The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
One thing you always can always count on when you rent an Al Pacino movie - you get Al Pacino. He's starred in some intense films ("Dog Day Afternoon" and "... And Justice for All") and given blockbuster performances ("The Godfather: Part III" and "Scent of a Woman)."
Director Jon Avnet's credits are all over the map, too, having directed such diverse films as "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Up Close and Personal."
"88 Minutes" doesn't fall into any niche category from either man's resumé and will not win any awards, but it is a perfect rental for a Saturday night if you're looking for a thriller/mystery.
Jack Gramm (Pacino) is a forensic psychiatrist specializing in serial murderers. Evidently death threats are a common occurrence in his life given the caliber of people he testifies against. But this death threat has urgency about it. Gramm suspects the source is Jon Forster, someone he was instrumental in putting on death row. Even with very little screen time, actor Neal McDonough makes the character of convicted murderer Forster creepy enough to make your skin crawl.
There are lots of suspects in "88 Minutes" and, if you want to synchronize your watch, you'll find that once the death threat is made via cell phone, Gramm has 88 minutes to live and, not so coincidentally, there will be 88 minutes left of the film.
"a/k/a Tommy Chong"
"a/k/a Tommy Chong" is an interesting documentary. If you're of an age where you remember the comedy team of Cheech & Chong and the subsequent success of their movies, then you may be amazed at the appearance and succinct demeanor today of the 65-year-old Tommy Chong. If you fit into the "old enough to serve in the armed forces but still too young to vote" age category and you know the comedian by his place on the comedy shelf in the video store, your perspective, or "take," might be entirely different. Either way, "a/k/a Tommy Chong" is more a treatise on the judicial system of the United States and its priorities than the pros and cons of marijuana.
In 2003, under the leadership of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the justice department prosecuted the former comedian turned manufacturer and distributor to the fullest extent of the law, not for selling drugs but for selling and shipping drug paraphernalia to Pennsylvania, one of two states that prohibits this activity.
Twelve million taxpayers' dollars were spent in making an example of Chong, who spent nine months in a federal prison as part of a plea bargain to spare his wife and son prosecution.
Whether those monies were well spent is up to you, the viewer, to decide. "a/k/a Tommy Chong" lays out the facts, interviewing Chong and those around him including a surprise scene with Jay Leno.
"One True Thing"
William Hurt and Meryl Streep were already Oscar winners when they starred in "One True Thing" in 1998, but it was the newcomer of the cast, a young actress named Renée Zellweger, who sealed this picture's fate as a hidden gem.
Ellen Gulden (Zellweger) is working hard as a writer for a New York magazine to establish her career. She longs to prove herself to her father (Hurt), a college professor in journalism, whom she adores. Her mom, Kate (Streep) is the quintessential 1950s homemaker in spite of the story's 1988 time frame.
All's well, or at least normal, for this small-town family until Ellen's presence on the home front is demanded to take care of her ailing mother.
"One True Thing" is adapted from the Anna Quindlen novel and directed by Carl Franklin, who keeps a tight rein on this emotional roller coaster filled with family dynamics.
Hurt is good as a hapless wannabe author stuck in academia. Streep is so believable in her depiction of physical deterioration; you're relieved to remember she's made dozens of movies since this picture's release. But "One True Thing" works because of Zellweger. This "atypical movie star in the making" in 1988, never took the easy way out in a scene and by doing so made her character's struggles our own.
Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She is the Arts & Entertainment critic for the international entertainment Web site NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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