by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Michael Cimino
Cast: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 86% Certified Fresh

PLOT: An in-depth examination of the ways in which the Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of several friends in a small steel mill town in Pennsylvania

[Author’s note: This will be the first in an ongoing series of reviews inspired by a book given to me as a birthday present by my long-suffering girlfriend.  Entitled Everyone’s a Critic, it challenges readers to watch a movie a week within a given category, then answer questions like, “Why did you choose this particular film” or “Do you feel this film deserved the award? Why or why not?”  Clearly designed to inspire discussion.  This category was “A Film That Has Won Best Picture.” This format is a work in progress, so I hope you’ll bear with me on future installments.

I am going to assume, for the most part, that most readers will have seen the movies being reviewed in this series.  Therefore, some spoilers may or will follow.  You have been warned.]

Once about every couple of years, I like to pick up and read Stephen King’s The Stand in its original uncut version.  My paperback copy runs to 1,141 pages, not including King’s foreword and a brief prologue.  Even Tolstoy would look at that thing and go, “Dude…edit yourself.”  But having read it numerous times now, I cannot imagine what could possibly have been excised from the edited version of King’s novel.  Every detail of that apocalyptic saga feels necessary.  Reading it is like falling into a fully realized alternate universe.

That’s what watching The Deer Hunter is like.  I can still remember the first time I watched it.  I knew its reputation as one of the greatest Vietnam War movies ever made, had heard of its harrowing Russian Roulette scene, and was intensely curious.  I popped it into the VCR, hit play…and for the first 70 minutes I got a slice-of-life drama about steel workers in a tiny Pittsburgh town (Clairton, for the detail-oriented) where, mere days before three friends ship off to Vietnam, one of them is getting married.  And the centerpiece is the wedding reception.  Ever watch a video of a wedding reception?  How high do you think a young teenager would rate its entertainment value on a scale of 1 to 10? 

I could not appreciate, as I do now, how vital this scene is.  Relationships are stated, expanded upon, and brought to a kind of cliffhanger.  Take the mostly non-verbal interplay between Linda (a luminous young Meryl Streep) and Michael (Robert De Niro).  Linda is clearly in a relationship with Nick (Christopher Walken), but it is painfully obvious that Michael and Linda have eyes for each other.  Mike watches intently from the bar as Linda dances at the reception, and whenever their eyes meet you can almost hear their hearts stop beating.  The oblivious Nick even pairs them on the dance floor while he visits the bar himself.  The awkwardness as Michael forces small talk and Linda shyly reciprocates is palpable.  And…is that Nick giving the two of them the eye at one point…?

As a kid, I wondered why this soap opera nonsense was necessary in a Vietnam film.  Of course, I didn’t know what was coming.  That’s the beauty and wonder of The Deer Hunter.  It challenges you to follow along with this miniature melodrama to give meaning to what comes next.

There is a key moment during the reception when an Army soldier wearing a green beret stops by the reception.  Mike, Nick, and Steven (John Savage), who are gung-ho about serving their country, yell their support and let him know how much they’re looking forward to killing the enemy.  The steely-eyed soldier raises his glass, looks away, and says, “Fuck it.”  It’s not terribly subtle, but the ominous nature of this moment always fills me with a sense of foreboding, even having seen the film many times by now.

But even after the reception is over, there is one more small-town pit stop to make before the movie gets to Vietnam.  (In fact, The Deer Hunter spends surprisingly little time in Vietnam.)  Michael and a group of friends including Nicky and Stan (John Cazale) go hunting for deer in the mountains as a kind of ritual before Nick, Mike, and Steven are deployed.  It is in this sequence that Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond’s talents are put to stunning use.  We are shown vistas of the Allegheny Mountains that are simply breathtaking, with Mike and his friends seen as mere dots in the mountainsides.  Choral music with a men’s choir singing in Russian is heard on the soundtrack, giving the sequence a majestic aura that must be seen and heard to be believed.

Then the hunt is over, and the boys all have one last drunken night at the bar owned by another friend, John (George Dzundza in an under-appreciated, realistic performance).  Here they all sing along to Frankie Valli and listen somberly as John plays a sad classical tune on his piano.  And then, in one of the film’s masterstrokes of editing, we slam-cut immediately to the jungles of Vietnam – no boot camp, no footage of them being trained or flown over there, just suddenly they’re there and the contrast between the carnage we experience in the first few minutes of Vietnam versus the rhythms of their lives in Clairton could not be more extreme.

In a horrific but mercifully brief sequence, we watch as a Viet Cong soldier calmly walks into a burned-out village, discovers a hidden pit holding terrified villagers, and remorselessly tosses a grenade inside.  We then watch as Mike, now a battle-hardened soldier, emerges from a hiding place with a flamethrower and burns the VC soldier alive.

The effect of this scene cannot be understated.  To witness Michael torching a soldier, even after that soldier committed a brutal act himself, is jarring.  And why is it so jarring?  Because we have seen Mike as a civilian, as a friend, as a would-be lover, during that lengthy sequence at the wedding reception and while hunting with his friends.  Admittedly, you got the sense that he could or would get violent if necessary.  (He’s clearly the alpha male of his “clique.”)  But this…I mean, damn.

Then, in one of those Hollywood conveniences that never get old, Mike is unexpectedly reunited with Nick and Steve who just happened to arrive at that very same village with another platoon of US soldiers.  And then, immediately after being reunited, they are captured by enemy forces, imprisoned with several enemy combatants in a riverside compound, and forced by their sadistic keepers to play Russian roulette with each other as the guards bet on the outcome.  Michael comes up with a horrifyingly logical escape plan: convince the guards to put THREE bullets in the chamber instead of one.

Much has been made regarding the historical inaccuracy of this scene.  To those arguments, I say: who cares?  As someone once said, riffing from Mark Twain, “Never let facts get in the way of truth.”  The truth of the matter is, the Vietnam experience was a modern-day horror show, leaving physical and psychic scars on its participants and on our country.  In my opinion, the Russian roulette scene can be interpreted as a symbol of how those soldiers, or ANY soldiers, must have felt every single day.  Going on a routine patrol in the jungle could have potentially lethal circumstances.  They rolled the dice every time they called in an airstrike, betting they didn’t get firebombed themselves.  Booby traps were everywhere.  How is life in a war zone that much different from being given a one-in-six chance at living or dying?

I’ve already gone into far more spoilers than I am accustomed to, so let’s just say this happens and that happens, Michael winds up making it back home, Steven is grievously wounded in the escape attempt, and Nick goes AWOL when, after making it back to a military hospital in Saigon, he wanders the streets at night and discovers an underground ring of lunatics who run a high-stakes game of Russian roulette.  And we’re still just at the mid-point of the film.

When we see Michael back home, the earlier sequences establishing the rhythms of small-town life and his feelings towards Linda, for example, all come into focus.  We need that reception and the hunting scenes so we can see how much Michael has changed.  For example, when Michael is arriving back home by taxi, still in full military dress, he spots a huge banner: “WELCOME HOME MICHAEL”.  He tells the driver to keep going.  In a hotel room later that night, he sits on the edge of his bed and rocks back and forth, winding up crouching against the wall.  He is completely unable to process how to deal with people anymore.  Or, at least, he doesn’t trust what he will or won’t say.  I watch that scene, and I feel such intense sympathy and empathy.  What he’s feeling, what he’s been through, what he’s seen, is so huge that he knows he’ll never be able to explain it to anyone who hasn’t been there.  He knows he’ll get questions like, “What was it like?  Did you kill anyone?  How are you feeling?  Where’s Nicky?”  I’ll never know what it’s like to fight in a war, but if I had gone through what he’d gone through, I wouldn’t have stopped either.

There is a heartbreaking scene where Linda, who is more than a little distraught that Nicky is AWOL, hesitantly suggests to Michael that they go to bed.  “Can’t we just comfort each other?”  Mike rebuffs her, but in a way that makes it clear he’d like to, regardless.  De Niro’s performance here is staggering.  As he walks out, he makes a statement, showcasing how much he is feeling but also how unable he is to articulate it: “I feel a lot of distance, and I feel far away.”  I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The very end of The Deer Hunter is one of the most emotionally shattering finales of any movie I’ve ever seen.  It ends with a simple song, first sung as a solo, then joined by everyone else at the table.  I will not reveal what happens to get us there.  Is it shameless manipulation?  Yes.  Does it work?  Yes, so I can forgive the “shameless” part.

One of the criticisms I’ve read more than once about The Deer Hunter is how “one-sided” it is.  To which I say, “Well, duh.”  The Deer Hunter is not presented as a history lesson or a lecture on the internal politics in the country of Vietnam during the war.  The Deer Hunter is intended to make us feel something.  It wants to show us what happens to a person who is exposed to the very worst side of human behavior and lives to talk about it.  It wants to remind us that a country can wave a flag and stand for what’s right and be willing to sacrifice its best and brightest souls for a righteous cause…but it must also be prepared for the aftermath.  The Deer Hunter is a somber prayer that our country remembers the cost it demands, and that it will take care of its own when the dust settles.


By Marc S. Sanders

Meryl Streep can do anything. Comedy, drama, accents, age defiance, make unbearable choices, even play opposite Roseanne; anything! She can even go white water rafting. She’s a real life James Bond.

In The River Wild, Streep takes a while to outsmart bad guys Kevin Bacon and John C Reilly, but she always maintains the raft through dangerous rapids while protecting her husband and son (David Strathairn and Joseph Mazzello).

See, according to Curtis Hanson’s adventure film, the best way to outrun the law following committing a robbery is to go white water rafting, even if you have no experience with the sport. That becomes a downer for Meryl Streep’s family getaway where tensions are high in her marriage to her workaholic husband. Fortunately, this setback might get them on the right track and Strathairn will find an appreciation for the dog that has come along. Reader, I won’t give it away but like I said, Meryl Streep can do anything. So, the odds on the family pet making it out of this alive are pretty favorable. Too bad Mazzello and the dog won’t listen to dad when it’s necessary.

The plot of The River Wild is very simplistic. Hanson quickly gets to the river following some exposition of familial discourse at home. However, just because he gets to the river so soon, doesn’t mean that the thrills begin right away. There’s a lot of beautiful nature footage here and everyone is happily getting along. Bacon connects with Mazzello much to Strathairn’s chagrin, and he flirts charmingly with Streep. Then lo and behold, oh my stars, Kevin Bacon is a bad guy??? What? The Footloose guy?????? Why he’s six degrees of any one of us!!!!!

Hanson gets some good action moments on the rapids. There close up shots against the rocks, and right into the water and down the impossible falls. The suspense is lacking though. Strathairn makes an escape in the woods. He’s got a good head start, and the best option he can come up is to climb a steep rock wall in plain sight with no coverage whatsoever. Kevin Bacon, what are you doing? Shoot the guy!!!! Mr. Hanson, you just brought your stride to a screeching halt.

That’s the problem with The River Wild. There’s a lack of thrill to it all. This is not a film brave enough to really endanger the dog, nor the kid, nor Streep. The worst that’s really done is a couple of punches to Strathairn and a cut above his eye.

Mazzello made it as the screamer kid star in his adolescent years in film (see Jurassic Park). Bacon seems like he wanted to get a little crazier in the villain role, but he held back. I wanted him to cross the line a little more, a lot more actually. He wasn’t dangerous enough for me. Reilly was just a bumbling, worried accomplice in tow.

Hanson has done way better than this with his supreme effort like L.A. Confidential and even Eminem’s 8 Mile. Thank goodness I can still respect the man’s career beyond this doused misfire.


By Marc S. Sanders

Robert Redford directed a huge, glossy looking misfire of a political thriller in 2007 with a film called Lions For Lambs, written by Matthew Michael Carnagan.

Preachiness is never fun when it labors on for an hour and a half. I don’t care if it’s Tom Cruise or Meryl Streep or even Robert Redford doing the preaching. If these powerhouse celebrities called me up and asked if they could come to my house for coffee and talk, and when they got there, all they did was spew in circles a political platform of “right and wrong” and “why” and “don’t” and “can’t” and “yes and no,” I’d call the police and have them arrested. Time for you to leave, Meryl! Tom, it’s been real.

In 2007, during the late half of Bush 43’s second term, questions of war with the Middle East was at the forefront during a post 9/11 age. Redford, with Cruise producing, thought it’d be interesting to show three different stories (actually two long winded conversations set around desks, and two stranded soldiers) occurring. A political professor (Redford) tries to open the eyes of a student (Andrew Garfield) with great potential but no drive to make a difference. A Republican Senator (Cruise) sets up his own interview with a liberal leaning reporter (Streep) to boast of a new secret mission he’s championing, and two special forces ops are left stranded (Michael Pena & Derek Luke) in the cold of Iraq, the most interesting of three narratives.

Carnagan’s script goes in circles and it’s likely the politics he questions all lean left. Yet the conversations (Redford & Garfield; Cruise & Streep) become just a lot of back talk. A character makes a point, and the other character makes a counter point. I was hoping for a line like “Meryl, you ignorant slut!” Where are we going with all of this?

The soldiers are the mission planned by the Senator that has now gone awry and follows their outcome as they are left wounded and surrounded by Iraqi forces in the snowy darkness. We learn they were students of the professor who wanted to make a difference by enlisting in the Army. See the connection now; the very thin uninspired connection?

Here’s something for ya. In case, you can’t recognize easily enough, Redford dresses his characters in either shades of Red or Blue. Nice touch with Garfield’s frat boy wearing a RED Hawaiian shirt while Redford has the BLUE denim button down. Cruise gets the shiny RED coffee mug for a prop. Does the film have to be THIS transparent? If so, couldn’t the dialogue have been as well?

Lions For Lambs talks A LOT and tells me nothing. Streep’s reporter is a disappointment. Yet Redford portrays her as noble. She loathes the platform of the Senator she just interviewed and is adamant about not writing the quite revealing story he just laid out for her. How can she be that way? She’s a reporter!!!! Tell the truth. Inform the public, even if it’s not pretty, and yet Redford will have a viewer believe it is righteous of Streep to figuratively break her pencil and unplug her computer while she gripes to her editor in chief. No! This is an absolute betrayal of journalistic integrity. What is Robert Redford, the once producer and star of All The President’s Men, thinking here???

You wanna talk about betrayal? The final moments with Streep really had me puzzled. She takes a thought-provoking cab ride that drives past the Capital, Arlington National Cemetery, the Supreme Court, and The White House (right, dab, in front of it no less). Reader, I’ve been to Washington DC a number of times as recent as this past summer. Where the hell is this cabbie driving to, and what route was he taking????


By Marc S. Sanders

Sydney Pollack’s Out Of Africa might seem like a whirlwind romance if you’re only looking at the top billed names of the cast, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, but it’s much more than that. It’s an education of the African continent beginning in 1913 when World War I was on the brink, and the British monarchy appeared to become territorial of its lands.

Karen Blixen (Streep) is a Danish Baroness who marries a Swedish nobleman, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) out of simple convenience. She plans to begin a cattle farm outside of Kenya to manage with Bror. To her unfortunate surprise, Bror has invested her monies in harvesting coffee on the land, which is much more difficult to produce at the altitude where they settle. Bror is also not so concerned with growing to love Karen and would much rather hunt on safari and be a womanizer, while welching off of Karen’s enterprise.

Karen grows to love Africa with its wildlife, as well as the local people whom she does not object to them squatting on her property. She provides medical aid and schooling for the children, too.

Karen also encounters the dashing adventurer, Denys Finch Hatton (Redford). Denys comes in and out of her life where he welcomes her on expeditions that are up close with lions and rhinos. He also takes her in his biplane to get God’s perspective of the lush scenery, a major centerpiece of the film. Denys, however, is not concerned with offering the full commitment Karen seeks. He’s happy to carry on with his safari treks only to return on occasion.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, Pollack’s film gives plenty of time and footage to absorb gorgeous landscape views of Africa from above and across the plains. The cinematography is on par with some of the best I’ve ever seen in a motion picture, compliments of David Watkin. The colors of sky with green, brown and yellow landscapes are breathtaking. Sunsets are spectacular with Redford’s silhouette in the foreground. Herds of cattle consisting of oxen, gazelles and lion feel so up close and personal. The production design of Karen’s home and coffee farm are also noticeably authentic. The home feels comfortable.

Out Of Africa is based on the stories told from Isek Denisen, Karen’s pseudonym. Like many of these sweeping epics, I find that I need to get accustomed to the nature of the film first. Dialects, when done authentically like Streep always strives for, are challenging for me to understand initially. The African people are hard to understand at times. As well, this is a period picture in a territory that I’m mostly unfamiliar with. So, I find that I have to adjust to the habitat and culture of the characters. Frankly, the first half hour or so was a little tough for me to stay with the picture. Once I got my footing with the film, though, I could not get enough. I felt terrible for Karen when she contracts syphilis. I was truly annoyed with how the Baron treats Karen with such disdain. It’s also heartbreaking when Karen and Denys are in disagreement with one another, simply because I loved the chemistry between Redford and Streep. Later setbacks feel tragic, especially as you feel like you’ve traveled through the progress and impactful differences that Karen affectionately made for Africa and its people.

Out Of Africa is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. It’s another example of a film where the setting is as much a character as the leads who carry the story. Sydney Pollack and his crew, which includes grand horn and string chords from Oscar winning composer John Barry present a captivating story that also feels rich in a documentarian point of view. A restored copy of the film on a large flat screen TV is a must see.


By Marc S. Sanders

Steven Soderbergh gets a little too inventive in his delivery of revealing “The Panama Papers,” in his new film The Laundromat now showing on Netflix.

His film is too convoluted deliberately to drive home the point of shell company, laundered fraud within the world. As such, it makes it very challenging to comprehend every point crammed into his short 90 minute film.

The two Panamanian attorneys behind the scheme, Mossack & Fonseca (played with great duet chemistry from Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas) narrate the film by introducing different ways in which a shell company valued at everything on paper but tangibly nothing from an actual monetary standpoint.

Primarily, it focuses on Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) a driven senior citizen who learns the truth of the plot when insurance does not compensate following the tragic accidental drowning of her husband on a boat tour.

Streep is brilliant as always. Such a natural with her monologues and her seemingly useless efforts to gain restitution for her loss.

The whole cast is excellent but the intentional confusion behind the story falls short of satisfying entertainment or enlightenment. I needed some moments where Soderbergh would give it to me straight. A diagram or a graph might have helped.

With The Laundromat Steven Soderbergh fails at becoming the next Jay Roach (The Big Short and Vice). Imagine if Roach actually got his hands on this script. Then there’d be a lot more buzz about this film. Oh well.


By Marc S. Sanders

Probably the most personal film for me, the one that I watched for the first time with adult eyes even though I was only age 8 or 9 at the time, was writer/director Robert Benton’s 1979 Best Picture winner Kramer vs Kramer.

Though my parents never divorced, somehow I recognized the character of Ted Kramer, an extremely busy New York City advertising executive who could be having a great day while staying flirtatious but then also having an outburst of frustration when things are not going his way. My father was a busy man and a hard worker. He was a man who was always very proud of his work. He loved his work so much that he wasn’t as present in my life during my adolescent years. My mother on the other hand was my best friend who could make me laugh and demonstrated unconditional and very natural love for me. I learned about humor and love from my mother during those early years. I learned about responsibility from my father and some of his own humor later on. So, as I reflect on this film I imagine what life could have been for me had my mother walked out with no notice, leaving my father to tend to my needs while having to suddenly make sacrifices with his work.

On countless occasions, I’ve written about the importance of a character arc where a protagonist will start out one way and completely change through the middle and end of the film. In Kramer Vs Kramer, the arc is not focused on a character but rather a relationship between father and son. When Billy (Justin Henry in an Oscar nominated performance) at age 6 wakes up to discover mommy is not there, he sees how lost daddy is with waking up and trying to make coffee much less crack an egg properly for french toast. Ted and Billy have been blindsided and without any warning they need to adjust to one another very quickly.

Later, Benton does an insightful tracking shot of their apartment as they wake and we see they’ve grown accustomed to a routine together of getting each other up, setting the table and reading their newspaper and comic books side by side while never uttering a word. Benton realized that the comfort of living with each other does not have to be evoked with dialogue. This routine is offered one last time at the end when an inevitable and unwanted conclusion has befallen Ted and Billy. Again, no dialogue because now as a viewer I’ve become comfortable with this special relationship. Truly, I envisioned my father and I in these three moments.

Meryl Streep is the other Kramer, Joanna. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and its well earned. Benton opens the film on her sad expression in a quiet darkness. When Ted finally comes home with good news from work, Streep is really good at holding her firm stance at leaving the household permanently. It doesn’t matter that Ted has gossip to share of a co-worker’s suicide or that he got a huge promotion. She just up and hurries for the elevator despite Ted’s resistance in allowing her to leave.

Benton follows afterwards with a good long portion of the film to display the struggles that Ted and Billy need to overcome, and in a second act finally has Joanna return stating her desire for Billy to live with her. Ted will not allow that to happen. For a real actor’s showcase, it’s important to watch the scene when they meet for the first time in 18 months. The conversation is cordial and they appear pleased to catch up with one another. Seconds later, the opposite sides on what’s best for themselves and more importantly Billy surface and the back and forth is so perfectly timed. Streep and Hoffman have those stutters and talking over one another that seem so natural. The scene ends with a broken glass that was not rehearsed and fortunately Streep’s shocked expression remains before the scene is cut.

Hoffman is extremely good in his role. He runs a gamut of emotions to bring humor, sadness, anger, warmth and love to this part. Another powerful scene is when he desperately must find a new job within three days before Christmas. Benton makes sure that Ted appears completely strong in a disarming situation when he squeezes in a four o’clock Friday afternoon interview during a raucous office Christmas party. I love how Benton focuses a still camera on Ted sitting quietly in a lobby chair amid partiers while waiting to hear if he gets a job offer. This is determination of a very full degree. Nothing will allow Ted to lose his little boy during this custody hearing.

Kramer vs Kramer is a simple and brisk film. It moves with a fast pace and I believe the reason for that is it takes place in a home with a father, a child and a mother. So I like to think it was very open to relating to viewers of all ages including my preteen self. There are many different and recognizable facets to “Kramer vs Kramer.” Billy compares Ted’s rules to what “all the other mothers” do. There’s the school play. Ted running late for work and picking up Billy from a birthday party complete with a goody bag. Of course, there’s also the heightened drama of the courtroom custody hearing. It’s like watching stage work monologues from Streep and Hoffman. It’s brilliant.

I especially took a scene very personally where Billy falls off the monkey bars, and Ted rushing through the streets of New York to get him to the emergency room for stitches. I had a door slammed in my face once that required stitches in my bottom lip. Just like in the film there was blood all over my clothes and there was terrible fear for this 8 year old kid who now still feels a bump in that area. Billy’s anguish and Ted’s terrible fear and guilt seem so genuine.

I find it interesting that this film won Best Picture in 1979. A year prior it was The Deer Hunter and Patton was a few years before that. In 1980, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People won the award and in 1983 it was Terms Of Endearment. Hollywood didn’t forget the impacts of hellish war and combat films. However, with the 1980 Reagan years of much decadence and pop culture positivity, a domestic life was becoming more honest and apparent. These films were not just Father Knows Best. Films like Kramer Vs Kramer, we’re ready to show the hard parts of living a yuppie life. Things seem so normal on the outside when really there’s a struggle to love and live on the inside.

Cinderella like films showed my eight year old eyes that if a prince and princess finally meet and dance together all will be well in the kingdom. However, Kramer Vs Kramer told me that marriage and family life do not equate to happily ever after. Don’t mistake me. I’m not being pessimistic here. What I learned at that young age is that the story really only just begins after the prince and princess fall in love with one another. Thereafter, the conflicts settle in and the happy ending arrives only when the characters adjust to the evolution of their futures together, or if necessary, without one another.


By Marc S. Sanders

It goes back to what I’ve always said. If you don’t have a good script, you got nothing. I don’t care if you have powerhouse actors like Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep in the lead roles, as well as Harvey Keitel and Dianne Weist for support. Without a script without even just a crumb of intelligence, a film will be terrible. In fact, these magnificent actors actually did a romantic film together in 1984 called Falling In Love, and yes it’s got the talent and nothing to say.

This might as well have been a Ferrari with no oil and no gas. DeNiro and Streep are Frank and Molly who meet cute during a hectic Christmas Eve shopping spree in New York City. Director Ulu Grosbard sets up moments through the opening credits and a good long 20 minutes of the players actually crossing paths on the train and then various streets and stores in the city, unaware of each other, before they finally collide their shopping bags with one another in Rizzoli’s Book Store. Wouldn’t you know it? After they’ve collected their things, they realize on Christmas morning that they took each other’s gift for their respective spouses. So Frank’s wife Annie (Jane Kaczmarek) got the book about sailing, and Molly’s husband Brian (David Clennon) got the book about gardening.

Since Frank and Molly ritually take the same train into the city, naturally they will circle back with each other. Frank is an architect working at a construction site, while Molly goes to visit her sick father in the hospital. They sit with one another, exchange phone numbers and have lunch together. A chance at kindling a romance arrives, but can they violate their marriages?

None of this is new. We’ve seen this a million times before. That’s not a reason to give it another try for a story like this. Only don’t make it so dull, and man o’ man is Falling In Love dull. REALLY DULL! Lifetime TV trash is more exhilarating than this.

The script from Michael Christofer has absolutely nothing to say. There’s no life to any of the dialogue. There’s no monologue offered for DeNiro or Streep to recite, that maybe would explore the conflicts they are having within themselves. There’s no time devoted to their connections with Kascmarek and Clennon, respectively.

Falling In Love is nothing more than a series of moments spliced together for Streep and DeNiro to just physically sit with one another. They go to Chinatown. So what? They don’t share any character dimension with themselves. They sneak away to Frank’s friend’s (Keitel) apartment to make love. The scene lacks any kind of passion or yearning. They sit on the train or god forbid fall in despair that they missed each other at the station. Falling In Love is only an empty void of a film.

I can’t compliment DeNiro or Streep because they are not given any tools to work with to bring those bravado performances we are so accustomed to. Christofer’s script gives them friends to talk to. Keitel goes with DeNiro. Wiest goes with Streep. Nothing is shared with these confidants. Keitel’s character is getting a divorce. So? It has no influence on DeNiro’s character. Wiest’s character is a wall to talk to. Nothing more. I know absolutely nothing about her.

What a let down this picture is. This could have been a Fatal Attraction or a When Harry Met Sally… for these two magnificent actors. There could have been, and should have been, something exciting here. It could have had humor, suspense, fear and heck…let’s just say it…love! Nothing is said of any significance. No moment is shown that grabs the viewer. There’s no big scenes to gear up for, and the ending is simply vague in its delivery. Falling In Love is like chewing on cardboard with no seasoning. It’s tasteless, boring, and I’ll remind you once again, it’s really, really, really dull.


By Marc S. Sanders

So at the urging of a close friend of mine, Alicia Spiegel, we all jumped in to watch the Dancing Queens, from the celebrated musical, Mamma Mia!

It’s a fun family film full of gorgeous, eye popping colors.  REALLY EYE POPPING!!!!!  Stay for the closing credits.  Wow Pierce Brosnan! You sure took a huge leap from James Bond here, that’s for sure.  Liberace, and maybe Elton John, would even blush at having to wear some of the costumes on display.  Naturally there are the big musical numbers as well, and big, I mean HUGELY ASTRONOMICAL MOMENTS OF JOY AND CHEERFULNESS!!!!  Jeez, the excitement of Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski and company make happiness look like an incurable disease. 

The sugar coated, dipped in maple syrup, and showered in Jolt Cola corniness of Mamma Mia! is so sweet, you’ll have a fresh cavity by the time the film reaches its halfway point.  Still, during these challenging times,  it’s not so bad I guess, and likely just what we all need.  

The film concerns itself more with having fun than anything else amid a simple story of a young bride secretly inviting three likely candidates (Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard), one of which is potentially her biological father, to her upcoming nuptials, which will take place on the Greek Islands.  This welcomes awkward moments for the gentlemen when they each reunite with Streep.  It’s all very sitcomy.

The soundtrack uses the disco book of ABBA, complete with WaterlooTake A Chance On Me and of course Mamma Mia!.  Though I appreciate the music of ABBA, my main issue is that other than two numbers (Slipping Through My Fingers and my favorite The Winner Takes It All), I could not see how any of the remaining music meshes with the story.   How do the lyrics of these songs drive the story of the musical?  I could not make a connection, and so I found myself asking why are they suddenly breaking out into Dancing Queen, for example.  What does this show stopping number have to do with the structure of the story?  The cast could have just as easily broken into We Will Rock You or Walk Like An Egyptian, and the lyrical relevance to the plot would have been just as separated.  No character sings a song that identifies with their respective purpose to the story.

Meryl Streep always challenges herself.  No two characters of hers are really ever the same, and thus she’s able to pull off a musical lead effectively.  I heard people frowned on Pierce Brosnan’s vocals, but I didn’t take issue.  I liked his duet with Streep.  Seyfried is a good compliment to Streep in a mother/daughter relationship as well.  Christine Baranski as Streep’s best friend is welcome and over the top silly escapism.

It won’t ever be my favorite film musical, but if I’m at a friend’s house and the majority wanna turn this on, then I’ll watch and enjoy the whole gang getting swept up in the Greek Isle setting of Utopian celebration and happiness.  I just won’t need to snack on my Mike & Ike’s or sip on my extra large Coke.  There’s already enough sugar emanating from the screen.