Tailor Of Panama, The (2001, ***1/2) (5-21-01)
Taken (2008) (***, action, thriller) (7-23-09)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (****, drama, crime) (6-4-08)
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) (**1/2, drama, crime, action) (6/23/09)
Talented Mr. Ripley, The (1999) (***1/2, crime, drama) (2-14-00)
Talking Pictures: The Dawn of Sound. Exhibit
Talk Radio (1988) (*** drama)
Taming of the Shrew, The (1967) (****, humor)
Tampopo (1986) (***1/2, humor, drama)
Tank Girl (1995) (**1/2, fantasy, action, live cartoon)
Tape (2001) (***, drama) (12-23-02)
Taxi Driver (1976) (***, drama) (7-2-01)
Telefon (1977) (***, spy) (3-5-01)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (***1/2 Sci Fi thriller)
Terror By Night (1946) (***, crime) (3-25-02)
Thanksgiving Turkey Ratings
There's Something About Mary (1998) (***1/2, humor)
Thief (1981) (***, crime, drama)
Thelma and Louise (1991) (***1/2, drama)
Them!(1954) (***1/2-horror, 50s sci fi)
They Call Me Trinity (1972) (**, comedy western)
Thing, The (1982) (***1/2, horror)
Thing (from Another World), The (1951) (**1/2, 50's Sci-fi, horror)
Things to Come (1936) (**1/2, sci fi, classic) (5-8-00)
Things to do
Things to Do in Denver When You Are Dead (1995) (***1/2, crime, drama)
Things to Fear: (10-2-00)
Thin Man, The (1934) (***1/2, mystery, humor, classic)
Thin Man Goes Home, The (1944) (***, crime)
Thin Red Line, The (1998) (***1/2, war, drama) (3-15-99)
Third Man, The (1949) (****, drama)
Thirteen Days (2001) (***1/2, docudrama, thriller) (8-17-01)
Thirteenth Floor, The (1999) (***, sci fi, thriller) (5-8-00)
13th Warrior, The (1999) (***, historical docudrama?) (8-23-99)
39 Steps, The (1935) (****, spy drama)
This Gun for Hire (1942) (**1/2, crime, spy)
This Island Earth (1954) (***, 50 sci fi)
Thomas Crown Affair, The (1968) (**1/2, crime) (8-9-99)
Thomas Crown Affair, The (1999) (*** or ***1/2 depending on family member, crime) (8-9-99)
Timebomb (1991) (**, sci fi, action) (10-22-04)
Timecrimes aka Los cronocrímenes (2007) (***,scifi) (7-31-09)
Traffic (2000) (***, crime, drama) (2-12-01)
There Will Be Blood (2007) (***1/2, drama) (2-25-08)
Three Faces of Eve, The (1957) (***, drama)
Three Musketeers, The (1993), (***, action, comedy)
Three Stooges, The Classic Collections from Digital Disc Entertainment (***, comedy) (10-22-01)
Three Days of the Condor (1975) (***, spy, drama, thriller)
Three Kings (1999) (***1/2, action, war) (10-18-99)
Throne of Blood (1957) (***1/2, drama, war)
Throw Momma From the Train (1987) (***, comedy)
Ticks (1993) (*1/2, horror)
Time Machine, The (1960) (***, classic, sci fi) (9-10-01)
Tin Cup (1995) (**1/2, comedy)
Tin Star, The (1957) (**1/2, Western)
Titan A.E. (2000) (**, animation, sci fi) (12-18-00)
Titus (1999) (****, drama) (5-28-01)
To Be or Not to Be (1942) (***, comedy) (9-23-02)
To Die For (1995) (**1/2, satire, black humor, drama)
To Live (original title Huozhe) (1994) (****, drama)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (***, action)
Top Secret! (1984) (***, comedy, spy, musical)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (***1/2, docudrama, war) (12-11-00)
Touching the Void (2003) (****, documentary, docudrama) (3-28-05)
Yet another Touch of Evil
Touch of Evil, A (1958) (****, drama, crime, noir)
Toy Story (1995) (****, comedy, animation)
Toy Story 2 (1999) (****, animation) (12-27-99)
Training Day (2001) (***, crime, action) (9-9-02)
Transsiberian (2008) (***1/2, suspense) (5-29-09)
Traffic (2000) (***, crime, drama) (2-12-01)
Treasure Island (1950) (***1/2, action) (12-16-02)
Tremors (1990) (***1/2, horror)
Tremors II, Aftershocks (1995) (**1/2, horror, comedy)
Trespass (1992) (***, action, drama)
The Train (1964) (****, war, docudrama) (9-9-04)
Trial (1955) (***1/2, courtroom drama) (3-6-00)
Trigger Effect, The (1996) (***, drama)
The Triplets of Bellville aka Triplettes de Belleville, Les (2003) (***, animation) (3-28-05)
True Believer (1989) (***, drama)
True Lies (1994) (**1/2, adventure)
True Romance (1993) (***, crime, drama) (6-10-02)
Truman Show, The (1998) (****, drama, sci fi)
Truth About Cats & Dogs, The (1996) (**1/2, romance, comedy)
Turning Point, The (1952) (**1/2, drama)
12 Angry Men (1957) (***1/2, drama)
Twelve Monkeys (1995) (***, sci fi, drama)
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) (***, 50s sci fi) (11-1-99)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) (****, sci fi, action, fantasy)
Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) (Drama, **)
Twins (1988) (**1/2, comedy)
Twister (1996) (**1/2, action)
2 Days in the Valley (1996) (**1/2, crime, drama)
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (****, sci fi)
28 Days Later(2003) (***, horror) (7-14-03)
28 Weeks Later (2007) (**, horror) (6-10-08)
TV Remakes. (10-23-00)
Tailor Of Panama, The (2001, ***1/2) (5-21-01) (D.- John Boorman; Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Brendan Gleeson, Leonor Varela) Based on the novel by John Le Carre and written by Boorman, Le Carre, and Andrew Davis. Taut, comedic, post-cold war thriller. It is said that the only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys. In Tailor, the only difference between pre- and post- cold war spies is the absurdity of their goals rather than the ruthlessness of their actions. MI6 agent Andy Osnard (Brosnan) is a disenfranchised spy. His womanizing and erratic behavior have embarrassed the agency one too many times. Only his years of effective service and friends in high places allow him to survive by being banished to the hinterland of Panama.
Of course spies need information, and Andy uses a little blackmail to tap into Harry Pendel (Rush), who is a highly placed tailor in Panama City. Harrys firm is Braithwaite & Pendel of London's Saville Row. Harry is a tailor in all regards. He is a man who takes uncut cloth and molds a man into an icon, which is something he may not be. He tells people what they want to hear. Osnard wants juicy information to regain his former power; Harry is capable of supplying it, and lets not quibble about its veracity. In this symbiotic relationship, both men are silently complicit in their understanding of its true reliability. However, even in post-Noriega Panama, politics can still be a blood sport as Harry should be reminded every day by his executive secretary Marta (Varela) and his drunken friend and ex-revolutionary Mickie (Gleeson). Harry does not fully comprehend the full depth to which his actions can plunge him and his family.
The script is literate, the dialogue incisive, the acting first rate. The humor is extensive, frequently black, and very satirical. But comedic or not, this is a Le Carre, and the viewer is not sure until the final frame how it is going to play out as the end rushes into a black tunnel of political and government intrigue.
Brosnan is perfect as Andy. The completely logical dark side of James Bondand who better to play it than Bond himself? Amoral. Cunning. Ruthless. Rush is perfect as Pendel. Curtis, although having a small part as Harrys loving wife, is a fine counterbalance for his impulsive yarn telling. Beginning
Taken (2008) (***, action, thriller) (7-23-09) (D.-Pierre Morel; W.-Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen; Liam Neeson, Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Katie Cassidy, Gérard Watkins, Famke Janssen, Arben Bajraktaraj) A former government operative whose career has destroyed his marriage has retired so that he can be near his daughter as she grows up. He is meticulous, uptight, and overprotective. He sees threats and conspiracies in everything; he no doubt checks under his bed before retiring and dispatches any vermin. These characteristics do not further endear him to his ex-wife. Things reach a head when the daughter, 17, wants to go Paris with a friend. He finally agrees, but only if she keeps in close touch with him. Without giving anything away, she is abducted while he is on the phone with her, and he manages to speak to them. In his ever so cold voice, he outlines that he has special skills that should concern them, but he will let it all pass if they let her go. He concludes with the ever so softly spoken line: "I will look for you. I WILL find you. I will kill you." To which the abductor Marko (Bajraktaraj) responds "Good luck." Marko should have listened more closely to the subtext. While Mills certainly has no traditional religion, his philosophical views are pure Old Testament blood, righteous vengeance, and protecting family. The remainder of the film is his search for daughter.
I liked the way the film took its time setting up the characters before the requisite action. Neeson is perfect for the role. Cold, usually calm, ruthless, unforgiving. Given his experience and training, his actions are indeed believable. The action sequences, especially the hand to hand are well done, although one would like to hope that hand selected body guards would be able to hit a man in the back at close range with an automatic weapon. Neeson is a boxer and trained with a hand to hand expert.
So if you are into a mindless action film, you can do worse than Taken. It's just business. Beginning
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (****, drama, crime) (6-4-08) (D.-Joseph Sargent; W.-John Godey (novel), Peter Stone (screenplay); Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman, James Broderick, Dick O'Neill, Lee Wallace) The crime audacious: the high jacking of subway train Pelham One Two Three by four heavily armed men. The demands outrageous: a million dollars in one hour. The threat extreme and backed up: The money or everyone dies. The plan ingenious: How do you escape from a subway train in a tunnel? Watch the movie to find out.
The highjackers are led by ruthless ex-mercenary Mr. Blue (Shaw), a man who kills as effortlessly as you swat a fly, but only as an operational necessity. Although necessary in this case means anything needed to get the money. Or perhaps a few other things. Ive had men shot for talking to me like that. He is supported by the technical brains of Mr. Green (Balsam) and the heavies Mr. Grey (Elizondo) and Mr. Brown (Hindman). When you put together a team like this, you dont always get the cream of the crop as we well know from countless other caper films. The home team is extremely able police, security, and subway staff. Lt. Zachary Z Garber (Matthau) is in charge. This is a battle of intelligent, very able people on both sides. Well, perhaps not all, since the Mayor is up for reelection and a wrong move on his part could spell political disaster. The film unfolds in near real time as the two sides jockey for position and a favorable outcome. A joker and an ace in the hole that werent in the original equation add to the complexity.
The premise sounds ridiculous. It isnt. Everything you see is frighteningly believable and realistic. However, for those who read the excellent book, this comes as no surprise.
Shaw is an extraordinary villain. Intelligent, articulate, poised, mannered, and ever so frightening. A man your instincts would promptly and correctly scream Do not cross. Matthau is equally able in what he does in his low key, unflappable efficient fashion.
The dialogue, pacing, suspense, camera work, and acting are beautiful. There is no wasted action, no dead space. Everything fits together as the film moves breathlessly towards a fabulous ending. It has one of the best one liner endings on film. Actually one word endings. The film for all its seriousness has no shortage of humor, much of it black and droll.
If the use of colors for the criminals names sounds familiar, Tarantinos Reservoir Dogs drew heavily on Pelham. Pelham shows occasionally on Turner Classic Movies and is a must see. Beginning
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) (**1/2, drama, crime, action) (6/23/09) (D.- Tony Scott; W.-Brian Helgeland (screenplay), John Godey (novel); Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Luis Guzmán, Victor Gojcaj, John Turturro, James Gandolfini) A remake of the classic The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. While I am generally disappointed with remakes, given the director Scott and the Denzel Washington and John Travolta leads, I had hope. Misplaced as it turned out. What was a beautifully crafted thriller with rich, intriguing characters has been reduced to an action film. Four heavily armed men, led by the psychopath Ryder (Travolta), seize subway train Pelham 1 2 3 and demand 10 million dollars in 1 hour or they will kill a passenger a minute. Subway official Garber (Washington) becomes the negotiator. There is some intriguing interplay between Garber and Ryder, but Travolta is played way over the top, a caricature that is unbelievable given his intelligence and goals. Washington seems to be riding on autopilot and his emotional reactions to the situation never seem true and deep enough. The gang members who each had distinctive personalities in the original are reduced to gun toting backdrop. The mayor (Gandolfini) is played well with a more realistic persona than the original, and a new character of hostage negotiator Camonetti (Turturro) adds dimension to the cast. The film does make good use of modern technology and for those familiar with the original film and book, the story line is different enough to keep you off balance. I think part of the problem is that with the two powerhouse actors, they felt compelled to give them maximum screen time, which with the imposed action sequences left little for the other actors.
The film is filled with visual eye candy with all sorts of special effects that added nothing to the plot and I found distracting. It has crashes (unnecessary except for the action) and an unrealistic chase at the end. If this is your cup of tea you will probably enjoy it. If you want true suspense and a great ensemble cast milking a fine story for everything it is worth, check out the original. Beginning
Talented Mr. Ripley, The (1999) (***1/2, crime, drama) (2-14-00) (D.- W.- Anthony Minghella; Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jack Davenport) The second film version after Purple Noon of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. While it is generally a bad idea to remake a good film, Ripley proves to be an exception. Excellent acting, different plot twists, and superb cinematography and aurals makes Ripley a nasty piece of work also. Further, the basic plot has enough differences to keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next, even if you have seen Purple Noon. See review of Purple Noon for the basic plot. In contrast to the original, we see how Tom Ripley falls into the deal for bringing the Greenleaf son, Dickie (Law), back from Italy and how Tom insinuates his way into the life of Dickie and his fiancee Marge (Paltrow).
Tom is talented, quick witted, versatile. "A quick study" as we see in his learning of Italian. Truly charming. A person we could easily like. Tom is also a sociopath. He has no moral compass, which, coupled with his intelligence and skills, makes for a deadly combination. Actually, I'm not sure whether he fits the definition of a sociopath perfectly or not. He knows right from wrong and feels badly about his acts, but has an enormous capacity to compartmentalize and ignore his sins. Ripley is more explicit about the homoerotic element.
Damon is excellent and frighteningly believable as Ripley. Law is excellent as the arrogant self-centered, pleasure seeking drone with contempt for those below his social station. Paltrow is excellent, has a more pivotal role than in the original, and is the most sympathetic character in the film--a woman at the mercy of two untrustworthy males.
So for an unsettling evening, give Ripley a check. I highly recommend seeing it on the big screen for the full visual and aural effect. Beginning
Talking Pictures: The Dawn of Sound. Exhibit down at the Virginia Discovery Museum on the downtown mall. Until November 5. Fascinating AT&T exhibit on the early technology of sound films. See and hear a clip from the first talkie, Don Juan. See an early Vitaphone sound projector and hear how you would have sounded--would you have made the dangerous transition from silent film to talkies?. The earliest talkies used wax disks like our modern records. They had a few problems as the needles lasted for one screening and the wax disks lasted for only about 20 screenings. Unlike modern records, they played from the inside out because the needles wore out by the time they got to the outside track and there the damage was less apparent. (9-25-95)
As an added benefit of your admission, The Discovery Museum is running Clouds, Corn, and Clay: The Pueblo Indians of the Southwest until November 19. The exhibit was developed by my wife Susan and is on the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico; the photography was by yours truly. The exhibit is designed to be handled, so just ask one of the staff or volunteers to open the case for you--or on Thursday my wife can regale you. Chemistry Department people will also notice Susan Collin's name on the acknowledgements; this is for her role in photographic layout. (9-25-95) Beginning
Talk Radio (1988) (*** drama) (D-Oliver Stone,; Eric Bogosian) A joint screen play by Stone and Bogosian based on Bogosian's and Ted Savinar's one set stage play. Turn on the radio or turn over a rock late at night and you may be treated to one of the hate master's radio call-in shows where the goal is to annihilate the caller and everything they stand for. People appear to enjoy listening to these because the host gets their blood boiling. Bogosian plays a mesmerizing radio hate monger hell-bent on destroying himself and everything he can take with him. In real life Bogosian also does savage comedy in a similar vein. This, along with an interview with him that I read, leads me to believe this is truly one unhappy man. Not surprisingly the part rings disturbingly true. Not an uplifting, pleasant, or enjoyable movie. However, it is a very well shot, directed, and acted movie about the underbelly of the human soul. Whether you can take it depends on your pain threshold. Based loosely on the life and assassination by right wing radicals of the Denver hate talk show host Alan Berg. Beginning
Taming of the Shrew, The (1967) (****, humor) (D-Franco Zeffirelli; Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Cyril Cusack) A faithful adaptation of Shakespeare's Petruchio and Katharina matching wits in a timeless battle of the sexes in 16th-century Italy. Taylor and Burton were at their comic best. This is ribald, tasteless, slapstick, and probably very, very sexist by the standards of modern women. Nevertheless, the battle of wills of the intelligent, spoiled, hard headed Katharina and the hard drinking, but sharp witted mercenary, Petruchio, will leave your sides aching as both actors chew the scenery. In real life Burton and Taylor carried on a long multimarriage (to each other) courtship that spanned many movies. Their interactions here were probably not unlike their real life. As a warning, this does use the original Shakespearean dialogue, but most will not notice past the first few sidesplitting scenes. The marriage scene alone is priceless. Beginning
Tampopo (1986) (***1/2, humor, drama) (D.-Juzo Itami; Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Rikiya Yasuoka, Kinzo Sakura) And now for something completely different. Human existence reflected in a bowel of noodles. Tampopo (Miyamoto) is a Japanese widow who needs a recipe for perfect noodles to succeed in her restaurant business. The film opens like a modern Spaghetti Western as Goro (Yamazaki) rides into town and dismounts from his semi looking for a bowel of perfect noodles. To put it mildly, Tampopo's noodles do not meet the bill, but her sweet charming nature hooks Goro who sets out to help her create the perfect noodle. The film is part Eastwood Western and part James Bond espionage to name a few of the genre it borrows from. While the subject and approach are rather alien, our basic humanity, our goals, our aspirations, and our foibles in pursuit of these are universal, and will be recognizable to everyone just as in Shall We Dance. Tampopo has great fun poking fun at the principals while maintaining its love and respect of them. Tampopo is not knock-you-down funny, but carries you along with a continual stream of smiles. Even though for most of us, noodles are not standard fare, their preparation and consumption is likely to leave you with great hunger at the end. In Japanese with good subtitles. Available at Beyond Video. (5-11-98) Beginning
Tank Girl (1995) (**1/2, fantasy, action, live cartoon) (D.-Rachel Talalay; Lori Petty, Ice-T, Malcolm McDowell, Naomi Watts) And now for something completely different. You want bizarre? You want off the wall? We accidentally switched on the beginning of Tank Girl--it met these criteria in spades. Based on a comic strip character. This low budgeter mixes live action with comic strip frames to create a unique experience. Its 2033 and all the oceans have dried up after a meteor strike. The evil Water & Power, Co. controls most water and most of the survivors, and savage Rippers roam the surface. A few survivors eke out an existence trying to avoid extermination or enslavement by W&P, which is run by megalomaniac Kesslee
(McDowell). Tank Girl (Petty) is not too bright, but more than makes up for this shortage with a big attitude. Also, I don't think that we see her twice with the same hair style, eye colors (note plural), or clothes. Tank Girl pulls out all the stops, revels in its absurdity, and everyone seems to be having a grand time. I think this is more of what Judge Dredd needed. As an aside, one evaluates this movie by the good characters not the acting--no one's behavior is normal enough to be judged this way. If you are looking for something very much out of the ordinary, don't mind some profanity and a higher (but still cartoonish) level of violence than Dredd, and have an odd ball sense of humor, you may wish to check it out. Beginning
Tape (2001) (***, drama) (12-23-02) (D.- Richard Linklater; Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman) Tape is definitely not more of your same old-same old. It starts slow, but dont be deceived. Everything you see and everything you hear is actually relevant to what will unfold. This is one of those films that is hard to review, because just about anything I say will give plot away. It is ten years after high school graduation. Johnny (Leonard) is a budding film director getting his first film at a film festival. His old buddy Vince (Hawke) has come to see it. Johnny awaits Vinces arrival in a cheap motel room. What is about to happen is a study in deviant psychology. It will involve the two men and a high school sweetheart, Amy (Thurman). Something happened 10 years ago. We may or may not find out what
The entire film is shot in a single room showing its stage origin. For the purpose, this is more than enough. Opening it up would have destroyed the insular, claustrophobic nature of the setting. It is based on the play by Stephen Belber who also wrote the screenplay. The characters are believable, but not people you would want to bring home to your mother. There is a great deal going on under the surface and it only slowly reveals itself. However, truth is not linear and our interpretation of what we see is constantly shifting with each new revelation. And with fade to black you may find yourself questioning what actually happened. You will certainly have good grounds for discussing the true nature of the interactions and relationships between the principals.
The acting is excellent and the cinematography and editing appropriate for the topic. However, I did find the directors technique of whipping the camera back and forth between speakers to be overdone and distracting.
The film was filmed entirely on digital video, edited with Final Cut Pro and transferred to 35 mm. Review based on the DVD available at Sneak Reviews.
Warning: This is not a film for all tastes. Even those who find it intriguing may not enjoy it. Also, do not watch the trailer before watching the film.
Taxi Driver (1976) (***, drama) (7-2-01) (D.- Martin Scorsese; W.-Paul Schrader; Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks) Nightmarish is probably the best single word that describes Taxi Driver. Sick. Violent. Disturbing. Taxi Driver generates highly polarized views ranging from brilliant to disgusting. De Niros performance is superbly disturbing and the cinematography is stellar in conveying the horrific qualities. Travis Bickle is a physically and mentally scarred disenfranchised ex-Marine who is seeking redemption. The man is clearly mentally ill at the beginning, and we watch his complete progression into hell. He is functional as a taxi driver in New York City, probably his only area of functionality. Like some great ocean scavenging bottom feeder, his taxi prowls at night through the darkness and filth of the most degraded neighborhoods with the whores, pimps, junkies, and porn palaces. Travis is irrevocably drawn to these areas even though he claims to hate them and wants them to be washed away in a great rain. He seeks redemption in a blond goddess Betsy (Shepherd), only to provide the seeds of the destruction himself. Not that Betsy is any too stable herself, but she does have a few survival instincts left. This failure leads to his ultimate fixation on saving a 12 year old prostitute, Iris (Foster), from her pimp Sport (Keitel), although whether his saving is worse than her current fate is questionable.
Travis is ultimately a man with a mission. The objective, however, is as fevered and unclear as his mind. However, he is going to make a splash whatever it is. I originally interpreted the ending literally and found it ridiculous. In retrospect, I realize it is not literal, and it now makes perfect sense.
Life is seen through Traviss cataracted eyes. Warped, distorted, obscene. This is not a character study; we never understand why Travis is self-destructing. Indeed, I suspect that his wound has nothing to do with his current mind set. By the time we first see him, he is already too far gone for his behavior to make sense to a rational human being. Only he can fathom his fractured logic.
The stunning and much quoted You talking to me? scene where Travis talks to himself in the mirror was not in the original script as presented. De Niro was trying the scene a number of ways to see what worked. Afterwards they realized that the collage clearly projected the state of his disturbed mind.
Taxi Driver is bleak, dark, nightmarish, bloody. You feel like you need a shower afterwards. You were warned. As an aside, Walter Hinckley became fixated on Jodie Foster from this movie and ultimately tried to assassinate President Reagan. Review based on the DVD from Sneak Review and has no extras. Beginning
Telefon (1977) (***, spy) (3-5-01) (D.- Don Siegel; Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasence, Tyne Daly, Patrick Magee, Alan Badel, Sheree North) Taut, clever little cold war thriller about brain washed fifth columnists triggered by subliminal message into acts of sabotage. The destruction is initiated by a revengeful hard liner (Pleasence). Bronson is a Russian major sent to stop him with help of American Russian agent Remick. All of this must be done quietly and quickly so that the US government doesnt discover that the Russians were responsible. But how do you find a man who can kill by merely lifting a phone, even if you know who the recipients of the calls are? Bronson is a coldly efficient killer. Remick is a nice foil with her own ruthless edge. Pleasence is oilily destructive. Daly is a hoot in a bit part as a brilliant government intelligence agent. There are some nice twists, and the behavior of the principal Russians and Americans are believable. The ending is a little too pat and probably wouldnt work, but one can envision a slight variation that would.
Bronson, an intensely personal man, didnt want to have Remick, his alleged wife, kiss him at the airport. So it wasnt in the script. But she though it should be there and kissed him anyway. Bronson continued to play the scene and that is what you see.
Review based on the nice letterboxed version shown recently on Turner Classic Movies. Just remember, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep." Beginning
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (***1/2 Sci Fi thriller) (D-James Cameron; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick) Two terminators are sent from the future to the present. One, Schwarzenegger, is sent to save the boy who will save the world from the robots, while the Patrick (the improved liquid metal model) is the destroyer of worlds who must kill the boy at any cost. Schwarzenegger, as the maniacally good terminator, is a marvelous change from his maniacally destructive version of T1. The plot of T2 does falter compared to T1, there are some serious logical holes, it is a bit too preachy, and, as has been noted, it is possibly the most violent anti violence statement ever put on film. It doesn't matter. This movie is carried by its action and special effects. You may have heard about the special effects. They lied. They are even better than claimed. There is only one word for the special effects--AWESOME!! The action scenes and the visual imagery could not be better with one cliff hanger after another keeping you riveted to your seat; this is fortunate, as otherwise the special effects would knock you out of it. Great escapism.
As an aside, the special effects clearly demonstrate the validity of the growing concern about the reliability of photographic evidence. With enough money and time, anything, including a movie of Bush handing Gorbachev the complete plans to our defense system, could be "filmed" and would be indistinguishable from reality. Fortunately, for the near future, the operational words are "with enough money and time", so the technology is not yet a serious threat to our civil liberties. The F/X are so good in this that they are REAL even when viewed in the merciless glare of stills, where you can dissect every tiny piece. For example, I have studied the shot where the metal man walks out of the flames in the culvert. The reflections of the culvert, flames, etc. on him are perfect, as are his reflection on the water in the culvert. The same is true of the helicopter scene. As I tell my students "Photographic proof. Isn't." Beginning
Terror By Night (1946) (***, crime) (3-25-02) (D.-Roy William Neill; Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Dennis Hoey, Renee Godfrey, Mary Forbes) Solidly entertaining Sherlock Holmes thriller with Rathbone and Bruce carrying on their delightful Holmes and Watson pair. Theft and murder stalk a night train from London to Edinburgh. Augmented with gimmicks, gallows humor, and more suspects than M&Ms in a theater bag. Just dont ask where the one killer hangs out between appearances. Beginning
Thanksgiving Turkey Ratings. In view of the time of the year, it seems reasonable to have seasonally rated films. For example, there are a few special movies that are so appallingly bad that they are unintentionally funny; for these little gems we have a turkey rating--appropriate for Thanksgiving. When you are in the right mood these are good for an evening of laughs, although the director and cast would probably be highly put out by this. For my vegetarian friends, I have no non-turkey rating. The best I can come up with is Bomb--as close to being without redeeming social or artistic value as I can get. Finally, for Trekkies, I have introduced a Tribble rating. For a Trekkie, it doesn't get any warmer and cuddlier than a top rating of Four Tribbles. By the way, if you don't know what a Tribble is, rent the original Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles at Blockbuster. More on this next week. See Beginning of the End, Medicine Man, Plan 9, and Robot Monster.Beginning
There's Something About Mary (1998) (***1/2, humor) (D.-Peter Farrelly , Bobby Farrelly; Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott) No one has ever accused the Farrelly brothers of good taste--or of even rising to bad taste for that matter. Mary lives down to expectations. Mary is the poster child for the politically incorrect movement. There is no cherished image or group that doesn't take heavy hits. Warning: Mary is NOT a first date movie, although it could easily be a last date movie.
Mary is bawdy, tasteless and outrageously funny in places. Only its lack of consistent humor prevents it from rising to the Animal House of the 90s. Ted (Stiller) is a typical high school senior, homely, braces, insecure, and shy. A series of events ends with him headed to the prom with the most sought after girl in school, Mary (Diaz). No matter how keen your imagination or how experienced you are, no "Date from Hell" could approximate what is about to befall poor Ted. In case you haven't heard, and to warn you about what you are getting into, let's just say tactfully that part of it involves a pant's zipper and a certain dear portion of the male anatomy. But only a part of it. The Farrellys build disaster on disaster to a horrific conclusion worthy of the worst horror films. It makes me glad that dating is a thing of my past--long past. Then Mary is long gone, but Ted still remembers her and 13 years later would like to initiate contact. He uses slime ball detective Healy (Dillon), recommended by his friend Dom (Elliott), which again sets off a series of disasters as he progresses towards his beloved.
As a story there isn't much here. But Mary is about set piece comedic sequences and off the wall characters. Stiller is Mr. Nice guy in over his head. Diaz is the girl next door with a few nasty edges. Dillon is great and the dog sequences are some of the high points of the film. As hard as it may be to believe, Elliott goes a bit too far in his weirdness. Mary's next door neighbor supports a tan like a chameleon.
Finally, two warnings. If taste is important to you, avoid Mary like the plague. If you go, don't get anything to eat or drink or you'll just add another disaster to the film. (8-3-98) Beginning
Thief (1981) (***, crime, drama) (D.-Michael Mann; James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, James Belushi, Robert Prosky, Tom Signorelli, Dennis Farina) Mann's film debut is an excellent little sleeper that stars James Caan and Tuesday Weld, both of whom give excellent performances. Caan is a limited actor, but his rather distant personality is perfect cover for the barely controlled rage that is finally forced out. It is tightly plotted with friendship, selfdiscovery, manipulation, betrayal, and revenge all rolled into one tight little package. Beginning
Thelma and Louise (1991) (***1/2, drama) (D.-Ridley Scott; Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Christopher McDonald, Brad Pitt, Harvey Keitel) Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for Screen. A high energy romp. A superb buddy picture with women. Sarandon and Davis are both outstanding actresses and this gives them a chance to strut their stuff. Two troubled women, one with a mentally abusive husband and the other with a darker past, take a vacation. An attempted rape with a resultant murder lead to their run from the law with the associated trials and tribulations. First, forget any of the political nonsense that you may have heard. This is not an anti male movie. True, the worst slime balls are men, but so are some of the most genuinely compassionate and reasonable people. Thelma and Louise is about people who, when confronted with apparently untenable stresses and situations, must either collapse into apathy or rise like a phoenix in all its glory from the ashes of their past and consequences be damned. Thelma and Louise, with its sharp wit, crisp dialogue, superb acting, outrageous situations, and philosophical questions will shed a merry light on all who watch, although you may find the end sharp edged. If these weren't enough, the cinematography and scenery are out of this world. I would like to say that the end was actually shot in New Mexico as claimed; however, it was around Moab, Utah and in Arches National Monument and Canyon Lands. The night shots were in Arches and the sunrise view is Arches' "The Three Gossips". If you see or have seen the movie you will recognize the shot of the Three Gossips shown here. Since I first saw photographs of Arches in college, I have wanted, nay lusted, to see Arches. This past summer, we finally made it. It wildly exceeded my impossible expectations. Arches is one of the natural wonders of the world with over 800 arches. For anyone interested in natural beauty, Arches is a MUST SEE. There is no other place like it on earth. (12-6-92) Beginning
Them! (1954) (****-horror, classic, 50s sci fi) (D-Gordon Douglas; James Arness, James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, Onslow Stevens, Sean McClory) A classic fifties black and white grade B "The Monsters Take Over the World" sci-fi. The tension and body count mount rapidly in an out-of-the way stretch of southern New Mexico near Trinity, the site of the first nuclear test. The monsters, this time, are giant mutated ants, which if they really could be scaled up would give man a serious run for his money as the dominant species. The monsters are good by 50's standards, although somewhat moth-eaten and laughable now a days. But much of the tension occurs when they aren't on the screen. Deep in our subconscious is a genetically encoded instinctive fear when our awareness of our surroundings becomes too constricted. For those of you who didn't grow up in the southwest, nothing activates this fear faster than being in an isolated area, at night, with the wind wailing through the telephone wires, in a dust storm so thick you couldn't see 20 feet if it were daytime. As with our tree dwelling ancestors caught on the veldt at night, the mind immediately goes to what is circling in the swirling dust just at the edge of our vision. Something, hidden by the dark, the dust, and with our ears rendered useless by the whining wind, waiting for the ideal moment to rush in, seize, rend, and tear. The mind catches fleeting glimpses of what may be out there. We fear that it may actually emerge and match our worst fears. And yet, it would almost be a relief to have it over. Douglas truly understands this primordial fear. There are some fine moments of suspense and action in this, including the battle in the Los Angeles sewers. Watch for Them! on late night TV. As an amusing aside, I get much of my information on dates and cast from the invaluable Banner Blue Movie Guide computer program. They blew this one by almost a thousand miles by reporting that the action takes place in the Mojave desert. Trinity is in New Mexico. (10-12-92) Beginning
They Call Me Trinity (1972) (**, comedy western) (D.- E. B. Clucher; Farley Granger, Terence Hill, Bud Spencer) Not without a certain low-brow charm. Unfortunately, too slow paced to deliver more than a few good belly laughs. A tongue in cheek send off of the "spaghetti westerns". Two disreputable brothers help a group of peace loving Mormons defend themselves from an even more disreputable band of local toughs and their Mexican bandito colleagues. Trinity's entry in the opening scene is a classic and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. (4-10-95) Beginning
Things to Come (1936) (**1/2, sci fi, classic) (5-8-00) (D.-William Cameron Menzies, Raymond Massey, Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson, Maurice Braddell, Edward Chapman, Ann Todd) Based on H. G. Wells's book The Shape of Things to Come with a script by Wells. It begins with War in 1940 (amazingly prophetic) that goes on for decades. We unleash everything on each other including chemical and biological warfare and plunge the world into chaos with countless small states run by warlords such as Massey. It ends with an art deco modernistic future in 2055 with an attempt at a trip to the moon. Although I dont think Wells intended it this way, the ending is in many ways a depressing (and probably accurate) view of human natures inability to change no matter how pleasant life is. There will always be those who wish to be warlords over the rest of us.
Pompous and overbearing philosophically. Wells believed science would solve all problems, but the monologues on the topic will make you want to throttle the speakers. Less is more. In this case, a lot more. Just show the results and let the viewers draw their own conclusions.
What gives Things its **1/2 rating are the FX. State of the art for its time. In particular, the cannon at the end (yes, Wells returned to Jules Vernes method of propulsion) is absolutely magnificentgigantic, sleek, awesome.
So with the above warning, lovers of FX and especially the history of sci fi in film will find Things interesting. All others may wish to save their money. Based on VHS tape available from Sneak Reviews. Beginning
Things to do: While not movie reviews, there are a few things that I just had to suggest. (9-1-97)
At the National Art Gallery in DC until September 28: Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia. Taken from the golden age of about the 9 th to 12 th centuries, a stunning selection of temple statues and lintels marvelously presented. At the entrance to the exhibit you are greeted by an overwhelming wall-sized photo of one of the overgrown temples that puts what you see in the exhibit into context (go back and study it afterwards). My favorites were some of the lintels, which have three dimensional qualities unlike virtually any other bas-reliefs that I've seen. Apparently the Khmer had a well established art in wood carving, and no one bothered to tell them that you couldn't carve stone in the same way. When we there in early September, the lines were negligible.
The Paramount Theater, a talk by Jeffrey C. Dreyfus, President of the Paramount Theater and Cultural Center, Inc. Sunday Setember 21, 3:00 p.m., The McIntire Room, 3rd Floor, The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. A tour of The Paramount follows. The Paramount was an absolutely magnificent old style theater on the downtown mall. It closed in the early '70s and the nonprofit Paramount Theater organization is working on restoring and reopening. The Paramount is one of our historical treasures.
Third Annual Spirit Walk. On Friday and Saturday October 24 and 25, The Albemarle County Historical Society will host their third annual walk. An absolutely fascinating candlelight tour of the historical section of the city (including the old jail, the site of the last legal hanging in Virginia) where you will be told of the past by a series of spirits and reinacted scenarios. Not suitable for little ones, but I suspect children over 8 or 9 will find it fascinating--as will the adults. It sells out quickly. The tour takes about 75 minutes, so you will want good shoes and warm clothing. Tickets will be available to the public in Lee Park on Court Days, October 3-5 and probably from the Society afterwards. Cost will be $7.00 for adults and $3.00 for children under 12 (early tours only). They are looking for volunteers. (9-1-97) Beginning
This week I thought I'd present two radically different filmatic views of hell, Spawn and The Seventh Seal. (9-1-97)
Things to Do in Denver When You Are Dead (1995) (***1/2, crime, drama) (D.-Gary Fleder; Andy Garcia, Christopher Walken, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat William, Jack Warden, Steve Buscemi, Fairuza Balk, Gabrielle Anwar) The rating here is a family weighted average. Taut. Brutal. Unbalancing. Denver has one of the most unique and unsettling ways of spinning a story that I have seen in a while. Jimmy the Saint (Garcia) had worked with mob boss Christopher Walken, but has now gone straight. His business is as offbeat as you will ever find. Walken "has" Garcia do one last little job--just a little rough stuff--with a few of his old buddies. However, things go terribly wrong, which leads to the title.
The characters are uniformly offbeat and well acted. Walken is a true human monster--and he is paralyzed from the neck down! Garcia's cohorts span the gamut from the resignedly diseased Lloyd to the hair-trigger psychopath Williams (his first appearance really stunned me). Anwar (Pacino's exotically offbeat Tango partner in Scent of a Woman) is worthy of Garcia's romantic attention, but arrives at just the wrong moment. Jack Warden's narration in the diner forms a Greek chorus to the unfolding drama. Buscemi is Mr. Shhh, a lethal hitman with the appearance and demeanor of Wally Cox in Mr. Peepers (for the young, think milquetoast accountant).
Denver is like a good jig-saw puzzle. You start with a chaotic stack of loose pieces and by the end the disparate parts all come together, although I think the boat scene was unnecessary. Denver is a clear example that you should be careful what hells you inflict on others. You may find yourself a recipient of your wishes. Warning: A lot profanity. (8-26-96) Beginning
Thing, The (1982) (***1/2, horror) (D-John Carpenter, Kurt Russell) From the standpoint of creating a claustrophobic environment, The Thing is an outstanding example of extremely clever directorial handling. This movie is a faithful remake of the John W. Campbell, Jr.'s tight little novella "Who Goes There". The 1951 Thing with James Arness posing as a giant carrot bears no resemblance to the novella. An Antarctic crew discovers a frozen alien that can consume humans or animals and replace them with exact look alikes. Obviously, it starts consuming them and shortly no one can tell who is original and who is a copy. Result: incredible claustrophobic paranoia. The movie failed at the box office, possibly because Carpenter used slimy special effects to what many consider excess. Although quite frankly, it is tame by modern horror standards. If you can get past this, it is a riveting horror movie definitely worth seeing. Given the humans' foe, the movie ending is more realistic than that of the novella. When we went to see it at the theater the film broke in the last thirty seconds! (1-23-93) Beginning
Thing (from Another World), The (1951) (**1/2, 50's Sci-fi, horror) (D.-Christian Nyby, Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness, Dewey Martin, Douglas Spencer) Considered a classic. It isn't. A few stylish elements especially in the initial set up, but basically a disappointing version of John W. Campbell's classic crisp novella Who Goes There? Howard Hawks was producer and is credited with much of the style. A polar research group digs out an alien space ship and accidentally turns the pilot, a giant blood-sucking intelligent carrot, loose. The carrot is big and menacing due to James Arness' impressive 6'6" build. Arness is best known as Marshall Dillon on the long running Gunsmoke TV series. Thing includes many little gaffes: They have radioactivity destroyed by fire. Radioactivity from the space craft on the ground drives their Geiger counter on their circling plane wild, but is not any more radioactive when they are standing on top of it. A few small thermite bombs supposedly will melt tons and tons of arctic ice. Also, the director managed one pure Keystone Cops' scene. Everyone is blockaded in the station with The Thing outside. They have carefully fortified the entry door with wooden ties so that it will be hard to smash through. Now picture the scene. Everyone is waiting breathlessly for the final assault. Unfortunately, The Thing merely walks up to the door and opens it outwards--the reinforcements were designed for a door opening inwards! Why not just lay out a Welcome Mat? And his nerve! Like unwelcome relatives, he didn't knock or wipe his feet. Carpenter's remake The Thing is a more faithful adaptation with true gut-wrenching tension, the absolute PARANOIA intended in the novella, and a more believable ending than the novella. (5-03-93) Beginning
Interesting Fact: In case you were wondering how they achieved the melting out of the creature, they took a mummy and froze it in a block of ice. Then they melted it slowly in an ice house and photographed the effect over several days. In the fire scene that really is James Arness. He was just too big to be replaced by a stunt man. They needed to work out some new methods for this. They needed a special paint on him and plastic (DuPont) hands to withstand the heat and protect him from the flames. In the final incineration where the Thing shrinks down, they used four sizes: Arness, then a regular sized person, then a midget, and finally a 12" miniature. Unfortunately, much of the effect is lost in the smoke and confusion. (1-10-95) Beginning
Things to Fear: (10-2-00) After Psycho no one would take a shower. After Jaws, the beach was off limits. With Rosemarys Baby you couldnt live in an apartment building. With Duel driving a car was a lethal exercise. So, in keeping with the evening news, Ill give you something else to worry about. Luxury cruises. The Poseidon Adventure and Deep Rising show two reasons to stay away from big ships on the ocean! Beginning
Thin Man, The (1934) (***1/2, mystery, humor, classic) (D.-W. S. Van Dyke; William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell, Cesar Romero, Natalie Moorhead, Edward Ellis, Porter Hall) Classic romp of hard drinking (and proud of it) sleuthing husband-wife combination Nick (Powell) and Nora (Loy) Charles. A combination of screwball comedy and murder mystery. While it isn't as funny today, we are treated to about as weird and memorable a combination of characters as is rarely seen in films nowadays. The Great Lebowski is an exception, but actually not by a lot. The chemistry between Powell and Loy is outstanding. They bicker. They make up. They try to outsmart each other. But they clearly have the greatest respect and admiration for each other. This pairing led to one of the most successful and long running romantic pairings in Hollywood. The Thin Man also led to five sequels as well as countless rip offs. Based on Dashiell Hammett's novel. Lillian Hellman, who had a long relationship with Hammett, indicated in later life that Nora was based on her. Amazingly, the film was made in 2 weeks. (3-9-98) Beginning
Thin Man Goes Home, The (1944) (***, crime) (D.-Richard Thorpe; William Powell, Myrna Loy, Lucile Watson, Gloria De Haven, Anne Revere, Helen Vinson, Harry Davenport, Leon Ames, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy) One of the last Thin Mans, but still enjoyable. For a change, the Charles aren't half soused. They are visiting his family in Sycamore Springs, and his parents don't drink. However, like Peyton Place, things are a lot darker and more dangerous in this small town than the locals suspect. Done with fine humor and a murder that you can actually pretty well figure out. (8-10-98) Beginning
Thin Red Line, The (1998) (***1/2, war, drama) (3-15-99) (D.-Terrence Malick; Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Nick Nolte, Jim Caviezel, John Cusack, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas) Screen play by Malick based on the novel by James Jones. Line is the first film from Malick in 20 years. His last film was the visually stunning Gates of Heaven. Malick is a visual stylist rather than a traditional story teller, and Line has even less plot than Heaven. Line is magnificently photographed by John Toll. As with Saving Private Ryan, it has a symmetry with the troops riding the landing craft onto Guadalcanal in the opening and the survivors riding the landing craft out at the end. With the exception of the taking of a hill, there isn't a real plot in the middle. However, in its own way, Line is every bit as horrific as Ryan.
We see the struggle through the eyes and sometimes voice overs of the principals, including Lt. Col. Tall (Nolte) who sees the war as his turn at fame, Private Witt (Caviezel) who longs for his wife, Sergeant Welsh (Penn) who respects his men, and Captain Staros (Koteas) who is unwilling to let his men die no matter how necessary.
The primary weakness of the film is that it is too talky and internalized. The characters are not clearly differentiated and in the voice over it is hard to tell who is even talking since they are similar. That this is very much an internalized film is seen clearly in one of the scenes where Witt gets a "Dear John" from his wife and is philosophizing on the implications. He is on an air strip and we have seen fighters take off and land. As he muses, a fighter flashes across the background and it is clearly in serious trouble as smoke pours from it. He is totally oblivious to it and we hear or see nothing further about it. This life and death drama in the background is irrelevant to Witt. Had the characters been more clearly delineated, it would have been a much better film.
The real conflict that works is between Tall and Staros. Tall states "You've got your war," as he laments that this is his first opportunity to prove himself and get what he deserves regardless of how many must die. Staros on the other hand is unwilling to send any of his men into harm's way. The necessary truth lies somewhere in between. The resolution of their conflict has a realistic Catch 22 flavor.
Where the film is at its best is in the taking of the heavily defended hill. It has a surrealistic feel to it as the men work their way up through waving fields of grass, and death is as capricious as a crap shoot. Both Ryan and Line convey the terror, the fear, the horror. Unlike Ryan, Line does not make the enemy anonymous assassins. Here both sides are fighting for their lives and have personalities. Kill or be killed. Philosophy is totally irrelevant when a man is coming at you with a bayonet, and dying or surrender is a very personal thing.
Malick also juxtaposes our efficiency of killing against the natural world. Nature may not be pretty in some details, but it tends to be functional. The balancing of beauty and horror does disturb.
Ultimately, I think the film fails. It should have stayed with the imagery and let the viewers draw their own conclusions. But in its best parts, it is a powerful, disturbing film.
Unlike some of the other brutal landing assaults in the Pacific, the initial landing on Guadalcanal was largely unopposed. However, the Japanese decided that the breach of their outer perimeter with the loss of Guadalcanal and its airfield, which was used to harrass Allied shipping, would be a disaster. So they threw everything they had into the defense of the island. This led to some of the most protracted and bloody ground and naval actions of the war. It took 6 months to secure the island.
Oh yes. The magnificent fields of grass covering the hill. They were planted after winter for the filming. Beginning
Third Man, The (1949) (****, drama) (D.-Carol Reed; Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Paul Hoerbiger, Ernst Deutsch) (Academy Award.-Cinematography) A fine thriller set against the devastation of post war Europe with an American coming to see an old friend, Harry Lime. Unfortunately, he arrives a little too late as his friend was killed in an auto accident. There is something strange about the accident, and the plot revolves around his investigation. The monologue in the ferris wheel is pure evil distilled into a few succinct words. This is not malevolent, directed evil, but cool impersonal evil where everyone exists only for the speaker's own advancement and manipulation. When this recently showed on the cable, they ran one frame from the movie in the catalog-- the ferris wheel scene--without comment. Anyone who has seen the movie recognizes it instantly. The ending drags a bit as the director became too enamoured with the possibilities of the imagery. (10-16-95) Beginning
Thirteen Days (2001) (***1/2, docudrama, thriller) (8-17-01) (D.- Roger Donaldson; W.- R. May, Philip D. Zelikow; Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Henry Strozier, Dylan Baker, Charles Esten)
Every man, woman, and child lives under a nuclear Sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest thread, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us. President John F. Kennedy, 1961.
When he said this, little did JFK know that about a year later he, along with Nikita Khrushchev, would nearly be coexecutioners of civilization by cutting this thread. Thirteen Days is a dramatization of the Cuban Missile Crisis based on interviews, books, and recently declassified secret tape recordings of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council during the crisis. Starting with the aerial reconnaissance discovery of the installation of nuclear missiles by the Russians in Castros Cuba in October 1962, Days follows the evolution and conclusion of the missile crisis. Although I was a college student at the time of the crisis, I am not a student of the crisis and my review is based on the excellent DVD and supplementary material along with TV interviews following the release of the movie. However, I did live through the nuclear terror of the 50s to 70s and can assure you that the feelings of the population are well portrayed. In spite of the simplification, introduction of fictional dialogue, and apparently some distortions of the fact, Thirteen Days is a bone chilling, nail biting look at what could have been, as Walter Cronkite on national news so succinctly put it, There goes the whole ball game. In my opinion, Thirteen Days should be required viewing for high school and college students.
At the time of the discovery, the Russians had nearly completed installation of at least 30 intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) that put over 100 million Americans and much of our nuclear strike force within scant minutes of annihilation. DC was only 5 minutes away. The story is told largely through the eyes of Kenny ODonnell (Costner) as he observes and comments on the actions of JFK (Greenwood) and Robert Kennedy (Culp). The military, led by Air Force General Curtis LeMay, along with some of the civilian advisers wanted a preemptive strike against Cuba. Warned by others that a strike would kill Russians and inexorably slide us into a full nuclear war as each side escalated their counter strike to exceed the power of their opponents previous one, JFK wanted to try for a more moderate position that ultimately would insure the removal of the missiles. The film portrays well the ebb and flow of the arguments, the strong and conflicting personalities involved, the machinations, and the heightening stress and tension as each new discovery ratcheted the spring closer to the breaking point.
As did many Americans, I assumed that when the Russian ships turned away from the quarantine line (not blockade as the movie explains) the crisis was over. Not so. For very logical reasons, the US continued to prepare an immediate invasion of Cuba. The shooting down of the U-2 spy plane and the killing of the pilot merely added certainty to this action. The film reveals how the pending end of the world was resolved by non-diplomatic channels. You must remember this was before the red telephone, and teletype communications took 12 hours.
Much of the dialogue you hear is verbatim from the tapes or based on the details of the tapes. Much of the footage of the crisis, of the military, the public and their reaction to the news, the news footage, and the protesters is documentary, although some were cleaned up and colorized so that it appeared as if it were staged for the film. The Moscow short wave broadcast you hear that ended the crisis is the actual track. Adlai Stevensons remarks in the UN Meeting are verbatim, as is the laughter you hear. China did invade India during the early stages of the crisis and our Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, couldnt understand why the US government wasnt responding to his communications. In terms of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing, the US did carry out a test of an ICBM from California to the Pacific during the crisis. You can bet that lit up the Russian radar. Also, as described, a U-2 gathering air samples off of Siberia wandered off course and strayed into Russian air space. Not mentioned in the film is that because of the defense level, the US fighters sent up to escort it home were armed with nuclear air-to-air missiles.
Other facts not revealed in the film include: contrary to US intelligence, the Russians did not have 5-8 thousand technicians, but 40 thousand crack combat troops. As revealed the US discovered part way through that the troops were armed with FROGS, tactical nuclear weapons. It was only learned in the 80s that commanders were authorized to use them. One of the reasons that Kruschev backed down was because of the shooting down of the U-2. The Russian military had an iron clad command structure and the troops were not supposed to fire on the U-2s. That they did so without authorization made Kruschev realize that things were slipping out of his control. The fact that it did happen convinced the US that the Russians were not planning on pulling the missiles out and were preparing to go the mat. The statement to Stevenson right before his appearance at the UN was actually a coded message to go ahead and show all the photos. Philip D. Zelikow, one of the writers and a consultant for the film is a UVA faculty member. The actor studying the U-2 photos was the son of Kenny O'Donnell. Those were the real photos as were the ones of the Russian ships. The briefing boards used in the meetings were later colored on by Caroline Kennedy. The shadows of the Kennedys at the end were the actors and not doctored even though the resemblance to JFK is uncanny. Many of the scenes were based on still photos from the period, which is why they look so familiar to us. Incidentally, the likeness of the actors to the originals is stunning. Only the Russian ambassador in the UN was extensively altered physically to resemble the original.
McNamaras conflicts with Admiral Anderson and General LeMay were such that he wanted both fired after the crisis. Kennedy only gave him one, Anderson. The incident between Anderson and McNamara is probably presented one-sidedly, but there is no doubt that men under intense stress and with little sleep do not always act rationally. Much of the animosity and distrust between the military and JFK had its roots in the Bay of Pigs fiasco. JFK felt the military had sandbagged him, and they felt that he had chickened out by not sending US troops in to support the Cuban expatriot invasion of Cuba.
Much has been said about the role of Kenny O'Donnell in the film. JFK did use him as a sounding board and he did keep his mouth shut at the meeting; this is why he was seldom heard on the tapes. Whether he was as influential as portrayed in the movie is known only to the dead. Regardless, it makes a useful focal point for the story telling.
The DVD is a cornucopia of information. It includes a film makers commentary, historical figures commentary and biographies, Roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bringing History to the Silver Screen, Visual Effects, and the theatrical trailer. A deleted scenes section with the directors commentary on why he deleted them makes for fascinating listening and an opportunity to see whether you agree with him.
The film also includes some of the most fearsomely beautiful films of nuclear tests that I have ever seen (many recently declassified).
When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you. Nietsche.
In Thirteen Days you get a chance to look into the abyss and then pull away just as the world barely did. Beginning
Thirteenth Floor, The (1999) (***, sci fi, thriller) (5-8-00) (D.W.-Josef Rusnak; Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dennis Haysbert, Steve Schub, Jeremy Roberts, Rif Hutton)
Yet another virtual reality game film. After eXisTenZ and The Matrix, Floor didnt fare well with the critics. However, it is a completely different film and should be judged independently. Master programmer Hannon Fuller (Mueller-Stahl) and his team Douglas Hall (Bierko) and Whitney (D'Onofrio ) are creating a fully interactive, total immersion gamereality doesnt look any more real than what they put your mind into. The game is set in 1937 Los Angeles. Only Fuller finds out something that sets the remainder of the plot in motion. What really is the game hiding? To give anymore away would spoil the fun. Let me just say that the plot unfolds as the characters move between the 30s and the present. Perhaps Hall should have heeded the adage about the cat and curiosity.
The film does a nice job of playing with your mind as you switch realities, especially since the same actor plays roles in the different worlds. Why not? The game characters were modeled after their designers. The acting is good, especially in the puzzlement and confusion of the principals. The pacing is slow, deliberate, circuitous, and knows exactly where it wants to go. Only you dont until you get there. The only serious weakness in my opinion was that the director telegraphed the ending way too soon and too obviously. Im not sure how he could have built the plot differently, but I found that point a problem.
The FX are minimal with one exception. The recreation of 30s Los Angeles is extraordinary. I suspect it really did look like that; there would be too many cries of outrage if it didnt. The hotel is especially impressive. If it still exists at all, it has to be in a built up area that bears no resemblance to the surroundings of the 30s.
So if you like virtual reality games, a touch of film noir, and an intriguing philosophical twist, give Floor a look. Beginning
13th Warrior, The (1999) (***, historical docudrama?) (8-23-99) (D.-John McTiernan; Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Dennis Storhoi, Vladimir Kulich, Omar Sharif) First a little background. In 1974, a friend of Michael Crichton was preparing a new college course called "The Great Bores"; this included all the "central" texts to Western civilization that, with time, had lost all significance and were dismal reads. Of course leading this would be the epic poem Beowulf. This raised Crichton's hackles as he considered it a story of great drama and excitement. To prove his point, he would make a contemporary and successful novel based on the Beowulf legend. He started with the premise that, like many great epics and mythology, it was based on fact. His novel would be the true story. It took him a while to work it out, but the result was the moderately successful popular novel Eaters of the Dead (1976). Within the framework Crichton created, he had to make a few additions. The primary one was the introduction of the actual Arab Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan who visited and chronicled the Vikings in about the correct time period. Crichton has him participate in the Beowulf legend. The 13th Warrior is the filmatic version of the book. The movie cuts to the chase, discards all the travelogue and focuses only on the final climactic confrontation.
Warrior has been badly savaged by the critics. However, for me, it is a historical retelling of a myth. It has good, evil, grand battles, great courage, and carnage. It is true to the myth. We are not talking about character development here. The figures are nearly mythological in their exploits and skills. At this level, I think it works well and is a successful actioner. If you expect more, you will be disappointed. Banderas is solid and acceptable as Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan and Kulich is Buliwyf. The battles are magnificent, although I kept thinking of The Seven Samurai as the 12 Vikings and the Arab defended the villagers from the marauders.
The book is much more exhaustive in the travel and cultural commentary. However, even in the film we do get good glimpses of the cultured, upper class Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan's reaction to the uncouth, slovenly, womanizing, drinking Vikings. He is also appalled by their love of fighting, but ultimately must adapt or die. Incidentally, he does drink mead, but according to Crichton the Muslim admonition against alcohol was originally only against wine.
I enjoyed the pageantry, the battles, the visuals (the use of mist in particular), and especially the way myth might have arisen in a very logical fashion from factual events. One element I liked was the way the director showed the Arab learning the Viking language. My wife, who likes Beowulf, really enjoyed both the book and the film. So especially if you like Beowulf, check out the movie. Crichton found that the novel was actually best received by those familiar with Beowulf. [Details from the "A Factual Note on Eaters of the Dead" (1992) appearing in the recent paperback Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (Ballatine Books, 1976).]Beginning
39 Steps, The (1935) (****, spy drama) (D.-Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, Wylie Watson) At Sneak Reviews and others. Black and white, 1935, and it still absolutely knocks my socks off! Certainly one of the best things Hitchcock ever did! Except for one or two little touches such as a hammy death scene, Steps is so modern that Hollywood probably could put it out tomorrow to good reviews. Hitchcock's mastery of plot, actors, and visuals is so breathtakingly adroit it appears effortless. For visuals, the scene where the maid's rising scream tranforms into a train is stunning even though now much imitated. The sweeping seamless flow from an up close conversation in a car, out the window to the back, to the car racing off into the distance is a delightful mind bender; I had to replay it to see how it was done. The final death with the chorus line in the background is stunningly beautiful, and possibly an allegorical reference to England's total indifference to the onrushing disaster of WWII. The plot sets the standard for subsequent Hitchcock spy thrillers. Innocent Donat picks up the wrong woman and ends up in the middle of a plot to smuggle weapon's information to a foreign (and unnamed in 1935) country. On one side is most of the UK hunting him for murder, on the other a vicious spy ring trying to cancel his life insurance, permanently, and in the middle is attractive Carroll, who is turning him into the police at every turn. Hitchcock's unique tempering of tension with humor was fully developed even in 1935. Donat and Carroll are perfect foils for each other. Their acting is effortless, and their banter sharp and witty. The scene in the hotel with the handcuffs is riotous and one wonder how it got by the censors. [Footnote: If their fluid discomfiture with the cuffs looks real, it is in part because of Hitchcock's little joke. They had never met before filming, and Hitchcock immediately cuffed them together to "get used to it." Then he disappeared for a full day with the keys. The two were furious, but could certainly work together in the cuffs.] Of course, a good thriller requires a good villain, and Tearle is coolly malevolent. The stage scene at the end is a tribute to Griffith's assassination of Lincoln in Birth of a Nation. As hard as it is to believe, the entire movie was shot in a studio. However, the herd of 60 real sheep did present a problem when they began grazing on the sets. Ah well. Even geniuses have their travails. (7-11-94) Beginning
This Gun for Hire (1942) (**1/2, crime, spy) (D.- Frank Tuttle; Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, Tully Marshall, Marc Lawrence, Pamela Blake) At Sneak Reviews. Beautifully filmed film noir piece about cold blooded killer, Ladd, whose closest thing to emotion is for stray animals. He is double crossed and goes after the double crosser with the efficiency of a pride of lions dismembering a zebra. Lake crosses his path and, after being nearly dispatched, gives him a change of heart. The transformation in his behavior just doesn't work, although it was good propaganda for the war effort. Neither Ladd nor Lake show any depth, and most of the character studies come from the villains. The beginning and Ladd's hunting of the opponent at the end are the best parts. His initial hit is as cold blooded as anything you see on the screen today. Visually I found the sequence in the train yard beautifully eerie and unsettling. (10-30-95) Beginning
This Island Earth (1954) (***, 50 sci fi) (D.-Joseph Newman; Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Faith Domergue, Russell Johnson, Lance Fuller, Douglas Spencer) Classic sci fi that does not get the exposure it deserves. Suspenseful, intelligently scripted story of scientist seduced, then conscripted into working for aliens. Their alien's purpose, defense of their home planet, is noble, but their methods draconian. Some of the special effects are quite impressive and emotionally effective, especially the planetary bombardment. Better in many way than Forbidden Planet. Based on Raymond F. Jones' novel. While the first half follows the novel, unfortunately, it then diverges from the much more complex and philosophical ending of the novel. The BEMs (bug eyed monsters) are typical of early sci fi. (9-19-94) Beginning
Thomas Crown Affair, The (1968) (**1/2, crime) (8-9-99) (D.-Norman Jewison; Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston, Biff McGuire, Yaphet Kotto) Extremely popular when it came out. Ultra-hip, ultra-cool story of millionaire Thomas Crown (McQueen). Crown thrives on challenge, risk taking, and living on the edge, but business no longer excites him. So, he takes up bank robbing--quite successfully. Enter type A insurance bounty hunter (Dunaway) who quickly singles out Crown as the perp and goes for him like a lioness for a gazelle's throat while simultaneously being fascinated by him. What more of a challenge could Crown ask for? A lovely woman. An intellect as ruthless as his own. And the remainder of his life as the stakes. Thus, begins the battle of wits and sexual chemistry between the two. I thought the set up and about the first half of the movie worked well. As did the ending, which was perfect. The lower rating is due to a boring third towards the end.
McQueen is perfect. In actuality, he was personally very much like his character; he was cool, acerbic, and a true risk taker (he actually did most of his motorcycle stunts in The Great Escape). Dunaway is a good foil, but ultimately the weaker partner. We wonder if for the times they felt that too strong a woman would antagonize the audience. However, the chess game is a hoot. If you have every wondered how the top 0.01% live, Crown is probably a good introduction.
The cinematography is beautiful. We loved the choreographing of the music with the glider scene. However, the split screen technique doesn't do anything for me. Academy Award for theme song "Windmill of My Mind". So, if you want a cool evening and anticipate the low third of the film, Crown delivers. Beginning
Thomas Crown Affair, The (1999) (*** or ***1/2 depending on family member, crime) (8-9-99) (D.-John McTiernan; Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Faye Dunaway) A remake that actually improves on the original. The basic plot is the same as the original. Filthy rich, bored, risk taker Thomas Crown (Brosnan) masterminds an art theft of magnificent proportions. Catherine Banning (Russo) is the insurance bounty hunter sent in to get it back. As with the original, she quickly guesses that Crown is the guilty party; thus begins the battle of wits and sexual chemistry. Brosnan is less abrasive than McQueen. Russo is more aggressive than Dunaway. The opponents are better matched here, and the chemistry and interplay is more realistic. They are perfect foils for each other--the high point of the film. Leary does a good job, like the original detective who is both appalled and fascinated by her.
Dunaway plays Crown's psychiatrist. A man like Crown is unlikely to need a psychiatrist, but it gives an opportunity for some insights into his personality. It also makes a great in-joke as she pokes fun at the same "person" that she "seduced" in the original.
Much of the original dialogue and many of the scenes were preserved in some form in the current version. However, the chess game is replaced by a more explicit, but well done, 90s sexual romp. The glider scene shows some of the touches that were altered. In the original McQueen showed off his skills to the admiring Dunaway who was on the ground. Here Brosnan takes her up and lets her fly it; she is as exhilarated by it as he is. Another leveling of the playing field. There are, however, enough differences in plot that even viewers of the original will enjoy the twists and turns. The current ending is more Hollywoodish than the original but certainly satisfying. The current film still drags a bit towards the middle, but they have eliminated most of the problems. "Windmill of My Mind" is used in film. Beginning
There Will Be Blood (2007) (***1/2, drama) (2-25-08) (DW.-Paul Thomas Anderson; Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Dillon Freasier) Based, apparently loosely, on the Sinclair Lewis novel Oil about the rise and fall of a wildcat oil developer in California at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Plainview is a hard, ruthless man with perhaps his young son as the only soft spot. Even here he is more than willing to use the boy as prop in his sales pitches, at least until the boy is injured. At which point Plainview abandons even him. Plainview gets a big break when a new oil find is revealed to him in an under-the-table deal by a very astute baby faced young man. Plainview quickly discovers that the boy has an identical twin, Eli Sunday, who is a preacher. The preacher is every bit as astute, and works Plainview to build his church. We get to watch the conversion of one well into a massive field. Plainview continues to grow richer, drink steadily, and withdraw more into himself. He is a dark brooding man who projects his black thoughts and behavior onto others. Not surprisingly, those around him rise to his expectations in order to survive. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Early on there is a power struggle between Plainview and the ambitious Eli, which leads to a life long feud between the two men. Watching the film is like watching a train bearing down on a stalled car on the tracks. You know that it will not turn out well. At the end, the brutality exceeds even our expectation.
The acting is superb and Day-Lewis has a good shot at an Academy award. Dano
is exceptional. He is largely expressionless, but conveys ever so much with
his body English and choice of words. The cinematography is excellent and some
of the scenes are breathtaking in their virtuosity, such as the fire. It clearly
deserves its nomination for an Acadamy Award. While some have liked the sound
track, I found it discordant and excessively loud and intrusive. Very distracting.
However, contrary to what the previews suggest, there is little personal violence
in this film. Nevertheless, it is an emotionally draining movie.
For all the good things about the movie, I really couldnt warm up to it. The principals were all despicable, and I never had any empathy with them. [Note added in proof. Day-Lewis won the Academy Award for best actor.]Beginning
Three Faces of Eve, The (1957) (***, drama) (D.- Nunnally Johnson; Joanne Woodward, Lee J. Cobb, David Wayne, Nancy Kulp, Vince Edwards) The movie shows it age, but Woodward's Academy Award winning performance will electrify long after the original celluloid has crumbled to dust. Based on the factual book on the multiple personalities of mousy repressed Eve White. What ultimately comes out is a second controlling party girl Eve Black and a well balanced but supressed Jane. Woodward's plastic facial, body, and speech transformations are awesome. Particularly with the Black/White transformation, it is difficult to believe they are the same woman. The movie is '57 and done without computer morphing. Even with the much more subtle Jane transformation, the final Jane is ever so slightly, but clearly, different from the others. As an aside, the ending is more sanguine than reality turned out to be. The last we heard, Eve was living functionally in Virginia and was up to personality 8 or so--old coping skills are hard to change even when they are destructive. (4-3-95) Beginning
Three Musketeers, The (1993), (***, action, comedy) (D.-Stephen Herek; Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt, Tim Curry, Rebecca De Mornay, Gabrielle Anwar, Michael Wincott, Paul McGann, Julie Delpy, Hugh O'Conor) An appealing young cast, lot of action, humor, and beautiful settings makes for an entertaining evening if not a great film. Based loosely on Dumas' book, we have D'Artagnan (O'Donnell) and the Three Musketeers (Sutherland, Sheen, and Platt) saving the king and his bride from the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Curry) and his hench woman De Mornay. Some of the acting is flat, but you don't really have a chance to think about it. Everyone seems to be having a ball. O'Donnell looks like he is doing much of his own stunt work. De Mornay clearly relishes her black widow role, and Curry is a riot as the ruthless, self-serving Richelieu. Beginning
Thrillers. One watches thrillers for many reasons. Dark, disturbing atmosphere and eerie moods. The chills as the action unfolds. The adrenaline rush. Unsettling performances. A taut crisp plot that withstands close scrutiny even after the final crawl. When we are so fortunate as to get everything in a single movie, we revel in it. Most thrillers, of course, disappoint on one or more of these points. However, fortunately, that doesn't stop me from enjoying the elements that do work. I review two flawed thrillers that I still much enjoyed. Both were savaged by various critics, but I find elements of each well worth the effort to seek them out. The two thriller are Jennifer 8 and Magic(4-12-94) Beginning
Three Days of the Condor (1975) (***, spy, drama, thriller) (D.-Sydney Pollack; Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow, John Houseman, Carlin Glynn) Crisp adaptation of the tight, highly entertaining thriller novel "Seven Days of the Condor". Redford is a simple reader in a high security intelligence office (remember, most intelligence is just sorting and interpreting the vast body of unclassified material). Something goes very wrong, and Redford finds himself running for his life. Dunaway serves as the very believable woman that he forces to help hide him--a la Hitchcock. Perhaps, because I read the book first and knew what was coming, I find the opening scene mesmerizing. Regardless, it is extremely well put together, and with the wonders of modern video you can easily view it a second time. Beginning
Three Kings (1999) (***1/2, action, war) (10-18-99) (D.-David O. Russell; George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Nora Dunn) I am having trouble categorizing this film. I had entered it expecting an updated black-humored Catch 22. While it has humor, overall it is more serious. Ultimately, it is a successful action, adventure film. The story begins at the very end of the Gulf War in 1991. Type A war correspondent Adriana Cruz (Dunn) is tired of being spoon-fed the government's sanitized version and wants a real scoop. Sergeant Major Archie Gates (Clooney), down to his last few weeks in the Special Services, could care less about anything but getting out, but gets stuck shepherding Cruz and keeping her out trouble. His lack of focus changes abruptly when he discovers that three grunts, Sergeant Barlow (Wahlberg), Chief (Ice Cube), and slow Vig (Jonze), have discovered a treasure map (where is best left unsaid in a family publication) to the gold stolen from Kuwait by Hussein. Seizing the moment, he plots a quick in-out that will set them up for life.
But war has never been predictable, even in its aftermath. The Republican Guard is willing to let the Americans romp; they are busy ruthlessly putting down a civil war. "Bush told the people to rise up against Saddam. They thought they'd have our support. They didn't. Now they're being slaughtered." Even as hardened and callous an opportunist as Archie ultimately has his limits, and the fatal confrontation that sets up the end of the film is as inexorable as a freight train obliterating a car stalled on the tracks. I am reminded of the Arthurian legend where the climactic battle is initiated by a sword being drawn to slay a serpent. In crisis, action frequently happens in accelerated chunks and slow motion. The cinematography beautifully captures this tension and horror.
The film is terse, unpredictable, often surrealistic, and brutal. Who will live and who will die is not predictable. The "bad" guys are human. The "good" guys aren't necessarily that nice. The surrealism comes in a number of scenes. For example, during a pitched battle, both sides pretty much ignore a TV film crew--just part of the modern landscape. I do think the end was a bit strained.
The acting was good. Clooney is perfect for the part. Coupled with Out of Sight, I think that he definitely has established himself as a screen presence. The rest of the cast is good, although I thought Jonze's hick act was overdone. Dunn was eminently believable as a take-no-prisoners journalist who will get her story regardless of personal risk to herself or others.
The film has a message, but it doesn't sublimate the story. The message is a natural consequence of the story. The director/writer clearly didn't like the aftermath of the Gulf War. The film is antiwar, but recognizes that not all wars are avoidable. Younger viewers may miss the significance of the helicopter gun ship. In the actual peace treaty, a major flaw in the no-fly portion was that it restricted only fixed wing aircraft--an oversight that has led to great grief. Beginning
Three Stooges, The Classic Collections
from Digital Disc Entertainment (***, comedy) (10-22-01) (Vernon Dent, George Lewis,
Frank Lackteen) Available on DVD from Clemons. A classic collection of Stooges
including Disorder in the Court with Larry, Moe,
and Curley (1936), Brideless Groom with Shemp, Larry, and Moe, Malice in the Palace with Shemp, Larry, Moe
(1947), and Sing a Song of Six Pants with Shemp, Larry, and Moe (1949). The Stooges
have never been my favorite with their eye-gouging, mallet bashing style of
humor. However, even for me there were some fine belly laughs. In particular,
Malice in the Palace is priceless. They
are restaurant owners serving a pair of disreputable cutthroats. Without giving
anything away, lets just say that what is being served and the perception
of the diners is a hoot. Long after you expected it to end, they keep heaping
comedic twist on top of twist. A must see. A warning. Having not seen the Stooges
for many years, my wife and I were amazed at the level of violence. By comparison,
the Road Runner and Coyote looks positively pacifistic. Beginning
Throne of Blood (1957) (***1/2, drama, war) (D.-Akira Kurosawa; Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Chieko Naniwa) A unique experience as Shakespeare meets Kabuki. MacBeth set in feudal Japan by that master of imagery Akira Kurosawa. Mifune superbly plays Taketoki Washizu (the MacBeth character) whose fall from grace begins as easily as listening to a witch's (Naniwa) prophecy in the forest. However, his real downfall comes from listening to his wife's (Yamada) honeyed words and subtle poisoning of his relations with his Lord and his friends. Yamada is superb. While always totally subservient to Mifune, she is as controlling, as driven, and as manipulative as any women ever seen on stage or in film--a chilling study in evil.
In contrast to many of his action films, Kurosawa stages much of the story in long static scenes where the stylized Kibuki-like look, the posturing, and the minimal movements of the actors are used to convey the depth of their emotional tension and the enormity of events. By the end, Mifune and Yamada are as mad as the proverbial hatter--crushed by the guilt of their enormous transgressions and terrorized by the feeling that retribution is grinding inexorably towards them like a mill wheel towards wheat. Finally, Mifune's demise is as memorable as any in film. The opening and closing imagery will long stay with me. B&W with subtitles although the dialogue, as with much of Kurosawa's work, is straightforward and clear. (4-15-96) Beginning
Throw Momma From the Train (1987) (***, comedy) (D.-Danny DeVito; Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Anne Ramsey, Kim Greist, Kate Mulgrew, Branford Marsalis) DeVito's directorial debut. A black comedy, although not so black as the premise would suggest. A milquetoast writing student (DeVito) thinks he contracts with his instructor to do a "tit for tat" bothersome ex-wife/domineering mother murder (taken from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train). The humor revolves around the "deal", the first "murder", and DeVito's attempts to get Crystal to extinguish the indomitable Momma. Believe me, Kryptonite would not stop this juggernaut. Ramsey does a savagely delightful role as the overbearing, vindictive, authoritarian Momma. DeVito is delightfully frantic and desperate, and Crystal, who is trapped intractably in a situation not of his own creation is comically believable as he tries to protect Momma and to extricate himself. Most memorable line belongs to Crystal as he lies doubled over in agony after being nearly neutered by Momma, "That's..that's not a woman! Gasp, gasp!, That's the Terminator!" The humor is very offbeat and the camera work by cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld is very surrealistic and unsettling (i.e., appropriate for the subject). In particular, note the use of low angle or odd angle shots and wide angle close ups to grossly distort things. Sonnenfeld is also responsible for the disoriented imagery in the delightful Raising Arizona. (2-1-93) Beginning
Ticks (1993) (*1/2, horror) (D.-Tony Randel; Seth Green, Virginya Keehne, Ray Oriel, Alfonso Revierio, Peter Scolari, Dina Dayrit, Micahel Medeiros, Barry Lynch) Sort of little Aliens meets Deliverance. Of course, I only watched Ticks for professional purposes. If one is going to rate films, one has to view both the top AND the bottom. And Ticks comes pretty close to one end. As my wife said, "When they have casting calls for films like this, they must specifically ask for 'stereotypes'". Ticks has them all. However, one thing I will say is that there are standards even for low budget horror films. The acting can be awful and the plot worse, but you had better have respectable creatures and good cinematography. Ticks meets these standards with both the small ticks (relatively speaking) and the big tick. Lynch clearly has an over the top ball as the psychopathic Sir. A few good shocks. In spite of expecting to turn off the tape after the first few minutes, Ticks did manage to hold our interest at least marginally for the whole time. Nevertheless, primarily for gore and horror fans or those who wish to totally waste an evening. (4-1-96) Beginning
Time Machine, The (1960) (***, classic, sci fi) (9-10-01) (D.-George Pal; Rod Taylor, Alan Young, Yvette Mimieux, Sebastian Cabot, Tom Helmore, Whit Bissell, Doris Lloyd) With a remake due this fall and a fine DVD transfer of the original available, I thought it time to review Time Machine. Striking cinematography and stunning sets make up for a rather lackadaisical presentation. For those who may be unfamiliar with the plot, the story follows, as I recall, rather closely Wells novel. Victorian scientist (Taylor) makes a time machine that hurls him into a far distant future that at first looks like a fractured utopia with childlike Eloi cavorting in an Eden-like setting. However, as the scientist discovers, there has been an evolutionary splitting of the human race into the Eloi and the true masters, the dark dwelling Morlocks.
The F/X were quite impressive and dont look too bad even today. During the time travel, the changing of the sky and sunlight as days and nights sped by was managed with rotating filters in front of the arc lamps used to light the scene. The filters had four segments, one clear for day, pink gelatin for sunrise, and amber for evening, and dark for night. These were manually moved by a pulley system and the arc lamps were raised and lowered manually to simulate the effect of changing position of the sun during the day. Where the time machine was encased in rock that eroded away, matte screens were used for the erosion, but the big rocks had to be pulled off at precisely timed points by wires. All in all the effect is quite striking.
The time machine is one of the masterpieces of the film. It creates both the feel of an overstuffed Victorian room and a precise piece of scientific equipment. Perfect! The DVD has an entertaining supplementary feature on the design of the time machine and its fate. The success of this creation can be judged by the preview of the upcoming Time Machine. It has hardly changed, a little sleeker maybe but little else. The DVD also has a reenactment of a meeting between the scientist and his friend at a much later time. Not a particularly noteworthy feature.
If you are into classical sci fi movies, The Time Machine will make for an entertaining evening. Review based on the DVD available at Sneak Reviews. Beginning
Tin Cup (1995) (**1/2, comedy) (D.-Ron Shelton; Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Linda Hart) Light, entertaining romantic comedy set to golf rather than baseball by director of the fabulous Bull Durham. First, let me say this is not a golf movie. You don't need to enjoy or even know how to play golf. This is about people. Offbeat, off center people with a few screws loose who manage to hack through life and even enjoy themselves. The film's tone is set by the opening scene where armadillos are foraging on a golf driving range somewhere in the middle of Nowhere Texas. A sign states "Last Chance to Hit Golf Balls FORE 520 mi." As a New Mexican, this snaps me back to my youth. Going west out of Albuquerque you were promptly greeted by a filling station with a sign "Last Gas for 300 Miles. Last Water for 600 Miles." Of course, two miles further there was an identical sign and station. And two miles further on... until you did actually run out of any amenities. Roy McAvoy (Costner) is the owner of this palatial operation with his stripper ex-wife (Doreen) and the IRS beating on his door. He is good at golf. Really good. He could have been one of the greats. However, in the thinking game of golf, he always lets his testosterone dictate his action at that final, critical moment. Enter therapist Dr. Molly Griswold (Russo) who wants golf lessons. Add lust, her boy friend champion golfer David Simms (Johnson) and college rival, McAvoy's exasperated caddie and long standing friend Romeo Posar (Marin), and you have the stage set for a conflict of wills over mind and over golf balls. Is McAvoy salvageable? Will true love blossom? Will his creditors repossess the driving range? These and other weighty issues are all answered. The cast is good. The chemistry between Russo, Johnson, Marin, and Costner is good as the film chugs along. Costner has a fine gift for light comedy, which is much better than his dramatic presence. However, Shelton just doesn't exploit Johnson or Russo effectively. Their parts are too small, and you never get to see their true screwball character enough to empathize with it. So for me, a pleasant lightweight evening with no staying power. (1-13-96) Beginning
Tin Star, The (1957) (**1/2, Western) (D.-Anthony Mann; Henry Fonda, Anthony Perkins, Betsy Palmer, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, John McIntire, Michel Ray) Dated, but solid and entertaining Western. Novice sheriff Perkins turns to bounty hunter Fonda for help in polishing his craft before he catches a lead slug. While the characters are interesting and the plot pleasingly twisted, the most interesting elements are the psychological insights that Fonda passes on about people and the craft of sheriffing. As in many areas, success or failure is based on details and not always on the fastest draw. Even more important is how you out-think and "psych out" your opponent, and Fonda is a master. In addition, Tin Star deals frankly with prejudice much as did Giant the year earlier. (10-6-97) Beginning
Titan A.E. (2000) (**, animation, sci fi) (12-18-00) (D.- Don Bluth, Gary Goldman; W.- Hans Bauer; Randall McCormick; Voice characterizations: Matt Damon, Bill Pullman, Drew Barrymore, John Leguizamo, Janeane Garofalo, Nathan Lane, Ron Perlman, Alex D. Linz, Tone Loc, Jim Breuer, Christopher Scarabosio) My rating on this is as an adult. The film was probably intended for male teenagers and since I have no test audience in this category, I cannot give a rating for them. The plot is simplicity in its classic good versus evil legend style. Earth is destroyed by the Drej, a race of energy beings, and the few survivors are scattered throughout the universe. Cale (Damon) is a young self-centered man who unknowingly holds the key to humanitys survival. The film involves him being hunted by humans and Drej to gain his secret. Of course, there is a beautiful woman Akima (Barrymore), a wise-crack spouting kangaroo-like weapons expert (Garofalo) and other assorted quirky characters. The film is a blend of traditional and adequate 2D animation superimposed on some impressive 3D effects. Some found the contrast jarring and unacceptable, but I thought it worked. Probably the most impressive effect is the cat-and-mouse hunt in the ice field where the ships are dogging massive ice crystals that reflect and refract multiple images of every object.
The film is set to a rock score that doesnt appeal to me. However, the biggest problems are the juvenile plot and the lack of even consistent internal logic. I should add that some thought the visuals, music, and sound, especially on a surround sound theater more than made up for the plot gaps. I am a very visual/aural person and this film didnt do it for me. If you want to see first class animation AND story line, check out The Ghost in the Shell. Review based on the DVD with a directors voice over track on the film, which I wasnt interested enough to listen to. Beginning
Titus (1999) (****, drama) (5-28-01) (D.- Julie Taymor; Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, Harry J. Lennix, Alan Cumming, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Laura Fraser, Angus Macfadyen) Based on Shakespeare's first, and most violent, tragedy Titus Andronicus and the directors 1994 stage play Titus. Review based on the stellar two disk DVD available at Sneak Reviews. First let me state that feelings about this film are bimodal. People either hate it or love it with little middle ground. My wife and I saw about 45 minutes of Titus at the Virginia Film Festival last fall. I was put off by the style, but my wife loved it. On thinking about it and watching the whole movie, I agree with my wife. While the film is set in 100 AD Rome, many of the trappings are modern. Loud speakers, cars, tanks, modern buildings, armor from multiple time periods. This is both a fiction used to remind us that the story is in fact a timeless tale of the human nature laid bare and jarring cues to keep us mentally on edge. While much of the violence is stylized or off screen, this film is truly not for the squeamish. Titus is about revenge, murder, rape, disfigurement, and cannibalism. Brutal. Disturbing. Thought provoking.
After conquering the Goths, victorious Titus (Hopkins) returns to Rome with the queen of the Goths, Tamora (Lange), her three sons, and Aaron (Lennix), a Moor. The victory is hollow as Titus has lost 21 of his 25 sons in the war. As a mandatory offering to the gods, Titus sacrifices Tamoras oldest son over her piteous pleas to spare him. This act sets in motion the storys timeless machinery of revenge and counterrevenge. It also reveals Titus fatal flaw, which is his inflexible adherence to tradition and authority. Then, due to a series of human errors and weaknesses, Tamora is placed in a position of power with the weak emperor Saturninus (Cumming) that allows her to extract terrible vengeance, and ultimately she reaps the horrific consequences of her acts. Since the play is one of Shakespeares less well known, I will not spoil the first viewing for many by revealing more.
What is vengeance? What is justice? These two questions are echoed throughout the story as they are also splashed across our headlines and feature TV stories. When is enough murder enough? Over how many generations must we extract retributions for past acts? How many innocent women and children must be slaughtered in the name of justice? As in such real life situations, there are no heroes in Titus. Perhaps, not even any survivors. Our sympathies are constantly shifting with the characters behavior. Even the monstrous Aaron has a humane line over which he will not step.
The films production values are extraordinary. In the DVD, the director repeatedly comments on lack of money for a project of this type; it doesnt show. The acting is awesome. Hopkins, Lange, and Lennix (the only original from Taymors stage production of Titus), are breathtakingly good, and the supporting cast is stellar. The sets, costumes, and cinematography are stunning. The music disturbingly appropriate. The film uses the original Shakespearean dialogue, although the director claims to have cut out about one to one and a half hours from the original play. This appears to be by shortening some of the longer monologues and using visual cues to fill in the details. At the current 165 minutes, I would consider the film about right.
The DVD extras are a model for how extras should be done. The second disk contains an outstanding Making of and American Cinematographer articles on the director and the cinematographer Luciano Tovoli. It also has a fascinating question and answer session with Taymor following an early screening at Columbia University. The primary disk has a magnificent wide screen transfer of the film with separate tracks containing a complete directors commentary and a scene specific commentary by Hopkins and Lennix. It also has an isolated music sound track, but without any commentarythey really need some way of cueing you when the music is on since much of this track is dead.
In contrast to most films, the actors spent three weeks rehearsing to get into the language, the flow, and the characters. There was only one largely intact Roman coliseum in the world which was in Pula, Croatia and that was the one used for the opening and ending shots. Given the subject matter of the story, the irony here is extraordinary. Only a month after they completed the Croatian filming, the Balkans erupted in yet another war and they couldnt have done it. The troops in the opening were from the Croatian Police Academy, and for the choreographed weapons work practiced for three weeks. The temperature was near freezing and, as you will notice, the actors wore little but mud, and Lennix didnt even have that. Computer effects were kept to a minimum for cost reasons. The tent army was cgi. Blue screen was used on Lavinias hands. The Penny Arcade Dream Sequences were generated by Kyle Cooper of Imaginary Forces; you may recognize his work from Seven and Spawn. It is clear from listening to Taymor and Hopkins that, in spite of their glossing over it, there were substantial artistic differences. Tovoli was the cinematographer responsible for the exceptional slow motion pan at the end of Antonionis The Passenger, and the ending of Titus reminded me of it. My wife and I commented on some of the scenes being Felliniesque. In the extras, we learned that the artists responsible for many of the sets were in fact old men who had worked with Fellini. Now picture this. A bunch of these old men carrying a boat with an extremely busty figurehead down to the water to see if it floats. Unfortunately, no film of this exists. Ironically, there are no upcoming replacements for these people as the younger generation isnt interested. The fascist motif was very deliberate and the government building was The Square Coliseum built by Mussolini.
I conclude with some observations by the film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert liked the film, but he considered it an over the top piece of black humor. In keeping with some Shakespearean critics, he felt it was designed by Shakespeare as an attention getter, similar to the modern film Scream. True, some of the scenes do have very blackly comedic elements to them. But the story is so gripping, the human devastation so great, the weaknesses and behavior so depressingly realistic and timely that neither my wife nor I could consider it anything but tragedy in the Greek sense. It was also clear when we listened to the extras that we agreed with the director and the actors who considered it a complex tragedy. Finally, as an interested aside, the films barely squeaked by with an R rating in the US because of the sex and nudity. In Italy it was PG because of the violence.
My recommendation is check out the DVD on Friday evening. You will need the whole weekend to watch everything. Also, see it with others. One of our criteria for judging a film is how much we think about and discuss it afterwards. My wife and I are still talking about it. A great film. Watch it and be disturbed. Beginning
To Be or Not to Be (1942) (***, comedy) (9-23-02) (D.- Ernst Lubitsch; Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman) An acting troop in Poland shortly before WWII. Joseph Tura (Benny) is a great Shakespearean actor who is enormously jealous of his wife Maria (Lombard)with good reason. Their play Gestapo is cancelled because it might offend Hitler. Then all plays are cancelled because of the invasion and occupation. As it turns out the thespians are more than up to helping the resistance. Lets just say that they make good use of their expertise.
A charming cast and a good opportunity to see Jack Benny in a full acting role. Lombard was a fine comedian and her career was cut short in a plane crash shortly before the release. Some devastating lines from the German officer on what passes for seduction and the relationship between acting and polititics.
The film was nearly not made because of the highly controversial nature of the topic due to the very strong isolationism in the U. S. By the time it appeared, the war was in full swing and the public wasnt very receptive. In addition, people wouldnt go to the film because Lombard had died before it opened. This is a very interesting shift in the cultural views. Now people rush to films of the recently deceased. Beginning
To Die For (1995) (**1/2, satire, black humor, drama) (D.-Gus Van Sant; Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck) Screenplay by Buck Henry from Joyce Maynard's book. Let me begin by saying that humor, particularly satire and black humor, is a very individual taste. Others have given To Die For outstanding ratings. I found it entertaining, but not great. So this is clearly one that people will have to decide about for themselves.
Suzanne Stone (Kidman) is a perky young thing who wants to be a big name TV personality but has, at best, a small town personality. She manipulates her way up locally, but ultimately is held back by her husband (Dillon), who cannot understand her career aspiration and wants to be the bread winner of a family. Stone uses her position of influence to brainwash a group of maladjusted young people to help solve her problem. Kidman is good. Her personalities and drives that will cause her to do anything to get ahead in the hype drive mass media market are believable. However, the black humor just misses me. (4-21-97) Beginning
To Live (original title Huozhe) (1994) (****, drama) (D.-Zhang Yimou; Ge You, Gong Li, Niu Ben, Guo Tao) The title sums it up. To Live is a celebration of our incredible ability to adapt, survive, and even prosper under the most horrendous of conditions. The film spans four tumultuous decades and generations. It starts shortly before the Communist conquest of China and ends after the demise of the Cultural Revolution. Fugui (Ge You) is young, rich, and indolent. He is also a poor gambler, which leads to the loss of the family fortune. Fugui may have been worthless, but he is a survivor and a quick study. The man who bankrupted him gives him a set of magnificent shadow puppets, which Fugui parlays into a living under two regimes and earns the respect of his wife (Gong Li) and family. His keen sense of self-preservation serves them well over the years.
To Live is insightful, tragic and funny, although some of the humor is very black indeed (e.g., the hospital scene). It is full of life and consistently celebrates our basic humanity and innate drive for happiness no matter what happens. It is magnificently filmed and superbly acted. You end up knowing these people, respecting them, admiring them, and liking them. You would be honored to have them as neighbors.
To Live is set against the constantly changing politics of the period. This is reflected by the state of the political icons that grace the walls. While the film paints Communism under Mao Tse Tung with all of its warts, it makes clear that Communism did improve the life of many. The film also reflects the determination of the country and its people to have a major world impact by pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Nevertheless, the Communist government totally silenced Zhang and his wife, Long Li, for two years over the film. They couldn't even talk about it. Fortunately, the rest of the world got the film.
I strongly recommend it, and thank Robert Bryan for calling it to my attention and loaning me his personal copy. I believe that Sneak Reviews on Ivy has a copy. (9-14-98) Beginning
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (***, action) (D.- Roger Spottiswoode; Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Goetz Otto) James Bond is an institution. One of the longest running film series on record. It has also been one of the most reliable. It has several signature features: An opening action sequence that is or rivals the best currently available. An opening set of credits that is visually awesome coupled with a great rock score. Great gadgets. Beautiful women. Fearsome villians. And Bond James Bond. While Tomorrow isn't the best, it maintains the traditions of the genre and is emminently watchable for Bond fans.
This is Brosnan's second stint as Bond. He carries it off well. He has the looks, the poise, and the humor. Yeoh, as an alleged journalist Wai Lin, is a real treat. In reality, she is a Chinese martial arts action star that rivals Jackie Chan. The chemistry between Bond and Lin is excellent and there is little doubt that is her kicking people around the screen.
The villian is media mogul Elliot Carver (Pryce) and his henchman Stamper (Otto). Carver is sort of a truly malevolent Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates rolled into one. I think it no accident that Carver's symbol bears an uncanny resemblance to the MicroSoft Explorer symbol. Pryce is a delight in an over the top performance. Carver knows that bad news is what really sells multimedia. So why wait for it, if you can create it. Plus, if you make the news, you are assured of being there and getting first copy! What sort of news? How about a little nuclear war between China and England--live. News doesn't get any better than that.
As always the gadget are great including a nifty and well used rigged BMW. The humore is droll. The action is top drawer. Carver's stealth warship and the F/X are impeccable. The ship's interior and Carver's troops are delightfully reminescent of Star Wars. Beginning
Top Secret! (1984) (***, comedy, spy, musical) (D.-Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker; Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Christopher Villiers, Jeremy Kemp, Michael Gough, Omar Sharif, Peter Cushing, Harry Ditson) A send off of two genres: the spy/James Bond action film and the rock musical from the writer/directors that brought you Airplane!. Now you know what to expect. Bawdy. Sophomoric. Uneven. But with some dead on hits, great belly laughs, and classic sight gags. Nick Rivers (Kilmer) is an Elvis-like rock star who is on tour in East Germany but finds himself a pawn in a neferious attempt to conquer the world. Nazis are the bad guys and French resistance are the good guys--in 1984 East Germany! Kilmer is extraordinarily good at the dance-singing numbers. It is clear why Stone used him as Jim Morrison in The Doors; after his baby face had aged a bit, Kilmer was a dead ringer and even did his own vocals. The opening scene on the train, the ballet, the compressed car, the cow, and bookstore sequences are especially noteworthy. You will enjoy some of the allusions more if you have watched a lot of the old Bond films, and some of the cultural references such as the Pinto may go over the heads of younger audiences. Even as spoofs, I did find that the musical numbers went on too long. (5-26-97) Beginning
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (***1/2, docudrama, war) (12-11-00) (D.-Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda, Kinji Fukasuku; Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Jason Robards, Joseph Cotten, Tatsuya Mihashi, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore, Wesley Addy, Leon Ames, George Macready) Stunning re-creation of the diplomatic, political, and military events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film ends with an extraordinarily realistic staging of the attack. At 143 minutes, it doesnt seem long as the tension builds inexorably. The blunders, the misinterpretations, and the acts of fate compound the problem. You keep asking yourself, at what point do bad decisions made for good reasons become just bad decisions.
The undertaking is seen from both the American and Japanese sides. Japanese and American directors were used for each. The Japanese portion is presented in Japanese with subtitles. This approach is very similar to The Longest Day and, again, it works.
The cinematography is extraordinary. The Oscar winning F/X and stunts are realistically breathtaking. Indeed, as I recall, one of the gasoline explosions got out of hand and those really are men running for their lives in one scene. This is precomputer and some of the effects were done with miniatures, but it is easy to believe them real because they are so skillfully done.
If you have any doubts about letterboxing of films, check out Tora! Tora! Tora! in the wide screen (2.35:1) version. The cinematographers use every square inch to maximum effect. You can easily visualize what you would be missing. Indeed, the DVD doesnt even contain an insulting pan and scan full screen version as do many DVDs.
There is a certain great irony in the cryptography. The Americans were fully decoding the Japanese transmissions to their Washington ambassador. The Japanese used the German Ultra machine, which the British had cracked and supplied the Americans with the technology. Had the information been properly interpreted and acted on early enough, it is conceivable that Admiral Yamamoto would have aborted the attack since his plan hinged on complete surprise. On the other hand Yamamotos disastrous defeat at Midway was due in no small part to the fact that the US knew from Ultra decoding that the attack was coming. Finally in 1943, Yamamoto was killed when his plane was ambushed near the Solomon Islands after the US decoded his flight plan. Incidentally, the British were furious at this casual use of Ultra since they feared the Germans and Japanese would stop using it if they suspected Ultra was compromised.
Unlike most in the Japanese military, Yamamoto had spent considerable time in the US and had a good understanding of our national personality and industrial prowess. A staunch and unpopular advocate of naval air power, he also recognized that the attack was probably a failure since he had failed to catch what was most important in port, the carriers. His final line was prophetic. "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Review based on the extraordinary DVD transfer of the film available at Sneak Reviews. There are no supplementary tracks, although a lovely addition would be an exposition on some of the other historical details and the fates of the principals. Military buffs will recognize instantly that those were not actually Japanese Zeros in the attack. Apparently, none survived the war. Beginning
the Void (2003) (****, documentary, docudrama) (3-28-05) (D.-Kevin Macdonald;
W.- Joe Simpson (book); Nicholas Aaron, Ollie Ryall, Brendan Mackey, Richard
Hawking, Joe Simpson, Simon Yates) A great film. Stellar in all regards. In
1985 two climbers attempted the ascent of the previously unclimbed west face
of Siula Grande in
Their harrowing experience was to become the stuff of climbing legend, and with the release of Joe Simpsons book Touching the Void and this subsequent movie, a legend for all of us. How the climb went terribly wrong, and the consequences are all graphically portrayed in the film. He knew. I knew. He was going to have to leave me. In stead of just creating a docudrama, the director arrived at the brilliant decision to include recreation along with talking head commentary by the principals. Thus, you get the extremely personal viewpoint of the participants coupled with the extraordinary feel of what it was actually like.
As presented, the film is like a great mystery.
True, you begin by knowing the outcome. Both climbers survived. The survival
of one is greatest epic tales of human will to live and perseverance ever documented.
But what you dont know is what happen, when, and how the the situations
were dealt with. If you dont already know, I wont tell you. If you
do, the film is still extraordinary and not to be missed. Finally, the film
doesnt really tell you what happened afterwards. After watching it, we
rushed out and bought the DVD which has a good TV making of and excellent commentaries
by all involved which answered many of our questions. Amazingly, both men continued
to climb afterwards. Indeed, many of the long shots and shots where you cannot
identified the climbers on Siula Grande used both original climbers. Actors
did all the remaining shooting in the
This is not a climbing film. Even if you know nothing of climbing, the film gives you the necessary details to follow what is going on. The cinematography is awesomely mesmerizing. Literally frightening in grandeur. The recreation of the climbing is breathtakingly cliff hanging. The character studies exceptional. Here are men who live on the edge and we get great psychological insights into how they think; probably more than they ever intended for us to know. And ultimately, we are left with the question, what is unique here that would allow one man to survive what would kill most others? Was what was done moral? There is much disagreement on the last point. How would I respond under such circumstances? I hope I never have to find out. Definitely a big screen film. Beginning
Touch of Evil, Yet another . After Welles completed his noir classic A Touch of Evil, the studio reedited it and added some more shots. Welles saw the film once before it was released, went home, and drafted a 58-page memo on how it should be altered to restore it to his original vision. However, the studio version is what we have seen for the past 40 years. Recently, Bob O'Neil, working from Welles' notes, has reedited the film to as close to Welles' image as he could. The new (old?) version has just been released and is showing at Vinegar Hill Theater through November 5 (but not during the Virginia Film Festival). If you have an interest in film noir, run, do not walk, to Vinegar Hill to view this masterpiece on the big screen. I am including a review of each movie and some of the changes that we noticed in the revised version; we viewed each version once within two days of each other.
However, first a few tidbits based on a recent interview with Janet Leigh and Charlton Heston. The opening continuous three minute tracking shot was done with a 60-foot crane and covered three city blocks. Needless to say this was not trivial to set up and film. However, the actor playing the border guard kept bungling his lines. The night was almost over, the sun was getting ready to rise, and there was time for one last try. Welles told the guard not to say one word and "For God's sake, don't keep saying 'I'm sorry Mr. Welles.'" You can clearly see the light on the horizon as the sun threatens the filming, and you can judge for yourself whether the actor's voice is dubbed or not. Finally, Heston said, "This is not a great film. It is the best B movie ever made."
My first recommendation is just go see it while you have a chance to see it on the big screen. The print is marvelously good, and you can truly enjoy the richness and detail of a fine black and white film. It is easy to forget what a black and white film should really look like since we see so few of them on the big screen. (10-26-98) Beginning
Touch of Evil, A (Original and Director's Cut) (1958) (****, drama, crime, noir) (D.- Orson Welles; Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Valentin De Vargas, Marlene Dietrich) Mexican narcotics agent Ramon Vargas (Heston) is on his honeymoon with his wife, Susan (Leigh). A night time leap frogging walk with a convertible and a bombing assassination sets the stage for a brutal confrontation with revered local police lieutenant Hank Quinlan and local crime leader Uncle Joe Grandi (Tamiroff) with Susan as the sacrificial pawn. The opening crane shot is an unbroken over three minute sequence. It is breath taking in its virtuosity and it alone makes the film worth seeing.
Evil is considered by many to be the end of the film noir cycle. It certainly carries all of the noir conventions to bizarre extremes: the seedy characters, the stark shadowed noir lighting, the unsettling camera angles, the decaying environment, and the unsavory characters. Everything is overdone. Bigger than life. This is epitomized in the corrupt Quinlan. Obese. Crippled. Pig like eyes hidden behind rolls of fat. Racial prejudices worn like a badge of honor. Driven hatred of all criminals.
Everything in the film reeks of decay and degeneration. The streets aren't dirty, they are filthy. The characters aren't just bad or a little out of kilter, they range from monstrous to psychotic or demented (e.g., Weaver as an unhinged clerk). It includes a down-on-her-luck fortune teller Tanya (Dietrich) who probably does a little hooking on the side and has the classic line when Quinlan asks her to read his future: "You don't have a future. Your future is all used up". You feel like you need a shower after coming out of the film.
The film is filled with so many stunning images, so many baroque lines, so many memorable characters that you can ignore that the plot really doesn't always make sense. But then this is true of a lot of the best noir. Ultimately, Evil is more about style than substance, a magnificent exercise in film making. You are expected to come out of the film with a feel, a mood. Evil succeeds admirably.
As an aside, Welles' first appearance is marvelous. And to me it is an obvious parody of his first appearance in The Third Man.
The ending is great. As the oil well rhythmically pumps oil out of the ground, blood is pumped back into the soil. And do look closely in the background behind Vargas. Also, a critical question during the film is who set the bomb? We saw the killer, but could not identify him on the taped version. Even in the big screen version, you cannot identify him even though you get glimpses of his face. Had he turned his head another inch or two you could have, but it is so beautifully orchestrated that you get the promise but not the delivery on his identity. Just one of the little touches that make Touch so beautiful.
Everything said so far applies to both the original and the reedited version. So what are the changes made by Bob O'Neil? First the credits, which ran over the opening 3 minute tracking shot, have been removed--a no brainer for improvement. However, the scene is so good that even with the credits, it is a masterpiece. The instrumental accompaniment to the opening has been radically altered; frankly, we prefer the original. The music changes appear to be major throughout. It seems to us that there is much more conventional Mancini jazz and less Mexican music. Also, the music has been frequently toned down in volume in a number of places, which is a benefit since it was overpowering at times in the original. A baby cries in one scene now. We are still arguing vigorously over this, but I think the punching of Sanchez actually occurred on the screen in the original and my wife and son violently disagree--ahhh, the unreliability of eye witnesses. The cutting appears to be different with more jump cuts between concurrent action in some of the reedited scenes, but without having the two side by side it is hard to be sure. On the balance, for my family and myself, I think we like the original theatrical release better than the reedited version, but both are fabulous and while you have a chance, see it on the big screen. (10-26-98) Beginning
Toy Story (1995) (****, comedy, animation) (D.-John Lassiter; voices by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney) Delightful! For children 5 to 100. As a film, *** to ***1/2 (Aladdin is better), but this isn't just a film, this is a technical revolution. This 77-minute animation never existed except in people's minds and in computers' memory. Toy Story is the first, but not the last, full length film generated entirely by computers. Created by the wonder shop Pixar under the guidance of ex-Disney master animator John Lassiter, Toy Story brings computer animation to full-blown reality. If you have seen the ads, you know what it is about. If you haven't, I won't spoil your added fun by telling you except to say its about a bunch of animated toys and their travails. The characters are marvelously three dimensional in all regards. The 3D rendering, the facial expressions, the body English are perfect. Voices are provided by a grand assortment of excellent comics led by Hanks and Allen. One of my favorite characters was the neuroticT. Rex. Besides a delightful story, Toy Story is full of droll humor and inside jokes. What Mr. Potato Head does with his lips will go by most kids. The bumper sticker on the pizza delivery truck scores a bulls eye. The book on the shelf, Tin Toy by Lassiter, is a proudly self-serving tribute to Pixar's 1988 Academy Award winning computer animation short. The lamp design will be recognized from Pixar's Lux Junior. If you stay around for the credits, you will notice an unusual one. Well, maybe not unusual. If Arachnophobia can have "Spider Wranglers", why can't Toy Story have "Render Wranglers"? Don't miss this one on the big screen where you can fully appreciate the awesome graphics!
To give you an idea of the mentality of these people, Lassiter keeps the cake ornament from his marriage in his office. The lovely bride and groom are clutched in the jaws of a T. Rex. Also, see Jumanji. (1-15-96) Beginning
Interesting Question : In the just released first full length computer generated film Toy Story, how long does it take to generate one frame (frame not second)? I haven't seen the film yet, but the clips on TV are breathtaking. They have three dimensionality and fluidity of motion that has to be seen to be believed. And it even looks like a ball for kids from 5 to 100+. Toy Store is released by Disney and was created by Pixar Animation, the world's leader in computer generated animation. Pixar is responsible for such wonders as the 1986 Lux Junior, which is about a high spirited young adjustable lamp and an older adult, more sedate, larger version of same. If you haven't seen Lux, it is pure delight the way the animators manage such human characteristics in lamps. They also produced the poignant 1987 Red's Dream about an unwanted unicycle, and the 1988 Tin Toy about a toy marching band member and his awesomely threatening encounter with a crawling tot. Tin Toy was the first computer generated short to receive an Academy Award. The director of Toy Story is John Lasseter, who was a Disney animator until he moved to Pixar. Now the answer to the question, so that you had time to think about it. It took 4-9 hours of computing per frame. At 24 frames per second, one computer can generate one second of the 77-minute film in 4-9 days. Pixar used 300 work stations run by 110 programmers, many of whom are Ph.D.s in computer science. (11-21-95) Beginning
Toy Story 2 (1999) (****, animation) (12-27-99) (D.-John Lasseter; with voices by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, R.Lee Ermey, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight) If you enjoyed Toy Story, run do not walk to the nearest theater to see Toy Story 2. If you didn't see Toy Story, this is a chance to see one of Pixar's great films on the big screen. Toy Story 2 is a sequel in name only. It follows the adventures of a bunch of animated toys including the old standbys Woody, Buzz Light Year, Mr. Potato Head, the slinky dog and Rex, the meek dinosaur. The story builds around Woody being kidnapped by a toy collector and the subsequent rescue.
2 is a delight for all ages. The story is engaging and the humor ranges from subtle and droll to pure slapstick. Children will love it and their elders, with the burden of escorting the tykes, will love it. There are places where only the kids laugh, where everyone laughs, where only the adults laugh, and where only the older adults laugh (there are allusions that will pass over the head of the younger adults). The film has great fun resurrecting and fracturing images from such films as the Star Wars series, Jurassic Park and countless others.
Pixar got their start with the superb '86 computer generated short Lux Jr., which is about a high spirited young lamp and its hard suffering elder. The short is replayed with Toy Story 2. It still not only looks good, but is quintessential Pixar. Superb state-of-the art computer animation that is used to tell a delightful story. In short, it isn't about technology, it is about story and characters. The lamp is Pixar's logo.
Oh the technology. The computer graphics are awesome as is the superb characterization, facial expressions, body English, and voices. However, with the graphics, you don't really notice them. They are incredibly good, and you quickly accept them just as you accept all of the standard editing techniques that are used to make regular films. They are part of the tapestry of the story.
So rush right out and have a delightful evening. Then enjoy yourself again rehashing the details with your friends. Beginning
Training Day (2001) (***, crime, action) (9-9-02) (D.- Antoine Fuqua; W.-David Ayer;. Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray) Alonzo Harris (Washington) is the top narcotics cop in the city. His elite team scores major bust after major bust. Patrolman Jake Hoyt (Hawke) wants into this sacrosanct group. He wants to crush evil and Alonzo does it. What Jake doesnt appreciate is that when you play in the sewer, only sewer rats survive. And Alonzo is going to make or break him on his first day in a trial by fire that makes some tribal initiations look like Sunday school picnics. Todays a training day officer Hoyt. You got today and today only. Everything that Alonzo forces on or makes Jake do makes sense in a perverted way. If he wants to survive past today, he is going to have to be able and willing to do some pretty scurrilous things. The people you are dealing with arent nice and if you play by the Marquis of Queensbury or legal rules you wont make any busts at best or more likely will end up face down in garbage heap. You got to decide whether you a wolf or a sheep.
Alonzo is oh so seductive. Mephistophelean. And Jake wants ever so badly to belong and is willing to pay the admission price, at least to a point. However naïve and inexperienced Jake is, he is also a good, quick study who learns at the end of the gun barrel of this slimy master. In this business you gotta have a little dirt on you. True there are a few essentials that Jake cannot learn in a day, such as being multilingual (according to the director, most good narcs are fluent in more than one language), which is a skill that may make a fateful difference.
Washington is over the top. A cop that controls his fiefdom by threats, bribes, violence, and sheer force of will. To protect the sheep, you got to catch the wolf. To catch the wolf, you got to be a wolf. He doesnt care what rules he breaks as long he gets what he wants and can get away with it. And he is ever so clever; true he did once misjudge the Russian mafia, but that is fixable, especially with his connections in high places. Alonzo is a man I believe exists. He frightens me. His physical and mental prowess is overwhelming. That those around him behave the way they do, I not only understand, I cannot imagine them doing anything else. Forget every other character Washington has played. This is like nothing he has done before, a one-of-a-kind. He deserved his Academy Award.
Hawke is excellent as his trainee. We can see what he wants. We can see the logic of Alonzos position. And we can believe Jakes seduction.
The supporting cast is excellent. Glenn does a beautiful job as a bent ex-cop. The city is an integral player in the film. Dark. Gritty. Foreboding. The stuff that nightmares are made of. It should be. It is the true underbelly of the beast. As the director says on the commentary, there is no substitute for reality, and most of the locations including the incredibly dangerous Imperial Court and many of the gang members are the real thing. Indeed, to film in many of the locations required negotiations with the local controlling gangs.
The ending was a major weakness for me. We have already been presented with more events in a day than could happen in a week, but the pivotal event of the day that comes back at exactly the right instant is just too much, and much of the final violence could have been cut.
The DVD has an excellent transfer and director-crew-cast commentary.
Warning: This is a violent, brutal, profane film. Definitely not for the squeamish. Beginning
Timebomb (1991) (**, sci fi, action) (10-22-04) (DW-Avi Nesher; Michael Biehn, Patsy Kensit, Tracy Scoggins, Robert Culp, Richard Jordan, Raymond St. Jacques) Eddie Kaye (Beihn) is a quiet gentle watch repair man. Then out of the blue, someone tries to kill him. This incident triggers physical skills and responses that no watchmaker should have, and initiates increasingly bizarre nightmares, which are only matched by the surrealistic events happening in his real life. Will the shrink, Dr. Anna Nolmar (Kensit), that he casually met in his shop be able to unravel his past before it buries him permanently? Will they delivery a good film following the decent set up? No, except for the rather bizarre fight scenes. The premise has been done much better in such films as Imposter. However, if you are drawn to bad sci fi as I am, not a totally wasted evening. Beginning
Transsiberian (2008) (***1/2, suspense) (5-29-09) (WD.-Brad Anderson; Woody Harrelson, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara, Eduardo Noriega) Taut little psychological thriller that deals more with the mind than with physical action. The film opens with Russian drug agent Grinko (Kingsley) investigating a drug murder and a married couple Roy (Harrelson) and Jesse (Mortimer) wrapping up church group work in China. Roy and Jesse are taking the indirect way home, the longest rail trip in the world, the Trans Siberian railroad. An adventure and treat according to Roy, but then he is a rabid train lover who drools over the sight of a steam engine even at 20 below zero. They are about to enter one of the most claustrophobic environments imaginable put to excellent use by the director, and they meet a couple Abby (Mara) and dark handsome mysterious Carlos (Noriega) who clearly has eyes for Jesse.
Thus begins an inexorable slide into nightmarish terror. But enough of plot. The divergent themes slowly, inexorably converge. The noose steadily tightens. The situation is Kafkaeske with discordant juxtaposition of sane and irrational elements and the language barrier adding to the unease. It also appears to be very Hitchcockian with the trapped prey only sinking deeper into the quicksand with each thrash. It is, but it is more, with many unexpected twists. The acting is excellent. Kingsley's world weary agent has seen it all including his fall from a position of power in the Soviet Union to a trudging drug agent who has already lived the current shortened life expectancy in the new Russia (58 vs. 65). "I'm too old to leave. Just do my job." The couple is perfect with Mortimer's nuanced performance catching a perfect balance. Noriega exudes mystery and forbidden danger. The train should be listed as one of the characters as it is such an integral part of the film.
I think the end goes a bit over the top, but after the beautiful build up I think the director can get away with a little indulgence. My wife thought one element of Roy's train knowledge unreasonable. I know a train lover, and I am not so sure. He can tell you what year a given train went into service, how many horsepower different locomotives have, how all the different technical elements work, and on and on. And yes he could have done it; so don't complain about realism. The end is perfect. Available at Sneak Reviews. Beginning
Timecrimes aka Los cronocrímenes (2007) (***,scifi) (7-31-09) (DW.-Nacho Vigalondo; Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo) A clever little film involving time travel. It starts simply enough. Hector (Elejalde) brings home the groceries to his wife and brand new partially finished house. Then a strange phone call and something barely seen in the woods. He should have remembered the adage about curiosity and the cat. An increasingly bizarre and dangerous series of events follow. Perhaps one shouldn't play with time, but we do get so little experience with this that mistakes are an inherent part of the equation. Much of the pleasure is in trying to sort out what is going on as it happens and then trying to reconstruct what actually happened when it is done.
Ultimately, one critical piece of the story is missing, although the director let's you know that it is not there in case you miss it totally. The exercise then becomes can you figure out what we weren't shown and how it could have happened? After much discussion we are not sure that you can construct the necessary piece, although there do seem to be clues lying around that, maybe, can be built into a coherent interpretation. On the other hand maybe the director left it as an unsolvable enigma.
An interesting detail. The film is Spanish and in Spanish. We accidently set the film to dubbed. When some of the opening credits were in Spanish, we suspected an error; however, the synchronization was so perfect we watched the whole film dubbed and were convinced it was done in English. A quite remarkable achievement.
The acting was adequate. I thought Elejalde a bit wooden until the situation
deteriorated, but then given the situation, he was fine. The scientist was played
by the director. One can probably write his behavior off as that of nerdy scientist,
but I thought it stilted also. On the other hand, it was dubbed and we don't
know by whom. To be fair, we should go back and watch it with subtitles. The
remainder of the actors were fine.
I couldn't help thinking of Memento as the film played out and one built up the story in reverse chronological order. The last line is pregnant with possibilities much like the last line of Jim Carpenter's The Thing.
The making of on the DVD is well worth watching especially when you get to the part on the real storm.
Traffic (2000) (***, crime, drama) (2-12-01) (D.- Steven Soderbergh; Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Luis Guzman, Erika Christensen, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jacob Vargas. Tomas Milian, Miguel Ferrer, Steven Bauer) Considered by many to be one of the best films of the year. I take my life in my hands with this review. Traffic has many fine elements, but for me it never gelled. Traffic is a complex multicharacter story with complementary, but not overlapping, stories concerning different aspects of the drug trade. These include a straight Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez (Del Toro), who gets mixed up in the Mexican drug wars; a pair of US DEA agents Gordon (Cheadle) and Castro (Guzman) trying to bring down a US king pin (Bauer); the king pins wife Helen Ayala (Zeta-Jones), who is unaware of her husbands money sources; and recently appointed US drug czar Robert Wakefield (Douglas), whose daughter Caroline (Christensen) turns out to have a little smoking problem. The story lines deal reasonably realistically with the complexities of the drug war, its shortcomings, and the fact that as long as there is enormous demand and profits there is not going to be any quick fix by interdiction. All issues that any reasonably well-read person will know. In my opinion, the biggest weakness was the Wakefield story. It was supposed to be the emotional center of the film, but my wife and I both found it trite and hackneyed. For me it is this weak center that brings down my whole rating. However, the final resolution with the rich and powerful does appear to be depressingly realistic.
I really liked the Ayala segment. Helen was a quick study. Very realistic. Completely believable in her behavior.
The Javier segment was also believable. Del Toro does a fine job of playing an honest cop caught in a noirish situation. Cheadle and Guzman also do a nice job in their segment. Professionals and good buddies.
Soderbergh does a fine job in 147 minutes intertwining these stories and having them all make sense. The cinematography is striking. Indeed, you can almost tell which segment you are in by the style. Much of it is done with hand held shooting which gives a you are there news reel feel.
Traffic is terse, brutal, and violent. It has scenes of degradation and depravity, but that is what the drug situation has brought us to. The director has a message and only in a few places gets preachy, but he does not leave us with any quick fixes. It is a complex, messy problem and things are not going well. Beginning
Treasure Island (1950) (***1/2, action) (12-16-02) (D.- Byron Haskin; Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, Basil Sydney, Walter Fitzgerald, Denis O'Dea, Finlay Currie, Geoffrey Wilkinson) Treasure Island is one of my enduring childhood memories. A stunning visual feast. Swashbuckling action, exotic locations, treasure, pirates, and at the center a young boy Jim Hawkins (Driscoll). And a one legged pirate, Long John Silver (Newton) simultaneously one of the most blood thirsty people you would hope never to meet and, in his own right, a fatherly figure for the child. Even watching it this many years later, I still find it enchanting. In spite of being a 1950 Disney release, the pirates make the derelicts and cutthroats of Mos Eisley in Starwars look like a bunch of prim Sunday schoolers. One can easily believe that real pirates were like this, rather than the sanitized ones we traditionally see in films. For those unfamiliar with the story, the boy gets a treasure map from a debauched Captain Bones (Currie); I wont say how other than to point out this is where the term getting a black spot came from. And trust me, it isnt good. A local squire (Fitzgerald) who is long on ambition and short on common sense seizes the opportunity, and they set out to get rich. One small problem, they are conned by Silver onto a ship whose crew is made up largely of Silvers shipmates.
Newton is superb as Silver. He could get rich selling refrigerators to Eskimos. A man of superb cunning, intellect, and so extraordinarily persuasive that he befriends Hawkins even after the boy has a warning as big as a house. The skill with which he manipulates is both stunning and believable. The interactions between the two disparate characters forms the emotional backbone of the film. When Silver is on the screen, he totally dominates it.
The film apparently had some of the violence removed in 1975 and then restored in the 1992 release. It appears that not all of it was restored as I have read of one killing in the original that was not on the VHS I watched. The violence is roughly at a level of the stylized Starwars, but it is violent and should be approached with some caution with children. Review based on the tape available at Beyond Video. As an aside, the film is allegedly American, but was made completely in England with Driscoll being the only American. After the war, Disney had money still locked up in England and used it well with Treasure Island. The English actors are perfect for the film, and I suspect many of the settings and the sailing ships could not have been duplicated in this country at that time. The ending apparently deviates from the book, but it works well for the film. Beginning
Tremors (1990) (***1/2, horror) (D-Ron Underwood; Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward) High spirit, humorous, intense, tightly woven little horror classic. Shows that a fine low budget horror movie can still be made; all it takes is talent. Bacon and Ward are underachieving handymen in an isolated death valley community assaulted by giant carnivorous burrowing worms. They (Bacon and Ward, not the worms) rise to the occasion and try to lead the pack of oddball, misfit inhabitants to safety. Excellent throat grabbing special effects (on what was probably a very low budget), crisp dialog from delightfully human characters, excellent suspense, and minimal gore for a horror movie of this ilk. Don't look too closely at the plot; the source of the terror is never explained. But not to worry, this is a people movie, not a technological one. A high spirited romp where even the cast looks like they had a delightful time making it (you even suspect some of the scenes and action evolved on location as the characters were horsing around). So will you. A must see for horror movie lovers and even for those who are still suspect of what can be excellent genre. Beginning
Tremors II, Aftershocks (1995) (**1/2, horror, comedy) (D.-S. S. Wilson; Fred Ward, Christopher Gartin, Helen Shaver, Michael Gross, Marcelo Tubert, Marco Hernandez) Not great, but entertaining. I really enjoyed the original, but not surprisingly this one never rises to the off-the-wall drollness of the original. Once again giant sand worms are gobbling up humans as appetizers. This time it starts in the Petromaya oil field in Mexico, and the Mexican government tries to hire Fred Ward, one of the world's few surviving experts on the worms. The interplay with the cab driver who becomes his sidekick is a riot, especially the tour of all of the memorabilia in his "palatial" estate in Perfection Valley, Nevada. Ward is one of those easy going guys who might as well be wearing a sign "MARK", but worm bait is not on his list of options. On the other hand, after the pitch... Shaver plays the female foil for Ward. Their first meeting may not be politically correct, but it is funny and it is realistic. The worm effects are good, and they throw in an entertaining twist this time. Gross is back as the ultra survivalist who never saw a weapon that he didn't like--and the bigger the bore and the higher the fire rate, the better. I loved the way he made it clear he knew his wife had left him for good. He is a riot in his interplay with Ward and with the worms. The dialogue is crisp and the laughs plentiful, but the films drags in a few places. The director steals gleefully from everywhere including Peter Pan. The cast looks like they are having a grand time. Warning: It may be funny, but it is not without gore. If you liked the original, do check it out. If you haven't seen the original, see it first.Beginning
Trespass (1992) (***, action, drama) (D.-Walter Hill; Bill Paxton, Ice T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De'voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, John Toles-Bey) Nasty little cat and mouse in abandoned St. Louis factory. Violent, profane, gripping, and viciously well done. Two firemen (Hill and Paxton) get a treasure map to priceless gold artifacts stolen 50 years earlier and, with eyes agleam, go for it. Unfortunately, they stumble across a drug gang execution. The gang, headed by King James (Ice T), is ruthless and well armed. A series of events leads to a Mexican Standofffor the moment. A possible ally is an old street person Bradlee (delightfully played by Evans whom you must watch closely even when he is in the background). However, King James has all the men and heavy artillery he needs to eventually win, but he also has to worry about the human element. He must keep control of his gang members (who are not overly concerned about his needs and just want to dispose of the witnesses and be done with it), keep face with the gang, and get revenge by killing these outsiders who would dare to violate his turf. He is sharp enough to know that there is something very strange in their behavior and wants to know just what they are doing here. Also, as the cat, he needs to reflect on the proverb about curiosity.
Sadler is as ruthless and as driven in his own way as King James. The gold is his way out of his current crumbling life, and it is HIS. Bradlee, a sharp witted old codger, is likewise as ruthless. The gold came out of his abode and he justifiably feels he has a claim to it. He is also something of a philosopher. When the firemen are waxing over the gold's shine and monetary value, he comments on its indestructibility no matter how often it is abused, melted down and how many forms it takes. "Alway the same gold. It was here long before we; be here long after we're gone. I bet you a lot of men died for the gold in this one piece." How prophetic. A few charms to be added to its bracelet. Paxton is basically a nice guy (an odd part for him) and he would be more than satisfied to just get out alive.
Besides very taut camera work and pacing, the gang members make the movie fascinating. Each has his own personality and range of loyalty, honesty, and cleverness. It is watching the decisions and actions that they make as the story unfolds that makes the movie so interesting--especially at the post mortems. The sniper seems a pleasant fellow, but give him the rifle and he cannot keep the crosshairs off people. Also, when he really messes up, note his level of honesty and then how the story is filtered by the next character it passes through. Video is constantly recording everything including all the murder and mayhem. Yet, until the very end, no one really takes note of it. Being an avid candid photographer, I can attest to the fact that the best way to take such shots is to just glue the camera to your face and point the camera at everyone at every opportunity. In an amazingly short period you are invisible and can photograph everything with complete impunity.
A particularly neat visual trick was where the firemen approach the factory and a NO TRESPASSING sign sweeps into view and then out. Only, as it does so, the "ING" is blocked by another object leaving a NO TRESPASS sign. Which came first the scene or the title? Probably the scene since the original movie title was The Looters, which was supposed to be released when the LA riots occurred. In response, the movie was delayed and renamed. A clever person probably recognized the benefits of using a wipe on the trepassing sign to create the title. (11-31-94) Beginning
(1964) (****, war, docudrama) (9-9-04) (D.-John Frankenheimer; Burt Lancaster,
Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, Suzanne Flon, Wolfgang Preiss, Albert Rémy) Two
hours of white knuckle suspense. The Train is not only a superb thriller
with excellent acting across the board, stellar pacing, superb storing telling,
and magnificent cinematography, it is also a fabulous character study and raises
painful ethical and moral issues. Based loosely on an historical event it is
set in the closing days of WWII, just before the fall of
The film has an incredible sense of place and reality. Grimy dirt. Absolutely palpable. You can smell the smoke. In this regard the director achieved exactly what he was after.
Lancaster, who was 51 at the time,
does all his own stunts plus filling in for one of the stuntmen. That is
Review based on the DVD from Sneak Reviews which is exceptional. The director has a sparse but insightful commentary, which is not to be missed. An interesting technical reason explains the high body count. Do NOT watch the trailer before the movie as it gives an incredible amount away.
Remember This means as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape. Beginning
Trial (1955) (***1/2, courtroom drama) (3-6-00) (D.-Mark Robson; W.- Don Mankiewicz; Glenn Ford, Dorothy McGuire, John Hodiak, Arthur Kennedy, Katy Jurado, Rafael Campos) Terse, brutal film of Mankiewicz novel that is as relevent as todays headlines. It starts on a private beach. A scream. A dead girl with her clothes in disarray. A young, Hispanic boy standing over her. If he was trying to rape her, it is a capital offense regardless of how she died. Cut to a young law professor (Ford). If he doesnt get courtroom experience fast, his promising assistant professorship will be over. He ends up with the murder. He wanted experience. He gets it -- a lifetime in a few short weeks.
However, while racial issues are important, the real point of the film is much, much more complex. The film deals with the abuse of, and especially the manipulation of, the media. In particular, the willingness of those with a Cause to sacrifice anyone and everyone to further it. Should we be too smug, we need only look at recent events over Elian Gonzales and Cuba to recognize how depressingly little has changed in this regard.
The film uses the Communist movement to exemplify the issue, but it savages the House UnAmerican Activities Committee among others along the way. The acting is good with Kennedy being particularly convincing. As an aside, the concluding scene and its final frame is a knockout! Beginning
Tribble Troubles: A recent Deep Space 9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations" had members of DS9 thrown back in time to the space station when Captain Kirk, Spock, Scotty and crew first encounter Tribbles ("The Trouble with Tribbles"). For those uninformed, a Tribble is a cuddly, cooing, furry life form that immediately causes most other life forms to love and feed it. A real parasite as it does nothing except eat and breed. Cat and dog owners will immediately point out that is just like dogs and cats respectively. Trial cunningly intermixes footage from the original Trouble with live action of the current cast. While the two sets of characters never actually interact, the computer overlays and editing are so beautifully done that it is hard to catch how they do it. For example, the line up of both crews is masterful. Also, the bar fight is marvelous. In the original, there were three Klingons and three Enterprise crew. In Trouble, they cunningly introduced three additional Klingons who looked a lot like the original three. Now by judicious filming and editing it looks like the Trouble and Trials actors are mixed up together and interacting. We had Trials on tape and ran it against a copy of the original Trouble to see how they had managed the overlays and editing. A very interesting study. I rate Trouble at four Tribbles out of four and Trial as three and a half Tribbles. See also For the Kids 2 and Trekkies
Trigger Effect, The (1996) (***, drama) (D.-David Koepp; Kyle MacLachlan, Elisabeth Shue, Dermot Mulroney, Richard T. Jone, Bill Smitrovich, Philip Bruns, Michael Rooker) The rating is a family average. Some thought the film was just a collection of cliches with a few strong moments. I admit to the story lacking great originality. However, I really liked the breakdown of the society as witnessed through a single family (MacLachlan and Shue) and a friend (Mulroney). Plus it had some very powerful scenes. Cumulatively, I found the film truly disturbingly edgy. We are so dependent on our technology and social structure to hold eveything in place that a large enough fracture can, like a star crack in a windshield, propagate to places, in ways, and at speeds that cannot be forseen. These coupled interactions, and the rather thin veneer of our civilization, is shown by the beautifully orchestrated long single pan shot at the beginning. In addition, whether you felt it was cliched or not, it was hard not to discuss afterwards. A massive power outage and communications breakdown strikes at the least the Western portion of the US (as in real life). The descent into chaos is believable as succeeding landmarks of civilization are toppled--frequently for understandable, if misguided, reasons. Much of the fun is in Monday morning quarterbacking on what they did right and wrong and why they made the decisions they did. I personally think their behavior is quite plausible but, of course, I wouldn't have made the mistakes they did! Also, an active area for discussion is the aftermath of the return of power. How will the principals look at themselves and at each other? The interaction between the husband and friend makes sense when you note that they were tight friends at one time, but something had obviously cooled them before the crisis. The children's story is real and is clearly intended to emphasize the parallels with the adult world.Beginning
The Triplets of Bellville aka Triplettes de Belleville, Les (2003) (***, animation) (3-28-05) (DW.-Sylvain Chomet; Voices: Lina Boudreault, Michèle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Mari-Lou Gauthier, Charles Linton, Michel Robin, Monica Viega)As Monty Python would say And now for something completely different. Unique, off the wall French animation. The story spans maybe 30 years. It is loosely about an impoverished grandmother, her autistic grandson who she ends up training as a bicycle racer, an overweigh dog that barks at trains, singing triplets with a unique act, unique tastes in food, and an unusual style of getting dinner, the Tour de France, and finally the French Mafia. Yes, it ultimately makes some sort of sense. The animation is a cross between the old style black-and-white cartoons and extreme caricatures. By the way, while not overly adult in subject matter, this is not a childrens cartoon.
Did I like it? Well, it is so offbeat, I did hang around to the end to see where it was going. But I can not say that I particularly like it (**1/2), although some people clearly do. But the art design and the imagination are what gives it my higher rating. The film is in mixed French and English. Apparently, we failed to turn on the English subtitles, but it didnt really matter. You knew what was going on and essentially what was being said from the visuals. This is in keeping with the wall poster in the film advertising Mr. Hulot, a French comic character whose sound films dont need words. Review based on the DVD which has a pair of interesting shorts on making the film which shows how the directors and artists created a unique style based on a blend of classical animation and modern computer graphics.
True Believer (1989) (***, drama) (D.-Joseph Ruben; James Woods, Robert Downey, Jr, Yuji Okumoto, Margaret Colin, Kurtwood Smith, Tom Bower) Taut. Brutal. We open with two killings. The first is a street shooting done with clinical distance and the lack of critical detail so characteristic of eye witness views. The second is a very personal brutal prison fight. Woods is a left over flower child who once defended kids on marijuana charges, but has drifted to specializing in getting rich criminal low lifes off in the name of "justice". Of course, that these guys pay incredibly better than flower people has nothing to do with it. He is very good at what he does, has buried his conscience, and could go on like this for the rest of his life. However, an idealistic young attorney, Downey, comes out to study his methods and shakes Woods to his very core. The murder charges against the kid, Okumoto, form the basis of a Woods' possible salvation.
The supporting cast is good. The story is entertainingly told and has a believable resolution. However, this is the type of part made for James Woods, and he does the expected stellar job. He is all sharp edges, barely contained rage, and almost maniacal intensity. Waiting to go off. Like an overstressed piano wire, you never know when he will snap and who he'll tear up when he does. As an aside, Woods' part is apparently modelled after a very well know San Francisco attorney who was less than pleased with the portrayal. (7-29-96) Beginning
True Lies (1994) (**1/2, adventure) (D.-James Cameron; Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton) Disappointing. If Lies had come from anyone else but the magical Cameron and had cost less than cubic dollars (secret, but estimated at $80-120M), I would probably have overlooked some of its flaws and rated it more highly. However, taken as an action movie, I think the much more modest Speed is far better. I know my rating on this one will get a lot of heat, but bear with me. The effects are stellar, as required of any good action movie, the villains are bad and believable, Arnold S. actually manages to convey some real emotions, there is a lot of humor (especially from Tom Arnold), and Curtis is a good wallflower who makes the transformation to sexy, self-confident spy believable. Yet somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts. So what, in my opinion, went wrong?
First the plot. Lies is a send off of the old Bond movies with a 90's style monogamous Arnold as a secret agent. Indeed, the opening sequence with Arnold stepping out of a wet suit immaculately coiffured and in a tux is a direct tribute to a Bond opening sequence. Only his wife and daughter think that he is a Dull-Dull computer salesman and his marriage is on the rocks.
A central subplot concerns Paxton, a used car salesman who hustles bored women by pretending to be a secret agent. He is currently working on Curtis, and Arnold, on discovering this, takes exception. This leads to the central portion of the film, which I find extraordinarily objectionable. Schwarzenegger brutally brings all the power of his massive secret government organization to bear on humiliating Paxton and subjugating his wife. Posing as a secret agent in a darkened room, he even makes her do a strip tease. Not funny! I found myself squirming through much of this. I may be old fashioned and draw my lines in odd ways, but such cavalier, outrageous abuse of government power for personal gains is no laughing matter. That Curtis ends up beating the stuffings out of Schwarzenegger is small solace for the magnitude of the transgression.
Another thing that I found disappointing is that Cameron, normally a true master of supense with the little details, just doesn't pull it off here. The closest he comes is when a squad of terrorists crash and find themselves teetering on the edge of the precipice, go wild congratulating themselves on survivingbarely, and then....
If you like action and jazzy effects, can gloss over the central portion, and don't need a believable plot, then you will enjoy True Lies. Just don't expect the moon. (9-5-94) Beginning
True Romance (1993) (***, crime, drama) (6-10-02) (D.- Tony Scott; W.- Quentin Tarantino; Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini, Saul Rubinek, Bronson Pinchot, Michael Rapaport, Val Kilmer (figure out who he plays), Brad Pitt) Lets not confuse art with entertainment. True Romance is offbeat, funny, quirky, violent, weird, bloody, and unpredictable. To give you an indication of how weird, Dennis Hopper is the most normal person in the film. And I did find it entertaining. After Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino put this out to support his next venture, Pulp Fiction. From an historical standpoint, it shows his natural evolution from the ultraviolence of Dogs to the fascinating blend of humor, sharp dialogue, and violence of Fiction. Romance does offer a nearly linear plot line, but with the usual Tarantinoesque twists.
Clarence Worley (Slater) is so close to the bottom of the food chain that arguments over position are pointless. His idea of an ideal date is a kung fu triple feature. In waltzes hooker (excuse me, call girl) Alabama (Arquette) and it is lust/love at first sight. Between the two of them, they might make that one brick for a full load. They repeatedly prove that luck is more important than talent, particularly after lack of talent gets you into the soup. I wont give away much plot; youd probably think me deranged if I tried anyway. However, it does involve a vicious pimp, a fortune in cocaine, the Mafia, a collection of brain damaged actors with Pitt leading the pack, and the police out to make a big score. But enough of plot.
The acting is appropriate given the characters. The interactions between Slater and Arquette are delightful. Arquette manages to simultaneously exude sexuality and innocence. And rarely has so much skin been shown with so much clothing on; the theater scene is delightful. Without so much as raising their voices Oldman and Walken demonstrate once again their sheer overwhelming portrayals of evil. Here are men in whose presence any sane person would run screaming from the roomif they could. Their opponents are amazingly resourceful given their situations. Gandolfinis hit man is a gem as a sadist with a rash respect for pluck and resilience. And of course one can anticipate the obligatory twisted Tarantino ending. Beginning
Truman Show, The (1998) (****, drama, sci fi) (D.-Peter Weir; Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor, Ed Harris) First: This is not a comedy. Carrey plays it straight and well. Second: Don't let anyone tell you the plot. Third: It is a great film. Savagely satirical, insightful, and well acted. And if you don't know the basic set up, don't read any further. Just go see it.
Since you got here, I assume that you know that Truman Burbank (Carrey) is the star of TV's "The Truman Show", which is his life, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He was even born on the show, married to Meryl (Linney) on the show, etc. Only, everyone in the world is in on the joke except Truman who thinks that everything in his life is real. The mastermind behind the show is the Mephistophelean Christof (Harris) who orchestrates every nuance of Truman's life down to when it rains on him. Truman lives in the idyllic island town of Seahaven. Why do people watch it? Because its REAL. No false emotions. Just the real thing.
Actually, in some ways we already have "The Truman Show" on the internet. A child was recently born on the internet--the mother and father shouldn't have asked for their 15 minutes of fame. They were fugitives from the law. For some time now we have had Jenny's Room on the internet; she has a camera in her efficiency that regularly updates her web page with a shot of what is going on in her room. Sometimes it is X-rated. She has developed quite a following. In both of these cases, however, the principal is in on the joke. It is only a matter of time before the civil rights protection lags somewhere, and we get "The Truman Show".
The basic plot is predictable, but not the details. How he acts and reacts, how his public reacts, and how Christof reacts form the key to the film.
The Truman Show is modern TV brought to its logical conclusion. Now the interviewers can do it to the unsuspecting Truman. Need a crisis? Create one. We can do anything with actors. Need to advertise a product? Do it in your face in real time. We already have this to a degree in the movies where products are conspicuously displayed. Sure in Seaside it looks hokie to us, but remember Truman grew up with this. He thinks that this is the way people talk and act. He has no reason to question it. He is the ultimate patsy. He accepts what the media supplies to him as reality, much as many of us uncritically accept what TV presents as reality.
Harris' Christof is perfect. He can articulately justify his every action, and at a base level he is correct. He is manipulative to the end. What he ignores is the human element that makes people want to do things for themselves, even if it isn't the best thing. They will learn for themselves--period. Carrey is excellent. A decent guy in an intractable situation.
I classified Truman as drama and sci fi, but it is much more including humorous. It is like a cross between Network, Dark City, and Gattaica. Actually, the writer Andrew Niccol directed Gattaica (in my opinion, the best sci fi in years), so similarities shouldn't be surprising.
The last scene is beautifully and eerily composed. But Truman's statement just doesn't seem quite right. I keep thinking of something more obscene, but that didn't work quite right either. So maybe they got it correct. (6-8-98) Beginning
Truth About Cats & Dogs, The (1996) (**1/2, romance, comedy) (D.-Michael Lehmann; Uma Thurman, Jeneane Garofalo, Ben Chaplin, Jamie Foxx) Light weight, but entertaining modern variation on Rostand's 1890 Cyrano De Bergerac theme rewritten by Audrey Welles. The theme is timeless as many of us were, or are, insecure and are certain that we have some physical or mental deformity that will make us unacceptable to our beloved. Plus, we are scared out of our minds of rejection. That, of course, can lead to disasterous behavioral choices. Garofalo's call-in talk show is the Doctor Ruth of the pet owners' world. Is your snake neurotic? Your dog leaving unwanted presents in your shoes? She has a ready and entertaining answer. To this stable, but manless world, enters photographer Chaplin with a very large and very unhappy dog. The doctor carefully talks him through the crisis on the air and her take charge, articulate persona intrigues him so much that he sets up a blind meeting. Short, heavy, and a nervous wall flower, Garofalo describes herself as her tall blond model-neighbor, Thurman. Of course, once the machinery of deception is set in motion finding the off switch or the power plug is a convoluted task indeed. The two women keep Chaplin off balance as, of course, Thurman in person is not quite what he had expected, her unknown "assistant" seems closer in tune with his attraction, and both are sincere and good natured. Judicious use of modern technology keeps the confusion alive. Cats & Dogs does manage to brings new meaning, and a PG-13 rating, to the term safe sex. The director has a nice sense of timing and makes good use of the physical contrast of the Mutt and Jeff pairing of Thurman and Garofalo (for those too young to remember the cartoon, Mutt and Jeff were physically totally dissimilar friends with one being about twice as tall as the other). The laid-back plot is aided by the very charming trio of young actors. Thurman does get played a bit heavy as the ditzy dumb blond, and Garofalo, in spite of being a bit chunky, has a very attractive face and brains and a personality that any bright male would die for. (5-20-96) Beginning
Turning Point, The (1952) (**1/2, drama) (D.-William Dieterle, William Holden, Alexis Smith, Edmond O'Brien, Ed Begley, Don Porter) O'Brien heads crime commission investigating organized crime in the city. Holden is a cynical newspaper reporter. Smith is the love interest of both. Dated but still entertaining, especially if one ignores the love story. However, two scenes alone are real slam-bangers. The arson job and aftermath has a seat of your pants you-are-there realism and intensity that many modern movies only dream about. Similarly, the assassin hunting Holden in the crowded fight arena is superbly choreographed and filmed. For trivia buffs, Morticia from TV's The Addams Family had a cameo part as a buxom very sexy blond who couldn't image why anyone would ask where she had gotten all her money. "From guys" was her response. (4-19-94) Beginning
12 Angry Men (1957) (***1/2, drama) (D.-Sidney Lumet, Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden) At Sneak Reviews Video. A brutal murder of a boy's father and equally draining trial of the youth sets the stage for an outstanding film version of the stage play. As the movie opens, twelve jurors are given their final instructions and enter the oppressive air (both in temperature and responsibilty) of the deliberation room to pound out: "Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?" As is frequently overlooked, this does not mean: "Guilty or innocent." One man (Fonda) holds out from an early guilty verdict. The subsequent dynamics, the ebb and flow of the discussion, the politics and power struggles of this cloistered group are all tautly and believably presented. While there is some excessive stereotyping, the basic power of the drama coupled with power house performances throughout more than compensate. Performances of particular note are Cobb's for its emotional brutality, Fonda for his worried but determined uncertainty, and Marshall for his steel willed every man's rationality. Was the boy innocent? But that isn't the question, is it? Decide for yourself. As an aside, the jury in a recent trial requested the removal of a murder weapon from the jury room when one of the jury became so emotional that the other jurors felt threatened. (9-21-93) Beginning
Twelve Monkeys (1995) (***, sci fi, drama) (D.-Terry Gilliam; Madeleine Stowe, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt) At the Carmike, probably for this week. Stunningly bleak, surrealistically disturbing, eerily provocative sound track, good acting, and uneven story line (but my wife and I disagree over which parts are bad). Convoluted and cerebral with ample opportunity for post discussions. Not for everyone. The time is 30 years from now. The few survivors of the great plague of '96 and '97 that killed 5 billion people huddle in the black depths of the earth. The government is totalitarian and the conditions, especially for prisoners such as James Cole (Willis), are abominable. Willis' short reconnaissance to the surface is as horrific a view of the end as you are likely to see. Time travel has been developed and the government hopes to learn more about the plague. Willis "volunteers" for such a jump and connects with his two co-stars (Stowe as a psychiatrist and Pitt, who is a seriously disturbed individual). Is this apocalyptic image real or is Willis truly deranged? Multiple time jumps, mental flashbacks, and an increasingly lucid dream sequence add to the confusion. The dream is so important, and we cannot agree on important particulars, so I'm going to rent the video just to sort this out.
In my opinion, the story does hold together, although I did find the use of Hitchcock's films jarring and inappropriate. Pitt is believable once again as the demented--how much acting? Stowe is intelligent as always. Willis plays it just right for a man with his background and the truly traumatic situations in which he finds himself. His reactions to our world and his one overpowering desire to actually see the ocean are touchingly believable. The film is "inspired" by Chris Marker's 25 minute ultra-low budget 1962 French film La Jetée. La Jetée consists of a series of black and white still shots with a voice over and is, according to a friend who has seen it, rivetingly intense. Premiere Magazine found Monkeys disappointing compared to the original. (2-26-96) Beginning
20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) (***, 50s sci fi) (11-1-99) (D.-Nathan Juran; William Hopper, Joan Taylor, Frank Puglia, Thomas B. Henry) This is a classic 50 sci fi monster movie. A ship returns from Venus with an embryonic life form. It crashes off the Italian coast, the embryo get loose, hatches, and begins to grow at a prodigious rate. Ultimately, this leads to its escape in Rome and the final climactic confrontation in the Coliseum. The creature is masterfully rendered in stop motion animation by Ray Harryhausen.
There are three masters of creature features. Willis O'Brian, Ray Harryhausen, and Stan Winston. Harryhausen studied under O'Brian. Winston saw this film when he was 11 years old. It was one of his favorites and was very formative in his ultimate career.
The monster is actually sympathetic. It was displaced from its home, born into an alien environment, and hounded by these creatures who are bent on imprisoning or destroying it. Any other behavior or reaction on its part would be illogical. Beginning
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) (****, sci fi, action, fantasy) (D.-Richard Fleischer; Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas, Peter Lorre, Robert J. Wilke, Carleton Young) Based on Jules Verne's novel. One of the best films of its type. As a kid, I saw it every time it appeared in theaters. I still think it stands up. Something for all ages. Clownish humor and rousing songs by Douglas. Interesting albeit somewhat stereotypical characters. Great FX. Fabulous action sequences; the giant squid attack and particularly its underwater shots are still great. Apparently, the battle was originally shot on calm water but the mechanical controllers showed (Cinebooks in Microsoft Cinemia, 1995). They tried adding a storm. It works.
However, most importantly the story still has raw power. Nemo's (Mason) family was killed by slavers, and he seeks vengeance on them and the warring countries who fueled the slaving. With his technical expertise and atomic powered submarine "Nautilus" (the name of the first U.S. atomic sub), he will stop at nothing to achieve world domination. Admirable in a megalomaniacal way, and more noble than many of those he wishes to dethrone. Mason's performance is rich, nuanced and believable with his swings between hard logic and lust for revenge. The Bach fugue on the organ before the battle is exceptional as he drives himself into an orgiastic rage that can only be cooled with blood. Oscars for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Special Effects. Mason deserved an Oscar nomination. Review based on the letter boxed video disk, which is essential to get the full visual impact--think long submarine.Beginning
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) (****, sci fi) (D.-Stanley Kubrick; Keir Dullea, William Sylvester, Gary Lockwood, Daniel Richter, Voice of HAL by Douglas Rain) A classic more often talked about now than seen. It is based on Arthur C. Clarke's book 2001, which in turn is based on his much more bleak short story "The Sentinel" and builds on the repercussions of an artifact left for us by ancient astronauts. For the Star Wars generation, it drags--indeed I heard one student during a showing call it "DULL!!!". However, the special effects were out of this world at the time and set the standards against which all modern special effects were judged. Kubrick didn't have all the tools that are available now, but what he did show looked absolutely REAL. In my opinion, one of the problems is that he was so enamored with the new technology that instead of making many of his scenes throwaways that set a mood, he dwelled on them. A forty minute shorter version would move right along. However, the special effects and several other scenes are breathtaking.
As in many of Kubrick's movies, sound and visual imagery are lyrically integrated and are feasts for the eyes and the ears. The ballad of the space ship and the discovery of weapons by the ape man are "awesome". Kubrick, being an artist, makes a much more ambiguous and satisfying ending than did Clarke the scientist in the book. The sequel 2010 based on Clarke's novel ties everything up in a nice little package, and, in my opinion, ruins the entire effect of the original. A must see for those interested in special effects, in the evolution of science fiction, and in Stanley Kubrick. Note: Because the movie was done originally on cinemascope, try to rent a letterboxed version.
[Footnote: For an alternative and very different view of the impact of an artifact left by ancient astronauts, see the British sleeper Five Million Years to Earth (1968). What a dismal title! The only reason that we watched it was because of a critic's recommendation. In spite of the critic, we still expected to flip it off after the first 5 minutes or less. Wrong!!! A classic example of how a fine cast and a well written story with delightful twists can overcome a most meager budget--probably comparable to some new cars. Every time we said, "Well, after that twist, it will now settle into a standard formula", they pulled another logical, but completely unexpected twist. The end cannot hold up to the rest, but still highly recommended for students of the genre.] Beginning
Twin Peaks (1990-1991) Good news, unfortunate news, bad news, promising news, and bad (?) news. David Lynch's provocative, seductive Twin Peaks is out on video in two forms. The good news-bad news is that you can get either the full first season or a two hour version of the first show with a finale tacked on. The unfortunate news is that the multitape video library ends with the first season and leaves you hanging so far out on the limb that you may never crawl back. The really bad news is the two hour version. Run, do not walk to the nearest exit without renting it. The great first show is preserved intact, but the tacked on ending is incomprehensible even to TwiPea (pronounced twee-pee) freaks. The promising news is that the second season has just been released to video tape in Japan. The Japanese are absolutely rabid TwiPeas. Thus, it is likely the second season will shortly be available here, and you may actually be able to crawl back (more realistically, Lynch will saw the limb right off on you with the second season). The bad (?) news is the just released Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; I'll return to that later.
I don't like everything that David Lynch does, but from the first episode I was absolutely mesmerized by Twin Peaks. The visual imagery is fantastic, the mood mind blowing, the plotting (while frequently slow in development) is fascinating, and the characters delightfully off the wall. The plot ranges from stark, brutal drama to black humor so dark a spotlight cannot penetrate, to keystone cops comedy--sometimes in the same scene. The capstone is the absolutely mind bendingly striking sound track by Angelo Badalamenti, which seals the mood on one of the best things to show on commercial television in years. Rarely have moods been so well set by such a skillful integration of sound and visual imagery. I find it impossible to hear the sound track without conjuring up very powerful scenes. I buy very few sound tracks, but I would kill to protect mine.
Twin Peaks is definitely not for everyone. It is not just strange. It is weird and surrealistic! However, if you have judged it by viewing a show or two mid season, forget it; that is like the blind man describing the elephant. You must carefully watch every episode in order, or there is no way you can comprehend it. Some would argue that your comprehension will actually drop if you watch it, but that is another story. The Byzantine plot, the characters, and the situations are so far beyond human ken as to be incomprehensible unless taken in entirety.
A critic said after the first show that, in the final analysis, it didn't really matter who killed Laura Palmer as the fun was in Lynch, Frost, and their very talented cast getting there. As it turned out, however, it does matter who killed Laura, and the multipart finale to the Palmer sequence is relentlessly gripping with a slam-you-against-the-wall finish that will leave you talking about it for days. Too bad you'll have to wait for the video release of the second season to see that.
Twin Peaks is definitely a social event. These shows just work much better on TV than in a theater because you can talk about the plot, what is going on, what is actually going on, what is likely to happen, and little things that you notice that no one else did during the show. They throw you out of theaters for this. Some of these things can be done at the water cooler the next day, but it isn't the same as real time analysis; too much gets lost. Twin Peak is a social show and is best watched on video in a group with loud and boisterous feedback and interactions. Tape is a key aid so that you can play back the scenes where you didn't catch something critical or someone in the group caught a key point missed by others. You then spend the next week in spirited discussion and eager anticipation of the next installment (the closest thing to a cliff hanger that we have around). Beginning
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) (Drama, **) (D-David Lynch, a host of Twin Peaks regulars) This long anticipated movie takes you through the Laura Palmer murder or the beginning of the series, but it does not wrap up the final season cliff hanger. My family and I are somewhat divided. All agree on one thing: if you are not a TwiPea, avoid this like the plague. As a prequel to Twin Peaks, it gives away who killed Laura Palmer spoiling the video series for those who want the whole treatment. It is frequently pretentious and much of it is incomprehensible for someone not versed in the series. It tries, in my opinion, to make too realistic a plot from what in the original is actually a fantasy. Make no mistake, this does show Lynch's quirky, unique style. But the Lynch visual magic is off, Badalmenti's. musical score is just not up to the series, much of the odd ball characters and humor are gone, and, probably most important, it lacks the social features outlined above. In this regard, I think that our overall rating rose somewhat after the show when we could discuss it, but the format just isn't TV (it may actually show much better when it comes out on video). Another critical problem is that since it was a terminal cleaning up of loose odds and ends from the series, much of the original ambiguity was eliminated and there is nothing to anticipate. My final recommendation is for TwiPeas, who will go under any circumstances, not to have too high expectations, and for others to avoid it.
However, if you are after a fascinating 15 hours of video, check out the first season of Twin Peaks, or better yet the 27 hour two years. You will either love me for the recommendation or will come hunting me. Be forewarned. Donuts anyone? Beginning
Twins (1988) (**1/2, comedy) (D.-Ivan Reitman, Arnold Schwarzenegger Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, Marshall Bell) A more unlikely premise you''ll never find. Schwarzenegger and DeVito were twins from a genetic experiment and were separated at birth. In later life Arnold discovers he has a twin and tracks him down; the two of them search for their biological mother. Arnold has the looks and the genius in the pair. On the other hand, DeVito, who came up in the school of hard knocks has a lot of animal cunning and a very keen sense of self-preservation. The plot is complicated by DeVito accidentally stealing a car with a very nasty mob-industrial connection. The bonding of the twins is enjoyable. Much of the movie takes place in northern New Mexico with some truly gorgeous shots. When we left I said to my wife, "I just hurt in places." Being a dyed in the wool New Mexican herself, that statement needed no further amplification. Humans frequently do bond very strongly with where they grew up, and even spending decades elsewhere may not eliminate that imprinting. While we like Virginia, we have never lost our love of the Southwest. Enjoy Twins for the scenery and the comedy. (9-27-93) Beginning
Twister (1996) (**1/2, action) (D-Jan De Bont; Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz. Cary Elwes) If you are into special effects and visual imagery, see it on the big screen! What you see are incredibly realistic computer simulations of tornados, which are some of nature's most magnificent and awe inspiring creations. Storm chasers led by Hunt and soon to be ex-husband, Paxton, are trying to put instrumentation directly into a tornado. With the tornados bearing down on the protagonists and the screaming winds drowning out all speech, there is plenty of adrenaline, fear, and suspense to go around. The personalities of the storm chasers are very believable. We know the scientific type well--quirkily individualistic. That, coupled with adrenaline lovers on the edge, and you have them. Unfortunately, someone forgot to write a story to go with it. Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin are the guilty parties for the hackney dialogue and trite plot that allegedly hangs the action together.
One of my favorite parts, of course, was the drive-in sequence. Basically, there are good reasons for us to be instinctively afraid of the dark. There really are things out there coming to get us. The storm skittering around, barely at the edge of perception, is still one of those things that even modern man has to fear, and the director really played this well. The final scene was overly long, but the aftermath swath cut by the tornado was fearsomely realistic.
De Bont is a type A who literally drives his actors into the thick of the action. In Twister that meant being downwind from jet engines used to generate the wind and hurl debris at them and having real tractors dropped on top of them. From the sounds of it, Hunt is unlikely to make another film with him. (8-19-96) Beginning
2 Days in the Valley (1996) (**1/2, crime, drama) (D.-John Herzfeld; Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Marsha Mason, Paul Mazursky, James Spader, Eric Stolz, Charlize Teron, Greg Attwell) Stylish Tarantinoesque story about an apparently unrelated collection of misfits and characters who actually end up bound together as if by super glue. Aiello is a scraggly down on his luck wise guy. Spader is as cool and sadistic a cold blooded killer as you're likely to see; for him a minute is a long time. Stolz is a cop trying to make it big--Homicide; some wishes are better left unfulfilled. Throw in a statuesque Scandinavian blonde, a world class skier, a martinet art dealer and his milquetoast aide and you have a flavor for the goings on. Intriguing. My mind was in continual overdrive trying to sort out the relations and see where it was going. The characters were interesting and frequently amusing coupled to a number of nicely composed scenes. One favorite was the two cars at the stop light. An example of the One Step Too Far . Rule where it should have ended at the house. Pulp Fiction it isn't, but well worth Good Neighbor Hour. Strong R for violence, nudity, and sexual content. Beginning
28 Days Later(2003) (***, horror) (7-14-03) (D.- Danny Boyle; W.- Alex Garland; Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Huntley) Much hyped, low-budget chiller. Not as good as some claim nor as bad as others feel. For me well worth full fare to see on the big screen. A touch of Night Of The Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids. Sweet dreams. Part horror, part character study. Animal rights activists inadvertently release a plague of biblical proportions. The disease is Rage, whose name accurately describes the initial stage of the disease and the behavior of any lingering survivors. Some of the disease details are critical to the story and I wont tell you, but be forewarned other reviewers are not so gracious. Jim wakes up in a totally deserted hospital 28 days later with no knowledge of what happened. London is deserted with a capital D. Blowing newspapers partially explain things. The film is at its best here as he wanders through a totally deserted city, including Piccadilly Circus, and crosses Westminster Bridge with the only signs of human habitation being our refuse and graffiti.
Would for poor Jim the city actually were deserted and populated only by the dead. It is not, and his first encounter nearly becomes his last. The zombies of 28 Days are not your shambling human wrecks of standard horror films. These are adrenalized creatures of your worst nightmares. Rage fits perfectly.
The story unfolds as a small band of survivors gather and strike out to find the source of an automated radio broadcast promising salvation. As with the oracles, wording may be everything.
The survivors are realistic in their behavior. Ultimately, regardless of the horror, humans are basically survivors. We get to know these people and care for them, sometimes only briefly in a world where life or extinction can be determined by the swiftness of your baseball bat swing.
The events in Birmingham evolve with a certain plausibility given human nature. You would hope otherwise, but arent completely sure. The dinner scene is a little masterpiece of understated horror as you try to sort out the underlying subtext. Unfortunately, the ending is pure Hollywood and totally unbelievable and unrealistic. The director needed the sharp edge of much of the rest of the film.
The director masterfully creates a world of which you want no part, even before you see the real horror. London has to be seen to be believed. And it was done without FX. Much was shot at 4 a.m. with attractive, articulate young assistants keeping people out of the shooting zone. The film was shot on video, probably largely for ease of filming and cost. It gives the film a gritty, you-are-there feeling. However, in the long static shot where you can see the fuzziness of the details, it shows why digital isnt yet quite up to the big screen.
The film is gory, but not as much so as you might have thought. Much of the action is shrouded in darkness and flitting indistinct impressions, much like it would be in real life. It is what you cannot see that should terrify you. Nevertheless, not for the squeamish. Beginning
28 Weeks Later (2007) (**, horror) (6-10-08) (DW.-Juan Carlos Fresnadillo; W.-Rowan Joffe; Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Idris Elba, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton) A sequel to the excellent 28 Days Later. This movie reminds me of the old joke. As everyone settles into their seats for the first fully automated airline flight, a calm, measured, reassuring voice drones soothingly over the speakers. "Sit down. Relax. Everything is taken care of. All eventualities have been carefully considered and planned for. Nothing can go wrong go wrong go wrong " How many horror movies rest on this premise? 28 Weeks is one. It is 28 weeks after the Rage Virus annihilated all human life in the UK. The zombies are all dead, the plague burned out. The US military is working to bring willing survivors back to their homeland starting at a super secure base in London. Don (Carlyle) who abandoned his wife in the original plague returns with his children Tammy (Poots) and Andy (Muggleton). The children miss their mother and slip out of the quarantine to recover family pictures from their home. Beginning to get the drift?
The base is super secure and nothing can go wrong. Other than the ease with which the children got out and a few other ridiculous security flaws. However, there are contingency plans in case infection breaks out. If you saw the first film you will remember that contact with any bodily fluids from the infected will turn the victims into adrenaline crazed killers in seconds; this makes it catastrophic in a crowd. So in case of an outbreak the military is prepared to "terminate with extreme prejudice" any infections.
I won't say more about plot or story line other than to say that it doesn't come up to the original in any regard. A true disappointment. The filming is edgy, nervous, hyperkinetic - appropriate for the subject matter, but the original did it better with a real story line. The one place this film works disturbingly well is during the climactic outbreak. Viciously terrifying as the military reacts to contain it. In case you are interested, the end sets it up for a 28 Months Later. Let's hope not. My recommendation, skip this one and go back and be terrified by the original. Beginning
TV Remakes. (10-23-00) Two great films Fail-Safe and High Noon were recently remade for TV. I include reviews of both TV films along with reviews of the new versions. Beginning
Fail-Safe (1964) (****, drama, war) (7-24-00)
Fail Safe (2000) (***, cold war thriller, drama) (10-23-00)
High Noon (1952) (****, Drama, Western) (10-23-00)
High Noon (1951) (10-23-00) Additional comments.
High Noon (2000) (**1/2, drama, western) (10-23-00)