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Blogs THE PROPOSITION (2006) (***1/2)

THE PROPOSITION is a dirty, filthy, bloody Western set in the wilds of the Australian outback. Outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce, MEMENTO) is captured by the new lawman Capt. Stanley (Ray Winstone, SEXY BEAST) and given a proposition — kill his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston, THE CONSTANT GARDENER) by Christmas and he will spare his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson, TV’s MCLEOD’S DAUGHTERS) from the hangman’s noose.

As Charlie heads out on his bloody mission, we begin to see how difficult and demanding Capt. Stanley’s job is. He wants to civilize the outback, living his own life with his prim and proper wife, Martha (Emily Watson, BREAKING THE WAVES), like he never left England. However, the harsh climate and bitter conflict between the native Aborigines and the white settlers make civilization near impossible. Capt. Stanley isn’t a brutal colonialist, which we see clearly when he has to deal with the harsh request of the town’s richest citizen Eden Fletcher (David Wenham, LORD OF THE RINGS). In the wild, looking for his brother, Charlie runs upon grizzled and racist bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt, THE ELEPHANT MAN), who is also looking for Arthur.

Blogs HARD CANDY (2006) (***1/2)

This edgy thriller presents us with two characters for which our sympathies during the course of the film will flip flop. The fact that Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson, ANGELS IN AMERICA) is a pedophile and 14-year-old Hayley Stark (Ellen Page, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) is a torturing sociopath makes that a disturbing affair.

Jeff has picked up Hayley in a chat room. She sets up a face-to-face meeting at a coffee shop and before too long she has gotten herself invited to his house. He prepares a drink for her, which she refuses because she’s been taught never to take a drink that she hasn’t seen prepared. It’s good advice and Jeff should have heeded it. Hayley has drugged Jeff and tied him to a chair, taunting him with her search for evidence of his crimes, which may even include murder.

Blogs THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960) (****)

Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-winning foreign language feature tells a straight-forward and brutal tale of rape, murder and revenge then in the last scene presents us with the vast theological and metaphysical questions that the story brings up. Bergman doesn’t try to present pat answers to these questions — only presents the tough questions.

Tore (Max von Sydow, THE EXORCIST) is a wealthy Christian living in Sweden during the Middle Ages. He and his wife Mareta (Birgitta Valberg, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) dote over their beautiful, virginal daughter Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), which creates vicious jealousy in their secretly pagan foster child Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE), who is pregnant out of wedlock. Karin is given the task of traveling to the nearest church to deliver candles and asks if Ingeri may accompany her.

Blogs THEY LIVE (1988) (***)

Horror legend John Carpenter moves into a more sci-fi thriller realm with this smart and goofy alien/mind control tale.

Nada (played by pro-wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) is a drifter who rolls into a new city and gets a job at a construction site. There he meets Frank (Keith David, PLATOON), who invites him to a homeless shelter where he can get a good meal. That night the police raid the shantytown where the soup kitchen is held. Nada finds the whole incident strange, especially when he stumbles upon a box of sunglasses hidden inside the nearby church. But when he puts on the glasses, he is shocked to see the world he never knew existed — all billboards and magazines are really just subliminal messages and half the people walking the streets are really hideous looking aliens.

Blogs SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) (***1/2)

I like Tim Burton’s SLEEPY HOLLOW more and more every time I see it. But when it gets to the end I remember why I had problems with it from the first time I saw it.

Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane is a wonderfully constructed and performed character. The film starts with Crane in New York City, serving as a constable who wants the judicial system to use more reason in its investigations and punishments. He is assigned a multiple murder case in the tiny village of Sleepy Hollow in upstate New York, where four bodies have been found decapitated. The locals tell a tale of a ghostly Headless Horseman who rides into town and claims the heads of his victims. Crane disregards the tale as fantasy until he actually witnesses an attack by the Horseman. The logical Crane struggles with the supernatural killer, which reminds him of traumas in his childhood that have shaped him into the man he has become. Helping him with his investigation are the orphan Masbath (Marc Pickering, CALENDAR GIRLS) and Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of the town’s leading citizen Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambon, GOSFORD PARK), who practices a bit of witchcraft.

Blogs THE SATAN BUG (1965) (***1/2)

John Sturges’ tight thriller still feels as topical today as it did back in 1965. A secret government lab has developed two new biological weapons — one of them has the potential to kill all living things on Earth.

In a taut opening sequence, thieves smuggle themselves into the facility and steal the germ weapons. The government calls on maverick former agent Lee Barrett (George Maharis, EXODUS) to help find out how the lab was compromised and who was involved. An inside job is suspected — instantly casting suspicion on surviving lab workers Dr. Gregor Hoffman (Richard Basehart, BEING THERE) and Dr. Yang (James Hong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). Barrett teams with agent and former flame Ann Williams (Anne Francis, FUNNY GIRL) and her father Gen. Williams (Dana Andrews, LAURA), staying hot on the trail of the thieves Veretti (Ed Asner, TV’s MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) and Donald (TV’s GOMER PYLE).

Blogs PERSONAL BEST (1982) (***1/2)

Famed CHINATOWN writer Robert Towne made his directing debut with this film, which deals with high-level competitive sports and lesbianism.

Chris Cahill (Mariel Hemingway, MANHATTAN) is a talented young hurdler, who loses a big preliminary meet because she is scared by how good the other athletes are. After the race, Chris is lambasted by her coach/father. Pentathlete Tory Skinner (Patrice Donnelly, former pentathlete) recognizes Chris’ talent and encourages her that evening when she finds Chris breaking down. As they kick back that night with some beers and a joint, they discover that they have a sexual attraction to each other. Tory pressures her tough coach Terry Tingloff (Scott Glenn, THE RIGHT STUFF) to train Chris. Eventually, Terry pushes Chris to participate in the pentathlon as well. This creates a great tension in the romantic relationship between Chris and Tory. Terry begins to fear that the relationship is holding Chris back or even worse sabotaging her.

Blogs NAZARIN (1959) (***1/2)

If you’ve read my reviews of other Luis Buñuel films then you know I’ve grown into a huge fan very quickly. The notorious (and often brutal) satirist of the Catholic Church actually makes a quite devote comment on Christianity, which sets its eyes on the hypocrisy of the church and the faithful by using the teachings of Jesus against them.

Father Nazario (Francisco Rabal, BELLE DE JOUR) is a Spaniard practicing his faith in Mexico. He lives as meagerly as possible, living in a poor neighborhood in the same building as a brothel. The prostitutes ridicule him and the businessmen question his motivations. There’s even a blind man that preys on his goodwill. Then one night after killing a fellow prostitute over shell buttons, Andara (Rita Macedo, THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL) comes to Nazario wanting his help. He promises not to turn her in, however if someone asks about her he will not lie. When the police catch up with her, she and the suicidal prostitute Beatriz (Marga Lopez) burn down his apartment.

Blogs WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (2005) (****)

This is the best animated feature of the year. It’s a crackin’ good time. If you haven’t been introduced to the antics of cheese-loving inventor Wallace (Peter Sallis, SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING) and his dutiful dog Gromit in Aardman Animations’ Oscar-winning short films then you are missing out. But you don’t need to have seen them to love their first (and hopefully not last) feature.

The duo is running an anti-pest company called Anti-Pesto. Their clients are thoroughly happy with Wallace and Gromit’s ability to keep rabbits away from the town’s prized giant vegetables with the impending giant veg competition on the horizon. However, when Wallace tries a mind-altering experiment to rid the rabbits of the town of the desire to eat vegetables, he inadvertently creates the giant were-rabbit. Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter, CORPSE BRIDE) wants to give Wallace and Gromit a chance to humanely deal with the were-rabbit before her suitor Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes, THE CONSTANT GARDENER) goes after it with guns blaring.

Blogs ZATHURA (2005) (***)

Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg who wrote JUMANJI, ZATHURA takes the same premise of JUMANJI where children get transported into a dangerous adventure after they begin playing a mysterious board game.

Danny (Jonah Bobo, STRANGERS WITH CANDY) looks up to his older brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson, RV), who has little time or regard for his younger sibling. Having to run errands, their father (Tim Robbins, MYSTIC RIVER) puts their older sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart, PANIC ROOM) in charge one day, but she is too busy to keep a constant eye on the battling brothers. In retaliation for being hit in the head, Walter sends Danny down the dumbwaiter into the dark, eerie basement where the young boy finds an old board game called Zathura. Danny convinces Walter to play with him, which sends their house careening into space. Eventually helping them overcome malfunctioning robots and evil alien Zorgons is a lost astronaut (Dax Shepard, WITHOUT A PADDLE).

Blogs THE TRIP (1967) (*1/2)

The star rating system really fails when it comes to reviewing a film like this one. A person’s own personal beliefs on the subject of drugs come into play when watching and appreciating (or not appreciating which ever the case may be) what the film is trying to do. I guess the best place to start is to present what apparently the filmmakers were setting out to do. They wanted to make an objective look at one man’s trip on LSD.

Directed by Roger Corman (THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) and written by Jack Nicholson, the film stars Peter Fonda (EASY RIDER) as Paul Groves, a commercial director who is getting a divorce from his wife Sally (Susan Strasberg, PICNIC). Paul wants to experience an enlightening trip on LSD, so he enlists his friend John (Bruce Dern, DIGGSTOWN) to watch over him while he’s tripping. They go to a lavish hippie hangout in the Hollywood Hills where they get the LSD from Max (Dennis Hopper, RIVER’S EDGE).

Blogs A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) (***)

This Koran horror tale is part ghost story and part twisted stepparent tale. Soo-mi (Su-jeong Lim, upcoming I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK) and Soo-yeon (Geun-yeoung Mun) have just returned from a mental institution after the death of their mother. Their father (Kap-su Kim) brings them to their country home where there stepmother Eun-joo (Jung-ah Yum, THREE... EXTREMES) lives.

Soo-mi and Soo-yeon are frightened of their stepmother, whose boisterous and blunt behavior is unnerving. Soo-mi watches over her meek and often silent younger sister like a mother, protecting her from potential torment of their stepmother. Making things scarier, a ghost begins appearing throughout the house. Soo-mi tries to explain the situation to her father, but he seems unaware of what is going on. Or maybe none of this is as it seems.

Blogs SAMURAI SPY (1965) (***)

Sasuke Sarutobi (Koji Takahashi, SANSHIRO SUGATA) is a legendary samurai of the Sanada clan who is tracking Toyotomi clan spy Takanosuke Nojiri (Kei Sato, THE SWORD OF DOOM). One day he meets the spy Mitsuaki Inamura (Rokko Toura, ZATOICHI AND THE CHESS EXPERT), who is trying to sell information to Nojiri and his master Shigeyuki Koremura (Eitaro Ozawa, SAMURAI 1: MUSASHI MIYAMOTO), which lead them to the whereabouts of leading Tokugawa spy Tatewaki Koriyama (Eiji Okada, LADY SNOWBLOOD).

Sasuke wants nothing to do with Mitsuaki’s plan because he fears that it will lead to another war, especially after he finds out that Mitsuaki has ratted out a Christian samurai named Yashiro Kobayashi (Yasunori Irikawa) in an effort to sneak by the cruel local magistrate Genba Kuni (Minoru Hodaka, MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS). While on his mission, Sasuke runs into Tokugawa assassin Sakon Takatani (Tetsuro Tamba, THE STORY OF RICKY), who wants to find Tatewaki for his own reasons. Sasuke also gets involved with Jinnai-Kazutaka Horikawa (Seiji Miyaguchi, THE SEVEN SAMURAI), an older statesmen who seems to be someone Sasuke cannot trust.

Blogs REEFER MADNESS (1936) (BOMB)

This early expose on marihuana was bad in 1936 and has only become more and more hilarious over time. This oh, too serious examination of the scourge of reefer has absolutely nothing to do with the reality of the drug. Its attempt to scare the public into action only elicits laughs.

Bill Harper (Kenneth Craig, only film performance) is a goodie goodie, who is dating the sweet girl next door named Mary Lane (Dorothy Short, THE LONE RIDE FIGHTS BACK). Ralph Wiley (Dave O’Brien, KISS ME KATE) has his eye on Mary while Blanche (Lillian Miles, THE GAY DIVORCEE) wants Bill. Ralph and Blanche both visit the apartment of Mae Colman (Thelma White, RIDE ‘EM COWBOY) and Jack Perry (Carleton Young, SPARTACUS), who get the kids hooked on pot, a drug the film claims is more deadly than heroin.

Blogs PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) (***1/2)

Pre-dating FATAL ATTRACTION by 16 years, Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut is the grandmother of all “from hell” films. This one being the hook-up from hell.

Dave Garver (Eastwood) is a late night DJ at a small Carmel, California Jazz station. He hopes to move up to the big time in San Francisco soon. He’s a notorious lady’s man, who is point blank to Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter, TV’s ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) when he picks her up in a bar that he is trying to uncomplicate his life. Evelyn — who’s a fan of his show, often calling in and requesting “Misty” — seems fine with the terms. Then Dave learns that his old girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills, TV’s KNOTS LANDING) has moved back into town and he wants to try a monogamous relationship for the first time in his life. However, the big wrinkle in this plan is that Evelyn keeps showing up unannounced and her behavior becomes increasingly more violent and erratic.

Blogs KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988) (***)

The title sounds stupid, but the film is actually a really fun satire of 1950s alien invasion films. The Chiodo Brothers — Stephen, Charles and Edward — take the standard plotline for films like THE BLOB and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and turns it on its ear with the silliness of killer klowns from outer space.

Mike Tobacco (Grant Carter, FATHER’S DAY) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder, WEIRD SCIENCE) are at lover’s lane when they witness a giant shooting star. When they go to investigate, they discover a giant circus tent, which in reality is an alien spaceship. Inside the spacecraft, Mike and Debbie find cotton candy-looking cocoons with the dead bodies of townspeople in them.

Blogs INTERIORS (1978) (****)

Woody Allen has never made another film so close to an Ingmar Bergman film as this one. From the somber subject matter to the visual style, this drama feels like Bergman.

The story chronicles how Eve (Geraldine Page, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH), a perfectionist mother with emotional problems, effects the mental and emotional stability of her family. One day at dinner, her husband Arthur (E.G. Marshall, 12 ANGRY MEN) tells his family matter-of-factly that he is moving out of the family home to try out a trial separation from Eve.

The oldest daughter Renata (Diane Keaton, ANNIE HALL) is a famous poet, who during the turmoil is unable to write. Her husband Fredrick (Richard Jordan, DUNE) is a struggling writer who resents her success. The middle daughter Joey (Mary Beth Hurt, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE) is floundering in life trying to find the right creative outlet to spend her life pursuing. Her husband Mike (Sam Waterson, TV’s LAW & ORDER) and her are in different stages in their lives, which often causes tension between them. The youngest daughter Flyn (Kristin Griffith, KING OF THE HILL) is often absent, living in L.A. and working as a TV actress.

Blogs THE ISLAND (2005) (***)

I have never enjoyed a Michael Bay film until this one. It’s a shame that it was a total disaster at the box office. With the film you get two films in one — an intriguing, moody sci-fi tale and a Michael Bay action film. They both work well, however, the thinking side of me is disappointed with the wasted potential of the second and third acts, which could have gone in many smart and provocative ways, but ended up turning into a chase flick.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor, TRAINSPOTTING) lives in a tightly monitored and orderly society after having been rescued from the contaminated outside world. Along with the other inhabitants of his world, they await the lottery, which provides them a trip to The Island, the only non-contaminated place still left on Earth.

Blogs THE IDIOTS (2000) (***1/2)

Lars von Trier is a very polarizing filmmaker. His cynicism borders on nihilism. He often takes truly innocent characters and subjects them to increasing amounts of unwarranted cruelty and injustice. For me, it worked to a masterful degree in BREAKING THE WAVES and less so in the heartrending DANCER IN THE DARK. Von Trier likes to work in trilogies, usually sharing themes not characters. This film, along with the two previously mentioned films, makes up his “golden heart” trilogy, where innocents are truly lost.

Here, the innocent and our conduit into the world of the story is Karen (Bodil Jorgensen), a quiet woman who has just experienced a mysterious tragedy. While dining in a nice restaurant, she meets Susanne (Anne Louise Hassing) and the mentally handicapped Stoffer (Jens Albinus, DANCER IN THE DARK) and Henrik (Troels Lyby). Most of the patrons seem uncomfortable and dismissive of Stoffer and Henrik as they wonder aimlessly around the restaurant. However, Karen gives a kind smile to Stoffer and doesn’t try to avoid eye contact with him like the rest of the people. When he grabs her arm and won’t let go, she is nice enough to escort him to the taxi, even going along for a ride with them. During that cab ride, we learn that the handicapped men are just play acting and that all three are part of a commune, which are trying to find their “inner idiot.”

Blogs THE HEAVENLY KID (1985) (**)

This teen film takes the often used premise of a dead person coming back to help someone else out, which dates back to the birth of film itself.

Bobby Fantana (Lewis Smith, WYATT EARP) is a greaser from the ‘50s who dies in a car accident while playing chicken. He is assigned to come back to Earth to aid nerdy kid named Lenny Barnes (Jason Gedrick, BACKDRAFT), who is obsessed with his school’s popular slut Sharon (Anne Sawyer) while he doesn’t notice that cute Melissa (Nancy Valen, LOVERBOY) really likes him.

It’s a tried and true plot that was recycled during the 1980s ad nausea. Sharon is dating Fred Gallo (Stephen Gregory, TV’s LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT), who loves to torment Lenny. Bobby thinks Lenny is a spazola at first, but learns to like him as he turns the nerd into a chick magnet. As Lenny gets more popular he starts to worry his parents Emily (Jane Kaczmarek, TV’s MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE) and Joe (Mark Metcalf, OSCAR) when he comes home drunk and high.

Blogs FANTASTIC FOUR (2005) (*1/2)

For a time, films based on Marvel Comics characters were amazing pieces of entertainment. BLADE, X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN and HULK were all good to great. Then DAREDEVIL disappointed and ELEKTRA and THE PUNISHER were average genre crap. And let’s not even get started on the abomination that is BLADE TRINITY. So for the most part the real big name characters resulted in good movies. Therefore, if this scenario were to hold up, the first family of Marvel — The Fantastic Four — should be great as well. Didn’t happen.

As disappointing as ELEKTRA and PUNISHER were, they didn’t make me mad like F4. As silly as the seesaw scene in DAREDEVIL was, F4 was like watching that seesaw scene for two hours. What the successful Marvel superhero movies did right was that they weren’t written for 13 year olds. FANTASTIC FOUR is so juvenile it’s pathetic.

Blogs BUKOWSKI: BORN INTO THIS (2004) (***1/2)

Director John Dullaghan (feature debut) uses archival interviews with poet Charles Bukowski and new interviews with his friends and admirers to create this complex character study of arguably the most successful modern poet.

Bukowski has become a cult figure for his raw and direct style of writing. He was an angry alcoholic who for a good portion of his life worked at the post office at night, slept minimally then woke up to drink and write. No one would describe him as attractive with his long face, large nose and scarred face from awful acne during adolescence.

Bukowski lived in poverty for a good portion of his early career as a writer. Then businessman John Martin started Black Sparrow publishing, specifically to publish Bukowski’s work with the promise to pay the writer $100 a month for the rest of his life as long as he quit his regular job to write. This proposition would bring success to both men.

Blogs THE ARISTOCRATS (2005) (**1/2)

Actor/comedian Paul Provenza and magician/comedian Penn Jillette created this film as a tribute to one classic joke. “The Aristocrats” joke starts with a man coming into an agent’s office telling him that he has just seen/or is part of the most original act ever. The man goes on to describe a performance filled with utter debauchery. When the appalled agent asks what the act is called the man says — The Aristocrats!

The description of act is where a comic has the freedom to embellish as they see fit. The joke has served as a kind of rite of passage for all comedians. The point is to see how far one will take the act. What new taboos can be stepped over with each telling.

Blogs UNITED 93 (2006) (****)

Director Paul Greengrass is not new to the topic of terrorism, having made the most compelling film I’ve seen regarding why people join terrorist groups with the film BLOODY SUNDAY. His raw documentary style is not used as a gimmick, but serves as a vital ingredient in transporting an audience into the action.

He puts us on Flight 93 as if we were one of the passengers. We never get too much background information on the other passengers, avoiding the cursory snippets into the main characters’ lives that serve as character development in popcorn disaster movies. The film allows us to view the characters via their actions on 9/11.

Some of the passengers stick out, but the film is not about any one individual, but the collective actions of the passengers and crew of United 93, the FAA and the U.S. military. If any one person does stick out, however, it’s FAA chief Ben Sliney (playing himself). It is said that each of us has one role we were born to play and for Sliney it is himself. There is a natural authenticity to his performance that an actor may not have been able to capture. In addition to Sliney, Greengrass cast real life flight attendants and air traffic controllers to play those roles in the film. This decision is a stroke of brilliance, adding a remarkable level of realism.

Blogs TSOTSI (2005) (***1/2)

Winner of the 2006 Oscar for best foreign language film, this crime drama looks at the results of the orphan crisis in Africa. Violence and AIDS often leave young children on the streets to fend for their own. It’s a brutal life and many are forced into violent crime.

Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae), which means thug, is one of those children. Along with his fellow gang members Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), Boston (Mothusi Magano, HOTEL RWANDA) and Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe), Tsotsi spends his days stalking potential marks. One job turns deadly. Boston, who had previously been training to be a teacher, doesn’t have the stomach for violence. He challenges Tsotsi on whether the emotionless thug understands decency at all. This leads Tsotsi to nearly beat Boston to death.

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