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Boyz 'N The Hood (Anniversary Edition) (Bilingual)
Boyz 'N The Hood (Anniversary Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Cuba Gooding Jr.
Price: CDN$ 9.98
23 used & new from CDN$ 5.51

5.0 out of 5 stars How to Survive in South Central., June 5 2004
South Central L.A.: Where murder rates are five times the nationwide average, or in absolute figures, double the entire U.S.'s death rate for breast cancer (L.A. Times, January 1, 2004.) Where "I'll have my brother shoot you" isn't just an empty threat, and guns are passed from one sibling to another when an older brother goes away to "do time." Where owning a gun is a means of self-protection even for those who've always stayed clear of gangs. Where "where ya' from?" is an inquiry about gang membership, not geographic origin, and wearing the wrong colors can cause you to be "hit up;" resulting in violence, and more violence by way of retaliation. Where over the past 15 years the LAPD has accumulated a backlog of 4,400 unsolved homicides - roughly 3/4 of the city's total - because, as kids learn early, a bullet doesn't come with a name attached; and those who know the killer generally stay mum, either fearing reprisal or preferring to take care of their own, rather than leave justice to a police and a court system they've learned to mistrust anyway. And where crimes like burglary only merit police attention if something actually was stolen, and are quickly sidelined upon the officers' summons to another murder scene.
South Central L.A. is the home of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his friends, "Doughboy" and Ricky Baker (Ice Cube and Morris Chestnut). We first meet them at age ten, when Tre's mother (Angela Bassett) sends him to live with his father Jason, a/k/a "Furious" (Laurence Fishburne), who seems better equipped to raise a son in a neighborhood like this. When we see them again they're seventeen, Tre and Ricky about to graduate from high school, while Doughboy has already graduated - from shoplifting to guns and small-time drug deals. And while Furious guides Tre towards moral choices, responsibility and (self-)respect, Doughboy and Ricky are raised by a mother who lacks the wherewithal to steer them out of the ghetto. Yet, Ricky in particular is naively, fiercely resolved to make it out of there; with a football scholarship (provided his SAT scores are high enough) or if that fails, by joining the army. And in a poignant, spot-on conclusion it is ultimately Ricky who forces Tre and Doughboy to choose their own paths in life, to either be drawn into the ghetto's spiral of violence, or conquer their inner demons and extricate themselves from that vicious circle.
Upon this movie's 1991 release, several Los Angeles cinemas either refused to show it at all or hired extra security guards: That big, in a city that had recently seen the Rodney King beating, was about to be rocked by the Christopher Commission's scathing indictment of its police department, and was gearing up to the riots that would ravage its inner city the following spring, were fears of the reaction to John Singleton's partly autobiographical film. Yet, while "Boyz N the Hood" paints a starkly accurate picture of inner city life's daily realities, it in no way encourages violence - much to the contrary. That it's told from a profoundly "black" perspective is a given; and with that come charges that those of us with a more fortunate childhood often dismiss as the chip on many black people's shoulders (e.g. the notion that drugs, liquor and guns in the ghetto are tacitly encouraged by society's white-dominated ruling circles to keep inner-city minorities subdued). But while neither such charges nor their "white" response are the be-all and end-all of the problem, there is no question that drugs, alcoholism and guns are major issues in the 'hood, as are teen pregnancies and unemployment; and Singleton intelligently weaves all of these elements into a compelling picture.
Equally well-deserved as the praise for Singleton, who garnered Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscar nominations and several other distinctions, are the kudos to the movie's outstanding actors. Then-23-year-old Cuba Gooding Jr. came practically out of nowhere to give a fully accomplished, emphatic portrayal as Tre, caught between the lessons of ghetto life and those of his father. (Although this wasn't his first movie, he had never before appeared in a remotely as prominent role.) Morris Chestnut's naively determined football-hero-to-be Ricky is similarly compelling; and Laurence Fishburne noticeably didn't have to reach far for his "Furious" Styles: While based on Singleton's father, the role was created specifically with him in mind. So, reportedly, was Ice Cube's Doughboy; and he, too, is a perfect match, giving the teenage trio's most troubled member a depth clearly informed by his own South Central boyhood (although despite his songs' inflammatory lyrics, he himself stayed clear of gangs). Angela Bassett finally is the perfect foil for the movie's male characters, exemplifying a woman who through hard work gets as far out of the ghetto as conceivable and unlike her ex-husband doesn't avoid the moneyed upper-crust, but doesn't forget her origins, either (and is still perfectly capable of talking tough when challenged).
The movie's last words are Ice Cube's, both spoken as Doughboy and rapped in "How to Survive in South Central," underlying the closing credits. "Either they don't know, don't show or don't care what's going on [here]," Doughboy comments on a TV program about exotic faraway places he's seen shortly after experiencing the kind of violence that he knows will haunt him forever. And in his rap song, sarcastically premised on a guided tour to the "concrete Vietnam" South Central L.A. ("Have you witnessed a drive-by? Okay, make sure you have your camcorder ready!"), Ice Cube warns: "Rule number one: get yourself a gun ... 'cause jackers ... love to start [things]. Now, if you're white you can trust the police; but if you're black they ain't nothin but beasts. ... So don't take your life for granted, 'cause it's the craziest place on the planet ... This is Los Angeles." - "Boyz N the Hood" was released 13 years ago. It is as topical as ever.

"Good Morning, Vietnam (Widescreen)" [Import]
"Good Morning, Vietnam (Widescreen)" [Import]
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wakeup Call, Williams Style., June 1 2004
1965 was the year when, as a result of the Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, American military buildup in Vietnam began in earnest, and troop strength grew by a factor of no less than eight; from 23,000 at the beginning of the year to roughly 184,000 at the end. 1965 was also the year when a new AFN DJ arrived in Saigon, which over the course of that same year would transform itself from a sleepy French-Vietnamese colonial town into the nightmare it has since come to be in the memory of countless vets.
The new DJ in question was Adrian Cronauer; fresh from an assignment in Greece.
While the idea for a fictionalized account of his Vietnam experience was Cronauer's own, fueled by the popularity of "M*A*S*H," the script for Barry Levinson's "Good Morning Vietnam" was ultimately penned by screenwriter Mitch Markowitz with only some input from Cronauer himself, who has since gone out of his way to underline the fictional nature of the account and stress that his true stance was not so much anti-military as "anti-stupidity." Thus, the film has to be taken with a considerable grain of salt; both as far as the portrayal of 1960s' armed forces radio and as far as the movie's plot is concerned. But that doesn't make it any less poignant; nor does it take away one iota of Robin Williams's performance as Cronauer: Indeed, the role of an irreverent, unstoppable DJ seemed tailor-made for Williams, who had burst onto the scene with his inimitable brand of lightning-quick ad-libbing ten years earlier in "Mork & Mindy" - and of course, all of Cronauer's hilarious broadcasts in this movie are ad-libbed, too.
The film follows Adrian Cronauer from his arrival in Saigon in the spring of 1965 to his forced departure about a half year later (although the real Cronauer in fact stayed for a year and was not forced out but left when his regular tour of duty was over). While a comedy, and although not trying to be anywhere near the "definitive" take on Vietnam, it does take a close look at the year when the conflict escalated and, in particular, at the resulting toll on human relations. Robin Williams earned his first of to date four well-deserved Academy Award nominations for this role (the others were for "Dead Poets Society" [1989], "The Fisher King" [1991] and "Good Will Hunting" [1997], the movie for which he finally scored on Oscar night). And in his inimitable way he provides pointed comic relief not only over the microphone but also, and always with a unique ear for the situation's mood, whenever the script would otherwise threaten to veer off into melodrama; such as after his discovery that his Vietnamese friend Tuan is actually a Viet Cong fighter named Phan Duc To ("It's unbelievable. Five months in Saigon, and my best friend turns out to be a V.C. This will not look good on a resume!!"); and in scenes that would otherwise be burdened with a bit too much cliche and/or deliberately funny writing, such as the conference after Cronauer's first broadcast, where Bruno Kirby (Lieutenant Hauk) gets to deliver such gems as "Don't say that the weather is the same all the time here, because it's not; in fact, it's two degrees cooler today than yesterday" and "I hate the fact that you people never salute me - I'm a lieutenant, and I would like salutes occasionally. That's what being a higher rank is all about." Even if Kirby himself gets to make up for these a little later in the same scene with the comment "We are not going to escalate [Vietnam into] a whole war so we can get a big name comedian" (Bob Hope who, as the men have informed him, does not "play police actions"), it takes Williams's/Cronauer's final weaving of the lieutenant's preferred abbreviations into a single sentence to truly put the finishing touch on the scene.
Although "Good Morning Vietnam" is clearly first and foremost a star vehicle for Robin Williams, he is joined by an outstanding supporting cast, including inter alia, besides Bruno Kirby, Forest Whitaker as Cronauer's good-natured sidekick PFC Montesque Garlick, the ever-reliable J.T. Walsh as his second great nemesis, Sergeant Major Dickerson (whose stock character of a straight-laced white middle class guy would probably not have come off convincingly as a villain vis-a-vis anybody *but* Robin Williams) and, in particular, Tung Thanh Tran as Tuan and Chintara Sukapatana as his sister Trinh: Her plea with Cronauer not (even) to seek her friendship, let alone more, because for her such an association with a man (particularly a foreigner) is culturally unacceptable, is one of the movie's most quietly powerful scenes. Exceptional is further Peter Sova's cinematography, which convincingly captures the daily realities of a city and a country on the brink of an all-out war, and is brilliantly complimented by the editing, which in turn also uses the soundtrack - more or less a mid-1960s "greatest hits" compilation - to maximum effect; be it in framing daily military routine, the soldiers' enjoyment of Cronauer's style of broadcasting or combat action: Indeed, hardly any image could make a more powerful statement on the cruel absurdity of war than seeing a village blown up to the tune of Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World."
Thus, "Good Morning Vietnam" is in its own way as poignant a wakeup call as any other movie about Vietnam - or about World War II, or any other war for that matter. It deservedly netted the Political Film Society's 1989 Peace Award, in addition to Robin Williams's Oscar nomination and his Golden Globe and American Comedy awards, as well as the movie's ASCAP soundtrack award. And it certainly bears revisiting - for its overall quality, for Robin Williams's performance, and also for lessons learned and deserving never to be forgotten.

Seven (Two-Disc Special Edition) [Import]
Seven (Two-Disc Special Edition) [Import]
DVD ~ Morgan Freeman
Offered by PaperbackshopCA
Price: CDN$ 23.59
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Septenary of Horror., May 30 2004
"At first sin is a stranger in the soul; then it becomes a guest; and when we are habituated to it, it becomes as if the master of the house." - Tolstoy.
Although not originating from the bible, the concept of deadly sins is almost as old as Christian doctrine itself. Theologians like 4th century Greek monk Evagrius of Pontus first compiled catalogues of deadly offenses against the divine order, which 6th century pope Gregory the Great consolidated into a list of seven sins, which in turn formed the basis of the works of medieval/renaissance writers like St. Thomas Aquinas ("Summa Theologiae"), Geoffrey Chaucer ("Canterbury Tales"), Christopher Marlowe ("Dr. Faustus"), Edmund Spenser ("The Faerie Queene") and Dante Alighieri ("Commedia Divina"/"Purgatorio"). And in times when the ability to read was a privilege rather than a basic skill, the depiction of sin in paintings wasn't far behind; particularly resulting from the 16th century's reformulation of church doctrine, the works of artists like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder brought the horrific results of humankind's penchant to indulge in vice back into general consciousness with surrealistic eloquence, reminding their viewers that no sin goes unseen (Bosch, "The Seven Deadly Sins") and that its commission leads straight into a hell reigned by gruesome, grotesque demons and devils whose sole purpose is to torture those fallen into their hands (Bosch, "The Hay-Wagon" and "The Last Judgment;" Bruegel, "The Triumph of Death" and "The Tower of Babel").
More recently, the seven deadly sins have been the subject of Stephen Sondheim's play "Getting Away With Murder" and a ballet by George Balanchine ("Seven Deadly Sins"); and on the silver screen the topic has been addressed almost since the beginning of filmmaking (Cabiria [1914], Intolerance [1916]). Thus, "Se7en" builds on a solid tradition both in its own domain and in other art forms, topically as well as in its approach, denouncing society's apathy towards vice and crime. Yet - and although expressly referencing the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaucer and Dante - David Fincher's movie eschews well-trodden paths and grabs the viewer's attention from the beginning; and it does so not merely by the depiction of serial killer John Doe's (Kevin Spacey's) crimes, which could easily degenerate into a mindless bloodfest that would defeat the movie's purpose. (Not that there isn't a fair share of blood and gore on display; both visually and in the characters' dialogue regarding those details not actually shown; but Fincher uses the crimes' gruesome nature to create a sense of stark realism, rather than for shock value alone.) In addition, Doe's mindset is painstakingly presented by the opening credits' jumpy nature, his "lair"'s apocalyptic makeup and his notebooks, all of which were actually written out (at considerable expense), and whose compilation is shown underlying the credits. The movie's atmosphere of unrelenting doom is further underscored by a color scheme dominated by brown, gray and only subdued hues of other colors, and by the fact that almost every outdoors scene is set in rain. Moreover, although screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker explains on the DVD that the story was inspired by his observations in New York (and the movie was shot partly there, partly in L.A.), it is set in a faceless, nameless city, thus emphasizing that its concern isn't a specific location but society generally.
Central to the movie is the contrast between world-weary Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who, while decrying the rampant occurrence of violence in society, for much of the movie seems to have resigned himself to his inability to do something meaningful about this (and therefore seems to accept apathy for himself, too, until his reluctant final turnaround), and younger Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), who fought for a reassignment to this particular location, perhaps naively expecting his contributions to actually make a difference; only to become a pawn in Doe's scheme instead and thus show that, given the right trigger, nobody is beyond temptation. As such, Somerset and Mills are not merely another incarnation of the well-known old-cop-young-cop pairing. Rather, their characters' development over the course of the film forces each viewer to examine his/her own stance towards vice.
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt perfectly portray the two detectives; while Freeman imbues his Will Somerset with a quiet dignity, professionalism and learning, muted by profound but not yet wholly irreversible resignation, Pitt's David Mills is a brash everyman from the suburbs with an undeniable streak of prejudice, a penchant for quick judgment and a thorough lack of sophistication, both personally and culturally. Notable are also the appearances of Gwyneth Paltrow (significantly Brad Pitt's real-life girlfriend at the time) as Mills's wife Tracy and ex-marine R. Lee Ermey as the police captain. Yet, from his very first appearance onwards, this is entirely Kevin Spacey's film. Reportedly, Brad Pitt especially fought hard for his casting; and it is indeed hard to imagine "Se7en" with anybody other than the guy who, that same year, also won an Oscar for portraying devilish Keyser Soze in "The Usual Suspects": No living actor has Spacey's ability to simultaneously express spine-chilling villainy, laconic indifference and limitless superiority with merely a few gestures and vocal inflections.
While "Se7en" can certainly claim the "sledgehammer" effect on its viewers sought by its fictional killer, the punishment meted out to Doe's victims - taking their perceived sins to the extreme - pales in comparison to that awaiting sinners according to medieval teachings. (Inter alia, gluttons would thus be forced to eat vermin, toads and snakes, greed-mongers put in cauldrons of boiling oil and those guilty of lust smothered in fire and brimstone.) Most serial killers have decidedly more mundane motivations than Doe. And after all, this is only a movie.
"Sin ... engenders vice by repetition of the same acts, [clouding the conscience and corrupting the judgment.] Thus sin tends to reproduce ... and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root." - Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994).

The Color of Money (Widescreen)
The Color of Money (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Paul Newman
Price: CDN$ 5.97
44 used & new from CDN$ 2.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Money, Luck and Our Lady of the Cue Balls., May 27 2004
In this movie's opening voiceover, director Martin Scorsese explains that nine-ball pool, as you've probably guessed, comes down to one basic rule: You don't win without pocketing the 9. Partially this depends on the balls' spread in the break; i.e. on luck. But, Scorsese concludes with the credo of all high-stakes hustlers from poker to pool and beyond: "For some players, luck itself is an art."
Once, Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) mastered this art; a whiz kid out to beat champion Minnesota Fats, he had to learn some painful lessons instead. But that was 25 years ago - in 1961's "Hustler," to which "The Color of Money" is a belated sequel - and now it's "dead and buried." Now Eddie is a liquor salesman; even if he's still got the hustle down cold: just listen to him philosophizing about a bourbon's color, age and acidic content and I'll lay you any bet you'll be buying a case from him in no time at all.
Yet, Eddie keeps hanging around pool halls, and one day the inevitable happens: He runs into Vincent (Tom Cruise), almost a reincarnation of his younger self; a guy with a sledgehammer break and an "incredible flake," as Eddie opines less than charitably, cocky beyond belief but apparently unaware of his potential, preferring to perfect his video game reflexes on the theory that this might get him into West Point, instead of focusing on his greatest and, more importantly, only financially viable area of expertise: pool. Now, if Eddie has learned one thing it's that whatever your field, it *all* comes down to money; and the guy who's got the most of it is the best. But to get there, you have to be more than just excellent at what you do: You have to be a student of psychology, learn to take advantage of others, understand when to lose is actually to win; and if you're a "natural character" like Vincent, you have to learn to "flake on and flake off" - to be yourself, but on purpose. In short, it takes the right proportion of both brains and b*lls to win big at pool. All this, Eddie is determined to teach Vince, even if it takes some support from his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to get him going. But eventually they do set out on the road, for a six-week high-intensity training in hustles and cons, with their eyes set on a high-stakes nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City at the end. And Eddie, once exploited by a ruthless promoter himself, dispenses tough love; all to drive home one crucial lesson: "Nice guys finish last;" and mercy towards *any* opponent is downright unprofessional.
Vincent, Carmen and Eddie make an unequal trio; they collide as often and as hard as cue balls, and it's a sheer joy to see these outstanding actors go up against each other: Cruise as the cocky kid who refuses to drop his ego trips, Mastrantonio as his tough-talking girlfriend, and Newman as the seasoned pro who suddenly gets goose-bumpy again when entering a pool room (even if to his shame he finds the place now used for furniture storage), rediscovers that money won is "twice as sweet" as money earned, and at last gets hungry enough to get back into the game himself, albeit at the price of first being hustled by a kid with a dumb-fat-underdog routine (brilliantly played by Forest Whitaker). For Tom Cruise, who left a lasting impression with 1983's "Risky Business" but otherwise only had a few middling movies under his belt at this point, this was a great opportunity to show his chops opposite one of the business's all-time greats, and he was more than up to the task. (Although he shot to superstardom the same year with "Top Gun," even here virtually all of his trademark mannerisms and voice inflections - particularly when playing cocky - are already fully present.) Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio earned Oscar- and Golden-Globe-nominations for her portrayal of Carmen, who clues into Eddie's "pool is business" lessons quicker than Vince and, after a first-hand education on the use of "that thing," finds ways through Vincent's cockiness where Eddie doesn't have access. Paul Newman finally netted his long-overdue Academy Award; thus belatedly making up for the undeserved pass for "The Hustler," after the Academy had summarily sugarcoated a total of seven unfulfilled nominations - and numerous award-worthy appearances that didn't even earn that kind of nod - with a lifetime achievement award the year before. (Newman accepted, but wasn't present at either ceremony.)
What makes this movie stand out, however, is not merely its tremendous cast, from the central trio to Helen Shaver (Eddie's girlfriend Janelle), John Turturro (Julian, the "stake horse" Vincent replaces in Eddie's favor), Scorsese's dog Zoe (credited as "dog walkby"!), Iggy Pop, and several top pool players, e.g. Steve "The Miz" Mizerak, Jimmy "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mataya (together with wife Eva also technical advisor) and Keith McCready (Vincent's nemesis Grady Seasons). Moreover, nobody could have captured the pool halls' dingy allure, a trick shot's swift precision and the balls' movement over the table quite like Michael Ballhaus - there's a reason they call him "Hollywood's Eye." And then there's the score, by the "Band's" ringleader Robbie Robertson; featuring contributions from a virtual who-is-who of rock and blues's all time greatest, including Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Don Henley, Warren Zevon, Phil Collins, Robert Palmer and Percy Sledge; pointedly framing all key scenes and doubling the edge of the cue balls' and characters' collisions alike.
The movie's ending may appear anticlimactic, as the story seems to build up to a showdown which we never get to see. But for Eddie, it's ultimately about going up against Vince's best game - and the only thing that matters is that he's back, and there to stay for the duration this time. And no question: back he certainly is.

Three Days of the Condor
Three Days of the Condor
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 35.52
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An All But Extinct Bird., May 19 2004
This review is from: Three Days of the Condor (DVD)
In his 1979 novel "Shibumi" (part political thriller, part cynical attack on Western civilization and part satire of the thriller genre), written at the end of that genre's possibly greatest decade, Trevanian explains the six parts of the Japanese board game symbolizing the concept of effortless perfection and inspiring that novel's title: Fuseki (the opening stage or strategic premise), Sabaki (an effort to quickly, efficiently terminate a problematic situation), Seki (a neutral standoff where neither side gains an advantage), Uttegae (a potentially sacrificial strategic maneuver), Shicho (a running offensive) and Tsuru no Sugomori (literally, "the confinement of the cranes to their nest:" the elegant capture of the opponent's stones).
Like other books published then and influenced by the shocking Watergate revelations, "Shibumi" asks what happens if government is hijacked by a secret association not bound by anything but its own interests and hunger for power. One of the most important novels on whose legacy Trevanian builds in his book is James Grady's "Six Days of the Condor," adapted for the screen by director Sydney Pollack in this hugely successful fourth (of seven) collaboration(s) with Robert Redford; costarring Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson. But while Grady's novel centered around the Vietnam trauma, the movie's screenplay, besides shortening the critical time frame from six days to three, changes the focus to the era's obsession with oil; thus effortlessly proving one of the story's key points: Assuming a group of insiders truly managed to commandeer key governmental structures, the respective substantive context would be of little import, because *any* such action would constitute a terminal violation of public trust, and the consequences for any individual caught in the resulting web of intrigue and deceit would be equally disastrous.
"Three Days of the Condor" begins with the assassination of virtually the entire staff of a New York CIA office of "reader researchers," agents responsible for the detection of possible clues to actual or potential Agency operations in literature. The massacre's sole survivor is Joe Turner, codenamed "Condor" (Redford), who literally happened to be out to lunch when the assassins hit. After his discovery of the bloodbath, his superiors promise to bring him "home," using his inside friend Sam as a confidence-builder. But at the assigned meeting Sam is shot, too, and Turner himself only escapes by the skin of his teeth - again. Realizing that his own organization is somehow involved in the hit and that he is no longer safe in his own apartment, Turner hides in the home of photographer Kathy Hale (Dunaway), whom he takes hostage, but who is a loner like him and eventually develops a fondness for him, agreeing to help him trying to discover the truth behind the terrifying labyrinth of lies and double standards in which he suddenly finds himself.
While "Condor"'s tale does have a clear premise (the interests of those responsible for the massacre) and both the mass-assassination and the following events are merely moves in the lethal game into which Turner is thrown against his will (and where his greatest advantage is his unpredictability), against the overbearing opponent he faces, he alone has little chances of emerging victoriously; of, in the terminology of Shibumi, "confining the cranes to their nest:" All he can hope for is a long-lasting state of Seki; a standoff and perhaps temporary ceasefire (a conclusion later also reached in John Grisham's bestselling "The Firm"). The inference, of course, is that it takes more than a single individual's discovery of a government-undermining conspiracy to take down the conspirators - and as in Watergate, the press is seen as a crucial vehicle for reaching a mass audience and taking the events out of the perpetrators' control.
Due to the universality of its theme, the importance of "Condor" far exceeds the story's 1970s context. Indeed, it is as relevant now as it was then; and so is the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Woodward-Bernstein account on Watergate and its corresponding movie ("All the President's Men;" also starring Redford, alongside Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards). But this is also a magnificently filmed movie, sharply edited and using New York City's wintry urban landscape for full dramatic effect. Robert Redford gives a career-defining, tightly controlled performance as cornered bookworm-turned-spy Joe Turner, matched in every respect by Max von Sydow's hired assassin Joubert, who has no cause of his own, finds his occupation "quite restful," never concerns himself with his missions' "why" but only the "when," "where" and "how much," and paints delicate little figurines in his hours of relaxation. Faye Dunaway's Kathy is not merely another victim of Stockholm syndrome (a hostage's identification with their captors' motives); she truly comes to understand Turner because of their likeness: Her photos are expressions of her loneliness as much as Joe's solitary stance against an entire governmental organization; beautiful but sad November pictures of empty streets, fields and park benches, shot in black and white and an intricate, subtle metaphor even during their love scene. Cliff Robertson's CIA man Higgins finally is the perfect foil for both Turner and Joubert; not as far along in his career as he should be but, although sympathetic to Turner's plight, fully buying into the legitimacy of the Agency's "games" and ready to do whatever it takes to keep an embarrassment from becoming conspicuous.
Turner's and Higgins's last meeting is poignantly set against a Salvation Army choir's performance of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and its chorus "Oh tidings of comfort and joy;" ending in a still shot of Turner's face starkly reminiscent of Kathy's photos. Yet, "Condor's" story is open-ended: What would he do, were he still around today?
"What is it with you people - do you think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?" Joe Turner, "Three Days of the Condor."
"All ... organizations in this book lack any basis in reality - although some of them do not realize that." Trevanian, "Shibumi."

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Widescreen Special Edition)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Widescreen Special Edition)
DVD ~ Paul Newman
Offered by vidsale
Price: CDN$ 14.95
15 used & new from CDN$ 9.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Legends., May 18 2004
How do you ensure somebody's legacy as a hero? In the good old days, you wrote a book. Nowadays, you make a movie - and if you're lucky and it's really, really successful, you can retrospectively even make legends out of dangerous criminals. Not that that always works, of course. But with two great actors with instant chemistry (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), a script (by William Goldman) bursting with one-liners making the audience bowl over laughing every other minute, without once derailing into slapstick, a director's (George Roy Hill's) ingenious use of the occasion to turn a whole genre on its head, and some of the world's most beautiful locations, filmed by an exceptional cinematographer (Conrad Hall) ... you just may pull it off. Case in point: "Butch and Sundance."
While Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) was known as the Old West's Robin Hood for his charm, masterly planning, avoidance of bloodshed - he really did claim he'd never shot anyone - and his stance for settlers' rights vis-a-vis the wealthy cattle barons, Sundance (Henry Longbaugh) had the reputation of a loner; a fast draw repeatedly in and out of prison before even turning twenty-one. After several of their Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall Gang associates had seen the short end of the stick in various encounters with the law, Butch and Sundance determined things were getting too hot in the West and, unlike the outlaws who not much earlier had stood it out until the end (Billy the Kid, the James Gang and the O.K. Corral gunfighters), decided to head for South America. With a woman named Etta Place, possibly a teacher as portrayed here or, perhaps more likely, a prostitute, they first spent several years farming in Argentina - both had done cattle work before turning to robbery, although in the form of rustling (stealing unbranded cattle) - but eventually reverted to their more profitable, preferred occupation. Most sources believe they died in a 1909 shootout with the Bolivian military in a town named San Vicente; others, however, claim either or both escaped alive, returned to the States under assumed names and died there (Sundance in Casper, WY in 1957 and Cassidy, according to his sister, in Spokane, WA, in 1937).
While their decision to leave the West instead of duking it out with the law and the mystery surrounding their deaths would already have made for a great movie, director Hill cleverly used the material for a 180-degree-turn on the Western genre. The opening credits roll next to sepia-tinged silent shots depicting a Hole in the Wall Gang train robbery, followed by the bold claim that "most of what follows is true" - which in itself couldn't be further from the truth. What does follow is a wild ride from the Outlaw Trail to Bolivia ... during which our heroes aren't getting rid of their pursuers, no Western music with guitars and harmonicas accompanies them but Burt Bacharach's multiple-award-winning, deliberately anachronistic, upbeat score (plus "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" during the most romantic scene - raindrops???), a knife fight is settled by a kick in the groin, and a marshal trying to assemble a posse first meets with a lackluster population, neither willing to bring their own horses and guns nor clamoring to be supplied with such by him, and in short order sees his meeting usurped by a bicycle salesman. Add to that Oscar-winning cinematography, repeatedly using black-and-white lighting techniques even after the film's switch to color (e.g. in Sundance's first visit with Etta), reverse lighting to make daytime shots look like nighttime (during several scenes of the pursuit) and sepia-tinted shots for period feeling (besides the opening, also to sum up the trio's stay in New York), a Bolivian bank robbery with a crib sheet containing "specialized vocabulary" that Butch, contrary to initial claims, doesn't know in Spanish, and an immortalizing freeze-frame ending - and you have one heck of an entertaining movie, shot in some of the West's most spectacular settings and in Mexico (as Bolivia's stand-in).
"Butch and Sundance" turned Redford into a megastar - Hill lobbied hard for the then-perceived "playboy"'s casting, and his instincts proved so dead-on that Newman's entourage became worried the movie's expected primary star would be sidelined (a feeling never shared by Newman himself, though, who has been friends with Redford ever since). In a twist worthy of Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, fearsome loner Sundance became one of Redford's most popular roles, and his independent film festival's namesake. The movie renewed popular interest in the Outlaw Trail, which Redford himself traveled later, too (chronicled in a fascinating, alas out-of-print book). Its script is littered with memorable one-liners; from both heroes' "Who *are* those guys??" to Butch's comments on the small price to pay for beauty, on Sundance's gun-prowess ("like I've been telling you - over the hill"), on vision, bifocals and Bolivia, on Sundance's asking Etta (Katherine Ross) to accompany them, although if she'll ever "whine or make a nuisance," he'll be "dumping her flat" ("Don't sugarcoat it like that, Kid ... tell her straight!") and his downplaying the final shootout because their archenemy LaForce isn't there; Sundance's "You just keep thinking, Butch," his comments on the secret of his gambling success (prayer), on not being picky about women (followed by a litany of required attributes), on the excessive use of dynamite, and his one weakness ("I can't swim!!"); and finally Strother Martin/mine-owner Percy Garris's deadpan delivery of the Shanghai Rooster song, of "Morons ... I've got morons on my team" and his assertion not to be crazy but merely colorful. The famous freeze-frame ending has repeatedly been cited, both cinematographically (e.g. "Thelma and Louise") and in dialogue (e.g. 1998's "Negotiator"). And although initially almost uniformly panned by critics, the movie won quadruple Oscars and multiple other awards. In true Hollywood fashion, it has made two fearsome outlaws legends forever ... and in the process, also won legendary status itself.

The English Patient (Widescreen)
The English Patient (Widescreen)
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ownership, belonging and an earth without maps., May 15 2004
After the publication of Michael Ondaatje's Booker-Prize-winning "English Patient," conventional wisdom soon held that the novel, while a masterpiece of fiction, was entirely untransferable to any other medium: too intricately layered seemed its narrative structure; too significant its protagonists' inner life; too rich its symbolism. Then along came Anthony Minghella, who reportedly read it in a single sitting and was so disoriented afterwards that he didn't even remember where he was - but who called producer Paul Zaentz the very next morning and talked him into bringing the novel to the screen. Two major studios and several fights over the casting of key roles later, the result were an astonishing nine Oscars (Best Picture, Director - Anthony Minghella -, Supporting Actress - Juliette Binoche -, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score and Sound), as well as scores of other awards.
"The English Patient" is an epic tale of love and loss; of ownership, belonging and the bars erected thereto. It unites the stories of five people: Hungarian count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes), mistaken as English by a British Army medical unit in Italy after professing to have forgotten his identity; Hana (Juliette Binoche), Almasy's Canadian nurse; Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas), his erstwhile lover; Kip (Naveen Andrews), a Sikh sapper and Caravaggio (Willem Dafoe), an ex-spy and thief. All outsiders, they are struggling to come to terms with their lives: Almasy, on his deathbed, reflects back to his life as a North African explorer and his affair with Katherine; Hana believes herself cursed because everybody she cares for dies (in the movie her fiance and her best friend; in the novel her fiance, her father and her unborn baby), Katherine is taken to an all-male company of explorers in Cairo by her husband Geoffrey (Colin Firth), Kip, like Hana, is far away from home (the only Indian in an otherwise British and Italian environment) and Caravaggio lost his livelihood after his thumbs were cut off in captivity by the Germans, on a sadistic officer (Juergen Prochnow)'s orders.
Like the novel, the movie's story largely unfolds in flashbacks: After Hana convinces her superiors to let her stay and nurse Almasy in an abandoned Tuscan villa, she and new arrival Caravaggio, who holds Almasy responsible for his fate, extract the details of his life in Africa and the truth about Katherine, Geoffrey and the events uniting him with the Cliftons and Caravaggio from Almasy in a series of conversations. But at the same time, the story is anchored in the present by Hana's growing attachment to Kip, which shines a different light on the themes also driving Almasy and his relationship with Katherine. The film's outstanding cast, which in key roles also includes Julian Wadham as Almasy's friend Madox and Kevin Whately as Kip's sergeant Hardy carries the story marvelously: Probably their biggest award loss(besides Fiennes's and Scott Thomas's Oscar and other "best lead" nominations and Minghella's screenplay Oscar nomination) was the 1997 SAG ensemble award, which instead went to "The Birdcage."
In his screenplay Minghella made several changes vis-a-vis the novel; the biggest of these doubtlessly a shift in focus from Hana, Caravaggio and Kip to Almasy and Katherine, and the fact that the film is much more explicit about Almasy's identity than the novel. Both were wise choices: Hana's inner demons in the novel are largely exactly that - *inner* demons, moreover, substantially grounded in the past and thus even more difficult to portray than Almasy's and Katherine's. Similarly, once the focus had moved to the latter couple, Kip's back story would have extended the movie without significantly advancing it; and the same is true for the intersections between Caravaggio's path and that of Hana's father. Secondly, mistaken *national* identity is overall more central to Almasy's character than identity as such; so the novel's intricate mystery about his persona might well have proven unnecessarily distracting in the movie's context. Indeed, once Almasy had become the story's greatest focus, much of its symbolism virtually even required that there be no real doubt about his identity.
But in all core respects, Minghella remained faithful to Ondaatje's novel; particularly regarding its profoundly impressionistic imagery, as shown, for example, in the curves formed by the Northern African desert's endless sand dunes, which in John Seale's magnificent and justly awardwinning cinematography resemble those of a woman's body as much as they do in Ondaatje's language, thus uniting Almasy's two greatest loves in a single symbol.
Doubtlessly the most important image is that of maps: Guides to unknown places like those drawn by Almasy and his friends during their explorations, but also tools of ownership like the cartography of Northern Africa made possible by Geoffrey Clifton's photos, and ultimately symbols of betrayal, as Almasy surrenders his maps to the Germans in exchange for a plane after he feels deserted by the British. And while Kip, who spends all day searching for bombs but wants to be found at night, guides Hana to himself by a series of tiny signposts in the form of oil lamps - but still never tries to expect her, in order not to get too much attached to her - Almasy, the perpetual loner who declares that he hates ownership more than anything else, gets so attached to Katherine that he claims her suprasternal notch as his exclusive property and later refers to her as his wife, which due to her marriage to Geoffrey she couldn't truly be in life and could only symbolically become in death. - The final word on maps, belonging and ownership, however, is part of Katherine's legacy to Almasy (and I still prefer the novel's language here):
"I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. ... All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps."

Quiz Show (Bilingual)
Quiz Show (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Ralph Fiennes
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "They just wanted to watch the money.", May 14 2004
This review is from: Quiz Show (Bilingual) (DVD)
Ah, the good ol' Fifties. The time when, after decades of depression and war, people finally wanted to get on with their lives, rebuild the economy and sweep everything dark and dirty under a big rug (including the escalating arms race with the Soviet Union). When television was everybody's new best friend, and ruled by the likes of Ed Sullivan, Lassie, Bozo the Clown and Lucy ... and by quiz shows.
Well aware of the contests' new, uniquely thrilling live entertainment, studio executives and sponsors quickly capitalized on their appeal, eager to maximize the resulting profits. To that end, however, the shows' outcome couldn't be left to chance: Then as now, viewers were looking for the "right" kind of hero to identify with; so ultimately it was unthinkable to let someone like Herbert Stempel (John Turturro) - not only an annoying nerd with thick glasses and bad teeth but worse, an annoying *Jewish* nerd with thick glasses and bad teeth - win the famous "Twenty-One" for more than a couple of weeks. A more suitable replacement was found in Columbia University lecturer Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), descendant of one of New England's foremost intellectual families and, in the words of the show's co-producer Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria), soon the TV nation's new "great white hope." A brilliant intellectual who nevertheless felt eternally inferior to his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, poet Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield), his mother (Elizabeth Wilson), likewise a distinguished author, and his uncle, Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Van Doren, Charles ultimately agreed to sell his integrity for a high flight to fame and fortune on borrowed wings, and thus succumbed to the one force driving a quiz show's appeal more than anything else: money, and astronomically large sums thereof.
Based on former Congressional investigator and Kennedy speechwriter Richard Goodwin's "Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties" and scripted by Paul Attanasio, Robert Redford's 1994 film brilliantly traces the "Twenty-One" scandal - the biggest of several scandals involving rigged quiz shows - from the moment Stempel was told to take a humiliating dive and pass the helm to Van Doren (Goodwin also co-produced). The movie's tone is set from the opening scene, which focuses on neither of the contestants but Goodwin himself (Rob Morrow), newly arrived in Washington with a first-in-his-class Harvard Law School degree in his pockets, and admiring the latest thing in automobile technology in a Chrysler showroom ("Used to be the man drives the car, now the car drives the man," he eventually comments, wowed by the dealer's sales talk). Turning on the radio, they catch an announcer's remark on the Sputnik launch: "All is not well with America" (but "America doesn't own the [Chrysler] 300," the dealer responds). Then Goodwin changes the station and the film's opening credits begin to roll, significantly over Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera:" Although originally conceived as a "Moritat," a darkly cynical ballad, Darin's swinging, upbeat 1959 version, a No. 1 hit for all of 22 weeks (1 1/2 times as long as Van Doren reigned on "Twenty-One") musically pulls every last tooth out of the song's sharp-edged lyrics; just as television's goody-two-shoes pseudo-reality and America's newfound prosperity seemed to obliterate the era's grimmer sociopolitical truths.
"Quiz Show" has been described, in turns, as a political thriller, a morality play, a parable on the loss of innocence and a fact-based drama; and it is all that, and more. It obviously has to be seen in context with "All the President's Men," Redford's 1976 film costarring Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Woodward-Bernstein account on Watergate. Just as America lost its political innocence there, it had already lost its innocence vis-a-vis showbiz in the quiz show scandals. But this is also a fascinating exploration of the scandal's underlying psychology; of that mix of insecurity, greed, ambition, hero-worship, prejudice and self-deception which made the manipulation possible in the first place and allowed it to go undetected for so long.
Of the movie's tremendous cast, John Turturro, Ralph Fiennes and Paul Scofield particularly give standout performances as the nerdy, deeply humiliated Herb Stempel, the dazzling Ivy Leaguer Charles Van Doren and his intellectually brilliant, unwaveringly supportive and profoundly moral father Mark, who can snap out a Shakespeare quote appropriate to any situation at the drop of a hat. Rob Morrow's Dick Goodwin, the Jewish kid from Brookline who made it to Harvard and D.C. but is still occasionally up against prejudice, is not far behind (although I confess I sometimes find his accent a tad unconvincingly thick; more so than Fiennes's and Scofield's more refined New England versions). Not to be overlooked are also their female costars - besides Elizabeth Wilson, Mira Sorvino and Johann Carlo as Goodwin's and Stempel's wives - and of course the gang responsible for the goings-on at "Twenty-One:" David Paymer as slick producer Dan Enright, Hank Azaria as his sidekick, Christopher McDonald as host Jack Barry, Allan Rich as NBC boss Robert Kintner and Martin Scorsese in a rare and deadpan appearance as an actor as corporate sponsor Geritol's chairman Martin Rittenhome. (Besides, watch for Barry Levinson as "Today Show" host Dave Garroway and Calista Flockhart and Ethan Hawke [uncredited] as star-struck students).
When first setting out to investigate "Twenty-One," Goodwin aimed no lower than putting television itself on trial. But while the Congressional hearings did cause the downfall of the show and its greatest champion, Enright and Barry soon returned to television, and none of the others responsible for the manipulations suffered any consequences at all. Quiz shows are more popular than ever. "Give the public what they want ... It's entertainment. We're not exactly hardened criminals here. We're in showbusiness," was Al Freedman's cynical conclusion. And the movie's last words are again those of Berthold Brecht, but this time in Lyle Lovett's much darker version of the Moritat: "Mackie, how much did you charge ...?"
"Millionaire," anyone?

The Tailor of Panama (Special Edition)
The Tailor of Panama (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Pierce Brosnan
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sex, Lies and Saville Row., May 13 2004
If before the release of John Boorman's adaptation of John le Carre's "Tailor of Panama" (scripted by the novel's author himself) anybody had told me I'd ever see Geoffrey Rush and Pierce Brosnan costarring in the same movie, I'd have snapped "And pigs fly" in response. Apparently I wasn't alone in that feeling, as Mr. Rush himself said much the same thing - although more politely - in an interview broadcast around the time the movie hit the theaters.
Yet, on second thought, who'd have been more appropriate to play James Bond's evil twin than the latest incarnation of Bond himself? Who more appropriate to play the story's multifarious title character than the actor who shone in complex roles like David Helfgott, the Marquis de Sade and Shakespearean theater owner Philip Henslowe?
Going in, I didn't doubt that Geoffrey Rush would be an amazing Harry Pendel - the role of the seemingly pathetic antihero, the little man desperately trying to maintain his dignity in the face of overwhelming odds fits him like a glove; and he does indeed give a bravura, almost Chaplinesque performance. The greater surprise for me was Pierce Brosnan, who takes every single Bond cliche and merrily runs with it in the opposite direction: I confess this took some getting used to, but once I'd gotten into the swing of it, I enormously enjoyed his skill and courage in deconstructing the very image on which his fame is grounded.
Brosnan is Andy Osnard, an MI6 agent sent to Panama as a punishment for having stepped on one toe to many during his last posting. He isn't exactly enthusiastic about the assignment to what he views as a seedy tropical backwater, but his superiors tell him that he's there to safeguard British interests in the wake of the Panama Canal's turnover to the Panamanian government after General Noriega's ouster. Generating leads in preparation for his arrival, Osnard comes across the name of Harry Pendel, a tailor billing himself as one half of "Pendel and Braithwaite," ostensibly an enterprise in the venerable Saville Row tradition, founded by now-deceased Arthur Braithwaite. But the shop's alleged provenance is as big a fabrication as Harry's personal history; for in fact, he learned tailoring in prison, where he was sent for burning down his Uncle Benny (Harold Pinter)'s shop. Discovering this - and the fact that Harry used to be Noriega's tailor and is still very much in favor with the currently reigning clique (the same people already in power under Noriega: "They got Ali Baba but missed the 40 slaves," Harry comments) - Osnard quickly decides that Harry Pendel is the weakest link in the British expat community; the perfect guy to lean on and generate intelligence.
Soon Harry is trapped between the growing pressure exercised by Osnard, his considerable financial needs (which Osnard has promised to remedy) and the admonitions of his faux conscience Uncle Benny never to tell the truth, the only thing that can really hurt him: "Try sincerity, that's a virtue" Uncle Benny advises - "truth is an affliction." And so Harry spins lie after lie; constructing a mesh in which he is ultimately caught together with his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis in one of her best-ever performances) and closest friends Micky Abraxas (an almost unrecognizable Brendan Gleeson) and Marta (Leonor Varela), who have barely survived Noriega's regime - Micky broken in spirit, Marta with a perpetually scarred face. Because Harry's lies about a "silent opposition" network and alleged plans to sell the Panama Canal to the Chinese are good enough to eventually prompt the British *and* American governments to plan a new invasion - and with that prospect looming large over Panama City's infamous "cocaine towers" skyline, the Pendel family, Micky and Marta find themselves in an almost inescapable stranglehold.
Although written by one of the great masters of the spy thriller genre and despite a plot featuring all the trademark elements, "The Tailor of Panama" is *not* a thriller but a farce; as much parody of the genre as mordant satire on the intelligence community (which le Carre knows intimately from personal experience) and sharp criticism of the first world's exploitation of the corrupt power structures of strategically located, cash-strapped countries in the developing world. References to both "Casablanca" and Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" are deliberate; obviously so in its setting and in the satirical creation of a would-be spy spinning a web of lies just to keep the cash coming in and eventually caught in that web when his lies come true; but also in Harry's reference to Panama as "Casablanca without heroes," and when Osnard, taken to a small plane by a British diplomat, wonders aloud whether this could be "the beginning of a beautiful friendship" ("I think it desperately unlikely," is the icy response).
The movie seems to be particularly unpopular with two groups: Brosnan fans disappointed not to see him play another superhero like James Bond and Remington Steele (and there's little to be said about this; you either buy into his deconstruction of that image or you don't) and Panamanians alienated by their country's portrayal as a corrupt banana republic. I admittedly haven't been to Panama (yet); and I'm sure it has more to offer than corruption, cocaine and the colorful, seedy nightlife so amply displayed here. But Panama's history is a troubled one, and the ongoing role of the Western powers (particularly the U.S.) in its politics is problematic; so I do think le Carre and Boorman have a legitimate point.
In sum, this is a fine production, featuring great performances from its entire cast (also including Catherine McCormack as the career diplomat who becomes Osnard's love - err, sex - interest and Daniel Radcliffe, now of "Harry Potter" fame, as Pendel's son) and spellbinding cinematography by Philippe Rousselot, making Panama's lush, tropical setting come to life in all its vibrant facets. Don't be discouraged by the naysayers ... take a look and judge for yourself!

Heat (Widescreen)
Heat (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Al Pacino
Offered by Warehouse105
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5.0 out of 5 stars "All I am is what I'm going after.", May 11 2004
This review is from: Heat (Widescreen) (DVD)
Two men on opposite sides of the law, both loners obsessed by what they do. Two of contemporary cinema's greatest actors, facing off for the first time in their 30+ year-long careers. A director with an impeccable sense of style. And a tremendous ensemble cast, whose every member delivers a truly stunning performance. These are some of the ingredients that elevate Michael Mann's "Heat" high above any average thriller.
The film's mood is set from the very first camera shots, following Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) from a subway station to a hospital, to drive off with an ambulance he'll be using in his crew's next score. While we don't hear him speak a single word, his movements alone are unquestionably those of a leader; a man in absolute control of every situation. Like many of "Heat"'s crucial scenes (including the two lead characters' sole face-to-face encounters in a coffee shop and during the grand finale), the opening shots are set at night; and the hard contrast between almost black darkness and brightly shining neon lights thus established from the start is soon revealed as a hallmark of the movie's cinematography. One of the next shots shows McCauley's adversary-to-be, homicide Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) making love to his wife (Diane Venora). But afterwards there is no coziness; no conversation and no joint breakfast. Their relationship is disintegrating and, although fully aware that his obsession with his job is turning his life into a "disaster zone," it is ultimately Vincent who is sacrificing it to that very obsession. Similarly, Neil has adopted a discipline of never letting himself get attached to anything he can't "walk out on in 30 seconds flat" if he feels the heat coming on: a discipline looming in the background even of his growing feelings for Eady (Amy Brenneman), with whom he has gotten involved against the instinct that told him to treat their encounter as a one-night-stand. Similarly troubled is the relationship between Neil's friend Chris (Val Kilmer) and his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd); but there Chris is the one who wants to hold on to their marriage, whereas Charlene, no longer able to cope with his gambling and immaturity, wants out, although she still clearly loves him.
Vincent and Neil are pitted against each other after an armored car holdup of Neil's crew goes awry when a new man named Waingro (Kevin Gage), who will soon be revealed as a ruthless serial killer, escalates the robbery by shooting one of the guards. Knowing that they are now all up for first-degree murder, the gang don't hesitate to kill the other guards, so as not to leave a living witness. Yet, with the police on their trail they still plan two more scores; one at the Precious Metals Depository and one at a downtown bank, the latter of which in particular proves fatal when it ends in a shootout turning L.A.'s business district into a virtual war zone. Further complications arise out of Neil's attempt to sell the bearer bonds stolen in the holdup back to their owner, a shady businessman named Van Zant (William Fichtner), who ultimately pays a high price for underestimating him.
Shortly before the bank heist, Vincent and Neil have a brief but crucial encounter in a coffee shop; and what has heretofore been mere respect developed from afar grows into a feeling of empathy and kinship when they discover their similarities. Yet, neither is willing to cross the lines: "I won't like it," Vincent ultimately tells Neil, but "if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you are going to turn into a widow, brother, you are going down." Neil responds that on that coin's flip side, he, too, won't hesitate to kill Vincent if he gets in his way. And with their positions thus established, the action is up and almost never lets off again, until they meet again during their final chase over LAX's airfield.
"Heat" is a self-described "Los Angeles crime saga," which by implication almost necessarily means that it's not characterized by down-to-earth realism; nor does it strive to be. Of course you do *not* walk away from a midday shootout with what looks like the better part of the LAPD's Central precinct (and unquestionably the movie's saddest unintended consequence was the real-life shootout provoked in imitation of this scene a few years later). Of course it's doubtful that guys like Vincent and Neil would ever sit down together over coffee - more likely, their encounter would have brought about Neil's arrest for murder, as Vincent by this time arguably had probable cause. Of course a real cop's loyalty would always be with his colleagues, and even respect for an adversary like Neil wouldn't propel him to hold his hand, after that same adversary had shot several of his fellow policemen. But all this is ultimately beside the point. This movie's entire dynamics are driven by the antagonism between its unexpectedly similar protagonists; and on that basis, their mutual feelings of empathy and even brotherhood are entirely credible.
The pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino was a (long-overdue) dream come true; for their performances alone, "Heat" deserves highest honors. While Pacino is his usual self as a supercharged bundle of dynamite, De Niro shows incredible (mannerism-free!) control, contrasting Pacino's bursts of temper with a chilling coolness that can nevertheless flip into ruthless violence in a split second, or into tenderness and emotion in his scenes with Eady. They are complemented by the stellar ensemble cast, also including, inter alia, Natalie Portman in her U.S. film debut as Vincent's troubled stepdaughter (after her very first appearance alongside Jean Reno in Luc Besson's "Leon"), John Voight and Tom Sizemore as Neil's associates Nate and Michael, Hank Azaria as Charlene's love interest and Mykelti Williamson and Wes Studi as Vincent's fellow cops. All in all, this is a truly outstanding production - and despite almost 3 hours' running time, not a minute too long.

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