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Cowboys & Aliens

We're cheated by the poor homages to supposed 'classic influences.'
Nope, didn't do it for me.

I read a number of reviews about character development, great director homages, etc. and just didn't see them. Yes, the town and the costumes were great, but a number of good actors are here (it has a great cast) and they just didn't get enough good material to work with. Also, too many character clichés - the pragmatic preacher, the sheriff bucking the overlord, the overlord's boneheaded son, the 'stranger' who is a reformed bad guy AFTER a bump on the head, the climax inside the alien spaceship - to make this more than two hours of mildly escapist entertainment. One reviewer wrote that this would have made a great STRAIGHT western, and I agree.

Despite the attractive scenery and outdoor photography, viewers are probably better off with the original material or other classics such as UNFORGIVEN, THE SEARCHERS or HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. '3' out of '10.'

Bad Santa

WAY overpraised film...
Frankly, this could have been a great movie. And, while I appreciate the creative use of profanity, it went from a barely sketched opening plot to unbelievable. The highlight of this film is the unrelenting profanity, and that's about it. Although there are several very funny moments, it's hard to highly rate a film that is basically variations of the word f*ck, 'midget' jokes, and crude sexual references. The scene where Bernie Mac gulps down the stool softener while talking to John Ritter was funny, though.

Anyway, this is a 2 out of 10. It could have been much better without being sappy.

American Beauty

This film is a fraud...
"American Beauty" is excessively praised as a great piece of American film, when in reality it isn't even good enough to be a decent rip-off of better films. Unfortunately, many viewers have fallen for it. ("Moonspinner55" and "tubist38" have good reviews. Note that one person who initially praised the film reviewed it again a year later and said, "What was I thinking?") Mendes wastes some excellent actors in these meatball scenes (for example, Spacey throwing the asparagus...who couldn't do that well?) A lot of this film is some snappy one-liners or clever scenes strung together with...nothing. Everything that happens is almost laughably predictable. And the crucial scene, where an empty plastic bag blowing in the wind is supposed to impart some deep meaning on the true nature of existence in the phenomenal world? Right. Finally, I must comment on Annette Bening, who is one of the better actresses working today being cast in the role of a cartoon...what a waste.

This film is a "1," and should in fact have a turkey symbol next to it. "American Beauty" is the perfect symbol of the decline of the serious American film. "Ordinary People," "Out of the Blue," and "The Sweet Hereafter" are much better films.

The Astronaut's Wife

"Rosemary's Baby" makes "Contact"...
This film owes a great debt to both of the films mentioned above. The review by Brian Orndorf hits many of the main issues, and he's right when he notes that viewers are left wondering, "Why wasn't this a better film?"

Anyway, it is beautifully shot, has an interesting premise, a startling conclusion, but not a lot else. Mostly, though, it has Joe Morton, one of America's best character actors. He is excellent here (as usual), and his work with John Sayles means he always brings something extra to all of his characters. (My favorite line of his was, "ALWAYS have a backup.") And there is one excellent scene, about 20 minutes before the conclusion, that makes for one of the best space shots ever.

Anyway, "coulda shoulda woulda" been better. A "4."

The Straight Story

Nice effort all around...
A moving, bittersweet film from David Lynch. Richard Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek are terrific in this emotional comedy/drama that portrays the situation I believe everyone faces later in life: How to deal with the past, recent and distant, and how to make amends.

I can't say enough about Farnsworth in this role. His facial expressions and tone convey almost as much as his words, and he nicely balances the comedic and dramatic aspects of the narrative, particularly when he embarks on his trip. The scene where he has a beer with a new friend about his age is particularly moving, as the stories and memories they share have been in the news the past few years but never discussed in this fashion.

Of note also are the scenes near the film's conclusion, when he visits with some very kind people while waiting for repairs. Without going into detail, I found them to be an almost melancholy commentary on our society, as we realize that there aren't many neighborhoods or people who are like this anymore. The film's final scene is very well done, as the veteran actors "show their stuff."

All in, a memorable viewing experience that is recommended. An "8."

Blood and Wine

An unheralded gem...
"Blood and Wine" is a very pleasant surprise. The reviews by "J-Crew" and "Robert Ruplenas" are dead on. This film is well-acted, as Nicholson nicely underplays his role here. All of the characters are complex and behave as one might expect in real life (i.e. no one is truly good or, for the most part, truly evil), the scenery is great (yes, including Jennifer Lopez), and the tried and true cliches are kept at a minimum. There are a few issues with the heist and the ultimate confrontation between the principals, but overall this is the best work from Rafelson since "Mountains of the Moon."

A "7." Highly recommended...

New Jack City

9 years later, laughably bad...
I can't believe I liked this on its original release. I found the film quite dated (crack is the drug of choice), poorly written and edited, and unfortunately poorly acted. Among my issues are: Ice-T as a guy named Scotty Appleton? Why didn't Mario ever tie his tie? Is there one more Mafia stereotype they could have included? Was an editor present, or did they just open the shutter and shoot? And finally, Chris Rock gets the award for worst cold turkey (later recidivist) performance ever (for a character named "Pookie"). He was bad. Redemption is present, however, in Wesley Snipes' performance (his career unfortunately seems to have followed the Treat Williams model), the music, and the design and filming of the crack "warehouse/factory."

A "3." See "Do the Right Thing" or "Boyz N the Hood" instead.

N.B. Judd Nelson's appearance here brings to mind one of the great questions of the 80s: "What the hell did Andrew Ridgely do in Wham?" Judd is in this film because...?

The World Is Not Enough

Bombast, James Bombast...
Overblown, disconnected, times even boring. Brosnan has "the look" and, apparently, the backing to be the best Bond in quite a while. Too bad there's nothing else to help him out. This film made little sense, the acting was mailed in (although the lead villain, Renard, was much ado about nothing), and the gadgets and chase/action scenes are almost lifeless. Sadly, Brosnan does not come off well here, either. Frankly, what the series needs is a return to fundamentals - strong plot, few gadgets, BELIEVABLE women (Denise Richards is extremely attractive, but her acting...UGH!), and a sense of the struggles (Bond's internal one and those of the other central characters and their respective "organizations") that Fleming wrote into the novels. I've seen every Bond film except the last Roger Moore effort (I just couldn't take it anymore), and the producers need to really think about where they're going. They've got a good Bond, cash, technical advancements that are mind-boggling, plenty of girls if they need them...this product should be MUCH better. Also, please can the comedy, and put more dramatic punch into the plot.

I'd rate this a "1." Rent "From Russia With Love" or "Dr. No." They're cheaper and more enjoyable.

N.B. I generally enjoy Michael Apted films. This was a BIG disappointment from him.

Galaxy Quest

Very funny imitates art imitating life?
This is a funny take-off on many subjects: conventions, TV, fans and fandom, having a "career", and many others. The humor is pointed but not cruel, and the major points of the film are wrapped around a TV episode of "Galaxy Quest." Tim Allen seems much nicer than the original as the somewhat clueless William Shatner character (apparently many of the original Star Trek regulars intensely dislike ol' Captain Scene-Chewer), and Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver get their licks in as the Nimoy/rest-of-the-lesser-cast members struggling against the "Captain's" domineering, boorish success. The film is notable in that it restricts gore and profanity enough so that a broad audience can be included, although younger kids may not get all the references. And, despite the many jokes at their expense, the fans who keep this industry alive with letters and conventions and dollars get their moment to shine. On another note, the most interesting character I saw was the evil Sarris, who is in fact highly intelligent yet quite malefic, seeking to destroy the nice aliens (who don't understand deceit or the "historical documents" despite incredible technological advancement)simply because they are...nice and simple and without artifice. Interesting.

Anyway, it's fun and worth a couple of hours, even if only to see what level of SF fan you are. A "7."

The Last Marshal

Avoid at all costs...
Apparently a "direct to video" release, only those in absolute desperation at the local Blockbuster will rent this (count me in this group). Expect to experience almost immediate regret (less than one minute after the credits end). These is one redeeming scene in this film, and it lasts less than 2 minutes. The rest of the film incorporates every major action/loner/rogue hero film cliche imaginable.

A definite "1." Avoid at all costs.

200 Cigarettes

It's okay...
I'm not surprised women apparently like this film more than men. It's...okay. Some good scenes, funny lines and comments (most of which denigrate men and their sex organs), nice photography, but of interest only if you lived it. (If you see the film, you'll know what I mean. I happen to remember exactly what I was doing on this particular New Year's Eve, and it was much like the film.) Martha Plimpton and Elvis are great...

A "6."

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Okay but WAY overrated...
"Lock, Stock..." has some interesting scenes and good camerawork, and may be a great introduction to the British underclass. However, it's difficult to understand, very profane, and unfortunately, derivative. These types of hijinks have been filmed before ("The Italian Job" and "Get Carter" respectively do the English caper and brutal crime things better), and they're never believable anyway. The film will hold your attention, but isn't as amusing or clever as the average "Monty Python" episode.

A "6." Sensitive viewers should note that the film is very violent and profane.

The Matrix

Quite a ride...
"The Matrix" is an absolute thrill-a-minute ride with a twist: there's a plot and some depth behind the superb special effects. The film is highly entertaining, provocative, is generally well-acted (Reeves does a great job UNDERPLAYING his role here), and it boasts a terrific villain in "Mr. Smith," whose monotone barely disguises his loathing for humans. The producer of "The Phantom Menace" should take note of the use and quality of the fx here, and perhaps get a clue for his next film. In particular, the martial arts scene with Fishburne and Keanu is not new, but is sharp and nicely integrated into the plot.

My main issues with the film (as also noted by Roger Ebert) are that it has a partially derivative screenplay (see "Dark City," the writings of Philip Farmer and Harlan Ellison, and certain stock action films), and that the climax, while exciting, is predictable and well-worn, and implies that the screenwriters and story editors simply ran out of ideas. This leaves the viewer unsatisfied with the traditional "good guy v. bad guy" fight that leaves the intellectual issues raised earlier unresolved. That said, "The Matrix" is great entertainment and a definite "big screen" film. An "8."

3rd Rock from the Sun

They must be watching a different show...
Other reviewers who rave about this show must be watching a different program. The only unusual or funny aspect of this show is the special effects (planets bouncing around the void of space) between scenes. A relentlessly unfunny program wasting some very good actors.

N.B. John Lithgow's rise to major film actor promised much. How did he end up playing evil villains, insipid comedies, and long-distance phone commercials?

A Chorus Line

I've walked out of 3 films in my life...
And this was one of them. I hated it. I found it insufferable and stupid. Recommended only for people who like this kind of crap.

N.B. I almost walked out of "Less Than Zero," another dog but with fewer fleas. It was based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel and features Andrew McCarthy and Robert Downey, but I found redemption in the latter half of the film. That obviously didn't happen with "A Chorus Line."

The Master Gunfighter

Prepare to laugh (Laugh-lin?) yourself to sleep...
A terrible film set against the natural beauty of the California coast (my guess is the creators knew what a dog they had). Mexicans with samurai swords and training? A gun that looks like a six-shooter but holds 12 shots (is this a LeMat)? TOM LAUGHLIN? He should credit himself as "Laugh (as in "funny")-lin". The best scene occurs when Laugh-lin (astride his horse) faces off against a bad dude about to commit rape. As in "Billy Jack," Laugh-lin woodenly tells the dude "I don't want to kill you. I'll just ride away." The dude can't deal with the karma emanating from Billy - oops, I mean Finley, and Billy - sorry, Finley - kills him. The dude doesn't know that when Billy - er, Finley - takes off his hat and rubs his hand on his head and face and speaks in a weary tone, that's it! Yikes!

A better title may be "Billy Jack - Sorry, Finley - Kicks Ass on the Monterey Peninsula." Punctuated by really boring gun and sword battles (other viewers will anxiously wonder - as I did - who's going to win). This should be a "0."


Should be a "0"...
This is one of the MOST derivative films I've ever seen. "L'auteur" Kasdan rips off so many other great westerns (including, of course, the daddy..."Shane") that it's hard to keep count. There was absolutely NO suspense to this film, the acting was mailed in, and the plot...well, enough.

Actually, this is a great film if you don't have time to watch a lot of other westerns. Just rent "Silverado" and you'll see them.

A "1"...should be a zero.

Straight Time

A powerful film with some flaws...
Gritty, seemingly realistic drama about the life of an ex-con trying to go straight. Hoffman is great in the lead role of new parolee Max Dembo trying to succeed in the outside world despite some strong barriers (Walsh). The supporting performances are quite good, particularly those of Harry Dean, Walsh and Theresa Russell. Look for Kathy Bates as Gary Busey's wife. The settings (seedy Los Angeles in 1977) are good, as are the clothes (!). My issues with the film are 1) Max gets a good setup very quickly (job and hot girlfriend), and 2) his descent into almost psychotically violent and foolish behavior happens quickly. Perhaps he leaves a clue that this metamorphosis will occur when he's having dinner with Russell. I also found the editing to be a bit rough in spots, as scenes unfold with no resolution to certain issues (e.g. Sandy Baron showing up late for a job and disappearing from the film).

Overall, "Straight Time" is a hard-hitting drama with a great performance by Hoffman in a "real" role that was overshadowed by his less fulfilling later roles ("Rainman," "Outbreak," "Sphere"). The film's final scene is quite good, and perhaps answers some questions raised earlier in the film. A "7."

N.B. One would believe that an ex-con who reveals easily verifiable info. about his new girlfriend to his parole officer, then beats up the parole officer, would be foolish to shack up at her place while on the lam. How does the criminal mind work?

Mass Appeal

Pretty good, but it should have better used its "pulpit"...
"Mass Appeal" is enjoyable on several levels. It works as an examination of the depth of contemporary religious beliefs and their current role in our society, as an indictment of an inflexible system (the Catholic church), and as a comment on the travails of two very different men (ostensibly of the same "cloth") seeking spiritual happiness. Unfortunately, as a "mass appeal" film, not all of the issues are satisfactorily handled, but the film is entertaining nonetheless. Greg Cundiff's excellent review neatly summarizes some key plot issues and holes. For example, I found Ivanek's/Dolson's devotion and desire compelling, but what on earth would make him think that a parish of strangers would listen to his excoriations and then embrace him as their pastor? I agree with Cundiff that the lack of clarity surrounding this fundamental plot point does not help the film. I was also disappointed that Durning's character was unambiguously drawn as the heavy. A more balanced approach may have helped here. Farley's attempt at leading a discussion of the role of women priests is unusually framed, but ultimately leaves the viewer desiring a more compelling resolution to the issue.

Strongly on the plus side, Lemmon is an excellent choice for the lead (whi ch allows him to display his comic and dramatic talents equally). Farley's story is as compelling as Dolson's, and Lemmon squeezes every drop of drama from the script. His final "mass appeal" is quite affecting. Ivanek is intense as Dolson, but Charles Durning's role could be played by anyone. The film is nicely "shot" and has an exhilarating soundtrack at points.

A "7" out of "10."

From Russia with Love

The best Bond film (Connery and others)...
I agree with many of the prior reviews. This is easily the best Bond film, with "Dr. No" a close second. Why? Because it focuses on Fleming's story (with minor changes such as the use of SPECTRE over the KGB), and avoids the gadget-driven excesses of the later films. Other strengths include a sensible plot, excellent supporting acting (specifically Pedro Armendariz), attractive and realistic locations, good camera work, and some good "action" scenes. Bianchi makes an attractive lure, and she is one of the most appealing women to appear in this series. Most important, Connery delivers his best performance as Bond, playing his scenes as a professional "spy" rather than a stand-up comedian or spy parody. This film is DEFINITELY the class of the series.

Rating: a "10."

Last Action Hero

It's not that bad...
I'm with the majority (as of this date) here...this film isn't THAT bad. Although savaged by critics and viewers alike, the film is ambitious, sporadically funny (not always intentionally) and has some good scenes. Not many stars of Arnold's magnitude will produce a self-parody at the height of their careers. (Unlike some - Stallone? - who inadvertently self-parody at the peak of their careers.) Viewers will most likely NOT rent this again and again, but it was DEFINITELY better than "The Avengers" and "Batman and Robin."

In sum, you've got to like an Arnold action flick that introduces the mass film audience to Bergman. A "6" out of "10."

The Sixth Sense

This AIN'T a horror film...
"The Sixth Sense" is NOT about ghosts or the supernatural. Yes, there seem to be "spirits" or something, but think: Why are they there? How does Cole resolve the conflict? That's what the film is about...

All the characters struggle with loneliness (even "aloneness") and an almost desperate need to "finish" something. That's what makes the film so affecting. Initially, I was mad that I couldn't figure out exactly what was going on, but I later realized that it was due to some trickery AND some skill on the part of the writer/director. The film's depth was fully realized by the excellent performances of HJ Osment and Toni Collette, who is outstanding in her role as a struggling single mother. She is marvelous at playing each of the different situations her character is challenged with, and her facial expressions ring true every time. The final scene with Lynn and Cole in the car is very touching, as Cole has often said he doesn't want his mother to see him as a freak. Willis is also good, as is Philadelphia. Wahlberg is certainly convincing. It's difficult to discuss the plot without potentially spoiling the film, so my advice would be to just see it. It ain't "The Blair Witch Project," so if that's the thrill you're seeking, you'll be disappointed.

A "9" out of "10."


I can't validate the history, but this is great entertainment...
Prior reviews capture most of my comments, and indicate that the creators of "Khartoum" may have played a little loose with the historical facts of the city's fall and Gordon's death. Regardless, this is a hugely entertaining movie, made more so by the fair treatment of the Mahdi and the depth of his religious beliefs. Olivier is an odd but effective choice to portray him, but no more so than Heston as "Chinese" Gordon. (Imagine someone of Gordon's stature with a similarly ethnic name like that today...Schwarzkopf, for example.) One has the feeling that Heston does not really capture Gordon's eccentricities, but his performance is still strong. The staging and photography offer great sets and costumes and the "epic" camera work that was prevalent in 60s historical dramas.

Overall, "Khartoum" is an interesting take on British Imperial politics in a period when the practice of diplomacy and empire-building were seemingly more elegant (but were still quite messy and lethal). An "8" out of "10."

One, Two, Three

Dated but still vibrant...
Although "One, Two, Three" was made at a tense and crucial point in the Cold War standoff, it is bitingly funny and has aged well. As previous reviewers have noted, the performances are top notch, particularly those delivered by Cagney, Bucholz and Arlene Francis. The satire is thick in every scene, with particularly sharp barbs aimed at the behavior and attitudes of post-war Germans. The parodies of and references to Cagney's earlier films are also very funny. Cagney's makeover of the committed young Communist is outrageous.

A definite "10"...Wilder during his career peak, and Cagney delivering a fitting career finale.

Murder, She Wrote

A disturbing fact....
Okay, so every week for 13 years, someone who is close to Jessica Fletcher, or close to someone Jessica knows, is murdered. All she sees is the opportunity to write a mystery novel, which is (coincidently) her profession. She never gets upset or depressed...think about it. Attending the deaths of approximately 250 people over the course of your life. And you're still CHEERFUL...

TV entertainment...what a concept.

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