Category Archives: Reviews

12 Angry Men (1957)

The basic idea of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men sounds simple enough.  It begins with little fanfare and the words of a judge who, it seems obvious, is not saying them for the first time:   

You’ve listened to a long and complex case of murder in the first degree.  Premeditated murder is the most serious charge tried in our criminal courts.  You’ve listened to the testimony.  You’ve had the law read to you and interpreted as it applies in this case.  It’s now your duty to sit down and separate the facts from the fancy.  One man is dead, another man’s life is at stake.  If there is a reasonable doubt in your minds as to the guilt of the accused—a reasonable doubt—then you must bring me a verdict of not guilt.  If, however, there’s no reasonable doubt, then you must, in good conscience, find the accused guilty.  However you decide, your verdict must be unanimous.  In the event you find the accused guilty, the bench will not entertain a recommendation for mercy.  The death sentence is mandatory in this case.  You’re faced with a grave responsibility.

The Courtroom

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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Tyler Perry came to the film world with a fan base he developed over six years as an Atlanta playwright. His first success, reportedly very hard-won, was with the play I Know I’ve Been Changed. This is what he told Scott Bowles of USA Today about it:

[After initial failures elsewhere, the] House of Blues show sold out. “Maybe I visited the right churches,” he says. “Maybe I finally got the word out. But until I die, I’ll believe that when I finally forgave my [previously abusive] father, the Lord blessed the play.”

Mad Black Woman begins with a lavish party in honor of Charles (Steve Harris), the husband of 18 years of Helen (Kimberly Elise). He’s the recipient of Atlanta’s Jacob Frienstein Attorney of the Year Award. Life looks great for Charles and Helen but, as Helen profoundly states, “what looks one way on the outside can be a totally different matter on the inside.” Profound.

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Francis Lawrence’s film, based on the DC Comics/Vertigo graphic novel Hellblazer, begins with the following message: “He who possesses the Spear of Destiny holds the fate of the world in his hands.” The filmmakers then throw in that “the Spear of Destiny has been missing since the end of World War II.”

We are next introduced to the smoking ruins of what looks to be a recently bombed church somewhere in Mexico. Manuel the Mexican Vagrant (Jesse Ramirez, I think) and a friend are searching the dirt of the ruins (for bugs to eat?) when Manuel stumbles upon said Spear of Destiny wrapped in a Nazi flag. (Hitler, the Internet informs me, is said by some to have had the Spear until his defeat). Manuel then gets hit by a car. Fortunately, because he has been possessed by the son of the Devil (i.e., el Diablo), he is unshaken and perfectly capable of darting toward the California-Mexico border.
Continue reading Constantine


There is a crucial scene in Luther, a film about a major catalyst of the Reformation, in which the primary conflict of the film and its characters are laid as plainly as possible. By the time this scene arrives, Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes) has nailed to the door of All Saints’ Church his “95 Theses” which outline what he feels are the Roman Catholic Church’s abuses. He is brought to Rome and told by Girolamo Aleander (Jonathan Firth), the Cardinal’s aide, “you have one word to say [to Cardinal Jacob Cajetan (Mathieu Carrière)] and one word only: Revoco—I recant.”

We next find Luther lying, servilely, before the Cardinal. When he arises as instructed, he asks, “Which of my teachings is offensive to Rome?” The Cardinal explains that, “Pope Clement’s decree, Unigenitus, clearly states that the merits of Christ are a treasure of indulgences.” To this, Luther replies, “I think you’ll find it says, ‘The merits of Christ acquire the treasure of indulgences.’” When the Cardinal asserts that it is the Pope who interprets scripture, Luther reminds him that, while “he may interpret…he is not above it.” Continue reading Luther

Documentary: The Corporation

Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar’s doc begins with a bold assertion about the nature of the modern business world:
“150 years ago the business corporation was a relatively insignificant institution. Today, it is all-pervasive. Like the church, the monarchy, and the communist party in other times and places, the corporation is today’s dominant institution.”

Abbott and Achbar attempt to prove this by examining the roots of the corporation. Ray Anderson, the CEO of the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer Interface, says the birth of the corporation began in 1712 with the birth of the industrial age. That was the start of the real micromanagement of productivity and, almost immediately, the corporation would establish its arguable malevolence.

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Prozac Nation

Christina Ricci is writer Elizabeth Wurtzel and, when she is awarded a scholarship to attend Harvard, her mother (Jessica Lange) is ecstatic. The only problem, if we believe the ad-writer for Miramax Home Entertainment, is that her mother’s high expectations end up leading to “self-destructive behavior and paralyzing depression that reflects an entire generation’s struggle to navigate the effects of divorce, drugs, sex and high expectations!”

What ends up making this pill so difficult to swallow is that the character of Wurtzel is too self-possessed to garner any sympathy. The best example of her endearing behavior is a scene occurring after she has thrust herself upon the kind, loving, generous, etc. Rafe (Jason Biggs) during Christmas. After an already awkward dinner with Rafe’s family, Rafe attempts to help his disabled sister to bed. Wurtzel subsequently witnesses Rafe’s struggle and what most would view as a heroic display of selfless loyalty and compassion. Her discerning interpretation: “you get off on this.”

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Yes, I do refuse to apologize for this pun.

Bad Guy

Han-gi (Jae-hyeon Jo) is a pimp. He doesn’t look like a very friendly guy and it’s not surprising that, early in Kim Ki-Duk’s Bad Guy, when he sits down by and begins to study the face of Sun-hwa intently, she springs up and flees from him. An argument and then a fight ensue after Han-gi forcefully kisses Sun-hwa and she then orders him to apologize. It is difficult to imagine what Han-gi thinks about Sun-hwa when she spits on his face after a group of soldiers rough him up. What makes it so difficult to imagine is that he just sort of keeps staring at her. He’ll do a lot of that, though.

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Mr. Holland’s Opus

Mr. Holland may not be making the impact he’d like after five months with his students, but what he holds back at school, he makes certain to deliver at home. Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) remarks solemnly about his wife’s Big News that having a baby is “like falling in love with John Coltrane all over again.” We instantly know what a perfect couple the two are because she seems not only to understand this statement but to be cheered up that it’s the only reason he looked so depressed when she told him to begin with.

We should get something straight before moving on: Mr. Holland never wanted to be a teacher. This guy had dreams. He had this symphony he’d been working on for, oh, what was it? Years, maybe. So, what do you do when the Big Time isn’t panning out for you and your students are all falling asleep with their eyes open at your lectures? You get a pep talk from your wife, Iris (Glenne Headly), and get serious.
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Boiling Point (3-4x juugatsu)

When I think of a film by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, I think of machine gun fire. The machine gun fire I picture does not, however, come from a gun but from a bouquet of freshly cut birds of paradise.

That’s the sort of action film Kitano makes, though. He combines the minutiae of everyday life, its humor, and sudden bursts of intense violence into simple stories that often very attractively engulf that violence.

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2 Days in the Valley

Director John Herzfeld’s film is about old guys. It’s about guys who knew people in World War II. It’s about guys that respect women. It’s about honor…and other things.

Herzfeld, directing a script he also wrote, interweaves the lives of two cops, an Olympic hopeful, a cold-hearted killer, a to-die-for Swede, a down-on-his-luck pizza-smith, an over-the-hill filmmaker, and some others.

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