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Murderball (2005)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly Emotional, 29 April 2006

This is a surprisingly emotional film - especially when you consider that the protagonists are a group of surprisingly macho guys. Their main qualities are extreme competitiveness, irony, and loads of dark humor that would make a lot of "normal" people cringe.

I, however, LOVED this movie . . . and I'm a non-athletic, flabby, able-bodied, middle-aged, Midwestern housewife! I would hang out with these guys any day of the week.

I found myself tearing up quite often during the film, especially the sequences concerning Joe Soares. I don't admire the route he took (a lawsuit) in dealing with his personal disappointment over being cut from Team USA, but I came to greatly admire his tough exterior and (subsequent to his heart attack) his tenderness with a son who couldn't be more UNLIKE him. Speaking of Joe's son: I have to take issue with a previous reviewer who referred to the boy as "effeminate." The boy is simply not athletic, that's all. He's not FEMININE, for heaven's sake! And I think Joe would probably be the first one to pound the sh*t out of anyone who said so.

The filmmakers did a great job of illustrating that these quad athletes (and by association, ANYONE wheelchair-bound) live lives as full - if not fuller than - the average able-bodied person, including dating and sex. I thought adding the material concerning the particulars of how quadriplegics go about having sex was interesting and quite brave. It's a subject a lot of filmmakers would have - and have in the past - shied away from. This aspect of the movie brought me closer to the guys, rooting for them to find love just as I would for any other young, virile man. And I'm not talking just about the 'Hallmark card' variety of love, either. Frankly, I just wanted them to - you know - "get some."

I found myself screaming at the TV during the rugby matches, and I hardly ever do that during the regular Olympics. I wasn't screaming and crying because of some kind of misplaced admiration for what these men have overcome - but because of the sheer level of fierceness in their hearts and just how much THEY wanted to win. Too many able-bodied, international-level athletes get caught up in the hoopla, the glory, the money, the mega-ego of it all. The quad athletes depicted in the film have their hearts and souls in the exact right place. They're in it for a pure love of the game. They want to move, they want to feel their blood pounding in their ears, they want to feel ALIVE. And they are. Oh, they really ARE.

I didn't want this film to end. I wanted to follow and cheer on these men and their friends/families right up to . . . this very minute.

I will be adding this DVD to my library as soon as possible. It'll take an honored place up right up there with my all-time favorite documentaries.

"Murderball" is a MUST-SEE for anyone looking for what's best in our all-too-human natures.

Closer (2004/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Stripped Down, 19 June 2005

I didn't make an effort to see this film in the theatre, and I think now that wasn't such a bad thing. I watched it in the intimacy of my own bedroom, on the closed space of my PC, paying rapt attention to the dialogue coming from my small speakers.

This film is a contained universe about a handful of experiences and emotions that connect directly to the heart - which is, in the words of one character, "A fist wrapped in blood." There is plenty of verbal blood let here, trust me.

The four characters (essentially the entire cast) play a round-robin game of desire, but not a desire born of tenderness. This desire is a battle of power, with it's participants using sex as their favorite weapon. They want to love, but find themselves unable to meet it's stringent requirements. Instead, they settle for sex as a curdled substitute.

Clive Owen is visceral, cutting, bestial, and oh-SO-smart. He's a gladiator who wins more often than he loses. He may be cruel - but he's a WINNER - and his enemies will never be allowed to forget that.

Julia Roberts is perfectly adequate as a chilly photographer who casually takes, destroys, and doesn't seem to care much about the fall-out. She almost seems to play with men out of profound boredom. If any of these characters can be called amoral, it would be her.

Jude Law comes across as an overly sensitive and boneless jerk who can't decide if he loves anyone more than himself. His character behaves like a petulant child, thus in a key scene with Clive Owen's raging animal, one can practically see Law shrink both physically and emotionally. Indeed, he seems almost grateful for the clarity than Owens provides. Law's performance has been criticized, but frankly he plays a diminished character and I suspect that's not the easiest trick for someone as elegant and beautiful him. He deserves credit.

Natalie Portman is no longer a little girl. She is heartbreakingly beautiful and articulate, yet her character can't be pinned. In the beginning she begs to be loved, but as her character evolves over the course of the film she learns how to use what the Lord gave her - but perhaps not for good. She is excruciatingly aware of how she affects men. I'm not sure she truly enjoys that power. By the time she is betrayed for the final time, the coquettishness is gone - replaced by a woman who despises the men who desire her.

Portman is an actress to contend with. She has a long and bright future ahead of her - and I predict that she will join Roberts as an Oscar winner some day.

The final scene of the film, which focuses solely on Portman's character, left me in tears. Of course, those cellos in the beautiful, haunting, and anguished 'theme' song by Damien Rice went a long way toward turning on my waterworks, too.

This is a humanist movie. Okay, so it's not a movie that's going to make you feel GOOD about the human condition - but it is one that is truthful about the darker meanings of sex, love, and power.

"Closer" is a MUST-SEE for anyone who cherishes a meaty drama.

Atanarjuat (2001)
9 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Fantastic, 25 February 2005

This film is so gorgeous and so memorable that I will be hunting down (pun intended) a copy of it TOMORROW! It's a "must-have" for any serious movie lover's collection.

"The Fast Runner" is unique. How many films have YOU seen that are spoken in the language of the Inuit? Or whose cast is 100% Inuit? OR recount a myth orally passed down within the Inuit community for eons?

I have a hard time believing that this movie runs almost three hours. I felt like I'd just begun to watch it and then - it was over . . . and I continued to sit there and absorb this amazing experience.

There are movies that cost millions upon millions of dollars and feature the biggest stars, yet "The Fast Runner" achieves something most of them can't: an effortless ability to haunt.

Prepare to be stunned by the people, production, locations, music, and power of "The Fast Runner."

10 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
A Comforting Movie, 17 December 2004

I just finished watching this film on our local UPN station. They stuck it on the schedule in the middle of a weeknight - 'filler', of course. We don't have (or want) cable or satellite TV, so I'm always happy to find something a little different - even if it is aired at 2:00 a.m.

What really kind of hooked me about this movie in the first few minutes was not Billy Dee Williams, but the actress who plays "Mother Maria." She's one of those women who have a seemingly effortless moral authority and strength. She also has mesmerizing green(?) eyes. (Ostensibly, Williams is supposed to be the main draw here - but I've always found him to be an actor of limited appeal. Very handsome, of course - but not a great talent.) She was totally believable in the role of a head nun who is committed to providing a home for a bunch of abandoned and neglected kids.

The southwest location is a nice change from the stereotypical snowy Christmas-movie locations.

I also liked the multi-ethnic cast, although the character of the black social worker was a gratuitous, obvious (and highly unlikely, given the setting) romantic interest for Billy Dee.

The movie's low-key, matter-of-fact atmosphere makes for a realistic portrayal of everyday struggles. No supernatural miracles here - just a bunch of people trying to better the lives of unwanted kids.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this quiet little gem. Especially at this time of the year, when I've seen the same holiday films over and over again. Like "A Christmas Story", I'll add this to my roster of under-rated and 'forgotten' holiday movies.

If you run across "Christmas Lillies of the Field" on some lower-rung channel in the middle of the night (like I did) - give it a chance. It's a charming, heartwarming little film that really grows on you.

30 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
Underestimated, 11 August 2004

Well, I guess this is why movies are so personal to the viewer.

I've read some of the other comments here and have seen words like "condescending" and "mediocre."

I couldn't disagree more. "Mississippi Burning" is an intellectually challenging movie. It demands that you immerse yourself in the worst of southern culture, whether you like it or not.

Based on a true story, the film takes place in 1964 (my birth year, incidentally) in a small town ugly and virulent with racism. The good ol' boy sheriff and his stoolies ambush and in cold blood murder three civil rights workers. The world's a-changing, but the power-brokers in this place refuse to let that happen. They'll do anything to prevent blacks from taking their rightful place at the table - literally.

The FBI sends a couple of mismatched agents in to search for the three missing young men. One agent (Hackman) is 'old school', sly, and knows his enemies a little too well. The other (Dafoe) is a naive Kennedy fire-eater, ready to bring the full force of the FBI and military down upon this small town's head. Although he is easy to underestimate at first, he grows into his role, showing astonishing decisiveness and strength.

The relationship between the town's blacks and whites is complicated and fraught with rules - spoken and unspoken. It's a not-so-secret secret that the civil rights workers have been murdered. Hackman and Dafoe just have to get the bodies and the evidence, that's all. Fear and loathing prevent that from happening, until the wife of a deputy (the amazing Frances McDormand) throws herself on the fire and blows her slimy husband's alibi.

There is justice - of a sort - in the end. It's not enough. Real change crawls on it's belly in the south.

"Mississippi Burning" is a movie of operatic gestures. The script is spongey with regional color and snappy, powerful dialogue.

Hackman and McDormand are simply magical. They don't take or make a false step from the first frame to the last. As she would go on to prove in later films, McDormand doesn't just 'play' a character - she IS that character. And Hackman is never more affecting that in this film. One syllable from him is more subtle than an entire Shakespeare speech when delivered by a lesser actor. Hackman is a national treasure.

IMO, Dafoe is a well-meaning revelation until circumstances forces him to cave into Hackman's just-get-it-done ways. He comes to see that idealism must relent to pragmatism in extreme cases, although that knowledge repulses him. He wants nothing more than to get out of the south and go home to a world he believes is cleaner and more simple.

The conclusion of "Mississippi" is more bitter than sweet. The guilty are arrested and convicted, although their various punishments are a joke. (R. Lee Ermey is the only one in the bunch who meets a just fate.) McDormand is brutally beaten to within an inch of her life for betraying the status quo and doing the right thing. Although she and Hackman have fallen in love, she refuses to leave with him because "this" - gesturing to the vandalized ruins of the house she was born in - "is my home."

I know the history, and I know this movie inside and out. And yet I still bawl like a baby every time I see it. The power of this film and the fact that "Mississippi" is based on ACTUAL EVENTS never fails to get to me.

"Mississippi Burning" has a place in my 'Top 50 Dramas.'

51 out of 63 people found the following review useful:
Unique Gem, 4 August 2004

Okay, so Bette and Gloria lost out to Judy Holliday in this Oscar race 50 years ago. In 20/20 hindsight, have there not been enough scenery-chewing, over-the-top dramatics that have won Academy Awards over the years? Even the least of actors acknowledge that comedy is more difficult to play well than drama.

When I watch "Born Yesterday" - I KNOW I'm observing two masters at work: Judy Holliday and Broderick Crawford. (Holden gives a good performance, of course, but can't hold a light to his co-stars in this particular project.) Holliday is mesmerizing with every expression, every screechy syllable - and watch those hands during the gin game! Perfection in each gesture. Crawford pulls off a nifty trick by making the viewer simultaneously loathe and feel compassion for his character.

Although she died before I was even a twinkle in my mother's eye, I think I could have hung out with Judy Holliday (nee' Judith Tuvim.) I like intelligent people, and I've read that she was a brilliant woman. Makes sense: it takes some serious smarts to play so dumb. She was a funnier Marilyn before there WAS a Marilyn.

Partially because she died so young, and partially because of her refusal to play patty-cake with the HUAC, she is now an under-appreciated memory. There's one more reason to love Judy: can you think of any other person hauled before the HUAC who had the . . . <ahem> . . . gonads to confound the committee by appearing as a character from one of their own movies? And pull it off? Now that, ladies and gentlemen, takes guts AND brains!

Treasure this unique gem and then . . .

Thank God for the short-lived, but stunning talent of Judy Holliday.

Glory (1989)
162 out of 183 people found the following review useful:
A Classic, 5 June 2004

"Glory" is a modern film classic that highlights a little-known chapter of the Civil War.

I recently purchased the DVD, and was just as moved (if not more so) as the first time I saw it.

Broderick, Freeman, and Washington, along with a stellar cast play it faultlessly. I still remember the brouhaha over the casting of Matthew Broderick as Shaw, and I see that even now some IMDb posters single him out for fault in "Glory." Sorry, but I disagree. One should remember that the real Col. Shaw was a young man in his mid-20s - hardly a grizzled old veteran - despite his high rank. Broderick actually does bear a resemblance to Shaw, and shouldn't be criticized for his boyish looks. I felt every nuance of the burden he carried, and thought Broderick did a wonderful job.

Denzel Washington's powerful acting may never again have a showcase like it did in "Glory." His beauty, rage, and pride scream in every frame. His Oscar for this break-out role was highly deserved. Trip's character is really the distillation of what this film is all about: the black man's heart-rending battle for worth, recognition, and dignity. As far as I'm concerned no one BUT Washington could have played Trip. Thank God for Denzel!

Morgan Freeman is the film's human core. His quiet compassion and leadership keeps the soldiers focused. His one angry confrontation with Trip proves he has the goods to back up a field promotion to Sergeant Major.

Freeman (an appropriate reminder of where surnames come from) is the father figure the regiment desperately needs in a time of death and crisis. The men look to him for his calming wisdom and reasonable, fair demeanor.

Films like "Saving Private Ryan" raised the technical bar for battle scenes.

The fighting scenes in "Glory" are, unfortunately, it's weakest element. The staging and choreography are mediocre at best. And other than a scene where the 54th Massachusetts is given a hero's flanking onto the battlefield beaches of South Carolina, these shots don't emotionally engage the viewer. Still, in the end, "Glory" isn't about big, noisy battles. It's about the transcendence of the human spirit in the face of bigotry, bad treatment, and almost certain death. It's about a watershed moment in our bloody history that elevated us all and must never be forgotten.

"Glory" is, indeed, glorious.

Magnolia (1999)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Beautiful Magnolia, 17 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sure - if you watch this film with a clinical, hey-that-doesn't-make-sense eye 'Magnolia' will disappoint. However, I don't think that this film is intended to be taken literally - so DON'T! Let this movie engage you on an emotional level and you WILL be satisfied.

'Magnolia' is a modern-day parable of how we hide from love and pain and the regret we experience when we do.

The cast is uniformly wonderful, with the gorgeous Tom Cruise leading the way with an over-the-top performance as a 'get-some guru' of astounding sleaze and repulsiveness. In the end, however, there is cause for hope that he might end his misogynistic ways.

Julianne Moore plays a mentally unstable, prescription-drug junkie who discovers her better nature almost too late. She eats the screen up with anger and frustration, while her huge green eyes shadow bottomless anguish.

A fairly unknown young actress, Melora Walters, is convincing in her high-profile role as an (*SPOILER!) incest victim and cocaine addict who latches onto an innocent and too-well-meaning cop (the ever-excellent John C. Reilly.)

Melinda Dillon (the classic 80s film "The Christmas Story") has a small but welcome role as the wife of a spiritually bankrupt TV game-show host (Philip Baker Hall) facing his ugly past for the first time and an imminent death from cancer.

Although I'm one of William H. Macy's biggest fans, this is not one of his best parts. He plays a former whiz kid who didn't live up to his youthful promise and is now a pee-on at an appliance store. Although Mr. Macy does not have the other-worldly good looks of Mr. Cruise - I do wish he would stop taking roles that have him playing pathetic losers ('Fargo', 'The Cooler', 'Panic'.) Mr. Macy's acting talents are such that he could easily play a strong, attractive character once in a while - and his agent ought to know that.

The soundtrack to 'Magnolia' is an eclectic mixture of traditional music and past/present pop that ratchets up the tension and emotion. Warning: get your hankies out!

The film has some magical gimmicks that serve it well: characters singing along with the soundtrack and (*SPOILER) a bizarre deluge of bullfrogs that serves as the climax for the story.

I believe you will thoroughly enjoy 'Magnolia' if you sit down and prepare for a journey through the darkness of the human heart.

Secretary (2002)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not For the Faint of Heart, 21 July 2003

*If you're an inhibited, hung-up, judgemental, or religious person, you probably ought to steer clear of "Secretary."*

This movie is definitely on my Top 10 list!

At the end of the day, this is really a tender love story between two people who have found life tolerable only when they are living "outside the envelope." They recognize the pain and beauty in each other and embark on a long, odd journey to self-discovery.

Both main characters are played to perfection by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. There is real chemistry between the two that reaches out from the screen and ensnares the viewer.

There is plenty of humor here, but it is not of the giggly sort. It's fun to watch these two learn to play off each other, and especially delicious to experience Lee's fustration when Mr. Grey's interest seems to wane (albeit temporarily.)

The soundtrack music couldn't have been better chosen.

I found the film powerfully affecting and erotic. I was so in love with the characters I watched it multiple times over the course of a weekend.

I don't believe anything is perfect, but I do believe that certain things are perfectly UNIQUE and "Secretary" is one of them.