Thursday, May 28, 2009

With Honors (1994) [PG-13] ***


It's a frigid December, and four Harvard seniors are sharing an old Cambridge boarding house. There's arrogant, boorish Monty (Brendan Fraser), casual, fun-loving Courtney (Moira Kelly), politically radical Everett (Patrick Dempsey) and up-tight Jeffrey (Josh Hamilton). Late one night, while Monty is working on his public-policy thesis, which he expects to earn him graduation with honors, his computer hard disc crashes. With no backup disc, and only one printed copy of the thesis, Monty panics and decides to make another copy.

On the way to the copy center he slips on the icy sidewalk, and his thesis ends up in the basement of the Widener Library. With Courtney distracting the library night guard, Monty sneaks in and goes searching for his thesis. He discovers homeless Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), living in secret in the library's basement. Simon is reading his thesis, and as he finishes each page, he tosses it into the boiler room fire. Desperate to get his thesis back, Monty agrees to Simon's extortionate demands: for each thing (meal, bath, bed for the night, etc.) that Monty provides for him, Simon will give him back one page of his thesis.

Monty has no choice, and so, what begins as distrustful animosity, grows over the following weeks and months into an uneasy partnership, and then into friendship. Both Monty and Simon learn that you cannot judge a person by his clothes, his living conditions, his past experiences or his social status. And when he learns that Simon has progressive asbestosis and needs medical attention, Monty develops some much-needed humility and compassion, and is able to put his thesis and his honors graduation into perspective.

The screenplay and acting are uniformly excellent, especially Fraser, Kelly, Pesci and Gore Vidal. Although critics panned this film, audiences generally enjoyed it, so if you appreciate poignant yet uplifting coming-of-age comedy-dramas from the '90s, films like Finding Forrester, and Good Will Hunting, you might really enjoy With Honors.

Labels: christmas, college, comedy, drama, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=17, viewers=73)


Monday, May 25, 2009

Sirens (1994) [R] ***


Sirens is set in Australia, sometime in the 1930s, at the rural home of a controversial artist who paints sensual feminine images. A clergyman and his wife visit the artist and try to convince him to remove his most controversial painting from a new exhibit in Sydney. While Sirens is a vaguely erotic film, it's really about the classic conflict between artistic freedom of expression and censorship. The artist, played by Sam Neill, believes that the viewer must decide for himself or herself which images are unacceptable. The clergyman, played by Hugh Grant, believes that once the viewer has seen the images, the damage has been done, and it's too late. Both actors are excellent in their roles, and their verbal sparring is quite entertaining.

During their visit both the clergyman and his wife, wonderfully played by Tara Fitzgerald, are forced to deal with the erotic urges aroused in them by the artist's three lovely models - the Sirens - including supermodel Elle Macpherson and actress Portia de RossiSirens is full of symbolism, and the ending is surprising, and deliciously ironic. If you enjoy period films that deal with the subject of repressed sexuality, films like Belle Époque, Enchanted April or A Room with a View, you might really enjoy Sirens.

Labels: comedy, drama
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=73, viewers=40)

Stargate (1994) [PG-13] ****


Hidden for millennia beneath cover stones on the Giza Plateau in Egypt, and only uncovered during a 1928 archaeological dig, the Stargate is a ring more than twenty feet in diameter, made of a metal not found on earth. However, more than sixty more years pass before the U.S. Air Force attempts to activate the device at a secret facility in Colorado. After two years of frustration and failure, Dr. Catherine Langford (Viveca Lindfors), the civilian head of the project team, hires controversial Egyptologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (James Spader), just as Col. Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) takes over command of the project.

With both intuition and luck, Jackson discovers the key to activating the Stargate, which creates a wormhole between itself and a complementary device located a cosmic distance away. After an unmanned probe determines that the planetary body they’ve discovered is an atmospheric match, Jackson volunteers to be part of the military reconnaissance team, to insure they can return home. What he doesn’t understand, is that the team’s mission is not strictly scientific. And only after they goes through the Stargate and emerge on the other side of the wormhole, do they discover that the Earth-like planet they’ve found is populated with a human civilization closely linked with their own - humans who speak a language resembling ancient Egyptian, and who worship the Sun god Ra.

Directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow), Stargate features an inventive script co-written by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, which offers a totally plausible explanation for the existence of the giant pyramids on the Giza Plateau. There’s an excellent cast, especially Spader, Russell, Lindfors and Mili Avital as the girl who teaches Jackson a new, old language. Costumes, sets, cinematography, soundtrack and special effects are outstanding. Stargate is a satisfying sci-fi adventure on all levels; don’t miss it. 

Labels:  action, adventure, sci-fi, space-time
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 42/100
Tomatometer (critics=48, viewers=73)
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Wikipedia: Stargate (film)

Star Trek: Generations (1994) [PG] ****

A film review by Betty Jo Tucker, ReelTalk Reviews.

Suppose you were faced with a choice between living in an eternity of pleasure or performing your duty in a situation filled with danger? In Star Trek: Generations, Captains Kirk and Picard must make this decision. Stalwart as they are, it is not an easy one for either man. Both have deep-seated yearnings for home and family that could be satisfied by staying in a place called the Nexus, a timeless zone of personal delights. Still, the two captains choose duty over pleasure and join forces to stop Dr. Soran, a mad scientist who is willing to destroy an entire galaxy if it helps him get back to the Nexus.

Generations is the Star Trek movie that passes the torch from Kirk (William Shatner) to Picard (Patrick Stewart). Surprisingly, of the two performances, Shatner's Kirk comes across as the most believable. It’s unfortunate that Stewart’s acting in the Picard role is not as effective on the big screen as in the television series. (His background as a Shakespearean actor doesn’t seem to help here.) Shatner gains sympathy immediately with his interpretation of Kirk’s complex reactions to loss of command while inspecting a new Starship. Later, Kirk’s tongue-in-cheek questioning of Picard before they leave the Nexus adds a welcome humanistic touch to this high-tech sci-fi adventure.

Supporting cast member Brent Spiner provides the film’s humor with his excellent portrayal of Data. This talented actor is just as watchable in the movie as on television. My favorite scene occurs after an emotion chip is implanted into Data’s android brain, causing him to catch on to jokes and to laugh unexpectedly when he remembers funny stories told to him years ago. Playing the evil Soran, Malcolm McDowell scowls, shouts, manipulates, and lies in the best tradition of outstanding film villains.

However, all actors in Generations take second place to the real star of the show -- Special Effects. From the opening shot of a champagne bottle floating in space to the pulsating ribbon of an engulfing Nexus, the film’s images dazzled me. And I have to confess they probably hypnotized me into ignoring some major plot loopholes. In fact, it took me several hours after seeing the film to start wondering how Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) got back to the Nexus -- and, if she could return to it, why an intelligent scientist was having such difficulty. But that lingering question doesn’t stop me from rating Star Trek: Generations as one of the best offerings in this popular franchise.

Labels: action, mystery, sci-fi, space-time, thriller
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 55/100
Tomatometer (critics=48, viewers=58)
Blu-ray

Forrest Gump (1994) [PG-13] *****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

Ever find the grind of life getting you down? Is the day-to-day struggle threatening to drag you under? If so, there is a movie out there that can replenish your energy and refresh your outlook. Passionate and magical, Forrest Gump is a tonic for the weary of spirit. For those who feel that being set adrift in a season of action movies is like wandering into a desert, the oasis lies ahead.

Back when Tom Hanks' movie career was relatively new, the actor made a film called Big, which told the story of a young boy forced to grow up fast as a result of an ill-advised wish made at a carnival. In some ways, Forrest Gump represents a return to the themes of that earlier movie. In this case, the main character remains a child in heart and spirit, even as his body grows to maturity. Hanks is called upon yet again to play the innocent.

Forrest Gump (Hanks), named after a civil war hero, grows up in Greenbow, Alabama, where his mother (Sally Field) runs a boarding house. Although Forrest is a little slow (his IQ is 75, 5 below the state's definition of normal), his mental impairment doesn't seem to bother him, his mother, or his best (and only) friend, Jenny Curran (played as an adult by Robin Wright). In fact, the naiveté that comes through a limited understanding of the world around him gives Forrest a uniquely positive perspective of life.

During the next thirty years, Forrest becomes a star football player, a war hero, a successful businessman, and something of a pop icon. Through it all, however, there is one defining element in his life: his love for Jenny. She is never far from his thoughts, no matter what he's doing or where he is.

A trio of assets lifts Forrest Gump above the average life story drama: its optimism, freshness, and emotional honesty. Though the movie does not seek to reduce every member of the audience to tears, it has moments whose power comes from their simplicity. Equally as important is laughter, and Forrest Gump has moments of humor strewn throughout.

During the 60s and 70s, no topic more inflamed the turbulent national consciousness than that of Vietnam and those who were sent overseas to fight. Forrest, as might be expected, has a singular viewpoint on his time spent there: We took long walks and were always looking for this guy named Charlie. In this observation can be found the essence of the title character's nature.

Through the miracle of visual effects, Forrest meets his fair share of famous people - George Wallace, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and John Lennon. While mixing the real footage of these notables with new images featuring Hanks is not a seamless process, the result is nevertheless effective.

Forrest Gump has several messages, some of which are less obvious than others. The most frequently recurring theme is an admonition not to give up on life. Why surrender when you don't know what lies ahead? By contrasting Forrest's life with the lives of those around him, and by showing how the passage of time brings solace to even the most embittered hearts, the movie underlines this point.

Tom Hanks won last year's Academy Award for Philadelphia, but his performance here is more impressive. The Alabama accent may seem a little awkward at first, but it doesn't take long for the acting to dwarf the twang. Hanks has no difficulty creating a totally human character who is free of guile and deceit, and barely able to comprehend a concept like evil. Robin Wright gives the best performance of her career, surpassing what she accomplished in The Playboys. Looking and seeming like a younger Jessica Lange, she is believable as the object of Forrest's undying affection. The real scene-stealer, however, is Gary Sinise. A renowned director and theatrical actor, Sinise is probably best known to film-goers for his portrayal of George in 1992's Of Mice and Men (which he also directed). In this movie, his Lieutenant Dan Taylor is riveting. The passion and pain he brings to the middle portions of Forrest Gump hold together some of the film's weaker moments.

The soundtrack boasts a wide variety of sounds of the era -- perhaps too wide a variety. Often, music can be useful in establishing a mood, but Forrest Gump rockets into the realm of overkill. There are sequences when the choice of song is inspired (the use of Running on Empty for Forrest's long run comes to mind), but the soundtrack could have used a little pruning.

Ultimately, however, any gripes about Forrest Gump are minor. This is a marvelous motion picture -- a mint julep on a hot summer's afternoon.

Labels: drama, history, romance, war
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 82/100
Tomatometer (critics=72, viewers=95)
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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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Dave (1993) [PG-13] *****

Dave Kovic is a good-hearted guy who runs a little employment agency. He finds work for people, mostly by getting his friend Murray Blum to hire them as temps in Murray's accounting office. Dave also happens to look exactly like the President of the United States; a decidedly evil character named Bill Mitchell. When Dave is recruited to double for the President at a public function, and the President has a stroke, Dave finds himself thrust into a role he first resists, and then embraces, with hilarious results.

Kevin Kline is wonderful both as Dave and as President Mitchell. Sigourney Weaver is terrific as the First Lady who recognizes in Dave what her husband had the potential to be. Frank Langella is superb as Bob Alexander, the malevolent Chief of Staff. And the supporting cast is outstanding, especially Charles Grodin as Dave's friend Murray Blum, Ving Rhames as Duane Stevenson, the Secret Service agent, Kevin Dunn as Alan Reed, White House Communications Director, and Ben Kingsley as Vice-President Nance. This is a funny, heart-warming movie with a love story and a happy ending. It's a film you will enjoy again and again.

Labels: comedy, politics, romance, satire
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=94, viewers=71)
Blu-ray


Groundhog Day (1993) [PG] *****

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a Pittsburgh TV weatherman. He's bored, cynical, and fed-up with everything about his job, especially the annual 85-mile pilgrimage east to Punxsutawney, PA to report on Punxsutawney Phil, a large groundhog who predicts the weather. According to tradition, when Phil emerges from his Gobbler's Knob burrow on Groundhog Day, February 2nd, if he sees his shadow it means six more weeks of winter weather. Making the trip with Phil are Larry (Chris Elliott) his cameraman, and Rita (Andie MacDowell) his new producer, who drives Phil crazy with her enthusiasm and optimism. They videotape the event, but a blizzard forces them to stay the night in Punxsutawney, and when Phil's alarm awakens him at 6AM, he discovers that it's Groundhog Day all over again.

Day after day this happens - each morning at 6AM he awakens and starts Groundhog Day all over again. Phil discovers that he can't change anything, and that nothing he does has any consequences. At first he lives only for pleasures and thrills, enjoying gluttony, armored car theft and pleasures of the flesh. But after failing to seduce Rita, Phil becomes depressed and tries several forms of suicide, all without success. And so, gradually Phil begins to change himself; he explores self-improvement - studying French, piano and ice sculpture. Next he discovers service - rescuing people from injury and death. Finally Phil realizes that what he really wants is a deep, loving relationship with Rita.


This is a wonderful story about personal growth; Danny Rubin's screenplay is wildly creative with well-crafted scenes and memorable dialog. Director Harold Ramis elicits endearing performances from Murray and MacDowell, who have good romantic chemistry, and he also gets fine supporting performances from Chris Elliott and from Stephen Tobolowsky as Ned, an old high school classmate of Phil's. If you enjoy stories about people trapped by time, like Pleasantville, you won't want to miss Groundhog Day. 


Labels: comedy, fantasy, romance, space-time
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 72/100
Tomatometer (critics=96, viewers=87)
Blu-ray

Indian Summer (1993) [PG-13] ****

This is a charming, nostalgic story about eight thirty-something adults who come to a reunion at the summer camp they attended as teenagers, to relive the warm, carefree summers they spent sailing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, growing up and falling in love.

There's Beth (Diane Lane) recently widowed, who had met and fallen in love with her late husband at camp, and who wanted to immerse herself in camp memories and be sad; Matt (Vincent Spano) and Kelly (Julie Warner) who had also met at camp, had married years later, raised two children and whose marriage has grown silent and passionless, as Matt has become resentful of his job and his life responsibilities; Jennifer (Elizabeth Perkins) who once had a passionate summer camp romance with Matt, and who is lonely and feeling that life is passing her by; Brad (Kevin Pollak), Matt's cousin and hard-driving business partner, who designs and manufactures outdoor apparel, who plays practical jokes and who is out of touch with his feelings; Jamie (Matt Craven) who is single and a player, and who has brought his current girlfriend Gwen (Kimberly Williams), whom he'd met on the ski slopes at Aspen and who is barely twenty-one; and Jack (Bill Paxton) who has come all the way from L.A. because he needs to find and return something he'd stolen and buried in anger long ago.

And drawing them all together is Unca Lou Handler (Alan Arkin) the camp's aging owner, who had guided and counseled them through so many long-ago summers, and who wants to share with them some stories about the camp's past and some ideas about its future.

If you love warm-hearted, character-driven, nostalgia-rich, reunion-themed films like The Big Chill and When Harry Met Sally..., then you won't want to miss Indian Summer. It's a film that will reconnect you with your own youth, and your memories of summertime and camping, a film you will want to revisit again and again.

Labels: comedy, drama, reunion, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=65, viewers=66)
Blu-ray

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sleepless in Seattle (1993) [PG] *****

Sam Baldwin is a Chicago architect. After Maggie, his beloved wife, falls ill and dies, every place Sam goes reminds him of her. Needing real change, Sam and his seven-year-old son Jonah move to Seattle. Jonah misses his mother and fears he's forgetting her. One night, eighteen months later, Jonah calls Dr. Marsha, a radio talk-show therapist, and asks her to help him find a new wife for his dad - and a new mother for him.

Dr. Marsha persuades Jonah to put Sam on the phone, and thousands of women listening in open their hearts to him; Dr. Marsha is deluged with letters addressed to Sleepless in Seattle. One listener, Annie Reed, is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Sam's story touches her deeply; despite the fact that she's engaged, she's irresistibly drawn to Sam. She hires a private investigator, tracks Sam down in Seattle and writes him a letter inviting him to meet her on the top of the Empire State Building on St. Valentine's Day - just like in An Affair to Remember. Jonah replies, pretending to be Sam, agreeing to meet.

How Jonah gets from Seattle to New York, and what Sam does when he finds Jonah missing forms the emotional, compelling third act of this heart-warming, Holiday-season romantic comedy-drama. Nora Ephron's Oscar-nominated screenplay is matched by perfect performances from Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and Ross Malinger as Jonah, and from Bill Pullman as Walter, Annie's fiance, Rosie O'Donnell as Becky, her confidant, and Barbara Garrick as Victoria, Sam's girlfriend. The memorable soundtrack includes some great classic ballads.

This is a film for the hopelessly romantic, for someone who believes in love at first sight, in destiny and in signs. It's as though the Fates have a plan to bring Sam and Annie together, so two half-lives can be made whole, and create a loving home for a little boy who yearns for a new mother and for happiness for his father. If you enjoyed The Santa ClauseWalt Disney's The Kid or The Rookie, I predict you will really treasure Sleepless in Seattle.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 71/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=65, viewers=66)


For Love or Money (1993) [PG] **

Doug Ireland (Michael J. Fox) is a New York City hotel concierge with a dream. He wants to turn an old Roosevelt Island building he's found into a hotel. He's optioned the property, written a business plan and pitched the idea to wealthy real-estate developer Christian Hanover (Anthony Higgins). When Doug learns that Hanover is going to fund his project, he's excited. But when he learns that Hanover's mistress is Andy Hart (Gabrielle Anwar), the lovely, young salesgirl he's been ardently pursuing, Doug bitterly reminds himself: Don't want what you can't have.

This is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but there isn't much romance, probably because Fox has never been a strong romantic lead. He's typically depicted as assertive and hyperactive, and usually paired with sweet, innocent actresses such as Lea Thompson in Back to the Future and Tracy Pollan in the Family Ties TV series. Casting Gabrielle Anwar in For Love or Money was consistent with this pattern. Twenty-two when the film was shot, she's more teenage ingénue than femme fatale. Despite wearing tightly-fitting outfits to make her look sexy and mature, Anwar still looks more like Higgins' daughter than his mistress. Viewers who expect a Fox-Anwar romance will be disappointed. There's almost no chemistry between the two, and the screenplay barely develops their relationship. As a result this film will be mainly enjoyed by fans of Fox and those who like Anwar's earlier work.

Labels: comedy, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=32, viewers=46) 


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Monday, May 18, 2009

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A River Runs Through It (1992) [PG] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

Watching A River Runs Through It is a little like leafing through an old photograph album. It conjures up feelings and images, many of them bittersweet, and all of them nostalgic. This is one of those motion pictures that truly transports you to another time and another place.

A River Runs Through It is a simple story about a typical, early-twentieth century Montana family. It traces the lives of two brothers from boyhood to adulthood. Water -- and a river in particular -- is an important symbol for the twisting, rocky path of life, and it's never far from any scene. In fact, this may be a case of imagery being too obvious.

The two main characters, Norman and Paul Maclean, are portrayed by a pair of up-and-coming young actors, Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt (from Thelma and Louise and the too-cool Johnny Suede). Tom Skerritt, as the boys' father, and Emily Lloyd, as Norman's girlfriend, lead a team of equally-solid supporting players. Skerritt especially has a daunting job, which he carries off with aplomb: showing the loving, caring man beneath the stiff, Puritanical preacher's facade.

The cinematography (by Philippe Rousselot) is on par with the best of the year. This is a beautifully-shot film, and director Robert Redford (who also provides the voice-over narration) has paid painstaking attention to detail. The subtle humor is unforced and character-based. One of the best elements of A River Runs Through It is the effectively understated romance that develops. This has the feel of something genuine: sweet, touching, and sentimental. In that way, it is much like the movie as a whole.

A River Runs Through It avoids manipulating the audience's emotions, even though it has numerous chances to do so. Events happen; they aren't forced on us. Through this straightforward method of storytelling, the impact is strengthened. A River Runs Through It is a fine motion picture and, if it's a little slow in parts (especially the beginning), those moments are worth sitting through to experience the rest.

Label: drama, sport



Sunday, May 17, 2009

Belle Époque (1992) [R] *****



Belle Époque (The Age of Beauty), is Spain's brief period of freedom and tranquility between the end of the monarchy and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The film stars Jorge Sanz as Fernando, an innocent, young army deserter wandering the Spanish countryside. He finds himself at the home of Don Manolo (Fernando Fernan Gomez) a wealthy, aging artist with four beautiful daughters. Unable to believe his good fortune, Fernando cannot decide which of the girls to romance. The girls decide for him and each of them seduces Fernando in turn. The daughters include Violeta (Ariadna Gil), adventurous and bisexual; Rocio (Maribel Verdu), glamorous, sensuous and free-spirited; Clara (Miriam Diaz Aroca), a repressed widow who yearns for a companion; and Luz (Penélope Cruz) - the youngest, a virgin who wishes she were not.

Don Manolo's home becomes a kind of paradise for Fernando. He has everything he could wish for: freedom, friendship, love, sex, stimulating conversation, cuisine, art... all the things that make life interesting. Of course we know that it cannot last. There is political turmoil under the surface. Four forces - the monarchy, the church, fascism and communism - are contesting for control of Spain, just as Don Manolo's four beautiful daughters are competing for Fernando's affections. Belle Époque won nine Goyas (Spanish Oscars) in 1992, as well as the 1994 Academy Award for best Foreign Language Film. It can be appreciated as a light bedroom farce, as a social commentary on 1930's Spain, or as an anti-war political statement. You can watch the DVD in Spanish with English subtitles, or with the English language soundtrack.

Labels: comedy, drama, French-language, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=94, viewers=77)
Blu-ray

Enchanted April (1992) [PG] ****


Enchanted April, directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mona Lisa Smile) is a character-driven, romantic comedy-drama that takes place in London, immediately after the close of World War I. Two rather shy married English women (Josie Lawrence and Miranda Richardson) impulsively rent an Italian villa called San Salvatore, and embark upon a vacation without their spouses. They are joined by two other ladies: an aging, imperious widow (Joan Plowright), and an elegant, spirited, upper-class beauty (Polly Walker). Under the spell of the exotic location, the four women have a variety of amusing and surprising life-altering experiences. The strong supporting cast includes Alfred Molina, Michael Kitchen and Jim Broadbent. If you enjoyed A Room with a View (1985), you won't want to miss Enchanted April.

Label: drama     
Internet Movie Database     
Tomatometer critics=82, viewers=84)

Chaplin (1992) [PG-13] *****


Everyone has a wild side. Even a legend. If you are a fan of Robert Downey Jr., of the films of Charlie Chaplin, of the music of the late great John Barry, of Hollywood film history, or simply of great film making, you'll enjoy this biopic of the life of Hollywood film legend Chaplin.

Robert Downey Jr. turns in an Oscar-nominated performance, and there are outstanding supporting performances from: Geraldine Chaplin (as Charlie's mother Hannah), Moira Kelly (as Charlie's first love Hetty Kelly and as his last love and wife Oona O'Neill Chaplin), Paul Rhys (as Charlie's half-brother Sydney), John Thaw (as vaudeville impresario Fred Karno), Anthony Hopkins (as book editor George Hayden), Dan Aykroyd (as silent film pioneer Mack Sennett), Marisa Tomei (as Sennett's actress and director Mabel Normand), Penelope Ann Miller (as Charlie's leading lady Edna Purviance), Kevin Kline (as Douglas Fairbanks), Maria Pitillo (as Mary Pickford), Milla Jovovich (as Charlie's first wife Mildred Harris), Diane Lane (as Charlie's third wife Paulette Goddard) and Kevin Dunn (as FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover).

Directed by Richard Attenborough, the film is as fresh and entertaining as it was when it was released nearly twenty years ago.

Labels: biography, comedy, drama, filmmaking

Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=57, viewers=82)
Blu-ray

Wikipedia - Charlie Chaplin

If you appreciate Robert Downey Jr's incredible talent as an actor, but you've never heard him sing, you will enjoy this video montage of the film Chaplin, set to the song Smile, which was written by Charlie Chaplin and performed by Robert Downey Jr. himself.

Charlie Chaplin's song Smile, from Chaplin, sung by Robert Downey Jr.



Peter's Friends (1992) [R] ****



The Big Chill meets Four Weddings and a Funeral in this character-driven comedy/drama about six Cambridge University friends who graduated in 1982 and meet for a ten-year reunion on New Year's Eve at the English country estate of one of them. The screenplay contains plenty of witty dialogue, and the acting performances are generally appealing and believable. The cast clearly had a lot of fun making this film.

One minor criticism is that the growth and transformation of each character is very predictable. As a result, not much is left to the imagination, major plot developments are telegraphed well in advance, and there are very few surprises.

Nevertheless, if you enjoy strong performances by Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, or you just enjoy ensemble romantic comedy/drama with a British flavor, films like Four Weddings and a Funeral or Love Actually, you probably will really enjoy Peter's Friends.

Labels: comedy, drama, reunion, romance

The Cutting Edge (1992) [PG] *****

This is a wonderful story about a hockey player who suffers a career-ending injury in a winter Olympics, but gets a second chance at greatness, four years later, as an Olympic pairs figure skater.

D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly play the leads, and are very believable as a rough-around-the-edges hockey star and a wealthy, sheltered ice princess. Opposites definitely attract, and there's terrific chemistry between Sweeney and Kelly, both on and off the ice. This is a great date movie, with beautiful figure skating and a happy ending. Moira Kelly does some of her best acting in this role. She's as credible as she was in Chaplin and With Honors.

Labels: christmas, comedy, drama, romance, sport
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=60, viewers=77)
Blu-ray

Forever Young (1992) [PG] ****

Set amid the beautiful scenery of the California coast, north of San Francisco, this is the story of Daniel McCormick (Mel Gibson), an Army Air Corps test pilot who is flight-testing the B-25 Mitchell bomber just before WWII. He's in love with his childhood sweetheart, Helen (Isabel Glasser) but can't bring himself to ask her to marry him. When a nearly fatal accident sends Helen into a coma, Daniel fears he's missed his chance for happiness. Despondent over his loss, he volunteers for a dangerous cryogenics experiment being conducted by his friend Harry Finley (George Wendt).

Fifty-three years later, Daniel is accidentally awakened from his state of suspended animation by ten-year-old Nat Cooper (Elijah Wood) and a friend. Nat and his mother Claire (Jamie Lee Curtis) befriend Daniel and try to help him adjust to life in 1992, but only succeed in making him realize how completely lost and alone he really is. While Daniel searches desperately for his friend Harry, young Nat becomes Daniel's guide to the late 20th century, as well as helping Daniel understand the strength of his undying love for Helen. In exchange, Daniel teaches Nat how to fly a B-25 bomber and gives the youth the confidence to sing to Alice (Veronica Lauren), the object of his preteen affections. 
The only aspect to the film I found puzzling was Daniel's apparent lack of interest in modern aircraft technology, given that he was a test pilot. But it is a minor flaw and easily forgiven. 

This touching movie reaffirms the significance of family and friends, the importance of communicating our deepest feelings to those we love, and the value of treasuring the few years of life on Earth we are given. The screenplay is outstanding, and the acting is excellent. Gibson has terrific chemistry with both Glasser and Curtis. The soundtrack is beautiful with some wonderful Billie Holiday songs.


Additional supporting cast members include: Joe Morton (Dr. Cameron), Nicolas Surovy (John), David Marshall Grant (Lt. Col. Wilcox USAF), Robert Hy Gorman (Felix), Millie Slavin (Susan Finley) and Art LaFleur (Alice's father).

While Warner Brothers Studios released Forever Young years ago as a widescreen laserdisc, the DVD is only available in a full-frame format (4:3 aspect ratio) with mediocre video quality, and a Blu-ray disc has not yet been released. Thankfully, a widescreen HD format version of the film is available on Netflix streaming video and on cable TV premium channels like HBO.

Labels: adventure, comedy, drama, flying, romance, sci-fi, space-time
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=54, viewers=62)
Blu-ray
Amazon

Sneakers (1992) [PG-13] *****

Sneakers is a crime comedy, a psychological drama, and a rather violent spy thriller. Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) heads a firm of private investigators that specializes in testing bank security systems by disabling those systems and actually breaking into the banks. His team is made up of an unusual assortment of computer/cryptography talent including former CIA agent Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier), conspiracy theorist Mother (Dan Aykroyd), blind digital sound effects wizard Whistler (David Strathairn), and street-wise thief Carl (River Phoenix). As Martin's girlfriend Liz (Mary McDonnell) quips: you don't have a business, you have a boys' club.

Then one day, two men, (Timothy Busfield, Eddie Jones) purportedly from the National Security Agency, offer Martin an interesting job... to steal a little black box, containing a very powerful cryptography tool, designed by a theoretical mathematician (Donal Logue). At first, Martin turns down the offer, but the men are very persuasive, and they know some things about his past that leave Martin no choice but to accept. Actually stealing the device turns out to be surprisingly easy, but then, while Martin and his team are waiting to turn it over to the NSA, they start playing around with it and discover that it's not just a code breaker... it's THE code breaker, and as Crease observes: there isn't a government on this planet that wouldn't kill us all for that thing.

Despite a few plot holes, and a somewhat dated appearance, technology-wise, Sneakers is still pretty entertaining, especially if you can downshift quickly from comedy to mayhem. The supporting cast includes Ben Kingsley, Stephen Tobolowsky, George Hearn and James Earl Jones. The acting talent assembled for this film is amazing, and it's obvious that they all had fun making Sneakers. If you enjoyed BanditsOcean's Eleven, and The Italian Job, you'll definitely enjoy Sneakers.

Labels: action, comedy, crime, mystery, thriller
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=81, viewers=80)
Blu-ray

Mr. Baseball (1992) [PG-13] ***

Jack Elliot (Tom Selleck) is an aging Yankees baseball star whose larger-than-life ego has outlasted his prowess on the field. And then his manager delivers the worst possible news: Jack has been sold to a Japanese baseball team, the Chunichi Dragons.

Arriving in Tokyo tired and drunk, Jack is met by his assigned interpreter Yoji (Toshi Shioya) who introduces Jack to the team owners. Later, Jack meets Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), the team's marketing rep, who explains that the Dragons can license him to promote any product or service they want, and he cannot refuse. He meets Max (Dennis Haysbert) another gaijin (foreign) baseball player, who was hired five years earlier to help the Dragons win the pennant. And finally, Jack meets Uchiyama (Ken Takakura), the team manager, who knows that Jack is a sloppy player but hopes he still has a good year left in him.

At his first batting practice, Jack finds out he cannot hit the shuuto, a pitch that breaks down and away on left-handed batters, and is known as the great equalizer. Jack shrugs off coaching to fix the hole in his swing, and stubbornly refuses to accept the fact that the game of baseball is played differently in Japan. Although he is revered as Mr. Besoboru, when the other teams' pitchers start using the shuuto, Jack goes into a major league slump which threatens to end both his and Uchiyama's careers. To take Jack's mind off his slump, Hiroko artfully seduces him, and Jack finds himself falling in love with her until he discovers she is Uchiyama's daughter!

This is a delicious romantic comedy that proves that acceptance and cooperation are also strengths, and that we can all learn, grow and change. There's good romantic chemistry between Jack and Hiroko, and the relationship between Jack and Uchiyama is well-written with growth of respect and understanding on the part of both men. If you enjoy baseball-themed comedies, I predict you will enjoy Mr. Baseball.

Labels: baseball, comedy, cross-cultural, romance

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=42, viewers=56)


The Mysterious Case of Aya Takanashi
At the bottom of the above web post is this comment:
I met Aya Takanashi in 2005 while in Japan on business. She is co-owner of an upscale bar in Hokkaido. She does some voice-over work in Japan and is married to a banker, as of May, 2005. We talked about Mr. Baseball and she said she is often recognized by American tourists.




Medicine Man (1992) [PG-13] ***

Dr. Robert Campbell (Sean Connery) is a research biologist working deep in the Amazon rainforest, living with a Brazilian native tribe. Although he doesn’t provide progress reports to the foundation supporting him, he cryptically requests a research assistant and a gas chromatograph. To find out why, the foundation’s research director, Dr. Rae Crane (Lorraine Bracco) treks to his remote station, where Campbell claims he’s found a cure for cancer in the extract of a bromeliad plant he saw the tribe’s medicine man gathering. Unfortunately, while his first batch of extract was successful, he can’t reproduce the process, and has very little of the original batch left. And when they isolate the active ingredient using the gas chromatograph, Crane concludes that it cannot be synthesized.

Then Campbell diagnoses one of the tribal youths with a throat tumor that threatens to kill him, but if they use the last of the extract to save his life, they’ll have none left for the foundation to analyze further. Even worse, Campbell and Crane find themselves in a race against time as highway-building crews approach nearer and nearer, clearing the forest as they go, and threatening the habitat of the bromeliad, as well as the tribal village.

Sean Connery is convincing as the renegade biologist who is dealing with his own inner demons resulting from past research errors, while Lorraine Bracco is humorous as the urban research director, trying to adjust to life in the wild. The cinematography is gorgeous, the pro-environmental, anti-globalization message is clear, and the simple storyline and measured pace of the film are appropriate. However, there are a few plot holes, and the age difference between Connery and Bracco, as well as the lack of any romantic chemistry between the two, prevents this from being a really satisfying story.

Labels: adventure, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=20, viewers=46)


Scent of a Woman (1992) [R] ****

A film review by Roger Ebert, December 23, 1992.

The colonel sits alone in his room, drinking and nursing his self-pity. He is a mean, angry, sarcastic man. We sense he has always been lonely, but never lonelier than now, when he is trapped inside blindness. He lost his sight late in life, through his own stupidity, and now he gets drunk and waits for victims. There is hope for him, however, because of two fugitive threads in his personality: He is a romantic. And he possesses a grudging sense of humor.

The colonel, whose name is Slade, and who does not like to be called Sir, is played by Al Pacino in one of his best and riskiest performances - risky, because at first the character is so abrasive we can hardly stand him, and only gradually do we begin to understand how he works and why he isn't as miserable as he seems.

He certainly seems like a sad, sorry SOB that first day when Charlie Simms goes to housesit for him. Charlie (Chris O'Donnell) is a student at the exclusive local prep school - a scholarship kid from out West who doesn't have money to throw around and is happy to have this weekend job, keeping an eye on the old guy. Charlie is in a lot of trouble at school. There's going to be a disciplinary hearing on Monday about who pulled the prank that damaged the headmaster's new Jaguar, and Charlie, who knows who did it, doesn't want to be a stoolie. He could get expelled for that.

Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman takes Charlie and the colonel and places them in a combination of two reliable genres. There's the coming-of-age formula, in which an older man teaches a younger one the ropes. It's crossed here with the prep school movie, which from A Separate Peace through If
TapsDead Poets Society and True Colors, has always involved a misfit who learns to stand up for what he believes in.

The two genres make a good fit in Scent of a Woman, maybe because the one thing Charlie needs in school is a role model, and the one thing the colonel has always known how to do is provide one. The screenplay is by Bo Goldman (Melvin and Howard), who is more interested in the people than the plot.

Charlie thinks the weekend will be spent in the colonel's grim little cottage, watching the old guy drink and listening to his insults. The colonel has other ideas - more than Charlie can even begin to guess. He buys them a couple of tickets to New York and announces that they are going to do some partying in the big city. In particular, he wants to indoctrinate the younger man with his ideas about women and how they are the most wonderful beings in all of God's creation.

The colonel's ideas are not Politically Correct. On the other hand, he is not a sexist animal, either; he has an old-fashioned regard for women, mixed with yearning and fascination, and the respect of a gentleman who has lived his life in the military and never known a woman very well. He almost believes he can inhale a woman's scent and tell you all about her - what color her hair is, or her eyes, and whether she has a merry light in her eyes.

All of this is done against a backdrop of very serious drinking, which Charlie looks at with growing alarm. The movie does not make the mistake of making the colonel and the student into pals with instant camaraderie. Charlie keeps his distance. He is a little afraid of the colonel, and very afraid of what might happen to him.

They rent a limousine. They take a suite at the Waldorf. They talk. The colonel lectures. Charlie, who distrusts him, answers politely, remaining guarded. The colonel does not seem to notice.

They drink. They go to a hotel ballroom, where Charlie notices a beautiful young woman (Gabrielle Anwar), and the Colonel engages her in conversation and talks her into doing the tango with him. He's a pretty good dancer. He is even better as an old smoothie.

There is something so touching with him. All of his life, he confides to Charlie, he has dreamed of waking up beside a good and beautiful woman. The limo driver takes them to the address of a highly recommended call girl. Charlie waits in the car. The movie could have spoiled everything by going inside with the colonel, but it stays outside with Charlie, and when the colonel comes out again he says very little, but in it we can guess that he regards woman as the undiscovered country of all good and reassurance, a country he will never live in.

They arrive at a crisis, and Pacino and O'Donnell engage in the emotional equivalent of the showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. It's quite a scene - the real conclusion of the movie, although Charlie's story still has to find its own conclusion, when the two men go back to the prep school. By the end of Scent of a Woman, we have arrived at the usual conclusion of the coming-of-age movie, and the usual conclusion of the prep school movie. But rarely have we been taken there with so much intelligence and skill. [Ebert's rating: *** out of 4]

Label: drama, high school, teenager
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 59/100 
Tomatometer (critics=88, viewers=92) 
Blu-ray

Singles (1992) [PG-13] ****


Singles is an independent production with minimal production values, an uninspired script and a great soundtrack. It's successful as a quasi-documentary of the Gen-X grunge music scene in early 1990's Seattle, as a milestone in the career of writer/director Cameron Crowe, and as an example of the early work of four young actors and actresses who later rose to film stardom.

Steve (Campbell Scott), Janet (Bridget Fonda) and Cliff (Matt Dillon) are residents of a seedy apartment building in Seattle. Steve and Janet used to be a couple but now are just friends, because Janet is chasing Cliff, who's a musician with his own band. Steve is an urban planner, and when he meets Linda (Kyra Sedgwick), an environmental activist, he realizes that it's really important for him to get the relationship right, to make it work, especially since he lost Janet.


The message in this film is that making the connection, finding the enduring, loving relationship is important, but sometimes we're just not mature enough, or open enough, or flexible enough, or giving enough to make it last. And sometimes the timing is wrong, and no matter how much we care, no matter what we say or do, it isn't meant to be. Campbell Scott, Bridget Fonda and Kyra Sedgwick are especially compelling in this character-driven, ensemble romantic comedy, so if you enjoyed films like Beautiful Girls, Chasing Amy, Garden State, Reality Bites, or Say Anything…, or if you're a fan of Cameron Crowe's work, especially Almost Famous, then you might give Singles a try. 

Labels: comedy, romance  
Internet Movie Database  
Tomatometer (critics=80,viewers=73) 
Blu-ray

Saturday, May 16, 2009

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Regarding Henry (1991) [PG-13] ***

Henry Turner (Harrison Ford) is a brilliant but ruthless defense attorney, the star of his big-city law firm, and a player who will bend the rules of ethical behavior to win an important case. He's grown emotionally distant from his wife, played by Annette Bening, and his teen-age daughter. Then, in a twist of fate, Turner is shot during a convenience store robbery, and he's left seriously disabled. During the long months of convalescence and rehabilitation Henry learns some things about the person he used to be, and he doesn't like what he learns, so he decides to change.

Regarding Henry is a wonderful, heart-warming, uplifting story about a man who turns his life around and rediscovers the value of a loving family. This is a classic theme... a man becomes so comfortable with the fantasy of his life that he forgets his essential nature, and is only brought back to reality by a life-changing event. This theme is so much a part of our culture, in fact, that we've condensed it into a visual joke: a woman slaps a man across the face, and, shaking his head, he admits, ruefully: Thanks, I needed that!


Harrison Ford has starred in several other similarly-themed romances, including Six Days, Seven Nights with Anne Heche, Random Hearts with Kristin Scott Thomas, and Sabrina, in which Julia Ormond actually does slap Ford across the face, and he actually does thank her. If you enjoyed those films, then you won't want to miss Regarding Henry.

Label: drama