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Exit from Eden
Much has been written about the cinematography of "Walkabout" and it's certainly a beautiful film, with amazing visuals of nature in the Australian outback, but also contrasting shots of the built environment of modern civilization. Certainly anyone interested in a visually stunning film should check this out and few will be disappointed.

Looking at it as a broader film, it's still very interesting. The story of a brother and sister abandoned in the Australian outback and surviving with the help of an Aboriginal teenager, it feels like an experimental film at times but has a coherent and easy to follow story at its heart.

I chose to interpret it as a pretty straightforward story about humans rejecting their simple roots as hunter/gatherers to live in the built, civilized world where meat comes from the butcher, and the regret at having made that trade off, at having given up Eden to live tediously in the city. The film certainly lays on this sort of symbolism heavily. This sort of story might be enlightening if I hadn't seen and read it so many times before, but nevertheless it was done powerfully here and provided me with something to think about.

The Desperate Hours

Thoughtful, entertaining thriller
In "The Desperate Hours", we have Humphrey Bogart in his second-to-last film as hardened criminal Glenn Griffith, who has escaped from prison with his brother and a brute named Kobish. They happen upon the typical American family, the Hilliards, and invade their home with great brutality for a 1955 film.

"Man must protect his family" has become a very long-lived genre to this very day, and this movie is a fine entry in it. Fredric March's Dan Hilliard is realistic and even inspiring, in an early scene he explains to his son that he is afraid, and he's not ashamed of it. Through his dialogue and thoughtful acting, we are able to believe in Dan Hilliard as an honest everyman doing the best he can in a difficult situation, which keeps these sorts of movies from become unrealistic flights of fantasy.

The pacing is very good, with nary a dull moment as the desperate hours tick by. Bogart's tremendous acting kill any chance of audience boredom, as you see his character's interesting clash between the desperate honest man and the desperate criminal.

The soundtrack is almost nonexistent, rare for Hollywood in this era, but it's quite welcome, as it adds to the gritty, desperate feel of the film.

This is really a very fine thriller that has stood the test of time. It may not have explosions or death-defying stunts, but the emotional conflict is what these movies are based on, and this movie has it in spades.

Batman: The Animated Series

Influential, engaging, one of the best animated series ever made
"Batman: The Animated Series" is such a rare jewel. The episodes are short and self-contained, aside for some 2-part cliffhangers. The animation is at times crude, with all of the big blocky male characters. The storytelling is definitely aimed at children.

And yet this is so much more than the sum of its parts. The series is perhaps most notable within Batman for bringing moldy, golden-aged villains and stories into a respectable modern form. It also introduced some of Batman's greatest characters, like Harley Quinn. For an afternoon cartoon series, this had an amazing and totally positive impact on the Batman franchise.

More than just its innovations, I enjoy the episodes for their oddly perfect rendering of the Batman mystique. They are dark without being disturbing, they capture the feeling of a man who wanders the city at night fighting crime in such an interesting way. The music is wonderful, all of the shadows and bleak settings are perfect, and the extensive use of classic cars and art deco architecture sets an incredible mood, capturing the feel of golden age Batman with none of the corniness. Sometimes the stories seem a little simplistic, there are plenty of plot holes and technical implausibilities, but the episodes just look so good and evoke such a powerful mood that I'll probably be rewatching this series on and off for the rest of my life.

L'enfant d'en haut

Slice of a sad life
In "Sister", we find 12-year-old Simon living a desperate life with his sister Louise in cheap public housing in an industrial town near (but literally below) a ski resort inhabited by the ultra wealthy. Louise works sporadically cleaning ski chateaus, while Simon seems to be the main breadwinner through his dubious job of swiping ski equipment and selling it as a one-man black market.

This sad story is presented in an atmospheric, minimalist way, making full use of the picturesque setting, yet managing to make the grandeur of the mountains and the luxury of the ski resort mostly just serve to make the viewer aware of the sadness of the two main characters.

The movie is definitely sociological in nature, making the viewer wish some outside party would intervene and help with this horrible situation. No particular moral or message is presented, I'm not sure one is implied even subtly, except that the world can be a very sad place for people at the bottom, even in a place like Switzerland that is often portrayed as an ideal society (it certainly isn't in this movie).

The only fault I could really find was that the movie dwells for so long on Simon's thefts in the first half of the movie, which are not all that entertaining, and beyond establishing that his life is like that, I'm not sure that we really needed the full 45 minutes of him being a ski resort kleptomaniac. Nothing else in the movie felt unnecessary, or even worthy of criticism... for what it is trying to be, this movie is quite good, especially in the second half.

My only advice is to not expect anything upbeat. I found this movie rather depressing. That hardly means it's not a good movie, of course. Just brace yourself for one sad slice of life.

SLC Punk!

Punks and posers
"SLC Punk!" is the charming story of Steveo and his pal Heroin Bob (who does not actually due heroin), two hardcore anarchist punks in the unlikely setting of Salt Lake City, Utah. To anyone who's grown up different outside of the hip big cities, I think this movie will strike a chord, even if your scene wasn't punk rock.

The setting definitely works to this movie's advantage. The punks are at constant war with the rednecks (which includes the police) and rivals of the Mods. The beer run to Wyoming and soul-searching trips to the salt flats are some of the real highlights of the movie and elements that take advantage of the setting in Utah.

The movie is shot in a stylish, fourth-wall breaking style. I found it to be extremely reminiscent of Trainspotting, which came out a few years earlier. It doesn't do so well in comparison with that particular movie, which has funnier laughs, much more dramatic lows, a crisper plot, more dynamic use of music... and so on.

This is hardly to say "SLC Punk!" is a bad movie, it is completely worth a watch, especially if you have any affinity for punk rock or being a social outsider.

The Professionals

Action-oriented western
"The Professionals" is one of those westerns made when the genre was getting a little tired, but before it was okay to completely throw out the old rules. The story is simple enough: a wealthy land baron hires four professionals, who are each the best at what they do, to go on a daring mission deep into Mexico, amid a faltering revolution, to bring back his kidnapped wife. Lee Marvin leads the band, playing a grizzled veteran of that revolution, with Burt Lancaster receiving top-billing and playing a dynamite expert who is easily tempted by women and adventure. The crew is rounded out by a bow-and-arrow and tracking expert (Woody Strode) and a veteran horseman (Robert Ryan).

This is definitely a movie that hangs its hat on action, with shootouts spaced periodically through the movie to keep the audience awake and a signature raid on the Mexican revolutionaries/kidnappers camp at mid- film that was only a notch or two below similar scenes in more modern films, and was thus very enjoyable. These scenes were fine, albeit a little silly with the Lancaster's bottomless supply of amazing TNT.

However, the rest of the movie plods on predictably. There are definitely attempts at character development but perhaps the wooden Lee Marvin as a central character makes the whole thing hard to enjoy except when the bullets (and TNT-laden arrows) are flying. I was definitely disappointed when the spectacular camp raid scene ended too quickly and I realized there were still over 30 minutes of film left with the best scene in the rear-view mirror.

I would watch about 20 or 30 other classic westerns before getting to this one. It's not bad, the action sequences were certainly worth the price of admission in 1966, but it shows why the traditional western as a dominant genre was living on borrowed time.

Dog Day Afternoon

Brooklyn is Burning
"Dog Day Afternoon" is the more-or-less true story of an inept Brooklyn bank robbery by Sonny (Al Pacino) and Sal (John Cazale). The robbery is comically inept from the start, with a third accomplice getting cold feet and leaving, and Sonny's massive bag for the cash dwarfing the few thousand dollars the bank has in the vault, as the mid-day pickup has occurred already. After starting a fire to burn records of the traveler's checks they're stealing, neighboring business owners are tipped off and the chaos begins.

This is definitely a movie about chaos. A crowd gathers to enjoy the drama, at first cheering on Sonny as he famously chants "Attica! Attica!". The movie is about so much more than just an inept bank robbery, as clearly we are seeing a society in confused, quasi-rebellion against corrupt authority, but as in real life, the rage in this movie doesn't really go anywhere, with the crowd more interested in cheap thrills than politics. The media is on hand in droves, turning the standoff into the night's feature entertainment for the entire city, especially once they learn that Sonny was married to a woman-in-a-man's body by a defrocked priest. The crowd turns to homophobia and gay liberation protesters show up as darkness falls on the scene.

Meanwhile, Sonny is manic as he tries to keep his hostages in check, manage the emotions of his dim-witted accomplice Sal, negotiate with police for a helicopter and jet to the tropics, or maybe Algeria (or Wyoming). He also has to deal with no less than both his wives and his mother, in conversations that in a darkly funny way show that even amid a hostage standoff his basic problems with the people in his life are inescapable.

The movie is shot in a cinema verite style aside from a musical intro, with no background music. It is effective for the most part. I found that the movie drags as it goes on, unfortunately, especially over the very long phone conversation between Sonny and his new wife. The movie starts out so wildly unconventional, based on perhaps the most preposterous bank robbery ever committed, but its ending seems to be done more in the style of a typical crime film of the 1970s. Perhaps that is how events really unfolded, but I found the way it was presented to not quite live up to the film's tremendous start.

This is nevertheless definitely a film worth watching, it is as quintessentially a movie of 1970s New York as Taxi Driver or anything by Woody Allen. It is also one of Pacino's greatest performances, and some of Lumet's best work.

Broadcast News

Evening news melodrama
"Broadcast News" is one of several newsroom movies made over the years, the story involves a talented reporter and writer (Albert Brooks) who the network brass clearly doesn't have on the fast-track because of his abrasive personality and lack of good looks, a rising star producer (Holly Hunter) who is great at her job but lacks social skills in the extreme, and a pretty face with no confidence in his reporting skills (William Hurt) is rising meteorically on the basis of his presentation and simple luck.

The news reporting elements of this movie are fantastic. They are engaging and fun to watch, and give the appearance of realism. The problem for me was that most of the movie was about a melodramatic love triangle between the three leads. It just didn't seem to work for me, each was a flawed person in an unlikeable way. I can see what they were going for but it just didn't come off as a compelling love triangle to me.

Les valseuses

A weird romp across France
"Going Places" is the English title of a 1974 French film with two of the famous actors of the era, Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere, as freewheeling hoodlums of highly questionable morality. The episodic movie follows their adventures as they try to, among other things, live without working and give pleasure to frigid to women. The latter endeavor includes seducing a soldier's bride on a train, literally chasing a woman through the streets, picking up a woman randomly as she leaves prison, and what becomes their ultimate challenge, giving pleasure to Marie-Ange, who is all too willing to have sex but has never had an orgasm.

No one would ever accuse this movie of being politically correct. It is sexist, the heroes are brutish criminals, but the point isn't really that they're doing anything noble or should be forgiven for their sins. It is more of a meditation on self destruction, although I think the fun of this movie is just the tragic black comedy of their hopeless adventures, not analyzing it for some deeper meaning.

I enjoyed the soundtrack a lot, well the main theme that kept being repeated, and the credit music was a perfect coda. This is a great French film from the 70s, check it out.

Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo

Hard to watch but worth it
"Christiane F." is one of the first mainstream movies about heroin addicts, and perhaps the first about very young ones. Supposedly the film was quite shocking because of the age of the characters (and actors) as well as the graphic drug use scenes. We meet Christiane F. when she is 12 and already getting into hallucinogenic drugs. Her friends are all interested in heroin and she starts is deeply addicted and prostituting herself by age 14, as is her best friend Babsi, and her boyfriend Detlev.

With the characters rapidly deteriorating before your eyes and stooping ever lower to get their "dough", this is definitely a downer of a movie, as I guess all heroin movies are, but given the ages of the characters and the stark setting of Berlin at the height of the cold war, this one is especially bleak save for a few brief moments of teenage bliss before they are all addicted to heroin, and David Bowie's performance (Bowie composed the soundtrack and performs a song, his name attached to the project quite possibly helped it be made and contributed considerably to its success).

Made in 1981, "Christiane F." clearly paved the way for "Trainspotting", but really can't match it in terms of stylized drug use scenes and really exciting scenes set to perfectly chosen pop music, despite Bowie's role in the production. Actually this movie makes "Trainspotting" look downright cheerful. It is incredibly bleak and parts are quite difficult to watch, but that is due to its emotional power. Feel-good movie this isn't, but it's absolutely worth watching. Just don't expect it to leave you in a good mood.

Die Hard 2

The magic is missing from this one...
The original "Die Hard" was one of those special movies where Hollywood really got it right. It never quite felt like a big dumb summer blockbuster action flick, it was just so much fun and, while the movie as a whole was a bit implausible, there were very few specific moments where the typical viewer would be annoyed at the blatant lack of realism, completely unbelievable characters and lack of suspense and enjoyability. The first movie was great because, even though you knew in the back of your mind the hero would win, he kept getting put in such bad situations that you really wondered how he'd pull it off. It was a highly suspenseful movie, and the wonderful score certainly helped with that. What also helped was that the movie's three-way conflict - McLain vs. Terrorists vs. Dumb cops - was entertaining on all sides, with the terrorists being led by the charismatically evil Hans and the dumb cops being given a human face and made likable by the twinkie-loving Sgt. Al Powell.

Die Hard 2 has a lot of superficial nods to the original movie - cameos, jokes about "why does this keep happening to us?" - but it doesn't actually replay the parts that worked so well and kept the movie moving swiftly. In this installment, McLain is in the airport and only in real peril when he runs into the terrorists, who have taken over air traffic control and are not allowing any planes to land and using their 90 minutes of remaining fuel as a timebomb threat (of course, perhaps the fatal flaw of the movie is how little sense this makes, given the fact that there are plenty of viable airports within 90 minutes flight of D.C. that could be used for emergency landings).

"Die Harder" is thus solo McLain versus the terrorists even though he's surrounded by cops (all the ones who show up are, of course, incompetent or corrupt though). In the first movie there was a good reason why the cops - as mediocre as they were - couldn't help. In the second movie, we're just asked to believe that they never think of things like going out onto the airfield to see what's going on as a mystery plane lands. The one saving grace is Dennis Franz's hilarious performance as the police captain who hates McLain's guts, it's over the top, but fun to watch due to Franz's brilliant comic acting.

All of that said, this movie isn't truly bad, it's just not the action movie magic of its predecessor. It's fine as a big dumb 90s action movie to watch on cable TV one Sunday afternoon, as I just did, but I won't be grabbing the DVD unless it's in the mega-bargain bin.

United 93

A different kind of movie
"United 93" is the largely factual story of the September 11th attacks as seen by air traffic controllers and especially by the passengers and crew of United flight 93, which crashed over Pennsylvania after being hijacked. The movie is free of the trappings of most mainstream movies, especially disaster movies, almost entirely lacking a soundtrack or any attempts to jazz up the story with memorable, contrived characters and snappy dialogue.

This is about as realistic as a movie is likely to get, and you're not going to see too many movies like it. It's not a fun movie to watch - everybody knows the bad guys "win", and it's rather crushing to see all of this in disaster movie format. In any other disaster movie, the capable grace-under-fire guys on the ground would be on top of everything and get those fighter jets in the air, and the everyday people on the plane would become heroes and kick some terrorist ass when it counted most.

Instead, this is painfully realistic, and you watch as the sympathetic characters are totally powerless and ineffective... and you pretty much see why. It was hard to figure out what was going on in the few minutes people had to work with. When it became clear what was happening, it's pretty impossible to climb up a commercial airliner and right it after the suicidal terrorist pilot has sent it into a nosedive.

It's depressing stuff to watch but that's kind of the point. This stuff, more or less, really happened. Even those of us who were adults when it happened find it easy to forget the drama and horror of that day. This is the kind of movie everyone should see.


"Luck" follows a bunch of people who hang around at a race track - degenerate gamblers, jockeys, agents and the quasi-criminal owners of the horses themselves. I think there's a lot of potential here, it's a beautiful setting that's rife with natural drama. Of course Dustin Hoffman is the big name among the cast but I could see some of the others, especially Dennis Farina as Hoffman's driver and seemingly naive but enthusiastic assistant, being memorable in their roles.

I worry that the characters don't have enough to do with each other to sustain a series, similar to the gambling-themed "Tilt" a while back, which was awful. The degenerate gamblers don't necessarily interact at all with the jockeys and owners, or if they do it's just a fleeting thing, I'd think. I hope it's not just a long series of "Oh hey we're going to have a caper with those random guys we always have capers with" stories, that would seem contrived and would be easy to do if the writers have to keep coming up for stuff for unrelated characters to do together.

That aside, Luck seems promising enough. There's all kinds of intrigue these guys could get into, and the political angle could be great. On the whole I'm glad that "Luck" has been added to the stable (sorry about that) of mature cable dramas.

Ocean's Eleven

A real winner
2001 was unusually awash in heist movies. Ever a popular genre, 2001's crop included one with top box office draws (Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell in the horrible "3000 Miles to Graceland"), a pairing of two cinema legends (Robert de Niro and Marlin Brando in "The Score") and acclaimed writer David Mamet's take on the genre (a film simply called "Heist").

With all of this competition, perhaps the least likely candidate to yield a memorable film was "Ocean's 11", which was a remake of a long-forgotten rat pack movie directed by the hit-or-miss Steven Soderbergh with a cast (other than Elliott Gould) better known for their looks and celebrity than their acting chops at the time.

Movies are often more than the sum of their parts, and "Ocean's 11" is not just the clear winner of the crowded 2001 class of heist movies, but one of the greats of the genre. With a jazzy soundtrack that literally hits all the right notes for a hip, sleek movie, "Ocean's 11" is shot much in the style of then-recent movies like "Casino" and "Boogie Nights" with a rolling, non-stop story set to a great soundtrack that keeps presenting you with interesting new things and never making you sit through a tedious scene.

The story is wonderfully simple, and gets around the basic problems of the heist genre (revealing too much too soon about how the climactic heist is going to work) in a fun way that isn't heavy-handed. Danny Ocean (George Clooney) recruits a crew of odd but talented criminals, each with their own specialty, for an unprecedented robbery of three Las Vegas casinos. And, as the gang is surprised to find out, this may be as much about getting back Ocean's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts), who is married to the ruthless and ice-cold owner of the casinos in question.

No one is going to confuse this with a serious movie about criminality, this plan would no more work in the real world than the idiotic one in "3000 Miles to Graceland"), but the charm of "Ocean's 11" is that it's so sleek and fun with its great music, frenzied pacing and larger-than-life characters that you don't really even care about the deviations from reality.

Forget the sequels and the other heist movies of 2001, "Ocean's 11" is the only winner here.

Smiley's People

Good but something's missing
"Smiley's People" is the sequel miniseries to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and follows George Smiley as he faces off against his nemesis, the fanatical soviet spymaster Karla.

At the onset, Smiley is, as usual, in forced retirement but brought back in to help out his colleagues at "The Circus" (British Intelligence). Smiley is sent to make sure no scandal erupts from the murder of a nearly-forgotten former informant of the Circus, a Soviet defector known as The General. Smiley realizes the General did not die in a senile mishap, as the Circus's new order assumes, but instead had very important information.

The series is a bit tidier in format than its predecessor, and perhaps easier to understand, with Smiley spending the first half figuring out what the General's information was, and the second half exploiting the damaging information for maximum damage to the Soviets. There's even more spy thriller action in this series, which isn't saying much, but it's still noticeable (of course, the appeal of the Smiley stories is how exciting they are without any hokey James Bond kind of silliness).

This series also gives Smiley more psychological depth, and we see him resolve his glaring character defect - his tolerance of his wife's infidelity - while in the process gaining a new one - a level of cold ruthlessness which he might have described as fanaticism in his opponent Karla.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that having more components made this a better production than its predecessor. There wasn't quite the delicious suspense building, for one thing, with each episode of the first series ending in a memorable but maturely done cliffhanger. I also think the first series benefited from Guillam as a constant sidekick to Smiley in every episode, whereas in this series he is somewhat of a caricature and played by a different actor who I found took Guillam's glibness much too far. There's also the distracting side-story of Madame Ostrakova and what seems to have been a cheaper production quality, with occasional overlong filler shots of cars driving or the camera looking out a window of a car.

I think all of these combined made for a less interesting series that just didn't grab you the way the first one did. Still, this is a must-watch if you liked the first one. It's not bad, it's jut not as good as its predecessor.

Law & Order: Shadow
Episode 8, Season 8

Who prosecutes the prosecutors?
"Shadow" opens with the murder of a bail bondsman and the detectives quickly suspect one of his bail-jumpers, so they set a trap for him that's interesting enough. He's not the shooter but leads detectives and the DAs to realize that his defense attorney claims to be able to put in a "fix" and guarantee charges will be dismissed.

So this becomes one of a handful of L&Os to look at corruption within the DA's office, through the bizarre but apparently necessity of conducting a fake prosecution to see where the corruption is.

This episode wins with the legal half of the show. It's definitely not your normal episode and it's a bit of a stretch that we're asked to sort of like the D.A. in question since he's pals with Jamie, but it's still a good enough story.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Very good
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is definitely the thinking person's spy movie. There's all of two short action sequences in the entire 6+ hour affair, and the thrills come from much more cerebral problems than henchmen using hats as weapons or sharks with frigging laser beams or whatever mainstream spy movies cook up.

It's easy to use this miniseries to bash James Bond, so I won't do much of that, other than to say "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is what you've been looking for if you've wanted a more adult spy movie. This is the story of George Smiley, the ousted spymaster who jumps at the opportunity to clear his name by investigating a suspected mole in his old organization.

This capsule summary struck me as a bit tedious when I read it, just a James Bond sort of fantasy scenario without all the fun of beautiful women and fast cars, right? It is, however, based quite overtly on an actual British intelligence mole scandal, down to the code name of the mole. While undoubtedly the story is fictionalized and may not particularly reflect the way intelligence agencies actually operate, but unlike most everything else in the genre, it's at least plausible.

The series stars Alec Guinness and his work here definitely holds the movie together.

Law & Order: Nullification
Episode 5, Season 8

Militias, oh my!
"Nullification" begins with a broad daylight armored car heist that is badly botched, resulting in the death of a guard and a robber. The detective story is pretty compelling as Lenny and Ray unexpectedly end up in the suburbs and quickly suspect a militia. We get to see techno-geek Ray in action using something called a "search engine" for the big break in the case.

The legal side is plenty dramatic, with militia members passionately defending their beliefs, sometimes through chaotic outbursts in court. The leader acts as his own attorney, and Jack McCoy's own beliefs on the will of the people and even apparently on jury nullification are unexpectedly used against him.

As compelling as some parts of this episode are, I thought the portrayal of the militia was a bit cartoonish and off-base at times. They gave them a bit too much credit, making them all respectable suburbanites who attended Militias 101 then committed the mandatory murder in Manhattan to get them on the show.

It's just a bit too uneven for me to consider one of L&O's better efforts.

Law & Order: Denial
Episode 2, Season 8

Interesting legal episode
In "Denial" we find the crew investigating a dead baby in a hotel room. The detective side of the story is pretty unremarkable, with no real detours and nothing too amusing about their trip from crime scene to suspects. However, the legal side of the episode is quite good, exploring what happens when parents go to trial for killing a newborn, one of the most offensive crimes out there.

I thought this was a good episode because these cases crop up every few years and often play out in the ambiguous, frustrating way they do in this story. This episode is a downer and it's supposed to be one, because this is an ugly issue any realistic way you look at it.


Ridiculous plot, ridiculous fun
Of the fine crop of 1990s action thrillers, "Speed" is probably the most widely mocked. It is undeniably the silliest and most implausible basic premise - a madman obsessed with revenge against a bomb squad cop has planted a bomb a city bus that will explode if the bus drops below 50 miles per hour.

However, it's really not that more unlikely than the cloned dinosaurs and time-traveling robots or earth-conquering aliens that populated other great blockbusters of the decade. It's just a little bit sillier. The movie seems to revel in its silliness, though, asking us to believe that a bus could make a 50 foot jump across a freeway, among other things.

"Speed", perhaps more than any of the 90s blockbusters, seems gleeful in its realization that a silly premise and a complete lack of realism are no particular impediments to a crowd-pleasing film. With good pacing, spectacular stunts and like-able leads, the movie will succeed, and Speed is proof of that.

"Speed" isn't the best of the 1990s thrillers but it's still pretty good, much better than the massive amount of mockery its plot received would suggest.

The Truman Show

A good idea even Hollywood couldn't ruin
When it came out, I remember thinking of "The Truman Show" as just a Jim Carrey vehicle - little more than an announcement than he had decided to be a dramatic actor now. Perhaps because of that conclusion I didn't watch it until recently. The movie is actually pretty good, and Carrey's casting is more than just a cold bid for box office dollars over picking the actor best suited for the role.

The premise, which oddly is much more relevant in 2011 than when the movie was made in 1998 when reality TV was in its infancy, is that Carrey's character, Truman Burbank, has been raised inside a gigantic television set and every moment of his life has been broadcast on television to a mostly adoring public. He is a television sensation interacting with actors and extras in a carefully controlled world, and has a sort of goofy sitcom way of conducting himself, complete with catch phrases, that is perfect for the show he doesn't even know he's staring in. This sort of "goofy everyman" angle actually helps explain why such a show could become popular, and is perfect for an actor like Jim Carrey who might very well be described as a "goofy everyman".

Of course, everything starts to unravel and the film becomes about if Truman will escape from his constructed world, or if he will even want to. We follow his travails along with Cristoff (Ed Harris), the diabolical creator of the world, but also through numerous fans of the show, a real cast of average Joes and Janes. We also learn about Lauren (Natasha McElhone), who infiltrated the world briefly and is Truman's true love interest, but was whisked away by the producers and is involved in a (apparently unpopular) movement to free Truman.

Living in a media-centric world, it's hard to not find the premise and possibilities of the story intriguing, even fascinating. It makes for compelling drama, and the comedy is just fun enough to not be annoying, but the reason to see this is the story, not the jokes.

The movie works. I found myself wishing they'd let him interact with his world more, instead of thrusting predetermined life events on him. Wouldn't it have been more interesting, and less likely to fail, if they'd given him some more freedom to live his own life? I also wish the movie had explained a bit better why the life of an insurance salesman could be so interesting - much of it would seemingly be pretty boring, daily routine. No doubt his otherwise monotonous days were scripted with plenty of amusing events, but we never actually saw any of these.

The movie has obvious philosophical and even theological themes, but is not anything dramatically deep. I'll forgive it for that, especially as it manages to be meaningful without being pretentious.

"The Truman Show" is just a good premise told in a competent enough manner. It's one of the more original big budget, big name films that Hollywood has cranked out, and it doesn't squander all of that potential. This movie seems to have somehow fallen by the wayside a bit, but now more than ever it should be quite enjoyable if you haven't seen it before.

The Long Goodbye

Jumbled but amusing
"The Long Goodbye" is an amusing dropping of Philip Marlow, prototypical noir detective, in the decadent and aimless 1970s. That alone makes this movie worth a watch to any fans of the genre, especially as much of it indulges in subtly spoofing the absurdities of the golden age detective pulp fiction by putting them in a realistic contemporary context.

I suppose Elliott Gould is as good an actor as you're likely to find to pull this off. We meet Marlow as he struggles to please his picky-eating cat, and soon is tasked with ferrying his wealthy friend Terry Lennox to Mexico. Lennox's wife was just murdered, and Marlow is picked up by the bullying police, the first of several misadventures his helping Lennox puts him in. We don't meet the femme fatale, Eileen Wade, until well into the movie, and we gradually learn she isn't just hiring Marlow to retrieve her drunken husband, as she initially claims.

As a detective story, the plot is too confused and haphazardly delivered to be all that effective. But the movie is more of a satire of the detective genre than a serious attempt at a mystery movie, so I suppose that's excusable. Marlow, who refuses to remove his American flag tie and drives around an antique car that screams "noir", is mildly amusing as he wanders through some very stereotypical 1970s surroundings.

The cheeky "fish out of water" joke is a bit much to hang an entire movie on, though. This movie does have some funny moments aside from the main joke, though, mostly provided by Gould's ad-libbing, and the casting of a very young Arnold Schwarzenegger as a nameless goon provides yet another reason to revisit this movie. A lot of elements of the movie, like the clichéd Mexican characters and the repetition of the title theme, are downright corny.

Law & Order: Paranoia
Episode 6, Season 6

A bit too generic...
In "Paranoia" we learn that a likable coed has been violently knifed to death in her crowded room with, miraculously, no one noticing. Suspicious quickly falls on a nerdy classmate who wrote violent internet sex stories, possibly inspired by his infatuation with the victim. The detectives even talk to his literature professor, a vapid left-wing parody who thinks internet pornography is great.

This episode also sees the curious resumption of Curtis-the-rookie drama as he fumbles parts of the investigation and has conflicts with Lennie, after a few episodes of being an ideal, seasoned partner.

Eventually, surprise, the initial suspect is ruled out and maybe one of her roommates did it (we're now 6-for-6 in Caucasian bad guys/girls for the season, for those keeping score). The only redeeming element of this episode is the interesting mental illness aspect of the legal plot. Is she crazy? How do you properly prosecute someone who might be nuts? It's an alright story, but the episode as a whole falls a bit flat.

Law & Order: Hot Pursuit
Episode 5, Season 6

Fast-paced start, solid finish
This episode continues L&O Season 6's commitment to more action, apparently, with what I think is the first of several "ticking clock" episodes from this time period. The plot involves a male-female team of desperadoes (both white of course, making the season 5-for-5 now in documenting the Caucasian menace) robbing night clubs and stores in Manhattan. They are out of control, have apparently abducted a woman from one of their robberies, and the police mobilize big time.

The detective portion of the show is fast-paced and concludes with a dramatic scene at the arrest of the duo. All of this fast-paced action was designed to be crowd pleasing, and it sure was. What makes this episode memorable is that it's all done in a realistic (for television) way, with no real absurdities to distract you from the compelling police pursuit.

In the legal portion of the show, we learn that the female member of the pair was abducted from her family's estate and claims to have been forced into the crimes by her violent abductor. This was actually done very well too, mixing an interesting story with some vintage L&O courtroom drama. It's basically believable and shows why L&O was pretty darned good, at least compared to nearly any other courtroom show like Mattlock where the bad guy will probably make a spontaneous confession on the stand or something absurd. This L&O episode has a particularly good example of the series general commitment to pretty darned good and realistic enough courtroom drama.

Really, I'd forgotten how solid this episode was. This is not just a "ripped from the headlines", L&O-does-Patty-Hurst... it's a fine, original drama from beginning to end.

Law & Order: Jeopardy
Episode 4, Season 6

Pretty standard
In "Jeopardy", the story continues the seasons trend of dropping some computer technology elements into the story (it was 1995 after all) as we learn there's been a violent murder at the office of a tech magazine. Very quickly it becomes typical L&O though as we learn the fledgling magazine was funded by its founder's wealthy family.

The season is now 4-for-4 on white guy criminals, very standard L&O there. The detective story, once again, is unremarkable but a highlight is the legal story, which explores an interesting issue (suggested by the title) that most people should be able to understand.

Perhaps most notable is the expanded role of Adam Schiff in this episode, including his appearance in the police interrogation room, one of the great rarities of the show.

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