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The Riches: Pilot
Episode 0, Season 1

different and brilliant
CONTAINS POSSIBLE SPOILERS I must respectfully disagree with previous posters. I thought this debut was astonishing. It's a fish-out=of-water story with a difference, a pitch-black comedy with excellent writing and acting, and a deliciously bizarre premise. No, the Malloys/Riches aren't a typical or inherently sympathetic bunch; neither are the the Bundys, or the Sopranos, or many of the characters on Rescue Me or The Shield. It doesn't matter if they're not likable (although I think they are); it matters that they are interesting. And the fact that the parents are married, love each other and love their kids is good enough for me. I am going to be very interested to see how they manage to pull off the ultimate con: pretending to be -- maybe even becoming -- exactly the type of people that they have spent their lives ripping off.

Two Hands

Cute movie, cute leading man -- what's not to like?
I just rented this at the local discount video store and am glad I did. It's a pitch-black comedy, thriller and romance all at once.

Jimmy (Heath Ledger) is a sweet-natured, dim-witted amateur boxer and aspiring thug who screws up -- big-time -- his first assignment from the local crime boss in the sleazy section of Sydney, then spends the rest of the film trying to put things right.

This is a small, satisfying film that even manages to be a character study of sorts, and, at the end, we see a kind of rough justice exacted by a street kid who may end up being the next local mob kingpin (or, should I say, queenpin, because I had the impression that this was actually a tomboy-like girl, in an excellent performance).

If you like seeing a slender, bare-chested, baby-faced, curly-headed Heath Ledger -- and, hell, who doesn't? -- you will like this film.

P.S. To me, a less-obvious-than-the-others-cited, but still apt, comparison would be to "The Good Girl," an even blacker comedy with Ledger's recent Brokeback Mountain co-star, a very young Jake Gyllenhaal.

P.P.S. Others have listed several other good films from Oz. To that, let me add "The Sum of Us," starring a young, adorable and then-unknown Russell Crowe (Ledger is a younger Crowe, or Crowe is an older Ledger, however you want to look at it.).

A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story

An excellent TV movie about a terrible reality
I had no idea this movie even existed until it was announced in the local newspapers a few days in advance. I made a special point of viewing it, as I had attempted to follow in the news the complex court case that took place many years after the tragedy.

The movie was very well done. I think the music was a bit heavy-handed, ditto some of the "dream" sequences. But the writing was solid and the performances strong, especially the dual leads played by relative newcomer J.D. Pardo as Eddie/Gwen, and veteran accomplished actress Mercedes Ruehl as Sylvia. I also thought that Joey, Joey's ex-girlfriend, and Sylvia's other two children were well portrayed.

I hope this movie will enlighten some viewers as to how difficult life for a transgender person can be and how real the phenomenon is. I have a middle-aged friend who recently became a male-to-female TS person (hormones, surgery, etc.), and it is not something that anyone would do because of a phase, a whim or any other trivial motivation.

Livin' Large!

sorta like Network, sorta
I just happened to catch the end of this movie today on UPN. I was absolutely thrilled with this serendipity, because I had been looking for it for years after having seen it previously on television years ago. I didn't remember the name, or any of the performers, or anything else specific about it other than the plot line and the great humor.

I think this stacks up well with many other comedies, both those dealing with the black community and those lambasting the media; in fact, I see it as somewhat of an overlooked gem. It can take its place with the slightly better known EdTV and PrayTV, and of course the now-30-year-old classic Network.

I respectfully disagree with those who think that the movie is saying that being successful is being "white" and therefore something that blacks ought not do. I see it as a critique of the (white) establishment that I believe was the intended message.

Pretty Baby

intentionally disturbing
I think it was a fine piece of film making about a horrific situation. I agree with a previous poster that its understated tone was one of its strengths. The film maker presents a detailed, rounded view of the lifestyle and its effects on a girl who is much too young and much too pretty to have been allowed to ply her trade.

One of the ways I judge the strength of a film is the extent to which I wonder "what happens next?" after the closing credits. I would say the film succeeded. From the expression on Violet's face in the closing shot, I think she had been so warped by everything she had seen and done that, no matter what, she would never be able to become a normal woman living a normal life. My fear is that whether she went back to prostitution or lived a presumptively respectable life, she would always be ignorant, impulsive, self-centered and someone who used her appearance to manipulate others. After all, she, like everyone else in the world, can only know what she has been taught.


They don't make them like this any more
I rarely even bother to watch comedic movies or television these days. They're insipid, vulgar, and, most importantly, not funny. This one could be seen as a refreshing blast from the past. It's worth watching, and I don't believe it would be dated in any significant way. Classic humor is classic humor, and good writing is good writing regardless of the era in which created.

I would love to see this film again; it came to mind after having seen the somewhat similar "Summer School" on television recently. Like that slightly newer film, "Meatballs" is funny without being cruel, overly sexual or indulging in bathroom humor. The key, of course, is how the adult character makes such a difference in the life of the teen character -- maybe even a virtually life-saving change -- and how they both grow up in the space of a summer.

Summer School

clean humor with heart
I'm not a big fan of comedies, or romances, or, romantic comedies. But I had a chance to catch this on television last weekend, and I enjoyed it as much as when I first saw it.

Yes, it was utterly predictable (which is why I usually don't watch romantic comedies). But it had something that so many comedies, particularly the newer ones, don't -- heart -- what with how the main character (the under-rated Mark Harmon) and his students helped each other grow up. And it was clever and funny without being dirty or vulgar -- it has not a smidgen of the potty humor that infects more recent offerings. And there was no sex, but it showed a young single pregnant girl making the mature choice to have her baby adopted. If you like this movie, or this kind of movie, try also the original Meatballs, a similar story with the fabulous Bill Murray in the lead.


"... we never gave up."
This, along with Chan Is Missing (which is of the same era), is one of my favorite movies of all time and for pretty much the same reasons: It proves that all you really need is good writing, good acting and good directing.Special effects and even high production values are secondary, possibly even irrelevant. (I think this film is vastly superior to The Day After, which dealt with the same plot and came out at approximately the same time.) I don't want to repeat what others have already said so eloquently. I just want to point out some highlights that demonstrate the structure and subtlety of this film by a highly regarded female director.

CAUTION POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD At the start, the town's children are practicing, and eventually, despite everything, they do perform, the play, "The Pied Piper of Hamlin." In that famous medieval story, the children of the the town all disappear because of the short-sightedness and stubbornness of the adults. Think about that, and you will see the connection here.

When the movie begins, the protagonist's biggest problem is obtaining an appropriate gift for her son's upcoming birthday. By the time the birthday arrives, she is lucky that the child is even still alive.

The handicapped Japanese-American child "Hiroshi" has already been mentioned. But there is another reminder of World War II -- the Elden female music teacher, apparently an Orthodox Jewish Holocaust survivor.

To me, the single most heartbreaking moment in the film is when the screen goes to black and you hear the sound of cloth ripping. You know that the mother is tearing up bedsheets to make a shroud for her child.

I wish that this film would be shown on television again -- as soon as possible. I think some people in Washington need to see it.

Chan Is Missing

what movies can and should be
This film is an excellent example of film-making, even though it was apparently made on a shoestring AFI grant. It shows what you don't need -- high production values and special effects -- and what you do need (good writing/direction). In fact, I think it holds its own with all the great films of the past century.

This film works on several levels. At the most surface point, it is an amusing sendup of the old Charlie Chan mystery films.

Going a little further down it portrays discrimination against Chinese-Americans without showing anyone who is NOT Chinese-American.

But let's go a little deeper. At one point, a character pulls out a snapshot of himself and the titular character; he can't really see Chan, whose image is obscured, but he can see himself. The point is, that's about all any of us CAN do -- we can't know others, so the best we can do, if we really try, is to know ourselves.

Finally, Chan is missing, and -- spoiler here, spoiler here, watch out, watch out -- Chan STAYS missing. To me, this a a powerful demonstration of the true, sad fact that often what we most want we cannot find -- and sometimes the person we desperately want to see again is exactly the one we will not.

Love Song

Much better than average for television
This movie is essentially an update of "Dirty Dancing." A girl from an upper-crust background defies her overprotective parents to be with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks whose interests -- and, more importantly, whose fine character -- match her own.

For a television movie, it was much better than average -- not quite as good as Dirty Dancing, but still worth watching more than once.

The only real flaw is that the female lead was not (IMHO) able to convincingly portray sexual attraction to the male lead (the opposite was not the case). I attribute this either to her being an inexperienced actress (her career is as a singer) or to being "shy" about being in even a screen romance with a man of a different race.


Surprisingly gripping for a B- movie
I had never even heard of this movie before finding it on one of the smaller networks last night. It's low-budget, it's cheesy, it has plot holes big enough to drive a Mac Truck through, but it's surprisingly gripping for what I would have to classify as, at best, a B minus picture.

First, to answer one of the previous commentators, yes, obviously it's a reworking of the ancient myth of Electra -- as demonstrated by the pivotal props of the Greek masks for comedy and tragedy.

Second, in plot/theme this movie echoes several other, much better films, including (but probably not limited to) The Bad Seed, Basic Instinct, Something About Amelia and Chinatown.

The acting, especially that by protagonist Julia Stiles, is better than the writing/directing. But, as is often the case with substandard thrillers, virtually no one is sympathetic or someone with whom you can identify; the closest we come is weird-but-well-meaning neighbor Amaryllis Potter.

I found this film extremely disturbing, but it would have been even more disturbing if I had not. Though hardly a great movie, it does exemplify what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." That is to say, in a case of child molestation/incest, the adult in question (and, such films to the contrary, it is ALWAYS the fault of the adult) need not be obviously perverse or possessed -- only weak, lazy, sensual and selfish.

This film is worth watching if it comes on television.

The Devil's Arithmetic

surprisingly good
I think the movie is even better than the book, and the book is excellent. The movie changed Hannah and Rivkeh to be in their mid-teens rather than only about 11 as in the "Young Adult" novel. This might have been done for an "inside-the-box" reason, namely so that the director could work with more mature performers. But whatever the reason, the change was for the better, as it made the story more realistic to me -- I can "buy" that 16-year-olds could survive without parents in a concentration camp, but not 11-year-olds!

I expected a good performance from Kirsten Dunst, who is known for serious work. But the one who was a revelation was Brittany Murphy, more associated with (mediocre) light comedy (such as "Summer Catch" and "Just Married"). With dark hair, dark eyes and a believable Polish accent, she utterly disappears into the role of Rivkeh.

To answer a question posed by a previous poster, about why the great-aunt changed her name ... one reason, not obvious to the casual viewer, comes out of Jewish tradition. It is an old custom for a Jew, after having narrowly escaped death, to take a completely different first name. The (somewhat superstitious) belief is that you are trying to fool the Angel of Death; if you have a different name now, he won't realize it's you and therefore won't try to take you again! The other two reasons are more obvious: She was honoring her friend who sacrificed her life for her, and she was beginning a new life in America (many Jews and others took new names when they immigrated).

Liar, Liar

excellent, sensitive treatment of a horrendous subject
I stumbled upon this movie quite by accident while lazing around Sunday afternoon. It was done extremely well, as I didn't know who to believe until the truth was revealed toward the end. All the performers, including the three young children, were excellent in their roles. As heinous as this kind of crime is, it is not particularly rare. I still remember a quote from an article I read many years ago and desperately wish I had kept: "The body of the child gives, because the mind of the adult cannot." I was a newspaper reporter years ago, and, believe me, this kind of thing happens just as often with "nice" white middle-class people as with anyone else.


one of my favorite films
This relatively obscure and low-budget film is one of my very favorites. It would be worth seeing if only for a gritty and evocative depiction of the mods vs. rockers cultural phenomenon of the mid-60s in working-class Britain. But to me the film is far more than that. To me it illustrates a theme that I think is very important: A person who has no inner sense of self, of self-esteem, of self-worth is a person on a path to self-destruction. It also illustrates the negative impact of drugs, and particularly the devastation that comes of mixing uppers and downers (in Jimmy's case, blues and gin). Last but not least, it is a great chance to be exposed to the music of Quadrophenia, The Who's greatest album and one of the greatest albums of all time by anyone. This is the ultimate driving music and the ultimate music for any kind of catharsis.

La vita è bella

Original, Educational, Poignant
"An Italian Jew's quick wit and vivid imagination allow him to devise an elaborate plan to save his small son when the family is forced into a Nazi death camp during World War II." This is the movie in a nutshell, and I wrote it that way precisely as a response to those viewers who apparently found the film either disrespectful or unrealistic. So that you know that I have a clue what I am talking about ... I am a seasoned journalist now writing a book about the Holocaust, and, accordingly, I have read several dozen books and seen several movies on the subject. I saw "Life Is Beautiful" for the first time last night on television and think it is one of the best depictions so far. No, no one will EVER make a film on this subject that is totally realistic, because moviegoers literally would be vomiting and fainting in the aisles if they witnessed ALL the horrors that the prisoners were subjected to. But, even so, some 75,000 people (out of millions) DID make it through, often due to strength of character, love for each other and an unquenchable sense of humor such as Guido had. And,therefore the film was, in a very real sense, realistic, and, so, I recommend it highly for viewers ages 15 and up.

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