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The Stranger

Every minute is masterful
Start with an inviting, wish-I-were-there small town setting. Then, toss in the most horrendous and heinous kind of evil, creating ripples in the placid pond. Watch as the ripples and their reflections move across the waters. Add the acting talents of three of the truly great performers of the 20th century, Loretta Young, Edward G. Robinson, and Orson Welles, and direction worthy of Hitchcock at his peak. Top it all off with a supporting cast that never misses a beat. That is what you have here. The Stranger may not be the perfect film, but if you like the sense of films like Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," you'll probably enjoy this. Personally, I have found it more engrossing every time I view it. Even though the mystery is gone, the great performances and pacing really are amazing.

The Last Broadcast

a mystery, not a horror shocker
Avoid this film if you are looking for a horror scarefest; while some elements here are eerie, the goose-bump meter will barely register.

On the other hand, if you like mysteries, are drawn to documentaries, and don't mind a few of your assumptions and preconceptions being punctured, you just may find this little shoestring production to be engaging (if not slam-dunk entertainment).

The Last Broadcast is a mystery/thriller presented in a documentary form. It concerns the murder of three (or is it two?) young men who go in search of the "Jersey Devil" monster for a local access cable TV show.

However, the direction that the documentary investigates is not whether the Jersey Devil actually killed the men, but whether it was possible for the convicted man, a local "psychic," to have actually committed the crime. The developing answer seems to be that he could not, since newly-discovered tape shows that the murders took place much later than the police had believed. This calls into question all sorts of things we tend to accept. Our perceptions of reality are edited, sometimes in ways, or by people, that go undetected or unsuspected. Also, each of us, including criminal investigators, often edit our collected facts to fit our prejudices. This may lead us to ignore an unexpected truth, even when it lies right before us.

Seeing may be believing, but it may not lead to believing the truth.

The digital engineer who helped with reconstruction of damaged videotape even admits that she must direct the computer in completing (and creating) its images. And that is a metaphor for the whole documentary. Images are not real.

I must agree that the end of the film is abrupt because of the change in perspective. However, if you pay attention, you may notice that the perspective actually changes several times. The first of these is its subtle turn from objective arm's-length documentary to personal commentary after the previously-missing tape shows up at the producer's doorstep. From that point on, the focus shifts more and more to the producer/reporter and his actions in investigating, reconstructing, and re-creating the actual events surrounding the murders. When the documentary style is finally dropped, doing so is a continuation of that progression.

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