IMDb member since August 2003
    Lifetime Total
    Top Reviewer
    IMDb Member
    17 years


Temple Grandin

Finally put a story and full-formed person to the name and legend!
Okay,perhaps "legend" might be construed as being a bit of an exaggeration(particularly by Ms.Grandin herself,I'll bet). But I must say that when I first heard about the accomplished behavioral psychologist and innovator in livestock herding technology getting a movie made about her I felt like saying "Wow! What took them so long?". You see,having family afflicted with autism,and with my mother particularly involved in various causes and functions in the cause over thirty years,Someone like Temple Grandin has been a familiar name for quite some time now. A remarkable story then as now.

I'll confess that when I found out that Claire Danes was cast as Dr.Grandin,I was skeptical. A very pretty actress known more for playing sort of "Damsel in distress" roles,I couldn't immediately meld that image with that of the plain,can-do autistic woman by concept. But this movie set me right.

Even though this is literally a biopic,it still seems as much concerned with the nuts and bolts of her ideas and contributions to agriculture and the study of autism(most movies where autism is a topic only choose to deal with the character who is afflicted and how it affects the ones who are "normal",with precious little if anything offered about the person with the affliction)as it is about her. Besides Danes' bravura performance as Grandin(and I must say that physically,Miss Danes' eyes actually ARE perfect for the role. Just take a look at a photo of both women!),much credit goes to director Mick Jackson and the editing,which is able to give about as good a sampling of what Professor Grandin's thought processes are as can be done in a "one-shot" movie can give.

Not a real populous cast(i.e. much of the people involved are mostly "non-entities": people who have contact with Temple but have either negative or no direct impact on her life),but the support is largely patient and fit in well--David Straithairn as a kindly science teacher who sort of sets Miss Grandin on her way as a youth;Catherine O'Hara as the aunt living in Arizona who goes out of her way to accommodate the title character and Julia Ormond as Temple's strong-willed(if perhaps sometimes hard-headed),educated mother--and aid the movie along its stated path.

Perfect for HBO(I frankly have no real idea how this movie could EVER be sold as a large screen offering,and that's NOT a knock on this film at all!),it's running time moves like a breeze and,if you are in any way engaged by what you see in it,will want to see it more times and maybe even do some real digging about the main subject(who is currently in her mid-sixties,still a tenured professor at Colorado State University),either or both by internet research and her numerous writings. I suppose maybe why this doesn't get a higher rating by me is because it still feels like more could've been covered on this pallet and that they stopped themselves a bit short(don't THINK I'm giving much of anything away here),otherwise a very rewarding film!

The Moguls

Small town comes together...to make a porn.
Andy Sargentee(Jeff Bridges,somewhere between'Lebowski'and,well...some other characters he's played before)is an affable schmo who cannot seem to keep a job nor his marriage,which wouldn't probably trouble him too much were it not for the fact that he loses contact with this teenage son,who he feels is becoming less impressed or needing for him. On an average evening in the local watering hole,Andy has a moment of clarity: he needs money...what is a profitable line of business...PORN!

He assembles his cadre of locals in the small town he lives: the shy,studious sort who still lives at home(Joe Pantoliano),the "Gay-but-he-doesn't-know-it" longtime pal(Ted Danson),the twitchy,loserish wannabe grounds-keeper(William Fichter),a lonely,heartsick longtime buddy(Tim Blake Nelson)who is torn between trying to entice his longtime interest(Glenne Headley)into doing the porn and instead just breaking down and professing love for her,the local video store clerk/film student(Patrick Fugit)and various others(some ladies,mostly men)to produce,write,cast and film the porn. The ensuing events are neither too predictable nor particularly surprising,but they DO have their own elements of charm.

A low energy,chock-full of quasi-cameos(short list:Steven Weber,Brad Garrett,Judy Greer,Jeanne Tripplehorn,Valerie Perrine),directed and written by Michael Traeger,this movie neither possesses the large idea concept or ambition to be given much shrift for large market distribution(and this is a rare time when I mostly agree with that move)nor does it feel like this film lacks any ingenuity to make it merely an "afterthought"(i.e. another romantic comedy/drama,another stock family drama etc.)movie that quickly goes to video and/or cable. The show's unique idea,fine casting(if nothing exceptional acting-wise from anyone involved)and warm,pleasant play out make this worth the time to watch. Using a narrative element(with Bridges' Andy as the narrator,of course),this has an almost wistful and matter of fact quality which seems strangely informative. Probably can be found in the many piles of cheap purchases at stores like Walgreen's or CVS or any supermarket chain store(which is where I got my copy). If you got a high tolerance for "questionable" material for a quirky comedy,give this one a try.


FALL Iiiin!!!
Working class schleps John Winger(Bill Murray)and Russell Ziskey(Harold Ramis)decide,on a whim,to join the Army,much of the reasoning to escape the humdrum lives they lead in the big city. Probably not the best reasoning,but if we had good reasoning added to the mix of many comedies,they'd seem to cease being comedies now,wouldn't they?

Thus we have the seedlings of this largely enjoyable comedy that mixes many of the ingredients of National Lampoon's Animal House and Meatballs(which were directed and/or written by director Ivan Reitman and Ramis),which follows the two protagonists thru basic training on through their first deployment in Europe. And if you're guessing that there's more to the story than merely passing basic training and their deployment well,you'd be guessing correctly.

A friend of mine who's been in the Army(around the time this movie was released,in fact)told me that the film isn't based in much reality--and I'm sure most people who been in the Army would probably agree--but I have the impression that this has JUST enough real element in it to make it roundly palpable AS WELL as a lot of fun.

A fantastic ensemble cast features Warren Oates in one of his last roles(as their drill Sergeant),John Larroquette(as a preening,weaselly superior),John Candy(as the gregarious,heavy-set recruit with JUST the right amount of rage issues),John Dietz,P.J.Soles(a sympathetic MP who has a thing for Murray's character),Sean Young(same as SOles' character,only for Ramis),Conrad Dunn and John Volstead(pre-"Other brother Darryl" from Newhart,as Laroquette's oft-put-upon aide)among others to fill out as big,loud and enthusiastic ensemble. Three years later,Reitman,Murray and Ramis(to name possibly just a few)would tone this formula down to "PG" for the even more successful comedy Ghostbusters. Here,they keep it loose,kinetic and light as a quasi-Cold War,broadly patriotic usage of about 100 minutes of film viewing.

A great watch no matter the medium(big screen,TV,video,DVD). The more recent DVDs have plenty of back-chatter,tributes and story about the making. Well,well worth the price if you're up for it,as well as this show.

Super Size Me

Dah-dah-dah-dah-dahhhh...you're body won't be lovin' it.
The story of then unknown filmmaker Morgan Spurlock's odyssey to uncover the effects of a solid fast-food diet,via an entire month of eating nothing but McDonald's,is pretty well documented by now. The darling(in tandem with Michael Moore's scathing and somewhat over-blown Iraq War/anti-Bush administration documentary epic Fahrenheit 9/11)of a number of film festivals,it would be the talk of anyone who had ANY interest in health,food education or simple curiosity about what it really WOULD be like to indulge in the world's most easily identifiable and popular fast food for that long.

A smart,well-thought endurance test for anyone who's had some digestive problems(of which I count myself among),this is a cheerfully broad swipe at not just the fast food industry(with small swipes at Baskin Robbins and the Soda companies)but at Supermarket retailers,the corporate strategies behind them,the educational initiatives(or usually the lack thereof),the disparity of food marketing,profits and advertising and--last but not least--social attitudes toward eating. Plenty of editing and graphic,a fair injection of "man on the street" interviews and,of course,Spurlock's own observations,reactions to the diet and pitfalls(which are a bit painful to endure at a point,to be honest)which are matched by the skepticism,horror and disbelief at his experiment shared by his girlfriend(a Vegan chef,no less!),a series of doctors and health consultants and even his mother. Truly a packed show that is largely satisfying.

A tad preachy,it still has a delightfully lighter touch than many of Moore's movies(particularly Fahrenheit)and while the social/health-wise impact the show maybe aiming for is somewhat negligible in result(aside from "not making" McDonald's eliminate the Super Size option on their menus not long after this show's theatrical run),it is still a largely entertaining and eye-opening tour de force. Extras on the DVD are somewhat "off the reservation",choosing to deal more in general food/health quandaries(for example:the location of breakfast cereals and candy placement in your average supermarket)than necessarily any direct relation to the fast food questions,but still definitely worth a look.

The Blair Witch Project

Good movie,GREAT concept and promotional push
Now somewhat expected in scary movies,around 1998 filmmakers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made the daring and clever move of not only creating a singular camera,FX-free horror film with unknown actors(which may've as much been the end product of being relative first-timers of movie making as it would be credited to being ingenious,to be sure)but also going to work promoting the film as if it were a real occurrence,replete with its own website,its own history,documentation,and plenty(and I mean PLENTY)of interviews and fake newscasts. By the time of it's running,thru a number or film festivals and word-of-mouth promotions thru the early part of 1999,the movie was a virtual dynamo of anticipation when it finally landed in commercial theaters a week or two after the 4th of July that year.

For the most part,it feels like a lot of invention and inspiration for a movie that,while inspired and effective enough,seems to be really challenging the viewer to love it or hate it. When I first saw it eleven years ago,I was much more in the "love it" camp. Upon re-watching it in full more recently,I'd more put it in the "solid like" category.

Treated,at its broad-frame as a sort of "Super documentary",it portends to show the film of an attempted documentary of three film students from Baltimore(Heather Donahue,Michael Williams and Joshua Leonard--all using their real names and not seemingly attempting to show any distinction that would give them away as actors)who go on the trail of the rural legend of the Blair Witch,an 18th century woman who was cast into the woods of post-colonial Maryland,only to disappear and somehow,foist curse on the locals in neighboring towns. After roughly eight days of being lost in the woods somehow,the three understandably lose their cools,rationale and eventually much more as their uncanny knack to be tracked by someone(or something)in the woods has them unable to think clearly and,ultimately,escape.

Plenty of "cinema verite" and improvisation(supposedly,the directors made the actors merely react to situations by leaving index cards along the woods telling them of what was happening next)made this simultaneously one of the more organic and unnerving films made.My lessening of enchantment of this movie is mostly from the passage of time,a chance to digest all the elements of the film/story and the re-evaluation of camera and filming tactics,which,while appreciable for their lack of excess and attention to more intangible fear and atmosphere,seem to be challenging the viewer in ways that threaten to break the viewing experience as well as enhance it.

Extras on the DVD are a real plus:getting to see much of the back-story attached to this show is a largely satisfying element(and also gives me some insight into a couple of less-than-flattering reviews)to accompany a film that may seem a bit thin or "naked" on its own. An inspiration for ensuing "shocker" movies to come(Cloverfield,Quarantine,Paranormal Activity,The Last Exocrcism come to mind),this movie is worth a look,though the cleavage of opinion on it is gonna be quite difficult to overcome. Back then,a near ten;now,a weak seven. A keeper? You be the judge.


Felt like it didn't go "all the way" with the mockumentary
Played VERY tightly to reality,with not a single "cast" member playing anything besides themselves,this wryly intended parody of show business is played like a mockumentary,and while I certainly wasn't completely turned-off by it(Jeff Goldblum is so likable playing nearly anything that in playing himself as a subtle mocking of himself,he's actually EVEN MORE engaging than usual),I still felt like this show seemed to be so dry and minimalist that it lacks much in the way of "meat" and siphons away from the comedy.

Because of his romance with a fellow actress Catherine Wreford,and her need of a work visa to stay working the stage in the United States(she's from Canada),Mr.Goldblum interrupts his film career to take part in a civic theater production of "The Music Man" back in his home town of Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania. Along the way,with plenty of skeptical outsiders(ranging from his oft-ignored agent to Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn),and his own personal doubts about the wisdom of going from reliable big screen presence to local theater,even for just a two-week limited engagement. Along the way,he manages to swing a co-starring support for the show from good friends Illeana Douglass and Ed Begley Jr.(who in turn enlists,quid pro quo,Jeff to help him do infomercials for his own patented environmentally friendly gadgets)and seems to re-connect with his old stomping grounds,though one doubts it'll be of any really lasting impression or emotional depth. Directors Chris Bradley and Kyle LaBranch don't seem to be sure if they are going for a Christopher Guest-like mockumentary(which,by using all players as themselves would suggest they weren't)or more of a meta-mocking of the biz(which they seem to not have the heart to really do by show's end),therefore making this film at best a mild curiosity with some laughs and at worst a sort of Luke-warm "inside" comedy that is going to leave plenty of viewers bored and/or displeased,even angry.

A rental curiosity really. The quick run of the show and the generally light treatment here make this not a total waste. One might be better served to not expect too much of it,though.

Drillbit Taylor

Pretty standard stuff as a whole;Is more appreciable for the parts.
Three kids--best buds Wade(Nate Hartley)and Ryan(Troy Gentile)and shrimpy,spaz-like Emmett(David Dorfman)--are united by a common anxiety in their freshman year in high school: the perpetual abuse of ruthless thugs Terry Filkins(Alex Frost)and his toady Ronnie(Josh Peck). Fed up with the abuse in short order,they seek the help of a bodyguard and after going through a number of candidates whose asking prices are more than these lads can pony up,they settle on a charismatic Army vet named Drillbit Taylor(Owen Wilson,charming as a seemingly oft-unscrubbed target of abuse,both verbal and physical)who can talk the talk of a tough guy/guardian/sensei but seems to be more intent on...well,something more.

That something more is mostly sponging money and swag from the kids' well-to-do families,which he helps pirate with the counseling of his fellow societal cast-offs(led by the always priceless Danny McBride). Drillbit,you see,is much more of a "homeless slacker" than "master warrior/guardian",and is in the midst of pulling off a fairly well-trailed con. All as the boys he's "taken under his wing" take to heart his lessons and simultaneously try to avoid their tormentors/get them back in the process.

Nothing really new or inherently interesting in and of itself(i.e. the 'high school is unfair',heroes as persecuted,bullies being heartless jack-offs,tough-guy to weakling budding relationships,etc.),and director Steven Brill,along with co-writers Seth Rogen and Kristopher Brown(I believe both also writers of the considerably better SuperBad)don't engineer anything exceptional as a whole product. The real attractions are Wilson,milking every ounce of his own distaff,bent charms and loser charisma,McBride as the less-honorable crony of Drillbit's,and the five principle teen players just mentioned. Engaging,sympathetic,tangible and none-too-much-over-the-top characters make this less-than-two hour exercise more than tolerable,even quite funny(if not exceptional or even really memorable).

Movies being increasingly more expensive(and that's even WITHOUT the 3-D glasses),it makes one like myself consider carefully which shows to try and plunk down any geld. I was initially kinda curious about this one but didn't act on it. Seeing it some time after it's gone to rentals doesn't change my verdict,but I can still feel good about giving this one a spin.

Doc Hollywood

Nice movie,but could've worked even better as a sit-com or TV light comedy-drama
The summary line is not meant to be dismissive of this show. It's merely saying that the elements of this film was,to my viewing,more perfect for a continuing story instead of a finite,80/90 minute framing.

Another "Fish-out-of-Water" story: Dr.Benjamin Stone(Michael J.Fox),still as pitch-perfect,quasi-yuppiesque yet charming as ever,in what would eventually prove to be a bit of a last hurrah of his film appeal from "Back to the Future")is a rising success as a young doctor/surgeon in a large,east coast city(I cannot immediately recall the city;I want to say Washington D.C. or Philadelphia)who is out to interview for a prestigious opening at a high dollar medical practice in Los Angeles. Instead of taking a simple,six hour(roughly)flight to the coast,the good doctor decides to drive there. If you're on this site and/or familiar with this movie at all,you're probably not in any need of prompting as to just how plot shifting THAT decision will be.

Upon wrecking property in a charming and unapologetically hayseed hamlet of the the deep south(they seemed to mention or hint at it being Georgia)named Grady,Dr.Stone is stranded in this town for the better part of two weeks,both as part of a sentence and because his car is in desperate need of work. There,he meets practically all of the locals,and his initial annoyance with their culture melts into acceptance and even fondness,crowned by his interest in a pretty,headstrong young single mom(Julie Warner)who herself is studying to become a lawyer.

One of the many forays into American culture for Scottish-born director Michael Caton-Jones,this marked sort of a twilight in Mr.Fox's once nearly automatic career as a charming,leading man matinée draw(a period that would extend from 1985 thru 1993).Though he would continue to make front-line movies after this,this would mark the last of the healthy,carefree young adult movies that is and will always be remembered for. Soon after this film wrapped,Fox discovered and was soon officially diagnosed with Parkinsons. On top of this,his overidentifiablity from his earlier success made it far more difficult to copy this formula in future works(Life With Mikey,For Love or Money and Greedy were all VERY coolly received),and thus put him at the point of trying supporting work(An American President)and television ("Spin City"). What might be equally eye-opening(besides the choice smaller roles that might've come off as almost cameo-like from then rising stars Woody Harrelson and Bridget Fonda,as restless locals)was the not-tapped enough charm of Miss Warner as the love interest or the fine,unaccalimed bow of Barnard Huges and David Ogden Stiers as the town's incumbent doctor and mayor,respectively.

A charming,likable show that,if it is able to successfully draw in the viewer,might leave said viewer left wanting perhaps to get more out of this story and these characters. A missed opportunity at more,perhaps.

Reign Over Me

I was hoping for restraint,and I wasn't let down
When this show was first released three years ago,my viewing of the trailers(plus my opinion of Adam Sandler movies)had me thinking something like this:interesting story,good intentions but a bit mawkish and played for the syrupy,sentimental laughs and forced tears. The reviews weren't exceptionally great for it,either,saying in essence that while the show is fine overall,its casting and scripting seemed to be going for the easy crowd pleasing elements(not to mention each critic's personal opinion of Sandler,which oft times aren't too favorable)thus making it only an honorable effort at best.

Recently,I got a chance to see this movie as a cheap(well,okay,library rental,so free)rent and found myself pleasantly impressed(if not overwhelmingly disabused of my suspicions)with this movie. The film opens as a look into the life of Dr.Alan Johnson(Don Cheadle,who never,EVER seems off in any performance!),a very successful NYC dentist/orthodontist whose career might be more vulnerable than it initially appears(i.e. at least one previous messy patient lawsuit and one that seems to be brewing). His marriage and family life is comfortable and stable,but lacks much pop or interest.

Then one evening he runs across a guy on the street who looks a lot like an old college chum. On a hunch,he follows him and his suspicions are correct: the man,Charlie Fineman(Sandler,all Bob Dylan-looking and refining his "strange" persona to largely positive effect),was in fact Alan's old roomie in college,a fellow dental student. The previous six to seven years have been mostly an escape for Alan's old pal,as his losing his wife,three daughters and dog in one of the planes in 9-11 has him spinning a deep cocoon of music,movies and video games to drown out his memories,also in essence amplifying his looming bi-polar disorder.

Cheadle and Sandler work well off each other,and even though the inevitable Sandler "Blow up"(a la his many comedies and his dramatic turn in 2002's Punch Drunk Love)occurs,it is paced to perfection and this show,which is fraught with emotional keynotes,works a fair amount of restraint to make this sympathetic,warm,touching and yet not so manipulative that it runs the risk of turning off most audiences. Credit to Director/Writer Mike Binder(who also appears as Charlie's accountant)for making a movie that works a post 9-11 story with as much restraint,deftness and nuance to make this more of a personal story,rather than a simple,dumb weeper or "feel good" comedy. Some of the previously mentioned criticism of this film also landed on the casting of the rest of the movie,particularly on Liv Tyler as the wide-eyed(but not naive)psychologist/therapist that works downstairs from Dr.Johnson,but I personally found her likable and not so intrusive or glaringly off-rhythm to the film's sometimes sad,quasi-quirky and off-beat mien. Saffron Burrows,as the potential lawsuit aforementioned,early on threatens to sort of take this film down an alley that seemed kind of incongruent,but the script integrates her back into the fiber of the story,albeit somewhat implausibly. Everyone else seems fit in just fine:Jada Pinkett Smith as Dr.Johnson's soft-spoken,reasonably patient wife,Robert Klein and Melinda Dillon as Charlie's sometimes over-bearing in-laws,John de Lancie as a concerned but ultimately powerless therapist,Rae Allen as Charlie's concerned landlady and Donald Sutherland as a no-nonsense judge.

To me,the way to make a story like this play better is the use of restraint:namely,the ability to draw out odd,tragic characters without having to punch the emotional cues,happy ones as well as sad. This movie is able to go roughly two hours doing this quite well.

About Last Night...

Probably watered down from play,but still a legit watch
A warm,summer afternoon at the softball park between two workplace rival companies becomes the make-cute meeting for Debbie(Demi Moore,who,while hardly the greatest actress in the world,can still fit roles and is a perfect fit here),an advertising design artist and Danny(Rob Lowe,as '80s air-fluffed and perfect as ever),a condiments and insundries salesman feel an attraction,first there,then at the usual watering hole haunt. This being still the height of STDs being a "non-topic"(i.e. the mid-'80s,right on top of AIDS becoming a household topic),the attraction is a no-brainer for a one-night stand. But something happens: they find out they like each other and decide to pursue this relationship,much to either the dismay and/or astonishment of their best friends:Debbie's dour,cynical pal Joan(Elizabeth Perkins,one-note here but an EFFECTIVE one note)and Danny's bombastic buddy Bernie(Jim Belushi,having a good ol' time). From there,the course of almost an entire calendar year follows the events play out.

Adapted from David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago",it's pretty easy to notice(particularly to anyone with familiarity of Mr.Mamet's work) that this script is a far more palatable treatment for the screen than what you might've(I have yet to actually see this put to stage off original script)seen on original draft and/or performance. While this movie might turn off theater snobs(and possibly people with a low tolerance for '80s kitsch),anyone with an interest in seeing pretty actors(Lowe and Moore)playing for emotional range(and not doing too badly,IMHO)and solid,not quite looker actors(Belushi and Perkins,though Ms.Perkins HAS softened up over the years,becoming almost vampish looking herself)to sharpen up their acting fangs should be able to appreciate it. Directed by TV and film vet Edward Zwick(with a reworked title AND script from Second City and SNL vet Tim Kazurinsky,who has a cameo),this movie is deceptively advertised as a sex comedy,but actually has a softer,deeper,layered sense of itself. It's a good keeper of a film,worth at least a re-watch or two.

Striking Distance

Just clichéd enough to be familiar,just unique enough to be enjoyed
To say that being a policeman is in his blood would be both understatement and literalism for Tommy Hardy(Bruce Willis,pre-shaved,still reasonably bad-ass),a fifth generation Pittsburgh police detective. Already stinging from having to turn witness against his own partner(Robert Pastorelli)over mistreatment of a witness,things go from bad to worse when a high speed pursuit of a perp,believed to be a serial killer,ends in tragedy for the man in question,both personal and career-wise.

Flash forward two years,and Hardy now works River patrol,considered a sort of "non-essential" position in the force,away from his former plain clothes and uniforms--to which he seems to have burned many bridges--and his life has taken a more apparently low key quality. He still cannot "play nice" with others and earns himself a new partner/diver: a chipper,idealistic single mom(Sarah Jessica Parker,still many years away from "Sex and the City").

Unfortunately,a serial killer is on the loose again,one very similar to the one the force believes they'd captured and convicted already. The MO has Hardy convinced the real killer is out there,but he seems to be the only one who believes this.

Very pat elements to this cop drama(stubborn,tough cop who doesn't believe in the blue code,a sadistic killer,Irish/Italaian cop families,etc.)give frame to this still-watchable flick from director Rowdy Herrington(director and co-writer)and Mark Kaplan(co-writer).Willis is completely at home in this,and this is a side of Parker I frankly miss(it seems like forever since she settled on playing chatty,selfish city dwellers with personal problems!). Throw in solid character actors who look the part like Dennis Farina(as Willis' Uncle,a chief mucky muck in the department),Tom Sizemore(as Willis' cousin,a perceived screw-up),Brion James(as a department head who has a natural tendency to chafe Willis' character and vice-versa),John Mahoney(as Willis' Dad,a chief himself),Andre Braugher(in a small part as an inscrutable District Attorney)and Timothy Busfield(as a wormy,by-the-book partner diver;there mostly for physical comedy relief),and you have a film that,while unremarkable in and of itself,is still interesting and works on the designs it was drawn. I would classify this as a "cheap rent" and worth a watch,particularly for the main stars on the marquis. Don't get me wrong,though,that's hardly a bad thing.

The Great Santini

Better character study than whole film
Lt. Colonel Wilbur "Bull" Meecham(Robert Duvall,well-cast and brilliant)is one of the best Marine pilots in the Corps and would be perfectly at home at any war(and were guessing he saw some action,either or both in Korea and WWII),gutsy,smart,determined and brave as all get out. Unfortunately for him,the years is 1962,and other than a VERY chilly Cold War(strange,incidentally,that the Cuban Missile crisis,to my recollect,never came up in this film. Not once!),there is no real battle for him to ply his well-honed skills.

This does not bode particularly well for his large,loving and recessive family. His wife Lillian(Blythe Danner,lilting beauty),a head-strong Catholic Southern belle,adores her husband but is all-too aware of his temper and ego;his oldest son Ben(Michael O'Keefe in a truly underrated performance),is equal parts his own,thoughtful,sensitive young man coming into his own and yet very much like his father in more basic ways;the oldest daughter Mary Ann(Lisa Jane Persky,not wasting ANY of her scenes) feels like the red-headed stepchild,literally AND figuratively,and the two youngest(Julie Anne Haddock and Brian Andrews),who seem lost in the shuffle. They love their husband/father,but seem to be completely powerless against his unrelenting competitive persona and gruff persona. Bull saves his strongest lessons and,in his mind,greatest spoils for Ben,and this is where the movie is at its strongest.

A side story where Ben befriends Toomer(Stan Shaw),the gentle,stuttering son of their housekeeper is well-meant and touching in and of itself,but seems somewhat misplaced here.

As a whole movie,it feels like a bit of a mash-up;I suspect that screenwriter and director Lewis John Carlino figured that he had to "boil down" Pat Conroy's novel to make a neat,two-hour-fitting narrative,but it feels a bit forced. I'd also be lying if I said that I didn't think that some elements(the music,editing,pacing come to mind)age badly,because they seem to have done just that. With all that said,however,the actors from Duvall,himself a Navy vet to Shaw's Toomer are so heartfelt,intense and memorable that this movie is able to hold up with ANY vibrancy some thirty years after its release. Worth a look,particularly for military families and/or fans of the actors involved.


Always room for "Doubt" **Spoiler Alert?**
Being a bit of a live theater fan as well as a film buff,this is another show where the comparison of stage production to film adaptation comes in. Having just seen a local production of this show not too long ago,more recently I sat down and watched this on DVD,out of equal parts comparative curiosity and because of the star power employed in this film.

In the fall of 1964,at a Catholic school in the heart of New York City,the enrollment of the first(?)black student,a boy named Donald Miller,becomes the flash-point of conflict between and among a charismatic priest named Flynn(Philip Seymour Hoffman),an idealistic young nun Sister James(Amy Adams)and the rigid,stern and joyless principal,Sister Aloysius(Meryl Streep,about as seamless as ever).The older principal suspects an improper relationship between the boy and the priest,and the young nun inadvertently fuels the case by admitting to seeing somethings she doesn't quite understand.

The acting is first-rate,which in and of itself is no surprise given the talent caliber here. Even Viola Davis,as the boy's mother,makes the complete most of her one scene role. John Patrick Shanley,the play's author adapting the script for the screen and directing this work should also not be of great revelation for why this film is so strong. What IS most note-worthy may be the fact that,while as a play,this show succeeds in creating plenty of grist for the mill and endless debate(since the show's conclusion doesn't reveal much more than the introduction,in truth),the adaptation of film allows for a much more demonstrative and illustrative effect:the cold winds blowing,the stark,sheer edifices of old city Catholic shrines and churches,the portrayals of the lifestyles of priests(generally seen as being almost festive and camaraderie-filled)and nuns(in this convent,quiet,austere and stitltingly awkward) and the clergy's reactions to the children as they are becoming vaguely aware Vatican II's effect on the faith. All of those images(and perhaps more)are mostly left out of the stage version and thus,keeps this story kind of "boxed" and for it to "breathe" better,it needed the full fleshing-out it gets here.

An intelligent,thought-provoking,even emotionally stirring drama that is worth seeing on both stage and screen,this movie is somewhat of a rarity in that it takes the already valid devices used on stage and expands them,and in this case,it's certainly very welcome. Because while the characters may not feel the need or want for it,this film could always use plenty of room for doubt.

Card Sharks

Is paired with the 1986 Bob Eubanks-hosted version,which seems slightly odd...
...and mostly because of the facts that a)there's a four-and-a-half year gap between versions(the original,Jim Perry-hosted show ran from September,1978 thru October,1981;the Eubanks show bowed in January,1986)b)there are distinctly different hostesses and sets and c)it was different networks,with somewhat different producers and probably different staff.(Perry's was NBC,Eubanks' was on CBS,and was paired with a syndicated version hosted by Bill Raferty)

As to the game itself,it was actually so easy to watch and smoothly and effortlessly made that one forgets that Mr.Perry(and to a lesser degree,Mr.Eubanks)does an exceptional job shifting from amiable emcee to near cheerleader-like fan of each contestant's quest for money(which could sometimes top over $30,000;while always a good chunk of change,for the late '70s and even into the '80s would be an impressive haul). Also a catchy theme,very attractive models(one of them would go on to have an decent steady career as an actress:Markie Post)and some nifty little diddy poems to open the game would make this one of the gems of daytime of its era. Every so often,you can catch the re-runs on GSN. DVR or stay up late if you like!

Jake and the Fatman

The Flip-side of "Matlock"
It shouldn't be much of a surprise that this show was (co?)produced by Fred Silverman,who also created and produced the highly successful "Matlock" on rival nets NBC and ABC. This inhabitant of the CBS midweek scheduling(usually Tuesdays if memory serves)seems like as much a sort of photo negative of the earlier offering starring Andy Griffith,where instead of a defense attorney fighting to exonerate a wrongly accused yet highly viable suspect,a sly,pro-active prosecuting attorney--in this case,portly J.L.McCabe(the late,great William Conrad)--battles to find who the real guilty culprit in in cases that seem cut-and-dried in another direction. To his aid are a handsome,seemingly 'Devil may care' private investigator(and ex-cop)named Jake Stiles(the handsome,now 'Where Are They Now?' material Joe Penny) and the loyal assistant attorney Derek Mitchell(Alan Campbell).

While I cannot profess to be a loyal fan of the show,I watched it with some regularity through the first two seasons or so and was reasonably impressed with how the show(for its day)could deconstruct a "Now you see it,now you don't" type of murder mystery that was similar to the show about the crafty,blue suited Atlanta defense attorney. The combination of the veteran bluster of Mr. Conrad and the seemingly feckless charm of Mr.Penny was able to fill up an hour capably. Even though this show had a solid five year run(that was almost cut down after season one),it's pretty tough to find re-runs of this. If you can,and you feel like this kind of easy-to-digest,late eighties entertainment is your cup of tea,then check this out.

The Walker

People who aren't into "story films" need not apply
Carter Page III(Woody Harrelson,out of his ordinary element and better than I think he believed he was),a product of Southern noblesse and high politics,has been living a comfortable,if perhaps lackluster and even(to greater or lesser degrees)disappointing lifestyle. Openly gay and a known quantity perhaps more for his famous name(his father was a governor;older generations were Virginia movers and shakers,slavers and whatnot)than for anything he's done or become,he glides through Washington D.C. society with relative ease,friendly with a number of senator's wives. He "walks" them to society benefits and social events,hence the title of the film.

When one of his friends(Kristin Scott-Thomas,icily cool as ever)leaves the scene of a murder,Car(as he's called)decides to cover for her. That turns out to be a mistake,as he instead attracts a loudly public investigation by a one-time family rival. Soon,the crime,no matter how much it seems to have nothing to do with him,still sucks him in,as he finds himself trying to cover for his lady friend AND cover his own behind,as well as protecting his boyfriend(Moritz Bliebtreu).

Some pretty notable supporting cast-mates(Lauren Bacall,Lily Tomlin,Ned Beatty and Willem DaFoe,in an inspired cameo)flesh out the rest of this story,which clocks about an hour forty but moves at a steady,unhurried pace. Writer-director Paul Schraeder purposefully makes this movie ENTIRELY a character sketch and builds story around that character,which is almost entirely Car Page. Harrelson's performance may look a little ill-fitting for a guy more known for more athletic,bravura roles(White men Can't Jump,Natural Born Killers,Kingpin,People vs. Larry Flynt,Zombieland come immediately to mind),but I think he still carries this off with remarkable poise and intelligence. The plot seems to dawdle some for something that is ostensibly pushed as a "thriller" or "suspense",but given the pedigree of this film and the material of the story,it's really neither incongruous nor disengaging.

Another film that went VERY quietly from theatrical to DVD shelf,people who don't care to know anything detail about or get involved in their movie's stories can stay away from this. For anyone else,this is worth a look.


Thursday night,meet your next promising comedy!
Jeff Wheeler(Joel McHale,heretofore previously known as the latest in a long line of wiseacres who host/hosted E!'s "The Soup")has been demoted--via a plot contrivance that's as improbable as it is inspired--from accomplished lawyer to freshman at a local community college. Forced to suck it up,Jeff goes to this Juco and discovers that he may,in fact,have a bonding with a group of students in his Spanish course(!). Among them:a skeptical hot girl(Gillian Jacobs),a cinema auteur wannabe(Danny Pudi),a highly-opinionated black lady(Yvette Nicole Brown),the seemingly virginal fuddy-dud(Alison Edie),the "Maybe he's gay/maybe not" star athlete(Donald Glover)and a one-time successful entrepreneur with a seemingly endless amount of dark character flaws(Chevy Chase,as inspired a comeback as ever!). Riding herd over these less-than-inspired selfish individuals are Senor Chang(Ken Leung,capitalizing on his ability to slip into psychotic comedic characters wherever he can find them),the Spanish teacher with a bit of a Napoleon complex and Dean Pelton(Jim Rash),a blissfully oblivious and callous department head.

A dark comedy,full of a veritable stream of Anti-PSA type messages and campus stereotypes of various amounts of unlikability,this show joins the seemingly long and gilded pantheon of acclaimed AND well-received comedies on NBC's Thursday nights. I have no real fix on how well this show is doing,ratings-wise,but I suspect that enough good word of mouth will keep this one running for AT LEAST another season. Well,I can hope anyway.

A fun(if perhaps in need of polish) show that augments an already very watchable evening of shows!

100 Feet

Largely, it works.
Marnie Watson(Famke Janssen,sporting a reasonably convincing Brooklyn accent that is subtly played)is being paroled,subject to trial on the murder of her husband,who just happened to be a NYPD Cop. She's been moved to house arrest in the cavernous,Gothic apartment in lower Manhattan,with none other than her dead husband's partner(Bobby Cannavale). As if these elements weren't going to be difficult enough,small other matter arises:namely,the spirit of her dead husband(Michael Pare).

While there are at least a few elements of this story that strain believability(besides the obvious,the victim's partner is in charge of the parole,the fact that a justifiable reason could be made for Marnie's killing her abusive husband,yet she's been practically Hard-fortied come to mind off-hand),this film's economy of characters,very effective usage of steady cam and light,and the willingness to let Miss Janssen--a very game and compelling actress--to have to physically and emotionally command the majority of the show makes this quite compelling.

Veteran writer and director Eric Red has crafted a chilling,reasonably entertaining film that slipped very quietly through the cracks of the movie landscape(a stealthy mid-summer release out of a small studio had this on DVD shelves not long after,it appears). Too many plausibility gaps,and a shifting rationale or explanation of how the dark,violent spirit of her ex make this show not quite high mark,but it still entertains without being TOO manipulative(not to mention not a wit's worth exploitive). Find it on a vid store "regular renters" rack,ask for it at Netflix or buy it off the cheap bin if you enjoy a ghost story with at the heart of a crime thriller(or vice-versa). Good find!

Nothing Is Private

Jasira Mourain(a heart-draining Summer Bishil)is surrounded by what appears to be a rogues gallery of adults and peers,whether it's back in Syracuse with her unstable and fickle mom(Maria Bello)or out in Houston,Texas with her culturally conservative and somewhat selfish father(Peter Macdissi). It's in Texas that Jasira also ends up being relocated to a school full of bigots and well-intentioned but thick-headed sorts(as if being in middle school WASN'T tough enough)who make her already tenuous growing up with her father just that much more difficult. Things don't improve when she strikes an association with a neighbor family headed by a prejudiced yet overly friendly Army reservist(Aaron Eckhart,almost phoning this one in),nor when she inspires the interest(mutual,of course)with a well-intentioned and attractive black kid(Eugene JonesIII).

Writer/director Alan Ball(American Beauty,"Six Feet Under")is clearly NOT shy about broaching sensitive issues,and his attempt to illustrate the cruel,arbitrary behavior that can come from racism certainly has the sufficient amount of pop and sizzle to it,but it seems like the raw,unrelenting frankness of this story borders on leering and sleaziness,not to mention cruelty. The performances are at least heartfelt and carry a grace about them that doesn't make this TOO preachy or obvious,and the way this story is folded out(using the parameters of Fall 1990 thru March 1991,which was the build-up to start and finish of the first Gulf War)certainly draws this away from post-911 type ready-made drama. But it's timber,it's dangling story lines(the relationship with the mom is just glanced upon) and somewhat out-of-rhythm ending sort of monkey wrenches this from being the cut-above type movie it strives to be. Perhaps I'm judging this film on a knee-jerk type of response,but I think it is still very telling of the kind of product it is.

Intriguing and not without its merits,it's a curiosity of a film,but it's not going to show the viewer much mercy,neither in topic nor in emotional tone.

Sunshine Cleaning

Warm,humane comedy/drama...built around cleaning messes
Rose(Amy Adams,a radiant beauty with real emotions,which is more rare than you might think in this business)has been a dutiful sister,daughter and mother,working as a maid to earn enough to keep her son in school,support her dad(Alan Arkin,good as usual in a role that looks a little TOO familiar),a widowed one-time businessman turned amateur schemer,and sister Norah(Emily Blunt,a real 180 from her part in shows like The Devil Wears Prada),a highly emotional,potential unstable yet genuinely empathetic young woman who has trouble keeping work and appears to be partying her life away. On an off-hand tip by the married cop she's been having an affair with(Steve Zahn,looking much older than I'm used to seeing),she decides to set up a business cleaning up messy crime scenes,which seem to be in bumper crop season in and around the Albequerque area. Of course,it turns out that she(and certainly not her sister,who she employs out of self-duty,among other things)is not as cut out for the work of cleaning up grisly scenes that are fraught with shattered human lives,that a number of which seem to have some echo on the histories of both women.

Sometimes TOO relaxed direction by nearly brand-new filmmaker Christine Jeffs,off a script by Megan Holley,this story REALLY runs on the charm and unforced character strength of the actors in their parts,from Adams and Blunt,on down through Arkin,the son(whose name immediately escapes me),Zahn and Clifton Collins as the pleasant,laid-back one-armed supply store manager who develops and friendship(and maybe more)with Rose. While a wee bit unfocused and maybe forced in plot concoctions--an uneasy possible romance between Norah and a repressed Blood bank worker(Mary Lynn Rajskub)seems to be not quite fitting comfortably with the show's flow--it's still a very touching and easy serio-comedy that is neither schmaltzy nor detached. A better rent than a big ticket view,it's a story worth a look-see. Recommended.

Parks and Recreation

Giving this a chance
The producers of the hugely successful "The Office" take their model to rural America,in this case small town(I forget the name of the town)Indiana,where the central figure is chipper,high-minded go-getter Leslie Knope(Amy Poehler,an actress who,I must admit,is kind of a "Love her/Hate her" talent;I happen to like her a lot)is dedicated to trying to serve her electors to the most noble and best of her abilities. Of course,her constituency doesn't hold her or her responsibilities in quite the same sunny,idealistic realms as she does,and she initially seems to be a rudderless boat in the world of local politics until a "cause" falls into her lap:namely,the gaping,abandoned construction project in town that is a more than a little bit of a safety hazard and eyesore.

From there,she is spurred into action by the girlfriend of a guy who was injured falling into the pit(Rashida Jones,lovely and warmly likable)and,by association,said boyfriend(Chris Pratt),who turns out to be a shiftless loser who wants his day in the spotlight. The movement leads to a spearheaded plan to make a park in that area,but there couldn't be a series without a series of social and political obstacles and pratfalls along the way.

A sometimes mismatched bunch of government peers and cohorts(Nick Offerman as a grouchy,dyspeptic superior; Paul Schneider as a fellow local councilperson who seems to have his own agendas;Aziz Ansari as the weaselly and nervous underling of Leslie's and Aubrey Plaza as a young intern who is perpetually bored)flank these stories. I cannot lie: the elements,writing and character interplay isn't real consistent,and the aping of "The Office"'s confessory style makes comparisons not only inevitable but also possibly unfavorable. Still,the talent assembled and the potential for this show makes it worth more than one look.

I am pretty sure that this show is getting the chances its getting because of the pedigree of the producers(among them Greg Daniels,the brains behind stuff such as "King of the Hill" and,big surprise,"The Office"). As such,I hope this show takes advantage of this opportunity and improves,because there's enough good feel and potential for just that. A flawed-but-worthy offering for NBC's near-esteemed Thursday night comedy line-up.


My own take on why this largely didn't work
This movie was roundly bashed when released around the Thanksgiving period of 1998,and while I cannot say that this film was a roundly abominable as was popular to say after its release,it's still not a particularly good effort and a VERY pale shade of the original.

If this show works at all,it is because director Gus van Zandt doesn't mess with it AT ALL. Nearly shot-for-shot,with dialog not touched much at all,the story is kept in tact and,as such,that's why this has ANYTHING going for it. You may know the story of Marion Crane,a late-twenty-something investment firm secretary whose affair with married Sam Loomis drives her to abscond with $400,000 of investor's money,ends up stopping at an out-of-the-way rural California motel due to fatigue and heavy rain,and then goes "missing". She's tracked by her sister Lila and boyfriend Sam,as well as business-hired PI Milton Arbogast. The trail takes them to the motel of shy,seemingly pleasant motel keeper Norman Bates,whose bizarre behavior and loyalty to his mother covers much more sinister and violent behavior. This story is so ingrained in the public consciousness,and the compelling and tragic behavior of the principals involved is something that stands for itself.

What fails this movie,to me,can be broken down in three ways:first off,I know it's been said before but casting is pretty shaky,not so much the minor characters(Philip Baker Hall as a local sheriff,William H. Macy as Arbogast or the actors playing the car salesman or dogged state trooper trailing Marion)but the major characters either seem misplaced(Anne Heche is far more grating as and seems unsure of how to play Marion;Vince Vaughn's Norman doesn't seem sure whether he wants to be the charming,nervous "Oh that CAN'T be him!" Norman or as a straight-up,chilling and creepy sociopath;Julianne Moore's Lila seems to be affecting a little TOO much aggressiveness;and Viggo Mortensen's playing Sam as some sort of sexually ambiguous southern-fried player just feels wrong somehow). Secondly,the movie choosing to go shot-for-shot,with few if any script alteration,chooses to make it clear that this film is set in present day 1998,yet the making of that movie,and indeed the character qualities and conflicts are SERIOUSLY couched in 1960,thus creating an odd conflict of trying to make a movie that truly feels forty years old in terms of male/female relations,social mores and even in some of the devices or machines(I could swear that Marion's cars look more like those wide steering wheels and flat interiors of late fifties automobiles!)and yet pretends to be casually in the "now";thirdly,given the amount of reverence the original commands(and I would be among those who would share it),a shot-for-shot remake with different actors playing the characters is almost inherently set to be a comparative study and as such will probably reflect badly upon the actors in the new movie. In short,it's a situation for the actors that is almost inevitably set to fail.

This movie might,MIGHT have worked if it were done for a smaller medium--cable TV would be my posit--since it would suggest tribute yet wouldn't be so hubris in its thinking it could ever have a relationship to the original that would merit it being played on the big screen like its original copy. However,the desire to ape the original,without any creative attempt(aside from small touches from Van Zandt,which then come off as merely tacky or pretentious)by the new filmmakers seems like little more than an overstuffed homage to Hitchcock. It's not bad to look at or watch,but its far too indebted to its original and off of an effort to be anything more than a curiosity and/or a desire to just re-watch the original.

The Evil Dead

A marvel what some college film students can do on a shoestring budget

The first ever full-on film project by budding filmmakers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert(then called Bobby Tapert)would prove to be a work of endurance and love and also one of the more entertaining horror films made in the eighties.

The plot is painfully simple: Five young adults from Michigan drive off into the woods for a camping vacation,using a seldom-used cabin as their haunt. They uncover a tape recorder and a crusty,dusty and blood-and-flesh-coated "Book of the Dead" or "Necromonicon",inadvertently incant the chant that awakes a limitless supply of malevolent spirits in the woods,and then one by one get picked off until a lone survivor is left to fight to escape. The story isn't much of an accomplishment:it's the whole physical undertaking that's the real accomplishment.

On a small budget that was probably getting smaller as the shoot continued(I don't know the exact amount of time of filming,but it probably lasted at least a year),the filmmakers and stars(all of 'em,most famously budding star Bruce Campbell as the conflicted but can-do Ash)had to make the most of a limited set,claustrophobic settings,gallons of viscous fluids,endless supplies of cakey make-up,a limited amount of lighting(probably NOT an accident,there) and probably a mass-produced amount of fog to create something that has both the feel of a creepily eerie film about the undead and yet had the effects to back up the type of slasher horror pic that the producers were aiming for.

The first of an intriguing trio of horror/comedy films that Raimi,Tapert,Campbell and company would crank out over a period of just under fifteen years(and,after seeing this film in full,I'm not sure if anyone involved originally intended to make any sequels),the atmosphere and noticeably cheap effects may turn-off your pickier horror film snobs,but anyone with a sense of adventure and high tolerance for gore will be reasonably pleased--if not greatly impressed--by this first effort film. A keeper,not a renter,not only for repeated viewing but also for the extras.


It's ALL about the game
Upon watching this show for what I'm presuming the first time,my father observed that the show's payout seemed paltry compared to the amount of brain power invested into the front game and end game. But what my dad didn't care to notice was that this game--produced and ran exclusively through Game Show Network--was created and ran primarily as a variation on the popular but now not-seen NBC daytime game "Scrabble",that a cable produced show doesn't have the prize budget of a show that is run by,say Sony Pictures,and that the whole élan of this show was that the true star of this show(besides host Chuck Woolery or whichever hostess,which happened from about season two on)was the game,a word game that is born out of the same game principles as Bingo(Language or Letters + Bingo= Lingo),and that the ability to master this game is a skill in and to itself.In other words,the money is secondary to the ability to show off one's mastery of words. As such,it's a fine watch,nothing all-too spectacular. The time constraints and game clock seem to be run rather arbitrarily,vis-a-vis the game pacing and this show would simply NOT have any character without a genuinely affable persona like Woolery mastering the ceremonies. Even though I cannot consider myself a fan,I think it's a watchable enough show that I kinda hope its still going to be renewed(assuming that it hasn't been canceled)and that they continue to tweak the game formula,prizes and all. A kind of game show for the viewer who enjoys the game itself over the promised payout.

Harold and Maude

Would STILL create a stir
Seeing those T-Mobile iphone commercials and hearing that Cat Stevens composition for this movie brought back memories of this film. I was only vaguely aware of this film until I was of adult age(I am about the same age as this film and yet it was something of a buried treasure,rarely talked about and mostly popularized by word-of-mouth over the many years after it wwas released),but the concept(and the trailers I spied on another classic film's copy)intrigued me enough to watch this a few years back. What I saw charmed me and affected me in ways that were both disturbing and wonderful.

The story's pretty well accounted for:the romance between spoiled,death-obsessed malcontent teen Harold(Bud Cort)and breezy,life-affiriming octogeneraian Maude(stage legend Ruth Gordon, relatively fresh from her praised work on Rosemary's Baby)is something so refreshing and odd,so nervy and strange that we're near forty years since this show's bow and one could DARE studios to try and make a film like it and get no takers! Director Hal Ashby may've not made much in the way of money or immediate headway to this film,but I feel like this actually added to his accumen or legend as a brilliant,daring filmmaker. A fairly spare supporting cast,with fairly quick turns by Ellen Geer(as a near-suicidal drama queen and potential girlfriend of Harold's)and Tom Skerritt(in a quick scene--really a cameo--as a motorcycle cop)are really the only off-hand memorables in a film that is mostly centerred around the two titular characters,the Cat Stevens compositions and the spare,stark yet muted scenery.

A rare gem of a movie that may vex and confound some--maybe many--but a touching and odd story that truly earns the praise it gets.

See all reviews