Like many others, I, also, purchased this little gem of a movie for $1 at a Dollar Tree store, not expecting much in the way of production values or story. Wrong on both counts, this is a very sensitive portrayal of a 1980's nuclear family with tight money problems, faced with a dying child. Although Cosby has a few moments of levity, this is a dark drama of a tough, unyielding father trying to bring his small family out of the projects, no matter what it takes, in saving, scrimping, and denying normal activities. Gloria Foster plays the dual-employed maid/nurse-in-training, and displays great range in dealing with her single-minded husband and thwarted child. The lovely nautical settings on the East Coast are good additions to this tale of woe. This might have been a dedicated educational effort on Mr. Cosby's part, during the years he was pursuing Masters and PHD Degrees from Temple University in Philadelphia. It's certainly worth a look and has value far beyond $1.
Rocky Balboa (2006)It's Not Over Till It's Over
22 December 2006
Having never seen any of the original five "Rocky," movies, only short clips on different award shows and Stallone interviews, I can attest to this film's really fine writing, (dialog), plot, actors, (many from previous outings), and gritty South Philadelphia settings. Sly Stallone has re-invented the franchise in writing, directing, and sensitive portrayal of his hard-scrabble boxer. Even at sixty, he still has great presence, and a physique men half his age would die for. Two expositions of verbal passion are highlights. Most of the each characters' dialog is witty and appropriate. Rocky Balboa's last return to a charity exhibition fight, with a very strong African-American real boxer, humorously named Mason Dixon, is brutal, exhilarating, and redemptive. Nevertheless, the door is still open for Rocky to become a trainer in any future films, as Clint Eastwood's character in "Million Dollar Baby." Having met Mr. Stallone at his "Cliffhanger," premiere in 1993, what you see of his personality in "Rocky Balboa," is the man, himself! This should garner some award nominations, if not the various icons themselves. This is a perfect bookend to the first, acclaimed "Rocky," and even has outtakes of ordinary humans running the steps of the Philly Museum!
The Gatekeeper (2002)Immigration Reform
15 December 2006
Although this engrossing film was, apparently, produced on a limited budget, John Carlos Frey, (writer, director, actor), has secured a good insight into illegal border hoppers, mercenary coyotes, and illicit drug manufacturing. The visuals are stunning and newsworthy realistic. All the major players, (particularly Frey himself), turn in exceptionally sensitive characterizations. The opening scenes of secret vigilantes and a rogue border patrolman voicing racial epithets, (and other vile racist attitudes), is difficult to watch. However, the final reclamation of the border cop's heritage and spiritual reformation make this a strong entry in the search for peace and security for everyone on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Family Pictures (1993)Greek Tragedy
15 December 2006
This exceptionally fine film, with a cast of major star players, offers an insider's view of a large family's reaction to an autistic brother. Their daily affairs, from early childhood embarrassments to adult empathy, is held in a stranglehold by the guilt-ridden mother, Angelica Huston. The father, played by the solid Sam Neill, descends from non-acceptance of his son's disability to escaping in mid-life crises. Overall, his strong characterization reflects a true dilemma, unfortunately, affecting his wife and other five children. His daughter, Kyra Sedgwick, and other son, Dermot Mulroney turn in major performances as flawed and undervalued family members. Much of the exposition seems like Greek Tragedy among the various players. The final resolution brings everyone around, but may not be realistic in the end.
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)Dance Your Way To Success and Self-Esteem
29 November 2006
This documentary, following on the tails of "Spellbound," "Rize," and other up-from-the projects documentaries, is gloriously rendered. The real children who participated in this film are hilarious, persevering, and a joy to behold. All are being cajoled into learning the basics of various "ballroom" dances by real dance instructors, in order to win a competition among various New York middle schools. There is not a moment in this documentary that is not insightful, inspirational, or factual. So much unintentional, delightful humor is given by the various pre-teen children learning the dances or commenting on their experiences, that you might think they had spent hours listening to or watching comedians.The winning finale of many, many hours of practice, lack of co-ordination, and rejections will make an audience, (or now, home viewer), stand up and cheer. Highly Recommended for all ages!
The Departed (2006)Don't Double-Cross Your Associates
29 November 2006
More violence from Mafioso-types, in this latest Martin Scorsese insight to the underworld, is not as brutal as "Good Fellas," or Daniel Day-Lewis' character in "Gangs of New York, but it does have it horrific moments perpetrated by Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and several lesser Irish henchmen. Apparently it's a less-faithful remake of a revered Hong Kong film, "Infernal Affairs," but true to the Scorsese canon, and one of dedicated storytelling and character development.Leonardo Di Caprio and Matt Damon play opposite infiltrators in the Costello(Nicholson) gang and city police department, and they both are terrific! It is a Brad Pitt production, (who originally had the Matt Damon role), but it's a wonder that he withdrew and placed two actors, (who resemble each other)! Alec Baldwin shines as the police chief, (and is hilarious in a couple of scenes). Martin Sheen lends suitable gravitas as chief of undercover detectives, and Jack Nicholson is over-the-top in emoting and promoting his trademark leers, sneers, and swaggers. There is a lot of double-dealing and shocking set-ups, but it is a good film overall. However, it may not win Martin Scorsese his coveted Director's Oscar, due to strong competition from other more family-friendly films.
Happy Feet (2006)Broadway Babies Take Antarctica
29 November 2006
Without giving away the plot of this glorious and beautifully photographed animation, this is one film that should break all records for attendance, by young and old.There is an overall message inherent in the film, which is very topical to today's environmental and political milieu. The famous cast of actors and actresses voicing the "happy feet" penguins are very creative and strong. Robin Williams maintains two separate roles, and he is terrific in both. The magical, dancing penguins, (in the thousands), are a miracle of CGI and choreography. One cannot help but think of Busby Berkeley, Riverdance, or Chorus Line, in the precision and joyful abandon that are rendered by all the penguins, young and old. For anyone not liking this technically brilliant, funny, and beautiful movie, there must be a mental disconnect. If you're expecting a childish cartoon with no depth, or don't understand/like advanced animation technology, then stay home and watch simpler fare on Saturday morning television.
This Is My Father (I) (1998)An Irish Curse Brings Tragedy
28 November 2006
Although beautifully filmed in Kildare, Ireland, this mini-epic of two families intertwined history does not fulfill its promise. James Caan tries diligently to portray the American son of an Irish farmer he never knew existed and a mother who has blocked the love-of-her-life from her children. The three brothers Quinn produced this film, and gave the tragic, starring role to Aiden. He is the heart and soul of the saga, with John Cusack adding a small, comedic, interlude. Moya Farrelly is all heart and sadness as the lost love who grows into old age with her secrets.There is a lot going on in this story, interweaving various themes that can easily be missed. Interesting flashbacks of the young Aiden Quinn's father character, juxtaposed with the present-day,aging Caan son"s character, makes for a strange plot device.Overall, this is a worthy film, but leaves many questions unanswered.
Casino Royale (2006)A Meaner, Cruder Bond
28 November 2006
I may be one of the only lifelong fans of the James Bond franchise who hated this movie. I tried to like the new face and demeanor of Daniel Craig, but I thought he was totally wrong for the part and not particularly attractive. Having seen all the previous incarnations of dark-haired, very suave, and elite actors play the role, this new man has certainly nailed an ugly, dark, and rough character. Daniel Craig plays the role, perfectly, in the new style, (if that's what you like), but all the great theme music, gadgets, and great-looking women are missing. Even Judi Dench, who is always in top acting form, seemed irritated and bored playing against Craig. Only time will tell if a new audience supports this alternate choice of Daniel Craig, (as several others were considered, including Clive Owen, who would have, ideally, maintained the traditional image).If the producers want to either attract a different audience, or really kill the franchise after so many years, this movie can do both.Fans of both Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan will not be able to tolerate this change, (despite its promotion as being the closest to what Ian Fleming intended). I walked out of the theatre after the first hour; it was too different and ridiculously bombastic throughout.
Hard Rain (1998)Black Knight Offers Salvation
26 November 2006
With knowledge of the horrible effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005 and the Sotheast Asian tsunami, this film offers one an insight, (although, mostly computer-generated effects), as to what floods can do to a town and its residents. The premise of the film, of an attempted hijacking of an armored truck in a levee-flooded Indiana city, with guards played by Ed Asner and Christian Slater, adds to the terror and trauma of all the related characters. Betty White is particularly dotty and crazy as an elderly homeowner, protecting and holding on to a sinking ship of a home. Morgan Freeman, in one of his rare roles as a bad guy, shines through as the Black Knight, who overcomes the conniving, murderous Randy Quaid. Christian Slater,(who, also, produced this film), offers a believable young guard beset with conflicting loyalties toward his job, his morality, and relationship to a soggy Minnie Driver. She has the least to offer in this film, but soldiers on, as distaff diversion.This is an interesting film due to its archetype characters, and the spectacular floodings of broken levees and dams. Overall, however, the storyline is rather weak, and one becomes overwhelmed with water,water everywhere!
Innocent Victims (1996 TV Movie)Cold Case
26 November 2006
The actual events of this crime film are very well documented, and the actors, (Rick Schroeder, Rue McLenahan, Hal Holbrook,) are entirely believable in their characters. The miscarriage of justice that transpired,here, is only more horrifying when you realize that other "rush-to-judgment" convictions are still occurring. The fact that the final scenes and updates do not complete the story, leaves one unsatisfied, and wondering why more has not been pursued.Current forensic and technological advances, (as well as legal and courtroom proscriptions) might never have caused this case to advance as it did.This cold case should definitely be re-examined in light of today's knowledge.
The Mirror Crack'd (1980)Cleopatra Reigns Again!
13 November 2006
This film is a fine adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's more enduring tales. Loaded with megawatt star power: Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Angela Lansbury, and Rock Hudson, plus other well-known journeymen supporting players, keep this compilation of 50's icons jousting for their close-up. The murder of an innocent female villager at a reception for the aging Ms.Taylor's character,(shades of "All About Eve"), and the arrival of an hysterical and deliciously venomous Kim Novak adds fire to the harried relationships of movie producer and director Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis, (husbands of Taylor and Novak). Set in gorgeous English countryside, and given great fashion for its female stars, the film is very easy on the eyes. However, the whole plot line seems rather melodramatic,(especially Taylor's serious style, as opposed to the hilarious Novak).Tony Curtis has aged considerably,and Rock Hudson seems somewhat less the matinée idol he once was. The Marple sleuthing by Angela Lansbury is first-rate, and reflects her long years in television's drama, "Murder She Wrote." Apparently, there is a cameo by newbie Pierce Brosnan.Watch for it! (I missed it). The final scene by Taylor is unintentionally reflective of her most notorious film.
Shade (2003)Wat Is Shade?
13 November 2006
This is an exceptionally stylish movie, loaded with well-known talent. Some, like Sly Stallone, Hal Holbrook, Stuart Townsend, Gabriel Byrne, and Thandie Newton (outstanding!), keep all the grifters in high-stakes poker games entertaining and watchable. Jamie Fox has a smaller role, but does his best with what he's given. The weak link is Melanie Griffith. Although she has done better cinema, and won raves on Broadway for "Chicago," she has little to work with here and is difficult to watch. The various plot twists and interrelationships among the various stars and supporting characters never reveal the final, surprise ending. The range of card tricks and poker maneuvers would never play in Vegas, but they are clever and well-executed. A bonus feature on the DVD illustrates and explains how the actors learned the dynamics of slight-of-hand at the Magic Castle for magicians in Los Angeles.
Getting Gotti (1994 TV Movie)Before The Fall
10 November 2006
Although one does not have to know the entire history of the mafia and its godfathers to enjoy this film, it portrays a quasi-fictional episode in the life of one of its leaders, John Gotti, played by Anthony John Denison. I thought he was quite good, and styled to resemble the man effectively. The supporting characters, (many who have taken on roles in television's long- running blockbuster, "The Sopranos"), all lend credence to the episodic pursuit by one female prosecutor, Diane Giacalone,(Lorraine Bracco). It builds on many well-known criminal figures, particularly, Sammy, "The Bull", Gravano's turncoat testimony. This is not a documentary, per se, but an outsider's view of what the real female prosecutor, Diane Giacalone, must have experienced in her quest. There are updates in the closing credits, but none late enough to eulogize Gott's final demise from cancer, while incarcerated.
The January Man (1989)Who Is The January Man?
10 November 2006
Although there are many subplots within this star-studded film, one must watch each character, carefully, for any defining criminal, suspect-like behavior. There is no clear indication who the title refers to, and each person does exhibit certain clues. There is, also, (in my opinion), an under text of bi-sexuality, for both Kevin Kline/Alan Rickman, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio/girlfriend victim. The story, by noted Broadway playwright/screenwriter, John Patrick Shanley, ("Moonstruck"), is a vehicle to highlight Kevin Kline's beatnik cop, brought back to the undercover police division and Rod Steiger's over-the-top Mayor. Susan Sarandon, unfortunately, is given little to use as Kline's one-time lover and current wife of his brother, Keitel. However, Harvey Keitel is quite good as the corrupt police commissioner, and Danny Aiello is effectively bombastic as Kline's police captain. Mary Elizabeath Mastrantonio shines as Kline's reluctant love interest/Mayor's daughter. The film settings are attractive, and each character's unique apparel very appropriate. The conclusion was a complete letdown, and not justified by anything that went before. It is a quirky film, not worth the powerhouse talent employed.
White Noise (I) (2005)Unexpected Finale
10 November 2006
Watching this DVD on the small screen gives more of an intimacy than might possibly, be found at the megaplexes. It has an interesting analysis of EVP,(electronic voice phenomena), purportedly, voice communication from dead people trying to contact someone, (in this case, Michale Keaton's missing/dead wife's character), over "white noise" static in radios, televisions, or computers. I had never heard of this before, despite familiarity with various "ghost hunter" programs. The film develops quite nicely,despite a very necessary suspension of belief in the process, and some, obviously, scary interlopers.It takes a good deal of concentration and attention to follow the convoluted script, but, overall, the story has more to offer for moviegoers than typical horror stories. There is even a short documentary on EVP attached to the menu, which may appeal to academics or students of the afterlife.It is, certainly, worth viewing and perhaps, exploring the phenomena further.
The Sleeping Dictionary (2003)Shangri-La
1 November 2006
For whatever reasons this film was not released and went to video,it is truly unfortunate. It is exquisitely photographed in Malaysia, (perhaps, its true setting of Sarawak, not mentioned in the final credits). Jessica Alba has the performance of her career, a beautiful and sensitive South Asian portrayal, that belies her Hispanic heritage. Hugh Dancy covers the young, clueless, British administrator who develops insights into his rain forest charges and their traditional beliefs. Jude Law would have been perfect for the role, if bigger star power was warranted. This coming-of-age story moves very slowly in the beginning,in order to set-up the various relationships and conflicts, but blossoms fully into a true romance, fraught with secrets, dangers, and concessions demanded of many of the characters. It is a wonderful film that fully satisfies the time invested.
Empire (2002)Shakespearean Tragedy
1 November 2006
If one knows the excellent performance history, (film, Broadway, and television), of John Leguizamo, then his producing credit will prepare one for a very tight, well-scripted and directed, small film. Several of the actors are known for other roles, but the real standout is newcomer, Delilah Cotto. Sonia Braga, a fine South American actress, is given little to do, and Denise Richards needs to develop more intensity. (Her final scene is, unintentionally, hilarious.) The settings and scenery are realistic and nicely photographed, adding gravitas to Leguizamo's picaresque search for transformation. This is a good, solid story that should have had more publicity and distribution.
Waterworld (1995)Seaworthy Extravaganza
28 October 2006
Although this massive waterborne saga, originally, received many negative reviews, to watch it on the small screen simply overwhelms anyone who knows what it took to produce it. The acting is first rate,(even Kevin Costner manages to be credible),and Jeanne Tripplehorn is the right actress for the multiple emotions she must display. Dennis Hopper should have garnered an Oscar nomination for his over-the-top pirate. However, the real star, that steals the thunder from everyone, is the very young child actress, Tina Majorino. She is a joy to watch and has an exceptional command of the emotions and dialog required.The gorgeous cinematography, special effects, and powerful music keep everything moving along splendidly. It's a tragedy that Kevin Costner's enormous production efforts were so disparaged. This a a great film that should have received high praise.
Bulworth (1998)Serious Beatty Shines As Rapper
27 October 2006
This hilarious film puts the lie to Warren Beatty's previous serious characters, and is a wonder of creativity, scriptwriting, producing, and casting. Top-notch actors Paul Sorvino, Don Cheadle, Oliver Platt, and Christine Baranski, (who, strangely, resembles Carly Simon,"You're So Vain," thought to be about Warren), add to the screwball plot of a disillusioned Senator hiring a hit-man to eliminate his angst.A full crew of rapper Illuminati and Halle Berry provide a terrific and exciting addition to a world not usually inhabited by Mr. Beatty. This is a film worth watching and owning, if only because of the amazing transformation of the aging, but still-good looking Warren, into a profoundly amusing hip-hop personality.
The Last Samurai (2003)The Brave Japanese Warrior Is Magnificent
14 October 2006
Although the recent antics of Tom Cruise have made his acting skills even more suspect, he has fashioned a magnificent film, as producer. His acting doesn't come across as a very believable cavalry soldier, who comes to revere his captors, (akin to a Patty Hearst syndrome, or the realization of who are the real heroes in a feudal war of commerce). When he dons the samurai gear for battle, it's almost laughable, (or pathetic). The real star of the film, is without a doubt, Ken Watanabe. Powerful, and a visual delight, as leader of the last samurais, he commands the screen in every scene. His Japanese compatriots and supporting cast are, also, extraordinarily attractive and accomplished. The cinematography is authentic and gorgeous. The costumes should have won an Oscar. The story progresses like a folk tale, and concludes with a major question. This tends to leave it, unfortunately, unsatisfying and unfulfilled.
Caché (I) (2005)Pay Attention To The Final Scene!
14 October 2006
Having seen this film in a very small theatre, it enhanced the thriller effect of lead actors being terrorized by an unknown letter writer. The scenes easily reflect auteurs Trauffaut, Bunel, and a host of other European directors, who developed similar themes. The acting is first-rate, but the plot moves along in a convoluted way, necessitating very close attention. It is essential to devote strict attention to the final scene, as the whole point of the story, then, has a possible explanation,(or two)! I did not know this at the time, and missed what turns out to be, the logical conclusion. It might have been very helpful if this strategic point was made in early reviews, or by theatre staff.
Shattered Image (1998)Multiple Personality Disorder?
2 October 2006
Even with great set design and cinematography, this muddle of a mystery will leave many questions and confusion, long after it's over. Good, dual character arcs for both William Baldwin and Annie Parrilaud; however, neither seem to connect with the final denouement.I kept hoping I would understand the final outcome, but still remain unsure of what it all meant.It has a Hitchcock/De Palma/Shayamalan director's twist, but it doesn't seem to tie up all the loose ends.It is recommended, however, for anyone interested in post-traumatic stress syndrome, abnormal psychology, or readers of 19th century author,William James.
Paris, Texas (1984)An existential odyssey of one man and his family
29 July 2006
This cinematically stark West Texas landscape contains a soul-searching, existential odyssey of one man and his search for the meaning of life and re-connection with family. Sad, depressive encounters, and resignation redefine his once high expectations.Strong performances by all actors, (including a remarkable young boy), keep the interest high throughout, and inspire a desire to know everything about their character's lives. This is a tour de force for its European director, Wim Wenders, and other foreign cast and crew members. Unusual for its time, in that a European crew came to one of the bleakest areas of the United States to produce a film, instead of the more typical American film being shot on location overseas.