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Hamlet [DVD]
Hamlet [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mel Gibson

24 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Since brevity is the soul of wit ..., 28 Dec. 2005
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] (DVD)
I will be brief; though whether witty, too, as this production is ... why, I know not.
For 'tis not a trifle thing to take a play like Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and cut its length
Almost in half, without thus giving up half of its meaning. Yet, Signor
Franco Zeffirelli: even he, who aught already did for "Romeo
And Juliet," hath made his mark again here in most splendid fashion.
The Prince of Denmark's been portrayed by Thespian royalty near and far,
First among these the great Sir Laurence. Yet here now comes Mel Gibson: a most
Unusual choice, 'tis true; and better known for other roles. But although
Action star and ladies' favourite, this venture made him humble; justly so:
"The play's the thing," he says as Hamlet, and as himself, he adds: "Hamlet belongs
On stage." And he deplores that merely one of his enactments of each scene
Should be preserved on film forever, and that he never had the chance
To delve into the role anew from night to night. - Fear not, good Sir: I think
You did great honour to the Bard's intent; well understood unhappy Hamlet's
Scorn, his rage, his doubts, his terrible paralysis, all his tormented soul.
I also do agree that although ten years older than the prince when you
Took on the part, those extra years provided further insight of the kind
That's needed for this complex role. Hadst but maintained you this same sense of
Hamlet's gravitas until the end, of my full'st praise you wouldst have been assured.
Alas, the levity that you let creep into the final duel with Laertes
In my view ill becomes that scene, and although Hamlet on its eve hath had
A premonition of his death; hath spoke of providence and sparrows,
And looking at the sunset sighed, I doubt that when he meets Ophelia's brother,
He's so far gone beyond all caring that he'd make light of their encounter.
("The rest is silence," too, would have impressed me more without the lisp.)
But let that be. For I do join you in applauding those who
With you hearkened the appeal of Signor Zeffirelli; and who
Most heartily deserve to share this feature's laurels. Princes of
British theatre: the late, great Alan Bates - usurper Claudius -
All ruthless power, cunning, even carnal, brushing away his pangs of guilt;
Yet, reck'ning he doth not escape. Paul Scofield, next, th' ill-fated ghost;
Not bearing arms, as Shakespeare wrote, but verily a perturbed spirit,
As Hamlet calls him, in his pain. And Ian Holm as counsellor
Polonius: not ponderous, nor slow of tongue and eye but quick, and yet
Slain by the prince, in Claudius's place. They all have stood on stage a hundred times,
And brought to life the Bard's great plays, so well doth it behove one new, as Master Gibson
Is, to Shakespeare's world to credit them for lessons learned; and not just for their acting.
Also permit me, pray, to speak about the ladies in this male-dictated play:
Glenn Close's Gertrude, youthful queen, who gives the lie to Hamlet's chide
And his unmerciful reminder of her flesh's humbleness, and of her
Age. A bit too Freudian, perchance, her and her son's relationship
(That's an approach I've never liked). But a commanding presence, all be told.
Yet, even more praiseworthy is Miss Hel'na Bonham-Carter; her
Ophelia well-neigh impossible to replicate, she's *that* convincing.
Now rose in bloom, in love; now in distress, now finally in lunacy; she wails,
Her hair is tangled, clothes in rags, prophetic words she speaks disguised as
Songs and flower talk, before she drowns and thus propels this drama's end.
What else? Oh aye, of course: Kudos must also go to David Watkin,
In charge of camera, and Signors Ennio Morricone and Feretti
- by first name Dante - for this film's score and the design of its production.
Faithful reporting, too, would be amiss without a word on Hamlet's foils:
Horatio, his school fellow, in Stephen Dillane's able hands, as is
Laertes in Nathaniel Parker's; and Trevor Peacock as the gravedigger,
Spot-on: a diamond in the rough. As player king, moreover, have a
Look out for Pete Postlethwaite; and unlike the movie by Olivier
This one includes both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern - Michael Maloney and
Sean Murray. Fortinbras, though, you'll search in vain in this production, too.
The words, of course, are those of Shakespeare, though moved around a bit, but not in
Ways that by and large, methinks, the Bard would take exception to. Save, that is,
"Get thee to a nunnery," which doth assume a diff'rent connotation here:
A kinder, gentler Hamlet, who still contrives to show some care about Ophelia.
(But would he really? Nay, I think not.) "To be or not to be" not in the
Courtyard but the crypt, however, that is amazingly intense: both
The performance and the imagery. As generally Zeffirelli
In troth well uses film's ability to convey meaning visually, as
In the burial of Hamlet Senior, the prince's wordless visit to
Ophelia, and in the punishment of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
But let me close now. Brief I would be, that was my promise - well, there goes that.
Such is reviewing! Yet, what I wish, in faith, dear reader, thou hadst found
Within these lines is that I recommend this film. So go and watch it - presently!


Poirot: Classic Collection [DVD] [1989] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Poirot: Classic Collection [DVD] [1989] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Offered by M and N Media US
Price: £149.97

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poirot in Perfection., 20 Dec. 2005
Hercule Poirot is one of the most famous detectives in literary history. Yet, strangely, except for his portrayal by Albert Finney in the star-studded movie version of "Murder on the Orient Express," for a long time there did not seem to be an actor who could convincingly bring to life the clever, dignified little Belgian with his unmistakable egg-shaped head, always perched a little on one side, his stiff, military, slightly upward-twisted moustache, and his excessively neat attire, which had reached the point that "a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet," as Agatha Christie introduced him through his friend Captain Hastings's voice in their and her own very first adventure, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" (1920). But leave it to British television to finally find the perfect Poirot in David Suchet, who after having had the dubious honor of playing a rather dumbly arrogant version of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Japp in some of the 1980s' movies starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, was finally allowed to move center stage in the Granada/ITV series broadcast from 1989 onwards, which to date also includes seventeen movie-length features based on a number of Christie's most celebrated Poirot novels. (Not - yet? - included are, most notably, [new] adaptations of "Murder on the Orient Express" [1934], "Cards on the Table" [1936], "Appointment with Death" [1938], "Mrs. McGinty's Dead" [1952], "After the Funeral" [1953], and Poirot's final case, "Curtain" [published 1975, but written in the 1940s].)
And the match is spot-on, not only physically but also, and more importantly so, in terms of personality. Suchet shares Poirot's inclination towards pedantry: "I like things to be symmetrical ... If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced," he said in an interview, comparing his real-life persona to that of Poirot. But, he added, unlike his on-screen alter ego, "I don't need the same sized eggs for breakfast!" Although previously not interested in mysteries, his habitually meticulous research allowed him to quickly become familiar with Christie's Belgian sleuth and the workings of his little grey cells - and to slip so much into Poirot's skin that I, for one, can no longer pick up a Poirot book without instantly hearing Suchet's voice as that of the great little detective.
This collection brings together the series's 36 short episodes; all in all, adaptations of roughly 75% of the Poirot entries contained in Christie's various collections of short stories and novellas - or more precisely, almost all short stories except for the twelve mysteries from Poirot's self-declared "last" decameron of cases, "The Labors of Hercules" (1947), and three stories from the 1926 collection "The Underdog." Next to Mr. Suchet, Hugh Fraser stars as the detective's indefatigable sidekick Captain Hastings, whom the screenplays, alas, make come across as more of a well-educated but vacuous gentleman than do the written originals narrated from his point of view. (This is virtually my only quibble with the series - and that although Granada and ITV did so well in debumblifying Sherlock Holmes's friend and chronicler Dr. Watson!) Philip Jackson, on the other hand, gives us an admirably sturdy, down-to-earth incarnation of Chief Inspector Japp, and Pauline Moran virtually inhabits Poirot's epitome of a secretary, Miss Lemon; whose role, like those of Hastings and Japp, is added into a number of episodes not originally featuring them, thankfully without greatly disturbing the stories' narrative flow and setting.
The episodes contained in this set are, in the order of Christie's original short story collections:
From POIROT INVESTIGATES (1924):
"The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim"
"The Veiled Lady"
"The Lost Mine"
"The Adventure of the Cheap Flat"
"The Kidnapped Prime Minister"
"The Adventure of the Western Star"
"The Million Dollar Bond Robbery"
"The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor"
"The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge"
"The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb"
"The Case of the Missing Will"
"The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman"
"The Chocolate Box"
"Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan"
From THE UNDERDOG and OTHER STORIES (1926):
"The Cornish Mystery"
"The Plymouth Express"
"The Affair at the Victory Ball"
"The Underdog"
"The Adventure of the Clapham Cook"
"The King of Clubs"
From MURDER IN THE MEWS (1937):
"Dead Man's Mirror"
"Murder in the Mews"
"Triangle at Rhodes"
"The Incredible Theft"
From THE REGATTA MYSTERY and OTHER STORIES (1939):
"How Does Your Garden Grow?"
"The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" (a/k/a "The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest")
"Yellow Iris"
"Problem at Sea"
"The Dream"
From THREE BLIND MICE and OTHER STORIES (1950):
"The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly"
"Four and Twenty Blackbirds"
"The Third Floor Flat"
From DOUBLE SIN and OTHER STORIES (1961):
"Double Sin"
"Wasps' Nest"
"The Double Clue"
"The Theft of the Royal Ruby"


The Sting (Special Edition) [DVD]
The Sting (Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paul Newman
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £6.70

30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's the Big Con ... and it's Hooker by a nose!, 21 Nov. 2005
The year is 1936, and while generally there's a depression on, small-time Joliet grifter Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and his pals Luther Coleman and Joe Erie (Robert Earl Jones and Jack Kehoe) have just hit the big one, taking over $10,000 from a mark in a routine street con. What they don't know, unfortunately, is that their mark is actually a runner for the Illinois operation of New York banker-turned-mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), who loses no time sending a pair of killers after them, commenting dryly that "you can't encourage this kind of thing ... ya' folla'?" Hours later, Luther is found dead below his living room window. Shocked and angry, Johnny and Joe nevertheless know they have to beat it, and quickly. Johnny decides to go to Chicago, to look up Luther's old friend Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), whom Luther has described as a true big-timer. He is less than impressed, however, when he finds Gondorff sleeping off the previous night's booze, actually lying in a corner *beside* his bed. His impression only changes after they have started to talk (and not before he has given him a good drenching in the bath tub to sober him up) and Hooker begins to get an inkling that this guy Gondorff actually does know what he's talking about.
Thus, the scene is set for one of film history's greatest cons, where Gondorff and Hooker devise a scheme to sting Lonnegan out of a half million dollars in a venture including everything from a bamboozled poker round (courtesy of technical advisor John Scarne, whose hands doubled for Newman's) to a scam bookmaking outfit and the temporary hijacking of a telegraph office - as much in revenge for Luther's death (because, as Hooker explains, he "[doesn't] know enough about killing to kill [Lonnegan]") as for the scheme's financial prospect, which alone is big enough to make it worthwhile; and then, of course there is the thrill of the chase itself! And they're not even put off by the fact that Hooker is sought, besides by Lonnegan's killers, by Joliet "bunko" cop Snyder (Charles Durning) - less because of the latter's official duties, though, but because, bullied by Snyder into coughing up the better part of his share of the take from Lonnegan's runner, Hooker has had the brilliant idea of passing him counterfeit money; thus incurring the cop's wrath as surely as he has already incurred Lonnegan's.
"The Sting" reprised the successful cooperation of Redford, Newman and director George Roy Hill that had paid off so well four years earlier in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," earning Hill one of seven Academy Awards - the most coveted one besides "Best Movie," which also went to this movie - and Redford his first "Best Actor" Oscar nomination (why Newman wasn't likewise at least nominated will forever remain one of the Academy's mysteries). The screenplay was inspired by David W. Maurer's 1940 book "The Big Con," which chronicles the exploits of several depression-era con artists whose names, in turn, inspired those of several of the movie's characters, including Henry Gondorff, J.J. Singleton, Eddie Niles and Kid Twist (the latter three played with panache, wit and tongue firmly planted in cheek by Ray Walston, John Heffernan and the great, prolific Harold Gould).
Screenwriter David S. Ward - another one of the film's seven Oscar winners - created Hooker's role with Robert Redford in mind from the start. Redford, however, initially declined and only changed his mind (still not expecting the movie to be a major success) after Jack Nicholson had likewise turned it down in the interim. He would soon be proven dead wrong; indeed, everything came together as in a dream for the production: Two stars with confirmed on-screen chemistry, each of whom alone possessed enough charisma to turn even the slightest scene into a magical moment but who together were darn near unbeatable; a despite an not entirely convincing Irish accent eminently credible, intelligent and menacing villain; a great supporting cast that also included Eileen Brennan (Gondorff's girlfriend Billie), Dimitra Arliss (Hooker's love interest Loretta), Dana Elcar (would-be FBI Agent Polk) and Charles Dierkop (Lonnegan's right-hand man Floyd); a spunky script with new plot twists and memorable one-liners at every corner; meticulously researched, spot-on cinematography and art direction, earning the film Academy Award No. 4 (Art Direction) plus a nomination in the "Best Cinematography" category - all the more amazing as the movie was filmed almost entirely on Universal's back lot and includes only a few days' worth of location shots - likewise meticulously researched period costumes (Oscar No. 5 for the film and No. 7 for honoree Edith Head, out of no less than 25 (!) nominations); superb camerawork and editing (Oscar No. 6, Editing) and last but not least an Oscar-winning soundtrack, compiled by Marvin Hamlisch from Scott Joplin's ragtime tunes - which actually were no longer popular in the 1930s but fit the movie's tone like a tee.
Having watched the movie countless times, I sometimes wonder (only now that I'm finally reasonably familiar with its breathtaking plot twists, I hasten to add) whether it makes sense that in a well-organized outfit like Lonnegan's, which instantly identified Hooker, Coleman and Erie as the grifters who had conned their runner and also instantly knew their places of abode, both in Joliet *and* Hooker's new Chicago address, the right hand should have been so ignorant of the left hand's pursuits that it never dawned on anyone that the kid conning himself into Lonnegan's confidence under the name Kelly was actually none other than the Johnny Hooker they were pursuing for the Joliet hit. But ultimately this is nit-picking I'll admit, and it does not take away one iota of the movie's fun and overall class.
So, settle down with a beer, pop in the new special edition DVD (finally - what took you so long, Universal?!), and enjoy - for the flag is up ... and they're off again!!


Agatha Christie : The Miss Marple Collection (12 Disc Box Set) [DVD] [1984]
Agatha Christie : The Miss Marple Collection (12 Disc Box Set) [DVD] [1984]
Dvd ~ Joan Hickson
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £54.02

312 of 323 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It is dangerous to believe people. I haven't for years ...", 21 Nov. 2005
There she sits: A white-haired lady dressed in tweeds, a pair of knitting needles in her lap, more interested in village gossip than in the goings-on of the world at large - and out of nothing, she utters sentences like that.
For more likely than not, another murder has been committed; and Miss Jane Marple, elderly spinster from the village of St. Mary Mead, just happens to find herself near the scene of the crime. And also more likely than not, while the police are still toddling around searching for clues she'll find the solution - relying on her ever-unfailing "village parallels;" those seemingly innocuous incidents of village life that make up the sum of Miss Marple's knowledge of human nature, and to which she routinely turns in unmasking even the cleverest killer. "Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner - Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous," already observes Vicar Clement, the narrator of Miss Marple's literary debut, 1930's "Murder at the Vicarage" (although in the BBC series, only her fifth adventure).
Originally airing on TV in the 1980s, the BBC's adaptations of Agatha Christie's twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and "noticing kinds of persons"'s creator, Dame Agatha herself. (After seeing Hickson in an adaptation of her "Appointment With Death," as early as 1946 Christie reportedly sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day "play my dear Miss Marple.") Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie's books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character's literary original in 1980's "Hollywood does Christie" version of "The Mirror Crack'd" (and that movie's ageing actresses' showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch), the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie's books: Dame Margaret's Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie's demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only "Murder, She Said" is an adaptation of a Miss Marple mystery ("4:50 From Paddington"), whereas two of the others - "Murder at the Gallop" and "Murder Most Foul" - are actually Hercule Poirot stories ("After the Funeral" and "Mrs. McGinty's Dead," respectively), and "Murder Ahoy" is based on a completely independent screenplay.
Following the rule that ever since Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade every great private detective needs a policeman he can outwit, the creators of the BBC series inserted the character of Inspector Slack into almost all storylines - hardly in keeping with the literary originals, which are set over a period of more than 30 years and thus, exceed the career span of a policeman already advanced on his professional path at the time of his first encounter with Miss Marple; even if the BBC's Slack is promoted from D.I. in the series's first instalment, 1984's "The Body in the Library" (where he really does appear) to Superintendent in 1992's "The Mirror Crack'd" (which is originally only an Inspector Craddock story). Yet, Hickson's and Horovitch's face-offs are a fun addition; and one is almost ready to pity Slack, who hardly ever gets a foot down vis-a-vis Miss Marple's quick rejoinders and, in the words of her friend, retired Scotland Yard chief Sir Henry Clithering, "wonderful gift to state the obvious." (During a conversation with Craddock [John Castle] in "The Mirror Crack'd," Slack - whom Miss Marple herself, in the TV adaptation of "Murder at the Vicarage," has already likened to a railway diesel engine, or in that story's literary original to a shoe vendor intent on selling you patent leather boots while completely ignoring your request for brown calf leather instead - unaware that he is talking to one of Aunt Jane's nephews, rather unsubtly credits her with having "a mind like a meat cleaver.")
Although Agatha Christie herself reportedly preferred Miss Marple over Hercule Poirot, the demands of her audience compelled her to bring back the moustachioed Belgian with the many little grey cells much more frequently than the village sleuth from St. Mary Mead. All the greater the tribute paid to "Dear Aunt Jane" in these lovingly-executed adaptations - and how wonderful to finally see them reunited in a single box set.
Episodes:
"The Body in the Library" (written 1942, BBC 1984)
"The Moving Finger" (written 1942, BBC 1985)
"A Murder Is Announced" (written 1950, BBC 1985)
"A Pocket Full of Rye" (written 1953, BBC 1985)
"Murder at the Vicarage" (written 1930, BBC 1986)
"4:50 From Paddington" (written 1947, BBC 1987, a/k/a "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!")
"At Bertram's Hotel" (written 1965, BBC 1987)
"Sleeping Murder" (written 1976, BBC 1987)
"Nemesis" (written 1971, BBC 1987)
"A Caribbean Mystery" (written 1965, BBC 1989)
"They Do It With Mirrors" (written 1952, BBC 1991)
"The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side" (written 1962, BBC 1992)


Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection [DVD]
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jeremy Brett

805 of 817 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars London's Only "Consulting Detective.", 15 Nov. 2005
In his foreword to Bantam's "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories," Loren Estleman called the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson literature's warmest, most symbiotic and most timeless: rightfully so. Not surprisingly, film history is littered with adaptations of Conan Doyle's tales and Holmes pastiches (using the protagonists but otherwise independent storylines). Yet - and I'm saying this with particular apologies to the fans of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce canon - none of these prior incarnations can hold a candle to the ITV/Granada TV series produced between 1984 and 1994, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and first David Burke, then, beginning with the second ("Return of Sherlock Holmes") cycle and in near-seamless transition, Edward Hardwicke as a refreshingly sturdy, pragmatic, unbumbling Dr. Watson.
Jeremy Brett was the only actor who ever managed to perfectly portray Holmes's imperiousness, bitingly ironic sense of humor and apparently indestructible self-control without at the same time neglecting his genuine friendship towards Dr. Watson and the weaknesses hidden below a surface dominated by his overarching intellectual powers. The series takes the titles of its four cycles of shorter episodes - "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" - from four of the five short story collections featuring London's self-appointed only "consulting detective" (published 1892, 1905, 1894 and 1927, respectively); thus nominally omitting the 1917 collection "His Last Bow," which is, however - but for its title story - completely represented in individual episodes spread out over the other four cycles. While the grouping of instalments doesn't necessarily correspond with Conan Doyle's original story collections, and the series's premise - Holmes's and Watson's shared tenancy of rooms at 221B Baker Street - was no longer true even at the beginning of the "Adventures," this excellently produced series is a must-have for any mystery fan. This is particularly true for the first two cycles ("Adventures" and "Return") and the movie-length versions of the novels "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Sign of the Four," which alone makes this set well worth the purchase; even if the movie-length dramatizations of the short stories "The Eligible Bachelor" (a/k/a "The Noble Bachelor") and "The Last Vampyre" (a/k/a "The Sussex Vampyre") are less than faithful to Conan Doyle's originals: in fact, their quality rests almost exclusively on an already ailing Jeremy Brett's shoulders (as well as in "Vampyre" on the extraordinary guest performance of Roy Marsden in the episode's title role), thus emphasizing even more the significance of Brett's achievement.
The series's episodes are:
THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* A Scandal in Bohemia
* The Dancing Men (from "Return")
* The Naval Treaty (from "Memoirs")
* The Solitary Cyclist (from "Return")
* The Crooked Man (from "Memoirs")
* The Speckled Band
* The Blue Carbuncle
* The Copper Beeches
* The Greek Interpreter (from "Memoirs")
* The Norwood Builder (from "Return")
* The Resident Patient (from "Memoirs")
* The Red-Headed League
* The Final Problem (from "Memoirs")
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Empty House
* The Abbey Grange
* The Second Stain
* The Six Napoleons
* The Priory School
* Wisteria Lodge (from "Last Bow")
* The Devil's Foot (from "Last Bow")
* Silver Blaze (from "Memoirs")
* The Bruce-Partington Plans (from "Last Bow")
* The Musgrave Ritual (from "Memoirs")
* The Man With the Twisted Lip (from "Adventures")
THE CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (from "Last Bow")
* The Problem of Thor Bridge
* The Boscombe Valley Mystery (from "Adventures")
* The Illustrious Client
* Shouscombe Old Place
* The Creeping Man
THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Three Gables (from "Casebook")
* The Dying Detective (from "Last Bow")
* The Golden Pince-Nez (from "Return")
* The Red Circle (from "Last Bow")
* The Mazarin Stone (from "Casebook")
* The Cardboard Box (from "Last Bow")
THE FEATURE FILMS
* The Sign of Four (adaptation of the 1890 novel)
* The Hound of the Baskervilles (adaptation of the 1901 novel)
* The Last Vampyre (adaptation of the short story "The Sussex Vampyre" from "Casebook")
* The Eligible Bachelor (adaptation of the short story "The Noble Bachelor" from "Adventures")
* The Master Blackmailer (adaptation of the short story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" from "Memoirs")
All in all, this leaves only the very first Holmes mystery ("A Study In Scarlet," 1887) as well as the following short stories unrepresented in this series:
From THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* A Case of Identity
* The Five Orange Pips
* The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
* The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
From THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Adventure of Black Peter
* The Adventure of the Three Students
* The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
From THE CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Blanched Soldier
* The Three Garridebs
* The Lion's Mane
* The Veiled Lodger
* The Retired Colourman
FROM THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Yellow Face
* The Stock-broker's Clerk
* The "Gloria Scott"
* The Reigate Puzzle
From HIS LAST BOW:
* His Last Bow
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Philadelphia (2-Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD] [1994]
Philadelphia (2-Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD] [1994]
Dvd ~ Tom Hanks
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £3.75

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good start., 15 Nov. 2005
"This is the essence of discrimination: Formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics." (School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987) (Brennan, J.), on remand, 692 F. Supp. 1286 (M.D. Fla. 1988)). This rule, reaffirmed by the landmark Supreme Court decision which, over the dissent of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia, first recognized the infection with a contagious disease (tuberculosis) as an actionable handicap under federal law, forms the initial bond between star litigator Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) and ambulance chaser Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the unlikely team at the center of this movie. Because through these words, black attorney Miller begins to realize that his colleague Beckett faces a handicap which, in essence, is not so different from that confronted by many of his fellow African Americans. And because this is an incredibly effectively scripted Hollywood movie, we, the audience, easily get the point as well; even if we're white, and even if we're not gay and/or suffering from AIDS like Beckett.
Of course, the insidiousness of the AIDS virus places those afflicted with it in a class of their own, and while the movie spares its viewers the pictures of some of the virus's most graphic effects, it does go to considerable length to show the physical decline associated with it - not only in the person of Beckett himself, for whose role Hanks literally almost starved himself. Some of the patients surrounding him in the movie's earlier emergency room scenes really were AIDS patients, whom Hanks had approached when preparing for the movie, and who had subsequently agreed to participate; and as Hanks emphasized during an appearance in Bravo TV's "Inside the Actors' Studio," not all of them are still alive. - Denzel Washington's appropriately named Joe Miller, middle class everyman in everything but the color of his skin (one of the movie's obvious bows to political correctness), displays an attitude uncomfortably familiar to many of us; shunning gays in general and the HIV-infected Beckett in particular, out of a mixture of ignorance about AIDS, prejudice against those suffering from it, and prejudice against gays. Both Hanks and Washington give strikingly emotional, profound performances that rank among the best in their respective careers - Hanks deservedly won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Beckett, but Washington unfairly wasn't even nominated for either. Yet, neither of them would have been able to shine as much as they do without their exceptional supporting cast; to name just two, Jason Robards, commanding as ever as Beckett's homophobic former boss (and role model!), and Antonio Banderas as his devoted lover.
By the time of "Philadelphia"'s release, some of the early myths about AIDS had begun to disappear, and the yearly growing numbers of newly infected patients had brought it out of its erstwhile obscurity as "the gay plague." But indepth knowledge was still far from widespread, and therefore the movie not only brought awareness to the disease in general, but also made a couple of important points, from educating the public about the disease's method of transmission to emphasizing that it is by no means limited to gays and can even be contracted in something as life-affirming as a blood transfusion. (Indeed, several European countries were rocked by transfusion-related AIDS scandals right around the time of the movie's release). One of "Philadelphia"'s most quietly powerful scenes is the testimony of a female witness who was infected by just such a transfusion, and who emphasizes that having AIDS is not a matter of sin or morality: "I don't consider myself any different from anyone else with this disease. I'm not guilty, I'm not innocent, I'm just trying to survive," she responds when asked to confirm that in her case "there was no behavior on [her] part" involved and contracting AIDS was something she was "unable to avoid." - Moreover, four years before Ellen DeGeneres rocked the showboat with a kiss during an episode of her sitcom, and Kevin Kline and Magnum macho Tom Selleck locked lips in "In and Out" (the screenplay of which was inspired by Hanks's Oscar acceptance speech for "Philadelphia"), it was by no means a given that a movie would get away with letting Hanks and Banderas exchange acts of tenderness from caresses and kisses on the hand to a slow dance at a gay party.
Given "Philadelphia"'s fundamental message and the memorable performances of its protagonists, it is a pity that the movie doesn't entirely avoid Hollywood pitfalls, such as its soggy ending with grease literally dripping off the screen and the undeniable taste of a sugar-coated afterthought, transmitting the message that even dying of AIDS is really not so terrible, at least for the surviving family who can still unite around the television set and wallow in their memories of their lost loved one. And while I do buy Joe Miller's transformation from a (somewhat stereotypical) homophobic male to a reluctant supporter of gay rights, I don't really see why Beckett suddenly assumes a cliche gay look the second he has been fired; not to mention that I suspect not everybody in his situation would have enjoyed such overwhelming support from his family.
But ultimately, it is the movie's overarching message that counts. "Ain't no angel gonna greet me; it's just you and I my friend ... and my clothes don't fit me no more: I walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin," sings Bruce Springsteen, the movie's other Oscar winner, in "Philadelphia"'s title song. And Justice Brennan wrote in the Supreme Court's Arline decision that in amending federal law, Congress was motivated by "discrimination stemming not only from simple prejudice, but also from archaic attitudes and laws." This movie goes a long way in dispelling such attitudes. It alone isn't enough - but it is, as Andrew Beckett jokes about the 1000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean, a good start.


The English Patient (Special Edition) [DVD]
The English Patient (Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ralph Fiennes
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £4.44

18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ownership, belonging and an earth without maps., 15 Nov. 2005
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."


Out Of Africa (Limited Collector's Edition) [DVD]
Out Of Africa (Limited Collector's Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Meryl Streep

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song of Africa; and: What price freedom?, 14 Nov. 2005
He often tries to distill his movies' themes into a single word, Sydney Pollack explains on "Out of Africa"'s DVD. Here, that word is "Possession:" The possessiveness of the colonialists trying to make Africa theirs; to rule her with their law, settle on the local tribes' land, dress their African servants in European outfits (complete with a house boy's white gloves), import prized belongings like crystal to maintain the comforts of European civilization, and teach African children to read, to remove their "ignorance." And the possessiveness of human relationships; the claim of exclusivity arising from a wedding license, the encroachment on personal freedom resulting if such a claim is raised by even one partner - regardless whether based on a legal document - and the implications of desire, jealousy, want and need.
As such, the movie's story of Danish writer Karen Blixen's (Isak Dinesen's) experience in Kenya is inextricably intertwined with her love for free-spirited hunter/adventurer Denys Finch Hatton. Just as she spends years trying to wrangle coffee beans from ground patently unfit for their plantation and create a dam where water that, her servants tell her, "lives in Mombassa" needs to flow freely, only to see her efforts fail at last, so also her romance with Finch Hatton blossoms only as long as she is still (pro forma) married, and thus cannot fully claim him. As soon as the basis of their relationship changes, Finch Hatton withdraws - and is killed in a plane crash shortly thereafter, his death thus cementing a development already underway with terrible finality. In her eulogy Karen asks God to take back his soul with its freedom intact: "He was not ours - he was not mine." Yet, both Kenya and Finch Hatton leave such a mark on her that, forced to return to Denmark, she literally writes them back into her life; again becoming the "mental traveler" she had been before first setting foot on African soil, using her exceptional storytelling powers to resurrect the world and the man she lost, and be united with them in spirit where a more tenable union is no longer possible.
While "Out of Africa" is an adaptation of Blixen's like-named ode to Kenya, several of her other works also informed the screenplay; as did Judith Thurman's Blixen biography. And it's this combination which in screenwriter Carl Luedtke' and director Sydney Pollack's hands turns into gold where prior attempts have failed; because Blixen's book is primarily, as Pollack explains, "a pastorale, a beautifully formed memoir [relying] on her prose style, her sense of poetry and her ability to discover large truths in very small ... details" but lacking "much narrative drive" and thus, "difficult to translate to film." In addition, Blixen was largely silent about her relationship with Finch Hatton, which however was an essential element of the story, thus dooming any attempt to produce a movie without extensive prior research into this area.
Meryl Streep was not Sydney Pollack's first choice for the role of Karen, for which luminaries including Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn had previously been considered. Looking back in the DVD's documentary, Streep and Pollack recount how his change of mind came about (and ladies, I just know her version will make you laugh out loud). But while unfortunately neither her Oscar- nor her Golden-Globe-nomination turned into one of the movie's multiple awards (on Oscar night alone, Best Movie, Best Director and Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Music and Sound), she was indeed the perfect choice. Few contemporary actresses have her range of talent and sensitivity; and listening to tapes of Blixen reading her own works allowed her not only to develop a Danish accent but to become the story's narrative voice in the completest sense, from Blixen's persona to her perceptions and penmanship.
Much has been made of the fact that as Finch Hatton no British actor was cast but Robert Redford, with whom Pollack had previously collaborated in five successful movies, including the mid-1970s' "The Way We Were" and "Three Days of the Condor." But as Pollack points out, Finch Hatton, although a real enough person in Karen Blixen's life, in the movie's context stands for the universal type of the charming, ever-unpossessable, mysterious male; and there simply is no living actor whose image matches that type as closely as Redford's. Indeed, in this respect his character in "Out of Africa" epitomizes his "Redfordness" more intensely than *any* of his other roles. Moreover, all references to Finch Hatton's nationality are deleted here; so this isn't Robert Redford trying to portray a member of the English upper class, this is Redford portraying Redford (or at least, his public image) - and therefore, it is only proper that he didn't adopt a British accent, either.
Praise for this movie wouldn't be complete without mentioning the splendid, Golden-Globe-winning performance of Klaus-Maria Brandauer, one of today's best German-speaking actors, in the role of Karen's philandering husband Bror. (And if you think he's duplicitous here, rent such gems as "Mephisto" and "Hanussen" - or, for that matter, "James Bond: Never Say Never Again" - and you'll see what creepy and demonic really is when it's grown up). And of course, "Out of Africa" wouldn't be what it is without its superb African cast members; particularly Malick Bowens as Karen's faithful major domus Farah and Joseph Thiaka in his only known screen appearance as Kamante, Karen's indomitable cook. Several fine British actors complete the cast, providing enough British colonial feel even for those quibbling with Redford's casting; to name but a few, Michael Kitchen as Finch Hatton's friend Berkeley Cole, Michael Gough as Lord "Dee" Delamere and Suzanna Hamilton as Felicity (whose character is based on Blixen's friend and rival for Finch Hatton's attentions, Beryl Markham).
In all, "Out of Africa" is a grand, lavishly produced tribute to Africa, nature, freedom, adventure and love: Karen Blixen's "Song of Africa" brought to the big screen - and one of the profoundest love stories ever written by life itself.


The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare: Tragedies [DVD] [1980] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
The Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare: Tragedies [DVD] [1980] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gold Standard., 30 Sept. 2005
In 1978, the BBC ambitiously set out to produce all of Shakespeare's 37 plays for television. (Alright - so it's 38 ... so they didn't include "The Two Noble Kinsmen," which is cribbed from Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" anyway. But who's counting beans?) With casts featuring the better part of British acting nobility, including some promising (then-)newcomers, the enterprise was completed in two launches with distinct creative approaches and, for all occasional frictions in continuity, remains a one-in-a-kind endeavor: the gold standard every Shakespeare enactment must either meet or fall short of in comparison; for truthfulness to the Bard's intent as much as for stellar acting and production values. Fifteen plays have since been released in sets of five tragedies, comedies and histories: one might've wished for some additions, or more sets overall; but all three compilations are worth their price's every penny.
Laced with murderous schemes, revenge, and the search for justice, love, and peace of mind, Shakespeare's tragedies delve into the human mind's darkest recesses; exploring greed, envy, ambition, guilt, remorse, and pure evil next to compassion, generosity, humility, and innocence, all interwoven in timeless plots unmatched in variety, construction, and richness of characters. Interpretation is substantially left to the actors: Despite Hamlet's litany of directions to the Players appearing in that tragedy's "play-within-the-play" - directions representing Shakespeare's own grievances, including his irritation with comedian Will Kempe's tendency for spotlight-seeking beyond his scenes' actual confines (therefore, "let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them. For [some] will ... set on [the uninformed] spectators to laugh ..., though [meanwhile] some necessary question of the play [must] be considered. That's villanous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it," Hamlet quips) - the ultimate actors' playwright gives few express stage directions, leaving his own players considerable freedom, and making the world wonder, ever since their Globe Theatre premiere: What's driving the Prince of Denmark - madness? revenge? indecision? something else entirely? Is Claudius, that tragedy's king, evil incarnate or a man wrecked with guilt? Is Othello's antagonist Iago bent on revenge because he "hate[s] the Moor," or giddily enjoying his malicious plots' every second? How much capacity for guilt has Macbeth ultimately left: is he truly, thoroughly corrupted, or has something of the king's loyal thane remained inside him?
The set's natural centerpiece, both for its preeminence among Shakespeare's plays and for this production's superb quality, is "Hamlet," the Bard's four-hour-long adaptation of the Danish Amleth saga. As the Prince, Derek Jacobi - the legitimate heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, and mentor to Kenneth Branagh - gives a lifetime's performance: if you only know him as Claudius the Stutterer from the magnificent adaptation of Robert Graves's "I, Claudius," or as Cadfael from the equally magnificent series based on Ellis Peters's books, you're in for a truly unexpected treat. For Jacobi's first love is the theater, and it shows: with near-unmatched insight into Shakespeare's world (particularly this play and its title character), he makes the Prince of Denmark all his own, in a portrayal easily on par with the best in existence. There's no pulling of punches here, no wavering like Olivier's; but no genuine madness, either - just pure, unrestrained passion, often swinging between emotional extremes within seconds: I wonder whether Mel Gibson's vaguely similar approach in Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 movie was based on a study of Jacobi's performance. The production also features Patrick Stewart as a Claudius covering emotions from Macchiavellian intrigue to deeply-felt guilt, Claire Bloom as an unrivaled, regal, but very vulnerable Getrude, Eric Porter as scheming master politician Polonius (never mind that Hamlet calls him a "tedious old fool"), Robert Swann as one of the strongest Horatios I've ever seen, Emrys James as a wonderfully congenial Player King, Lalla Ward as a sweet, but not *too* sweet Ophelia, David Robb as impetuous Laertes, Tim Wylton as the First Gravedigger and Peter Glae as Osric (both milking their scenes to optimum, but never over-the-top effect), and an outstanding cast rounded out by Patrick Allen (the Ghost), Ian Charleson (Fortinbras), Jonathan Hyde (Rosencrantz), Geoffrey Bateman (Guildenstern), and Paul Humpoletz (Marcellus).
But while I'd probably have bought this set for "Hamlet" alone, I am equally delighted with the remaining productions: Patrick Ryecart and Rebecca Saire as star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (through which play we're guided by John Gielgud's Chorus) are every bit as youthfully innocent but determined as Franco Zeffirelli's and Baz Luhrman's Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes; moreover, there's Anthony Andrews's captivatingly flamboyant Mercutio, a young Alan Rickman's brash Tybalt, Michael Hordern's Capulet, and Celia Johnson's Nurse. - In the play that keeps me yelling, "Othello, wake up!!," Anthony Hopkins gives a tour-de-force performance as the Moor ("the part [he'd] always wanted to play," he is quoted); yet, he's almost upstaged by Bob Hoskins's deliciously, mirthfully evil Iago. Penelope Wilton's Desdemona is all blameless righteousness; and the production wouldn't be the same without the spot-on performances of Anthony Pedley (Roderigo), David Yelland (Cassio), and Rosemary Leach (Emilia). - The "Scottish Play"'s impact rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its title character and his lady, and those of Nicol Williamson and - particularly - Jane Lapotaire's breathtaking Lady Macbeth provide strong support indeed for the Thane-of-Glamis-turned-king (and murderer) and his ruthlessly ambitious wife. Brenda Bruce, Eileen Way and Anne Dyson scare you near-witless as the witches, maliciously mock-echoed by James Bolam's Porter, and besides Ian Hogg's Banquo and Tony Doyle's Macduff, among the production's most impressive performances are Jill Baker's and Crispin Mair's (Macduff's wife and son). In Shakespeare's look at the Ides of March from Caesar's murderers' and heir's perspective, finally - that play without heroes or villains - the four principals are well-divided among Richard Pasco (Brutus), Keith Michell (Mark Antony), Charles Gray (Caesar) and David Collings (Cassius), while Virginia McKenna (Portia) and Elizabeth Spriggs (Calphurnia) make the most of roles easily overlooked in weaker actresses' hands.


Heat (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] (1995)
Heat (Two-Disc Special Edition) [DVD] (1995)
Dvd ~ Al Pacino
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £5.27

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All I am is what I'm going after.", 15 Jun. 2005
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 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 sacrifices 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. Also troubled is the relationship between Neil's friend Chris (Val Kilmer) and his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd); but there it is Chris 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: He won't like it, Vincent ultimately tells Neil, but if it's between Neil and "some poor slob 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 dream finally 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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