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Blogs TWO FOR THE MONEY (2005) (***)

This gambling tale is at its best when it is simply watching the way the world of sports betting works. Brandon Lang (Mathew McConaughey, AMISTAD) is a Division 1 college football quarterback clearly heading pro until a bad knee injury sidelines his dreams of the lavish life. While trying out for any team that will let him, Lang works in Las Vegas as a 900 number recorder. When one day he gets a shot at the sports line, he injects his own picks, which average an 80% accuracy. After which he gets a call from Walter Abrams (Al Pacino, THE GODFATHER), who runs one of the hottest sports picking services in the U.S.

Their business is legal because they do not take bets; only advise betters on whom to bet on. Lang’s talent at picking winners is unmatched, so Abrams lavishes the young man with money and a beautiful apartment while training him to become a salesman. In the process, Abrams transforms the non-cursing, non-betting Lang into a sports car driving, cocky persona named John Anthony. Abrams looks at Lang as the son he never had often including him in outings with his wife Toni Morrow (Rene Russo, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR) and ultimately building his business around the young man.

Blogs MADAME CURIE (1943) (****)

This wonderful biography is able to make science as exciting as anything in a thriller. In the process, it tells a geeky love story like no other.

Marie Sklodowska (Greer Garson, MRS. MINIVER) was born in Poland and went to Paris to study mathematics and physics. Her professor Jean Perot (Albert Bassermann, THE RED SHOES) asks scientist Pierre Curie (Walter Pidgeon, FORBIDDEN PLANET) if his top student can work in his lab. Pierre agrees, but is reluctant when he discovers that Marie is a woman. He feels women and love are not conducive to science. However, it doesn’t take long for Marie’s brilliance and beauty to make Pierre whistle a different tune. Pierre’s eventual proposal is so formal and awkward that you have to laugh. I wonder if Liam Neeson saw this film before making KINSEY — the similarities between Pigeon’s performance and Neeson’s are striking.

Blogs THE LAST DETAIL (1973) (****)

This slice-of-life character piece slyly looks at the hypocrisy and injustice that the working man has to endure and how he does so. Navy seamen Billy “Bad Ass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson, FIVE EASY PIECES) and Mate “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young, 1973’s THE CLONES) have been assigned the duty to take court-martialed Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) to prison.

At first Buddusky and Mule plan to get Meadows to prison ASAP and then take the rest of the time allotted for their duty to party on their own. However, the naïve and inexperienced Meadows gets to them and they decide they need to show the kid a good time before he’s locked away for eight years. Buddusky gets Meadows drunk, high and laid and in the process makes Meadows stronger and more assertive.

Blogs THE FOG (2005) (**)

With the original John Carpenter version unseen by me, I cannot compare the new version with the first one. With horror movies hot, every old horror film is ripe for a remake with the benefit of new fangled visual effects. But all the CG mist in the world could save this tepid horror rehash that panders to it core teen audience.

Set in a small Oregon fishing town where the ghosts of the founding father still lurk with their killer fog, Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace, TV’s LOST) tries to unravel the mystery before the whole town is killed. She has just returned to town after some time away and rekindles her romance with fisherman Nick Castle (Tom Welling, TV’s SMALLVILLE). After his second in command Spooner (DeRay Davis, SCARY MOVIE 4) takes the boat out at night and is attacked by the fog, Elizabeth and Nick discover that old heirlooms that have been washing up on the beach may help them uncover the dark secrets of the town’s past. Other key characters include indie radio host Stevie Wayne (Selma Blair, HELLBOY), mayor Tom Malone (Kenneth Welsh, FOUR BROTHERS), drunken Father Robert Malone (Adrian Hough, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND), Elizabeth’s snobby mother Kathy (Sara Botsford, JUMPIN' JACK FLASH) and the eerie homeless man Machen (R. Nelson Brown, TAKEN).

Blogs CHICKEN LITTLE (2005) (**)

I have a soft spot for animation, which makes me go into animated films with more hope that they are good then any other kind of film. Director Mark Dindal previously made the underrated CATS DON’T DANCE and the thoroughly entertaining THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE. But even Dindal was unable to save CHICKEN LITTLE. However, the film itself is proof that he is not to blame, because the movie feels like a victim of too many cooks stirring the pot. The film never organically flows from one part to the next and suffers mostly from a lack of a consistent tone.

The story chronicles the aftermath of Chicken Little’s infamous “the sky is falling” affair. Chicken Little (Zach Braff, GARDEN STATE) has been under a great deal of ridicule since the event and has lost the respect and support of his father Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN). So with the help of his friends Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack, IN & OUT), Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn, HAPPY, TEXAS) and Fish Out of Water, Chicken Little sets out to win his father’s respect by joining the baseball team. However, when the threat of an alien invasion becomes a reality, Chicken Little struggles with whether he should tell his dad or not.

Blogs BLACK SUNDAY (1961) (***1/2)

Mario Bava is the father of Italian horror. His BAY OF BLOOD was a total twisted treat and BLOOD & BLACK LACE is like getting a mystery and a film noir rolled into one film. BLACK SUNDAY, or as it was known in Italy THE MASK OF SATAN, was Bava’s first film as a director.

Basing the film loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s THE VIY, he weaves a tale of a royal vampire witch who plots to come back from the grave to seek revenge on the descendants of her brother who killed her. The opening sequence, like many other scenes in the film, is a textbook example of classic black & white, horror mood and tone. However, Bava began to ramp up the gore and sexuality that would become staples of later horror cinema. In the opening, Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele, TV’s DARK SHADOWS) and her lover Javuto (Arturo Dominci, INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION) are killed with iron maiden masks by Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani, THE LEOPARD) for being an adulterers as well as vampire witches. Even in black & white, the moment the spikes inside the mask are driven into the princess’ face, we cringe.

Blogs ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (1977) (****)

Thirty-seven years after Disney unveiled their masterpiece FANTASIA, the animation master from Italy Bruno Bozetto set out to satirize the famed piece of animated art.

A real life presenter (Maurizio Micheli) introduces the film as a truly revolutionary experiment in animation, after which he receives a phone call telling him that the whole thing has been done before by some guy named Pisney. Undeterred, the presenter soldiers on introducing the audience to the fat, cigar-chomping orchestra master (Nestor Garay), the orchestra consisting of only old women who may not even know how to play their instruments and the animator (Maurizio Nichetti), who has been chained to a wall for the past five years.

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.

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