Thursday Night Movie Club
Titles Q through S

- saturday, 1/3/98
rented ron howard's "ransom" (mel gibson, rene russo, delroy lindo, gary sinise, liev schreiber) good tension and action and interesting concepts, and without that usual ron howard sappiness. (apparently mel has enough testosterone to share.)

- saturday, 2/5/05
rented on DVD - taylor hackford's "ray" (jamie foxx, kerry washington, and curtis "booger" armstrong).  journeyman director hackford crafts a pitch-perfect and engrossing biopic of jazz/gospel legend ray charles, with good old fashioned hollywood style that just keeps you watching and paying attention, despite the film's almost excessive length.  actually, the story only focused on part of ray's life, from the beginning of his professional career through his struggle with heroin addiction.  I especially liked how the script did NOT take the obvious road and focus on his troubles dealing with blindness, racism, etc.  rather, it focused on his other demons (the business constraints of the music industry, his struggles with substance abuse, infidelity, and major family guilt) and how he dealt with them. however, some of the best sequences were in the flashbacks to his childhood, and the events that shaped his later life.  my favorite scene was when seven-year-old ray, newly blind, falls down and loses his orientation, and his mother refuses to help him, standing by watching him with tears in her eyes, knowing that he needs to learn to deal with the realities of his life by himself.  jamie foxx was great at recreating a man whose image and mannerisms are so well known to us all:  in fact, if the credits had lied and said "ray charles as himself", I would have believed it!  oh yeah, and it was great to see "booger" from the "revenge of the nerds" flicks back in action!

- thursday, 2/20/03
roger donaldson's "the recruit" (al pacino, colin farrell, bridget moynahan).  your basic spy thriller (cross, double cross, triple cross, etc.) and relatively entertaining, but with nothing new or remarkable to add to the genre.

- thursday, 9/8/05
wes craven's "red eye" (rachel mcadams, cillian murhpy, brian cox, jayma mays, jack scalia).  lots of fun!  although wes craven usually makes supernatural horror movies, this straight thriller still felt true to his style: exciting and suspenseful, with a healthy dose of humor when you least expect it.  good performances all around, especially from cillian murphy, who changes from suave and charming to menacing and lethal without missing a beat.  also lots of good catharsis for anyone who has been annoyed on a commercial airline flight lately.  the plot: a terrorist forces a hotel manager (who's sitting next to him on an airplane) to help him assassinate a government official or he'll have her dad killed.  she must thread the needle between helping him and endangering her father.  well done all around, with fun, exciting, and hilarious violence in the final act.

- thursday, 7/18/02
rob bowman's "reign of fire" (matthew mcconaughey, christian bale, izabella scorupco, DS-9's doctor bashir).  i haven't seen a good dragon flick in awhile.  this one was okay, but just okay.  nice effects, nice he-man emoting and tattoos from matthew McC., and very nice scottish (or was it irish? or english?) landscapes.  but there weren't nearly enough scenes of dragon-induced mayhem for my taste.  and why did the dragon's wings all have holes in them?  didn't look very aerodynamic to me.  the plot?  twenty years in the future, dragons have laid waste to the earth, and the few survivors band together to take back the planet.  mad max meets sir gawain.  nothing special, but it was a nice fun waste of a summer evening.

- thursday, 3/2/00
john frankenheimer's "reindeer games" (ben affleck, gary sinise, charlize theron, dennis farina).  gary sinise has finally done it. he was always a chameleon, and inhabited each role fresh and free from previous roles.  but now, I will always see his psycho con man from this flick in his face whenever I see him in any other movie!  very good caper/con flick, with nice touches of personal growth and conflicts.   the kind of movie that makes you think "why didn't I come up with a scam like that?"  also, dennis farina steals the show as the casino boss who thinks he's still in vegas, not northern wisconsin!  nice touch having affleck's character named "rudy".

- thursday, 4/10/97
"the relic" (james whitmore, penelope ann miller, tom sizemore, linda hunt). basic creature feature, but with more decapitations that i've ever seen, and set in chicago's very own field museum.  kinda fun.

- friday, 10/27/00
rented quentin tarantino's "reservoir dogs" (harvey keitel, tim roth, chris penn, steve buscemi, lawrence tierney, michael madsen, eddie bunker, QT) for an in-depth re-viewing.  still a masterpiece.  six guys, dressed like blues brothers, named after crayola crayons, talking like seinfeld characters, and shooting anything that moves.  what's not to love?  and the patented tarantino formula: take a reasonably intricate story, stick the normal timeline in a blender, and paste it together in a way that forces the viewer to reconstitute it on his own, adding extra dimensions and insights that the linear plot could never convey.  whew!!!  rent it.  now.  what are you waiting for????

- thursday, 11/21/02
gore verbinski's "the ring" (naomi watts, martin henderson, brian cox).  this was a really good horror flick!  the look and feel were cool; it had sort of a 1970s feel, like you were watching it on TBS in the basement in the middle of the night.  basically, it's about a video tape that, after you watch it, you die in seven days.  a single-mom newspaper reporter tries to get to the bottom of it all, and experiences lots of strange, eerie, and bizarre episodes along the way.  the deadly video itself is quite a trip, and not for the weak of stomach.  the mystery itself has a complex, but ultimately logical, ending that prompted quite a bit of discussion.

- thursday, 3/24/05
hideo nakata's "the ring two" (naomi watts, david dorfman, elizabeth perkins, gary cole, and sissy spacek).  don't bother.  this flick looked like it was stitched together with outtakes from the first "ring" movie (which I liked, by the way).  naomi watts is still cute, and the kid is good at looking creepy.  and there was a cool scene with a bunch of deer attacking a car.... but that was it!  bad case of sequel-itis.

- thursday, 8/1/02
sam mendes' "road to perdition" (tom hanks, tyler hoechlin, paul newman, jude law, jennifer jason leigh, and stanley tucci).  pretty decent modern noir gangster film, about a hitman trying to save his family, both physically and morally.  you have to give tom hanks credit for trying to play an unsympathetic tough guy.  but you can't give him too much credit, because he really didn't pull it off very well.  and why did they waste money on the talented j.j. leigh for that trivial role as the wife?

- thursday, 6/20/96
"the rock" (sean connery, nic cage, ed harris, michael biehn, tony todd, william forsyth, john spencer), good explosions and action, mediocre pacing and direction, overall better-than-good thriller.  but why does nic cage waste his time on action flicks when he could be making more quirky bizarre thrillers like "wild at heart"?  on the other hand, these probably pay better.

- saturday, 12/30/06
sylvester stallone's "rocky balboa" (sylvester stallone, burt young, antonio tarver).  quite good. the beginning is very sad, though. i liked the way they reworked the famous "rocky theme" song into a slow, haunting melody to underscore the sadness of rocky's life.  the other thing i liked was the way the movie parallels stallone's real life. rocky, an over-the-hill boxer, had his hey-day and some huge triumphs in the past, but now everyone assumes that he is washed up and is only a joke. but he surprises them all.  likewise stallone, an over-the-hill writer/director/actor, had his hey-day and some huge triumphs in the past, but now everyone assumes that he is washed up and is only a joke. but he surprises them all, too!

- thursday, 3/23/00
andrzej bartkowiak's "romeo must die" (jet li, aaliyah, DMX, isaiah washington, delroy lindo), the title kinda implies that this is a shakespearean story, but it only is in the sense of two warring "families" who's youngsters fall in love.  basic godfather type knock-off, with blacks vs. chinese, battling over sacramento real-estate.  some nice violence and humor, and not nearly enough sex.  best scene is up front, with jet li's escape from a chinese prison.  don't blink, or you'll miss it.

- thursday, 10/1/98
john frankenheimer's "ronin" (robert deniro, jean reno, natascha mcelhone, stellan skarsgard, sean bean, jonathon pryce, michel lonsdale (three former bond villians!), and katarina witt).  good, old-fashioned caper/action/car-chase flick with great car chase scenes through france - the action was kind of a cross between mad max and the blues brothers.  fairly decent cross/double-cross type story as well, and good professional chemistry between deniro and reno.

- thursday, 9/24/98
john dahl's "rounders" (matt damon, edward norton, gretchen mol, john malkovich, john turturro, famke janssen, martin landau, and josh mostel, briefly).  very engrossing study of friendship, personality spectrums, making your dreams, finding your destiny, and winning and losing, all set against a backdrop of underground professional poker in NYC.  damon was good, norton was great. (and of course malkovich was excellent.)

- thursday, 4/20/00
william friedkin's "rules of engagement" (samuel l. jackson, tommy lee jones, ben kingsley, blair underwood, anne archer, guy pearce, philip baker hall, bruce greenwood); combo platter of war movie, courtroom drama, government conspiracy, and buddy flick.  nice actions scenes, good humor, and awesome smoldering performances add up to no particular overall satisfaction, but it was fun while it lasted.

- friday, 9/23/05
rented with Hazel - breck eisner's "sahara" (matthew mcconaughey, steve zahn, penelope cruz, delroy lindo, william h. macy).  I thought this was a pleasant but unnecessary Indiana Jones knock-off.  MMcC plays a... well, I don't really remember WHAT the hell he was supposed to be, but it amounted to being an international soldier of fortune with a conscience.  he and his buddy steve zahn team up with penny cruz to save a deep african country from dying at the hands of an eco-pinhead.  lots of action, very little logic, reasonable amount of fun.

- thursday, 4/24/97
"the saint" (dir: phillip noyce; with val kilmer, elizabeth shue, and some really good ugly villians). great character study and espionage story, with great scenery and photography and special effects and high-tech gadgets (serious ones, though), and excellent use of kilmer's chameleon-like acting abilities.  much like a serious bond movie - hopefully there will be many sequels.

- friday, 8/7/98
steven spielberg's "saving private ryan" (tom hanks, matt damon, tom sizemore, edward burns, barry pepper, adam goldberg, jeremy davies, paul giamatti, (and dennis farina, ted danson, and harve presnell very briefly)) - a long, tedious, boring, structureless war picture where you don't care about any of the characters or their activities.  nice bloody effects and good body count, and interesting news-reel feel in spots, but overall I couldn't wait for it to end.  almost three hours long, and you felt every second of it.

- thursday, 11/04/04
james wan's "saw" (leigh whannell, cary elwes, danny glover, dina meyer).  I rarely get creeped out or squeamish at a movie, no matter how grisly; I'm usually pretty good at staying detached and enjoying it as entertainment only.  not this time!  this one really got under my skin, and more than once I almost left the theater.  not because it was bad, mind you; because it was so good at what it was attempting!  making you SQUIRM.  a crazed sadistic killer puts people in impossible situations, preying on their deepest fears, where they have to do repugnant things, or die, and he watches them go through their ordeals.  and in the audience, I felt like I was right there with them; everything was believable enough to keep it real.  if you are a sensitive soul, stay away!  if you are tough enough, go see it!  oh yeah; it also worked as a who-dunnit (or rather, who's doing it?) with some entertaining twists and double and triple crosses thrown in for good measure.

- thursday, 11/9/06
darren lynn bousman's "saw III" (tobin bell, shawnee smith, dina meyer).  cleverly plotted, and plenty of gore, but it was an extremely unpleasant experience.  not a trace of humor or subtlety, and even such a philistine as myself found it difficult to enjoy.  basically, "jigsaw," the clever killer, snatches up people who need to "learn a lesson" and puts them through gruesome ordeals that they might learn them. and then die.

- thursday, 7/20/06
richard linklater's "a scanner darkly" (keanu reeves, robert downey jr., woody harrelson, winona ryder).  a very strange movie.  yes, but is it any good?  well no, not really.  but interesting if you like off-beat stuff.  the rotoscoping (filmed live action, painted over to look like animation) is very distinctive, and the plot was pretty out-there as well.  set in the near future, in a world of rampant drug abuse and high-tech narcs, a deep undercover narc (keanu) is sent to spy on a gang of derelicts, one of whom may be a drug kingpin.  but our boy keanu IS one of those derelicts!  they go through a series of amusing drug-fueled misadventures, and he has to try to remain sober enough to solve the mystery.  a lot of it made no sense at all, and the plot was very tough to follow.  but I'll give credit where due: robert downey jr. is hilarious as one of the derelicts, playing a fast-talking oddball who is probably too smart (and certainly too stoned) for his own good.

- sunday, 2/12/06
chuck russell's "the scorpion king" (the rock, michael clarke duncan, kelly hu, and bernard hill) from 2002.  it was your basic, fairly well done, but nothing surprising, sword-and-sandals flick with plenty of fighting and special effects.  just a pastime.

- thursday, 5/22/97
wes craven's "scream" (drew barrymore, neve campbell, courtney cox, a male arquette).  great combo of horror/slasher, comedy, and parody/spoof of slasher flicks - lovingly makes fun of what it, itself, is.  lots of in-jokes that are easy to miss.

- thursday, 12/18/97
wes craven's "scream 2" (neve campbell, sarah michelle gellar, david arquette, courteney cox, liev schreiber, jamie kennedy, laurie metcalf).  another good, self referential horror flick that did for sequels what scream 1 did for horror in general; also lots of good blood and creative horror scenes.

- thursday, 2/10/00
wes craven's "scream 3" (courtney cox, david arquette, neve campbell, patrick dempsey, lance henriksen, kelly rutherford, liev schreiber, patrick warburton, parker posey, jenny mccarthy); a thematic descendent of the first two scream movies, but more in the "just for fun" mode and much less serious, with lots of in-jokes and winks at the audience.  enjoyable, but pure fluff.  also, nice job by the ever-sturdy lance henriksen.

- thursday, 3/25/04
david koepp's "secret window" (johnny depp, john turturro, maria bello, timothy hutton, charles dutton, len cariou).  david koepp has worked with david fincher long enough for their directing styles to have blended together.  this movie had many of the directorial elements that I loved about "fight club", mostly the POV camera movements that constitute an entire character unto itself!  unfortunately, the story was pretty prosaic and uninteresting.  this plot would have made an excellent one-hour twilight zone episode, but was a bit stretched to fill out a feature film.  still, not too bad.  a reclusive writer is accosted by a scary hick who claims he has stolen his story; and worse yet, screwed up the ending!.... and a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues.  with a lesser actor than depp it would have totally sucked.  WITH depp, it rose to the merely ordinary. some nice sublte touches, though: the main character, who is so surrounded by death, is named "mort", and an issue of "ellery queen's mystery magazine" features prominently, while ellery queen's son, timothy hutton, plays a supporting character!  what a hoot for those into trivial subtlies such as myself.

- thursday, 11/12/98
edward zwick's "the seige" (denzel washington, bruce willis, annette bening, tony shalhoub).  pretty good action-oriented "what if" flick, with the what if being: what if the US had to deal with terrorism like other countries do.  great performances by denzel, annette, and bruce, and some nice racial epithets, but unfortunate shoe-horning in of a standard villian-oriented plot near the end.

- thursday, 5/25/06
clark ("homicide: life on the street") johnson's "the sentinel" (michael douglas, kiefer sutherland, eva longoria, kim basinger, blair brown, david rasche, "raynor scheine"!!, and clark johnson hisownself).  finally saw this movie which has been in the theaters for at least a month. it was really good! first of all, it featured david rasche as the president! as I'm sure you will recall, he played "sledgehammer!", a sort of dirty harry spoof, on tv in the 80s. he always makes me laugh, even when he's being serious.  second, it was directed by a fellow named clark johnson, who played one of the detectives on another favorite tv show of mine, "homicide: life on the street." that show had the strangest directorial style, with lots of jump-cuts and rapid camera movements, giving it a very kinetic feel. I'm sure not everyone would like it, but I did. anyway, he directed THIS movie, and brought some of that same style to it. helps heighten the suspense. he also had a small role in the movie, but got himself killed off in the first reel. I guess it's easier to direct when you don't have much acting to do. I didn't realize he was a director at all, but it looks like he's directed a lot of cop shows on tv.  anyway, it is all about the secret service and how they protect the president. michael douglas and kiefer sutherland are both excellent as rival agents. when it is discovered that there is a traitor in the service, evidence points to it being douglas, and sutherland is relentless in trying to track him down. douglas must avoid capture, clear his name, and find the real bad guys. the story is pretty standard stuff, but it is so well done that it feels fresh.

- saturday, 2/11/06
joss whedon's "serenity" (alan tudyk, ron glass, adam (not a brother) baldwin, and a bunch of other folks I've never heard of).  I thought this flick was quite good; taught story, good pacing and directing, held my attention all the way through. excellent chemistry between all cast members, which may well be the best reason to see it. well done exposition helped me understand what was going on, even though I'd never seen a single episode of the tv show. in the joss whedon tradition, the dialogue was excellent and totally rang true. oh, the plot? a renegade ship of outlaws attempts to elude a government assassin and find out the answer to a long-term mystery that... well... oh, dammit, it really doesn't matter, but it was fun.  but.... I'd still like to know what "firefly" refers to.

- thursday, 5/6/04
damian nieman's "shade" (gabriel byrne, stuart townsend, thandie newton, sylvester stallone, jamie foxx, melanie griffith, patrick bauchau, hal holbrook, charles rocket, and michael "worf" dorn).  yeah, I never heard of it either, til I saw a poster for it at the theater a week ago.  a combo platter of a poker movie and a con-men movie, with byrne and townsend teaming up to take down legendary player/con stallone while thandie newton supplies the eye-candy.  it was mostly very routine and derivative of all the great con movies (house of games, the sting, etc.), and the great poker movies (cincinnati kid, rounders, etc.) but with occasional flashes of wit to make it worth your time.  I still don't get the title, though!

- thursday, 6/22/00
john singleton's "shaft" (sam l. jackson, vannessa williams, dan hedaya, richard roundtree, jeffrey wright, christian bale, toni collette, busta rhymes, philip bosco, daniel "seinfeld's kruger" von bargen, and a cameo by gordon parks); very violent and action packed, dripping with attitude from sam l.; starts straightforward but eventually turns into a full-out melee on numerous fronts.  great performance by wright as an hispanic drug dealer. all in all, an enjoyable thursday night outing.  interesting how this movie presents the two shaft characters:  the original shaft (played then and now by richard roundtree) was a cool and collected PI, and the new generation shaft (the sam. l. character), the star of this go-around, is a hot-headed NYPD cop (at least for the first half of the flick).  also interesting is the almost complete lack of evidence of the "sex machine" that the song implies. (to see Larry's review, click here.)

- thursday, 12/23/04
alexander payne's  "sideways" (paul giamatti, thomas haden church, the sublime virginia madsen, and sandra oh).  this isn't really a thursday night kind of flick, but there was nothing else to see.  and it turned out to be a pretty decent little drama-comedy.  mostly drama, about two buddies, with very different types of relationship problems, going on a road trip through wine country.  one is about to get married and has doubts; the other is two years into his divorce and still wants to get back together.  lots of angst and discussions that border on the pretentious, but then some of the situations turn really laugh-out-loud hilarious!  and then it gets poignant again.  it had a very low-budget feel, like early woody allen, only funny.  I guess you could call it an odd-couple-road-buddy-relationship-drama-comedy movie!  I never did figure out what the title meant, although theories abound.

- thursday, 8/8/02
m. night shyamalan's "signs" (mel gibson, joaquin phoenix, cherry jones, and yet another culkin).  excellent movie; a thriller, a mystery, a character study, a creature feature, and full of subtle hilarious humor in an almost david-lynch-type vein.  a former preacher who has lost his faith finds strange crop circles in his cornfields, and that's just for starters.  he and his family are soon embroiled in an alien-invasion nightmare that eventually forces him to reexamine his faith (or lack thereof) and his entire world-view.  good stuff with many possible interpretations.

- thursday, 5/4/06
christophe gans's "silent hill" (radha mitchell, sean bean, laurie holden, deborah kara unger, alice krige).  bad, bad, bad!!!  that's about all you need to say about this trainwreck of a movie. it had some good actors in it (sean "boromir" bean and alice "the borg queen" krige) but they couldn't do anything to save it.  supposedly, it is a horror movie based on a video game. actually, it is a series of random images (which, to be fair, were kind of interesting in spots) about a woman looking for her missing daughter in a ghost town. full of plot holes, and so badly acted and paced that you couldn't help but laugh at it.  the part that made me want to laugh the most was when the creepy townspeople captured the heroine and decided that she is a witch, and must be burnt. "burn her, burn her!" they cry. my mind kept filling in the missing dialogue: "she turned me into a newt!" and "i got better."  unless you want to enjoy making fun of the flick for an hour afterwards, don't bother.

- thursday, 5/6/99
sam raimi's "a simple plan" (bill paxton, billy bob thornton, bridget fonda) - great film! sucks you in, makes you pay, turns your stomach, and makes you think. billy bob thornton is amazing.

- thursday, 4/14/05
robert rodriguez's and frank miller's "sin city" (bruce willis, mickey rourke, jessica alba, clive owen, nick stahl, powers boothe, rutger hauer, elijah wood, rosario dawson, benicio del toro, devon aoki, brittany murphy, michael clrake duncan, carla gugino, josh hartnett, michael madsen).  definitely an interesting, comic-book look and feel flick, and a lot of work and talent clearly went into creating that look and feel.  the more I read about the interesting techniques that went into the production, the more I respect it.  and you certainly can't fault it for insufficient violence or gore!  but, despite all that, somehow the stories and characters kind of left me cold. not enough personality or humanity to make me care about them or wonder why they are doing the things that they are doing. only the bruce willis episode had any traction for me. maybe that's because bruce is the only really good actor in the movie, or maybe it's because I like him enough that i brought my own empathy to his part.  oh well, it's definitely worth seeing, but unfortunately not a classic.  at least, not yet.  but I do feel that a second viewing is in order......

- wednesday, 8/18/99
M. Night Shyamalan's "the sixth sense" (bruce willis, haley joel osment, toni collette). it was a great, intelligent, almost hitchcockian "ghost story" with a surprise ending that you kick yourself for not seeing it coming. the kid was great, and willis was perfectly subtle. also the slutty mom got my attention. definitely a movie for people who like to think.  don't let anyone tell you it is too predictable, it aint!!!!

- thursday, 8/18/05
iain softly's "the skeleton key" (kate hudson, gena rowlands, john hurt, and peter sarsgaard).  I was almost hesitant to go, given the string of crappy horror movies lately (the grudge, the ring 2, dark water), but I went anyway, always the optimist.  and it was very good!  not quite great, but scary, exciting, well acted and directed, and with a very good story. starts slow, then builds to a crescendo.  a young hospice nurse in new orleans is hired to take care of a stroke victim in an old rustic rural house.  he is slowly dying from the effects of his stroke.... or is he?  strange things happen with the creepy house, the creepy old dude, his creepy wife, and the creepy voodoo setting.  there isn't a lot of blood or outright violence, but there is a lot of excitement, action, and mystery, and of course a surprise ending.  I should add that larry thought it was predictable and formulaic, but what does he know?  I would recommend it to horror fans.

- thursday, 9/30/04
kerry conran's "sky captain and the world of tomorrow" (gwyneth paltrow, jude law, giovanni ribisi, angelina jolie, and laurence olivier from beyond the grave!).  part genius and part failure: this was an exercise in style and technique more than a real movie.  it was a recreation of a 30s serial look and feel, much like an "astounding science fiction" magazine cover.  since it was all computer generated, except for the actors (well, most of them), this was quite a technical feat as well as a stylistic triumph.  unfortunately, the story was as bland and clichéd as the look was interesting.  giant robots are taking over the earth, and it can only be saved by our intrepid pilot hero and his plucky reporter gal pal.  if it had been played more for laughs, it might have been fun and campy, but it wasn't.

- thursday, 4/20/06
james gunn's "slither" (nathan "firefly" fillion and a bunch of other tv actors you've probably never heard of).  this movie wants very much to be a cult classic, like "army of darkness" or some such, but it isn't quite that good. it's set in a small deer-hunting town populated by some of the ugliest people you could ever hope to see on the big screen. all is fine until a meteor hits the ground and infects one of the townspeople with some sort of parasite. soon he is cultivating his own clan of zombies. the town police chief, the infected dude's wife, and a few other stalwarts have to fight him. lots of swearing and very gross scenes, strung together with some clever dialogue. pure camp, with elements of "night of the living dead", "invasion of the body snatchers", and "twin peaks" tossed in.  it will probably never be a classic, but it is fun if you like that kind of stuff.

- thursday, 2/1/07
carnahan's "smokin' aces" (jeremy piven, ray liotta, ryan reynolds, andy garcia, alex rocco, alicia keys, ben affleck, jason bateman, curtis "booger" armstrong, and wayne newton).  this was your basic violent action/comedy with lots of strange characters and bizarre situations, frenetically directed in a tony scott "domino" style of fast cuts, moving cameras, multiple frames, and plenty of weapons of all types.  a mob informer (piven) is holed up in a lake tahoe penthouse, snorting cocaine, hiring hookers, and doing card tricks while waiting to testify. for some reason, several different factions want him dead, and a variety of high-priced hitmen are competing for the privilege of bumping him off, all the while a team of fbi agents are trying to keep him alive. it seems confusing at first, until you realize that the myriad characters all have one of the same two motivations: kill piven, or save him. and kill everyone else, along the way.  it is fairly good at what it tries to be, and was constantly entertaining. no stupid plot holes (once you accept the outrageous premise and general implausibility of the story), and i never once lost interest. but in the end, it was just a nice piece of story telling, not destined to be a classic.  it was good to see piven, so often playing second-banana (and often to that charisma-free bowl of oatmeal named john cusack) get his chance at a meaty central role.

- friday, 8/14/98
"snake eyes" (dir: brian de palma, starring nicolas cage, gary sinise, john heard, carla gugino, kevin dunn, and tamara tunie).  intriciate and suspenseful thriller, good acting, and some great de palma camera work.  also, a virtuoso several-minute-long opening take that sets up the entire story, much like the opening of "touch of evil".  generated more after-flick discussion than most recent movies.

- thursday, 8/31/06
david r. ellis's "snakes on a plane" (samuel l. jackson, julianna margulies).  a lot of people have been disappointed by this movie, and I can see why. personally, I enjoyed it a lot, but it has a "tone" that will fizzle for most people. it's not quite serious action, but it's not quite camp, either. it's somewhere in the middle, and that probably doesn't appeal to most viewers.  basically, a young surf dude in hawaii witnesses a brutal murder committed by a crime lord. the crime lord wants him dead before he can testify in los angeles. but FBI agent jackson is protecting him. the only way to kill him is to take down the entire plane that is transporting him to california, by sneaking hundreds of poisonous snakes on board. jackson is surprisingly low-key throughout the film as the calm, stoic hero who saves everyone's ass. (well, not everyone's, of course.)
          the most fun part is all the stock characters that board the plane at the beginning. we are introduced to them one by one, and they all seem right out of "airport." the young heiress, the newlyweds, the two kids traveling for the first time without their parents, the grouchy businessman, the stewardess on her last flight before retiring, etc. no nun, though.

- thursday, 1/25/01
guy ritchie's "snatch" (dennis farina, benicio del toro, brad pitt, rade serbedzija, and a buncha limeys you never heard of).  think of quentin tarantino meets monty python.  lots of fun!  fistfights, gunfights, and verbal fights, lots of frenetic directing, kinetic camera work, and stylized visuals as small-time thugs in London's underground mix it up over illegal boxing and a huge diamond.  great, creative, interesting characters with runyon-esque names do the damnedest things to each other in a myriad of mix-ups and coincidences.  and all the while, director ritchie's new wife madonna's "lucky star" keeps playing on the car radios!  many complex subplots, which all come together at the end like a seinfeld episode!  brad pitt is great as an irish gypsy with an accent so thick, even the mush-mouthed limeys can't figure out what the heck he's saying.  you could write a master's thesis on the parellels with "pulp fiction" (car crashes, boxing dives, swords, etc.) but why bother?  this flick excels on its own merits.

- thursday, 10/29/98
paul anderson's "soldier" (kurt russell, jason scott lee, gary busey, jason isaacs).  small picture with lots of effects and sets, virtually speech-free kurt doing a generic arnold/stallone kind of character.  fun but nothing too memorable.......
- sunday, 10/27/02 - saw "soldier" again on cable TV.  what seemed mildly pleasant but unimpressive the first time around has grown.  now it plays as an elegant and eloquent parable of humanity, loyalty, courage, and compassion.   and, of course, some major butt-kicking.

- friday, 4/28/06
rented peter hyams's "a sound of thunder" (edward burns, catherine mccormack, ben kingsley).  the plot, based on a ray bradbury short story, is about a high-tech entertainment company in the near future that takes adventurers back to the distant past to hunt dinosaurs.  of course something goes wrong, and the future (i.e., our present) is hosed.  and one scientist and his plucky companions have to set things right.  so much of this flick is trite and contrived that I can understand if people hate it, but I rather liked the pacing, overacting, and over-the-top concepts and effects.  the filmmakers didn't take it too seriously, and neither should we.  it's fun!

- friday, 4/22/05
james l. brooks' "spanglish" (adam sandler, tea leoni, paz vega, cloris leachman, and thomas haden church): surprisingly good. another comedy/drama about human nature from james l. brooks, the man behind "broadcast news". a yuppie california family takes in a mexican immigrant as a housekeeper, and both cultures learn from each other. funny, sad, and thought provoking. tea leone and cloris leachman were both great. and adam sandler can even act, well enough, when given a role that isn't pure puerile foolishness.

- thursday, 5/7/98
david mamet's "the spanish prisoner" (campbell scott, rebecca pidgeon, steve martin, ben gazzara, ricky jay, ed o'neil, jonathon katz).  basic multi-layered sting type flick with twists and turns that you try to anticipate and sometimes do, sometimes don't. standard mamet-style of stilted dialogue and pacing that sucks you into a zone.

- thursday, 4/23/98
a really dumb sequel, "species 2" (natasha henstridge, michael madsen, marg helgenberg, george dzundza, james cromwell, peter boyle, richard belzer), a pointless and senseless aliens-invade thriller, partially redeemed by lots of nudity.

- thursday, 5/30/02
sam raimi's "spiderman" (tobey maguire, willem dafoe, kirsten dunst, cliff robertson, j.k. simmons, bruce campbell).  pretty good comic-book adaptation.  nice representation of teenage angst, and good special effects for the cartoon action and violence.  i especially liked how spiderman was perceived as a bad guy rather than as a good guy by the rest of the movie universe (i.e., no good deed goes unpunished).  and j.k. simmons (of "law and order" fame) totally stole the show as the newspaper editor.  unfortunately, not much of the famous raimi directorial style, but still lotsa fun.

- thursday, 7/8/04
raimi's "spiderman 2" (tobey maguire, kirsten dunst, alfred molina, donna murphy, j.k. simmons, james franco, willem dafoe, and of course bruce campbell).  a fun bit of summer cinematic fluff, with action, jokes, and lots of special effects.  funnier and and more fun than the first, but an hour after you leave, there isn't much to remember.  except that I do remember thinking, sam raimi has been training all his life to direct the kind of swooping, leaping, dizzying scenes of spiderman flying through the concrete canyons of new york city.  the plot, as if it matters: a scientist is accidentally turned into a super bad guy (dr. octopus) and spiderman must stop him and his evil ways, while at the same time wrestling with his own identity angst and romantic relationships.  oh, one more thing: is it just me, or does his girlfriend's name (mary jane) have some deeper meaning?

- thursday, 11/13/97
paul verhoeven's "starship troopers" (casper van dien, dina meyer (dizzy), denise richards (carmen), jake busey, michael ironsides, neil patrick harris, clancy brown, patrick muldoon).  reversal of most war movies - boring boot camp first half, but awesome battles in the second half.  lots of excellent effects, good chills and thrills, and very gorey in a refreshingly graphic way.  truer to the spirit of the book than i ever expected, insofar as the militant society stuff goes.

- saturday, 11/23/96
"star trek: first contact" (dir: jonathan frakes; with patrick stewart, frakes, michael dorn, brent spiner, levar burton, gates mcfadden, and marina sirtis, with robert picardo and ethan philips in bit parts).  basic star trek big-screen adventure (huge concept, lots of in-jokes, unnecessarily redesigned uniforms), but with considerably more action added to the cerebral elements.  "moby dick" theme (fully referenced in the script) works well.  awesome opening pull-back shot from picard's eyeball to distant shot of borg ship.  borg make a great addition to the plot, but the time-travel thing is getting tiresome.  thank god no wesely.  introduction of new ship - the enterprise "e".

- saturday, 12/12/98
"star trek: insurrection" (ninth flick in the series).  (directed again by johathon frakes; starring the usual TNG suspects, plus f. murry abraham, anthony zerbe, and donna murphy). basic upscaled TNG episode, good blend of concepts, action, effects, humor, etc.  nothing earthshattering but lots of fun, frakes seems to have a steady hand at churning out well crafted "episode" movies.

- thursday, 1/2/03
stuart baird's "star trek: nemesis" (all the usual "next generation" suspects, plus kate mulgrew, ron perlman, tom hardy, and dina meyer).  good rousing science fiction fun, much like recent ST:TNG movies.  some hand to hand fighting, some space battles, some philosophy, some shakespear-esque monologues, and some cheesy jokes. in fact, the plot is very reminiscent of "wrath of khan".  the philosophy in this one involves destiny: if you (or someone with your exact genetics) had lived a different life, would you still be you?  also, it appears that this might be the final TNG-based movie, since the plot pretty much breaks up the original crew.  not irrevocably, though, so who knows?

- thursday, 6/24/99
the latest star wars flick: "star wars, episode 1: the phantom menace" (dir: george lucas; starring liam neeson, ewan mcgregor, natalie portman, jake lloyd, ian mcdiarmid, frank oz, brian blessed, and samuel l. jackson).  good effects of course, and a few exciting action sequences, but basically really boring!  no pacing, no tension, no chemistry between the characters, and nothing to make you care! and very annoying "cute" characters that made my skin crawl. I was pretty disappointed.  one of the worst of the year.

- thursday, 6/20/02
george lucas' "star wars, episode 2: attack of the clones" (buncha people, who cares...and jimmy smitts!).  it was bad, really bad.  the less said about this flick, the better.  a huge waste of excellent computer graphics.

- thursday, 5/26/05
george lucas' "star wars episode 3: revenge of the sith" (ewan mcgregor, hayden chistensen, ian mcdiarmid, natalie portman, samuel l. jackson, jimmy smits, frank oz, christopher lee, and of course anthony daniels, kenny baker, and peter mayhew, not to mention bruce spence!!).  based on how bad the last two star wars movies were, I was completely prepared to HATE this flick.  but I was pleasantly surprised: it DIDN'T suck! it was even pretty good!  Larry came up with a logical explanation for the quick change: the last two movies had to "set up" this third outing, and this one only had to deliver.  makes sense to me!  it had good tension, good conflicts, good characters and motivations, and a good story.  and everything occurred for a compelling plot reason, not just because it looked good or was necessary for a future flick.  of course, it all DID look good, as expected, but finally for a good cause.  plot?  well, if it matters, it concerned anakin skywalker and his inevitable trajectory of turning from the ways of good to the ways of evil, and how it affected those around him.  the story arc was very satisfying in how all of the details of the movie wrapped up to give you the universe that exists when "episode IV" opens, or should I say "opened" in 1977.  I have a few quibbles, like how some of the character names evolved, why some of the characters were so clueless about certain things, why the acting was so bad in the emotional scenes, and stuff like that.  but basically, I'm just glad that lucas finally remembered how to write and direct a compelling movie now when it matters most.  overall feeling? relief!

- thursday, 8/11/05
rob cohen's "stealth" (josh lucas, jessica biel, jamie foxx, joe morton, richard roxburgh, and the great sam shepard).  this movie got lousy reviews, but I'll give it a big thumbs up for the pure fun of it.  great action sequences give you an intense summer-movie thrill ride, and lots of shit gets blown up real good!  there are plot holes and implausible timelines galore, but that's not the point; it's just silly, mindless, illogical fun.  and of course it's always great to see sam "chuck yeager" shepard and joe "terminator 2" morton in a movie with lots of action and military lingo.  basically, three hot-shot (part trois) navy pilots are assigned to break in a new AI-based drone that will eventually replace them.  naturally, it goes haywire.  didn't we see this with Captain Kirk 40 years ago?  well, it still makes a ripping good yarn.

- thursday, 9/23/99
rupert wainwright's "stigmata" (patricia arquette, gabriel byrne, jonathan pryce, enrico colantoni). enjoyable little film that deserves better than the bad press it gathered.  a religious mystery, a combo platter of possession and stigmata, with vatican skullduggery and forbidden fruit thrown into the mix. extremely stylized and fascinating first half hour or so, which then settles down into straightforward cinematography for the rest of the film.

- thursday, 9/16/99
david koepp's "stir of echos" (kevin bacon, illeana douglas, kathryn erbe, kevin dunn).  another good ghost story (from a richard matheson novel), wrapped up with a mystery and some personal growth.  great chicago locations, great performances, nicely stylish.

- sunday, 7/2/00
rented david lynch's "the straight story" (richard farnsworth, sissy spacek, harry dean stanton); hard to believe david lynch would direct this movie, let alone for disney!  yet he did. and, as a lynch afficianado, I detected a few lynch-isms, especially at the beginning in his defining of the goofy lay of the land of the main character's domain.  other than that, it was sweet, touching, americana at its best, with blind and lame (and un-driver's licensable) farnsworth traveling from iowa to wisconsin on his riding mower to visit his ailing brother, and the adventures he has along the way, and especially the pithy advice he dispenses to the good folks he runs into on his travels.  the punchline was the casting choice of the brother, which had me in stitches!  i recommended my parents rent this flick, which should tell you something, but i liked it too

- saturday, 8/9/97
cable TV - saw andrew bergman's disappointing "striptease" (demi moore, burt reynolds, armand assante, ving rhames, stuart pankin), a semi-screwball comedy with social and political commentary about a stripper trying to regain custody of her daughter from her wheel-chair stealing ex-husband.  had all the elements of a classic bergman comedy (like "honeymoon in vegas" and "the freshman" (which i didn't see yet)) - oddball characters, bizzare yet believable situations, whacky little touches, surreal concepts and settings - but somehow didn't click.  i think the problem is that demi just can't do comedy - the rest of the characters were all in tune, but she wasn't.  reynolds was great - it was half an hour before i recognized him!

- thursday, 1/4/96
"sudden death" (jean-claude van damme, powers booth, dorian harewood).  good action and violence, with glaring plot holes that were no worse than you might expect.

- monday, 7/3/06
bryan singer's "superman returns" (brandon routh, kate bosworth, kevin spacey, james marsden, parker posey, frank langella, and eva marie saint).  sorry to say, this flick was quite lame.  first disappointment: the same damn theme song as the 70s and 80s superman movies!  it's a nice tune, but aren't we due for a new one?  second downer: the plot.  it is ALSO just like the 70s and 80s movies, nothing new or innovative.  and I expected a few 21st century additions in the details, like having superman talk on a cell phone or use a laptop or SOMETHING!  strike three: not enough ass-kicking.  and strike four: the actors were kept on way too tight of a leash.  routh played superman just right (wooden and arrow straight), but spacey, langella, and posey can all be hilarious if you give them some leeway.  here they were kept in check and just came off as boring.

- thursday, 12/22/05
stephen gaghan's "syriana" (george clooney, christopher plummer, jeffrey wright, chris cooper, matt damon, amanda peet, peter gerety, tim blake nelson, william hurt, and alexander siddig).  bad, bad, bad.  worst movie I can remember seeing all year!  an excellent cast, totally gone to waste.  multiple small plot threads that (might) all tie together.  I say "might" because you couldn't follow the story at all!  a total mess.  basically, it is about all facets of the oil industry: sheiks, spies, governments, lawyers, laborers, terrorists, etc.  it might have been interesting if it made any sense, but it didn't.

What?  $5.75 for a bargain matinee???
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