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Superb adaptation; has a lot of parallels with Smallville
Sam Raimi's Spider-man has a lot of parallels with Alfred Gough's and Miles Millar's Smallville television series which chronicles the adventures of a young Clark Kent. Both Peter and Clark are high school students struggling to fit in. Both have a love interest that seems out of reach; Mary Jane for Peter and Lana Lang for Clark. Both budding superheroes come from modest households and yet also have warm and caring adoptive families. Both of them have rich best friends who flirt with the darker side of human nature; Harry Osborn and Lex Luthor. Eventually both their best friends will become their nemeses. And the fathers of their best friends, Norman Osborn and Lionel Luthor, both extend genuine fatherly admiration for Peter and Clark respectively.

As for the movie itself, Spider-man is an excellent translation of comic book to silver screen. Along the way there were some liberties taken, like the fact that Peter's ability to shoot webs is another result of the genetically modified spider's bite rather than his manufacturing of web shooters as was shown in the comics, but all in all the spirit of the source material is maintained. The action sequences and CGI were thrilling upon first viewing in the cinema and they hold up fairly well today although it has to be remembered that technology pushes ever forward. But the action scenes are only a secondary pleasure of the film. The primary pleasure is in watching the relationship between the characters unfurl. At the risk of sounding like a sap, I thought Tobey and Kirsten did a marvelous job in showing how young Shakesperean romantic love develops. I truly felt the euphoria that such an emotion generates. To use a cliché, the two had great chemistry. The warmth and caring of the Parker household was also very touching and the tragedy of Ben Parker's demise, frankly, gets to me every time. To me, however, the most intriguing relationships are the ones between Harry and Norman and Harry and Peter. The viewer can empathize with Harry's yearning for love and recognition from the senior Osborn and the jealousy he must feel at his father's interest in Peter. The scene where Harry concedes that his father was 'right about M.J., right about everything' and Norman admits that he 'hasn't always been there' for his son was played to great effect by James Franco and Willem Dafoe. The relationship between Peter and Harry is also a marvel (no pun intended) to watch unfold. We see their almost brotherly camaraderie at the field trip turn into understated awkwardness and tension over Harry's interest in Peter's girl. The mutual empathy over the parallel losses of their fathers briefly brings them together again until Harry swears a vendetta against Peter's alter ego meaning they are now enemies. Great stuff! I can't wait to see how this develops in further installments of the franchise. All the secondary characters are well cast also. Special mention must be made of Bonesaw (played by real life wrestler Randy 'Macho Man' Savage) and J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons who to a degree reprises his role as Sheriff Pearl Johnson in The Gift which not coincidentally was also directed by Raimi). If I have one minor quibble it would be that I wish that the Peter's first love from the comics, Gwen Stacy, could somehow have been written in. She is such a great character. Then again, to do so would probably dilute the Pete-M.J. story arc. The two-disc editions have a wealth of info and special features, more than enough to satisfy the most ravenous curiosity over the film.

The Gift

Defamation of Southern folk (SPOILER)
While The Gift is an undeniably riveting thriller, it is also a very unflattering portrayal of Southern folk. Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves), the most openly devout Christian in the film, rails against "Jews and {blacks}" (Barksdale uses another word). He also beats his mousy wife (Hilary Swank) and sports a rebel flag. The clairvoyant pagan Annie (Cate Blanchett) is of course a paragon of virtue and her only real friend is a mentally challenged and sexually exploited mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi). By offering no counterbalancing virtuous Christian character, the filmmakers are irresponsibly suggesting that all devout Christians who are sympathetic to the Confederate cause are uncouth rednecks. The justice system of the South is also defamed. The lawyers are some of the smarmiest seen on screen in recent years and Sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons), while admittedly brilliant comic relief, looks like he couldn't tie his shoes much less solve a murder case. The character is totally out of place in a serious thriller like The Gift and appears to have been written only to insult the justice system of the South. SPOILER: The fact that the killer is revealed to be the shy and reserved school counselor, Wayne (Greg Kinnear), is a suggestion that even the most well adjusted and educated Southerner is a potential killer. On a bright note, Katie Holmes is a very convincing adulteress.


Has hidden messages
Shrek has hidden messages that will likely sail right over the heads of its target audience. The resettlement of the fairly tale creatures in the villainous Farquaad's (ruthless and cruel Anglo-Saxon) kingdom is an allusion to the resettlement of Jews in ghettos carried out by many European principalities during the Middle Ages (at the time of Martin Luther, I think they were expelled from England, France and Spain but tolerated, with restrictions, in some German city states). The filmmakers seem to be suggesting that just as Farquaad did not appreciate the fairy tale creatures and their magical and unique abilities and may have in fact been afraid of them, so, too, were Europeans afraid of Jews and their foreign culture and thus unjustly persecuted them. Apparently, all for no good reason. Shrek, the ogre, of course, represents how the African would have been received in medieval European society. He is feared and misunderstood as a stupid, grotesque, and violent menace. Of course, we are shown that in his private moments, he is anything but these undesirable qualities and his moral fibre transcends his physical ugliness. The fact that the fair princess Fiona is revealed to really be an ogress is to confirm that well worn cliché that we are all the same inside. In a classic fairy tale, which Shrek is the antithesis of, written by someone like Hans Christian Anderson for instance, Farquaad would be the hero, Shrek the villain, and Fiona would indeed be the fairest maiden in all the land.

Clear and Present Danger

Decent political thriller
I have never read any of the Jack Ryan books by Tom Clancy so I don't know how faithful of an adaptation this production was. That said, director Phillip Noyce does a competent job here in blending the realistic-looking (to my untrained eye) action sequences with the dialogue scenes to create some genuine suspense and tension. To be honest though, I watched this only because Harrison Ford was starring. In 1994, he was still the quintessential action hero in cinema (some say he has been for 30 years). In fact, when Nicolas Cage started making action movies in the mid-nineties, he said he modeled much of his work on Ford's. That has to be one of the highest compliments one leading man can give to another!


Rings with authenticity
Despite having aged somewhat, Bullitt remains a tough, gritty, and altogether realistic portrait of police life in late sixties San Francisco. The film is of course most renowned for the spectacular (even by today's standards) car chase in which star Steve McQueen famously did his own stunt driving (I wonder what the insurance policy was like?!) Although McQueen didn't really have to stretch beyond his already established screen persona, he is perfect in the role. He is Bullitt like Connery is Bond. Maybe the role was tailored specifically for him. He also has Jacqueline Bisset (Cathy), who can more than hold her own with any Bond girl, to come home to! She adds a welcome domestic quality and the audience feels relieved that despite the unforgiving profession Bullitt works in, at least he has a good woman at his side. The location photography in beautiful San Francisco, the to-the-letter accurate procedural dialogue, the political infighting with the smarmy D.A. Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) and the brutally violent action scenes all complement the fine performances to create an entirely engrossing authentic crime drama. Watch for the great Robert Duvall in a minor role as the cabbie.

The Wrong Man

Wrongfully accused
In the Bible, the scriptures tell us that it is better for a guilty man to go free than for an innocent man to be condemned. Master director Alfred Hitchcock proves this biblical maxim in his sparse black and white documentary-style thriller based on the real life account of C.E. Balestrero (played by Henry Fonda in an appropriately understated performance). Almost from the opening frames, we see how this simple but financially struggling family man, has his dignity and pride stripped away as complete strangers look at him with all the suspicion, contempt, and fear of a dangerous criminal, all because of an unfortunate resemblance. Seeing this wrongfully accused man be clinically processed by the police, court, and prison systems makes the audience realize just how flawed the justice system can be. However, before one condemns the system, it should be remembered that at least in the Anglo-American legal system, that scholars like Alan Dershowitz rightly praise, there is an attempt to remedy miscarriages of justice. By comparison, in the Third World they simply throw away the key!

Elmer Gantry

Exposé of the perversion of religion
In Elmer Gantry, Burt Lancaster, as the titular character in an Oscar winning performance of a lifetime, shows us dramatically, and even comically, how unscrupulous people can usurp the name of religion and twist it into a justification for the narrowest of self-interests. Despite his vices, however, Gantry at all times retains the sympathy of the audience because we sense he is basically good (but also weak as even the most devout Christians admit they are). This is in no small part due to the charisma, and yes, pleasant features, of Lancaster. As for the love triangle, on the one hand I could understand Gantry's desperate desire to escape his less than glorious past and take up with the saintly Sister Sharon (Jean Smimmons) but on the other hand, troubled and imperfect Lulu (Shirley Jones) seems to be the one more in need, and in a certain sense more deserving, of getting her heart's desire. Besides Lulu and Gantry can sympathize more with each other's weaknesses while unblemished Sister Sharon would eventually tire, I'm sure, of forgiving Gantry's inevitable submissions to temptation. On a final, and undoubtedly, cynical note, one can see Elmer Gantry almost anytime one tunes into a televangelist broadcast.

The Outsiders

Fairly good adaptation
First let me say that this will not be a comment where the author will be gushing about how "hot" the cast is! Like a lot of people who have commented on this film I, too, read the book first in school and then proceeded to seek out the film to see how the story translated to the screen. I thought esteemed director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) did a fairly competent job of adapting the book (there will always be somerevisions and omissions in such an enterprise). He preserved the essence of the class struggle: the eternal conflict between those who were better favored by birth and station (Socs) with those less favored (Greasers). Coppola elicited more than competent performances from the young up-and-coming cast he assembled. All in all, a very good coming of age film.


Shane was a true man of the West
As the frontier of the West was pushed relentlessly forward and stakes to valuable tracts of land were competed for sometimes fairly but often underhandedly, it took a rare stock of man to survive and prosper and what's more to do so honorably. Alan Ladd in his signature role as the titular character is one such man. It is difficult for us living in the present to understand just how precarious mere survival was in those days and how arbitrary justice could be towards barely accused and untried persons. Shane knows there is a better way than dispensing justice out of the barrel of a gun and yet he also knows that it is the only way when there is no rule of law. During the ending, after our hero has disposed of his nemesis with the assistance of his young admirer, when Shane rides off into the sunset, both his adopted family and the audience lament the loss of one of the last of the dying noble breed.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Something is slightly off
I really wanted to write a glowing review of this film but I just can't and the frustrating part is I'm not entirely sure why I can't (it's not the historical inaccuracy). I love the genre and I really like the stars, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and the supporting cast backing them is stacked with recognizable talents such as Dennis Hopper and DeForest Kelly (McCoy on Star Trek). There was a lot of rousing action and the scenes taken individually are certainly well constructed. And yet something is missing from pushing it over the top into the elite tier of Westerns with Shane and High Noon to name just a couple. Still, it is a safely above average film and more than worthwhile viewing.

Practical Magic

Feminist empowerment
I remember I watched this as part of a triple feature along with A Night at the Roxbury and Rush Hour back in '98. As would be expected of A-list headliners, both Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are very capable in their starring roles and they are backed by supporting players who have since increased their profile like Goran Visjnic (The Deep End). I guess the story was fairly perfunctory: the two sisters and their ancestors have always struggled to overcome the curse of their 'practical magic': the premature deaths of their lovers. I remember a classmate argued that the film was really a feminist empowerment parable bent on demonstrating the power of independence resourceful women could enjoy in an unconventional family structure. The witchcraft and the unconventional family structure were said to be a challenge to Christian attitudes toward witchcraft and the Bible's concept of family.

Spy Game

Slick entertainment
Spy Game is an entertaining enough espionage thriller helmed by action film director Tony Scott who has made some very polished films in the past. Here, an aging Robert Redford is appropriately cast as the mentor to Brad Pitt, or Burapi as the Japanese call him, Redford's star field agent. When I was watching this film I got the impression that the CIA, undoubtedly the preeminent espionage organization on the planet, was being glorified for its interference in foreign conflicts. I couldn't help but remember Benjamin Franklin advising his fellow Republicans to stay out of conflicts that do not threaten America's vital interests. Paraphrasing, he said interference in affairs that do not concern us would be the "bane" of our Republic.

A Man for All Seasons

One of the most intelligent and moving films ever
A Man For All Seasons is an erudite examination of the old Biblical maxim: a man cannot serve two masters. Sir Thomas More (poignantly portrayed by Paul Scofield) struggles to be true to both his faith and his monarch (the lusty and hearty King Henry VIII superbly played by Robert Shaw). I think it is difficult for citizens in our present secular society to truly understand just how central a role religion played in a man's life during the period of the film; it was an age of faith when Christianity exerted the most powerful of influences on one's thinking. On a side note, the American Republic wisely sought a nation that "divided church and state." However, the fine distinction remains that it would be a state informed by faith but not run by the church. The aforementioned exemplary performances by the leads are backed by excellent supporting turns, especially from Orson Welles as the less than saintly Cardinal Wolsey and the eternally ebullient Susannah York as Sir Thomas's daughter Margaret. This is a true masterpiece that richly deserves all the accolades and plaudits it has received.

Brief Encounter

Poignant mature romance
In Brief Encounter, director David Lean (best known for his famous epics Doctor Zhivago, Lawerence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai) tells us the story of two strangers, housewife Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey, who meet at a café whilst at a railway station. What is so poignant is that while they are both married, they cannot deny that they are gradually falling in love with each other. Although they know that their romance is impossible they continue to meet every Thursday at that samecafé. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfectly cast as the doomed lovers and master director Lean elicits wonderful understated performances from his two leads. Thank you to Criterion for bringing this to the public!

The Importance of Being Earnest

Excellent adaptation!
I watched this film adaptation (and Oliver Parker's 2002 version as well) of Oscar Wilde's classic play The Importance of Being Earnest to complement my study of it for a 19th century English drama course. First I want to say, no matter what version(s) you choose to see, I strongly suggest you read the play first (its not that long). In some cases, the casting in the later film (specifically Reese Witherspoon as Cecily and Rupert Everett as Algy), made fifty(!) years later to be exact, seemed more appropriate but in my opinion Asquith's version captured the spirit of the text more succinctly. I must also say as well, however that since Asquith's version is essentially a staged play, there is little in the form of visual dynamism from the camera; in other words the film rests almost entirely on the strength of the performances. Happily, they do not disappoint.

Belle de jour

I haven't read the novel by Joseph Kessel on which Belle de Jour was based so I cannot comment on its effectiveness as an adaptation but as a film standing alone, I thought it to be an impressive and thought-provoking piece of art. I even felt this despite the fact that I rarely ever respond favorably to subtitled films. Although Catherine Deneuve is magnificent in what many people consider to be her signature role, and the rest of the cast is more than competent for the requirements of their various characters, I think the primary reason for appreciating this film is its ambiguous stance on sexual ethics rather than actors striving to deliver pitch-perfect performances.

The Invisible Man

Classic horror
I actually saw The Invisible Man (1933) shortly after I saw the James Whale bio-pic Gods and Monsters (1998), starring Ian MacKellan and Brendan Fraser. So it was with that image of the director in my head that I watched this film. Claude Rains (Casablanca) is perfectly cast as the mad scientist/invisible man. The remainder of the cast, though not really challenged much, are more than serviceable in what they are required to do. As has been mentioned by most of the other posters, the special effects hold up rather well even today. An amazing feat considering the film is over 70 years old! The DVD has several interesting documentaries / commentaries that made me appreciate not only this film's entertainment value but its historical significance as well.

The Shootist

Another John Wayne masterpiece!
The legendary John Wayne gives a fantastic understated performance as J.B. Books an aging gunfighter suffering from stomach cancer and looking to live out the final days of his life in peace. Of course, the entire existence of the gunfighter is predicated on the inevitability that once you reach top there is always going to be someone looking to knock you off your pedestal. Here that means J.B.'s retirement won't be so peaceful. Besides this plot point, there is the mature twilight romance between J.B. and Bond (Lauren Bacall) and his mentor relationship with Gillom (Ron Howard). James Stewart (who co-starred with Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) puts in a cameo as J.B.'s physician. Recommended.

An Ideal Husband

Rupert Everett is great here!
I watched this film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's an Ideal Husband to complement my study of it for a 19th century English drama course. Of course there were a few liberties here and there -- aren't there always in an adaptation? But I found most of the characters depicted in the right spirit. Julianne Moore portrayed the conniving blackmailer Mrs. Laura Chevely particularly well; her very pale skin helped to accentuate the character's coldness, in my opinion. But I thought Rupert Everett as Lord Goring stole the show. Everett seems to naturally have the charm, wit, charisma, and cynical pragmatism that the character conjures in my mind. All in all, this adaptation helped in my appreciation and understanding of the play. Recommended.


One of my all-time favorite films
Director Andrew Niccol's Gattaca, in my humble opinion, is at the pinnacle of the motion picture art form. All aspects of the production serve the story spectacularly. The retro-style art direction, script, acting, music, and lighting all brought to life, much too chillingly, a cold and soulless world where the content of your genes counted for everything while the content of your character counted for nothing. Watching Ethan Hawke's (Great Expectations, Hamlet) Vincent evade the relentless pursuit of the authorities while pining to be on the Titan mission, romancing Irene (Uma Thurman), and micro-managing his samples from Jerome (Jude Law in a very impressive supporting turn) made for some the most riveting viewing ever. This story highlights the negative side of pursuing the eugenic ideal, an ideal that is not an unworthy pursuit, but one that must be approached with the utmost caution since its seekers hope to master a realm once the sole domain of the Divine.


Jane Fonda is brilliant!
I agree with the commentator(s) who say the title of this film should be 'Bree' instead of 'Klute.' No offense to Donald Sutherland who is undoubtedly effective in his role, but it is Jane Fonda's wonderfully nuanced performance that really carries this film. What an incredible range this actress has and what an impressive résumé she has put together throughout her career! I can't wait to see her in Monster In Law. Jane Fonda definitely deserved the Oscar she got for this role. Her portrayal of Bree Daniels, a tragic heroine wracked by inner contradictions is one of cinema's most haunting characters not only in the context of the story but as the embodiment of the immediate post sexual revolution as well. Highly recommended!

The Glass Key

Excellent film noir
I actually saw The Blue Dahlia, another film noir starring Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, and William Bendix, before I saw The Glass Key. While both films are memorable, especially for a fan of the genre like myself, I actually prefer this earlier collaboration. In The Glass Key, Ladd seems more engaged as does Lake. Ladd makes a great protagonist here; he is tough, smart, and determined, essentially the very essence of a self-made man. Lake is the perfect feminine companion for him! An engrossing plot, sharp dialogue, just the right dose of action, perfectly matched heroes and villains, and of course the chemistry between the leads make The Glass Key a classic film noir. See it today!

The Helen Morgan Story

Newman plays the cad
Since I was born decades after this film was made and this film was made about the period of Helen Morgan's life decades before 1957, I wasn't sure I would be able to appreciate it as much as perhaps it deserved to be. Actually I found it to be somewhat timeless in its depiction of the eternal quest for fame and fortune and the pitfalls that occur along the way. Even in today's headlines we see talented performers who achieve fame and fortune only to stumble due to relationship difficulties, substance abuse and shady characters in their entourage. Although I am not familiar with the real Helen Morgan, Ann Blyth does a credible job in portraying how stardom doesn't always lead to happiness and Paul Newman is very good as an opportunist with a conscience.

The Verdict

Terrific performances
The Verdict was enjoyable on so many levels. The first to note is the interesting legal drama. It certainly is no more clichéd then countless other plots in the court room genre. What is so good about The Verdict however, is the film is not really about the morality and the out come of the case per sé but rather the evolution of Paul Newman's troubled character Frank Galvin against that backdrop. Newman in a very moving and convincing performance takes us on the journey of his triumphs, trials and tribulations. His summation speech is particularly memorable. Jack Warden as always plays an excellent mentor and the consistently great James Mason (The Boys From Brazil) is also very good as the trial lawyer opposing Galvin. Highly recommended for the performances of all three principal actors.

The Last Hurrah

An interesting political film
When I watched this film, I had no idea who James Michael Curley was. I did not know that Spencer Tracy's wholly likable Mayor Frank Skeffington was director John Ford's revisionist interpretation of the 'notorious Massachussetts demagogue.' That is because his career was decades before my time! The always wonderful Tracy is backed by a very competent supporting cast including the original captain of the starship Enterprise (Jeffrey Hunter). In the America of today, the political tensions between Irish Roman Catholics and Anglo-Protestants are no longer there. The tensions now exist between the Euro-majority and the non-Euro minorities. Recommended for Tracy fans.

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