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Critiques Page 4

Copyright © 1998, Dorian Scott Cole

My purpose isn't to rate movies on whether or not people should see them. My main purpose is to use movies that people are currently watching to explain what did or didn't work, and why. Then we can all learn from these. My criterion for what did or didn't work is simply, "Was it entertaining?" I go to movies to enjoy them, not critique them. The critique comes later. See the end for an explanation of writer.

What Dreams May Come

This story operates on so many levels that it doesn't lend itself to straight-forward analysis. It is a good example of the use of symbols. It is also a good example of the use of a subplot that helps develop the plot. This is a story worth seeing - and this coming from someone who resists seeing sappy, weepy, love stories (wouldn't see Love Story until years later). It's good both for its examples of avoiding formulas, and for its basic story. And like Saving Private Ryan, it is not "entertainment" so much as an experience - which I suppose qualifies as entertainment in a loose way - but it makes you think. You don't walk away from it feeling refreshed - you feel moved. To get the most from this review, see the movie before reading this.

How many costumes does a main character need? (Wardrobe budget.) Robin Williams set a bad(?) precedent in this one by wearing only one. For a while his mentor/son (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) seemed to wear just none. 

Character and emotional change? Yes, Chris (Robin Williams) and Annie (Annabella Sciorra) do change in the scenes and at the end of the movie. They are clearly affected by their "experience." Plot? It is clearly a character-driven movie, so plot is not emphasized - it is more a "theme" type story, but there is a plot. A message story? Maybe, but not necessarily. A story that gets away with emphasizing religious beliefs? Maybe. Read on.

Can you get a movie produced that essentially gets very involved in religious belief? This is Robin William's second movie that dances around the idea of reincarnation. In Being Human (1984, Enigma Productions), one character appears again and again during history. Some loved the movie, some hated it. I think many missed the subtle allusion to reincarnation. (Emphasizing religious beliefs instead of emphasizing a character's faith puts the emphasis in a story in the wrong place. Planning characters and solutions around pie-in-the-sky type "religious beliefs" leads characters to avoid current issues, and doesn't allow the characters to create their own solutions.) This story only mentions reincarnation in the last scene, using the willingness to return as a sign that healing has taken place. (Robin Williams also popped up in Dead Again, (1991, UIP/Paramount/Mirage) a movie also suggestive of reincarnation and one of my all time favorites. Williams played the psychiatrist - a role which he seems to have a knack for when he is not being hilariously funny.)

This story spends most of its time in the hereafter, but presents itself in a way that most people won't find offensive or controversial, even though it "painted" a realistic picture of what could be. After all, reports on the afterlife are sketchy and few in number. God is not featured and a credible version of Hell is visited. The writer didn't fall into the trap of speaking for God, which would have made the movie come off as preachy and proselytizing, which would have spelled death to the chances of the movie being noticed or made. The movie was strongly about the human condition, and its characters are in charge of their own destiny, and no gods swooped down out of the heavens to create a solution. The writer navigated around every temptation that would ruin a story. Plus, the couple seemed irreligious before the afterlife. So creating a fantasy world (no judgment intended) for an afterlife not only didn't interfere with the story, it created an appropriate setting in which the story could unfold. Still, some will love it and some will hate it. 

Is the story basically a romance? Guy goes to Hell to rescue girl? After we left the theater, my wife (like thousands of others will) asked me if I would go to Hell to rescue her. "Of course," I replied. "What do you think I'm doing here?" Be advised, this smart reply earned me a sharp elbow in the ribs. It wasn't the most romantic thing I could have said. Well, romance is a strong thematic element in the story, but that isn't what the story is about. Calling the story a romance would be a gross oversimplification and would cover up the other points. 

Chris is a never-give-up kind of guy. It is that persistence that ultimately takes him to Hell to find his wife, who has committed suicide and becomes hopelessly shipwrecked, marooned by her own mind. That is a strong theme, but it doesn't save the day by itself. It is Chris's undying devotion to his (rare) soul-mate Annie that brings him to her. But it is her response to him that saves her. She can't allow him to become what she has become, and she revives. Note that both characters are ultimately in charge of their destiny - it is not Chris's efforts alone that save Annie. 

Who is the main character - who is driving? As I like to see in stories, there is both a male and female lead, although the male lead is stronger in this one because it has to be for the characterization. Chris's story is a mirror of Annie's story, except he is the strong one. True to life, what affects Annie affects him. Chris's character arc follows the usual battles followed by loss and despair. He loses his children, he loses his wife, and through these losses he loses himself. But he survives. Annie does not survive, going to a hospital after losing her children, and then taking her own life after losing her husband. Her losses are more than she can bear - she has truly given up all hope. What is really happening in this story is that the plot follows Chris, and Annie is a subplot which very effectively entwines the main plot and helps it develop. This is one of the best examples of this that I have seen. 

This story is rife with symbolism. Annie's painting is a symbol of their love and communication. Before Chris's death, he helps her rebuild her life through painting and exhibits. She creates idyllic scenes in which Chris is a part. Her dependence on him, represented by a painting, leads to his death. Her dependence on Chris eventually leads to her death. It is the idyllic world of Annie's painting that Chris inhabits in the afterlife. But separated between earth and the hereafter, the painting is an active symbol, it is a vehicle of communication between them. The symbol fully participates in their communion with each other. The appearance of the afterlife for both of them is a symbol of what is in their minds. For Chris, it begins as a blur that he can't bring into focus - doesn't want to comprehend. As he accepts where he is, his surroundings come more into focus. For Annie, her surroundings are filled with destruction and despair, which is all she can allow herself to see. For Chris, there is healing. For Annie, she needs help to escape her problems.

The entrance to Hell is a picture of destruction and shipwrecks - symbols of lives gone off-course or damaged by hardship. The picture foretells the tragedy that people make of their lives by their decisions, or perhaps that comes to it because life often brings hardship and despair. But in Hell, people are mired in their problems up to their heads. Only their faces are showing. They have buried themselves in problems. 

Both of Chris's children appear to him as people that he knew and liked. He doesn't recognize them as his children until he has come to forgive himself for any neglect to them and to accept them as equals. Later, he fails to see his mentor for who he is, and then discovers that they are equal but with different qualities. These people are symbols of what he accepts, and are a key to unlocking himself. They are also active symbols. 

In creating an afterlife, the writer has used symbols that we all know to create a world that we can all understand - whether we think of the symbols or not. In fact, it is better that the audience intuitively comprehend without noticing the use of symbols. This was very well done.

To me, this story is about reaching out, selflessly, to others - especially to someone you care enough about to even lose yourself, if that is the price. In a world that is predominantly self-oriented, where self-preservation is supreme and the typical imperative of psychological practice is "get out of the relationship before the other person drags you down" - this is a refreshing story. It is perhaps overly romantic, but it does point to a truism that I have observed that marriages are not 50/50 relationships - sometimes the sacrifice is 150% for long periods and it takes a never-give-up attitude to do it. Sometimes it requires more of us than we ever had to give. 

- Scott

What Dreams May Come, 1998, Metafilmics Inc; Interscope Communications; Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Producer: Stephen Deutsch; Barnet Bain
Co-Producer: Alan C. Blomquist
Exec. Producer: Ronald Bass, Ted Field, Scott Kroopf; Erica Huggins
Director: Vincent Ward
Writer: Ronald Bass (based on the novel by Richard Matheson)
Cinematographer: Eduardo Serra
Editor: David Brenner; Maysie Hoy
Music Composer: Michael Kamen;
Art Director: Thomas Voth; Christian Wintter
Set Decorator: Cindy Carr
Casting: Heidi Levitt
Sound: Nelson Stoll
Special Effects: Roy Arbogast
Costume Design: Yvonne Blake

Alternative movie reviews at Film Vault (no connection to this web site.)

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Rush Hour

I left the theater thinking, "Very enjoyable, very entertaining movie." No matter how you analyze it, Jackie Chan knows how to entertain. But what does Jackie Chan - or movies that he is in - do? Some of these things can be written into a story, and some can't. This isn't a tribute to Jackie, but a pointed analysis of characterization - Jackie style.

As I've said before, Jackie Chan movies aren't about plot. It is "usually" plot that draws the crowd, and the Rush Hour plot was no slacker, but it is also the expectation produced by the stars who are in the movie that draws people. Put Jackie's name on a movie and it's a given that I'm going to go see it. My expectations go high and I'm never disappointed. For other actors, depending on the plot, it is the same for Meg Ryan, Merryl Streep, Adam Sandler, Cruise, Hanks, Carrey, Gibson... and if the plot looks good and I don't know the actors, I'll still go see it. Plot and an actor's name are both powerful draws.

But it isn't just "the name" that draws people - these actors deliver with good stories and characterization. Jackie thrills people. I don't care much for death-defying live stunts - I always wonder why people don't find living valuable enough to avoid big risks - but Jackie's stunts are different. No one died doing the stunt or the stunt wouldn't be in the movie. Most of his stunts have the potential for injury, as he shows at the end of his films, but you can watch him fall a hundred feet and slide down a wall hanging and be thrilled and admire his skill at doing such a thing. Unlike stunt men, Jackie reappears in the scene.

 Jackie puts people in awe. It isn't so much his big stunts that grab you, but all the little things that he does while making it look so easy, running up walls, jumping between moving vehicles, doing several stunts in a continuous series without breaking between them. He has finesse. 

It isn't just the stunts - Jackie needs to speak very little to display his feelings - it is written on his face. He has a Charlie Chaplin quality about him.

In moments when he is not doing something totally impressive, he seems to become modest, even self-denying. He has that Tom Selleck modest, self-deprecating attitude about him that endears people to him. Modesty can be written into a story, but it takes a good actor to actually portray modesty - or real modesty.

Humor was a big element in this story, and Jackie has no difficulty allowing the humor to arise from the scene. 

Characterization is about how unique individuals (characters) respond to situations. Even though a good plot draws people to a story and helps keep them interested, Characterization is the primary thing that makes a story work. In this movie, the give and take between the baby-sitting officer Carter (Chris Tucker) and Lee (Jackie Chan), Jackie's stunts, and how they choose to respond to situations makes really good characterization. 

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

Rush Hour, 1998, New Line, Caravan

Producer: Roger Brinbaum, Arthur Sarkissian, Jonathan Glickman
Co-Producer: Art Schaefer
Exec. Producer: Jay Stern
Assoc. Producer: james Freitag, Wayne Morris
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ross LaManna, Jim Kouf (based on the story by Ross LaManna)
Cinematographer: Adam Greenberg
Editor Mark Helfrich
Music Composer: Lalo Schifrin
Production Design: Robb King
Art Director: Thomas fichter
Set Decorator: Lance Lombardo
Casting: Matthew Barry, Nancy Green-Keyes
Sound: Kim Ornitz
Special Effects: Dennis King

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Snake Eyes

Nicolas Cage is another of those actors who rarely choose a bad story, and in Snake Eyes he shows us another version of his very versatile acting ability. This story is a great exercise in characterization and for settings. Can the audience like one of those people who isn't pure? a cop (Rick Santoro) who is on the take and so obviously always out for himself? Is he completely corrupt beyond saving, beyond remorse, beyond doing a good deed? Is he too much not like us, or is he one of us that we can see ourselves in and just want to reach out and turn him around - or at least see him save himself. 

Big questions, because at the end the right thing has to happen. What will make the best ending - the ending that will satisfy us? Will a "bad guy" ride off into the sunset with no remorse and no punishment. Or will he redeem himself, get his just due, and be forgiven? The key is, this is a turning point movie. Rick Santoro comes face to face with his own weakness - the guy who will do anything(?) for money, and it's time to make the big decision. What do we want him to do? I think we see the good in him, and we want him to save the woman and himself and live happily ever after - but after he 'fesses up and pays his debt to society? I think it is debatable what we want for Rick, we just want him to make the right decision for once and turn his life around. The ending was pretty realistic. 

How many settings does a movie need? This one was filmed on one location (with multiple settings within the location). The location was very appropriate to the story - it was a good setting and not an issue. Besides, the story had an engaging plot with a good villain (Kevin Dunne, played by Gary Sinise) and a good plot twist (the friend was the villain).

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious.

Snake Eyes, 1998, Paramount, DeBart

Producer: Brian DePalma
Exec. Producer: Louis Stroller
Assoc. Producer: Jeff Levine
Director: Brian DePalma
Writer: David Koepp, Brian DePalma
Cinematographer: Stephen Burum
Editor: Bill Pankow
Music Composer: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Production Design: Anne Pritchard

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Simon Birch

In search of the right audience? OK, I've already admitted to liking BeatleJuice (movie) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series) - I've probably lost all credibility. But Simon Birch is a story that will appeal to some, and not to others. It is a message story, and these are difficult to do without losing most of your audience. This one was nicely done, and the message is definitely part of the character's motivation. My opinion is that it is geared toward high school students, but it didn't find a response in my juvenile mind. Go figure. 

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

Simon Birch, 1998, Hollywood Pictures, Caravan Pictures, Roger Birnbaum, Laurence Mark

Producer: Laurence Mark, Roger Birnbaum
CoProducer: Billy Higgins
Exec. Producer: John Baldecchi
Assoc. Producer: Howard Ellis
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson (suggested by the novel A Prayer For Own Meany by John Irving)
Cinematographer: Aaron Schneider
Editor: David Finfer
Production Design: David Chapman

Alternative movie reviews at Film Vault (no connection to this web site.)

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

There's Something About Mary

What is funny? I'm not a "dumb" fan, and can barely like slapstick. And I usually find that comedy and farce do not mix well. The comedy in this was fine tuned. It generally circled the gutter and stomped through it without actually falling in and wallowing in. I could see a modernized Sammy kaye in many of the gags (kaye is one of my all-time favorites). I almost didn't go see this movie - I expected raunchy and was pleased to get less than I expected - thank-you.

Probably the best characterization in the movie, for which it was worth seeing, was the villain Private Eye Pat Healy (Matt Dillon). 

How gross does a story need to be? Compare this one to The Wedding Singer. Both were funny, and Wedding Singer had some raunchy moments, too. If you need it a little more raunchy, this one went there. But I wouldn't strain to make a story raunchy, I would just write a good, funny story.

There is a very realistic reason why I say this. I'm not a prude, although raunchy isn't my taste. The human condition is best portrayed when funny, I think, and The Full Monty is a classic example. Mozart certainly went for the vulgar, as did the ancient Greek writers, and Shakespeare on occassion. It doesn't hurt any of us to have a little "shock" occassionally. It reminds us that no matter how lofty we get, we are human. Mike Darnell, the man in charge of specials at Fox (Sept. '98), reportedly says of the successful Fox television lineup that "You have to have something gross in each episode." (Gross and raunchy aren't quite the same.)

The problem with raunchy (obscene, vulgar) is that it becomes commonplace and then you have to push the envelope, going to a farther extreme to get the shock value or laugh. What do you take off when there is nothing left to take off? Also, cheap thrills are a poor excuse for good plotting and characterization. Plus doing a movie full of obscenity just for the sake of obscenity insults many audiences and won't even get the movie read for most writers. 

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

There's Something About Mary, 1998, 20th Century Fox

Producer: Charles Wessler, Bradley thomas, Frank Beddor, Michael Steinberg
CoProducer: Marc Fischer
Assoc. Producer: Patrick Healy, Mark Charpentier
Director: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Writer: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Ed Decter, John Straus (from a story by Ed Decter and John Straus)
Cinematographer: Mark Irwin
Editor: Christopher Greenbury
Music Composer: Johathan Richman

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Commentary on Saving Private Ryan, and war

I'm not sure where war movies rank on the "entertainment" scale. Diversion maybe? They may be more necessary and worthwhile than entertaining. War movies are message films. What could the important message be? What hasn't already been said? I'm not bad at finding concepts - usually when I read a story I'm trying to find the concept: what was the story about, and what is the writer's premise and purpose? When writers pay attention to concept, it focuses the story and it becomes a lot more clear and powerful. So let's review some stories about war, and modern war, and see what points are usually made.

I have endured 3000 years of war stories. They begin with Homer's the Iliad and Agamemnon's warriors battling the Trojans over a beautiful woman and for the glory of it all, while puzzling over the fates and whims of the gods acted out in their actions. The Ancient Greeks are rich in the warrior tradition and in valor and honor. Homer's epic continued with the Odyssey in which the Trojans are finally defeated at an enormous toll of men's lives, and leaving the warriors and their families exhausted and everyone with the lesson that regardless of strength and wit, man is nothing without the gods. I don't know why it took a war to say that, but at least it brought some closure to Homer's war stories.

Later in Greek history, democracy bloomed in Athens and laid the foundation of democratic thinking. The Spartans, a very militaristic society, deplored the "soft" Athenian way of life and tried to destroy it. The Athenians rose to the challenge and temporarily stood up to them, but the Spartans never quit and finally conquered them - a lesson in maintaining democracy: eternal vigilance. 

Then we have the ancient Hebrews and "God is on our side," clearing the land of other tribes so they could inhabit the land of milk and honey. That land has not been in peace since that time (and wasn't before then). Another lesson of war - once you start the fire, you can't put it out no matter how much you shout "God is on our side." To the end of changing their tarnished image, King David, a king of violence, was not allowed to build the Temple of God in ancient Israel. His son, Solomon, who had not bloodied his hands and was known for wisdom and living peacefully with others, was given the honor. 

Interestingly that seems to be a theme that has recurred frequently in history. Moses led a nation to its borders, but was not allowed to enter the new land. King David, as we saw, did not. Christ led a revolution of thought about what kingdoms mean and what laws and love and forgiveness mean in religion, but neither did He live in the new era - at least not in physical form. Abraham Lincoln led a nation into war over slavery, but he didn't get to live in the new world. 

Christians adopted the idea of war as a means for spreading Christianity - the Crusades. Conquer a nation and force-feed it Christianity. It was a vile and shameless era for Christianity. It was an era in which forgiveness could be purchased, even purchased in advance of doing the sin. The Inquisitors were given free reign to destroy anyone who showed any inclination toward witchcraft or blasphemy. Wonderful part of this millennium (1000 year period). Holy War - it's one of those ideas people like to use, as we shall see.

I can say about the cause of war that it boils down to one national leader wanting what another nation has, or wanting to dominate or destroy other nations. The US didn't jump into either WW1 or WW11 - it delayed until the battle couldn't be ignored. But once the US committed, it was total. The silent film comedian Charlie Chaplin said of WW1 that if an able-bodied man did not volunteer, women would present him with a yellow feather (chicken - coward). Chaplin made films during WW11 that ridiculed Hitler and he spoke nationally in US war bond fund raising efforts. Despite this, in efforts reminiscent of the crusades and Holy War, critics later denounced Chaplin as a communist sympathizer and drove him from the US. The WW2 draft took men ages 18 to 39, and if you didn't volunteer you were shamed and ashamed. 

The other thing I can say about war is that bad national leaders eventually die and the people go on. Even the Mayan people in Mexico still go about their daily lives despite the ancient civilization and political leaders that eventually turned to aggression toward sister cities - even despite conquering invaders, despite current governments, the Mayan people live on. Many civilizations have been conquered but never ruled, for example the Israelis, the Moroccans, the Afghans, the Scots and Irish - all have been conquered, but today they are still nations of people with an identity that still unites them and defines their life. 

Neither did the US rush to get into the Vietnam war. France was the defender of freedom there many years before the US became involved. Once there, freedom became almost a Holy War for the US. We couldn't sacrifice enough people at the altar of freedom, even in a police action we weren't even committed to winning. I was in the Navy in the middle of that era and thankfully was never assigned to that area. I considered volunteering for Antarctica, but never Vietnam.

I spent many nights watching war movies on TV with my father, a WW11 veteran. The message over and over was that war is Hell, it's for a noble cause, fight valiantly. Could have been Agamemnon and Odysseus telling the story. How real was the action in the stories? Well, when you're facing machine guns and men are falling all around you and screaming in sheer terror, you get the message without counting bodies and body parts. You can very effectively engage the audience's imagination without the graphics - not that I object to the graphic scenes - they do leave a lasting impression.

The television series MASH did as much to deglorify war and show some of the human toll in realistic terms. It was a good counterbalance to Vietnam and the glorification of war in which it was shrouded. The Deer Hunter was the last war movie I went to see on purpose. It was enough of war for a very long time.

Most war movies seem to be campaign posters for recruiting. A few, like the MASH series, are questioning of war. Some are flag waving and macho heroism. Most of them show some of the living nightmare that war is. Very few can get away from "right is might therefore might is right." Hmmm. A few, like the Odyssey, actually ask a larger question - what is man without God? Perhaps if you tell the story enough times, the larger questions appear. The most prevalent image in movies is simply the high concept, good versus evil. But I think we all know the necessity and value of WW11. 

With the long history of war movies that we have, I wonder what Spielberg hoped to accomplish by making another movie set in WW11? I thought that there were two very clear messages in the film. The first message you couldn't miss - it was spelled out. The men on the mission say, "I hope he is worth it." Private Ryan asks in his latter years, "Am I a good man?" Am I deserving of the sacrifice made for me? And symbolically are we all deserving of the sacrifice made for us so that we can have freedom? Throughout history, freedom seems often to have come at a price. People have to want it badly enough to fight for it, and there always seems to be some rogue dog waiting in the bushes to steal it away. 

The second message is not as obvious. In one scene things become completely insane. At one moment they are going to kill an enemy soldier who killed one of them and vent a lot of their wrath and frustration. And then some of them realize how insane the entire thing is. They are all human beings, and they have lost sight of themselves. They have become other people who their families wouldn't recognize, and who are ready to kill someone in cold blood - they can't even recognize themselves. They let the man go. Later it costs more than one soldier his life. It confirmed that in war, people kill each other. It is senseless, but that's what has to be. It's like the song about the snake. The snake warns that it will bite. The woman befriends the snake and treats it well. Then the snake bites her. Why? Because it is a snake and that's what snakes do. In war, that's what people do. Even the coward and the borderline pacifist can see this (as demonstrated by the translator in the movie), and respond as they are forced to. Some things you do, not because you want to, but because you have to.

As we end this century (100 years) and this millennium (1000 years), I think it is good to think about who we have been, who we are, and who we will be. In this millennium, we know the history of the crusades and all the barbarism that dominated much of this period. In this century, only 55 short years ago a large number of so-called civilized nations were willing to conquer other nations and massacre millions of innocent people. Today far fewer nations are willing to do so, but there are still many among us, and even within nations which are predominantly against aggression there are many people, who still would kill anyone who is not just like them. 

Who will we be? At the end of WW1, people thought it was the war to end all wars. The war was so horrible that surely man would never do it again. My father thought at the end of WW11 that war would never happen again. And in the years following we have witnessed Korea, Vietnam, Idi Amin brutally massacre and terrorize his own people, Iraq and Iran go through bouts of war, aggression, and ethnic cleansing (massacring their own people), ethnic cleansing in Serbia, war in Afghanistan, Turkey, and countless revolutions and wars in South America and Africa, often in the name of religion. In what I call WW111, the entire world stood up and said no to Sadam Hussein. You won't invade peaceful nations. When will the entire world stand up to ethnic and religious cleansing? The person I fear most today to start a serious war is not some nut on a power trip, but a religious fanatic with a nuclear bomb who thinks God is on his side. There are plenty of them in nearly every nation and nearly every religion.

I saw Steven Spielberg interviewed the morning of July 27th, 1998 on CBS, and again that evening on ABC's Nightline. He said that one of his aims in the movie was not to glorify war. He even avoided comic relief so that we were face to face with reality. His other aim was so that we would remember. His own father fought in WW11. I think he accomplished his goal. But I hope we remember that freedom was not purchased, it was leased. We never know when the next lease payment will be due. It may not be armed conflict - it may be erosion of our political freedoms. It may be attacked by apathy. It may be attacked simply by our failure to treat others as humans. It takes responsibility by everyone to maintain.

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

(This was a very well done production in which the potential of DreamWorks SKG is really beginning to flower.)

Saving Private Ryan

DreamWorks SKG; Mutual Film; Paramount

Producer: Steven Spielberg, Ian Bryce, Mark Gordon, Gary Levinsohn 
Co-Producer: Bonnie Curtis, Allison Lyon Segan
Assoc. Producer: Mark Huffam, Kevin De La Noy
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Robert Rodat
Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski 
Editor: Michael Kahn 
Music Composer: John Williams 
Production Design: Tom Sanders 
Art Director: Daniel T. Dorrance, Ricky Eyres, Tom Brown, Chris Seagers, Alan Tomkins 
Set Decorator: Lisa Dean Kavanaugh 
Casting: Denise Chamian 
Sound: Gary Rydstrom (design), Ronald Judkins (mixer) 
Special Effects: Neil Corbould, Carol McAulay
Costume Design: Joanna Johnston 
Make Up: Lois Burwell 
Stunts: Simon Crane 

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Lethal Weapon 4 and also The Mask of Zorro

OK, OK - Mel Gibson and Richard Donner haven't picked any bad stories that I'm aware of. Lethal Weapon 4 lived up to the promise of the series... if you like action movies, and I do. After seeing the movie, I learned that some critics had given it a one rating. OK, OK, I'm sorry, I really shouldn't have enjoyed the movie and should not have left the theater feeling entertained. I should have looked harder at the dialog and the series and should now make some kind of negative assessment that shows that I really see through all of this stuff and run the movie in the ground. 

Actually I left the theater thinking that here is a movie I can hold up as an example of good writing - it really entertained. But then, I still like BeatleJuice - what can I say? I don't know what the critics had to say about Zorro, and I don't care - they aren't going to ruin my good time. Zorro dragged a little in the middle because the plot wasn't linear - it transitioned from one main character to another - which it had to do. Perhaps it's trying to set up a Zorro comeback as a TV series - I don't know - but it was a relatively good story and I'm glad I saw it. 

What was so good about Lethal Weapon 4? Established characters that we all (mostly) know and can relate to. Humor. Consistently good scenes. An excellent villain, Jet Li, played by Wah Sing Ku, who distinguished himself with both dramatic acting and martial arts acting skill. (Sound effects also say he punches harder.) The series has always had excellent villains. And I really appreciate that the characters didn't try to be supermen. Riggs (Mel Gibson) actually said he was getting too old for this stuff (the physical stuff). Riggs partner, Murtaugh (Danny Glover) told him it was about time he got too old for it. But through brains, sheer grit, and determination they triumphed anyway. (This seems to be what the series is about.) 

The thing that I especially liked about both Lethal Weapon 4 and Zorro was the humor. Genre stories are often too true to form, so action movies neither get into comedy or serious drama. Possibly action writers aren't skilled in writing comedy, or it doesn't fit into thrillers. But comic relief is great, and the humor really added a lot. In Zorro, we know that the young new Zorro can't be as knowledgeable and successful as his coach, the master. Sure enough, his first few episodes are comedic, and to the end he has trouble getting on and staying on his spirited horse. The comedic element made the movie much more realistic and enjoyable. 

In Lethal Weapon 4, in the first scenes Riggs and Murtaugh are behind a car arguing while a guy with a flamethrower stalks them. Finally Riggs talks Murtaugh into going out in the buff to shock the guy. The entire scene is just plain fun. Later, Riggs is constantly getting one over on Murtaugh with a picture of him in the street in the buff. Riggs has always been a little crazy and this stuff fits well. 

Humor is an element like mystery and suspense. It can be added to any story to improve it without changing the entire story to a comedy or farce. 

What didn't I like about Lethal Weapon 4? The scene that everyone seems so proud of is the scene I liked the least. A car jumps from the expressway into a tall building, runs through a group of tables and people working, and jumps out the other side of the building back onto the expressway. I jumped out of the story. I could believe a car might leave the expressway and possibly land unscathed inside a building. But every person in the car's trajectory through the building would be dead, as would most people within about ten feet of the car's path. After losing momentum, there is no way the car would jump back onto the expressway. Great scene, photographed with fourteen cameras on exit, but just not credible. Where is Jackie Chan when you need him? Oh, well, everyone else probably loved it.

Movies are spoiled by too much realism anyway. 

- Scott

I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

Also see:

Realism: Where to draw the line

Choosing a Genre

Lethal Weapon 4, 1998, Silver Pictures; Shuler Donner/Donner Productions; Warner Bros.

Producer: Joel Silver, Richard Donner
Co-Producer: J. Mills Goodloe, Dan Cracchiolo
Exec. Producer: Jim Van Wyck, Steve Perry
Assoc. Producer: Spencer Franklin, Jennifer Gwartz
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Channing Gibson, from a story by Jonathon Lemkin, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar; based on characters created by Shane Black)
Cinematographer: Andrzej Bartlpwoal
Editor: Frank J. Urioste, Dallas Puett
Music Composer: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Production Design: J. Michael Riva
Costume Design: Ha Nguyen

For full credits, and for movie reviews with which I usually disagree regarding entertainment value, visit the TV Guide movie database. These links are for convenience, and there is no business association.

Writer: I use the term writer loosely in these critiques. Creating a movie is a collaborative effort, and the original writer does not have a lot of control over the finished work, unlike a novel in which the reader sees exactly what the writer wrote (except for editing, which is less common). The producer, director, other writers, actors, film editors, cinematographers, musicians, and a myriad of other creative people have their own vision of the story and influence what goes on the screen. If the director and film editor cut portions out, then what the writer put there might not be there. So when I say writer, I am really referring to the many creative people who are telling a story on screen. And it is a lesson for the rest of us writers. I list the major creative people to call attention to the influence they have over telling the story cinematically. The actor's parts are not listed since their part is critical and obvious. 

Other distribution restrictions: None

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