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Lawrance Bernabo (The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota)

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11:14 [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
11:14 [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £3.89

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just wait for all of the pieces to fit to figure out the puzzle in this black comedy, 6 May 2006
I see a lot of comments on how writer-director Greg Marcks's film "11:14" is in the tradition of "Pulp Fiction," but that is true only to the extent that you are talking about a film that plays with chronology. True, Quentin Tarantino made it possible to tell a story in a non-linear mode, but that is not what Marck does in this one. What he does is more akin to Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon," where we get the same story from various perspectives. Even here the analogy is not completely on point either, because in "Rashomon" each character tells a decidedly different version, only the last of which is privileged as what really happened. In "11:14" each pass through the story covers essentially the same time (each story starts progressively earlier in the evening), but for the most part in a different place. The "most" part of that last sentence is key, because the characters and stories interconnect and as we learn something new we rethink what has gone out before.

We begin with Jack Levine (Henry Thomas), who is driving along one night in the town of Middleton, talking on a cell phone, a bottle of booze on the front seat, when he gets disconnected from his call, the clock in his car hits 11:14 and a body hits his windshield. The situation, to put it mildly, is not good, and they manage to get progressively worse for Jack (could YOU recite the alphabet backwards under pressure?). I do not want to get into the details, because that would spoil the fun. Suffice it to say this is only the first piece in this black comedy. It is important you know that this is a black comedy because cars hitting people, or people hitting cars, are not usually topics of humor. Besides, there are arguably worse things that happen to people in this movie (depending on your point of view, which very well may be gender specific).

The rest of the cast, in alphabetical order, are Rachel Leigh Cook as Cheri, Ben Foster as Eddie, Colin Hanks as Mark, Clark Gregg as Officer Hannagan (who is having a very full night), Shawn Hatosy as Duffy, Blake Heron as Aaron, Barbara Hershey as Norma, Stark Sands as Tim, Hilary Swank as Buzzy, and Patrick Swayze as Frank. I have no doubt that all of them were persuaded to go with Marck, whose only previous credit was the 19-minute long "Lector" (about a man who makes his living reading books to cigar rollers at a time when the new technology of the radio is threatening his job, on the basis of this script. That is because this script adds a new layer of meaning to the story each time around as we come full circle and finally understand what really happened. I agree with the fine ensemble cast that signed on for this one, that Marck pulls it off, and that what we end up with is not so much a cosmic joke as what might actually be cosmic justice. The only question now is what does Marck do for an encore? Because you can only play this type of game once.

Match Point [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Match Point [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £3.93

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Woody Allen explored the notion, "I'd rather be lucky than good", 29 April 2006
Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) once played on the professional men's tour and is now taking gainful employment as a tennis pro. He illustrates the importance of luck by showing a tennis ball striking the tape at the top of the net. The shot is played out in slow motion so we can see the point at which the ball is either going to sustain its spin and make it over the net to drop on the other side for a winning point, or it is going to drop down on the same side and cost who hit it a point (then again, it could be a serve and therefore either a bad first serve or a double fault if it is a second; but the assumption is that it is a regular shot and not a serve, so we will proceed on that basis). We are given to believe that Chris' life is heading for such a moment, although we expect it to be rendered metaphorically and not quite so literally.

At the tennis club Chris works with Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode), who is impressed enough by the former pro to invite him to the opera when he discovers it is something Chris enjoys. The Hewett family has box seats, which seems a bit ostentatious for a place where "La Traviata" is being performed with only a piano accompaniment, but clearly the Hewetts have money. When Tom's sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), discovers she likes Chris he is invited to the family home. Her parents, Alec (Brian Cox) and Eleanor (Penelope Wilton), welcome him and since his daughter clearly wants Chris, Alec offers him a job in one of his companies. After all, you have to be more than a tennis pro to live in this world.

Tom is dating Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson), an American who has aspirations of being an actress but even less drive than Chris to attain such a professional goal. There are sparks between Nola and Chris, but she is not going to marry a tennis pro and he makes the prudent choice to marry Chloe. But after Chris marries, Tom breaks up with Nola, making her available. More importantly, she is more interested this time around. So while Chris is trying unsuccessfully to get Chloe pregnant, he has an affair with Nola and the irony continues as she is the one who becomes pregnant. What does Tom do now?

Answering that question would give away the fun. "Match Point" is one of those movies where it takes a while for you to discover what it is about, even with the help given by the opening shot and narration. Suffice it to say that when you come up with the name of the director whose ballpark Allen is playing in this time around it is not going to be Ingmar Bergman who comes to mind. In fact, if you skipped the opening credits of this film you would be hard pressed to ever think of Allen as being involved creatively. The storyline is not familiar territory, his stock characters are not on display, and there is virtually nothing in the way of humor. Only if you know it is Allen do you notice the improvisational dialogue and the tendency to position the camera and let things happen in front of it instead of panning or zooming.

Even if this is a Woody Allen film unlike previous Woody Allen films, it appears to be required to put "Match Point" in a frame of reference to those previous movies. I would have to point to "Crimes and Misdemeanors" for its fatalism, "Hannah and Her Sisters" because it turns out that what it is about is exactly what it tells us up front it is about, and "Interiors" since Allen neither appears as an actor in his film nor foists another in the Woody Allen role on us. "Stardust Memories" also springs to mind because I end up thinking that it has been a long time since people from a planet, whether this one or some other, complained that they liked his earlier, funnier films. "Match Point" certainly leaves things wide open as to what he will do next, especially now that he has once again caught our attention.

Assault on Precinct 13 [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Assault on Precinct 13 [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £8.01

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They are coming to blow Laurence Fishburne away, 24 April 2006
I did not see John Carpenter's original version of "Assault on Precinct 13," but that did matter to my enjoyment of the 2005 remake. I was paying attention so I knew what the set up was, both inside and out of the precinct, as we went along. But being ahead of the characters on this one does not do you much good because there are ample twists in James DeMonaco's script (I made the mistake of announcing right before the first assault the two characters I was sure would survive all the bullets and I was half-right, which is a polite way of saying I was half-wrong).

It is New Year's Eve in Jean-Francois Richet's film and it has started to snow heavily. Precinct 13 officially closes at the stroke of midnight and filling up the last boxes are Sergeant Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke), who has been hiding behind a desk ever since an undercover gig went horribly bad and he was wounded while his two partners were killed, grizzled veteran Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy) who is always talking about retirement, and secretary Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo) who is always talking about sex with bad boys. Jake would rather talk about sex than his feelings about what happened before with Alex Sabian (Mario Bello), the department shrink who happens to stop by on a snowy New Year's Eve to take another crack at Jake's psyche.

Then a Detroit police transport bus shows up with a quartet of prisoners, unable to get to the prison because of the storm and a highway accident. There is Beck (John Leguizamo), who will not shut up, Anna (Alisha Hinds) a girl with a crew-cut who proclaims her innocence, Smiley (Ja Rule), a counterfeiter, and Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), the most notorious criminal in the city, who has just been arrested for murdering an undercover cop under suspicious circumstances. So when a couple of guys with guns break into the precinct and everybody is yelling these are Bishop's men coming to get get, we do not buy it. After all, as soon as Bishop saw them he hid behind a wall. Things are just beginning to get interesting.

"Assault on Precinct 13" is an action film where the human element is really more interesting once Jake figures out that to survive the night he needs everybody to help out, which means not only the prisoners but the women. Everybody gets a gun in this one, but you know full well that not everybody can be trusted with one. Furthermore, Jake is fully aware that Bishop is the smartest and deadliest person there, but this movie is all about making the best of a bad situation that keeps getting worse. The death of one character really puts the way this is going to play out into question, and I liked the note on which the film actually ends once we finally get down to the inevitable confrontation between the two main characters. Not great, but certainly an enjoyable action picture with a minimum amount of stupidity on the part of the characters once you accept the idea the die is cast and it is all or nothing for the bad guys. That is a pretty good recommendation for this genre.

Nip/Tuck: Complete First Season [DVD] [2004] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Nip/Tuck: Complete First Season [DVD] [2004] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by passionFlix UK
Price: £18.58

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dramedy about plastic surgery runs more than skin deep, 20 April 2006
I heard about "Nip/Tuck" and since it was about plastic surgery, I avoided watching it. I appreciate the importance of plastic surgery in restoring the looks of patients, but am less enthused by cosmetic surgery to improve personal appearance, mainly because I do not consider being pretty or handsome to be that important (being neither makes it an easy position to hold). But more importantly I avoided taking biology in high school and college because I was not going to take a scalpel and start dissecting a frog (or worse). I still remember the anti-smoking film I saw in health class and how everybody freaked during the lung cancer operation. It was not taking out the diseased lung, but the bit where the surgeon cut into his chest that had everybody gagging. But several students recommended the series and I decided to check it out. Surprisingly I made it all the way to Episode 24, "Natasha Charles," before I got to something that freaked me and had me yelling "No!" over and over again so loudly my wife came running because she thought something had happened to me (you will know it when you see it, and that is all I can say if I want to continue writing this review).

Of course the show is not really about plastic surgery, although in pretty much every episode there comes a point where we get to see it performed. "Nip/Tuck" is about the people who require the surgery and the surgeons who perform it. In Miami we find McNamara/Troy, a plastic surgery practice co-owned by Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) and his best friend, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon). Sean is married to his college sweetheart, Julia McNamara (Joely Richardson), and has two children, a teenage son named Matt (John Hensley) and a younger daughter named Annie (Kelsey Lynn Batelaan). There is something of a love triangle between Sean, Christian, and Julia, but what is pivotal to the dynamic of the show are not the feelings that Christian and Julia have or still have for each other. Central to the series is that fact that in the final analysis, Sean cares more for his best friend than he does for himself. Beyond that it is painfully obvious that Sean and Christian are the sort of opposites that make for good partners: Christian has yet to find anybody he loves more than himself, and Sean will always put the welfare of others before his own. These tragic flaws do not turn every episodes into a mini-Greek tragedy, but there are moments of pain.

The patients that come to McNamara/Troy are the catalyst for what happens, and if there is often a dramatic irony that exists between the problems of the patient and the ongoing personal traumas of the main characters, we should not be that surprised. The initial question that patients are asked is "Tell me what you don't like about yourself?" The point of the question is about their appearance, but obvious the answer runs deeper than the person's skin. It does not take long to establish that patients of all kinds come to McNamara/Troy for surgery. So there are patients who need plastic surgery after a car accident ("Cara Fitzgerald") and those who want it for cosmetic reasons, such as a pair of twins who want to look different from each other ("Mandi/Randi"). Each episode is named for the primary patient, but you only know the titles from the menus. This matters only on a few episodes where the title is for one of the main or supporting characters, in which case you know they are going to need medical attention by the end of the episode.

There are a couple of key story arcs throughout the first season, starting (and ending) with the drug lord Escobar Gallardo (Robert La Sardo), after Troy operates on somebody who wants to hide from Gallardo, who becomes more and more involved in their business, sending them mules from Columbia are smuggling drugs in breast implants. Merril Bobolit (Joey Slotnick), a rival plastic surgeon, takes away business from McNamara/Troy by using advertising and other tricks, while Mrs. Grubman (Ruth Williamson) has developed an addiction to plastic surgery. Meanwhile, somebody is vandalizing Troy's possessions, Sean becomes close with a patient (Julie Warner), and a transsexual named Sophia Lopez (Jonathan Del Arco) develops a friendship with Liz Cruz (Roma Maffia), the resident anesthesiologist. Consequently, each episode has a self-contained story, but each is part of the larger picture and the image in the mirror is a constant reminder that looks are not everything. If you can stomach the surgery scenes (including the do it yourself circumcision), then "Nip/Tuck" could get you hooked on its peculiar look at the human condition.

Showtime [DVD] [2002]
Showtime [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Robert De Niro
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £8.66

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars William Shatner steals this movie from De Niro and Murphy, 20 April 2006
This review is from: Showtime [DVD] [2002] (DVD)
You have to admit that the idea of teaming up Robert De Niro and Eddie Murphy is certainly interesting, but who would have thought they both would be upstaged by William Shatner playing William Shatner? Of course, "Showtime" came out in 2002, and that was before Shatner started winning all those Emmys for playing Denny Crane on "Boston Legal." But this movie and those Priceline commercials probably prompted David Kelley to unleash Shatner on prime time television once again (We knew there was life after Captain James T. Kirk, but who knew there was such life after T.J. Hooker as well?).

"Showtime" is a film that has its cake and eats it too by making fun of the cop buddy comedy movie at the same time it embraces the genre. That might explain why you have the feeling at the end of this film that you are watching a different movie than the one you started out watching. De Niro is Mitch, a streetwise cop who lives in the real world and takes pride in doing his job and the fact that he has never had to choose between cutting the red wire or the green wire. Murphy is Trey, a patrolman who likes being a cop but would also like to play a cop on TV. Rene Russo is the television executive, sort of a second grade Faye Dunaway "Network" type, who takes the opportunity to bring these two together when Mitch makes the mistake of blowing away a television camera during a shootout (his partner has been shot, there is a guy out there with the biggest gun you have ever seen, and for some reason Mitch does not like a bright light being shined on them in the dark of night). To avoid a multi-million dollar law suit Mitch is ordered to play ball with the television people, even if that means constantly being followed by cameras as he tries to do his job and putting Trey in the seat next to him. While Chase waits for Mitch to explode on camera, we wait for him to bond with Trey.

That is the premise of "Showtime," and the biggest irony is that the best scenes involve setting up the premise rather than the plot that keeps intruding on the fun. The only thing better than Eddie Murphy teaching Robert De Niro how to act is when William Shatner shows up and the pair have T.J. Hooker show them how it is done. Perhaps not since the Marx Brothers ran rampant has the screen had three such divergent approaches to acting in a single scene, which Shatner steals from the other two. The best line in the film is when Shatner informs Chase that Mitch is the worst actor he has ever seen. Unfortunately the rest of the film does not match the levels of humor at work during this training sequence and you have to give credit to the actors who can make a simple scene such as Mitch watching Trey watching Shatner hysterical.

The film is directed by Tom Dey, who did "Shanghai Noon" and apparently is content to find a niche as a buddy film director. Then again, if you get De Niro and Murphy should you be complaining about being typed as a director? This is an action comedy where the action gets in the way of the comedy and once Shatner disappears the movie shifts into a different gear. Yes, there is a point where comedies like this have serious moments and we realize that underneath the banter and animosity there are feelings of affection and mutual respect, but with "Showtime" you just get the feeling they are pouring on the cliches they spent so much time ridiculing in the first half of the film.

Mrs Henderson Presents [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Mrs Henderson Presents [DVD] [2005] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £18.95

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody stops Dame Judi from putting nude women on stage, 20 April 2006
The British have an affinity for making charming comedies about nudity that seems well beyond the ability of our colonial filmmakers. They have proven this in films from "The Full Monty" to "Calendar Girls," and in case anybody was thinking that they could only do this with overweight blokes and older ladies, along comes "Mrs. Henderson Presents" to show that naked young women can be charming as well. Director Stephen Frears is helped along in this endeavor in that the story he is telling is based on true events, since nudity combined with history has much more justification than simply nudity for the sake of art.

Mrs. Henderson (Judi Dench) is a widow who eases the boredom of her life by buying the Windmill, a West End theater in Soho. She hires Vivian Van Damm (Bob Hoskins) to run the place and he comes up with the innovative idea of doing a non-stop revue: no need to wait for the start of a performance, just come on in, sit right down, and stay as long as you like. The idea of "Revudeville" is such a big success that everybody copies it, so now Mrs. Henderson needs to present something different and she suggests nude girls. This is Britain, so it goes without saying that would be wrong, but in chatting up Lord Cromer (Christopher Guest), the Lord Chamberlain, she establishes that while a naked woman who moves might be considered obscene, a naked woman who did not move would not. After all, there are statues and naked women on display at the National Gallery. Therefore, the "Windmill Girls" will be displayed in motionless poses as living statues.

The big moment is supposed to be when the Windmill stages its first "tableaux vivants" for the general public, but that turns out not to be the case. Instead, the big moment comes when the "English roses" that Van Damm has collected are required to disrobe for the first time on stage during rehearsal. This becomes a stick wicket, and the girls come up with a solution that provides the biggest laugh of the film when Mrs. Henderson arrives upon the scene and sees the best "tableaux vivants" of the film. After that point the actual first performance is something of an anti-climax, and most of the rest of the film are simply vignettes about what it is was like when a mouse was let loose on stage and other on stage occurrences of note, played out against the tension between Mrs. Henderson and Van Damm when she discovers he is married and vows never to set foot in her heater again.

However, although there is not much in terms of plot for this long section of the film, the emphasis being on putting together the tableaus and musical numbers, there is a conclusion of note when World War II begins and the Windmill stays open during the Blitz. Part of the reason is that the theater was mostly underground, so it was a relatively safe place to be during the air raids. But there is also a sense that Mrs. Henderson is keeping her theater open to spite Hitler: after all, the Nazis have conquered France and she can no longer visit the grave of her only son, who was killed during the First World War. There is a point where the Lord Chamberlain wants to close the Windmill, and Mrs. Henderson gets up on a crate in the middle of the street and explains in pointed and poigant terms why she puts nude women on stage. So it was that the Windmill could proudly proclaim "We Never Closed" ("We Never Clothed" is a nice play on words, but not strictly true).

Dench sails through her scenes like the great ship of state that she is, even if her dignity is challenged by such things as being placed on top of a cabinet. After all, this is a woman who will say words that would put any gentleman to shame. Hoskins gives his all as well (literally), and we should not be surprised that he can stand toe to toe with Dame Judi and not back down. Special mention should be made of Will Young, who plays Bertie and sings all the tenor parts of the arrangements, and Kelly Reilly as Maureen, the tallest of the original "Windmill Girls" and the only one that really emerges as a distinct character. The results are charming, which, when you stop and think about it, is really just the British version of cute. Rated R for the tasteful exhibition of bits and pieces.

The Dish [DVD] [2001] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
The Dish [DVD] [2001] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by M and N Media US
Price: £57.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What happened in Parkes, Australia, the day of the moonwalk, 19 April 2006
What happened in Parkes, Australia the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, April 18, 2006

I remember going out in the yard and taking a photograph of the moon in July of 1969, knowing that for the first time in (human) history there were people walking around on its surface. At the time it seemed an amazing accomplishment and an indication that we could do anything and that the future we saw in "2001: A Space Odyssey" was well within our grasp (although without the Monolith). Today I am amazed that my children have never been able to take that same photograph, knowing that there was another body in the solar system behind this one that was, at least for a brief moment, also inhabited.

"The Dish" is set in July of 1969 in the town of Parkes, Australia, which has the distinction of having the biggest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere. In fact, it is the only one on that half of the planet that can pick up not only radio and telemetry from Apollo 11, but also the television pictures that will be beamed back from the surface of the moon as Neil Armstrong take his small step and giant leap. That means that the ability of the 700 million people who will be in front of their television sets around the world rests entirely upon, in the words of the tagline, "a satellite dish in rural Australia with a few bugs (And a few hundred sheep)." This is, in case it need be said, the biggest thing ever to happen in Parkes. The U.S. Ambassador (John McMartin) is coming to town, and so is the Prime Minister (Bille Brown), and the Mayor (Roy Biling) is trying to take it all in stride. Fortunately his son, Billy (Carl Snell) understands all of the science involved, which helps offset his daughter, Marie (Lenka Kripac), who sees nothing put the political downside of everything. His wife would be happy if her husband could start calling her May instead of Maisie (Genevieve Mooy), now that they have hit the big time.

Meanwhile, over at the telescope, Cliff Buxton (Sam Neill) is in charge of his quirkly little crew. Glenn Latham (Tom Long) does the math and Ross "Mitch" Mitchell (Kevin Harrington) is in charge of the machinery. Then there is Al Burnett (Patrick Warburton), who has showed up from NASA to make sure everything goes by the book, and Rudi (Tayler Kane), the security guard who has enough trouble keeping out the sheep, not to mention his sister, Janine (Eliza Szonert), who keeps showing up with food to talk to Mitch. But none of that matter when the big day comes, the town fuse blows, the computer gets blanked, the signal from Apollo 11 is lost, and lying to NASA is only going to work for so long before the entire world notices they are not watching the moonwalk.

There is something to be said for a nice little movie that makes you feel good, although I suspect it helps if you remember the big day yourself. Director Rob Stich ("The Castle") pays as much attention to what is happening in town, where it seems everybody is dressing up to watch television, as he does to how events are unfolding at the telescope. Figuring where to point the telescope turned out to be more a question of common sense than higher mathematics, but what can they do when a strong wind starts to blow? Fortunately the film is uniform in its affection for all of the characters, and if "The Dish" does anything, it puts the big day in perception. Well, that, and make us smile.

Ice Harvest [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Ice Harvest [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £1.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A black comedy crime caper that never completely clicks, 13 April 2006
Black comedies are difficult things to pull off, which probably explains to a large degree why there are not that many of them. "The Hospital" is still my personal standard and the black comedy by which all others are judged, which might be a tad unfair since Paddy Chayefsky won an Oscar for writing that one. But the screenplay for "The Ice Harvest" was written by Richard Russo ("Empire Falls") and Robert Benton ("Places in the Heart") from the novel by Scott Phillips, which is not bad writing team. It is just that this 2005 film never really clicks on all cylinders and only gets going at the end, which might be a tad too late for many viewers.

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) is a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kansas, which might sound like an oxymoron but happens to be his peculiar reality. The holiday season has come and Charlie and his friend Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), a pornographer, have stolen $2.2 million belonging to the local mob boss, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), who as you might suspect is a killer. However, their plane out of town to a warmer climate far, far away from Guerrard does not leave until the next morning and these two might not be alive by then. Charlie is hanging out at a strip club where he is attracted to the manager, Renata (Connie Nielsen), who might express more of an interest in poor Charlie if only Charlie were not so poor.

It is hard for Charlie to keep a low profile, because his friend Pete (Oliver Platt, playing a slightly more boisterous version of his character on "Huff"), tends to announce that Charlie is a mob lawyer in a loud voice everyplace they go. But this all appears to be moot because Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), one of Guerrard's hit men is asking around town for Charlie and this cannot be a good thing. Throw into the mix the fact that Vic is acting squirrelly and Charlie is seriously thinking about taking Renata along for the good life he is planning on living someplace else, and the permutations as to how badly this can all end for Charlie are increasing geometrically.

Given the fine cast that director Harold Ramis collected for this film, it is interesting that (a) the actor who steals the film is Mike Starr and that (b) he does this while being locked in a trunk. Being locked in a trunk is the sort of think that can kill your career as a hit man, especially if you are missing a thumb (tell the truth: did you not think it was something else, something worse, when you saw the vise?), but Roy keeps making threats and you tend to believe the guy. These scenes are the funniest in the film, mainly because they are more understated that the rest of the film, which tends to pale a bit in comparison.

However, the last act definitely picks up once every thing unravels (or comes together, depending on your particular point of view), so you patience in getting through a lot of the early stuff will be rewarded. Charlie ends up being the "hero" in this one pretty much by default, and there is not the usually engaging performance by Cusak to help carry this one along because his character is such a dim-bulb, which only adds to our anticipation that he is going to meet a bad end. In the end I round up on this one because they went with this ending rather than the alternative one (there are two alternative endings but they end the same). I was afeared it was going to end the alternative way, which at that point would have been the final nail in the coffin, but they avoided the temptation and I was relieved. A black comedy does not need to be a bleak comedy.

Wolf Creek (2 Disc Edition) [2005] [DVD]
Wolf Creek (2 Disc Edition) [2005] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Jarratt
Price: £1.26

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars They play dirty Down Under when it comes to Splatter Flicks, 13 April 2006
"Wolf Creek" is one of the most brutal splatter slicks I have ever seen. I watched it during the daylight with the shades up and that did nothing to mitigate the bad parts of this one. If you are tired of horror films that wimp out and/or rely too much on special effects, then this 2005 effort from Down Under is for you. If you watch horror films for the cathartic experience, then stay away from this one, because once you climb down into the abyss on this one you do not really get back out the whole way. Not even close.

Liz Hutner (Cassandra Magrath), Kristy Earl (Kestie Morassi), and Ben Mitchell (Nathan Phillips) are a trio of young adults who decide to go hiking in the remote but scenic Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback. On the way there they stop at a roadhouse and Ben has a run in with a mean looking customer, which is the sort of thing that does not bode well for young people in splatter flicks. But these three have no idea. It takes a while for things to start going wrong and a bit longer to get to the point where the bad things start happening and start building in intensity.

In the featurette on the DVD McLean talks about wanting his serial killer, Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) to be an Australian icon and a counterpart to Freddie and Jason. But Mick's humor ring hollow compared to Freddie because he is not a supernatural being and his victims are not stupid, oversexed teenagers who are killed in creative ways that allow you to take perverse pleasure in their deaths. Mick takes out people the old fashioned way, with a knife and a high powered rifle. "Wolf Creek" does not allow any buffers between you and the violence. This guy is a sick bastard. He is not particularly inventive when it comes to hurting people, he is just brutally effective in what he does.

For many viewers the fact that is takes a while for things to start happening in this one will be sufficient reason to knock down the rating one star. Not much happens in the first half of this film and it is not like the character development of Liz, Kristy and Ben is all that important. But for me the part where I did the deduction comes when the victims have their best chance to get out alive. Now, if there is one thing we have learned from these splatter flicks it is that the killer is down but never out. When you get them down, do not stop, do not pass go, and do not go running off so they can chase you down. Do whatever you need to in order to take them out. Given that premise, if you have an empty gun and are precluded from shooting them, then it should be obvious where to hit them. Unfortunately, that proves to be too obvious for the characters in this movie. Still, the ending does not play out the way you would expect and there is a rather interesting shell game when it comes to who is the hero, which earns bonus points.

I was curious as to what exactly were the true events on which "Wolf Creek" was based, because for all I knew it could be the statistics thrown at you in the beginning of the movie regarding how many people are lost in Australia each year. But it turns out there is the case of Ivan Milat, a serial killer who was convicted for what are called the "Backpacker Murders" in Australia, and last year Bradley John Murdoch was convicted for killing a British backpacker. Of course these simply serve as an inspiration for writer-director Greg McLean the way Ed Gein inspired "Psycho" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Besides, the question with splatter flicks is never whether they are true, but whether they come across as being real, and this one is ahead on that score at the end.

Bee Season [DVD]
Bee Season [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Gere
Price: £5.79

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For Eliza Naumann, a Spelling Bee is a mystical experience, 6 April 2006
This review is from: Bee Season [DVD] (DVD)
I think that stories involving Spelling Bees have an inherent flaw in them because since those in the contest are better spellers than the audience they always dumb down the key words in the contest. I am an atrocious speller, but I have watched the National Spelling Bee, where it takes these kids two minutes to spell words because they have a standard set of questions to go through, from time to time. That is why it seems to me that these kids are always missing words that they should not be missing, so that the audience has an opportunity to play along. This is true in "Bee Season," but fortunately here it only underscores the key point of the film, which is not really about Spelling Bees.
"Bee Season" begins and ends at the National Spelling Bee and it is clear from what little we see in the beginning that young Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) is going to be one of the two kids left standing at the end. In the audience is her smiling father, Saul Naumann (Richard Gere), and as we go back to see how they came to be at this time and place we learn that our assumptions about this father and daughter scene are a bit off the mark. In fact, the Naumann prove to be another unhappy family, albeit unlike any one that we have come across before. Saul is a professor Jewish theology and the Kabbalah at Berkely, whose beliefs are more academic than spiritual. His wife, Miriam (Juliette Binoche), goes off in the middle of the night to break into homes and steal small objects that sparkle and shine. Their teenage son Aaron (Max Minghella) is rebelling against his father's dogmatic authoritarianism and becomes a Hare Krishna.
When Eliza begins winning Spelling Bees, her family does not notice. She tries to inform her father by writing him a letter, but he fails to see it. Indeed, he has been ignoring her for the first twelve years of her life. After all, his wife is a scientist and his son plays classical cello, but what has Eliza done to deserve his attention? When her success comes to his attention, he immediate begins to coach her. Is this so that she can do well or so that he can claim the credit for her success? To me it is obviously the latter. There is a moment in one of the Spelling Bees when Eliza is given a word that Saul knows she does not know (I assume because he did not teach it to her). She spells it correctly and for a moment there is a look on Saul's face that makes it clear to me that he knows his daughter does not need him. However, this does not change his behavior.
Ultimately, Saul's sin is something greater than the arrogance of parental ego because he does not understand why it is Eliza does not need him. He teaches God and the name of God are the same thing: in the beginning there was the Word, and that was the agent of divine creation. Eliza was winning Spelling Bees without studying because she never needed to: you give her a word, she closes her eyes, and the letters of the words magically appear. Actually, that would really be that they mystically appear. Saul teaches about such things, but Eliza is the real article, and her learned father does not have a clue that what he teaches is indeed true. But then his family has been falling apart for years and this learned man has failed to notice the clear evidence of this before his very eyes. Irony abounds in this film, but it is an irony grounded in pain.
Eliza is the light of this movie and Saul the black hole, and I must admit to binge more offended by his behavior than I am amazed at her talents. There is a moment of redemption at the end of this film, but whether realization leads to reformation is something we can only assume, and most people Eliza's age can tell you why that would be a mistake. This 2005 film was directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who have done "The Deep End" and "Suture" together. The script was written by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal ("Running on Empty"), based on the novel by Myla Goldberg, and it cannot be faulted for capturing the character of Saul so well that it pushes one of my buttons. I still remember the Little League baseball game where I saw what atrocities parents could commit in supporting their children, and ever since such perversions of love have rankled my soul. Hopefully when you watch "Bee Season" it will be Eliza and not Saul who dominates your thoughts and feelings.

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