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oldkingcole's reviews view profile

One of my favorite episodes  
on October 11, 2004 - 3:38 AM PDT
  of Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Season 3 (Disc 2 of 6) (1993)


This is one of my favorite episodes, not just of the season but of the entire series. "Crosseti" provides ample evidence that James Yoshimura was one of the best dramatists writing for television in the 1990s. What makes this show uniquely satisfying, at least to me, is its perfectly constructed emotional architecture. Meldrick Lewis is in denial and clings more and more desperately to his version of reality. In an exquisite confluence of superb acting with dialog that perfectly lays out the emotional issues for the audience, Yoshimura expertly guides us through the emotional collision between Meldrick's need for denial and a sad reality which cannot be denied. The body language in this scene between Clarke Johnson's Meldrick Lewis, and Ned Beaty's Stanley Bolander, is dead-on and captures the essence of the push-pull/fight-flight crisis. It's a great scene. In a lesser show, it would be *the* great scene, but in Homicide, it's only one of many. Keep watching this one all the way to the end, because there is another very emotional, redemptive moment right before the closing credits. I am in awe of writing this good.

"The Last of the Watermen"

A solid episode, but coming after "Crosseti", it can't help but be a little bit of a let down. Still, it's a nice showcase for Melissa Leo as Kay Howard. I think is also the first episode where Beau explains the difference between a "killing" and a "murder", a distinction which comes up again later in the series.

"A Model Citizen"

An ok episode. Nice monolog delivered by Andre Braugher about how he was led over the line, accompanied by some great camera work.

"Happy To Be Here"

Another ok episode. This one plays up the soap opera elements. Some nice acting from Daniel Baldwin.

Included with the Harryhausen Signature Collection DVDs  
on March 9, 2004 - 8:30 AM PST
  of The Harryhausen Chronicles (1997)
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful

This is a good documentary, but it's not really necessary to rent it separately, because this exact same program is included as an extra on all of the Harryhausen Signature Collection DVDs. In other words, if you rent, say, the Harryhausen Signature Collection DVD of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, you'll find the Harryhausen Chronicles on it as well.
Homicide's first really great episode  
on January 7, 2004 - 3:47 AM PST
  of Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (Disc 4 of 4) (1993)

Homicide is a cop-show which eschews car chases and gun battles. In other words, it's a thinking person's cop show.

"See No Evil"

The writing (by Paul Attanasio) is outstanding in the A story, which concerns the father of a boyhood friend of Beau Felton's. The father is played by Wilford Brimley, and that never hurts. Brimley's character is dying of cancer and wants to hire a Dr. Kevorkian-type to assist him in committing suicide. This puts Beau, as an officer of the law and a friend of the family, in a very tough position. Dramatically, this plays out in a series of taut, compelling moments and leads to not just one, but two intense show-downs: one between father and son, and one between detective and detective. The "B" story is less successful. It centers on Bolander (Ned Beatty's character) and his unwillingness to participate in the department's mandatory "sensitivity training" program. There is even a C story about an accidental (or is it?) police-involved shooting. This thread is left unresolved, but we'll be picking it up again in the next episode, "Black and Blue". Overall, due to the strength of the A story, and the power of Wilford Brimley's presence, this makes for a compelling hour of television viewing.

"Black and Blue"

This episode has many worthy components, including a strong (if somewhat histrionic) performance from Andre Braugher, and a fascinating thematic argument about justice and loyalty that leaves Giardello (and the audience) speechless. But for my tastes, the episode also relies too much on high-concept ideas -- the magical ability of Pembleton to extract a confession in "the box", Stan and Linda (the waitress) connecting over cello and violin playing, and so on. In the abstract, these might sound like interesting ideas, but played out on screen, their unanchored ascents into fantasy seem at odds with the documentary hyper-realism which is the show's main mode of operation.

"A Many Splendored Thing"

When this episode first aired, it would've been hard to know how pivotal the events it describes would ultimately become for Kyle Secor's character, Bayliss. But the seeds of Bayliss's quest for his identity, sexual and otherwise, can be found, in hindsight, quite clearly here in this episode. There is a great in-car conversation between Pembleton and Bayliss, in which Pembleton's Jesuit education comes to the fore in an impressive display of philosophical elocution, which will have profound consequences for Bayliss later in the series. So although this episode's B and C stories suffer, as did the previous episode, from a certain over-reliance on high-concept, unrealistic ideas which prove impossible to implement on-screen in a convincing way, this is still a critical episode in the development of Tim Bayliss's series-long character arc, and therefore should not be missed.

"Bop Gun"

Wow. This might just be Robin Williams' most convincing and powerful dramatic performance ever. And it's in the service of a knock-out episode that might be Homicide's first really great show. Shot as the last episode of Season 2, it was originally aired early, but the DVD set has reordered the episodes back into production order, so it now appears, as shot, as the last episode of the season. That makes more sense, because in a lot of ways, this really feels more like a 3rd season show.

It opens with a montage set to pop-music, a device that future seasons of Homicide would use to great effect. Gone is the slightly ridiculous, high concept schtick from the previous couple of episodes. Instead, we get a new level of sophistication in the storytelling, acting, and cinematography. This is a powerful and very sad story. Robin Williams is brilliant as a man haunted by the loss of his wife, struggling to hold it together for his kids, and above all, trying not to collapse from the crushing weight of his own self-reproachment. And that's just for starters, because the story of the perpetrators is another heartbreaker. A bravura episode in almost every way. If you've never watched a Homicide episode before, and want to see what all the fuss is about, start here. Afterwards, you'll want to watch every episode leading up to this one, and every episode after. And as good as this episode is, there are some even better ones later in the series, so keep watching!
These early episodes are raw and exude quality  
on January 1, 2004 - 10:34 PM PST
  of Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (Disc 3 of 4) (1993)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

Homicide is a cop show with an emphasis on things other than car chases and gun battles. In other words, it's a thinking person's cop show.

"Dog And Pony Show"

The show continues to gel in this episode, with strong scenes between Crosetti and Thormann, and a nice Pembleton/Bayliss discussion about dogs (another of their wonderful in-car conversations). But it's the resolution to the Keene murder case which is most powerful. The case is horrifying and the episode conveys that horror extremely well as Kay Howard gives voice to it at the end.

"And the Rockets Dead Glare"

Not much seems to happen in this episode. Yet, it still exudes quality. Crosetti's excitement about being in Washington, D.C. and visiting all the historical sites related to the Lincoln assassination is palpable, and works thematically to contrast his love of America with that of their host.

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"

The writing (by Tom Fontana and James Yoshimura -- an awesome team) has moments of brilliance, chief among them G's oblique explanation to Lewis about why he (Giardello) hasn't remarried. That scene also points out how lucky Homicide was to have actors of the calibre of Yaphet Kotto and Clark Johnson. You can't just read these lines off a cue-card, because the meaning of the scene isn't in what's said. This is some pretty sophisticated television writing which would fall flat without actors who are up to the challenge. These are.

There are also some fantastic passages about the addictive pleasures of smoking.

While watching this episode, I said "wow" out loud once, and laughed in enjoyment of the writers' wit several times. Although some scenes do cross the line and go over the top, overall, the strong parts of this episode outweigh the weak parts. And those strong parts are really surprisingly and satisfyingly well-done.
Unrequited love, politics, culture clashes, and labor strife -- DS9 has it all!  
on December 26, 2003 - 12:19 AM PST
  of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4 (Disc 4 of 7) (1993)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful


Ah, the misery of unrequited love; of watching the girl who doesn't know you exist fall for someone else. That's pretty much all there is to this episode, but it's rather well-done even so, to the point where it's a little bit painful to watch at times. Nice moments between Quark and Odo. When Worf starts taking over Odo's job, we really get the sense that Odo sees his life spiraling out of control. And, yes, this is another DS9 episode where the dramatic conflict is almost entirely internal. Rene Aberjonois, as Odo, communicates the emotional distress very clearly, even through the featureless mask of "shapeshifter" makeup that covers his face. A nice, if quiet, episode.

"Return to Grace"

This episode's political underpinnings are a bit opaque, but the episode is saved by Marc Alaimo's bravura performance as Gul Dukat, and by the ever more complex relationship between Dukat and Kira.

Alaimo plays Dukat as manipulative, arrogant, charming, ruthless, eloquent, annoying, and utterly self-confident. It is a bewildering mix that emphasizes the twisted complexity of his character. One really gets the sense that he is capable of many surprises and is therefore formidible and dangerous.

Added to this interesting characterization is the outrageous dynamic between Dukat and Kira -- he, a high ranking officer in the recently-ended Cardassian occupation of Bajor; she, one of the most renowned terrorists in the Bajoran resistance who fought against him. Now demoted in rank due to the indescretion related in "Indescretion" (see Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 4 -- Disc 2), he commands a Cardassian freighter while Kira provides combat-training to Dukat's half-Bajoran daughter. Between Dukat's flirtatious advances to Kira, Kira's instinctive distrust and dislike of Dukat, and their mutual concern for Dukat' daughter, well, the character interrelationships are byzantine enough to fill several episodes of Dynasty.

The lighting is particularly effective in the second half of this episode, casting Dukat in deep shadows which add even more mystery to his already enigmatic character.

There are some battles with the Klingons, but that's not really what the episode is about. It's about the peculiar and highly disfunctional "family" dynamic brewing between Kira, Dukat, and Dukat's daughter Ziyal.

"The Sons of Mogh"

Dax continues to pursue a romantic relationship with Worf, though one suspects he hasn't figured that out yet. Her flirtatious spar with him in the teaser is a great hint, though. Later in the episode, when she has to interrupt a Klingon ritual in which Worf must kill his brother in order to restore his brother's honor, her deep understanding of Klingon culture, her concern for Worf's well-being, and her willingness to act against the object of her affection in order to save him, all demonstrate why she'd be a fine catch for Worf, if only he weren't so clueless about her advances. When she comes to him later to apologize, he asserts "You did what you thought was right. That is an honorable motive." "Not for a Klingon," she replies. He responds "You are not a Klingon." He means it as "I understand and forgive you," but given that Dax's advances have been largely predicated on demonstrating to Worf her understanding of his culture, this reply also carries a bit of a barb. It's a good scene. As is Sisko's lecture to them both about the limits he's willing to go in the name of "cultural diversity."

Overall, it's a good episode which tackles several interesting ideas.

However, at least on my system, THIS EPISODE'S DVD TRANSFER SUFFERS FROM AN ANNOYING LIP-SYNC PROBLEM! The sound is out of sych with the picture, which can be very, very distracting. It's also extremely disappointing, given that one can't simply replace this disc because it is part of a 7-disc boxed set. :-(

"Bar Association"

Quark's brother, Rom, violates Ferengi law and tradition by forming a union with his fellow workers at Quark's Bar in order to bargain for basic labor rights like sick leave and paid vacation. The episode is middle-of-the-road quality-wise, with some of the comedy working well and some of it falling flat. It ends well, though, with Quark finding a way to end the strike, and Rom finding a way for he and Quark to be brothers again.

This episode also has some great lines. I especially liked Rule of Acquisition 211: "Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success... don't hesitate to step on them." Ken Lay would be proud.
Rare for a show to be so good, so early  
on December 25, 2003 - 2:36 AM PST
  of Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (Disc 2 of 4) (1993)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

In short, Homicide is a cop show built on the idea of having no gun battles and no car chases. In other words, it's the thinking person's cop show.

"Son of A Gun"

This was only the show's 4th episode, and it is a fascinating mix of stuff that works really, really well, and stuff that feels a bit forced. In the latter category, we have Crosetti's ongoing attempts to solve the Lincoln assassination case, and the banter about Spiro Agnew's bust. But most of the rest of the episode is refreshingly well-done. The acting, in particular, is starting to really shine in this episode. Jon Polito, as Crosetti, has a monologue about jazz that contains a perfectly timed pause. During that pause, you can't even see his face, yet I totally bought that he was trying to emotionally collect himself. Watching Ned Beatty reluctantly get "won over" by his neighbor Luis Guzman, or watching Kyle Secor's jittery performance as sleep-deprivation starts to overwhelm him -- well, seeing such accomplished performances is its own reward.

The writing, too, exceeds expectations. See for example, the way Crosetti convinces his Lieutenant to let him take on the Chris Thormann case, or the great scene between Pembleton and Bayliss in the car (where Pembleton tries to explain why Bayliss needs to think more like a criminal), or most of the scenes where Wendy Hughes nudges Ned Beatty, or the wonderful scene involving the rosary on the telephone. This was James Yoshimura's first story for the show. After enjoying his work on this series, I have come to view him as one of the best television writers of the 1990s.

This episode is good enough that it is somewhat surprising to realize they'd only aired 3 episodes before it. You can tell, while watching it, that the seeds of something really great are here. Those seeds bear fruit more fully a little later in the series, but even here in their seedling form, the episode is well-worth seeing.

"A Shot In The Dark"

Another pretty solid episode.

"Three Men and Adena"

Series creator Barry Levinson says in an interview in the "Special Features" section of this DVD, that he noticed while shooting the pilot episode, that Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor, as Pembleton and Bayliss, were "so good, you could just literally put them in a room and do a whole hour [on them] and don't do anything else."

In this episode, writer Tom Fontana did just that. It garnered him an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series (Single Episode)" and a surprisingly intense hour of television. I didn't notice anything like it on TV again until J. M. Straczynski penned "Intersections in Real Time" for the fourth season of Babylon 5 some four years later.

Right from the start there are indications that this episode is going to be intense. The teaser establishes that the whole squad is behind Bayliss, trying to help out however they can. Everyone seems to understand what's at stake -- not just solving the Adena Watson case, but redeming Tim Bayliss's sense of self-worth. When he enters the box just before the opening title sequence, we understand how personal this 12 hour interrogation is going to be.

Following the main title sequence, the episode starts slowly and builds. It's when we come back from the half-hour/mid-point break, though, when Risley Tucker, "the araber", starts to talk at some length, that the episode becomes riviting. Tucker reveals that his own powers of perception are the equal of the soon-to-be-legendary Frank Pembleton/Tim Bayliss team, and that he is one tough, smart old man. He is indeed a formidible foe, and that makes the drama even more intense because it raises the possibility that Tim and Frank could lose.

Kudos must be given to the cinematographer, because this is an episode that takes place almost entirely within a bare rectangular room. It's shot with incredible you-are-there handheld camerawork which adds immeasurably to the intensity of the proceedings.

Overall, this is a strong episode which takes lots of risks, is a showcase for the acting abilities of Secor, Braugher, and Moses Gunn as "The Araber", and is a powerful example of what can be done on a cop show when one foregoes car chases and gun battles. Highly recommended.
Building an Empire  
on October 22, 2003 - 2:44 AM PDT
  of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4 (Disc 3 of 7) (1993)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful

All of the episodes on this disc feature some sort of "take over" plot.

The Sword of Kahless

This is a fair, middle of the road episode. Neither unusually good nor unusually bad. John Colicos is, as usual, a fun actor to watch.

The thing that struck me most while rewatching this was how it is yet another example of a DS9 episode where the personal politics of the characters forms the central basis for dramatic conflict. I maintain that this is quite rare in other series in the Star Trek franchise, while for DS9, it is true even in unexceptional episodes like "The Sword of Kahless."

Our Man Bashir

I remember really enjoying this episode when it first aired. Upon rewatching it, I still liked it, but not as much. It is a nice riff on the James Bond/1960s Spy genre ("Bashir. Julian Bashir"). Involving Garak, who has a background (or does he?) as a real spy for the Cardassian Obsidian Order, was clever and worked pretty well. Overall, an average, enjoyable episode.

Homefront and Paradise Lost

I'm reviewing these together because they form a single two-part story. Post-9/11, this story has been given a bit of added relevance, though it's a timeless tale which doesn't require the events of 9/11 for justification. Brock Peters is terrific as Capt. Sisko's father.

This is another story that only DS9 would have the courage to air: an invasion-of-earth story which doesn't focus on phaser battles or armed conflict. Instead, and to its credit, it focuses on the conflict between the political philosophies of the Hawks and Doves within Starfleet and amongst the citizens of Earth. It is occassionally preachy, but even so, it is good to be reminded that a repressive regime of "security" checkpoints and random searches are as much a threat to our way of life as invasion from outside forces. Perhaps John Ashcroft should rent this disc.
Two good ones out of four  
on October 19, 2003 - 12:29 AM PDT
  of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4 (Disc 2 of 7) (1993)
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful


DS9 riffs on The Searchers and does it well. The relationship between Dukat and Kira is nicely complicated in this episode. They surprise each other several times, and us as well.

In the "B" story, which follows an awkward phase of the relationship between Sisko and Cassidy Yates, there is some nice humor-writing. Quark, whose advice has just been rebuffed with "I don't remember asking your opinion" responds "Maybe you should. After all, who knows more about women than me?".

The rejoinder from Dr. Bashir is delivered with near-perfect comic timing.

A good, solid episode.


Terry Farrell gives a performance which is frequently nuanced and effective, despite the sometimes heavy-handedness of the plot. But this is one of the few times when an idea's been explored in both a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode (4th season's "The Host") and in a DS9 episode where I actually prefer the ST:TNG episode.

On the other hand, this is not a bad episode. But neither is it in the upper-echelon of DS9 episodes.

Starship Down

Ugh. Even a generally terrific show like DS9 has its substandard episodes, and unfortunately, this is one of them. Producer Ira Behr named this episode "My least favorite of the season."

It's not unwatchable, but if you're not a completist, you could easily do yourself a favor by skipping it.

Little Green Men

Great fun. Just really great fun. Quark is taking his brother Rom and his brother's son Nog, to Starfleet Academy. Unfortunately, Quark's new space ship is not in tip-top condition, and the three Ferengi find themselves thrust back in time to the late 1940s. They crashland in New Mexico, where they become the Roswell aliens!

Perhaps because I'm currently persuing a degree in Instructional Technologies, I'm viewing this episode through a peculiar lens. But when I rewatched it recently, I couldn't help noticing that it is an excellent example of the instructional storytelling formula that I call "The Genius and The Fool." That's where you have two characters, one who knows a lot about a subject, and the other -- the stand-in for the audience -- who knows nothing at all about it. By having the knowledgeable character ("The Genius") explain things to "The Fool," you can more entertainingly deliver the instructional message than if you just had an expert lecture to the audience directly. This episode has some particularly fun sequences where Nog plays the "The Genius" to Quark's "Fool."

A very enjoyable episode.
I'd almost forgotten how great these episodes are  
on October 15, 2003 - 3:27 AM PDT
  of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season 4 (Disc 1 of 7) (1993)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

"The Way of the Warrior"

The political machinations in this epside are handled extremely well, and end in a rip-rousing space battle where "stuff gets blown up real good." Nevertheless, it's not all mindless gunfire and fight scenes. In fact, DS9, more than any other series in the Trek franchise, is driven by its characters. And those characters are more fully-realized here than ever before in Trek history. Its excellent command of characterization and subtext are among the show's most impressive strengths.

Watch, for example, the wonderfully-written scene in which Quark and Garak, who normally dislike each other, sit at the bar and talk about root beer, turning it into a symbolic reference to the Federation itself, and acknowledging, obliquely yet unmistakably, the similarity of their personal situations with respect to it. It's a terrific bit of smart TV writing, loaded with subtext, that is also 100% about the characters.

And speaking of characters, this episode introduced two very important new ones to the show, both of them Klingon: Worf and Martok. Michael Dorn reprises his "Worf" role from Star Trek: The Next Generation and J.G. Hertzler joins the extended cast as General "Martok." Hertzler brings an almost Shakespearian grandeur to the role, providing viewers with the hippest, coolest, most bad-*ssed Klingon since Michael Ansara's memorable turn as Kang, in the original series episode "Day of the Dove."

Overall, "Way of the Warrior" is an excellent start to an excellent season of DS9.

"The Visitor"

In a 180-degree shift from the testosterone-infused "Way of the Warrior", the second episode of the season is a good old-fashioned tearjerker, and a good one at that. It was nominated for a 1996 Hugo award (which it lost to the second-season Babylon 5 episode "The Coming of Shadows").

Although the frame is a little hokey, and there is a bit too much reliance on technobabble, this episode still packs a surprisingly strong emotional whallup, not once, but several times throughout the hour. Avery Brooks, Tony Todd, and Cirroc Lofton all turn in exemplary performances which really help to sell the emotions. If awards were given for the most scenes in which a male character cries, this episode would win hands-down!

It's another well-crafted, finely pitched DS9 tale that is, as usual for this series, strongly character-driven.

"Hippocratic Oath"

Yet another strong episode. "Hippocratic Oath" explores the dark moral byways of the Star Trek universe. It's basically a "let's put a liberal and a conservative in a life-and-death situation where their politics and world-views will be strained to the breaking point" plot, and it is very well acted and written. The conversation between O'Brien and Bashir that ends the episode has some very tense moments. Strong stuff, especially for the Trek franchise, where character conflict is usually so absent that there's nothing left to do but pit the crew against some external enemy (the "bad-guy of the week" syndrome).

DS9 was the best of the Trek series, precisely because the writers figured out how to make the characters rich enough, and complex enough, to allow for episodes like the three on this DVD, where the major conflict is internal -- whether between world-views of the characters in "Hippocratic Oath"; the feelings of loss, self-recrimination, and obsession in "The Visitor"; or the personal fears of characters as their safety becomes questionable in a galaxy preparing for war in "The Way of the Warrior" -- DS9 is writing a show far more sophisticated than any of the Trek series that came before or after.

Outstanding stuff, better written and more entertaining than most movies, and well worth renting.

Hugely influential  
on August 26, 2003 - 2:37 AM PDT
  of Buck Rogers - 12 Episode Serial (1939)
6 out of 6 members found this review helpful

Having never before read any of the Captain America comics, I decided to start at the begininning: with reprints of the first 10 issues of "Captain America Comics," from the character's inception in 1941. While reading these, I couldn't help but notice that Captain America is the alter ego of Steve ROGERS and his sidekick is named BUCKY. Hmm. BUCKY, ROGERS,... Buck Rogers? I decided to do a little more investigation.

There were many obvious connections, even down to the fact that, for a brief period in the mid sixties, Captain America and the Buck Rogers newspaper strip (which had begun in 1929 and was still running in the 1960s, albeit, with a different writer and artist) shared the same artist (George Tuska).

But the 1939 Buck Rogers serial's influence extends way beyond Captain America, exerting strong pull on Star Trek, and Star Wars, and indeed most filmed science fiction produced since. Within the first two episodes, we see what is, for all intents and purposes, a "transporter", probably the first appearance on-screen of the sci-fi staple. One character even explains how it works, and the explanation is essentially the same as that given in the classic Star Trek series.

The "what happened last week" chapter-recaps in Buck Rogers are angled back and recede into a vanishing-point in the distance, just like George Lucas's prologues do in his Star Wars films. In fact, it's obvious that this serial was a very strong influence on those Star Wars films.

Yes, the special effects are simplistic by today's standards (or even compared to big-budget films of the day -- Gone with the Wind and The Wizard Of Oz came out that same year with much more impressive visual effects), but seen as escapist fare, against the backdrop of WWII, the stories are not as laughable as one might expect. In fact, I rather enjoyed them.

When Saturn's "Council of the Wise" must decide whether to remain an isolationist power or to cast their support to Buck Rogers and his Hidden City allies against Killer Kane's tyranny, the historical context lends a certain weight to the scene. Many Americans in the audience must have been grappling with much the same quandry.

There is also some very progressive casting in this film. Of course, there is the female military officer: Lt. Deering. I've heard that Gene Roddenberry reported that audiences had a hard time in the early 1960s accepting a female second officer in his original Star Trek pilot, so this conceit in 1939 must have seemed quite radical.

Then, there is the casting of Philson Ahn as Prince Tallen, which must be one of the earliest instances of race-neutral casting I've ever seen, ranking up there with the Homicide TV show's casting of Yaphet Kotto as an Italian immigrant. Ahn's Prince Tallen is not a comic-relief sidekick either: he's a noble Saturnian Prince, and no mention is made of his being asian. I found this too to be very interesting.

So, if you're in a historical, pop-culture-archeological frame of mind, this 1939 Buck Rogers will prove endlessly fascinating. You can laugh and sneer at it if you like, but really, I think it deserves better.
What were they thinking??  
on November 1, 2002 - 9:23 AM PST
  of The Pillow Book (1996)
16 out of 20 members found this review helpful

Imagine my surprise when I popped this DVD into the player and discovered that it was a pan-and-scan only presentation! Of a Greenaway film, no less! What "genius" thought that Greenaway's audience would want to see his painterly framings hacked to bits in a presentation like this?

I had to return the disc unwatched. Don't let your first experience of a Greenaway film be a pan-and-scan hack-job: avoid this disc! And shame on you to whoever authorized releasing this DVD in a pan-and-scan only presentation. Bad choice! Bad!
Beecher's Inferno  
on August 21, 2002 - 11:18 PM PDT
  of Oz: The Complete First Season (Disc 1 of 3) (1997)
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful

The first episode of Oz is one of the best first episodes of any series I've ever seen. There is none of the awkwardness, undefined characterizations, scripted-sounding dialog, or any of the other problems that usually plague first-season shows. More than any other first episode I can think of, this one really does feel like a one-hour movie.

John Seda puts in a wonderful performance as the con with a short temper who's searching for answers but can't quite overcome the inertia of his own learned prejudices, or at least, not enough to accept help when he finally has the opportunity to receive it. The tragedy of that lost opportunity is perfectly pitched -- neither over- nor understated -- leaving the viewer with a kind of melancholy sadness at the seeming inevitability of his wrong choice, and what could have been, if only...

The rest of the cast is also stellar. Dean Winters, as O'Reily, is especially noteworthy, his wirey confidence -- again perfectly pitched -- combines equal parts charm and menace.

Eamonn Walker is another phenomenal actor in this show. I really want to see him get more substantial roles in films. He had a small part in Unbreakable as the doctor who delivers Elijah Price in the backroom of the department store, and did a great job as an emotionally broken man in the Homicide: Life on the Streets final wrap-up TV movie, and was excellent in the title role of the 2001 TV version of Othello. At this point, I'd see any movie that had Walker in a lead role. He's that good.

You know, I'm going to end up listing the whole cast if I keep this up, because it is truly first-rate all around. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is terrifying as Adebisi, and J.K. Simmons' turn as Verne Schillinger is also terrifying, but in a completely different way. What happens to audience stand-in Lee Tergesen as Tobias Beecher, right from Episode 1, is utterly horrifying, and his transformation over the course of the whole series is fascinating to watch. Kirk Acevedo as Miguel Alvarez is also a strong actor, and the part gives him many opportunities to pour on the intensity. Keep an eye on him; he's very, very good.

Oz is a tough, tough show, though, and probably not to all tastes. The other highly-vaunted HBO crime drama, The Sopranos, has nothing on Oz for sheer testosterone-driven predatory behavior taken to frightening extremes. The Emerald City wing of Oz can usefully be thought of as a metaphor for Hell.

After watching a few episodes of Oz, you'll at least be certain of one thing: that you'll never want to end up in prison.

A Modern Masterpiece  
on July 28, 2002 - 11:44 PM PDT
  of Dancer in the Dark (2000)
8 out of 9 members found this review helpful

Dancer in the Dark is a modern masterpiece. It won the Palm d'Or for Best Picture at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and also garnered the Best Female Performance award for its lead actress, pop singer Björk. It is a very unusual film: a melodrama, shot like a documentary, in which characters break out into song and dance as in a musical. It's not even shot on film, director Lars von Trier opting to use digital video instead, sometimes employing as many as 100 cameras at once to capture a scene.

If you are able to surrender yourself to the filmmaker's vision enough to overlook the movie's minor plot contrivances, this film can be absolutely devastating. It seems as if nothing much is going to happen at first, but then, like the slam of a slow-motion train wreck, the intensity level spikes up with astonishing force. The power of the hand-held, you-are-there camerawork, combined with Björk's jaw-droppingly great performance -- one of the most honest, vulnerable, and fearless screen performances I've ever seen -- simply overwhelms any nitpicky plot problems for me.

See it on the best home-theater system you can find. Everyone I know who watched it on my 65" widescreen HDTV found it riveting, while some friends who watched it on little TVs were unable to surrender to its magic. A good surround-sound system will also add to the experience, as the sound mix is used in a very artful way.

This film could be technically viewed as a "musical", but it is unlike most other examples of the genre, and is the very antithesis of the loud, garish bluster of Moulin Rouge. It is more like the dark, disturbing "musicals" of Dennis Potter. Fans of classic MGM-style musicals may find Dancer... utterly alien.

This movie made a very strong impression on me. Indeed, it haunted me for weeks after I first saw it. To help exorcise its hold on me, I put together an analysis of the film which is much too long and detailed to fit in the space I'm allotted here. Follow the link to read it at my web site (but wait until after you've seen the film).

Bottom line: truly a great movie. It gets my highest recommendation.
Grrr. Arg.  
on July 2, 2002 - 5:34 PM PDT
  of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2 (Disc 1 of 6) (1997)
6 out of 6 members found this review helpful

I missed the whole Buffy phenomenon while it was unfolding on weekly TV episodes. My exposure to the series is entirely from the first and second season DVDs. But I just finished watching the second-season set, and I think I get why the show was such a hit. It's a terrific blend of soap opera, drama, horror, and, most importantly, humor. This show is often laugh-out-loud funny. And unlike many a TV sit-com, the laughs in Buffy are hardly ever cheap. They remind me more of Woody Allen-style humor -- arising out of the audacity of the ideas as much as out of funny one-liners. Plus, the humor is mercifully free of what I call "Alf humor" -- humor based on references to other TV shows, which to me, is the lowest, safest, cheapest type of humor. It is, also mercifully, not as campy as Xena or Hercules. Just when the soap-opera elements threaten to become too sappy, someone (often Cordelia) will deliver a funny line with such impeccable timing that you can't help but laugh. Highly recommended.
The fire is hot; this DVD is not  
on April 26, 2002 - 1:18 AM PDT
  of Backdraft (1991)
2 out of 2 members found this review helpful

Backdraft has a few good things going for it -- a good performance from Robert De Niro, a very good one from Kurt Russell, and some outstanding fire effects. Unfortunately, most of the rest of this film is pure Hollywood hokum.

The DVD itself disappoints too -- it's widescreen, but not enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

An Interesting Restriction  
on April 14, 2002 - 11:48 PM PDT
  of The Thief (1952)
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful

In literature, a lipogram is a text in which a particular letter is purposely not used. Tryphonius, a greek poet from circa 5th Century BC, is alleged to have written an epic poem in 24 volumes, each of which omitted a different letter of the 24-letter Greek alphabet. For a challenge, try writing anything coherent lasting more than a few sentences without using the letter 'e'.

Some call this a stunt, others find it to be a formal restriction, like choosing to write in verse, or to compose a canon in music, which can force the artist to be more creative to overcome the restriction.

In Thief, the formal restriction is that no dialog is ever uttered by any character. It is a sound film -- there is music, there are sound effects: creaky doors, footsteps, and so on -- but no one speaks. The challenge for the filmmaker is to convey a coherent plot without using dialog. This proves to be something of a challenge for the viewer as well, especially early in the film, when without the clarifying input of dialog, events can reasonably be interpreted in any of several ways. Even the identity of the characters is not completely clear at first.

However, as the story progresses, the number of possible interpretations for events dwindles and soon the story becomes clear: Ray Milland plays a guilt-ridden atomic scientist who has somehow been turned to "the other side" and is now smuggling scientific secrets out of his office to the enemy.

The film is an interesting experiment, though it runs perhaps a bit long for its material. Tightened up to a one-hour TV episode, it might have been outstanding. As it is, it is merely an interesting curiosity. I'm glad to have seen it, but I'm not surprised that it inspired no imitators.

Funny at times, but unsavory too  
on March 13, 2002 - 1:54 AM PST
  of Fargo (1996)
4 out of 6 members found this review helpful

Fargo has Steve Buscemi and William H. Macy -- two exceptional actors -- and it has some funny moments. But like most Coen brothers films I've seen, Fargo is about stupid people. William H. Macy's character needs cash (we never find out exactly why) and his ex-con Native American auto mechanic friend sets him up with two not-so-bright thugs who Macy hires to kidnap his wife so that he can get a large sum of ransom money from his wife's wealthy father. The plot is interesting enough, and Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare are both interesting as the thugs (especially Buscemi who has the kind of nervous gabbiness that makes it impossible for him to shut up for more than a couple of seconds at a time), but the film is kept from greatness by a fatal flaw that nearly kills it: the phony Norwegian accents affected by nearly everyone in the cast. These accents are meant to be funny, and I think that that is actually the main problem -- it comes across as if the filmmakers are making fun of these people by picking on their accents. The combination of making the characters kind of dimwitted plus giving them the fake accents gives the joke at the characters' expense the unsavory flavor of racism. I was never able to completely get past this problem. And frankly, I feel that the TV show, "Northern Exposure", which predates Fargo by several years, did a much better job of telling tales about a cast of similarly quirky characters without saddling them with phony accents or that hint of bigotry. I give Fargo 3 stars out of 5.
strong performances and a good script  
on March 1, 2002 - 5:30 PM PST
  of Hard Eight (1996)
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful

I disliked Paul Thomas Anderson's more recent film, Magnolia, though I have friends who love it. Even so, I could see in Magnolia evidence of a filmmaker who has talent, and so was curious to see Hard Eight, one of his earlier efforts. It is as lean and tight as Magnolia is bloated and self-indulgent. Philip Baker Hall gives a magnificent performance as the enigmatic gambling expert who seems to understand how everything works -- not just casinos, but human behavior also seems to be no mystery to him. John Reilly's character accuses him of mistaking himself for St. Francis, and indeed there is something godlike in the way his character, Sydney, comes out of nowhere to rescue Reilly's character, John, from utter destitution. Having established in the first act that Sydney is character who is used to being in control, when things begin to unravel in the second act, the Paul Anderson - Philip Baker Hall team easily keeps our interest. How will this cool, under control, neat and tidy man deal with a situation which is anything but neat and tidy? There are several nice parallels drawn between the characters. When Gwyneth Paltrow's character touchingly confesses to utter embarrasment in a poignant scene in the front seat of Sydney's car, he seems very understanding. Later, we learn why he is so able to empathize with feelings of mortification. In fact, it is a testament to Hall's outstanding turn as Sydney, that even as we learn a great deal about his character's backstory, he never loses his enigmatic edge -- the sense that there are layers and layers of repressed loves, fears, and regrets, hidden beneath his tightly controlled exterior. Our interest in peering into those layers is a large part of what sustains this film. Reilly, Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson are also excellent in their respective roles. If you enjoy watching films that give space to their actors and draw strong, distinctive performance from them, then this is a film you won't want to miss. But Philip Baker Hall really steals the show. His performance isn't very showy, but its power is undeniable. Recommended.

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