Movie Reviews


A good story is a good story, regardless of medium or genre. Post your thoughts on movies or TV shows.

Dark Shadows

Submitted by acmfox on Mon, 06/11/2012 - 10:00pm

I have to admit that I went into the theater with low expectations. The advertising promised something way too campy for my taste. The movie does have its flaws. It felt more like a pilot for a new series than a complete story in that it introduced a lot of fun characters, then did very little with most of them. Rather, it was as if the writers felt required to pay homage to the original cast of characters, but didn't quite know what to do with them. As a follower of the original soap, I knew who the players were and might have been disappointed not to see them. For younger audiences, I'm not sure it would have made much of a difference.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. I liked it. It was better than I expected.

Iron Man

Submitted by camidon on Mon, 05/19/2008 - 1:05pm

Iron Man, another superhero movie, was fantastic. If you have any interest in superhero movies, this is one of the best, right up there with X-Men2 and Batman. The story was tight, the acting decent, and it was never stupid! Characters were never stupid. Plot twists were never stupid. True, it followed a standard Hollywood form, but it did it much better than most. Also true, I guessed the villain from the very beginning, but I believed the transformation of every character throughout the story. The jokes and special effects were also a part of the movie, not overshadowing the story or characters. Definitely worth the price of admission, even if move admission prices are damn expensive these days.

Aeon Flux

Submitted by DaveK on Sat, 06/17/2006 - 5:11pm

I rented the Aeon FLux DVD last night expecting a bad SF movie since it had stayed in the theaters a week or two at most. However, it was quite good. The story was interesting and had enough of a twist to keep you going. I didn't notice the acting so I suppose it was acceptable. The visuals and sound (as seen on my home TV) were good. I didn't notice any fatal logic flaws, but these days I've decided to enjoy movies and only complain if my supension of disbelief has to be helped by a blow to the head.

I don't know why it did so bad in the theaters. Some ideas are that, it didn't match the cartoon so the die hard fans dumped on it, "girl" action flicks don't sell, too PG for the R audience, too bright and clean for the distopia crowd, the technology too hidden and unobtrusive for the tech heads or ???

Has anyone else seen it?

Retro Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Submitted by scifiwriterb on Thu, 05/18/2006 - 1:01am

Hi everyone,

I'm willing to bet the farm that at least one person reading this review has seen the fourth Potter movie. I didn't get into the first film, skipped the second, saw the third and was surprised that I enjoyed it.

I later read the first book,which made me understand why Harry Potter is a cultural phenomenon. In my opinion, Goblet of Fire is darker than Prisoner of Azkaban, butnot as stylish. The third film's my personal favorite.

Unlike most other film franchises which've become shells of their former glory by the fourth installment, Harry Potter seems to begetting stronger. It doesn't reach the level of LOTR, but there's still four more coming, so there's time to raise the bar--or fall below it.

The 700 page book has been condensed into 156 dense minutes that don't cover everything. We spend no time in the world of the magicless muggles. GOBLET takes place entirely on the Hogwarts School's grounds where even the teachers have to follow rules of magical behavior. Returning students visit the Quidditch campsite where the dreaded Lord Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) Death Eaters ruin the festivities by burning the site down. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), tormented by a recurring nightmare, foresees that he is in mortal danger.

In this installment, Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament. Two other schools are vying for the honorable Goblet of Fire trophy: the Beaux batons (Beautiful Wands) Academy and the Durmstrang (Storm and Stress) Institute. Candidates, who willingly enter by placing their names in the Goblet of Fire, must be sixteen years old to join thedangerous competition of three challenges. The Goblet chooses not three, but four names. Harry, though only 14, cannot be excluded since the Goblet appears to want him to play.

Hogwart's ever-present, involved headmaster Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) asks Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson) to discreetly protect Harry, since Harry does not have the magical skills required to enter the three challenges.

The three challenges are fighting a dragon, an underwater rescue, and a run through a magical maze. The maze brings Harry face-to-face with tongue-wiggling Lord "No-Nose" Voldemort who needs Harry's blood to resurrect himself.

Now that Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) are fourteen, they are becoming interested in relationships. And the School's Yule Ball has everyone expected to pair up and dance! Harry, still not claiming his magical heritage, fumbles around girls. Ron, after having a jealous spat with Harry, starts to notice his feelings for Hermione (though he might have a crush on Harry?). Being more mature, Hermione accepts Durmstrang's muscular star Viktor Krum's (Stanislav Ianevski) invitation to the dance. Harry lets his opportunity to ask another girl to the ball slip through his fingers. And Hermione seems to have undeveloped feelings for Harry. Both Harry and Ron blow their opportunities for having a good time with the girls they do get as dates by moping over not being with the ones they wanted in the first place. Typical teen angst. Mike Newell (the first Brit todirect a Harry Potter flick) puts his flair in this sequence, showing his touch for dysfunctional relationships from Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Harry Potter fans demand certain things, so the film is faithful to the book. The dance, while central to the subplot of the development of the main character's sexual awakening, slows the magical pace. And there is just too many old, old wizards and witches. Doesn't magic also suggest enchantment and seduction?

When does magic get sexy? I kept hoping to see more of the Beautiful Wand girls. Tres interessant.

May I ask what happened to the Beauxbatons Academy's candidate in the maze? If the Triwizard Tournament is so prestigious in the world of wizards, the winner never takes the cup! Where's the grand ceremony honoring the triumphant winner?

And something I didn't understand was why the magic ministry didn't send out enforcers of some sort to deal with Voldemort's Death Eaters after they flamed the World Quidditch festivities?

The 156 minutes gives Newell enough time to seduce the audience with fantastic scenes that outreaches the other movies. Each is getting better without cheating the audience. There is a chilling twist I certainly did not see coming. I would have liked to spend more time with Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and Minierva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), magicians of renown now teaching kids magical manners. What are their histories?

GOBLET is directed and paced well. But it's even less of a stand-alone than the earlier installments, depending on the audience'sknowledge from previous movies and/or the books. To me, the ending was anticlimatic with Ralph Fiennes playing a somewhat subdued Voldemort.

Something I liked about Harry's character is that he's not the classsic hero. Often stumbling and unsure of himself, he rises tothe occassion in a big way when he has to.

Here's hoping the next four Harry Potter films'll be gems.

Retro Review: Dial M for Murder

Submitted by camidon on Thu, 05/11/2006 - 10:28pm

As there's been a number of postings regarding movies not within the science fiction genre, I thought I would add my own. Got this one, "Dial M for Murder" from Netflix recently.

Everyone often says Hitchock was a master, but when one watches his movies with an eye for his craft, that statement really holds true. Every scene, setting, and detail is meticulously crafted. This movie takes place almost entirely in a one room setting (the movie was based very closely on a play of the same name), yet it never feels stifled. There's movement, quick dialogue, and intriguing chararcters. Within the first few minutes, the audience knows the wife is having an affair. Tthough she thinks her husband doesn't know, he does know, and he wants revenge. The questions are 1) How he will do it, 2) if it will succeed, and 3) if the husband will get away with it. Pay particular attention to the nature of "evil" or "the villian". Quite often Hitchcock likes to play with wealthy and middle class characters who seem to have just about everything, yet somehow something is missing, and so they resort to crime.

Though I would not classify this as my favorite Hitchcock, North by Northwest is by favorite (perhaps I should write a review of that too), this movie receives strong marks. Even my wife, who is not a huge suspense fan, suddenly found herself captivated. When she went to fetch some more tea, she demanded I pause the movie, which never happens.

So, in summary, to learn quick character development, plot pacing, and how to use a limited setting, check out this movie.

Retro Review: "Pride and Prejudice"

Submitted by scifiwriterb on Wed, 05/10/2006 - 5:26pm

Hi Everyone,

I saw "Pride and Prejudice" on the first day of its wide release. It was the only romantic comedy I've enjoyed in the last six years or so.

The only other Jane Austen flick I've seen was "Sense and Sensibility"directed by Ang Lee, which is also a classic. I haven't seen the cheesy Bollywood version of "Pride" nor any of the BBC miniseries.

I hear tell some people were grumbling about why another Jane Austenfilm had to be made. IMHO, that's partly because film makers can tend to run out of ideas and partly because Jane Austen's stories have touched on a timeless theme in Western culture: Love.

For me, at least, this adaptation's worth it.

The film heralds the arrival of veteran TV director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley. She shows so much depth that those who've seen her in "Bend it Like Beckham" would hardly have believed shewore a soccer (no, football) jersey.

"Pride" is a manicured, sometimes dawdling romantic drama about five middle-class sisters attempting to marry well in Georgian England,rings true to its classical origin while making the material its own.It's an intricate tale of wordplay and love games.

In the opening sequence: Wright's camera takes us into the Bennet household, where an older married couple and their five daughters share an earthy estate with geese, chickens, pigs, swans, and one shaggy greyhound.

The mother (Brenda Blethyn) is in a constant state of worry andmotion; if her daughters don't start marrying soon, the family will be ruined. The father (Donald Sutherland) stays out of the way, hoping his daughters somehow overcome societal prejudice againsttheir gender and make something of their minds.

Headstrong Elizabeth (Knightley) has done just that. Smart, spirited, fiercely independent, Lizzie promises herself that she won't be one to settle.

After introducing the family, Joe Wright takes us into a ball where men and women meet up like today's American youth find companionship at a singles bar, resort, or (shudder) online.

When Elizabeth's older sister, Jane (Rosamund Pike, a good actress herself), meets the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) at a dance,their future as a couple seems preordained. But when Lizzie is introduced to the morose Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen, overlooked in the new James Bond hunt), an instant dislike is established.

Darcy: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me."

Elizabeth: "I will loathe him for eternity."

Which means, of course, that they are meant for each other.

Reminded me unwantedly a bit of an English girl I met, who didn't fail to mention she came from a good family. I argued with her everytime I saw her, which is another story... Elizabeth's character is genuine and sweet and worth getting to know.

The pleasure of the movie comes from the push and pull, waiting for Darcy and Elizabeth to realize their destiny. And because they initially misread each other, and because of complications within their own families, this takes some time - basically, an entire movie. But these aren't run-of-the-mill, romantic-comedy obstacles tobe overcome. Darcy and Elizabeth must ultimately prove themselves tobe worthy of the other - no small challenge, since these are two ofthe most noble characters in the history of romantic literature.

Wright gets every bit of emotion out of the story, which his BBC work shows he has a long history of doing. What's surprising is hisfinesse with the camera. (To reiterate: It's his first movie.) At the dance, Elizabeth and Darcy twirl on the crowded dance floor,reluctantly admitting their mutual affection. They stare into eachother's eyes, and everyone in the background disappears - for just a few seconds, they are alone in the world and have taken us with them.

There's also a stunning sequence midway through the film that takesplace at a costume ball where, in a long, unbroken take, Wright's camera flits through a mansion, capturing character-revealing conversations and emotions high and low. Lesser filmmakers would spend 15 minutes trying, and failing, to accomplish what Wright doeshere in this glorious set piece.

Also, Wright knows when to pull back and let his actors do the heavylifting, using close-up shots later in the film when the emotions become particularly intense. It's here that Knightley fulfills her promise, letting us feel Elizabeth's conflicting emotions in waysthat are palpable and true. She also has a beautifully touching father-daughter scene late in the film with Sutherland that, in and of itself, won her an Oscar nomination and should've netted one for Sutherland, too.

As Wright ushers the leading couple from misunderstanding to connection, he does well by his supporting characters too. We see a preacher, the vertically-challenged Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander), propose to Lizzy as though he were tending to a real estate acquisition (something I've seen in more than one Englishman). We watch as Elizabeth, still prejudiced against the allegedly proud Darcy, turn down his passionate marriage proposal. The imperious,class-conscious Lady Catherine de Bourg (Judi Dench) is eager to have her homely daughter hitched to someone who is not of "inferior birth," like Elizabeth. The relationship between the sisters' mother and her dad makes you wonder how they ever got together, as mom becomes hysterical any time a possible mate for her daughters approaches the estate while their dad wants only for his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, to marry someone she loves. "If you do not marry Collins, your mother will never speak to you again," saysthe aging father, "If you do marry Collins, I will never speak to you again." One needs not wonder why Lizzy is her father's daughter. Macfadyen is admirably awkward as Mr. Darcy, a man of sterling character whose one great flaw is that he hides his feelings too well.

The performers act and react naturally, giggling or standing in stunned silence to emphasize the humor and vivacity of Austen's prose. They communicate entire pages of information with subtle gestures and glances. The characters dance with words, as well as in the ballroom.

As directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Deborah Moggach (whose script was polished by an uncredited Emma Thompson), "Pride & Prejudice" is a briskly entertaining and well-acted extension of Jane Austen's cinematic run.

I say this as someone who's always looking for a good story. I'm in no way a connoiseur of Jane Austen and chick flicks.

M: I 3 Review -- Mission: Passable

Submitted by scifiwriterb on Sun, 05/07/2006 - 8:04pm

SD 6 -- no, the CIA -- no, APO -- er, the IMF has a serious human-resources problem. Over the course of three Mission: Impossible films, at least one person involved in each nefarious plot to destroy the world has been an employee of the agency that ostensibly represents the good guys. One wonders if Sydney Bristow -- sorry Ethan Hunt is the last honest person in the spy game.

With the first two installments, in 1996 and 2000, directors Brian De Palma and John Woo established the Mission: Impossible template as smooth, slick, kinetic and balletic. Now that rule of thumb has morphed into "bigger-faster-louder."

Who better then, to direct this new chapter than J.J. Abrams ("Alias," "Lost"), an A-list television maker who grinds out water cooler hits like they were ice cubes? Abrams has adopted a television style consisting of all peaks and no valleys, thereby giving viewers no time to rest. That may work for a 50-minute TV drama (especially one punctuated by commercials) but not so much for a 126-minute movie, which could stand to be trimmed by half an hour.

In the third installment of the franchise based on the gadget-heavy TV show "Mission Impossible," Ethan's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to save the planet from a super-duper arms deal that's going down amid so many jaw-dropping stunts that when he gets out the defibrillator, you hope it's for you, not the comely agent about to expire in his arms. The movie delivers the goods, though, frequent Olympian bursts of aerobic activity from Tom Cruise. Mostly, he runs - although he does do some quick calculus equations while catching his breath.

In the six years since we last saw Tom, er Ethan (it's tough to separate the actor from his characters nowadays), he's been in semiretirement, training new IMF agents and getting engaged to a pretty and perfect nurse named Julia (Michelle Monaghan, in a thankless role), who thinks he works for the Department of Transportation. Their relationship seems to consist primarily of repeating the name of a lake where they had an early date. Does Julia find it strange that Ethan takes her to a beautiful hospital rooftop to tearfully explain that he has to go away for a few days on a business trip? Apparently not: She leaves the roof and marries him downstairs.

When Ethan's most promising trainee, Felicity (sorry, Kerri Russell) goes missing, he heads back out into the field, teaming up with his old buddy Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, the only other actor returning from the previous films), plus new agents Declan (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen (Maggie Q). They're up against slimy arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who's easily the most evil and most intriguing of all the villains to cross Ethan.

M:I III's plot is no more nonsensical than the plots of the first two movies. But from the opening flash-forward to the emphasis on personal relationships amid the chaos of spy work, M:I III plays like Alias: The Tom Cruise Years. The problem is that while Abrams (who also co-created Lost and Felicity) is very good at the small, personal moments, that's not what a film like this calls for, and without the luxury of a season's worth of TV episodes to build his relationships, a lot of the emotions come across as false.

So Mission: Impossible III is a mixed bag. Abrams gets in at least three seat-clenching moments of pure excitement, like a stunning Vatican break-in, where our heroes snatch Davian from a fancy-dress party to prevent him from selling a MacGuffin called the "Rabbit's Foot," (something toxic and dangerous and never explained). However, when it comes to the really, really big sequences, such as blowing up a bridge, where Davian escapes and vows revenge of Ethan's girl, Abrams loses his grip. Likewise, it seems, for certain conversational sequences; he goes with a super-duper close-up -- all pores and nostrils -- combined with the dreaded hand-held shaky cam.

Cruise has been America's reigning actor for so long now that all his moves have become signatures. There's the over-the-shoulder smile (shot in profile), the all-weather cocky grin, the "intense" look with cheeks sucked in, and, my personal favorite, the two-handed clutch of the head of his beloved.

Abrams stages the action scenes thrillingly in a modern, quick-cut, disorienting way, but flurries of close up shots in certain sequences are used that work better for the small screen, like during a balletic helicopter chase through a field of windmills. He slows things down on occasion, like when Ethan leans out of a speeding Range Rover for a precision pistol shot. The great "Aaaah!" moment of M:I3 is a leap from the top of a Shanghai office tower, but with digitization the way it is, was the jump real? We'll have to wait to see the DVD featurette to know for certain. That's why the film's analog tricks were a pleasure: a clever scene involving lip-reading and some good old-fashioned heart-wrenching mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The Italian interlude marks the film's high point, as it allows the Authorized Personnel -- no, Impossible Mission Force its greatest opportunity for subterfuge, surprise and disguise, none better than when Ethan, wearing a mask of Davian during a glittering Vatican function, steals the rabbit's foot and kidnaps the crook. Even captivity doesn't diminish Davian's insolence, however, and soon the tables are turned on Ethan and his crew in a spectacular ambush on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. One must wonder though how Davian's organization knew to ambush the IMF convoy there and have a highly trained German extraction team with the latest military spec hardware in place.

Cruise has bumped his intensity up a notch, scorching through the picture in a way that seems restrained only in comparison to his appearance on a certain television talk show last year.

None of the impressive cast is given much to do character wise. (Jumping out of helicopters is another matter.) Rhames' screen presence shines out in his brief moments, though, and newcomer actress-model Maggie Q (from Hong Kong by way of Hawaii) sizzles and scores some immediate points. By contrast, the little-used Rhys Meyers gets lost in the shuffle. Only Laurence Fishburne, playing IMF top brass John Brassel, gets to chew on any crunchy dialogue, like "don't interrupt me when I'm asking rhetorical questions." Simon Peg, an understated English version of Marshall, makes the most of his fleeting but key moments as a motor-mouthed agency analyst.

As for Hoffman, this Oscar winner's stature as a superior actor invests his scenes with a special weight and interest. On the other hand, his involvement hasn't been fully exploited. Hoffman, with his blond locks and moderate girth, looks a bit like Gert Frobe, the actor who played Goldfinger. It's reinforced when Abrams replays the Bond scene of Goldfinger's death by having Ethan threateningly dangle Davian out of a private jet.

What the comparison points up is how this picture denies Hoffman a chance to fully express his character's personality, to show a little nuance, a mentality behind the evil, some humor or self-awareness behind the malevolence, or to toy with Ethan beyond the simple threat. A great moment is a throwaway one where he petulantly grabs a drink being served to him. Better yet is his dressing down of Cruise, which was splashed all over the trailer: "Do you have a wife or girlfriend? Whoever she is, I'm going to find her, and I'm going to hurt her ... " He radiates evil. If you have an actor like Hoffman on board, you'd think it would behoove the writers to cook up at least one big scene to let the man loose to really do his thing.

Production values are all supercharged in line with the tenor of the production. Locations effectively span the continents as well as the centuries, with Caserta, once again effectively doubling for the Vatican, representing the past, high-tech U.S. locales holding down the present and millennial Shanghai providing a look at the future. An explosive Berlin sequence is capped by a nocturnal helicopter battle staged amid a forest of wind turbines that looks suspiciously like the one in the desert outside Palm Springs.

An inspired middle-hour pumped by some solid action gives you an idea how good the franchise could be, but Ethan Hunt seems a bit lost in a post-Bourne, recalibrated-Bond universe. Action fans will love the big explosions, but will be impatient with the first hour. Spy thriller fans will be disappointed by the sheer implausibility of the script, which delivers conventional twists Abrams has taken from other spy films and shows, even his own. Under Abrams, M:I 3 runs like an average two and a half hour episode of "Alias" on the big screen. Check out the first few seasons of "Alias" on DVD for cleverer and more thrilling hi-tech spy games from Abrams.

Incidentally, I doubt Abrams will bring anything new to the upcoming Trek XI flick due out in 2008.

This review will self-destruct in five seconds.

Retro Flick Review -- "Pirates of Carribbean I: Curse of the Black Pearl"

Submitted by scifiwriterb on Wed, 05/03/2006 - 4:17pm

Hi Everyone,

I saw "Pirates I" twice when it first came out in theatres three years ago. And I saw it on ABC one night. I should buy me the DVD.

Yo ho-ho and a "Pirates" flick for me.

In this writer's opinion, this is the way a swashbuckling flick ought to be done. Supernatural curses, peg-legs, parrots, hidden treasure, plank-walking, broadsides, sword fights, and romance. Every element we associate with pirates has been thrown in and weaved into an adventure quest plot a la Indiana Jones on the high seas.

Set in the the 17th century, Pirates of the Caribbean is the story of a roguish, handsome, dashing -- and yes, often bumbling -- pirate, Jack Sparrow. Sparrow teams up with a comely young woman (Keira Knightley) and a somewhat effete (to me) guy (Orlando Bloom) to putthe kibosh on the diabolical plans of the undead pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has stolen Sparrow's beloved vessel, The Black Pearl, and sails it across the Caribbean sea, manned by his motley and also undead crew.

Gore Verbinski's both a top notch and versatile director with a string of eclectic hits from "Mouse Hunt," "The Mexican," and "The Ring." He certainly can pump up viewers. I could taste the salt spray, smell the gunpowder, and feel the swish of blades slicing theair.
Depp, lost himself in the person of... Keith Richards. I thought he was playing Mick Jagger playing Sparrow, but Depp himself has said in interviews that he modeled Jack Sparrow on Richards. It was a risk, but it worked. From the kohl-lined eyes, to the flamboyant togs, tothe accented and muttering speech, to the sweeping and fey mannerisms... it's all there, and yet it's not a parody. Captain Jack Sparrow is a fully realized and unique character, brought to life by one of the best actors working today. Depp's co-stars aren't tooshabby, either. Keira Knightly made memorable what could've been a minor role as the English governor's daughter Elizabeth, drawing us into her plight and making us care about her. The other standout isRush as the monkey-toting, floppy-hat wearing, rotten-toothed Captain Barbossa. Bloom did a respectable job playing Will Turner, Elizabeth's devoted blacksmith lover. He wasn't so out of depth in this role as he was when playing Balien, defender of Jerusalem, in the 2005 flop "Kingdom of Heaven."

And thanks in part to "Shrek" scribes Ted Elliot and TerryRossio, "Pirates I: Curse of the Black Pearl" is a live-action adventure with the spirit and energy of an animated feature. I can only hope that "Pirates II: Dead Man's Chest" will live up to the original, unlike "Legend of Zorro" which was a major come down from "Mask of Zorro."


Submitted by scifiwriterb on Sat, 04/29/2006 - 1:46am

"United 93" doesn’t feel so much like a movie as it does an event.

Perhaps this is a film that only an outsider could have made, and that's why British Writer/Director Paul Greengrass was the perfect choice for this sensitive material. The director best known for the action packed Bourne films returns to his "Sunday Bloody Sunday" roots to create one of the most stirring and intense moving going experiences of the year. IMHO, the first great film of 2006.

It wouldn’t have been hard for the filmmakers to make bad decisions: use Hollywood stars, over dramatize. Surprisingly, these filmmakers show a great deal of discipline, detail, apparent accuracy, and a point blank, gritty-truth almost-documentary style.

"United 93" isn't entertaining in any conventional sense, any more than being asked to relive your worst nightmare would be. Its utterly realistic style and unflinching re-creation of the world's most tragic morning combine for 110 minutes of nerve-wracking, edge-of-your-seat dread. It's also a respectful, carefully constructed (and, at times, conjectured) tribute to the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives on 9/11, particularly the 40 courageous passengers on doomed Flight 93.

Greengrass notes that these were the only passengers and crew members on any of those ill-fated flights who knew about the other planes having been used as weapons and realized what was happening to them. "They were the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world," Greengrass says. These were the first to react to the worldwide conflict we find ourselves in today. Within the microcosm of that reaction, Greengrass has made an emphatic political document, a movie about defiance against tyranny and terrorism.

What makes United 93 so dramatic is that the take-off was delayed by 30 minutes giving the passengers what other terrorist targets do not have: a countdown to what will happen to them. The film, which plays out more or less in real time, is essentially divided into two parts. The first focuses on the ground management of that morning's ghastly events, jumping from various air traffic control centers, to upstate New York's Northeast Air Defense Sector, to FAA headquarters in Virginia (where real-life national operations manager Ben Sliney portrays himself as well—if not better—than any actor). The prevailing sentiment of these vérité, piano wire-taut scenes is how unprepared authorities were for such an unprecedented attack. After all, as it's eerily noted, there hadn't been a plane hijacking in some 20 years.

The movie then shifts entirely to the takeover of United flight 93 and the terrified passengers' audacious response. The four Muslim terrorists, who chillingly and repeatedly justify their heinous actions in the name of "Allah," are shown as being organized and fanatical, yet less assured than one might've imagined. Acted by a quartet of grippingly authentic unknowns, who we get to know just slightly better than any of the plane's innocent travelers, these are the ultimate movie bad guys. The passengers, played by a gallery of barely familiar faces, are the ones who become truly mobilized as they make a last-ditch effort to overpower their attackers, take charge of the hellbound plane, and save each others' lives. The last 20 minutes of the film, devoted exclusively to this desperate, heroic mayhem, contains some of the most harrowing movie moments ever. It's tough to watch, but harder to look away from, due in no small part to Barry Ackroyd's extraordinary, "you-are-there" cinematography.

I’m left wondering how the film will impact the world politically. It would’ve definitely been interesting to see the impact if it’d been released during the 2004 Presidential election. Greengrass doesn’t sentimentalize or lay blame, though the government’s complete failure to do anything substantial immediately after the Twin Towers stands out glaringly.

The film does make fleeting but pointed reference to the military's inability to reach even the vice-president to trigger the "rules of engagement" and authorize shooting down the imperiled aircraft—not an indictment, just the facts. That's Greengrass' approach throughout; he's never heavy-handed and rarely pushes any emotional buttons that haven't been repeatedly pushed over the last five years. In fact, the passengers' heartbreaking "air phone" calls home to loved ones are about as manipulative as this movie gets, which is to say, not at all.stands out in the story.

On the whole, the film is acted, directed and shot just about the best it could have been. The film is respectful of those brave passengers who stood up and fought in order to save the lives of so many others on the ground. To keep things as accurate as possible, Greengrass reportedly interviewed more than 100 family members and friends of those who perished. He hired flight attendants and commercial airline pilots to play those roles; hired several civilian and military controllers on duty on Sept. 11, including the FAA's Ben Sliney, to play themselves; culled facts from the 9/11 Commission Report; and rehearsed and shot his actors in an old Boeing 757 at England's Pinewood Studios.Even Barry Ackroyd's hand-held cinematography, John Powell's muted, anxious score and the plane set fixed to computer-controlled motion gimbals to simulate the pitch and roll of the aircraft urge the viewer to think of this as a you-are-there experience. Yet no one really knows what happened on United 93. We have evidence from phone calls made from the plane as passengers were able to give blow-by-blow accounts and say goodbye to loved ones. Greengrass gives us one of the empty seats on that flight. We are the 41st passenger.

The experience overwhelms. Time passes in weird ways. The four nervous terrorists wait seemingly forever to make their move. But jump the gun. Instead of waiting until they were closer to DC, the terrorist took over the plane too early, they realized they had to be able to hold everyone in control for 2 hrs instead of 30 minutes. The panicked passengers wait seemingly forever to make their move. Helplessness engulfs us, then determination takes hold.During these breathless moments, Greengrass cuts away to the desperation and confusion in airport control towers, the FAA's overwhelmed operations command center in Herndon, Va., and the military's unprepared operations center at the Northeast Air Defense Sector in upstate New York. For all their monitors and electronic equipment, there is a horrific, low-tech moment when controllers at Newark Airport get a perfect view across the Hudson of the second plane hitting a World Trade Center tower. No one can even speak."United 93" is a sincere attempt to pull together the known facts and guesses at the emotional truths as best anyone can. Then, in the movie's final moments, the impact of the heroism aboard United 93 becomes startlingly clear.

The news coverage on 9/11 focused on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. News of United 93 at that time was like "A plane went down in Pennsylvania, now back to New York." There were real heroes aboard that flight and now we have an idea what they went through and can honor their courage and determination.


Submitted by scifiwriterb on Wed, 04/19/2006 - 11:44am

Hi Everyone,

I'd seen the film "Serenity" something like ten times in the seven weeks it was released, so I thought I'd share my reactions to it. Especially since there isn't anything in the theaters right now or coming up soon that I care to fork over some money to watch.

First off, I will say that I like SF, but I'd never watched "Firefly"when it was aired on Fox. I caught part of one episode on the SCI FI cable channel a few months ago and was hooked. Blast the Fox executives who cancelled "Firefly"!

Anyhow, in this viewer's opinion, "Serenity" displays superior characterization, dialogue, and story structure line for line and scene for scene than George Lucas' prequel Star Wars trilogy. In fact, it's one of the best-written and directed films in any category that I've seen in the last several years.

The film lives by its wits rather than CGI. Joss Whedon cobbles together elements of Westerns, space epics, zombie horror movies, and new age mysticism into a cohesive whole within the context of "Serenity." He travels a well worn chase plot with great dialogue, characterization, and wit.

"Serenity" is what "Star Wars: New Hope" would've been if Han Solo was the protagonist and there were no noble Jedi knights to give everyone inferiority complexes. Nathan Fillion aimed for and nailed the character in his portrayal of Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds, captain of the cargo ship "Serenity" and a work-for-hire crew willing to do any job.

Mal is a guy who would've shot Greedo first. In the wake of fighting for the Independents (the losing side) in a galactic civil war, Mal has lost his belief in the decency of human nature. Despite his cynicism, he cares more for other people than he lets on and is fanatically loyal to his crew, the only family he has left in the 'verse (universe). Summer Glau, who plays River Tam, stands impressively behind Nathan Fillion as the film's second lead. She portrays with convincing angst a tortured girl with no emotional rock and carries on Joss Whedon's penchant for showcasing young women with ungodly martial arts ability. Her background as a dancer put her in good stead when she trained with a Hong Kong fight choreographer, adding uncanny grace to her fight scenes.

All the Firefly characters have their moments: Simon Tam (Sean Maher) whose only concern is River's safety; Kaylee (Jewel Staite) the ship's adorable 20 something genius engineer with a torch for Simon; Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) the enigmatic preacher with a likely government past; Jayne (Adam Baldwin) mercenary muscle for hire with deeply denied feelings of affection for the rest of the crew; Wash(Alan Tudyk) the peace-loving ship's ace pilot and huband to Zoe (Gina Torres), Mal's amazon wartime buddy; and Inara (Morena Baccarin) the companion/geisha whom Mal has bears a cross for.

The film's villain, Operative (no name), played by British actor Chjwetel Ejiofor (unpronounceable :-)) very nearly steals the show.He plays the ultimate anti Darth Vader: noble, idealistic,thoughtful, and ruthless. The Reavers, cannabilistic humans, serve as the perfect foil to the Alliance, a utopian society bent on making everyone over into itsmold and staying in power. Unlike most series creators, Whedon's willing to put his pet characters through the wringer. Two die before the film's end andthe rest look likely to join them before things finally turnaround. The dialogue sizzles, having bits of Chinese slang, character building moments, and lines from "Bonanza":

Mal (to Inara): Kaylee's been missing you sumpin' fierce.

Mal: Chicken's come home to roost.

Mal: I aim to misbehave.

Jayne: Let's be bad guys.

Operative (stabs Mal in stomach with a sword): Do you know what your sin is?
Mal (head butts bad guy): Hell, I'm a fan of all seven. (Pulls sword out of his stomach) I'd have to go with wrath right now. (Stabs at Operative who dodges and disarms him.)

By the end of the film, Mal finds new strength in having struck ablow against the Alliance's utopian agenda and River begins to find the strength in her character and her place among the crew. Having said that "Serenity" is a trim picture of epic proportions, it was marketed horribly.

TV ads were shown on the SCIFI channel for months, but on broadcast networks only the week before release. I remember seeing one theater trailer, which was a miracle in hindsight. A producer/screenwriting teacher I queried had no idea the film was coming out on its day of release. It seems the main effort was put into a grass roots campaign of showing the film to fans in periodic screenings I didn't hear of.

The cast, who are great in their roles, are unknowns and thus unable to bring in the mass of moviegoers that come with star power to offset Joss Whedon's meager marketing attempts. Hopefully, DVD sales and Whedon's clout will get Universal to greenlight more sequels to "Serenity" in the years to come.

This writer will line up to watch them.