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    All reviews are by Joseph Miranda unless otherwise noted.

    26 January 2001: SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE

    What if Max Schreck, the actor who played Count Orlock (i.e., Dracula) in the classic German horror film, NOSFERATU, were really a vampire? That's the premise SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE. It's an interesting idea, but the movie kind of falls flat in the end as F.W. Mornau's (John Malkovich) film crew under-reacts to the monster in their midst--perhaps a fitting commentary on the rise of the Third Reich. Still, there are some nice cameos of "decadent" (i.e., pro-liberty) Germany of the 1920s and a really good scene where the vampire explains how he got to where he is today.

    21 January 2001: THE CONTENDER

    A bold faced attack on the hypocrisy of US national politics, THE CONTENDER is the reason why the usual suspects in DC are attacking Hollywood. Jeff Bridges gives a magnificent performace as a good ol' boy president pushing for the first female vice president, opposed by Gary Oldman in a true tour de force.

    3 January 2001: SIXTH DAY

    This movie could have been called "Send in the Clones." SIXTH DAY referring to the Biblical creation of man, this time around by genetic engineers. Arnold Schwartzneger takes on assorted assassins, including a duplicate of himself. The movie starts out with an interesting premise, a well realized near-future, and some Twilight Zone style suburban paranoia. Alas, it quickly descends it cliche: the rescue, the villain's fortress which the hero easily waltzes into, the speech about "playing God," etc., etc. This is too bad as some serious issues are brought up (like legal rights for clones) then summarily discarded. Still, there's some good anti-authoritarian stuff with corrupt politicians in the picture. Oh yeah, Sarah Wynter does a great job as a cyberpunk Lara Croft style hit-person.


    DUNE (TV) is a new adapation of Frank Herbert's science fiction classic. It was done as a 2+ hour theatrical movie back in 1984 by David Lynch, and later re-released on video with another hour or so of cut scenes (which were badly edited back in). DUNE (TV) is six hours (4.5 hours once you cut the commercials), which gives the story more time to develop, needless to say. It's about the struggle for the planet Arrakis, called by its inhabitants Dune, which is the sole source of "spice", the future's super-drug that can extend life, expand consciousness and inspire the occasional holy war.

    DUNE (TV) has a very colorful production and costume design, compared with DUNE (Lynch)'s leather clad future. On the other hand, DUNE (TV) lacks Lynch's quasi-mysticism (no mantras about "Dune-Arrakis-Desert Planet", darn). And there's the problem in both movies that sometimes it is difficult to figure out on which planet you are located. Parts of the TV movie seem to assume that the viewer has some knowledge of the book, like the background to the Bene Gesserit's genetic breeding program. At times, DUNE (TV) plays off the first movie. For example, Liet-Kynes, who was portrayed conservatively by Max von Sydow in DUNE (Lynch) is more of a Bohemian in DUNE (TV). Or the long haired Bene Gesserit priestesses in DUNE (TV) versus the skinheads in DUNE (Lynch).

    DUNE (TV) is presented in three segments which follow the major divisions of the book ("Dune World", "Muad'dib" and "The Prophet). The pacing is uneven at parts, with a lot of loose ends being wrapped up towards the end and dragging things out a bit (interestingly enough, the sub-plot of Thufir Hawat defecting to the Harkonnens was dropped, perhaps because of its improbability). Still, I appreciated Dune (TV)'s inclusion of many of the book's vignettes that never made it into DUNE (Lynch), such as the Sardaukar assassination attempt on Paul. There's also a good development of the gradual falling out between the Harkonnens and the Emperor. And the Baron Harkonnen, instead of being portrayed as a comic opera villain, is made into a truly worthy Shakepearean-style nemesis. And it does catch some of the book's subtleties. For example, Paul Atreides takes the Fremen name of "Muad'dib" because of its similarity to "Mahdi", their prophesized religious leader, a point made in the scene where the assembled Fremen chant the first name then switch to the second.

    DUNE (TV) does introduce some nice touches that were not in the book. There is a very clever scene where Paul Atriedes meets the emperor's daughter, Irulan, at a formal dinner party amidst all the back-stabbing. Their meeting shows some sparks of passion developing between them, and sets up nicely Paul's later dilemma in choosing his true path. And Irulan's role is built up (at times borrowing from the book's Lady Fenrig character), showing her increasing involvement in the schemes to control Dune, at one point seducing Feyd Rautha. A hot performance indeed for a desert planet.

    You can get DUNE (TV) on videotape fairly cheaply. It's worth an evening of viewing but I still feel the definitive DUNE is out there somewhere in hyperspace.

    DUNE (TV)
    DUNE (Lynch)

    30 December 2000: QUILLS

    QUILLS stars Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade, and he stages a magnificent tour de force as everybody's favorite author. He carries on with his writing via all media from his insane asylum cell in Napoleon's France. There's the commentary on free expression and censorship and liberating oneself, but the film goes beyond with a truly ironic ending. Kate Winslet does a magnificent job as the Marguis' first fan. The Marquis himself would have been proud of this one.

    28 November 2000: Television Shows

    "Freedom" is to me the most interesting. The set-up is a group of freedom fighters are, in the near future, trying to overthrow a totalitarian U.S. government. It's written at the usual "pulp fiction" level - - no deep philosophizing, but lots of action. In last week's episode, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve got regrets over helping the government steal from the people, but couldn't just resign since they would probably assassinate him, so he staged his own mock assassination in order to join the revolutionaries! He helps them transfer several million dollars from the Fed to an offshore bank account to help finance the revolution! It's also kind of like a male libertarian fantasy since there's lots of gorgeous babes in the revolutionary group.

    "Dark Angel" obviously borrows from Heinlein's novel "Friday". The heroine is a genetically engineered superfemale who was produced by the government to act as a superagent. But she and others rebelled at this and escaped and are living in the "underground economy". What was interesting in this week's episode was how it portrayed the government as basically a bunch of thieves- -she has her motorcycle seized by the cops on a thin pretext and held for ransom. So naturally, she just steals it back! Amazing what some shows are producing.

    --Bob Weber

    7 July 2000: THE PATRIOT.

    Mel Gibson takes up arms against the British in the American Revolution. The movie hits several pro-liberty themes: protest taxes, arm the citizenry, defy authority. The bad guys in the government do nasty things like burn down churches full of people (shades of Waco). THE PATRIOT is generally accurate, with some well staged and realistic battle scenes, although it does play a bit loose with history (both sides in the Carolinas were quite ruthless). Gibson does his usual thing, and there is a nice characterization of Cornwallis trying to maintain the standards of the gentleman-soldier amid the carnage. One more thing: while it may seem playing to modern audiences that Gibson's character has freed his slaves, there actually were some Revolutionaries who did just that. Too bad the movie did explore the radical politics of this sort of thing more.

    3 July 2000: CHICKEN RUN.

    Every prisoner of war camp movie you have ever seen restaged as a revolt of clay-mation chickens. But it's all good fun with some nice subversive themes. One of two Mel Gibson films this summer which glorifies rebellion against authority.


    Both these films cover the rave scene, BETTER LIVING THROUGH CIRCUITRY as a documentary, GROOVE as a fictionalized event. Both do a great job in showing this aspect of the new electronic counterculture. Raves are, as if you did not know, all night MDMA enhanced dance parties with electronic music in warehouses or out in the desert. They're a new synthesis, using sounds and energy made possible by technology. Raves are also a way for people to interact without government intervention--no wonder they are causing such hysteria among the powers-that-be.

    7 May 2000: GLADIATOR.

    Ridley Scott was once a director. But GLADIATOR is one of the most overblown, overacted, overscored and underwritten movies ever to march onto the big screen. Even the fight scenes are guaranteed to put the audience to sleep. GLADIATOR is vaguely reminiscent of the 1960s ensemble flik, FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (Stephen Boyd, James Mason, Sophia Loren, et alia), both having to do with Roman skullduggery in the reign of the corrupt emperor Commodus. But the earlier film's cynicism about politics is missing in GLADIATOR, replaced with zero dimensional characters and a phony tragic-but-noble ending (FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE ended with the hero turning down the Senate's offer to become emperor by stating that the first thing he would do once in power is have everyone executed!). As much as I disdain to say it, GLADIATOR needs a Mel Gibson or Arnold Schwartzeneger to throw off snappy one liners between the decapitations. Thumbs down to this one (by the way, the historical signal for "mercy" to a gladiator was the waving of a white hankerchief, not "thumb's up").

    1 May 2000: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT.

    This movie could have been a serious look at the dilemmas inherent in using military force when confronting civilians. But RULES OF ENGAGEMENT becomes a pointless exercise in courtroom politics. Turns out Wesley Snipes does have a reason after all to order his men to gun down a bunch of civilians, it's just that the videotape vindicating him has gone missing. Rather than confronting the issue of war crimes seriously, as did BREAKER MORANT, the film simply tacks on a happy ending without resolving anything.

    10 April 2000: FAIL SAFE.

    TV movie remake of the Cold War classic about an accidental US nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the 1960s. George Clooney is in the lead as a bomber pilot fighting his way through to Moscow with a payload of doom. FAIL SAFE still holds up as a techno-thriller in the 21st century and there is a very incisive discussion of the implications of modern warfare. CBS did the production live and it brings back some of the high drama of TV when the Cold War was real.

    10 April 2000: MISSION TO MARS.

    There's a good story buried somewhere in MISSION TO MARS, but too much of the movie is wasted in decades old sci-fi cliches: the meteor storm, the space walk, the exploding space ship. It's not until the movie is three fourths over do we get to the point where it really begins, with our team of intrepid astronauts exploring an ancient alien structure on Mars. Here we finally get some truly intelligent and, yes, poignant confrontations with aliens. And oh yeah, there is a scene with a giant "sand worm" which is more terrifying than anything from DUNE.

    30 January 2000: HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.

    A rather stylish tour de force, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is an update of the classic Vincent Price horror flick in which mayhem attends an all night party in the house of the title. The film comes complete with plenty of Hitchcockean plot twists and a very gothic title song by Marilyn Manson. Geoffrey Rush does a magnificent job in a Price look-alike role, and there are some lushly lit art deco interiors. My only quibble is with the movie's ending, which descends too much into Hollywood special effects land.

    1 January 2000: GALAXY QUEST.

    Ironically one of the best Star Trek movies yet, GALAXY QUEST follows the adventures of a cast of ex-TV actors who get swept up in a galactic war. Plenty of satiric commentary on the cliches of science fiction, some nifty special effects, and an ending which gives hope to all Trekkers out there. Tim Allen is great as a Shatner-esque starship egomaniac, and Sigourney Weaver expands her science fiction repetoire beyond "Alien" and "Ghost Busters". And how many people out there remember the Saturday Night Live sketch "Last Voyage of the Enterprise" with John Belushi, and the one in which Shatner addressed a Star Trek convention and told everyone to "get a life"?

    31 December 1999: THE MESSENGER.

    A manic look at the life, times and death of Joan of Arc, French infante terrible of the Hundred Years War. Lots of high energy swordplay and visionary sequences, a sort of 15th century rave. The characterizations kind of thin out in the second half of the film, but there is some serious self-confrontation at the end.

    25 October 1999: FIGHT CLUB.

    Talk about Fight Club! With a title like this, one expected a cliche ridden martial arts film. Instead, FIGHT CLUB is a finely crafted tale about urban rebels and the alienation of the modern lifestyle. The film is full of twists, and the ending has the courage to stand with the filmakers' convictions. FIGHT CLUB is a plan for urban guerrilla warfare--reject the consumerist spectacle, get organized, fight back!

    20 October 1999: THREE KINGS.

    George Clooney leads a commando raid behind enemy lines in the 1991 Gulf War to capture Saddam Hussein's gold and ends up supporting Iraqi rebels along the way. The movie intentionally begins with every war movie cliche from GUNGA DIN through KELLY'S HEROES. But THREE KINGS quickly provides a somewhat overstated, but nonetheless important, political message about the misuses of American power in the world, a message that holds ever true for today (i.e., the tradeoff of democracy for economic advantages). This movie also seems to be part of a new trend in Hollywood, to portray Muslims in a sympathetic light.

    15 October 1999: AMERICAN BEAUTY.

    Kevin Spacey leads a low key rebellion in suburbia. Hollywood has the guts to take on the sacred cows of the 1990s with people choosing to live their own lives instead of those dictated by society. Ozzie and Harriet, goodbye!

    01 September 1999: THIRTEENTH WARRIOR.

    A retelling of the Beowulf legend, in which a band of warriors fights a monster who turns out to be...well, see the movie. THIRTEENTH WARRIOR is also an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel Eaters of the Dead (the phrase is used a couple of times in the dialog) with plenty of swordplay and an intelligent script. Among other things, the warriors are shown with considerable insight and we get a depiction of religion that is surprisingly intelligent.

    09 August 1999: SOUTH PARK.

    An inspired piece of agitprop, SOUTH PARK is a cruise missile attack against the onrushing tide of government idiocy. Aside from the politics, SOUTH PARK is a pretty good movie, reaching a climax in a US war with Canada (don't ask...). The musical numbers are all quite memorable (to say the least) and are useful at your next anti-censorship rally.
    South Park


    OK, the plot is kind of clunky and the characters leave something to be desired, but any movie that has a Rastafarian army defeating a robot invasion (gee, I wonder what Lucas was thinking...) is worth checking out.

    20 April 1999: THE MATRIX.

    Once again, Keannu Reaves as cyberpunk hero. THE MATRIX uses as its premise a world in which everyone is kept in a state of delusion by the system until the hero finds out what the real reality is about. The first half of the film has a lot of talk, the second half has a lot of action, and parts are not for the squeamish. But still, this is a movie that makes its point about the spectacle of today's system quite well.
    enter the matrix

    20 January 1999: THE FACULTY.

    Once again, it's teenage drug dealers to the rescue as aliens take over a high school. Turns out the aliens can not assimilate certain chemicals into their system. The first part of this film drags a bit, but the second half rocks--and includes positive depictions of drug taking.

    13 September 1998: SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

    War as a mind altering experience. Not for the squeamish, "Saving Private Ryan" presents a visual exposition of the world as a chaos theory event seen through the eyes of Tom Hanks' Captain Miller.

    24 August 1998: PI.

    A paranoid nightmare grounded in solid mathematics. "Pi" follows a mathematician's quest for the number that defines the nature of the universe. The Grail Quest for the thinking person, reminiscent of the original "Twilight Zone" series.

    29 July 1998: DISTURBING BEHAVIOR.

    A teenager goes to a new high school and finds that the "good students" have all been brainwashed via neural implants. The villains are the faculty and parents. And who is leading the resistance? A couple of teenage drug dealers and their alternative girfriend. Of interest to those who want a challenge to the official party line on teens, drugs and values.

    05 March 1998: DARK CITY.

    This science fiction film has a heavy Burroughs/Leary overtone. It's about a society that is kept in the dark (quite literally) by its ruling elite. The hero breaks through the wall of darkness (again quite literally) by expanding his mind.

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