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A Twist of Faith

weak suspense thriller has some interesting aspects
I taped this off one of the cable channels (listed as "Beyond Redemption") during the wee hours and finally watched it about a week later. Thus, I did not have the ending ruined by the tape box, though it mattered little as the plot points were heavily telegraphed and it didn't take much effort to guess the likely outcome. I found aspects of it interesting, such as the detective's relationship with his troubled brother, his coping with his daughter's illness, and particularly his uncertainty regarding whether he could muster any faith in life. However, I didn't find the major red herring convincing, and the minor red herrings were too implausible to divert, so I was left mainly reflecting on the motivations of the main character which was a rather deadpan character. Overall, I give it a 5 out of 10, and would only recommend it to those who catch it on a slow night or those who are die hard fans of Andrew McCarthy or "detective chasing serial killer" flicks. Having a church as one of the crime scenes (quite early in the film, this is not a spoiler) may also be seen by some as disturing or inappropriate.


cool, stylish comic book adventure
Watching this made me feel like I was a twelve year old who had fallen asleep after a lazy afternoon of reading comic books and had a really cool dream about a gorgeous swashbuckling heroine. The atmospheric photography and transitions and Yancy Butler's eyes slowly became intoxicating. The plot won't hold up to scrutiny and this obviously isn't Academy Award material, but I didn't mind. I wasn't expecting Shakespeare and this was a fun way to spend 90 minutes.

In the Company of Spies

enjoyable but overrated
This is a nicely done action suspense film that depicts a CIA scenario involving hypothetical events in North Korea. Having read prior reviews and seeing an overall rating of 8.2 on this site before I viewed it, though, I was somewhat disappointed. There is some cool gadgetry and many good suspenseful scenes and it's certainly watchable and entertaining, and it does give some appreciation for what is at stake and the personal risks taken on by operatives. However, many of the bad guy characters and non-CIA government officials come off as self-mocking cardboard cutouts, and several of the scenes just don't hold up. Nice performances by Tom Berenger and Ron Silver and good location work. Overall, worth seeing but has some flaws.

Sunset Heat

passable B movie thriller
This is not a great film or even a good film, you won't get that here. However, it's definitely worth a look on a slow night if better options aren't available. It's a standard "guy with a troubled past tries to make good and outwit the bad guys so he can build a life with his beautiful ex" B movie plot. There's a gratuitous sex scene thrown in with Tracy Tweed, though I personally was far more taken with Daphne Ashbrook. It's fun to see Adam Ant play the role of a hood who's not very bright. Dennis Hopper was okay as usual, though his role as "generic rich menacing criminal" didn't give him much to work with. Michael Pare contributes his customary second-tier action star charm.

The Quiller Memorandum

effective, low key, intelligent, spy film
This isn't your standard spy film with lots of gunplay, outrageous villains, and explosions. It's a more realistic or credible portrayal of how a single character copes with trying to get information in a dangerous environment. The characters and dialog are well-written and most roles are nicely acted. I found it an interesting and pleasant change of pace from the usual spy film, sort of in the realm of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (but not quite as good).

Jerry and Tom

engaging and worthwhile black comedy
There are moments of drama and irony in this film, but mostly it's a very well-written and well-acted comedy that is at times hilarious for the ease with which it captures icons and styles from other films while at the same time twisting and mocking them. There is some very cool, matter of fact dialog that brings home the idea of all jobs and actions creating their own reality around them and becoming mundane, no matter how unusual or dangerous the work. While making the viewer laugh, it also brings home the pain and horror the hit men create, especially when they don't behave professionally or fail to follow their own code of distorted ethics.

Rumble Fish

very good film with great music score
I found this film very compelling and interesting. It draws the viewer in with its ambience, music, and stunning black and white photography. The plot machinations are secondary and less interesting I think. The film is also loaded with great performances, including an interesting part for Tom Waits. Well worth checking out.


unforgettable, one of a kind viewing experience
I had no idea what I was in for when a couple of friends showed up with a tape of this about ten years ago. Within five to ten minutes we were all glued to the screen with fascination and awe. The editing, photography, and use of a terrific score are all nothing short of brilliant. Having only seen it once all those years ago, I still vividly remember many of the scenes and images. I suppose for some this film will lose its appeal in the light of similar experimental collages in film and even music video. But this one is perfect in my opinion. For some reason, this came up in conversation with one of those friends who brought the tape over, and ever since we've discussed it I can't wait to track it down and see it again. I would love to see this on the big screen.

The Minus Man

thought provoking
I found this film very interesting and worthwhile. Rather than the usual black and white good versus evil portrayals of serial killers you usually see, punctuated with red herrings, close calls, and action, this film takes a different approach. It's a leisurely-paced matter of fact presentation of the serial killer's thoughts and actions. It avoids the usual cliches and portrays the killer in a way that is probably more realistic than in other films. Namely, he's a polite, observant sociopath who can read other's motivations very well rather than an obvious lunatic who is frothing at the mouth. The matter of fact presentation makes it all the more involving and worthwhile in my opinion, and Owen Wilson gives a very good performance. Recommended.


Whatever happened to subtlety?
Magnolia is a very interesting film laced with great performances. Unfortunately, it is also laced with overly embellished emotional scenes in which the characters directly tell the audience what the point of the scene rather than letting them figure it out on their own. Most scenes go about 2-3 minutes too long, with the final minutes immense overkill. Anderson has some good ideas but apparently he thinks little of the audience's intelligence and feels compelled to hammer every point home. The two infamous controversial scenes are great examples--overkill. We can easily understand the points about synchronicity and unpredictable interconnectedness without them. Though I enjoyed the film and was highly involved and even moved by many scenes, this film would have been much more effective with about 40 minutes edited out in a way that would preserve some subtlety. I felt like the director was standing behind me smacking me with a frying pan every 5 minutes and saying "Do you get it? Huh? Do you get it?" Well, yes, Mr. Anderson I got it a long time ago and don't need you to spoonfeed everything to me, thank you very much! Still well worth watching. I give it a 7 out of 10 overall. Too bad, it could have and should have been a 9.

The World Is Not Enough

Enjoyable, but nothing special
Not a bad choice when you're in the mood to turn your brain off and indulge in the usual, totally implausible James Bond spy fantasy. Okay, you know what you're going to get with a newer Bond film. Here's my take on what worked and didn't: The boat chase and ski chase scenes are expertly done and work. Sophie Marceau's exquisite beauty is a definite plus. The radar sunglasses scene is cool. It was good to see John Cleese in the film, but his role wasn't written to fulfill it's full promise. Also, in my opinion, Q (or Cleese in the future, I suppose) need to do the usual "fill Bond in the gadgets" scene before they are used. During those scenes you can try and predict and anticipate exactly when each gadget will be used. The BMW M3 was screaming for a chase scene with gadget play that we didn't get. A big minus for me. Robbie Coltrane is a great actor but he wasn't convincing as a Russian crime kingpin. The biggest minus? Denise Richards. I don't want to be cruel, and she's certainly pretty, but that was a laughable performance and is a candidate the miscasting hall of shame. The movie overall is not bad, but nothing special. Goldeneye was much better.

Being John Malkovich

Entertaining, but highly overrated
The basic premise is great, but wasted in my opinion. Malkovich is a great subject for such a premise, but the plot revolves around sex, jealousy, and manipulation rather than any of a host of other elements that would have been more compelling and made full use of the potential of the premise. Other than Malovich, the characters come off as very shallow and empty. I was impressed with the puppetry scenes, which surprised me with their artistry, there are some great quirky elements of the film, and the brief appearances by Charlie Sheen are very funny. This is a film worth watching, but I feel it is definitely NOT one of the greatest filmes of all time. Don't go in with the expectation of being amazed by what some feel is true greatness, and you will probably enjoy the film. Personally, I only give it a 6-7 out of 10. Too bad, with a bit more imagination it could have been brilliant.

This World, Then the Fireworks

flawed but atmospheric neonoir thriller
There are a lot of plot holes and implausibilities in this one, but overall I thought it was worth a look because Sheryl Lee gives a great performance that is full of emotion, conflict, and sensuality. Gina Gershon does a nice job too, and the small-town 1950's atmosphere is nicely done. The odd tension between the siblings is overplayed and some of the character's actions don't seem very credible to me, but still an interesting film as a one-off when better options aren't around.

Striking Distance

Starts off okay then heads straight downhill
I took a chance on this one on a slow night and wish I hadn't bothered. It started off with some promise and atmosphere, and includes a pretty good car chase early on. However, it then starts throwing bad cliches that you've already seen 100 times in all over the place. The troubled cop is haunted by a past incident and is now a detached loner who drinks far too much. Gee, how many times have we seen that before? Making matters worse, the final 30 minutes become so implausible, ridiculous, and insulting to the audience's intelligence, I found myself yelling insults at the director and producer for their complete and utter lack of imagination.

In short, do yourself a favor and pass on this one. There's bound to be something better to do or watch even on the slowest of nights. If you are tempted to take a peek due to the presence of Bruce Willis or because you like serial killer films in general, do so at your own risk, but don't say you weren't warned!

Howard the Duck

This is what they make people watch in hell
Actually, with Lea Thompson in it, I guess they probably wouldn't show it in hell because it at least has some redeeming visual aspects when her face is on screen. Anyhow, I'm here to warn you to run (not walk but run) away from this piece of garbage, unless you want to create a low point in your life that you can always look back on so when something terrible happens you can say "Well, at least I'm not watching Howard the Duck!" I'm exaggerating here, but only slightly.

Why am I bothering to write this? The other day I ran into an old girlfriend who once dragged me to this film and insisted on staying through the whole thing even though it was readily apparent it was worthless. She kept insisting the duck character was actually cute and the movie "wasn't that bad." Trust me, she was wrong. Good thing that was a short relationship or I could have been subjected to more of the same. Anyhow, when I saw her the other day for the first time in years, the first thing that popped into my mind was that she was the fool who made me see Howard the Duck. I felt a duty and obligation to warn others to stay away.

What's so bad about it? I don't know where to begin. Take every element of the film process and insert the word "bad" before it and you'll get the idea. It boggles the imagination how a studio could bankroll something like this, release it, advertise it, and actually get it shown by theaters. What an incredible waste of resources and viewer's time. It easily makes my ten worst list.

This Is Spinal Tap

absolutely hilarious, a must-see
This is one of my five all-time favorite comedies. I seldom see films twice, and very rarely more than 2-3 times, but I have seen this one eight times over the past 10 years. Each time it still completely cracks me up even though I remember it practically word for word. It takes a very rare film to do that. If you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat, especially if you've ever been in a rock band or have seen a lot of rock documentaries. Everything rings true and there are countless highly memorable scenes. The songs themselves are also hilarious and very memorable.

200 Motels

extremely weird and silly with some good music
Should you watch this film? I believe the following questions may be a decent guide to making this decision. Are you a Zappa fan who likes many of his different musical phases? If so, then this is a must. Are you a casual Zappa fan, partial to newer stuff only? If so, then approach with caution. Do you like very bizarre sequences put together seemingly at random? If so, this is a must. If you hate that kind of thing, then you will probably hate this. When in doubt, have a backup ready so you can switch to that if you lose patience. Oh, and guys out there, I wouldn't recommend showing this to your girlfriend unless she is a big Zappa fan. By all means, I do NOT recommend planning a romantic evening with a girl with standard pop culture tastes that is bookended by playing her samples of your Magma and King Crimson collection and then ending with a screening of 200 Motels, not even as an experiment. Trust me, I have tried this (once) and the results were not good. But I digress...

What do you get from 200 motels? Random weirdness and silliness with a very 1965-1970 feel to it, kind of like a strangely lighthearted feverish dream. You also get some very interesting music of highly variable quality and some great in-jokes that you will find hilarious if you have followed Zappa's career. I will never again be able to drive past a town named "Centerville" (there are lots of these in the midwest USA) without having that Flo and Eddie zombie-like sequence flash through my head. I would certainly not consider this a good film or anywhere close to a good film. But it is certainly oddly interesting.

Lulu on the Bridge

Intriguing and worth viewing
I found this film very enjoyable and also challenging. Whether this is by accident or intention I won't pretend to know, but watching this film is quite an interesting and enjoyable experience. Rather than filling the screen with explosions and forecasting every plot twist three or four times so even the least attentive viewing will get the point, this film takes a different approach. It wraps the viewer in ambiance and possibility, leaving them to determine the meanings and possible meaning of the events. It's nice to find a film that doesn't hold a low opinion of viewers. We don't have to be taken by hand and walked through every scene. Imagination and subtlety are also part of film, and I for one am glad to see films like this that challenge and respect the audience.

The Terminator

Nearly perfect action movie
This is one of my favorite films of all-time. Once the action starts it never stops. Arnold Schwarzenneger is perfect in the role as terminator, the part was made for him. Michael Biehn and Linda Hamilton are also very good in their roles. The time travel plot is handled intelligently and deals as well as any movie ever has with the contradictions inherent in such a plot. There are many memory scenes that make the film stick with you for a long time afterwards. After seeing this film, every time someone says "I'll be back" I can't help but think of Arnold at the police station.

Kiss Me Deadly

Nearly perfect film noir
I am a huge film noir fan, and this is one my all-time favorites of the genre. The detective character is played to demented perfection. Look for the evil smile on his face as he smashes a hand in a desk drawer or roughs someone up for more information. The dialog is brilliant, challenging, and enjoyable to watch. The characters are the perfect mix of intelligent, dark, cold, and selfish that makes a film like this really work at multiple levels. My only quibble is I found the ending a bit disappointing. Otherwise, this is a true classic.

Theater of Blood

Intense, campy, well-acted, and fun
Theatre of Blood is one of my favorite horror films of the Seventies. This is the best Vincent Price performance I've seen other than House of Usher. Price is appropriately campy and intensely bizarre. The film is filled with great British character actors and is very well-paced. The dark plot is very clever.


Thoroughly Enjoyable Action Film
Overall, I found Ronin extremely enjoyable for several reasons. First, the car chases are absolutely brilliant. These are some of the best driving scenes I've ever witnessed, and they hold up favorably with those of just about any other film I can think of, including The French Connection, The Driver, Bullitt, The Seven-Ups, and To Live and Die in L.A. On the DVD version the Frankenheimer commentary track also gives some enjoyable insights into how each scene was created. These aren't your usually Hollywood chase scenes. No trickery here, just a whole bunch of professional drivers practicing their trade on winding mountain roads, underground tunnels, and busy freeways. In several scenes, a driver deliberately rolls the vehicle while still inside. The key actors all went to performance driving school so they wouldn't panic or vomit when put in the cars at speed for filming, though they still look genuinely frightened in places.

Second, the plot is generally interesting and usually holds up. There are some occasional gaps and some of the characters are surprisingly gullible, but it's better handled than in many films of this type.

Third, the acting is often first-rate. De Niro is always great to watch I think, and especially in roles of this type where he must use his wits, intensity, and toughness to survive. The evolving friendship between De Niro and Reno is well done.

Fourth, the cinematography and locations are breathtaking. Again, the DVD version gives some nice insights into the choices made in the process.

All in all, I say don't be scared away by those who nitpick the minor flaws, especially if you enjoy action films, heist films, or incredible chase sequences. Even with the flaws, this film is much better than the vast majority of action films produced by Hollywood, and the driving scenes more than compensate for any minor inadequacies.

The Last Seduction

A Must-See for Fans of Modern Film-Noir
This film is a wonderful find if you haven't come across it yet. It is among the top handful of brilliant modern attempts at film-noir. I'm a big fan of film-noir and among modern films this is my second favorite in the genre (Blood Simple is my favorite). The plot is intriguing, the dialog is appropriately cold yet inventive, and the character roles are nearly all very well-written. Linda Fiorentino brings a wonderful blend of intelligence, sexuality, intensity, and manipulativeness to her role. Definitely worth seeing.

Le Mans

Brilliant Racing Film
Le Mans is possibly the best major motion picture about racing ever made. Why? Because the race itself is in many ways the main character. The absurdly melodramatic, soap-opera style character drama that usually dominates racing films is kept to a reasonable level here, and the racing itself is the focus. Some of the camera footage is brilliant, the dialog is appropriate and occasionally spot-on (as in the famous "life is racing, everything before or after is just waiting" quote), and the demands of endurance racing on drivers, machines, spectators, and teams is portrayed quite well. Grand Prix also had some brilliant racing footage, but focused a bit much on sensationalism and on a silly soap-opera plot about the lives and affairs of the drivers and their wives and girlfriends. Other films, such as Days of Thunder, usually are side-splittingly hilarious due to all the inaccuracies about racing forced into the film. Overall, Le Mans is very well done and well worth seeing.

The Corndog Man

Thought-provoking, funny, and disturbing
At a loss for anything decent at the video store I took a chance on Corndog Man. I'm really glad I did. This is an intriguing film that has you wondering who the antagonist is and what his motivation is throughout the film. There are moments of very good comedy and moments of very good yet tasteful social commentary about racism and how it heats up when biased people regress to their simpler emotions under stress. Mostly though, I found it an enjoyable mystery and character study that is well paced and well-developed. Definitely worth a look.

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