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Directed by Steven Shainberg.
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson. 
Starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  10/15/02 


“Secretary” might not be showing everywhere, and with good reason:

This flick is some weird shit!

James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in this S&M office comedy (now THAT’S a new one) about a relationship between a lawyer and his secretary that is anything but normal.  This is mostly because the fetishist lawyer (Spader) seems to enjoy giving his new secretary (Gyllenhaal) a lot of grief and the pleasure he seems to take out of just looking at her will totally freak you out.

It is hard to describe the plot of a film when there really isn’t one—and this is the case with “Secretary.”  I mean, pretty much the whole film is the back-and-forth between boss and administrative assistant, and man, there are some scenes in this one that even took me for a loop.  This, however, is not to say that the film is necessarily very good; it’s just that four or five scenes in the second half of the film are just visually arresting!  I stopped breathing for a couple of them, because I couldn’t believe that the director was trying to make this thing work.

Spader is so good in this film.  He seems to pick projects for some odd reasons, but here, just his non-verbal head movements are funny and he is completely believable as this sicko.  He does so much with his eyes in this film that he ought to win the Best Actor Oscar for his eye movement alone.  Gyllenhaal is good, but her character as written comes right out of the School of Dysfunctional Families Handbook and her early drug problems shock you, then disgust you, then leave you baffled because of how they just disappear.  The film’s subplots involving the secretary’s home life are useless and only further provide evidence that director Steven Shainberg needed some filler for his two-hour film.

Speaking of which, the film’s biggest atrocity is its length; it is way too long, and it seems like it is going to end a couple of times before it actually does.  Oh, and the ending itself?  Not too good, either.  Shows you what a good editor can do!

“Secretary” is a surprising indie film in that it’s actually pretty entertaining at points (odd for this year, one of the weakest quality-wise in the last ten years of indies; don’t get me started again on “My Big Fat Piece of Fucking Shit”) and provides a new twist on spanking scenes.  Yeah, I said it.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09