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L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels
L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels
by William Hare
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 29.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book that Makes These Great Films Even Better, July 15 2004
Following up the triumph of his first book devoted to the "Noir" genre, the incisive and entertaining "Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style," one of the best books ever written on the subject, author and film historian William Hare surpasses his own benchmark with this offering, his second volume on Film Noir, "L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels," a comprehensive and thoroughly engrossing book that already has readers and true fans of the cinema rejoicing in the aisles.
Focusing on nine classic "Noir" films, all of which are set in Los Angeles and exemplify the perfection of this particular art form-- and it is most definitely an art form-- Mr. Hare takes us once again into that clandestine world of shadows and fog, neon lights that beckon to lost souls in the night, the hard guys and the femmes fatales who can bring them to their knees in spite of themselves. It's a rich tapestry of the human condition, captured in luxurious black&white (or in the spirit thereof) on a living, breathing canvas called the Silver Screen, which the author masterfully dissects and explores here between the covers of his book.
William Hare's extensive knowledge of his subject is readily apparent in every chapter as he provides his reader-- and those who later view the films discussed here-- the kind of invaluable insights that afford a fresh perspective to even those films that may be personal, oft viewed favorites, such as (in my case) "Criss Cross, starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo; "L.A. Confidential," the film which catapulted Russell Crowe to stardom and secured a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the lovely Kim Basinger; "The Killing," which launched Stanley Kubrick's career and features Sterling Hayden in one of his best roles; and "In A Lonely Place," starring Humphrey Bogart in a stellar performance as a Hollywood screenwriter with a short fuse and a penchant for violence-- something of a departure for Bogart in a role that, once you've seen it, you'll never forget.
As he did in "Early Film Noir,"-- and he deserves to be complimented as a writer and fellow artist for doing so-- Hare recognizes the collaborative effort that goes into the making of these great films: The actors, directors, producers, writers, cinematographers-- all of the artists who contributed to the collective vision that ultimately became "The Film"-- get their just due here from the author. Ralph Meeker, for example, finally gets the kind of acclaim for his dynamic portrayal of Mike Hammer in "Kiss Me Deadly" (arguably his best performance ever), that has long since been overdue. Additionally, by reviewing the resumes of those involved in the making of these nine films, it enables the author to discuss other projects significant to the development of their individual careers and to the "Noir" genre as a whole.
Enhancing the enjoyment of this book further still, is Mr. Hare's command of his craft as a writer. The rhythm and flow of his narrative takes you from page to page with facility, making this one of those books you simply do not want to put down. In the end, "L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels" is an adventure; a journey of exploration and discovery that takes you from the dark alleys of the city to the Pacific Ocean, from Angels Flight Railway to Chinatown and to the San Fernando Valley of yesteryear. By the time you're through, you'll know a lot more about movies and, without question, have a greater appreciation for the artists whose labors of love brought them to life. You'll come away, as well, with perhaps a better understanding of why "Chinatown," for instance, is one of your favorite films, and what exactly made Jack Nicholson's performance as Jake Gittes so memorable. For anyone who loves movies and learning about what makes them tick, this book is an absolute must-have for your library. Kudos to author Hare for his work, and for making the viewing of these magnificent films an experience that just keeps getting better than ever.

Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style
Early Film Noir: Greed, Lust and Murder Hollywood Style
by William Hare
Edition: Paperback
16 used & new from CDN$ 55.78

5.0 out of 5 stars For Anyone Who Loves Movies, March 28 2004
Choosing a book to read is often like delving into Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get. You sample all the nuts, chews and creams and finally you come across that one that is so good, so special, that you just can't get enough of it, you want more. That's the way I felt after reading "Early Film Noir," by William Hare, a book that takes you into the realm of cinematic shadows and perpetual night, where the landscape is shrouded in fog through which neon lights glow and the sound of footsteps in the dark takes on a whole new meaning. Welcome to the world of shady characters, tough stand-up guys and the fast, calculating women who take them all for that long ride on a short pier; welcome to the world of "Film Noir."
Beginning with "The Maltese Falcon," the nine films discussed here in depth by film historian and writer Hare are ones that have given us some of the most magical and memorable moments on the silver screen, movies that veritably define the genre. These are the classic films, favorites of die hard film buffs and casual movie fans alike, all given a fresh perspective and new appreciation under the incisive examination and studied eye of the author.
Taking you behind the scenes for a captivating look at these films from inception to completion to "classic" status, Bill Hare makes you privy to the professional and private lives of those who brought these magnificent movies to life, the collective creative genius behind and in front of the camera and the power struggles, politics and off-screen drama that often equaled or surpassed that which played out on the screen. He introduces you to the leading men, like Humphrey Bogart, who brought Sam Spade so vividly to life in "Falcon;" Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe in "Murder My Sweet;" Fred MacMurray, the doomed Walter Neff in "Double Indemnity;" and the definitive interpreter of "noir," Robert Mitchum, who turned in one of his most memorable performances as the pragmatic Jeff Markham in "Out of the Past." Then there's the leading ladies, the "Femme Fatales," like Claire Trevor, the calculating Ann Grayle of "Murder My Sweet;" Barbara Stanwyck, irresistible as Phyllis Dietrichson in "Double Indemnity;" and the lovely, unforgettable Jane Greer as Kathie Moffett in "Out of the Past." Last, but not least, you meet the array of character actors, all too often overlooked, but without whom these films just wouldn't be the same. Who can forget Mike Mazurki as Moose "Find my Velma!" Malloy in "Murder My Sweet?" or the likes of Greenstreet, Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr., all of whom are at last given their due here.
Acknowledging the collaborative nature of the medium, Mr. Hare, as well as to the actors, gives special consideration to the directors, such as John Huston, Carol Reed and Ken Annakin (who contributed the forward to this book), and the methods through which they managed to bring their personal visions to fruition. He takes a succinct look as well at the writers in whose fertile imaginations these stories were born, novelists and screenwriters including Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Dashiell Hammett (among others). Through his careful and comprehensive exploration of the intricacies and complexities of this multi-faceted business, Mr. Hare offers the kind of insight that engenders a deeper understanding and appreciation of a truly unique art form which, beginning in the early forties, evolved from within the broader spectrum of the field most commonly referred to as that of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
From the first page to the last, the author's passion for and knowledge of his subject is clearly evident, and he treats it accordingly. Eloquent and accessible, "Early Film Noir" is without question the most intelligent and informative-- not to mention entertaining-- book of it's kind I have ever read. In a word, it is transporting. For students of film and filmmaking, the information Mr. Hare provides here will be invaluable; fans of "noir" will find it riveting; and for anyone who has ever had a favorite film, or those who just enjoy a good movie purely for the sake of entertainment, this book will be a rewarding experience. In that big box of chocolates we call The Humanities, this is that one special piece we're all hoping to find. The best way to sum it all up, I think, is to say that I was sorry it had to end; it's one of those rare books you just wish would keep on going forever. This is one for the home library, one you're going to savor and to which you'll find yourself returning again and again. And hopefully, one day Mr. Hare will favor us with yet another volume, an "EFN2." I'll put in my order right now.

No Title Available

1.0 out of 5 stars Watching Paint Dry for Beginners, Dec 7 2002
Back in the early '90s, when I was tooling about making home movies as a lark, and NEVER taking any of it seriously, I had NO idea that I had actually stumbled upon a method of filmmaking that very soon would be touted as THE method of the true, bona fide "auteur" (or, more accurately according to the tenets of the "method" used in this film, the "ANTI-auteur"), and that one day I would be watching "Italian for Beginners," directed by (well, credit for the directing cannot be given, as it would be against the "rules," which I will get to in a moment) and filmed in much the same-- in fact, the EXACT same-- style that I had employed back in what I now know were MY "auteur" (excuse me; my "ANTI-auteur") days. But having watched this film, the evidence is irrefutable; I know, because I've just finished watching the movies I shot back then with my trusty camcorder to get a comparison. And all I can say now is: "STAND ASIDE AND GIVE ME ROOM-- I'M ON MY WAY TO SUNDANCE!"
In 1995, Danish filmmakers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg developed a new (?) filmmaking technique, for which they co-wrote a back-to-basics guide entitled "Dogma 95," a manifesto for filmmakers who, by adhering to the rules set forth in the text, would become a part of the "newest" new wave to hit the industry, subsequently referred to as the "Cinema of Poverty," and with good reason.
If you're thinking of giving this film a go, before you watch it you MUST know something about Dogma 95 to have a chance in the hot place of making it through to the end. There are ten "rules" set forth in the manifesto, as well as an addendum, a handful of items tacked on (afterthoughts?), such as "I am no longer an artist" (which after watching this film I fully understand and agree with). But the main things (rules) you must know going in are these: The movie must be filmed on location, with only a hand-held camera and using only whatever light is naturally available. And "music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot." (Somewhat contradictorily, two of Von Trier's subsequent films were musicals; his disclaimer: "The rules are not meant to 'limit' creativity, but to 'spur it on'). Rule #10 states: "The director must not be credited." In retrospect, the wisdom of THIS rule is beyond reproach.
There IS some substance to this story, imbued as it is with elements of classic Bergman as it examines "loss" on a number of levels through the lives of a small, diverse group of individuals in various stages of disenfranchisement. Their common denominator is the class in, well...Italian for beginners, to which they seemingly gravitate, each with their own specific reasons and motivations. The class becomes a kind of focal point for them; it is here that relationships are formed or honed, and their lives begin to intersect. Now, had only Bergman been on hand to direct them.
These are everyday folks, just going about the business of living; and quite frankly, they aren't all that interesting, nor are their respective stories. The group includes Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund), an obnoxious restaurant employee who hasn't as yet caught on to the "customer/employee" dynamic-- he's self-absorbed, rude and insufferable; Jorgen (Peter Gantzler) lacks self confidence; Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen) a hairdresser who never seems to be able to finish a client (Hal-Finn is in her chair at least three times, but never gets past the hair-wetting phase before some crisis or other calls Karen away, sending poor Hal-Finn away each time with a wet head and no haircut); Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek) who works in a bakery, where no doubt she sells danish (pun intended; I have nothing to lose at this point); and Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), a pastor who has taken a temporary assignment six months after the death of his wife. But listening to the thoughts (and I intentionally do not use the term "ideas" here) of a randomly selected group of postal employees on the dock at 3 a.m. at the post office would be intrinsically more interesting than anything that occurs in this film. Berthelsen, especially, spends the entire movie looking confused, like he's a contestant on Jeopardy! but can't figure out why Alex keeps giving him the answers instead of the questions. Or maybe he's just trying to understand what he's doing in this film to begin with. Where, oh where, is Ingmar when you need him?
On a positive note, the performances here are for the most part quite natural, if not engaging. Kaalund, at least, makes a lasting impression with a character reminiscent of Rutger Hauer's Eric Vonk in "Turkish Delight" (aka "Turk's Fruit"), from 1973; perhaps that's why Hal-Finn is always getting in "Dutch" with his boss (again, pun intended).
The supporting cast includes Sara Indrio Jensen (Giulia), Jesper Christensen (Olympia's Father), Lene Tiemroth (Karen's Mother) and Carlo Barsotti (Marcello). There are those who are going to like, even applaud, this film; personally, I'd rather watch paint dry. To connect with this film one has to be able to embrace, or at least get beyond, the whole Dogma 95 thing. I couldn't. Okay, perhaps I just don't "get" it; to this day I still don't get the Andy Warhol "soup can" deal, either. Just know that "Italian for Beginners" is definitely NOT going to be for everyone. I do find it interesting that the "rules" are also referred to as the filmmakers "Vows of chastity," and that in reviews of Dogma 95 films the terms "chaste," "austere" and "pure" always seem to surface. In the great scheme of things I know it means something; what it is, I don't know. But bear in mind that the manifesto also states, "Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste!" And with that, I rest my case.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (Special Edition)
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Jenna Malone
Offered by CAMusicFiendz
Price: CDN$ 15.88
17 used & new from CDN$ 1.28

4.0 out of 5 stars Growing Up Is Hard To Do, Dec 4 2002
Context is basically what separates one coming-of-age story from another, as well as the way it´¿s presented; the filmmaker´¿s ability to make that all important connection with the audience. Due in no small part to some strong performances, ´¿The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,´¿ directed by Peter Care, is a successful and worthwhile-- even significant-- addition to the genre. Though it works within specific parameters (the subjects are students at a Catholic school), most importantly, the film taps deeply into the internal angst experienced by the individuals who are the focus of Care´¿s incisive study, and the way in which their feelings are externalized in the film offers a satisfying examination of the human condition at a particularly sensitive juncture of life.
Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) is fourteen and in the throes of that inescapable period of change through which we all must pass on the way to becoming who we are as adults. A pupa encased in the cocoon of youth, Francis is straining against that protective shell, attempting to break through into manhood. His family environment is strict, the routine of his life (which includes being an altar boy) is rigid, and puberty is having it´¿s way with him. Adding to his inner conflict, as well, is the fact that his best friend, Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin), is continually engaging in exploits that transcend mischief to the point of being outright foolish and dangerous; daring deeds in which Francis must necessarily take part, in keeping with their own established caste and as Tim´¿s confrere in this business of probing life´¿s eternal mysteries. Not to mention, too, that Francis has discovered something else, quite on his own. And her name is Margie Flynn (Jena Malone).
Luckily (perhaps), Francis manages to vent his pent up frustrations and confusion creatively, through animation. With his friends Joey and Wade (Tyler Long, Jake Richardson), he has created a comic book, ´¿Atomic Trinity,´¿ which features four outcast teenaged boys endowed with superpowers (Tim has been included as ´¿editor´¿). And to channel their hormonal driven rebellion against authority and structure, they have chosen their teacher, Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster), as their target, for in their eyes she personifies all that is wrong with their world. Assigning her the role of Source Of All That Is Bad, she emerges as ´¿Nun-zilla´¿ in their comic, this haven to which they can flee and momentarily escape the realities of a world they haven´¿t as yet figured out. What they don´¿t realize is that Tim is about to involve them in a scheme which, if effected, is going to change their lives forever. And that ´¿safe haven´¿ of theirs may soon be a thing of the past.
Learning to navigate the rapids of life is no easy task, and director Care treats his subject accordingly, with a sensitive and serious rendering of the material (the screenplay was written by Jeff Stockwell and Michael Petroni, adapted from the book by Chris Fuhrman). Care succeeds by avoiding the kind of embarrassing frivolity that is too often associated with a film of this nature. He maintains credibility at every turn, making the story believable by keeping it on the stage of reality, rather than allowing it to wander into the theater of the absurd. The way he presents the relationship between Francis and Margie, for instance, is entirely convincing in the way they tentatively explore their budding sexuality together, rather than lurching ahead with seemingly sudden and inexplicable knowledge and enlightenment. Their discoveries come more from reaction than action, and the result is a very honest and genuine depiction of the situation. And Care uses this approach consistently throughout the film, which goes far in making it a thoroughly thought provoking drama.
As Francis, young Hirsch gives a commanding performance, exhibiting a maturity and grasp of the character that is far beyond his years. There is a complexity to Francis that demands a tremendous emotional range to be convincing, and Hirsch delivers it all and then some, with a portrayal of astounding depth. Here, in his motion picture debut, he emerges as one of the finest young actors in the business today.
Jena Malone also makes a substantial impact with her acute portrayal of Margie, successfully conveying the tortured soul of this young girl who must endure a most distressing secret. There are moments in which the pain derived from her inner turmoil is almost tangible; and that about sums up the quality of her performance here.
Displaying yet another side of the coin is Kieran Culkin, who in Tim creates a character who, unlike the others, internalizes his adolescent discord while outwardly manifesting an almost aloof disdain for caution in all things. We´¿re given indications and a glimpse into the strife existing within his home and family, and it´¿s enough to make us aware of the source of his discontent. It´¿s a solid performance, though he fails to make any real connection with the audience, most likely due to the fact that Tim is quite simply not an easy character to embrace.
The most subtle and understated performance in the film is turned in by Jodie Foster, who though she lacks enough screen time to adequately develop her character nevertheless manages to succinctly reveal exactly who she is and what she´¿s about. She is stern, and obviously a disciplinarian; but though her methods may be too straightforward, even to the point of seeming malicious, she is not, and is far from being the monster ´¿Nun-zilla´¿ depicted in ´¿Atomic Trinity.´¿ On the contrary, she has a good heart and sincerely wants only to instruct her students in ways that will lead them to a fulfilling life. There is obviously more to Sister Assumpta´¿s story, but the focus of the film must necessarily remain elsewhere, and we are left to infer what we may.
A thoughtful, emotionally involving film, ´¿The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys´¿ offers a viable perspective on the rigorous undertaking known as ´¿growing up.´¿

Paul McCartney: Back in the U.S. [Import]
Paul McCartney: Back in the U.S. [Import]
DVD ~ Paul McCartney
Offered by 5A/30 Entertainment
Price: CDN$ 62.66
17 used & new from CDN$ 5.23

5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Just Another Concert, Nov. 28 2002
This film puts you front row center with one of the immortals, Paul McCartney: The Beatle; the icon; and the man. And, of course, there's the music. "Paul McCartney-- Back In the U.S," is much more than "just" the music, however; it's an experience, and one you can now live over and over again thanks to the magic of DVD/video.
The cameras follow Paul and his band on this 2002 tour of the U.S., from New York to Los Angeles (where as they pan the audience you get glimpses of such luminaries as Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, John Cusack and Steve Buscemi, among others) and a number of stops at cities and venues along the way as they crisscross the country. The music is great, Paul looks and sounds good, and you also get some insights into how it all came together and what it's like on the other side of the curtain, through brief interviews and/or comments from Paul, members of his band and others who work so hard behind the scenes to make it all happen (and to give you an idea of the magnitude of their endeavors, it took twelve semi-trucks to haul equipment and sets from one place to the next).
But what really makes this film engrossing is what the eye of the camera captures as it sweeps the audience, which makes it quite evident that this is not just another concert, but history in the making and being revisited, playing out and documented here for posterity, and clearly transcending show business in general and the music business in particular. There are old and young alike in attendance, exhibiting every possible emotion; some through totally uninhibited revelry, others more introspective-- internalizing the moment though every bit as exuberant as those who express themselves openly. And there are some genuinely profound moments captured here, as you can clearly see in the eyes of especially the more "mature" members of the crowd, that McCartney's music is taking them on a tour of their entire lives, creating a personal retrospective for each individual through songs that for them evoke a particular place at a specific time. It's a spontaneous revisiting of good times and bad, as evidenced by the joy, laughter, tears, and for many by the distant, transported look of the eyes, a glassy expression signifying the timelessness, not only of the music, but of the experience itself.
There are those among us who, adopting a most erudite countenance, will dismiss out-of-hand the notion that four mop-haired rock n' rollers from Liverpool changed the world as we know it, but such a stance is nothing less than an unmistakably self-serving denial of the incontrovertible facts of the matter. Directly or indirectly, in one way or another, the Beatles touched the lives of everyone and will continue to do so as each generation discovers them anew in their own way and time, and Paul McCartney is decidedly a part of it still. The music and the influence of McCartney and his mates is forever, and skeptics who stubbornly cling to their life rafts of refusal need look no further than "Paul McCartney-- Back In the U.S." for the proof. And acquiescence will be humbly accepted at the door.

"Scotland, PA (Widescreen)" [Import]
"Scotland, PA (Widescreen)" [Import]
DVD ~ James Le Gros
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 98.82
9 used & new from CDN$ 19.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Willie Shakespeare Is Alive and Well..., Nov. 23 2002
Once again, Shakespeare is afforded a cinematic, contemporary rendering in "Scotland, Pa.," written for the screen and directed by Billy Morrissette, an updated version of the tragedy, "Macbeth," which here becomes a black comedy of tragic proportions. Morrissette jumps on the bandwagon that began in 1996 with Baz Luhrmann's "William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet," which was followed by further spins on the bard's plays, including Julie Taymor's energetic and imaginative "Titus" in '99 and Michael Almereyda's dreadful and dreary "Hamlet" in 2000. Morrissette's offering-- which differs from the others in that it does not retain the Shakespearian language and verse-- falls somewhat beneath Luhrmann and Taymor's films, but far above Almereyda's dismal effort, which was a tragedy in ways that transcended the story. Be advised, this one is a "black comedy" in every sense of the definition, and actually comes in on the absolute "darkest" end of the spectrum. There's no getting around it, "Macbeth" is a depressing story to begin with, and this version decidedly captures the spirit of the play that inspired it.
This story begins with a look at businessman Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn), who after selling his successful donut shops ("Duncan" Donuts, anyone?) has established a hamburger stand, which due in no small part to the innovative ideas of employee Joe McBeth (James LeGros) and the support of Joe's wife, Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney)-- also an employee of Duncan's-- has become a successful enterprise, as well as a harbinger of a chain of fairly well-known burger stands that start with "M" and today enjoy the lion's share of the fast-food market. And now Norm has come up with his best idea yet, one that's going to take the simple burger stand into the future and put Duncan's at the top of the heap.
It's a grand scheme alright, and Norm graciously shares his intentions with his best employees, Joe and Pat. But there's a rub; the idea was originally Joe's, and Norm's taking the credit does not sit too well with the McBeth's, who envision a hamburger joint of their own, "McBeth's," sitting beneath the huge arches formed by the big red "M" of the sign that stands above the entrance to the restaurant. And the whole business goes south very quickly, as "Norm's" idea leads a seething Joe and Pat down a path that must necessarily end in murder and mayhem if their plan is, in fact, acted upon. And is it? For the answer to that, one must look no further than the source material, and keep in mind the term, "tragedy."
Billy Morrissette's is an interesting and fairly imaginative presentation, but in staying true to the essence of the play it takes you, finally, to a very dark place. And even though he supplies a rather amusing ending infused with shrouded irony, be advised, this one's a downer; and it may seem something of a contradiction in terms, but it's going to make you laugh in spite of yourself. And you'll hate yourself in the morning because of it.
Still, there's no denying that this is a clever, if just short of inspired, piece of filmmaking. The single drawback is the casting of LeGros in the lead role; he does a decent job, even acceptable by most standards, but he lacks the screen presence and charisma to really sell it. The part of Joe called for someone like Thomas Jay Ryan, who was so riveting in Hal Hartley's "Henry Fool" in 1998, a film which coincidentally featured another actor who could've pulled this part off successfully, and who happens to have a small, but pivotal role in this film, Kevin Corrigan.
Corrigan, a terrific character actor and unsung veteran of a number of indy films, in this one plays Anthony "Banco" Banconi, a co-worker and friend of the McBeth's who significantly figures into the tragedy as it ultimately plays out. Corrigan has the talent and just the kind of charismatic screen presence the role of Joe called for, and it's too bad that Morrissette and casting director Avy Kaufman didn't recognize the possibility that was right in front of them.
They did strike gold, however, with the casting of Tierney as Pat McBeth. She has a naturally endearing screen presence and expressive eyes that can speak volumes, which she uses to great effect here. And, as she's demonstrated since becoming an integral member of the cast of TV's "ER," she plays extremely well to her "dark" side, which is precisely what the role of Pat called for. Needless to say, she does it quite well, turning in an altogether convincing and entirely believable performance.
Another actor who plays so well to his dark side, Christopher Walken, does a solid turn here as Lt. Ernie McDuff, the investigator probing the shady goings-on at Duncan's hamburger stand. In any role, Walken has a subtle, commanding presence, and this is no exception; here, though, he lends something of a light touch to the proceedings that is nevertheless in keeping with the seriousness of the story. Suffice to say, he does black comedy well. And, without question, it is Walken who "makes" the final shot of the film.
The supporting cast includes Tom Guiry (Malcolm Duncan), Andy Dick (The Hippie Jesse), Amy Smart (The Hippie Stacy), Timothy "Speed" Levitch (The Hippie Hector), Geoff Dunsworth (Donald Duncan), John Cariani (doing a hilarious turn as Ed the Cop), Nate Crawford (Robert/Richard) and Timothy Durkin (Frank the Pharmacist). It may not be especially memorable, but "Scotland, Pa." is just quirky enough to be a worthwhile entry in the Put-A-Spin-On-Shakespeare festival, currently playing on a DVD or video near you.

Slums Of Beverly Hills (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
Slums Of Beverly Hills (Widescreen) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Artistes Divers
Offered by vidsale
Price: CDN$ 17.95
14 used & new from CDN$ 3.10

5.0 out of 5 stars An Honest Depiction of A "Family Unit", Nov. 23 2002
For a long time, the depiction of the family unit in movies and on television was for the most part a sanitized, idealized representation, from movies like the Mickey Rooney "Andy Hardy" series and William Powell's "Life With Father," to the totally stereotypical versions presented on TV in such shows as "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Father Knows Best," which were entertaining, perhaps, but set standards that in reality were simply unattainable; a reflection of real life these movies/shows were not. There was the occasional film like "Rebel Without A Cause" or "The Young Savages," which certainly explored conflicted individuals, but the focus was not on the "family unit" per se. Then gradually, all of that began to change; filmmakers evolved and the screen did begin to more accurately reflect the family dynamic in very real terms, for better or worse, and in 1998, "Slums of Beverly Hills," written and directed by Tamara Jenkins hit the screen, with a depiction of the family unit that's about as honest as it gets.
Murray Abromowitz (Alan Arkin) is 65 years old, divorced and raising three kids on his own. A car salesman, Murray is currently in a "slump." In point of fact, however, his whole life has been one long slump. But he's determined that his children, Ben (David Krumholtz), Vivian (Natasha Lyonne) and Rickey (Eli Marienthal), are going to get a good education, and that means keeping them in the best schools. And that means living in Beverly Hills. It's one of the most "upscale" communities in the world, but he doesn't have to be rich to take advantage of the educational opportunities; as long as they live within the city limits, the kids stay enrolled. It's all a matter of having the right zip code. But there's the rub; it's just not as easy as it sounds, because even living on the periphery of Beverly Hills cannot be successfully effected without "means," and "assets" of any kind are decidedly not a part of Murray's personal resume.
Which means there has to be a plan. And Murray's plan is very simple: You stay one step ahead of the landlord and the monthly rent and you're home free. Which means moving. A lot. As in slipping out in the middle of the night with only as much as you can carry and moving on to the next "dingbat" apartment. And so is goes with the Abromowitz family, living a nomadic existence as part of a very real sub-culture in one of the richest areas on the planet. It's hard, but the kids are getting the education. Murray, however, suddenly has something else to deal with: Vivian, who is about to enter her freshman year at high school. And she is not a "little" girl anymore.
To tell her semi-autobiographical story, writer/director Jenkins has crafted and delivered a thoroughly engrossing film steeped in nuance and gritty realism. It's an incisive portrait of how a dysfunctional family can survive by establishing parameters which allow them to get from point A to point B on a daily basis, and what it takes to maintain the kind of internal support system that enables them to function and stay together, though individually their goals and aspirations may be pulling them in opposite directions. it goes far in disproving the idea that a family in perpetual crisis must necessarily disintegrate.
The story is told through the eyes of Vivian, which gives the film a decidedly personal resonance, as it is obvious that this is where Jenkins' heart resides. And it presents a mature perspective that effectively dispels the stereotypical characterization of the self-absorbed teen mired in the throes of paralyzing angst, which adds considerable credibility to this character driven comedy/drama. Jenkins also successfully captures an entirely genuine "sense" of the whole Abromowitz's environment; the look, texture and "feel" of the film is a reflection of reality, so much so that you can almost actually detect the scent of the apartments, the steaks cooking at Sizzler or that familiar clean/warm smell of the laundry room. An exceptionally insightful film, it sheds some light on the invisible threads that hold us together and keep the myriad facets of our society connected.
What really brings this one to life, though, is the performances Jenkins exacts from her exceptional cast of actors, beginning with Lyonne, who so perfectly embodies the character of Vivian. This is the pivotal part of the film, and with her "natural" presence Lyonne delivers a convincing portrayal through which she precisely conveys exactly what she's thinking and feeling with a combination of facial expressions, body language and simply the inflection of her voice.
As Murray, Arkin gives an extremely affecting and introspective performance, creating a character with whom many in the audience are going to be able to relate and identify on one level or another, as he taps into that sense of not quite being able to figure out how it all works, even after doing it day after day for sixty-five years. In Murray we see a very accurate reflection of the on-going process of sorting out "life"-- a process that, in reality, never ends. It's a performance that takes into account the inherent flaws of being human; it makes us realize that none of us are perfect, but that it's okay-- we just have to keep trying.
One of the finest character actors in the business, indy favorite Kevin Corrigan turns in an effective, understated and unassuming performance as Eliot, the guy with whom Vivian has a "building thing" relationship.
Also giving a memorable performance is Marisa Tomei, as Murray's niece, Rita, who is deliciously tacky and adds some real spice to the film. Her portrayal is earthy and utterly believable, and like Arkin's Murray, is an honest reflection of how most people grapple with the uncertainties of life.
"Slums of Beverly Hills" is a viable exploration of the human condition; a film that helps us understand who we are, and why.

Saturday Night Live: The Best of Steve Martin [Import]
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Steve Martin [Import]
DVD ~ Don Pardo
Offered by vidco
Price: CDN$ 8.99
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Captures A Moment In Time, Nov. 17 2002
He juggles, he plays the banjo, he writes his own material, and just by using the right combination of body language and facial expressions he can merely walk onto a stage and the audience will explode into gales of laughter. His name is Steve Martin, and the way he blends his unique observations of the human condition with physical comedy, he just may be the funniest man on the planet. Unfortunately, since his segue into a successful acting career in motion pictures, he doesn't do stand-up anymore, so thanks be to the comedy gods who provided us with this compilation, "The Best of Saturday Night Live, Hosted by Steve Martin," which features the best of the best and the funniest of the funniest moments that ever visited your living room via the magic portal of the television set.
For those who were around when these shows were first broadcast, this will be a trip down memory lane that you'll want to take again and again, because this is the kind of stuff you can watch over and over and it somehow just keeps getting funnier. For the younger crowd who only know the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live, this will be a real eye-opener, because the "comedy" we're subjected to today simply doesn't hold a candle to that proffered by the Not Quite Ready For Prime Time Players of the early, "golden" years of SNL, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, Bill Murray, Garret Morris and Gilda Radner. And when Martin joined this bunch as host, just didn't get any better than that.
Does this mean that everything the current crop of comics foists upon an unsuspecting audience is without merit and that everything the SNL gang did in '78 and '79 was a masterpiece of comedy to be enshrined in stone? Of course not; the nature of comedy being what it is, and given the fact that the early SNL players were on the cutting edge of things that had never been done on TV before, it follows that some of the bits were not only going to fail, but go down in flames. There were even entire shows back then that weren't funny at all. But stacked against most of what comes down the pike today, there just isn't any comparison. Times change, attitudes change, people change; and with that, comedy must necessarily change. But that doesn't mean necessarily for the better.
Consider some of the bits from this collection, crafted and delivered by Martin (with a little help from his friends): You get a sampling of Steve's opening monologues, which don't even have to be ABOUT anything to be funny (a precursor to "Seinfeld," perhaps?); then there's the hilarious Festrunk Brothers (Martin and Aykroyd), those "wild and crazy guys!" who get laughs just by walking from one side of the room to the other; "Theodoric of York/Medieval Barber" has an underlying intelligence that today's players wouldn't even attempt, and wisely so, as this kind of humor would be beyond the capacity of, and lost on most of today's audience; "Dancing In the Dark" is a hysterically funny interlude featuring Martin and Radner simply dancing (ah, shades of Fred and Ginger); but the highlight of the show has to be Steve doing his now famous "King Tut" bit, which illustrates the ingenuity with which Martin was able to satirically tap into current events and contemporary sensibilities to capture forevermore a reflection of our society as it was at the moment.
This collection also features some of the best moments of SNL in which Martin did not participate: The weekend update (when it was still fresh and original) with Curtin and Aykroyd, and another segment featuring Curtin, Murray and Father Guido Sarducci; a "commercial" with the inimitable Gilda Radner; and another highlight, that historical night that Jake and Elwood, "The Blues Brothers," were introduced to the world. How fitting that it came on a night that Martin was hosting the show.
Without question, comedy is subjective, and the basic impetus shifts from generation to generation; but whether the contemporary audience adapts to the material, or the material adapts to the audience, is open for debate. Still, the "classic" bits that were funny twenty, thirty or fifty years ago remain funny today because they were created in a way and captured an "essence" rooted in human nature that transcends time. And so it is with this collection of singularly entertaining moments offered up for perusal in "The Best of Saturday Night Live, Hosted by Steve Martin," which says more than a little bit about who we were at a particular point in time, as well as something about who and where we are today. And it makes me want to find Steve Martin, just so I can walk up and say to him, "Steve, how did you ever get to be SO funny?"

The Sum of All Fears (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
The Sum of All Fears (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Ben Affleck
Price: CDN$ 16.76
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A Thought Provoking Contemplation of "Where" We Are Today, Nov. 16 2002
"The Sum of All Fears," directed by Phil Alden Robinson, is a cautionary tale that is thought provoking and all too valid, especially in the wake of 9/11.
The screenplay was adapted by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne from the novel by Tom Clancy; the story is a proposition of what could happen if a nuclear bomb fell into the wrong hands, how the preeminent governments of the world would respond and what the outcome would mean to the average citizen living in the Ukraine or in Podunk, U.S.A. It's a hypothetical situation that, quite frankly, a few years ago would've been perceived by most as being as close to reality as "The Martian Chronicles." But not anymore. Looking beyond the drama of the story and the way it's presented, the actual events depicted here are almost too close for comfort and will no doubt evoke a sense of denial in many viewers who still refuse to accept the state of the world as it is today.
The film itself is, of course, a big budget, Hollywood production-- which in not a BAD thing-- but as such the drama is a bit stiff and stilted at times, and the presentation by director Robinson lacks originality and imagination; too often we see exactly what we expect (when a member of the Russian cadre, for example, demurs to the cold reality of their plan and announces his withdrawal, we know that he's signed his own death warrant. Seeing him garroted by the silent, hulking henchman before he reaches the door is anticlimactic; it would have been entirely more effective had Robinson taken a page from David Lean's Book and left it up to the viewer's imagination). But the performances are to the last actor solid and convincing, and late in the film the story takes a decidedly unexpected turn that allows for a suspenseful climax; after a point you can speculate as to the final outcome, but you cannot know absolutely until the very end. >The real strength of the film, though, lies in the very honest depiction of the events and the way they play out, from the unimaginable success of the terrorists to the confusion, uncertainty and irresolution of those in power. >As Jack Ryan, Ben Affleck gives an acceptable performance, and though he's convincing he lacks the intensity of his predecessor in the role, Harrison Ford, or even that of Alec Baldwin, who first created the character in 1990's "The Hunt for Red October." Buy this is a younger Jack Ryan, new to the C.I.A. and not yet married, which may provoke some confusion in fans of this series, as on one hand this story predates "October," and yet the events seem to reflect more recent incidents, subsequent to all that happened in the first three "Ryan" films. P>The most notable performances are turned in by Morgan Freeman (Cabot) Liev Schreiber (Clark), Philip Baker Hall (Defense Secretary Becker) and Ron Rifkin (Owens).
But in the final analysis, "The Sum of All Fears" says something about who we are, "where" we are and the state of the world in which we live today; things we would probably rather not contemplate, but nevertheless, must.

Fearless (Full Screen)
Fearless (Full Screen)
DVD ~ Jeff Bridges
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 55.47
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Transcendent Character Study, Nov. 9 2002
This review is from: Fearless (Full Screen) (DVD)
The inability to "reconnect" in the wake of a significant emotional event, especially one involving a close encounter with death, is examined by director Peter Weir, in "Fearless," a gripping drama starring Jeff Bridges as a man emotionally adrift after walking away from an accident (a plane crash) that by all rights should have killed him, but inexplicably did not. And Weir goes on to take what is essentially a character study one step further, beyond the inevitable "why me?" that one who survives such an unimaginable episode in their life must necessarily make, to probe the psyche of the survivor and attempt to sort out the ensuing catch-22 of the mind, wherein the incident has manifested a schizophrenic sense of guilt/euphoria born of fate's decree that he, among those now dead, should live. It's a lot to assimilate; a taxing physical and psychological challenge necessitating an expanded utilization of the human capacity, and the subsequent negotiation of the attendant recast attitude and aptitude. All of which Weir succinctly captures through keen observation and his own intuitive grasp of the human condition.
As the film opens, we see Max Klein (Bridges) making his way through a cornfield just outside of Bakersfield, California; he's carrying a baby in his arms and has a young boy by the hand, leading him determinedly through the haze of smoke from the crash. There are others following Max, as well. And even before they emerge from the field, coming upon the crash site where rescue workers are already furiously attempting to sort it all out, there is a detachment about Max that is readily discernible. He surveys the situation calmly, as if seeing it all through the eyes of someone else, as if he were outside of himself, observing rather than experiencing. Then after locating the baby's mother, he simply walks away from it all, never looking back.
Two days later the F.B.I. finds him in a local motel. They put him together with a representative from the airline, who offers him a train ticket back home to San Francisco. But Max wants to fly home, which astounds the rep. "But your wife," she says, "Told us that you didn't like to fly, even before the--" "The crash?" he replies. Then with assurance he tells her, "I want to fly home on your airline. But I have a request; I want to go first class." And we know now, without question, that Max is not the same man that he was before the crash.
In his previous films, such as "Picnic At Hanging Rock" (1975), "Witness" (1985) and "The Mosquito Coast" (1986), Weir established himself as a director who knows human nature and is adept at exploring the emotional depths of his characters, in stories dealing with ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. As he does with this film, Weir sets a deliberate pace and allows that extra moment that means so much to the development of the characters. It's a subtle approach that adds depth and resonance to his films, and allows his audience to experience, rather than just watch, the drama as it unfolds. And he understands (as few directors do-- especially Americans ) the impact that "silence" can have, as in the scenes here shortly after Max leaves the crash sight. First, Weir shows us a solemn Max, driving alone through the desert at high speed, gradually awakening to the joys of living, to that "feeling" of being alive, as he sticks his head out of the widow and lets the wind hit him in the face, slapping him with the reality that he is, indeed, alive. But then we see Max parked by the side of the road, sitting on the ground, pensively staring out at the vast expanse of desert and at the low, blue mountains in the distance. The absolute silence Weir effects allows us to share Max's thoughts at that moment, to get inside his head as he picks up a bit of dirt and examines it closely, then as he looks up again at the nothingness/everything that surrounds him. As Max reflects, we reflect with him; and in that precise moment, that necessary connection between Max and the audience is firmly established. It's a quiet, and brilliant, piece of filmmaking.
Through many years and many movies, Jeff Bridges has demonstrated time and again his consummate ability as an actor who can "touch" his audience, and he continues to evolve with every new film. Max is perhaps his most challenging role ever, as it requires a vast emotional range to make this character convincing and bring him to life believably. And Bridges succeeds magnificently, and on a number of levels, with an inspiring, Oscar worthy performance. The finesse with which he conveys his moods and emotions is extraordinary; he enables you to "feel" his displacement, share his compassion, sense his empathy and know his anger. Quite simply, Bridges makes Max Klein a character you are not going to forget.
As Laura Klein, Isabella Rossellini gives a remarkable performance, as well, as the wife given the gift of her husband's life, only to have to suffer his state of "limbo," as she desperately attempts to penetrate the defense mechanisms that have given him a renewed appreciation for the touch, taste and beauty of life, all of which she is unable to share because his experience has taken him to a place she cannot possibly go. Her portrayal is astute, convincing and some of the best work she has ever done.
Also turning in a strong performance, for which she deservedly was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, is Rosie Perez, as Carla, a fellow crash survivor with whom Max forms an especially strong and significant bond.
Written for the screen by Rafael Yglesias (adapted from his own novel), beautifully filmed by Allen Davian, and with a haunting score by Maurice Jarre that so sensitively enhances the drama in an understated way, "Fearless" is an example of filmmaking at it's best.

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