment of them by other soldiers. Good performances all around, amazing action, but ultimately still a war film, which means it’s a downer.

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: Shanghai Knigts

Routine sequel that has the two from the first film going to England to find murderer of John Wayne’s father. Plenty of humor, good Jackie Chan action, and enough silliness that who cares about the plot? Good fun, though a little long. Films like this need to be 90 minutes and no more or the concept starts to feel stale.

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Wed, Feb 12, 2003

: The Yards

Interesting crime drama about a young parolee who finds himself enmeshed in the criminal underworld when he gets out of prison, soon he’s the scapegoat for murder. Somewhat familiar story, but told with style and good performances.

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Tue, Feb 11, 2003

: The Hours

This film affected me deeply. It’s profound. It tells three stories simultaneously: author Virginia Woolf as she writes her novel Mrs. Dalloway, a post-war housewife who’s contemplating suicide while reading the novel, and modern-day woman who’s living the life of Mrs. Dalloway, preparing a dinner party just like her. All three are (at minimum) emotionally troubled or even seriously mentally ill.

I haven’t read the novel, but that didn’t seem to hurt my understanding of the movie (however, after seeing the movie I rushed out and bought the novel). The book is apparently about Mrs. Dalloway preparing to give a dinner party, and everyone thinks she’s fine but inside she’s cracking up. My understanding is that the novel was revolutionary in that it jumps back and forth through time (though the main story takes place during a single day), and that’s what the film does as well, giving us insight into the past while telling the events of a single day. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing some of the powerful suprises, but let’s just say that all the characters become inter-connected even more than you expect. With this interconnectedness comes and increased understanding and compassion for these troubled women (and man). Very interesting and extremely well done. The performances are powerful, and the way the director intercut the various stories is masterful (in one sequence he cuts from flower pot to flower pot as each of the three women move a flower pot). A few things were a bit over the top: all the characters in the modern day story were gay, including one guy dying of AIDS. (That’s good drama? How cliche!) But there’s much to like: the performances are incredible and the make-up superb. However the best part of this film is something many won’t like: it gives no explanations or answers. For instance, we aren’t told why the middle woman wants to kill herself. She seems to have a loving husband, an adoring little boy, and she’s pregnant. They have a good life. Why throw it all away? Well, nothing is explained in the film: it’s up to us to figure it out for ourselves. Very unusual in this day and age where thinking is the last thing audiences are expected to do at the movie theatre. A number of other questions are left vague, forcing us to put ourselves into these characters and experience their lives as our own. That’s powerful. My interpretation is that there are people all around us wearing masks — inside they could be coming apart and we don’t even know it. It’s a sad tale in many ways, but includes some hope. I liked it.

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Mon, Feb 10, 2003

: The Day Trader

Author: Stephen Frey

Quick-reading thriller about a guy who quits his job to start day trading full time using the million dollars from his wife’s life insurance policy. But his wife was murdered and suddenly he’s a suspect. He finds himself surrounded by strange people who aren’t who they say they are: what’s going on? Interesting while you’re reading it, but in retrospect a lot of stuff doesn’t make much sense. Also, the story is told first person, and often we find out things just as the narator does (fine), but just as often he doesn’t tell us stuff he knows until he deems it the appropriate time, making us wonder if he’s reliable. The day trading stuff is interesting, though occasionally he lectures us like we’re morons, or mentions something is “complicated” and proceeds to detail something that’s pretty obvious. The writing is average (the first chapter is poor, but it gets better), but the story is pretty good. Unfortunately a lot of it strains credibility. The author also lives in a different world: the narrator claims he makes $39,000 a year at his job, and his wife also works full-time, they have no kids, drive old cars, and live in a modest home, and yet considers himself poor and in desperate financial shape. Come on — $60K a year (assuming his wife doesn’t make much) with no kids isn’t poor. But then the author is a financial expert, so I guess he thinks anyone who doesn’t make $100K a year is starving. This wouldn’t be too bad if this was only mentioned once in the book, but it’s practically a theme. At least by the end the narrator’s come to his senses and isn’t going to blow the entire million dollars day trading. A pleasant read; just don’t expect too much.

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: I Know Where I’m Going

Author: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Director: Michael Powell

Surprisingly effective film. I loved the beautifully simple story: a strong-minded young woman who knows what she wants sets off from England to a remote Scottish island to marry her wealthy fiance. Unfortunately a gale blows in and boats can’t get to the island, so she’s stranded until the gale stops. She meets a nice man while waiting, and after days of trying desperately to get to the island to marry her rich fiance, when the sun finally emerges and the boat arrives, she realizes she doesn’t want to go: she’s in love with the other man. The simplicity of the story belies the complexity of emotions and character, and the frustration of a woman who’s so sure of herself discovering she’s not so sure of herself is delightful. The cinematography is excellent, and the dramatic storm/whirlpool scene is filmed better than today’s films (the horrible The Perfect Storm comes to mind). Impressive technically, with a good story to make it worthwhile.

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Sun, Feb 09, 2003

: Happenstance

Terrific, clever French film about fate and coincidence, slightly similar to simple example of the complex interlinking in this film.)

Remarkably clever and fascinating, but ultimately many of the coincidences fail to go anywhere (or aren’t explained), which is a let down, and the abrupt ending leaves us a little puzzled. Still, this is way more ambitious than typical Hollywood offerings, and I think it would get stronger with repeated viewings (you’d notice details you missed earlier).

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Sat, Feb 08, 2003

: Jason X

Surprisingly cool twist on the Friday the 13th series, with Jason being frozen and reawakened 450 years in the future. Even with the futuristic weapons available, Jason still can’t be killed, and continues his murderous death spree, killing the students on an exploration spaceship one by one in gruesome and horrific ways. Typical of Jason films, he says nothing but is simply an unstoppable killing machine. Still, putting Jason in space is different, and some of the unusual deaths are interesting. If you like this kind of film, this one is above average.

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: Venus Beauty Institute

A French film with more potential than what it actually delivers. The story centers around several women who work at a beauty store, doing massages and facials and stuff. The lead woman is over 40 and losing her youth and desperately seeking a man, yet she is disillusioned and convinced that love doesn’t exist. Some excellent dialogue, good humor, and intriguing bizarreness, but the story moves slowly and while the ending makes sense, it’s somehow not as satisfying as we’d like. The film’s worth seeing, but its tone promises more than it delivers.

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Fri, Feb 07, 2003

: Chicago

Director: Rob Marshall

Wow! What else can I say? I loved the music, I loved the writing, I loved the direction, I loved the acting, I loved the story. My only criticism is that the movie isn’t exactly intellectually deep, but it’s fun, fantastic, and fast-paced, and it has Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. What more do you want?

I was very impressed with the direction: it’s not a filmed musical, yet it incorporates a great deal of theatrical staging to generate the tone and style of a musical. For instance, Renee’s character, Roxie Hart, dreams of being a performer, so she fantasizes herself and others in various musical numbers. Those songs help tell the story, but because they’re fantasies, they aren’t constrained by realism. Brilliant. I also liked the way the songs had double meanings. For instance, during “Mama’s” solo (terrifically done by Queen Latifah), she sings lyrics with obvious sexual innuendo (“If you’re good to Mama she’ll be good to you!”) to the male audience but this is intercut with her as the prison warden, where those same lyrics take a on a completely different meaning as she accepts bribes for better treatment. Very cool. Speaking of cool, the music is awesome. I often don’t like musical music, especially period stuff (this is set in the 1920’s), but these songs were jazzy, hip, and wildly fun. Everyone in the cast looked like they were having a blast making this film. The acting is mostly ham (which is perfect since that’s the point of the story), though Zellweger has a few poignant moments where her acting is just breathtakingly real. (Like her great line when, right after being put into her jail cell for the first time, she tells the warden there must be something wrong with the heat because it’s so cold. Others might have done that campy or slapstick, but she played that so innocent and sincere it made you laugh even as you felt sorry for the character.)

As to the story, it’s wonderful. Hart wants to be a performer, while Velma (Zeta-Jones) is the toast of the town as a jazz singer. But when she finds her sister in bed with her husband, she shoots the both. Not long thereafter Roxie kills her lover and ends up in the same prison as Velma, and soon the two are vying for the attention of the press because they realize that public opinion will determine if they hang or not. The competition between the two women is terrific to watch, and the song and dance numbers great on all levels. There are a few places where things aren’t quite perfect (at the beginning when Zellweger verbally explains a month has gone by is a dud since to us there was no cut), but overall this is a wonderful movie, sure to become a classic.

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: Hornet Flight

Author: Ken Follett

Excellent, above-average, even for a Follett novel. This tells the story (apparently somewhat based on reality) of the Danish resistance movement during the early years of WWII. A teenager discovers a secret radio installation on a German base on the island where he lives, and figures out it’s a radar station. Radar is something so new the Allies don’t even have it yet, but Hitler’s winning the war against the British bombers, destroying half of them every time they attack. The devastating loses threaten to turn the tide in the war unless the Allies can figure out the German technology and defeat it. The brilliant young man, an engineer by desire, must get the photographs of the German radio base to England. So he decides to fly across the sea in a tiny Hornet Moth, a two-seater that’s frighteningly fragile, and did I mention it’s broken and hasn’t flown in years? Oh, and the boy doesn’t know how to fly? Terrific action and suspense on every page. Follett is the best at creating well-rounded characters, especially those of the enemy. One of the main characters is a Danish police officer who’s trying to gain a promotion by pleasing the German invaders and finding spies. We get great insight into this man as we things from his perspective, and he’s not entirely evil. That’s helpful, because imagining all Nazi’s as faceless, vague representations of Evil isn’t realistic and it makes us forget that some of the worst things done in the war were done by ordinary people with ordinary flaws. Excellent book, well-researched as usual, with a lot of fascinating historical and mechanical details.

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Wed, Feb 05, 2003

: Once Upon a Time in the West

Director: Sergio Leone

Terrific Western, as usual from Sergio. The pace is majestic, magnifying the sudden bursts of action. The long opening scene during which nothing seems to be happening but plenty is about to is filled with some of the best use of sound I’ve heard in a film. The creaking windmill, the buzzing fly, etc. are like music and heighten the drama making you want to scream. Speaking of music, Moricone’s score is fantastic. It’s there when it needs to be, and silent when appropriate. For instance, in the big showdown gunbattle there are screeches and cries like birds being slaughtered — it’s freakishly loud and in-your-face creepy. But when the battle is about to finally happen, suddenly everything is silent and then your ears are begging for any kind of sound to break the unbearable tension.

The story is simple and elegant: a woman arrives in a desolate area to meet her husband-to-be and discovers he and his children have been slaughtered, and soon she’s a target as well. Other classic characters intervenne: a crook named Cheyenne (marvelously played by the late Jason Robards) who’s been framed for the murder, and a stranger with a harmonica (Charles Bronson) who, it turns out, has revenge on his mind. The bad guy’s played by Henry Fonda, amazing as usual. Just terrific all the way around. The screenplay was co-written by Dario Argento, who later wrote and directed which I recently saw.

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Tue, Feb 04, 2003

: King and I

I’d never seen this “classic” musical. It’s not bad, but not as good as I expected. I’d actually heard of few of the songs before, but most are forgettable and I didn’t particularly like style of music (too old fashioned for my taste). Yul Brynner won an Oscar as the king of Siam, I don’t know why: his “Siamese” accent was terrible. In fact, most of the acting was bad, typical of musicals: singers are cast instead of actors. I can see that at one time this might have been more interesting, back when going to Siam was an exotic and rare journey, but these days with a global community at the touch of dial, it’s rather pedantic. Boring.

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Mon, Feb 03, 2003

: Heist

Author: David Mamet

Director: David Mamet

Good crime thriller, though it gets a little too convoluted at the end. The main guy’s a con artist/master thief. After he pulls his last job, ready to retire in South America with his girl, his fence partner won’t give him his share of the loot unless he completes one more job. Reluctantly, he agrees, and he and his team pull off a gold heist. But there’s lots of back-stabbing, betrayals, and sleight of hand until the final frame. It’s a bit much. Still, it’s interesting, well-acted, and the gold robbery is cool.

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: Final Destination 2

This is an educational film: I had no idea there were so many ways one could die! This film reveals the dangers of spaghetti, gasoline, barbed wire, and vehicle airbags, to name a few ways people die in this movie. It’s very fun, but rather graphic. If you’re not familiar with the first movie, this one does a good job continuing the concept. Basically, via a premonition people escape death, so Death comes after them later, killing them in freak accidents one by one. Death occurs in many surprising ways. I loved the way the film sets up red herrings — like the guy who puts his hand in the garbage disposal to get out the ring he dropped in there. His watch catches on the lip of the drain and he can’t get it out. We’re watching with hands over our face, dreading and yet expecting the worst. Sometimes the red herrings get to be a bit much, but they are effective in making the actual method of death a surprise. Very cool and well done… for this type of film.

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Sun, Feb 02, 2003

: L’Enfer

Remarkable French film about a guy who seems to have everything: he owns a nice resort hotel, has married a beautiful woman, and has a young son. But the man can’t sleep, and his anxieties slowly get the better of him until he becomes obsessed with his wife’s fidelity. Convinced she’s being unfaithful, he’s driven to madness. As we watch him sink into insanity, we aren’t sure what’s real or imagined ourselves. Excellent.

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Sat, Feb 01, 2003

: Prey

Author: Michael Crichton

Pretty cool (though futuristic to the point of improbability) story about nanotechnology gone wrong. Nanotechnology, if you’re not familiar with it, is making ultra-tiny machines: machines literally at the cellular level (or smaller). This novel brings into question the nature of intelligence (can machines think?) and what happens when we underestimate the technology we create. It’s far-fetched, though theoretically technically possible. The horrible creatures created are quite frightening, though Crichton takes them too far into the fantastic for them to be completely believable. (I can believe in machines escaping and living on their own, but not them infecting people and taking them over.) Still, it’s a fun book and will make a cool movie.

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