bottcorecords's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters(2016)

With so many people already having made their minds up about this movie, it's rather difficult to write a review objectively, but I will do my best. The cast is great, they all do a great job, however, I found Kate McKinnon's character grating and obnoxious (( believe they were going for humorous). The gags with the dumb male secretary were not as funny as the film-makers thought they were. Neither were the gags about the delivery guy getting the soup wrong. The first two-thirds of the movie is completely watchable, there are some funny parts and some parts where the jokes fall flat (and there's more than one joke about youtubers posting mean comments on their videos which sounded pretty defensive). The final third of the movie is pretty bad, though, some sort of pseudo action film that lifts it's ending directly from the first Avengers movie (substitute ghosts from another dimension for aliens from another dimension). Like I said, it's not a bad movie, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have a lot of chemistry, I just wish the writing had been better.

Evil Dead
Evil Dead(2013)

It takes a lot of nerve to try and re-make Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead". Made in 1979-1980, it was Raimi's feature length debut and was overflowing with creativity and passion, in spite of it's low budget. It attained a "cult status", becoming banned in several countries for it's brutality (but in reality, much of the horror came from the film-maker's technique, rather than cheap, exploitative shock). But Raimi is no longer a fresh-faced kid making exuberant movies just to satisfy some inner passion, he's an established hollywood producer, and making movies is a big time, money-making endeavor. Along with fellow producer Bruce Campbell (star of the original "Evil Dead" series), and a screenplay co-written by the director, Fede Alvarez and Diablo Cody (the ex-stripper best known for writing the oscar-winning screenplay for "Juno"), Raimi gives us a re-make that is tailor-made for today's horror movie box office. As released, it's one of the purest examples of torture porn I've seen in awhile, and I've seen Hostel, the Rob Zombie Halloween re-make, Chainsaw Massacre 3D, The Devil's Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses (Rob Zombie's films excel in this particular field), Cabin in the Woods (which this especially reminded me of), etc etc, the list goes on and on.

As the movie opens, five good-looking twenty-somethings go off to stay in some secluded cabin wayyy up in the woods somewhere. "Why?", you ask? It's not to party, but to help one of their friends recover from a drug addiction. While they sit around, comforting her, the dog uncovers a blood-stained trap door under the rug, that leads down into a pit filled with animal carcasses and an evil book. One of the particularly bright kids opens up the book, bleeds on it, and then recites the ancient resurrection passage that is clearly marked "do not read". Of course you know what happens after that. What you don't know is just how indifferent it all seems. As limbs are hacked off and eyeballs stabbed with needles, the characters seem less involved with what's going on up on the screen than the audience is expected to be. Look, I'm not making a value judgement: if you get off on seeing people sadistically murdered, or even if you're terrified by it, fine, but can't filmmakers just come up with new ideas instead of retreading the same waters over and over and over again? I didn't enjoy this re-make, and if it's not going to be better than the original, why bother with it at all?

Silent Hill: Revelation
½

Let me start off with the following disclaimer: I am a fan of the Silent Hill video game franchise. In addition to the highly creative and frightening visuals, there's an aura of creeping dread that builds throughout the course of each game as it looms closer to it's climactic ending. Regardless of the respective plot, each game is about sinking further and further into the pits of personal hell. One can feel almost tainted after completing one of these games.

Silent Hill the film series is another matter. Both films try to pay lip service to the game's visuals, but they lack the emotional investment the games provoke. Adelaide Clemens plays Heather, a girl on the run with her father (Sean Bean). She thinks she's on the run because her dad killed a home invader, but actually they're trying to escape the people of the town of Silent Hill, who are trying to capture her and bring her back for some occult ceremony or something. Heather will every once in a while experience some weird hallucinations, like acid flashbacks or something, where walls melt away and people have sewn up holes for faces. When the townsfolk of Silent Hill kidnap her dad, it's up to her and her school friend Vincent (Kit Harington) to get him back, even if that means going to the forbidden town.

Silent Hill could've been better, and it could've been worse. It's the kind of movie video game detractors love to hate. Yes, there are some cool visuals, but the plot is stilted, and adds up to a lot of nothing. Not really scary by any definition, it's at least interesting to look at. The most disturbing thing about it is that it felt sort of like a "Twilight" film, or at least the romance aspect of it did. *Shudders* Now THAT'S horror...

The Master
The Master(2012)
½

Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson may be one of the most talented yet divisive film-makers of the 21rst century. The ambiguous nature of films like "There Will Be Blood" and now "The Master" leave a great many perplexed. Often compared to Stanley Kubrick (both enjoy a languid, methodic pacing and an aversion to quick pans and fast edits), P.T. Anderson probably draws a better comparison to Carl Theodor Dreyer, as both would rather focus on aspects of character development over traditional story-telling, and both are perfectly content to let an actor's face tell the story, as evidenced by Dreyer's "Passion of Joan of Arc" and also Anderson's The Master.

The Master opens with the story of Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a sailor with the navy in the south pacific during WWII. In freudian terms, Freddie is all id, a never-ending pursuer of the pleasure principle (for what is more stereotypically libidinous than a 1940s sailor, conjuring images of red-faced boys chasing women of ill repute down by the docks?). He's a manic depressive who borders on schizophrenic, and is believed to be suffering from what is known today as combat fatigue. While he's not terribly bright, he does display a unique talent for creating homemade hootch from just about any toxic household ingredient. In some cases, it serves him poorly (as when he "accidentally" poisons a migrant farm worker), in others, such as his first meeting with the Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), it serves him well. Dodd is throwing an elaborate party on a ship that Freddie happens to stow away on, and is saved only by Dodd's fascination with his homemade "elixir" (and Dodd's overwhelming sense that he knows Freddie from somewhere). Dodd isn't just a well-bred host of fancy parties, he's also, as he describes himself, "a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher". It's clear from the start this Lancaster Dodd fellow might not be anymore sound-minded than Freddie is. Dodd is the ego to Freddie's id: he's constructing a great analytical complex to discover and disseminate information leading to the betterment of humanity. His organization is large, and his followers are loyal (or are loyal in their own ways). Some believe him to be a crackpot, but serve him for whatever benefits they hope to receive from him. Deep down, Freddie isn't that convinced by Dodd's smoke and mirrors, yet he savagely attacks the non-believers who question Dodd's ramblings.

The Master has many pointed and obvious parallels to Scientology, the sci-fi religion created by L. Ron Hubbard, but the Master could be any god or godlike figurehead, when faith means to serve something blindly without understanding why. The relationship between master and pupil (both Seymour Hoffman and Phoenix deliver outstanding performances) is a little messy; it's full of fraud and deceit, yet there is a genuine comradery there that can't be denied. Shown in 70mm, P.T. Anderson wants you to right in the middle of the characters he's put up on the big screen. So much of the screen time (and screen space) is dedicated to faces and the space between them. People's faces with their emotions being displayed and the still moments that run between the events of lives. "The Master" is haunting and unforgettable, as are the characters it brings to life.

House at the End of the Street
½

House at the End of the Street, the latest PG 13 teen horror movie, feels like a cross between the "Twilight" saga and perhaps "Psycho" (not that kids are going to know what Psycho is). Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Shue star as a mother/daughter recently transplanted from Chicago to some backwood hick town. And when I say backwoods, I mean that literally, as the house they're renting is on the edge of a state park. Just over the hill and past a few trees lies the "House at the end of the street", or the place where 13 year-old Carrie Anne murdered both her parents before escaping off into the woods. Elissa (Lawrence) isn't too interested in the double murder ("People used to get shot on our street all the time"- she says), and would rather focus on playing the guitar and singing in a band. She goes to a party, meets a drunk girl (new BBFs!), and almost gets date raped by the jock that keeps making weird faces. Walking home, she's picked up by Ryan (Max Thieriot), brother of Carrie Anne and lone survivor of the double murder family. He's moved back to the old homestead and lives there all alone (where he watches sunsets and writes poetry, while brooding and probably pursing his lips all sexily or something). Around here it all devolves into some pseudo-romance movie where the two make aspirations to be the Bella/Edward "forbidden lovers" or something. Meanwhile, it turns out Carrie Anne might still be alive after all...

I'm sure there have been worse attempts at horror movies made, but House at the End of the Street still kind of feels like pandering. The twist ending might be lost on the twelve and thirteen year old girls who make up the target audience, and to anyone over the age of thirteen, you've probably seen it all before. Not very much fun, and kind of dumb, it's not worth the time or effort to watch it.

The Campaign
The Campaign(2012)

"The Campaign", the latest Will Ferrell comedy, is an uncharacteristic attempt at satire, with sights set on of all things, campaign finance. Meshing heady political satire with boob and fart jokes might seem an uneasy alliance, but this time Ferrell has the help of goofball Zach Galifianakis. Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a four-term senator from North Carolina who's running unopposed (in spite of his many scandals). Unopposed that is, until a pair of CEOs known as the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd) see an opportunity to put their own personal puppet in the office. The puppet in question is Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a hapless sap roped in by his wealthy father to be a patsy to these behind-the-scenes machinations. After dad hires a tough campaign manager (Dylan McDermott), Marty goes from creampuff to killer, and the campaign becomes a duel to see who can outwit and out-pander their opponent.

Will Ferrell plays a great dumb guy, but I think as an actor, he's just too likeable to play anyone who's truly evil in the movies. It's hard to laugh at someone who's malevolently/willfully dumb, and it's kind of hard to laugh at things which have been done by real life politicians at the expense of us, the american people (I lost interest in his George W. Bush impersonations for much the same reason). Ferrell's Cam Brady character is just kind of ugly and not enjoyable at all. The saving grace of the film is Galifianakis' character (based off a previously created character by Galifianakis, of a fictional twin brother named Seth Galifianakis). He's a weird cross between Truman Capote and Mr. Rogers, with perhaps a slight dusting of Richard Simmons thrown in for good measure. He and Ferrell mesh well together, but it's difficult to overcome the underlying ugliness. And when they try to jam in the boobs and farts, it feels like forced in appeasement. The Campaign is at best, a below-average Will Ferrell movie.

The Expendables 2
½

Sylvester Stallone and his band of geriatric mercenaries are back, and this time there are even more of them as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme join in the fun. The Expendables are recruited by Church (Bruce Willis) to escort the beautiful Maggie (Nan Yu) to the middle of a distant jungle to find a plane crash where the remains of a secret code are hidden. This code unlocks the secret one hundred billion tons of weapons grade plutonium that the Russians had hidden underground during the cold war. When the terrorists, led by the evil satanist "Vilain" (Van Damme), get their hands on the code, it's up to Stallone and co. to dish out the justice and bring the pain/bring the hammer down, etc. Needless to say, explosions follow.

While the first Expendables movie was a bit of nostalgic fun, the Expendables 2 is kind of a bore to sit through. The acting, is of course awful, but that's to be expected. What I wasn't expecting was just how little effort anyone involved in this movie seemed to be willing to invest into it. This is a phoned-in film if ever there was one. Phoned-in plot, phoned-in script, phoned-in cameos, groan-inducing one liners... it adds up to a big let down from the previous film (which isn't saying much). Look, I know the Chuck Norris mythos, but the reality is, he's a frail, little old man with bad dye jobs and the idea of his bad-assery has been greatly exaggerated. There seems to be a great desire by the fans for this movie to be good. They need it to be good and they somehow will themselves into believing they are enjoying it. I can't give any good will to something so obviously lazy. This is easily one of the worst movies of the year that I've seen so far.

The Dark Knight Rises
½

The much-anticipated conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy faces some perhaps unrealistically high expectations, but director Christopher Nolan doesn't seem as concerned with topping "The Dark Knight" as he does with creating a great film. Nolan is best known for the recent Batman movies, but other films like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception are great in their own right, garnering him praise with fans and critics alike (what I'm saying is, as a director, the man knows how to tell a great tale). If his films have one thing in common, it's their unique blend of serious drama and off-the-wall fantasy. Nolan picks up where a director like Terry Gilliam leaves off: he injects a bizarre piece of science fiction into a plausible (at least in movie terms) setting and uses logic to determine the course of the story. I'm not saying a billionaire who dresses like a bat is necessarily logical in the real world, but in the confines of the big screen, it fits the logic of it's own universe. It's a different kind of fantasy that is wholly unique to Christopher Nolan movies.

It's been eight years since the events of "The Dark Knight" took place, and thanks to the "Dent act" (named for the late Harvey Dent), most of Gotham's crime has been eliminated. Well, most but not all. It seems there is a cat burglar making her way up through Gotham's upper class. She even steals Bruce Wayne's mother's pearls. Wayne (who we all know is actually Batman) takes offense at this theft and decides to come out of the self-imposed exile he's been living in since the death of Rachel Dawes, the love of his life. Meanwhile, a new villain by the name of Bane is stirring beneath the streets of Gotham, building an army and targeting Wayne enterprises in the process. While Bruce Wayne wants to continue hiding from his past, it seems his past won't let him, and he must once again don the bat suit in order to defeat those who would conspire against him and the city he protects.

There are no over-the-top villains like Heath Ledger's Joker this time, but much of The Dark Knight Rises is over-the-top in it's own way. Bane commits acts the Joker could only dream of, and the way the story lays itself out is quite well executed. Unlike previous superhero movies, Batman's problems aren't laid out all neat with simple cause and effect. There is a lot of darkness floating behind Bruce Wayne's eyes, he's a man who's emotionally crippled, and makes decisions based upon his emotional disfunctions. His nemesis Bane might be even more stunted, he's a man who was literally born in a pit of darkness and claims he didn't see the light of day until he was well into adulthood. It's a case of two dark souls battling to see whose will is stronger, and whose psychosis will rule the day. As the final installment of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, it's a sincere farewell to the world of the Batman.

Brave
Brave(2012)

"Brave" is a very nice and fun but ultimately forgettable cartoon, and in the long line of Pixar home runs, it's something of a base hit. Somewhere in medieval Scotland, there existed a red-headed princess named Merida (Kelly Macdonald) whose skill with the bow and arrow is matched only by her skill at displeasing her mother, the queen (Emma Thompson). While Merida only wants to live her own life, the queen insists she marries one of three noble suitors (all of whom are kind of on the geeky side) in order to better preserve the kingdom and maintain alliances. One day, Merida stumbles upon a little cottage that houses tons of bear-related wood carvings as well as a little wood carver who may or may not be a witch (wink wink). Merida buys a spell from the wood carver to "change" her mother which winds up changing her mother way more than she expected. Can Merida save her mother before the second sunrise?

As I said at the beginning, this isn't one of Pixar's strongest movies, but because it's a Pixar movie, maybe it's judged a little more harshly than similar cartoons of this nature. There isn't really much "wow" factor to this film, either in storyline or animation, there isn't anything that's going to blow the viewer away, but maybe we don't have to get blown away everytime we go to the movies. Sometimes we can go and enjoy a nice fairy tale. "Brave" keeps it simple, nice and pleasant, and that's fine.

The Amazing Spider-Man
½

It was just ten years ago horror film director Sam Raimi set the superhero movie world on fire with his exciting new vision of the Spider-man character. As played by Tobey Maguire, Spider-man was filled with wonder and amazement at his newfound powers, and the special effects were top notch, introducing a web-swinging Spider-man we'd never seen before. Now here we are in 2012, one of the most super-hero movie-filled summers ever, and the Spider-man reboot is sandwiched inbetween the releases of "The Avengers" and the new Batman film (two films that might go down in the history books as the highest grossing superhero films ever).

Though the odds may not be in The Amazing Spider-man's favor, it does have a few things going for it. For one, director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) knows how to wrench the pathos from the comic book page, even while not always staying true to the comic book origin story. Take for example (SPOILER ALERT), the death of Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). The "spider-man as a celebrity" angle from the comics (and 2002 movie) has been completely forgone, but the results are no less devastating and final. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is told by his uncle that it is his obligation to always do the right thing. When Peter turns the other way during some petty crime, he learns the hard truth of his uncle's lesson. Another thing this Spider-man has going for it is its amazing cast. Martin Sheen and Sally Field as a cooler, hipper aunt May and uncle Ben, Emma Stone as the sexy and always mini-skirted Gwen Stacy (Spidey's love interest this time, rather than MJ), Denis Leary as her police chief father, and Rhys Ifans as the off-kilter Dr. Connors, whose work with mutating human DNA, crossing it with lizard DNA so that he might be able to re-generate his lost arm, is the focus of the film's storyline. Of course we can't forget Garfield, whose Peter Parker is a little bit creepy, and a little bit flawed. He doesn't mind being dishonest, and when presented with an opportunity to advance himself, he makes full use of it. His Spider-man is a wise-cracking punk of a superhero, always so full of self-confidence until suddenly he isn't (much like any teen superhero might be). As someone who had been persecuted and picked on and suddenly gets almost god-like powers, Parker is giddy with over-confidence. His abilities are so great, he can't help gloating as he captures car thieves with such ease, or shows up the school bully in a basketball game.

Spider-man the reboot moves at a brisker pace than the previous series and perhaps it's a sign of good things to come. I already find it more enjoyable than half of "The Avengers" franchise movies (cough cough-ahem Thor, cough Captain America ahem cough).

Ted
Ted(2012)

John (Mark Wahlberg) is a guy trying to balance his life between his long-suffering girlfriend (Mila Kunis) and his best friend (director Seth MacFarlane), a weed-smoking, foul-mouthed unemployed loser. Sounds like many other similar movies, right? The twist here is that the best friend is actually his childhood teddy bear. It seems back in 1985, when John was just a kid, he made a magical christmas wish that his teddy bear could be his real life best friend, and then some sort of christmas miracle happened and his teddy bear came to life. Ted then becomes a sort of media sensation (as you might well expect, since it's not everyday an inanimate object comes to life). But, as the movie says, much like Corey Feldman or Justin Bieber, no matter how much people love you, one day they just get sick of you, and so it goes for Ted. Many years pass, and now Ted is the elephant in the room, making Lori (Kunis) uncomfortable with his hookers and nonstop pot smoking. Oblivious to his girlfriend's feelings, John continues to live his single guy lifestyle, using Ted as his permanent crutch through life.

It's a well worn storyline, and the "twist" is patently ridiculous, but "Ted" does have it's moments. Hysterical cameos by big (and not so big) stars, as well as some Family Guy-like reference comedy stand out in my mind. Needless to say, it's crude and vulgar (and not in a particularly clever way either), but that's par for the course nowadays. Mark Wahlberg isn't necessarily known for comedy, his other comedy film ("The Other Guys") is along the lines of Ted, something quite enjoyable but nothing particularly special. Anyway, I laughed, and what's a comedy suppposed to do other than make you do that? This is Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's first forray into film direction (and live action) and I'm not convinced he can do any better than this. Time will tell if this is the start of something bigger or it's just the best that he's capable of.

The Sword and the Sorcerer

In an ancient land, a pillaging tyrant awakens an ancient sorcerer/demon and uses his powers to take over a kingdom. He manages to kill all but one of the royal family. The son, Talon escapes, using his father's triple-bladed sword to defeat his would-be captors. Years later, Talon is leading a band of mercenaries across the land when he's caught up in a rebellion against his family's murderer. It's a standard enough plot for one of these "sword and sorcerery" type films from the eighties (ie. "Conan the Barbarian", "The Beastmaster", etc), but it's goofily effective. The main character Talon (as portrayed by Lee Horsley) is kind of a goofy charmer, and the whole thing feels like a spirited throwback to the Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn swashbucklers of old. Granted, the special effects are of the low budget variety, as are some of the actor's performances, but it's one of those films from my childhood that still holds some enjoyment and fun.

Special
Special(2006)

What happens when a parking meter cop with low self-esteem gets super powers? What if he just believes he has super powers even though they're just hallucinations? It's kind of a funny premise, and with a target as big as the modern pharmaceutical industry, you think it'd be rife with wicked satire, but "Special" is more content to be a psychological study of an insecure man on the verge of madness. Les (Michael Rapaport) is a mild-mannered loser who signs up for an experimental new drug designed to boost self-confidence. The drug works wonders for most in the test group, but for Les, a man obsessed with comic books and super heroes, it gives him the illusion he's garnered some new and unique super powers of his own, which he, of course, must use to combat evil wherever he may find it (usually at the local convenience store). The financial backers of this new wonder drug find out about Les' super hero adventuring, mainly due to him wearing their logo on the back of his homemade superhero suit, and are displeased to see some nut scaring off the pharmaceutical company they were hoping to sell it to, and so they begin to try and hush him up (which only serves to fuel his paranoia). As I said, it's a movie detailing a man's descent into madness, and while is has moments of comedy, it's very dark to be sure. Filmed on an obviously tight budget, the filmmakers make the most of what money they have to use. The movie really isn't bad, that is, until the final act, where they kind of lose focus (and steam). The ending is a bit of a mess. Still, it's not a bad attempt at a movie.

An Education
An Education(2009)
½

Based on the real life story of writer Lynn Barber, "An Education" tells the story of a 16 year old school girl who is seduced into a jetset lifestyle by a wealthy older man. The older man (Peter Sarsgaard) claims to be in his late 20s, but is more likely in his late 30s. He takes her to fancy restaurants, classical music concerts and fancy art auctions, all things her middle class, stick-in-the-mud parents (Alfred Molina, Cara Seymour) would never do with her. When news of her engagement to the older man reaches her school, her chances of entering Oxford (her, or should I say, her parents life long goal for her) are endangered, and the girl must choose between a boring life and an exciting one. Why would this character work so hard all her life for a goal if she wasn't really interested in pursuing it? She screams at her teacher and principal that she doesn't want to waste any more of her life studying boring dead languages only so she might earn a degree and go into some boring field of work that she might waste away in it until she dies. It's a rather emphatic statement, and one that makes almost no sense when the big "change-of-heart" ending comes about. At best, she's a directionless waif who bases her life choices on what others tell her to do, at worst, she turns out to be the worst kind of insipid girl (completely contradictory to what the film describes her character as) who makes life choices based on a self-acknowledged phony romance. That a girl portrayed as such a strong character for the majority of the movie should have a complete character breakdown in the final act does not inspire me or make me feel enlightened. Real life events were changed for dramatic effect, but this dramatic effect is counter to the character established. Why? The change serves no real purpose to the story, other than to weaken it. In fact, An Education lacks overall, never rising above the storyline that's been done before (a film set in the sixties that's actually a throwback to similar films from the sixties: "Georgie Girl", etc.). Uninspiring.

In the Heat of the Night

Sidney Poitier stars as Virgil Tibbs, a detective from up north (Philadelphia) who gets stuck in the middle of a murder investigation in small town Sparta, Mississippi (actually, the movie was filmed in Sparta, Il, not too far from here). The year is 1967, and Mississippi is a hotbed of racism. The sheriff of Sparta, a man by the name of Gillespie (Rod Steiger) is a bit more pragmatic than his cartoonishly one-dimensional subordinates. While racism is pretty ingrained from birth, it's clear no one in this town has ever met anyone quite like Tibbs, a man who's well-dressed and better educated than any of them. The murder mystery is pretty engaging, but it's the dynamic interaction between Tibbs and the townsfolk, and in particular with Sheriff Gillespie that makes the movie. Neither man is a villain or a saint, but by the end both learn to have a little respect for the each other. It's a microcosm of racism's history and it's future, where we were and where we'd like to be.

Prometheus
Prometheus(2012)
½

It wasn't until I was driving home from the screening of "Prometheus" that I actually decided whether or not I liked it. I had decided I had. Why? From discussing it afterwards with the people I'd seen it with up to the drive home, I hadn't stopped thinking about it. Any film that inspires you to think so much about it afterwards must be a good film (I've seen many bad movies in my life and have never put another moment's thought into them since). There was much debate at the end of Prometheus, over the errors in logic and the suspension of disbelief, what motivated certain characters to do certain things, and why some things even happened at all. My thoughts on that drive home were that the promises of Prometheus were not fulfilled and my expectations were not met, and that that was my problem, not the film's. Ridley Scott is no Stanley Kubrick (although there are some kubrickesque scenes in the film) and Prometheus is no 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are similar themes to both films, such as where we come from (are our origins extra-terrestrial in nature?), and both films are fascinated by the mysteries of space, but Prometheus at it's heart is a sci-fi action thriller on par with the Aliens franchise (or even the more modern "Serenity").

Millions of years ago, a bald human-like creature (looks vaguely like those Easter Island statues or perhaps even ancient greek statues) dies on the edge of a waterfall, his body breaking down to a molecular level. It is suggested by scientists in the year 2089 that this creature from another world was the origin of life on earth. These two scientists (Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green) are also the first to piece together a star map, left to us by the ancient aliens in the form of cave paintings spread out across the globe, that point to a particular planetary system where life might possibly exist. The scientists inspire billionaire Peter Weyland to build the space ship Prometheus, a deep space research ship, replete with an artificially intelligent android (an excellently "HAL"-like Michael Fassbender), stasis chambers that allow the crew to enter into suspended animation, and an automated surgery table that performs any surgery you program into it. Most of the crew are kept in the dark about the nature of the mission, except for the captain (Charlize Theron) who thinks it's fool-hardy and doesn't want anything to do with it. It's only when the ship arrives, that the crew finds out what it's gotten itself in for, only by then it's too late.

If it had been a first time director making this film, rather than Ridley Scott (one of the biggest names in sci-fi and the maker of Alien and Blade Runner), I'm sure they would've been cut a lot more slack, but Scott's been around in the business way too long to think he can get away with something that feels a little half-witted. Prometheus is silly, serious, action-packed, ponderously studious and simultaneously smart and dumb; it's a multiple personality film that may not be brilliant, but it most certainly is entertaining. There are some stand out performances and some amazing visuals, but while it may not necessarily insult viewers' intelligence, it's not breaking any new ground in the world of science fiction.

Top Hat
Top Hat(1935)

"Heaven, I'm in heaven". The fourth film to pair up legendary duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, "Top Hat" features some legendary songs by Irving Berlin ("Top Hat, White Tie and Tails", and "Cheek to Cheek") and some very charming dance sequences by the two stars. When Horace and Madge (Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick) seek to set up their two friends on a date, the woman, Dale (Rogers) mistakes Jerry (Astaire) for Madge's husband, Horace. As Jerry woos Dale, she can only resist as a good friend should when said friend's husband is making plays for her. Dale's friend, Alberto Beddini is a fashion designer with eyes on his model, but she doesn't take him seriously. Then there's Bates, the butler of Horace who always refers to himself as a small group ("we will take your hat for you, sir") and lives to antagonize his boss. It's a light romantic comedy to be sure, but between all the nonsense there's some amazing dance numbers. There's something so familiar to the Astaire/Rogers asthetic that it may as well be ingrained in our collective subconscious. It is elegance and class personified, a depression-escaping fantasy to be sure, but it is beauty and art, both basic and complex. That these two still resonate so deeply within our hearts and minds, nearly eighty years later, is a testament to just how great they really were.

The Artist
The Artist(2011)

"Out with the old, in with the new". It's what they said about silent films when the advent of "talkies" proved to be more than just a passing fad. It's what they said about many of those silent age actors too, who didn't have a voice for film, and who were soon replaced by other faces and names. Of course new isn't necessarily always better. At least that's what George Valentin (Jean Dujardin in an academy award winning performance) would say. When shown a film clip of a talkie for the first time, he scoffs at it's ridiculousness: where is the artistry? Valentin is an enormously successful silent film star who has just about the whole world wrapped around his finger, he's charismatic, dashing, without guile; his star power radiates like a super nova. Leaving one of his sold out movie premieres, he bumps into a young woman by the name of Peppy Miller (Bà (C)rà (C)nice Bejo), who takes an ackward situation and turns it into a paparazzi moment, schmoozing for the cameras. It's all Valentin can do to keep up with her. "Who's That Girl?" reads the Variety page headlines. Peppy takes a copy with her to a movie audition, determined to make sure the producers know. Of course Valentin runs into her again, as fate must seemingly decree, and he insists she try out for a part in his movie.

The rise of one star and the fall of another has been done many times in hollywood, A Star is Born, All About Eve, Singin' in the Rain (even some of those Busby Berkeley musicals) have all shared similar themes, but The Artist is only marginally about that. How about the actual artist himself? The man who decrees he'd rather fail by his own creation than succeed pandering to some imagined audience. Artists of the silent screen like Buster Keaton or Douglas Fairbanks (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Dujardin's Valentin character, in both appearance and mannerisms) saw their creativity shackled as sound became the standard and their unique gifts were constrained to studio pigeon holes. In "The Artist", Valentin makes a film of unique beauty, financed by his own money, and ignored by a public still reeling from the stock market crash of 1929. His failure is not from lack of anything, save timing. But The Artist is only marginally about that too. To get to the heart of the matter, The Artist is really and simply about love. Pride makes it difficult to surrender sometimes. Sometimes we'd rather die than admit defeat at an erroneous cause. But what about the man who doesn't surrender to love? The man who is too afraid to let someone see the "real" him? More than anything, Valentin spends the movie running away from love and the surrender he must give to it.

It's no surprise "The Artist" won five oscars (Best Costume Design, Best Directing, Best Original Score, Best Lead Actor, and Best Film of the Year), it's production is nearly flawless from one end to the other. Lead actor Jean Dujardin is positively mesmerizing as Valentin and does what few contemporary actors could achieve, his movements on the screen are like that of a ballet dancer's. The director, Michel Hazanavicius, crafts a painstakingly accurate tribute to films not just of the silent era but of the golden age of film in general. With black and white, it's all shadows and light for cinematographers, with Hazanavicius, it's all about the staircase (so many scenes revolve around staircases in this movie, watch and see if you don't notice this). It's the kind of film that will continue to stand out in one's memory years after seeing it, I'm sure. Above all, it's sweetly old-fashioned and poignant, something very rare for a film these days. Simply put, it's beautiful.

Marvel's The Avengers
½

The culmination of four years' worth of superhero movies, "The Avengers" unites Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk as they defend the earth from an alien invasion (led by the villain from the Thor movie, Loki). The team is assembled by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D., who are some sort of superhero homeland security department. New to this superhero business are Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), two agents who don't really have any powers other than being super talented at what they do. The plot is, as always, pretty simple: Loki (from the aforementioned Thor movie) has acquired the tesseract (a cosmic cube lost by the Red Skull in the Captain America movie), and is using the power to summon an invasion of Chitauri to take over the earth, which he will then rule over. It naturally falls to Earth's Mightiest Heroes to defeat them if they can.

If this were all there was to The Avengers, it would probably still be better than your average, run-of-the-mill action hero movie. But director Joss Whedon underlines the whole thing with a comedic tone that extends beyond giving his characters a few witty one liners. Inbetween the Hulk-smashing explosions there are genuine LOL moments that served to break up the tense action scenes. Robert Downey Jr. has of course, already established his Tony Stark role in two previous Iron Man movies, and here the character bristles with cocky self-assuredness even in the midst of Asgardian Gods and time-traveling super soldiers. But giving Downey Jr. a run for his money in terms of performance is Mark Ruffalo's Dr. Banner. Replacing Edward Norton from "The Incredible Hulk", Ruffalo's angry green monster is a horrifying force even amongst the super-powered. At one point in the film, he tells onlookers "you wanna know how I control (the monster)? I'm always angry!" and then "hulks" up into the thing that is pure rage. It's an interesting spin that keeps Banner's and the Hulk's true nature kind of mysterious. Mysterious and well, comic-book-y. The Avengers feels about as close to a marvel comic as any film that's ever been made. Crazy pseudo science, witty banter, and breath-taking action sequences, it's all here. Those looking for Kierkegaard or Proust should look elsewhere, cause what we have here is the new standard for Marvel comic book movies.

Z
Z(1969)

"Z" is a film of the sixties, even more so perhaps than "Woodstock". The film shows what the effects of public protest can have on the established government, in particular, the paranoid, thug-like behavior of bullies when threatened. "Z" stands for "he lives", and the "he" in this case is The Deputy, or The Doctor, a dynamic leader of the leftwing party. He's coming to town to give a speech on nuclear disarmament and the right wing Junta is conspiring to shut him up. They do so with the help of hired goons wielding truncheons who disrupt the meeting, first by inciting the crowd to riot, then by beating up anyone who even looks like The Deputy. The police are there for crowd control, but they stand by stone-faced as blood is spilled. Only two newspaper reporters and an investigating magistrate are interested in getting to the truth of what happened at the rally, everyone else seems to only want to cover it up. As I said before, this is a film of the sixties, where the student protestor's paranoia was usually justified, and those in power were terrified to the point of doing cowardly and unspeakable acts. Where long hair and rock-n-roll was not just a matter of taste but a threat to the very existence of their way of life. Under these conditions of butting heads and idealogies, where one side pushes, and the other side must push back, there will be victims of injustice. Z is a film about that injustice and it makes no bones about it.

42nd Street
42nd Street(1933)
½

Keeler, Buy Kibbee, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers, Ned Sparks, Dick Powell
Released the same year as "Gold Diggers of 1933", "42nd Street" also features many of the same cast (Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler) and the same choreographer (Busby Berkeley, famous for his overhead shots of geometrically arranged chorus dancers). The plot too, is sort of similar. In it, we see the trials and tribulations of producing a broadway musical, from funding and casting to the opening night, and all the hair-pulling frustration that comes with it. Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is the greener than green wannabe actress who shows up for the audition and is tricked into walking in on Billy's (Dick Powell) dressing room (also, Billy plays what is called "the juvenile lead", whatever that is). While it's a dirty trick, it winds up paying off for Peggy as she soon makes friends with Billy and the rest of the stars of the production. The closing number is pretty great, and the rest of the movie is too, with it's self-deprecating humor and depression era sensibilities. It's funny, but Ruby Keeler has the mannerisms of someone's grandma, but you gotta figure even grandmas were young once upon a time, back in the days when grandpas got excited at a peak at a pretty girl's knee.

The Big Sky
The Big Sky(1952)
½

Howard Hawks' "The Big Sky" could be seen as the spiritual successor to "Red River", which he made four years earlier. Both are stories of the American west, of adventure and brotherhood, and the excitement of living a life of freedom in the wild. But where Red River was more a battle of wills, Big Sky is a testament to brotherly love. In it, two frontiersmen, Jim and Boone (Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin) are fast friends seeking adventure. They find it in the form of uncle Zeb Calloway (Arthur Hunnicutt, in an oscar-nominated performance) who knows of some french traders about to travel up the Missouri river in a flat bottom boat to do some fur trading. The "big" fur-trading company in those parts has so far met with little success with the hostile indians, but this french company has a secret ace-in-the-hole in the form of "Teal Eye" (Elizabeth Threatt), a blackfoot princess whose father will surely reward them handsomely for returning her home safely. That is, if they survive their journey.

Jim and Boone live out under the open sky. They feel uncomfortable in the big city and comment on how "city men walk" and how the women are cinched up in their dresses like sacks that've been tied up too tight. There is a particular irony to Boone, who hates injuns (they killed his brother, and he carries the scalp of the one who did it, according to his uncle), yet there burns within him the desire to live as they do, simply and off the land. The indians in Big Sky are treated not as "the bad guys" as they so often were in films from this period, but as individuals and individual tribes, some good, some bad. Probably the most fair treatment native Americans had received in the movies at the time. But more than anything, it's the journey upriver that features so heavily in this film. It's a journey fraught with indians, rushing waters, rattlesnakes, fires, bullets and arrows... and it's quite a satisfying journey at that.

The Lady From Shanghai
½

Orson Welles stars in and directs this tale of sharks in the water, cannibalizing one another in a bloody frenzy. Actually, the sharks are human in nature and Michael (Welles) or "Black Irish" as he is also known, is stuck observing them in all their horrific glory. When Michael defends a beautiful blonde (Rita Hayworth) from being mugged in the park, she gets her wealthy husband, famed lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) to hire him to work on their yacht. While Bannister at first glance appears to be a bit of a milquetoast, as things progress, we see he's more conniving than he appears. "You're quite a tough guy" he says of Black Irish, who's pretty good with his fists, but as we find out, Bannister's bank role makes him a "tough guy" too. Things are very convenient for Michael on this yacht, the husband seemingly turns a blind eye to the flirtations of his wife with the new ships hand. When Bannister's partner arrives to join the vacationers, he propositions Michael with some sort of "foolproof" insurance scam that seems anything but. Director Orson Welles develops a taught little noir here, but it's nothing extraordinary to get worked up about. Everett Sloane gives a great performance, but the whole thing doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Le Notti di Cabiria (Nights of Cabiria)

Giulietta Masina ("La strada") is absolutely devastating in her role as the titular Cabiria in "Nights of Cabiria" (and when I say devastating, I mean it only in the best sense). Cabiria is quite a character to say the least. A prostitute who puts on a big loud and tough exterior yet is almost fatally naive when it comes to love. In an opening scene, her boyfriend robs her and pushes her in the river to drown. She tries to play it off as an accident, a lover's tiff, but her friends know better. All of her mannerisms suggest someone who's putting on an act, and it doesn't feel as if we're ever allowed to see the "real" Cabiria. Well, almost. Towards the end of the film, we're shown (quite intentionally by director Federico Fellini) the true motivations of certain characters. It's this foreshadowing, allowing the audience in on things, that makes it so heartbreaking when Cabiria finally catches on. Cabiria is all the innocence of the world that we must so desperately cling to, in order to preserve even the slightest remainder of it. Giulietta Masina was married to Fellini for many years and it's through her we see his unique world view focused. Nights of Cabiria features many Fellini signatures: the robust yet voluptious woman, the skeletal structure silhouetted against the sky, and the seemingly random parade of fools, which in Cabiria's world, signals the final triumph of innocence over cynicism: that even in the darkest hour, we can be swayed to smile by the music of children, if it is truly in our nature to do so.

The Reckless Moment
½

The last of director Max Ophà 1/4ls' Hollywood films, The Reckless Moment doesn't necessarily distinguish itself other than Joan Bennett's intense performance. It's actually a rather unconventional film noir starring Bennett as the well-to-do mother of a teenage daughter who's gotten herself mixed up with the wrong sort of man. The mother goes to confront this man and he offers to stop seeing the girl in exchange for a payoff. When he comes snooping around late one night, the daughter rejects him physically, and the man winds up dead. Desperate to keep her daughter out of trouble, the mother covers up the any evidence the dead man was ever there and and dumps his body off somewhere else. Soon afterward, a blackmailer (James Mason) enters the picture, threatening to expose the girl's love letters to the deceased man if he's not given $5000.

In spite of a somewhat ridiculous storyline, Bennett shines as the no-nonsense, unbending woman who fights to protect the cozy home she's created. The father is completely out of the picture, of course, and it's up to the strong mother figure to keep this structure of civility from crashing down around their ears. James Mason as the charming villain meets the only end he can possibly meet within the film's circumstances. It's a shame for such a strong woman to have to go without the love of a man. Duty tells her to remain faithful to the disembodied voice over the telephone, rather than run off with the charming and dangerously foreign blackmailer, but standards and morals of the 1940s dictates this more forcibly than the heart does.

The Black Cat

"The Black Cat" was the first film to pair the legendary stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and at just 65 minutes in length, it packs quite a bit of oddness into it's short running time. A young couple (David Manners and Julie Bishop) are honeymooning in Hungary (of all places). Traveling by train, they share a compartment with Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi), a psychiatrist on his way to visit an old friend. This old friend, Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff) is an architect who has built a futuristic mansion on top of an old battlefield/graveyard. Poelzig betrayed Dr. Werdegast during WWI, and Werdegast spent several years in a prison there (he was betrayed possibly so Poelzig could steal his wife away), and now returning, Werdegast swears revenge. Throw some satanism into the works and there you have it. Karloff's Hjalmar Poelzig is quite a unique and sinister character, and Lugosi's doctor, with his bizarre cat phobia (whenever he sees a cat, he must either try to murder it or throw his hands over his eyes in terror) is equally odd. While the credits might acknowledge Edgar Allen Poe's original story, there is little here to resemble it. What we have is a strange and well, unique contribution to the horror genre of the 1930s.

Make Way for Tomorrow

The love story. The "chick flick". The romance. Hollywood's been churning them out for as long as there have been movies. Watching young love blossom from gentle flirting to steamy passion is almost prerequisite for all but the most jaded heart. "Make Way for Tomorrow" looks at the love story through a unique perspective. Everyone's familiar with the well worn adage of young love, but how many of us think about the love a couple still feels for one another fifty years down the road?

The Cooper family seems close-knit and doting on their elderly parents, at least until ma and pa announce the bank is foreclosing on their home and they're about to be thrown out. The kids have many excuses why the parents can't come live with them, but after much hemming and hawing they finallly arrive at an amicable solution (for the kids, that is): mother will stay with brother George and father will stay with sister Cora (that is, until further arrangements can be made). Of course, an already stressful situation only gets more strained as time passes, with the childrens' respective spouses feeling put upon to care for these elderly in-laws who are nothing but in the way all the time. It's the mother who seems to cause the most grief to her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, no matter how she bends to accommodate them, there just isn't enough room in the house for someone who isn't really wanted.

We see the kids' perspective, it can't be easy having someone feeble who's always 'there', cramping your style and embarrassing you in front of your bridge meeting. They know they should be more considerate of their parents, and they try, but they also have their own lives to lead and the situation they've been put into just isn't fair, darn it. But we also see things from the parents point of view, as their whole world becomes lost to them. Being pulled apart after fifty years of marriage... The last act of the film, when the old couple is reunited, gives a glimpse of just how much they really love and care for one another, and even in spite of circumstances, can enjoy one another's company for perhaps the last time. Even having said all this, this movie isn't some great melodrama of heartbreak. It's a story being told honestly. It's director, Leo McCarey, often considered "Make Way for Tomorrow" to be his best film. It is, at the very least, an arguable opinion.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot)

Writer, director and actor Jacques Tati invites us to glimpse into his strange little world in "Mr. Hulot's Holiday", a film that paved the way for comedians like Mr. Bean's Rowan Atkinson. Mr. Hulot's Holiday is slightly less absurdist than later Tati fare like "Mon Oncle", but there are times when the film teeters just on the brink of the unreal, and could pass for some sort of fever dream. The plot, if it exists at all, is quite simple: Mr. Hulot goes to a summer beach resort and mingles with the other tourists. Naturally, the film winds up being a series of vignettes sharing only the beach resort and Tati himself as the common denominators. Mr. Hulot could be described as "blissfully unaware" by his friends and admirers (which includes the young blonde woman Martine, who's completely bored by the intellectuals following her around and utterly charmed by Hulot's bizarre antics) and a "menace to society" by those he annoys (and there are plenty of those running around the resort as well). Tati gets the little things right, he shows an eye for details we all know subconsciously but rarely acknowledge in our day to day lives. It's in the way Tati is able to capture the distant memories of some collective past. Hulot's holiday is over all too quickly.

Black Narcissus

Nuns on a mountain? Heck yes! Glorious technicolor mountains (colored in with pastel chalks, according to IMDB) where a veritable fortress hides in the Himalayas. The sisters are sent there to administer medicine to the local population (although the local population is highly superstitious of them). The only friend they have waiting there for them is Mr. Dean (David Farrar), assistant to the General. Ironically, this "palace" was originally built to house the original General's many wives (and now it houses the brides of Christ). It's not long before the isolation begins playing at the minds of the nuns and they begin to have doubts of faith.

The technicolor illusions created in this film were said to be inspired by the dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, and the amazingly vivid and colorful backdrops are almost worth the price of admission alone. The film is practically a painting come to life. The story of the nuns is amusing and sometimes frightening and directed with a real flair by writers/directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It is deservedly one of the top films of it's decade.

Foreign Correspondent
½

Alfred Hitchcock's tale of foreign intrigue and reversible windmills centers around John Jones (Joel McCrea), a maverick crime reporter whose editor feels he would be perfect to cover the burgeoning rumours of war echoing around Europe (for, he reasons, what is happening in Europe if not a crime?). Jones fits the image of the loud-mouthed American to a tee, sticking his foot into it at every wrong opportunity, but, having been a crime reporter, he knows a frame up when he sees one. Arriving in Europe, he first attends a luncheon for the Dutch diplomat Van Meer (Albert Bassermann), who is to give a speech for the Universal Peace Party (which is headed by a man named Fisher and his daughter, Carol). Later, when Van Meer is very publicly shot, Jones and the daughter team up with fellow reporter ffoliott (George Sanders) to chase down the assassin.

There are some very suspenseful set pieces in the film, one of which takes place in a windmill, and another onboard a transcontinental flight. Both could be considered Hitchcock's 'signature' on the film, they are unmistakeably 'Hitchcockian'. However, it's the performances in the film, with McCrea's brashness and Sanders' suaveness, and even the scene-stealing performance of Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle from "Miracle on 34th Street") as a dangerous hitman, that make this film really great. All the espionage is wrapped up with a rousing call to defend the last bastion of liberty as the world pulls inexorably towards self-destruction. Every element of this film is masterfully done, and it is so much more than just a suspense film, the only way it could've lost the academy award in 1941 was to another Hitchcock film released the same year (that being "Rebecca"). If I had one complaint, it's that Alfred Newman's film score doesn't always jibe with what's taking place onscreen. It's a small complaint for a great film.

The Hunger Games

"The Hunger Games" (for those of you who don't know) is, like Harry Potter or Twilight, a book (or series of books) aimed at young adults which has been made into an extraordinarily profitable film. While films like this are typically geared towards the adolescent fans of the books, it's always interesting for the outsider (mainly me) to see if a coherent (or even watchable for that matter) film can be made from the source material. The film "The Hunger Games" definitely has it's quirks, the very idea of a 'hunger games' seems like it would be counter-productive to any fascist regime's goals, but overall, it's a surprisingly entertaining bit of B-movie sci-fi.

The story revolves around a girl named Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who has volunteered to take her sister's place in the Hunger Games after her sister wins the draft lottery to represent their district (there are 12 districts and each one picks one boy and one girl to represent them). At the Hunger Games, these kids will fight to the death, and the winner will be crowned the victor of the hunger games and will be some sort of a hero or something I guess. There have been seventy four of these hunger games, which began as some sort of penance or tribute the 12 districts must show after some sort of failed rebellion (or something). I'm not really sure, the point is, the kids all fight. Katniss is an expert tracker and bow hunter and is picked as an odds on early favorite. The male counterpart from her district (Josh Hutcherson), may not have her outdoors savvy, but he learns to use the media to garner favor. You see, the Hunger Games are as much about winning fans from the upper classes as they are about surviving and killing. The more support you get from rich patrons, the better your chances of survival will become. It's sort of like 'American Idol' meets 'Deathrace 2000'.

While there is a lot of fun in The Hunger Games, and a lot to root for, the overall package isn't very well developed. The film draws heavily from Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and it's dystopian society, but it lacks impetus. A seventy five year old tradition of murder and suicide has to be kept going by something other than fear and intimidation. The people participating have to actually believe in it, or else it's doomed from the get go. There is some very brief lip service paid to the notion that the hunger games are a source of pride for the participating districts, but really all that's shown onscreen is public dissent. Using these games as a means of quelling the masses is pretty ineffective both in conception and in execution. Really, why are the hunger games accepted for 75 years? Why aren't the people in power, with their godlike technological power more sympathetic to the demands of the people who produce their raw materials? How can they be so blithely unaware their master plan is so ineffectual? Maybe I'm putting too much thought into something that's meant only as disposeable entertainment (both the movie and the plot device within). As I said before, the film was entertaining (albeit a little cheesy), but as a mirror held up to society's evils, it's a bit under-developed and perhaps even a little naive.

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas
½

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas has a feel similar to that of Jacques Tati's "Mon oncle", in the way it looks at contemporary society and social interactions. Peter Sellers plays Harold, a man in his late 30s who seems to have little say in his own life. His longtime girlfriend (Joyce Van Patton) doesn't seem to understand him, or misinterprets what he says. Her only concern is when they will get married and if they will be able to hire the "twin cantors" to perform at the ceremony. Harold's brother, Herbie (David Arkin) is a free-spirited hippy who, as his horrified jewish mother exclaims in one scene, wears "his indian suit to a funeral" (a literal indian suit, replete with a feather in his hair and paint on his face). Herbie's friend Nancy (Leigh Taylor-Young) seems to interest Harold a great deal more, and he brings her home to sleep on the couch one night when she's out on the street. In thanks, she bakes him some "special" brownies and leaves them on his kitchen counter. Later, Harold, his parents and his fiance will all partake of the brownies and get crazy. The pot brownies have a particular effect on Harold as he loses all interest in marrying his fiance and decides to "drop out" and live with Nancy. The film explores the contrast between the hippy lifestyle and square lifestyle with barely a trace of realism. This is pure absurdism. The mexican family who come to see the lawyer Harold about their car accident (a family of ten with braces around all their necks); the fact that the hearse drivers were on strike so they loaded the casket in the back of Harold's loaner hippy jalopy, which then got lost on the way to the funeral, these are examples of the absurdism that goes on in the film. For further examples of such films, check out the aforementioned Mon oncle or even "Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie" (although I didn't enjoy the latter film nearly as much as this).

21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill, fresh off the critically-loathed "The Sitter (2011)", decided to make what is yet another hollywood re-make of an old tv show and, surprisingly enough, it's actually pretty funny. It is, of course, "21 Jump Street", that old fox show about a bunch of young cops who pose as teenagers in order to infiltrate all the high school crime that's running rampant. The original show was the launching pad for stars such as Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise (son of legendary Dom), and um.. Richard Grieco, and uhh Sal Jenco, and even Michael DeLuise (yes, THE Michael DeLuise!). I personally was never a fan of the original series, and don't remember much about it at all, other than it was very popular with girls and Grieco and Depp spent a lot of time posing for teen magazines. Anyway, this new movie version of that show features the aforementioned Hill partnered up with Channing Tatum of all people (your girlfriend probably knows him- he's been in A lot of chick flicks over the past 3 years), and the two of them are sent to 21 Jump Street to take down a drug ring that's been operating in one of the local high schools. Tatum thinks it's going to be just like high school the first time (back in 2005), but instead he finds himself on the outs with the cool kids, who have more in common with nerdy Jonah. It's the kind of crazy role reversal that causes the jock to hang out with the nerds and the nerd to hang with the preppies. Like Beverly Hills Cop, or Hot Fuzz, it the old 'cops out of their element' routine. The two cops' bromance is broken up by jealousy before a last act car chase proves that they really do love each other, etc. the end. It's kind of a dumb movie but it does have a few laughs. At least I laughed a few times.

Dr Seuss' The Lorax
½

The makers of The Lorax must've thought they had a no-brainer on their hands. Dr. Seuss has an already established fanbase, both adults and children love his stories, and previous film adaptations of his books have done extraordinarily well at the box office. So maybe they skipped some of the writers staff meetings, or maybe they let the animators throw in some of their own comedy ideas, or maybe they didn't think about the actual movie they had to create. Whatever the case, The Lorax lacks. In a society made entirely of plastic, a boy (Zac Efron) has a crush on a hippy girl (Taylor Swift, who's actually pretty bad here) who loves trees. The boy wants to impress her, so he goes off on a search for the very last tree. In the wasteland of the outside world, he finds the home of the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who tells him the tale of the trees and their guardian, the Lorax. Of course the evil, greedy, stereotypical, corporate businessman (Rob Riggle) is going to do everything in his power to hold his monopoly on air, so he tries to thwart the kid and his girlfriend. The Lorax comes off as a pastiche of other environmentally conscious cartoons, from Wall-E to even Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. Even the animation is pretty generic looking. It feels like they're not even trying. And in the world of children's entertainment, there are few crimes worse than sullying the good name of Dr. Seuss. This may have been one of the few rare instances where my one year-old daughter (fascinated by all the flash and pretty colors up on the screen) wanted to watch a movie and daddy wanted to leave. But as a parent, I know there are better cartoons for my child than this crummy, souless movie.

Häxan (Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages) (The Witches)
½

Writer and director Benjamin Christensen paints a meticulous picture of witchcraft through the ages in his film (titled fittingly enough), "Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages". Part documentary-style narration, part dramatic "passion play", Haxan toys with the idea of a real satan (played by Christensen himself) tempting virtuous people away from their holy christian lifestyles. Witchcraft is seen as the power one acquires from consorting with the devil, and various abilities, such as flying and casting spells are gained from worshipping the dark lord (and 'literally' kissing his ass). Eerie, sometimes shocking, sometimes horrific, Christensen uses light and shadow to his advantage, creating a dark fantasy world made real through the eyes of superstitious and backwards medieval folk. And really, far from glorifying belief in the supernatural, Haxan tells with great sadness the tale of mankinds brutality and mindless terror of the unknown. It's more a warning tale than anything. When we put our faith in supernatural superstitions, we sacrifice scientific knowledge and the analytical process, cutting out anything we've learned from the past. Those who put faith above all else will deny reality if it conflicts with their beliefs. Mankind can revert to the stone age at any time. In order to move forward as a species we must discern with an unflinching eye what is reality and what is fact. To do otherwise is to doom ourselves to the dark ages. Haxan is positively haunting in the spell it weaves.

Sansho the Bailiff (Sanshô dayû)
½

Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 film "Sansho the Bailiff" is positively Dickensian in it's measure of human suffering, although it is apparently an old japanese fable about the virtues of mercy and compassion. When the governor of a province refuses to crack down and execute some protestors, he and his family are exiled. His wife and children are separated from him, and on their way to re-join the father they are abducted by slave traders and sold into slavery. The mother is sold to a brothel and the brother and sister are sold to Sansho the bailiff, who is overseer of the mansion belonging to the Minister of the right. Conditions for slaves there are deplorable, but the children must bide their time if they ever want to escape back to their parents. The story is quite a tear-jerker, and undoubtably a crowd pleaser with it's injustices being shown up in the end by the virtues of compassion and mercy. It's quite poignant to say the least (and I'm sure if Charles Dickens were asian and alive in the 1950s, I'm sure he'd say the same thing).

The Palm Beach Story

Written and directed by Preston Sturges ("Sullivan's Travels", "The Lady Eve"), The Palm Beach Story once again shows his knack for wittiness and light-hearted cynicism when it comes to conniving females. This time it's Claudette Colbert who uses her feminine wiles to manipulate wealthy men into doing her bidding. Her husband (Joel McCrea) doesn't want to let her go, but she's decided to leave him for the noble cause of letting him live within his means. This means she'll be free to pursue wealthy old men and live the kind of lifestyle she feels she's meant to live, but this of course is only a lucky coincidence for them both. Even with her self-sacrifice, her husband would rather keep ahold of her, and follows her down to Palm Springs where she's latched onto a wealthy poindexter by the name of J.D. Hackensacker the Third (Rudy Vallee). Of course his sister, The Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor) thinks the husband is a dreamboat, but she'll chase after any guy, apparently. Colbert convinces her wealthy beau that her husband is actually her brother, and this leads to double dating and double courtships.

The Palm Beach Story stands out from other farcical comedies of it's day because it's rapid fire dialogue and quick pace are still just as clever today as they were when the film was made. Colbert and McCrea are fine as the leads, but it's Vallee and Astor who steal the show. The hedonistic playground of the wealthy is rich fodder for comedies of deceit, and this one takes quite a bit of the cake.

On the Town
On the Town(1949)
½

Exuberant, nonstop dashing about the streets of New York City while on shore leave, three sailors chase down love in one of the first musicals to use actual location shooting. The three sailors, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin, each have their own idiosyncratic charms, but it's their gal friends who keep the movie from getting stale. Especially Betty Garrett (who'd later go on to play neighbor to both Archie Bunker and Laverne and Shirley), whose super-sexed taxi driver character chases down a poor, bewildered Frank Sinatra (and he just wants to see the sights of the city, not get all involved with some wacky dame). There is one particularly memorable song ("New York, New York, it's a wonderful town!"), and some less memorable ones, but they are all pretty entertaining. And that's probably the best way to describe On The Town, not very memorable, but entertaining.

The Thing from Another World

The legendary director Howard Hawks was both an uncredited co-writer and co-director for this above average B-movie (which has subsequently spawned two re-makes). At the frozen north pole, scientists and the US airforce have found a genuine flying saucer. When the alien is accidentally thawed out, it turns on the people of the camp. Isolated up at the tiny base, and against a creature that can't be harmed or die by traditional means, the humans must figure out a way to survive the invasion of a plant-based creature that requires their blood to reproduce. Really, it's all a metaphor for the "red scare" brewing at the dawn of the cold war. The scientists and the air force officers are seen as being at odds, while the soldiers want to destroy the harmful creature that might doom the entire human race, the "intellectuals" want to study it, preserve it, and even welcome it as a superior life form. Of course, when the menacing creature gets ahold of them, it recognizes neither friend nor foe, but lashes out with impunity. But metaphor or not, there is a creepy vibe that runs throughout the movie. Maybe it's that theremin-heavy soundtrack or maybe it's the feature-less creature itself (played by Gunsmoke's James Arness), an indistinct frankenstein's-monster-from-space that has razor blades for fingertips and grows back limbs as quick as you can lop them off. Or maybe it's the claustrophobic atmosphere that keeps you on your toes, where on a tiny base surrounded by miles of frozen wasteland where no human could survive for very long, the victims are given no chance of escape. From a personal standpoint, John Carpenter's re-make from 1982 is still tops for one of the most frightening movies I'd ever seen as a kid, but for classic 50s sci-fi, The Thing From Another World is a lot of fun. Now, who wants some coffee?

The Help
The Help(2011)

Sometimes the catalyst for change begins with the simple flush of a toilet. The Help stars Emma Stone as a would-be writer who, returning to her home in Jackson, Mississippi after college, decides to write a book telling the world how "the help" feels working for white folks all these years. Of course, it's a very taboo subject and many of the black women are reluctant to come forward with their stories. There are some irreverent questions and some pointed questions ("What's it like to raise white babies while someone else is raising yours?"), but it's not so much what these women say as it is they're saying anything at all. Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s, (in fact, starting with the murder of Emmett Till in 1955) was ground zero for the civil rights movement. Mississippi, where Medgar Evers organized boycotts of service stations and was shot dead in the back by a gunman in the bushes in front of his home. There was a real threat and danger in the south at the time for those even considering equality among the races. "The Help" makes hushed references to these times, but more often than not, it focuses on the battle between the mean, rich preppy girl and the nerdy plain Jane girl. While there is some bigotry displayed, it feels tame, almost censored in order to appeal to today's more sensitive viewers. It's really two different films telling two different stories, and at two-and-a-half hours, it should've focused on one. In spite of it's flaws, it still manages to tell a human story and elicits emotions that play upon the audience's sense of justice. It also features some good, old-fashioned hollywood story telling, but it may have been just a trifle trite in dealing with it's subject matter. Despite oscar nominations and award-winning performances, there's nothing terribly extraordinary about The Help.

Daisies
Daisies(2012)
½

Made in 1966 Czechoslovakia, director Vera Chytilová's surrealist "Daisies" was banned by the Czechoslovakian government soon after it's release. Not that it was so unusual for the soviet Czech government to ban films, but looking back now, it's hard to understand what their specific beef was. Granted, there are no overt proletarian ovations to be found here, but nor is it some sort of secret capitalist conspiracy. Inspired by the French new wave, it could most closely be considered some sort of nihilistic farce, but even that might be too specific a classification for a film so mysteriously vague.

Daisies defies categorization as such. It seems to stem directly from the id of it's director, who doesn't so much explain things as she does allow them to happen. As abstract as whatever the story might be, the filmmaking process is hyper-detailed. Scenes of apparent little consequence are crafted with such fine attention to the miniscule minutiae of background scenery. It could almost be considered obsessive-compulsive the amount of effort put into the "fine print" details. The film arbitrarily switches from black-and-white to various "strip" shades of color; images are filmed through various lenses, in effect, demonstrating great proficiency in the technological art of film craft. It would be almost impossible to deny there is an art to the madness happening on the screen.

But what of the "story"? Well, two bored girls eat a lot, then pursue various older men for the purpose of somehow toying with their hearts. They sometimes go to visit a motherly figure who lives in a woman's public restroom and sings all her dialogue to them about how lovely and young they are. Finally, they stumble upon a large, empty banquet room where a feast has been laid out and is unattended. They help themselves to the food and destroy everything in the process. "Why", you ask? I cannot say with any certainty. This is a film of the subconscious, there's no rhyme or reason, save whatever the filmmaker was feeling at the time. It's up to the individual viewer to determine what the film actually means. All I can say with certainty is, the film gives us a look into the gently mischievous moments of youth.

Point Blank
Point Blank(1967)
½

Discordant editing, jarring violence, and an angular storyline give Point Blank it's unique 60s cross between french new wave cinema and classic film noir. Lee Marvin is the guy who is betrayed and left for dead by his partner over the sum of $90,000. While it's not exactly chump change today, it would've been a small fortune back in the days of the film's setting. At first, it seems as if he's after revenge alone, but it quickly becomes obvious he's after his money. With the help of a mysterious benefactor, he tracks down his wife, who along with his former partner betrayed him. She has no idea where he is, only that she's sorry and wishes to die. When he finally does find the former partner (with the help of his sister-in-law, as played by Angie Dickinson), it turns out it's only the beginning of his journey for justice. Is Lee Marvin's "Walker" character insane? Some automaton bent on achieving a goal that has long since lost all meaning? As Dickenson exclaims in one scene "You really did die at alcatraz". There are moments of surrealism, dreamlike moments where things don't make a whole lot of sense. Walker may be motivated by hatred, but there's very little emotion to what he does. He's a broken man, a monster.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

By 1948, the Universal monsters were on their way out of fashion. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, all had been popular for many years, but other trends (such as UFO invaders) were coming to the fore by the late forties. Abbott and Costello on the other hand, were just coming into their peak, and with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" they took their career on a whole other path (this was the first of several "Abbott and Costello Meet..." pictures). Anyhow, Abbott and Costello play a pair of bumbling freight handlers who are supposed to deliver Dracula's actual remains and Frankenstein's actual monster to some house of wax museum, but when they get there, Dracula wakes up and steals the monster for some nefarious scheme. Dracula and his scientist partners decide to replace the monster's brain with Lou Costello's, because this will supposedly make him more docile and easy to control. Meanwhile, the wolf man (Lon Chaney Jr.) learns of Dracula's scheme and soon arrives to try and stop him. There are some goofy gags and some slight scares, and the film strikes a nice balance between comedy and (light) horror.

The Blue Dahlia
½

Returning home after WWII, a GI (Alan Ladd) and his two buddies (William Bendix, Hugh Beaumont) get mixed up in some nefarious business. Alan Ladd plays Johnny Morrison, who's come home to an alcholic, two-timing wife that shows interest only in drinking, partying and her nightclub owner boyfriend Eddie. When she reveals to Johnny that it was her drunk driving that was responsible for their son's death, he leaves her to never come back. The next morning, she's found dead, and a manhunt for Johnny ensues. But who murdered his wife? Was it Eddie, the man with the dark past back east, or perhaps it was even his army buddy Buzz (Bendix), whose war wound causes him to lose his mind everytime he hears loud music? And where does Eddie's wife (Veronica Lake) fit into all this? Is she a co-conspirator or is her meeting with Johnny just a coincidence?
With it's tough guy lead, bizarre affectations and lurid situations, The Blue Dahlia is just about as pulpy as it gets. The William Bendix character is quite memorable, but I feel like the Eddie Harwood character is the most understated of the lot. He's clearly meant to be the bad guy of the film, but he's one of the least violent characters of the lot. He also seems to have gotten in over his head with the events surrounding him, and he's clearly trying to wrestle loose of them. In fact, this might be one of the only noire films where the true villain of the picture was the victim herself. The wife (Doris Dowling) is a truly unrepentant figure, even going so far as to laugh in her husband's face as she decribes the death of their son. The conclusion of the film and the actual reveal of the killer are a little unsatisfying for my taste, but let's not quibble over the destination when the journey was so much fun.

Glen or Glenda?

Looking to capitalize on the Christine Jorgensen case, a film distributer hired Ed Wood to make a low budget exploitative film about transsexualism (in five days, no less). Wood used his own proclivities towards transvesticism as one of the reasons he was so qualified to direct the film. He also had a genuine "star" to put into the film as he was friends with legendary actor Bela Lugosi. Wood was reputed to be a fan of Orson Welles, and claimed to be the only other filmmaker of his era who was a writer, actor and director of his own films. But while Woods may have appreciated the artistic flair of Welles, he possessed none of the ability to translate artistry to film. Indeed, Glen or Glenda is confusingly bizarre, with Lugosi playing some sort of mad scientist who recites vague prose while stock footage is super-imposed over his face. Regardless of Bela Lugosi's part in the film, the story revolves around Glen, a transvestite who must tell his fiance the truth about his secret fetish. There is a dream sequence with some S&M stuff involved, and then some more stock footage is added and Lugosi recites some more unrelated verse. There is a staggering ineptitude to the filmmaking that tries to do too much with too little. Although the film barely passes the hour mark, it feels heavily padded with unnecessary and gratuitous scenes that show a distinct lack of editing. But if you are watching Glen or Glenda, then you most likely know who Ed Wood is and how bad his films are reputed to be. So it should come as no surprise to you that this film is a trainwreck. What is surprising is just how fascinating this trainwreck is, and how much fun it is. Wood, for all his faults, injected a sense of wonder into all his projects, and while Glen or Glenda is helplessly, hopelessly ludicrous, it is also, like many of Wood's other films, quite a bit of fun.

Ed Wood
Ed Wood(1994)

Arguably Tim Burton's best film, it's also his least distinctively "Burton-esqe" (although it is about quite an unusual character who doesn't fit into normal society). The title character, Edward D. Wood Jr. was a transvestite filmmaker in the 1950s whose films (like "Plan 9 From Outer Space") are characterized as some of the worst ever made. Burton's "Ed Wood" (as played by Johnny Depp) is eternally optimistic and upbeat, although there's an impression that not all is okay under the shiny surface. His girlfriend, Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker), is at first supportive of all his various proclivities, until Wood's semi-autobiographical film script "Glen or Glenda" (a film he wrote, starred in and directed) sends her life into darker areas she'd rather not venture into. Wood finds a true friend when he by chance meets legendary film star Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an oscar-winning performance). Lugosi is a sad figure, a washed up junkie whose career is over and whose wife has left him. It's Wood's optimism and wide-eyed wonder at the movie industry that give Lugosi a newfound inspiration to perform again. Wood's cast of loony characters includes psychic "Criswell" (Jeffrey Jones), pseudo hermaphrodite Bunny Breckinridge (the hilarious Bill Murray), wrestler Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele), and tv vampire host Vampira (Lisa Marie).

What I guess is so endearing about Eddie is his complete lack of self-awareness. He invisions himself as another Orson Welles, a multi-talented artist who can write and direct masterworks of great vision and artistry. His oeuvre suffers from a complete lack of critical thinking and the notion that every first take is "perfect". Wood at one point, even boldly declares himself to be only concerned with the big picture, and that no one notices the "little details" (this, after being told some of the tombstones in the graveyard set had toppled over as the carpeting beneath them had shifted). Ed Wood the film treats Ed Wood the man's flaws as endearing traits, and gives his films the kind of respect they never received in his lifetime. This while giving us a wonderfully comedic look into the world of 1950s Hollywood.

Cat People
Cat People(1942)
½

Oliver meets Irena at the zoo drawing pictures of the black panther, and the two strike up a quick friendship. Back at her place, she explains she comes from a cursed village in Serbia, where men turn into great cats whenever their passions rise. Even though Oliver finds the story odd, he still romances Irena and soon the two are getting married. Irena however, will not so much as kiss her new husband, for fear the curse will strike her and she'll murder him in the heat of the moment. Is it just a matter of time before Oliver finds himself spending more time with his assistant Alice (Jane Randolph), the sweet, american girl who has already professed her love for him?

Cat People was filmed on a very low budget and this lead to great economic measures at the time. Director Jacques Tourneur makes great use out of his "lack" of available lighting, creating dark alleyways and spooky office buildings that have been closed up for the night. And let's not forget the pool scene, as Alice hears the growl of a jungle cat reverberate off the walls of the pool, but can see only shadows reflecting off the water. And what is the underlying message here? Is it about the dangers of sex or the dangers of abstinance? A woman who can't fulfill her wifely duties isn't really a wife at all, or a man who can't control his passions will find them blowing up in his face. It's a bit of weird 1940s fetish-ism.

Red River
Red River(1948)

John Wayne stars as Dunson, a self-made cattleman on his way to Texas with his friend Groot (Walter Brennan) and an abandoned boy named Matt (Montgomery Clift). After ten years in Texas, and a herd that's grown to 10,000 head of steer, Dunson must face the fact that he's broke, there's simply no money left in the south after the war. Desperate, he decides to drive his herd of north to Missouri, where they pay top dollar for beef. There at his side is Matt, who's just come home from the war after being gone so long. Matt seems a lot cooler as an adult than he was as a kid, reluctant to fight unless provoked (he is however, just as deadly and efficient with a gun as Dunson). They begin their long journey north, and events unfold along the way that may drive a permanent wedge between the two, perhaps even leading to their doom.

John Wayne's Dunson isn't a terribly heroic figure: he steals the land he settles, out-muscling and out-gunning anyone who comes to challenge his claim of ownership. His drive north goes from a cooperative, employee/employer relationship with his men to one of dictatorship, where anyone who speaks out of line is given the whip. Much like Captain Bligh, Dunson inspires only fear in his men, not respect. Montgomery Clift's portrayal of Matt is understated and somewhat soft spoken, it's the kind of subtle performance that changes the feel of both the character and the movie as a whole. Director Howard Hawks takes all the explosive elements at work here and renders them to their fullest conclusions. Add to that the logistics of filming the herding of 9000 head of real cattle (no computer effects back then, folks) and you have quite a mammoth undertaking. The story is top notch western drama and deservedly one of the top westerns of all time.

Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring)
½

Ingmar Bergman's films are declarations. Declarations of doubt, declarations of fear. Somehow in his confrontation of death, he tries to find the meaning of life. In The Virgin Spring, Bergman revisits medieval times (as in 1957's "The Seventh Seal"). This time, the scene is a fourteenth century farm. Töre is the landowner and patriarch of his little family which includes wife Märeta and daughter Karin. The family, being devoutly christian, have an "adopted" family of farmhands and runaways, as well as one "fallen", heathen woman who is carrying an illegitimate child. It's with her the story begins as she prays for Odin to come and curse the daughter Karin. Karin is the perfect one, always getting her way, not having to do anything and getting spoiled by the masters of the house. So when she and Karin are sent to the church to deliver the candles for the virgin mother's mass, she gets her wish most brutally answered.

Watching Töre's penance towards the end of the film, you have to wonder about the level of ritualism and meditation that precedes an act motivated almost entirely by blind retribution. As observers, we can only feel sorrow at this destruction, regardless of what end it seeks to achieve. What can we take away from the Virgin Spring? That God, if he exists, works in mysterious ways? That life is cheap? That one's notion of existence can be swept away in one callous motion? It's not enough to just exist, you have to know why you are doing it. Once upon a time, we built churches to give our lives purpose, and to try and provide some higher understanding of why we were here. With The Virgin Spring, we have a film etched hard into the celluloid, an artistic rendition of the question that plagues our human nature.

Written on the Wind
½

An advertising secretary (Lauren Bacall) gets swept up in a love triangle amonst two friends, one a millionaire playboy (Robert Stack) and the other is an employee of the millionaire father's company (Rock Hudson). It is apparent the millionaire playboy is something of a drinker but it's his very vulnerability that lures the secretary away to fall in love with him. Soon, the two are married and it's the friend who's stuck carrying the torch for her. Meanwhile, he's being pursued by the millionaire's sister, who happens to be the town floozy (and someone he wants nothing to do with).

It's the stuff of soap operas and melodramas, but this fifties movie with it's fifties sensibilities has a lot of charm to it. The sister, Dorothy Malone, won an oscar for her over-the-top she-vixen role, and Robert Stack was nominated for his portrayal as well. The story moves briskly albeit predictably.

The Naked City

Frank Niles might be one of the dumbest "conmen" to ever grace the silver screen. He's a horrible, unconvincing liar who is caught almost instantly in every lie he tells. It's a shame he has to run up against lieutenant Muldoon and Detective Halloran. Muldoon is a cool character. An irish cop with decades of experience, he breaks down the stories of big liars like Niles like crackers in soup. It seems a model has been murdered, and there's a matter of a stolen box of jewelry from the dead woman's apartment. It adds up to a ring of conspiracy and the hunt for a harmonica-playing wrestler. And dumb Niles with his cheap alibies is right in the middle of it.

As the film opens, narrator Mark Hellinger tells us this film is unlike any we have ever seen. Not shot on a studio sound stage or back lot, The Naked City was filmed on the actual streets of New York City. As good as it sounds on paper, 1948 microphones and recording equipment had difficulty picking up the actors' lines over the noise of the busy city streets. The easy solution, in addition to doing overdubs later in the studio, was to have a narration. This gives the film a certain aire of authenticity (it's been called a "semi-documentary"). There is a gritty realism on display here that one doesn't normally find in the noir films of this period (I wonder just how influential this film was to Jack Webb when he was creating the "Dragnet" series).

The Earrings of Madame De... (Madame de...)

As the film opens, Madame Louise is looking through her things for something to sell, in order to have some extra spending money. In lieu of her furs or her diamond cross pendant, she takes out a pair of earrings. She sells them, then pretends to "lose" them at the opera one night. When the missing earrings are reported in the paper as stolen, the jeweler she pawned them off on comes to return them to her husband, the General (Charles Boyer). The general buys them back and gives them to his mistress, who's about to leave the country on an extended trip to Constantinople. When the mistress runs upon hard times, she hocks the earrings and it's then that the visiting ambassador, Baron Fabrizio Donati buys them. Donati meets Louise at customs and falls in love with her at first sight. As the two pursue a friendship that turns into romance, he gives her the earrings, not knowing they were originally hers.

That Louise could sell the earrings her husband gave her as a wedding present speaks of how she regarded her marriage to the General. It's not as if the general were a bad man or that they weren't quite suitable companions. "I don't like the person I've become in your eyes" says the general to Louise, who suddenly feels the painful sting of jealousy as he watches his wife fall in love with another man. The general, deep down, is quite a human character, perhaps even more so than the overly romantic Baron who comes to steal away his wife. The idea that people create these narrow pathes through life that they limit themselves to is not strictly the domain of the upper class of the past. Perhaps it's a lesson to be found in watching the, uhs... march to their own respective dooms in such orderly fashion.

Chronicle
Chronicle(2012)
½

"Chronicle" is like an amalgamation of various cutting-edge superhero concepts from the past 30 years. I recall many upstart comic book companies in the early 90s that explored both the physics and metaphysics of what the acquisition of some "extra" physical/mental power might exert upon human existence. It wasn't enough to say "superman can fly" anymore, you had to break down his superpowers at a quantum mechanical level and explain why. Going back even further, to 1988's "Akira", some teens are granted telekinetic super powers and one of them rebels against the world. It's not that he's necessarily a bad kid, but if you're the one getting bullied, made to feel weak and helpless, you tend to want to lash out when you suddenly become powerful. Nowhere is this type of storyline more famously explored than Stephen King's 1974 novel "Carrie", the classic "revenge" against bullies by way of supernatural intervention. It's no small feat that Chronicle can put one in the mind of such legendary fare.

Chronicle follows a high school teen named Andrew (Dane BeHaan) as he chronicles his life on a second hand video recorder. "I'm going to record Everything!" he tells his abusive father through his locked bedroom door (and this is fortunate for us, as Chronicle is told in that home video, "found footage" style of filmmaking that has become so prevelant recently). And not only does he record his home life (his abusive father and dying mother), he also records his days spent at school, from the lonely lunches out on the bleachers to the bullies that roam the hallways, much to his cousin Matt's (Alex Russell) chagrin. Matt wants Drew to put the camera down and just try to be normal. It's Matt who drags Drew out to a party, and it's at this party the two meet up with Steve (Michael B. Jordan) who is pretty much the most popular kid in school. He needs them cause he's discovered a crazy hole in the ground out back in some secluded area and the light from the camera is perfect for exploring it. As they delve down into it, they discover something strange, made of crystals and light that disturbs the video quality and somehow gives them telekinetic powers. "It's like a muscle, you have to exercise it", one of the boys says. And exercise it they do, from manipulating small, everyday objects to floating through the air with the greatest of ease, the three are absolutely giddy with their newfound power. All except for Drew, who still has to contend with problems at home.
Chronicle can be summed up as "Carrie meets Cloverfield" but I don't think that would be too fair. Chronicle inexplicably reminds me of 2009's "District 9" if, for no other reason than it also makes legitimately ground-breaking use out of the "found footage" gimmick. The escalating powers are serviced by the escalating special effects, and there are some genuine "aah" moments as the effects reach out and grab you. There is a shift in the atmosphere that might take some by surprise, but it is all pretty clearly laid out early in the movie. It's a familiar plot if you've experienced any of the above reference guide, but only just. If this is your first foray into the "super-powered revenge fantasy"-type movie, that's okay too. Chronicle nails it.

She Done Him Wrong
½

Mae West stars as Lady Lou, a singer and very popular lady living above a saloon in the 1890s. She's quite the worldly lady when it comes to some things, but when it comes to others, she's a little bit too naive for her own good. She's got men throwing themselves at her at every turn, including one big timer who gives her box loads of diamonds and one small timer who's serving time and literally can't wait to have Lou in his arms again. She plays them all, telling them what they want to hear and reaping the benefits. But there's one man she can't seem to get a handle on, the local captain at the missionary (Cary Grant). He's more interested in saving Lou's soul than in having her body, much to her chagrin. When a shamed woman tries to commit suicide in the saloon, Lou takes her under her wing and sends her to the mission. It turns out the boss of the saloon didn't get the girl a job like he promised but instead ran her into some sort of "white slavery" ring (where else would he get all the money to pay for Lou's diamonds?). It's strange that most of the bad in men (in She Done Him Wrong) can all be traced back to the temptations of a single woman. Cary Grant's closing line to her is "You're a baad girl" to which she replies "You'll find out" (purportedly, Mae West gave Grant his big break, choosing him to star opposite her in this film- West obviously knew a thing about male actors). She Done Him Wrong is a very good film, well shot with a nostalgia for the gay 90s and Mae West just eats up the scenery. Sure, everyone knows her schtick: the cat-like drawl, practically moaning her double entendres and innuendos, the way she swings just about every part of her body when she walks, but does everyone catch just the subtlest raised eyebrow as she belts out "Frankie and Johnnie"? I don't even know if West noticed it herself. Her performance of that character might've been like second nature to her by that point (in this, her second film, Mae was already 39 years old and a veteran of the stage). Whether or not the cast rises to the challenge of performing with her is moot, this is Mae West's film and hers alone, and she's a magnificient talent.

Buck Privates

Buck Privates was the first of three movies starring Abbott and Costello and the Andrews Sisters, although Bud and Lou had one other film before. Hollywood wisely realized that Abbott and Costello couldn't carry a film on their own at this point and gave their movies regular stars and a regular plot, to which they would add their own comedy bits to. You could probably cut Abbott and Costello completely out of Buck Privates and it wouldn't affect the plot one little bit. They do their comedy bits sort of in a vaccuum apart from the rest of the film. The Andrews Sisters do a couple of songs in the movie, most noteably "You're a lucky fellow Mr. Smith" and "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". The Andrews Sisters, for those who don't know, were an amazingly talented singing group. Three sisters who sang airtight harmony that was quick, fluid and flawless (I remember being a little pre-schooler and begging my grandmother to play the single of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" for me every time she wanted me to take a nap- I'd lay there listening to that song over and over again on that old record player, digesting the music like it was the stuff of dreams). Anyway, besides the Abbott and Costello bits, there's also the main storyline, which involves a bit of class warfare between the rich inductee and his former butler-turned-equal-private. The rich soldier and the poor soldier butt heads over nearly everything, especially the hot girl who is apparently in the army as some sort of concubine or something. Can the soldiers overcome their differences and work together to defeat Hitler? Slow down, this isn't that kind of movie. Actually, it came out before WWII officially began, but there are undertones of the anticipation of war. As hard as they might try, nobody's fooled about the inevitable breakout of war. Still, this is pretty light-hearted fare. Entertaining, though.

Horrible Bosses

Oh, if only we could work at a job without bosses. We would be able to live and work in happiness then, right? Jason Bateman is a suck up whose brown-nosing seems to have backfired when boss Kevin Spacey gives himself the sweet raise and extra office. Meanwhile, poor dental hygenist Charlie Day is being sexually harassed by Jennifer Aniston, who by all accounts is really hot. Then there's Jason Sudeikis, a womanizing philanderer who is suddenly forced to relate to the boss's coked-up philandering son who's only out to "make a profit" and isn't really passionate about chemicals. These three unsympathetic characters decide to "kill their bosses" (despite the fact that at least two of them would be out of work as a result of this, as their bosses are the company- arrgh, these plot holes will later be resolved by simply choosing to not address them) in an effort to make their work lives better. Of course these guys are just fantasizing, and their fantasies do lean towards doing illegal things, but when one of the bosses does actually and indeed get killed, the movie kind of goes into unpleasant territory and becomes more a spiritual successor to "American Psycho" than any sort of modern comedy aught to (while still remaining funny). Kevin Spacey is about as unsettling as any movie villain and while I was fascinated in the film's transformation in tone, I didn't find much funny about it. And Horrible Bosses is supposed to be a comedy, right?

Shanghai Express
½

Marlene Dietrich stars as "Shanghai Lily", a woman of some ill repute traveling across China in a passenger train. The other passengers have nothing but contempt for her and her female companion (Anna May Wong). Well, everyone but Captain Harvey (Clive Brook). He and Marlene had a relationship years ago, but the Captain didn't trust her and threw her over. Since then, she's been wandering the Chinese countryside, destroying men's lives wherever she goes. When Mr. Chang (Warner Oland, known for his role as Charlie Chan) turns out to be the leader of a rebel force, we learn to what extent Marlene still loves the captain and to what extent she will go to protect him. Despite exotic locales and characters, it's Dietrich who is the sole reason for watching "Shanghai Express". She's incredibly beautiful, emotive, and her costumes are a movie unto themselves. Director Josef von Sternberg knows how to shoot his leading lady, and there are moments when Dietrich's face is as beautiful as a framed work of art.

The Conspirator
½

Robert Redford directs this film about the trial of Mary Surrat, one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination, and it's parallels to our own modern day government's suspension of habeas corpus at guantanamo bay. A young union war hero/attorney named Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned to defend Surrat at her trial, even though it's against his will to do so. As the tribunal progresses however, Aiken is struck by the unconstitutional nature of her prosecution: from the military tribunal for a civilian case, to the lack of a burden of proof, the witness tampering and evidence-manipulating, Surrat's guilt is a foregone conclusion from the very start. Much of the blame for this could be aimed at Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), who, in his fevered bereavement and loyalty to Lincoln and the Union, takes a hard stance at ensuring justice be meted out whatever the cost. Yes, as I said before, the film is meant to parallel our own time, as a national tragedy stirs the government to overreact and suspend our rights in the name of "protecting" us. While the film is adequately made, it lacks subtlety. Even if it's making valid points, the performances rarely rise above a basic cable melodrama.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Director David Fincher's ("The Social Network") Europe is full of aloof nords, cold war punker girls, chain-smoking tabloid journalists (well everyone in Europe smokes anyway) and, of course, nazis. Okay, maybe these portraits aren't exactly accurate, but Fincher does tap into america's long-held beliefs on what constitutes european convention. Let's take the actual "girl with the dragon tattoo" herself, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara). With her eastern european accent, tattoos, piercings, high libido, fondness for riding motorcycles, wearing leather, and computer hacking skills, she embodies the prototypical euro-version of some male fantasy girl, were they ever to be in need of her powers and charms. Or let's take the wealthy villain. He doesn't just have an evil lair, he's got a fortress any Bond villain would be jealous of. Knockout gas that sprays from the ceiling at the flick of a switch, and hydraulic harnesses for restraining the good guys while you reveal all your nefarious evil schemes (while Enya plays in the background). It's a Euro-fantasy gone wild and Fincher launches into it all with gusto aplomb.

Vaguely english reporter Mikael (Daniel Craig) loses a libel suit against a billionaire industrialist and retreats in disgrace. Soon, he's offered a "vacation" by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), which involves investigating the disappearance of his niece Harriet, some 40 years ago. Vanger lives on an island, the very island in fact, from which Harriet disappeared. So do all of Vanger's family. Vanger believes it is one of the family members on the island who is responsible for Harriet's disappearance, and in fact he believes she was murdered. As the investigation deepens, and Mikael discovers more facts, he decides to enlist the help of an assistant, and finds Lisbeth through the Vanger family. The two uncover more than just the disappearance of a niece, however, and it's something that might even cost them their lives.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at it's heart, and in spite of all it's european affectations and attempts at kinky shock value, is really just a simple, good old-fashioned murder mystery, with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara standing in for William Powell and Myrna Loy (only with more Apple products placement). It's well-made, sometimes disturbing, sometimes slow-moving, but the end result is quite entertaining.

Murder, My Sweet
½

A hard-nosed private detective named Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) gets hired for a pair of seemingly disparate simple jobs only to find himself in the middle of murder and intrigue. One case involve finding the missing girlfriend of a big, giant gorilla named Moose (Mike Mazurki), who's been away in the joint only to come back and find her gone without a trace. Marlowe doubts the veracity of this relationship but tracks down the girl's former boss anyway (well, former boss' wife). The second job comes from a guy named Mariott (Douglas Walton) and involves accompanying him to a drop-off location with some money, in order to pick up a jade necklace that had been stolen from Mariott's lady friend. But who stole the necklace? For that matter, who owns it? Marlowe gets it from all sides, including a quack psychiatrist who administers hypodermic needles full of who-knows-what.

Dick Powell may have been a strange choice for Philip Marlowe: most of his films up until that point had been song-and-dance numbers, and he was known more for romantic comedies than tough and grizzled detectives. Perhaps that's why his performance has an air of comedy behind the tough guy persona. Whatever the case, it's the John Paxton script and Edard Dmytryk direction that wring the pulp from the original Raymond Chandler novel. The plot is thick and complex, and I'm not even really sure if all the loose ends get wrapped up in the end, but I don't think that's the point. It's the strange case, the journey, the style that all add up to something dynamic and amazing.

Solaris
Solaris(1976)

Evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme recently hosted an enlightening PBS program called "Journey of the Universe". In it, Swimme postulates that there exists an awareness or sentience to energy "that is more than what takes place in elementary particles but less than (our) human consciousness". There is a primitive discernment, he says, made by even the simplest cells due to what is suggested to be the "self-organizing dynamics of the universe". When a cell encounters a molecule, the cell must decide whether to incorporate it or not. On a celestial level, our Earth has developed a symbiotic relationship with the sun, "Earth's systems attune to the sun, changing molecular structures to absorb the sun's energy". What motivates life to stay living? Why is existing so important for unconscious energy? 99% of the human body is made up of only 6 chemical elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus), and these elements come from the residue of stars exploded billions of years ago. Somehow, through some natural progression, we've come to exist from the dust of stars. It can almost be suggested from all this that life is the driving force of the universe. That the will to progress, evolve and *live* overcomes any other movitating power.

In "Solaris" (both the film and the 1961 novel by Stanislaw Lem), mankind encounters a lifeform it cannot comprehend. A "living ocean" on the planet Solaris that seems to cause mysterious hallucinations to the astronauts investigating it. The Solaris Project has spent decades orbiting the planet in a space station, trying to make contact with the alien lifeform, but rather than enlightenment, the project only seems to get further mired in confusion. So, psychologist Kris Kelvin is sent up to the space station to investigate the matter and see if the project might need to be permanently closed. Kelvin is highly skeptical of the supernatural nature of the phenomenon occurring on the station, dismissing them as mere hallucinations, but almost from the moment he arrives there, he's sucked into their existence by the appearance of his dead wife. The scientists believe the alien consciousness ("the ocean") is creating neutrino-based lifeforms from their own repressed memories. Well, the word "lifeforms" might be contested, as some of the scientists believe they are living and others believe them to be just physical hallucinations that exist only as a part of their mind. The manifestation of Kelvin's wife knows she's not the original wife and doesn't share the same memories. She is composed only of what Kelvin believed his wife to be. But given these parameters, she accepts and functions and exists in her "state". By whatever definition you choose for "life", she lives, but is still not human.

Director Andrei Tarkovsky's languidly ponderous film isn't about space aliens or body snatchers, but the nature of life and humanity's fundamentally willful isolation in the universe. We don't understand because we choose not to. We fail to make contact because we don't comprehend what we're looking at or looking for. This explains why the planet Solaris' motivation for creating life from the astronauts memories is never learned or even suggested. As the closing scene of the movie suggests, we grasp at things to understand them, but are left fundamentally alone in the universe.

Fear and Desire

Stanley Kubrick's first feature film is also his least seen, mainly because until Kubrick's death, the film had been locked away in the vaults at his request. This should give you some idea as to the film's quality. It's not that Fear and Desire is a bad movie, it's just that it's still very amateurish (Kubrick was only 24 when he made it). Obviously, expectations wouldn't normally be high for a low budget, fifties movie about soldiers trapped behind enemy lines, but "directed by Stanley Kubrick" changes the nature of things quite a bit. Four soldiers from an "undetermined" country attempt to return to base after their plane goes down while on a reconnaissance mission. The four are of disparate personalities: the leader is pragmatic, the private is scared and on the verge of cracking, and then there's the gung ho sarge, who wants to take down a general. The group attempts to build a raft out of logs, they also kidnap a girl who was washing clothes in the river. They also kill some enemy soldiers with their bayonets and take their guns and dinner. They do some other things too. The characters with the disparate personalities do things and then react according to their personalities. It's weird, but the entire film feels like an extra long version of "The Twilight Zone" or perhaps "The Outer Limits" (two shows that would come about ten years after this film). Kubrick directs the action with a photographer's eye, but sometimes the acting just doesn't cut it and brings things down to unintentionally comical levels of maudlinism. It's all pretty standard fifties B-movie stuff.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
½

Jack Nicholson's R.P. McMurphy isn't a very nice guy. Convicted of statutory rape and several assaults, he fakes insanity in order to get out of doing work detail in jail. What he expects to find at the mental hospital is a bunch of "feebs" relaxing and taking it easy. What he finds is nurse Ratched, an angry and petulant woman who uses terror tactics to get the results she wants from the inpatients. McMurphy's been in jail, seen the tougher, seedier side of life, and he fails to perceive nurse Ratched as a threat because she's capable of a different type of brutality than what he's been exposed to in life. McMurphy in fact, winds up changing his tune quite a bit. McMurphy the brawler lightens up towards those he sees as lost souls. He brings life to them, and while at first he's only doing it to get under Ratched's skin, he soon develops a genuine affection for the group he's living with. It's a weird situation to be in, to say the least.

Nicholson does his best Jack Nicholson here, but the movie wouldn't be the same (or nearly as good) without the supporting characters. Scatman Crothers, Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher, Christopher Lloyd, Sydney Lassick, and William Redfield all bring the film to life with their individually great performances. From a period where anti-establishment films were at a peak, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest might just be the highlight.

Hugo
Hugo(2011)
½

An enigmatic young boy lives behind the scenes of a parisian train station within it's great, clockwork structures, living off of pilfered croissants and bottles of soda pop. But food isn't the only thing the boy is stealing: he also helps himself to the station's toy shop, not for playthings but for parts. He's attempting to re-create a mechanical boy, you see, an automaton his father rescued from a burning museum. One day, the boy is caught by the toy store owner, and has his research notebook confiscated. The shop owner tells him he must come and work for him if he ever wants to get it back. What is this mechanical boy and what is it's significance? That, it turns out, is not even the interesting question to ask of "Hugo", Martin Scorsese's first foray into 3D film.

Hugo was not arbitrarily set in Paris. Paris is the setting specifically because it is the birthplace of film (sorry Hollywood) and more specifically, the birthplace of Georges Mà (C)liès, an early film pioneer. Mà (C)liès, a magician, began making films in 1896, a year after attending the Lumière brothers' first public film screening. After making over 500 films, including the landmark film, "A Trip to the Moon", he found his popularity fading at the outbreak of WWI. The ugliness of war had chased away the magic of imagination. No longer able to "make dreams happen", Mà (C)liès became a toy salesman at the Montparnasse station.

It's quite something to watch Scorsese intertwine so many stories in Hugo, all while paying tribute to both french cinema and his own predecessors. There is also a clear message about the importance of film preservation. The dreams of the past can live forever if we choose to preserve them. Hugo is visually stunning, artistically gorgeous, and truly a bit of the director's heart and soul captured on film.

Sylvia Scarlett
½

Think fast! Your dad, Edmund Gwenn has been embezzling money and you have to escape the country and you look like Katharine Hepburn. In order to evade the authorities, do you cut off your long braids and pose as a boy? Of course you do! When you and dad run across a smuggler who looks an awful lot like Cary Grant you decide to keep up the ruse so that you might learn the tricks of being a con man. Unfortunately, you wind up being too honest to do any decent thieving so you decide to start a touring performance troupe (you, your dad, Cary Grant and some other dame you found). When some loud mouth heckles the dame in your group while you're doing your act onstage, you go home with him, and spend the rest of the movie trying to decide whether you love him or Cary Grant. Everyone in this movie is confused and the plot is sloppy/messy, but I thought Hepburn was pretty cute in this gender-bending role (there's even a "lesbian" kiss). Granted, this was probably one of the first films of this kind, but that still doesn't make it very good.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

"Breaking Dawn-Part 1" is probably the first movie to ever spark the debate of vampire boners. Since vampires are dead and have no heartbeat, one has to wonder how the male vampire is able to achieve an erection. "It's like the bible, you're not supposed to question it, just accept it as it is" I am told by one Twilight superfan. There are a lot of questions regarding this movie, and in fact I'm not even entirely sure of what I saw. Let me try and piece the story together.

Bella and Edward are finally getting married and Edward's family has put together a beautiful ceremony out in the woods. Jacob drops by to congratulate the new couple but his joy is short-lived when he finds out the couple intend to consummate the marriage before Edward turns her into a vampire. "You're going to kill her!" he says (apparently, vampires have very rough sex?). Cut to a romantic island off the coast of Rio, where the couple have a beautiful honeymoon suite all waiting for them. Very soon after the honeymoon begins, they discover Bella is pregnant with a half vampire/half human baby and the two begin to panic. They rush back home and begin preparing for the birth of the baby. However, the indian werewolf tribe wants to kill the baby because it will be a bloodsucking monster.

Oddly enough, Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1 is an entertaining movie. Author Stephenie Meyer paints herself into some literary corners and rather than mess up the paint job she just chops holes through the wall. Whether it's the great "vampire boner" debate or whether adult werewolves should be "imprinting" themselves on infants, there are wild, unexplained things going on in this movie. Having said that, this is probably the most cohesive of the Twilight movies, as there is a definite story arc going on (and not a lot of unnecessary side quests). On film, the romance between Edward and Bella is reminiscent of Anakin and Padme's from the Star Wars prequels in that an uninteresting couple's romance is given great gravitas by it's writers, producers and fans. If you don't fall into one of those groups, you might think psychic debates between giant cgi wolves is kind of comical. Like this movie, comically weird and strange.

The Muppets
The Muppets(2011)

The muppets return to the big screen, some 12 years after their last film, this time brought to life by Jason Segel, the "Freaks and Geeks" star who wrote and stars in the film. Segel plays Gary, a guy who's in love with Mary (Amy Adams) and also has a muppet-brother named Walter. The three travel to hollywood and wind up helping Kermit and the gang rescue the old muppet theater when Walter overhears an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) talk of tearing it down. The muppets have to reunite to put on one last show and raise the ten million dollars needed to save the old theater in time.

There are lots of songs, lots of tear-jerking, and frankly lots of crass manipulation. This isn't a muppets sequel or even a re-launch of a "franchise", it's a eulogy for muppet nostalgia. Kermit it a washed-up recluse, living in a dilapidated mansion, singing forlorn songs of lost love and friendship. And it's not that I find this to be particularly offensive to my muppet memories, I just don't find it particularly entertaining. "Not very entertaining" is how I'd describe most of the movie. The aforementioned songs range from adequate to not-very-good-at-all (there's no "Rainbow Connection" to be found here, other than, well.. a new version of Rainbow Connection) and all were written by "Flight of the Conchords" member Bret McKenzie (coincidentally or not so much, the Muppets was also directed by Flight of the Conchords series' co-creator James Bobin). I guess if you're a Flight of the Conchords fan, you'll love the movie, but unfortunately, I can't stand Flight of the Conchords. However, in spite of my misgivings, the muppets themselves are actually really great. When the old muppets are on and they're doing their old show, the movie works and is fun. As big a fan as I am of Segel's, I wish there had been less of him and more of the muppets. Perhaps it would've distracted me from those endless "from-the-heart" speeches.

Love Me Tonight

Maurice Chevalier stars as a tailor who, in order to collect a debt from an aristocrat customer, poses as a baron (and falls in love with a princess). Of course, at some point the truth must come out, and then we find out if true love will prevail over a little white lie. No, you don't have to watch many romantic comedies to know this storyline is well-worn, but "Love Me Tonight" isn't like those other movies. It's an absurdist musical. The princess (Jeanette MacDonald) has a stuffy old uncle, the Viscount (Charles Ruggles), and the songs he sings have lyrics like "I'd rather throw a bomb at her than have her wed a commoner" in them. There's also some references to "Macbeth" thrown in, as well as an amazing, sprawling version of "Isn't It Romantic?" that was so well done it might've been 20 years ahead of its' time. If you're unfamiliar with Maurice Chevalier, or only know him from "Gigi", you might be surprised by the amount of charisma the guy gives off (or maybe not, if you're familiar with "Pepe le Pew", his homage). The last five minutes or so, with it's rousing songs ("the son-of-a-gun is nothing but a tailor!") and outstanding slapstick, could easily hold it's place with any Marx brothers movie, and the overall charm and character of this film should convince you it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other great musicals of that era.

The Spirit of St. Louis

Director Billy Wilder puts on a showcase with this biopic of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh's life, from his humble barnstorming days to his "welcome home" tickertape parade through the streets of New York City (where he was supposedly greeted by 4 million people), is represented through both flashbacks and linear storyline. Lindbergh, of course, was the first aviator to fly nonstop from New York to Paris, and in doing so, both cemented his place in history as well as forever changing the way we travel. Wilder employs many great techniques while telling Lindbergh's story, from the aforementioned flashbacks, to giving the audience a chance to listen in on Lindbergh's inner monologue (most particularly effective when Lindbergh is trying to get to sleep the night before the big flight). And it seems so effortless the way it's all blended together, like Wilder got a dose of Bergman before making the film. Jimmy Stewart plays Lindbergh effortlessly, despite being twenty years older than the man he was portraying at the time. Then again, Stewart often plays the same kind of role (not that there's anything wrong with that), so there's little in the way of surprises regarding the Lindbergh character. While this is a Lindbergh biography (somewhat), there's little attention paid to his life post-flight, whether it be his supposed nazi sympathizing or the kidnapping of his child in what was referred to as the "crime of the century", and rightly so. A film entitled "The Spirit of St. Louis" should be about the uplifting triumph of the human spirit over a great challenge, not some tabloid fluff. Stewart and Wilder manage to capture the "spirit" to which these endeavors were made. Good stuff.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
½

For years I labored under the delusion that Harold and Kumar were spin-off characters from the "American Pie" films. In fact, John Cho (Harold) was in the first one, and was the character who coined the phrase "MILF". One thing about those American Pie films, they liked to advance the kids fast: the time between sequels was often reflected in the changes in the characters lives. This new Harold & Kumar film comes six years after the last one takes place (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), and big changes are reflected in the characters' lives. For starters, the two are no longer bosom buddies: Harold has moved up the corporate ladder and has a beautiful home he shares with his beautiful wife, Maria (Paula Garces). Kumar, on the other hand, is still sitting around the old apartment getting high. When a mysterious package arrives for Harold at the apartment, Kumar and his horny nerd neighbor, Adrian (Amir Blumenfeld) make a stop in the suburbs to drop it off at Harold's. Through a series of unlikely events, Harold's father-in-law's (Danny Trejo) prized christmas tree gets torched and it's up to the pair to re-unite in order to replace the tree before the in-laws come home from midnight mass. No, it's not a very convincing plot (it's not even as creative as Guantanamo Bay), and there's a sparsity of laughs as compared to previous films. But worst of all, Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas makes the deadly mistake of letting their characters grow up, from slacker/stoner dudes to men with grown up responsibilities and jobs. Sure, there are some token tokes, but the guys spend more of the movie chasing after christmas trees and running away from some random bad guys. It's all a lot of harmless dumb fun that doesn't add up to much.

The Circus
The Circus(1928)

The Circus is quite a charming little film from the silent era, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. He of course plays the "little tramp" character who, while being chased by the cops, stumbles into the middle of a three ring circus where his antics draw the attention (and laughs), of the audience. The crowd's reaction does not escape the attention of circus proprietor and Ring Master (Al Garcia), who attempts to hire the tramp as a clown. The little tramp can only be funny spontaneously, and all the ring master's attempts at training him to be a clown fail, so the boss hires the tramp on as a janitor, whom he finds surreptitious ways to put out in front of the crowd at showtime. Of course the ring master has a beautiful step-daughter (Merna Kennedy), who is kowtowed to the ring master after years of abuse. The tramp falls in love with her and tries to win her affection.

It's said that after choosing the circus location, Chaplin largely improvised the film, which is probably why the plot is so basic. However, films from this era (especially comedies) are rarely plot-heavy, relying on different situations and tableaus rather than in depth story-telling. The Circus does deviate in the end from other standard stories, and it's final scene is quite effective. Overall, a sweet comedy that lets just the tiniest bit of real life peek through the movie screen.

White Heat
White Heat(1949)

Someone on IMDB called "White Heat" the bridge "between film noir and WB's classic gangster flicks", and I think it's a pretty apt description. It's the story of Cody Jarrett, psychotic gangster feared by everyone, and yet constantly looking over his shoulder as conspirators lie in wait at every turn (whether it be his right hand man, Big Ed, or the undercover cop, Vic Pardo). Cody the crackpot, with his phantom headaches and his obsessive fixation on his mother, you get the sense of impending doom lingering about his head. So what makes this film so noir-ish? Well, there's a certain amount of lurid fascination we the audience are made to feel with Cody's world, be it with his sleezy, back-stabbing wife or his disturbingly ruthless mother, it's all gritty and seedy. Characters like Pardo or "The Trader" (Cody's "manager") feel like they're ahead of their time in some ways, and we can still see echoes of them in modern day crime films. But it's James Cagney's Cody that steals the show. He's intense, intelligent, but maybe a little too trusting of those around him. His character is kind of pitiful in that he never sees betrayal coming until it's too late. It's a great performance and a great, if quirky crime noir that's right up there with The Big Sleep and The Big Heat (and other "big" movies, for that matter- well, except for Tom Hanks' "Big", obviously).

Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Good old Mr. Chips has been teaching at the Brookfield public school for several hundred years, or so the boys say. In "Goodbye, Mr. Chips", we're taken on a journey back through those several hundred years. Actually, Mr. Chips was the latin teacher from 1870 to 1918, with several extra years tacked on for good measure. The film begins in 1933, with the elderly Chippings reminscing about his first day at Brookfield. From there, we go through the next several decades, learning of Chips' life, love, and marriage to Katherine (Greer Garson). Much like for Chips himself, the film shows years as they begin to fly by in a blur, as new boys replace old boys, and new faces look the same as their fathers and grandfathers before them, in particular, little Colley, as played by Terry Kilburn (John Colley, Peter Colley, Peter Colley II, Peter Colley III). Yes, apparently Mr. Chips taught four generations of Colleys. Goodbye, Mr. Chips wants to say something profound about the past, about the futility of war and the precious briefness of life, and sometimes succeeds in doing so quite admirably. But it's Robert Donat's through-the-years portrayal of Mr. Chips that truly makes the film stand out (in fact, Donat won the oscar that year, beating out such other noteables as Gone With The Wind's Clark Gable and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington's Jimmy Stewart). Mr. Chips might have been a rather one-dimensional character without the warmth Donat brought to his performance. While the plot itself is fairly predictable, and certain stretches of time are given short change compared to others, the film still manages to the heart after all these years.

Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light)

The entire film takes place over a three hour period one afternoon in a cold and lonely swedish village. Tomas is the preacher at a church where attendance has dwindled so much it can be counted on one hand. But it's difficult to expect people to come hear someone preach when his own faith lacks conviction. Pastor Tomas has the "old schoolmarm" (played by Ingrid Thulin- who was 37 at the time) looking after him... well, actually the two are having an affair, albeit a rather passionless one. Even though she loves Tomas deeply, he refuses to return her love, as he's still mourning the loss of his wife. In one scene, Tomas tells a suicidal parishioner about his time spent on the battlefield during the war, where he witnessed brutality that contradicted everything God represented to him until his God became a compartmentalized, secret thing that only his wife could really help him to understand. It's his mistress who wants to fill that void in his life, but Tomas can only mire himself in what he calls "God's silence".

With Winter Light, writer/director Ingmar Bergman tells a very basic, straightforward story that is wrought with painful and very real emotions. Like characters from many other Bergman films, pastor Tomas is so wrapped up in his own pain, so self-absorbed, he fails to have any empathy whatsoever to his fellow man. It's not so much his beliefs (or God) have failed him so much as he's failed his beliefs. There is much weakness in these characters, but also much strength. What does one do when they think they've uncovered some unalterable truth that everything they've believed in is a lie? How does a mind recover from unbearably naked revelations? Tomas tries so hard to maintain the lie he lives that the only logical result is the resentment of existence itself.

The Uninvited

Part ghost story and part who-dunnit mystery, 1944's "The Uninvited" takes the mind into the musty basements and cobwebbed corners of the dark unknown. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as a brother and sister who stumble upon a great, abandoned seaside mansion on the English coast and quickly (or rather impulsively) decide to buy it. The owners, old commander Beech (Donald Crisp) and his granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell) seem to have very differing opinions of the old mansion and it's prospecive buyers, and it becomes all to clear there's more to the situation than meets the eye. The upstairs artist' studio, for example, has an air of depressing dankness in spite of it's great windows and spectacular view. There's also the matter of the mysterious cold draft that sets the hairs on the back of your neck on edge, even as it carries the scent of flowered perfume. It's here that the movie works most effectively, as characters squint and peer into impenetrable darkness, so we too in the audience do likewise, hoping to catch some glint off the tv screen as to what it is that menaces the young Stella and her friends. The Uninvited is very much a film of it's time, in that it never gets too dark or sinister. However, things like ouiji boards and seances are given quite effective use in the film. "The forces at work here are dangerous", and it's true. But what's more dangerous: hauntings and ghosts, or their effect on the human psyche? This film is more along the lines of "The Ghost and Mrs Muir" or perhaps even "The Thin Man" in terms of feeling and quality. Even though there are plenty of light-hearted 1940s moments, I can't deny the eeriness of this film.

The Thing
The Thing(2011)

In 1982, John Carpenter made the scariest movie I'd ever seen in my life (a record it would hold for another 15 or 20 years). "The Thing" was an intransigent horror: unknown, inescapable, and unstoppable (three terror-generating things found in almost any good horror picture). The Thing dared you to look at things generally left to the shadows of the imagination, creating effects and images never seen before. Carpenter's thing-from-another-world was a fully-lit grotesquery that was as dazzling in it's inventiveness as it was terrifying.

Which brings us to 2011's "The Thing". It's a prequel to the Carpenter version, and feels very much like an homage to the earlier film, with it's similar- sounding soundtrack and 80s vibe. The Thing also plays up the sci-fi elements from the previous versions as well. It's with the special effects however, that the latter day Thing wants most to remind us of the original and, coincidentally where it comes up most short. The filmmakers use computer effects to ape the effects of the original, but there is a distinct lack of purpose to it all. The alien in Carpenter's movie could form it's body to whatever purpose that would further it's survival; the modern Thing seems to form it's body soley for the purpose of frightening us. Unfortunately, re-hashed ideas are rarely as scary as the original concepts, and so much of the computer effects have a "been there, done that" quality to them. Taking something that was once creative and original and rehashing it into something very standard (in today's horror film market) does nothing but de-value and cheapen the genre as a whole. This version of The Thing is every bit as toxic as something like "Indiana Jones as the Crystal Skull" is to fans of the original "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Or any other latter day horror re-make (Halloween, Friday the 13th) for that matter.

Christmas on Mars
½

This could've used some editing. And some acting. There are some great (budget) visuals, and disturbing, creepy atmosphere, but nothing else worth mentioning. It's the type of film one should watch high in order to enjoy it to it's fullest. Unfortunately, I was stone sober and this movie was pretty much a challenge to sit through.

Jeepers Creepers 2

Justin Long has his fair share of detractors, and I'm sure that there are even those who enjoy his acting, but even the most dedicated Justin Long fan will have to admit in his heart-of-hearts that his performance in "Jeepers Creepers" stinks. Long bears the expression of a toddler that's been kicked in the balls for much of the movie, with his frozen expressions, wide eyes and gaping mouth. Of course, as it usually is with these types of horror movies, the worse the acting, the more we root for the killer to get the heroes and the more we delight in their suffering. "The Creeper" (as he's known in some circles) is your typical horror monster in that he's super strong, super scary-looking and impossible to kill. He's your atypical horror monster in that he drives a sweet truck and gets off on smelling people's dirty laundry. A brother and sister (Long and Gina Philips) are driving across what is supposed to be North Dakota on their way to visit their parents when they're nearly ran off the road by the aforementioned truck. After this happens, well, I'm not really sure what is going on. A lot of people get killed and the kids have to escape from the Creeper because he wants them for some reason. It's a lot of your typical B-movie, horror gobblety-gook. Perhaps a better director could've made it creepier (when it comes to horror, plot isn't as important as atmosphere and pacing). Jeepers Creepers plays it all pretty safe and it never takes off into anything suspenseful or even really horrific. By the end, I didn't even care if Justin Long "got it" or not.

One-Eyed Jacks

Who's supposed to be the good guy here? Marlon Brando directs (his one lone directing credit) and stars in this mexican-american western. As the movie opens, Rio (Brando) and Dad (Karl Malden), a pair of bandits, are cornered up on a hill by Rurales. Dad sneaks off to get fresh horses, but winds up abandoning Rio to the law, and he does 5 years of hard time in a Sonora prison. When Rio next catches up with Dad, Monterey, California, and Dad is living the fat life as the elected sheriff with a new wife and adopted daughter. Even though Dad has moved on and Rio has not, neither man is willing to forgive and forget the past. For Dad, it's fear and guilt that fuel his hatred of Rio; for Rio, while it's true he has a strong desire for justice, there is perhaps a certain amount of jealousy and resentment that people around him change while he stays the same. While Rio is obviously a tough guy and a expert gunslinger, he's rendered ineffectual for most of the movie by the powers that be.

There is an air of authenticity to One-Eyed Jacks, from Bob Amory's greasy face (Ben Johnson did an excellent job here as one of the few characters who was actually true to himself) to colloquialisms that sounded genuine in the old west setting. From Karl Malden and Ben Johnson, to Larry Duran (Rio's mexican partner) and Pina Pellicer (Rio's love interest, Louisa- an enchantingly unique beauty whose life was cut short in real life by depression and suicide), Brando the actor steps aside as Brando the director fleshes out these characters and gives his actors a chance to shine. It's all brought together with great story-telling. There are some truly great westerns that have been made throughout the last century, the lesser known One-Eyed Jacks deserves to be counted among the best.

Moneyball
Moneyball(2011)

Baseball is arguably the most emotional and passionate sport in America. Grown men will often get misty-eyed when the subject of our national pastime is brought up (it's an emotion somewhat akin to feelings of patriotism in that respect). Whether it's a walk off grand slam in the 9th, or a no-hitter by the home team's up-and-coming pitcher, there are certain moments in baseball that fans never forget, even if in time these things might be relegated to statistics and numbers on a piece of paper. In the film "Moneyball", we're asked to root for the gathering of statistics of players in lieu of rooting for the actual games and plays made by the players themselves.

Actually, it's the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the GM of the Oakland Athletics whose adoption of "sabermetrics" allowed his team to win a record 20 games in a row in 2002 (from wikipedia: "sabermetrics is the specialized analysis of baseball through objective, empirical evidence, specifically baseball statistics that measure in-game activity"). Beane's A's are in a funk: they've lost three big name stars to free agency and are scrambling to replace them with one of the lowest budgets in major league baseball, and traditional scouting methods aren't cutting it. Beane observes that Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a low level scout for the Cleveland Indians, seems to have some method and ability in choosing good, cheap players and hires him as his assistant general manager. It's Brand the economics major and Yale graduate who introduces Beane to sabermetrics and the two begin rebuilding the A's according to Brand's baseball algorithms. It can go without saying they meet with huge resistance within the baseball community, especially from the A's manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has no problem taking the credit when things start to go good for the team.

For all this talk about baseball, there's very little actual baseball in the film. Really, they could've substituted anything for baseball and wound up with a similar movie. Also, the concept of sabermetrics isn't explained very satisfactorily, other than it's some sort of magic, voodoo numbers crunching system that creates great teams out of nothing. But seriously, let's not kid ourselves here: this is a glossy, well directed, well acted, big hollywood production and plot is the least important aspect of such films. Moneyball is about the little guy being right when everybody else is wrong. That it happens to take place in a baseball setting is of little consequence. Yes, in my opinion there is a good film here, it's just surrounded by so many dubious qualities I'm unable to join in the chorus of hosannas it's been receiving.

Drive
Drive(2011)

I recall back in 2007, watching "There Will Be Blood" in a nearly vacant theater. At the end of the movie, a man sitting behind me stood up and loudly proclaimed it to be the worst movie he'd ever seen, as if preemptively pleading with us to share his opinion (and I did not, I found it to be one of the best movies I'd ever seen). Such was that film's polarizing power. Likewise, "Drive" seems to set people's emotional triggers off in such an extreme fashion that people either praise it to death or rail against it with a passion usually reserved for tea party meetings. Advertised as some sort of "Fast and Furious" type popcorn flick, Drive's studious pace and ponderous, weighty silences will have most adrenaline junkies fidgeting restlessly in their seats.

Drive tells the story of a hollywood stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a wheel man for thieves. Whether it's driving getaway cars or taking his new friends and neighbors, Irene and her son Benicio for a ride, it's all about the drive for him. Or so we assume. Actually, it's never obvious just what exactly is going on in his head, other than that he wants to do good for Irene and Benicio. Some past guilt might be driving him... or not. Then there's also the question of his obivous sociopathy, but I'd rather leave that one alone, other than to say it definitely amps up the tension in an already tense film. But what exactly is the Driver doing to help out the mother and little boy next door? After Irene's husband gets out of prison, the Driver helps him pull a heist in order to settle his debt with the local mob. The husband isn't a bad guy, just a dumb one who got mixed up with the wrong people. These mobsters are pretty atypical for this type of film (they perhaps recall the mob family from the John Cassavetes film, "The Killing of A Chinese Bookie") in that they're simple, (relatively) small-time operators who got in way over their heads. Perhaps it's a not-so-subtle jab that the most ruthless member of this "family" is former movie producer Bernie Rose (the excellent Albert Brooks).

Drive is actually the antithesis of those Fast and Furious movies. Where Fast and Furious throws a constant barrage of stimulation at your eyes, hoping to keep you on the edge of your seat (but in fact and in most cases, it simply overloads and exhausts and quite frankly bores), Drive creates an excellent dynamic of build up and release, those "weighty silences" are contrasted by a relentless, driving soundtrack (of what sounds like retro 80s techno or something) and tense anticipations. No, it's not a conventional, modern day action film, but some of us still think that's a good thing.

Creature
Creature(2011)
½

So an alligator steals a louisiana man's fiance/sister and in a rage the man eats the alligator and his sister and it mutates him into an alligator man. 100 years later, the alligator man is worshipped as a god in his local community. Enter a carload of (apparently) ex-military teens and their horny girlfriends who immediately go about mockingthe hicks and their wacky customs. Obviously they're just begging for a visit from the CREATURE.

Movies this poorly made are generally reserved for the sci/fi network movie of the week. Things happen to characters (such as a vicious spider attack) that come out of nowhere and are immediately forgotten. The big "reveal" as to what the Creature is and why the kids are being victimized in the way they are is almost completely nonsensical. Yes, it's bad filmmaking, but somehow it does manage to be entertaining. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this kind of cheese, but the film had me lol-ing throughout. Despite the horrible acting, directing, and writing, there's something that's a lot of fun about "Creature". You may take it or leave it, but if you're inclined to this sort of thing, you might also enjoy it. Just don't go a-swimmin' in any louisiana bayous at night.

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
½

Well made, watchable, even riveting at times, but sheesh. Precious is a 16 year old girl pregnant with her second child by her father. Her mother (Mo'Nique) is a violent, loud and ignorant woman who also sexually abuses the daughter. The first child Precious had was born with down syndrome, so her mother named it "Mongo". Precious is also picked on at school and considers herself to be dirt. That is until her principal recommends a special school for her where she might get some individual treatment from her teacher (Paula Patton). The teacher has the students write in a journal every day as a means of communicating their feelings (I guess).

Precious is like a blunt object used to batter you about the head and make you cry. It's unapologetically anti-male: they're either sexual objects (like male nurse Lenny Kravitz) or brutes who attack and rape. Even the awful mom is sort of portrayed as the pitiful victim of her man's abuse. And it stands to reason, her super awesome teacher who helps her the most is a lesbian, of course. At times, all the drama dips down into comedy, and no, I'm not laughing with, I'm laughing at. Still, of all the movies made about inner cities and disenfranchised people of color, this is probably the best one I've seen.

Conan the Barbarian

Whooo boy does this stink. No, it's not rocket-science, making a great Conan film. In fact, you can narrow it down to three ingredients: swords, de-capitations, and boobs. That's it, and it takes real incompetence to mess that up. Unfortunately, director Marcus Nispel (best known for his awful unoriginal re-makes of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th") has just the kind of incompetence to do it. Conan the Barbarian feels like a compilation of scenes from other similarly-themed movies (the big "water wheel" fight from the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is even ripped off here). Arrows raining down from the sky, the cgi sand monsters, and villains that are simultaneously cheesy and bland all feel so familiar because they've been lifted from other equally awful epic adventure films from the last 5 years or so. The obvious question is, if you're going to rip off a movie (or movies), why not rip off something better, or at least more successful? Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time didn't exactly rake in the box office dollars, so why imitate it so heavily? Well, having said all this, there is a minor bit of fun to be had with Conan. Mostly it's just a big bore.

Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch(1991)
½

"It's a literary high. It's a kafka high, you feel like a bug". So says Joan Lee, who has adopted the new and interesting drug habit of shooting up her exterminator husband Bill's bug poison. Not too much later, Bill accidentally shoots his wife in the head while playing a drunken round of "William Tell" (trying to shoot a glass off of her head). This sends him spiraling into the mad world of "interzone", some northern african land (Tangier?) full of secret agent bugs that disguise themselves as sexual typewriters, and secret lesbian cults. Director David Cronenberg somehow captures the madness of the fifties "beat" culture and the comedic darkness of both the Naked Lunch novel and the life of it's author, William S. Burroughs in a film that also manages to tell a linear story in the process. The artistic process, the literary process, the romantic process, and the effect of hard drugs on the state of the creative mind are all themes explored within the movie. It's the mad adventure of losing touch with reality, and living the life of a secret agent in one's own mind.

Gunga Din
Gunga Din(1939)
½

Cary Grant and company ruin a lot of brown peoples' days, 1800s-style. Loosely based on the poem by Rudyard Kipling, follows three british military officers as they party and fight their way through Indian deserts. When they're not getting drunk and beating up each other, the three army pals are taking on the thugee cult, fist-pummeling dozens upon dozens of angry thugs. Gunga Din is a fun movie, and it was apparently a huge inspiration to Steven Spielberg, as it was a source of major inspiration for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom".

Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown(1997)

Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino team up once again, this time adding 70s "blaxploitaion" star Pam Grier into the mix, in what can be best described as Tarantino's most "understated" film. No really, in comparison to his other works, this is practically an Ingmar Bergman character study. Tarantino forgoes usual round-about dialogue in favor of a more structured script and the result is something more in common with the Coen brothers' style of filmmaking than Kill Bill or Grindhouse. Jackie Brown is an airline stewardess who acts as a liason between an L.A.-based arms dealer and his South American clientele. When she gets busted by the cops, her arms dealer (Jackson) decides to silence her rather than risk her turning him in. Jackie, however, comes up with her own plan.

Jackie Brown isn't one of Tarantino's most successful movies and it's hard to say why. Maybe it's a little too ahead of it's time. Perhaps if it had been released in 2007, it would've had more of an impact. Perhaps not. Who's to say? Certainly not me. I know at the time, it was considered to be a throwback to the style of 70s blaxploitation, but watching it now, I find that atmosphere to be only barely present. Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda have some nice scenes together, and Samuel L. Jackson is completely over-the-top as the villain, but the whole thing feels like a sedated Pulp Fiction, and maybe that's why people reacted so luke warm to it when it was originally released. Whatever the case, it's an extraordinarily fun film.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
½

Everyone's favorite talking apes are back and gone are the latex masks, replaced by wholly animated and computerized chimps. James Franco is a young scientist who has seemingly discovered a cure for alzheimer's: when tested on chimps, it not only repairs damaged brain cells, it also makes them better than before. One chimp in particular seems take well to the new formula, and has even passed it on to her baby (the new baby is smart without having to take the formula). The results on humans aren't as good: the scientist tests the formula out on his own father (John Lithgow) who is suffering from alzheimer's, and while the results are good at first, the disease soon overcomes the cure. The natural solution is to up the strength of the formula and introduce it virally to patients. Once again, it works great on the apes, but has disasterous consequences for humans.

There's a surprising amount of depth to the animated chimps performances, and the plot is plausible science fiction. Most people will go to this movie to see apes running amok against humanity, storming through the streets, and taking over the world, but that's hardly the focal point here (in fact, when it comes to apes running amok, there's not a whole lot they can do with that, at least that which hasn't been done before). It may not be action-packed, but it is a damn good sci-fi film that gets the job done and should please fans of the original.

Captain America: The First Avenger

To quote Rick Jones (who is none other than the Incredible Hulk's pal), "He acts like a guy who's used to being obeyed... and fast!". This was his first impression of Captain America, the WWII superhero that had recently been unfrozen by the Avengers and was facing a new world of the future in 1962. On paper (no pun intended), "Cap the sap" is kind of a lame superhero: he doesn't really have any super powers, his costume is kind of silly, he has Bucky, his young boy sidekick, and he throws a stupid shield around. Plus, he's really goody-goody (much like Superman). Seriously? Wolverine has claws that pop out of his wrists, and Iron Man has a bad ass suit, so how can Cap compete?

No, Captain America is not the super hero of choice for a cynical age, and much like Superman, his authoritative command of respect and his unwavering dedication to his country and the protection of its laws make him superbly and squarely square. At least this is what I think the filmmakers of "Captain America: the First Avenger" think of him. Why else would they go so drastically out of their way to alter the character? The first half of the film is taken almost verbatim from both the origin comic from the 1940s and the "re-launch" of Cap in the 1960s, the texture and technique of the film fleetingly touches a Norman Rockwellian-type tribute. It's only after Cap gets infused with the "super soldier serum" that the film wants us to forget whose film this is. There's a palpable sense of embarrassment of Captain America on the screen. The original character is played for laughs as the military higher-ups decide Cap is only good for being a bonds salesman on USO tours, and sends him out as a goofball clown to do some phony nazi fighting. When he finally disobeys orders and goes after "HYDRA" (Hitler's experimental supernatural warfare division, as headed up by the Red Skull- the villain in this picture), he covers up his superhero suit with some military garb. And when the soldiers cheer his heroic deeds, they sound hesitantly embarrassed when they say "Let's hear it for Captain America!". In fact, the other characters in the film rarely refer to him as Captain America at all, and instead usually call him "Steve" or "Captain Rogers". So what's the deal?

Captain America's power is more untangible than most of the other comic book heroes. His superpowers are super-bravery and super unwavering determination, and how do you portray that stuff up on the screen? Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers as an affable, if slightly confused and lost nice guy who is just a cog in some machinations of which he has no clue. No, he's not someone who's "used to being obeyed... and fast!", he's just kind of a dorky/douchey guy who farts his way in and out of adventures. There's a certain amount of swash-buckle to the film that recalls "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-type adventure, but stripping Cap of his authority, you just wind up with a guy in a goofy costume who throws a shield around up on the screen. Sure, it's an entertaining and fun film, but where's Captain America, and why are they so afraid to show him?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

At long, long last, the epic Harry Potter series comes to a close, after ten years and 30-plus films, we finally know professor Dumpledore's true secret identity (I won't spoil it here, you're just going to have to watch the film to find out). Part two of the Deathly Hallows picks up pretty much where part one left off (which I guess stands to reason): Harry and friends are searching for horcruxes so that they may defeat lord Voldemort, but meanwhile they're being hunted as fugitives by the new wizards in charge (led by the new headmaster of Hogwarts, professor Snape). The movie begins with Harry and co. breaking into the first National Bank of Goblins where one of the horcruxi is being kept. There's some exciting stuff involving a dragon, and then it's back off to Hogwarts, where things start to unfold for the final showdown.

Deathly Hallows parts one and two have been a nice closer for the Harry Potter series. There are legions of fans who absolutely adore the books, and the films have always been a bit of a mixed bag, but with this final film, the Potter series cements its place in history as a cultural phenomenon. As a film, I think it touches all the bits and pieces it needs to, and while it's not necessarily spectacular, it does do what it needs to. Maybe someday in the long distant future, I'll even sit myself down and read these damn books.

Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet(1986)

A dandy fop pimp (Dean Stockwell) lip syncs Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" while a psychotic kidnapper (Dennis Hopper) stands listening, racked with emotion. That kind of scene may be standard fair for filmmaker David Lynch, but Blue Velvet is actually a more of a straight ahead ode to 1950s film noir than anything. The film begins in an idyllic small town setting but right from the beginning, there's a sense that not all is wholesome and family values here. On the way to the hospital to visit his father, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a human ear lying in the woods. He takes it to the police and discovers some business about a missing person and a singer at a local nightclub. With the police detective's teenage daughter (Laura Dern) tagging along, Jeffrey launches his own personal investigation of the singer (Isabella Rossellini). What he discovers is a world of sex and violence centering around the sadomasochistic hophead Frank Booth (Hopper).

David Lynch likes to paint with broad strokes when he makes movies. Sometimes it seems like we're looking through the lense of some alien studying our planet. But Lynch isn't as inaccessible or weird as you might think, in fact films like Blue Velvet follow a pretty standard narrative. I like his unique perspective, both in the style of his films and the way in which he directs his actors. Blue Velvet has an aura of sleaze about it which is exactly the film it was meant to be. The film itself is quite superb.

Inside Job
Inside Job(2010)

Idealogy vs. criminalogy. Inside Job is a documentary that attempts to show how an unregulated, free market economy is actually the worst thing imaginable when it comes to finance, by showing us first Norway, then America's disasterous attempts at unregulated economies. Beginning with Ronald Reagan, and continuing through Obama's presidency, controls on Wall Street have been slowly yet methodically eased, until the ability to legally steal money became possible. Alan Greenspan's free market ideology and his governmental power brought about most of this deregulation. The loan industry lost all acountability as they were no longer responsible for defaulted loans, having sold them off to speculatory investors who were told by paid off credit rating agencies to rate them as AAA. Also, investment banking had become more popular, dealing with people's retirement funds and investing in "crap". People were minting money out of thin air, investing in houses built on sand, and paying themselves huge bonuses. When something is stolen, usually the thieves are punished. But when laws are changed to make theft legal to the clever criminal, there is no recourse left open to the victims. But just because it is legal to steal, does that mean people are required to? At some point, greed ceases to be the motivating factor, and people begin to acquire money as some sort of contest to see who has the biggest wallet. There is no longer a need or even a desire for money, just a desire to have more of it than anyone else. It seems that's the chief drawback to an unregulated market: the fact that there will always be those who will take advantage of the system. Deregulation doesn't create wealth, it destroys it.

The film makes a great many points, and while it does delve into some technical areas (I learned what a C.D.O. is- even if I've already forgotten it), the last forty minutes or so become a bit redundant. When you've seen one crooked politician or investor sweating under the scrutiny of some off-camera interviewer, you've seen them all. It is an eye opener, however, to see just how much of a failure president Obama has been at keeping his campaign promise to "clean up wall street". In the end, Obama has been every bit the cheer leader for the wealthy that George W. was, and after the great Fannie May loan bailouts, it's a bitter, bitter betrayal of the people who put him in office.

His Girl Friday
½

Snappy dialogue and a quick-witted script highlight this film from 1940. Based on a play called "The Front Page", director Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" takes a comedically serious look at the sleezy world of yellow journalism. Star reporter Hildy (Rosalind Russell) is quitting the newspaper business to go lead a respectable life as the wife of insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). However, her former boss (and ex-husband) Walter would rather she forget all this respectability business and come back to work for him (and also marry him again). The story he hopes will bring her back is the execution of cop murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen). Walter is fighting to get a pardon for Williams, who killed a "colored" cop and the mayor is only trying to get him executed because of the election coming up (because the colored vote is very strong in that town). Apparently, Williams was driven "crazy" because of all the hard times poor people must face, and when a gun was placed in his hand, he was compelled to use it. I guess all this is logical by 1930s standards, but many of these plot details had me cringing. There's a strange amoral morality at work with these characters. They do horrible things to innocent people to get what they want, but I suppose since they're the heroes of the film, we're supposed to root for them. The story is good however, I wonder if it might've been a better drama than screwball comedy.

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)

A feelgood film about a boxer based on a true story? An uplifting sports movie about overcoming the odds? Well, sort of. Yes and no. The Fighter is Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and the challenge he's overcoming is his brother, the fighter Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky doesn't just dominate the conversation, he is the conversation. He's the type of character who must be the center of attention at all times. Being addicted to crack only fuels the fire of ego-mania for the man who claims to have once "knocked down" Sugar Ray Leonard (even though it's entirely possible he just slipped). Micky is a promising up-and-comer, but his career is being doubly sabotaged by the twin threats of his trainer/brother and manager/mother, Alice (Melissa Leo). The family is so caught up in "the Dicky Show", (with Alice cheerleading Dicky constantly), that no one takes any responsibility for Micky's career, or more specifically, the damage they repeatedly do to it by mis-managing him. In comes Charlene (Amy Adams), a bartender who strikes up a relationship with Micky. She becomes the voice he never had when it came to speaking up for himself to his family.

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg play characters that couldn't be any more opposite, and both do great things in their own ways with the roles given to them. Melissa Leo also makes a strong impression as the domineering mother, but really this is Bale's shining moment. Dicky the crack addict man baby shows some self-awareness beneath all the self aggrandizing. It's not a subtle role but aspects of it must be subtle to keep an element of surprise to the movie. It's a new take on a well-worn story, but the performances put this film a notch above most other films of it's class.

Green Lantern
½

Summertime means big, special effects blockbusters at the movie theater, and it's obvious the filmmakers of "Green Lantern" had their hopes lying in that direction. At the same time, Green Lantern, as far as superheroes go, is lesser known than say, Batman or Spider-man, and requires a little more backstory to explain to the non-comic book folks out there just who Green Lantern is and why he has a lantern in the first place (and why Green Lantern refers to both an object and the person who possesses it). Actually, Green Lantern (the movie) is just as much a sci-fi space epic as it is a superhero film, which is one of it's problems as it wants to be all things to all people.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is some sort of military stunt test pilot, who flies fighter jets against computerized drones to prove that humans are better than computers (although he breaks the "rules" to win, which seemingly defeats the purpose of the test flight/simulated combat in the first place). The bosses' daughter (Blake Lively) also happens to be a test pilot, and the two had a fling at one point. Meanwhile, an alien spacecraft has crash-landed on earth, and the dying alien, a member of the Green Lantern Corps, magically summons Jordan to crash sight in order to pass his Green Lantern ring off onto him. Jordan learns that the green energy the ring produces is the manifestation of will power (there are other energy forces in the universe, noteably yellow, which is the manifestation of fear), a force the "Guardians" (a race of immortal alien sentinels watching over the universe) harnessed many eons ago. The greatest threat the universe has ever faced, Parallax, the master of the yellow power of fear, is coming for the Green Lanterns, and it's up to Hal Jordan to conquer his inner fear and defeat the monster in time to save the world.

I understand one of the main criticisms of this film is the feeling it all seems pasted together from other films and stories. There is also a distinct lack of focus in the film-making. Green Lantern attempts to please comic book fans while at the same time panders to a wider film audience that wants America to kick some ass in 3D with lots of explosions at the end. It feels like the sort of superhero film that was being made ten years ago, before the Dark Knight raised the standard. On the other hand, while there are some slow moments, it's perfectly passable entertainment, nothing special nor awful, just... reasonably okay.

Youth in Revolt
½

Michael Cera gets a bad rap for basically playing the same character in every one of his movies. There's something to be said for an actor who finds niche for himself in the movie industry. John Wayne is famous for being a cowboy and Micheal Cera is famous for being a quirky teen. In fact, one can take for granted that Cera will be just fine in whatever quirky teen role he's in and spend their time focusing more on the film surrounding him. Youth in Revolt is actually a pretty entertaining film about quirky teens.

Michael Cera is stuck with his slutty mom and her dirty hobo boyfriend (Zach Galifianakis) who is on the run from sailors after selling them a broken down car. The three go up to a trailer park for a vacation-on-the-lam, and it's there Cera meets Sheeni (Portia Doubleday), an equally quirky teen who fulfills all the requisite "heartbreaker" qualities a quirky male teen might look for in a girl. Cera adopts an alter ego persona named Francois Dillinger to help him overcome his fears and become a sauve ladies man. Well, not necessarily adopts, Francois is sort of a guardian angel-type character that follows him around, advising him on how to handle certain situations. The film, while being a romantic indie comedy, goes to some pretty dark places, what with the drugs and obsessive stalker types. It's all done with full self awareness, for as they point out in the film, being a teenager is about emotional extremes, where things seem black-and-white, life-or-death, and hormonal attraction is so palpable, it might as well be a physical thing standing next to you in the room.

Get Him to the Greek

How much comedy gold can be mined from the old "sex, drugs and rock-n-roll" cliches? Approximately ten minutes worth, apparently. Russell Brand's dopey yet hyper-sexual/"pseudo Bono"- rock star persona "Aldous Snow" (first seen in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") has recorded a disasterous pop song about his "inner african child" that's resulted in not only damage to his career but also to his love life with "psuedo-Lady Gaga" singer, Jackie Q. Meanwhile, the recording industry is in a slump and label CEO Sergio (Sean 'PUFF DADDY' Combs) is looking for hot new ideas to generate revenue. One of his employees (Jonah Hill), who also happens to be a super fan of Aldous', pitches the idea of a concert to commemorate the last time Snow was huge in the charts. Puffy agrees and assigns Hill to bring Snow to the Greek Theater for the concert. The rest of the film involves Hill trying to get Aldous to the Greek (hence the title!).

A lot of the comedy in this film comes from the notion that Russell Brand is intrinsically funny, and therefore there is very little need to focus on injecting any actual comedy into the script. It's a shame too, because Russell Brand can be great (as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but there has to be some effort put into the writing. Maybe Aldous Snow is better in small doses, like an SNL character, he's just not cut out for his own full length film. I'm not sure what the case is, only that Get Him To The Greek is missing something. Actually, it's a perfectly watchable movie, the premise and the story are fine, it's just a lack of humor that makes it so... blah. Blah. Just all too reminscent of other recent "comedies" (I'm looking at you, "Date Night"), in that somebody forgot to put in the laughs.

Super 8
Super 8(2011)
½

"Super 8" is a fun, if slightly generic pastiche of similarly-themed films from the past few decades. A young group of kids ("Goonies") are making a film ("Son of Rambow") and catch something catastrophic ("Cloverfield") on camera. The kids discover there's something more sinister at work when the military steps in and becomes involved ("Too Many Other Movies To Name"). Meanwhile, a couple of the kids are having trouble with dads that just don't understand them ("Stand By Me"). The film is set in 1979, a gimmick which I suppose gives parents a chance to wax nostalgic while their kids can enjoy an actual film that isn't just nonstop lights and colors being flung at their faces.

J.J. Abrams is definitely channeling his inner Spielberg, and not in an entirely bad way either. There's a palpable sense of wonder as we follow these kids around on their adventures, boys on the cusp of teenage adolescence, just discovering girls yet still very much involved with monsters, toys and blowing things up. But I'm sure all this wonderment is no accident, being very much calculated to be a summer blockbuster. Does it work? Yes, to a degree, but Super 8 is no instant classic. Nor will it be held in the same kind of regard as The Goonies or Stand By Me. That's not to say it's not enjoyable, it's sort of like one of those hollow chocolate easter bunnies: it's pretty good, you just wish there was more to it than that.

X-Men: First Class

I'll have to admit, when it comes to superhero films, the X-Men series is probably my least favorite. Too many characters, each with a more ridiculously unlikely super power than the last (mutant super powers in general seem like fodder for lazy comic book writers- "hey, let's have his fingertips shoot out lasers, but only when the sun goes down"- type of stuff). The movie versions of these comic books only tend to highlight the ridiculous-ness of it all with their poorly done computer-generated effects. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" was probably one of the worst films I've ever seen, comic book-based or not, and it left me with nothing but ill-will for the X-Men franchise. Needless to say, going into "X-Men: First Class", my expectations were low.

X-Men: First Class is a departure from the earlier films, a prequel taking place in the sixties, when Professor X and Magneto were young men working together, learning to control their mutant abilities while helping others with similar powers learn to control theirs. Magneto's sad origins in a nazi concentration camp are further explored and expanded upon from previous films as well. Manipulated by the nazi doctor who later turns out to be the powerful mutant, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), Magneto learns to harness his power through rage and fear, something the sheltered and affluent Charles Xavior never had to experience. While Xavior spends his youth in school, getting his degree in genetic studies, Magneto pursues revenge on the ones that murdered his people.
What's great about Marvel Comics is that, while yes, they do take themselves seriously to a certain extent, they also acknowledge there's something comical and odd about grown men dressing up in colorful costumes and fighting one another (Last month's "Thor" managed to do this quite well). X-Men: First Class keeps things pretty light-hearted for most of the movie. However, the X-men have always been the more serious of the comic book super characters, with storylines based in part on nazi genocide and the civil rights movement from the fifties and sixties (if Professor X were Martin Luther King and Magneto were Malcom X). X-Men: First Class doesn't know which side it wants us to root for, Magneto's "defend mutants from homo sapians at any cost" or Professor X's pursuit of a peaceful co-habitation on the planet. You can't really blame Magneto if he considers Professor X a sellout for organizing a group of mutants to hunt down other mutants that pose a danger to the non-super humans, though. In any event, X-Men: First Class does stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the X-men films, even if the final act seems like a repeat of the first movie's ending.

The Hangover Part II

Yeah, it's the Hangover again. So let me copy/paste some of my original review here (since the filmmakers are copying and pasting their original film into this sequel): "A group of friends have a wild bachelor party in (Bangkok), only to wake up the next day with the (bride's little brother) missing and no recollection of the previous night's events. However, what The Hangover (2) lacks in originality, it makes up for with it's willingness to go the extra mile over the line of good taste. Zach Galifiankis' deadpanned character in particular, stands out as some sort of sub-human, mentally unbalanced pedophile (but in a loveable way?), upping the "Bluto from Animal House" ante. Bradley Cooper continues his string of roles in which he plays a douchebag, and Ed Helms essentially brings his character from the Office over to this movie. The Hangover, while not a college movie, is filled with typical fratboy humor that should go over well with the Harold and Kumar crowd, even dropping in a random celebrity appearance (only here it's Mike Tyson rather than Neil Patrick Harris)." Okay, enough copy/paste.

Actually, this time Zach Galifianakis' character has been reduced from the above description to some sort of mentally handicapped contrarian, someone who simply does the opposite of what anyone asks him to do (or what would be common sense, for the most part), and the Ed Helms character has become considerably more shrill. Other than that, you will find the exact same laughs as before, with very little change or deviation (other than that of locale). Kim Jeong's "Mr. Chow" is actually one of the only reasons to bother with this sequel, while Paul Giamatti makes a completely unnecessary appearance in the film. Really though, even fans of the first one will have very little to get excited about here.

My Favorite Wife
½

My Favorite Wife is one of the lesser, lighter Cary Grant movies. In it, he plays a man whose wife is lost at sea. Seven years later, he goes to the judge to have her declared dead so that he may re-marry. No sooner does he re-marry when his first wife comes wandering back home. She had been living on a tropical island for the last seven years and had only been rescued recently by a passing freighter. Naturally, from this all sorts of chaos arises. Well, some minor chaos. This film is listed as a starring vehicle for Irene Dunne (the original wife), so it's little wonder the new wife (Gail Patrick) is barely in the picture at all. There's very little controversy or dilemma involved on the husband's part. He never considers the new wife, even for a little bit. There's a couple of cute gags, mostly involving the guy Dunne was stuck on the island with (Randolph Scott), but this film is way too slight to make anyone go out of their way to see it.

Ordet (The Word)
½

In a little danish farming community, the word of Jesus Christ is debated and preached between rival classes of townfolk. Although all are christian, the debate concerns who the "real" christians are and which are truly following the word of Jesus as it should be followed. On one side of the feud is the Borgen farm, with it's elderly father of three sons, all of varying degrees of faith. Eldest son Mikkel is an agnostic whose pragmatic view of the world borders on blasphemy. Johannes, is opposite his brother, believing himself to be the lord Jesus reborn on earth (the youngest son, Anders, really only serves as means of connecting the feuding factions, in a manner similar to "Romeo and Juliet"). Away from the farm, in the village community, a new christian order has arisen where once there was none. Led by the town tailor's family, they celebrate the Christ of damnation and death. The lord of all the dead, the lord of the pious members of the community. There is a rivalry between the elder farmer and the tailor that might extend beyond just religion, as the tailor engages in a bit of class envy as well. While the farmer condemns the townsfolk for their "doom and gloom" christianity, his own faith seems to be only of the lip-service kind and hardly light-hearted and cheerful. He paces about, ringing his hands and cursing his bad luck in life, as he bades his children (well, the ones who aren't Jesus) to pray with him for blessings that never come. The family consider Johannes a burden, and none of them ever actually listen to the things he has to say. Johannes was studying theology until exposure to the philosopher Kierkegaard caused him to have a mental breakdown. What does all this add up to? As Johannes exclaims, these christians have so much faith in a dead christ, and the ancient word, but none know living Jesus nor apply his word to their lives (the following lyrics are quoted from one of the christian hymns: "none knoweth the day before the sun goeth down, Good morning good morning sings the bird on the bough, it saw the evening sun behind the prison wall, at dawn the flowers curtsied sweet-scented, by evening they lay crushed under a storm of hail, small children played often in the red glow of morning, by evening they lay on the coffin still and dead"- it's death they worship, not life).

"Ordet" began its existence as a play written by a pastor who was condemned to death by the nazis. In the hands of filmmaker Carl Dreyer, it becomes not just a celebration of the living christ, but a celebration of life in general. Life and spiritualism and the notion that the two go hand-in-hand. Closing our eyes and ears to the life that goes on around us, to our family and friends, forsaking these moments so that we might honor ancient words in some brittle text, is not the way to spiritual enlightenment, nor should it be. What one loves in Christ, one must also find in the eyes of a child, or in the warmth of family. We were not put on this earth to celebrate death and sadness.

Stella Dallas

Poor Stella. All she wanted was to fool a rich man into marrying her, so that he might give her the kind of extravagant lifestyle she always knew she deserved. Ordinarily, this would be the happy ending of most of the films from this time period, but in director King Vidor's "Stella Dallas", it's only the beginning of the tale because, what comes after you trick the rich guy into marrying you? Do you maintain your well-crafted ruse, or do you let him see the real you? Do you make any effort to fit into his high social standings, or do you revert to the same old slob you've always been? After Stella (Barbara Stanwyck) marrys the wealthy Mr. Dallas (John Boles), and the two have a child, she decides she wants to have her cake and eat it too. She expects love and admiration from her husband without giving him any love or doing anything admirable; she wants to be a member of high society but has no interest in adapting to it or learning simple good social graces. In fact, the longer the marriage goes on, the less effort Stella puts into it. It's no wonder Mr. Dallas takes that position in New York that keeps him away from home for so much of the year.

Their daughter Laurel, is the one thing they see eye-to-eye on. Both agree she needs to be raised as a refined and educated lady. But is that really what Stella wants? Stella comes to depend on Laurel to fulfill all her emotional needs, and that seems like a lot of pressure to put on your child. What happens when Laurel starts living a life that doesn't include mother? "Stella Dallas" is an unusual film for it's time and would certainly be an odd film today. An aimless character like Stella lives an aimless life and in the end doesn't really have anything to show for it. It's a sort of just-comeuppance for someone who isn't really that bad a person (and actually by most standards, is a wonderful, self-sacrificing woman) masquerading as a hard-suffering "woman done wrong"- type of story. There's quite a lot of depth to this film, if one knows what they're looking at.

Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)

Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore seemed heavily inspired by Fellini's 1973 film "Amarcord", but with a love story steeped in the cinematic tradition. The story follows young Salvatore 'Toto' Di Vita, a kid growing up in a small italian village whose soul lies in the cinema. His hero, Alfredo, is the projectionist at the "Cinema Paradiso", the movie theater that doubles as the church in the daytime. In fact, the local priest is in charge of 'censoring' all the racy content from the films shown in the theater, having Alfredo cut out any scene where two people kiss. The boy grows into a teen and falls in love with a beautiful girl who's father doesn't approve, and the two are destined to be separated. All the while, and under Alfredo's encouragement, Toto continues to develop his love of the cinema into other practical applications, including making his own films. Salvatore winds up leaving the village and does not return for 30 years, and then only for Alfredo's funeral. He finds much has changed in the village, but there are also several ghosts from his past still lingering about the empty buildings.

A lot of passion went into making Cinema Paradiso, there's a lot of it up on the screen; some elements are painful and some are joyful, how well one can relate to it depends on the life one has lived. Chuck Berry once said: "Everyone, if not now, someday will have been in love, or remember love, so why not write a song about that?". A love story is perhaps the most obvious way to go when writing something from the heart. The trick to this film is, the true love story is between Toto and the cinema, in spite of what we are led to believe when we are led to believe otherwise. The slightest little hook at the end of the film, and the whole tone is changed.

Question humaine, La, (Heartbeat Detector)
½

It's easy to paint all of nazi germany as sadistic monsters, ripping the heads off of babies and throwing them into ovens, but the truth is a little more disturbing. We must rationalize and demonize in order to cope with the fact that some of these monsters, these murderers, were little more than bureaucrats performing a grotesque but necessary function in order to make society a "better" place. While nazism had roots in mysticism and the occult, it also arose out of intellectual pursuits in genetics and socialism. The purpose of weeding out "inferior" gene pools of the jews, mentally ill, gypsies, etc. was to make the human race as a whole more strong. In this society, the individual was unimportant, only the propagation of the species. The idea that some of us are the "master race" while others are a "sub-species", while primitive pseudo-science, could be swallowed by a lot of people with the right motivators in place (and a master orator like Hitler to feed it to them). It's not enough, especially in hindsight, to recognize something as evil, whether it be a movement or idea, we have to understand how evil rises out of something benign.

"Heartbeat Detector" (also known as " La question humaine") centers around a corporate psychologist who, while extremely efficient in stream-lining the corporation, has suddenly found himself surrounded by executives with nazi connections. Granted, firing someone from a job is in no way equivilent to murdering them in a holocaust, but the methods and terminology of the business world are eerily similar to that of the nazis. Referring to men as numbers, it's easier to terminate them if they can be somehow dehumanized. Is there something intrinsically evil in trying to increase the "greater good" by eliminating the lesser and weaker members of an organization? Maybe Heartbeat Detector tries to make that connection, but one can always get another job if one is fired from a business for issues one has created for oneself. Being fired for being lazy isn't the same as being murdered for being born the wrong religion or race. It is an intriguing concept, however. Heartbeat detector is an interesting, thought-provoking film that challenges the notion of innocence or guilt when it comes to committing evil deeds.

Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids(2011)

Another Judd Apatow-produced comedy only this time the twist is that it's for the ladies. Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph play best friends, that is, until Lilian (Rudolph) announces she's engaged to be married. Of course, Annie (Wiig) is the maid-of-honor, but she's not without a little competition. Of course things go wrong for Annie, for this is where the comedy lies, but it's not like she doesn't deserve it. You'll find few characters in the movies as self-obsessed as this one. While it's obviously directed towards the ladies, there are some laughs for guys as well, but this is more in line with "Knocked Up" than any of the other Apatow-produced comedies. Too much heart makes the movie move a lot slower than a spry comedy aught to. I hate to say it, but these chicks could've used some balls.

Thor
Thor(2011)
½

"Thor" is a big dumb movie about a big dumb Norse god who smashes things with his hammer first and asks questions later. His father Odin, king of the gods, sees this as some sort of flaw in his son, especially when the boy starts a war with the frost giants, ending a hard fought truce. Thanks to some scheming by Thor's nefarious half-brother Loki, Thor is banished to earth and stripped of his magic powers. He's discovered by a female scientist (Natalie Portman) and her team and mistaken for a loon, albeit a hot-looking loon. Oh, will Thor be able to regain his magic hammer and stop the coming war with the frost giants in time? More importantly, will he be able to stop Loki and his attempt to overthrow Odin from his seat of power?

Thor, the norse viking god, was indeed a big, dumb warrior who often got outsmarted by Loki and the frost giants, but always managed to get the better of his enemies by sheer brute strength (vikings of course, didn't respect the intellectual as much as the violent but honest brute). But this isn't the mythological Thor, it's Marvel's Thor, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in the early sixties. Thor and asgaard as filtered through Jack Kirby's swinging sixties pop art brush strokes. Thor of "The Avengers", friend of Iron Man and Captain America and member of an illustrious movie franchise that is sure to bring in billions around the world. Oh, and it's directed by shakespearean actor/director Kenneth Branagh as well. It's a safe bet you already know whether or not you're going to enjoy this movie. What's surprising is that it actually kind of delivers on all it's promises. It is for the most part a fun, action-packed story-heavy comic book movie for those who love such things.

Rio
Rio(2011)
½

I fell in love with the idea of Rio de Janeiro after seeing the film "Black Orpheus". In it, Rio is depicted as a sort of fairy tale realm where people dance and sing all day. Although not strictly a kid's movie (it's perhaps a little too earthy and "ethnic" for middle american parental sensibilities), it's an amazing fantasy picture of a far away place. What can a cartoon like "Rio" do to compare?

A little bird who never learned to fly is taken from his home in Brazil and sent to the snowy reaches of Minnesota where he's adopted by a nice lady bookstore owner. One day, a nice but clumsy ornithologist (wacky bird doctor) comes to her store to ask her to fly to Rio de Janeiro with him so that her bird might mate with his bird, as they are the last two of their species and he wishes to see if they can continue their survival. A group of evil animal poachers want to steal the birds and sell them on the black market (chaining the birds at the leg). Meanwhile, the two birds aren't really getting along, as the one can't fly and the other is a wild bird who wants to be free, but with the help of all their little bird friends, they find out that they're destined to be together. If this description sounds up your alley, by all means rush to see "Rio". The truth of the matter is, for all the colorful birds and the exotic locations, Rio is a pretty standard kiddy cartoon. Good for occupying the rugrats for a bit, but hip-hopping cartoon characters should really have gone away by now.

Insidious
Insidious(2011)

When I was a kid, I had an irrational fear of Ronald McDonald. I can remember sitting in the back of the family car as it was parked in the driveway, imagining Ronald running across a big open field, coming for me. I knew if I looked over the back seat out the window, his advance would be inescapable and paralyzing. An irrational fear of something that just didn't make much sense at the time. Insidious goes from "I think I just saw something" to "I know I just saw something and it's still there" to "it's not going away" and finally to "oh, I wish I could be somewhere else!". This isn't just any idle comment. The most terrifying of horrors are those that dare you to face them, not the ones that hide in the shadows but those that walk right out into the middle of the room and dare you to confront them. Or maybe that's just me. Few horror movies have the guts to show you fully lit terror (offhand I can think of John Carpenter's "The Thing" or maybe "Re-Animator"), but then again "Insidious" isn't a horror film, it's a ghost story.

"Insidious" is the old story of a family that moves into a haunted house and yada yada yada, weird things start happening, kids disappear, etc. Yes, it's reminscent of other similar films such as "Poltergeist" (and at times it even reminds me of "The Others"), but director James Wan, best known for the "Saw" franchise, manages to take something old and make it new, without all the requisite blood and gore. Ghosts have their own built-in fear factor, and it takes a smart director to know when to raise the tension and when to relieve it. Wan plays "Insidious" for maximum creepy tension, taking great delight in keeping the audience in terror. As the film progressed, I sank down further in my chair, nailed to the back of it as if I were still a kid in the old family car and I could sense Ronald McDonald peering in through the window at the back of my head.

Laura
Laura(1944)

Director Otto Preminger weaves quite a spell in the 90 minutes it takes to tell the story of Laura, a murder mystery of the classic forties "noir" variety. The film follows Detective Mark McPherson as he goes about questioning the suspects in the murder of Laura Hunt, an upwardly mobile business woman who ran around with snotty socialites and the intellectually elite. McPherson leaves no stone unturned, going down through the list of parasites in her life. No one has any reason for killing Laura, and yet everyone seems guilty of something, especially her overly sensitive, leading man-type fiance, Shelby (Vincent Price). Leading the charge against Shelby is Laura's friend and patron Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), a columnist laboring under the notion that his words are mighty enough to make or break anyone. He's a viciously clever intellectual whose only soft spot is his affection for Laura. As McPherson uncovers more and more facts, he develops feelings for the dead woman, fueling his desire to discover the truth. It's getting to that truth that makes "Laura" so fun to watch: the story is so deftly told it's never obvious what the solution to the mystery is. Following detective McPherson around as he pieces together the crime, we form our own deductions, and those deductions speak volumes about the kinds of people we are.

Get Low
Get Low(2010)
½

Robert Duvall has made a great career out of character studies, whether it's "The Great Santini" or "Tender Mercies", and "Get Low" wants to follow in that tradition. Duvall plays an old hermit, living in a log cabin in the woods, apparently a local legend who scares women and kids. The old hermit, for whatever reason, decides he'd like to give himself a funeral, and have everyone who "has a story to tell" about him to come and tell it. Bill Murray is (as usual) a standout as the shady funeral director looking to make some big bucks off the funeral. Lucas Black, the kid from "Sling Blade" still has that same southern drawl and a great pair of Bruce Cambell-esqe eyebrows as the funeral director's assistant salesman. But the focus of the story is the hermit, and while ultimately, it is quite an interesting tale, the journey to that end is quite labored. It's the pacing I have difficulty with, it's the amount of effort required to arrive at the simple points being made. Why should we take these characters so seriously? Because the director says so? "Get Low" is by-the-numbers filmmaking, as uninspired as it's cliched music score. You need something more than just a relatively interesting idea to make a great film, you need to create something memorable. Even the greatest actors in the world can't make mountains out of mole hills. Duvall and company maybe chomping at the bit, but there's not much meat on the bone here.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Ads for this film might mislead one into thinking it's a comedy about a straight man (Jim Carrey) who realizes he's gay while serving time in prison. Actually, it's the life story of Steven Russell, one of the great conmen of our time. After a near fatal car accident, former police officer Russell decides to live his life out of the closet and for himself. He leaves his wife and child, and moves to Florida where he finds the gay lifestyle to be "expensive". In order to pay for this lifestyle, he began a life of fraud that eventually landed him in prison, which is where he meets the Phillip Morris from the title. One of the remarkable things about Steven Russell is the lengths he goes through to escape prison, something he did numerous times. In fact, for most of the film, Russell is either in prison or breaking out of it. There is a love story here too, as Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) is, I guess, the prison version of a delicate southern flower, in need of a man's protection. The turbulent romance between Morris and Russell takes center stage, and it's here the film shines. However, while it is a serious film of an amazing true story, there's a certain air of unreality about it. The gay stuff is often times played up for laughs or shock value, when in reality it seems like the least remarkable thing about Russell's life. "I Love You Phillip Morris" tries to be too many things at once, and while it's certainly entertaining, it might've benefited from a little toning down.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

Director Duncan Jones, whose first film "Moon" gave us cause to question the nature of humanity in a scientifically-manipulated universe, brings us "Source Code", a film that pushes the conceptual boundaries of sci-fi within the typically rigid standards of an action thriller. Through the use of quantum physics, string theory, and something called "parabolic calculus", military pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is somehow transported back in time to a catastrophic event in the hopes that he might help authorities avert a second event from happening. His mind is transferred to the brain of one of the victims, for, as explained, whenever someone dies, the last 8 minutes of their life are trapped within the brain like a recording, and through the use of parabolic calculus, we are allowed access to that recording, to view it and play with it as if it were some sort of full immersion video game. Strangely though, while Colter knows his death (every 8 minutes) is inevitable, he continues to try and stop the event from occuring. Now here's where it gets strange: Colter becomes convinced that each time he travels back in time, he's not just living in the source code but is actually creating an entirely new universe, where parallel people lead parallel lives. But while Colter's mind goes back in time, where exactly is his body? Source Code tackles a couple of interesting subjects within the sci-fi spectrum: are there infinite universes, and just where does human indentity begin and end?

It almost stands to reason that there are multiple universes. There is no ultimate distance one can travel through space and there is no final time one can wait until. In the grand scheme of things, space and time are abstract concepts created to give the human mind something with which to rationalize and compartmentalize infinity. However, if space and time truly are infinite, then all things possible have and will happen an infinite number of times. This, by definition, is infinity. The case for parallel universes or string theory need not be pleaded. We have been born and will continue to die in a never-ending stream of existence, as impossible as it sounds. Is it possible to meet an alternative "you" in some other existing universe? I don't know, but if it is possible, it's happened an infinite amount of times. Everyone has gone hang-gliding an infinite amount of times, everyone has eaten a pear an infinite amount of times. Everyone's died in a car accident an infinite amount of times. If ever in your life you've come upon a pivotal moment, one which changed your destiny forever, it has been taken and re-taken to infinity. Maybe there's something comforting in the knowledge we are all eternal.

I was watching a documentary about a two-headed baby that was born in Egypt, and the operation the doctors were going to attempt in an effort to remove the extra head. The technical term was "craniopagus parasiticus", and in fact, the 2nd head was actually an undeveloped twin. The two babies were joined at the brain by a major artery, and the "head" or 2nd twin was living parasitically off the first. It had no body to speak of, no lungs, no heart, no throat with which to cry, just a face and a brain. The doctors treated the 2nd twin as if it weren't alive, just a mass of reflexive tissue because I imagine the alternative was just too horrific to imagine: to live the duration of your miserable life as a pair of eyes floating on the back of someone's head, amputated like a tumor, extinguished like some inconsequental growth. They said the last time a child like this was born was 200-and-something years ago, and the child was sent to live in the circus. It died at the age of four, from a snake bite rather than any complications from it's condition. And so what is life and what is existence in the face of such things? Are we merely pieces of flesh to be manipulated by scientists, or is there something beyond what we can understand at this point?

But anyway, I was telling you about Source Code. If "Moon" seemed to borrow from "2001: A Space Odyssey", Source Code owes its inspiration to, if anything, "12 Monkeys", both in terms of theme and style. Like in that movie, Colter Stevens loses himself in his exploration of time and space. But whereas the conflict of 12 Monkeys is the loss of one's identity, in Source Code that loss amounts to some bit of blissful oblivion (I guess when the alternative is oblivion, one will gladly trade his very being in for a new one). Source Code allows that in the face of infinity, all endings can be happy endings. I'm sure in some alternate universe, the "craniopagus parasiticus" twins are living quiet, unremarkable lives.

El Rey de la montaña (King of the Hill)

"The King of the Hill" is kind of a simplistic hunter/prey film, a spanish "Deliverance" of sorts. Two travelers get lost on a remote mountain-side road as a group of men hunt them down. It's not a particularly fresh concept, and certain aspects of the film reminded a little too much of the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs, a pair of Ukrainian thrill killers from just a few years ago (two young men who snapped photos of their victims on their cell phones). I guess it's not really a spoiler to tell you that the killers are men, or that they're young, which is of less consequence than the filmmakers seem to want you to believe. As far as these types of films go, "El rey de la montana" is done adequately, although I can't give much reason to recommend it other than need to pass some time. It is indeed a passable film.

Extract
Extract(2009)
½

I happen to like Mike Judge films. No, he's not Woody Allen, but his films are clever and enjoyable in their own way. "Extract" is a little like a Coen brothers film, maybe a "A Serious Man" or "Burn After Reading" (it's even got J.K. Simmons in it, for Pete's sake), but one that never goes for the jugular. Jason Bateman plays the bored owner of an extracts factory (vanilla extract, for example) who's not getting any at home and hires a gigalo to attempt to seduce his wife (Kristen Wiig) in order to not feel guilty about cheating on her with the new girl at the factory (Mila Kunis), who is actually a scam artist. While the whole idea of hiring someone to seduce his wife might seem like a bad idea, in his defense, he was on horse tranquilizers at the time, as supplied by his stoner buddy (Ben Affleck). It sort of seems like the set up to some film noir, or at the very least a comedy of errors, but Extract is content to merely amuse, and not strain itself to break any new ground. There are some very gentle shots at the typical american worker as well as small town racism, but for the most part, there's nothing being said here either. Strangely enough, Extract winds up being a light-hearted dark comedy.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" is a big step down from the first film, at least as far as it goes with offering kids a reasonable moral to live by. The first film taught kids that you'll never get friends by being self-centered, whereas "Rodrick Rules" tells kids to "deny, deny, deny". Here, the kids lie, throw parties behind their parents backs, destroy their home, commit acts of vandalism, and never face any consequences, what with the "parents are all idiots" cliche that panders to the pre-teen mentality. I'm not saying kids won't enjoy this film, it's the kind of fantasy any kid would love to live, but living by the lessons you learn in this movie will only land you in deep trouble, boys and girls.

The story is simple: mom wants Greg and his big brother, Rodrick to become closer, so she offers them "mom bucks" (exchangeable for real money) for every hour they spend together. Rodrick is really just an awful person: his idea of spending time with his little brother involves locking him in the basement or throwing him in the back of his van (where there aren't any seats), and thinking up new ways to torture him. When Rodrick throws a wild party, the two form a bond of deception when they lie to their parents about it. Is their lie a strong enough bond to form a lasting friendship between brothers, or will it all sour when the truth eventually comes out?

Apart from some cute moments (Rodrick's ridiculous band exploits, Greg's battle with Chirag), the film kind of meanders. By the end, a lot of adults will be fidgeting in their seats (nevermind the kids). A series like the wimpy kid movies has the potential to mold kids' minds in the right direction. This film just seems like a lot of fluff. Junk food for the mind.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde's famous novel is brought to life in this pretty faithful adaptation by director/writer Albert Lewin. Some of the homosexual subtext has been toned down, and Dorian's spiraling descent into depravity is alluded to so vaguely that one could ascribe just about anything to it. I wasn't a fan of the novel, mainly because I found the philosophies and witticisms to be meaningless. For example (and just to pull something off the top of my head), "it's the man who never thirsts whose cup is always full". I just made that up, it means nothing, yet could mean something if someone bothered to think about it. There is a character in the book spouting off such witticisms every third sentence, and it becomes grating after a while. Anyway, while the film was very keen on the superficial aspects of re-creating the story, I don't think it touched on the true heart of the novel, the fear of lost youth or the nihilistic approach to life that Dorian is led to by an evil mentor (all the more evil that he corrupts Dorian just for simple fun, rather than any ulterior motive). I suppose it's a lot to expect from 1940s hollywood. In any event, what we have here is a completely passable version of Dorian Gray.

Paul
Paul(2011)

Paul is a fun-loving "bro"- type alien that's come to party with uptight english sci-fi nerds, Graeme and Clive, aka Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead and "Hot Fuzz" fame). The two nerds are fresh from their trip to the San Diego Comicon (a sci-fi convention) and are off on a little road trip to see all the famous sights of alleged alien visits (area 51, the "black mailbox", Roswell, etc.) when they run across an actual alien. Paul came to earth sixty years ago and has been aiding mankind ever since (he's contributed to most of the famous sci-fi of the last 60 years... even helped Spielberg write E.T.), but as his intellectual usefulness has expired, the secret government agency is fixing to dissect Paul and find what they can use from his stem cells. The two nerds must help Paul get to the rendezvous place so that he may get onboard the spacecraft and return home. Standing in their way are hillbillies, bible-thumpers, and of course, the secret government agency.

And that's about it. Paul doesn't stray or veer from the standard movie plot of this type, it's all tired and predictable. As far as comedy goes, it's almost strictly limited to naughty words, sci-fi references and in-jokes, and the laughs can best be described as "sporadic". It's a fairly disappointing movie from guys who've done so much better in the past.

Big Fan
Big Fan(2009)
½

NFL fans can be pretty rabid at times, but there exists a special breed of sports fan, one whose whole life is consumed by the game, that goes beyond rabid. Take Paul (Patton Oswalt) for example. He's a 36 year-old parking garage attendant whose time is occupied by the New York Giants and the Giants alone. There are no other interests or hobbies, and his friends and family come a distant second. He makes weekly calls to a sports talk radio show, for which he spends much of his free time writing down what he wants to say on his next call. Things come to ahead when he and his friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) see his idol, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) at a gas station and begin following him across town. After following to a strip club, a misunderstanding arises, and Paul lands in the hospital with a concussion. This leads Paul to a great dilemma: whether to press charges and hurt the Giants in the play-offs, or let Bishop get off scott-free after practically murdering him. You won't find any profundity in Big Fan, just an indie film that takes a shot at the atypical sports fan. Oswalt manages to achieve the right amount of psychosis for his character, from the disturbing blinking to his random outbursts. Is it a dark comedy or simply a dark movie? I'm leaning towards the latter.

Rango
Rango(2011)

From director Gore Verbinski (responsible for such diverse movies as "The Ring" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl"), comes this animated western, starring various rodents and varmints in what is apparently an ode to the seventies film "Chinatown". Johnny Depp stars as the titular character, a lizard (a chameleon, I guess) who gets tossed from his warm, safe terrarium into the scary real-world desert. Wandering into the town of "Dirt", he decides to live his dream of being an actor, creating a tough-guy, wildwest persona to impress the locals. Things backfire when the townsfolk appoint him sheriff and then the town's water supply (their only currency) is stolen under his watch. Worse still, their only source of new water has gone dry. It's up to Rango to solve the crime and become the hero he's led everyone to believe he is. I'm not sure what the target audience on Rango is, there are adult references and situations, and the animation and character design isn't exactly warm and cuddly. Despite not being such great action figure material, the character design is actually quite wonderful, the way earthy, wild west critters should look. It's a shame more sensitive parents might be turned off by that earthiness. Rango may not be an instant classic, but it's one of the better cartoons of the year so far.

Easy Rider
Easy Rider(1969)

Is it a biker flick, a road picture, a cowboy movie, or a symbollic look at the battle between 60s counterculture and mainstream America (more specifically, southern America)? The film that was a cultural touchstone for the flower power generation manages to be all these things while also being a simple, quality indie-style film. And simple it is: the plot involves two hippy bikers (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) taking a trip from California to New Orleans for mardi gras and meeting the entire cross-section of the American population. Some greet them with open arms (the lost souls of a hippy commune) and some, like the southern cops, not so much. Maybe at times it does club you over the head with symbolism (a character called Captain America has an american flag on his leather jacket and rides a bike painted in the flag colors and has an american flag helmet- alright, we get it, hippies can be patriotic too... conservatives don't have exclusive rights to patriotism), but much like the rock music of the era, you can't help but appreciate the earnestness. Jack Nicolson has a scene-stealing supporting role as a drunken southern lawyer who decides to turn on, tune in and drop out with the two bikers. I read somewhere the actors were smoking real weed when sitting around the campfire, and Jack delivers some great UFO-inspired dialogue in that scene. Like most westerns, there's a saloon scene (well, actually it's a restaurant) where the heroes are bullied by the local ruffians, and a great scene towards the end where Hopper's character raises a literal middle finger towards death. At the advent of the seventies, it's a bittersweet ending to the flower-power generation's tale, as the rebels without causes get slowly lost to the winds.

The King's Speech
½

The King's Speech isn't just referring to a literal speech made by the king at the outset of war with nazi Germany, but also to the king's stutter: a speech impediment that can inspire or cripple a country in it's time of need.

The film begins many years earlier, when Prince Albert (Colin Firth) delivers his first speech in front of a radio microphone with disasterous results. Most of us would give up public speaking after such a nightmare but the royal family have a duty to uphold. Albert's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) persuades him to visit an Australian speech specialist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) whose unorthodox techniques at first repel the stuffy Duke of Wales. It's only after Logue proves some success that the two begin to form a friendship. When Albert's father, King George V dies, the crown is passed to his older brother, David, who accedes the throne as King Edward VIII. David however, has fallen in love with an American divorcee, and amidst scandal, gives up his throne for the woman, leaving the monarchy to an unprepared Prince Albert. It's "Bertie's" relationship with his teacher Lionel that helps him get control of his stutter and overcome his fear of his destiny.

As far as films about the Royals are concerned, "The Queen", starring Helen Mirren is probably the better film, but The King's Speech is more about the wonderous friendship between teacher and student/King and commoner anyway. And perhaps it was the oscar-winning expectations that led the climactic titular speech to be well, anticlimactic, or perhaps the movie is much ado about very little.

Hall Pass
Hall Pass(2011)

Hall Pass is an unusual film in that it appeals mainly to married men in their forties. Who else could appreciate the irony of sexual frustration within a "successful" marriage. As Fred (Jason Sudeikis) explains to Rick (Owen Wilson), "Little girls have all their childhood dreams come true: they play house, we buy them one, they play with dolls, we give them babies, they play with easy-bake ovens, we buy them stoves". He goes on to exlain that mens' dreams never come true: they never get to win a million dollars on "wheel of fortune" or become president or sleep with supermodels. Instead they get to masturbate out in the car so the wife doesn't catch them and devise methods of sneaking peeks at pretty girls who walk by without getting caught. Fed up with their husbands attitudes, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) decide to give them a "hall pass" or week off from marriage to do whatever they please, the idea being men of a certain age have a romanticized view of the single life they led all those years ago and that being thrust back into that life, they will be like indoor cats suddenly set free, they'll come running back scared. The Farrellys tap into mens' fantasies of single life and how much scoring they'd do if not for their pesky wives. Deep down though, we know the sad truth (how unhip it is to be old), and it's that truth that makes this movie's humor work. It's not surprising there's no male equivilent of a "cougar", older men have nothing in common with young women. It's the sort of thing that leads one to confuse the band Snow Patrol with the Cuba Gooding Jr. movie, "Snow Dogs" (and what does an adult male with children say to one of these Paris Hilton/Jersey Shore -type bimbos? Talk about awkward conversations). It's situational comedy at it's broadest and sometimes cheapest, but when going to watch a Farrelly brothers comedy, I'm not sure how high of a brow one is expecting to find. Hall Pass is quite a few steps up from previous films such as "Stuck on You" and "Shallow Hal", and is loaded with plenty of laughs.

2012
2012(2009)
½

Director Roland Emmerich, best known for such awful movies as "The Day After Tomorrow" and "10,000 BC", once again tackles the end of the world with "2012", a film based on the mayan calendar. Apparently the mayans predicted that solar flares would hit the earth in 2012, causing neutrinos to heat up the earth's core. John Cusack gets inside information on this little thing and makes a desperate attempt to get his family to the safety of the world power's "contingency plan" (big, giant arks). Once again, an estranged dad needs to have the world end in order to get in touch with his kids (War of the Worlds, The Day After Tomorrow... what's this saying about hollywood writers?). The ridiculously over-the-top special effects, entirely and exhaustingly computer-generated, are funny at first (limo jumping over earthquake), but soon begin to wear out the senses. And then there's the goofy galactic empire uniforms the crews of the arks where, and why is it the kids in these movies always have to have some quirk, in this case, the little girl is always wearing different hats. By the end, as I was beginning to wonder what tibetan monks have to do with mayan culture, I began fast-forwarding through the film as it became a horrible chore to sit through. Incredibly, doubling the film's speed didn't hinder my ability to follow the plot in the slightest. I enjoy dumb fun as much as the next person, but the "fun" was ackwardly missing from this.

My Man Godfrey
½

William Powell stars as Godfrey, a "forgotten man" dragged off to a scavenger hunt party by a pair of spoiled rich girls (I guess Paris Hilton is more of a cliche than I thought). While one sister is cold, the other is caring (if somewhat flakey) and decides to hire Godfrey as the family butler. After Godfrey surprises everyone by showing up to work looking like a professional butler, it's revealed there's more to him than meets the eye. And of course, the air-headed girl falls in love with him. The depiction of wealth is pretty typical for the 1930s time period, one reviewer described these people as the "idle rich", but it all gets a little bit one dimensional. The romance seems trumped up, even by screwball farce standards (actually, William Powell and Carole Lombard were divorced three years when they made this film, and it's hard to be romantic towards your ex, even if it is just acting), and the ending of the film, from the homeless solution to the romantic conclusion, seems tacked on. However, some of the set pieces and gags do work, and it's difficult to knock William Powell as just about everything he does has a certain charm.

Eyes Wide Shut
½

Stanley Kubrick's final film was also his most laboriously detailed, something that might explain the Guinness book of world records to award it the "longest constant movie shoot". There are the Kubrick signatures such as striking color contrasts in set design and scenes utilizing only a single, wide-angle camera, but the story is unlike anything the director's attempted before. Real life (at the time) couple Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman play a husband and wife who are toying and playing with the idea of infidelity. After a night of flirting at a party, the two break into an argument where it's revealed Kidman's character is more open to the idea of leaving her husband than he ever suspected. His ego severely bruised and his manhood questioned, he sets out to have a fling, or at least some cheap, meaningless sex. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for him, he finds it is impossible to have an affair without consequences. In fact, the consequences maybe life-or-death for he and his family.

Eyes Wide Shut is one of the most technically perfect and methodically paced films ever committed to celluloid, in spite of Nichole Kidman's somewhat shrill performance (and her inability to deliver a passing american accent). What are the dangers of using sex as a weapon anyway?

Road to Morocco
½

Crosby gets Hope to pretend he's retarded so that he might beg for some food, but wouldn't you know it, the first guy they try it out on has a speech impediment and thinks they're making fun of the way he talks. So then, in order to pay for a meal, Crosby sells Hope into slavery. But when your new owner is Dorothy Lamour... ooh la la, who minds getting sold? It's a very cheesy film, even by 1940s standards, but at least Hope and Crosby are letting the audience know that they know that we know, by breaking down the 4th wall and giving us the inside jokes, gags and puns. It probably pays to be in a certain mood when watching this movie, and I don't think I was in it.

The Paradine Case

You'd think a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck would be a home run, but somehow this film about a rich widow on trial for the murder of her husband just falls flat. Peck plays her lawyer and it's his job (according to the script) to somehow helplessly fall in love with her, but the whole thing isn't quite convincing. The script is probably most to blame, the "racy" subject matter probably wasn't even racy when the film was made, let alone now. The lawyer's wife seems more interesting than the dull and vaguely foreign woman on trial. Who knows, maybe that's the whole point: that Peck's character is just bored with his life and is jumping at the first bit of intrigue to come his way. It's really a strain to find anything remarkable about this film.

American Movie

Amateurs in any field or endeavor often lack perspective when it comes to what they do: I'm sure minor league ball players often compare their stats to those of the pros, unsigned bands probably watch successful bands on television, comparing performances, and amateur filmmakers often think "if I could just get the amount of backing such-and-such got, my film would be as big as his". For independent filmmakers, success is more often measured purely by the scope and magnitude of the project, rather than by actual quality. Which brings us to Mark Borchardt, a filmmaker out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, struggling to get the financing to put his horror film "Coven" out (CO-ven, long "oh", to avoid sounding like "oven", for whatever reason). Once he finishes "Coven" and sells the 3000 copies at $14.95 a piece, then he'll have the $45,000 necessary to begin shooting his next project, "North Western" (oh, and also pay off some of his debt). The only thing standing in his way is the extra $3000 he needs to borrow from Uncle Bill, but why would anyone pass up the chance to get an executive producer's credit and make back their money tenfold?

Unless independently wealthy, it's just not possible to pursue such longshot dreams while maintaining a life of your own, and Mark proves to have difficulty in this area. Living at home with his mom, he drinks too much, sees his kids perhaps too little, and is in debt up to his eyeballs. He has various part-time jobs, from paper boy to custodian at a cemetary, he's determined to not be a worker drone who's just another cog in the machine. He has vague notions of wealth and success "one day", a day when all those who doubted him will eat their words. Uncle Bill, an elderly man not in the best of health, has no great faith in Mark, helping him financially more out of wanting to make his nephew happy than anything. Bill is an interesting guy: living in a trailer home yet supposedly worth over $280,000. It's hard to tell whether he's amused by Mark's exploits or just being pushed into things he might not want to do by his crazy nephew.

American Movie is just that, a slice of life from right in the center of the country. People like Mike Schank, an acid casuality who just happens to be a brilliant musician can't be created to have this kind of depth in a hollywood movie script. It's trailer park angst and the great sound and fury of nothing significant being created. The current release of the American Movie dvd has a copy of "Covan" as part of the bonus material, in what must be the producer's way of "giving back" to Mark (I assume he gets a healthy royalty from this arrangement). The bottom line: it's an awful movie, and there's nothing to suggest Mark is some great undiscovered talent. Strange that such a great documentary should be made about him then.

The Mark of Zorro

1920's "The Mark of Zorro" may not have invented the superhero, but Douglas Fairbanks' performance in this role must've surely provided the inspiration for many of the costumed heroes to come in the following decades (I'm looking at you, Batman). Fairbanks not only handles the swash-buckling (that's a given), he hits just the right note with his secret identity, the effete Don Diego, son of a caballero and lover of all things gentle and safe. Don Diego saw that there was injustice towards the California natives by the tyrannical governor and watched while his fellow caballeros stood by and let it happen. To fight evil he becomes the masked avenger, Zorro. Meanwhile, his father wants him to court the lovely Lolita Pulido (Marquerite De La Motte) of the Pulido family, who have fallen on hard times. Don Diego courts her as both himself and as Zorro, to see which one she prefers, and if all she's interested in is his money. Zorro also has a secret lair with false panel intrances, and a mute indian servant who knows his secret identity (as I've said, he's the superhero archetype in many ways).

The Mark of Zorro is quite action-packed in it's 105 minutes. Douglas Fairbanks is electrifying, as usual. He's not necessarily a terribly handsome man, but he's loaded with so much charisma he demands your attention. It's a great performance in a great action film from the silent era.

Suspiria
Suspiria(1977)
½

Dario Argento's "Suspiria" is a weird movie. While that's not necessarily a bad thing (and often times, is a good thing), it's not doing anything to help out this film. I'm not going to lie: the visuals, from the sets to the lighting, are excellent at capturing a certain dream-like atmosphere, and the music (by the band, "Goblin") is repeatedly driven into your skull like chinese water torture; it's enough to drive you crazy. As incredible as the audio/video stimulation is, it's a poor lack of pacing that slows down the plot. If the effect desired is to create a nitemare trip, then some of the less important scenes should've found their way onto the cutting room floor. Also, I have a particular aversion to highly stylized, seventies slasher gore, I find it to be both cheap, phony and boring. Maybe I'm crazy, but watching someone get stabbed to death and thrown out a window just isn't intrinsically scary to me; maybe the whole "mystery killer" thing is the problem. It's not the act so much as who's committing it that's scary.

The film takes place in some strange european castle that also serves as an exclusive ballet school. The new girl, an american, is made acutely aware of the strange goings-on at the castle, as two people are murdered her very first night there. From then on, she's put under some sort of spell and people begin dying at random and, then she discovers something and that's it. The end. If you prefer atmosphere to ideas, then this may be your cup of tea. I can't say it was mine.

The Visitor
The Visitor(2008)

The Visitor is a simple and gentle film that explores many issues, from immigration to loneliness. The film tells the story of Walter, an economics professor who, since his wife died, has lost any interest in life. His days are filled with joyless routine. Returning to New York to attend a conference, he finds a young foreign couple living in his apartment. Tarek and Zainab are from Syria and Senegal respectively and were fooled into renting the apartment illegally. Walter however, allows them to stay, mostly out of pity, but also out of interest in Tarek's african drum. Walter's late wife was a professional piano player and Walter had been trying in the years since her death to learn to play the instrument. The drum speaks to him in a way the piano could not, and soon he and Tarek are playing together in the park. They seem to form a quick yet tight bond over music that turns into a warm friendship.

The Visitor could've turned into a very predictable, standard look at america's immigration policy towards muslims post 9/11, but Richard Jenkins (academy award nominated) performance as "every white man" keeps it from being one dimensional. You might get the impression his character is supposed to be the typical american, lifeless and without any cultural heritage, but Jenkins brings a pathos to the screen that goes beyond what you might find in the script. The film is all the more satisfying because of it.

True Grit
True Grit(2010)

"I heard you were a man of true grit" says 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a lawman known more locally for getting drunk. It's a bit of a snow job: she's trying to play on his ego and manipulate him into doing her bidding. Mattie has lost her father to a former hired hand named Chaney, and while she's vowed to bring him to justice, it's really revenge that she's after (even if she won't admit it to herself). Cogburn isn't the only bounty hunter she's hired to do her dirty work, she's also gotten a texas ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to pursue her man. Both men are immediately at odds with one another: LaBoeuf with his pompous, by-the-book manner, and Cogburn with his less "formal" methods of getting things done. Whether they're both getting "hoo-rahed" by a little girl or they're doing it for their own motives, the two men pursue Chaney with their own sense of inevitable justice.

The Coens create an old west atmosphere rife with interesting characters distinct for the way they don't use contractions (instead of "you're", it's always "you are", etc.), as well as that mix of comedy and violence the Coen brothers are known for. Really though, it's a pretty straightforward western, there's not much being brought to the table. Bridges brings his own style to Cogburn, and Hailee Steinfeld is believeable as the toughest little girl of the old west. John Wayne may have won his only oscar for his 1969 portrayal of Rooster Cogburn, but this True Grit re-envisioning is every bit worthy of that legacy.

The Wizard of Oz
½

...So the duck steals the farmhand's lollipop and then goes through a fence. When the farmhand goes to get his lollipop back, the duck sticks his head through a hole in the fence and spits milk at him. The farmhand then pines away for Dorothy while sniffing some flowers that apparently contain a bee which chases him around the farm for awhile. No, this doesn't sound like the Wizard of Oz we know and love. It's actually more a series of gags set up to feature star and director, comedian Larry Semon, who apparently was almost as famous as Charlie Chaplin in his day. The film is also notable for having Oliver Hardy as the tin woodsman. Well, not really a tin woodsman, I'm not sure what he's supposed to be. Dorothy is actually the princess of Oz and she has been hidden away in Kansas with her "aunt" Em (who's not really her aunt at all). When some Oz-onians come for her one day in their bi-plane (yeah, Oz has it's own airforce), she and all her foster family are accidentally knocked over to Oz. All the handymen disguise themselves as their alter ego characters, and then there's some vague intrigue about how some of her Kansas family side with the evil Minister Kruel (and Lady Vishuss) and others side with the wonderful Prince Kynd. As I said before, the movie is little more than a self aggrandizing venture for this Larry Semon guy, who was at one time almost as big as Chaplin. Although I will say this, I might not have given the movie a fair chance, as I was so heavily distracted by Semon's gigantic beak. The man had an enormous nose.

Black Swan
Black Swan(2010)
½

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem For A Dream) envisions Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" as the psychological breakdown of an artist in pursuit of her art. Nina (Natalie Portman) is a dancer attempting to win the part of the Swan Queen in the upcoming production of Swan Lake. She practices relentlessly, and not just because she is driven to do so by her obsessive mother. Actually, the mother (Barbara Hershey) is quite something: a failed ballerina herself, she pampers and dotes upon her 20-something year old daughter and treats her as if she were eleven years old. Their bedrooms also add a considerable amount to the overall impression: Nina's is filled with pink and oversized stuffed rabbits (and various other animals) while the mother's room is filled with (creepy) portraits upon (creepy) portraits she has painted of Nina. And it should go without saying there is a distinct lack of privacy within the apartment.

With all this tension at home, you would think it'd be a joy for Nina to get out of the house and do something as liberating as dancing the ballet, but at work, the intensity just seems to double. Her introversion and shyness is mistaken for aloofness, and she's ostracized by the other dancers. That is, until Lily (Mila Kunis) comes into the picture. Whereas Nina is a slave to technique, Lily is able to lose herself in her role, her dancing is every bit as liberating as it's meant to be. The director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) believes Nina is perfect for the role of the white swan, as she's so innocent and fragile. But as the lead, she must also perform as the black swan, and pull the strength and seduction from somewhere deep inside. As Nina's insecurities rise, odd things begin happening around her. Mysterious cuts and scratches, phantom bleeding, and random hallucinations start to plague her. Is it the pressure to be perfect, or is her world really becoming unglued?

Aronofsky builds an atmosphere of surrealist paranoia, releasing it in a climactic explosion of passionate imagery. The background becomes the subject matter and reality and fantasy are merged to become something better than its parts. Black Swan defines art and passion, both literally and metaphorically. While the film may have been (mis)labeled a "thriller", it's the end result that thrills. Aronofsky and Portman make you feel what the ballet intends you to feel, and it's something of a high art brought to the masses.

The Blue Bird

The 20th Century Fox "answer" to "The Wizard of Oz", which was released the year after that film, is an odd little Shirley Temple vehicle. The story centers around two children and recalls the weird germanic fairy tales and eastern european folk stories of long ago. Mytyl (Temple) and her brother Tyltyl catch a bird in the royal forest one day. Instead of giving the bird to her sick little friend, she selfishly keeps it for herself. Later at dinner, she complains about how poor her family is and how miserable she is. After being sent to bed, the film undergoes a black-and-white to technicolor transformation (ala The Wizard of Oz). When the children wake up, they are asked by Fairy Berylune to find a blue bird. Fairy Berylune gives them several companions to aid them on their quest by turning their dog, Tylo and cat, Tylette into humans, as well as creating a human version of their lantern named Light. To find the blue bird, they first travel to the past (where they meet their very clingy dead grandparents), to the land of luxury (where they meet Mr. and Mrs. Luxury, who give the children everything they want but love), and to the future (to heaven, where all the unborn little boys and girls live, waiting to be born). It's all a little bit simplistic and childish, but I think that's the point. Kids today might get a little creeped out by certain aspects of the movie, but overall, it's pretty cute (weirdly cute).

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

Thirty or so years ago, when the original "TRON" came out, it was hailed as something of a technological achievement in film, being the first notable use of computer animation (although kids today might find the animation kind of cheesy, as they have no patience for primitive stone age special effects). Anyway, the original TRON was some nonsense about Jeff Bridges being sucked into a computer world and having adventures in/on "the grid" with anthropomorphic computer program friends. It was a bit of silliness made by disney, hot on the heels of their last big, epic sci-fi adventure, "The Black Hole" (you know, the one where robots held laser shooting contests in their robot breakroom). The original TRON was a disney fantasy mostly appreciated by children for it's unique visuals and action-oriented plot.

2010's TRON: Legacy wants to appeal to those fanboys of the original, now in their 30s and 40s (and their kids, of course) in the worst way. Much like the last "Star Trek" movie, TRON: Legacy goes through a checklist of key TRON touchstones that it marks off one by one. Light cycle race: check. Frisbee, err "identity disc" battle: check. Jeff Bridges: check, check and check (Bridges actually plays his character in three different ways: himself as a younger dude, himself as he is today, and a computerized program of his idealized self... all with suitable computer enhancement). The whole thing feels a bit like a re-run in spite of new characters and updated effects. Speaking of new characters, we have the disappointingly one-note generic action star performance of Garrett Hedlund as Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and heir to the vast Flynn fortune. Sam doesn't care for money and isn't interested in the family business whatsowever. He's lonely and misses his dad and spends most of his time brooding and sabotaging his own corporation (out of indifference, I guess). One day, his dad's old business partner (Bruce Boxleitner) tells him he's received a page (a page?) from a phone located at his dad's old video game arcade. Sam goes to investigate it and stumbles upon his dad's old hidden computer work room. Sam inadvertently activates it and is transported into the world of "the grid", a place composed of living humanoid computer programs. There he meets a program who looks remarkably like his father, and in fact, is something created by his father to regulate the grid, but has gone awry and become something of a fascist computerized dictator. Can Sam find his dad and defeat the evil Adolf "Bit"-ler? (thank you, thank you very much)

For something based on a silly kids' fantasy, TRON: Legacy takes itself way, way too seriously (and I can't believe I'm saying this, but maybe take a lesson from "Transformers" or better yet, Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and lighten up a little bit). A lot of the original charm and goofiness from the 80s film has been replaced by "serious business" and I don't see that as necessarily being a good thing. Lighter wardrobes in the TRON universe have been replaced with "X-Men" like leather outfits and even the light cycles get a harder-edged update. Much like the updated "Star Trek", the whole thing's a pretty superficial attempt at cashing in on our nostalgia. On the plus side, the Daft Punk soundtrack was amazing and fit really well with the visuals happening up on the screen. Having only seen this film in 2D, I can only speculate on how much more enjoyable the 3D version was to watch. It's something I don't plan on finding out, however. One viewing was plenty enough for me.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" contains some wonderfully imaginative images and creative designs, but the overall effect is somewhat weaker than his previous outings.

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a very strange man. A thousand years ago, he was the leader of a cult that believed their story-telling kept the universe from ceasing to exist. When the devil (Tom Waits) proves to them their stories have no bearing on the ongoing existence of the universe, Parnassus somehow unwittingly sparks the interest of the devil and is drawn into a thousand year relationship with him that consists mainly of (not so friendly) wagers. Perhaps it's Parnassus' knack for drawing souls into his imaginarium that so inspires the devil, whose wagers with Parnassus often involve the collecting of souls, and who can collect the most. After Parnassus wins the first bet, which allows him to be immortal, he begins to suspect the devil let him win, in order to keep him around forever in this fashion. Parnassus is then doomed to spend an eternity constantly making deals with the devil. His latest one involved a promise to be made mortal again, to marry a beautiful mortal woman, in exchange for the offspring of this relationship, to be granted to the devil upon it's 16th birthday. Parnassus, in love (or lust, the difference is never really clear), eagerly accepts, ignoring the consequences of his deed.

It is now many years later (modern day, to be exact), and Parnassus' imaginarium is a traveling medieval medicine show, comprised of a juggler, a little person (Verne Troyer) and Parnassus' daughter, on the cusp of her 16th birthday. Thrown into the mix is an amnesiac (Heath Ledger) that the group found hanging off the side of a bridge. The amnesiac proves to be a unique showman, and is able to draw crowds to the Parnassus' imaginarium (the underlying message being, without slick production and modern showmanship, even truly magical things are ignored in today's world).

There are elements of the Fisher King and Baron Munchausen in Doctor Parnassus, that in spite of his magical gifts, he's still somewhat of a tragic figure. The subplot involving Heath Ledger's character (the mysterious stranger joins the group and helps turn their fortunes around) has been done before and takes perhaps too much of the focus of the film, but the twist at the end makes for a pretty nice pay-off. I think more than any other Gilliam production, the reliance on computer-generated images may have lessened the overall emotional impact of the film, and the death of Heath Ledger (this was his final film), may have abducted the film from it's original direction. In spite of these critiques, it's still an outstanding film that fits well in the Terry Gilliam canon.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of The Dawn Treader (or T.C.O.N.: V.O.T.T., for short) is the third movie based on the works of author C.S. Lewis, and it's probably the most straight-forward "adventure" of the three. Where the previous installments ("The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Prince Caspian") got a little bogged down in their rigid adherence to the book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader finds a way to keep things fantastical.

Lucy and Edmund (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes) return once again to Narnia, this time accompanied by their cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter). They are pulled into Narnia through a painting and land in the middle of the ocean. Luckily, they are rescued by the Dawn Treader, a ship which is captained by king Caspian. Caspian is sailing to the distant outskirts of Narnia in search of seven swords which will unite the lands in harmony and remove the curse of a green mist which is creating darkness over the islands. The three children embark on Caspian's adventure, and meet up with many strange things including a pool of water which turns any object into gold and a treasure that turns little boys into dragons. Aslan the lion also once again watches over the heroes' fates.

Perhaps the Voyage of the Dawn Treader doesn't necessarily capture the lackadaisical feeling of the original book (todays adventure movies must always have quests that need fulfilling), but it's generally no less accurate to it's source material than the Harry Potter books (for example) are to theirs. Sure, some details get mixed around and new things added, but if you want things wholly intact and unchanged, you're better off just sticking with the book. One thing I've noticed (from reading the internets) is that some people are once again turned off by Aslan's christ-like appearance in the film. While the parallel to Jesus was very plain in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Aslan is martyred, only to rise again from the dead), it's a little more ambiguous here. In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan is more a holy spirit than anything, entreating the weary travelers to enter his land if they so choose, and behold the wonders there (only once they enter, they may never leave again). One's personal faith seems just as good an inspiration as anything when it comes to writing. Faith and imagination often go hand in hand.

Ikiru
Ikiru(1956)

"This stomach belongs to the protaganist of our story. At this point he has no idea he has this cancer". So says the narration over the beginning of Ikiru, the 1952 film from Akira Kurosawa. It then goes on to show "the protaganist", a public relations section chief (of his local government) hunched over a desk in front of a wall of bundled papers. "It would be tiresome to meet him now, after all he's simply passing time without actually living his life. In other words, he's not even really alive." If he's not really alive, neither are his co-workers, who play bureaucratic hot potato with a group of citizens ("passing the buck" seems to be the natural state of government, or so the film says). Besides skewering government bureaucracy, Ikiru also draws parallels to Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film, "Wild Strawberries": with the looming specter of death at hand, a single father ponders the relationship he has with his son (and also his own mortality) while trying to cling to the vibrancy of life he finds in a younger girl. What's sad about this movie isn't necessarily that the old man is dying, but how everyone around him is barely living. The prostitutes, the writer, the mafia, his governmental co-workers, his family, even the doctors who tell him he's dying, none of them are honest or happy (or honest and happy, apparently you can't be both). Only his frivolous young female co-worker makes the most of the life she has. She doesn't waste a second of her time being in unhappy situations, and points out false sacrifice of dedicating his life for his son. The story of the old man who finds out he's dying and then has a change of heart may not be revolutionary, but the style and perspective in which it's told is more unique than similar stories. "To live", is what the film's title translates into, but "life without purpose is meaningless" is the message. Those without purpose are simply living to die. But if you do something good for others because you have nothing to lose and you know you're going to die, is that as morally good as doing something for others when you have something to lose? (Aren't we all dying in the long run, and shouldn't we live our lives accordingly?) Is it cynical to even ask? It's a discussion raised in the film, where the old man's co-workers decide to honor his memory by living as he did at the end. Kurosawa plays on the audience's emotions, especially our sense of outrage, quite effectively at the end. Whether it's a shot at politicians and bureaucrats or whether it's a shot at the human race in general is up for debate.

Babies
Babies(2010)

What can you say about a documentary that has no plot, no narrative, and no apparent purpose (other than that western parents are perhaps a little overzealous in protecting their babies from "germs" and dirt)? Babies is constructed to work soley on a visceral level and your enjoyment of it depends upon how you feel about the babies. To quote the Internet Movie Data Base, the film is "a look at one year in the life of four babies from around the world, from Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo". The babies are all very cute and the cinematography is at times amazing, but at 79 minutes, the movie seems a little bit long. Getting back to what I said about us westerners and our fear of dirt, it's quite startling to see the namibian mother wiping her baby's bottom on her knee (and then simply brushing her knee clean with a bit of old corn cob), or watching her clean the baby's face with her tongue. Things like baby wipes and diapers, which we consider necessities, are a foreign concept to those living outside our scope of knowledge. The namibian baby also crawls around in dirt and picks up the things she finds in the dirt and puts them in her mouth, a sight which I'm sure will shock most modern parents. And yet, the people in Namibia and Mongolia seem to have no trouble reproducing, and their children don't seem to be suffering any major deficiencies (other than the obvious one of poverty, but this is only a value judgement). Underneath the cultural differences and material possessions, we're all just human beings. Who's to say whether one life is better than another? We each get to define our own happiness.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

It looks as if the Harry Potter series is winding down. The final book has been (or is being) made into two films, The Deathly Hallows part 1 (reviewed here) and part 2, which will be released in July of next year. As Harry Potter and friends have started to age, a lot of the fantasy of the earlier films has disappeared. Gone is the Hogwarts School of Magic and the magical shops, replaced by dreary rainy forests and the dreary real world. Obviously the series has been heading in this direction for quite a few films now, but I'm not sure this is necessarily a good thing.

As the film begins, Harry's friends are making an attempt to smuggle him to safety, as lord Voldemort is hot on his trail. Though Harry escapes, it's clear he's no longer safe in the magical world. Since Dumbledorf's death, things have gotten bleaker: there's been a fascist-like crackdown on undesireable wizards and witches, and Harry Potter is public enemy number one. To escape from the new ministry of magic regime (and after capturing the latest horcrux), Harry and friends camp out in some secluded woods where they try to figure out how to destroy the latest horcrux (which isn't as easy as it would seem).

If the first half of The Deathly Hallows had been as good as the last half, you'd have no complaints from me. Unfortunately, the movie gets mired in the forest, where Harry and co. pine away endlessly for things and whine constantly about how none of them are very competent. Add to this a "1984"-esqe subplot that doesn't go anywhere, and you have over an hour of wasted movie. However, once the titular "deathly hallows" animated segment is introduced, the story takes on a new life and builds nicely to the final film. Having never read any of the Harry Potter books, I must say I feel more and more like an outsider when watching these films. For instance, I'm told there's a perfectly reasonable excuse for why Harry and co. must use such costly tactics of escape at the beginning of the film when later on they can simply teleport wherever they wish to avoid harm. If I didn't have diehard Harry Potter friends around to explain these things to me, I might get the feeling they're simply plot holes. I realize these books are enormous and contain a great deal of information, but if a cohesive film can't be made from one of them, successful franchise or not, then why bother?

Due Date
Due Date(2010)
½

When "The Hangover" became the surprise comedy hit of 2009, it made an instant celebrity of esoteric comedian Zach Galifianakis (who became known as "that bearded guy from The Hangover"). "Hangover" director Todd Phillips and Galifianakis team up once again for "Due Date", a buddy "road" movie also starring the great Robert Downey Jr. With all this talent behind it, how could it not be funny?

"Due Date" centers around, well, a due date. Peter Highman's (Downey Jr.) wife is having their baby by cesarean section, and he has just a few days to travel from the east coast to back home in Los Angeles. Things take an almost immediate turn for the worse when he happens into Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), an unemployed actor who's traveling to "Hollywood" to become a professional actor. Tremblay has many issues: his glaucoma prescription needs re-filling, he's allergic to waffles, and he's carrying his dead father's ashes in a coffee can, presumably to be scattered at some location along the road, possibly the Grand Canyon. Highman has two issues: he has absolutely no patience for Tremblay or his shenanigans, and he's frantic to get back home in time to see the birth of his child. When the two get thrown off their flight and placed on the 'no fly list' for saying inappropriate words (such as "terrorist" and "bomb"), they must share a rental car and travel across the country together.

Much of the humor is situational, and the characters are pretty unlikeable (which is strange considering how popular the two lead actors are), but there are some decent stoner laughs as well. Perhaps "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" did it better (I don't know, it's been many years since I've seen it), but Steve Martin was never as vicious as Robert Downey Jr's character. I guess "Due Date" is meant to be a modern, updated version of the 80s classic. It's darker, more extreme, and ultimately not as memorable.

Unstoppable
Unstoppable(2010)
½

Those with an innate fear of runaway trains will find "Unstoppable", the latest action/train film from director Tony Scott ("The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 "), a nail-biting thrill ride, as will those who've never seen this type of movie before. The rest of us will, for the most part, be reasonably entertained. In "Unstoppable", just about everything that can go wrong does, setting the scene for an epic disaster.

When a fat, sloppy, lazy, overpaid railroad worker fails to put even the slightest bit of effort into his job, he winds up accidentally sending a freight train loaded with explosive, hazardous materials rocketing down the tracks on a simultaneous collision course with both a trainload of schoolchildren and a highly populated town. As the railroad train coordinator Connie (Rosario Dawson) puts it (and I'm paraphrasing): "It's like launching a missle the size of the Chrysler Building at a trainload of schoolchildren!". Adding to the chaos is the fact that Frank (Denzel Washington) and Will (Chris Pine) are working together for the first time and Frank doesn't feel Will is on the ball. He feels Will has been handed his train conductor job and he doesn't really appreciate it as much as he should. Perhaps stopping a runaway train will give him the perspective he needs.

"Unstoppable" isn't a bad movie, but nor is it a particularly good movie either. There's never a dull moment, and yet I didn't feel the need to watch every scene (it doesn't require ones full attention). While it's a competently made film, I never felt the level of tension that I was intended to feel, and the supposed suspense never really hooked me in. The whole thing feels, if anything, understated. Even in the climactic ending, the sounds of music and cheering are muted rather than accentuated. The film has its share of dumb moments (the police who were supposed to be evacuating the towns did the worst job imagineable as there were people lined along the railroad tracks during a possibly explosive de-railment attempt), but this is a popcorn flick, not Hamlet. Dumbness aside, and as engaging as it is, it still feels like a made-for-tv flick, and that's probably where it's best viewed: it's a nice film to watch on late night cable.

Megamind
Megamind(2010)
½

Tom McGrath (Director of "Madagascar" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa") brings us the second animated evil villain cartoon of the year (the first being "Despicable Me"). But where Despicable Me was a sort of generic villain in a world without heroes, Megamind is a direct and sometimes wickedly accurate parody of the superman mythos. Of course it wouldn't be a modern animated film without somehow weaving the "ugly duckling" (or "Revenge of the Nerds") fable into the storyline. Megamind (Will Ferrell) is the lone survivor of a doomed planet, whose ship is knocked off course by another lone survivor of another doomed planet. While one orphan, granted with super powers and adopted into a wealty family, grows up to become "Metro Man" (Brad Pitt), Megamind crash lands in a prison and is raised by convicts. After watching his attempts at getting popularity fail, the young Megamind decides to use his genius for evil.

Several years later, Megamind is battling Metro Man over fate of Metro City (or metrocity- rhymes with "atrocity"- as the mispronouncing Megamind calls it), and using the lovely Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) to lure Metro Man into the ultimate trap. But what does a super villain do once he no longer has his raison d'etre? Megamind decides to create a new superhero to replace Metro Man, one that he may fight, by injecting Roxanne's weak-willed nerdish cameraman (Jonah Hill) with Metro Man's DNA, but it turns out heroes are more than just a collection of powers.

Sure, there are some good jokes (when Megamind adopts the disguise of "space dad" for example, it's a spot on parody of Marlon Brando's role in the original "Superman" movie), and a great supporting cast (David Cross, for example, as the Minion, Megamind's pet fish in the gorilla/robot goldfish bowl mecha suit), but the storyline is the thing that leaps out at you. Megamind spends so much time focusing on the idea of being a villain, he doesn't stop to think about what it is he's fighting about. There's a little bit of existentialism at work here (very little, but still more than you'd expect in a kid's cartoon) and it gives the plot some much needed depth. Megamind defines morality by defining what it means to be a "good guy" or a "bad guy". And all while still managing to maintain fun and exciting levels of action.

Skyline
Skyline(2010)
½

Was the world demanding a version of "War of the Worlds" as told from the point of view of the cast of "The Hills"? Skyline opens with a bunch of large blue lights raining down on L.A. in the middle of the night, and then gives us the unwanted and unneeded backstory of our heroes, a group of rich young people who like to party. Their lives, hopes and dreams are given what seems like hours of screen time, especially Terry (Donald Faison) and Jarrod (Eric Balfour). I have nothing against tv actors (many can easily make the transition from tv to the big screen), but if your major studio hollywood film features actors whose previous works were restricted mainly to basic cable, you might be in trouble.

Once the film returns to the present tense, we find Jarrod staring out the window of the high rise luxury condo at the blue light which seems to be simultaneously hypnotizing him and infecting him with some sort of radiation (the skin around his eyes and face slowly turns black). After Terry pulls him away, and the mysterious flesh discoloring fades, the group (rounded out by a couple of generic girlfriends- the only difference being that one is pregnant) look out the window where, miles away and seemingly in another movie, lots of computer-generated alien effects are taking place. With the help of a magic telescope, they keep track of events happening all over the city. It does seem as if there are two different films taking place: one containing some interesting (if wholly unoriginal) sci fi effects and the other running through the motions of your typical disaster-type escape movie.
It turns out the aliens have come to earth to take our brains (spoiler alert) which they use to power their weapons/selves/I don't know what. It seemed like they were going through a lot of brains, too. One alien could go through two or three brains a day. Granted, they just harvested a couple billion brains on earth, but it's that sort of slash-and-burn brain harvesting that leads to the de-brainistation of the cosmos. Also, if the aliens are so interested in brains, why on earth would they target L.A., where so many of our cranially-challenged (ba-dum-dum) live?

There are so many nit-pickable faults about this movie: the wide variety of alien designs all stolen from other, better alien movies, why aliens are so incredibly powerful until they're suddenly not, and the average clown off the street can beat them to death with his bare hands, why does the blue light give Jarrod super powers, why is getting blasted with both manmade and alien radiation fine, just as long as you don't smoke around my fetus... However, the biggest fault I can find in Skyline is the lack of fun, and Skyline could've been a lot of fun, if it didn't go through so much trouble and effort to shoot itself in the foot.

The Crazies
The Crazies(2010)

There's not a lot to be said about The Crazies. It's a dull movie made for people who are easily entertained. Usually these types of movies are dumb fun, but while there's plenty of dumb, I didn't see any fun anywhere. It begins in the standard movie version of a midwestern Iowa town (in Hollywood, everything between New York and L.A. is stuck in some sort of 1950s time warp), where a figher jet carrying a new type of biological weapon has gone down in the swamp from which the town gets its water supply (Iowa's famous swamps- what, you've never heard of Iowa alligators?). This biological weapon was designed to de-stabilize populations by turning the infected into homicidal maniacs. Only the town sheriff and his doctor wife have the wherewithal to figure out what's actually happening while everyone else in town goes b-a-n-a-n-a-s. Less subtle than a bugs bunny cartoon, the actors recite their lines as if they're blunt objects used to beat the audience over the head. Movies like this don't give their audience any credit and assume that we're just as dumb as the film-makers. There's simply not an original or clever idea in the whole thing.

Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy(2010)
½

Hollywood has been dramatizing the lives of famous musicians almost from its very beginning. From the Al Jolson Story to the Benny Goodman Story to the Buddy Holly Story to Walk The Line, and no group has been represented more in film than the Beatles. Based on the memoirs of Lennon's half-sister Julia, it's one of the more unromanticized and factual movies of its kind, covering his life from ages 14 to 17 (approximately), and focusing on his relationship with his estranged mother and the aunt who raised him (Beatle fans looking to see yet another re-telling of how the group got together may be disappointed, as there's little screen time devoted to the fab four). What shaped the adolescence of the man who would go onto found the biggest musical group of all time?

Aaron Johnson ("Kick Ass") plays the John Lennon character much the way every expert Beatles fan would expect: part wise-ass hoodlum, part sensitive artist, and most of the time both sides are colliding simultaneously in a way that conflicts and confuses the "nowhere boy". Bob Dylan once said after reading a wildly exaggerated article about himself in the newspaper, "I'm sure glad I'm not me". The teenaged Lennon doesn't seem to know who he is or what he wants, it's as if he's trapped in a performance, always trying to please his audience. Part of his acting out might've been seeking the attention of his aloof aunt Mimi, or maybe it was just A.D.D., the movie hints at both possibilities. When one day his free-spirited mother comes back into his life, it seems to correspond with his discovery of rock-n-roll music. It's here the die has been cast and his fate is finally sealed. After watching a newsreel, John asks his mother "Why couldn't God have made ME Elvis Presley?", to which his mother responds "Because he was saving you for John Lennon". Sure, it's a little bit cheesy (and the movie at times can't help itself), but it certainly doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility for her to have said it. The relationship between the two sometimes hints at oedipal, but it does so gently, so as not to offend the beatlemaniacs too much.

One thing Nowhere Boy does extremely well is show the humble origins of greatness. It's hard to believe, amongst all the ridiculous 50s pompadours (so accurately re-created) and smoking teens, that this barely-able-to-play band would go onto become the Beatles, but it most likely all had to start in some such fashion. It's hard to say whether youth creates culture or culture creates youth, but so many kids of the late 50s got their behavior and concept of "cool" from the movies (every kid is doing his best James Dean or Marlon Brando imitation). Nowhere Boy nails this youthful longing to have an identity, even if it's one the kids co-opted from hollywood back in the day. It reminds me of the days of 'gangsta rap' from the early 90s, where everyone was from the hood. Everyone wants to be a somebody.

It's hard to draw a distinction between "Nowhere Boy" the film and the actual life of John Lennon, and this is probably a good sign the film is a great biography. Rather than deify the Lennon legend, it tries to create the story of an actual flawed human being. While the music might not be given the recognition it deserves (Lennon seems to come to music as a means of meeting girls, something that seems highly dubious, given his dedication to it), it is in the end what gives it all meaning. Would John Lennon with a more idyllic childhood have gone onto create the Beatles, or would the world have simply gained another draftsman or dock worker? If ritalin had been around in the 1950s, would he have grown up to be just another good citizen, rather than some rock-n-roll scalliwag? Fate decrees things for some. A sheltered life doesn't necessarily mean a happy life, and a happy life doesn't necessarily lead to greatness. Lennon's early tumult lead to musical creations so wonderful, they still change lives 40-some years later.

The Social Network
½

Asperger Syndrome is described as having the following conditions: "An intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity" and "the lack of demonstrated empathy" (from wikipedia.org). The Social Network, the latest film by David Fincher, could be considered a textbook example of Asperger Syndrome and it's role in society. But really, it's the story about how a young underclassman named Mark Zuckerberg got drunk one night after his girlfriend broke up with him and created facebook. You see, Zuckerberg is a great computer programmer, but more than that, he seems able to tap into ideas for websites that get lots of "hits" (something akin to being able to spin hay into gold). So really, the film is about the creation of the world's youngest billionaire, and in fact is based on the book, "The Accidental Billionaires". Or all of the above. "You're going to go onto be a really successful computer guy someday, and you're going to think girls don't like you because you're a nerd. It's not because you're a nerd, it's because you're an asshole". So says the aforementioned (ex) girlfriend, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). Mark sits there thunderstruck (and somewhat oblivious to the fact that he really IS an asshole) and takes his impotent rage out on the girl in the only manner he's capable of: he blogs about her. After spewing some venom out over the internet, he then creates a website that pits pictures of sorority girls against other sorority girls in a "hot-or-not" ranking that crashes the Harvard servers. "The site got 2200 hits in 2 hours?" No, it got twenty-two THOUSAND. Zuckerberg's prank site becomes something of a local legend, at least enough to grab the attention of the Winkelvoss' (Armie Hammer), twin brothers whose family name and wealth give them an air of royal entitlement. They've come up with an idea for a social network called "The Harvard Connection" and they want him to do the programming.

Rather than work on their website, he sets about working on something he calls "the face book" and enlists the financial backing of his best friend, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). If this all sounds a bit like a deposition report, it's only because the film is told through the hearing that takes place when all parties involved sue one another. Throwing fuel on the fire is Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), creator of Napster and professional weasle. He ingratiates himself with Zuckerberg with his 'rock-n-roll' lifestyle and all his promises of big money. Without actually contributing anything, he manages to acquire a big chunk of the facebook fortune.

It's amazing to watch these young, socially inept men get all this power from something so trivial as a website, but there you have it. No one really understands the nature of what it is. When the Winkelvoss brothers go to the Harvard president to complain about the 'theft' of their idea, he dismisses them rather uninterestedly: "go invent something else", he tells them. "In today's world, Harvard graduates don't find jobs, they create them", meaning these students can apparently pull money out of thin air. I wonder how Gordon Gekko, the ruthless corporate raider from the 80s film "Wall Street" would take to 21rst century billionaires? I can't imagine two more disparate worlds, and yet in the end, they're both pretty sleezy and back-stabby. The Social Network does have a lot in common with films like "Wall Street" and "Michael Clayton". The main difference being just how impotent these kids come off as. Rather than the ruthless, 'go-for-the-jugular' type of 'evil' business man, they're all passive/aggressive and indifferent, except when they're sneaking behind others backs. The closing line of the film sums up Mark Zuckerberg in a nutshell, he's not an asshole, but he's trying awfully hard to be.

Jackass 3
Jackass 3(2010)
½

I think just about everyone knows the drill on "Jackass" by now (well, maybe except for the 70 year old man I met as he was buying a ticket for the film), there's some gross humor, some painful humor, and some surreal humor. It's just like the other two films and the tv show before it. Granted, it's been ten years since the guys first started doing there thing, and they're all starting to show their age (Knoxville especially is looking older). I was surprised to find their magic formula for disaster still works on a comedic level. I thought I had grown as an adult and as a human being since the last film, but I still can't help laughing at fart jokes (this time they have a professional farter in the film, who does farting tricks). No, I can't help it, I think it's something ingrained in the Y chromosome. It's whatever makes us still laugh at the Three Stooges some 70 years later.

Rather than go into details and ruin gags in the film, I'll just keep things brief: there is poop, there is vomit, and there is male nudity, and often all at the same time. The film is also in 3D, and although I watched it in 2D, I can see by the way it was filmed, that the 3D effects might be kind of cool. I never did find out if that 70 year old guy enjoyed the movie. Seeing as the comedic value of two fat guys super-glueing themselves to one another is timeless, I have to assume he did.

Public Enemies

Producer/Director Michael Mann ("Heat", "Miami Vice") creates this tale of one of the depression-era's greatest bank robbers, John Dillinger in the 2009 film "Public Enemies". "Creates" is probably the more apt word, as there's more fiction than fact at work here. Yet despite all the liberties taken with the historical facts of Dillinger's life, the end result is reasonably entertaining. Dillinger the folk hero, while alluded to, is never really satifactorily explored, but his love affair with girlfriend Billie Frechette seems greatly embellished. Dillinger's many daring escapes from prison are also documented here, as well as his brief connection with Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham). The movie's dry, "slow burn" pace is reminscent of other biographic pics ("The Changeling", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), and there's not really a lot of fun going on either.

America has always had, if not an outright love affair with criminals, at least a great interest in them, especially those from the 1930s. Dillinger, Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde, all inspired the public with seedy tales of violence and crime, anarchy in the midst of oppression. Strangely though, it's not Dillinger who caught my interest in this film (he's portrayed rather plainly by Johnny Depp), but Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), the G-man appointed by J. Edgar Hoover (played by the excellent Billy Crudup) to apprehend public enemy #1. Hoover and Purvis both seem confident in their new methods of "scientific" criminology, and yet are painfully and embarrassingly thwarted at every turn by the wily Dillinger. While some actual events are represented (the Little Bohemia Lodge shoot-out, for example), the circumstances surrounding them are wildly inaccurate. I suppose some facts had to be changed in order to expediate the story, but some of these changes seem unnecessary. Those interested in the subject matter might find more entertaining than those who are not.

Red
Red(2010)

I guess there's no law that says old people can't kick some ass (but wouldn't it be funny if there were), and so what if a 100 lb. Helen Mirren knocks out a 200 lb. secret service agent with her purse, at least it's "movie reasonable" (and after seeing "Salt", just about anything is movie reasonable nowadays). "Red" stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous", and it's what you'll find written across Frank Moses' (Bruce Willis) file down in Henry the record keeper's C.I.A. vault. Moses was once one of the CIA's top covert black-ops agents, but now lives the idle life in his empty suburban home. The only human contact he enjoys is the occasional phone call to his pension office in Kansas City, where for brief moments, he gets to converse with the lovely Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker). Everything's going along fine until a hit squad tries to covertly (and then not so covertly) assassinate him in the middle of the night. Assuming the attack was a result of his suspicious contact with Sarah, he rushes to Kansas City to "rescue" her from a similar fate. From then on, it's a whirlwind chase, as the two run from the C.I.A. and pick up other retirees, including Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich) and Victoria (Helen Mirren) along the way. Each of the retirees has their little quirks, with Marvin being the most looney of the group. He's the type of character who wears a tin foil hat and thinks everyone is a secret spy (only this time, he's usually right).

Red starts off strong, but steadily loses steam as the movie progresses. Despite this, there's enough juice in the tank that we're able to reach the end almost painlessly. The relationship between Willis and Parker is a lot of fun, and the movie feels like a throwback to the buddy action films of the 80s (maybe because it features so many 80s movie stars?). The action-packed, climactic finale isn't as climactic or action-packed as it could've been, but on the other hand, Helen Mirren knocks a guy out with her purse.

The Blob
The Blob(1988)

Why it reminds me of "Planet Terror", I'm not really sure. Perhaps it's the evil scientists, perhaps it's over-the-top style. Whatever the case, the similarity in style is quite striking. Story-wise, it's pretty faithful to the 1958 version, although it wants to put a little more of an edge on things. Maybe the tag line should be "It's not your father's blob" (then again, maybe not). Donovan Leitch plays the jock (a role played by Steve McQueen in the original), and Kevin Dillon plays the motorcycle-riding bad boy (a character not found in the original), and it's clear who the film-makers favor. While he may be a bad boy, he's a nice guy at heart, even when it comes to the town goody-two shoes cheerleader (Shawnee Smith). Much like the original, a meteorite crashes in the woods outside of town and when an old man finds it, a blob-like substance attaches itself to his arm. The two upstanding young highschool students rush the old man off to the hospital, but by the time they figure out what they're dealing with, it's too late. The blob grows bigger with each victim it consumes. And speaking of Grindhouse, Eli Roth must've been paying tribute to this film with his "Thanksgiving Day" short. There's a specific scene where two high school students are parked at make-out point that's hilariously reminiscent of said scene. Maybe this re-make isn't going to make anyone's "must see" list, but it's a fun little horror gem from the 80s never the less.

The Blob
The Blob(1958)

By the goofy, bossa nova-style opening theme song ("Beware of the blob, it creeps and leaps and glides and slides") you might think "The Blob" is going to be just a typical grade B, 1950s sci-fi cheese-fest, but it manages to set itself apart from the crowd with a slightly better than average story. What's so great about it? Well for starters, the disaffected youth aren't overly dramatic, rebels-without-causes, they're kind of actually believable human beings. And yet, the age-old generation gap is played up big for the kids of the fifties. Actually, I'd go so far as to say it's the adults who look cartoonish and the kids who are the realistic characters here. The film-makers certainly played up to their intended audience. The story starts off the way every sci-fi movie from the fifties starts off, with an unidentified flying object falling to earth from space. It turns out to be a meteorite, containing a gooey substance, or "blob", if you will. The blob begins eating people, and it's up to the teenagers of the town to stop it. Steve McQueen stars as the lead teenager (although he was apparently in his late 20s when this film was made). He and his girl rush the first victim back to the doctor in town (as a side note, the doctor bares an uncanny resemblence to Gregory Peck) and unwittingly unleash the creature on the whole town (you see, the blob grows bigger with each victim it consumes, so that eventually it's the size of an elephant). I'm not sure if the blob just consumes animal matter, or if it eats just anything it comes across: if it's just people, it must devour a lot of them, as it grows awfully big. I've read online the Blob is, whether consciously or sub-consciously on the filmmakers part, a communist parable. I suppose this is possible, but does it really mattter? The Blob taps into our innermost fears of being eaten by something that can't be forcibly stopped (admit it, you're terrified of being eaten by monsters). And it's a fairly clever B movie from the fifties.

Wild Strawberries

78 year old Dr. Isak Borg is receiving an honorary degree at Lund cathedral tomorrow, as he himself explains in the opening scene of "Wild Strawberries", a film by Ingmar Bergman. In the very same scene, he also claims "in our relations with other people we mainly discuss and evaluate their character and behavior, this is why I have withdrawn from nearly all so-called relations. This has made my old age rather lonely". It also doesn't help his isolation that he's a self-described "pedant". Rather than fly to Lund with his surly house keeper (and quite possibly, only friend), he chooses to drive the 14 hour trip with his daughter-in-law, a bluntly open woman who regards her "uncle" (as she calls him) as something of a fraud: a man whose benevolent exterior hides a selfish and ruthless old man. But why is Dr. Borg so cold and distant? As the film progresses, the doctor's past is revealed in a series of dreams and memories (and the line where one begins and the other ends is often blurred). The events that went into creating the loneliness of Dr. Borg's life are pulled back like the pedals of a flower.

When confronted with the looming shadow of death, Dr. Borg doesn't recall his lifetime of dedication to humanitarian work but instead re-lives the longlost loves and regrets of his youth. When his brother stole his betrothed away, the first instance that really toughened up the naive young Isak. All of Dr. Borg's flashbacks and hallucinatory dreams are voyeuristic in nature. He calls out to his one-time fiance Sara, only to watch in silence the moment when, while picking wild strawberries, she's swept off her feet by his ne'er-do-well brother. Maybe it's all psychological, in that it comes from one of his most deep-seated humiliations at the hands of his wife, dead for nearly 20 years. Or maybe it's just part of his lineage, as it is with his 96 year old mother, who's only purpose in life is to deny her great grandchildren their inheritance by staying alive, and his son Evald, who hates his life so much his only desire in life is a quick death. Bergman fleshes out the life of Dr. Isak Borg while at the same time bringing us more intimately closer to the universal fear of death. How do we live our lives and what regrets linger long after the people we love have turned to dust? Wild Strawberries is somehow both haunting and warm; in the end, we can find comfort in ourselves if our happy memories out-number our bad.

Devil
Devil(2010)
½

The first in what is apparently a new series labeled "The Night Chronicles", written by M. Night Shyamalan, "Devil" asks the question "what would happen if a group of people were trapped in an elevator with the devil?" (the answer seems to be "I don't know, let's wing it"). The movie begins with a quote from St. Peter ("The devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour") and makes every effort to bring the quote to life. Unfortunately, the film fails to consistantly strike the right note when it comes to generating suspense. It's well crafted, but perhaps contains just a tad too much exposition. That's not to say it isn't a perfectly serviceable scary movie, the devil winds up being pretty creepy, but having said that, there's never any doubt about the supernatural nature of the events taking place. It fails to generate suspense because we already know what's going on and what's going to go on, the only question is who's doing what, and that's not a question that's necessarily burning in our minds.

A group of five seemingly random strangers get on an elevator which stops somewhere around the 39th floor. The devil, as the voice of the narrator explains, sometimes takes human form and tortures those who are to be damned. "It always begins with a suicide, paving the way for the devil's arrival, and always ends with the deaths of those trapped". So says the narration, and so it is, as the film opens with a suicide. We are then introduced to an alcoholic cop who has a tough time believing in anything since his family was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Is it fate or divine intervention which leads him to answer the call of a stuck elevator and the bizarre circumstances that follow? One by one, we're shown a series of coincidences which are just too unbelievable to be genuine coincidences, until finally we're shown something that can't be anything other than supernatural.

Devil manages to be not too smart and not too dumb, it's not terribly scary, nor is it completely dull. It coasts along, content to be a medium-ranged thriller. If you like that sort of thing.

Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass(2010)

Much as been made of the ten year old "Hit Girl" and the psychotic murder rampages she executes in "Kick Ass", a film about would-be super heroes inspired by comic books to dress up in costumes and fight crime. It's not so much that she's tough and swears so much as she murders people in cold blood and without the slightest sense of remorse or any sort of inner morality for that matter. She's a child who's been raised in brutality and revenge by her deranged father, "Big Daddy" (Nicolas Cage, who, when speaking as his super hero alter ego is channeling his inner Adam West here). I'm not even sure which is more creepy: that the film makers created this psychopathic killer child and played her most deranged killing scenes for laughs or that the fans eat it up and post their sexual fantasies about this little girl online. One of the key tenents of any super hero lore is that the good guys don't kill people. On the other hand, and in spite of what Roger Ebert says, there is something to be said about context.

Kick Ass starts much like any other super hero movie (and if anything, its tone at the beginning is reminiscent of more kid friendly fare like "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" than anything): a nerdy kid who's kind of an outsider decides to change his life and become a super hero. He invests in a fancy super hero suit and trains himself in the art of fighting (well, not really). After attempting to thwart some armed robbers, he's left in the hospital with numerous steel body parts and a de-sensitized central nervous system. He's sort of like a "real life" Wolverine. After one of his crime fighting exploits is posted online, he becomes something of a super celebrity, and soon is amassing thousands of friends on myspace. He even attracts the attention of his high school crush (even if she does think he's literally gay). While attempting to do a favor for his said crush, he runs afowl of drug dealers, and it's here, at the debut of Hit Girl, the film takes such a drastically gratuitous change in tone (it's basically the equivalent of Michael Myers initiating a pie fight at the end of "Halloween") it's little wonder some reviewers have likened it to the exloitativeness of pornography. But it really is all about context. You see, Big Daddy isn't a hero and he isn't motivated by justice, but by blind revenge. He's so blinded in fact, that he manipulates his young daughter into becoming a murderer. And she is, in fact, a murderer. In the film, she murders innocent bystanders simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The father has concocted a scheme of fear and intimidation, and it involves beginning from the bottom up and wiping out all traces of this drug lord's business (the drug lord who framed him and cost him his wife and freedom). So perhaps if the audience mistakes Big Daddy for the hero, that's not necessarily the movie's fault. However, by the end, the innocent and naive Kick Ass is right along side Hit Girl, blowing away the bad guys with equal fervor, and so we're left to ponder the real message here. Are we to dismiss this as cartoon violence while accepting the "realistic" portrayal of super heroes? Should it be considered a stylistic choice when a movie chooses to ignore the rules it sets up for itself? Honestly, I don't know. Kick Ass provoked quite a bit of thought, and while I enjoyed it on the whole, I don't necessarily feel good about it.

Bye Bye Birdie
½

Love or hate Ann-Margret, you're going to get a lot of her in Bye Bye Birdie, the 1963 film adaptation of the broadway show. The studio apparently felt this film was to be Ann-Margret's "coming out" film to announce her arrival in hollywood. This is why the story was re-worked to focus more on her character and less on the original story featured in the stage production. Dick Van Dyke (reprising his role from the stage) is Albert, a song-writer who's quite unsuccessful in his career. His girlfriend and secretary, Rosie (Janet Leigh) wants to help make him a success, if only so he can pay back his mother (Maureen Stapleton) and get married. Unfortunately, the biggest singing star in the country, the unlikely named "Conrad Birdie" (Jesse Pearson) is about to be shipped off to the army (mirroring the real-life scenario with Elvis Presley in the late fifties). Rosie arranges it so that Albert will write the farewell song Conrad sings in his last performance on the Ed Sullivan show, a last kiss sort of song, and one lucky girl from the Conrad Birdie fan club will get to be on the receiving end of that kiss. At random, Kim McAfee's (Ann-Margret) name is drawn, and from this point on, the film focuses on the uproar caused by her getting kissed on the Ed Sullivan show by a rock-n-roll singer. There are a few stand-out numbers in the film, most noteably "Kids" (performed by the underused Paul Lynde, Maureen Stapleton and Van Dyke) and "Put On A Happy Face" (performed by Dick Van Dyke), but most of the other songs aren't very memorable. Ann-Margret just doesn't sing very well here and the side plot with her and her boyfriend Bobby Rydell is kind of irritating. It's not nearly as much fun as it would have you believe it is.

The Bad and the Beautiful
½

In Hollywood, where the producer is king, it's kind of hard to make a film about what complete bastards movie producers are. The Bad and the Beautiful attempts to tackle this precarious subject matter, but it still feels kind of tame. Witness other "insider" films of the era: All About Eve, or Sunset Boulevard. They both went after their respective subject matter with no holds barred, and no attempts to pretty up the ugliness. Kirk Douglas plays Jonathan Shields, a scumbag producer who uses more talented people and then throws them aside when they've served their purpose. The film takes the approach that Shields is simply doing what must be done in order to get the films made, that these creative individuals (a director, an actress and a writer, respectively) would never see their projects come to fruition without his guiding forceful presence to get things done. It's a bit of a stretch to suggest there's anything heroic about what Shields does, as he could give some credit to those who helped create his career. In any event, I'm not entirely sure the film wasn't supposed to try (and fail) to generate sympathy for Shields. Our sympathies are meant to be torn, but Shields is so loathsome it negates the conflict of emotion we in the audience are supposed to feel. What goes on in Hollywood, what ugliness goes into the pictures that make us laugh and smile? The Bad and the Beautiful is a nice attempt at exposing hollywood's dirty secrets, but it's too wishy washy to be really effective.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Forget about Avatar, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is probably the most aggressively creative fantasy film to come out in the last ten years. The screen virtually explodes in a multitude of ideas and creativity. Writer/director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) takes a story (based on a comic book by the same name) of forlorn love and infuses it with pop/nerd culture. Anime-style fight scenes and video game meta-references create the sort of "inside jokes" that might normally overwhelm noobs if poorly done, but the acting, script and overall feel of the film is so vibrant and fun that it's pretty hard to deny it.

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) and his friends are all young adults in their late teens and early twenties who are into video games and music, and usually the two intersect (Scott plays bass in his band "Sex Bob-omb", a name which is a cross between the song "Sex Bomb" and the Super Mario character "Bob-omb"). The movie opens with Scott introducing his friends to his 17-year old girlfriend, "Knives Chau" (Ellen Wong), an asian high schooler who goes to a private school (replete with school girl uniform). She's a nice girl and the two of them get along very well. That is, until the day he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the mysteriously enchanting girl of his dreams. He falls under her spell and is powerless to do anything other than follow her around. The two begin dating, but their romance is suddenly interrupted when Scott learns he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends. And that's defeat, as in hand-to-hand combat.

The entire film is one big surrealist fantasy, frantic with energy and video game references (for example, when Scott defeats an ex, he explodes into coins). Director Kevin Smith called it a comic book come to life, even. Scott Pilgrim is the domain of a certain group of people, and those not attuned to that culture might find the whole thing simply annoying. Those people are missing out on a whole lot of fun.

The Last Exorcism

I was pleasantly surprised by The Last Exorcism. I'd heard mixed reviews from others, and previous exorcism movies (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, for example) had left me with a rather negative view of modern day versions of this particular horror film subject matter (and while I admire the quality of film-making, even the original Exorcist isn't very scary to me). In any event, most horror movies fail to move me anymore. I just don't find them scary. Exciting? Sure. Scary? No. But I digress...

The Last Exorcism combines the documentary feel of such movies as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield with a more plot driven storyline than those previous films. The film follows the Rev. Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a man who comes from a long line of exorcists (their ancient family heirloom is an exorcism book filled with demonic pictures and latin text). Cotton has come to believe that his whole life has been a fraud, that there is no God and that exorcism does more harm than good. He has decided to do one last exorcism and film the process as a means of exposing the scams exorcists do when performing the fraudulent ceremonies. He takes the first request off the pile of envelopes, and he and the film crew set out for the backwood Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer and his family. It's Louis' daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) who is allegedly possessed. Cotton performs his usual hokey exorcism, expecting the usual satifactory results, but things seem to go wrong this time.

The Last Exorcism makes great use of it's pseudo-documentary style and while there are some cheap thrill moments, overall it's quite well-written. In fact, you may not realize just how clever the film is until the very end and it's "wtf" moment. It may not necessarily be scary, but it is pretty enjoyable.

Tales of Terror

I felt several emotions while watching Tales of Terror. Terror, however was not one of them. It's quite a comical bastardization of E. A. Poe's writings, with Vincent Price mugging away for cameras. There are in fact, three so-called tales of terror: Morella, The Black Cat, and The Case of M. Valdemar. Each of the episodes runs approximately half an hour and runs the gamut between patently ridiculous (The Black Cat) and extraordinarily dull (Morella). Poe's short stories are often feeling or emotion rather than plot, but these re-tellings of Poe's stories (as directed by Roger Corman) are as dry and mechanical as possible, relying soley on whatever device was used in the original story to carry the attempts at suspense. Bad sets, bad lighting, bad direction (Corman zoom ins and zoom outs to transition each scene in one of the tales) and cheesy acting all add up to a lot of non-frightening-ness. One of my favorite Poe short stories, The Case of M. Valdemar, gets closest to the original feel, but as I've said before, it's a very paint by-the-numbers affair that squanders any creepy feelings it may have generated. All in all, Tales of Terror is a campy waste of time.

Mrs. Miniver
Mrs. Miniver(1942)

"Mrs. Miniver" could be described as "WWII as seen through the eyes of a woman". Womens' concerns over when the boys will come home and who will win the flower pageant comprise the bulk of the film. It's mostly just pure propaganda, but as Winston Churchill purportedly said, the movie did a great deal for the war effort (in that it inspired a great deal of sympathy for the british plight with american audiences). But Wyler throws a twist in at the last moment, showing us that it's not just soldiers we should be concerned for, in this modern style of warfare where everyone is threatened. Wyler takes the drawn-out film and uses it to make a point, but unfortunately it doesn't do a whole lot to make the bulk of the film very engaging. In the end, Mrs. Miniver is a quaint film of historical importance, but overall was of little entertainment despite excellent performances by Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (actually, Dame May Whitty is the highlight of the film, her performance showing the most growth, bringing her staunchly upperclass Lady Beldon into the patriotism of the war). Even Wyler later said he didn't go far enough in showing the horrors of war. I don't know, it seems like the war inconvenienced Mrs. Miniver's shopping quite a bit.

The Expendables

There are 142 explosions in this movie and Sylvester Stallone's eyebrows never move. Not even a little bit. I'm not sure what kind of plastic surgery he's had, but I'm sure it was extensive. If you took all the goatees worn in this movie and tied them together, you could make a very nice toupee for Jason Statham, with some left over for Randy Couture as well. What I'm saying is, there's a lot of ill-advised facial hair to be found here. Starring virtually every action star of the last one hundred years, The Expendables is so "over-the-top" (that's a Stallone reference, thank you), it's either a love it or hate it proposition. I'd like to say a little bit more about Sly Stallone before I go on. His breakthrough role came in 1976 with the oscar-winner "Rocky". In it, he plays an over-the-hill fighter who overcomes great odds to give the champ a really great fight. Yes, Stallone was playing an over-the-hill fighter in 1976, and it was reasonably realistic. Now, some 62 years later, Stallone is fighting whole armies and killing entire countries. I guess things really do improve with age? At least in The Expendables, he doesn't have to do it alone. Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke and Randy Couture make up the team of mercs who will do anything for the right price, even assassinate the cocaine-growing generalissimo of some third world backwater country. Things take a turn for the something when Stallone suddenly develops a conscience and decides to rescue the general's rebellous daughter from almost certain death at the hands of the evil Stone Cold Steve Austin and Eric Roberts (the true brains behind the drug manufacturing operation).

This film will feel very familiar to those who are fans of professional wrestling: there are plenty of warm bodies for the big stars to eliminate (in order to make them look good), the older the hero, the more awesome he is (I mean, Ric Flair is 900 years old and is still not only wrestling 20-something year olds but is 'beating' them as well), and also big dawgs bark loudest. The whole film is incredibly violent, incredibly cheesy, and incredibly fun. Anyone who enjoyed Stallone's 2008 Rambo re-launch will undoubtedly love this one. Stallone may not ever win another oscar, especially not for directing, but if all his future endeavors are this loud and ridiculous, he's going to be making a lot of money.

Duel in the Sun

With a lot of big name talent, the producer of "Gone With The Wind" brings us a would-be epic western that doesn't amount to very much. Really, the plot could be summarized as "a manipulative woman falls for an evil man and they spend the rest of their lives doing bad things to people". Producer David O. Selznick wrote this film as a star-making role for his then future wife, Jennifer Jones, but the film didn't do her, or anyone else involved with it any favors. Jones plays Pearl, the indian halfbreed who is sent to live with distant relatives when her father kills her libidinous mother in a fit of jealous rage. Her new family consists of a southern aunt (Lillian Gish), her husband, the crippled old senator (Lionel Barrymore) and their two sons, the good one Jesse (Joseph Cotten) and the bad one, "Lewt" (Gregory Peck). Lewt isn't a badboy, he's just kind of an a-hole whose hobbie include bullying and raping and murdering. Pearl wants to be a good girl, sort of, but manages to ruin her every opportunity by not being able to keep it in her pants. Yes, the movie is sexually charged, what with all the raping going on, but Pearl's hardly a victim. She manipulates the kindly old straw boss into marrying her just to make Lewt jealous, and basically gets the man killed for her own pride. So where do our sympathies lie? With Jessie, I suppose. He does the sensible thing, stands up to his domineering father and goes off and makes good. He even gets a good girl to marry. Good for him, I guess. King Vidor directs the film that in another era would recall a Benjamin Button or Forrest Gump, and while these are very acclaimed films, I find them both to be a little trite and obvious when it comes to their directing, sacrificing believability for the "perfect scene" scenes. Jennifer Jones' overacts something frightful, and the whole thing winds up being something I frankly don't give a damn about.

Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

1959's "Black Orpheus" is like some long-forgotten children's book of what the rest of the world, with it's exotic people and colorful locations might look like. Along the beautiful coast of Rio de Janeiro, we wander up through villages stacked at impossible angles against gigantic hills and mountains, as the city below litters the shoreline and paper ships dot the glimmering ocean. The story follow Eurydice, a country girl who's ship arrives in the harbor just in time for the "carnival", a fantastical time of dancing and celebration for the people of Rio. For the first 20 minutes of so of the film, there is almost no dialogue exchanged as we follow Eurydice through the city and up the side of the mountain, just the almost nonstop pulse of the samba rhythm pounding away as literally every person she passes on her journey is either dancing or performing music. Director Marcel Camus doesn't attempt to disguise his love of this culture as he packs every scene with life and color. Orpheus of greek mythology serves as the inspiration for Orfeu, the streetcar conductor who plays guitar and sings, and also charms every woman in the village. The beautiful Mira has him cornered into a proposal, but Orfeu forsakes all others the day he meets Eurydice. Eurydice arrives in town to hide out with her cousin, Serafina, away from a man dressed as death who's bee chasing her. Orfeu and Eurydice's story is told through the eyes of two young boys who see Orfeu as some sort of god (they believe his singing causes the sun to rise). Of course the tragedy parallels the original story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the genius of this film is in the way it weaves the story into each aspect of life in Rio, from carnival and samba, to voodoo and government ineffeciancy. And even when the story turns heavy, there's just so much fairytale up on the screen it's hard to take things cynically. This is like a beautiful, arthouse version of "Slumdog Millionaire". When I watch a movie like Black Orpheus, I'm swept up in the mythology the film creates. I can't imagine there's anywhere on earth better to live than the village of Orfeu and Serafina, where you can buy groceries with a kiss and dancing cable cars roam the streets picking up stray girls.

Shaft
Shaft(1971)

Gosh, what a great soundtrack. Isaac Hayes manages to produce some pretty wicked funk that still incorporates elements of the traditional orchestral soundtrack AND gives us what is possibly the most iconic song of the seventies: the "Theme From Shaft". He's a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman.... I hear that Shaft is a bad mother- shut your mouth! I'm just talkin' bout Shaft... Theme song aside, Shaft just isn't a very good movie. The story involves a black mob boss who's daughter has been kidnapped by a white mob boss, and he hires Shaft to get her back. The main things about Shaft is, he doesn't take no guff from whitey. When a white criminal spits in his face, he bashes him over the head with a whiskey bottle. He somewhat deals somewhat less severely with the white guy who calls him "boy", and likewise sticks up for himself when the police start to get patronizing and/or bullying. All this isn't nearly as shocking in 2010 as it probably was in 1971, and minus the shock factor, we're left with a pretty bland crime story. The quality of the story and film and the level of acting all suggest a less interesting episode of the A-Team than anything (although I really enjoyed looking at the early 70s New York City locations). I realize this is B- movie "blaxploitation", and maybe you have to be in a certain mood to appreciate it, but, outside of a few comedically dramatic scenes, I found the whole movie to be extraordinarily dull and low on entertainment factor. It may have been revolutionary and the first-of-it's-kind, but what it's originating isn't terribly interesting to me.

The Other Guys

The Other Guys takes place in the "buddy cop movie" universe: two super bad ass cops bring down the bad guys amidst gunfire, explosions and millions in property damage. The premise here though is slightly different, the twist being when the two super cops (as played by Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) go down in the line of duty, it's up to the "other guys" to take their place. The other guys (as played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) are a pair of desk jockeys stuck doing all the paperwork the super cops don't want to bother with. Det. Hoitz (Wahlberg) hates the desk job almost as much as Det. Gamble (Ferrell) loves it. Hoitz so wants to be the bad ass, cool cop but is constantly at odds with Gamble, the button-down accountant. Of course you know things will get wacky because these two are just so completely different.

Granted, this film isn't necessarily being billed as a Will Ferrell movie, but we all know that's exactly what it is. If you've seen Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, or Semi-Pro, you know what to expect. Some wacky things, some gross things, towards the end, it will seem as if all is lost for the heroes, until something motivational happens and it all comes out good in the end. If you've seen the trailer for the film, you probably already know if you're going to like it or not. I enjoyed it, there were some big laughs and some small ones (and I'm not going to go into detail about the humor/jokes, as that would spoil the movie, something the trailer does enough of already). In the end, this film is to cinema what the Big Mac is to cuisine, something I don't mind so long as I don't have to think too much about it afterwards.

The Phenix City Story

If you watch even a little bit of "The Phenix City Story", you'll know it was based on real events, the circumstances surrounding which are actually quite riveting. It's unfortunate then that the film regarding these events is so clumsy. After a short "newsreel" (where a reporter interviews some of the actual participants of the story), the film opens with a young man trying to get his girlfriend to quit her job as a dealer in one of Phenix City's several gambling dens. That Phenix City is in Alabama and both these actors speak with clear and obvious yankee accents is distracting, to say the least. Not only do several of the actors not even attempt an accent, some don't even attempt to act. The first half of the film is strictly B-movie grade MST3K type stuff. Phenix City, Alabama was once the sin capital (also known as the "wickedest city in the United States") of the United States, long before Las Vegas was even dreamt of. For 100 years, the "machine" ruled the city, raking in untold cash which, at the time the events of the film took place (early 1950s), added up to millions of dollars a year. Citizen groups occasionally rose up to challenge the mob, but they were usually squashed all too quickly by strong arm tactics and voter fraud. Yes, Phenix City, from the city hall and police force on down, was totally corrupt and on the take. That is, until John Patterson returned from serving overseas in Germany during the war. John saw his friends beaten and murdered joined in the fight against the mob. When his father, Albert Patterson, a great and famous attorney saw what his son was involved in, and became convinced he could no longer sit idly by. The father ran for attorney general of Alabama, on a platform that he would clean up Phenix City for good. It's quite a harrowing tale, and with a substantial amount of shockingly hard-nosed 1950s violence. Cheap sets and bad acting aside, the film is really quite something, although I think the newsreel portion of the film would've worked better as an epilogue rather than a prologue.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Movies have always been used as a form of escapism, especially when times are tough (such as during the Great Depression), but what happens when the movies themselves desire escape? That's what happens in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo", Allen's tribute to the golden age of cinema. The film is indeed appropriately set smackdab in the middle of the Great Depression, where lonely Cecilia struggles hard to make ends meet. Inbetween slaving as a waitress in a diner and taking care of her domineering and abusive husband (the excellently creepy Danny Aiello), she frequents the local movie house. She must go there often as she's on a first name basis with all the employees. Sure, during the day her life may suck, but for a few hours each week, she can be transported off to exotic locations and expensive night clubs, experiencing the fleeting affairs and romances of beautiful movie stars. She especially enjoys the new film, "The Purple Rose of Cairo", taking in several matinees. One character, the "aww shucks", all around good guy and egyptologist, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), especially catches her eye. She apparently also catches his eye, as one day he turns to her and begins speaking to her from up on the screen. Moments later, he steps down off the screen and the two run off together, bringing scene to a halt. The characters in the movie don't know what to do without Tom there, and so just sit and wait for him to return, much to the chagrin of the audience in attendance (they begin to heckle the screen, and the people in the movie begin to heckle the members of the audience in return). Word quickly spreads of this strange phenomenon and soon the town is bustling with hollywood agents looking to put an end to the "bad publicity". Meanwhile, Cecilia and Tom grow acquainted and of course like any old time movie character, Tom almost immediately proclaims his love for her. Cecilia seems more concerned with just catching her breath after all the supernatural goings on, but she's entirely sympathetic to the idea. Much like her fantasies of leaving her husband, her fantasies of running off with Tom seem like they are so very possible. The craziness only heightens when the actor who portrayed Tom Baxter in the movie, Gil Shepherd, comes to town to try and save his career in hollywood (just suppose this living incarnation of his performance commits some crime or "rapes some woman", as his agents so often remind him). He too, meets and becomes attracted to Cecilia, who is then caught in a sort of love triangle between a movie star and his character. It's a quaint little film that still manages to give us a bit of melancholy near the end, as per Allen's more serious films. The Tom Baxter character is the stand in for Woody this time, fulfilling Woody's usual role of being an outsider looking in (or is it an insider looking out?). He makes no bones about his feelings about anything: love, religion, society. The character is the perfect man as invisioned by Woody. And yet, he's also a very apt tribute to the great film characters of the early days of cinema. In fact, the Purple Rose of Cairo is a love letter to the golden age of film. The care put forth into creating a 1930s film, from the lighting and film type, to the music and make up, it all looks authentic. The Purple Rose of Cairo is a film that aims small, but hits big.

Salt
Salt(2010)
½

Those confused by "Inception", Christopher Nolan's dark dream hit of the summer, might find their heads spinning around the halfway mark of Salt, the latest Angelina Jolie- spy vehicle. Even though everything is neatly resolved by the end (perhaps a little too neatly), the credulity needed to swallow this horse pill plot sometimes borders on insanity. I don't advocate watching this film under the influence of controlled substances, as much like "Grindhouse: Planet Terror", realism isn't a high priority here. Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who, as the film opens, has been captured by North Korean officials and is being held and tortured as a spy. She's rescued, not by the US government but by her arachnologist husband (both the fact that her husband rescued her and that he's an arachnologist will factor into the movie later on). Years later, a russian spy defects to the CIA with what he claims is vital security information. When Evelyn interrogates him, he outs her as a mole for the former Soviet Union who will assassinate the Russian president in order to instigate a new war between the US and Russia. Suspected by her own government, Salt goes on the run, in order to prove herself innocent of the charges. But is she?

As I said before, Salt seems to take great liberty with logic and common sense until the end, when the film comes back around the bend. Are there plot holes and unanswered questions? I don't know. I don't really want to sit and argue with fellow armchair critics about the logistics of leaping down elevator shafts or the motivations of moles and patsies. Thinking too much about Salt will just make your head spin anyway. If you relax you may find you enjoy the intricately written screenplay that's more fun than those of the Bourne movies. And even though I may have laughed a few times at the ridiculousness of certain situations, I was just as equally occupied in trying to figure out which ways the plot twists and turns were going to take me next. I guess if we're going to re-start the Cold War, we may as well do it big and crazy. And have Angelina Jolie involved in there somewhere.

The Devil and Miss Jones

John P. Merrick (Charles Coburn), a bigtime businessman (the "richest man in the world") is upset that the employees of one of his "small holdings" (a department store) are burning him in effagy, and wants to get to the bottom of things. Rather than sending in a private detective to infiltrate the organizers, he decides to get to investigate the situation himself. Rather than the group of lazy rabble-rousers he expected to find, he's instead greeted by a group of caring and well-meaning individuals who look out for one another. It's something a bit foreign to him, this concept of people liking one another. He's especially bowled over by Miss Jones, an almost saintly figure in comparison to the miserly board members he's used to associating with. Mary Jones (Jean Arthur) seems to be a friend to everyone in the department store, and, under the mistaken impression that Mr. Merrick is a down-and-out tramp who's just found a job, is quick to offer him lots of helpful advice. As Merrick gets a firsthand look at the sort of treatment the average worker gets from the supervisors, he makes little notes in a notebook of DOOM for those who treat him cruelly. Things get complicated when he finds out the chief rabble-rouser is none other than Miss Jones own boyfriend. It's really amazing how quickly Mr. Merrick gets into the persona of a common working man, almost immediately identifying with all the problems facing them (which is a huge jump from the way his character is introduced). As his moral change happens rather quickly, the rest of the movie is sort of a "secret identity" type caper, where Mr. Merrick is constantly on the verge of being discovered. "A madcap comedy of errors", I suppose is the term. While Jean Arthur's charming performance really shines, it's famous character actor Charles Coburn makes this film great. Coburn (1877-1961), who didn't appear in film until the age of 56, also had roles in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and Howard Hawks' "Monkey Business". I don't think he was ever finer than he was here.

Dinner for Schmucks
½

I recently saw Elia Kazan's "Baby Doll"(1956) for the first time. In it, a morally bankrupt, sadsack businessman is so desperate to win the affection of the woman he loves that he commits an unsavory and malicious act which later comes back to haunt him in full karmic retribution. A similar storyline can be found in "Dinner For Schmucks", the latest film from Steve Carell ("40 Year Old Virgin") and Paul Rudd ("I Love You, Man").

In today's economy, it's odd to see a CEO, corporate executive ladder-climber be the hero of a film, and yet that is who we're asked to sympathize with here. Tim (Rudd) has just nailed a presentation to his boss and is almost assured of getting that corner office on the twelfth floor. All he has to do is attend one of his boss's "special" parties. Every guest must bring a moron with them so the boss and his staff can mock them. Tim finds the party morally reprehensible and assures his beautiful girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) that he's not attending, that is until he hits Barry with his car. Barry is a taxidermist who builds elaborate dioramas out of stuffed mice. While that isn't necessarily idiotic, just about everything that comes out of Barry's mouth is. While Tim thinks he's found the perfect schmuck to bring to the dinner, Barry systematically (yet inadvertently) destroys just about everything in Tim's life: he sends Julie into the arms of a lunatic artist named Kieran (Jemaine Clement), he gets Tim audited by the IRS, thanks to an upleasant introduction to Therman (the always funny Zach Galiffianakis), and allows his psycho stalker, Darla (Lucy Punch) into his home. These things, along with the titular dinner, add up to some of the funnier moments of the film, but really there's just something distasteful about the whole affair.

Maybe, as I've said before, in this economy, the idea of a bunch of CEO fatcats getting together to make fun of a bunch of down-and-out losers just isn't that funny, especially when we're expected to laugh along with the CEOs at how pathetic these guys are. In Baby Doll, there was karmic retribution. Here, the guy just learns his lesson, and oh well. It's okay to treat people like crap as you snivel your way to the top, as long as you feel bad about it afterwards. After the dinner with the schmucks, you get to have your cake and eat it too.

The Heiress
The Heiress(1950)

What a great closing scene, Morris (Montgomery Clift) pounding on Catherine's (Olivia de Havilland) door as the credits start to roll. Is he just the craven gold digger her father thinks he is, or does he really love her? Catherine isn't exactly loaded with social graces, nor do people find her very attractive or personable. Her father (Ralph Richardson) humors her to a degree, but he knows a lost cause when he sees one. That's why she's so surprised when Morris shows such a keen interest in her. Morris is outgoing, attractive, intelligent and warm. Aunt Lavinia (Miriam Hopkins), ever the romantic, pleads Morris' case to the father, but it's to no avail. De Havilland's transformation is so gradual and yet so drastic that by the end, the Catherine from the opening of the movie is scarcely recognizeable. The Heiress inherits a great deal more than money from those who surround her. As she says "Yes, I can be very cruel. I have been taught by masters". The Heiress deals with the confrontation of one's own reality, and what effect that has on the psyche. Could Catherine be happy deceiving herself, trying to forget Morris only wants her for her money? The father wants Catherine to free her life of allusions, but is it always best to protect those you love from being hurt? In the end, everyone's lives are made up of a little bit of fantasy and a little bit of reality. We're all stars of our own stories, and sometimes it's better to live a lie, especially when the truth hurts.

Baby Doll
Baby Doll(1956)
½

Archie Lee (Karl Malden) is kind of a pathetic figure. He's a loser in life, his business, a cotton gin, is a failure, and his house is a broken down old mansion. The only thing he values is his wife, Baby Doll. He lured her away from her father (while he was on his deathbed) under false promises that he has yet to live up to. Meanwhile Baby Doll can't stand her husband. He's a good deal older than her, and constantly leers and paws at her. Despite her revulsion, on her 20th birthday she's agreed to fulfill her marriage contract and sleep with him. On the eve of her 20th birthday, their furniture gets re-possessed, and Baby Doll threatens to withhold sex from him yet again, or worse, she will move into a hotel. "There's no torture on earth to equal the torture a cold woman inflicts on a man", laments Archie Lee. "What you done is bit off more than you can chew", comes Baby Doll's somewhat prophetic reply. Archie Lee is so frantic and pent-up in his sexual frustration (he peeps through a hole in the wall at her sleeping- and she sleeps in a baby crib no less), he burns down his [competetor's] cotton gin. Up til now, we're led to believe Archie Lee is the hero of the story, and we try to find a means of sympathizing with him and his problems. But then, after the fire, we're introduced to Silva Vacarro, a cicilian plantation owner who built his own gin rather than deal with the shoddy equipment of Archie Lee. When Silva sees the racist, old establishment sheriff's department won't do anything about his burned down cotton gin, his eyes tear up with rage as he swears he belongs to an ancient race of proud people who, when corruption stands in the way of justice, they go out and get their own. Eli Wallach delivers a standout performance as Silva, he plays his part with the intensity of a young Robert DeNiro, and he also reminds one of a young Harvey Keitel. The Silva character, oddly enough, is quite similar to that of Daniel Plainview from "There Will Be Blood": he's a very intense business man with an intense sense of justice. He comes not for Archie Lee's business, but for his heart. It's an absolutely ruthless sense of justice he pursues. But Archie Lee has the good old boy network on his side, and it's a battle of wills to see who will win. It's strange that near the end, when all the cards have been cast, and just when you think Silva should be at his most triumphant, he seems sympathetic to old Archie Lee. There's a moment of ackward mutual sadness between the characters while sitting on the staircase in that old broken down old home that manages to be quite touching. Still, Silva's contempt for Archie Lee and his broken down life isn't masked in the least bit. In fact, it's all he can do to keep from spitting in the man's face. With all it's references to the deep south, (the locals have colorful names like "Bo Weevil" and "Uncle Cousin") both in the screenplay by Tennessee Williams and in the actual production itself (the opening credits list the stars of the movie as Karl Malden, Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, "and some of the people of Benoit, Mississippi"), Baby Doll gives us a glimpse into a world that may not exist anymore, and much like the aforementioned "There Will Be Blood", plays with our notions of good and bad guys.

Inception
Inception(2010)

"Have you ever noticed how you can never remember how a dream begins?", asks Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) of Ariadne (Ellen Page). Every dream starts in the middle, says he. In Inception, it's entirely possible everything is a dream (or even the movie itself is just a dream) by someone unknown (is it possible to dream in the third person? I've never dreamt in the third person, but I guess anything's possible). Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) creates a world where layers are on top of layers and people's dreams are easily entered and navigated and even influenced. He's not caught up in the how (apparently you take a little black box with some wires coming out of it and plug it into the guy who's dreams you want to invade, as well as into yourself), or the why (the old cliche of "military research" is given as to why this technique was invented) so much as in the results, making this less a science fiction movie and more a psychological drama.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the ringleader, a man torn by the guilt of losing his wife in the world of dreams. His father or father-in-law (the always great Michael Caine) was the originator of the process involving going into people's dreams and "extracting" information. The idea of "inception" or implanting thoughts and notions into people's minds is something that has only been theorized, until Saito (Ken Watanabe) comes to them with a proposal to implant an idea into the heir of a business magnate (Cillian Murphy) to make him want to split up his father's immense business empire. In order to succeed, they'll need to create a dream of multiple layers, where each dream state goes deeper into the subconscious. There are all sorts of rules involved in this dream world: if one is killed in the dream, they will wake up, but at the same time will experience the pain that's inflicted on them, but if they die in one of the deeper states of dream (after being drugged, they're unable to wake up), they'll enter a limbo state (Nolan has his characters wash up on a literal shore of the limitless ocean of the subconscious). This limbo state is important, as it's something DiCaprio's character has experienced before. The manner in which he escapes that limbo state, and what that escape costs him is the true subject of the film.

The film is highly detailed and references itself both visually and verbally throughout. Christopher Nolan should be commended for his attention to those finer details, it's what separates this film from something more uninspired. It's curious to note each character creates a "totem" to keep with them so they'll know when they're in someone else's dream (it's apparently not possible for someone else to re-create this totem exactly as they remember it). Cobb keeps ahold of his wife's totem, a top that perpetually spins when dreaming and only stops when he's awake. Why wouldn't the subconscious mind control the top and whether it spins or stops and why doesn't Cobb see this?

Go, Johnny, Go!
½

Go, Johnny, Go! is a cheesy B-movie exploitation of the popular "fad" rock-n-roll. It features a ludicrous story of an orphan named Johnny who becomes a great rock-n-roll singer, despite the obstacles placed in his way by the adult establishment (he gets kicked off the church choir for singing rock-n-roll, he gets fired from his job as an usher at a theater for dancing when they had a singer on the stage in between matinees, I mean really, dancing?). He meets up with a fellow female orphan from his youth who also so happens to be a singer. What they sing barely qualifies as rock-n-roll, it's more the popular Doris Day-type stuff that nobody's parents would disapprove of (Johnny doesn't play a guitar, he plays a jazzy trumpet, and you can't get much less rock-n-roll than that). Seriously, it's like Frankie Avalon and Pat Boone had a lamer kid brother. Anyway, this silly plot isn't why we're here: it's to see the classic rock-n-roll acts from the late fifties, and this doesn't disappoint. Eddie Cochran, Ritchie Valens, Jackie Wilson, and of course the great Chuck Berry (who has a pretty significant acting role in the movie) all lip sync some of their bigger songs. Alan Freed the promoter, has somehow become Alan Freed The Actor, the lone saviour of Rock-N-Roll kids around the world. I feel a little bit sorry for Chuck Berry (who plays himself), he really has to play up how great this Johnny kid is, even though I'm sure it was torture to do so. If Thom Yorke from Radiohead ever made a movie for The Man and had to play up how great Justin Beaver was, I'm sure it would be quite similar to this. Actually, in this day and age, that doesn't seem that unreasonable. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet)
½

The dark ages come to life in this medieval fairy tale written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. It was a time of fear: fear of the devil, fear of God, fear of the plague, but most of all, fear of death. Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a Knight returning home after ten years spent fighting in the crusades. He wakes one morning to find the physical visage of death waiting for him. Desperate to live, he challenges death to a game of chess, after recalling stories of death's fondness for such games. The stakes are simple: so long as the game continues, he remains alive, and if he should beat death, he gets to keep his life. The knight, along with his surly squire Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand), continue their journey home. Along the way, they meet several interesting characters including a troupe of actors, a painter painting death murals in a church, and a girl whom Jöns saves from rape. In a bit of irony, her attacker is the man who inspired Block to enlist in the crusades in the first place (and thus earning the undying hatred of Jöns). The running undercurrent of the entire film is of course the plague, and it's effect on the psyche of the general public. The dark ages were full of the superstitious and the uneducated, people who knew nothing and were fearful of everything. In one scene, the acting troupe's performance is interrupted as the flagellators march through town, carrying on, praying that God will end the plague. Soldiers and priests condemn a girl to death, saying that her relations with the devil are the cause of the plague. Block knows he's short on time, and is searching for meaning in his life. His squire is more pragmatic and believes it's all of the flesh and there is no afterlife, nor spirit. Block's search for God seems in vain, but his search for life takes it's most noticeable upturn when he sits down to lunch with the actor and his family. Eating wild strawberries and drinking milk, watching the little baby play with his friends, he says "I will remember this moment in time always". Is life simply a collection of memorable moments, lost forever when we die? Is this the tragedy of life or the great beauty of our precious existence? Literally nothing lasts forever, and life seems to be all about pretending that fact doesn't exist, of being terrified of reality. The question isn't why is life so short, or why do we get so little, the question is, why we don't appreciate what we have.

Speedy
Speedy(1928)
½

Harold Lloyd's final silent feature offers a glimpse at New York City dating back to the 1920s. Lloyd plays an aimless young man who goes from job to job (some misfortune always strikes, causing his unemployment), while working towards the opportunity to marry his girlfriend. His girlfriend's granddad is the owner of the city's last horse-drawn trolley car, although recently there have been attempts to buy him out. The movie has a fairly standard plot for a silent film: the hero saving the girl and her family's farm/business from the evil banker, but Lloyd brings his own unique perspective to it. Highlights include a trip to Coney Island's "Luna Park" (closed now since 1944), a trolley car chase through old Manhattan, and of course the appearance of baseball legend Babe Ruth. A movie visit to Coney island wouldn't be this enchanting again until "The Little Fugitive". "The Witching Waves" were particularly interesting (how'd they get the floor to do that?), and I enjoyed Lloyd's interation with the stray dog that follows him about Luna Park. Cute and fun.

Predators
Predators(2010)
½

A group of military types are air-dropped into the middle of a jungle, and must solve the mystery of why they're there. Actually, Adrien Brody's character solves the msytery almost immediately. From then on (minus a brief interlude with a paunchy Laurence Fishburne), it's a nonstop run from the predator hunters. A new, "super" predator has been introduced this time. They are a different breed all together. As wolves are to dogs, these new super predators are to the plain old-fashioned predators. They're bigger, stronger, and they're hunting the old fashioned predators just as the old-fashioned predators are hunting the humans. They're also pretty gay. I'm not calling into question their sexual preference, I'm just saying they look and act gay, in much the same way the new movie versions of the Trans-formers look and act gay. It's a big misstep in the quest for coolness. The movie itself is a bit of a tribute to the original Predator film, with it's jungle setting and overall style. Unfortunately, the pacing feels sluggish and gives us great stretches of film with nothing of interest going on. The plot holes are many, of course, and the great lag times between action sequences gives the viewer ample time to ponder them. There was one character who didn't belong amongst all the commando-types, and his knowledge of alien plantlife suggested an inside understanding, but I think these suggestions were lost on the writers. I think a lot of things were lost on the writers, and with more than one writer involved, not catching plot holes becomes inexcuseable. Predators may be the weakest one of the series (and looking back, that's saying something).

Grown Ups
Grown Ups(2010)

Adam Sandler attempts to combine a pastiche of human interest with his usual brand of broad humor, but all he winds up with is an ambiguously genial comedy. There's only so much niceness one can take from these old SNL comedians. Sandler plays a dad who also happens to be a big time hollywood agent. He gets word that his old middle school basketball coach has passed away, and must postpone the family's trip to Milan for his wife's (Salma Hayek) fashion show in order to attend the funeral. Back at the old home town, he meets up with the other guys from the team (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider), and each of them have brought their wives and children (except for Spade's character, who isn't married). They each have some idiosyncrasy that's easily mocked: Schneider is married to an old woman (Joyce Van Patton), Spade's an alcoholic, Rock is hen-pecked, James is fat, and Sandler is rich (and is very embarrassed about having a nanny, for some reason). Also, the old home town has some rivals who never left, including Colin Quinn, the kid Sandler beat in the basketball game those many years ago. Over the course of a weekend, the old friends begin to bond again, and they share some life experiences with their children. They row canoes, skip rocks on the lake, go to a water park, and laze about on lawn chairs. The film is so relaxed, it seems as if no one was expending much effort in the making of it. I think Sandler and company just showed up to the location with some cameras and stood around waiting for the humor to start. Even though the movie isn't actually funny, it's certainly revolutionary: I can't think of another film where the stars asked us to pay to watch home movies of their vacation.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)

Pixar's "Toy Story" franchise really strikes a chord in the hearts of its fans. It's easy to identify with the toys and their abandonment issues, as well as the human aspect of growing up from childhood to adulthood. This time, the filmmakers at Pixar even have the temerity to have the toys confront the grim visage of death, in the form of a flaming junkyard trash disposal. But how did Woody and Buzz wind up in such a predicament?

Just as ten years have passed since the previous Toy Story movie, so too have ten years passed in the characters lives. Andy is now 17, and getting ready to go off to college. His toys have been sitting in his toybox, alone and neglected for many years now. Andy's mom (Laurie Metcalf) lets him know it's time for him to start cleaning out his room, separating the garbage from the things he wishes to save in the attic. The toys begin to prepare for "attic mode" (being locked away for many years and never being played with) when they are accidentally thrown out. Woody knows it was an accident, but is unable to convince the toys otherwise. Hurt and offended, they decide to go live at a daycare center, where they'll be played with everyday. But every silver lining has a dark cloud, and the dark cloud at Sunnyside daycare comes in the form of Lotso (Ned Beatty), the strawberry-scented bear with the kindly "Foghorn Leghorn" demeanor. The daycare center is more like a penal colony, where the old toys use the new ones as cannon fodder against the daily deluge of destructive toddlers. Will the toys be able to escape Sunnyside and return to Andy?

Is that the question, and in the long run, is it important? The toys of the "Toy Story" universe are immortal, they never age and their lives only end by unnatural means. Whether Andy is 17 or 87, the toys will eventually be abandoned for good (and when toys are abandoned in the Toy Story universe, they become bitter and malicious about it, as evidenced by the "villain", Lotso, but of course that's neither here nor there). Maybe I'm taking things too seriously, too literally, but that's exactly what the makers of Toy Story 3 are doing. They take the story to what might be a logical conclusion, but the uneasy mix of fantasy and reality makes me think much too hard about what exactly constitutes life and what kind of life can a toy lead that doesn't end in sadness. The movie is anything but light-hearted, and it's no wonder the theater was so weepy. I admire the level of film-making that went into this movie, as well as some of the better comedic moments (Ken and Barbie, the creepy "big" baby, and little Bonnie's shakespearean toys with their theatrical aspirations), but overall it felt a little heavy in it's dramatics. The sense of wonder that made up so much of the previous two films has been a little dampened this time. I'm not against cartoons having gravitas, but I'm not sure Toy Story is the right setting for dealing so maturely with issues of life and death. Toy Story 3 is a very good film that in the long run, may have over-extended itself.

Terminator Salvation

The Terminator films have never really been very convincing sci-fi, usually they rely more on action and thrills than science. The original Terminator, apart from making the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, thrived on mystery (the future was vague and ambiguous), leaving the plot details to the secondhand accounts of Reese (the guy who comes back in time to save Sara Connor from the Terminator). All subsequent terminator films have gone the opposite route, trying to give as much detail and backstory as possible. This is particularily deadly when your backstory (or frontstory, seeing as this is about time traveling robots from the future) is so implausible and convoluted. The more it tries to convince us, the less convincing it is. This is why I don't understand the particular hatred leveled at Terminator Salvation. It's just as action-oriented as any of the other films, and avoids the time travel plot holes by simply ignoring it all together. There's no time travel in Terminator Salvation, only the knowledge of it's ramifications in regard to the battle against "Skynet", the self aware computer that takes over the world.

As the film begins, we're introduced to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who's hour is almost up. Dr. Serena Kogan (Helena Bonham Carter), the last visitor he'll ever have, wants him to donate his body to science and her research in preserving the human body. He reluctantly agrees, and is sent off to receive his lethal injection. Cut to the year 2018, and mankind is all but wiped out by the sentient computer, Skynet. John Connor (if you recall from the previous installments of the terminator series, is mankind's last hope) is leading a group of rebels in Earth's last organized militia (this time Connor is played by Christian "Batman" Bale) against the army of robots. He leads an assault against a communications facility in one of the movie's opening battles. Meanwhile, Marcus has mysteriously re-appeared on Earth in the future, and doesn't know anything about what's going on. He's saved from certain death by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and his friend, Star (Jadagrace). Reese, if you'll remember from the first Terminator film, travels back in time to save Sara Connor and winds up fathering John. Anyway, Marcus turns out to be a real bad ass, and helps Kyle and Star escape the machines in several hair-raising battles. What's the mystery behind Marcus' sudden appearance in the future? If you've been paying any kind of attention, it should be obvious, but then again, mystery isn't the point here. This movie is about making moral decisions in war, and not losing your humanity for the sake of winning a battle. Maybe the moral's been done before, but there's a lot of fun to be had in the movie. It's not the action comedy that T2 tried to be, nor is it quite as dour as the third installment, it's just sort of like a video game storyline, or maybe a comic book. It's hardly intellectual, but none of these movies were. If you're looking for a good action film, you've come to the right place.

Boys Town
Boys Town(1938)

Spencer Tracy plays Father Flanagan, the creator of Boys Town, in this sentimental film from 1938. Flanagan believed in the motto "There's no such thing as a bad boy" and made it his life's mission to help reform boys who'd been abandoned to the streets or to the various other state institutions (which were so effective at creating better criminals). After being inspired by a death row convict who claimed if he'd had just one friend looking out for him when he was twelve, his life would've been different, Father Flanagan abandoned his soup kitchen and decided to focus on helping young boys instead. Things go great the first few years, that is, until trouble arrives in the form of Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney), a street tough who's gangster brother pays to have accepted into the town. Whitey doesn't fit in and apparently doesnt' want to either, putting on a big, tough guy act to try and bully the other kids. It doesnt' work, of course, as most of the kids come from bacgrounds just as tough, if not tougher than him. Mickey Rooney is one of those child actors who is basically a fully formed performer right from the start, and his performance as Whitey Marsh wouldn't be significantly different if delivered as an adult. Spencer Tracy is subtle and understated, perhaps more understated than in any other role in his career, and it's little surprise he won the oscar. The weepiness of Rooney and "Peewee" (Bobs Watson) can be a little comical at times, but kids tend to be very emotional, and I think the performances are appropriate for the characters. A nice little movie.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

From the team that brought us the National Treasure movies (Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon TurtelTaub, Nicolas Cage), comes a movie so implausibly silly, it makes National Treasure look like "Death of a Salesman". It perhaps would've been more suitable to call this film "The Nutty Sorcerer's Apprentice", as Jay Baruchel does his best Jerry Lewis imitation as "Dave", the clumsy uber-nerd who's been picked by fate to destroy the evil sorceress and be the "Prime Merlinian". As explained in the 2 minute prologue, Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci) were all students of Merlin. When Morgana (Alice Krige) convinced Horvath to betray and kill Merlin, Veronica merged her soul with Morgana and Balthazar caste her into the grimhold, a magical nesting doll. Over the years, Balthazar imprisoned several other disciples of Morgana, including Horvath, in the grimhold (he was embued with eternal youth by Merlin, so he might live until the day he could find the Prime Merlinian), and there they stayed until ten years ago. Young Dave was on a class field trip, and after getting separated from the group, he accidentally wanders into Balthazar's curio shop. Balthazar asks him to try on the magic ring of Merlin, and of course it fits, and then Dave, ala Steve Urkel, accidentally releases Horvath from the grimhold. Then, by some fluke, both Horvath and Balthazar are trapped in a magic vase that holds people prisoner for exactly ten years to the day. Of course, during that ten years, Dave is convinced the whole episode was a hallucination and goes about living his nerdy life, pining away for the girl that got away that day long ago. When the two wizards are released from the jar, they immediately return to their quest to find and recover the grimhold, for it is the key to world domination. From this point in the movie, things get a little weird.

The only thing the Sorcerer's Apprentice is missing, as it throws so much at you, is a pet chimp who makes rude noises and a space car that can travel through time. It's over the top wacky and knows just how silly it is when it references Disney's original Sorcerer's Apprentice cartoon from Fantasia (replete with dancing mops and music), as well as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Things happen all topsy-turvy, with stone monsters come to life and people turning to dust. It takes the great sorcerer Nick Cage to put the scientific perspective on things. Apparently, magic is based in theoretical physics and being able to use the full 100% of your brain. Also, it requires pointy shoes without rubber soles so that the magic can be focused and not grounded by your feet. Really, the whole film is like a strangely lucid and entertaining peyote hallucination. Watching Nick Cage perform feats of great magic, you can't ask for much more in a summer film.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
½

Horse-sized dogs watch vampires practice fighting karate as the sounds of techno music play in the background. Well, I guess that's something you don't see everyday. This time, Twilight feels a little more like an actual movie and less like an episode of a UPN tv pilot (although it still takes itself way too seriously for what it actually is, an allegory on the joys of saving yourself for marriage). There's still a lot of nonsense involving armies of vampires and werewolves fighting over the dull and slightly plain Bella Swan, but this time a little bit of reality creeps into the escapist teen girl fantasy. Mainly, it's shirtless Jacob who shows the most insight: "if you'd stayed away another six months, she'd be over you", he tells Edward, the vampire version of James Dean, and he's probably right. Seriously, what love isn't "true love forever" when you're 18? The consequences of this love are all the more dire, considering she will have to die in order to fulfill it. Willing to give up family, holidays by the beach with the children and grandchildren is an easy thing to do when you're 18, it's only when you're 40 you start to realize what you've lost out on. Does Bella show the kind of depth of insight needed in order to make such a drastic and unalterable change? No, not at all.

Bella and Edward are going to get married, because according to the head vampire council of Italy, they must make their love official (who knew there was so much bureaucracy involved in being a vampire?). Of course Shirtless Jacob is violently opposed to Bella's involvement with Edward, partly out of concern for her life, but mainly out of jealousy. Meanwhile, the evil Victoria has sworn revenge against the Cullen clan for the death of her lover, and creates an army of newborn vampires using her newly created vampire, Riley Biers as her muscle. The volturi (the head vampire council) may or may not know about this army of newborns being created to battle the Cullens, but they seem to be suspiciously slow to respond. Shirtless Jacob's werewolf indian tribe decides to step in and aid the Cullens in their fight against the newborn army, if only so they can help protect Bella. As I've said before, all this supernatural fuss over a plain jane high school student seems to be the domain of silly adolescent fantasy, but director David Slade (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) tries to give this fluff a little bit of weight. There are even moments of mocking self reference, in spite of what I said about it taking itself way too seriously (when Bella is freezing in a pup tent up in the mountains, Shirtless Jacob offers to keep her warm, when the deathly cold vampire Edward objects, Jacob responds with "Anyway, I'm hotter than you"). I think this is probably as good a movie as can be culled from the source material.

Despicable Me

There is a website called "tvtropes.org" that defines tropes thusly: "Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means 'stereotyped and trite'. In other words, dull and uninteresting." The plotline to "Despicable Me" is entirely trope-based: an evil villain's cold heart is eventually melted when three adorable kids who he attempts to use in order to fulfill his evil plan make him see things in a different light. It seems as if the Grinch is stealing a lot of other things besides christmas.

Despicable Me is a non-pixar studio film from Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud (who also supply some of the voices) and stars Steve Carell as Gru, the would-be super villain. He's not much different from the average joe, he's got a home in the suburbs (it's painted a sinister black, however), a dog (although it looks like a hybrid between a tasmanian devil and a wolverine), and an SUV (which also happens to be rocket-powered and transforms into an aircraft). As the film begins, Gru's experiencing a deep crisis: some new upstart super villain has upstaged him by stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza. In the fine tradition of an old-fashioned fairy tale, Gru decides to commit the ludicrous crime of stealing the moon. He goes to the Bank of Evil to take out a loan for his nefarious scheme, but he cannot get the money for the rocket ship until he has possession of the "shrink ray" (with which he will shrink the moon). He goes to China and steals their shrink ray, but in turn has it stolen from him by Vector, the pyramid-stealing rival who's head he froze earlier. In order to steal the shrink ray back from Vector, he must gain access to his evil lair, and only by exploiting his weakness for cookies can he do this. Enter the three little orphan girls who sell cookies door to door. Gru adopts them and uses them as a decoy in order to break into Vector's home. Gru has one small problem though: what does he do with the girls once he's completed his plan, and can he go from "super bad" to "superdad" as the tagline suggests?

While Despicable Me doesn't break any new ground, and Steve Carell's performance as Gru isn't exactly inspired, the film has a quirky, offbeat atmosphere that sets it apart from other animated features. Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario and Jason Segel as Vector give it their all, but it's the "minions" (as voiced by the directors themselves) that steal the show. What are the minions? I don't have a clue, other than they have the properties of a glowstick (bend them in half and shake them up and they glow), and they're extremely concerned with eye safety (the one thing they all have in common, every one of them wears protective goggles). I have to assume they were genetically engineered by Gru's henchman scientist, Dr. Nefario, but why he would make such creatures (they look like little, yellow larvae) is beyond me. Also, some of them have only one eye for some reason, and none of them are capable of human speech, though they have the ability to mimic human behavior. I'm sure kids will get enjoy them though, and adults will likely be amused as well. In a summer of movies that have so far been underwhelming, Despicable Me is a perfectly pleasant movie treat.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Cary Grant allegedly never cared for his performance in Arsenic and Old Lace. It's perhaps his broadest performance in a screwball comedy, but I can't imagine him playing it differently or worse, playing it more straight. The film is based on the play of the same name, and Frank Capra keeps the feeling of live performance intact with only a few noticeable cinematic flairs. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, newly wed to Elaine (Priscilla Lane) and on his way to the honeymoon. All he has to do is make a quick stop off at home and he's all set. He even leaves a taxi waiting in the driveway. He lives with his two elderly aunts and a brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt (he doesn't walk up the staircase, he dashes up it yelling "CHARGE!" like he's taking San Juan Hill). Everyone, including Mortimer, thinks the old ladies are very sweet and kindly. That is, until he finds a dead body stuffed into the window seat. It seems his aunts have been murdering lonely old men who come to rent their spare room by giving them poisoned elderberry wine. They're doing what they feel to be good deeds, performing a mercy killing, making sad old men feel peaceful and happy. Grant is thrown into a mad panic as he attempts to keep the dead body from being discovered. Things only get worse when his longlost brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) returns from the mental asylum with a face that resembles Frankenstein's (thanks to his partner, the plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, aka, Peter Lorre). The brother has a body of his own to hide, and he's not planning on letting anyone get in his way, least of all his annoying brother. The story takes place on halloween and it seems wholly apropos: there are few screwball comedies this morbid and macabre.

Battleship Potemkin
½

Comically exaggerated versions of good and evil are paraded before the ignorant masses in order to inspire a great emotional response... No it's not the World Wrestling Federation, it's 1925's Battleship Potemkin, a piece of early Soviet propaganda from director Sergei M. Eisenstein, who makes great and, pardon the pun, revolutionary use of the montage. The storyline is simple: some sailors, tired of being served rancid meat, revolt and take over their ship. One of the men is killed by the officers, and when his body is taken back to shore, a giant impromtu memorial is created by the citizens of the town. The czar's army is sent in to squash the memorial/revolt, and several women and children are killed. Although it's supposed to be a historical drama, most of this story never took place, and was embellished in order to generate a bigger, more passionate response from the audience. The film was so powerful in it's time however, that it came to be viewed almost as a documentary. Hitler's propagandist called this one of the greatest films ever, and it shows the proper way in which to shape movie-goers opinions using the most suggestive images. I found it to be on the trite side, and when it goes for the gut, it's clumsy and obvious. The much lauded stairway sequence is amazing though, and it truly inspires horror with it's graphic depictions of violence. But one great five or ten minute scene does not a great film make. I can overlook outrageously over the top silent film performances if they don't get in the way of the story (Birth of a Nation is one example of great filmmaking overcoming distasteful subject matter and performance), but Battleship Potemkin didn't engage me with it's one-dimensional story.

Splendor in the Grass
½

Director Elia Kazan made one of his most sophisticated films out of what, on the surface appears to be a soapy teen romance/drama. It's an odd subject for a (from the year 1961) pre-sexual revolution film: if it had been made just ten years earlier, it would've been a morality tale about the dangers of pre-marital sex. As it is, it seems to warn teens of the dangers of NOT having pre-marital sex. Warren Beatty makes his big screen debut as Bud Stamper, the all-american high school athlete and son of a wealthy oil man. He wants to go all the way with his sweetheart Deanie (Natalie Wood), but it's 1928 and they're living in Kansas. The parents are no help to the frustrated teens, in fact, they seem completely clueless and old-fashioned, such as when Deanie asks her mother about sex. "Mom, is it so terrible to have *those* feelings about a boy?" "No nice girl does." "Doesn't she?" "No NICE girl. Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married, and then I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn't enjoy those things, only a man does, she just lets her husband come near her in order to have children." The warped morality of a puritanical society in action. Bud's dad, "Ace" isn't much better: "You get a girl in trouble boy, and you got to face the consequences. You have to MARRY her!". To say his father (Pat Hingle) lives vicariously through him is an understatement: "I got all my hopes pinned on you, boy". The father has given great thought and care into mapping out Bud's life for him, and makes it clear that any deviance from his plans is tantamount to throwing one's life away. He wants Bud to go to Yale and then take the position he has lined up for him in a very important company. Bud, however, doesn't want to go to Yale, he wants to be a farmer and marry Deanie, but dad doesn't pay attention. As much faith as Ace Stamper places in his son, he has little in his daughter Kay (Sandy Dennis), a flapper girl who "got into some trouble" back east and has been brought home a fallen woman. Ace treats his children like just another set of employees to instruct, and his forceful personality doesn't allow him to compromise or even listen to anyone else's thoughts.

When Deanie meets Kay, she's struck by her freedom, her apparent lack of concern with the social norms. It's confusing to see a girl living the kind of life she wants while she's so unhappy living the virtuous way her parents demand of her. Sin seems so appealing. Bud views his sister in the opposite light, as a drunken mess who can't control herself and is an embarrassment to her family (something he can't fathom, being so trusting of his father). He can't stomach the thought of turning his beloved Deanie into something like his sister, so he resists the evil temptation of sex. Bud attempts to talk to his doctor about his hormonal problems, but the doctor can only nervously chuckle at the suggestion Bud's father made that he find "a certain type of girl" to ease his frustrations. Bud hooks up with Juanita, the class floozy, and it gets around school. While in class, the teacher asks Deanie to recite the timely passage from Wordsworth's "ode on intimatations of immortality": "though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind". But if nothing remains of your lost passion, what then? Deanie succumbs to her confusion and in a panic, runs from the classroom.

After Deanie has her breakdown, there's a scene where her mother calls her down to dinner and she sees her parents in a whole new (and surrealistic) light, as if they're completely out of their minds. And that's the key to this movie, the kids aren't rebelling without a cause, they have ample reason to revolt: they've done exactly as their parents have instructed them to do and it's caused them nothing but pain and heartache. Bud's dad demonstrates his perfect lack of understanding when he points to a chorus girl and shouts "It's the same thing (as Deanie)! Just as pretty!". The story between the two teens is the conflict between a girl who loves her boyfriend and wants to give him anything to make him happy and a boy who loves his girlfriend so much he doesn't want to despoil her and "ruin" her, and how this conflict of interests leads to emotional breakdowns for all parties concerned. It could be said that maybe Kazan was making a statement about doing the right thing, and how painful it can be, as in regard to his own life and the Mcarthy hearings. That might be over-stepping things, but an artist can't help but infuse some of himself into his works. But what happens with the kids at the end? Kazan tries to play things off as if the whole thing never really mattered all that much, that the adults might've even been right about things. Truthfully, I think we all know better.

Rachel, Rachel

Paul Newman directs this at times great film about an old spinster school teacher who lives above a funeral parlor with her elderly mother. Well, the terms "old" and "spinster" are relative as she's only 35 years old. She does, however, conduct herself in the manner of a senior citizen. She tells her fellow school teacher Calla Mackie (Estelle Parsons), "I'm at the exact halfway point of life. After this year, I'm no longer ascending, I'm descending... into the grave". Very morbid thoughts, but she comes by them naturally though, as her father was a mortician and she grew up with some frankly traumatizing deaths being paraded before her eyes (not to mention the teasing she suffered at the hands of her peers because of her father's gruesome career). It's a sad life of a woman nearing 40. Joanne Woodward plays Rachel as a sort of updated version of "Marty", only she's stuck in the midwest with no visible hope of escape. Worse, it's the height of the sexual revolution, and spinster Rachel spends her saturday nights making sandwiches for her mother's bridge games. It's enough to give one an unstable mentality, and Rachel's head is filled with frequent morbid fantasies. When a childhood friend comes back to town, he openly admits to looking for "a little action". Instead of recoiling from his lewd sexual advances, she plays coy yet intrigued by his attempts to lure her away from her security blanket. Unlike Marty, Rachel doesn't seem to suffer from any great self-loathing, she's just resigned to the fact that life has ceased to grow for her, and that she's stuck until the day she dies. Director Newman displays a great talent behind the camera and Joanne Woodward gives one of her greatest performances as the emotionally charged Rachel. If it was incongruous at the time of the sexual revolution, this coming-of-age-past-your-prime melodrama has grown to be appreciated whereas other films from that era might seem dated and corny by today's standards.

Knight & Day
Knight & Day(2010)

Lately, Tom Cruise's personal life has become an easy target for critics, and while he's not entirely blameless for this, I think it has unfairly damaged his legacy as one of the greatest movie stars of his generation. Still, even the most diehard Cruise fans won't have a whole lot to be excited about with Knight and Day, also starring Cameron Diaz. Cruise plays Roy Miller, a seemingly rogue spy who somehow is always in control of the situation even when things seem to be going completely wrong. June (Cameron Diaz) is on her way back from Wichita after picking up parts (as a highly unlikely vintage automobile restorer) when she bumps into Roy Miller at the airport. Things seem suspicious when attendants tell her the plane has been booked full and then at the last minute admit her onboard what is a nearly empty plane. The plane winds up crash-landing in a cornfield, and agents are soon questioning June about her connection with Miller. Miller makes it plain she should avoid getting into vehicles with anyone, and informs her if anyone uses words like "safe" or "secure", it means they're going to kill her. It's all pretty dramatic stuff for a beautiful, blonde car mechanic to wrap her head around. Why is Roy Miller so wanted? It's all to do with a "perpetual battery", a self re-newing energy source that the government believes Miller is going to sell to a foreign nation. At his throat and on his tail is Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard), a stereotypical CIA agent who pursues Miller with great, and perhaps overenthusiastic vigor. When Knight and Day focuses on it's action sequences, it's a tremendous amount of fun; special effects that seem derived from Grand Theft Auto (a game which is name-dropped in one of the scenes) are quite thrilling. However, when things slow down to try and spark a little romance between the two main characters, it almost brings the film to a complete halt. While there isn't really anything too superflouous in the plot or script, it suffers from too many cooks, and as a result, starts to drag by the end. Cameron Diaz is starting to suffer from Sarah Jessica Parker syndrome, she's approximately 40 years old and is beginning to show her age (while she's still trying to play the sexy, flirty, much younger girl- character). It's a role she just barely manages this time, but I can't see her doing it much longer. Cruise however, is perfectly fine in his role and so's the directing by James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line). If anything, it's the lazy story that drags this one down. It's not bad, and it's certainly fun, as long as you don't go in with very high expectations.

The Objective

There's a point, around the half hour mark, where this movie may or may not lose you. It's the type of scene that shows how the lack of a big budget can cripple a sci-fi movie. The Objective is a schizophrenic little film that wants to be more than what it's unfortunately capable of. The film takes place in Afghanistan, as a CIA agent has taken a group of special ops soldiers on an undisclosed mission to find some supposed atomic weapons of mass destruction. As the group travels further into the country, they encounter more and more maddening things, including strange lights and ghosts from centuries past. Daniel Myrick (who also wrote The Blair Witch Project) writes and directs what seems to be an attempt to capture lightning twice, as the film attempts the what-is-happening realism that made Blair Witch such a pioneering work. Unfortunately, it's been ten years since the Blair Witch Project came out, and movies in this style have been pretty played out. This film has several other strikes against it, including sci-fi channel movie-of-the-week quality special effects and at times, student film quality acting by some of the leads (really, there were times towards the end where the performances became laughable). The film does however, start off quite strong and I can't fully dismiss it as a whole. Also, I found the subject matter to be quite interesting, and even if the ending practically torpedoes the entire film, I can't say I didn't enjoy it overall.

Son of Rambow
½

Quirky in a Napoleon Dynamite meets Be Kind, Rewind sort of way, Son of Rambow follows the adventures of two boys and their attempts to make an action film. Well, not just any action film, but a sequel to "First Blood". The film takes place during the early to mid 1980s (and there are many jokes involving 80s fashion and trends) in a little english community. Will is already an odd kid looking in from the outside, his family belongs to the Plymouth Brethren (a religious order that shuns much of the outside world, including television), and he spends much of the day keeping to himself and drawing in his notebook. Things change for him considerably one day when he attracts the attention of Lee Carter, the school bully who also so happens to be making a film for "Screen Test" (an 80s UK tv show that often featured the homemade films of kids). When Lee Carter invites Will home one day (to use him as a stuntman in his movie), Will is exposed to not only tv for the first time, but also Rambo, thanks to Lee Carter's video pirating business. Flush from seeing Rambo kill hundreds of men, Will concocts a film in which he plays the... well, the son of Rambo.

For a kid-focused movie, it has a lot of realistic blood mixed in with the cartoon violence, almost as if the violent actions only have consequences when it becomes necessary to further the plot. The bully kid isn't very sympathetic, at least at first. He's actually kind of a miscreant, and it seems totally reasonable that the other kids don't want to have anything to do with him. What the film lacks in the laugh out loud humor department, it more than makes up for with personality. In spite of its flaws, I enjoyed it a great deal.

A Star Is Born

Gay icon Judy Garland brings her considerable vocal talent to A Star is Born. a story of the rise and fall of actors in the cold, cruel world of Hollywood. The film itself is rather like the actor's rise and fall: it starts off full of wide-eyed optimism and ends on a cynical, embittered note. Garland plays Esther Blodgett, a young singer whose emotive vocal style strikes the fancy of Norman Maine (James Mason), a successful movie star who, despite his alcohol-fueled offstage shenanigans, is well-connected in Hollywood and offers to give Esther her big break. There are all-too-real scenes of struggle as Esther must either quit her position in an act she's worked so hard to estabilish or miss her opportunity to fulfill her lifelong dream. It's a gamble that pays off, and soon Esther (now known as Vicki Lester) begins a meteoric rise to fame (and Norman a sad descent into defeat). Obviously, one of the focal points of this film is Judy Garland's talent as a singer, and a few of the numbers in this film showcase that talent in a way not many of her other films have. James Mason is, as always, excellent, and Jack Carson also gives a great performance in his supporting role (as Norman Maine's studio P.R. man). Show business is a brutal industry, and the casualties are many, including Judy Garland herself. A Star is Born doesn't sugarcoat the price of success in this field of vanity and self-promotion. Norman forces Esther to look at herself and her talent, and to take what she deserves from the world. It's not a world or career for the meek and humble. By the way, I saw the "restored" version of this film on TCM, and I have to say the restoration does not impress me. Apparently the original film has been destroyed, but the soundtrack remains, so we have scenes where the actors are reciting their lines as still photos are flashed on the screen. This may restore the narrative, but it jars one out of the cinematic experience. I can only recommend the restored version for the diehard fans who've already seen it.

Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex(2010)
½

Wild wild Hex? Wild wild Hex. You'd be hard-pressed to find a film more devoid of life than "Jonah Hex". It just sort of sits on the screen, daring you to enjoy yourself. Hex (Josh Brolin) is an ex-confederate soldier who has nothing left to live for, thanks to his former commanding officer Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), who kills his wife and child right before his eyes (well, actually Hex killed his son first, so I guess it's not totally unreasonable). Hex believes Turnbull died in a fire and had given up the thought of revenge, until the US government approaches him to round up a group of "terrorists" led by Turnbull. It seems Turnbull has stolen a new super weapon developed by Eli Whitney (which makes sense, after developing a machine that shakes the seeds loose from cotton, the next logical step is the invention of some sort of cold fusion chemical bomb). There really isn't much scientific detail given about the super weapon, other than it makes old western towns go boom. Surprisingly, this is hardly the most ludicrous weapon featured in a film that also utilizes a pair of semi-automatic, dynamite-firing crossbow pistols and a pair of horse-mounted, retractable gatling guns that seem to be hidden in the horse's ears.

While Malkovich hams it up and Megan Fox does her best to melt into the backdrop, Josh Brolin gives the material an amiable attempt, but the material just can't rise above the weight of it's own silliness. You get the feeling it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but there's tongue-in-cheek and then there's whatever's happening here. Director Jimmy Hayward's only other big screen credit is "Horton Hears A Who", which might explain why some of the more violent joke set-ups seem so inept. The laughs all come at the wrong moments, and never the right ones. As the terrorists make their way down the Potomac in an ironclad, the evil minions start chanting "Turnbull, Turnbull, Turnbull", but to me, it sounds as if they're chanting "Turd ball, Turd ball, Turd ball". I think it's a fair assessment of the situation and the film, which wants to be a combination of "Ghost Rider" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", but isn't as enjoyable as either one.

Moon
Moon(2009)

Director Duncan Jones' "Moon" owes more than just a little to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". There is, for instance, the antiseptic nature of space stations, with their fluorescent white walls and stainless steel rooms. There's also the soft-spoken computer companion GERTY, who (like HAL 9000 from "2001") seems a little more sentient than we might be comfortable with. The story centers around Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the lone human inhabitant of a mining station located on the far side of the moon. As the little commercial at the beginning of the film explains, the moon operation mines helium-3, an environmentally-friendly isotope that creates waste-free nuclear energy. The isotope is found in abundance on the moon, and provides 70% of the Earth's population with clean energy. Sam's job on this moon base is to make sure the robotic machinery does what it's programmed to do, and to ship back the harvested helium-3. It's a job he's under contract to do for three years. Three lonely years. As the film begins, Sam has just two weeks left on his contract, but he's beginning to suffer weird hallucinations. After being alone for three years, the mind begins to play tricks on you. Logic makes you wonder why Sam would be up there all alone (although it becomes apparent as the movie progresses), and what would happen if he were to become injured or suffer some other accident. Director Duncan Jones (son of rock star David Bowie) has created a pretty straight forward science fiction film which, although at times disappoints, mostly due to the lack of mystery (plot points get explained to the audience with scooby doo-like bluntness), is still worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as "2001". It might very well be considered a classic film in years to come.

The Sting
The Sting(1973)
½

Maybe it's the Scott Joplin theme, or maybe it's the dirty, rundown look of everything, but The Sting has a wonderfully authentic atmosphere about it. So many movies tend to sterilize their period settings to the point where it looks more like a movie set than an actual living place, but The Sting doesn't flinch from it's depression-era setting. Robert Redford stars as Johnny Hooker, a con artist with a price on his head after he inadvertently steals from the mob. He flees to Chicago where, with the help of new friend and master conman Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), he seeks to turn the tables on those who want to see him dead. They con the mob boss using a "wire" (a telegraph wire) and a scheme involving betting on the horse races (it is in fact, an actual con that was used at the time). Newman and Redford play their parts with similar gusto, and there is much humor to be found in the complexity of the plot. The supporting cast too (including the great Ray Walston and Harold Gould), contribute wonderful moments. A truly great best picture winner from 1973.

Performance
Performance(1970)
½

Performance is a sloppy, unfocused mess whose biggest virtues seem to be it's psychedelic attitude and the fact that Mick Jagger co-stars. The star of the film however, is James Fox, who plays Chas, a strong arm for a small-time extortion racket. For some reason, the business of one of his old enemies is targeted for vandalism, and he's not included in on the attack. The old enemy holds him responsible though, and goes to his apartment for retribution (this includes, and I kid you not, writing the word "poop" on his wall and spanking him with a belt). When Chas murders the old enemy in self-defense (I guess), it becomes the biggest crime to hit London in the century and Chas goes on the run. He poses as a juggler and moves into Mick Jagger's basement. Mick has two hot euro chicks living with him, and they spend much of the film naked and making love. Mick is apparently a retired rock star, and he's living in seclusion while working on his new album, memoirs and film biography. I guess he's a sort of P-Diddy of the early 70s or something. Throughout the remainder of the film, a lot of other self-indulgent hippy nonsense takes place as Mick and the girls work their hippy magic on Chas, transforming him through the spiritual awakening of drugs and free love. Actually, I think I'm being unfair to hippies, as this film more accurately reflects the seedy, ugly side of the counter-culture that was so prevalent at Altamont the year before this film was made. There are a couple of scenes of interest, most noteably Mick performing an old Robert Johnson tune on an acoustic guitar, but overall, it's a tedious affair.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock could be an episode of "History's Mysteries" if only it were an actual historical event. It is, however, an entirely fictionalized account of the disappearance of several members of an all girls school from their class excursion to the aussie landmark "Hanging Rock" on Valentine's day, 1900. What makes it strange is not so much that the girls simply wandered away from the group as they seemed to vanish from the face of the earth entirely. I think the period setting lends itself to the bizarre tale, as this situation in modern times would be handled with GPS units and helicopter searches. The rustic setting and minimal search equipment available creates an impression of hopelessness or futility. Director Peter Weir makes a case for supernatural phenomenon, but the film feels dated to the 1970s and the supernatural phase the country went through during that time (Leonard Nemoy's "In Search Of" was a big hit, and kids everywhere kept an eye out for Bigfoot or U.F.O.s). It feels a little like "The Blair Witch Project" meets "The Wicker Man" for some reason. This film has moments of potential greatness, it just fails to act on them and be all it could have been.

The Man From Laramie

Like the Sons of Katie Elder, The Man from Laramie deals heavily with father/son relationships in the old west, and how the weak son fails the empire-carving father. The son Dave (Alex Nicol) isn't just weak and ignorant, he's also mean-spirited. Vic (Arthur Kennedy) is put in charge of "keeping" Dave, but Dave travels across the ranch like an oafish baby, and Vic can only keep him in line so well. But Vic has other reasons for disliking Dave, especially the fact that when the old man (Donald Crisp) dies, Dave will inherit (and likely fritter away) all the hard work he's put into the ranch. Lockhart (James Stewart) has come to to town supposedly to deliver a shipment to the general store, but his real agenda is to discover who sold the repeating rifles to the apaches who killed his brother. There are no stereotypical villains in this movie, no one is strictly speaking "evil" (except perhaps dave, who just wants to be the man his father was), they're more misguided. When the old man came out west, he had to be tough, as there wasn't any law to protect him and his property. Times have changed, and he wants his son to learn how to do the bookkeeping, but all Dave wants to do is play cowboy and spends every opportunity looking for a fight. Lockhart is shrewd and cool as a cucumber as he works towards finding his revenge, and it's a vengeance that won't be denied. The psychology of the characters is well fleshed out and puts the Man from Laramie a step above the stereotypical black-and-white westerns.

The Mortal Storm
½

TV description of this movie is as follows: An austrian farmer and a professor's daughter flee nazi Germany on skis. While I suppose this description is fair, it fails to get to the heart of the film and what it's really going for. Made in 1940 (although srt in 1933), before America entered into WWII, The Mortal Storm tells the story of Prof. Viktor Roth, a professor at the local college who, as the film begins, is celebrating his 60th birthday. The community seems unified in it's outpouring of love for this respected teacher, as do his children and step-children. That night, as they are eating the birthday cakte, it's announced that Adolf Hitler has come into power. Some, like his two stepsons (Robert Stack, William Orr) and his daughter's fiance (Robert Young), are over-joyed. Others, like student and family friend Martin Breitner (James Stewart) and the professor himself are not. Those who are pro-Hitler are very excited to see their once great and proud Germany restored to it's former glory, while the others worry this new Germany might not have any room for dissenting opinions. Of course the dissenters have a great deal to worry about, like the old man who's beaten up in the streets by five nazi thugs for not singing along to their murderous, warmongering anthem. When the family patriarch is arrested for teaching that there is no physiological difference between aryan and non-aryan blood, the free thinking citizens of the town look to flee the country. Yes there are skis involved, but this film is more about the subjugation of the individual to mob hysteria. It says on IMDB (my favorite movie source) that Hitler so hated this film he banned all MGM movies from the country. That should be a more powerful endorsement of this film than anything I could write.

The Natural
The Natural(1984)

Norse mythology, Greek mythology and even stories from the bible all lend themselves well to baseball, a sport that has been steeped in myth since it's inception. Babe Ruth calling his shot, the mighty Casey striking out, the game of baseball has an aura of mystery about it. The Natural seeks to capture that elusive mysterious quality in Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), a natural born baseball player who, like Hercules or Thor, displays a near super-human skill that seems born of the gods. Every legend needs a legendary weapon like excaliber, and Hobbs is no exception: he has a bat crafted by his own hands from the remains of lightning split tree, a devastating thing which knocks balls through steel and concrete. Hobbs' first great feat of legend is striking out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), a fictionalized version of Babe Ruth. Unfortunately, in so doing he attracts the attention of Harriet Bird (Barbara Hersey), a serial killer who's been shooting with silver bullets all the best athletes of each given sport. Sixteen years later, Hobbs returns, finally in the major leagues (although playing for a fictional team), and still with his special bat. Pops, the coach (Wilford Brimley) doesn't have any use for a 36 year old rookie, and keeps him benched until, one night at batting practice, he sees the power of Hobbs firsthand. With the help of Hobbs' bat, the team makes a run for the pennant. Of course, every sports film needs a bad guy, and in this case, it comes in the form of Gus Sands (Darren McGavin), a big time bookie who wants Hobbs to throw a couple of games on purpose and make him some money. With the help of a hot blonde temptress (Kim Basinger), he almost sidetracks Hobbs for good. It's not until his childhood sweetheart (Glenn Close) comes back into his life like a Guinevere to his Lancelot that he regains his composure and puts his team back on track. Though made in 1984, The Natural feels like a classic hollywood picture, it's pure fantasy, and although it fictionalizes baseball to Paul Bunyon-esque proportions, the end result is quite a loving homage to the game.

The Sunshine Boys

If you've ever had a strong desire to hang out with hard-of-hearing, incontinent and embittered elderly at a nursing home for two hours, then I strongly suggest you watch this movie first, as it will undoubtably cure you of this. Walter Matthau yells, hollers and bellows his dialogue in a manner that must've left him exhausted after each day of filming, or at least with a bad case of laryngitis. He plays a character so grating, it borders on torture to watch. In fact, this might be a good film subject Al-qaeda suspects to (with the volume turned up, for full bellowing effect). While I don't have any actual quotes from the movie, I think I can give a basic idea of the humor found in it:
Old Man: "Where's the bathroom?"
woman: "Sir, this is a pay phone"
Old Man: "What?"
woman: "I said, 'Sir, this is a pay phone"
Old Man: "So? Why are you telling me this for?"
woman: "You asked where the bathroom is"
Old Man: "You think I don't know this? What is this?"
woman: "Would you please leave?"
Old Man: "Huh?? What?? Bathroom??? Phone Booth???"

(10 minutes later)

Old man: "So what, you gonna let me use the bathroom now?"

...annd scene.

Walter Matthau plays an old vaudeville entertainer who's fallen on hard times, and as the movie opens, he's going out on commercial auditions. But, rather than go to the building where auditions are being held, he goes to an auto garage and insists on doing the audition for the mechanic, who is about as amused by this as I was. If Walter Matthau is playing an older character (than he was at the time), then George Burns is somehow playing a YOUNGER character (than he was at the time), and yet, he still seems more together than what Matthau is supposed to be. You see, the two of them were the great vaudeville comedy team "Lewis and Clark", and they've been at each other's throats for years since their retirement. When Clark's nephew (Richard Benjamin) gets them booked on a tv retrospective, they have to somehow learn to work together again. But after being subjected to Matthau's "louder equals funnier" performance for the entire first half of the movie, I had no interest in how the rest of the plot would play out. Neil Simon's screenplay is awkward, obvious, elementary and plodding. This movie actually plays better as a drama than a comedy. I don't find it cute when old people act like infants and I don't enjoy listening to people yelling at one another. My question is, are there people who do enjoy this?

Angel Face
Angel Face(1952)

Robert Mitchum plays Frank, an ambulance driver with dreams of opening a sports car repair shop. He has a very pretty girlfriend (Mona Freeman) that he treats very casually, especially when he meets other hot dames. One night, on a call at a ritzy mansion, he discovers what is obviously a plot by a wealthy socialite to kill her stepmother. However, he's a little bit intrigued by the socialite (Jean Simmons), and she seems more than a little interested in her, so he takes her out. Soon, Frank's life is filled with promises of money and it seems as though his dreams will all come true, if only he can turn the other way for a little while. Director Otto Preminger uses the Hays code to his advantage as the twists and turns of this crime drama unfold. While Mitchum isn't exactly oozing charisma (and Simmons' socialite perhaps oozes too much), the end result is something entirely fascinating to watch. Is Mona Freeman's no-nonsense character a proto-feminist? She sees Simmons' little plots and ploys very early on, and has the nerve to call her out on them. I also think the courtroom scenes deserve a lot credit. I enjoyed the interplay between the two lawyers, and Leon Ames breaks ground he'd later revisit in The Postman Always Rings Twice (as an exceedingly clever lawyer). A great example of the genre from the 1950s.

Gold Diggers of 1933

Opening with the musical number "We're in the Money" (as sung by a young and sexy Ginger Rogers) and closing with the distinctly downtrodden downer "Forgotten Man", Gold Diggers of 1933 manages to encapsulate the era of Great Depression Hollywood all in one swoop. Producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) has a great idea for a musical: a celebration of the Great Depression. There's just one problem, and it's a small problem really, all he needs is the money to put on the show, and someone to write it and star in it. Of course, living next door to his troupe of showgirls is the most amazing song-writer (Dick Powell) who is also a great singer and a millionaire in disguise, and he solves all the above problems with a snap of his fingers. Of course, this exposes the millionaire song-writer to the world, and his snobby, snootish brother is subsequently able to track him down. He discovers he's engaged to be married to one of the show girls, and, suspecting her of being a gold digger, he goes to confront her and "buy out" her brother's obligation to marry her. When he confronts the wrong show girl, they decide to teach him a lesson. Gold Diggers of 1933 is a lot of fun, and features some great musical numbers. The aforementioned Ginger Rogers plays a character named Fay Fortune, and of course is referred to often as "Miss Fortune", tee hee. One of the main numbers in the film, "Pettin' in the Park" seemed so corny at first, but as the production progressed, it grew on me considerably. Plus, like all the songs here, it's quite catchy and memorable. There's a lot that's corny in this film, but there's just as much that's genuine. Either way, it's a great time capsule-piece of entertainment.

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

After writing and appearing in the film, "What's New Pussycat?", Woody Allen was approached by producers to write an english language dub of the japanese spy thriller "International Secret Police: Key of Keys". He agreed to do it, but only if he could re-work the storyline, which now centers around a group of spies pursuing the "world's best egg salad". Yes, I know it sounds wacky, but those expecting Allen's usual satirical wit will undoubtedly be disappointed, as it's a far cry from his films from the 70s. Still, I got quite a few chuckles from it, and there were certain scenes that out and out cracked me up. I also enjoyed the incongruous appearance of The Lovin' Spoonful, even if they were added later without Woody's consent. It's definitely a unique film experience, and probably the first of it's kind.

Gaslight
Gaslight(1944)

Ingrid Bergman is the victim of Charles Boyer's sadistic mindgames in 1944's "Gaslight", a gothic film noir set in turn-of-the-century London. Paula (Bergman) moves to Paris after finding her aunt, a famous singer, strangled to death in their home. While training to follow in her aunt's performing footsteps, she's swept off her feet by the debonair pianist, Gregory Anton (Boyer, in an evil "Peppy La Pue" sort of performance). In no time, they're married, but things go quickly downhill for Paula, as Gregory first moves them into the house where her aunt was murdered and then systematically beats her sanity down with mind games designed to make her think she's going mad. The mystery here isn't so much whether or not she's going mad (we know she isnt'), but why her husband wants to do this to her. The suspense builds as we wonder how it's going to end, and who (or what) will, or can stop him. Ingrid Berman is fantastic as the tortured wife (as well she should be, she does it again in Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious"), and I enjoyed the love triangle between her Boyer, and Joseph Cotten, who's Scotland Yard detective (without even an attempt at a British accent) gets one of those famous noir "hunches", and re-opens the case of the long dead singer who once autographed a glove for him. Director George Cukor does a near hitchcock-like job making of this film creepy and eerie, and I love the title and the role it plays in the film.

Stagecoach
Stagecoach(1939)

Director John Ford's "Stagecoach" is often regarded as his first great western, as well as John Wayne's first big, break-out starring role. The story is simple enough: a group of disparate passengers on a stagecoach must travel through indian country while Geronimo is on the warpath. The passengers include a washed-up, alcoholic doctor and a "fallen" woman who've been run out of town; a soldier's wife who is looking to find her husband; a southern gentleman (who is also a gambler and a gunslinger) who goes along for the ride, just to "protect" the lady; a bank manager who's stolen the payroll, and a traveling liquor salesman (much to the delight of the doctor, who at one point lovingly/drunkenly strokes his cheek). There's also a character named "The Ringo Kid" (Wayne) that they pick up out on the trail, but more as the sheriff's prisoner than passenger (there's a bounty on his head as he'd been feuding with the men who killed his family). At first, the stagecoach is escorted by the calvary, but due to Geronimo's activity in the area, all military must be diverted from the non-essential jobs. As the stagecoach travels from town to town, the more apparent it becomes they are on their own, as the threat of indian attack looms ever larger (Geronimo is at the forethought of everyone's minds). And yet, even the threat of death doesn't dissuade some from their societal predjudices as Dallas, the fallen woman, continues to be treated as an outcast. Only Ringo has enough compassion to see beyond her status and find her worthy of friendship (and possibly more). Stagecoach has all the elements that go into making a great western, and a tense, action-filled climax that stands up to any action sequence from any era. Stagecoach manages to follow several western conventions without ever falling into predictability.

Death at a Funeral
½

Death at a Funeral is a re-make of a film originally released way back in 2007. For those of you who weren't around back then, things were a lot different. For starters, George W. Bush was president, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was one of the biggest selling books of the summer, and "No Country For Old Men" won the academy award for best picture. It was a magical time in history, and it set the perfect stage for director Frank Oz and his film about a reserved british family and blackmail at a family funeral. The 2010 version features the same writer as well as some of the same actors from the first film, and leaves one to wonder just what the point of a re-make is.

Aaron (Chris Rock) is supposed to give the eulogy at his father's funeral, but is being upstaged by his younger, more talented brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence), a famous writer. Aaron dreams of being a writer too, but fate has other things in mind for him. Things get complicated when Elaine's (Zoe Saldana) boyfriend (James Marsden) is mistakenly given LSD instead of valium and begins to freak out in front of the family. Meanwhile, a strange little person shows up at the funeral that no one's ever seen before.

While it's certainly a colorful cast of characters (and there are a few good laughs), the movie overall suffers from a generic blandness. Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan give it their best, but they don't seem very inspired in their roles. No one's hearts appear to be invested into the making of this film. It's lightweight, sitcom style humor that's best rented when it's released on dvd, but only if you're a very big fan of the stars.

Sleeper
Sleeper(1973)
½

1973's "Sleeper" comes at the latter end of Woody Allen's run of slapstick films and is possibly his most polished film up to that point. Miles Monroe, Allen's typical neurotic New Yorker character dies on the operating table while having a routine cyst removed, is cryogenically frozen and awakened 200 years in the future. He then spends the rest of the film on the run from the "big brother" government and a "soma"-fed society. It does feel, most of the time, like a ridiculous send up of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", only with more 70s pop references. It's time capsule comedy, the type most of today's younger viewers aren't going to find funny, but I still think it has plenty of laughs.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Based on a novel by Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's is the sweet story of a wild child girl with the unlikely name "Holly Golightly" (Audrey Hepburn) who befriends the "kept" writer neighbor next door. It's a sophisticated movie for it's time, and I can see it inspiring films such as The Graduate. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard are both excellent, but it's the supporting cast, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, that really stand out with their performances. Holly doesn't believe in love, seeking only to marry if it's to her financial advantage. Maybe it's not quite comparable to such heavyweight films as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but if ever there was a comedy that could be considered along those lines, Breakfast at Tiffany's might be it.

The Lookout
The Lookout(2007)
½

The Lookout is an indie film with a simple story: a young man suffers a brain injury after a car accident and is used by some bank robbers to help rob a bank. This movie reminded me a little of "Before The Devil Knows Your Dead" and "A History of Violence" only it's vastly inferior to both (critics seem to be giving it positive reviews based more on it's indie cred than anything). High schooler Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is out with his girlfriend and another couple on prom night. They're driving down a deserted country road, looking at fireflies with the headlights turned off. One thing leads to another and Pratt is living his day to day life one step at a time, unable to process simple tasks or properly sequence the steps of his daily routines. Living with a colorful, yet dignified blind man (Jeff Daniels), his life is mundane and sad. He goes to a special class and works as a janitor at a small town bank. Things perk up for him when he meets Gary (Matthew Goode), a cool, tattooed Tommy Lee type who introduces him to some hot girls ("Wedding Crasher"s hot psycho, Isla Fisher) and cool bros. Before long, he's running with the kind of crowd his blind mentor disapproves of. They enlist his help in casing the bank, plying him with dreams wealth and respect (something he hasn't had since his high school days). It's clear the film is inspired by better films and I think director Scott Frank does a fine job, but story (also written by Frank) is weak and derivative. It's high school fantasy-type stuff that never goes deeper than the surface. It's fine for what it is, which is a middle-of-the-road, low budget indie film, just don't expect too much.

Hannah and Her Sisters

Woody Allen's directing technique changed a little bit from the 70s to the 80s. Hannah and her Sisters has more of a "Crimes and Misdemeanors" feel than a "Manhattan"- feel. Woody Allen does have a minor role in this film, but the true focus is (surprisingly enough) on Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters, Holly (Dianne Wiest) and Lee (Barbara Hershey). Hannah is a successful actress, once married to Mickey (Allen), but now married to Eliot (Michael Caine) who, as the film opens, seems unhappy in his marriage and hopelessly in love with Lee. He convinces her to leave her aging artist boyfriend (Max von Sydow) who claims her to be his only link to the outside world, telling her he will leave Hannah. Meanwhile, Holly and her friend April (Carrie Fisher) are struggling actors who want to open a catering business. Holly depends on Hannah's seemingly endless supply of generosity to help her in all her life's endeavors, yet offers her sister only resentment in return. Meanwhile, Mickey becomes convinced he's dying, thinking his hearing loss is related to a brain tumor. There are plenty of biblical undertones running through the film's story, and while Allen still weaves some comedy into the proceedings, it almost feels secondary. Allen's always been an original filmmaker, but he's worn his influences on his sleeve. Hannah and her Sisters feels wholly unique, like Allen's vision undiluted by outside influences. It's a distillation that might be somewhat dry, but still shows what a brilliant director he is.

Annie Hall
Annie Hall(1977)
½

Annie Hall is a departure from the broad humor of Woody Allen's previous films, "Sleeper" and "Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask", drawing inspiration from Ingmar Bergman (as Allen plays with reality and fiction, intermingling characters memories and breaking the 4th wall) and other cinema heroes of the cineaste Allen. The humor is more cerebral, more contextual, and the film-making itself is wonderful. We flashback to his childhood, where he'd depressed about the universe expanding. His mother, exasperated, yells at him "what is that your business!". Right from the start, he says he has a hyper-active imagination, and then proceeds to take us through his lifestory, which especially revolves around a woman named Annie Hall. Through the course of their relationship, Annie seems to undergo a personality change, from sweet midwestern girl to pseudo-sophisticated California girl. It's an odd relationship that doesn't work out, and most of the movie is spent explaining why (although the basic explanation is relationships cool and people grow apart). Still, this film is basically a comedy, and most of Allen's dialogue is one liners (he plays a comedian living in New York City). It's not quite as good as Manhattan, but then again, few films are.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)
½

I preface every superhero movie review by admitting that I am indeed, a bit of a comic book nerd and as such, grade these things on a slightly biased curve. That being said, this is one of the least "super" superhero movies ever made, with most of the screen time being dedicated to Tony Stark rather than Iron Man. The story picks up right where the last one left off, with Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) revealing his secret identity to the world on live tv. Watching him with disgust however, is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a russian physicist who feels the Stark family had stolen his father's invention. He invents his own version of the Iron Man armor, which includes two electrically powered whips as weapons (whips that can slice through automobiles like they were made out of paper), and seeks to, if not destroy Iron Man, at least show him up. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is called to appear before a senate hearing regarding the Iron Man "weapon", which Senator Stern (a very excellent Gary Shandling) demands Stark turn over to the U.S. government for defense purposes. The scene plays out like a reference to "Atlas Shrugged" as Stark insists that since the Iron Man suit came from the power of his mind, it's his property. The government has no more right to his ideas than they do to his body, as that would be indentured servitude. The movie raises interesting points about "individualism versus the good of the whole" and how do we know who to trust with great power (when Stark declares "I'm the first man to 'privatize' peace", images of warlords in iron suits running around the world, conquering little pieces of the globe for their own despotic rule, jump into my head), but these ideas are just as quickly dismissed.

Meanwhile, Tony Stark is being poisoned by the very thing that's keeping him alive: the power generator embedded in his chest that keeps a tiny shard of shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. In order to preserve his power cell, he has to invent a new element (which isn't as easy as it sounds). Nick Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to Stark, both to ask for help and to offer it. While Stark is slowly dying, he decides to get his affairs in order, including making his long-suffering assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) the new C.E.O. of Stark Industries. But Hammer Inc., Stark's chief competition in weapons manufacturing, seeks to capitalize on the perceived weakness of Iron Man as Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, channeling his inner Dana Carvey) enlists Vanko to re-create his Iron Man suit.

Needless to say, there's alot going on here, but I think overall it's handled well by director Jon Favreau. It would be easy to get lost in the milieu of endless comic book backstory, but I think they strike a nice balance (and thankfully, we're spared the usual "origin" story, as Vanko's origin is summarized within the first five minutes of the film). That's not to say the film doesn't wander around a little, and by the middle of the second hour, it begins to lose steam. As I said in the beginning, there isn't a lot of action, the battle between Stark's Iron Man and friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes' (Don Cheadle) "War Machine" is poorly animated/looks fake, and the climactic battle is rather anticlimactic. Iron Man 2 isn't quite as good as the first film and is more along the lines of Edward Norton's "Incredible Hulk" film than "The Dark Knight", but anyone who's enjoyed these films will most likely enjoy this one as well.

Münchhausen (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen)

Commissioned in 1942 by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and with a script written by banned author Erich Kastner, the last thing you'd expect from Munchhausen is a charming little escapist fantasy, and yet that's exactly what you get. Baron Hieronymus Von Munchhausen flits across Europe, seducing Catherine the Great and engaging in duels with irate noblemen before a magician gives him a ring which will turn him invisible for one hour, and also grants him one wish. Munchhausen wishes to remain the "age I am now, for as long as I wish to be", and thus is granted immortality. His companions also have extraordinary powers: one has built a musket which can hit a target one hundred miles away, while the other can run hundreds of miles in an hour, without even getting winded. Munchhausen is captured by the Ottomans when the cannonball he's riding crashes into the palace. They escape by hot air balloon and travel to the moon, where they meet a race of humans who can detach their heads from their bodies. Somehow Munchhausen makes Terry Gilliam's re-make, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" seem sensible. It's an absurdist fantasy that's almost like an acid trip without the acid. Technically, the sets, the costumes, even the color technique used (agfacolor) are some of the best of any time period, and there is an interesting combination of mischief and poetry to the Baron's character, thanks to a great scrip. Surprisingly, there's quite a bit of nudity in this film (at least it seems like alot for 1943), and the Baron isn't shy in his seductions of the ladies. Munchhausen is quite an interesting piece of history, from many angles, and something I'd recommend to any fans of Gilliam's film.

The Razor's Edge
½

The Razor's Edge, Bill Murray's first attempt at a serious dramatic role, was received with less than stellar reviews at the time of it's release, but it set a precedent he would follow the rest of his career. Based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the script was written by Murray and director John Byrum, with financing provided for Murray's "pet project" only on the condition that he would star in the new film, "Ghostbusters" (and in fact, shooting for Ghostbusters began immediately after wrapping The Razor's Edge). Murray stars as Larry Darrell, a man from an upper class society who, along with his friend Gray (James Keach), volunteers to drive a Red Cross ambulance on the battlefields of France in WWI. They find the brutality of war to be a much different thing than they expected, and when Larry witnesses a friend dying after he himself falls wounded, he finds he can no longer return to comfortable society life. Rather than become an accountant and marry his fiance Isabel (Catherine Hicks, in a role similar to that of Joan Greenwood's in "Kind Hearts and Coronets"), he instead goes to Paris to "think". After working in coal mines and traveling to India and Tibet, he returns to Paris to live a life of quiet contemplation (after finding the materialistic Isabel has married Gray). There he meets his childhood sweetheart (Theresa Russell), who's also suffered a great loss. When the two become a romantic item, the jealous Isabel seeks to destroy their love. The film is well made with great locations, but the acting is all over the place. The performances remind me of those in "The Great Santini". However, Bill Murray is Bill Murray, and regardless of how great his performance is, he essentially plays himself in every film. That said, I liked this film. When Isabel confronts Larry at the end, asking him what the point of everything is, he tells her there is no point. But this isn't a critique of life in general, just of her shallow, materialistic life, and there is no point in seeking perfection where it doesn't exist. A cynical person could say this is just a film about showing how the wealthy crumble apart when their perfect worlds get turned upside-down, but rich or poor, no one's allusions are shatterproof.

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Errol Flynn stars in his signature role as Sir Robin of Locksley, one of the few knights loyal to King Richard, who while off fighting the crusades, leaves England in the hands of his treacherous brother, prince John. When Richard is captured and held for ransom, prince John levies a tax against the downtrodden saxons, while Sir Guy (Basil Rathbone) and the other upper-class normans pushes for further punishments and cruelty against them. It's all the noble Robin can stand. Soon, he gathers a band (of merry men) to launch a sort of guerrilla warfare against the normans and Sir Guy. Everything about this production, from the acting and directing to the sets and costumes, is topnotch excellence from the classic era of hollywood. This version of Robin Hood would go onto define how we see Robin and his band of merry men for all time. It's the kind of movie that inspires kids of all ages (and if your kids don't seem interested, just tell them it's one of the original "superhero" movies). The Adventures of Robin Hood is a big, rollicking adventure of brightly colored fun.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

From the famous british production company of the 40s and 50s, Ealing films (which produced such films as "The Ladykillers" and "The Lavender Hill Mob"), comes Robert Hamer's "Kind Hearts and Coronets", a film that combines elements of Hitchcock and Peter Sellers. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is the disenfranchised heir to the Dukedom of D'Ascoyne (his mother was ostracized from the family after marrying an italian opera singer who passes away when Louis was born). After watching his mother struggle all her life in exiled poverty, he vows to get revenge on the family that shunned him. Murdering his estranged family will not only get him his revenge, but also put him in line to inherit the Royal title, and all the wealth and nobility associated with that title. It's too much temptation for the ambitious Louis. One day, while working as a clerk in a clothing shop, one of his royal relations comes into the store and gets him fired. He then concocts a plot to rid the earth of his dreaded family, who are all played by Ealing star Alec Guinness. Dennis Price is quite charming and debonair as cunning and ruthless murderer (it's almost impossible not to root for him) and Guinness is simply amazing in the many disguised roles he undertakes. I also can't under-emphasize how well-written the story is. All in all, it's a flawlessly entertaining dark farce.

Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel)
½

Marlene Dietrich plays a showgirl who ensnares the heart of a college professor (Emil Jannings) in this pre-war german production. The sets are visually expressive, and so is the film itself. The professor is an uptight bachelor, who's disliked by nearly all his students. He seems to be having a miserable life when he meets Marlene, and he eventually falls in love with and decides to give up his life to marry her. He loses his position at the school and follows the show on a tour of nightclubs, taking more and more menial jobs within the show. As the professor suffers, it's not clear what would have made him happy in life, but he's made the clown both literally and figuratively. Marlene the showgirl is so flighty, she jumps from man to man. She finds his earnestly sweet nature to be endearing at first, but soon just sees him as another weak man. Are these characterizations meant to show the dangers of chasing after a morally "loose" woman, or is it an indictment of petty bourgeois repressed sexuality? There's so much that visually and emotionally striking about this powerful film, by the end, the viewer is left stunned.

The Defiant Ones
½

Director Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones starts off with Tony Curtis calling Sidney Poitier the "N-word". This sets the tone for the rest of the film, a look at race relations in America, more specifically in the south, pre-civil rights, as seen through two escaped cons (one white, one black) who are chained at the wrists. The prisoners are being transported by truck one dark and rainy night. When Johnny "Potatoes" (Curtis) calls Cullen (Poitier) the n-word, the two get in an altercation which distracts the driver and causes an accident. After the crash, it's discovered that two prisoners have escaped and a posse is rounded up to search the woods for them. The sheriff (Theodore Bikel) doesn't seem too concerned about them getting away after finding out it's a white man and a black man chained together: "they'll probably kill each other before they get 5 miles". It's a surprise they don't, as Johnny is the quintessential racist redneck and Cullen is the prototypical angry black man. Cullen is also the prototypical Sidney Poitier role, as Poitier plays a similarly lost and rage-filled character in "A Raisin in the Sun". Beyond the racial slurs and violence, there's a deep-seated anger in the south at that time which I think is captured quite effectively here. Poitier is like a cornered animal or a soldier trapped behind enemy lines with one of his foes in tow. While Johnny is a cheap, two-bit hood, the growth his character displays as the film progresses is both unique and socially challenging. It's a tour de force of acting and the plot and script are tightly written. Excellent film.

Reds
Reds(1981)
½

Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in this biopic of John Reed, a journalist who became entrenched in Russia's communist revolution and also helped inspire the founding of the communist party in America. Despite this being Beatty's movie and role, the film seems to focus more on Reed's love interest, Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). She's an aspiring writer/journalist herself, and she's almost immediately fascinated by Reed's radicalism. Soon, at his behest, she leaves her husband and moves to Greenwich Village. But in the Village, she finds herself isolated amongst the intellectual elite, who show no interest in her opinions. Only writer Eugene O'Neill seems intrigued by her, and his interest seems just as much romantic as anything else. It's a love triangle that falls to pieces under the weight of John Reed's charisma, though. Soon she marries Reed, he starts changing from journalist to activist, fueled by a passionate interest in socialism and revolt. The movie, as a sort of reverse Dr. Zhivago, occasionally shows glimpses of film epic, but more often it's more a ponderously flimsy melodrama. Diane Keaton shows no charm whatsoever, nor does her character display any great intellectual quality, and it's hard to understand just why everyone is supposed to be so attracted to her. Yes, there are a few scenes of human insight, and a few scenes of epic beauty, but I find the subject matter in general to be grating. Reds must've been quite impressive at the time of it's release, but it loses a little bit of stature with the passing of each year (sort of like "Titanic"), and I can't say that's unjustified.

The Red Shoes
½

The Red Shoes is a mix of good film technique and fairly average melodrama. Anton Walbrook stars as a shrewd ballet producer who has a keen eye for great talent and a great love for his art. He discovers a young composer and a young ballerina, seeing in them the same sort of passion he demands of himself. He puts them both to work in his company, and soon the ballerina becomes a great star while the composer's ballets sell out all over the world. But when the two young talents begin to fall in love, the producer becomes enraged, thinking one can only have one passion, and it's either the ballet or it's not. The film tries to make a statement about the choice between passions, but anyone knows the lover who asks you to give up something you love, something that makes you who you are, obviously doesn't love you in the first place. This morality statement is where the movie fails. However, the ballet itself is quite well done, and the film manages to bring a quality to it that could never be duplicated on the stage. Prospective viewers of this film should bring with them an appreciation for the fine arts.

A Place in the Sun

Maybe it was the Hays code or maybe it's just the 1950s sense of morality, but when a man knocked up a girl back then, it was his duty to marry her, whether he loved her or not. Woe to the man who fell in love with another after impregnating his previous girlfriend, for love has no place in marriage when honor is at stake. Barbaric times like these could drive a man over the edge, perhaps to murder. And that's just the thing: is desiring to kill someone just as bad as actually killing someone? Montgomery Clift stars as George Eastman, the nephew of a wealthy business tycoon who wants to escape his impoverished factory life and get in good with the wealthy side of the family. Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes) is all too happy to have his nephew come and work for the family and starts him off in packing, to learn the business. It's there he meets a sweet girl by the name of Alice (Shelley Winters). The two begin a flirtation which leads to dating and then you-know-what. Meanwhile, George has also become acquainted with Angela, a glamourous and wealthy socialite (Elizabeth Taylor) and they also begin dating. George plans to break it off with Alice until she drops the bombshell on him: she's pregnant. He knows he must marry her, even though it will ruin his career and social standing. He tries to put it off, to continue living the good life, but Alice tracks him down and threatens to tell everyone the truth (she also threatens to kill herself) unless he marries her that day. Trapped in a corner, George let's himself be taken over by dark fantasies. A Place in the Sun is a fascinating morality play, and while it's not always riveting, the overall effect of the film is successful. Elizabeth Taylor is probably as beautiful as she would ever be, and Shelley Winters delivers a multi-layered performance. Two people paid dearly for wanting something which they couldn't have, but was so tantalizingly within their reach. The film, based on the novel "An American Tragedy" by Theodore Dreiser, lives up to it's original name.

Crank 2: High Voltage
½

Sometimes, a little kid will do something funny on accident. Everyone laughs and the kid is proud of the fact that he cracked up the adults. So then he starts doing the thing on purpose, and suddenly it's not so funny anymore, in fact, it's obnoxious. Crank: High Voltage is that little kid. Not that the first movie was a font of plausibility, but this sequel makes the first film seem like a documentary in comparison. Or a good movie. Crank: High Voltage has a level of late-night-softcore-cinemax-porn filmmaking to it crossed with a later eighties "Tromaville"-style of humor. As you may recall from the ending of the first film, Crank was dropped 90 stories out of a helicopter, bounced off a car, and landed in the middle of the street, presumably dead, The End. Well, turns out, some members of the triad gang came and scraped him up off the street (literally, with a SNOW SHOVEL) and took him back to a make-shift operating room, where they harvested his heart and replaced it with one of those artificial deals. They intend to keep him alive, so that they may harvest more of his organs, starting with his penis. Crank overhears this, leaps up off the operating table, and begins to assassinate people, video-game style. He sticks a shotgun up a fat guy's butt, I guess to interrogate him on the whereabouts of his real heart, which he needs back in order to live. So, with the information he gets from the shotgun prostate exam, he goes racing off in a stolen car to get his heart. Suddenly, a souped-up car comes up along side him, and some mexicans challenge him to a drag. Distracted, he crashes the car and gets thrown 50 feet through the windshield. When he gets up, he realizes the battery that keeps his artificial heart beating has been destroyed. Now, in order to keep his heart beating, he must give himself massive electric shocks, (tazers, dog collars, car batteries, etc.) and it's here we get the film's title from. Maybe this all sounds hilarious and awesome on paper, I don't know. It just gets dumber and dumber as it goes along. Dumb people shouldn't try to be funny. Crank: High Voltage just tries to damn hard, and the result is a surprisingly boring and disappointing trainwreck.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
½

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (based on the book series by Jeff Kinney) is a light and moderately entertaining film aimed squarely at middle school-aged children. The humor is mainly booger and fart based, but the title kid's wimpiness is also the source of much humor. Ordinarily, I'd be against making fun of a kid's physique (or lack thereof), but this kid in particular kind of has it coming. Anyway, it's not so much his physical wimpiness as his emotional wimpiness that gets him into trouble.

As Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) starts his first day of middle school, he has dreams of becoming the most popular student (and nitemares of being the least popular). Standing in the way of this (he thinks), is his pudgy best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), a kid who's cluelessly unselfconscious. Rowley wears shirts with his mother's picture on them and rides a girl's bike that's decorated with teen pop stars and streamers. Greg is mortified by just about everything: from saying the wrong thing to the cool kids to participating in the wrong extra-curricular activities, it's the narrowest margin that separates the losers from the popular kids. But the whole time he's busy obsessing over what will make him popular, he starts to notice that Rowley is somehow slowly gaining popularity just by being himself (something which flies in the face of all middle school convention).

What is it about kids that makes them so narcissistic? Up to a certain age, everyone thinks the world revolves around them (and sometimes people of any age do too). Greg treats his friends like extras in a movie of his life, and therefore not worthy of his time or consideration. When he breaks Rowley's arm (accidentally), he doesn't even seem a little bit sorry. It's only after he loses his friends that he sees what being so self-centered will get you in life. Diary of a Wimpy Kid offers children some pretty good morals without being preachy. The value of friendship and what it means to be a true friend, as well as the value of being honest and admitting your mistakes (something everyone has trouble doing at some point) are demonstrated, as well as the old chestnut of "being yourself". It's easy to deride kids' movies for their flaws, but it's nice to see one where kids aren't being rewarded for doing something wrong. It might not be the type of film you'd take your date to, but it should be quite a pleasant change of pace for any parents who've had to sit through "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel".

Spellbound
Spellbound(1945)

Ingrid Bergman stars as the career-oriented psychiatrist who falls for the new head-of-staff at "Green Manor". Or is he the new head-of-staff? Gregory Peck is so tall and handsome, she just can't believe he'd be guilty of any wrong-doing, and so she takes him under her wing and makes him her "personal case" (not that falling in love with him has anything to do with it). Hitchcock's typical surprise twist ending is pretty wacky this time, but alot of great performances and a dream sequence featuring the art of Salvadore Dali make this film a Hitchcock standout.

Kiss Me Deadly
½

Kiss Me Deadly combines fifties ganster noir with crazy surrealism in what has to be one of the most offbeat dramas of any era. Ralph Meeker stars as Mike Hammer, a private detective who gets very little respect from anyone (as opposed to Humphrey Bogart's Marlowe), partly because he's almost as dirty as the criminals he's investigating, partly because of his cocky and arrogant manner. One night after picking up a hot blonde on a deserted road, they're ambushed and left for dead, only he survives. Out of the hospital, he begins to investigate the murder of the girl and tracks down his would-be killers. It all leads to something the girl knew about, an object everyone is eager to get their hands on. Even after seeing this film, I'm not sure what the object is. It's definitely the inspiration for the briefcase in "Pulp Fiction", but even if conventional wisdom says it's something atomic (this was after all, the atomic age), it doesn't explain anything. All that's really known is the characters in this movie are all pursuing death in one way or another, and just about all of them catch up to it.

Pirate Radio (The Boat That Rocked)

Pirate Radio (AKA "The Boat That Rocked" in the UK) takes the dynamic concept (pirate radio stations aboard ships off the coast of England in international waters broadcasting rock-n-roll that's being underplayed or outright banned by the national radio stations) and makes a second-rate coming-of-age film out of it. I've seen so many of these formulaic films in the recent past (Humboldt County, Adventureland, Taking Woodstock), and each one has been pretty poor. The idea that a film is supposed to be mirroring real life doesn't mean it doesn't need to have a plot. And what all these films lack is any sort of story to tell. They're merely premises, that are rarely, if at all fleshed out. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the Count, the 40-something year old DJ who gets all the young girls (because DJs are like rock stars, right?), while Nick Frost plays the even more unlikely ladies' man, Dave. The pirate radio DJs flaunt their status while nazi-esqe government minister Kenneth Branagh rants and impotently raves (and hams up the screen). A new kid is brought on board, and with the help of this surrogate family of radio personalities, he comes of age in the free love 60s. Lots of things happen, but really this film, minus the premise, is completely interchangeable with every other film just like it. I was excited to see this film, being a fan of sixties pop, but the music, what this film should be all about, is a decent, but standard crop of oldies. It's just not as inspiring as it wants to be. In a word, Pirate Radio is underwhelming.

My Darling Clementine

John Ford's first movie after WWII, My Darling Clementine lacks the grandeur that makes up his later work. In fact, at times I had to re-check the date on the film, as sets and film quality made it look a decade older than what it was. The film tells the story of the gunfight at the OK corral, with Wyatt Earp (Fonda) and Doc Holiday (Victor Mature). Victor Mature seems miscast as Doc Holiday (I thought Kirk Douglas did a much better job as Holiday, and somehow he fits my stereotypical image of the man) Henry Fonda is a fine Wyatt Earp, but he plays the same character in every film, so it's hard to judge his performance. The script is fine as well, that is, until the title character makes her appearance onscreen and brings the film to a screeching halt. By the time Earp takes Clementine to the church square dance, I was dozing off. There's a B western quality to this film that, while overcome in the long run, does sour the experience a little for me. John Ford and Henry Fonda should be a slam dunk, and while the first half of the film is imminently watchable, the overall feeling is a letdown. Maybe it's like the lighting on Doc Holiday's girlfriend "Chihuahua" (Linda Darnell) as she's being operated on, it just feels like it's out of place.

Platoon
Platoon(1986)

"And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn, the next stop is Vietnam"- Country Joe
Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe fight it out to prove who's the craziest in Oliver Stone's ultimate Vietnam war movie. I'm not sure which one of them wins, but they sure create an interesting duel of personalities. When Chris (Charlie Sheen) first steps off the plane into the jungles of Vietnam, he's thrown in with the wolves, the old soldiers don't help out the new arrivals, figuring it's best to die in the first week and "not suffer". Chris outlasts many of fellow new recruits and even begins to thrive, under the terrifying tutelage of Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). It's not until he sees the depth of deprivation of Barnes and his fellow soldiers that he turns to Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) for an ally. Elias, like Barnes, knows no fear, and yet Sgt. Elias hasn't lost sight of his humanity. He helps out the new recruits when no one else will, he does alot for the soldier's morale. Barnes is the hero of psychopaths like Bunny (Kevin Dillon), who believe Vietnam is their own personal playground where they can "do whatever" they want as long as they don't get killed. When Barnes and Bunny and their morally questionable fellow soldiers commit vile and illegal acts, Elias and Barnes finally come to a stand-off, and it becomes a matter of soldier against fellow soldier in the middle of a jungle war. Oliver Stone creates a harrowing vision of Vietnam, thanks to the consultation of former soldiers and his own war experiences. Platoon is a composite of the entire Vietnam war, and perhaps war in general. It's always a question of maintaining one's humanity when your very survival is at stake. I think the main question Platoon raises is, why? What was the purpose of all this killing and death? Abstract idealogy? It's a question that stayed on my mind while watching this film, and I still don't know the answer.

Date Night
Date Night(2010)
½

Date Night is yet another unfunny Steve Carell film in a long line of unfunny Steve Carell films ("Get Smart", "Evan Almighty"), and the second Carell film in a row that I wanted to walk out on. And while it's not quite as bad as those previous two films, it's still a disappointingly mediocre movie for having such a talented cast. Why do successful television stars insist on making these bad movies? Is the movie industry that alluring when compared to tv? Is the tv industry like the ghetto, and movies are like the big time? Surely it's better to be an award-winningly great and respected television star rather than a repeated box office failure. Carell stars with Tina Fey as a married couple who, while trying to re-spark their marriage with a date night at a fancy restaurant, steal another couple's table and are soon mistaken for a pair of extortionists. The couple spend the evening being chased around New York city, using their wits to outrun both the police and the criminals who want to kill them.

At times Date Night taps a little bit into the "Rush Hour" movies, or even "48 Hours" in that it tries to add some comedy to what is basically an action-type movie. Unfortunately, the script is pretty weak with jokes, and Carell and Fey have to try way too hard to get laughs where there are none. Director Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum", "the Pink Panther", "Cheaper by the Dozen") gives us what is basically an eighties action film complete with plot holes and errors in logic. Sometimes I'm not so sure the comedy in this film is intentional. The blooper reel over the ending credits show what a great time Carell had making the film. I just wish I had as much fun watching it as he had making it.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine is pretty much what you expect it to be: an entertaining, albeit silly, throwaway comedy. Fortunately, it doesn't aspire to be anything else. Adam (John Cusack), Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) are three lifelong friends who've drifted apart over the years. When Lou accidentally attempts suicide (something involving drunkenly sitting in his still-running car in the garage, listening to Motley Crue and using the gas pedal as the kick drum whilst playing "air drums"), the other two decide to take him up to the mountains to the ski resort that was so formative in their youth. Along for the ride is Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam's withdrawn and technologically-obsessed nephew, who wants to see the most amazing vacation spot in the world. Unfortunately, alot of things have changed over the last 20 some odd years, and their once cherished swinging lodge resort is now more of a home for feral cats and a surly one-armed bellboy (Crispin Glover). The hot tub even has a dead raccoon in it. However, once the hot tub is repaired and cleaned out, the guys start to relax and enjoy themselves (even breaking out the russian energy drink, which somehow plays a significant role in their time travel), until the next morning when they wake up in 1986. Jacob reminds everyone of "The Butterfly Effect" and tells everyone to do exactly what they did 20 years ago, as any changes they make will alter the space/time continuum and cause possibly disastrous future implications. Obviously Jacob has seen "Back to the Future".

Of course things get all messed up, as Adam can't seem to break up with his extraordinarily hot 1986 girlfriend (as he's supposed to do) and Nick doesn't want to sleep with a groupie (as he's supposed to do, because he doesn't want to cheat on his 2010 wife). There are also ski patrol bullies (ala Cusack's 1985 film, "Better Off Dead"), a gangster-type gambler who looks suspiciously like the bully from "The Karate Kid" (and in fact, he is), and of course, Chevy Chase. There are so many 80s references it's like they took everything from that decade and crammed it into that ski lodge, but obviously they had to do this otherwise we wouldn't have known what decade it was supposed to be taking place in. In other words, unlike Back to the Future's fifties references, it's not so subtle.

Those who are students of the eighties should be suitably impressed with this film as it references just about anything you could expect (surprisingly, I didn't spot any Rubik's cubes in the film, though), and even the film itself comes off as sort of an eighties-style movie. Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office) is as usual, understatedly funny, but it's Rob Corddry who goes for the big laughs. His character is pretty unpleasant but somehow endearing. His scenes with Crispin Glover made me laugh everytime. Is Hot Tub Time Machine the next Hangover? Maybe, maybe not, though to tell the truth, the Hangover was kind of overrated. It's another film in a line of dumb, grossout, toilet humor, stoner bros-type comedies, and if you're a fan of the genre, (and your expectations aren't that high) this won't disappoint.

The Lavender Hill Mob

Alec Guinness' other heist-comedy ("The Ladykillers") might have a slight edge over this one, but funnily enough, I prefer the actual heist from this movie. Guinness is a mild-mannered bank supervisor who oversees the gold bullion shipments for the bank of England. When a frustrated artist (who makes lead paperweight replicas of the eiffel tower to sell to tourists in Paris) moves into his building, he gets an idea on how to smuggle stolen bullion out of the country. With the help of two criminal-type accomplices, the heist is planned out and executed to perfection. The police are quite perplexed and unsuspecting of Guinness, until one exceptionally clever member of scotland yard begins to suspect him. There are a few madcap chases in the movie which incorporate screwball comedy elements, but mostly the film's comedy relies on sublty rather than broad strokes. Guinness is fine, as usual, but the film itself isn't life-altering or mind-blowing in any way. Oh, it's perfectly serviceable, especially if you're looking for a mildly amusing crime-comedy, but I certainly wouldnt' call it a must-see.

Clash of the Titans
½

Sam Worthington ("Avatar") stars in this mostly lifeless re-make of the 1981 film by the same name. The film starts with baby Perseus being rescued at sea by a fisherman who adopts the child as his own. Flash some 20 years later, and Perseus' adopted family are killed by Hades for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perseus swears to avenge his family by destroying the gods. Rescued at sea (again), this time by an Argos vessel, he returns with to see the royal family whose queen, Cassiopeia so angers the gods that Hades issues an ultimatum: in 12 days either their beautiful daughter Andromeda is to be sacrificed to the Cracken, or the city of Argos will be destroyed by it (the Cracken is a gigantic monster created by Hades which was used to destroy the Titans). Hades also reveals that Perseus is a demigod and the son of Zeus, which leads to Perseus being attacked by the guards. The king though, comes to Perseus and asks him to save his daughter. Perseus agrees, but not because he wants to save the daughter but because he wants to destroy the gods. This sets up a long journey in which Perseus must face many perils and hardships in order to fulfill his destiny.

It sounds like the set-up to a great mythological adventure, but 2010's "Clash of the Titans" is a dour affair that never misses an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot. There's very little that can be considered fantastical about the film, it prefers instead to strive for the gritty realism that made such films as "300" big hits. Perseus looks more like a spartan than the classic definition of 'hero', and spends the bulk of the film engaged in hand-to-hand combat and making inspiring speeches about how man will triumph in the face of adversity. It's clear the filmmakers were striving for a "300" atmosphere. Unfortunately, that gritty realism only makes the segments in Olympus with the gods seem all the more ludicrous. I'm not really sure what the plot is trying to accomplish either, motivations seem to occur at random. I can't for the life of me figure out why everyone wants to wage war with the gods. It seems like a bad idea to always be antagonizing and provoking such supernatural deities. There's also some atrocious acting going on in this film which at times makes the whole film seem like a bad idea.

Clash of the Titans is a by-the-numbers attempt at summer popcorn fare, but unfortunately it's not very much fun. There are perhaps two action sequences I found exciting, but nothing really that extraordinary. If you want to see a film that captures the sense of adventure of ancient mythology, watch "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" or better yet, just watch the original "Clash of the Titans". You're not missing anything by skipping this

Crimes and Misdemeanors
½

Woody Allen makes a Coen brothers film, which resembles a cross between Manhattan and A Serious Man (or perhaps even Blood Simple). The plot is woven together in a manner that blends Allen's previous comedies with a more esoteric style of narration, especially in the way he sprinkles symbolism in at the perfect moments. An opthamologist (Martin Landau) is having an affair with a woman (Anjelica Huston) who wants to reveal the whole thing to his wife. She is constantly hounding him like the voice of his conscience. He decides to go to his nefarious brother (Jerry Orbach) with his underworld connections to see what he can do to help. One of the opthamologist's patients is a rabbi who's losing his sight. The rabbi's brother Lester (Alan Alda) is a big time television producer who's having a PBS documentary made about his life. He asks his nebbish brother-in-law, Cliff (Woody Allen), who's an aspiring film-maker himself, to do the documentary, not because he respects his work but soley as a favor to his sister (because he feels sorry for her, having married such a bum). Cliff can't stands Lester, and takes to mocking him behind his back with the PBS producer (Mia Farrow). The two strike up a friendship, and Cliff starts contemplating leaving his wife for this woman. The storylines between the opthamologist and the film-maker rarely intersect, but they seem to parallel each other in other ways. They've both made mistakes with their lives and take a chance on correcting those mistakes, and neither one is really happy with the outcome. At best, they come to terms with it, and justify their own misery. I've read that this film is about showing the weakness of God, that if God sits back and watches us do the wrong thing, doesn't that make him our accomplice? Or at the very least, he just doesn't care. No justice is meted out from above on the wicked, the only guilt or innocence one experiences comes from within.

Broadcast News

If Broadcast News had been made in the forties, William Hurt's role would've been played by Gary Cooper and Holly Hunter's role would've been played by Barbara Stanwyck, and of course the whole thing would've ended alot differently. Written, produced, and directed by James L. Brooks, "Broadcast News" plays like a classic hollywood film filtered through the angry perspective of one who was picked on alot by good-looking jocks in school. Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) has to choose between her heart and her intellect, that is, until a big twist at the end torpedoes any dilemma she had and cheats her (and us) out of having to make an unbiased decision. It's odd, and not to get into revealing too many spoilers, but she seems to have no problem forgiving Aaron (Albert Brooks) for being a rotten person but finds Tom's (William Hurt) lack of ethics (in an area he has no emotion invested in to begin with) to be unforgiveable. Tom told her time and again he really wasn't cut out for journalism and that it was just a job for him, something that he lucked into. It's an unsatisfying ending and seems out of character for Hurt's character. Or does it? In the beginning, we see Hurt even as a child is a natural born salesman, conning his dad out of doling out punishment when he brings home a bad report card. Tom recognizes his good looks are a tool to use in getting ahead. Brooks' character is the opposite, he hates the jocks and bullies that tortured him in high school, but never leaves that teenage mentality behind, never matures. He carries that bitter grudge throughout adulthood and seeks to strike back at those who are similar to his tormentors. Things are an absolute moral black and white with him, but only HIS morals and values count, everyone else is either a fraud or "evil". Jane makes a career out of obsessively managing her life down to telling the taxi drivers which route to take during the day. She starts everyday weeping, weeping under the pressure she puts upon herself. These three characters are really well written and they make up a unique and interesting love triangle. True, there is a moral dilemma at the end that feels sort of wrong, but that's just to distract you from the moral dilemma that's been taking place throughout the entire movie.

Meet Me In St. Louis

Delightful film about the life of a family living in St. Louis around the time of the 1904 World's Fair. It's more noteable for it's famous songs (the title song appears no less than 100 times in the film) than for the story, which focuses on the older girls romantic relationships through the various holidays and parties throughout the year. The director, Vincente Minnelli, as in another of his period piece musicals "Gigi", is more interested in giving the audience a flavor of daily life and uncovering the quaint and long-forgotten customs of long ago (the children play pranks and set fires in the streets at halloween, rather than ask neighbors for candy). There's alot of charm in this film that makes one long for the old time-y family life. Meet me in St. Louie and I'll be your tootsi wootsi.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
½

A fun, light-hearted romp through... ahh, just kidding. This is a gritting, depressing film about the horrors of the chain gang prison camps of the south in the early 20th century. Based on the auto-biographical novel by Robert E. Burns, the story follows James Allen (Paul Muni), an out-of-work veteran who gets arrested for stealing $5, and is sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. Chained at the leg, he's beaten by guards, hit with chains, and worked nearly to death (in fact, he watches men around him die from this). Finally, after years of suffering, he manages to escape to Chicago, where he makes a new life for himself. He becomes a successful millionaire, but his new wife begins to make trouble for him. Rather than lose his money, she turns him over to the authorities. But the Chicago police refuse to extradite him to the south, and it's only after they agree to suspend his sentence after 90 days and give him a clean record that he agrees to turn himself over to them. But they go back on their word and send him back to the chain gang, this time for an indefinite time. Allen seems driven mad by the prospect, it's not justice they're after but revenge, he says. Some of the acting is pretty bad, mainly with the brother/preacher and the first wife (but her problem is the corny "gangster" dialogue she spouts off), but Paul Muni is quite good, especially in the scene that closes the movie. It's a positively eerie moment as he slips into the shadows, driven to the brink of madness. The film is a powerful statement about the injustice in the world, and especially one of the cruel injustices of it's day.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
½

Where Lon Chaney's Quasimodo was dark and often bitter or vicious, Laughton's version is almost wholly good. Maybe it's the difference in make-up: Chaney looks more beast-like and hideous while Laughton, though deformed, retains his humanity (in fact, its Charles Laughton's Quasimodo that is the basis of the animated Hunchback, and even Sloth from "The Goonies"). The main difference though, is that in the latter version, the character is intended to be more sympathetic. The Chaney version is of the monster movie variety, and even though we might feel sympathy for the Hunchback or King Kong or the Phantom of the Opera, they were never the heroes of their movies. The 1939 Hunchback is definitely the hero, and an angst-ridden one at that. He's an outcast, and we feel his pain, but Laughton manages to keep it from being overly emotional. He's a freak who laughs in spite of himself. The story is the familiar Victo Hugo one, albiet with perhaps a happier ending. Maureen O'Hara, in her first screen appearance, plays the beautiful Gypsy Esmeralda, who only wants justice for her people. I think in 1939, the story took a decidedly anti-nazi stance, the soldiers with their blind racism and book burning can only be a reference to nazi regime. Those who favor faithful reproductions of original sources in their film might be disappointed, but the general consensus is this film is one of the all time classics, and I tend to agree. A beautiful film with an amazing and touching performance by Charles Laughton, the best Hunchback.

My Little Chickadee
½

The combination of W.C. Fields and Mae West winds up being not as good as it sounds. My Little Chickadee takes place in the old west. When Mae West falls for a "Zorro" type masked bandit, she's sent to live in another town to keep her honor intact (har har). On the train ride, she meets W.C., and mistakes his satchel full of whiskey coupons for a sack full of money and agrees to marry him in order to get that money. Meanwhile, W.C. is appointed sheriff of the town by the local bar owner (who sort of controls the town), as he thinks W.C. will make a good patsy. Add to this the local newspaper publisher, who's on a crusade to clean up the town and make it wholesome. Of course, all of the above men are in love with the aging West. And who could help themselves? She doesn't recite her lines so much as purr and growl them. West is all affectation and innuendo, and it's not particularly good innuendo. Her performance is very flat, to say the least, and as she was nearing 50 at the time (albiet a very attractive and young-looking 50), her schtick isn't very convincing . W.C. gives it his best, but the material just isn't up to his usual standard. It's a typical cowboy type picture with very little enthusiasm from the cast. I can't remember any of the gags, other than West limp-wristedly shooting indians out the train car window with deadeye accuracy. Pretty forgettable.

The Ladykillers
½

Smartly written with a clever script, The Ladykillers features a young (and chubby) Peter Sellers in one of his early roles and Sir Alec Guinness channeling Boris Karloff with one of his creepiest characters ever. He's positively ghoulish as the ringleader of a gang of thieves looking to rob an armored car carrying a payroll. The only thing standing in their way is a fiesty little old lady who isn't quite as clueless as everyone thinks. They pose as a string quartet and rent out her back room for rehearsals, intent on using her naivete for their nefarious scheme until a series of misfortunes befalls them. The film is filled with great performances and a tight story, but as a farce, it's not very funny. Not that there aren't funny moments, there are several, but it's about as funny as you'd expect a british comedy from the 1950s to be (draw your own conclusions from that statement). The Ladykillers makes an entertaining diversion for those looking to be diverted.

How to Train Your Dragon
½

I realize I've written this review before (see my review of "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs"), but if animated films are going to insist on repeating themselves, then so am I. A misfit child doesn't fit in with the rest of his group, so he's made to feel different until the time comes when he can redeem himself, hopefully by using what was once perceived as his weakness (but in actuality is his strength) to rescue the people who once made fun of him. Yes, it's Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs, but it's also Ratatouille and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the Ugly Duckling. It's an old story sure, but it's usually the most popular stories that have the greatest longevity and sell the most movie tickets (which is why filmmakers will continue to tell it to us, over and over again).

Anyway, this incarnation of the story takes place in a little viking village that is always being beset by flying dragons. The dragons come and burn down the villagers houses and make off with the livestock. The village chief is a great and burly viking whose one dream in life is to find and destroy the dragon's lair and rid the world of them once and for all. Unfortunately, he's never been able to find it. An even greater disappointment than never finding the dragon's lair is his son, a clumsy and scrawny boy who is the town's laughingstock. It's all the father can do to hide his great shame when someone brings the boy's name up. The boy, whose name is "Hiccup" (and as he explains, viking names are meant to cause fear in their enemies, so what does his name do to them?), shows a cleverness at designing things and using his brains rather than fighting. He invents a sort of snare cannon, which is to be used in capturing dragons, and in particular, the ultra-rare "Night Fury". Capturing such a dragon will make him the hero of the village and gain his father's approval. To his surprise, the cannon actually works and he succeeds in taking down the most elusive dragon. Having only wounded the dragon, he's unable to kill it and instead sets it free, causing the dragon to befriend him. From then on, Hiccup spends his time trying to better understand dragons, and convince his father that the creatures are just misunderstood.

It'd be easy to dismiss How to Train Your Dragon as yet another piece of cartoon fluff, except for the fact that the dragons are really well done (better, in fact, than those found in "Avatar"), and the action sequences are top notch. Lately it seems like cartoons are superior to "live action" when it comes to action scenes. Where Avatar's flight scenes are filled with choppy, quick cuts that can be hard to follow, Train Your Dragon offers well-choreographed aerial battles where the characters use logic and clever tactics to win (tactics that aren't telegraphed from a mile away, I might add). Dragons make wonderful pets, too. How to Train Your Dragon is a fun kids movie, and it has an admirable message: think before you fight or better still, try to see things from both sides.

Serpico
Serpico(1973)
½

A cop gets shot, the police are taking him to the hospital. "Guess who's been shot?" says the cop calling it in. Everyone knows it's Serpico. It's been expected ("I know at least 3 cops who would've liked to have shot him" says one of the police back at the station). Why? Why is Serpico the most hated man on the force? Based on the real life of Frank Serpico, "Serpico" is the story of an honest cop who's stuck in a world of graft and police corruption. He's unusual for a cop: he dresses like a hippy, he he has unusual taste (in opera, ballet, etc.), and has an extreme love of animals (every scene, the guy has a different pet- dog, mouse, parrot, etc.). This makes him an outsider from the start. While not every cop is on the take, it just seems that way, Serpico is paired with corrupt partners time and time again. The thing about cops on the take, they don't trust cops who ain't. Serpico's relationships all suffer the strain of being an outsider in a world where your life depends on the trust of your fellow officers. He blows up at home, taking his frustrations out on his girlfriends. The corruption goes all the way to the top. When the D.A. wants Serpico to testify, he doesn't see why he should stick his neck out, if it's only for the penny ante street cops. If Serpico's going down, he wants to go after the big names. "Serpico" is a tough cop film that bridges the gap between 40s and 50s film noir and 70s realism, but it's a 70s movie through and through (though maybe not as much noir as say "Chinatown"). I assume it also provided the inspiration for 80s cop shows like "Hill Street Blues". A tense drama about good in the face of overwhelming evil.

The Killers
The Killers(1946)
½

Based on a story by Ernest Hemingway, "The Killers" is a noir film set up much like "Citizen Kane": an insurance investigator, through a series of interviews (which lead to flashbacks for the viewer), deciphers the riddle of a gas station attendant's murder in a small town. Burt Lancaster is "the Swede", an ex-boxer who meets his doom in the back room of a boarding house by the hands of a pair of hitmen. However, it's not as exciting as it sounds, even if the pistol-packing claims adjuster is one you wouldn't ever want to mess with. The first 15 minutes are a little incongruous to the rest of the story (Hemingway's story comprises only the first reel of the film), and the motivations behind the Swede's death are a little flimsy (it's always a dame that gets 'em). The film's mighty aspirations can slow down to a crawl at times, but it's still a film worthy of your time, and if you're a fan of the genre, this might be a new favorite.

An American in Paris

As far as musicals go, "An American in Paris" is a fairly enjoyable one, even if the long ballet sequence at the end feels tacked on. Leslie Caron is quite a stunningly attractive girl. It's a conventional plot involving a beautiful girl who falls in love with a dancing painter, but has committed herself to the older singing gentleman who helped her out during the war. Likewise, the dancing painter has been ensnared by an art-loving sponsor who seems just as interested in his body as she does in his body of work. Did I mention Leslie Caron is a knockout? Gene Kelly is his typically graceful and talented self as well and Gene Kelly fans should be very pleased with the film. But the movie pushes it's nearly 2 hour running time to the limit and could've used some judicious editing. I enjoyed the "french" atmosphere, but I can't recall any of the songs (a problem I don't have with director vincente Minnelli's later film, "Gigi"). Personally, I found Kelly's performance as a tortured artist to be less convincing than some of his other roles. This film won the academy award for best picture.

Gigi
Gigi(1958)

Maurice Chevalier stars in "Gigi", the winner of 9 academy awards for 1958. Little Gigi is just a school girl who happens to have been befriended by the wealthy Gaston Lachaille. Her aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) gives her etiquette lessons, but it's an etiquette which seems groomed for other things as well. She has a fine collection of jewelry which she shows to Gigi: "this one was given to me by a a little king". Why a little king? Great kings don't feel the need to show off as much. But why does her aunt have so many gifts from so many wealthy men? She was once a mistress, running about in the elite social circles of Paris. The Gaston Lachaille's uncle (Maurice Chevalier) was just the sort of man who ran around with Gigi's aunt back in their day. He's a 70 year old playboy, still chasing after beautiful young women, never settling down to get married (as he says at the beginning of the movie, "those who will not marry are usually men, and those who do not marry are usually women."). He's a jaded romantic if ever there was one, and he's doing his best to train his nephew in the family tradition. Well, it's more than a family tradition, all of society considers him a celebrity and hold him to a different moral standard. What is it about the wealthy that they can't have a happy marriage? It's taken for granted that these men will have unhappy marriages, affairs, and that they will wind up breaking a poor girl's heart, and that the girl should be fully prepared for such a thing. Take Eva Gabor, she's committed many "suicides", generally she takes an overdose that while not quite lethal, is enough to be acceptable in the celebrity circle. Grandmother and aunt seem all too eager to throw Gigi into this mix, even if the times are changing, and girls don't expect the same things out of life that they once did. "Gigi" has alot going for it, especially the wonderful songs which in the last 50 years have become classics. A fun film with unusually adult subject matter (for a 1950s musical, at least).

The Egg and I

The Egg and I is one of the biggest grossing pictures in the history of Universal pictures and also one of the longest running movie series for that company. Based on the book by Betty Macdonald, it also features the film debut of "Ma and Pa Kettle" (the role of Ma Kettle earned Marjorie Main an oscar nomination). Ma and Pa Kettle are definitely the most entertaining thing about the film, with their acres of kids and a nest of chickens in every nook and cranny of the house. MacMurray plays his usual obliviously affable self, while Colbert is the hapless newlywed, swept off into the mountains to live on a chicken farm by her egg-obsessed husband. There's some unexpectedly heart-warming scenes, but the film itself isn't quite as funny as other similar films from that era.

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington plays the last black man on earth in the post-apocalyptic "The Book of Eli", a film that borrows heavily from those which have gone before it, including old spagetti westerns and the Mad Max films (I swear I even detect a little Planet of the Apes thrown in). The earth looks like a burnt desert, although it's never disclosed whether this is due to nuclear war or the greenhouse effect. Whatever the case, Washington's Eli is bad mutha, handing out justice at the point of a blade or the barrel of a gun, he seems to attract the raiders and cannibal bandits that haunt the wastelands and don't know any better than to mess with him. As he travels west (something he's supposedly been doing for the last 30 years), he stops off in Carnegie's (Gary Oldman) town to re-charge his ipod and buy some water. Carnegie's goons attempt to rough up Eli, and he slaughters a roomful of them. Carnegie is so impressed, he tries to lure Eli into working for him, first with Claudia (Jennifer Beals), then with her daughter, Solara (Mila Kunis). Carnegie's real goal, however, is to find a particular book, and he has motorcycle hooligans scouring the wastes in search of it. He believes this book will give him the power to control the minds of the world's remaining population, and eventually make him ruler over all. It's no small coincidence then, when he discovers Eli has the very book he's been looking for, and the two engage in a battle of wills over it.

The book is religious in nature, and through it, the film somehow simultaneously arouses the christian faith and the longheld atheist notion that religion is nothing more than a means of bringing about order in a society of savages. People who are unable to obtain their morality through logic must be scared into morality by threat of eternal damnation by a higher power. Carnegie believes religious manipulation will help him gain a greater control over people, and controlling people is all he does. Eli is the opposite, but his goal is not really any different. He knows the power of faith, and how it can shape civilizations. This is why he wants so desperately to deliver the book into the hands of people who can best spread the word. The biggest difference between Eli and Carnegie is faith: Eli believes in the God behind the words, Carnegie just sees the words without context.

Eli believes he's the chosen messenger of God, and at times his survival seems nothing short of miraculous. The Hughes brothers are smart enough to leave this concept ambiguous, and somehow the film doesn't suffer from their not having chosen a side. Of course like any film that combines kung fu westerns with Road Warrior, post-nuclear apocalypse morality, "The Book of Eli" is way over the top. Gary Oldman is incredibly hammy in his role as the chief bad guy, but as far as ham goes, it's delicious. Mila Kunis is, well... adequate, but she should probably steer away from these types of films in the future. Washington is pretty captivating in his performance, and as producer he's helped bring a very interesting action picture to the big screen.

Alice in Wonderland

Careers in Hollywood have an ebb and flow to them. Once upon a time, comedians like Martin Short and Billy Crystal were the top comedic actors around, and Jean Claude Van Damme was one of the biggest action box office draws. Things change, tastes change, stars either adapt or they fade by the wayside. Those behind the camera have a little more staying power than those in front, their careers can survive a few wrinkles or a few extra pounds. They can even survive a few box office flops, after all, it's not their face that gets associated with the bomb. But even the greatest creative minds can't fall back on their laurels for too long, eventually they have to prove themselves or make way for the next generation of ambitious film-makers. Tim Burton's films of late (and more often than not) have been lazy and uninspired, in particular 2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", a re-make surely done only for the money. The worst thing you can say about a whimsical film-maker is that his films just aren't any fun. "Alice in Wonderland" is a dull and lifeless, paint-by-numbers version of a Tim Burton film.

Burton's "Alice" (screenplay written by Linda Woolverton- "The Lion King") takes place some years after the original Lewis Carroll stories. Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now a young adult, is proposed to by a wealthy, if unimaginative lord. But rather than accept his proposal, she instead runs off and takes a tumble down the rabbit hole. Upon arriving in Wonderland, she's told it is her destiny to slay the savage Jabberwocky, and thus free Wonderland from the evil Red Queen's (Helena Bonham Carter) tyranny. At first Alice disagrees with fate, but soon with the help of her old friends the Cheshire Cat and The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), she rises to meet her challenge. The Red Queen, of course, does everything she can to keep her power, all while shouting "Off with their heads!". Those who've seen earlier versions of Alice in Wonderland or those who've read the books will find many familiar scenes, including the Mad Hatter's tea party, the Red Queen's pink flamingo croquet game, and the great fall down the aforementioned rabbit hole.

Yes, the touchstones are all here, but it's like a cliff's notes of Alice in Wonderland, where the general ideas are present but the feeling is missing. Oh, there are some nice visuals, and the Red Queen is amusing, but it's a pretty souless venture overall.

When Alice first lands in Wonderland, she's too big to fit through the door, so she takes a potion that shrinks her as the White Rabbit remarks "That can't be the real Alice, or she'd remember doing all this before!". This statement is one of the film's most painfully ackward and self-aware moments. Watching Alice, I wonder how long Burton will continue to ride on the greatness of his past.

The Ice Storm

Ang Lee's 70s period piece version of "American Beauty", is a tale of disaffected teens and their equally disaffected parents. The parents are too wrapped up in their own disfunction to be parents, either because of illicit affairs (sigourney weaver and kevin kline) or they resent their spouses for their affairs. The sins of the parents are also found in the children though, as daughter Christina Ricci finds herself confused sexually while making out with both Elijah Wood and his younger brother. Meanwhile, her older brother (Tobey Maguire) is just as ineffectual as his father. I'm not really sure what the purpose of The Ice Storm is. It's not a terribly fun movie, and if it's meant to give some deeper insight into life, it needs to go beyond the cliches it so often returns to. Like many of Lee's movies (Finding Woodstock, for example) the characters don't seem to have a whole lot of control over their own destinies, things just "sort of happen" to them. The mistakes they make aren't necessarily mistakes, but they're almost always of their own doing. The Ice Storm seems to want to suggest "shit happens" and we should just roll with it. As Elijah Wood's character says, we're breathing in the molecules we smell, in effect consuming smells, and we don't necesssarily always have control over what we eat. There seems to be an attempt to draw a correlation from that to life and our relationships with one another. Even if we can't control who we're related to, we can control how those people make us feel. So the Ice Storm might be deeper than what I can give it credit for, but that doesn't necessarily make it valid. Ang Lee might have a unique perspective, but I can't necessarily get behind it.

The Jazz Singer
½

There's going to be the inevitable offense of modern sensibilities with the blackface performance of "Mammy", but I'll be damned if that performance which closes the movie isn't both touching and uplifting. Jolson plays Jakie Robin (Rabinowitz), the son of a cantor who wishes to sing jazz instead. A story that's been done many times since (like the cartoon where "Owl Jolson" sings "I wanna sing'a about the moon'a and the june'a and the spring'a", for instance), but the first real "talkie" has got them all beat. Jolson's performance might come off as hokey to modern audiences at first glance, but those are real tears on his cheeks as he sings about his mother (not one but three songs about dear old mom). Calling it the first talkie is a bit of a stretch though, as the majority of the film is still silent, it's just the songs (and a few spoken words during those songs) that have any sound. The sound and picture don't always match up either, but this "vitaphone"-brand of production was brand new and I guess not entirely perfected. Perfected or not, this film, and the wave of popularity that followed, opened the floodgates to the era of talking pictures. Such a revolutionary landmark film didn't necessarily have to be so creative with the story, so it's a pleasant enough surprise that it's not something completely nonsensical. Al Jolson was the consumate entertainer of his day, and this is a fine showcase of his talent. And while it's true those looking to find offense can find it easily enough here, it's well worth it to look at the film through a historical perspective.

Le fils de l'épicier (The Grocer's Son)

A little french film from the independent series of films, The Butcher's Son is predictable, never goes beyond exactly what you'd expect, and yet the end result is a pleasant experience. The lead character goes from living life in the city alone, to working at his parent's grocery in the countryside, delivering goods to elderly people in the mobile grocery van (after his father has a some sort of attack and has to go to the hospital). In his city apartment, the girl across the hall, whom he has eyes for, comes with him to the country in order to study for her big entrance exams to college, and of course it's only a matter of time before they fall in love. The lead character is an emotionally detached, alienated youth who only looks out for himself, and he and his family have a great many clashes over this. It's only after driving the grocery van for a period of time that he begins to get some humility and empathy for his fellow man. As I said before, the film is predictable, doesn't take any risks, and had it been made in Hollywood, it most likely would've starred Sandra Bullock. And yet, I don't hold any of this against it. It may not hit the high note, but it's not necessarily trying to. The beautiful scenery and quirky cast help make this film a pleasant diversion.

The Awful Truth

Cary Grant and Irene Dunn play a couple who rather impulsively decide to divorce and then spend the rest of the movie trying to undo their mistake while simultaneously undoing each other's new relationships. I'm not sure how taboo divorce was in their time, but the whole thing is played for laughs, with the two arguing over who gets custody of "mr. smith", their dog (who led to their first meeting). Actually, the dog is alot of fun, probably the best movie dog outside of Asta (the Thin Man's dog). What makes this film good is the chemistry Grant has with his leading lady (which he tends to have with every leading lady, which is a big part of what makes him so great). He not only plays a straight man to her hijinks, he also gets in some slapstick of his own.

Gangs of New York

Director Martin Scorsese takes a look at the origins of organized crime in "The Gangs of New York", a factually-based look at gang warfare in 1840s New York. An area called "the Five Points" attracts a great many irish immigrants, much to the dismay of "the natives", headed up by the sadistic butcher (Daniel Day Lewis). As the movie begins, Lewis and his gang are engaging in bloody battle with the irish, headed led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), a priest deeply admired by his people, especially his young son. After his father falls in battle, the young son is sent to reform school and doesn't return to the old neighborhood for 16 years. In that interim, things have changed a great deal: the Butcher is no longer just boss of the gang, he's boss of just about everything. When DiCaprio introduces himself with the assumed name "Amsterdam", Lewis responds with "Well, I'm New York". He holds an incredible amount of power, to say the least. He may be a sadistic monster, but he has a moral code he lives by quite strictly. There's a certain charming nobility about him that Amsterdam almost finds himself swayed by, even as he tries to move in closer for the kill. Meanwhile, more and more irish immmigrants are coming everyday, being conscripted to the United States army just as fast as they step off the boat. The Civil War has so little to do with these men, and yet they're sent down south to die. It's a pressure cooker that leads to the draft riots of New York, an event that nearly brings the city down. Great performances, great sets, great story and great directing make Gangs of New York a modern classic that brings to life a world I don't think I'd ever want to live in.

What Just Happened?
½

Robert DeNiro plays a bigtime hollywood producer who walks a constant tightrope between placating the petulant creative forces and the studio executives with the money. It's a game he plays pretty well until the combination of a film that ends with a dead dog and Bruce Willis' beard throws him for a loop. It's a business he's sacrificed alot for, including two relationships (each with children in the mix), but he seems to love all the stress of his job. Michael Wincott does a great comedic turn as the director of said dog-killing movie, and I'm not so sure his movie is intentionally bad, as an artist he seems particularly bad at his craft. Bruce Willis plays a version of himself as an over-the-top, self-centered actor, who's more concerned with his beard than with other peoples' livelihoods. I'm sure it's an apt skewering of hollywood and there are some funny moments, but overall, the film doesn't contribute anything to the cinematic landscape. It doesn't offer any lesson or insight, nor does it offer any moral or anything particularly entertaining. What just happened? Not alot.

Shutter Island
½

Martin Scorsese's enigmatic "Shutter Island" is destined to be one of the best and most misunderstood films of the year. He plays with both the film noir genre and surrealism in a manner not seen from him since 1999's "Bringing Out the Dead". Federal marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) comes to Shutter Island (an old civil war-era fortress used as a hospital for the criminally insane) along with his new partner, Chuck (Ruffalo) to investigate the escape of a patient the night before. It doesn't make much sense to call in the feds over a missing patient, especially one missing from such a forebodingly isolated island fortress. What's the real reason for marshal Daniels presence there? He's using the patient's disappearance as an excuse to investigate a conspiracy taking place on the island. One involving ex-nazis, the House on Un-American Activities Committee, and the creation of a race of lobotomized secret agents. He's also tracked Andrew Laeddis (who is the arsonist responsible for the murderer of his wife) to this island, and it's suggested he means to confront the man one final time and lay the past to rest. Through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences, we're shown marshal Daniels' past, including his WWII military experience. He feels he committed acts during the war that could be construed less as combat and more like murder, and this affects him in ways not even he fully understands.

There's something at work in Shutter Island. I don't wish to reveal the ending of the film, but in a way it's predictability only serves as a means of distracting the audience from it's real meaning (as does the notion that it's a "thriller", in the traditional sense of the word). What we have is an intricately detailed and heart-breakingly painful psychological horror story that I don't think many film-makers could have pulled off. The film plays upon our notions of what heroes and villains are, and how much of ourselves we're willing to invest in order to support the traditional story-telling concepts we hold onto so steadfastly. The true nature of the marshal is never hidden, only clouded by our own pre-conceived notions. Shutter Island is a unique and thought-provoking achievement in film-making.

An American Crime
½

An American Crime paints a portrait of real-life events involving the sadistic torture of a 16-year old high school girl at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener) and her children. The Likens family travel from town to town, working for the carnival. Their children, Sylvia (Ellen Page) and Jennie (Hayley McFarland) want to stay put for once and make friend with kids and basically live like normal children. The father also feels (for whatever reason) that the girls are putting a strain on the marriage, so when Gertie offers to keep the kids for $20 a week room and board, the Likens take her up on her offer. It seems like an amiable plan, as Gertie has six children of her own, and the experience of a big family could be fun for the girls. Gertie however, is involved in an abusive relationship with a much younger man (James Franco), and seems to be slowly cracking under the mental stress of trying to raise six children with very little income. The impetus for her breakdown comes when one of her older daughters becomes pregnant by a married man. Sylvia tells the man of the girl's condition and one of her classmates overheard. The daughter gets revenge for this by telling her mother Sylvia has been spreading lies about her. The abuse starts off simply but quickly escalates to dramatic levels. What's truly horrifying about this film isn't the abuse by the mentally unbalanced mother, but by her children. Much like a demented Charles Manson, she's able to convince those around her to carry out the most sadistic acts. But unlike Manson, the ones she manipulates are just children (and here's where takes an interesting twist). We in the audience feel anger towards these children and through our sense of justice desire their punishment, and yet where do we draw the line? And it would be one thing if it were only her children who were the sadistic ones, but the fact that the other neighborhood children also participate shifts the blame to our society as a whole (hence, the title "An American Crime"). If children brought up in good wholesome homes can be convinced to do cruel things to innocent people, if children are unable to tell the difference between proper "punishment" and vile torture, then where do we draw the line? Even more cleverly, the film-maker places the audience in the same position as the guilty children, we're the observers unable or unwilling to stop the crime we're witnessing. In a world of tabloid sleeze here we get our cheap, voyeuristic thrills as the seedy details of sexually perverse crimes get made public, it's only just that we get some of the blame. What really gets driven home by this movie is the notion that victim or torturer, either one could be your child. All it takes is the word of a trusted adult, and the blind eye of society's turned head.

Humboldt County
½

An uptight med student gets kidnapped by a bunch of dirty pot-growing hippies. No, really. Not that I have anything against dirty hippies, but these dirty hippies are also obnoxious and arrogant people who treat the uptight kid condescendingly. For some reason, the uptight med student likes the upheaval these unpleasant hippies bring to his life, and stays with them in the woods. The hippies all live in the woods like children, throwing random temper tantrums, but is that the point? Is Humboldt County a horror movie, revealing the ugly truth about escapism? Is it an indictment of the 60s generation? If the film had had a little more depth, had the characters not been so universally repulsive, the lesson might've had more impact. But these so-called "real" people are more self-centered and less empathetic than the worst stereotypical yuppy. As it is, there's very little to actually like here, outside of the under-used Peter Dogdanovich.

The Snake Pit

Few performances have equaled the raw power of Olivia de Havilland's in The Snake Pit. In the film, de Havilland plays Virginia, a young woman who suffers a mental breakdown and is committed to psychiatric hospital. We follow her treatment, diagnosis, and suffering as she climbs out of and falls back into the snake pit (in ancient times, the film explains, an insane person was lowered into a pit of snakes, the rationale being any sane person would be driven insane by the process, thus the opposite would occur for the insane). De Havilland is so amazing it's easy to overlook the story (which is quite well-written) or the direction (which is also amazing). In spite of all this, the film only won one oscar, for best sound recording. In the history of classic film, this one can get lost in the shuffle, and that's a shame.

The Lady Eve
The Lady Eve(1941)
½

Henry Fonda plays a big dope who wanders around clueless for an entire movie. It's Barbara Stanwyck who has the fun role, as she falls for the dope pretty early in the film, and spends the rest of the time trying to con the big lug into falling in love with her. Fonda plays Charles "Hopsy" Pike, a snake collector who is returning from the jungle aboard a cruise ship. It's a cruise ship that's also inhabited by a group of con men, including Jean (Barbara Stanwyck). It turns out Charlie isn't just a snake collector, he's also the heir to a million dollar brewing company ("Pike's Pale: the Ale that won for Yale"). All the women onboard the ship begin to throw themselves at him, but he's so clueless when it comes to women that he scarcely notices. When Jean begins to seduce Hopsy, it's a con that quickly becomes sincere. Hopsy does find out her true identity though, and leaves her for being an immoral woman (once again, the old hollywood standard plot device of a woman's questionable morals comes into play). She vows to get revenge for the shabby way he treats her, and poses as "The Lady Eve" in order to trick him into falling in love with her again. The idea being, Jean was really a nice girl from a not so nice background, whereas the Lady Eve would be a not-so-nice girl from a very nice background, teaching Hopsy not to judge a book by it's cover. It's a screwball comedy with plenty of laughs.

Notorious
Notorious(1946)
½

In "Notorious", Cary Grant is a secret agent who wishes to use the daughter of a convicted german spy (Ingrid Bergman) to gather information about nazis in Rio. A romance blooms between them, but soon she's asked to marry the german in order to better spy on him, and their love is strained because of this. Like many movies from this era, a woman's virtue (or more specifically, the lack thereof) is a prime plot motivation. Hitchcock's directing stands out (as usual), but the story is pretty bland for the first 2/3rds of the film. Notorious is more a romance than anything else, so it's especially distracting the way Cary Grant doesn't actually kiss Ingrid Bergman so much as smoosh his face against hers (or alternately, he leans his face against hers). Maybe it's just part of the character development. He doesn't really trust her so his kisses are reserved and cautious. Or maybe I should give Cary Grant kissing lessons. Either way, if I'm paying more attention to the kissing style of the lead actors, that may give you some indication of how captivating the initial plotline was. The last third of the movie is great, though.

8 1/2
8 1/2(1963)

Watching Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" is a bit like watching a Mozart opera: the uninitiated might possibly find it confusing, pretentious or overly demanding, whereas those with a little more patience will enjoy the complexity and whimsy even, of the characters as they move through the story. The story revolves around a film director who's resting at a spa retreat, attempting to recuperate from an undisclosed illness (perhaps a nervous breakdown?), but is never afforded the opportunity to relax, as he's bombarded by demands from producers, actors and writers to begin work on his next project, which no one seems to know what it is. The director is not unlike Fellini himself, he uses surrealism to create imagery his detractors often dismiss as nonsensical. Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) doesn't know what kind of film he wants to create, he seems to be suffering from a creative block. He can only imagine the images he wants to use, and many of these come directly from his childhood memories. And yet he sends his crew and backers on wild goose chases, having them build enormously expensive sets for space ships and such. The film in his head has nothing to do with what he's making the people around him work on. At times, the whole thing borders on farce. Fellini plays with reality and fantasy, weaving in and out of both so effortlessly. There's nothing obnoxious about the film, nor is it too heavy handed with metaphor. In fact, the whole thing is clever and witty. The director Guido is trying to create a film about truth, and his own bias obviously prevents such a thing from happening. While this isn't a difficult film to understand, it's a difficult film to digest, requiring more than one viewing to catch on the details possibly missed on the first viewing.

Adventureland

Some movies aim for an amiable middle ground, not too light, not too deep. Adventureland tries to be so amiable it doesn't aim for any ground, it just simply exists. It's like an anti-event, something that pretends to be something, but is in reality nothing. It's the well-worn story of affable losers working their summer vacation together, and perhaps falling in love. The cast of characters seems to be taken directly from the big book of teen movie cliches: there's the obnoxious stoner buddy, who can always score weed and who's statements of the obvious seem to exist soley to move the exposition along (this character, played by Matt Bush, is as grating a character that has ever appeared in such a movie); there's the older yet wiser male (Ryan "ugh" Reynolds) character who, although he's considerably older than the others, still manages to sleep with the females of the group, and then there's the nebbishly nerdy virgin whom we're all rooting for. Will he score the babe by the end of the summer? Gosh oh gee, I don't know, but I really do care... Kristen Stewart (of "Twilight" fame) plays a generally unlikeable character, but as she plays this in every one of her movies, I'm not so sure she's even acting at this point. She doesn't like herself, she doesn't like her family, and yet she's incredibly self-righteous about her bad decisions. She's kind of the bad guy in this film, despite being the lead female actress. Why we're supposed to feel sympathetic towards her, I can only guess, but the character failed to move me. Jesse Eisenberg does the best Michael Cera imitation this side of Michael Cera, but so what? It's a romantic teen comedy/drama that's boring, unromantic and unfunny. There's nothing new or original, unless you count the fact that it takes place in an amusement park. It's one the more unique film experiences I've had, in that the longer the film went on, the less I cared about the characters. It's not a fun movie to experience. It's trying to be "Dazed and Confused", but winds up being Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock". A bad miss all around.

Jezebel
Jezebel(1938)
½

Jezebel is the 1938's answer to the following year's "Gone With The Wind". Bette Davis stars as a southern belle doomed to lose her fiance and her social standing when she dares to wear a red dress to a ball (GASP!@!) It's enough to make any southern belle a life-long pariah. When her former beau (the miscast Henry Fonda) comes back into her life, she tries everything she can to scheme her way back into his life. The old pre-civil war south has long fascinated Hollywood as it's the closest thing America ever had to a royal "noble class" (the elite upper crust of society). Everything was a question of manners and the wrong word could result in a duel between two gentlemen. Of course the slavery issue is given short shrift, this was made in the pre-civil rights era 30s, and besides, slavery doesn't hold quite the same romance as the Jezebels and Scarletts of that time period. Regardless of political correctness, there's just something uninteresting about this film, whether it's the storyline or the script, I can't be sure. Bette Davis gives a fine performance, but this story of a woman who wears the wrong dress to the ball can hardly compare with the scope and granduer of the magnificent "Gone With The Wind".

The Unborn
The Unborn(2009)

Being a fan of the horror film genre, it really doesn't take alot to please me. I like humorous, thrill-ride type stuff (The Evil Dead, Zombieland), I like gross, sadistic slasher films (House of 1000 Corpses, Texas Chainsaw Massacre), I like supernatural thrillers (The Exorcist, the Ring), or even films that can just show me visuals I've never seen before (John Carpenter's "The Thing", in it's time). My special fondness for horror films allows me to be extra lenient when it comes to the bad ones (of which I've seen plenty). This also means I have very little patience for those films that don't even try to please their audience. Films created from a by-the-numbers laundry list of horror cliches that have been so well-worn they no longer carry any capacity to frighten even the smallest child. Films like "The Unborn". The lead character is an extremely attractive girl named Casey. Casey babysits for a family with a weird kid, but he's not as weird as her unborn brother who is also her uncle but also a demon. It wants to be re-born into this world (but what's up with the wacky kid she was babysitting? It seems like it was already re-born into this world through him). Also, jews and nazis. And exorcisms. And also the demon haunts her nitemares. Add to this some creepy bugs and a black friend, and Gary Oldman as a rabbi with a bizarrely indiscernible accent (really, it has to be heard to be believed) and you have it: a sloppy, dull, confusing mess. It doesn't help that the lead actress and her boyfriend are just absolutely horrible in their roles. Really, The Unborn would be laughably bad if it weren't so tediously dull. As it is, it's difficult to sit through all the way til the end. I don't think anyone's time is so worthless they should waste it watching this movie.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
½

People often think of the 1950s as just a repressed and conservative time in America, overlooking the fact that people were also quite odd and strange back then (watch a few episodes of the old Superman television series if you want further proof). Film-wise, the fifties were the heyday of both the western and the musical, so it's no surpise when someone decided to combine the two. Okay, so Seven Brides for Seven Brothers isn't your typical western, but even though there's no gunfighting in the streets, it embodies the western spirit of the old west pioneers. The fun and frolic begins when a bunch of farmer brothers decides to take themselves some wife-womenfolk type thinga-mabobs. With the help of eldest brother Adam's good young wife, the other brothers learn a little about manners and how to woo the ladies without offering them chaws of tobaccey. The music may not be all that memorable, but the great performances make up for that. It's alot of corny fun from the oddball fifties.

Les Croix de bois (Wooden Crosses)
½

Director Raymond Bernard gives us an unromanticized view of trench warfare in 1932's Wooden Crosses, a film of amazing visual quality. It's a visual quality that borrows heavily from 1930's "All Quiet on the Western Front". The story as well, is heavily influenced by the story of All Quiet on the Western Front, only telling it from the point of view of french soldiers as opposed to german. But unlike the earlier film, I think it's misrepresenting Wooden Crosses to call it "anti-war". The fact that it shows "war is hell" and makes it clear that war isn't fun isn't any more anti-war than any other war film that's ever been made. It's a fairly good war movie however, and has great production values.

Bamboozled
Bamboozled(2000)
½

Spike Lee delivers an intentionally shocking and racist film that winds up being shockingly racist in unintentional ways. Damon Wayans plays either an erudite and well-spoken television producer, or an erudite and well-spoken muppet, judging by his accent. He works for an exploitive tv network that's not interested in portraying realistic, positive images of african-americans, so he one day decides to create a show so offensive and over-the-top racist that the network executives will be swarmed with public outcry. His plans misfire when his "minstrel show for the new millenium" becomes a mega-hit, inspiring fans all over the country to don blackface call themselves "real" (n-words). Thrown into the mix is Wayan's personal assistant (Jada Pinkett) and her brother Mau Mau, a militant gangsta rapper, whose african pride seems a little misguided, to say the least. The film certainly starts off amusing, and has great intentions, but somewhere along the line, it loses it's point and focus. Jada Pinkett Smith is either a terrible actress or her character is just blandly awful (probably a little bit of both). I can't imagine this blackface minstrel show would ever be a hit series, as it's simply not very funny in any way (and even for a show about blackface, it goes into cheap and lazy territory). There is a fair point one could make about the idiocy of modern television effectively being just an updated version of a minstrel show, but Bamboozled doesn't go anywhere near that territory. By the end of the film (and I don't feel bad in revealing some spoilers), the film delves into wholly unrealistic gunplay and violence. It's incongruous and cheapens whatever valid points it was trying to make. Bamboozled winds up being a whole lot of unoriginal ideas slapped onto an interesting concept. In fact, the ending material sort of justifies the minstrel shows and demonstrates not a rising above that sort of material, but showing black culture as a whole has denegrated itself still further. Go rent the vastly superior C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America (2004) for a truly satirical look at America's attitude towards race.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

A film full of wicked people, ugly lawyers, and scheming lovers. Really, there's practically no one here who's sympathetic. It's the sort of story that could've been found in any crime magazine in the 40s and 50s. A drifter (John Garfield) stumbles upon an old diner run by an old man (Cecil Kellaway) and his young, attractive wife (Lana Turner). Just as the old man is completely trusting of his new handyman and his wife, the two are sure to have an illicit affair. But the film doesn't really get rolling until the sleezy lawyers make their way into the story. Hume Cronyn's character knowingly frees a pair of murderers for a measly 100 dollar bet. Like all the best films of the crime genre, we the audience are voyeurs into the lives and minds of criminals, and through the film, we vicariously commit acts we could never be allowed to get away with in real life. When the criminals do get their just desserts in the end, we can sit back piously and thankfully say they get what they had coming.

The Wicker Man
½

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, "And something is happening here but you don't know what it is do you, Sergeant Howie?" The Wicker Man is an odd little film about a police officer investigating a missing girl who stumbles upon a pagan community on a little scottish isle. He spends much of the movie stumbling around the village, condemning all the abominations against Christ he witnesses. Is it a metaphor for the age old generation gap, more particularly the differences between old squares and flower power baby boomers, or is it a metaphor describing the de-evolution of the human race, or is it a condemnation of all religions in general, suggesting that all religions and superstitions place undue faith in the supernatural over the ability of mankind? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that alot of what passed as shocking in the 1970s seems tepid by today's standards. One highlight of the film however, is Christopher Lee's delightfully creepy portrayal of the insane Lord Summerisle. He brings alot of fun to an otherwise not so funny movie. The inevitability of Sergeant Howie's downfall seems evident right from the start, but watching his inexorable descent into the madness of the village heightens that sense of foreboding to a nerve-wracking degree. For it's budget (or lack there of) it's quite an impressive bit of film-making.

The Magnificent Ambersons
½

That staircase. After watching The Magnificent Ambersons, I'm still struck by the staircase of the Amberson mansion. Director Orson Welles somehow gives the impression the staircase winds up story after story, hundreds of feet into the rafters, and without a window to be found. The Ambersons live in this mansion of nitemares, all shadows and endless, winding stairs. The Ambersons are a family of great Shakespearean tragedy. Eugene (Joseph Cotten) and Isabel (Dolores Costello) are sweethearts until Eugene embarrasses himself (when coming to serenade Isabel, he accidentally trips and smashes his bass fiddle) and becomes the laughing stock of the town. Isabel can't settle for any imperfection as she's the daughter of a very important family. She chooses security over love, and marries a plain but well off businessman. When their child comes, he's spoiled horribly, and grows into an even more obnoxious adult. Meanwhile, Eugene has returned to his hometown a successful car manufacturer, recently widowed and with a beautiful daughter. Isabel's son, George (Tim Holt) falls in love with Eugene's daughter, or at least what passes for love in someone so self-absorbed and egotistical. Eugene and Isabel strike up where they left off, much to the envy of the jealous Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead). Fanny schemes to convince George to intervene in the newly re-burgeoning relationship between Eugene and his mother, and the results are tragic for all involved. Aunt Fanny and George are a pair of lost souls, George especially is filled with impudence yet doesn't really understand why things happen around him the way they do, only that they don't happen the way he wishes. Visually, there aren't alot of films as stunning and on as many different levels as this. It's a unique vision and just about as daring a film (visually) as has ever been made. Welles original edit of the film has been lost and bastardized through the years, and the film's final tone of forgiveness rings somewhat at odds with the rest of the film's general feel. However unfortunate this situation may be, it matters little when every frame of the Magnificent Ambersons is a work of art in it's own right.

Now, Voyager
Now, Voyager(1942)

In High Society, Bette Davis undergoes crazy physical changes to make herself into the brokendown spinster daughter of a domineering woman. When Charlotte Vale (Davis) strikes out on her own to "find herself" and her own identity, it's a painful and sympathetic process. With the help of her doctor (Claude Rains) and the handsome man she meets on a cruise (Paul Henreid), she begins to experience an awakening personality. It's one of the best performances by Davis I've seen, and the material (falling in love with a married man) is risque (for it's time) yet mature. It may not be a happy ending in the traditional movie sense of the word, but for a woman who had nothing in her life, it's a beautifully romantic expression.

High Society
High Society(1956)

High Society is a pointless re-make of the Philadelphia Story, with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in the Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart roles, and Grace Kelly doing her best Katherine Hepburn imitation . As this is a semi-musical (there are some songs and they seem loosely based upon things happening in the plot of the movie), most of the highlights revolve around the appearance of Louie Armstrong and his band (this in spite of the fact that the songs just aren't very good). What's especially bad are the lackluster performances by Sinatra and Crosby (Sinatra in particular, delivers some laughably bad scenes). There are dozens of musicals more deserving of attention, watch them instead.

The Great Escape
½

What is it about WWII P.O.W. camp films that inspires such great theme songs? Much like the whistled march from "Bridge on the River Kwai", the march in The Great Escape is equally fun, famous and memorable. Unfortunately, it's just not as good a movie as Bridge on the River Kwai. In fact, despite the big name stars, the film sometimes feels like little more than a 3-hour episode of Hogan's Heroes. What The Great Escape does have going for it (besides Steve McQueen and James Garner) is it's amazing attention to the small details, probably because of it's real-life inspiration. The men spend a great deal of the film digging tunnels and planning the escape of some 200-plus men, all in an attempt to disrupt and cause a general nuisance to the german military war effort (for the most part, they succeed), but we don't really feel too sorry for these officers who've been sent to the Luftwaffe prison: knowing what we know now about the nazi SS concentration camps, these men have it rather easy. Schindler's List, it ain't. However, if you're going to watch a slightly humorous adventure film about german prison camps, this will do just as well as any other.

Blow-Up
Blow-Up(1966)

Writer/Director Michelangelo Antonioni tells the story of a disaffected young photographer in "swinging sixties" London who believes he's witnessed a murder, only by the time he actually begins to care about the crime he's witnessed, it seems to evaporate from existence right before his eyes. The photographer is a self-absorbed character who can't seem to relate to anyone on a personal level. He treats women like objects, and he becomes fascinated with shiny objects that catch his eye, only to disregard them later. But it's not just him. When he attends a Yardbirds concert, the audience in attendance is completely unmoved by the music, neither dancing nor even nodding their heads in time. It's not until guitarist Jeff Beck smashes his guitar in a fit of anger over the malfunctioning instrument that the crowd erupts, spurned on perhaps by the violence only. The photographer gets a piece of the guitar, fighting off scores of London hipsters, and yet, once outside the frenzy of the club, he tosses it aside indifferently, the guitar only had meaning in the context of the club. It's one of many scenes that demonstrate either the photographer's lack of connection to the human experience, or a lack of a human experience to connect to. Don't be mislead by the murder aspect or the gruesome dead body, this is no thriller or mystery. It's more like an indictment. The way the group of traveling mimes bookends the movie only seems to heighten the sense of triviality to life, and gives us cause to question reality versus point-of-view. The mimes play tennis with an invisible ball, but whether the ball is there or not, they're still playing the game.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Real life (at the time) couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor star in this cynical send-up of not just marriage, but the human race in general. Burton plays George, an aging history professor who's married to the daughter of the university president, Martha. George, at first glance, appears to be a henpecked and harried husband, whereas Martha is loud and "braying" as he describes her. They both seem to be (somewhat) functioning alcholics, and they both seem to loathe one another on some deeply fundamental level. It's not only that they loathe one another, they can't even be bothered to pretend at the pleasantries of marriage anymore. The film begins as George and Martha arrive home (at approximately 2am) drunk from a party and begin to bicker. Martha then tells George she's invited the new professor and his wife over for drinks and they should be there at any moment. When the young couple arrives, it's clear to George exactly what the new professor's motivations are, especially when he begins to butter up Martha. From then on, it's an escalating war of words and painful diatribes as everyone's weaknesses are brought to the fore. It's not the twist at the end that's so shocking when compared to the other twist that it's really George and Martha who truly love one another, and the young couple whose marriage seems more out of convenience than genuine affection. The viciously well-written play by Edward Albee is excellently adapted to the big screen by Mike Nichols ("The Graduate"). Taylor and Burton seem to delight in ripping into each other, and even when the second half begins to meander along (including the unsatisfying and bizarre ending), it doesn't really dull the blistering impact of the first. Modern sensibilities might be more shocked by the venom than the taboo subject matter, which I'm sure was ground-breaking at the time.

Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart(2009)

First-time writer/director Scott Cooper brings us this tale of addiction and the road in the form of country music singer "Bad Blake" (Jeff Bridges), a one-time star now reduced to playing small dives and bowling alleys. Bad travels the country in his beat up 1978 Suburban, with only his guitar, amp and a bottle of whiskey. Wherever he goes, he uses a "pick up" band (generally, an inexperienced group that's local to whatever city he's playing that night), musicians that come and go in the blind alcoholic fog that is Blake's life. One such musician manages to snag an interview with Bad Blake for his would-be writer/niece (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman the 57-year old Bad seems instantly smitten by. She's clearly in awe of the man's talent, and that awe carries alot of weight in and of itself. Bad also has an admirer in Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a musician who once backed Bad but is now a country music superstar. He wants to help Bad make some money and get back on top musically, but Bad just seems too bitter over his former bandmate's success to allow him to help.

Bad's biggest problem is that he's slowly killing himself with booze, cigarettes and life on the road in general. He has moments of lucidity, where he tries to make amends with his estranged son, or tries to make some sort of domestic life with the young reporter and her son (in scenes highly reminiscent of 1983's "Tender Mercies", a film coincidentally starring producer Robert Duvall), but alcoholism fuels itself on self-pity, and the only way to maintain that fuel is through self-destruction. But even with the self-destructive behavior, it's not Bad's life that carries so much emotional impact, it's his music, and in the end, really it's all he has. The scene that has the most emotional impact isn't of an actual heartbreak, but of the performance of a song written about the heartbreak. It's a scene of atmosphere nailed by Bridges. It's a role nailed by Bridges, possibly the best of his career and every bit worthy of the Oscar nomination he's recieved for it.

There are strong parallels between Crazy Heart and 2008's "The Wrestler". Both films feature characters living out lives of former glory, stuck in the past where neither is willing to acknowledge reality. But where The Wrestler is steeped in pathos, Crazy Heart is ultimately a tale of redemption. Today, it seems like the music industry no longer has any use for music, and the real-life counterparts to the fictional Bad Blake continue to bash their brains and bodies against the wall of indifference that greets musically creative minds. When Blake sings his beautifully, just-created song to an empty bedroom, Gyllenhaal's character weeps for his genius, and the wasted effort of it's beauty. It's a metaphor for the state of the music industry as a whole: tears for the solitary death of an unmourned artform.

Kagemusha
Kagemusha(1980)

Kagemusha is director Akira Kurosawa's 3-hour epic historical drama surrounding the events of, and leading up to, the Battle of Nagashino. The warlord Shingen sits on his throne of power, using his brother Nobukado as a stand-in, or body double in case of assassins. Nobukado finds a thief who's been sentenced to death who bears an uncanny resemblance to the lord and spares his life in order to recruit him for the job of stand-in. The thief refuses at first, but later, but later, when Shingen is struck by a sniper's bullet, he steps in to become the "kagemusha" or "shadow warrior" (the shadow image of the fallen warlord). With the aid of Nobukado, he learns the protocol necessary to fool the friends and family of the ruler. Kurosawa takes a Robert Bresson approach to Kagemusha, in that he never shows the key events actually transpiring: when the sniper shoots Shingen, we only hear the sound of it, and the subsequent aftermath; when the final climactic battle takes place, we only see the aftermath of the gunfight, not the actual gunfight itself; when Kagemusha falls from the horse, we only see him laying on the ground, not the fall itself. Kurosawa's usual visual approach has been muted a little as well, instead of the shockingly contrasting black and white visual style of earlier works (or the absolute fascination on display in the follow-up film, "Ran"), we get large, cutting swathes of outdoor shots. Armies with their colorful flags, on the march against the backdrop of the sea. His stand-out visuals here consist of cutting the screen in two or three sections and giving us contrasting colors between them (such as in Kagemusha's dream sequence). But what about the story? At three hours, it's spread a little thin, but then again, so do most films of this genre. The way Kagemusha treats his role in all this is a little ambigious: is he an actor trying to portray a ruler or does he really come to believe he is the warlord? In the context of historical dramas, it ranks among the best. In the world of Kurosawa, it's somewhat less. It's a film though, that took alot for Kurosawa to make. After running out of financial backing, american directors George Lucas and Frances Ford Coppola convinced 20th Century Fox to back the completion of the film. It's a great story of the kind of respect Kurosawa garners in film community.

Manhattan
Manhattan(1979)
½

Woody Allen begins Manhattan with a voice-over, declaring his intimate love for the city, while a series of beautiful black-and-white shots takes us around the various locations of the city. The opening sequence ends with a breathtaking shot of fireworks going off, seemingly right inside the skyscrapers themselves. Somehow Woody Allen picks the perfect location and time for shooting this scene, and it's amazing footage. Underneath Allen's voice-over, we hear the old-timey jazz numbers that have become ubiquitous with his films and are peppered throughout the movie. It's rare to see a film evoke such passion for a location. Allen's manhattanites are also idealized, though in outward appearance only. Isaac (Allen) is a writer on a television sketch show (something along the lines of SNL), a job he doesn't like very much. He'd prefer to work on his book. His friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is also a writer, although of more intellectual pursuits. He's married but is also seeing someone on the side. Meanwhile, Isaac is dating a 17-year old high school student named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), but he refuses to take her affection seriously as she's way too young. As he says "I'm older than her father... I'm dating a girl wherein, I can beat up her father". He's very attracted to Yale's mistress, the highly intellectual Mary (Diane Keaton). One gets the feeling this is the sort of New York Allen would like to live in; where the city is free from dirt and crime and the women are all beautiful intellectuals and love W.C. Fields movies. But it's far from the perfect universe: the film shows what happens when intellectual logic runs into irrational love, what happens when people who analyze everything are forced to look into themselves. Isaac is the only one in his world who refuses to morally compromise, so is it any wonder he looks to a 17-year old girl for love (the age when every kid is an idealist crusader)? It's an oddly logical love story.

Pickpocket
Pickpocket(1959)

Written and directed by acclaimed french film-maker Robert Bresson, Pickpocket is the stark story of an impoverished, would-be writer who takes to a life of crime, partly as a necessity and partly for the simple thrill of it. Michel (Martin LaSalle) rarely evokes much emotion during the course of the film, but his eyes speak volumes. His apartment is so stark, it doesn't even have a handle or lock on the door, just a flimsy little hook to keep it shut when he wants some privacy. He seems to have only one suit, which he wears at all times. His friend Jacques (Pierre Leymarie) tries to help him get a job, so he might buy some new clothes even, but it's an effort that's wasted on a disinterested party. When Michel comes to visit his dying mother, he meets the woman next door who has been caring for her. Jeanne (Markia Green) strikes his interest, but her pretty face is nothing compared to the allure of pickpocketing. He makes friends with other pickpockets, and learns a great deal from his companions (he's always studying to better himself at this craft). Only his conscience, in the guise of a police inspector, ever slows him down or gives him thought. As the film progresses, Michel gets more and more paranoid (but not enough to quit). In the dvd commentary, writer Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) explains that Bresson was trying to upset the audience's sense of well-being by not following the rules one expects when sitting down to watch a film. He uses very little music in his film, using it only here and there, sometimes at appropriate times, sometimes at seemingly inappropriate ones. He also avoids showing key points to the film (something that should never happen), such as when Michel gets arrested early in the picture: one moment he's walking down the street, confident and on top of the world, the next he's sitting in the back of a police car. The actual arrest isn't shown. Whether Bresson was intentionally trying to upset the viewer or simply trying to upset the apple cart and shake things up a little bit, I'm not sure, but it's certainly an interesting movie.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas make an okay movie great. Burt Lancaster is the agressively moral lawman, Wyatt Earp. Kirk Douglas is Doc Holliday, a man whom trouble "just seems to follow" as he goes about from town to town and saloon to saloon, gambling and drinking himself to an early grave (he was in fact dying of Tuberculosis). His woman Kate (Jo Van Fleet) has a vicious love/hate affair with him (she loves him, he hates her), that will eventually lead him to the famous gun battle at the O.K. Corral. Historically accurate or not, the film packs quite an entertaining wallup, with even the ensemble cast (a young Dennis Hopper and a young DeForest "Dr. Bones McCoy" Kelley) giving excellent performances. There's the grandeur of an epic here, even if the film itself doesn't live up to it. And as the famous gun battle draws closer, the film stumbles over itself trying to justify the battle taking place at all, falling down to a basic revenge scenario. It's a great battle none-the-less. The most odd thing about the film is the Frankie Laine title ballad, which is so incongruous to the atmosphere of the film it's almost laughable. And yet, I can't get the damn song out of my head. "Ok... Corral..."

Captain Blood

Captain Blood marks the star-creating, breakthrough performances of both Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It's also one of the great epics of early Hollywood. Flynn stars as Doctor Peter Blood, a man who finds himself in prison after treating a wounded man who was injured fighting in rebellion against the king. Though Blood himself was not apart of the rebellion, he's sentenced to death for treason. At the last moment, the king issues a decree that all condemned men (remaing alive) are sentenced to slavery in the island colonies. Here, he's purchased by Arabella Bishop (de Havilland), on a whim that he's so much more sophisticated than the other slaves, but Blood wants no part in being her "toy", and is sent to work among the other slaves doing hard labor. When it's discovered he's actually a very competent doctor, he's sent to treat the governor's game foot and becomes a sort of in-house doctor for the ailing old man. Blood concocts a scheme for escape which is aided greatly by the timely attack of spanish pirates upon the port. With the aid of several fellow slaves, Blood takes over a spanish ship and soon sets off for the high seas to live the life of a pirate. There are so many things that go into making this a great picture, most obviously, Flynn's performance as Captain Blood. Direction and story are also simple yet eloquent. Action/adventure blockbusters are nothing new, and while modern times have shown improvements in special effects and sound editing, there's nothing that can take the place of good old fashioned human effort. For pirate adventure, I daresay Captain Blood is better than Pirates of the Carribean any day. According to my favorite reliable source, wikipedia, swash "is the water that washes up on shore after an incoming wave has broken". I'm not sure how you buckle water that washes up on shore after an incoming wave has broken, but I can assure you Errol Flynn has buckled it.

Johnny Guitar

Joan Crawford is Vienna, a frontier woman you don't want to mess with, but her arch nemesis, the maniacally evil Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) is one terrifying broad. The movie may be titled "Johnny Guitar", but it's all about the women duking it out, in a sort of pseudo-feminist western (the men are all but dominated by the women). The film opens strongly, with a confrontation in Vienna's casino/bar. It seems the stage coach was robbed and Emma's brother was killed (they bring his body right into the casino and lay it down on the craps table). Emma blames Vienna's club and the men who frequent it, especially "the Dancin' Kid" (Scott Brady). In reality, Emma is in love with the Dancin' Kid and is jealous of his relationship with Vienna (who it's suggested, is sort of a fallen woman). She has another reason to hate Vienna; as the new railroad is being built, more and more outsiders will come to town, spreading their indecency and immorality. She thinks Vienna is the vanguard in an onslaught that will bring about her cherished town's destruction. She forms a posse and seeks to lynch Vienna, the Dancin' Kid and his cohorts. The Dancin' Kid claims he and his pardners are mining silver in a hidden mine, but they're being run out of town anyway. The Kid decides if they're going to be accused of being criminals, they may as well be criminals and they go and rob the bank. Vienna happens to be in the bank at the same time, closing her account. One thing leads to another, and it's Vienna who's accused of aiding the outlaws. In the midst of all this is Johnny Guitar, once Vienna's lover and now just a wandering minstrel. Vienna sends for Johnny to come and perform in her saloon, but really she wants to use him for protection, for you see Johnny is a former gunslinger, and one of the fastest and best gunmen in the west. The plot details don't mean a whole lot, as this is all just an excuse to see Crawford and McCambridge go at it, tooth and nail. All in all, it's good, 1950s, campy fun.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
½

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS POSSIBLE SPOILERS:
A film that starts off so strongly can only go downwards, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir takes a nosedive in the last half hour that nearly ruins the film. The big twist surprise is quite predictable and the ending that is telegraphed (literally) years in advance takes far too long to get to. I find the notion that a woman as vivacious and full of life as Mrs. Muir should spend the last 40 or 50 years of her life waiting to die, just so she can be with her beloved "ghost" more offensive than romantic. It's a cruel twist on a charming and novel film. But let's go back to the beginning. Mrs. Muir is a strong-willed lady who's been recently widowed. She and her daughter are living with her mother-in-law and sister-in-law when Mrs. Muir decides she's had enough of the two and decides to strike out on her own. She settles on an old house that has been uninhabited for quite some time and is on the market at a rather cheap price. The reason for the cheap price is obviously that a ghost haunts the premises. Mrs. Muir however, isn't one to be put out by any spectral inconveniences and moves her family in despite the warnings from the real estate broker. It isn't long before the ghost (of the old sailer who built the house) and she are having it out, face-to-face. The ghost, realizing he's come head-to-head with a stubborn (yet very comely) female, decides to compromise and let her stay. This leads to a bizarre friendship, to say the least. Things go awry when a pushy writer begins poking around, trying to sweep Mrs. Muir off her feet. The ghost captain can only stand aside and watch as his beloved Mrs. Muir runs aflutter at the gentleman's attention. Once Mrs. Muir realizes her mistake, it's too late, and she's doomed, not to be haunted, but to be non-haunted (if such a thing is possible?). What starts off as a cute and funny premise eventually gets bogged down in a morass of unromantic dillusion and disallusioned romance. I found it to be sad, but not in the way most people find it.

To Sir, With Love
½

Sidney Poitier can go over the top (in the grand tradition of live theater, see "A Raisin in the Sun") or he can give a subtle delivery, as he does here, in To Sir With Love. It's not a terribly revolutionary film, but it's not pretending to be. It's a simple, well-thought out tale of a teacher who comes to a rough, inner city school and attempts to reach the kids by relating to them as adults rather than children. It's certainly not easy, as the kids have their own prejudices, against blacks, against authority figures, and against adults in general. An engineer by profession, Poitier takes the teaching assignment as a means of making a living while looking for work in his chosen field. It's a job that's not likely to be in high demand anyway, teaching kids in a tough east end London school. His first day, he's greeted in the faculty lounge by one of his cynical co-workers, who tells him to let the little monsters wither on the vine, as education isn't necessary in their lives. He has other ideas though, and seeks a way in which to break through to the students. Much like Poitier's earlier effort, "Lilies of the Field", it's a subtle, understated, yet totally dominating performance he delivers. So many actors (of any color) would be unable to play this role without infusing it with a certain level of martyrdom, but Poitier plays his character not as a saint, but as an intelligent and controlled man. The film is a relaxed, slow-moving, character-driven story that's never dull. In fact, it's actually quite sweet and charming.

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun was the first african-american play written by an african-american to appear on broadway, but how does it translate to the big screen? There seems to be very little change in the film adaptation of the stage play (in fact, most of the cast was brought directly from the stage production to hollywood in order to utilize their performances). Indeed, the direction could've been set on auto-pilot and the same film would have resulted. A Raisin in the Sun feels like a play slapped onto film one night, there's no special effort for film invested in either the direction, sets or general production. Sidney Poitier stars as Walter Younger, a man who, along with his wife and young son, live a day-to-day existence in a cramped apartment along with Walter's sister (Diana Sands) and mother (Claudia McNeil). Walter is a chauffeur who dreams of starting his own business. After his father dies, his mother comes into an insurance settlement of ten thousand dollars, and Walter has big plans for that money. Those plans are most often thwarted by his sister Beneatha, who's attending school with the intention of becoming a doctor, and sees the money as a ticket to medical school. The wife and mother seem to be two of a kind, as they serve as mediators in the family scuffles. The wife seems to have nothing but patience for a man who continually dismisses her as nothing more than a nuisance in his life. In fact, Poitier's Walter is quite the disgusting character, a slightly less warped version of A Streetcar Named Desire's Stanley. Sister Beneatha is no less reprehensible, and I'm hard-pressed to think up (off the top of my head, anyway) a more self-righteously self-obsessed character in the world of film. The only truly sympathetic (and realistic) character in the film is Mama. She's an earthy, good-souled woman who can't understand what went wrong with her children, that they should lack so much empathy for their own family members. The matriarch of the family feels authentic, the rest of the characters are just that: characters (to be fair, alot of plays don't ring true to my ears, sometimes the dialogue given to actors seems grandiose, as if the writer were imagining shakespearean drama rather than their own work). But what of the central theme of the play/film? What moral or platitude does the writer seek to imbue upon the viewer? There doesn't seem to be one in this film, other than the tacked-on side plot involving racism. The story/play/film of A Raisin in the Sun may have inspired a whole host of 1970s television (Good Times, The Jeffersons, etc.), but doesn't really elevate itself beyond a standard episode of such sitcoms. It's thoroughly watchable yet unfortunately forgettable.

It's a Wonderful World
½

I can't seem to dislike Jimmy Stewart in anything. From Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Destry Rides Again, and everything that comes after and inbetween, he's always struck me as consumate movie "star". In "It's A Wonderful World", his character is supposed to be a hard-nosed P.I., but that natural charm he displays in so many of his movies is never hidden. On the run from police for aiding and abetting a fugitive (his client), he's out to save a man from the electric chair when he runs into a snag in the form of the obstinate, obnoxious and rather ditzy poetess Edwina Corday (Claudette Colbert). When she discovers he's not a wanted murderer but rather a man on a crusade for justice, she becomes his unabated supporter and constant (undesired) companion. Colbert is just so daffy in this movie, it's hard not to see Stewart's point-of-view (even when he slugs her one, shockingly knocking her out). People who look at Stewart's moral failings in this film as a flaw are looking too closely. It's really hard to take such a film so seriously, when everything is played for laughs. In the eternal struggle between man and woman, masculine and feminine, It's A Wonderful World demonstrates our differences most wonderfully. Let's face it, there's always been comedy to be found in those differences. It's highly reminiscent of the kind of interactions with women Indiana Jones would have: that they're usually more of a nuisance or bother than anything else (worth mentioning).

The Ox-Bow Incident

Henry Fonda, with his roles in The Grapes of Wrath, 12 Angry Men and The Ox Bow Incident, has a tendency to take on roles of the morally just, or at least the role of the "everyman". He always provides the audience with the movie's moral point-of-view. In The Ox-Bow Incident, he, like we, is just an observer. And yet, it's implied that he (like we) is perhaps guilty of standing by and observing when he should have been acting. To be fair, Fonda does all that's morally expected of him, all that would exempt him from guilt of the crime that is committed, but he never ventures into the realm of heroics (when watching a man drown, it's more heroic to throw yourself into harm's way rather than toss a life preserver and hope the victim saves himself). The setting is the old west, where two strangers (Fonda and Harry Morgan) venture into town just as trouble begins to stir. A rancher has been murdered, and a posse is quickly rounded up to find the killer and enact frontier justice. Some ride out with the posse only to ty and get the suspects back to town for a fair trial, while others go only to see a lynching, the two stranger ride along so as not to implicate themselves in the crime. When three suspects are found with circumstantial evidence, there seems little hope they'll see the sunrise, despite the best efforts of the town's few honest men. Leading the charge to vengeance is the retired "Major" Tetley, a former confederate soldier who seems to thrive on authority and the respect his uniform and rank bring him. He's determined to make a man out of his effeminate son Gerald, whom he accuses of being "womanly". This leads to the implication (however subtle) that the Major believes his son is homosexual (whether the character is intended to be or not, remains to be seen), much to his unending shame. His motivation for seeing the accused men hang seems less justice and more "toughening up" his son. The three suspects in question could not appear to be more innocent. One is a family man and cattle rancher, righteously indignant at mentality of the mob which stands before him, another is a feeble-minded old man, brought along out of the kindness of his compatriots, while the third is a highly intellectual mexican gambler (Anthony Quinn) who feigns incomphrehension when questioned (if anything, his guilt is pre-determined by the mob's racist opinions). The question isn't of guilt or innocence, but what one does in the face of injustice. As a morality play, it's one of the best, in that it implicates the viewer just by the act of viewing. It's a great challenge to let the movie go afterwards.

Wuthering Heights
½

Wuthering Heights is the 1939 adaptation of the Emily Bronte novel by the same name. A lost stranger comes to the broken down estate of Wuthering Heights, lost in the moors. He's put up by the hostile Heathcliff, and during the night sees a ghost. He's then told the tale of the ghost, and how it came to be. Olivier's Heathcliff is filled with nothing but impotent rage as he lashes out at the upper class which he oh-so-briefly had a taste of. His beloved Cathy isn't interested in becoming a stable boy's wife, even if she does love Heathcliff. It's a story that starts off with the promise of romance but ends on a bitterly cynical note. I get the feeling the film doesn't do justice to the novel (even having never read the novel), with it's somewhat shallow performances and a lack of exposition or character development. I was surprised to learn the role of Heathcliff was performed by the venerable Sir Laurence Olivier, it was a performance that seemingly could've been done by any reasonably handsome actor of his day. The "film" aspect of the film however, is outstanding: lighting, sets, costumes, and direction are all top notch (and I really hate to mislead, the performances are great for their day), but it's the original material that makes this film so worthwhile, rather than any contributions the filmmakers make.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
½

Congratulations, you've read a book.

People who read books often take a certain amount of intellectual pride in this accomplishment. It's not as if they wrote the book themselves (which actually would be an accomplishment) but they slogged away for many hours/days/weeks forcing words into their brains and scraping some dull understanding from the sentences so constructed. They then proceed to bore their friends with the details of the book and how they read it, as if no one's ever read a book before (everyone's read one at some point in their lives), until they move onto some other fascination. If, heaven forbid, a movie is adapted from the book, this will spark re-newed interest and endless debate as to how much of the book has been faithfully represented in the new film adaptation and whether or not the new film maintains the book's original integrity. This is all well and good for works of adult literature, but there might be no intellectual pursuit lower than the endless debate over which "details" are left out of silly kid's books such as the Harry Potter or Twilight series. I'm sure this phenomenon has gone on before, I can remember Stephen King film adaptations sparking such debate, but it's beginning to get a little ridiculous. In response to fan demand, the Harry Potter films have become so slavish to the books that the little details are stripping any sort of life from what we see on the screen. It serves only as a checklist to mark off each event as it transpires. There's no fun to be had in this type of film-going, in fact, it defeats the whole purpose of a film to begin with.

And so we have Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (yeesh, what a title), a film based on a series of kids books about a boy who discovers he's the son of a greek god. Someone has stolen Zeus' lightning bolt, and accuses Poseidon's son, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) of the crime. He has only two weeks to prove his innocence, and then it's war between the gods. On his way to "halfblood camp", Percy's mom is kidnapped by Hades, who also demands the lightning bolt be given to him. Percy, along with the help of a satyr (Brandon T. Jackson) and the daughter of Athena (Alexandra Daddario), another demi-god (it's amazing how many children these greek gods are having with mortals, apparently dozens and dozens), Percy travels to the underworld to rescue his mother. Along the way, there are several, special effect-laden encounters with supernatural creatures of ancient myth and the film cleverly interweaves greek mythology with modern locations.

Percy Jackson is a surprisingly good film, having more in common with movies like "Sky High" than Harry Potter. Chris Columbus shows us why he's in hollywood getting paid the big bucks, the pacing keeps the action moving. The way modern life is integrated with greek mythology is often campy and fun, and the whole thing as an air of an updated version of "Clash of the Titans" (also scheduled for an upcoming re-make). It's the type of movie that, were I (still) a kid, I'd go completely nuts over. It's a film that doesn't belong of this era of bloated 3-hour, joyless book adaptations, it belongs in the 70s or 80s, the last time movies were made to be fun. To all those who've read the book and complain that it fails to follow it's structure strictly, I say sit back, relax, and enjoy a movie.

A Serious Man

The Coen brothers followed up their 2007 academy award winning "No Country For Old Men" with "Burn After Reading", a film considered a disappointment by many. The main complaint about that film was the harsh, cynical attitude and lack of sympathetic characters. It was a black comedy where the Coens unmercifully heaped abuse on their characters. A Serious Man continues the Coens' current film-making trend, giving us one of their darkest comedies yet.

The film takes place in 1967, and centers around a jewish family as their youngest child prepares for his bar mitzvah. Larry Gopnik, the father (played by Micheal Stuhlbarg) is a professor of physics, presumably at some midwestern university. He's up for tenure but is being pestered by a south korean student who doesn't like his grade. His wife wants to leave him for another man, and his brother, who lives with him, is constantly draining his cyst in the bathroom. Things start to pile on poor Larry: the neighbor who tries to take over a small portion of his property line, a columbia record club membership that he never bought, and his wife's increasingly hostile demands. They say the film is based on the story of Job, and how God tested his faith by unjustly mistreating him. Larry's lot in life seems to be misery, but perhaps it's in his heritage, as the opening sequence alludes to.

This might be a slightly auto-biographical film by the Coens (their parents were also physicists), as the film is so richly steeped with jewish culture and tradition and in such a specific time and place. When films are made with such energy and verve, it's hard to call them cynical and in fact, A Serious Man doesn't leave me with any negative feeling. The moral that we should accept what fate deals us leaves me feeling strangely uplifted. As A Serious Man is along the lines of Burn After Reading, I think fans of one will certainly enjoy the other (whereas those who hate one, will most likely hate the other). In my opinion, when great filmmakers tell even small stories, they can't help but end up making great films, and this is no exception.

500 Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer is very cute, very precious, and is a little reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of A Spotless Mind (only with more indie music), and if you're into that sort of thing, this will be your cup of tea. When I say "more indie music" I mean just that, as you'll never have to go more than a few seconds without hearing a precious indie song. The title of the film refers to 500 days "Tom Hansen" (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spends in a relationship with Summer (Zooey Deschanel), although the days are shown in no particular order. Tom works at a greeting card company (ala Steve Martin's character in "The Lonely Guy"- in fact, some of the same gags from the previous movie are used regarding this occupation) where Summer comes to work. When he finds out she's into the Smiths too, he falls hopelessly in love with her. She's not quite as into him, though and it takes some time for her to warm up to the idea of a relationship with him. Even though she let's him know she just wants to be friends right from the beginning, eventually their relationship becomes strained as they both have different ideas of where they're heading. There are a few non-standard bright spots in the first half of the film, most noteably the "dance scene" in the park, but it stays in pretty familiar rom/com territory most of the time. It's only at the end that I think something more profound is revealed and challenges the viewer to think. What exactly is destiny? It's something almost all films in the rom/com genre are built around, but it's never been as explored as it is here. The randomness of meeting someone in a supermarket for example, and then deciding somewhat later to spend the rest of your life with that person seems so arbitrary, and yet that's how the thing typically goes. Out of the thousands of people one meets in a lifetime, what little chemical exchanges go into deciding "I love X, but not Y or Z"? Summer could've just as easily married Tom Hansen as any other man, he was her best friend and they got along sexually and in every other aspect. She winds up marrying a guy whom she fell in love with because they were both "reading Dorian Gray" at the same time. I'm pretty sure I'd break up with any woman who told me she knew I was "the one" when she saw me reading The Picture of Dorian Gray. It's an irrational concept, but when is life ever logical? The film tears the notion of soulmates apart while at the same time trying to justify the concept (as well as random attraction). The film itself is a weird mix of higher concepts and standard schlock. It all depends on if you're willing to take the bad with the good.

Ninotchka
Ninotchka(1939)

Greta Garbo stars in the title role in this pre-cold war look at the Soviet Union. When three emissaries come to Paris to sell the royal jewelry confiscated during the revolution, Leon (Melvyn Douglas), representing the Duchess, attempts to reclaim the jewels in her name. The no-nonsense Ninotchka, a high-ranking official, is sent to straighten out the mess and get money for the jewels which her country so desperately needs. But things go awry when she meets Leon by accident (the two don't know each other yet) while sight-seeing, and they fall in love at first sight. Ninotchka has two distinct parts to it: one is a conventional love story, the other is probably the most unique portrayal of Soviet-western relations in the history of cinema. It's one of the rare instances of the Soviet Union (Stalin's Soviet Union, no less) not being villainized but rather viewed from a realistic, humanist point of view. Don't get me wrong, it's not glorified either, the Soviet Union is portrayed as a desperate, secretive place, but it's the people are good and noble. The aristocracy is the real villain in the film, being petty and bourgeois and treating those not of noble birth as inferior. On the other hand, the other part is a fairly low caliber love story that in modern times would star Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. There's something very "Miss Congeniality" about the whole thing. The idea that this film is billed as a comedy is also highly questionable, as there's nothing all that funny to be found in it. Melvyn Douglas is a cardboard character who's role could've been filled by virtually any other actor of his day and it would've had nil effect on the film. Garbo's performance however, was quite good in what would be one of her last roles. All in all, a mixed bag of a film.

How Green Was My Valley

It's a rare quality in film to be able to look back at the safety of youth and remember long dead family members in their healthiest days, but director John Ford does the near impossible thing of inspiring nostalgia for the good old days we never lived. Roddy McDowall stars as Huw Morgan, the youngest son in a big family of welsh coal miners. With the same rose-colored glasses all older people view their youth, the adult Huw recalls his childhood in idealized fashion, where family members don't fight and the men come home from work with a song on their lips. In a little picturesque coal mining town in Wales, the turn-of-the-century family all live and work together- a household of 9 (6 boys and 1 daughter) where all the men work in the mine and turn their weekly wages into the family pot. All except young Huw, who's much younger than the rest. Things all start to go downhill for the family when the miner's wages are cut and the workers decide to go on strike. The american minister (Walter Pidgeon- at least I think he's supposed to be american, as he doesn't attempt any sort of accent) is a gentle and duty-bound man who tries to keep his feelings for the Morgans daughter (Maureen O'Hara) in check. The trials and tribulations of this family at times remind me of a welsh version of "A Tree Grow in Brooklyn", only shot better. Seriously, the sets and photography are just beautiful. It's easy to see why it won the academy award that year (even beating out the greatest movie of all time, Citizen Kane).

The Cameraman

Buster Keaton plays a street photographer who sees the girl of his dreams. He later tracks her down, finding out she works as a secretary in the newsreel department at M.G.M., and trades his tintype camera in for a cheap, 2nd hand movie camera. He tries desperately to get a job in the newsreel department and of course, impress her, but his every happless attempt seems to fail. There are many great, memorable scenes in this film, most notably the date the two have. Keaton's knack for physical humor has been reeled in a bit, but there are some scenes that are still quite funny. Overall, it's a subtle, sweet romantic comedy starring one of the greatest of all time.

Lilies of the Field

Sidney Poitier won an Oscar for his role in this story of the unusual collaboration between a group of german nuns and a traveling construction worker. He plays the unusually named character "Homer Smith" (or as the mother superior called him, 'SCHMIDT!!'), a who's man driving across the south-western United States looking for work when he stumbles upon a small farm that turns out to be a rural convent. When Mother Maria (Lilia Skala) gets ahold of "Schmidt", she convinces him to repair the roof, and leads him to believe he will be paid for his service. She also tells him he has been sent by God to help them, so Schmidt should know what he's gotten himself in for. After a few days of general helping out, Mother Maria lets Schmidt know the real reason she wants him there: she wants him to build a church for them. Homer at first refuses, but soon caves in as he feels something for the women, and a white man's suggestion that he's too inferior to do such a thing lights a fire in him. He takes a job driving a bulldozer in order to make money for food (their spartan, 'one egg an a glass of milk' catholic breakfasts aren't enough to feed a man doing all this work), and soon, with the help of the community, is building the church just as Mother Maria believed he would all along. This film is quite unusual for it's time, in that a black man is playing a role that could've just as easily gone to a white man (apart from a brief scene involving racism, which could've been easily re-written), and race doesn't really play a part in this movie. In fact, this film probably focuses less on race than many of the modern films of today would, given the same subject matter. The nuns, other than Mother Maria, are virtually indistinguishable, (perhaps because they only speak in german) and are underdeveloped as characters. Mother Maria herself is quite a character though, she refuses to give any thanks or credit to Homer for all the work he does (and the fact that she's he one in need and doesn't have a cent to pay him with, makes her arrogance all the more inconsiderate). The fact that the character is being played by a black actor gives the whole relationship an uncomfortable aspect. Poitier does give it his charming all, and a few scenes are especially memorable, such as when Homer teaches english to the nuns. Overall however, this film is incredibly lightweight and in constant danger of running out of developments interesting enough to keep it going. A pleasant diversion, none-the-less.

A Streetcar Named Desire

There actually is a streetcar named "Desire" in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois takes it to her sister's home on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans. It's like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story, Blanche tells her sister Stella of her and her husband's home. Blanche first sees Stella's husband Stanley as he's starting a fight in a bowling alley. Blanche tells her sister she's on a temporary leave of absence from her teaching position as she's had something of a nervous breakdown. Blanche has come to stay for an indeterminate amount of time to rest, but after seeing Stanley for the first time, she must realize she'll get very little peace. Stanley at first is merely put off by Blanche's sophisticated ways, seeing her as just another phony woman, but upon finding out she's lost the family estate, he begins to suspect her of devious deceit or worse, cheating him out of his share of some money. Stanley is a brutal, angry man who only deals with things by force, whereas Blanche and Stella are the exact opposite, yielding to bellowing like branches in the wind (and obviously, this forcefulness of Stanley's, this opposition to her customary life, is exactly what attracted Stella to him in the first place). But it can't be just the clash of social backgrounds that so drives Stanley to persecute Blanche (as he married a woman of the exact same background), there seems more to it. He clearly doesn't like the fact that she feels herself superior to him due to her higher education, but maybe more than that, he hates weakness in people. Most of all, Stanley has zero empathy for anyone; he'll never know what Blanche suffered, nor will he ever care. His all consuming passion seems to be himself, whereas Blanche just seems to be trying to survive as best she can. Playwright Tennessee Williams ("Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") has a knack for capturing the ugliness of humanity and this film is no exception. Honestly, there aren't too many redeeming characters in this film and the overall vision presented is that humans aren't much better than animals. Director Elia Kazan would work with Marlon Brando and Karl Malden again a few years later with "On The Waterfront", a film about one man standing up against corruption for what he felt was right. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Brando's character again stands up against corruption, but the motives seem far less noble. Good, bad or indifferent, Brando's early roles all seem to have a similar note to them. Like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Brando's Stanley might be his greatest role. It's also quite something to watch Vivien Leigh's performance, as Blanche is slowly stripped of everything, including even the chance to dream, we watch her fragile shell crack and then shatter.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Director Elia Kazan gives us his adaptation of the Betty Smith novel about a young girl coming-of-age in 1900s Brooklyn. Living with an alcoholic father and a workaholic mother, she and her tough little brother try to survive the rough times in their little apartment home. The father is a singing waiter and dreams of one day making it big in show business. To his daughter, he's larger-than-life character, a charming prince or movie star. The mother is more pragmatic or cynical, or maybe just tired of the hard life, and finds his antics less amusing. The daughter is naturally inquisitive, she attempts to read every book in the library in alphabetical order. It's only natural she's extraordinarily bored at the substandard and overcrowded school she attends. She wants nothing more than to attend the school where the children of higher incomed families go. The father makes it the one wish of hers he can fullfill and somehow manages to get her in. She means to rise above her status in life and make something great of herself. She wants to be a writer. The teacher at her new school encourages her, but warns her not to be a pipe-dreamer, as "they never do anyone any good" (ironically, her father is one of the biggest pipe-dreamers ever, and she fails to see this). The little girl is like a tree growing in Brooklyn, a thing of radiant beauty pushing it's way up through the sidewalk. Where so many darkened minds exist in illiteracy and poverty, she intends to grow up with her imagination intact and in pursuit of the intellectual, despite her surroundings. But when her surroundings are a family as loving and supportive as hers, she almost can't help but succeed. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a wonderfully expressed film, full of the sorrow and joy of timeless adolescence.

Red Beard
Red Beard(1965)

Akira Kurosawa's three-hour masterpiece follows young doctor Noboru Yasumoto as he is sent to work at a public health facility. He had been trained overseas and was expecting to be the private doctor of the shogun, and so he's unpleasantly surprised when he finds out what his new assignment is. The doctor who he's replacing seems especially cynical: "These people would be better off dead" he says of the empoverished patients. Not only is he cynical when it comes to the patients, he's also cynical of the hospital's overseer, "Red Beard" (Toshiro Mifune). The older doctor paints horror stories for the new young doctor of their boss with the red beard, and Yasumoto tries to get thrown out of his position by rebelling against the hardened Red Beard. Much like the film, Captains Courageous, Yasumoto soon learns his boss isn't really a monster, but a great and kind (if gruff) man, as he's shown how to truly help his fellow man. Red Beard unfolds like a great novel, it takes it's time in giving nuance and depth to the stories of the patients the doctors help. I was wondering how they'd work in a fight scene for Toshiro Mifune, what with him being a respectable doctor and all, but they somehow managed it. Mifune is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of all time (note, I didnt' quantify it by saing "greatest Japanese actor", his appeal extends beyond national boundaries), and yet here he's probably playing one of his lesser roles (despite being the title character). It's a terrific ensemble cast. Kurosawa directs with his usual flair, but here there are some unique touches that really jump out at the viewer. Most noteably the strange lighting effect used in the scene with the little girl who's rescued from the brothel, as she's recouperating in bed. The way only her eyes are lit creates an eerie, creepy effect. Red Beard is a touching, poignant, comedy, drama, tear-jerker that runs the gamut of emotions. One of the best films ever.

Roman Holiday

Nowadays, when someone says "romantic comedy", names like Jennifer Lopez or Sandra Bullock pop into one's head, but most of these actresses owe a huge debt to Audrey Hepburn, whose radiant beauty and innocent charm led her to win the oscar. The story by Dalton Trumbo (who also won an oscar), is of a young princess who one day tires of her life of duty to her crown and runs away for a daylong holiday in Rome. Gregory Peck stars as an American journalist who looks to take advantage of the situation when the princess winds up in his life. When the two wind up falling in love, it's a little bit of a surprise, and the bittersweet ending has a touch of the european cinema about it. While the story might not be revolutionary, it is well told, and the relationship between the characters is very sweet. And funny, too. So many romantic comedies today fail in the humor department, but Roman Holiday is still actually pretty funny without talking down to the audience. Films like this live or die by the likeability of their leading actors. With Audrey Hepburn, they could've slapped just about anything up on the screen. It's just all the more wonderful that such a good movie goes along with the great performers.

Crazy Love
Crazy Love(2007)

Crazy Love is a documentary that recounts the story of Linda Riss and her psychotic stalker, Burt Pugach. In the late 1950s, Burt was a wealthy lawyer with his own private jet, and an egotistical personality (he was deeply insecure about his nerdish appearance, and used sex as a means of boosting his self-worth). When he met the young and beautiful Linda, he became obsessed, insisting to his friends that he "had to have her" (note the possessive quality of his desire, rather than having to "meet her" he had to "have her" or own her). But Burt was a married man, and when Linda found out, she wanted nothing more to do with him. She moved on and got engaged to someone else. Burt was enraged. At first, he was going to shoot them both, but got cold feet. Then, he hired some goons to throw acid in her face, so that "no man would ever want her". This, unfortunately, succeeded, and Linda wound up being blinded (at first partially, and then later, fully). Burt was sent to prison, where he used his attorney skills to get several murderers and rapists out of jail on technicalities (by his own admission) before his eventual parole. Once out of jail (actually while he was still in jail as well), he continued to pursue Linda, and Linda, feeling that no one would ever love her with her disability, decided to be with Burt afterall. They remain married to this day. What's so horrific about this story is not that Linda wound up marrying her attacker/stalker, the real horror is simply listening to the man himself. Burt Pugach and his friends consider women as objects to possess, but human life in general is of little value to them. He's one of the worst real-life villains in cinema history, and the fact that people are willing to dismiss this story or in some way diminish his accountability just makes his vileness all the worse. There's a sense the filmmakers tried to edit this film in a way to give Burt some plausible sympathy, and I can't think of a more wrong-headed direction for them to go. Regardless of whether Linda Pugach forgave her attacker and made him her husband or married him just as some sort of personal revenge, I can't get past the fact that Burt is the lowest form of scum; I just wanted someone to shoot him in the back of the head, as people like him don't deserve to live. My personal feelings aside, the documentary itself (and the sad subject matter) is captivating.

Ace in the Hole (The Big Carnival)
½

Written and directed by Billy Wilder ("Sunset Blvd"), "Ace in the Hole" tells the story of a big city newspaper reporter (Kirk Douglas) who, by fortune's chance is trapped at a small town newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He bides his time, waiting for a big story to break that will push him back to the top of journalist's world, and garner him the pulitzer. He thinks his big chance has come when he stumbles upon a man who was trapped in a cave-in while looking for indian artifacts. Slowly, things get out of hand for the reporter, as the story becomes his all-consuming obsession, he loses sight of his own humanity. Let's get one thing straight: Douglas' character is rotten, through and through. It's unclear whether or not Wilder intended him to be redeemed at the end, because as he sees the error of his ways he begins to lash out at everyone but himself. It's even suggested (in a speech Douglas delivers from a mountaintop) that maybe the reporter isn't as much to blame for his actions as we, the public who demand such stories, are. He even blackmails a sheriff and then turns around and holds himself as morally superior to that sheriff, accusing him of being corrupt. Ace in the Hole is just an odd morality tale in that none of the characters are all that moral. Everyone is out for themselves and everyone is out for a quick buck. It's an ugly, seedy movie that none the less is brilliantly written.

Tender Mercies

Robert Duvall delivers a great, oscar-winning performance in a film that is actually worthy of it (as opposed to "The Great Santini"). Hell, even the kid (Allen Hubbard) does a good job. Duvall plays an alcholic country singer who, after waking up in a desolate country farmhouse/gas station/motel, decides to stay on and help out the owner (who is a single mother) when he can't afford to pay off his bill. Obviously, the two fall in love and get married (their relationship is formed so quickly they're already married before the movie is ten minutes in), and she helps him sober up and straighten out his life. It's interesting to see how subdued or distant the wife (Tess Harper) is. One of the closing scenes, where Duvall's character has a breakdown, any other movie wife would run to him and hug and comfort him, but this woman (who appears in the corner of the screen), merely turns and walks away. For such a loving wife, it's rather strange behavior (in fact, it leads one to question whether she really loves him, or married him just because he provided a role model for her son). His ex-wife stands in stark contrast, she's driven purely by her music career and doesn't seem to care about anything else. She's a woman who seemingly has it all, but really has nothing, whereas he is someone who appears to have nothing but really has everything he could ever want. He doesn't covet his ex wife's success. Their daughter (Ellen Barkin) is kept from him until at 18, she decides to look him up for herself. It's such a slow-moving, simple tale and yet it feels realistic, like it could've been made-for-television by Robert Altman. Duvall is convincing as a country music singer, and does a good job performing the songs in the movie. Tender Mercies would make a nice contrasting companion piece for Altman's "Nashville", if someone were in the mood for country & western, slice-of-life.

Dark Passage
Dark Passage(1947)
½

In "Dark Passage", a man (Bogart) wrongly convicted of killing his wife escapes from prison and is picked up by a sympathetic painter (Becall) who also happens to be wealthy. She takes him back to her place and hides him from the law as he tries to come up with a plan to bring the real killer to justice. While Bogart might be the star of the film, his face isn't even shown in the first 2/3rds of the movie (they kept his face hidden in order to make use of a face-transformation, plastic surgery operation plotline). The plot and ending are similar to "The Shawshank Redemption". Some of the conveniences that take place that they ask us to swallow are just a little bit too much, especially when Bogart finally tracks down the real killer. It's a silly, lurid and pulp-ey type of movie that, taken in good fun, is very watchable and enjoyable.

The Enchanted Cottage

The Enchanted Cottage takes place in the foggy and ephemeral world of the 1940s hollywood movie. There is definitely a dreamy quality to the film (as though it were filmed through a cotton-covered lense). A homely maid comes to work at a honeymoon cottage that is said to be enchanted. She falls in love with the scarred air force pilot who had meant to use the cottage as his honeymoon suite before his marriage plans fell apart due to his post war depression. As the two fall in love, their physical deformities seem to disappear, and both of them begin to believe in the magic of the enchanted cottage. The film is so earnest and sincere it's tough to put it down for being a little hokey. No one can get over how ugly these two are, and yet there are people in the world (even in the 1940s) who've managed to get together even with the extreme handicap of slight homeliness. Maybe the premise is a little flawed, but it's the execution that matters.

Panic in Year Zero! (End of the World)

Did Ray Milland's B-movie epic "Panic in the Year Zero" serve as an inspiration for Cormic MaCarthy's "The Road"? I'm not sure. But I do know that just ten short years after starring in "Singin' in the Rain", the beautiful and talented Jean Hagen was reduced to playing Frankie Avalon's mother (and she was only 39 at the time- only in the movies could a 57-year old man be married to a 39-year old woman and have a 22-year old son together). A nice, California family wakes up at the crack of dawn, loads up the camping trailer, and heads out for a weekend fishing expedition. Some miles outside of Los Angeles, they hear sounds they hear sounds of thunder, but when they look back and see a mushroom cloud, they realize World War III has broken out. From then on, it's a race for survival as people become more desperate. Milland not only directs but stars as the Mad Max-ian survialist father, and Frankie Avalon plays a twerpy yet potentially homicidial teenager. The mother and daughter are almost reduced to decorative furniture (apart from an attempted rape scene) and really, the end of the world is no place for a lady anyway. It's at times a fairly dramatic and suspenseful movie and at others it delves down into the cheese, but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining none the less.

To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not is based on a story by Ernest Hemingway (it's said Hemingway considered it his worst) and features the big screen debut of Lauren Becall. It might be impossible for a film with names like Howard Hawks, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart involved in it to be terrible, but at the same time this film rarely rises above average. Bogart stars as captain Morgan, a seaman who rents his boat out for deep sea fishing expeditions for wealthy playboys. He bases his operations out of a french port in the Caribbean, which is controlled by the Vichy regime at the time (WWII). When members of the French resistance approach him about smuggling some people onto the island, he at first refuses, but soon is sucked into a conflict he has no interest in. At his side are alcholic pal, Eddie (Walter Brennan) and the sexy "slim" (Becall). While there are some great individual scenes, there's not alot of intrigue or suspense (or even romance for that matter) here, and Brennan's character, supposedly the comic relief, is just absolutely grating. Bogart and Becall are great as always, but I'm afraid the material is just too sparse, they just weren't given enough to work with.

Jules and Jim

There is a light and airy quality to Jules and Jim that masquerades the cynical nature of the film. The two title characters, one from Germany the other from France, become friends through an intellectual bond they share. One day, while watching some slides at a friend's house, they both become enraptured by the smile of an ancient pagan sculpture. When they meet Catherine, they see in her a quality similar to the statue's beauty. First Jules falls in love with, and then marries her. As WWI breaks out the two friends become separated, only to re-connect afterwards. When Jim comes to their villa in Rhine, he finds his friends married in name only. He also falls for Catherine, and Jules resolves to make the best of it, so long as he can still remain with both of them. But Catherine is a Queen, as Jules puts it. She must be adored and served, and never ignored. When she's wronged she takes great pains to "even the score" so that she can once again be on an even playing field with her lover. Jules and Jim are both romantics ever in pursuit of the ideal fantasy of love. When they finally capture it, it's not what they thought it'd be. Catherine is wild and carefree, and it's these qualities that attracts Jules and Jim, and it's these very qualities that Jim and Jules stifle when they (each) marry her and try to settle her down into domestic servitude. Stripped of her freedom, she settles for the only pleasure left to her that she finds in living, and that's the constant attention of others. Is it she who is the villain of this story, or is it Jules and Jim? The two men are users and objectifiers of women who don't necessarily see women as actual people, but rather things to own and collect. That Catherine is neither own-able or tameable is not a sin but a virtue in their eyes, and so everyone seems to get what they really want in the end.

Stray Dog (Nora inu)
½

Stray Dog is a classic, 1940s film noir involving buddy cops and featuring a giants baseball game. Also, it's a japanese film directed by the great Akira Kurosawa. A green homicide detective (Toshiro Mifune) gets his pistol stolen riding home on the bus one day and goes on a frantic search for the thieves. What makes him so frantic? A sense of guilt that his weapon maybe used in crimes? Against a backdrop of post-war, occupied Japan, Mifune's detective chases leads up and down the dusty streets of the blazing summer. The smothering, sweaty heat plays a central role in the film, as does latin music (evidently very popular in Japan at the time). With Detective Sato helping him, Mifune begins to learn how to get answers to his questions from the suspects he tracks down. When told to go down to the street and "look desperate" (to find a gun dealer), Mifune dons a soldier's uniform and makes his way through the black market. The black market scenes are visually interesting and creative, and were shot in a real black market neighborhood street. In fact, the black market scene shows Kurosawa to be just as good behind the camera as Hitchcock. While Stray Dogs was always intended to be a movie, Ryuzo Kikushima and Kurosawa wrote the first draft of the screenplay as a novel. This was apparently so they could get a better feel for the film. This may account for some of the slower scenes. In any event, it's a western-style detective story taking place in war torn Japan, so there's plenty here to take in.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)
½

When writing the screenplay for Avatar, James Cameron allegedly (from what I've read on the internet, and we all know how reliable that is) watched some of the biggest box office successes in history, taking notes on what they all had in common, and using their key elements in his script. If this is true, then Avatar has been scientifically created to be the highest grossing film in the history of hollywood. That being said, is it any wonder it's plot is so simplistic? The Na'vi are a race of aliens who have USB cables in their pony tails, which they can use to "plug into" the plant and animal life on their forest planet. This was the most creative aspect of the plot. A human comes to the forest to help those who are in the process of destroying it, until he's turned into a native and sees the world through their eyes. Oops, that's the plot to Ferngully. Avatar is a basic cowboys and indians story. The blue-skinned aliens are exotic and tribal, they are intensely enviromentally conscious, and their home (a giant thinking tree) occupies a piece of land the humans wish to own, because it contains unobtainium, the greatest and most valuable resource in the universe. The alien planet is exotic but so is the amazon rainforest, and the two are more similar than not. Really, it's not even a thinly veiled allegory, it's blunt like a sledge hammer bashing you over the head in 3D. But storylines and great performances are for movies without 300 million dollar budgets.

Avatar has some of the most spectacular visuals ever created for the big screen. There's an incredible amount of detail to seemingly every object in the film, from the wild-looking, 6-legged beasts to the illuminated plant life. And while the film divides itself between live action and cartoon, the action scenes are exciting. By hour two, I began to suffer special effects overload, and knowing the movie was going to take another hour to wrap up it's all-too-obvious conclusion left me feeling a little disheartened. But to put things in perspective, Avatar was just as entertaining as the Star Wars prequels (though perhaps not as intelligently written), and more concise at half the running time (3 hours versus the prequels 7 and a half). The fact that it was in 3D is just the icing on the cake. If history is any indicator, see Avatar while you can, because movies like this have a notoriously short lifespan (anyone up for a Jurassic Park film retrospective? I thought not).

Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago is a sprawling, three-and-a-half hour epic involving the lives of three lovers trapped in the Soviet Union around the time of the Russian revolution. I'm not sure whether the revolution is the backdrop of the love story, or the love story is the backdrop for the revolution, as both aspects are integral to the film. The movie begins with Doctor Zhivago's brother (Alec Guinness), a high ranking officer, is looking for his brother's long lost daughter. When he finds the girl he suspects of being his niece, he tells her the story of her parents, of how her father was both a poet and a doctor, and her mother was his muse. As he tells the story, one gets the sense of Dr. Zhivago the family man and physician, but never a sense of who he is as a person. It's obvious he cares for things, but not why he does. He marries the woman who is basically his adopted sister, and he seems to genuinely love her, but the relationship isn't defined beyond that. He supports the communist revolution, but only in it's vaguest terms. He seems to have no determination in his life, other than in the poetry he writes. That's the one thing that moves him above all else. His muse, Lara (Julie Christie) leads quite a different life. She's driven by passion, from her affair with the amoral and sadistic Komarovsky (Rod Steiger), to her engagement to the young idealist, who believes in black or white moral absolutes. Neither of them is quite what they claim they are. When the young idealist is struck down by the Czar's soldiers, he takes a more hardline stance. It's his story that provides a snapshot of the revolution, that maybe communism is motivated more by revenge than by justice. During WWI, Zhivago is shipped to the front to provide medical care, and it's here he meets Lara for the first time. Their parting after the war is uneventful and Zhivago returns home to his wife to find their home has been co-opted by the government, and they are now sharing it with several other families. Zhivago takes it all in stride, trying to be supportive of the new government, but he soon grows weary of watching his family starve and freeze to death. After he's nearly arrested for taking some old fence boards for firewood, the family heads off to the adopted father's country estate. They find the government has also taken that home, but not the servant's shack, and so they set up house in that instead. But really, there's no safe place in the new Soviet Union. As one leading party member tells a soldier, after the battles are over, it's the police who will maintain the government, not the soldiers, and thus begins the campaing to stamp out free thought. As I've said before, Doctor Zhivago is really two movies in one, the story of a man caught in a love triangle and the story of the Russian revolution. I think the revolution aspect works a little bit better, but both are well done. David Lean's directing style is reminiscent of 40s film noir, especially the way he lights the actors' eyes in certain scenes, but he also makes visual reference to other epics that have gone before, such as Gone With The Wind. Omar Shariff's performance is subtle, yet also intense. It seems like an incongruous combination, but he does all his acting with his eyes. I used the word "sprawling" before, and while it can apply to most "epics", it's especially true of this one. It's not as focused as Lean's other works ("Bridge on the River Kwai", "Lawrence of Arabia"), and I don't think it could have been. It's a film that was meant to be spread out and around. Even so, it's incredibly absorbing to watch.

Song of the Thin Man
½

A little bit better than the previous "The Thin Man Goes Home", "The Song of the Thin Man" centers around a group of jive-talking, hepcat jazz musicians (and thankfully, this time there's less of the dog). The focus is more on the storyline than the last movie, and with less of a focus on comedy, but it's still awfully convoluted. An alcoholic musician is given the sack by the bandleader who turns up dead shortly thereafter. Said bandleader also had a heavy gambling debt and believed his life was in danger from the loan sharks. Nick and Nora are brought in to solve the case, and the usual tom-foolery ensues. While the film has its share of decent gags (personally, I found the swing band very amusing), it's still along way distant from the original film.

The Thin Man Goes Home

The Thin Man Goes Home is the fifth Thin Man film and it's evident the series is running out of steam. There's a whole lot more slapstick and puppy comedy involving the dog, but the "mystery" involving a mysterious painting and of course, a couple of murders is just sort of background side story. I know the Thin Man series relies on the humor and chemistry generated by Loy and Powell, but there also have to be situations that are humorous too. Here, the situations are straining to be funny, but don't quite live up to the previous films. Some of the things the super-sleuth uncovers seem far-fetched, even for a Thin Man movie. Possibly the weakest of the Thin Man movies.

Elvis on Tour

Filmed just a two years after "Thats Just The Way It Is", the deterioration of Elvis' stage performance in "Elvis on Tour" is considerably evident. That's not to say he doesn't still have "it", but the documentary is padded with lots of non-related, old performance clips from his early days as well as plenty of footage demonstrating the hysteria of his fans. It documents a tour of the southern states which took place in the early 70s, and this time focuses on the fans just as much as the king himself. In such a short period, Elvis went from that slender, sleek Vegas debut to the onset of his "fat Elvis" years, and while he can still hit the highs and lows, and can still do the karate kicks, there's a considerable amount of offkey singing, out-of-breath singing, and sweaty, double-chin fumbling. He brings a lyric sheet out to sing "Hunka Burnin' Love", for example. The king who was once a god among men is revealed to be merely mortal. As Elvis neared his final years, his focus on gospel music seemed to intensify, and this shown extensively in the film. But even if his performing ability had deteriorated by then, it doesn't make this documentary any less fascinating. The mania of Elvis fandom was especially strong in the south, and it's amazing to watch the women (of all generations) following him everywhere he goes, from the hundreds waiting at a small airport, to the thousands who came, screaming just to have Elvis glance their way. The costumes and pageantry, it's all equally fascinating and crazy.

Ben X
Ben X(2007)

Like "Let The Right One In", "Ben X" is another foreign language film about bullies and escapism. Instead of a friendly vampire, Ben X's escape comes in the form of an online, multi-player fantasy game where he is a powerful warrior hero. In the game, he is befriended by a beautiful warrior princess who, somewhere out in cyberspace, has a real life female counterpart. But as great and powerful as he is in the video game world, he is the exact opposite in real life. He suffers from asperger's syndrome, a milder form of autism, and is picked on mercilessly by a couple of bullies (they call him the "mars boy", or martian boy). Because he is so helplessly socially ackward, there's a wall that separates him from the other teens in his school. He only sees the details, the bigger picture of life doesn't register. One day it comes to a head when the bullies put him up onto a desk and de-pants him as other kids in the class capture the video on their cell phones. To his horror, he gets home to find the video is circulating on the internet and being seen by thousands of people. Seeing life through the eyes of his video game character, he begins to think about revenge, and as his mother says, it seems like it won't end until someone dies. Ben X mixes a documentary-style feeling with video game graphics (a menu will sprout up when he's confronted with a choice in his daily life), but it's not the style so much as the substance that draws you in. The message that "bullying is bad" might be simplistic, but it deals openly and honestly with real emotions. It's like an intense, open wound being exposed right in the center of childhood. It's a mighty powerful film.

My Night at Maud's (Ma Nuit chez Maud)
½

"Pascal's Wager" suggests that if one must bet on the existence of God, it's better to err on the side that He does exist rather than He doesn't. If God exists and you don't believe in Him, you gain nothing and lose everything. If God doesn't exist and you believe in Him, you gain nothing and lose nothing. But, if God does exist, you gain everything and lose nothing. Pascal believed in hedging your bets towards the eternal afterlife. Pascal and christianity (catholicism in particular) are discussed heavily in "Ma nuit chez Maud" (My Night with Maud), but the application of Pascal's Wager in one's personal life is what the film's true purpose is. My Night at Maud's is one of director Eric Rohmer's "six moral tales" film series and centers around a 30-something man named Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis seems to live an unfulfilling life, sitting around his apartment, reading math books and attending church. At sunday mass, he sits uninspired, until a beautiful blonde sitting in the pew across from him catches his eye. She fails to notice him though, and after church service, he attempts to follow her home. He makes a pledge to himself that he will someday marry that girl. Meanwhile, he comes across Vidal, an old friend who he hasn't seen in 14 years (they meet in a restaurant that neither one frequents, and in an acute observation, the old friend tells him that since their daily paths never cross, they could only meet when diverging from them), and the two immediately strike up a conversation about Pascal. The atheist/communist Vidal seems fascinated by Jean-Louis' devote christianity, and (seemingly) unrelatedly invites him up to his friend Maud's house for a social visit. Maud is a divorced single mother who's both intellectual and openly honest. She (along with Vidal) bluntly direct the evening's conversation towards sex and it's compatibility with Jean-Louis' faith. Jean-Louis hedges his bets in love, just as he does with his faith. Rather than risk missing out on eternal reward, he lives a bland life, never engaging in anything extraneous, and rather than risk his dream of a perfect marriage, he turns his back on women who don't meet his strict guidelines. He is deeply fascinated by Maud, by her bluntness, her openness, her zest for life. But in the end, she's just a passing flirtation in his eyes, she's not catholic, she's divorced. He instead pursues the beautiful blonde from the church, the moral absolute. To him, the passion is mechanical, he woos her with the exact same words he uses on Maud the day before. The blonde reciprocates with equally mechanical romantic words. The tragedy by the end of the story is that, too late, Jean-Louis learns that all his vaunted standards don't matter very much, and love just can't be plotted out like a book. In the end he turns down the great adventure of love for the sure thing, and while he receives his great reward, it comes at the expense of knowledge in what he's lost out on.

Sherlock Holmes
½

Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes" has all the elements of a summer blockbuster: there's some explosions, a big computer-animated ship sinks, and there's a hair-raising fist fight atop a towering bridge, which is under construction, of course. There's definitely an "A League of Extraordinary Gentleman" vibe at work here. Or Antonio Banderas' "Zorro". On one hand, it tries to be creative, but on the other it's just a formulaic action buddy flick. Like in his previous films, Ritchie makes use of both slow motion and high speed film, but the impact is just so much "seen it all before". The buddy aspect between Downey jr. and Jude Law is straight from Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour. Honestly, there's nothing to the Holmes/Watson relationship that contributes anything at all to the "buddy film" canon, it's 100% completely recycled material. The movie begins with Sherlock Holmes and his male companion, Dr. Watson capturing a suspected serial killer and practicer of black magic, just as he's about to take a sixth victim. Holmes and Watson defeat all the killer's henchmen, Batman-and-Robin-style and the killer is sentenced to death (whatever happened to all those henchmen though?). While standing on the gallows, the condemned man says "death is just the beginning", and a few days later, those words prove fateful as he seemingly rises from the dead. Holmes and Watson then set about discovering the answers to the murder mystery, and how this man is still claiming victims from beyond the grave. Robert Downey jr., like George Clooney, sort of plays the same character in every movie, that being a version of himself. Some roles utilize this approach to great effect, some not as much. Downey jr.'s Sherlock Holmes is acutely self-aware, and I'm not sure if it's the actor portraying the character as an actor in his own life, or it's just a clumsy and ham-handed performance by the actor himself, letting too much of himself show through in the role. Either way, it's a little bit off-putting. For example, the scene in the restaurant where Mary throws the wine in Holmes' face, he proceeds to eat his meal in a very mannered and exaggerated fashion. In fact, it's a quirky, idiosyncratic manner that Downey jr has displayed in his career as far back as "Weird Science", and it confuses me a little as to where the Sherlock Holmes character begins and Robert Downey jr. the actor ends. Not that I'm knocking his performance, it's just I never lost sight of the actor on the screen, I was never immersed in his performance. There's a good action film here somewhere, but the pacing feels off and a great deal of the time the actors are spitting their dialogue at one another, rather than engaging in natural seeming conversation. On the other hand, this film is no better or worse than any other hollywood action film made in the last 15 years, and if you enjoy Victorian England action period pieces or are a fan of Robert Downey jr, you'll find much to enjoy here. As for myself, I grow extraordinarily weary of these blockbuster films that all feel exactly the same. Sherlock Holmes isn't a bad film, not even a badly made film, it's just a forgettable mediocrity.

Knowing
Knowing(2009)

One of the most absurd critiques one can level at a science fiction film is that it's implausible or illogical. Sure, it can be fun to argue whether or not one could travel back in time and kill one's own grandparents, but no one slams Back to the Future as a bad movie because "time travel isn't possible". Science Fiction by it's very nature is implausible. It tends to take a grain of science as its basis and then presents ideas that are outside the realm of possibility, or at the very least, ideas which have never happened in the real world. And yet, Sci-fi seems to be the nitpicker's paradise, as every junior astro physicist espouses the truthes about "string theory" when dismembering the mistakes made in the latest Star Trek movie. "Knowing" is a movie that falls into that strange area. Most of the critiques leveled at it are of the nitpicker's variety. "If someone had a piece of paper that predicted future disasters, they would never do this, or they would never do that". Quantifying peoples actions or reactions to unreal events is a waste of time, and a good way to ruin an enjoyable movie experience. That's not to say movies get a free pass in all circumstances: a poorly-made film will usually draw your attention to flaws in logic. But that's just it, "Knowing" is an expertly done, well-made film that is good, especially on a technical level. To hate this film, you have to go in pre-disposed to hating it. I'm going to give away as few spoilers as possible in this review, but let's just say, the first major special effects scene is one of the most spectacular I've seen in modern CG. And the fact that the entire scene unfolds in a single shot makes it all the more harrowing. Fifty years ago, a grade school class puts their drawings of the future into a time capsule. That is, except for young Lucinda, who writes down a series of numbers. Fifty years later, when the school opens the time capsule, it's the son of the MIT professor (Nicolas Cage) who winds up with the paper, and brings it home for further study. When the dad notices one sequence in the seemingly random numbers is 9/11/2001, he comes to believe that the page predicts every disaster in the last 50 years. But what do the very last numbers mean? And does prediction equal pre-determination, or something other supernatural phenomenon? Is the universe random or is everything pre-determined? If the universe was created by a higher power, and everything is already determined, (or in physics terms, all time occurs at once), then is there such a thing as "free will"? Proyas presents the universe as pre-determined, and then challenges the viewer to see that out to it's logical conclusions. Knowing is more than just a thriller or disaster picture, it's also a means of questioning notions that the viewer holds. If there is any fault in the movie, it's perhaps with the ending, which may seem a little bizarre to some, but hey, this IS science fiction after all, sometimes you just have to roll with the creator's vision.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

I wasn't expecting this one to be so great, and it wasn't. If you've seen Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, you know what to expect: Harold is the clean-cut asian kid trying to get ahead, and Kumar is the sloppy Indian kid trying to get through med school. Both of them seem to share of love of weed. This gets them into all sorts of wacky adventures including meeting famous celebrity Neal Patrick Harris (portrayed by Neil Patrick Harris). The story starts off with them getting on a plane to Amsterdam and blah blah blah, there's no point in describing the story because i'm not really sure there is one. Oh well, fine. They get busted as terrorists and sent to Guantanamo Bay by a bald homeland security officer who seems to be in every movie nowadays (rob Corddry), and escape from said Guantanamo Bay within the first 10 minutes of being there. They hop on a float with some Cubans and are back in the U.S. before anyone knows they're gone, and so now they're fugitives on the lam. The Bald homeland security officer seems to be the dumbest person on the planet, making incredibly offensive racial stereotypes all along the way. He offers some black guys grape soda if they'll give him a lead. He offers some jews a sack full of change (because jews love money) to rat on their friends. So of course someone so rascist is going to assume Kumar is a terrorist. There's alot of pot references (i believe president Bush is portrayed as a pothead), and a few laughs here and there (cockmeat sandwich). It's not a movie i can recommend, but if you happen to catch it on cable one night, it's something to watch, i suppose.

Georgy Girl
Georgy Girl(1966)
½

Georgy Girl is a surprisingly oddball 60s film, odd in that in the battle of the generation gap, it doesn't take sides... everyone is equally lousy. The baby-boomers are self-obsessed, narcissistic children who never take responsibility for their actions. The adult generation is also self-obsessed, though to a lesser extent. Georgy (Lynn Redgrave) is the conscience of the movie, the one good person in the sea of cynicism. Her father is a butler for a millionaire (James Mason, reviving his creepy old guy role from "Lolita"), who though he is 49, is projecting some sort of love onto the younger Georgy. She's all too content to run away from him and his request that she be his "mistress" to spend time with her Meredith, her violinist roommate. Jos, Meredith's boyfriend, often stays in the house alone with Georgy (waiting for Meredith to come home from her many dates with other men), and the two strike up an interesting relationship. But soon, Meredith becomes pregnant and out of boredom decides to "keep this one" and get married to Jos. I still can't get over the fact that a movie made in the 60s would portray young people in such a negative light, Meredith is basically a monster and Jos is emotionally stunted (at one point declaring "i'm Peter Pan!", as if to spell it out for us completely). That Georgy associates with either of these people only attests to the low self-image she has. She feels herself to be ugly on the outside, but in reality it's her friends who are the ugly ones. It fairly brutally attacks the institution of marriage, none of the characters, save one, marries for love. It deals with other racy issues (especially for the 1960s) such as pre-marital sex and abortion, rather cavalierly (well, this was a british film). I also enjoyed the musical score, both the original pop song and the harpsichord incidental music. The movie attempts some light-hearted moments, but the humor is very 60s and very British, lots of alien words and people jumping around. But this isn't a movie I'd recommend on the basis of it's comedy. It's actually very hit-and-miss, some questionable performances and writing in spots make it occasionally seem like an afterschool special. The general apathetic tone of the movie makes it seem more nihilistic than happy-go-lucky, so like I said at the beginning, it's an oddball mixture to say the least.

Take the Money and Run
½

Take the Money and Run is a surrealist crime comedy that's little more than a loosely bound series of gags, and yet somehow the whole thing works. Woody Allen plays Virgil Starkwell, perhaps the world's worst criminal. He gets caught trying to rob a bank because the tellers can't read his hold-up note. He tries to pull another bank job with a gang, and a separate gang holds up the same bank at the very same time. Life is a series of hard knocks for Virgil, until one day when he's about to rob a beautiful girl, and decides to talk to her instead. The two soon become a couple and marry, and it's here the movie makes it's strongest point. The dialogue is at it's strongest and most realistic in the couple's exchanges, especially in the way she refuses to allow him to get away with lying. She knows him all too well, you see. The rest of the world are idiots, though. Unable to recognize even the lamest of schemes, everyone from cops and judges on down to the everyday people are all at the mercy of slightly-above-average-intelligence Virgil, and yet he always manages to do himself in due to his extreme ineptitude. In a movie that's just a series of gags, with the barest and loosest of plots, its fortunate that most of time it works.

Waltz with Bashir

The title "Waltz With Bashir" refers to a specific scene in the movie, where a soldier dances in the middle of the street to dodge gunfire, as he fires his machine gun at hidden snipers. Bashir is Bachir Gemayel, the commander of the Lebanese forces who was assassinated just 3 weeks after being elected president. It was his assassination that led to the Sabra and Shatila massacre, where the Phalangist party to which Bashir belonged, went into Beirut's Palestinian refugee camps and murdered possibly thousands of people. The Israeli Defense Force, who had been aiding the Lebanese Forces, stood by and let the massacre happen, supposedly with full knowledge of it's taking place. The film "Waltz With Bashir" takes a look at these events through the eyes of a former Israeli soldier, who, now 30 years later, can't seem to recall the events of what took place. He can't seem to recall any of the details of his service in fact, and spends the movie attempting to piece together memories from the recollections of his comrade soldiers. What Persepolis did to show us Iran's cultural revolution from the 70s/80s, Waltz With Bashir does to show us Lebanon in the early 80s, with it's comic book style realistic style that allows you to sometimes forget you're watching a cartoon. What isn't so easy to forget is how closely Waltz With Bashir mirrors our own involvement with countries such as Iraq and Afganistan. Despite this though, there's not much universal appeal to this film, it's Israeli film that appeals primarily to Israelis. I certainly wouldn't call it a bad film, just not one meant for American audiences.

George Washington Slept Here
½

The pre-cursor to "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" is a little more humorous, due primarily to the the performances of Jack Benny and the offbeat supporting cast. The "wealthy" uncle, the bratty nephew, it seems the wife's inlaws all come to vex Benny, but their annoyances are minor compared to that of the actual house. Benny sometimes delivers his lines like he's still doing radio (rather than acting on the screen) and those lines don't always work either. Benny's not exactly known for his acting chops anyway. The plot might be a little weak as well, there's very little substance and it doesn't ever try to be more than light comedy (but then again, who cares). Much as I love Benny, I have to say he's not at his best here. Who is at his best is Percy Kilbride, the man who would one day become Pa Kettle. He has some of the best scenes in the movie. Although comedically superior to Mr. Blandings, it's not quite as good as Blandings.

La Dolce Vita
½

La dolce vita is a sprawling tale of the excess of the upper class of Rome, as seen through the eyes of a journalist in moral crisis. The film is constructed in such a way as to make ample use of symbolism. The film opens with a great shot of a Christ statue being brought to the pope via helicopter, with the paparazzi following in their own helicopter. The paparazzi stop to talk (in hand gestures) to some bikini-clad, sun bathing girls. Later, Marcello (one of the paparazzi) picks up a young socialite who's being hounded by photographers, and they speed off together in her car. They pick up a prostitute who takes them back to her place, but they wind up locking her out of the room and sleeping together without her. The socialite is also a prostitute, but not for money (as Marcello tells her "you have too much money", she answers "and you haven't enough"). Marcello arrives home in the morning to find his girlfriend has attempted suicide (again). Theirs is a love/hate relationship: Marcello can't stand her maternal clingy-ness and desperate longing for a conventional married life. He's more content to throw himself into the seedy celebrity world of adulation and cheap sexual favors. When a beautiful blonde american starlet (Anita Ekberg) comes to town, she has all the men falling over themselves in adoration, Marcello included. In one scene that seems more a dream sequence, he's chasing her up an impossibly tall staircase that winds itself up a tower. All the other men have dropped off, exhausted from the chase, but Marcello follows her all the way to the end. She's playful and childish, but she belongs to anohter man, and Marcello gets beaten up for his flirtations. There's another interesting scene involving two children who've had a vision of the virgin Mary. The press and the faithfully devoted all flock to the spot where the children had their vision, and while family members bring out their sick and dying for miracle cures, the children make a game of pretend. As the movie progresses, Marcello loses his safety nets and sanctuaries, both to fraud and death, and as this happens, he falls deeper into the well of debauchery. The wealthy socialites go from being merely crass and immoral, to being the virtual dead, or even worse, animals with no sense of right and wrong. By the end, Marcello all but loses whatever hold he had on his humanity, lashing out at some wide-eyed wannabe rube starlet, all but tarring and feathering her. The movie ends as it began, with a conversation being attempted with hand gestures, only this time the meaning is completely lost on Marcello. La dolce vita is a complex and expertly woven piece of storytelling, and one that may require more than on viewing to fully appreciate.

Chopper
Chopper(2001)
½

The Australian film Chopper is based on a series of novels written by Mark "Chopper" Read, chronicling his life of crime in a exaggerated and fictionalized manner. Chopper seems nigh invulnerable as he tromps his way through the world of organized crime, extorting money from drug lords and bumping off hitmen (all the while, being heralded as a national folk hero). As an action film, it's not quite as entertaining as similar films (Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), but this is due mainly to it's not having a plot (at least not a conventional one). The film seems to count on us finding Chopper as fascinating as Chopper finds himself, which is a tall order to ask of anyone. Nevertheless, it's amusing to see how far someone will go to gloriify themselves. According to Goodfellas, Henry Hill never killed nobody or did anything too untoward, Mark Read takes the opposite approach, painting himself as the ultimate badass (even if he does apologize to his victims, even driving one of them to the hospital after shooting him in the stomach). If Chopper is the weaker film, it's only because it seems lackadaisical in execution. The first half of the film, which focused around Chopper's prison experiences, was definitely the strongest, and perhaps the film would've been better had it stayed with that scenario just a bit longer. It's a dark comedy that drags in places, glorifying a man who perhaps doesn't deserve glorification, but damned if I wasn't entertained. Possibly Eric Bana's finest performance.

Salaam Bombay!
½

Salaam Bombay! is the story of homeless children living in the streets of Bombay, following one little boy's story in particular. Krishna (also referred to in the movie as Chaipau) starts the film off working in the circus, where his mother has sent him to pay off a debt of 500 rupees he incurred through criminal misbehavior. When the circus leaves without him, he buys a ticket to the nearest big city, and begins to save up the money to be able to return home. But it's very hard to save money while living on the street, when your friends are junkies and thieves. Chaipau also befriends a young girl who's been sold to the local brothel, and is having difficulty adjusting to her new life in forced prostitution. Baba the pimp (he reminds me a little of Harvey Keitel's pimp from Taxi Driver), who lets his own wife turn tricks, is also a drug dealer, and is responsible for getting Chaipau's friend hooked. The movie has an air of familiarity to it, drugs, prostitution, homelessness have all been covered before (in the aforementioned Taxi Driver, for example), and the central point of view is highly reminiscent of the earlier film, 400 Blows. It also lacks the beauty of film-making that went into the latter Slumdog Millionaire (although there were a few scenes of visual and visceral cleverness). However, if one were looking to watch a film about the impoverished life on the streets of India, this would be the one to watch. It will stay with you for awhile.

The Man Who Came to Dinner

When celebrity personality and generally unpleasant Sheridan Whiteside stops by to have dinner with a family of wealthy socialites and falls and hurts himself on their front steps, he winds up having to stay for far longer than just an evenings dinner and makes a great nuisance of himself. Mr. Whiteside's assistant (Bette Davis) winds up falling in love with the local newspaper reporter and the diabolical Whiteside tries to concoct a way to keep her in his employ. Based on the 1939 play by Kaufman and Hart, The Man Who Comes to Dinner is a biting look at the world of celebrity elitism, and is fairly relevant today. Monty Woolley plays Whiteside as a boss from hell, straight from The Devil Wears Prada, which I'm sure drew heavily from this film. Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan play against type, or that is they're playing each others roles, take your pick (Davis plays the sweet girl, Sheridan plays the tough broad). The appearance of Jimmy Durante is a bit of a surpise, contrasting the quick verbal exchanges earlier in the film for his schtick-loaded goofiness. Durante also takes the film in a hokey direction, plot-wise (Jimmy Durante is a very odd looking man that modern viewers might find off-putting). However, these are minor quibbles for a film that has nothing major going for it to begin with. It's not a terribly hilarious film, but it is amusing.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air, written and directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You for Smoking), is the story of a professional sacker, that is someone who fires people for a living. George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a "terminator" if you will, who flies around the country, getting hired by different companies to fire employees when said companies' executives lack the skills (ie: courage) to fire these employees themselves. Bingham's company also gives the terminated employee a nice little pep talk and a brochure explaining "everything they need to know". Needless to say, people in Bingham's line of work withstand a lot of abuse. One of the perks of Binghams' job however, is getting to travel all over the country (he's amassed nearly 10 million flyer miles). This perk is soon to be eliminated though, when a young upstart (Anna Kendrick, of the "Twilight" films) devises a means of doing his job over the internet, thereby eliminating the need for costly airline travel. Boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) sends Bingham off with the young girl in order for Bingham to show her the ropes of the company, and to put her new ideas in practice. It's obviously an ackward situation. Meanwhile, Bingham has met a fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga) who refers to herself as the female version of him. "Just think of me as you, with a vagina", she tells him. The two share an immediate bond, connecting over car rental stories and comparing flyer miles. Bingham finds himself falling in love, despite his personal philosophy of never having any baggage (he gives motivational speaker-type lectures on the subject of living life without roots or baggage). He even invites her to his sister's wedding, where he's finally forced to confront his desire to go through life alone. Up in the Air is an excellent Clooney vehicle (I have to assume it was written specifically with him in mind) and Clooney plays his typical cock-sure, arrogant, fast talking character up to it's usual quality. But the movie takes the time to dissect the ramifications of that character's life decisions and gives us something I would not consider a typical hollywood movie. Sure there are some familiar and conventional film trappings (the wedding of the sister seems to bring the film to a dead halt), but it's clear Reitman is going for something different here. The comedy is dark, many times we're asked to laugh at people losing their jobs, basically getting chuckles at people whose lives have been destroyed. It evokes some weird emotions. At the end, when Bingham hits the ten million mark and he should be at his most glorious moment, when the champagne starts flowing and the Captain (as played by Sam Elliott) appears nearly angellic in the light of the plane's window, we see Bingham come to a sort of peace with himself. Up In the Air is not so much a celebration as it is a cautionary tale. You can't run away from life or put it on hold. No matter where you go, there you are.

Shane
Shane(1953)
½

Beautiful, sprawling landscapes, evil villains (as played by Jack Palance) and of course the almost superhuman Shane are all factors that go into making this an above average western. Maybe we're seeing everything through the eyes of little joe, though, and Shane and his dad aren't really the supermen they appear to be, but merely are the interpretation of the wide-eyed child. Much like the wandering samauri of Kurosawa's films, Shane comes to the aid of the poor settlers, not expecting any reward other than that of justice served for a righteous cause. This is all a basic re-interpretation of the ancient greek myths, of a hero who through strength and cunning, defeats almost insurmountable odds. Ryker (Emile Meyer) isn't necessarily evil, he's just a cattleman looking after his own best interests, and is seeing his era coming to an end. In that way, Shane see much of himself in Ryker. It seems as though differences could be settled through talking, and yet it's destined to end in bloodshed. The question of whether Shane rides off in the end and lives to fight another day or dies soon after from his wounds is moot: he knows his kind are on their way out, and he's done one last good thing in payment for all the bad he (may have) done.
****1/2

Blood Simple
Blood Simple(1984)

Blood Simple is the tale of lies, deceit, and a lot of misunderstandings. A jealous boyfriend (Dan Hedaya, the guy with an almost impossibly ridiculous looking chin dimple) hires a (very odd) P.I. to trail his girlfriend and it turns out she's cheating on him with one of his employees. He's so crazed with jealousy, he's capable of anything, even murder. An early Coen brothers film that shows a filmmaking style still in development. A lot of key elements that would go into making a great film like, "No Country For Old Men" or The Big Lebowski are present, they just don't seem to totally coalesce as of yet. McDormand seems a little green in this, her first big screen role and Getz is a poor man's Nicolas Cage, lacking the depth to play off McDormand very convincingly early on in the film. Actually, I'm not sure if it's the actors or the screenplay that's at fault. The film does pick up quite a bit in the second half however, and the Coen magic does eventually come to life. By the time "Blood Simple" gets rolling to it's "hitchcock" conclusion, it winds up being a great little thriller. Plus, we get an amazing performances by M. Emmet Walsh as the psychotic private eye. It's odd that a film can have such a complete turn around, when the first ten minutes seem like a made-for-showtime tv movie and the last half is top quality Coen brothers entertainment, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. In this case, the good far outweighs the bad.

The 400 Blows (Les Quatre cents coups)

400 Blows is a claustrophobic look at childhood, where it always seems to be christmas time. Christmas is used as a metaphor for childhood (and what better metaphor than the innocent, childlike joy that represents that holiday), and yet the christmas as it appears in the movie is dingy and a little seedy. The first instance is simply a "merry christmas" message painted in a store window. Next, it's a seedy-looking santa walking by on the street, and finally in a run-down christmas tree at the juvenile prison camp. Jean-Pierre Leaud does a fine job of portraying the lost boy who always seems to be running away from something. He seems cold and distant towards the adults for most of the movie, that is until a revealing interview with a psychiatrist shows a boy who's inner turmoil is largely a product of his environment and the hypocrisy of adults. He's a boy looking for answers in the world and no one seems to have them. He commits crimes in escalating seriousness, until he's finally sent to a juvenile detention camp. There he meets similar boys, and we hear snippets of overheard conversation: "Whenever I'd cry, my father would play his violin, mimicking my crying. One day it drove me so crazy, I belted him one- If MY father would've done that to me, I'd have KILLED him!". Few movies capture the alienated youth quite as well (maybe for a modern example, you could point to the film, "Kids"). It all captures that wonderful, modern trend of trying to keep our children young and innocent for as long as we can. Movies like 400 Blows and Kids reveal that all of parents worst nitemares about adolescence are probably true, our children are individuals who will grow up good or bad, depending on how we let them grow.

Sanjuro (Tsubaki Sanjûrô)

Akira Kurosawa's sequel (of sorts) to Yojimbo finds the hero (Toshiro Mifune) once again coming to the aid of hapless ineffectuals. This time it's a clan of samurai who suspect there are traitors in their rank. The nine men on the side of justice are bungling greenhorns seemingly incapable of doing anything themselves. Sanjuro almost has to carry them through the movie like infants in his arms as they mess up one mission after the other. In fact, Sanjuro is basically a superman, and maybe a metaphor for God, especially when, in one scene they doubt Sanjuro's loyalty and it winds up being a costly mistake for them. But on a purely visceral level, the movie, like most Kurosawa films, is highly entertaining. The lady of the house, who doesn't care for violence and rough language is a comedic highlight, in contrast to Sanjuro's exasperation. Kurosawa is great at making well-rounded, entertaining movies with great characters and engaging storylines. Toshiro Mifune is the John Wayne of Samurai movies, only more a method actor than the Duke (he doesn't pull his punches or his sword slices). Check out the bonus documentary on the criterion collection disc. It's well worth it.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
½

A brilliantly written screenplay (based on the play by Tennessee Williams) is brought to life by its stars. The family of a dying southern millionaire (the great Burl Ives) plot and scheme to see who can get his money. The older brother, "Gooper" (Jack Carson) seems to have the inside track, he does everything right, he lives where "big daddy" wants him to live, he gets the job Big Daddy tells him to get, and he has kids like Big Daddy wants him to. And yet, it's the younger brother "Brick" (Paul Newman), the washed up football star-turned alcoholic who's the favorite. As the movie begins, we find Brick absolutely loathing his wife (Elizabeth Taylor). At first it's suggested it's because she's just as greedy as the rest of his family, but soon we learn there's more to it. Everyone in the family is crippled inside. In reality, it's not Big Daddy's money they want, it's his love (well maybe Sisterwoman wants the money). We too, get sucked inside this world of petty bickering and sycophantism, and forget the man who's dying, that is, until Brick finally breaks down and confronts him. What results is a scene of terrible poignancy as the dying man recalls memories of his own father dying, as he sits in his basement surrounded by tons of expensive things that were bought and stored away, never to be opened again. A movie that peels back the layers of cynicism and gets to the heart of people's humanity.

The Blind Side
½

The Blind Side is the real life story about the adversity a wealthy southern family must overcome when it's discovered they've taken a homeless black student who is extraordinarily good at football into their home. If you thought it was about a young teen who overcomes adversity to become a great football player, you'd be wrong, because the film is told entirely from the white family's perspective. Sandra Bullock plays the fiesty, gun-concealing mom who more than a little reminds one of Sarah Palin. She's married to one of the wealthiest men in the city and has two adorable children. They are all taken aback (though not entirely surprised) when one day mom stops the car and picks up "Big Mike" from the side of the road and takes him home with them. Under their care, Michael's grades come up and he's allowed to try out for the football team. He's not very good until mom tells him to "protect the quarterback like he's your mama", and he suddenly snaps into being the greatest football player ever. When Michael's G.P.A. isn't high enough for a scholarship, the family hires a tutor (Kathy Bates), who is a democrat (the dad remarks, "who'd have thought I'd have a black son before I'd meet a democrat?") and this is very shocking. Michael goes on to get his grades up, win the big game, attend college and become a professional athlete, but all this seems to take place through the grace of mom, not Michael. Like a stray puppy, he's brought into the home, fed and watered, and in return teaches the family the joys of life. At thanksgiving, rather than sitting around the tv watching football games, Michael is responsible for getting the family to sit at the dinner table and say grace. You don't need me to tell you how obvious this movie is or where it's going. You know that from the previews, or even the movie poster. You probably even already know whether you're going to like this film or not. Whether it's the feel good film of the holiday season or it's white guilt using black people as props in order to make themselves feel like good christians, is a matter of taste. It is aimed squarely at the conservative christian, "family values" demographic. Granted, there's nothing overtly political about it, but you'd have to be blind not to see where the director's heart lies. To review this film based soley on it's surface merit, I'd say it was a fairly entertaining, if predictable, fish-out-of-water comedy/drama. Sandra Bullock's performance is already generating oscar buzz amongst women who seem to identify heavily with it, and it's doing amazing business at the box office. Films like this seem to be review proof anyway. All I can tell you is I moderately enjoyed it.

The Princess and the Frog

Like most Disney animated films, the simplistic storyline will seem highly familiar, but it's not the plot differentiates Disney movies, it's the characters and settings. This new version of The Princess and the Frog story takes place in early 20th century New Orleans and features a predominantly African-American cast. Young Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) dreams of opening a restaurant (much as her father dreamed the same thing) and works two jobs in order to save the money needed to make that dream a reality. While working a costume party for some rich friends (Jennifer Cody, John Goodman) she's turned into a frog after kissing another frog who claimed he was a prince. The two journey across the swamp to find the voodoo priestess who will turn them back into humans before the evil witch doctor, Facilier (Keith David) can make good on his plot to trick the wealthy friends out of their money. They will meet some colorful animal friends along the way, sing some catchy songs, and eventually fall in love.

I'm a sucker for witch doctors, and the New Orleans setting was a welcome twist. The music, however, was not very memorable. It's only been a few hours since I watched this movie, and I can't recall a single melody or phrase, and that's not a good sign. There's nothing terribly revolutionary with The Princess and the Frog (not like what Pixar has been doing this decade), but it is entertaining and enjoyable. In all the ads for this movie, they're claiming "a return to form" for Disney. It may not be a classic, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Rashômon
Rashômon(1951)

Akira Kurosawa's story of a murder/rape is told by the victim, her husband's ghost and the criminal who committed the acts. Naturally, each one of the characters makes themself look valiant/noble while making the other two participants look dirty, cheap or evil, but the truth is a little less favorable to any of them. The crazed criminal knows he's going to hang, and yet his pride won't allow him to make himself look less than amazing. Even stranger, the ghost of the murder victim (as channeled by a medium) makes up a scenario where he is the most honorable (even in the afterlife, people continue to be vain). It's the woodcutter's version of the story that seems most truthful, though. Actually, all of the versions of the story are being told by the woodcutter, who's sitting in the rashomon with the priest and the traveller, giving the account of the recent trial and the crime which he witnessed. For all we know, he could be making the whole thing up. The story-telling is topnotch and the film moves along briskly. It's a well-crafted piece of cinematography and well-deserving of the accolades it receives.

Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas In Connecticut is a fairly enjoyable christmas movie from the 1940s that's so light it seems to be floating away at times. Barbara Sanwyck plays a columnist who writes a "Martha Stewart"-type magazine column all about the farm on which she lives with her husband and baby, and all the delicious meals she prepares for them. The only problem is, it's all a fabrication. When the nurse who's in love with the sailor calls in a favor with the man who's child she nursed back to health who just happens to be the publisher of the magazine for which Stanwyck writes, well, she's forced to live out the fantasy life she's been writing about in order to keep her job. The nurse you see, wants to show the sailor how wonderful domestic bliss can be, in order to get him to marry her, but from the moment the sailor walks into the borrowed farm house, he's only got one thing on his mind: Stanwyck. Sure, it's hokey, predictable, and the plot is really contrived (even for the 1940s), but there's something about this film that sneaks up on you and manages to charm despite it's flaws. Most likely it's Stanwyck and her co-stars, who all give great, fun performances. Maybe it's a little generous to call this one a "classic, it's more a 2nd-tier holiday film, but it's still worth a trip to Connecticut every once in awhile.

The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner is a sweet little story that later inspired "You've Got Mail" (but don't hold that against it). Jimmy Stewart plays his usual soft-spoken, stammering romantic lead (a sort of George Bailey) working as the head clerk in a leather goods shop. When Klara (Margaret Sullavan) walks into the store one day looking for a job, Stewart tries politely to discourage her, until the boss Mr. Matuschek (Frank Morgan) sees her natural sales ability and hires her on the spot. The two become gentle enemies from then on, constantly swiping at each other. Ironically, they're unknowingly in love with each other, as they've been corresponding as anonymous penpals. When Stewart goes to meet his secret love and discovers it's her, you can almost see the inner machinations of his mind working to come to terms with the problem of his true love being his arch enemy. It's a great scene, as Sullavan tries to give him the brush-off in the restaurant, not realizing it's him she's waiting for. The Shop Around the Corner could pass as a 1940s version of the television show, The Office. There's lots of inside jokes on the inner workings of retail and the family aspects of worklife. It's not necessarily a christmas movie (even though final half of the film takes place at christmas), but Christmas is as good a time as any to watch it. It's a feel-good romantic comedy with characters who aren't silly for the sake of being silly, as so many modern rom/coms are.

Singin' in the Rain

I'm not sure, but Singin' in the Rain might very well be the first case of pop culture nostalgia in hollywood (nostalgia generally nods to the generation directly proceeding, as opposed to the period piece, which can cover just about any time in history). I'd often thought it was the 70s that was the advent of the nostalgia craze (but then, what do I know?). The musical Grease (and Happy Days and Sha Na Na, for that matter) brought the 50s to the 70s. But it seems like every generation likes to remember what people were like back when they or their parents were kids. Singin' pays homage to the dawn of the "talkie" (and the end of the silent film era) with a jubilent celebration of song and dance. Everything about the film is top notch, from the production to the sets and costumes and choreography. If there's one drawback, it's with the simplistic story, which at times seems a little shallow (not being a particular fan of the genre, I can't say this isn't a universal complaint of musicals). Never the less, it's quite thoroughly entertaining, and I have to say I was more impressed with the dancing than i expected to be. The songs were also well-written, with modern pop blending in with the nostalgic songs of the period setting. Watching Gene Kelly's dance sequence to the title song, it's almost impossible to not be happy, it's just such a joyous exhaltation (and once the tune gets stuck in your head, it's there for days).

The Misfits
The Misfits(1961)
½

Written by Arthur Miller, the story is a melancholy portrait of lost souls, reflecting the real lives of its stars. Roslyn Taber (Marilyn Monroe) is in Reno with her girlfriend (Thelma Ritter) to get a divorce when she attracts a pair of cowboys who'd like to show her a good time. These four people fall in together rather quickly, but it's just the illusion of a good time they're having. She winds up going with them out to the desert to watch them capture mustangs to sell to dog food manufacturers. Monroe is damaged goods, everyone wants to be close to her but she just doesn't seem to care (until she cares too much in moments that happen at random). They all see in her what they want, whether its innocent child or sexpot. She seems like a child but is a little bit cold (or simply unaware of people, I'm not sure). She's very sensitive and breathy. Dancing is a 1960s metaphor for sex. She's supposed to be innocent and pure but everyone wants to "dance" with her, and it's clear she's not shy about engaging in this type of behavior. Everyone's damaged though, and they seem to be competing for her attention with who has the biggest sob story. Not to denegrate Marilyn Monroe's role in the film (especially since the role was specifically written for her at the time), but I think another actress would've been better suited to this film, perhaps one not as breathy and old as she. If it had been made 30 years previous, with a younger Clark Gable and a younger actress, it could have been more. By the end, her character comes off as hypocritical and just plain awful, someone who wants a sensitive, empathetic man when she's as self-absorbed as any of them. Watching 3 degenerate men fight over an infantile woman is pretty sad, which I guess was the intention of the film? It's a drag of a film that drags itself out a little too long. But Montgomery Clift is quite good in it, and so is Gable. It's a shame such acting talent is wasted on a Marilyn Monroe vanity project.

Dai-Nipponjin (Big Man Japan)
½

Movies don't come more oddball than this. Japan's version of "Hancock" is also a loving tribute to the 60s live action kids shows. Big Man Japan is a "mockumentary" following the life of Masaru Daisato, a seemingly ordinary, middle-aged and divorced loser who's having trouble making money and yet seems to be very famous (and disliked by the general population). People throw rocks through his window and write critical graffiti on his wall. Masaru however, is a super hero and must be on call 24 hours a day, for he never knows when he must leap into action to defend the country from giant monsters. It's these bizarre monsters that are the true stars of the movie, from the giant, "hugging" monster with the comb-over to the "evil stare" monster with the cooked chicken body and the phallic eyeball. Masaru grows great big and then chases down these creatures and confronts them (generally he doesn't defeat the monsters so much as they clumsily take themselves out). Everytime a monster dies, it's soul floats up to heaven on a beam of light. The clumsy battles are broadcast on television, albiet to very low ratings (Masaru must cover his body in advertisements just to keep on the air). Every scene involving the monsters is disturbingly surreal and funny all at once. Unfortunately, the documentary portion of the film takes up a great deal of the time. It's not that these scenes aren't compelling in their own right (while furthering the plot), it's just that they aren't very entertaining for the most part. The ending throws out the very premise the film is based upon (the notion that all these creatures are real), and gives us a cheaply done Power Rangers-type production of bad costumes and a badly choreographed fight scene. Yes, I realize this was supposed to be parodying that type of Japanese superhero program, but it feels tacked on and lazy, as if they didn't know how to end it so they went for something easy. Plus, it sort of negates the entire film they just made. I suppose it could be construed as a slightly political jab at the US (what with the red, white and blue super family coming to save the day) but even that is heavy-handed and not very funny. In any regard, it's not a great film, but it is for the most part, an entertaining one (marred, if slightly by a less-than-witty ending).

A Christmas Carol
½

A story like this that has been made into countless film adaptations can be a little difficult to discern from all the others. When it comes down to it, all we really have to differentiate one Scrooge from another is the acting (and to a lesser extent, how the effects are handled) and just how many liberties the film-makers take with the original story by Charles Dickens. While a few liberties may have been taken in 1938's A Christmas Carol, the performances more than excuse this. Originally, Lionel Barrymore was meant to play Scrooge, reprising the role he had made famous through many radio productions throughout the 30s. When Barrymore had to back out of the role due to illness, Reginald Owen stepped in and the result is a memorable and iconic performance. The Lockhart family (Gene, Kathleen and June, for the first and only time they all appear in a film together) give us a sweet turn as the Cratchit family, and Barry MacKay as Scrooge's nephew Fred, is also quite good. If you're looking for an infusion of yuletide spirit, look no further.

Klute
Klute(1971)

Klute tries to be a throwback to the old detective noir stories of the 40s, as filtered through the lense of 70s hyper-realism and the result is something that draws from the worst aspects of both. This film has also convinced me finally and irreparably that Jane Fonda is one of the worst actresses of her generation. She is the J-Lo of the 70s. J-Fo and J-Lo share much in common: neither is a well-rounded actress, but they each have one or two strengths on which they've managed to base an entire career. I enjoyed precisely one of Fonda's scenes in this movie, as she sits in the psychiatrists' office and helplessly decribes being in love with (Klute) and not understanding what it is she's feeling. It's a well-written scene of surprising emotion. The rest of the film rips open the seedy underbelly of prostitution, pimps and junkies, or at least I'm sure it did to 1970s eyes. To modern eyes, the film seems a little quaint. And dull. Dreadfully dull. The realism of 70s films (from Cassavetes' Killing of A Chinese Bookie to Altman's Nashville) have a tendency to bore me, with their incessant fascination with tedious and mundane activities (sometimes things are best left to a montage, rather than a ten minute, single-shot take of, for example, a man walking down the street and hailing a cab). We get the gyst of it, no need to elaborate further. In the case of Klute, the film-making is the point, not the story. In fact, there's very little story to speak of. A man goes missing, a prostitute is receiving obscene letters from an anonymous person that is believed to be the missing man, and Klute is hired to find out if it is indeed him. Klute goes to New York and in the process of his investigation, and despite all rationality, begins to fall for the prostitute. I think Donald Sutherland is a very good actor, but here he's given nothing to do, he stands around with a blank look on his face for most of the film, and his character is virtually all but silent. Fonda's character is indifferent to him at first, but slowly realizes she's in love with him. Why she feels this way or why we should care, I don't know. We're expected to have some emotional attachment to Fonda, but I can't exactly figure out why. The movie is intended to be a sort of thriller, but there's absolutely nothing thrilling or suspenseful here, save the last ten minutes. Eh. Maybe I'm just too picky when it comes to films: I like it when films are about something or have a point of view, or they make me feel a certain way or they have interesting characters. When it comes to this particular film, I guess I just don't get its appeal. And you know what? I'm fine with that.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc)

The Passion of Joan of Arc, like most passion plays, recounts the final hours leading up to someone's final destruction at the hands of injustice, in this case St. Joan of Arc, one of the patron saints of France. Director Carl Theodor Dreyer faced a special problem when making a silent film out of what is basically a "courtroom drama", and that is how to tell a story which relies so heavily on words while using only visuals. His solution was to bring the cameras in close, focusing in on the actors' faces in the most intimate way possible. Emotions that would be lost in wider crowd scenes become the focal point of the story-telling. Joan's (Maria Falconetti) stoic expression rapidly shifts to wide-eyed moments of terror as the men who sit in judgement froth and foam at the mouth. We watch this movie with the knowledge of Joan's fate (or at least we should), and we watch the wheels turn inexorably towards her doom, and one can't help but reflect on the pointlessness of religious persecution. The faces seem cut out of wood blocks or a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting, the angelic Joan vs. the sneering medieval mob. It may require a little patience for modern sensibilities, but in the end, it's worth the effort.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Do Twilight fans (known as "twihards") suffer from a form of twi-tardation that prevents them from watching any Twilight related film critically, or is there something more to this Twilight thing than meets the eye?

"New Moon" picks up where the last Twilight film left off, with Bella and Edward engaging in their quiet asexual companionship/romance. It's Bella's birthday, and for the first time she's conscious of the fact that she is aging while Edward is not (nevermind the fact Edward is over one hundred years old- by the way, what exactly does a one hundred year old vampire have in common with a 17 year old high school student who is no great beauty and has no apparent personality or interests beyond being with him?). In fact, Edward tells Bella he can no longer see her again, as it's only a matter of time before someone hurts her because of him, and so he leaves her and she sinks into a deep, dark depression. Months later, she remembers Jacob, the native american boy who gave her a dream catcher on her birthday. She buys some motorcycles at a junkyard and takes them to him and asks him to fix them for her. She begins taking other risks around this time, as everytime she takes a risk, she sees a phantom spirit vision of Edward, warning her not to take risks. As she is still desperately in love with Edward, and he is gone, this is the only way she is able to see him. After Jacob fixes the motorcycles, Bella gets on one to ride it, and sure enough, Edward's "ghost" appears, warning her not to ride the bike as it is too dangerous, and sure enough it is, as his ghost materializing in front of her causes an accident. Meanwhile, it turns out Jacob is a werewolf and these werewolves only kill vampires. Jacob is in love with Bella and doesn't wear a shirt very often. Everytime Jacob took his shirt off, a girl sitting in the row in front of me would yell "woo!" or something along those lines and the theater would chuckle. I think this is the extent of Jacob's value in this film, as the actor portraying him seemed barely capable of reading his lines. Meanwhile, Edward goes to the lead vampire council in order to end his life, as he thinks Bella has killed herself (this recalls the Romeo and Juliet reference earlier in the film, for those paying attention), due to a false vision reading by the vampire Alice. Alice and Bella rush to Europe so that they might save Edward from ending his own life, and they just barely succeed, but they order Edward to turn Bella into a vampire already and get it over with.

The Twilight series is the equivilent of christian heavy metal, it's wholesome, conservative entertainment disguised as something perhaps a little scary or dangerous. Werewolves who only fight vampires who in turn don't ever actually drink anyone's blood... it's all very safe and kid friendly. This wouldn't be so offensive if the characters weren't cardboard figures. Edward, Jacob and Bella are dreary and dull, and there's nothing to identify with here. I can't imagine who finds sympathy with Bella, she's an extraordinarily narcissistic user of people and monsters. The most unrealistic characters though, were not the monsters but the "normal" teenagers. It would be hard to find teens this boringly fake outside of a 1950s highschool educational film, but I guess its the only way to make the dull monsters seem exciting by comparison.

On the plus side, the actual quality of the film-making seems to have improved dramatically since the last film (the exception to this being the badly rendered werewolf computer effects). New Moon is a little more coherent than Twilight, and is also helped by the werewolf subplot, somehow. Unfortunately, a mopey storyline and subpar acting drag the film down, and the climax is just laughable. As a morality play, you have to ask yourself, "what's the point?". I think the film could have been alot more interesting had the vampires and werewolves been just a figment of Bella's imagination, some sort of psychosis perhaps. A fantasy world in a vein similar to Spike Jonzes' "Where The Wild Things Are" might've been more challenging. Unfortunately, Twilight is all about appeasement.

Johnny Got His Gun
½

Dalton Trumbo was one of the top screen-writers in hollywood until being blacklisted in the communist witch hunts of the late 40s. He won an academy award, albiet anonymously for his screenplay of 1958's "The Brave One", and also wrote a pair of 1960 Oscar winning films ("Spartacus" and "Exodus"). Although his career never fully recovered to his position before the House Committee on Un-American Activities' investigation, in 1971, he was able to make his directorial debut on a film adaptation of his 1939 novel, "Johnny Got His Gun". What can be expected of a 65 year old, first time director? Surely not a masterpiece of a film, and yet that's what we got. Trumbo's story of a WWI soldier who is crippled by a mortar shell is of a vein similar to "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Best Years of Our Lives", in that it uses the devastating effects of war to question our beliefs of what life and death are really all about. To say the soldier is crippled is an understatement: he loses both his arms and legs, his hearing, and, although we never actually see it, his face is gone as well. He's left as nothing more than "a living pile of meat". The doctors, convinced he is for all intents and purposes brain-dead, keep him alive as a medical curiousity, to be studied and observed for research in further treatments, unaware he is conscious and can feel pain. All he can do is twist his head about, which the doctors attribute to "muscle spasms". The horror of this situation is only alleviated through various fantasies and dreams, oftentimes involving the love he left back home (Kathy Fields), Christ (Donald Sutherland), and the dead of his past, including his father (Jason Robards). Many of the flashbacks involving the soldier's family were taken directly from Trumbo's actual boyhood (in fact, the room where Trumbo's father died was used when filming the death scene of the main character's father). It's difficult, though, to tell which are the flashbacks and which are pure dreams from his imagination. It's possible that everything is a dream (something he acknowledges to himself through his subconscious). His mother (in his dreams) tells him only the soul is real, it's the flesh that's false. Some of his dreams are particularily powerful, such as his conversation with Christ, as he watches the holy carpenter crucifixes to mark the graves of dead soldiers. Christ tries to help him with his dilemma (he imagines a rat crawling on his face): "you should try to knock the rat off, and if there is no rat, it's only a dream- but I can't touch the rat, I have no arms". Christ has no answers for him. Some scenes in this film are so painful, so senseless they must be speaking to the then-fresh wounds of Vietnam. But really, war of any era is just as senseless when it comes to the human aspect. It should be recognized that it's an ugly thing to glorify war, and making it seem like it's anything other than the tragic waste of human life that it is, is reprehensible. Johnny Got His Gun gives us humanity reduced to it's most fragile state, and then asks us to judge what price is worth that cost.

The Big Heat
The Big Heat(1953)

The Big Heat is right up there with "Touch of Evil" as one of the top noir films of the 1950s. The movie starts with the suicide of police sergeant which soon sets off a chain of events which will transform Detective David Bannion (Glenn Ford) into a single-minded machine. The story of crime and corruption will be familiar to anyone who's ever seen similar cop movies and yet, it's not a tired film, it moves along at a fast and angry pace. Modern films like "Sin City" owe a great debt to this film, and Clint Eastwood seems to have modeled his entire career off of it (Who knew Glenn Ford of all people could inspire Dirty Harry?). This is down-and-dirty gutter crime disguised in a 1950s package. Director Fritz Lang (Metropolis) makes use of cheap sets and backgrounds, if not ignoring them all together as his characters set fire to the screen. Debby (Gloria Grahame) girlfriend of mobster Vince Stone (Lee Marvin) walks the tight rope above her violent boyfriend's temper, always willing to prod him, even though it might cost her. None of the characters seem too in charge of their own destinies though. The mob bosses sit around, fretting over the rogue cop who pursues them, and the corrupt police officials watch impotently as the mob bosses beat and torture women. Only Bannion seems motivated by some specific purpose, and whether that's justice or revenge, no one can really say. He's seemingly indestructable and unstoppable, and shows no sense of fear as he charges through rooms of petty criminals. Debby attempts to seduce him, more as a way of annoying Vince Stone than of getting any pleasure from him, but she can only elicit an unconscious disgust in Bannion: "I wouldn't Touch anything of Stone's" he snarls at her. Such pure, unrestrained hatred rarely finds it's way onto the big screen, and it's alot of fun to watch. Artistic touches are subtle as Lang allows the story to unfold artfully, the directing style could be described as no-frills, but it's necessarily sparce, as it allows the story and performances to stand in the forefront. Fans of crime drama should see this film, not because of it's historical importance, or because it inspired so many imitators, they should see it because it's just damned good.

The Big Sleep

Challenging and complex (with a screenplay co-written by William Faulkner), the interwoven storyline of director Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep" is classic crime noir at it's most epic. Humphrey Bogart stars as Philip Marlowe, a shamus who winds up in the thick of a murder cover-up and blackmailing scheme. I don't think anyone does a private eye quite like Bogie; he never overplays the tough guy aspect of his character (unlike alot of other film detectives of that era), and he's confident without being indestructible. When Marlowe gets into trouble, there's a sense that he might be getting in over his head. Things seem simple enough at first: a wealthy but dying retired general hires him to deal with some blackmailers who have some dirt on one of his wild daughters (the general is a strange character himself, Marlowe finds him sitting in a hothouse wrapped in layers of clothes in the stifling heat). The elder daughter, who has problems of her own, points him towards an "exotic books" dealer (it's suggested the store is a front for an illegal pornography ring), whom he tails home. Marlowe finds the daughter's hands are more than just a little dirty when he finds her drugged up and alone with the book dealer's dead body on the floor. The story only gets more complicated from here, and I won't go into any more detail, suffice it to say there's little screen time devoted to exposition. All the women in the film, from Lauren Bacall and Martha Vickers to Sonia Darrin, are beautiful and sexual (for a film made in the 40s, there's plenty of innuendo). Also for a film made in the 40s, there's alot of intelligence behind the characters. Motives aren't always stated implicitly, things more often than not are implied or left soley to the viewers own interpretation. The Big Sleep easily ranks with the other Bogart classics, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon as one of the top films of all time and one of the best of its genre.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
½

Martha Ivers, as you will learn in the first 10 minutes of this movie, is crazy. As a young teen, she makes repeated attempts to run away from her stodgy and controlling old aunt (who also happens to be incredibly wealthy) and join the circus along with her hoodlum boyfriend, Sam. H