(Second viewing, on TV, July 2016) I remember seeing this in theatres (opening week!) and feeling let-down by the way a first act promising the mysteries of the universe led to an underwhelming film about primitive tribes rushing into revolution with our band of heroes. Watching it again twenty years later, with adjusted expectations, I’m still disappointed. I suppose that if it’s space opera that I want, the subsequent TV series and novelizations will suffice, but it doesn’t make the original film much better. And yet, there are a few things to note here: James Spader as a likable nerd, a prime-era Kurt Russell acting tough as a military operative, an early eye-catching role for Mili Avital, and primitive CGI being used in obvious ways. The familiar triumphant-rebellion angle is guaranteed to be rousing, and director Dean Emmerich does manage one or two interesting visuals. Historically, this Emmerich/Devlin production works best as a bit of a bigger-budget rehearsal for the more accomplished madness that was Independence Day. Even with good intentions, I still feel underwhelmed by Stargate.
(On DVD, January 2011) In certain circles, Secretary is often held up as a mainstream-friendly introduction to the dominant/submissive mindset –not your usual fare for romantic comedies, and certainly its most enjoyable trait. Whatever shortcomings the film may have, at least it’s willing to celebrate its kinkiness: The main characters don’t play by the usual rules, and neither does Writer/Director Steven Shainberg: From the first few moments, Secretary delves deep into kink and makes it feel like a perfectly understandable lifestyle. As a depressive young woman (Maggie Gylenhall) falls under the spell of her unusual boss (James Spader, patron saint of proud deviants), the film becomes both stranger and more self-assured. Despite the added spice of dominance and submission, the core of the film is a solid romance between two characters whose psychological issues complement well. It’s fun, charming, often cute despite some unpleasant material and absolutely non-threatening. There are a few problems with the third act, which seems to falter and lose control by going for an overly-public absurdist resolution. Still, it manages a tricky balance for a difficult subject and it ends on a happy note that pleasantly wraps up everything. Gyllenhall is mesmerizing in the lead role –nearly ten years later, this is still her career-best performance. Secretary may not be a particularly great film, but it’s certainly striking, unexpected and confident in the ways it dares celebrate its lack of social convention. No wonder many people still think of it fondly.