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10/10
Oft told tale made soulful, young
9 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw an advanced screening of this film in Boston and was very pleased, it is intelligent in its handle of the material and its fluency in cinematic crafting. Goodbye to dusty, "precious" interpretations of Jane Austen. This cheeky, poetic, even dark new film makes the story youthful with down-to-earth vibrancy and worship of emotion. Here are young people making the mistakes and dreaming the dreams of the young (when it was written it wasn't antiquity, it was life). Lizzie is not a smirking omniscient but a quick witted independent; hotheaded and fiercely loyal to her sister. She is wary of an unfair world and uses her wits to survive. Darcy is not an impenetrable stoic but a shy sensitive soul with high unwieldy social pretensions fending off the outside world. And they are both lonely and have big yearning hearts, so the filmmakers made one great decision -- they let them fall in love the first moment they lock eyes. In a shot we see hearts behind fortified personalities and an instant chemistry that takes a movie's worth of battling with each other and themselves to right itself. It's an earthy move that sets the tone for a film about the people and world behind the antiquated manners, a world not so different from ours.

Now set in 1797, when Austen wrote the first draft of the book, the filmmakers committed to main plot points and themes, and astutely represent the Romantic Age and Austen's characters. The love between Jane and Lizzie is supreme and fuels a desire in Lizzie to tear at Darcy when he separates Jane from Mr. Bingley. She's hurt, she reciprocates the pain, and it is bitter. Pride and prejudices are drawn clearly: Lizzie searches hard to find fault with Darcy, and Darcy cannot bring himself to let down his guard. Both have their reasons justified, but they foil their own chances at love constantly until they see how wrong they are and are too heartsick to keep going. Class conflict is suddenly personally injurious and vicious. When Charlotte Lucas marries for security, it's a grave matter and she must bitingly sober up a disdainful Lizzie on the realities of their world. The Bennets are too eccentric and improper for their own good. Lady Catherine (Dame Judi Dench, who is downright fearsome) is not just a cold figure for Lizzie to spar with, but someone capable of deeply hurting others. The filmmakers are savvy in their understanding of history. Setting it back 20 years is a remarkable move, because we accept more diversions and variation with the 18th century than the 19th and it presents Austen as a Romantic, which automatically requires the story to be interpreted from a different, very legitimate, perspective. The ideals of the Romantic Age are ingeniously, subtly played here: human equality, gritty realism married with beauty for the sake of beauty, but a beauty which is never elitist or decadent, always grounded, simple, and universal: nature, the human being, emotion.

The ensemble and mis-en-scene are electric. The camera spryly edges in and out of rooms and conversations instead of sitting arthritically in a corner. The dance scenes are less about ballet, now rollicking and spirited as characters send signals, flirt, deflect and analyze one another. In true Romantic form (worthy of filling Wordsworth with pride) the aesthetic unabashedly revels in beauty, but always the simple joys of our world: sunrises, dewy landscapes in wide shots, colors everywhere. It has a lovely score, period inspired and without any pomp and circumstance. Simple blocking is caffeinated and given substance, something is always going on in the background. Lively, layered interactions between characters make rich scenes, neither wasting space nor time. Consider a scene with Mr. Collins, played by the magnificent Tom Hollander (a standout here, so delightfully weird. When he jaggedly squirms his way up to someone you want to shriek). He wants to speak to Lizzie, alone, and a bolt of fear strikes through her as she pleads in vain not to be abandoned. The sisters are merciless, Mrs. Bennet delighted, Mr. Bennet at a loss, and Collins prepares. It's all silent and it's hysterical.

Suggesting variation to revered characters is a frightful task, but here it's a revelation. The entire cast is brilliant, but the two leads are transcendent in their roles. Keira Knightley is charismatic, random, wonderfully young, intuitive to the bone -- she inhabits Lizzie. Matt MacFadyen is deep, remarkably subtle, but mostly he is soulful. I've long held him as a sympathetic actor, but he shines in this. The two instill an unexpected exuberance of feeling in their performances. Neither ever acknowledge the camera exists and make the most of every second they have on screen to project their characters. When you throw them together you get a love story full of emotional subtext, double meaning, and gloriously heavy moments.

Because so much dialogue was cut, simple lines have impact and much of the exposition is visual. Epic little moments linger and rain, revealing souls. The thoughts and intentions behind the actors' eyes and words are visible at all times. This movie understands the power of a shot or glance. Lizzie comes to understand Darcy in how he embraces his sister or smiles (a momentous occasion, indeed). When she talks about love it's stirring because it's finally spilled into the open after we've seen it near the edge many times with half said sentiments and stifled tears. Usually "I love you" comes with extra explanatory prose, but here sincerity kills cliché: parties are fun, a misty field is breathtaking, the dawning of love a revelation, the heartbreak is throbbing.

It's a brilliant film. There is something breathless and luminous about it, from its youth and the break from propriety, to the beauty and spontaneity of life and romance, pain and joy, which provide the color.
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10/10
Very well done and educated snapshot of a country at war
12 August 2005
This was a great film, and a nice escape to reality from all the superhero, fantastical, and over-hyped movie star fare we've gotten this summer.

The biggest accolade I can offer this flick is that it sticks to history in ways rarely seen in Hollywood films, and even then it's not dry or boring, not inaccessible to those not particularly versed in history. It shows beautifully how exciting and thrilling real history can be. The liberties it takes aren't too offensive (I can't say much without spoiling the story, but although the "romance" in this film didn't exist, it's not particularly gratuitous or hard to believe, and there were many wartime romances between people who met in the occupied Philippines), but on a whole they valiantly stuck to the stories. It doesn't revel in clichés or surrender to the cheap thrill of pyrotechnics, which so many war films do. Since it looks to true events for inspiration, there's a happy lack of predictibility and "been there, done that". Not to say that there are any talk-of-the-summer plot twists, but it keeps you on your toes because you're dealing with life, and is often surprising. The film brings you down to the level of its characters, and it doesn't treat you like an outsider.

As a Filipino American and history buff, I was thrilled and proud to see so many Filipino actors in the film (particularly the wonderful -- and gorgeous -- Cesar Montano) and to finally see this little known but mammoth part of WWII recalled on such a public scale. The film takes place over 5 days in January, as the Rangers prepare to take the camp. Its three interconnected story lines -- the prisoners in Cabanatuan, the Rangers, and the underground movement in Manila (including a nurse played by Nielsen who smuggles in Quinine to prisoners) -- give a fairly accurate and well rounded portrait of the landscape of war in the Philippines, although by the end of the film you do feel as if you've only seen the tip of the iceberg.

The acting is lovely. There aren't any "Oscar" scenes or the like, just solid ensemble acting, and the leads, Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Cesar Montano, and Connie Nielsen, are excellent for what they're given. The writing doesn't try to over-dramatise or "soapify" anything, it stays level headed and just plays. It felt a lot like a less ridiculous "Gettysburg" or a much tamer "Black Hawk Down" or a much MUCH shorter "The Longest Day". Surprisingly, for a war film, there are relatively few "what I'm here for" speeches, which is refreshing. The ones it does have aren't particularly irksome or obnoxious. It's not particularly violent (except for the unnerving opening scene -- a recreation of the Palawan massacre -- and one scene in the camp, I'd have given it a PG-13 rating), but it IS disturbing. And although they hardly began to show the full extent of the atrocities committed, the point is made clear, heartrendingly I might add. Two scenes, involving Filipino underground workers and another at the camp, had me in tears.

Honestly, this is NOT for people looking for a testosterone fueled action flick. The action is strictly historical (except for a hand to hand fight at the end which I doubt happened). At times it feels like a documentary, and other times it's like watching a memoir. Neither is this film the "rah rah" flag waving fest the advertising makes it out to be (thank goodness). In fact it pays great homage to the work of the Philippine people, underground resistance (a portion of the film which seemed a bit out of place in the film but which had me enamored and on edge), and guerilla fighters, all of which touched me deeply. As a Hollywood studio film goes, it's an academic, nearly blow by blow accounting of the events surrounding the raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp, but because of the nature of the story and not because of empty manipulation, it is intense, inspiring, and exciting. Don't expect the next "Paths of Glory" or "Bridge on the River Kwai" or that calibre of film-making, but I hope that this does well because in its own way it's different from so much of the mindnumbing junk that is out there, it attempts to portray a war story smartly, chose to tell a story that doesn't spell out big money, and without being overbearingly in-your-face patriotic, it pays homage to and shares the experiences of the American and Filipino men and women who endured the hell that was World War II in the Philippines.
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10/10
Gutsy but intimate and intelligent film-making
8 August 2005
War movies can be a tricky recipe to pull off because they've been done so often and fall into clichés sooo easily. This film was saved by bravura and sincerity. It's a good film. What at first may seem like a generic Duke vehicle quickly exposes itself as a small ensemble drama on an epic stage.

Part of the appeal of this film is to watch it with history in mind. It tackles a lesser known part of WWII history, the war and guerilla movements in the Philippines. This film is totally unselfconscious in how it deals with the war, in one scene it features real Bataan POWs marching in a parade and introduces them documentary style with a narrator, and it hired Filipino extras and actors for important roles. This is what really touched and surprised me, how it elevated and glorified Filipino nationalism, culture, and history (Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifácio are frequently quoted and reverently referred to throughout the film); and, in an age where African American actors still were unfairly stereotyped and Asian actors almost nowhere to be found in Hollywood films, this treated Pinoy characters as equals and as heroes. This openmindedness on the part of the filmmakers was refreshing, but very reflective of the US fighting men's appreciation of the contributions of the Filipino people.

The film is passionate about the people it portrays. It's common for wartime films to be full of propaganda and overly zealous, but this film is more touching and intimate in its approach. Patriotic speeches actually have meaning and tears behind them, swelling music doesn't feel manipulative, no doubt because it was filmed with so many soldiers and civilians involved and in 1945, these people had just gone through all this and everything is done with a real and raw memory. It feels like it's built on real stories and people, and the actors seem to know they're not dealing with run of the mill cutout characters. There's a sincerity inherent in all of their performances because of the immediateness of the subject matter. John Wayne is less gruff than usual (and even downright dashing). Anthony Quinn's confused young man: brooding heartbrokenly when he's away from his informant fiancée, tender when he's around her, not sure how to fulfill what many feel is his destiny, and his own personal journey is lovely. Beulah Bondi (as a teacher evacuee who helps the men out) teary eyed when she thinks of her students; the motley crew mix of American GIs and Pinoy volunteers who surrounds the two officers, casual and down to earth. It's a tight cast in a friendly fight to upstage the others, and you'd better believe they milk every scene for what it's worth.

The film moves along quickly and realistically. Instead of complicated plot movements and intricate bloated twists, the story seems like it was taken from any number of jungle war experiences which makes it fascinating and unpredictable, like real history. Director Edward Dmytryk, later blacklisted, paid no heed to Production Code regulations for violence, and filmed scenes that were fairly explicit (for the time) in their portrayal of cruelty and violence inflicted on soldiers and civilians in an attempt to realistically dramatize some of the atrocities that occurred during the war which lends the film an air of impending danger and gravitas.

From before the era of ambiguous and complex war stories (which is how I usually prefer my war flicks to be served), this one of the best "classic" war films I've ever seen. (If you like this, check out "An American Guerilla in the Philippines" which was shot on location by the great Fritz Lang in 1949/50 and very similar in many regards.)
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Crash (I) (2004)
10/10
Volatile Redemption
13 May 2005
"Crash" is a complex movie with a simple premise: set in Los Angeles it follows 8 main characters (and many, many more supporting) from all walks of life and races whose lives intersect at some point during one 24 hour period. These people are all different yet all alienated, to the point of breaking, so much so that when they come together, things explode.

The complexity of the film comes from the encounters between characters and their tangled lives and worlds. Haggis' screenplay is so intricate and delicately written I couldn't begin to try to summarize the actual plot line (which destines this article to be kind of vague), but everyone meets everyone else at some point in the film (and there are a whole lot of characters). Sufficed to say these meetings are variably intense, casual, fleeting, dangerous, but they all effect the participants in profound and provocative ways, causing lives to find enlightenment or swerve violently, and watching it all unfold is mesmerizing because Paul Haggis (Oscar Nominated writer of Million Dollar Baby) made the film meaty with messy characters and topics and stories to chew and hurtle along with.

The all-encompassing theme of the film is racism, and it is dealt with bluntly, honestly, and without reservation. Every single character participates in the perpetuation of the ugly cycle but also suffers because of it. Where racism makes for an interesting enough subject for an already provoking and fairly experimental film (I was surprised to see this get wide release), it's only the catalyst for a deeper, resounding story of redemption and the universality of our lonely situation which the movie becomes during its second hour (what you could call Act II). It switches from a somewhat depressing contemplative amalgamation of moments about racism in everyday life and how destructive it is, to a throbbing, intense web of choices and consequences -- life and death, vivifying or soul killing -- and the chance at redemption.

Following their actions in Act I, everyone meets a fork in the road or is given a second chance of some sort. Some take it, some don't, but regardless, by the end of the movie everyone has changed. This is what gives the movie wings during its second hour, makes it interesting, keeps you guessing and on knife's-edge. It also gives the characters depth and souls and shows that despite perceived and upheld differences, when it comes down to it we aren't different (which we see in a shattering scene between Ryan Philippe and Larenz Tate after Tate notices that he and Philippe have the same St. Christopher statue), in fact we desperately need each other. It's one of the few films I've seen where everyone is at fault somehow and yet there are no villains. It makes it hopeful, particularly with something as ugly as racism: everyone's fallible, but everyone has the capacity for good and nobility. That said, each of these character's inner struggles makes for all the conflict and resolution you need.

A talented ensemble drives the film, sharing almost equal amounts of screen time, but the folks who really stood out and had my full attention each time were Terrence Howard (plays a TV director), Matt Dillon (as a patrol cop), Sandra Bullock (a rich housewife), , Don Cheadle (a detective), and Michael Peña (a locksmith). These five gave deeply, deeply felt performances portraying a wide range of emotions and personal situations, giving souls -- alone, yearning, and searching in a world that doesn't seem to care -- to shells of imperfect people. But the actors triumph in little moments of human contact: a glance, an embrace, a pause, a smile, a wince, things that breath the film to life and with simple visuals give it profundity. This is beautifully illustrated in a small scene between the downward spiraling Jean (Sandra Bullock) and her maid after she's begun to realize all her problems may not be about the two black guys who car jacked her, but her own life.

Some closing notes: it's obvious it's a debut. At times the dialogue and acting can be stilted and unnatural; some of the initial "racial" situations seem forced; certain scenes could have used some editing or fine tuning, but by the end I didn't care. It also may be helpful to know that the first hour spends its time setting everything up for Act II, although it will seem more like a photo essay on racism than a setup. But by the time Act I ends you're ready for something substantial to happen, and at the perfect moment, stuff happens. I was entirely satisfied with this movie, I couldn't have asked for anything more. Still it's impressive, with his debut Haggis made a film that magically maintains a storytelling balancing act about people's lives that almost seamlessly flows, takes an honest look at racism with an understanding of mankind, a belief in redemption, and even hope. As I walked out of the theater into the rainy night it resonated with me and colored my thoughts as I made my way through the crowds of unknown fellow people filling the cinema. That's about all I can ask for in a film.
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10/10
Chaos of a life turned on its head
27 April 2005
I've often thought that if Vivien Leigh hadn't had such a rocky and depressing life (manic depression, lost love in Lawrence Olivier, miscarriages, tuberculosis) she would have found a place among Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, and the like. She only made 19 films during her 30 year career, although that includes making legend as Scarlett O'Hara, and helping usher in a new era of acting by providing a pitch perfect classical foil as Blanche DuBois to Brando's smoldering and revolutionary Stanley Kowalski. But her favorite performance was that of Myra Lester in the tragic film Waterloo Bridge. Watching it it's no surprise: the film is subtly directed with a powerful story and well built characters that are an actor's dream to inhabit.

The story revolves around Myra, a ballerina turned prostitute during WWI when she believes her fiancée has died and she is plunged into poverty. The film was perfect fodder for melodrama, but rather it's a taut and realistic and uncompromising film. Direction is not overbearing and lets the film play out delicately except for several bold shots here and there which deeply accent it. Although the melodramas of the 40s are wonderful creatures, this film gained a lot by taking a rare path and going realistic.

Misfortune rules the day and is invited in after a series of near misses and miscalculations, and yet the plot doesn't feel technical or forced. Thanks to the script and performances, it all feels like the ebb and flow of the lives of these characters, pride and honesty and a slightly naive fiancée are the cause of Myra's downfall. And Leigh gives a performance on par with anything she's ever done, if not as epic as Gone With the Wind or wild as Blanche.

Leigh had a special way of handling the screen, of inhabiting her character with a certain distracted quality that made you feel as if she didn't realize there was a camera in the room or that she wasn't in fact the character she was playing. There are few actresses who could make it look as easy as she did, it seems like breathing. She was fierce and fearless, versatile; she could lose all her dignity on screen or be the living embodiment of it, and she possessed the rare quality of immediately communcating any emotion that was as tangible as anything with her face. That said, this is probably her most realistic character and her most tragic, and Leigh makes it profound and gut wrenching by being sophisticated and dignifed, and then at the right moments she takes the fall and gets ugly.

There's a brazen brilliant tracking shot where Myra, the former innocent ballerina, walks through Waterloo station in full slinky getup looking for johns, wearing a stone cold face that would intimidate O'Hara herself. It's seductive and we know she hates herself. Still, Leigh doesn't play an ounce of self pity or tragedy, she's determined to survive and get a client. In that way its very much a modern acting performance. It could be sexy, nowadays they'd try to make it sexy, but in the delicately built context of the story it's both mesmerizing and heartbreaking. And when she meets up with her not-dead-at-all love, played with sweet nobility by Robert Taylor, she tries to wipe off her lipstick when he goes to make a phone call, and the shame spills out from the screen.

The writing is very graceful (partly out of necessity to appease the almighty Production Code), at times remarkably candid and light (particularly with the earlier love scenes), and not very sentimental or stylized at all (not to say those are bad things, it's just that this film isn't). A lot of the dialogue sounds like conversation. It's romantic, but it doesn't resort to cliché or the easy way out: its tragedy is harsh and entirely unnecessary, the way it usually is in life. And Leigh's performance single handedly keeps you from forgetting Myra's story once the credits roll and you return to life in 2005. Not many actresses have that power. I only wish I could have seen what she would have done with less sorrow in her own life.
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Things just keep getting better...
20 July 2004
...Should be the theme for the show. Well, it is. But it's true. The show warms the heart while updating the clothes, and is one of the most entertaining things on television.

Makeover shows are a popular necessity to TV these days. We love em. From house and garden makeovers, to "The Swan" (I love CSI, but that one, I must admit, grosses me out), "What Not to Wear", even Oprah or, my other favorite, "Second Chance". Queer Eye For the Straight Guy offers an ingenious combo, gay men making over often very slobby straight men. Make it hip, cool, fun. Presto, mega hit. But the show goes further than other makeover shows because it really offers something to the viewer. It tells you HOW to look better the way Bob Vila shows you how to build a house, as opposed to whisking someone backstage and back out a different person. And above all, it gives you a real sense that you can change your life by throwing out the old and bringing in the new, having a positive outlook. Life detox, and all with a real human connection.

The show, which has 5 gay mavens driving all over uber cool parts of New York City and each being oracles of stylistic expertise, turning the often dowdy everyman into a Adonis of personal style. The makeovers are extensive and delightfully enjoyable to watch. We see a big transformation, blueprints and details, all laced through the roof with spontaneity and hilarity from 5 very, very, very funny and warmhearted men, aka the Fab Five - Carson Kressley for clothes, Kyan Douglas for grooming, Ted Allen for food, Thom Filicia for house and home, and Jai Rodriguez for culture. They're all experts and they all milk amazing end results. Every new guy has a new recipe that had thought and attention put into it, unlike some shows which just do the same thing to everyone, and we're brought through the whole process. Each of the gurus walk the participant through the makeover, usually with fairly easy instructions and give them tasks they have to do themselves. The majority of the time it looks like a bona fide style miracle took place. Darned fun stuff.

But I think the magic of QEftSG is that 90% of the time, the main thing the straight guys get out of the experience is a life makeover with the belief that anything can happen in their future. The outward change manifests an inner spring cleaning. Over and over these guys, by the end of the show, have a renewed self esteem and vitality for life instead of wallowing in the doldrums of everyday existence...which is something a lot of us can relate to and hope we can take initiative from. The Fab Five are sort of like a group of superheroes, running around to help those in need of couture and general rejuvenation.

Other than our collective addiction to "the makeover", the fact that this show does makeovers much the better than the rest with flourish and warmth and style up the wazoo, and the often hilarious nature of the show -- the joy and emotion often beaming off the participants faces and the genuine compassion and dedication the Fab Five shows to each of the straight guys is, I think, what keeps people coming back every week.
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10/10
An emotional, visceral, cinematic masterpiece
2 March 2004
10/10

I think this is the most powerful film I've ever seen, and it makes me respect film, the cinematic medium, more than I ever have before. I think it's a film of

immense emotional magnitude and I would undeniably consider it to be a

masterpiece. This is an intensely personal film that strikes you in the heart, and flanks you with images of brutality and beauty, evil and good, cruelty and

complete, absolute, love. It's a cinematic masterpiece.

First of all, I loved the sound of the Aramaic language. I loved the Latin spoken with hints of Italian accents and without the academic dryness that has haunted it for so long. Who knew dead languages were so poetic? These languages

added a great deal to the whole experience of the film. We experience this film, instead of watching it. We break through and take part in it, similar to how we can take part in theater.

Maia Morgenstern broke my heart over and over again in this film, the mother

and child connection was so strong, loving, and beautiful, and yet so sad and heartrending. Mary's strength in the face of overpowering sorrow in this film was incredible, her warmth and love emanate from the screen. I fervently hope she receives Oscar attention, because she is amazing and an inspired choice for

this role. And James Caviezel did something incredible, he portrayed Jesus as a man of joy (not goofiness), solemnity, strength, and dignity (not austerity, detachment, or stoicism) but most of all, an all encompassing love, even in the face of immense suffering. And yet despite being God, this Jesus is not a

superman; Jim made The Christ very human, and as a human, very vulnerable,

which makes His, human, strength all the more incredible. Caviezel was perfect, and I hope he is well rewarded next year.

Morgenstern and Caviezel's chemistry is a genius stroke of filmmaking. Jesus

needs His mother desperately, and she must find the strength to support Him

even though it is her greatest suffering to watch, and yet she is strong. It is beautiful, and it touched me deeply. It is a most human and universal of feelings, the parent-child bond, and here we see it put to it's greatest test. Through the connection we see on film, we are given a vehicle of understanding, of empathy, and it makes Mary and Jesus identifiable and familiar on a whole new level.

I think the pace was very swift, it was over before I knew it, and although it was very violent, I do not think it was tedious or gratuitous. I found the mechanism of violence to be a necessary part in the story being told, and yet I felt it all, which is kind of new for me. I've watched a lot of violence and gore, and I guess am desensitized to it. But I found this to be more painful than standard "action" violence. I think it was the closest to feeling pain without feeling it. I find "Gladiator", "Saving Private Ryan", "Kill Bill", and "Black Hawk Down" much

more violent, in a certain way: with the detached limbs, broken bones, guts, and brains etc. Everything here is a prolonged beating with blood, but nothing is decapitated except for a guy's ear, and we hardly even see that. In fact it's the implication of pain (the sound effects, yikes) which makes this so effective. Most of us don't know what it's like to get a foot blown off, but it's easier to imagine getting whipped by something, or getting gravel in a bleeding gash, or hitting a bruise really hard. Pain is the key here, and I think through the violence we are shown the evil of violence, which gets lost in a lot of films, because here we are made to empathize in a very visceral way, in addition to emotional: we have to see what He went through for us, and do we see it. I don't think I'll ever forget. And I think there was more pain Gibson could have added that would still have been authentic.

I did not feel, as many critics said, that it was an "angry" film. I think it was the complete opposite. It is brutal and intense, but I found the message of Love in this film to be incredibly powerful and the crux of the whole thing: that through all this, Jesus never had hatred in His eyes. It doesn't need to be explained, mere glimpses in this speak more than pages of dialogue; that has always been a

device I've loved - the power of the human face. I felt that the numerous acts of kindness and love from strangers, be they looks or gestures or even more, in

this film drove it further and lifted the audience from the savagery, which they are meant to do.

And I didn't find it anti-semitic at all, in fact if you pay attention there are quiet a few details and elements of scenes in the film to point out the fact that the Jews as a people were not liable for Christ's death. I would explain, but space does not permit. But as I pointed out above, this film doesn't try explain many things to you, because it expects it's audience to pay attention. So pay attention,

everything you need to know is there: you don't need to know the names of the people who are kind, but just to see that they are kind. There are films, that aren't "2Kool 2", that expect you to pay attention anyway, and details, subtle as they are, are suitable, wonderful, devices for a complex, meaningful narrative. I shudder to think of the day that everything needs to be exposed and explained 15 times apiece.

It's beautiful and profound. I think it's a work of true art. It is a brave, brave piece of filmmaking on many levels, and it will stand the test of time.
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10/10
Washington's new 'do.
6 July 2003
America should be like this, with a French manicure, a big ol honest heart, and matching heels. Fry the critics and purists, wherever they may shout, Elle is back and as good as ever.

Legally Blonde 2 has an admittedly ridiculous premise: Elle's getting married, wants her beloved pup Bruiser's mama to show at the wedding, and when she finds the matriarchal canine as a test animal for a cosmetics company, she's outraged, at first because they won't let the dog out in time for her wedding, but she soon sees the crime in it. She then goes to DC to turn it all around (a fine revelation she has while picking out a wedding dress). And she doesn't turn Washington around with shrewd arguments and hard edged research, she takes it by storm, Bel Air style. But the film doesn't take itself seriously at all, in fact the realism of the film is about as present as it is in "Moulin Rouge", and it doesn't pretend to be realistic either, as several scenes attest. In fact the setup is simply a vehicle for the larger underlying theme: this Washington, if anything, is an alternate reality, and the movie plays out as something of a symbolic satire.

In this simple yet complicated Washington D.C., getting a congressman to side with you is as easy as finding a similar personality trait (in this case dogs and Delta Nu) or to put on a good performance in any number of strange places (use style!), but politicians still double cross, compromise their own visions and conscience for appeasment and success, and they still seem to have the good of everything but the people in mind. Elle, on the other hand, represents all that isn't snobby and cynical. She's the Valley girl with a big heart, great clothes, a Harvard law degree, and a quirky sense of getting things done. The political action may be comically simplistic and idealistic, with a good number of average comedy-sequel jokes, but it's satire at it's heart. I was surprised by this. I was expecting the typical sequel fare, but this had a lot to say about politics and government, and cynicism and selfishness vs idealism, masked in big budget comedy. Where the original was an ode to blonde fun and anti-snobbery, this takes the risk of being critical and satirical. In many ways it's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (which actually makes a cameo appearance in the film) with a goofy streak and a bite.

The film is fun, it squires broad and situational comedy, and a good deal of charm and glamour, plus a load of cleverness. The film had clever touches left and right, and I think I'll attribute that to the inspired choice of getting the talented indie director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein), who gave the film a one-two punch, a wink, giggle, and a grin to go along with it.

The writing is funny, but it isn't as sharply witty as the first film, and it can be predictable, but it flows quite well, and the charisma of the piece gives it a shimmer and shine. Reese Witherspoon is quite cute. Though this isn't finely tuned acting (she's capable, it's just the way it was written), it's a great comedic performance, and it is a performance, because she milks it for all she's got. Interestingly, she also makes Elle inspiring. I know it's not cool to say a blockbuster chick flick comedy sequel's character is inspiring, but Elle is so sure of herself, so proud of being pretty and stylish, so non-judgemental of people and wanting to help others, and unabashedly careless about the low opinions people have of her, she's a character who's nice to be around for 2 hours and made me want to rummage through my InStyle magazine collection. But next to Reese the real star of the film is the costume design. These are great costumes that help to tell the story, and contrast characters; it's films with wardrobes like this that raise my ever increasing respect and admiration for costume designers.

Luke Wilson overacts in this one, I like him, but he's a bit too "aw-shucks", though his lack of screentime and chracter developement isn't his fault, so still it's nice to see him. Sally Field is wonderfully conniving; Bob Newhart is wonderfully endearing, and Elle's trio of friends thankfully get some more screentime than the first film. Actress Mary Lynn Rajskub gives a great performance as the downtrodden preppy-lawyer wanna be, who gets an attitude and style makeover.

I'm a chick flick fan, partly because I'm a chick. I'm also a displaced San Diegan which makes me partial to California laced films. But as a film buff, and I try to be as honest about movies as possible, I'll say that this film is a satire and it is funny, but don't look for Dr. Strangelove or Some Like it Hot. It is cute, and refreshing. It's a big sequel with a heart and was thoughtful enough to be thoughtful. It knows it's entertainment, but it doesn't pull any cheap manipulative tricks, and I think it has some legitimate things to say about the nature of politics, idealism, common courtesy, and how style is a very, very good thing.

In a way it's funny, you'd never think Elle Woods would represent a higher themed film, but then know one ever really expects much of her.
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10/10
Fine, interesting film
6 June 2003
I was surprised by this movie. Not only is it incredibly interesting, but it has fine production values, good acting, and is alternately stirring and touching, yet ultimately tragic.

Apparently the film received little or no press and release because of it's subject matter: The San Patricios or St. Patrick's Brigade for the Mexican Army who

deserted the American Army because they were being discriminated against

during the Mexican American War. It's a captivating story which I'm surprised I'd never heard before, though I don't understand why some people took so poorly

to it, it's just history.

All in all the filmmakers and cast did a fine job presenting this story very nicely.

Recommended.
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Little Women (1994)
10/10
a triumph
4 April 2003
I hear it's really hard to turn a book into a movie, and even as a viewer, I notice this. You can keep the book and lose a movie, or you make a movie and lose a book. But this balances and keeps the essence of the book and creates a miraculous movie that works on every single level.

It's depth, it's warmth, it's beauty (from aesthetics to costumes to storyline), it all works. I saw this movie before I read the book, and my mom, a big fan of the book loved it, so did my dad who had never read it.

Unlike a lot of period classics that are turned into films, this one has no rigidity or boring spots, and it doesn't feel like the dime a dozen period films out there that re-use the same costumes and replay the same stories. It flows and invites you into the world of these girls, making the 1860s and the March family intensely real.

Fabulous acting by an ensemble cast completes this film. Winona Ryder was inspired casting, and in my opinion makes the best screen Jo ever. She's feisty, strong, tomboyish, but has a warmth and grace about her that I feel Katharine Hepburn and June Allyson (the most famous Jo's) didn't have and suits the character wonderfully. the best thing about these characters is that they endear themselves to you, something many movies lack. Great ensemble as well: Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, Claire Danes (at 14, believe it or not), Eric Stoltz, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Susan Wickes, Gabriel Byrne all of them are incredible, and fit perfectly.

And if you can get through Beth's death scene without crying, you're pretty tough. It's a scene that doesn't pull sentimental melodrama, but plays honestly and goes to that heartbreaking sadness of losing someone. And the geranium petals and dolls and Thomas Newman's brilliant score finish off the scene, and I think makes it one of the greatest scenes in any film of the last 10 years (and they didn't even include it in the 75th Oscars montage, tsk tsk). The ending is incredibly lovely, and as James Lipton of the Actors Studio says, only needs those "three words" to coney everything that needs to be said.

This is a beautiful film. It's inviting, but not overly sweet, and though nothing too exciting happens, still very fulfilling and entertaining; it can be very bittersweet, but it is a joyful film, and says a lot about people and our emotions and our lives and yet is not confrontational in the least. It pulled out themes and messages which are often looked over out of one of the world's most famous books and made a lasting work of art that touches your heart.
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10/10
Compelling, profound look at modern warfare
23 March 2003
Black Hawk Down is an important film to watch in these times of war. It vividly and brutally portrays what war is like in an era of computers, helicopters, far range missiles, and select highly trained soldiers, without ever losing it's touch with the human side of the story or falling back on cliché.

The film often feels like you're watching jazzed up news footage, with shaky news-camera type shot framing; the information always given bluntly through officers and soldiers giving orders. Thus, the profundity is taken from the visual cues, characters, and the chain of events of the story itself. The movie is extremely intense, the action and violence rarely stopping, yet unlike a lot of war films, it never feels gratuitous (shooting-for-the-heck-of-it-with-no-cinematic-reason), and the violence, special effects (crashing, building destruction, explosions) and gore don't look fake and are probably the most realistic fighting scenes I've ever seen. It all just adds to the realism and psuedo-documentary feel of the film. Suprisingly enough, it all helps the storyline as well.

You must pay attention or lose track of the storyline and characters (hint: keep an eye on their helmets, their names are written on the helmet band, and it proves VERY useful in keeping track of the characters). Unlike some war films, the many characters, despite their fairly divided and limited amount of screentime, endear themselves to the viewer, and the actors showcase some excellent acting. This isn't an acting film whatsoever, with very little scope, time, or material for the actors to create memorable characters, but this film seems to overcome that, and the acting is one of the shining points of the film. In one bloody and intense scene (and my favorite scene of the film), a young soldier (who we're inconspicuously acquainted with earlier in the film) is seriously wounded, and the ensuing scene, though intensely bloody and not `mushy', is also highly emotional. Scott and the actors just let the scene roll scene honestly and let it play out. The film is full of many such scenes, but it never once tries to manipulate your emotions. It is brutally honest and technical, sometimes confusing, but it was the news, is the stories of these men, and will one day be history.

But even more than the freshly conceived look at the human cost of the war and the amazing street fighting sequences, probably the most compelling and exciting aspect of the film is learning about what happened in Mogadishu and seeing how modern wars are fought. I had known almost nothing about it, but the film very clearly lays out what happened, and shows the tactics and dangers that modern soldiers face while going into hostile territory.

This film is an important look at modern life that will be a very important source for people in years to come, to see what modern combat is like. Ironically enough, a year after it was made, the world is seeing, live on the news, what modern war is made of. Hopefully it will shed some perspective on the dangers that our soldiers face on a day to day basis. It also shows how great filmmaker can still take an old subject and make it fresh and new, but most importantly, the film brilliantly shows that through the years human cost, bravery, suffering, and sacrifice hasn't and will not change.
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10/10
Simple, colorful, mournful epic cinematic experience
12 February 2003
I had the pleasure of attending the World Premiere of this film in DC on the 10th. I was happy to discover that this film is what I would call I genuine movie going experience: one of those rare occasions where you can forget that you're watching film stock with actors and fancy yourself in the world created. I had my suspicions and fears going in, but can honestly say I wasn't prepared for the film that it turned out to be.

The beginning is simple, with a gorgeous quote about "home" from George Eliot, and the very haunting strains of a song called "Going Home". It then merges into fluttering flags of various regiments historically represented in the film. Quite the opening.

The film does start and stop from scene to scene very quickly, in other words the cuts between scenes are very fast and abrupt. But this didn't bother me in the slightest. It occurred to me while watching that it moves very much like the chapters in the book itself do. I can see how it might be jarring for someone not familiar with the characters or book to find the beginning of the film confusing, but what I found that to be was a simple character set up. The film is enormous, so by systematically and bluntly introducing characters early on, one after another after another, etc etc, it helped introduce the pace of the film. That was something that reminded me of the way the book was laid out. Whether or not it was done on purpose I'm not sure, but I had no problem with it. So, as with many screen adaptations, I think this is the part of the film, and the only part of the film, that would have helped if you had read the book first, since you know what they had left out, and how the story is set up. But that's only the first 20 minutes or so, after that I found that the movie took on it's very own path. They leave out the Hancock/Armistead relationship entirely, they skip a year, they never once mention the Valley Campaign, or Second Manassas, or Antietam, or the Peninsula. Yet despite all this, it still stayed true to the book in many ways thematically, style wise, and character wise, though I'm sure people more familiar with the book than I am will probably say otherwise. I sensed that Maxwell had decided he had to choose the story he was going to tell, and tell it with as many extra storylines that he could fit in there without making the film seem unfinished. And that's exactly what he does. The end result is a symphony of characters, storylines, and themes.

Another aspect that I actually liked, and may lend itself to the fact that I'm a female, is the civilian aspect. The civilian costumes were horrible, and the accents weren't to good, and the acting was a bit over the top, but I liked it. I think it worked very well, and gave the film another layer to it.

I feel the need to mention that this movie is not refined. It's a bit awkward, it's not a Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese movie; something that has no visible seams. It can seem a bit preachy at times, some of the costumes are silly, some of the acting is off, the scene changes sometimes feel like what you just saw didn't really get a chance to soak in, and sometimes the music doesn't really fit what you're seeing onscreen. But, for me at least, it all eventually worked itself out.

The film IS about Jackson. I think they make that very clear from the beginning on, though, as I said, they have many different storylines going. Most of which eventually flow into Jackson's character, or Chamberlain's character. Chamberlain is really the only other person who's life we get a separate glimpse of. Lee is a supporting character in this film. Hancock is introduced slightly. And while watching we are aware by the end of the movie that they go on to other pursuits and challenges later on. As you know, all three of these characters go on to have their own cinematic monologues in `Gettysburg' and we are reminded of this at the end of the film as a note scrolled across the screen saying that G&G was the first in a trilogy of Civil War films, including Gettysburg and Last Full Measure. The idea is a bit akin to a Civil War `Lord of the Rings' style movie trilogy. Jackson on the other hand, has no part in the other stories, so essentially, this is his film, and a lot of that credit goes to Stephen Lang.

I've heard it been said before, but Stephen Lang IS Jackson. I've never seen such a larger than life, real person embodied so intensely and completely. The casting in this film, for this character, was smart. By getting a relatively unknown character actor to fill the part of a historical, enigmatic, giant. Lang, eccentricities, speaking patterns, praying styles, and all grow on you. This man has done an incredible job. Jackson comes across as a sometimes intensely cold, strange, distant man, often afraid to feel, yet can be overcome by his feelings for his wife, and his daughter, a little girl he befriends, his respect for his men, and his love and faith in God. And where this accomplishment is 90% Lang, kudos to Maxwell are in order for setting up, from the beginning of the film key aspects that flesh out Jackson's character. I don't want to give away too much, but we witness an execution of Jackson's men, and by using Sandie Pendleton's character (in a wonderful performance the whole film through by Jeremy London) the filmmakers reflect the contrast between a `normal' reaction and Jackson's complex and cold demeanor. And after one of Jackson's generals is mortally wounded, he softly and gently goes to speak and comfort the man, saying how he will pray for him. As he walks out, one of his staff mentions the chaos of the battle and the ransacking of Fredericksburg, and how do they intend to stop it. Lang chillingly repeats one of Jackson's famous lines, that they would simply kill them all. Lang's immersion in the character is so complete, that even though I was anticipating the line, it was the character saying it. Not an actor saying a line to represent a famous historical figure. To top the scene off, the score plays softly, menacingly, as the camera pans away as the stunned staff watches the general slowly walk away, erect, with his hands behind his back. These are the kinds of details that fill the movie.

To get back to the acting, it's not only Lang who shines. Jeff Daniels returns for a fantastic performance, his monologue about Ceasar's troops as they march off to battle is chilling and perfectly suited for the character (a verbose rhetoric professor), and Daniels' stage acting skills shine through as he recites the verse while watching the members of Irish Brigade charge to their deaths (and we see, as they edited the uphill charge with Daniels' speech). The whole scene is goosebump inducing. In another scene, where Chamberlain gives his brother Tom a lecture and talks about what he's fighting for, he mentions how `every soldier out there is a whole person' with their own lives and people who love them. He's entirely convincing in a scene that could have been performed very badly, and is also one of the only insights into the Union cause. But because of his performance, what he says resonates throughout the rest of the film.

Robert Duvall is just how you'd imagine him to be Lee. You get a great, respected, icon of a dramatic actor, to play `The Marble Man' and half the effect is already done. Duvall acts the rest perfectly, and provides a great support to Jackson's storyline.

Other kudos go to Sean Pratt as a perfect Dr. Maguire, Jeremy London as Sandie Pendleton, Stephen Spacek as James Smith, and Frankie Faison as Jackson's cook, Jim. C. Thomas Howell returns with another endearing turn as Tom Chamberlain, and Kevin Conway as the savvy and wise Sgt. Kilrain. Matt Lescher as Col. Adelburt Ames shines in smaller supporting role. Donzaleigh Abernathy supports a separate storyline all by herself, and does a superb job of it. Kali Rocha is good as Jackson's wife Anna, and fills her role well. Mira Sorvino has exactly two scenes, but she actually makes great use of them, despite a bad Maine accent and a distracting wig.

Now comes down to the theme of the film. This movie does not attempt to smooth over anything, but it's actually lightly political. Every character has a legitimate say as to their lot in life and why they stand where they stand. There is no argument about who was right and who was wrong. There are no apologizing or blaming modern messages coming through. The film belongs to the characters and depending on what character is in focus, that is the point of view you get. Whether it be Chamberlain, or the slaves, or Jackson.

The film, without a substantial use of blood and gore, gets the idea of the tragedy of this war across. There's a scene where Col. Ames is reading off a letter from Lincoln after Fredericksburg, and in the letter it is mentioned that though all the men were noble, the casualties were comparatively moderate, and Buster Kilrain mentions `compared to what?....the French at Waterloo?'. It's an ironic cinematic statement. We've just scene rows of men mowed down, and shots of men scattered about a field. We've seen Chamberlain and his men use bodies as shields, and then this letter comes in. Early on in the film, the camera gently pans and fades in and out of different men in Virginia giving up their work in whatever they are doing, picking up their guns, and rushing off to muster in. It's a beautiful and sad technique, as we realize where these men are coming from. Later on, in the same manner, we see that one of Chamberlain's students, from an earlier scene, asks for permission to go to the rear, and his arm has been blown off. The film also briefly and sporadically follows two soldiers as they go through the battles.

The battles themselves are superbly filmed. They obviously put a lot of thought into these scenes. First Manassas is and average battle scene, but Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville surpass it. The crowning moment of the battle of Fredericksburg is the charge of the Irish Brigade. With ease, it moves swiftly along with extensive tracking shots. Then we see that it's the Rebel Irish, the 24th GA, who are firing at them. As the camera moves from the Irish Brigade's emerald flag, to the Rebels' Irish flag, and we hear remarks from both sides, I could hear the audience start to sniffle, and I teared up. The effect is entirely stirring, startling, and tragic, it sends chills up your spine. What Pickett's charge in the Gettysburg film was, the charge of the Irish Brigade is here (strangely enough, in the film Gettysburg, we have the Union line chant `Fredericksburg' at the retreating Rebels). It's just history, bluntly and plainly filmed. The battle doesn't stop there, though. Chamberlain's men see some action, what with dead bodies as shields, and the Aurora Borealis where all the characters, North and South simply look up, silently, not one word, as the scene softly fades.

The battle of Chancellorsville is just as well choreographed. In the same tracking, graceful style, we see each regiment come out of the woods silently. And, in an amazing shot, just when you wonder how many men there are, we see Jackson emerge, and all to the right of the screen we see thousands of soldiers emerging noiselessly. The rest of this battle is fantastic, with the various shots and angles utilized. This and Fredericksburg are some of the best battle scenes I've ever watched.

The dramatic scenes in the film work very well. There are many, many moments in this movie that are touching. Most of them concerning Jackson, but all of them wonderfully executed. The score by John Frizell and Randy Edelman , for the most part perfectly suits the film. Sometimes it sounds a bit odd or out of place, but it usually reconstitutes itself into the scene for a greater effect. The cinematography by Kees Van Oostrum is stunning. He captures the gorgeous landscape of where this war took place, thus adding, at least for me, a new layer: how could such a horrific war take place in such a beautiful place? Costume design is so, so, sometimes awful, sometimes great; but the production design, interiors and exteriors (save many a scene with tents where tents would not be) is wonderful, and had the look of a museum.

This film is, thematically, dark. It is somber, and it is intense. It's extremely sad, foreboding at times, but it's not depressing or, substance wise, hard to watch. Despite some of the blatant costume mistakes (hey, a lot of the beards looked great!), watching it felt like an immersion into another era and the lives of people not so different than ourselves. It's an epic, colorful, mournful cinematic experience that captures a slice of life. It's not a film for everyone: it's nearly 4 hours long, intensely historical - from the romantic Victorian dialogue to various references to literature and politics, but it has an immense human value to it that I believe anyone can relate to. And despite it's sometime rough hewed edges, it feels completely heartfelt, I think it is an ode to history.
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Mrs. Miniver (1942)
10/10
Simply beautiful
25 January 2003
I've seen this film several times now, and despite knowing what occurs, the beauty never wears off.

The film is aesthetically lovely, thanks to William Wyler's low key yet attentive and detailed style. The characters act naturally, something oft times missing in older films that lean to be more stylized. The acting is incredible in this film, and something many a modern film would do well to copy. Greer Garson is the portrait of strength, beauty, and dignity as Mrs. Miniver in a brilliantly played role. Yet it's the substance that stays with you. The film is telling a story about people and a time in history, and it's simple because it allows itself to be. It flows like real life, the trivial, the simple, the small moments, the enormous and life shattering. It taps into the real emotions people feel, and not big "war movie" emotions, but the joy of greeting a child upon return, of having a flower named after you and winning an award, of happiness and humor, of exhaustion, fear, pain, and grief. The film gently brings us into another life and lets us reside there. While there, we begin to love the Minivers and those that they love.

At one point in the movie, the family is in a bomb shelter and Mr. and Mrs. Miniver are talking. Mr. Miniver picks up "Alice in Wonderland" and begins to recite a passage about the joys of childhood, a summer past, and the simple pleasures in life. Mrs. Miniver finishes the passage, and Mr. Miniver (Walter Pidgeon) mentions that he wonders if Lewis Carrol ever thought that his story would be so beloved decades later. I found that interesting, because after all these years and viewings, it's the characters and their realistic palpable experiences and emotions, the strength and courage they show, and the simplicity of the film in allowing us to see it plainly and feel it too, because it's a story of the human experience we can all relate with that isn't limited to the battleground, that do and will keep this movie everlasting, and an homage to the human spirit.
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Signs (2002)
10/10
Goosebumps abound!: Skillful, crafty, sly, scary... but ultimately a beautiful film
12 January 2003
Every year there is a point where I (mentally, at least) give up on mainstream American cinema and relegate myself to enjoying classics or smaller budget, obscure, foreign, or indie films. Imagine my surprise when I found myself hooked to the first 3 minutes of this film, and then enjoying it.

Back to the film. The film is scary, it's very scary, and it delights in the stuff that scares people and little kids on a day to day basis: reflections, sounds, music, intense paranoia (paranoia is a very big factor in this film). But believe me, the threat of alien invasion is hardly what this film is about. Many scary films these days rely totally on their scare factor, this film made the wise decision not to. It uses what is scary in the film as a tool to hammer in a bigger point about faith and trust and family.

Where that may sound as though it's delving into the awfully sappy world of Hallmark Hall of Fame, it's not. The film rather reminded me of The Twilight Zone (though, strangely, Shyamalan does not list that series as a basis or inspiration in the documentary). The film centers around the Hess family who suffered a devastating blow after a rather gruesome tragedy. The portrayal of grief and death and everyone's estrangement is cold and sharp, there's nothing sweet about this movie. The tone of the film has a deadpan humor to it. Everything is stricken and old looking (Graham Hess, Gibson's character, is a preacher, and a lot of his Victorian country farmhouse looks like it's full of hand me downs), except for the muted and lush visuals of the gorgeous countryside. The music (especially at the beginning, which in a theatre was loud and shocking), is deliciously creepy and chilling yet at the same time works for dramatic purposes, kudos to James Newton Howard for such a skillfull piece of work. Tak fujimoto's cinematography milks the fear, bleakness, and sarcasm from the air by the gallons. Bravo! Finally, the fears of the family about the strange occurrences, and their desperation when the super sci-fi situation seemingly gets out of hand, feels very, very real, and keeps you juggling, just like the characters, for a good while as to what is real and what isn't.

The actors are the same. They're honest and blunt with their styles. They all gel their performances and characters together to create a world onscreen that becomes realistic, they are realistic. It's a horror movie, it has to be believable. The characters are flawed, with idiosyncrasies, they aren't perfect specimens, they all have something that's wrong with them, physically, mentally, spiritually, they are human after all, yet we still accept them. This really fleshes the movie out and makes it more believable and them more endearing, and ultimately, rewarding. For example: the devestated Graham Hess' interaction with his children is often listless, he worries about them, but often can't express his feelings, so they tend to turn to their uncle for any solace (wonderfully played by Joaquin Phoenix in a rare role for him as the normal, suave, and slightly comedic Merrill Hess, a man who embarrassingly failed at minor league baseball). Cherry Jones turns up in a wonderfully played supporting role as a local police officer and friend of the family's. It's not often that you see someone get so much out of a limited supporting role and give so much back to the benefit of the film as Ms. Jones does with her role. And you remember her character and performance. Kudos to her.

This film is unpretentious and sly. Everything about this film works towards the goal, in the end everything fits like a jigsaw puzzle, I can't say much lest I give away any vital plot points, but let me say that it makes you believe it's all about one aspect of the movie, then hits you with a larger theme and message, but you're so wrapped up with the scary part, you forget about the latter. The "big twist" is not supernatural but human. The ending is one of the more ingenious and truly beautiful endings I have seen in years.

Like Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, this film craftfully weaves drama with horror. Where I found the other two films applaudable and superbly crafted, I found "Signs" was truly endearing to me. There's something about how it gives you goosebumps during the frightening parts, yet also the human "drama" parts that was different from many a film I've seen. I rarely get goosebumps watching people interacting with each other, most of the time films can be so banal, pretentious, and cliched, human drama loses all effect, but not here. And ultimately, when the scare factor rubs off, the film retains it's rewatchability. It's a fun entertaining movie that was perfect as a summertime hit, yet it's also a stunning, stirring film that wasn't afraid to use unconventional means to get a higher, more profound, message across.
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10/10
William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"? No, Baz's "Romeo + Juliet".
2 November 2002
I remember when this movie came out, all my classmates were seeing it and talking about it, my school got free book covers with Leonardo and Clare until I could hardly stand their faces any more, and I was greatly surprised to hear my chorus teacher give it rave reviews, it was after all, a teen flick, right? But even though I had a great curiosity regarding such a strange movie, I didn't see it. It wasn't till after I had seen Moulin Rouge that I took the initiative to see this film.

I find it fairly amusing that the "official" title of this film is "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet", everyone and their uncle knows who wrote it. Everyone and their uncle knows the story. Quite frankly, when I saw it, I was expecting to be bored. I knew how it went, I had read it twice, I had been hearing the story in every vessel of artistic interpretation all my life, from Zeffirelli to Bernstein (well, I love West Side Story). It had been played out, there's only so much mileage you can get. And to me it wasn't Hamlet or King Lear or Much Ado about Nothing which still could hold you enthralled just by a reading. "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet"? What else is new? Sure it's genius, but now, quite simply, it was boring. But this isn't simply Shakespeare's movie, it's Baz Luhrmann's. It made me weep.

Where you might think a hip and slick take on a timeless story has been played out, it has elsewhere, but not here. Luhrmann infuses something into it. The film is at times bizarre and sinister, it's intense, it's rough and awkward, it's colorful and crazy and over the top, it's muted, it's passion frenzy, it's dry, it's slick and sophisticated. It's meticulous and strange and cold and white hot all at once. He shoves it all into Venice Beach and actors and those so very famous beautiful poetic lines and mixed with a complete and total disregard for convention.

Like Moulin Rouge, there's an obsession with details. But these are strange details. Guns with names, palaces and servants for these mafialike characters, beaches and highways and gas stations as playgrounds for the characters. It's a deformed and crazy Verona for '96. The background is filled to the brim with every sort of lavish and extravagant window or bookshelf dressing or religious icon, flowers, car wheel caps, clothing styles, the way hedges are trimmed, and billboards. Nothing is left out. Luhrmann immerses you into another world, it's 1996, but it's not where we're living. Thus we can relate to these people yet still accept this insanity. And that's fitting, the world Shakespeare was evoking wasn't his own secular society either, he was trying to strip it down to the human qualities of a story.

That's why a modern American plain accented actor speaking this complicated dialogue works. We're allowed to believe that these people would talk like this. And the actors give it life and a palpability. It's excellently casted. They give every line with emotion, they act it out, using themselves, but realistically. Danes and Dicaprio are excellent. The various supports do great justice to their roles. It was a joy and a wonder to watch, to see what Shakespeare had intended, with good actors performing well on such a colorful and wacky stage.

Above all the emotional power of the story, which can be beaten out during mandatory reading periods or a repeated session with a bland and average version again and again, remains firm. Especially during the last part of the film. There are no superfluous motions or gestures on the actors' part. They act it to a tee. Baz leaves no emotion or possibility unturned. The blocking and directing gets the best out of the story. For example: Romeo walks through a dazzling and dark candlelit and flower and statue strewn chapel to find Juliet, and he weeps and weeps while saying his lines. This is the imagery and interpretation that flows throughout the movie.

This is a movie that had a lot of effort and thought and heart and honesty put into it. It has a character and a charisma that I think is lacking in many films today. No one has ever seen the version Shakespeare envisioned, he doesn't give staging or actor's notes, he didn't provide a cliffsnotes version. No one alive can pass down the directions to a performance Shakespeare was present at. Taking this into consideration, Luhrmann created a respectful yet completely unique and enlightening spin on a story that no matter how brilliant, can still get botched by poor translation. I think he extracted the essence of a timeless and beautiful story, and made something incredible. At least he finally made me appreciate it.
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10/10
Gritty, Raw and Beautiful film about the Civil War
16 October 2002
"Pharaoh's Army" defies formula. Instead of selling out for cliches and big stars, it relies completely on the excellent acting from a strong cast, the strength of a well written script, and a fascinating and bitter story. The result is a raw and realistic film that moves along fast, with a heavy emotional current. One of the best I've ever seen about the Civil War, and I think it can owe that to the pleasure of being an independent film (if you like this film, try to see the similarly brilliant indie Civil War film "Wicked Spring" as well).

"Pharaoh" simply tells the true story of a small expedition/forage team of Union men who ride into a Confederate farm to take provisions, but end up stuck there because of an accident of one of the men. Tensions broil and relationships are made and broken. Nothing happens the way Hollywood would write it; this movie comes from the mind of someone who actually cares about quality film and the telling of history. Superb dialogue and plot exposition move along a film that looks highly professional, but often doesn't feel like you're watching a movie, more along the lines of hearing a story.

The film boasts an incredible performance from Chris Cooper who shows an amazing versatility in the exploration of his role. He transforms, but is always at the height of believability and is easy to emotionally relate to. Patricia Clarkson is equally as stellar and realistic in a role that many actresses would crumble in. She shares an interesting chemistry with Cooper's character and where she's the more severe of the characters, is still as easy to identify with. The rest of the cast is quite capable, and fill their roles in well.

The art design and the set are wonderful, and personally I love the cinematography. It all has the feel of a Civil War period photograph with the camera presenting strong contrasting colors and shadows and a tin-like metalic tint, but always keeping the naturalistic look of the rustic setting. They seem to have used natural lighting, but whatever they used works beautifully. Everything looks like it belongs where it is, it feels period, something I find rare in American period films. The actors act 19th century, not like 20th century people in old clothes.

Above all, this film is very personal. I think that as an indie it can afford it. The film is nearly flawless with an outstanding script that effortlessly creates and explores the relationships and personalities of these characters and lets them grow in a situation, as bad as it is. It doesn't fail in getting it's point across, and it gets it's point across without the usual and overused techniques that are used in all war films these days. It's brave. It relies on it's characters, a fantastic script, human emotion, and in the cold hard fact that the Civil War wasn't all CGI, big stars, and hoop skirts.
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10/10
Beautiful family tale about living life, and understanding it.
11 October 2002
Like the book, Tuck Everlasting proves odd fare for the audience it would generically be made for. Considering it was technically made for 9-11 year olds, it's incredible, and applaudable, for a so called "generic Disney family film" to be so intelligent, thought provoking, and high quality. It's a real "family" film as opposed to the empty fare most movies of the same nature are. It can be slightly macabre, gently philosophical, and ponderous; it IS gentle, slow moving, and quiet, and believe it or not, it proves to be a somewhat mesmerizing, magical, other-worldly experience: lyrical and haunting folk strained music sifts through the scenery, in this case the magically captured springtime woodlands of Maryland where it was filmed, a believable and genuinely played young love romance, and the storybook-like narration from Elizabeth Shue provide an almost unbelievably pretty setting which we're immersed in. ...And it certainly isn't a bad thing. The rest of the film is much the same. A briefing to the plot of the book: The Tucks have immortality a la a hidden spring, Winnie Foster stumbles onto it, they kidnap her but ultimately teach her about the grim facts and joys life, and then a number of fast paced, short fuse adventures ensue, eventually leaving us with an ending that makes a lot of people cry. That's the book, and the movie is almost exactly the same. Some liberal changes, but the characters are there, completely.

Jay Russell, the director, must have been faced with an odd dilemma, turn what was already a heavy duty little fable into a tale that would please the enigma: the ever spoiled audience...and "Tuck" seems to float at it's own pace. It moves at an unusual speed for films these days, it just strolls along lovingly and thoughtfully, with some tense moments here and there, until the last 30 minutes or so, where everything falls into place with help from those exciting escapades. Then they use the last few shots of the film to induce one to tears in a way you wouldn't expect, by utilizing the hefty amount of previous movie where the characters, as they do in the storyline, merely "existed". It's smart, and it works, and the result is beautiful, if not bittersweet and heartbreaking.

Having said that, the film isn't staggeringly amazing in it's style or it's performances or it's script. Some of the camerawork didn't do anything for me, and the editing was a bit...off. The direction isn't anything Oscarworthy, but after all it's a family film, but not a generic one. Other than the absolutely stunning cinematography AND gorgeous, haunting score AND the great costumes AND production design (these last two aspects help the feel of the film greatly, in a film that relies on "feel" and that tangibility a great deal), the beauty of the film lies in it's sincerity and its simplicity, it's message and it's moral, and it's hefty handful of purely breathtaking and wonderful moments...and what I though was a truly beautiful ending.

Bledel (plays Winnie Foster) and Jackson (plays Jesse Tuck) have a chemistry, Jackson is truly capable at playing a wonderfully likeable and serious young fellow, and makes you want to run off with him and listen. Likewise Bledel does a great job with balancing a film on her shoulders, considering it's her film debut as opposed to her vastly different role and setting on "Gilmore Girls". As for the highly plugged "Oscar nominated cast", Kingsley is the standout with all the nuances you could possibly need and a performance that is downright creepy. Though Hurt and Spacek get very little screentime, they provide a familiarity and stability to the film, giving it a backbone so to speak. Just to see them in the background and to know they are there helps create a mood and atmosphere about their home and the Tucks' personalities . The rest of the cast, Garber, Irving, and Bairstow, are fairly capable, with Irving leading the pack.

This is a wonderful film. Quite brave considering all the flash and dash and raucousness of most films for the "teen/kid" age group these days. See it to bring your kids to a wholesome, mature-minded film that won't ruin YOUR ear drums, to get your mind off of everything else, to wax nostalgia, or gawk at pretty things and interesting ideas. It gives room to think and to daze in a bucolic setting with a wonderful passionate story about life.
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10/10
Captivating film about a tragic story
10 October 2002
"One Man's Hero" is a beautiful film. Beneath any flaws in style and editing, discussions of touchy subject matter, etc. etc., it presents the incredible true story of a group of Irish immigrants who deserted the US army to fight with Mexico during the Mexican War to become the San Patricios. For an $18 million film and fairly unknown director, it stands the test well and emerges an educational and compelling piece of moviemaking.

Truth be told, there's nothing spectacular about the battle scenes or any groundbreaking aspects, but the collective strength of the cast and the solid script pay homage to these men. The film boasts several brilliant "moments", a sub-plot romance, wonderful performances from supporting cast, a thought provoking subject from the archives of history, and the drama and charismatic profundity of a lost cause and ultimate tragedy. Kudos to great score and utilizing the terrain to the benefit of the film.

Though it's not a blazing Oscar candidate, this is a wonderful, sad, and highly personal film about human beings trying to make the best of an unusual and dangerous situation. It has a layered cultural atmosphere that is refreshing and enlightening, and no doubt you'll end the film with a new appreciation of history and belief in good film.
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10/10
Eccentricity...Amplified
2 October 2002
"A Life Less Ordinary" is a zany romp. Ewan McGregor plays Robert Lewis, the hesitant kidnapper who gets himself into the predicament accidentally because he's mad that janitor robots replaced him at a local business and his protest went awry, his "victim" is a controlling spoiled brat Celine Neville (Diaz) the child of his ex-employer, who, having been kidnapped before, constantly criticizes his kidnapping style. But believe it or not, you forget about the kidnapping altogether after half an hour as the two bond with each other.

Fact is, the kidnapping kicks off the movie but doesn't need to last because that's not what it's about, though they get themselves into enough legal trouble to last the whole film as a result of it. It's actually a romance about divine intervention.

Yes, divine intervention.

Apparently, St. Gabriel, who is upset at the lack of true and pure love, sends two agents down (played by Jackson O'Reilly and Holly Hunter in one of her most hilarious roles), to get them together or risk saying adios to pearly gates forever. They get mixed up with the apparently highly crooked Mr. Neville who wants them to kill Robert. Of course they can't do that because that would defy their purpose, on several accounts. Add a few gun fights, lots gunshot wounds, people getting crushed by cars, and some hilarious dialogue and situations and you get the general jist of the film. It doesn't try to make sense, but it does haphazardly in a frenetic, frantic, truely crazy way (though all cinematography stays well on the ground, no flying fairies or can can dancing here, and no, that's not a jab at Moulin Rouge).

The film also boasts a slew of great performances from Mcgregor and Diaz (very creative performances if you can imagine such a thing), Stanley Tucci the sleazy dentist ex-fiancee, to Ian Holm and Ian McNiece as the insidious Mr. Neville and his henchman. But the movie's real star, even beating out the couple's Sinatra dance duet in a honky tonk or their high speed racing in dilapitated pickup trucks, is the screenplay. It's high energy and brilliantly crafted, John Hodge (the writer) and Boyle (director) outdid themselves with such an insane yet workable idea.

Great watchable, sarcastic film that is highly undderated. Deserves more praise for being as un-ordinary and chock full of talent as possible.
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10/10
Monkeying around with time and viruses and crazy Brad Pitts
2 October 2002
Terry Gilliam's "nightmare vision" is pretty nightmarish, in a funny Terry Gilliamish way. There's something humorous and mischievously entertaining about "Twelve Monkeys" that keeps it from taking itself too seriously and falling prey to pretention, but then it comes back at you just as intense and creepy as a movie can get. It keeps itself fresh and fluid, with a healthy dose of quirk to it. But I don't think it knows it's an apocalyptic vision.

The film is about James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, a man from the future who goes back in time to stop the disaster that sent him underground from ever happening. But that's the simple way of describing it. The story is in a constant fight as to where to go with the plot, with probably a dozen sub-ideas that could turn into something. It's twisted and elaborate and almost impossible to explain to someone without them saying "what?", but like "Memento" or "The Matrix", when you watch it, it makes sense. But these plot developements are delicious fodder and keep it moving, allowing characters like Brad Pitt's pitch perfect sort-of-insane "Jeffrey Bowen" to take a bow (deserved that Oscar nod, BTW).

The film's eccentricity takes hold of it. From the cinematography, to the accordian theme that playfully plays throughout the film, to the excessive production design that you know was made that way just because they felt like it (though it does help make the film what it is). And more often than not, the miserable conditions of Mr. Willis or whoever else may be feeling miserable at the time come across the screen in an almost tangible way.

But behind the running cinematic joke, and the dark atmosphere of the film, it drives itself home where it must, and Bruce Willis, surprisingly, performs in what is probably one of his best roles. There's a frusterating and pitiful scene when he is desperately trying to make psychiatrists in 1990 accept the fact that he's from the future. They don't buy it, and he realizes that on top of his original task, he now has to find some tedious way to make these people believe him. Teamed with the talented Madeleine Stowe, the duo help create a touching relationship that grounds the film, as it turns out, on a deep personal level.

The film doesn't necessarily scare you into thinking all this would happen in real life, we've heard it too much before, and I don't think that was the goal of the movie. But by the end of the film you've been given a healthy sense of dread for the poor characters in the film. How often does that happen? Though when they play the Louis Armstrong classic "Wonderful World" during the credits, it stamps and seals the irony of it all, and does exactly what Mr. Armstrong probably didn't intend the song to do in the first place.
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The Civil War (1990)
10/10
A groundbreaking film, for our defining moment
28 September 2002
When The Civil War first aired in 1990, it became a phenomenon. I

was a little kid, but I remember "Ashokan Farewell" and the

intriguing black and white images and voiceovers from the screen,

and people talking about it all over the place. To be sure, the

intimacy of the film eventually made me a Civil War buff, as it has

for tens of thousands across the country.

The fact is, Ken Burns created a monumental piece of television

that chronicled, if not in a general fashion, by far the most defining

moment in our history and an incredibly groundbreaking way.

The film is simple, yet is so profound in it's simplicity and style,

using just pictures and accounts and music and some bursts of

color from modern cinematography. For the first time, we heard the

accounts of real soldiers and people, and instead of taking sides,

it gave a sense of humanity to both sides in a war that is riddled

with political and social posturing, but was ultimately all slaughter.
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10/10
Critics? Don't listen. This is a very, very good film.
21 September 2002
The newest rendition of the Four Feathers is a real epic, aesthetically beautiful, sweeping, completely refreshing in terms of emotional presentation and scope for both characters and audience. This is one of the best of this year in terms of mainstream film.

The beginning drags, and the editing is confusing at times, the lighting is dark, and it has a rich (as in dense) atmosphere to it that can make it seem unnecessarily claustrophobic at times, yet which helps during certain scenes (don't want to give anything away). In fact the first 1/3 of the movie is a plum bore. But as soon as Harry goes off following some enemy spies, the movie flows beautifully. It becomes quite the rousing adventure, with lots of fairly disgusting dead bodies and their missing parts all over the place (surprising for a PG-13 flick) and the sole battle scene is one of the better ones I've ever seen, because it creates uncliched emotion, and it's very effective in creating a seemingly helpless situation, with great battle choreography to boot.

In a movie that has quite a few flaws, it does something really well, develops supporting characters (other than Wes Bentley). The 4 different comrades of Harry's, plus Adu (Hounsou's character), have faces and lives and are important to the flow of the story, though they seem fairly unimportant till it matters (again, don't want to give anything away), when something happens to them, you want to know, and care about, what will become of them. It was refreshing to actually know the fellow soldiers in a war movie for once! And it helps add to the great emotional impact this movie has.

The acting is OK. There are no bad performances, bad accents to be sure, but Heath Ledger ceases to be his heartthrob self and eventually turns into the character (somewhere between the chapped lips and matted hair I suppose), and provides a steady and trustworthy lead performance. Hudson, I think, is too big for her role, though she and Bentley both provided, again, well done and steady roles. Djimon Hounsou is really the standout. Other than technical aspects I don't think it'll get any nods, except maybe for Hounsou who is exceptional in the film.

I think that this is a very good film that boasts great cinematography, authentic and realistic costumes and excellent production design, and for me, a great emotional punch, plus a captivating adventure story. It's definitely not a teen flick, or chick flick, it's too gruesome and historical for either faction. And unlike other better systematically made films I've seen this year, it didn't feel "canned", too unoriginal, or overly pretentious, it felt fresh.

I think this suffered the fate of fairly bad advertising and early press and not living up to the expectation of "Elizabeth", but I'm glad I saw it because I really did enjoy it, a lot. Highly recommended.
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Little Women (1994)
10/10
"Little Women" in it's own right
11 September 2002
Though some may argue that the older classic versions of Little Women with Katherine Hepburn and June Allison may be better because it sticks to the book, this is the only version that captures the spirit of the book.

Though the filmmakers took license to cut away certain specifics, the end result is an absolutely gorgeous film that stands on it's own completely. One would be able to watch this film without ever having read or known the book and seen it as it's own film.

The film thrives on small scenes and nuances, moments of person to person contact, production design and cinematography, the all important score (which adds a great deal to the film). This delicate and complicated symbiosis between all aspects tactfully and poignantly creates the story, something missing from many movies these days which creates a tangible and effervescent emotional layer. Then the acting of one of the best ensembles to hit the screen in a long time. Keep an eye out for Susan Sarandon and Claire Daines in roles that ought to have been nominated along with Ryder. These actors create people that endear themselves to us, and make the film even more than it could have been.

It's a small scale masterpiece that will leave you in tears. The film is honest and true in it's portrayal of human emotion. It went from being an adaptation of the book to it's own story and portrayal of people and their lives. It's beautiful aesthetically and dramatically, and a real gem of a film.
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Gilmore Girls (2000–2007)
Life (caffeinated, with some lemon juice please)
16 August 2002
Gilmore Girls is one of those shows that people love because they're so adorable...and they simply don't know it. And not teen pop bunk adorable, but as in they're easy to love. I was surprised by the quality of the series, considering it's on the WB. It's intelligent, creative, and sophisticated in an everyday way. And even though this show has enough sarcasm to give you heartburn (it's fueled by sarcasm, in double digit gallons) the characters are fleshed out and live an alternate lifestyle that may be foreign, but is completely believable. These aren't people who live stereotyped mid class American TV lives, they live like the people next door, but like the strange people next door. They're those specially chosen eccentrics, small town hicks, artists, and snobs who are so full of quirks and idiosyncrasies they tend to make our lives colorful.

And this show is about characters and how they relate to each other. The crux of the show is the relationship between the close in age coffee addict mother (Loralai, played by the fantastic Lauren Graham) and daughter (Rory, beautifully played by Alexis Bledel) who have an unusually close knit, and witty, relationship. The two are an eccentric pair, they live for each other and pay no heed to those who sneer upon them and indulge in their wacky Bohemian-ness. They eat at Luke's Diner for breakfast and order economy size platters of Chinese food from Al's House of Pancakes. Rory likes chaperones, Loralai intrinsically trusts her daughter.

When Rory is accepted to a posh prep school (which she doesn't care for, but deals with because, quite simply, she has a higher IQ than most of the town and wants to get to Harvard) paid for by her incorrigible and borderline personality grandmother (another recurring character), her mother has to take a job she doesn't want at a first class hotel, and thus a whole passel of problems and dilemmas occur. Long term plot lines gracefully combine with town occurrences, scandals, gossip, etc, and create a show with as much flavor and pizzazz as Stars Hollow can take.

And where the sarcasm and one liners, bizarre scenarios and crazy happenings flow freely there's always an underlying riptide that surfaces quickly here and there, and the tensions that arise can become especially pungent because we're allowed to be close to the characters. For example, in one episode Rory accidentally falls asleep next to her boyfriend late one night while they were both reading a book together, and next morning they are found by Miss Patty (the fabulously fabulous Liz Torres who is also from "American Family"), nothing had happened, Rory is completely innocent, but Loralai is worried when she's alerted that she hadn't come home and receives the call that they had been found together. Rory's grandmother jumps to conclusions and starts harshly saying that Rory has ruined her life just the way Loralai had, but her mother adamantly sticks up for her. Yet when Rory comes in, they have an explosive fight, with Rory crushed that her mother didn't trust or believe her.

And yet situations with even a slight potential for sugaryness are resolved with lightning fast dialogue a la `Philadelphia Story'. The fact that they're close is already there, anything else feels wrong. This is the genius of the show's writing and acting. All said, whether during revealing moments of emotion or poignancy, or the standard rib cracking, fire crackling wit and sarcasm, this show gets under your skin and refuses to let go. It's more than a gem, and I hope that it lasts.
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10/10
Yeeehaw! (daintily of course)
7 June 2002
Ya ya! I've never read the book, but the movie is precious. It's a trip down a psychological highway and steeped in Creole Southern twangs and family secrets. It mixes up to be a hell of a road and eerily like real life. There's something that's nice to see, considering the best movies are the most life like.

Imagine Maggie Smith rolling around an Oxygen tank in designer clothes slipping people (including Sandra Bullock) Mickey Finns and making it look realistic (funny, I know people who would do something like that). Then think of Ashley Judd having a nervous breakdown and whipping her children with a belt buckle till they bleed.

It's a chick flick, I don't see men liking it all that much, so with a chick flick comes a female director who did an outstanding job for a debut. Callie Khouri has created a film that remembers the emotional details without sacrificing them to the greater plot. In fact the only way to enjoy this movie is to actually pay attention to the plethora of details and immerse yourselves in the atmosphere and culture that is prime breeding ground for film auteurs and charcters alike.

Ashley Judd deserves something for one hell of a performance. So does Sandra Bullock, and we have to create a Ya-Ya award for the senior dames of Hollywood who came out in force for this flick. God bless actresses and Angus MacFadyen.

The delicately balanced and finely tuned relationships that are the crux of the story, are developed beautifully have their expositions in due time, and follow the strict rules of human psychological behavior. Yes it's ok to make a movie about a daughter who forgives her mother. If you pay attention you'll see the validation for any forgiveness that might occur. This isn't Lifetime BS, this is good old fashioned real life.

Lousiana, Creole, Catholicism, African American, Seafood, Blues, Bluegrass, love, marriage, family, eccentric names, eccentric people, alcoholism, scary pasts, and all the above. Blend it together and make a drink and you come out with Divine Secrets and some Ya Yas on the side.
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