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I Am Sam (PG-13, 2001)... Average: 4.0
(Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianne Wiest, Dakota Fanning, Laura Dern)

Sue Hohenadel
I had heard so much ballyhoo about Sean Penn's portrayal of a mentally challenged father that I was chomping at the bit for this movie to be released on video.  It was worth the wait.

Penn plays Sam Dawson, a man who has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old.  He works as a clean-up person at Starbucks and has a small circle of other mentally challenged friends who like to eat at IHOP, have "video nights" and each other's houses, and are an amazing support group for each other.

Sam lets a homeless woman spend the night in his apartment to get out of the cold, and she thanks him by seducing him.  Viola!  She gets pregnant, gives birth, and promptly ditches Sam and their baby, Lucy Diamond Dawson.  And so the story begins.

Sam and Lucy are a team -- they help each other, teach each other and love each other unconditionally.  But, as Lucy grows and starts to learn more and more, it's evident that she is going to surpass Sam's mental capacity in no time.  It's not a problem for them, but it's a huge problem for the Child Welfare folks that are hell-bent on finding Lucy "better" parents.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Rita Harrison, a high powered, high strung attorney who only deals with "A list" clients.  Sam tries to retain her as his lawyer, only to be rebuffed.  Through a series of events and Sam's innocent persistence, she agrees to take his case pro bono.

The story isn't plausible, but the acting more than makes up for it.  The movie is both heart wrenching and heartwarming, and Penn, Pfeiffer and Fanning are remarkable.  Dakota Fanning's eyes tell the entire story without ever opening her mouth, and Penn and Pfeiffer are so convincing in their roles and their character's struggles that I was totally, thoroughly engrossed.

You will laugh.  You will cry.  You will shake your head and rethink your own views on parenting.  And you will know pure and simple love.
 

In the Bedroom (R, 2001)... Average: 2.5
(Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Wise)

Chris Mal
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrghhhh, this was so brutal.  Yes, I know, I know, it got nominated for a gazillion Academy Awards.  Fine, theatrically this movie was a masterpiece.  The acting was phenomenal.  So what.  Watching this film was at times like watching grass grow, and at other times like having someone pull every one of the hairs off of your body one by one with tweezers.  This was the most god-awful depressing relentlessly bleak movie driven by misery known to man.

As "Leaving Las Vegas" was 2 hours of watching Nicolas Cage act drunk to the point of destroying himself, this was 2 hours of watching people go through the grieving process.  Do I need to watch that?  If I wanted to see people grieving for two hours I could just watch the news every night.  And that wouldn't even cost me a rental fee.

For those of you who still want to see this movie, stop reading, I'm about to give away the whole story.  Spacek and Wilkinson play a happily married couple whose charming graduate student son played by Nick Stahl has fallen in love with an older sensitive woman played by Marisa Tomei.  Tomei's character is at the end of finalizing a messy divorce.  The son and Tomei's character sincerely love each other, but his mother is concerned that he is in over his head.  Speaking of heads, Tomei's low-life trailer trash dirtbag soon to be X-husband shows up early in the movie and shoot's Stahl right in the freaking head.  The joy and happiness ensues AND NEVER STOPS!

The rest of the movie is one slow-paced scene after another of mom and dad staring into space, their marriage and lives slowly falling apart as a result of their tragic loss.  Towards the very end it finally gets interesting when the father decides to get revenge, but ultimately you don't know what actually happens ... and the credits role.

I'll give it 2.5 stars based solely on the acting, but other than that, to enjoy this movie you REALLY have to be into films that methodically plod along morbidly oozing dread which saturates every frame of the film.
 

Insider, The (R, 1999)... Average: 4.25
(Al Pacino, Russell Crowe)

Chris Mal
This is a "must-see" movie.  The basic premise of the movie - "guy has inside information on the tobacco industry and is torn as to whether he should do what is right risking his family and his life" - seems somewhat bland, but believe me, this movie is anything but bland.

Al Pacino plays the producer of 60-minutes, and is absolutely fantastic.

The film is based on a true story and is VERY dramatic.  Also making it enjoyable is the voyeuristic aspect, the feeling that you're getting a glimpse at the unsavory happenings behind the scenes at 60 Minutes.  GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Bev Mal

(not rated) Tony Porco
This movie is based (very loosely, one suspects) on the true story of Jeff Wigand (Russell Crowe), a scientist at a tobacco company who became a leading whistleblower in the industry lawsuits of the mid-1990's, and Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino), the ex-radical-turned-60-Minutes-journalist who coaxed him into talking, having no idea what a battle he was getting them into. This is tried-and-true territory for Pacino; he has been the idealistic crusader many times before (And Justice for All and Dog Day Afternoon come to mind), but he still holds the power behind his ever-more-deeply-etched face, and we still cheer for him. Crowe has a more subtle role--a (seemingly) ordinary family man, put under unimaginable stress--and his acting is a masterpiece of careful control and release. Of course, it was the Mississippi Attorney General's office that set the lawsuits in motion, and one clever surprise is AG Michael Moore playing himself--and it really is a pleasure to see a movie in which white Southern politicians are among the good guys! In addition to the tobacco country ambiance, the atmosphere of a big TV news show is conjured effortlessly. An important part of this atmosphere is Christopher Plummer, playing Mike Wallace as a tough journalist who refuses to take guff, even from tobacco companies or (I am not making this up) Hezbollah terrorists. If there isn't a Best Supporting Actor nomination waiting in the wings, there should be. The movie's largest drawback is that it is almost too suspenseful, especially in the first 40 or so minutes; endless soundtrack noodling exacerbates this, but the plot alleviates the problem as it picks up. What makes this film great is that it offers more than suspense for its own sake--it dares to make us think.
 

Insomnia (R, 2002)... Average: 3.5
(Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt)

Chris Mal
Insomnia stars Robin Williams, although you wouldn’t know it about 45 minutes into the movie. It was about then that we grabbed the Blockbuster box to see if Williams was really in the film as he had yet to make his first appearance.

The movie is 90% an Al Pacino movie, and he does his usual job, this time playing a tough (but sensitive underneath) detective from L.A. whose efforts to stop the low-lifes has led him to cross some lines that he later regrets.  In an effort to get him out of the immediate pressure mounting on he and his partner back in L.A. the department has loaned him temporarily to help with a small-town Alaskan murder of a teen-aged girl.  It is there that he accidentally kills his partner while chasing the killer through the fog … or was it an accident.  His partner admitted the pressure was getting to him, that he was going succumb to Internal Affairs and confess to some fudging of evidence in a high-profile murder back in L.A.  Knowing that it would appear highly suspicious, Pacino tells everyone that the man they were chasing was the one who fired the shot.

Soon after, Pacino begins getting creepy calls from the main suspect, an Alaskan writer, who seems to know that Pacino shot his partner.  A string of cat-and-mouse mind games ensues.  The race to capture the killer, save his reputation, and fight his own conscience follows.

Insomnia has a clever plot, some interesting characters, and beautiful Alaskan scenery.  I thought the initial build up to what was happening and why it was happening was a tad confusing which was a bit of detractor.  In fact, when Pacino shoots he partner, it is not entirely clear exactly what transpired.  We actually went back to that scene on the DVD to see if we could follow it a second time around.

Although I can’t pin-point exactly why I am not raving about it, Insomnia is, indeed, a good, smart thriller.  Solid.  Not great, but solid.  A more than worthy rental, particularly if you like Pacino or Robin Williams.
Sue Hohenadel
"Insomnia" ends up being the classic struggle between good and evil and right and wrong.  It just takes a while to get there.

Al Pacino plays a California detective who is dispatched -- along with his partner -- to some God-forsaken area in Alaska to help solve a murder.  Upon their arrival, they are greeted by an over-zealous local detective (Swank) who has kept tabs on Pacino since she wrote her thesis on his work.  Pacino finds her adoration amusing; she finds him better than sliced bread.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Pacino and his partner are the targets of an internal investigation into a situation that may possibly end their long and illustrious careers.  Unfortunately, they don't see eye-to-eye on how they are going to approach an upcoming inquiry, and Pacino's partner ends up dead.  Just one catch -- the murderer they are tracking is the witness to the death.

Al Pacino plays his part relatively quietly (for Pacino) -- no veins in his neck bulging, no screaming fits -- just a solid performance.  Swank is great as a detective coming to grips with her fantasy becoming reality, and Robin Williams is creepy.  As a rule, Williams annoys me.  He's too over-the-top -- too much to relax and enjoy.  No doubt the man is a genius...he just needs a LOT of Thorazine.  However, he is very reserved in this part -- a calculating, sad, lonely man who vacillates between contempt and pride for what he has done.

I gave "Insomnia" 3.5 stars because the scenery is amazing, the acting is solid and there are some truly tense moments in the film.  It was a bit long and some of the scenes were a little too labored, but it's a good, old-fashioned suspense flick.
 

Instinct (R, 1999)... Average: 3.0
(Cuba Gooding Jr, Anthony Hopkins, Donald Sutherland)

Chris Mal
This is a movie about a scientist (Anthony Hopkins) who, prior to the start of the movie, studied gorillas in Africa and for two years lived among them.  His two years in Africa ended with him killing two men.

Hopkins has been a favorite since my all-time favorite movie "Silence of the Lambs".  He plays psychos better than anyone.  The movie picks up with Hopkins being brought back to prison in the U.S. and analyzed by a psychiatrist (Cuba Gooding) who attempts to learn his story and why it ended in murder, and at the same time learns a little about life.

This was an above average movie.  The scriptwriter should have consulted me first, however, as they could have turned this into a much better film by doing a few simple but major things:  Cut out the overly dramatic.  (1) The whole "evil and mean spirited prison guard" thing was cheesy and totally unnecessary.  The movie would have gone along just fine and made its point without the prison being an unrealistic hell-hole.  (2) Clean up the dialog of Cuba Gooding.  He's a fine actor, but for a supposed top-notch psychiatrist I found myself too often thinking "Hey, that was a stupid thing to say to a psychotic patient."  Overall, not a bad movie, but it could have been much better had they discussed it with me first before filming.
Lynn DeHaven
This movie is now in video and it is worth the $3.99 to rent. It held my interest, but I was very sad when the poachers killed the gorillas. Enjoy.
Bev Mal
 

Iron Giant, The (PG, 1999)... Average: 5.0
(Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr.)

Jena Dietrich
I'm typically not a big fan of animated movies, but this is one of my new favorites. It speaks to the nature of violence yet is not "heavy handed" in getting its message across to the viewer. Intelligent, exciting and emotive.