by Eric Lee Baker

Movie Review: Schindlers' List
Eric L. Baker, Assistant Features Editor

Steven Spielberg has long been considered one of the most talented and influential filmmakers today. In light of his remarkable achievements, it seems only natural that a film as powerful and disturbing as Schindlers' List emerge from his creative abilities. What started as a quest for Spielberg to get in touch with his own Jewish heritage has become a film of such intensely graphic and moving images that one easily forgets about social distinctions and is confronted instead with the indomitable, and sometimes horrifically evil capabilities of the human spirit.

This film concerns itself with the efforts of Oscar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party, to save a group of Jews from certain destruction by employing them in his utensil and ammunition plants. Spielberg purposefully chose actors which had been previously unknown or received little exposure to act in this film in order to keep the audience focused on the story, turning down offers from Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner to represent the main character. However, Irish actor Liam Neeson, of Darkman fame, portrays Oscar Schindler in a performance which has garnered him a Best Actor nomination. Neeson takes Schindler through every emotion conceivable as he wheedles favors from Nazi officials, juggles his tortured personal life and faces the ever growing bond developing with his workers. This performance in no way overshadows the story or detracts from the collage of brutal cinematography the viewer witnesses but it surely proves Neesons' seriously underrated abilities to be worthy of the highest, and long overdue, respect.

Besides Neesons' performance, there are outstanding character portrayals by Ben Kingsley as Schindlers' Jewish accountant and English actor Ralph Fiennes as concentration camp commander Amon Goethe. Kingsley and Fiennes turn in quiet and restrained performance in their respective roles, but Fiennes' Best Supporting Actor nomination is certainly not undeserved. He also takes Amon Goethe through a roller coaster of emotional mood swings but never loses sight of the chilling evilness behind Goethes' drive to ruthlessly carry out his orders, often with a zeal which is all to realistic. Fiennes allows us the best access to his character's total state of moral decadence in a scene in which he awakens to walk out on his balcony and casually shoot at random whoever happens to fall into his sights, after which he calmly goes back into his room, awakens his lover with a boastful shout and then relieves himself in the bathroom. Kingsley is also superb but did not have anywhere near the task that Fiennes had in fleshing out and representing so complex a character as Amon Goethe. His performance is quite simply flawless and one of this film's most impressive attributes.

While Spielberg may have inadvertently picked actors who did a bit better job than he expected, his camera work and directing take hold of the viewer early and never let go in their relentless exposure of human depravity and suffering. Shot almost entirely in black and white, with the exception of some scenes in which color is added to decomposed bodies and some occasional faces to emphasize physical appearances, this film paints a tremendously bleak and moody atmosphere for the viewer to absorb. In so doing, Spielberg sets the tone for this entire picture. His camera moves methodically and unrestricted through the ghettos and slums in which the Jews were forced to live and even more forcefully through the concentration camps and remnants of the mass carnage wrought by the virtual destruction of a people and their culture. Spielbergs' directing has never been more concise and never moved with such relentless precision. Utilizing agonizing close-ups to convey the suffering and mind-numbing violence endured by the Jewish community, the viewer is presented with scenes portraying the outright murder of children, the elderly and entire families.

There have been criticisms of Spielberg for including scenes of such a disturbing nature in this film, but after viewing it myself, I can find no reason as to why he shouldn't have done so. The question must obviously be asked as to why they were filmed to begin with and for what purpose were they were not edited out during final production. This answer lies in the film's subject matter. Spielbergs' film is as much a documentary of such horrific genocide as it is of one man's efforts to put a stop to it. There is no glitz or glam here, just an actual portrayal of the events which took place. Had Spielberg not included these scenes, he would have been making a film of unrealistic proportions and not have adhered to the truth of what really happened. While difficult to view, it is simply an accurate visual display of what really happened, no different from the insipid, action-adventure films the majority of us watch and ENJOY. The only difference here is that the people are real and the credits no longer serve to divorce us from the reality we wish had never happened.

This film is extremely difficult to sit through and is not one which everyone should see. It's tempting to claim that its merits warrant the attendance of everyone old enough to understand its scope but the images and graphic nature of this film are quite simply not for everyone, especially in a culture weaned on violence and de-sensitized to its effects. However, Schindlers' List has earned a place in history regardless of those who criticize its display of human nature gone awry or its awards received at the Oscars. This films' ultimate purpose was undoubtedly the hope that by showing the results and consequences of an unstable societys' misdirected hatred in such a disturbing manner that those of us charged with the stability of future generations be reminded of our duty to not allow history to repeat itself.

We can only hope that its message is not to late.

Movie Review: SEVEN
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Reduced To Jell-O At "SEVEN": Seven is a horrifying film. I jumped in my seat along with the rest of the audience when I saw Silence Of The Lambs but I was reduced to Jell-O after watching Seven. This is not because of its' explicit gore or even its' subject matter, but because of how the film presented its material. I have never seen a movie which left this powerful an impression in my mind since Peckinpahs' Strawdogs.

Seven is about depravity, darkness and the potential for evil within us all. It takes the viewer on a sickening roller-coaster-ride of passionate belief and twisted morality. Most importantly, however, it terrifies you in the process. The plot revolves around the realistic killings of chosen victims by a religious psychopath. The film derives its' name from the Seven deadly sins, which the killer is using to model his crimes. One victim for each sin, each person killed because he or she violated one of the specific seven "rules".

This is where the film separates itself from the rest of the pack. The killer wants each person to know exactly why he or she is going to die, and he has to be creative to pull it off. In this film, the viewer has to contend with what he or she sees exactly as it is because there is no scapegoat to place the blame on. It was simple to place the blame on Hannibal Lechter in Silence Of The Lambs because he was the focal point of the film. This is the case with most horror films. They are either designed to be campy to begin with, (Friday The Thirteenth, Halloween, etc.) or they rely on someone being typecast as insane or that society has forced someone to commit crimes which the rest of the world finds hideous. These types of films present a neat, packaged message on morality which most any of us can choke down without the slightest twinge of guilt. Seven forces the audience to look for the source of such action within themselves, an examination which, if undertaken in earnest, can present some pretty surprising results. Even when the killer is finally introduced, the audience doesn't care about him. He becomes almost unimportant because as he himself says in the film: "No one will remember me, but they'll never forget what I've done.". And by the time Seven comes to its' riveting conclusion, the viewer will never forget what director David Fincher and writer Andrew Kevin Walker have done as well. Seven is not your average horror film, but by the time viewers finish watching it, they will wish it had been. It defies convention and challenges the jaded concept of "Social responsibility" that the majority of us have passively accepted as being the handbook of our culture. Strongly recommended, although NOT a good date picture, despite the presence of Brad Pitt.

Movie Review: Shadowlands
By: Eric L. Baker, Assistant Features Editor
Date: February 6, 1994

When a film is as highly esteemed as Shadowlands, it is extremely difficult to write an unbiased review in which one is able to critique a film's merits accurately and fairly. However, with the combination of Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and the direction of Sir Richard Attenborough, the simple fact is that it becomes impossible to turn out anything short of a masterpiece. Shadowlands is a crowning achievement for both Hopkins and Attenboroughs' long and distinguished careers. Attenborough has not directed a picture as powerful since his epic masterpiece Cry Freedom and Hopkins is simply brilliant in his role as C.S. Lewis. Combined with Hopkins' tremendous performance is Debra Wingers' understated portrayal of Joy, Lewis' wife. Winger may finally get the belated credit and respect she deserves as an extremely talented actress with this role. Both powerful and intensely moving, Shadowlands is a must see picture for fans of serious drama and flawless filmmaking.

The film chronicles the relationship between famed British author C.S. Lewis and his American wife up to the point of her tragic death due to cancer. Director Richard Attenborough offers no fancy camerawork nor gimmicky effects or surprises throughout this film. He relies instead upon pure, undiluted drama and creates an atmosphere of freedom conductive to the work of his two ingenious stars. From this laid back and restrained type of control, the viewers can immerse themselves entirely in the film's mesmerizing presence and enjoy the grace with which this film comes together on screen.

Hopkins' performance is beyond description but one has only to remember the most complete and total opposite to his Oscar winning portrayal of Hannibal Lechter to gain insight into this mans' incredible depth and talent as an actor. Winger herself is faced with the formidable task of holding her own against Hopkins and does an incredible job as well. Scenes in which her carefree and fiercely independent attitude conflict with those of Lewis' stuffy and pretentious colleagues at Oxford University are true moments of cinematic magic. I would consider it to be extremely difficult to justify Wingers' omission from the Best Actress list of nominees at this years' Oscars and also quite possible that Hopkins will repeat again as Best Actor.

The only possible faults to be found with the film are mute at best and are only pet peeves which boil to down to nothing more than simple artistic conflict. I would prefer instead to affirm again this film's undeniable presence and majestic power on the big screen. However, those who choose to view this film should be warned of its strong emotional content. Do not be surprised to find yourself blowing your nose or wiping your eyes at this one. While not a film that everyone will enjoy, Shadowlands has earned a permanent place in the archives of romantic drama and will leave a tremendous impression upon those who choose to view it.

Movie Review: The Shawshank Redemption
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Shawshank Redemption Tugs At The Heartstrings; The Shawshank Redemption is an immediate tearjerker. Lots of big production values and an incredibly unrealistic, yet intensely emotional script combine to draw an audience into a beautifully crafted world of character-driven cinema. This trait, combined with superb acting, restrained directing and a meticulously constructed screenplay make The Shawshank Redemption the years most impressive sleeper to date.

The story concerns the wrongful conviction of Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins), in the murder of his wife and her lover. His life completely destroyed, Dufrane is then sent to Shawshank prison to serve two life terms. Once there, the quiet and reserved Dufrane slowly becomes a beacon of hope to the other prisoners. His philosophical and educated demeanor elevate him to a respected position in the sight of his peers, especially an older prisoner, Red Ellis (Morgan Freeman), the movie concentrates primarily upon their growing relationship but also chronicles Dufranes' popularity with the prison guards and the warden as well. Dufrane uses his skills as a once successful banker (before his conviction) to set up lucrative scams for the warden and provide free tax service for the guards, thereby gaining extra privileges and opportunities for his long-planned escape from the prison.

Acting is also a huge factor behind the films' success. Morgan Freeman plays his character with exquisite class. His gentle and sage manner blend perfectly with Dufranes' personality and the relationship between the two men is treated with exceptional tenderness rarely seen in modern-day cinema. The movies' final scene is a real tear-jerker in this regard. To say more would be to give away the end, but its' emotional impact is simply overwhelming.

Both Robbins and Freeman play their characters with such a subtle intimacy that the movies' implausibilities seem almost trivial in light of these two outstanding performances. The entire movie is carefully constructed to tug at the heartstrings of the audience and in the light of this feat being so beautifully realized, one doesn't even thing about just how impossible all of this would have been in real life. This is exactly what good filmmaking is all about and it is also what makes The Shawshank Redemption such a powerful and compelling movie. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: Star Trek: Generations
Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Normally, film sequels tend to become tiresome after the second or third go around. In the case of Star Trek, however, the sequels only seem to get stronger or at least maintain the same standards as those set by its predecessors. Star Trek: Generations melds a new director and team of writers with both the old and new members of the famed Enterprise crew. Driven by strong performances and a well-written script, this Star Trek film may ultimately prove to be the best of the series.

Fulfilling a trekkies dream of uniting Captains Kirk and Picard along with the chief elements of their crew, this film does not disappoint its audience. Although Dr. McCoy and Spock are noticeably missing from the stellar lineup, the film is good enough to stand on its own despite their absence. The plot revolves around the efforts of the enterprise (under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard) to prevent the major destruction of an entire star by a madman intent upon altering the course of a major energy field for his own selfish purposes. A time warp allows the two captains to join forces by bringing Kirk forward in the future after his heroic demise in the line of duty.

This film is simply overflowing with incredible special effects and an equally compelling story, neither of which compete with each other for the limelight. In fact, this film balances all of its attributes equally throughout the movie itself. Even the performances are better than usual. Most importantly, however, this Star Trek film rises above the already high standard demanded by the millions of trekkies worldwide and goes a step beyond. In so doing, the future of Star Trek looks even brighter than ever, especially since this was to be the launching pad for a string of films based on the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While this film may not command the same amount of respect from non-trekkies, it certainly gives fans an excellent ushering in of a new era in the continuing Star Trek saga. That reason alone makes it more than worthwhile to check out at the nearest theater. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: Stargate
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Part of what made Stargate so appealing in its theatrical trailers was its promise of a meaty script with generous amounts of special effects to illicit Ooohs and Ahhhs from the audience. This highly technical approach, combined with the always impressive acting ability of James Spader and the swaggering machismo of Kurt Russell surprisingly serve to make Stargate a fairly enjoyable movie (in theatrical terms at least).

While it certainly fails to deliver on its highly touted story (the script is little more than a childish attempt at metaphysical philosophy) the movie does deliver first rate special effects. The story revolves around an archaeologist's discovery of an ancient stone gate which scientists discover is a possible portal to other worlds in space. However, due to unknown markings, no one can make the gate function until a nerdy linguist (played by James Spader) solves the mystery (in an amazing 5 minutes). The emphasis is clearly more focused on style than substance with this picture and director Roland Emmerich does an above average job of squeezing the most out of his film's scientific premise. Lots of explosions, flashing lights, and weird time travel sequences deserve a theater for their maximum potential to ever be realized by the viewer. Unfortunately, its doubtful this film will work at all on video, given that medium's limited scope in most households and the film's unintentionally hilarious and ultimately pathetic script.

While acting is almost non-existent in this film, James Spader still manages to give his nerdy character a warm and likable personality. His performance is fun to watch, especially when compared to Kurt Russells' extremely wooden portrayal of a U.S. military colonel sent along to make sure the Stargates' potential power doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

This movie can best be described as a fun film to watch, but little else. Don't go expecting to be enlightened about the origins of life or enthralled by some far out theory of humanity's function in the universe because you won't find it in this film. Do, however, go with an eye for being thrilled by the film's showy effects and simply having a good time. This is really what the film is all about and what ultimately makes it worth seeing in a theater with a good group of friends.

Movie Review: Strange Days
Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Kathryn Bigelow returns to the big screen with Strange Days an unexpected flop at the box office despite its' stunning visual appeal and fast-paced direction. Produced and co-authored by ex-husband James Cameron, Strange Days ends up suffering from such a weak script that even the immense talent of Bigelow herself cannot save it from such an aimless plot.

Most movie goers may remember Bigelow from her past efforts such as the highly enjoyable Point Break and the cult hit, Near Dark. Strange Days offers the same breakneck pacing and frantic direction that her previous films offered, but without the clout of an enjoyable screenplay. The story in this film is so contrived and borrowed from such an innumerable assortment of other films that it grows tedious from the outset. Bigelow does her best to keep the audience entertained as this is actually her most vivid and atmospheric film to date, but I got the sense that this was born out of a need to apologize for the script rather than the actual stylistic choice on her part. This doesn't distract her from her efforts, but it does seriously hamper their enjoyment. What started out as an interesting premise soon becomes a foray into pointlessness and had I not respected Bigelows' work as a director as much as I do, I probably would have left a good half hour before the film actually ended.

Ralph Fiennes is terribly miscast as Lenny, the main character who peddles other peoples' memories (now capable of being stored on CD for playback at any time) to the highest bidder. He's helped out on occasion by a woman friend (well played by Angela Bassett) who really loves Lenny but hates his work. Together they discover an incredibly contrived plot (courtesy of one of Lennys' discs) which perfectly mirrors the Rodney King fiasco and threatens the entire foundation of America to be exposed to the public.

Obviously, someone was desperate for ideas here ad it shows all too obviously. There's not one element of originality (outside of direction) in the entire picture and if you missed it in the theater (where Bigelows' love for the grandiose would best be represented) then don't bother with it on tape either. A TV screen would do her style an injustice, just as this movies' rotten screenplay did. A disappointing work from a very talented director.

Movie Review: Striking Distance
Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer
September 27, 1993

Striking Distance could easily be stereotyped into the bulk of average action-oriented filmmaking since Bruce Willis plays the typical disgruntled cop who blazes his way to redemption via bullets and a wickedly sardonic sense of humor. However, the tired old action movie plot has undergone a major facelift with this picture, and the results are extremely pleasing. Director and co-writer Rowdy Herrington has created a film which is both clever and moves at breakneck speed while throwing in enough stunts and violence to make even the most ardent fan of action movies cringe at their ferocity.

Willis plays Tom Hardy, a homicide detective who testifies against his cousin (and partner) in a police brutality trial and is later forced to watch his suicidal plunge into a watery grave after learning of his conviction. Consequently, the entire police department scorns him and Hardy finds himself working the lowliest of all police jobs, river rescue patrol, and referred to by his colleagues as a "river rat." Still haunted by an unsolved string of murders, Hardy begins to question anew the identity of the killer when fresh bodies start to wash ashore. Scorned by his department because of his belief that the killer is a police officer, Hardy is forced to investigate on his own and face the shocking truth of the killer's identity and motivation.

Here is where the script could easily have fallen into the standard trigger happy method of search and destroy, but the actors are used more as characters instead of receptacles for bullets and punches. The acting is by no means Oscar-worthy, although Robert Pastorelli does an excellent job of portraying the psychotic killer, but the characters are not so easy to peg as "good" or "bad." The viewer actually becomes curious as to who is really the culprit behind the slayings, and this gives the film a suspenseful atmosphere, a trait which is painfully absent in most action films. Even the most astute watcher will probably not guess the correct identity of the killer until his presence is blatantly revealed.

In regards to stunts and violence (which is the real reason for seeing this film), it ranks among one of the better Hollywood productions in recent years. The car chases and stunt driving are most impressive. The opening sequence has Willis navigating down wrong way streets, driving through exploding fireballs and racing neck and neck with the crazed killer as tires squeal, bullets fly and countless vehicles are destroyed. This scene is so well done that I would deem it worthy of challenging the famous car chase in Bullit as the best stunt driving on film.

Overall, Striking Distance is a respectable action movie and one which should be seen and enjoyed on the big screen. Fans of Willis will certainly not be disappointed, and for the modest 38 million on which this movie was produced, the results are certainly above average. So position yourselves within driving distance of the nearest theater and enjoy a rip-roaring ride into adventure!

Movie Review: Sugar Hill
By: Eric L. Baker, Assistant Features Editor

Gangster movies have once again become a popular medium in Hollywood and Sugar Hill attempts to capitalize on the success of that genre's recent resurgence. Boasting the talent of Wesley Snipes and Samuel Jackson, Sugar Hill tries to create a modern-day Godfather played out against the streets of Harlem. However, despite some excellent acting by a very talented cast, Sugar Hill ultimately fails to separate itself from its predecessors.

Wesley Snipes plays Romello Skuggs, a drug dealer who reigns over his old neighborhood with the assistance of his older brother, Nathan Ray. Caught up in the escalating competition from other gangs and haunted by his own tortured past and a drug-addicted father who he still cares about, Romellos' desire to escape the world which he helped create becomes the driving force behind this film. This growing discontent with his small empire and his desire to leave the "business" behind in the hands of his brother also leads to the movies' slightly original, but ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

One of this movie's major faults is that its script waffles at vital points in the story. We can never be sure how to view Romellos' actions, especially since he often says one thing and does another, yet the movie's ending seems to encourage the view that Romello is a reluctant savior of some sorts, a conclusion which doesn't necessarily follow from the script. The side plots involving a young woman whom Romello falls in love with and the complex scheming and double crossing between fellow gangsters and Romello's brother are also sloppily constructed and given insufficient screen time for the viewer to fully grasp or appreciate their meaning. Barry Michael Coopes' script simply tries to include to much in its scope and squanders valuable time which could have been more ably applied to a better 'fleshing out" of the movie's main characters.

Fortunately, what the script lacks in characterization, the actors are somewhat able make up for. Snipes, faced with having to play a character which he just got through playing several years ago, gives a performance which is virtually free of his Nino Brown persona (from New Jack City) and Samuel Jackson turns in an excellent supporting role as the drug-addicted father to whom Romello is faithfully dedicated. Unfortunately, their combined efforts are simply not enough to overcome the fact that this film is a rehash of other films on the same subject and is simply not the same caliber as those other productions.

Consequently, Sugar Hill is nowhere as entertaining or as competently assembled as it could have been and is not deserving of the attention a theatrical viewing would merit. It may find a second life on video, but only fans of Wesley Snipes will appreciate his presence in this otherwise repetitive and un-original film.

Eric L. Baker
English 221, Dr. Gribbin
Feb. 17, 1995


The approaches utilized in the films On The Waterfront and Taxi Driver clearly have their foundations established in the film noir tradition. However, the films employ these characteristics in different ways. Directors Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) and Elia Kazan (On The Waterfront) place different amounts of emphasis on certain aspects of this genre and add their own unique directorial flourishes to the films. An examination of certain scenes within these films will clearly show the stylistic differences which existed between Scorsese and Kazan.

The most obvious difference lies in each director's handling of the actors within his film. Scorsese depends heavily upon his visual style to influence the viewer's perception of a character. In the case of Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro gives a highly physical portrayal of a man on the edge. The camera follows Bickle through every aspect of his regimented lifestyle and disciplined sense of isolation. The viewer sees him as a loner, prowling the streets of New York while hunched over in his cab, his hands always stuffed in his coat pockets when he walks about and his shoulders scrunched up against the filth of a city which he despises. There is actually little real emotion generated from anything De Niro ever says or displays 2

with his facial expressions. Instead, the viewer feels his emotions through his actions. His sense of rage and confusion is conveyed by the manner in which he carries himself and how he manages his life apart from the streets, particularly the scenes in which he begins his rigorous program of physical conditioning and deliberately burns his arm over the gas stove in his apartment. These are obvious attempts to push his physical tolerance for pain to the limit, almost as if to eradicate his sense of physical sensation entirely. These scenes are much more powerful and shocking than any possible speech that De Niro could have delivered to the audience. Once Bickle loses the ability to separate the fantasy world of his imagination from the harsh reality which fostered its growth, the movie has already effectively set up the audience for the inevitable and necessary confrontation between both worlds.

Elia Kazan handles his characters in an entirely different fashion. Although Marlon Brando plays a character similar to De Niros' (both are ostracized by a society seemingly indifferent to their needs as fellow human beings), Brando plays the role of Terry Malloy in a much more sensitive manner. When the audience watches Terry plod along the cold and misty docks with his hands in his pockets, an entirely different feeling is generated than the one received when watching Travis Bickle carry out the same action on the streets of New York. It's almost as if Brando seeks the comfort and reassurance of human contact yet is afraid of having his loneliness become obvious to those around him. Where De Niro sought to keep emotion out, Brando seeks to keep it in.

Brandos' portrayal of Terry Malloy is also different in that he plays the character of a man struggling to project an image which he is not at all comfortable with. It is this same struggle which makes Brandos' character more emotionally complex than that of Travis Bickle. Consequently, Kazan spends a lot of time on ensuring that the audience gets ample opportunity to both see and hear the confusion inherent to Brandos' portrayal. When Terry speaks, it's with an almost childlike sense of resolve because he really amounts to little more than what he has allowed others to make of him. This trait is most evident in the scene in which Terry confesses his involvement in Joey's murder to Joey's sister, a woman he has also fallen in love with. The scene unfolds on a bustling dock and as Terry begins his confession, his voice is drowned out by the shrieking whistle of a nearby freighter. Terry makes no effort to raise his voice above the din (actually speeding up his rambling dialogue). Once the racket has ceased and the truth is revealed, Terry can only watch helplessly as Joey's sister runs from the dock in tears, leaving him just as tortured by his actions as before.

Kazan also does an effective job of relaying the subtle emotion which Brando displays throughout the film. Brandos' constantly fleeting eyes and tortured complexion are wonderfully captured and utilized to their fullest extent in this regard.

Consequently, once Brandos' character comes to terms with his past, Kazan has already paved the way for his redemption in the eyes of his peers as well as those of the audience.

These differing approaches do not detract from the power of either film, but allows for a diversified inclusion of the various elements which make up the genre of film noir. Scoreseses' decision to emphasize the visual qualities of his film over the performance aspect is just as justified as Kazans' decision to do the exact opposite with his film. Neither film is better or worse than the other for its chosen path. Rather, each director successfully created a film which poignantly illustrated the powerful impact of film if approached in a competent manner.

Movie Review: Terminal Velocity
Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Terminal Velocity casts Charlie Sheen as "Ditch" Brody, a daredevil skydiving instructor wrongfully implemented in a student's death. Intent to clear his name and restore honor to his employer, Ditch embarks on a blazing trail of redemption amid numerous encounters with displaced KGB agents on a gold smuggling mission and his supposedly deceased "student", a loyal KGB agent sent to stop them.

Obviously, films of this type are a dime a dozen. Thinly scripted plots, physically impossible action sequences and lots of obscenity shouting and testosterone venting are obvious elements which any good action film must have. Does Terminal Velocity have these things? A definite YES would have to be the answer. Does Terminal Velocity put all of these things together in a memorable and lasting manner? Unfortunately not.

This film doesn't lose much focus in its pacing or its directing but it certainly does in terms of its plot. Movies such as this simply don't require one besides the standard motive for all of the gratuitous violence being projected on the screen. Unfortunately, someone along the line decided that this film might actually be a good candidate for a more fleshed out script and the results are more comical than serious. There are some witty one-liners throughout the movie and the dialogue maintains a fair amount of sarcastic humor but it simply cannot make up for the constant flip-flopping between what direction this film will ultimately take. Are we here to be entertained or lectured to about the evil which lurks in the hearts of men?

In terms of violence, there is certainly more than enough to satisfy any action genre fan but except for a few new and refreshingly innovative ways of killing people and destroying countless millions of dollars in property, Terminal Velocity fails to meet the challenge of leaving behind a lasting impression. Ultimately, it is this failure which dooms Terminal Velocity to nothing more than another entry into an already overcrowded genre. Had the effort been taken to actually do something substantial outside the standard action movie formula, it could have been a much more promising piece of work. While the results are not entirely disappointing, they do not warrant the undivided attention of the average viewer. Films such as the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series offer the viewer much more bang for the buck and do not clutter up the screen with unnecessary sub-plots. Terminal Velocity certainly has its own sense of direction, but as the films' title suggests, it is one which ultimately leads to self-destruction.

Movie Review: Tombstone
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

After the unexpected success of Unforgiven, Hollywood released a slew of westerns in the hopes that viewers had found a renewed interest in the wild west. However, the disastrous box office return of films such as Posse and Geronimo proved this assumption false. Coupled with the release of Tombstone, a more profitable film than its predecessors, a major studio fails once again deliver a satisfying result for true western fans.

The story revolves around the Earp Brothers' efforts to settle down and lead quiet lives in the sleepy town of Tombstone, Arizona. As the town grows more and more crime ridden with the arrival of rowdy gold and silver seekers, the brothers become driven to eradicate the quaint hamlet of its marauding outlaws and restore law and order to its citizens. Director George P. Cosmatos, a veteran of action films and responsible for such classics as Extreme Prejudice and Cobra, botches this film from the beginning.

Relying on endless repetition instead of originality, Cosmatos creates a film which seems to drag on forever with scenes of such embarrassing impotency that it almost becomes a chore to stay awake for the ending. The viewer is treated to countless scenes of whiskey guzzling actors, people being shot from the saddle and lots of close-ups of sweaty, beady-eyed faces trying to stare down their opponent. There are scenes of some well-choreographed violence and stuntwork, but not enough to make up for the overall banality of this film.

With the action as poorly filmed as it was, the acting becomes the only hope of salvation for viewers. Unfortunately, there is little there to offer them hope. Kurt Russell swaggers through his role as Wyatt Earp with such overzealous machismo that one almost feels sorry for the embarrassment he will surely feel when viewing his own performance. The same fate befalls the usually talented Sam Elliot, Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn. The only exception is Val Kilmers' intelligent and restrained performance as the chronically ill Doc Holliday. His efforts are lifespan. Everyone else in this film seems lost as to who and what their characters are really supposed to represent, a tragic circumstance to overwhelm such a talented cast.

Tombstone simply fails to deliver on its promising trailer scenes which ran in the theaters. The combination of sloppy directing, misguided acting and the hilarious attempts to turn it all into a treatise to truth, justice and the American way are simply to much of a burden for this picture to shoulder. Only the most die-hard western fan need view this film and even then are strongly urged to wait for the video.

Movie Review: Twelve Monkeys
By Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Twelve Monkeys is an odd mix of both futuristic moodiness and ancient mythology. Director Terry Gillan (The Fisherking, Brazil) is an expert at merging such diverse genres into a powerful statement about where we are and where we're heading as a culture caught up in the hype of its' own significance. Surprisingly void of any outstanding performances (with the exception of Brad Pitt)

Twelve Monkeys relies primarily on the intense visual styling of its' director to convey its' sense of spiritual decline. This makes it an exhausting film to watch, but one which challenges the viewer to interpret the enormous amount of imagery which bombards the screen from start to finish.

As with any Terry Gillan film, the plot is easy to summarize, but not quite as easy to understand. Bruce Willis is the prisoner from the future sent back in time to find the origins of a virus before it wipes out the majority of earths' population, resulting in the current conditions we see at the beginning of the film. Society has moved underground and Willis is given the opportunity to radically reduce his sentence if he finds the vital information concerning the virus. However, once his mission is underway, Willis is unable to distinguish between worlds and may (or may not) become gradually insane by the pictures' end. The same is true of the rest of the films' characters. They all experience some kind of time-identity crisis, by the films' end, the viewer is as confused about their identities as the characters themselves are. This is the films' most wonderful attribute because it creates in the viewer the same confusion that the characters experience on screen. Thus, in a sense, the viewer becomes just as much the victim of circumstances as the characters in the film do. To say more about the plot would be pointless because without Gillans' frantic direction to visualize the story, the true conflict loses much of its' luster. However, the viewers may have to ask vital questions of themselves in order for the film to work and without the challenging aesthetics of the film to provoke that questioning, such description would only detract from the experience.

More important is the fact that Gillan has created another work of immeasurable aesthetic power with this picture. The movie moves with a frantic, distorted resolve that redefines the concept of "Art" cinema and makes most modern music videos look like a slip-shod high school project. While Gillans' style may be unsuitable for mass digestion by mainstream culture (this film makes you think and work for your conclusion at its' end) it does provoke in those who view it exactly the same emotions which it is attempting to criticize in modern culture. These emotions include fear, anger and resentment about a society spinning out of control while the majority of its' inhabitants stand ignorantly by. To convey such angst, Twelve Monkeys was lucky enough to have a director who has made the visualization of such confusion his personal specialty. While Twelve Monkeys won't break any box office records, It will leave its' mark on all those who dare attempt to decipher its' multi-layered symbolism and unsettling indictment of a society hopelessly out of touch with itself.

Movie Review: The Usual Suspects
Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

The Usual Suspects is a clever crime thriller which follows closely in the tradition of Reservoir Dogs. Director Bryan Smith and writer Christopher McQuarrie place the emphasis on story over action, making its' appeal slightly more intellectual than one would expect. This trait combined with outstanding performances from a multi-talented cast, are what really distinguish the film from countless other efforts in the same genre.

The plot revolves around the police roundup of a group of career criminals, most of whom have heard of each others' street reputation, but never actually worked with one another. Their supposed crime is hijacking a shipment of gun parts but once they figure out that the police have nothing substantial on which to hold any of them, they decide to get even by pooling their talents in a once only collaboration and pulling a job of embarrassing proportions to those responsible for their incarceration. However, once they begin to see the benefits of working together, their ability to turn down jobs grows increasingly weaker. This eventually brings them to the attention of a renowned crime boss known only as Keyser Soze, a man who may (or may not) actually exist. Despite their denial of his ominous presence, none of the criminals can escape the seemingly boundless power and it is the same power which drives each of them headlong into the movies' startling conclusion.

The cast portrays an excellent mix of characters which immediately grab the audience from the films' very beginning. Gabriel Byme is particularly effective as an ex-cop turned criminal who struggles to keep his personal life from the shadow of his professional one and Kevin Spacey gives an immaculate performance as the cripple known affectionately by is peers as Verbal Kint. However, the films' real power comes from its' ability to totally enthrall the viewer in mystery concerning Keyser Soze. No one knows who he is or even if he really exists and the film keeps its' secret hidden until the very last frame, virtually bringing the viewer to a frenzy with the need to know that everyone else is literally dying to find out as well; who (or what) is Keyser Soze?

Watch and be amazed. Playing at the Grandin in Roanoke.

Music Review: Morrissey, Vauxhall & I
By: Eric L. Baker, Assistant Features Editor

Vauxhall & I is a welcome return to a gentler, but not necessarily kinder Morrissey. Re-united with producer Steve Lilywhite, this album allows Morrissey the perfect medium in which to display his undeniably powerful voice and infamously biting commentaries on life. Unlike the previously disappointing release, Your Arsenal, Vauxhall & I is a much more restrained effort in its delivery and more acoustical in its instrumentation to convey the soul-wrenching agony inherent in any Morrissey album.

Particular standouts on this album include the emotionally draining "Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning" and the slightly more energetic, yet equally melancholic "Spring-Heeled Jim". "Used To Be A Sweet Boy" and the already widely-played "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" are also indicative of this album's overall sound. These songs in particular show a more cabaret side to this album in that they focus on Morrisseys' vocal delivery rather than the driving beat or catchy hooks often emphasized in music today.

This album simply showcases Morrissey at his musical and lyrical best. Fans of The Smiths and earlier Morrissey recordings will immediately recognize the magical and somewhat intoxicating nature of hearing that heavily accented Manchester

voice ooze from the speakers directly into the subconscious. In the same manner, for those who have always wandered what the mysterious draw behind Morrissey is all about, this album is the best place to start. Vauxhall & I only heightens the standards of intellectual and musical excellence which Morrissey has undoubtedly set for himself and will most assuredly serve to add to an already rock solid reputation amongst fans of truly innovative and heartfelt means of expression.

Music Review: Very
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

The Pet Shop Boys new release, Very, marks the return of the English duos trademark disco sound. In their three year hiatus from recording new material for themselves and producing albums for numerous other groups, members Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe became determined to break free from the moody constraints of 1990's Behavior. While not sounding radically different from their earlier material, Very presents a much brighter and active sound similar to the groups debut album.
Producing their own material, Tennant and Lowe were able to oversee every aspect of this record, right down to the final mastering and mixing sessions. Consequently, the music on this disc makes Very possibly the best release by the band to date. Filled with cleverly disguised social wit and the occasional politically jaded stab at British royalty, the lyrics emerge as some of the best material Tennant has ever put to paper. Fellow member Chris Lowe pulls the formerly clunky and lurching sounding synthesizers into a warmer, electronically generated atmosphere and Tennant's voice caps each song with the distinctive British flair for which the band is so well known.
The only problems presented by this return to the band's dance-oriented sound is the satisfaction of the fans they have picked up along the way. While not entirely shocking in its change, it does not plod along as the last several albums have done and those who have enjoyed that aspect of their musical evolution will probably not be as satisfied with this release. However, Very should be judged mainly on its creativity and in that regard, it scores very highly. Instead of merely repeating the past, the Pet Shop Boys have improved upon it and given its fans a new body of material which is certainly worthy of consideration.

Movie Review: Wagons East
By: Eric L. Baker, Entertainment Writer

Wagons East was the last film that John Candy ever appeared in. His sudden death during the final week of filming was a truly tragic event for the millions of his fans and a tremendous loss to the world of comedy. Unfortunately, many of his devotees may flock to this miserable excuse for a movie in hopes of once again partaking in that glorious aura that Candy emitted when on screen. However, not only does this film take up valuable space on countless theater screens across this country, it also is an absolute disgrace to the memory of such a great and talented comedian.

The plot revolves around a group of disgruntled settlers who decide to move back East after the novelty of western expansion dies off. Desperate for a wagon master to lead them on their exodus back, they settle on chronic alcoholic James Harlow (John Candy). As the journey eastward commences, a pathetic onslaught of the lamest humor ever assembled lulls the viewer into an almost comatose state. We are forced to watch the cast painfully attempt to wring something, actually anything, from their poorly scripted characters. The miserable group consists of (among others) a gay bookseller (the brunt of many off-color jokes ), a surgeon who can't practice his trade anymore and a token moron whose faltering memory eventually reveals that wagonmaster Harlow is really the former leader of the infamous Donner party expedition. The only other recognizable actor in this insipid mess is Richard Lewis and his continually wooden performance certainly does invoke laughter, but not the type that I would fork over any money to experience.

Wagons East is truly one of the worst movies ever made. There is absolutely nothing in it with any redemptive value whatsoever. I have never looked at a watch so much in my life nor bolted so fast for a door as I did when the credits finally arrived on screen. The true travesty in all of this is that John Candy was connected with it in any way, but he has thankfully left us an extensive list of films in which his brilliance shines through. Films such as Uncle Buck, Planes, Trains And Automobiles and Armed And Dangerous more than make up for this catastrophe. One can only hope that everyone else involved with this movie never picks up (or stands in front of) a camera again. Playing at Valley View, but probably not for long.

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