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Reviews

The Closer
(2005)

ZZZzzzzz
In "The Closer", Sedgwick is Brenda Johnson, a Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief who goes out among 'em and solves crimes in the kinda-sorta mean streets of L.A. more or less single handedly while her cadre of male detectives look on with chagrin. A sort of lame knock-off of Colombo, Brenda is a perpetually addlepated, klutzy, and can't follow a road map but somehow manages to turn into Sherlock Holmes when it counts. The first few episodes of season one appear to be dedicated to fleshing out the very southern Brenda character - who is way below Sedgwick's abilities - while leaving plenty of hooks for future story lines should the series survive...which I doubt it will. An okay watch for sofa spuds who don't mind some corny light drama in their cop shows. Thankew. Thankew very much. (C)

Must Love Dogs
(2005)

What's not to like?
Sarah (Lane), the film's centerpiece, is fortyish, recently divorced, and, of course, cringing at the prospect of getting back into the dating game. The body of the film is all about Sarah, surrounded by assorted kith and kin, struggling to cope with the difficult process of finding Mr. Right. A light hearted romp which is just a new take on an old but tried and true premise, "Must Love Dogs" avoids the extremes of edginess, quirkiness, schmaltz, and corn and concentrates on just being a pleasant up-beat ride to a foregone conclusion. Hard not to like but not likely to be memorable, this little bit of fluff got respectable though nominal marks from IMDb.com's voters including an average score from that hardest of all demographics to please, the 30-44 age of disillusionment group. "Must Love Dogs" should play well with females and their significant others, Lane and Cusak fans, and anyone in the mood for a low cal romcom DVD watch. (B)

Red Eye
(2005)

A little breath of fresh air
"Red Eye" is all about Lisa (McAdams) who is simply trying to get home during a bad weather snarl at the airport and finds herself stuck on a red-eye and flying headlong into a suspense drama. A busy, fun little no brainer, "Red Eye" begins like a romcom, morphs into a suspense/action flick, and takes you on a simple-minded but entertaining girl power ride as Lisa races with the clock to save the day. Probably worth the price of a DVD rental, "Red Eye" will play best with fans of rising star McAdams and those who no brain it to avoid it's many nagging plot holes. Keep expectations real for maximum enjoyment. (B-)

Secuestro express
(2005)

Dinner with the beast
"Secuestro Express" translates roughly as "quick turn-around kidnapping" and, according to the makers of this film, is becoming an increasingly common crime in Latin American. The film is a gritty, grainy, low budget flick about three thugs who kidnap a beautiful woman with and her boyfriend to get some fast cash via the secuestro express methodology. Although the film is full of meaningless thug talk and inconsequential filler, when it does finally get down to business - about an hour into the run - it grabs and holds on thanks to a powerful performance by Maestro who busts some serious acting chops demonstrating she's much more than just another pretty face. As a cap, this little flick drives home an important social message which may be food for thought for those who care to think beyond the film. Okay but nothing to get excited about and fraught with the usual subtitles, obvious budget constraints, etc., Secuestro Express makes for a worthy watch for those who like their crime flicks straight up with a twist and a message from south of the border. (B)

The Shield
(2002)

LAPD Blues
"The Shield" is a gritty street crime series about an LAPD detective and his three bad boy buddies who comprise an anti-crime task force they call the "Strike Team". The honcho, Vic Mackey (Chiklis), breaks laws as a short cut to justice in the interest of cleaning up crime in his Farmington district, which, we're led to believe, is the greater good even though we're given no evidence it's working. Unfortunately, as this series wears on, Mackey and crew seem more like rats in a maze creating more problems than they solve. To add to the deficits of this weak premise, Mackey kills a cop in cold blood but has problems doing the same to the bad guys. Go figure. One example of the stupid writing behind this series involves the murder of a john by a crack whore. Mackey spirits the whore away because he likes/pities her and she has a kid. When it comes time for the hooker to detox, Mackey brings the kid home for his wife to baby sit (yeah, right) because social services might take the child away from the crack whore mother which, duh, is what social services does to protect children. The series just gets dumber and dumber as it slogs through the first season, something I watched out of desperation having seen every other cop/crime TV drama on DVD. Missing from the series are such things as humanity, psychology, character depth, and the usual police support including IAD, ADAs, CSIs, MEs, etc. "The Shield" is, at least in season one, just a lot of grit for the sake of grit, contrived drama, and stories which have more holes that a cheese grater. Passable fodder for TV street crime junkies. Just be sure to turn off brain while viewing or you may lose a few IQ points. (C+)

Murder One
(1995)

Tedious
"Murder One" is a soap opera which swirls around a smooth, urbane, successful L.A. defense attorney Ted Hoffman (Daniel Benzali) and his firm. The first season spends too much time pouring at a pathetically slow pace over the details of a murder involving a celebrity while individual episodes toss in a bonus case/trial where the firm's lesser lawyers can show their chops with easy wins. A huge step down for Bochco, "Murder One" has little to do with murder, everything to do with lawyering, and none of the intelligence, moral messages, and contemporary issues of NYPD Blue. Deficits include staginess, clichés, superficiality, mediocre writing, and a cast of uncharacteristic and too glib characters who are all obviously waiting for cues. Assets include a strong centerpiece in the amorphous leading man Benzali, lots of beautiful women and handsome men, and a sort of dark but elegant ambiance. How "Murder One" garnered so many Emmys with so little going for it may be the show's biggest mystery. Recommended as a last watch for those into lawyer flicks. (C+)

Der Untergang
(2004)

Bravo
"Downfall" takes you into Hitler's bunker during the fall of the third Reich and the last ten days of the battle for Berlin. This historical docudrama spends its time examining one of history's most enigmatic and inscrutable dictators as he descend into paranoia to the bewilderment of his inner circle and, in particular, one young woman stenographer who, in real life, survived the war and published her memoirs providing one of the few historical records of that time and place. The film is well done as a stand alone dramatic presentation. However, it excels as an historical drama by providing insights into Hitler's last days; something never dealt with in such detail before in film. An engrossing 2.5 hour watch with a splendid performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler. Who better to make such a film than the Germans? Bravo. (B+)

Alexander
(2004)

What a waste
Stone's "Alexander" tries to tell the story of one of the great military leaders and conquerors of all time who is to this day, some 2300 years later, is still studied in military war colleges. Unfortunately the film tries too hard to do too much resulting in three hours of jumping around in time trying desperately to show us the man and his human story while carrying on great expeditionary campaigns at the same time. With insufficient didactics, overzealous theatrics, and the esoterics of the time, the film becomes nothing less than a numbing mess. Listening to Stone's director's cut one gets the impression he had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish with his well researched historical epic. One also gets the impression he made the movie for himself. Lacking in coherence, muddled and messy, "Alexander" is a classic example of what happens when one ventures too deep into that creative territory where less is more resulting in a spectacular flop. (C+)

The Job
(2003)

Lame
"The Job" is all about Hannah as a beautiful contract killer with a really bad attitude. This lame flick builds its story around her reluctance to make a final "hit" for reasons we're never really given to understand. We're led to believe she's killed often before but now, for whatever vague reason, she just doesn't want to "off" Renfro and his slutty girlfriend (Swain) to recover some drugs. And, if she doesn't fulfill her obligation and do the deed, her boss (Rocco), who looks too old to be able to pose a threat to anyone, will do something bad to her. And, if all that wasn't enough, she also has to contend with a young man (Mabius) who is falling in love with her in spite of her bad attitude, constant rejections, and a little problem with incipient motherhood. This far fetched bad idea conjures some decent performances and is adequately lensed and scored but can't escape its preposterous plot. It's asking us to care about a killer for no good reason and to believe she can't escape her over-the-hill boss even though she could simply point one of her many guns at him and pull the trigger instead of doing away with Renfro. Hey, what the hell, she could just kill them all but then we wouldn't have all the angst and misery we're supposed to be experiencing as we ponder this turkey. A slightly above average B flick, "The Job" is cinematic couch potato junk food currently on broadcast. (C+)

Prozac Nation
(2001)

A misunderstood movie about a misunderstood disease
"Prozac Nation" is a case study of clinical depression with Ricci as a Harvard frosh trying to cope with her own identity crisis, poor self esteem, and uncontrollable mood swings; the expectations of an over-compensating divorced mother; the absenteeism of a shallow father; and the sincerity of a love she can't believe is real. The film does a good job of accurately representing the destructive influences of the disease of depression in spite murky flashbacks, a hazy narration by Ricci, and a melodramatic and contrived feel. A showcase for Ricci, who meets the demands of her role, this film's lukewarm reception may have more to do with the lack of understanding of the Jekyll-Hyde nature of the depressed person than a poor presentation of the character. (B)

The Upside of Anger
(2005)

Muddling through midlife crises together
"The Upside of Anger" is all about a laid back retired baseball hero (Cosner) who becomes involved with a neighbor woman (Allen) who has a perpetual bad attitude because her husband has run off to Sweden with his secretary. The film is sweetened by the woman's four beautiful but disparate daughters who thicken the plot with their own growing pains and family semifunctionality. Though it's been a long road from Mike Binder's debut in the raunchy romp "Hollywood Knights" (one of my guilty pleasures which helped launch the careers of Michelle Pffiefer, Tony Danza, Roberft Whurl, Fran Drescher and others), he score's a hit as director, writer, and character actor with this enjoyable and insightful cross-genre (comedy/drama/romance) tale of a mature couple sorting through their midlife crises together. Not a blockbuster but a very pleasant little film with a twist at the end worthy of a DVD rental. (B)

Hemingway
(1988)

Generic biopic
"Hemmingway" is a typical biopic with a very generic feel. Keach carries this flick on his back and his worthy costars work hard as well. However, the film never seems to dig into the psyche of the enigmatic, robust, large-living author but presents him as a two dimensional character who is all too pat. Scripted, stagey, and with the melodramatic feel of a 40's film, "Hemmingway" tells the story but can't seem to shake it's stiffness. In one scene, for example, during the Spanish Civil War, bullets crash through the window of Hem's lover's hotel room. Shaken, she gets out of bed and obviously kills time waiting for Hem to arrive. When he bolts through the door they stand right in the line of fire and embrace while we sit knowing all to well if it wasn't a movie they'd be long gone to safety. And so it goes from scene to scene, contrived and cued and missing many opportunities to show us such things as his plane crashes, his car wreck, his sub hunting, Nobel and Pulitzer benchmarks, etc. while spending it's time jumping from Paris to Pamplona to Africa to Key West to Cuba, etc. and from wife to lover to wife to lover...etc. And okay watch for those who want to learn something about Hemmingway via film even though more can be learned about the man with much less time simply by surfing the web. As for entertainment value, this one is marginal. (C+)

Sexual Life
(2004)

A traditional take on a timeless subject with nothing new
"Sexual Life" takes a superficial look at the romantic inclinations or disinclinations of several disparate but loosely interconnected Los Angeles couples as it flows serially from one couple to the next, eventually coming full circle in the end. The common denominator is sex and other relationship salients though the film is quite tame and has a kind of mellow and understated feel to it. The couples range from a call girl and her client to a married couple to a betrothed couple, etc. all obviously carefully planned to provide a range of possibilities for both auteur and audience. Though there's little new to be found between the credits, this is a pleasant little dramedy which handles the subject matter delicately in deference to more edgy and sexually explicit genre motifs. "Sexual Life", built from B listers and a step down for Heche, is a winsome little indie for those who want to glean it from broadcast. (B-)

Hostage
(2005)

Action/drama/suspense no brainer
If you're thinking this is going to be another "Die Hard", forget it. "Hostage" sticks Willis dead center as a small town police chief and ex-LAPD hostage negotiator with issues who becomes embroiled in a scheme involving two families of hostages (the kinds with moms and dads and kids we can all identify with) at the same time which will test his steely resolve and heroic police work. Willis wears his usual two dimensional action hero type hat while the film swirls around him with lots of action, firefights, pyro, cop stuff, suspense, corny bad guys, etc. and a silly and obviously contrived plot sort of gluing the whole shebang together. An okay action no brainer, one should not expect this flick from page one of the Hollywood action film playbook to ratchet up the level of difficulty. Rather, expect it to be another so-so action flick with just enough energy and expense to keep it from sinking into the B-flick bracket. (B-)

Histoire de Marie et Julien
(2003)

Boooooooring
"Marie & Julien" is a well crafted but painfully monotonous subtitled French flick which will put your patience and ADD to the test. Know that I gave up on this 2.5 hour flick at the 90 minute mark out of sheer boredom. The most interesting character to that point was Julien's cat which entertained itself while Julien tinkered with clocks in his home/shop and Marie, well, Marie just sort of remained fascinated by some room in the house and stared at the ceiling a lot. Yes, there was a blackmail thing going on but it was almost incidental and so very civilized I've been thinking about who I can blackmail. Whatever I may have missed couldn't have made up for having to sit through a couple of poorly done sex scene and every pokey and piddly mundane and pedestrian thing those two rather unlikeable characters did with their time. Just be careful before committing 150 minutes of your life to this flick. (C+)

The Girl in the Café
(2005)

A fresh lil' romcom with an agenda.
He's a stereotypical laconic mid-50s workaholic "bean counter" for Britain's finance minister and she's young, attractive, and available. They meet in a cafe and in typical romcom fashion one thing leads to another and they're off to Reykjavik, Iceland for the G8 summit where a lack of accommodations planning has them sharing a room and, well, one more thing leads to another...etc. Up to Reykjavik, the film is an utterly charming little autumn/spring romance in bloom. However, once the G8 summit begins the film takes on a more serious tone and then begins to manifest it's agenda as the girl seizes the opportunity to assert her passionate opinions about starving African children much to the chagrin of her companion and his entourage.

The film's obvious social, political, and economic agenda will doubtless cause much eye rolling, especially among those who, like me, feel entertainment should stick to entertaining while leaving politics to politicians. However, this delightfully seductive little film is so adroit in its blending of tenuous and tentative romance with world hunger preachiness that I'm up for a sequel...or maybe even a series. Should be worth a look by most anyone who doesn't take the hidden agenda too seriously. Would probably rate about a PG-13. (B+)

Powaqqatsi
(1988)

National Geographic does people in motion
According to IMDb.com this film is..."An exploration of the efforts of developing nations and the effect the transition to moderernization has had on them." According to the film itself, the title means (paraphrasing) a life force which consumes other life forces to sustain itself. I saw neither of these in this film and would caution others to beware the advertising. "Powaqqatsi" is a visual feast of scenes of variegated humanity and sweeping cultures stitched together to show the people's of the world, their work and their works, set to powerful orchestration with no narration whatsoever. Just film and music with a strong aesthetic appeal and a very nebulous message. If you're expecting a documentary about globalization, as was I, you'll likely be disappointed. However, if you just want something like National Geographic in slow motion, you're gonna love this flick. (B)

The Machinist
(2004)

Reminded me of "Memento"
"The Machinist" is a dark drama all about an unrecognizable Bale as a gaunt machinist who hasn't slept in a year and looks to be a sandwich away from the grave as we observe his daily activities which invariably include some peculiar and irreconcilable events. The film opens with the protagonist dumping a corpse and then flashes back where it spends the rest of the run working it's way back to it beginning in a series of interesting if not compelling and strange if not unsettling happenings. As the film wears on we get the notion it is either a well done work which is trying to get us to empathize with a likable but delusional man or a shoddy film which is trying to delve into the realm of the paranormal. Fortunately, it's the former and a solid watch for drama enthusiasts who like curious plots (ala "Memento") with protagonists who are suffering from them. (B+)

In Search of Shakespeare
(2004)

Conspiracy theories not withstanding
"In Search of Shakespeare" is a beautifully presented historical documentary in which the always enthusiastic and energetic host/narrator Michael Wood ("In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great") retraces the footsteps and life of the man know to us simply as the Bard. At the outset Wood dismisses any question or controversy about Shakespeare's credibility and attributions as mere conspiracy theory and then launches into a telling of the Shakespeare's biography in a sort of detective story format by rediscovering the bits and pieces of historical evidence of Shakespeare's life which exist outside his body of work. Taking the audience to those places still intact which the Bard frequented, sifting through archives for fragments of information, and showing excerpts of Shakespeare's works performed by a group of players, all the while explaining the relevant history of Elizabethan England, Wood assembles a sort of conventional wisdom version of the William Shakespeare biography as though discovering it for the first time. The result is an engaging, colorful, and fun historical perspective of the life and times of William Shakespeare worth a look particularly by those who know the Bard only through his work. (B+)

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great
(1998)

Oh my aching feet
Peripatetic documentary host Michael Wood treks across Asia retracing the ~20,000 mile campaign of Alexander III of Macedonia in this historically rich film exploration of one of history's greatest conquerors. Wood and crew take you from Greece to the Holy Land, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and more as he uncovers shreds of evidence from artifacts to ancient stories still told by storytellers and pieces them together into a mosaic of the short 32 year life of the legendary conqueror of Persia (circa 356-323 BCE). The always affable and upbeat historian/host Wood travels by everything from burro to boat to helicopter to foot over some of the most barren and rugged terrain in Asia tirelessly brining us the history and legends of Alexander. "In the Footsteps of..." is not only a well composed documentary but also a travelogue of places you'll not likely want to visit and will probably never see. Easy to understand didactics and great locations up close and personal makes this a should see for all ancient history buffs. (B+)

Life and Debt
(2001)

A colorful whining documentary
"Life & Debt" takes you past the tourist facade and into the economic woes of Jamaica with a mosaic of snippets of everything from tourists to politicians to planter/growers to international pundits and more in an attempt to show the ill effects of the process of globalization on the island nation. Unfortunately the film does little more than ask questions and illustrate the same problems which beset most of the third world while offering no solutions and pointing the finger of blame in the same direction everyone else points it, at the World Bank and IMF. The film doesn't identify the people being interviewed by name or title; offers no sense of governmental structure; avoids statistics, charts, maps, etc.; posits no plan for the future; and seems to do little more than complain. Failing to make a case for Jamaica, whose woes pale compared to Africa, "Life and Debt" comes off as a sort of plaintive cursory examination of the decline of Jamaica's economy which is, in the global scheme of things, of little consequence or significance. Should work best for those with a particular interest in Jamaica. (C+)

Hitch
(2005)

No hitch in Hitch
"Hitch" is all about Will Smith as the Alex Hitchens aka the Date Doctor, a dating consultant to socially inept men who need some polishing to become skillful navigators of the dating scene. A fresh and fun new age flick with old school values which mixes good advice with wit and charm as we watch the Date Doc work miracles with a portly and clumsy client while wrestling with his own foible fraught relationship. "Hitch" is a thoroughly enjoyable little flick with good casting and solid production value which makes a creative foray into the tired old romantic comedy genre with very pleasant results. Worth a look by anyone 13 and up in a romcom state of mind. (B)

What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?
(2004)

Lost in translation
"What The 'Bleep' Do We Know" is a sort of quasi-documentary offering the thoughts and musing of a bunch of egg heads about lofty subjects from quantum physics to neurobiology to the nature of God, the universe, etc. all built around a day in the life of Marlee Matlin whose experiences parallel or are analogous to whatever subject the film is meandering through at the time. A vague and qualitative amalgamation of dramedy, pundit discourse, and special animated effects, this flick doesn't fit any particular genre, ask more questions than it answers, and is apparently a lame attempt to get people thinking big thoughts as it reaches from contemporary science into the realm of pseudophilosophical intellectualizing. Not particularly entertaining or educational, "What The.." might have some value for middle school or high school science nerds. (C+)

Arven
(2003)

Fine film with marginal story
"The Inheritance" is all about a Swedish man (Thomsen) who steps in to take over his father's floundering steel business after his father's death only to find his personal life falling apart as he pulls the steel biz together. This plaintive examination of how one man's blind commitment to business sacrifices those he loves most is a solid drama with moderate hi-lo excursions, an even pace, and a well managed presentation though there is considerable dead time between the scenes which move the story forward. However, one has to wonder if watching a man who is better at managing a business than at managing his personal affairs is sufficiently interesting to warrant an almost 2 hour watch. Factor in subtitles and this flick will probably only work for foreign film drama fans. (B)

Imaginary Heroes
(2004)

Grief, grief, and more grief.
"Imaginary Heros" takes a long, hard look at a middle class family of five which, following the suicide of a son, goes into a sort of interminable funk with family members wandering around in a fog coping with grief while we sit wondering it they're ever going to get the "dys" out of their dysfunction. Weaver registers an excellent performance in what is a reasonably good but not great indie flick by a promising auteur. Most likely to be appreciated by younger adult audiences who, like the auteur, have not sufficient life experience to see the absence of depth in the characters. However, may not play well wit the 30 something crowd who have just reached the age of disillusionment. Worth a rental for anyone into a big dose of depressing minimalism with nihilistic overtones. (B-)

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