Steven Haft

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The Bumblebee Flies Anyway Review


Grim
Is it a thriller disguised as a weepy drama or a weepy drama disguised as a thriller?

An amnesiac teen (Wood) struggles to regain his memory... or does he??? By the time the deep dark secret is revealed, you may not care any more. And Janeane Garofalo as an experimental medical researcher is just about as inexplicable as the film's title.

Continue reading: The Bumblebee Flies Anyway Review

Last Dance Review


Grim
Dead Man Walking, meet Walt Disney. Sharon Stone plays it grim -- with the same embittered scowl on her face for the entire film -- and tries to convince us that she's a bona fide Death Row dweller. The plot is lifted, virtually verbatim, from Dead Man Walking, even incorporating the hostile victim's family and the strained flashbacks to "the senseless murder." While the Mouse spares us from the requisite Happy Ending, Last Dance adds nothing to this genre (what there is of a genre), and doesn't merit serious attention.

Dead Poets Society Review


Essential
A rare masterwork from Weir and Williams, about the triumphs and tragedies of a prep school teacher (Williams, who does his best work ever here) and his students. The best stories and performances, one of the greatest films of the 1980s and a rare classic that should be treasured.

The Singing Detective Review


Weak
"I'm a prisoner inside my own skin." So says Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr), hack novelist and lifelong sufferer of psoriatic arthropathy, a horrific disease that has left him with barely functioning limbs and an appalling welter of blisters and rashes over every inch of his body. Dark spews rage at everyone who comes near him, from his fed-up wife (Robin Wright Penn) to the gaggle of aloof doctors who occasionally drop by to put him on a different drug.

To get away from the misery of his day-to-day existence, Dark retreats into a 1950s film noir fantasy world straight from one of his books, where he's a handsome band singer who moonlights as a gumshoe. In the fantasy, he gets tangled up in a plot revolving around a dead blonde dame, the sinister Mark Binney (Jeremy Northam) who hires Dark to investigate her murder, and a couple of palookas in sharp suits (Adrien Brody and Jon Polito) who keep trying to bump Dark off. Unfortunately, the fantasy starts getting mixed up into Dark's real life - Chandler-esque gangsters showing up at his bedside, and hospital staff bursting into renditions of doo-wop hits that Dark's alter ego would have sung in an L.A. nightclub - and he has trouble keeping them separate.

Continue reading: The Singing Detective Review

Emma Review


Grim
O! The plight of wealthy twentysomethings in England at the beginning of the 19th century.

Such is the rather large pill you are supposed to swallow if you truly want to enjoy Emma, the latest in the incessant parade of increasingly bad adaptations of so-called "classic" novels.

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Jakob the Liar Review


Grim
Goooooooooooooooooooooooooood Morning, Auschwitz!

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Eulogy Review


Weak
Michael Clancy's Eulogy is sort of a sitcom version of The Royal Tenenbaums, with its estranged family united by a dying (well, in this case, dead) patriarch who no one particularly likes (played here, briefly, by Rip Torn). The most sympathetic and grounded member of the family is Kate (Zooey Deschanel); she is chosen to deliver her grandfather's eulogy, and must extract scarce fond memories from her father Daniel (Hank Azaria) and his siblings Skip, Lucy, and Alice (Ray Romano, Kelly Preston, and Debra Winger, respectively).

Standard black-comedy stuff, then, though not without promise. Clancy doesn't have a strong directorial touch, operating only a level or two above the point-and-shoot techniques of an actual sitcom -- and a little lower when it comes to the laugh-track ready entrances and exits. But he does capture the feel -- the shabby decor, the lines of cereal boxes, the personal trepidation -- of a reluctant and unkempt family gathering. The Collins family is trapped in the family home until the funeral is over, foraging for emotional connections purely out of necessity. Whether this authenticity is achieved through close observation or a low budget is not immediately apparent; regardless, Eulogy's distaff family unit is more or less convincing -- as a whole, at least.

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Tigerland Review


Good
As it turns out, war can be hell even if you never leave home.

Joel Schumacher, director of some of the worst films in a generation (8MM, Batman & Robin, Batman Forever), redeems himself with his first really good flick since Falling Down in 1993. A tale of army recruits in their final days of training before heading to Vietnam in 1971, Tigerland is an original and modestly powerful anti-war film that never even goes "in country."

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The Third Miracle Review


Good
In the immortal words of singer Fats Waller, "I believe in miracles...." Who else is a believer? Agnieszka Holland, best known for poetic period pieces like Washington Square and trite garbage like Total Eclipse, who finally ventures into the modern era (or reasonably modern: 1979) with The Third Miracle.

Based on the poorly-received novel of the same name, The Third Miracle follows a down-and-out drunk of a priest named Frank Shore (Harris), on his assignment to debunk (or bunk) a claim of sainthood regarding a Chicago woman named Helen. The main case for sainthood? A young girl who prayed to the woman has been cured of lupus. Now the statue where that girl prayed is crying Helen's Type-A human blood. People are flocking from around the nation.

Continue reading: The Third Miracle Review

Hocus Pocus Review


Weak
Bette Midler, never known for subtlety, got more permission to overact here than should be allowed by law. Not only is she playing a witch, but her hair is red and done up into a fright 'do, and two little hominy teeth jut out over her lower lip. Hocus Pocus, Disney's family-friendly witch-burning film, also features tons of "wow look how young they used to be!" performances from Thora Birch, Vinessa Shaw, and a few others. Modern audiences will probably enjoy watching a bizarre Sarah Jessica Parker ham it up as one of a trio of Salem-era witches reincarnated in the 1990s (they ride vacuum cleaners!) and after the children of the town. Too bad the story is so disposable.
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