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Good But Flawed
***** This comment may include spoilers ***** Sandra Bullock is living a week of her life out of sequence. It gives the movie a neat feel of relativity, because to everybody else it seems she has the ability to predict the future and she also can't reliably remember the recent past. You have to pay close attention to what's going on, even in the beginning, and commit to memory some clues that won't become meaningful until later. It's a puzzle.

I have to give it a 6 because even though it's a neat idea and wonderfully implemented in parts, it's flawed. You're trying to figure out what came before what, and the biggest clue of course is the husband's death. There's also a child whose face was cut up in an accident. Well, the face thing wasn't carried out consistently, so if you're paying close attention and picking up all the clues, you get into this moebius strip problem and the puzzle becomes unsolvable.

That would be alright if the characters were developed to the point where you actually cared about them. But it isn't that kind of a movie. The puzzle is the point. And the puzzle is busted.

12 Angry Men

Benefit of Hindsight
(Spoilers) I really liked the message of the movie: A lot of times things that look crystal clear at first glance, upon deeper inspection, aren't so clear. The acting was top-notch all-around, especially with Juror #9. The product ends up being not very preachy, which is a considerable achievement given that it's built entirely around a simple parable.

With the benefit of hindsight, though, one can see a few things about this that I personally find really disturbing.

The question that drives the movie is whether the jurors have properly awarded the defendant the benefit of any reasonable doubt, and as the climax approaches, the attention given to this reaches a fevered pitch. Left behind in the dust, is the equally critical question of whether the defendant is really guilty. There's a scene early on when Jack Warden, the juror who just wants to get the voting over with so he can watch a ball game, meets Henry Fonda in the washroom. The last two lines in that scene discuss the possibility that the boy may be acquitted, even though he is guilty. Fonda says something to the effect of "that very well may be" or some such, and to my recollection this is the last time this possibility is even considered.

The jury may have released a murderer onto the streets. You can make the argument that with the presence of reasonable doubt, this was their job. I agree. But as Henry Fonda walks down the courthouse steps to resume his everyday life as an architect, would it really then be fitting to have the happy "a wrong has been righted" swelling-orchestra music, as our hero walks proudly among his fellow citizens with his head held high? Doubt or no, conviction or no, this kind of peace-of-mind is not lying in wait for you after your last day on a real jury. There are jurors who want it anyway, and because of that, will not convict anyone. They have seen this movie, and want to be Henry Fonda. I've served with them. It's a pretty serious problem.

There is a short speech given by Fonda shortly after he is revealed to be the one juror who wants to acquit. Several times in the speech he makes the point that the defendant is poor, has had a rough background, and has been beaten up a lot. It is not entirely clear where he is going with this, since the movie is supposed to be about what is reasonable doubt, and how the doubt applies regardless of economic class. There is at least one other juror who wants to convict because the defendant is poor; does Fonda mean to say with a defendant who was wealthier, he himself would have voted to convict? That doesn't seem likely at all. But then why bring it up? It means something to other jurors, but it isn't supposed to mean anything to Fonda. The only way it could support any of Fonda's arguments, is if he was making decisions based on the way those decisions made him feel about himself, rather than based on the evidence. This is something jurors aren't supposed to do.

Four years after this movie was made, the Supreme Court defined the Exclusionary Rule in Mapp v. Ohio. So by this time, you weren't supposed to convict anyone unless you knew they were guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, and in addition to that, if you knew too much, then you still couldn't convict. During the sixties, conviction became such an unlikely goal even when the evidence seemed compelling, that a lot of District Attorneys refused to make arrests even though they knew a suspect posed a significant danger to society.

By the seventies, Americans were so fed-up with the "justice system failing us" that they began turning politicians out of office in bulk, hoping against hope they could fix what was broken before their own children were murdered or their wives were raped. Between Vietnam and Watergate, this was a third salvo against our fragile faith in government, and it was an erosion of our trust that we don't talk about too much today.

What really concerns me is that a little while after this film was made, with the poorest Americans being forced to live among violent people and thus becoming increasingly interested in vigilantism, suddenly we had a huge surge in movies about "Taking the law into your own hands." Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and countless made-for-TV projects. In summary, the pendulum swung in one direction, then a few years later, the other. Hollywood got to make money both times.

I have trouble getting completely behind this film because it's a concentrated effort, ultimately a successful one, to get that pendulum swinging wildly. If we spent that relatively short amount of time, just fifteen years or so, leaving "revolution" out of it and reforming our justice system in baby steps, the mistakes of the past could have been avoided. I do not know if it was possible to fix what was broken back then, by doing this -- convictions weren't always carefully considered back in the 1950's & earlier. But a lot of innocent people would be alive today if all those violent felons, in subsequent years, were arrested like they should have been.

I would say, if you're going to serve on a jury, by all means rent this because it's a very meticulous and passionate reminder of your civil duty, it makes some great points, and everything in this movie is highest-quality. But also on your required-viewing list would be Primal Fear, the Richard Gere movie. Better yet, watch that one last, so the final scene really sticks in your mind.

Nobody should be serving on a jury, if they can't seriously consider the consequences of releasing people who are really guilty of violent crimes.

Fahrenhype 9/11

Consider this...
There's this dead guy lying in the morgue with a bullet in his chest. I think you might have been the one who shot him. The guy's wife agrees with me. So does the District Attorney.

So what do we do?

In the world of Michael Moore, he would be allowed to file a 'Friend of the Court' briefing on celluloid and your guilt or innocence would be decided by that alone. But in this country, we have a trial. The prosecution presents its case, and then the defense calls out errors in the prosecution's logic, problematic witnesses and inconsistencies in the timeline. Then the prosecution gets to call out how the defense is taking things out of context…back and forth it goes.

The DA is not supposed to be objective. If he becomes aware of something that would suggest your innocence, he is not obligated to come forward with it.

The defense is also biased. If he knows you shot the guy, he's not supposed to give the evidence to the court or the prosecution.

So both parties are expected to work toward a singular goal: Getting the outcome they want. It is impossible for both of them to achieve this. This is not a perfect way to get to the truth, but it's the very best way there is. So all the Michael Moore fans out there whining and sniveling about 'the 'no terrorist threat' remark was taken out of context' and 'FahrenHYPE has become exactly what it decries' are whistling in the wind.

What this film did was yank Michael Moore out of the 'judge's' chair, and reduce him to being just one of two diametrically opposed advocates. This is good. Most of us, and I do mean nearly all thinking people who were paying attention, are far more comfortable with Moore in the role of one of the advocates, instead of him simply telling people what to think. For one thing, this makes him truly accountable for the factual distortions in his material, regardless of whether the distortions were intentional or not. So liberals, it might make you look good to your fellow liberals to go on about 'it became exactly what it's complaining about' but this idea misses the point: Moore has freedom of speech, and so do people who disagree with him.

What's written above deals with how FahrenHYPE affects the political dialog in our nation. What is written below, deals with quality and whether it's worth seeing.

Well, the election is over, so this is a peek in the rear-view mirror but you already know that. The film has been attacked for being a mouthpiece of conservatives, but this is incorrect. It's very obvious someone has gone to considerable trouble to recruit democrats into the project. This is powerful. Here is Clinton's political adviser, a distinguished senator from Georgia, a school principal who didn't vote for Bush, and a famous former mayor of New York. All Democrats, and all of them taking considerable time and trouble to appear in a documentary refuting the work of Michael Moore, narrated by a liberal Hollywood actor.

After the film shoots down point by point the issues that Fahrenheit was trying to raise, you'll see a pattern emerge: Michael Moore has a tactic of presenting only the side of the story he wants to present. There is no big surprise here, after all this is something we 'know' about documentaries. The thing of it is, though, we may 'know' of the tactic but it is difficult to achieve a reckoning of how much damage this can do to the truth, or how convincing a documentary can be when the material therein is deceptive. This is going to come as a surprise to the Michael Moore fans, especially to the ones who have been memorizing the Fahrenheit arguments and repeating them word for word in the e-mail, thread postings, and chat rooms. This is why (see above) you want to have two diametrically opposite advocates each attacking the weaknesses in the arguments of the other, when you really want to learn the truth.

And you should let that process go for awhile, before repeating what someone said.

I suspect many of the Michael Moore fans who say they didn't like this film, are quietly undergoing a subtle change in their habits of parroting the Fahrenheit arguments wherever they can. They may not like the direction in which this film leaned, and they'll never admit to anyone they learned a valuable lesson, but learn it they did. It can be hazardous to willingly become a walking sandwich board for someone else, especially someone with as fragile a reputation for telling the truth as Michael Moore.

So yes it's worth seeing. If you're prejudiced against Michael Moore, you probably have a lot of liberal buddies constantly badgering you about 'did you see it yet, did you see it yet' insinuating that you're 'ignorant' until you have seen Michael's 'documentary.' Well now you can tell them you saw a documentary of the documentary – did THEY see it? And you didn't give Michael Moore one single dime out of your pocket.

And as I've written already, if you're prejudiced in favor of Moore – there is a lesson for you here. I suspect the most loudmouthed among the Michael Moore fans are going to nervously scan through this piece, just to get a feel for how much they've been had. Now that you've echoed some of the lies and distortions in Fahrenheit, it's better to get a heads-up on how someone is going to nail you to the wall on it, than to let the nailing proceed while being completely oblivious to how it's going to come about.


Making It Up As You Go Along
I was reviewing the four endings that were actually shot – there was evidently a fifth one that didn't get that far – and one of the gentlemen in the voice-over made a comment that summed up all the problems I thought this movie had. Something about how much better it works when you figure out the ending first and go backward, than it does when you start with a storyline & make it up as you go along.

Well there you go. From watching the trailer you pretty much know everything that is going to happen, minus the 'spoiler'. More on that later.

The big problem here is direction, in which the flaws significantly injure the character development. I don't really care that Kinnear and Romijn-Stamos lost their little boy or feel terrible anguish over it, nor do I care about the angst they suffer as they wrestle with the weighty ethical problems involved in cloning him. Interestingly, the acting is pretty well-done and the movie suffers nonetheless. Perhaps this would be a good showcase for directors who wish to demonstrate why they ought to earn more money than the actors. You can act until you're blue in the face, that doesn't mean what you're doing is intriguing or compelling.

It would have been good to build some eccentricities into it. Just as an example. Garp's kid in the 'World According To Garp' had some kind of inside-joke with his family about the 'Undertoad'; it made the characters more endearing to the audience. Such simple and effective devices were obviously well out of scope for Bomback, who seems to have written the script with some kind of paint-by-numbers method.

The spoiler has to do with why the cloned boy begins to have nightmares & hallucinations, after he reaches the age where his model died. This is never directly explained, but it has to do with a hidden agenda De Niro has that he didn't tell Romijn-Stamos and Kinnear. I'll leave it at that.

The final confrontation between Kinnear and De Niro contains the ethical debate that I think was supposed to have been the pivotal point of the entire movie, but I get the sense that due to sloppy organization it was put near the end where it was far less effective and only served to make the characters less believable. Incidentally, why does Kinnear keep assaulting De Niro? Last I checked, there were more states that outlawed this, than outlawed cloning, Mister 'Hey I've got problems doing stuff that's illegal.' Come to think of it, De Niro appears to be bigger, and if his character has a Jesus-like ability to turn the other cheek, this doesn't seem to be part of the story. The skinny Kinnear charging into scary-guy De Niro like a linebacker, or dealing him a haymaker, is used as a cheap device to show how emotionally ravaged Kinnear has become…twice, three times, four times, more. There are more imaginative ways to do this, and there's got to be a more effective way to do it.

In the end, the only emotional connection I have to the movie, is a sympathetic and pitying desire for the writer to find some way to tie all the loose ends together when he's clearly having a tough time doing it. That, and a compulsion to figure out what story he's trying to tell before I'm late getting the disc back to the video store.

View from the Top

If I Were Female, I'd Be So Upset I'd Start A Revolution
For 38 years, real life has allowed me to founder around in complete ignorance of the basic and vital truths about women that 'View From the Top' was kind enough to teach me. Women, apparently, are narcissistic simpletons who only care about getting the things they want. They will engage in absolutely ZERO compromise about their goals, but at the same time they're so confused about what their own goals are, they need Candice Bergen to tell them.

And if you employ people don't even THINK about hiring a woman. Jobs are simply positions where you try to get to the top, and you do that not by helping people, but by simply staying focused on what YOU want. Come to think of it, maybe that's why as a man I haven't taken over a multi-national corporation or two just yet. Too much worrying about what it takes to please other people, and not me. Such an educational film this is. It has taught me something about women AND business.

Seriously though. The suspense, here, is that Donna Jensen (Gwyneth Paltrow) MIGHT have to choose between the hot stud and the dream job. Other women sacrifice careers for uglier men, or call off the chase on a man for a less promising career. But for our heroine this would be an unhappy ending – if she gets only one or the other, oh horrors, the heavens will come crashing down. Donna never really grew up, and neither did the women who would find this to be a positive, enjoyable experience. There are other 'chick' movies where this is the case, I know. But there's an unwritten rule somewhere that this is supposed to be subtle. 'View' doesn't even try.

YES, be a spoiled rotten little princess, and if you're not that, you're not our intended audience.

And, eh, no, sorry. Mike Myers does NOT save this movie.

You guys, who are about to be sent out to bring this monstrosity home: Grow a pair. If you're completely whipped, if you're out there with her at 5:00 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving chanting 'open, open, open' – take a stand. This IS the hill to die on. Tell her no, and it's for her own good.

The Passion of the Christ

The Real Star is the Awkward Glance
"I didn't expect to hit a main artery," said Mel Gibson, addressing how The Passion might have hit a nerve delving so painfully into the final hours of Christ. Just from one or two episodes of opening my big mouth, I know how he feels. Give me credit; I kept my silence until after I had seen the movie. Not everyone has.

Yes, the film is terribly graphic and gory. As for the much-discussed message of hate toward Jews, the film is like Yoda's cave just before Luke Skywalker walks into it: What will I find in there? Only what you take with you.

Surely you've noticed what I've noticed, haven't you? Those who complain about the film's antisemitism, are almost never Jewish. Before and since I saw it, I've read so many missives about how `the Jews ought to be deeply offended' my eyes have been crossed with it. My message to such critics: Fine, let's hear from those who have been. If you don't think we should shut our collective gentile and agnostic pie-holes until a person of such creed says such a thing, there are some messages near the beginning of the film for people like you. For that reason if no other, see it again.

What impressed me about the film the most, was the star. It isn't Jesus. The film has an important message to deliver, and no one character shoulders the responsibility for delivering it. Christ himself is simply a central figure for this message. He is a McGuffin, if you will, a prop. A lens, through which the various protagonists explore their relationship with God, and come away driven half-crazy by the realization that it isn't a good one on this day. And absolutely nothing else matters.

Christ suffers vicious beatings right after his arrest in the Garden of Gesthemane, during which one of his eyes is swollen and shut. The task of returning the glances thrown his way by guilty mortals falls to his remaining eye, and this is an important task: The look he gives back to these characters comes from God Himself. This is never stated outright, but is obvious.

For those who have not yet seen the film, I would ruin it by listing when this happens, to whom, or even how many times. It's self-evident, to me anyway, that this is the whole point. Men and women perform an action or inaction around the bleeding Christ, taking far too lightly the implications of what they are doing or are not doing. They are somehow compelled to look into the remaining good eye. From this they receive the most direct verdict any soul can receive, from the Deity who gifts them with every heartbeat and every breath. The look back is far more than they can stand. Their sense of perspective has been restored after they have allowed it to wander, and it is an agonizing experience for them.

Who later finds the strength to fully accept this new perspective, and who does not, is left to you to decide.

The film is a commentary on how people should think versus how they do think. The Christian story notwithstanding, it takes enormous courage to comment on that alone. People don't like to be told they may be thinking in a way contrary to their purposes, or in ways that might result in grave mistakes.

This is the real reason why The Passion is `controversial.' There are people being paid good money this year to spread rumors that our President was a deserter, or was AWOL. Other people are `working' for free repeating such talking points into chat rooms or in letters to editors of prestigious newspapers. They betray truth, making heavy statements with light thinking behind them, to appease a bloodthirsty crowd. They know it. This is exactly what the Jewish high priests did, what the Romans did.

And during the 126 minutes, you will find yourself thinking whether you believe in Christ or not: Let us never make a mistake worse than the one I'm seeing right now.

The moral is, think about the things you are doing and saying, or bad things may happen. If a manner of thinking & doing doesn't make you happy with yourself, or would not be viewed favorably by whatever Deity you think put you here, consider not doing it. It's a message a lot of people don't like, because it interferes with some things they're trying to do this election year.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Can't say I'm not disappointed
The lesson here is simple and useful. If you're watching an action movie where the action hero is just barely awake enough to protect his sweetie, to selflessly throw his body over hers when something blows up, but is too thick and stupid to see something coming that actually has something to do with the story... are watching a chick flick. Like the Mighty Joe Young remake, or Final Destination II. Movies like this are different from Die Hard or James Bond movies, because it's up to John McClane and 007 to unravel the riddle in a mystery in an enigma. Indiana Jones can figure out the bad guy is digging in the wrong spot, so his movie is a guy's movie. Not the case here. If John Connor ever had this ability, he lost it before this movie started or picked it up after it was over. Everything has to be explained to him, while he listens, slack-jawed, then reacts with joy, despair, whatever. He never, ever puts himself ahead of the game, and it's obvious there is a crowd-pleasing rule in place to keep him from doing so.

Which would be fine, as far as spur-of-the-moment fun action-adventure flicks would be concerned. But leaving aside the point that this installment arrives after a twelve year wait, there's a huge logical plot hole here. John Crybaby Skywalker Connor is the leader of the resistance and it's worth sending a killer robot back in time, at presumably enormous expense, to rub him out. Why is that? If he gave the resistance life with his resourcefulness, or with his ability to motivate people, T4 is going to have to supply some explanation of how he picked these things up. I would not put my life on the line to follow this man. I would not so much as loan him a couple of quarters to do his laundry.

But he's George Washington of the 21st century. He makes the difference between a victorious (or insurmountable) resistance or no resistance at all, and he is shrewd and cunning enough to use time travel to arrange his own conception. It would have taken very little trouble to have him, just once or twice, work his way out of a jam like Michael Biehn did 20 years ago. That would have made all the difference to me.

Can plot & character problems completely ruin a movie? Maybe not, and that problem doesn't ruin this movie. But it certainly costs it some points. The time-travel thread in T1 made my head hurt, because I cared enough about what was going on to pursue it. Because of the shabby treatment T3 gave to the story and the characters, it can't ever give me that headache because I don't care that much. I can't say the saga has been ruined, but I can't say I'm not disappointed.

Monster's Ball

A well-designed tool. Does that mean a good movie? You decide.
For what it's supposed to do, Monster's Ball may be one of the best-focused movies produced in years. For better or for worse, that means for any endeavor lying outside of its intended purpose, there is no achievement and no effort. This may be a problem, because there is a great deal that lies outside of its intended purpose.

It does two things: Within Hollywood, it generates Oscar nominations, and outside of Hollywood, it removes panties. Outside of those two things, the film has no reason for being. As a rental, it's over in 112 minutes and you will not be inclined to start the movie again even to look at scenes you missed. If you're going to the video store to celebrate the arrival of another Friday, being able to stay up late, you should pick up something else.

Those who want to be intellectually stimulated by their movies, won't get much satisfaction here. There's really not much going on with the story. The first 28 movies are pure torture because there are no significant events and not even very many lines. I have to wonder what it was like when the script was tossed on someone's desk: "You call this a script? It's 38 pages!"

I'm still inclined to give it three stars out of four, because I did get a little bit of entertainment out of it and I do think the product succeeded at the concept chosen for it. I just can't agree with the concept. Movies shouldn't be made just to showcase the talents of the actors, and if they are, the actors being showcased should have something to prove. Unfortunately, the four biggest stars in this piece were selected from those actors who could "afford" to take on an unorthodox project, therefore, they were already known to be talented in their chosen craft before this rolled out. So this is an effort to prove something that has already been proven.

One final comment: When is a head-shrinker, pen and notebook in hand, going to stretch Hollywood out on a couch and explore this deep-seated hatred of the South? Yeah Hollywood, we get it, it's chock full of racist rednecks. There are also quite a few nice folks who live there. There are places to live that cultivate atmospheres of deep thinking and tolerance, and for that matter Hollywood itself can be loaded up with prejudices of its own. Get over yourselves already.

Deep Impact

Has awesome horsepower but can it overcome the drag?
This review contains mild spoilers.

The character development is VERY well done, and the special effects are awesome. The cast is jam-packed with established talent, and the actors are not burdened with awkward lines from a bad script. This movie has a lot going for it.

But it will never be all that it can be, because the flaws bring it into conflict with too many segments of the audience.

If you're an old man who likes to get up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday and go see a movie at a drive-in that night, without a nap in between, like I did, you will fall asleep. But you will be amazed at how quickly this will put you to sleep. Until that comet hits, baby, this is one slow ride.

If you appreciate the talent of ILM and love special effects, this film won't disappoint except that you have to wait almost until the end of the movie to see the payoff. What a payoff, though. The tsunami, the "con-trail" as the comet headed over the ocean, the Statue of Liberty broken into pieces, the floods, etc. etc.

And if, in your everyday life when you're still worried about how things work, you have a drop of libertarian blood in your veins - which is to say, you believe the federal government has a limited jurisdiction in the things it is authorized to do - you may very well have a stroke watching this. I mean, Good Lord. Naming a rocket "Messiah" and pointing it at the juggernaut of a comet without telling anyone. No congressional oversight. Building caves and holding a lottery. I'd love to see the outcry if George W. Bush does one-hundredth of this stuff, not matter what the situation.

None of this stuff matters worth beans if you're going to blow $2.99 at Blockbuster. But it's kind of important because all of the strengths are compromised in some way. It shines in the department of character development, special effects, and Morgan Freeman. Well, the characters are all flawed, deliberately, and to excess. When Maximilian Schell's time came, if he was on fire I wouldn't have handed him a bucket. The special effects take too long, and won't save you from boredom. It could be fairly asked, if special effects don't spare the audience boredom, what's the point? Morgan Freeman is awesome, but unless you're naive enough to believe the President can repeal the law of gravity, his executive actions will bother you so much you won't be able to enjoy him.

And if you are that naive - hey, why can't he simply order the comet to stop? He's the President.

What's left? Robert Duvall's character is interesting, but his self-sacrifice is predictable. You should be able to see it coming an hour in advance. After all that, there's not much left to this film. It's a good chick flick. And one can't help but think, with the nation in an impeachment crisis as it was released, the product might have been "tweaked" to help Clinton's image and affect the outcome of things in Washington.

I'd say if you have a liberal democrat girlfriend and want to get some "results" out of her, head on over to her place with this movie and a bottle of cheap ripple. This isn't a bad film at all, but such things should be used for the purposes for which they're best suited. **+1/2

The Musketeer

Not THAT bad, but bad
I think the comments on here are a little on the harsh side. There are good things about the film. It's probably right for younger viewers, the photography and lighting is good, the suspense is okay, Mena Suvari looks much better than she did in American Pie. Tim Roth will never make a bad villain, and the guy who played Cardinal Richelieu was thoroughly enjoyable too.

Okay, that said...

The character development is the real problem here. Athos, Porthos and Aramis never did anything cool that the rest of the corps didn't do. There was no reason to care about the old dude that died in the fire. Mena Suvari was just an artificial media construct, a "strong-willed woman" with no development, nothing leading up to the meaningful events making me appreciate why she was the way she was. So she was just a hot young female body plunked into the middle of the film.

Acting all-around, was okay. But...

The one big sin about character development that is unforgivable, in my opinion, is that d'Artagnan was a big badass from the minute the "14 years later..." fades from the screen. This is why Alexandre Dumas novels are not martial arts movies. d'Artagnan is the inspiration for Luke Skywalker. He should start out as an awkward youth, knocking things over, stuttering, stammering, looking like a future shish kabob. The audience should be surprised by his development into a skilled, worthy musketeer. Michael York did this beautifully. Even Chris O'Donnell offered something here, and he can't act nearly as well as Justin Chambers. But NOOO...we've got Xing-Xing Grand-High Whatzisface doing the choreography everyone's gotta be a friggin' Jedi Super-master from the get-go.

It kills the story. It's a disaster, because it's settled early on that everyone who swashbuckles in this movie, is going to swashbuckle just as well or just as poorly as the choreographer and director want them to, and duels will be fought and won and lost to the convenience of the story. The audience's perceptions are relegated to insignificance.

THEN they COMPOUNDED it. The final siege of the castle...jeez... if anyone thinks that's okay, and they went on to rag on Phantom Menace, I'll see to it they hear from me. They just had the good guy and the bad guy fight, until they felt we got tired of it, and the bad guy just died. Like painting by numbers. It's a shame because up until then, the movie wasn't that bad, and a lot of people contributing to it were doing more than satisfactory work...but a bad ending just leaves a sour taste in your mouth. That's probably why it's getting castigated so much here.

The Patriot

Creme de la creme
Before the end of Braveheart, my ass started to ache against the cheap hard theater seat. I was much less comfortable watching Patriot (at a drive-in), but I noticed it less. I would not have noticed my sore butt, the crick in my neck, etc. etc. even if Patriot was six hours long. That's a great film. Great on all counts. It's four stars. I would go out of my way to buy this film. Braveheart? I'd go out of my way to watch it...not really to buy it.

Why is Patriot better? Front-to-back, it is dedicated to dealing with primal human concepts that existed long before we were here, and will endure long after we are gone. After you've seen it a few times, you begin to realize this is not a story so much about American independence, as about a tug-of-war between life and death. The story about the Revolution is a sidebar. Want proof? Watch it beginning to end - at no time does any stretch of fifteen minutes pass, without the advantage shifting from one side to another. Life wins, death wins, back-and-forth, beginning-to-end. This is great storytelling.

I think the criticism for playing fast-and-loose with history is valid, but not valid enough to tarnish the reputation of the product. Taking license with history is dangerous, after all, only to those of us who don't bother to read up. Failing to read up is decisional. You don't like how Mel Gibson invents people, covers up things, makes slaveholders look like heroes and decent people look like ogres? Fine. Go read about how it really was, and take his movies with a grain of salt. Everyone else isn't doing that, but if they're being mislead by Gibson's efforts, the deception pales in comparison to what HBO does to them every night. Cut him some slack. There's nothing in Patriot that compares to having an English princess knocked up by a Scottish bandit who really never lived in the same country as she did at any given time, and died when she was thirteen years old.

The best thing about this film is you can watch it three, five, ten times or more and still see more detail you didn't notice before - detail meaningful to the story. This is yet another sign of great storytelling, and great filmmaking. Easily the best film of 2000, and every year since then.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

A model for mixing Science Fiction and Action
This is the best out of all of them, with First Contact and Undiscovered Country following close behind. Action and Science Fiction don't mix together easily. When they get it wrong, they get it very very wrong - this is close to perfect. The techno-babble is developed just barely enough to explain key elements of the plot, not to the point of becoming tedious. The villain is perfect, the heroes are people you want to win.

The action will make you forget about any slight imperfections in the rest of the film.

Like for instance: Why did Kirk get all cocky at poor Kirstie Alley after he won the first space battle? "You just keep on quoting regulations, Savik!" Excuse me? If you followed the regulations she was quoting, Kahn wouldn't have just locked his phasers on you and blown you to kingdom come, mortally wounding Scotty's nephew in the process. But it took me twenty years to notice that point, so consider that a testimony as to how powerful the action is and how well it works. Or to my density with regard to Star Trek films.

The Count of Monte Cristo

It's a stealth-chick-flick, but a good one
BEFORE I GET INTO THE SPOILERS, let's get the important stuff out of the way. This is a chick flick. It's got all five of the tried-and-true elements. 1) Boy meets girl. 2) Something terrible happens. 3) Girls screws some other guy for years and years, but has a really good excuse to. 4) Problems get solved. 5) Boy takes girl back, washes off the scent of the other man, and they get on with their lives and forget she ever slept with someone else. How many times has that been done? It works. I recommend a matinee price. Take her out, see this, go home & get some.

It works better here than it did in Pearl Harbor.

SPOILERS: The end was awfully quick. That was either deception, or negligence, because I was expecting the final duel to be a "tip o' the hat" to the manly-men who actually paid the money to buy the tickets & make the movie possible. I think that's the way it's supposed to be done. Phantom Menace did that. Say what you want about TPM, but nobody's criticizing the swordplay between the Jedi and Darth Maul. Would it have killed COMT to do something comparable to that, or at least try to?

They committed the cardinal sin of setting up suspense, and then either abandoning it or resolving it too suddenly. Oh no, the bad guy is going to get away and I'll have to abandon my scheme for revenge. What to do? Well, the bad guy decided he'd try to kill you so that takes care of that. Oh no, the bad guy took away my sword and now he has two swords and I have none. What to do? Just take the sword away from him and kill him with it. Problem solved. It could have been so beautiful. Twenty years ago, the bad guy kicked the good guy's ass. Now the good guy's learned a lot of swordplay, and we'll see what he does with it. With good choreography, the possibilities would have been endless. So I was anticipating for two hours, a fight that basically I didn't see and did not exist. The rest of the movie, I thought, was nearly perfect.

Three-and-a-half stars, or 8.5 out of ten.

Very Bad Things

Complicated, intriguing and creepy, but not clever
If a film knows what it's supposed to do and does it well, but it doesn't entertain me because it's just not part of something I like, I give it two stars. This movie gets two stars, even though dark comedy is definitely something I like.

I demoted it because it's missing a few things. I respectfully disagree with the folks who contend it's a complete disaster, "worst movie of all time," etc. It's not that. It can be entertaining in parts, but the audience has to be right. It's not for everyone, and if you don't like dark comedy I have to wonder why you'd be watching it. The title gives away what the film is about.

First of all, I liked the plot. It's nice and complicated, everybody is betraying everybody else.

But the film missed things that are significant and important. **SPOIILERS**

A critical element to the plot of a movie like this, is that the protagonists should be like Charlie's-Angels Bad Guys: Most of them are good-natured but on the wrong path, and then one or two of them are rotten-to-the-core. The film does that here, with Christian Slater as the deep-dark villain, but then you need to have scenes where the other folks are examining what is becoming of them. That's vital. Without that, we can't identify with them.

When "Very Bad Things" does this, without exception it's a prelude to some screaming fit, and then again without exception the scene leads up to yet another grisly demise. When you do that religiously, as Peter Berg did, the movie becomes predictable. Toward the end I was starting to think "here we go again." That seems like a real insignificant complaint, but I believe without that predictability the film could have avoided the "Worst Movie Ever" comments like we see above.

Another thing that could have been improved is that I didn't identify with people as they were "seduced to the dark side." The plans they were making were just plain silly. Lower the bodies into the car from the balcony of a hotel? Sure. What time of the morning is this? Anybody ever explore a really nice hotel at three in the morning? It's not a ghost town, and nobody's lowering any bodies into cars from balconies, okay?

So on my very worst day, I wouldn't have begun to entertain the ideas these folks cooked up, even with my ethics betrayed and my moral profile seduced. The plans they made were just stupid. I hate to say it, but the first "I know what you did last summer" did this thing somewhat right. At least, better than it was done here.

Now that said, I liked the ending. I was hoping a car would hit Cameron Diaz, and when it almost happened I wondered if the filmmakers anticipated what I was thinking and were deliberately teasing me with it. It seemed to be a message that there's a divine force at work here, and it will make sure until the end of time that this selfish bitch will languish forever in the fate she so richly deserved.

The Blair Witch Project

It's not the arrival, it's the journey
I rented this film, so I don't know how well it would show in a theater. On reflection, I speculate that it can't possibly be good. The ending is too much of a slap-in-the-face.

But we had a lot of fun watching it. The highlight of the film is watching the flashlight flail around in the darkness, in the middle of the night, miles away from nowhere. You are ready for Heather's powerful flashlight to bounce off of...anything and everything. When it doesn't happen, you go slightly crazy with anticipation. I suspect that folks who didn't like the film, would have to admit that, but only if painted into a corner.

But arguing with people and trying to make them like the film, would be ungracious and would miss the point. Should this have been marketed and hyped the way it was? Probably not. Should it have been kept secret so we could all save our money? No way! All in all - if you connect with it, this was a fun flick.

Independence Day

Shallow people have too much money
Right around the time this movie came out, I became aware of something that turned me off to movies in general. The problem was not, and is not, that Hollywood thinks we're all stupid. The problem is that parents are giving their very young kids way too much cash on the weekends to get out of their hair for the afternoon. They've created a powerful demographic segment, in the form of their pre-teen offspring who are downtown stuffing twenty-dollar bills into theater cash boxes.

And deciding what next year's movies are going to look like.

Well, the culmination of this bizarre experiment has to be ID4. The most telling review you could really gather about this, is that everyone who feels the need to "defend" the film from the obvious criticism, uses the same two lines. One, movies are supposed to be entertaining and not realistic; two, the special effects were awesome.

I go to the movies to be entertained, instead of being reminded of reality, just as much as the next guy. But a certain amount of "Coyote and Roadrunner" physics, just ruins it for folks like me. Sorry. The President in a jet is really pushing the envelope. Yeah, yeah I know he was a Persian Gulf vet and they had an explanation for all this. But why was it necessary? Couldn't you make an even better movie, having the Prez on the ground, biting his fingernails with guilt over sending men half his age to certain death? That's made some good movies; it just takes some effort on the part of the writers, directors and actors. Maybe they figured the "Living Legend Captain Kirk" avenue was just easier here. Unfortunately, that leaves them pontificating for two hours about how we're all in the same boat, and we'd better kick alien ass together; and then having one guy do everything. Essentially, they seriously contradicted themselves.

But yeah, I know nine-year-olds don't care about that, and my money isn't worth as much as theirs.

All this may seem like nit-picking, but it interferes with the focal point of the movie. This is a movie built to make you feel good after the closing credits have started to roll, and maybe more than a bit patriotic. When inside your head, you're going back over all the questionable plot points and wondering just what kind of a pig-in-a-poke they just sold you, one interferes too much with the other. So the purpose of the movie is, in itself, a bit of a contradiction. If you want to get in a patriotic mood on the 4th of July, my advice is to read up on the story how our nation was built. Skip this, unless you just want to watch things blow up and go boom.

** out of ****, 4/10.


Was this made to entertain us, or the people making it?
The special effects and the character development were very well done. After it was over, I flip-flopped, mentally, about what I would do if I were a professional reviewer. Three stars, or the lowly two-and-a-half? In the end, I decided it would be sufficiently gracious to award the mediocre 2+1/2, and here's why.

To the best I can see, nobody involved in this movie put the audience's gratification above their own. In other words, they pretty much just did what they wanted to do. Travolta wanted to play a good guy and a bad guy, a la Pulp Fiction, that the audience would never be able to figure out. He succeeded at our expense, because by the time the movie was over, everyone was still confused about whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. Now that's all fine and good with a movie like Pulp Fiction, where you're playing an assassin working for Marcellus. If Vince didn't take the job, after all, somebody else would, and his marks would end up just as dead.

Here, however, the film has spent the entire length giving out unmistakable signals that there are dire consequences involved for the entire civilized world, if Gabriel is allowed to continue walking around alive. So what are those consequences? He's a terrorist, no, he's a freedom fighter. Now he's a terrorist again. No, he's a freedom fighter.

Halle Berry did what she wanted to do. She elevated her profile by showing off a lot of skin and getting everyone to talk about it. What was her character, really? I can't say they never explained it; they did explain it, and then they contradicted themselves, made it clear we'd followed a red herring. In the end, well, it wasn't explained.

Hugh Jackman did what he wanted to do. He was the focal point in this latest of "good is bad, bad is good" movies where he's committing terrible crimes but has a really good excuse for doing so because deep down, he's a decent guy. About the nineteenth time Halle reminded him about his own daughter, I was ready to scream at the TV screen "I GET IT, HE'S DOING IT ALL SO HE CAN SEE HIS LITTLE GIRL! MESSAGE RECEIVED! GET ON WITH THE STORY ALREADY!"

I guess the producers did what they wanted to do. They made a movie about a sinister government conspiracy. Like everything else in the film, it wasn't completely explained what this conspiracy was. Again, it WAS explained, then they made it known that the first answer was a red herring, and the second answer was never completely given. I understand this whole project is supposed to be sinister, but it's never fully explained why I'm supposed to root against Gabriel. I guess to Hollywood, now that through President Scumbag they've managed to make all the visible parts of our government extremely left-wing, here's a not-so-visible part that's still right-wing. To them, that's sinister, I guess.

Like most geek-boys, I was terribly disappointed in all the technical details for which RSA Data Security, Inc. provided their "consulting" services. What did the movie get out of this consultation? They got the name of a cipher, and they learned that 128 can be multiplied in factors of two to get 512 and 1024. RSA should have advised them that it's implausible to get a password prompt from a DoD computer system, and guess at passwords while you're getting a "Clinton" with a gun held to your head, and get in in sixty seconds. Not impossible, but implausible. If that worked, Jackman is a psychic or someone at the DoD needs to use better passwords.

This is not a "guy's movie." Real men like to do some thinking, and get some kind of payoff for doing so or else at least slap their foreheads at the end and go "I should have thought of that!" Here, you have no chance of figuring out "the" answer, or identifying what you should have realized before the answer was revealed. Too many parts of it don't make enough sense to begin with. It's like the ending to "Planet of the Apes [2001]" except, with the ape movie, you at least got the idea there was some kind of Master Explanation for everything, somewhere. With "Swordfish," you don't even get that. Maybe it should have been called "Travolta, Warrior Princess."

But if all these picky details are way too deep for you, and you just want to watch buses dangle from helicopters and people blow up with C4 explosives, you'll probably have a lot of fun. Maybe it IS a guy's movie, for guys 25 and under. Good effort - not necessarily for me - 2+1/2 stars. Five out of ten.

Monsters, Inc.

Fine, fine material, exactly what it was intended to be
Okay, on the mkfreeberg scale, I don't want to own this movie but I would look forward to seeing it again. I would miss doing something important if someone brought it home via rental, so I could see it one more time. That describes a 3+1/2 star rating, or 8/10. But it deserves at least 9.

Someone else said they hated it because their son squirmed through the whole thing. I can relate to that. My son has squirmed through things that were actually quite good, and that I wanted to see. It makes me want to kill him. But that's why God made me the Dad and him the son - I have better taste. Condemning a film for that, is kinda harsh. With this one, if it matters, he was always ready to go out to help me buy candy, and he was always ready to get absorbed in the pictures from the film. He wasn't a pain in the neck at all, even though I'm sure the story went over his head. He HAS been a pain in the neck Sleepy Hollow, which I'll never forget... but that's another story. Probably was my own stupid judgment anyway.

All I can say here, is - if you're one of those parents like me, who lose a lot of patience with movies made JUST for the kids when you're paying for all the tickets and popcorn and overpriced soda - this is for you. I'm a thirty-five year old, gray haired old fart, thoroughly out of touch with his feminine side AND his inner child. This thing had me laughing from beginning to end. That's about all that should be necessary to say.


Can't stand "romantic comedies," but I liked this
It may be a shameless rip-off of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," but who cares? I liked DRS a lot.

Halfway through the movie, I realized the ending would be different. After all, if the ending was the same as the 1988 version, Gene Hackman would turn out to be the Ultimate Con Artist and take the two lovelies for a ride. Well, Hollywood won't allow ugly men to trump pretty women - ever - so that was out of the question. The Hackman thread does arrive at a conclusion that I found entertaining and amusing, but about then the film picked up the pace and seemed to become twice as entertaining.

When Ray Liotta showed up for a second time, I let out an audible groan. What's he gonna do now, try to be funny? Don't underestimate this guy. He can be riotously, tears-down-the-face funny, and here, he is. In fact, maybe it's fair to say that in the second half he made this film. I have to seriously re-think my Liotta-o-meter. When all's said and done, he doesn't need to get home brain surgery to entertain me.

Jennifer spent a lot of screen time without contributing much, but I'd blame that on the script, not on her. Sigourney was in peak form, and a pleasure to watch. Hackman was, clearly, having fun doing his job. All in all, 3+1/2 stars, 8/10.

From Hell

How plausible is this supposed to be? *(weak spoiler)*
Well overall, I have no ambitions to own this film but enjoyed it nonetheless. I'd like to see it again, and I would go out of my way to do it. In my book, that's three-and-a-half stars, or 8 out of 10.

That said, most of this film is a painstakingly true-to-life - I don't know what the right noun is. "Documentary" isn't it. It falls just short of that. The more I research JTR, the more impressed I am with the authenticity of the movie. I wish I took the time to read-up about the subject before I saw this.

This movie is for people who are familiar with JTR 101. Check out, read up on it until you've memorized the victims' names, where they were killed, dates the bodies were found, and God help you, the method & extent of the mutilation. Also do your homework on local geography. These are "canonical" victims, of which there are only five.

Then, you'll be able to enjoy this movie much better. But once that's done, on having the ending revealed you will be burdened with a conspiracy theory that is barely even ponderable, let alone plausible.

In my opinion, that is the one glaring flaw of "From Hell." What was the point here? The sets are authentic down to, I'd believe, the square foot; and then the surprise ending can be easily debunked in a variety of ways. It's obviously not supposed to be believed by anyone who knows anything about the case.

So by the time you educate yourself enough to enjoy this to the fullest potential, you're already taking the subject more seriously than they want you to. Other than that, this was very well done. The movies I've really liked, in the last ten years or so, I can count on one hand. This is one of them.

Batman & Robin

Euthanasia for Batman
The worst movie out of 1997, a year filled with bad movies.

That's what I'd be saying if this wasn't over-hyped. That there was so much disappointment heaped on top of all this, makes it a real festering cinematic hemorrhoid. I know what a bad movie looks like when not enough effort goes into making it. B&R isn't that, it's worse, like someone tried hard to make it bad. I think they were trying to kill the series. And it probably worked.

One thing I'm sure nobody else will point out - just sheer irony, and probably an accident, but George Clooney may be the best Batman we'll ever see. You'll never have any example other than this movie by which to verify that; it's silly to suppose he & Batman are anything but permanently divorced now. I'd really like to see what he could do in the role with some decent lines and some good directing & support.

The actors really got cheated on this one. I know they'll all suffer for their association and they only deserve it for their questionable judgment, not for lack of any skill or effort. Schwarzeneggar, Thurman, Clooney, all made very impressive contributions but nothing fit together. As mentioned by another poster, there's a real problem of logic with the Ivy/Freeze partnership. It would never get fixed in this day & age, it's another movie ruined because nine-year-olds have too much freaking money. Alfred the Butler held up his usual standard of excellence, but watching him interact that personally & intimately with Bruce Wayne played by yet another new guy, stretched credibility just too much. It didn't work. Silverstone and O'Donnel did serviceable jobs, but their lines were awful. Nails on a chalk board sound better than "Suit me up, Uncle Alfred!"

Nobody liked Bane. The credit card joke was terrible. Bruce Wayne's deep, philosophical conundrum about how much to trust Robin with his own safety, was a tortured, contrived piece of soap opera trash that didn't fit the rest of the busy film. The sixties camp factor, may be overdue for some folks who don't appreciate the "dark knight" perspective as much. I don't think it worked in this because as I said, they were not trying to make anyone happy. There's a fine line between camp, and corn, and this was just corny. The sixties movie was entertaining and hilarious; this is just painful.

Batman Forever

Bring back Burton!
The ONLY thing this stinker had on the other two, was the car. That car was cool. I'm almost tempted to waste money & time watching it again, just to look at the car. But not quite.

That said, what in the world did they do to Kilmer?? This is Doc Holiday from Tombstone. He has the potential to be a truly gifted actor, we've seen it before, but you wouldn't know it from this bomb. He just stands around and speaks sometimes. The chemistry between him and Kidman is forced, stilted, awkward.

The sets are a mess. For those of us who appreciate Carrey's talents, but don't consider ourselves hard-core fans, he's just in the way and annoying. As for Tommy Lee, he could have done a great job if the role were more serious & scary, the way Two-Face was portrayed in the comic books I had as a kid. One gets the impression he was just trying to be as silly as Carrey. That's not his schtick, it doesn't work.

How did Schumacher get this job, anyway?


What is it about the seventies?
The sound quality is like a porn movie. The music seems to be from a porn movie.

Something is going on with the acting. Screen legends like Huston, Fonda, Hopkins and Winters end up looking like moderately bad actors, even though we all know better. Everyone else comes off as just awful. You'll cringe with every line. So one can't say much for the directing either.

What were they thinking? Obviously, it was trying to be another Jaws. Jaws had so many ingenious devices, that this film doesn't even try to possess. I wish every Hollywood heavyweight thinking of "cashing in" on the latest film craze, saving his creativity for something else, were forced to watch this. In short, it's a good documentary about the state of our culture; you might win a bet with someone who insists there were no bad movies in the '70s. Other than that, a waste of 100 minutes.

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