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Reviews

Scared Straight!
(1978)

Potent.
I first saw this nearly five years ago as a high school freshman, in health class. The experience was absolutely riveting, and as has already been pointed out, there's a brutal honesty in this film that simply doesn't come from a screenplay.

While this film is over two decades old, that in no way lessens its impact. With talk-shows now blindly bombarding us with images of indignant, lawless teenagers and trying to dispel the situation with pop psychologists and boot camps, the "Scared Straight!" program looks all the more effective.

This is definitely not one to miss.

Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures
(1987)

"so let the trumpet players play, for Mighty Mouse is here today..."
Undoubtedly this is one of the more innovative cartoons of the '80s, which is not particularly surprising, given it has the talents of both Ralph Bakshi (of "Fritz The Cat" fame) and John Kricfalusi, who would score another cult-favorite four years later with "Ren & Stimpy."

The show, which lasted only one season, added tongue-in-cheek humor to the proceedings (see the "Quotes" section.) It was this rapid-fire wit that was the precursor to the likes of "The Simpsons", among others. This is the same kind of wit that's missing in most cartoons nowadays, which are more concerned with product placement and commercial accessibility (how else to explain how a generation of youngsters embrace something as hollow as "Pokémon"?)

Sadly, there's a dark spot in the show's history, one that led to it's demise. An episode that aired on April 23(?), 1988, drew the attention of Rev. Donald Wildmon. This particular episode featured a scene that showed Mighty Mouse sniffing what appeared to be cocaine. In actuality, Mighty Mouse was sniffing a dead, dried-up flower that had been given to him by Scrappy, the orphan. (This was an incredible piece of symbolism: the flower represented good in a world of evil.) Even when confronted with this, Wildmon insisted that it was cocaine. This led to protest from media watchdogs, which prompted brass at CBS to move the show to a later timeslot, only to cancel it shortly thereafter. Aside from a brief reappearance on the Fox network in November 1992, the show hasn't been widely seen.

All in all, if there's one relic from the 80's worth bringing back, this is it. And you gotta love that a capella reworking of the theme. :-)

Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures
(1987)

"so let the trumpet players play, for Mighty Mouse is here today..."
Undoubtedly this is one of the more innovative cartoons of the '80s, which is not particularly surprising, given it has the talents of both Ralph Bakshi (of "Fritz The Cat" fame) and John Kricfalusi, who would score another cult-favorite four years later with "Ren & Stimpy."

The show, which lasted only one season, added tongue-in-cheek humor to the proceedings (see the "Quotes" section.) It was this rapid-fire wit that was the precursor to the likes of "The Simpsons", among others. This is the same kind of wit that's missing in most cartoons nowadays, which are more concerned with product placement and commercial accessibility (how else to explain how a generation of youngsters embrace something as hollow as "Pokémon"?)

Sadly, there's a dark spot in the show's history, one that led to it's demise. An episode that aired on April 23(?), 1988, drew the attention of Rev. Donald Wildmon. This particular episode featured a scene that showed Mighty Mouse sniffing what appeared to be cocaine. In actuality, Mighty Mouse was sniffing a dead, dried-up flower that had been given to him by Scrappy, the orphan. (This was an incredible piece of symbolism: the flower represented good in a world of evil.) Even when confronted with this, Wildmon insisted that it was cocaine. This led to protest from media watchdogs, which prompted brass at CBS to move the show to a later timeslot, only to cancel it shortly thereafter. Aside from a brief reappearance on the Fox network in November 1992, the show hasn't been widely seen.

All in all, if there's one relic from the 80's worth bringing back, this is it. And you gotta love that a capella reworking of the theme. :-)

Gloria
(1999)

I refuse to believe that Sidney Lumet directed this.
Yeah, I realize what it says under the director's credit. But there is no way in hell that I'm gonna believe that the man that gave us "Network", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Running On Empty", and his own quartet of NYPD dramas ("Serpico", "Prince of the City", "Q&A", and "Night Falls on Manhattan") is even associated with this. This is quite possibly the worst mainstream film of '99, in the cozy company of "Bats", "Virus", "She's All That", and (gasp!) "The Haunting", just to name a few.

Where to begin? The script for starters. How the writer managed to completely foul up the original source material is beyond me. Much of everything that comes out of Sharon Stone's mouth is unintentionally funny, especially in one scene where she tells her young companion, "I'm trying to teach you a philosophy of life here!" after telling him opportunities in his future (these include going to a race track, lovemaking, and "chasing a skinny blonde girl with big boobs.")

And while on the subject of Stone, it's roles like this that manage to solidify the claim that maybe, just maybe, her brilliant turn in "Casino" was a fluke. Please Sharon, say it ain't so!

Like other users have mentioned, the film's only saving grace is the car chase. But there's a lot of tedium to get through until the chase scene comes. Then again, why bother?

Avoid. I can't stress this enough.

Jenny Jones
(1991)

Disposable.
Much like the three-ring-circus that is "The Jerry Springer Show", this was once was a high-quality show that dealt with relevant issues. Nowadays, the show has become shallow and asinine, and its attempts to be "hip" are laughable.

There have been moments recently when they've tried to be topical. They've done a number of shows on out-of-control teens (which has been done better on "Sally", where she lets it be known she won't put up with any bull.) This should've been an interesting hour of television, but it was derailed largely because it wound up going nowhere. Why they rely on b.s. pop psychology is beyond me; send them straight to boot camp and work them over; no forensic analysis is going to help anything. I'm almost certain much of this is due to Jones herself: she comes across as too cheerful and sunny a personality to tackle the hard issues. She'd be best to leave those to Montel and Sally Jesse.

When they're not trying to be topical, they do what they best: shows filled to the brim with T&A (without these, I imagine they'd lose half the viewing audience.) Whether it's porn stars, strippers, or former high school outcasts, they successfully bring more cleavage than expected in the "family viewing hour." Of course, it doesn't help that many of the ladies are either airheads or superficial bimbos without class (or, worst case scenario, both.)

I'm going to go out on a limb and postulate that show has been downhill since the now infamous 1995 incident where a guest on the show gunned down a male acquaintance who had admitted to having a crush on him. Suffice it to say that the incident was tragic, but when the facts came out, it signaled the depths of the irresponsibility of those who worked behind-the-scenes.

Copycat
(1995)

Gripping; definitely _not_ a carbon copy.
Contrary to what several users have written, "Copycat" is _not_ "Silence of the Lambs 2". Nor is it a rip-off of "Se7en", or an exploitation flick, or any other negative labels that have been foisted upon it. Rather, it's a gripping, and largely intriguing thriller that succeeds thanks to performances by two confident female leads, competent direction, intelligent writing, and an appropriately foreboding score courtesy of Christopher Young, who's fast becoming one of my favorite film composers.

Sigourney Weaver hits the right notes as the agoraphobic psychiatrist, especially early on, as we see the depths to which she has shut herself off from the outside world, creating her own safe little corner. Holly Hunter, in a role that instantly brings to mind Jane Craig from "Broadcast News", is effective as the investigating detective. Hers is a performance that is three-dimensional and fully-realized.

If there's a weakness in the film, it's the ongoing beef between Ruben and Nico. It's a meritless p***ing contest stemming from one character's jealousy, and could've easily been dropped or retooled. This small gripe, however, didn't deter my enjoyment of the film.

Much credit has to be given to director Jon Amiel ("Sommersby", "Entrapment") for effectively capturing the atmosphere and tension prevalent throughout the film. In addition, writers Ann Biderman and David Madsen deserve credit for a intelligent, well-researched screenplay. No clichés here, just sharply-crafted dialogue. And Christopher Young's inspired score is brilliant; just listen to the theme that plays early on, as Helen calms down after a panic attack.

"Copyat" may not be classic material, but it's a strong entry in a genre that's too often consumed by formulas and gore. Highly recommended.

Waiting to Exhale
(1995)

Frustrating...
That's the word I'd use to describe the film, an adaptation of Terry McMillan's 1992 best-seller. It's not great, it's not bad, but it's frustrating to watch, and the fact that I'm of the male persuasion undoubtedly had something to do with it.

Now, let me be the first to say that I did enjoy seeing a group of strong black women portrayed onscreen. To say that Hollywood has been exceedingly lax in this regard is an understatement. But it would've been nice if their collective talents hadn't been squandered on this disgustingly anti-male tirade. Especially Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine, who otherwise shine in everything their names are attached to. Good, solid movies about sisterhood are probably needed now more than ever, but not at the cost of shortchanging the good, upright, decent brothers out there, whom this movie largely forgets about (with some notable exceptions -- Gregory Hines, for example.)

And the frustration doesn't end there. Both Savannah and Robin manage to find themselves involved with the most shady characters (a married man and a dope fiend, respectively), yet they complain about the lack of good men out there. I suppose it would be silly to question just where they've been looking, even though it might hold the answer. The sad thing is that there are fellas out there who have little to no regard for women ("the scum of the f__king earth", to quote Savannah), and women who fall for fellas like that for the most silly, shallow reasons.

If it wasn't for Bassett, Devine, and Babyface's score, this movie would barely be watchable. As it is, it's a moderately entertaining diversion, albeit a frustrating one.

Drop Squad
(1994)

Muddled, incoherent...
In Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin In The Sun", the character of Beneatha describes so-called "assimilationist negroes", or black men that have immersed themselves in a dominant culture while neglecting their African roots. Suffice it to say that this description can be applied to Bruford Jamison, the lead character of David Clark Johnson's "DROP Squad". Here's a movie that takes a provocative, timely idea, and completely buries it with muddled execution.

Eriq La Salle ("ER"'s Dr. Benton) plays Bruford, an advertising executive determined to ascend up the corporate ladder. This involves demeaning advertising campaigns, including a satirical television spot for fried chicken that boasts a gospel choir, napkins with bible verses, and Spike Lee, who's also executive producer of this film. Along the way, he manages to ignore his cousin, Flip, who's out of work and incessantly asking for a favor from his favorite cousin.

These factors prompt Bruford's sister Lenora to call on the DROP (Deprogramming and Restoration of Pride) Squad, a group of militant brothers who work to bring "fallen" blacks back down to earth. The squad, whose past targets include a politician and man of the cloth, kidnap Bruford, strap him to a chair, and proceed to torture him for several weeks.

And it's at this point that the film's message is lost completely. There were moments that had punch; in particular, the friction between Bruford and squad member Garvey, played with ferocity by Ving Rhames. There's one brutal exchange when Bruford chides Garvey for not being able to make it in the real world that nearly rises above everything else onscreen. But all the while, as Bruford is being verbally and physically assaulted by the squad, it's disturbing that his civil rights never come into the equation. And since when did this kind of violence ever become productive, given their cause?

All in all, a movie with a topic more deserving of stronger execution.

The Matrix
(1999)

More than just shootouts and eye candy.
The sci-fi genre, save for a few entries ("Contact", "Pi", and "Gattaca" come to mind), is becoming somewhat hollow. The advancement of digital effects technology has led to the creation of half-realized films that offer great visuals, but little more (see "Godzilla", "Event Horizon", "Soldier", "Lost In Space", or "Wing Commander" for recent examples.) The Wachowski Brothers, who wrote the tepid Stallone actioner "Assassins" and gained recognition with their brilliant 1996 crime thriller "Bound", return with "The Matrix", a rare mix of intelligence and movie magic.

The last time Keanu Reeves entered the realm of cyberpunk sci-fi was the weak offering, "Johnny Mnemonic". Here, as computer programmer Thomas Anderson/hacker Neo, he actually shines. "Speed" showed he had a flair for playing the action hero; the movie further proves it.

Reeves is matched by the ever-reliable Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, who guides Neo as he begins to understand the nature of the matrix, and his reality in general. Carrie-Anne Moss is impressive as Trinity, a headstrong female who can more than hold her own.

It's the technical aspects of the film that have made it a blockbuster. From Bill Pope's cinematography, which incorporates a number of angles and effects, to the brilliantly-staged John Woo-inspired gun battles, to the fight chereography by Hong Kong fight master Woo-ping Yuen, to the eye-popping digital and visual effects, "The Matrix" has incredible eye candy that serves the plot, not vice versa.

In short, the film doesn't disappoint. Highly recommended.

Stand and Deliver
(1988)

Powerful; still relevant after a decade.
I saw this movie ten years ago, long before I had to face logarithims, asymptotes, and all the rest of the fun stuff that is calculus. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoy it even more, having survived a Calculus course.

Olmos is outstanding in an Oscar-nominated performance as Jaime Escalante, who, in the early 1980s, used the most unconventional methods to teach his students basic algebra. The students, predominantly Hispanic, have the acumen for it, but most haven't taken advantage of it. Escalante works to instill "ganas" (desire) in them, teaching them that math is a step-by-step process. At one point, he informs them that the origins of algebra go back to their ancestors, the Mayans, assuring his students that they have math in their blood. His methods prove successful, building confidence in the students and shaming the naysayers.

Part of the reason I like this movie is the way Escalante aims to motivate his students and set higher goals. There's a scene where he talks to a student who's accepted a job as a mechanic in his uncle's garage, and Escalante informs him of the market for good auto engineers, asking him, "Wouldn't you rather be building these things than repairing them?" He understands that the world will use their background as a stigma, and his hope is that they will go beyond what the world would define them as.

There's also a fiery scene at the ETS office, where Escalante asks to see the test scores. He is refused, which is the catalyst for a heated diatribe against the agency's bigotry. ("If this were Beverly Hills High, they wouldn't have sent you two to investigate", Escalante says.)

All in all, this is a film that after 12 years still holds up. Olmos' towering performance and a message of empowerment make this a must-see.

The Last Temptation of Christ
(1988)

Brilliant version of difficult material; ranks with Scorsese's best.
I finally saw this last summer, exactly a decade after it was released. The controversy surrounding the film is legendary, but largely unfounded. The movie is misinterpreted as blasphemous only by the close-minded. And, speaking as a person with a Baptist upbringing, I wasn't the least bit offended by this film.

The film is based not on the Word, but on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name. The film follows the trials of Jesus, played confidently by Willem Dafoe. We find that Jesus is consistently doubting himself, unsure of his destiny as Saviour. He spends his days building crosses for the Romans, used in their crucifixions. He confides in Judas (Harvey Keitel, whose Brooklyn accent isn't as distracting as you think.), with whom he shares a conversation regarding love, and lusts for Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), who is seen whoring herself and resents his judgment of her.

The movie also recreates, in precise detail, many biblical events, such as the period in the desert where Jesus is tempted by Satan for 40 days and 40 nights; the resurrection of Lazarus; and, the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of the man.

It is this temptation sequence that carries much of the film's controversy. Bleeding and wounded, stretched out on the cross, he hallucinates, and in this hallucination, is visited by an angel. The angel tells him that his father "is a god of mercy" and proceeds to remove him from the cross. The angel alerts him that he is not the Chosen One, hinting that he is a regular man with worldly desires. He weds Mary Magdalene, who bears a child for him, in a scene that is not in the least bit explicit, and ages through the years. But, these cause him to deviate from God's will, and at the end, Judas and the remaining Apostles criticize Jesus for deviating from the his father's path. When he returns from his halluicination, freed from this temptation, he is back on the cross. He dies carrying the weight of the world; his last line: "It is accomplished!"

(It should be noted that none of what occurs in the temptation sequence is "real". The scene between Jesus and Magdalene, as brief as it is, serves a purpose other than titillation: it illustrates the natural process of conception.)

It's a shame that such an ambitious film is burdened by controversy. As we speak, another film, Kevin Smith's upcoming "Dogma" is facing the same torrent of negative reaction. There's this notion within religious circles that, any time religious subject matter is presented, that the filmmaker is on a mission to rewrite that religion, making it more secular. That is not the case here. Scorsese and Paul Schrader, who has written two of Scorsese's best films ("Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull"), made a film that challenges what we think we know about Christ. It asks us to entertain the idea that within the son of God lay a man with very human ideals. It accomplished it's goal, and it did it without being heavy-handed. I strongly recommend this film to all, religious or not.

Extremities
(1986)

Insipid morality tale.
Whatever magic and power this had on the stage is lost on the screen. Scripted by Mastrosimone from his own play, this movie attempts to make a statement about the subject of rape, but ultimately fails because of weak pacing, limp dialogue, and horrendous supporting performances.

The film begins with Fawcett's character getting off work. She is terrorized by a man in a parking lot. She is able to get away and runs to the cops, who are impotent to do anything. Fast forward several days later: Fawcett is at the home she shares with her two friends. The two friends head off to their respective jobs, and moments later, Fawcett's attacker arrives at home and proceeds to slap her around and attack her in the most sadistic, brutal (and exploitative) ways. Then, she turns the tables on him. As he has a grip on her, she reaches for a can of bug spray, gets him in the eyes, throws a pot of hot water on him, then proceeds to tie him up and stuff him in the fireplace, figuring out what to do next.

At this point, much of what has gone on is remotely suspenseful. However, once the two roommates re-enter the picture, the movie becomes banal, with some horrendous dialogue (mostly shouting matches where "idiot" and "moron" are tossed around.) Since there was no actual rape, Fawcett realizes she has no case, and the cops will only let the man free to attack her again. Moreover, she can't make her own roommates believe her. The climax of the film is soap-opera material, and nothing more.

I don't feel the need to comment much more on this, except that the ending doesn't ring true, Alfre Woodard has gone on to more worthy projects ("Grand Canyon", "Down In The Delta"), and this one probably should've been left on the stage. A frustrating movie that I can't recommend.

L.A. Confidential
(1997)

Great piece of film-noir; one of the best of the decade.
What can be said that hasn't been already? James Cameron and "Titanic" (which I also liked) may have plundered this film's Oscar glory, but that matters not. "L.A. Confidential" is a triumph of style and substance. It's a movie that vividly recreates an era on a grand scale and succeeds on all counts. It's also one of the most complex crime dramas of the decade; it proves that not everyone is out to emulate Tarantino.

The performances are uniformily good (how were Spacey, Crowe, and Pearce ignored?; Basinger was good, but not totally worthy of the Supporting Actress win.) These are matched by the equally impressive technical credits: the period costumes, cars, and easy-listening soundtrack evoke the time period well. The cinematography by Dante Spinotti ("Heat") is proficient; watch the angle shot when White hangs the assistant D.A. out of the window.

This is a film that will long be remembered. Don't miss it. If you haven't seen it, you're truly deprived.

Independence Day
(1996)

Ahhh! Mediocrity!
When this released three years ago, it opened to massive, formulated hype, much like "SW: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace". I saw it that Fourth of July weekend and was taken away by it; it was the "event" movie of its time. But, as time has passed, and I've become more discerning in my moviegoing, this film becomes less and less spectacular to me.

It has its moments. Will Smith brings the charisma; he almost seems born to play the role (the scene in the desert where he carries the alien proves this.) Jeff Goldblum's is not unlike "Jurassic Park's" Ian Malcolm; he's likable, if not wholly interesting. Bill Pullman plays another president of cinematic invention; we could only be fortunate to have such a ballsy commander-in-chief like Whitmore. Judd Hirsch, as the senior Levinson, has the more energetic role in the film. His comic relief is well-timed.

The effects, essentially the most remembered part of the film, serve their purpose, but disappoint in some spots (the best they could come up with for an alien is an oozing, octopus- like creature?) Little was done that hasn't been done before (aerial dogfights, large-scale annihilation of major cities, et al.) For me, Vivica Fox was the true eye-candy in the whole film. ;-)

Of course, the biggest gripe lies with the story itself. The film plunders elements from other sources ("Star Wars", "War of the Worlds", and Toho B-movies, to name a few.) Had the writing been tighter, and Emmerich and Devlin hadn't relied on stereotypes and cliched jingoistic devices like the President's speech, this merely okay movie could have been great.

I'm all for escapist entertainment, but when done like "ID4", it can grow tiresome.

The Last Boy Scout
(1991)

It's violent, it's vulgar....but I still like it.
The pairing of director Tony Scott ("Top Gun"), producer Joel Silver ("Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard", among others), and screenwriter Shane Black ("Lethal Weapon", "Long Kiss Goodnight") led to one of the most brutal action films of it's time. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert gave it three stars, but not without citing it's misogynistic and degrading qualities. True enough, it's not a pretty picture: people are beaten, shot, and maimed in all sorts of ways; women are slapped around and degraded; a 13-year old girl cusses, is cussed at, has a gun pointed at her temple by her own father, and is put in the path of thugs.

Despite all that, I enjoy watching the film, but not for any of the above qualities. The movie has an energy and a chemistry between the two leads (Willis and Wayans) that is missing from most action films. Shane Black's screenplay is full of hilarious gems (see the "Quotes" section.) There's a freeway scene where our heroes attempt to alert someone of a bomb. Wayans pulls out a pen and paper and draws a picture. Willis replied, "That doesn't look like a bomb; it looks like an apple with lines coming out of it! They're gonna say don't open the briefcase, it's full of fresh fruit!" Wayans spells out B-O-M, and shows the paper to the person they're after, only to have the person fire a shot at them. Willis replies, "I meant to tell you: bomb means 'f**k you' in Polish." It's a scene that represents the comic timing of the film.

Of course, the nastiness of the film is what most remember about it. There's a good amount of foul language and an even greater amount of graphic violence (the villain meets a really gruesome end.) And of course, women aren't spared in this one. The relationship between Willis and his estranged wife is one of friction: when he catches his best friend with her, he pulls out a gun and shoots, hitting their wedding photo. And at the end, as the two reunite, he embraces her and whispers profanity in her ear; not the most loving sentiment.

The bottom line: this isn't really a film for the faint of heart. It's a rough film, as it almost should be. The easily offended might consider something lighter and fluffier. All others might consider giving this film a shot.

The Toy
(1982)

Pryor is the main reason to this film.
I've seen this movie more times than I'd ever admit to, and the thing that keeps me watching is Pryor. He shines in just about every scene he's seen, especially when he's paired with the Wonder-Wheel. It's just that the rest of the film isn't on the level.

That's not to say it's a bad film; it's just not a solid one. This remake of a Francis Veber film (the name escapes me) finds Pryor as Jack Brown, an unemployed writer who seeks a job with a newspaper. He arrives at Bates Industries, run by the powerful industrialist U.S. Bates (Jackie Gleason). He works a variety of odd jobs, incl. a janitor in a department store, where he is spotted by U.S. Bates' spoiled son, Eric, during the afforementioned Wonder-Wheel fiasco. Eric wants Jack as a toy, and this leads to a movie that blends the comedic with the sentimental, and works about half of the time.

The movie does take it's time to illustrate the goings-on in the Bates home. Eric spends much time tormenting Jack; during their first night, he shoots firecrackers at him, among other things. The two of them play air-hockey, and when Jack is beating Eric, the boy quits. Jack questions the boy if his father knows that his son is a quitter, to which Eric replies, "He doesn't care what I am, as long as I stay out of his way." That scene illustrates Eric's m.o.; he's frustrated at the neglect and inattentiveness he receives from his father, and expresses it in rebellious behavior.

That's all good and well, and that scenario does have a positive resolution, but the movie is burdened with unnecessary elements that don't belong in a movie like this. The movie has a racist subtext: Jack essentially allows himself to be bought, even though he says he can't. There's also a subplot towards the end dealing with the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan that serves no purpose other than to wreck a party. And U.S. Bates' wife, Fancy, is a poorly-drawn character; she comes along with an impressive bust and an annoying voice, and does little that is humorous, aside from her pronounciation of "U.S."

Still, the main reason to see the film is Pryor. See it for no other reason than to see a legend doing what he does best.

The Siege
(1998)

Above average, moralistic thriller.
This movie has been criticized for it's so-called "Anti-Arab" stance. Having seen the film twice, I think that such a claim is unsubstantiated. The movie does not explicitly label all Arabs as violent radicals with terrorist agendas; scenes involving the character of Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub) are done with professionalism and respect.

On the whole, the movie is a notch above most action films. Director Ed Zwick, in his third collaboration with Denzel Washington (following "Glory" and "Courage Under Fire"), gives us a political thriller with just as many moral questions as pyrotechnic effects. When faced with an onslaught of terrorist aggression, how does one counterattack? In this film, the answer lies in martial law. But the methods employed by General Deveraux (Bruce Willis), incl. rounding all Arab males who fit the profile, prove to be unjust. FBI agent Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) is forced into a situation where the liberties of a select few conflict with the capture of dangerous individuals. He's aided by CIA operative Elise Kraft (Annette Bening), whose agenda is never clear.

All of the elements of the film come together, thanks to great pacing by director Zwick. The film presents us with scenes of disturbing terrorist violence; bomb victims stumble, bleeding, often missing limbs. These images numb the viewer; we are left thankful such scenes don't occur too frequently in the film. The interaction between the key players is what makes the film work. An early scene where Hubbard and his colleagues work on obtaining leads is well-done, as each actor bounces off the other.

Put aside the polemics and the controversy and see this film. It will make you wonder what TPTB would do if a situation like that were to occur.

Pleasantville
(1998)

More beneath the surface than you think.
Everything that has been said about this film is pretty much true. It is a visually-stunning film; the digital effects technicians' work in balancing the monochrome elements with the colorized elements is to be applauded. Likewise with the art direction; the look and feel of 1950s suburbia is achieved.

Of course, none of this would matter if there wasn't a strong story serviced by these visuals. Fortunately, writer/director Gary Ross (Oscar nominated for his screenplays for "Big" and "Dave") has given us a thought-provoking tale. Through effective, albeit less-than-subtle, symbolism, Ross uses images to convey timely messages about race relations, tolerance and individuality. The fact that he accomplishes this without coming off as preachy is a testament to the strength of the amount of talent involved in this film. And while some may note superficial qualities between this and other similar- themed films ("The Truman Show", "Back to the Future"), this one can stand firmly on it's own. See it; it's sure to start conversations afterwards.

Fame
(1980)

A little dated but watchable
While it's somewhat dated, Alan Parker's "Fame" has more heart and soul than most teen-oriented films of the 90's. The film, which later spawned a tv-series (which had a fresh cast ev'ry season) and a Broadway musical, follows a diverse group of teens over the course of four years at New York's High School for the Performing Arts. The opening audition scenes have their share of laughs (the woman who re-enacts "The Towering Inferno"; the guy who recites the female lines in "Romeo & Juliet".) As the film progresses, and as we get more into the lives of Montgomery, Ralph, Coco, Doris, and Leroy, we share a fair amount of their joy and pain. The range of emotions here is more believable than the artificial worlds of recent Hollywood teen films.

Of course, the movie is remembered more for it's music than anything else (evidenced by it's Oscar recognition.) "Hot Lunch", which unfolds as a timid Doris looks for a place to eat, is an uncanny classic. Likewise with "I Sing The Body Electric", which closes the film. And while on the subject of music, I must mention the character of Bruno; his world of synthesizers and electronic instrumentation was, as the music teacher put it, "musical masturbation" at the time, but would be commonplace in this decade.

It may not be a classic, it may not be an epic, but it's worth seeing, especially to see Paul McCrane (now Rocket Romano on "ER") in his younger days.

Starship Troopers
(1997)

Decent popcorn film - depending on your expectations.
Taken for what it is, the movie works. I haven't read Heinlein's novel (yet), so I can't really compare it to the text. Without having set any expectations, I can safely say that I was never bored with this film. ILM's digital FX were excellent as usual; Tippett's set of arthropods, esp. the "brain bug" were well-crafted. As for the humans -- they all were pretty much confident in their roles, although I did like Dina Meyer's role as Dizzy Flores. Her aggressiveness reminded me of the females of James Cameron's films.

Verhoeven, brushing himself off after "Showgirls", still gives us as much flesh (the shower scene, the sex scene) as blood (the battle scenes - 75% of the movie). He even returns to his "RoboCop" days with the news broadcasts (which are hilarious). It would've been nice if he touched more on the element of fascism in the movie, though.

I found it interesting that there was little profanity in this film. War movies exhibit scenes of great tension and bedlam, and as such, you'd expect to see that reflected in the characters' language.

My only real complaint is that at 129 minutes, it's probably about 15-20 minutes longer than it needs to be. Other than that, it's a decent film for it's given genre. Your enjoyment will really depend on your expectations.

The Jackal
(1997)

Ain't that bad, ain't that great --- just average.
I almost paid to see this movie when it first came out. I decided to wait five months for the video instead. It turned out to be one of the wisest decisions I've made.

This movie is by no means a masterpiece, but it's not a total piece of crud either. There's a lot to admire about it - the locations come to mind. From as far away as Moscow, Helsinki, and London, to stateside locales like D.C., Chicago, and even up north in Quebec, the movie takes you places. The performances are okay at best: Willis doesn't have much depth; he kills without hesitation and changes looks like a chameleon. Gere, gives a decent performance, despite an almost irritating accent. It was good to see Sidney Poitier onscreen; it would've been even better to see him do more (it was tight when he swooped down and saved the lady's life, I must admit). Diane Venora, who I admire despite an over-the-top turn as Lady Capulet in "Romeo & Juliet", gave probably the best performance as a hardened KGB officer.

The movie's other saving grace is the soundtrack, a great mix of industrial and electronic music from acts like Fatboy Slim, Massive Attack, Goldie, Primal Scream, and LTJ Bukem.

I'd advise seeing Zimmerman's original 1973 "The Day of the Jackal" if you want an action thriller with depth and freshness. If you want a typical Hollywood escapism piece, try this one.

BTW, did any other D.C. area viewers notice the first part of the subway scene took place in a false Metro station? None of the stations in the area have "METRO" in big, black letters.

Desperado
(1995)

One wild ride -- Rodriguez joins John Woo and Luc Besson as best action directors working today
For an action film, "Desperado" really delivers. Its scenes of gunplay instantly brings films like "The Killer" and "The Wild Bunch" to mind. The mariachi would be a wooden, useless caricature if the wrong actor was playing the part. Fortunately, Antonio Banderas shines in the role. With charisma, charm, and flair, he shows just what makes him a favorite among leading men. Salme Hayek more than holds her own here; the chemistry between her and Banderas is undeniable. Quentin Tarantino, in one of his few decent acting performances, gets laughs with a hilarious joke.

All in all, the film balances elements of action, western, and comedy. It's a fun, fast-paced movie. Maybe too violent for the more sensitive, but the escapists should love it.

Léon
(1994)

A true action masterpiece - if I could only get my hands on the director's cut...
Better known in the States as "The Professional", Luc Besson's "Léon" is one of the best of its genre. It has moments of raw, explosive violence, but it's balanced out with scenes of tenderness and emotion. The performances are great all around: Besson regular Jean Reno and Natalie Portman shine as Léon and Mathilda; their scenes together are always a joy to watch. Gary Oldman is creepy as hell as manic, pill-popping DEA agent Stansfield; with everything he does, he exudes nastiness. The film's action climax is masterfully done; Besson has a flair for filming action scenes that almost mirrors that of John Woo.

With this amount of talent, Besson made a movie that works on many levels. It's also refreshing to have a movie not include an ending that panders to Hollywood's tastes. Do yourself a favor and rent this; it blows most stateside productions outta the water.

Out of Sight
(1998)

Charming crime drama - one of 98's most underrated.
What's not to like about this film? As with past Elmore Leonard adaptations (not incl. "Touch"), this one delivers the goods. George Clooney was suave, bold, and convincing (and, as a plus, he got rid of that damn spasmodic head-bob thing). Jennifer Lopez....well, who wouldn't mind tusslin' with her? ; Both of them had great chemistry, esp. in the trunk scene (which, pound for pound, had more tension than the sketch scene in "Titanic"). The supporting players equally hold their own: in particular, Ving Rhames as a man full of guilt, Don Cheadle as a mad dog enforcer, and Steve Zahn as a perpetually stoned car thief. Probably the most under-appreciated aspect of the film is the score, by David Holmes. This Belfast DJ has a reputation for his funk-influenced electronic music, and here those influences make for an inspired score that would make Isaac Hayes proud. This is one of the best of '98; let's hope it captures that much-deserved Screenplay Oscar.

Pulp Fiction
(1994)

Bold, brash, unique....one of the decade's landmark achievements.
It's been about 5 years since this film was unleashed upon the world. There had never been anything like it. Tarantino had avoided the sophomore slump and crafted a film that pilfers from just about anything you can imagine and manages to create one of the most unique films of the decade. It's a crime drama, film-noir, gangster flick, black comedy....you get the idea. True, it's a graphic film: graphic violence, graphic language, graphic drug content, and a graphic rape sequence; it ain't for the squeamish. But it also has some of the most fluid monologues cinema has ever produced. Not to mention that it did wonders for the careers of its principals: Travolta's career was in full-throttle after this one; likewise with Jackson, and Thurman. The foundation was laid with "Reservoir Dogs" and "True Romance" - this is the film that established Tarantino as a director of a higher order. And the imitators have been playing catch-up ever since.

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