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Blogs THREE FACES OF EVE (1957) (***1/2)

What raises this film above what would now be relegated to a “disease of the week” film on Lifetime is the Oscar-winning performance of Joanne Woodward (RACHEL, RACHEL). Eve White (Woodward) is having blackouts. After one where she finds boxes of dresses she doesn’t remember buying, her and her husband Ralph (David Wayne, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) go to see psychiatrist Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb, ON THE WATERFRONT). What the doctor discovers is that Eve is suffering from multiple personality disorder.

When she blacks out, the meek Eve is being suppressed by the flamboyant playgirl Eve Black. As Dr. Luther treats Eve, her relationship with her husband becomes more and more strained. Dr. Luther tries to find out the core to why Eve’s personality split and until her third personality comes out he doesn’t know what to do, because both Eves are ill equipped to be the prime personality.

Blogs STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991) (***)

Even STAR TREK fans say not all the films in the series are good. Most will say stick with the even numbered ones and you’ll do fine. I’ve seen the first film and wasn’t impressed. I enjoyed II and IV and absolutely hated V. So where does VI fall? With in mind that I have not seen IV in a while, I’d say it’s equal to the even numbered installments that I have seen.

The Klingon Empire is crumbling and their planet only has enough ozone to sustain life for roughly 50 years. The Starfleet Federation has agreed to peace talks with the Klingons. Capt. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has enlisted Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) to take the crew of the Enterprise to meet the Klingon ambassador Sarek (Mark Lenard, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD) and transport him and his delegation to the meetings with the Federation. Kirk has some hostility toward the Klingons as fans of the series know. While the Enterprise is escorting the Klingons, an unexpected incident occurs, which leads Kirk and Dr. Bones McCoy (DeForest Kelly) to be tried for murder.

Blogs STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) (***)

My history with STAR TREK is spotty. I am a fan of the original TV series, which I’ve probably seen all the episodes. Not knowing this for a fact probably doesn’t make me a Trekkie or a Trekker or whatever. I’ve never seen one episode of any of the spin-off series. I’ve seen five of the six films starring solely the original cast, but that was long ago and I don’t remember them all that well. I’ve seen none of the NEXT GENERATION films. So now that you know my history with the series, you’ll know where I’m coming from in reviewing what many consider the best STAR TREK film.

Where the first STAR TREK feature was an attempt to ride the coattails of STAR WARS by making a space opera, the second film brings the franchise back to the characters. Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) has taken an administrative post as admiral. Spock is now captaining the Enterprise space vessel, which is being used for training missions. One of the students is a female Vulcan named Saavik (Kirstie Alley, TV’s CHEERS), who like Kirk does not like to lose.

Blogs SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE (1987) (*1/2)

Again you may be wondering why I’d even bother with this film. I know the producer and director of the film and just had to see what they made in the early part of their careers with B-movie master Roger Corman. It’s not as bad as the title suggests. Structurally it’s interesting by leaving out all the details until later in the film. The beginning makes some interesting editing choices. However, in the end, the film is just a poor rehash of HALLOWEEN.

Beth (Angela O’Neill, ALIEN NATION) is a college student who goes to a sorority house to stay with friends after her aunt/caregiver dies. From the moment she steps into the house, she begins having dreams of blood and a man with a knife (John C. Russell). As a low-low-low-budget venture, it is obligated to include the obligatory breast shots, dumb superficial women and lame sex scenes before the killer arrives and stabs everyone to death.

Blogs ROSETTA (1999) (****)

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this subtle look at the demoralizing effects of poverty is subtle and well-crafted.

Rosetta (Emile Dequenne, THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY) is a young woman, who becomes distraught when she is fired from her new job. She lives in a trailer and supports her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux). Over the course of the film, she develops a friendship with a young man named Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione, 2006’s THE CHILD), who works at a waffle stand. The film chronicles the hardships of Rosetta’s life and the extents that poverty drives her.

Director/writers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (THE SON) have a simple causal style, which just allows the action to slowly and subtly unfold to the audience. Amazingly their films rely on little dialogue, using imagery to tell the story. The complexity of the imagery is remarkable. In one shot, this film can tell you so much about the characters that lesser films need paragraphs of dialogue to explain. They never go for effect or heighten the drama with flashy camera work and editing.

Blogs RIO GRANDE (1950) (***1/2)

Considered the final film in director John Ford’s “cavalry trilogy,” which also includes FORT APACHE and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, the film was only done by the director as part of a deal that would allow him to make his classic, THE QUIET MAN.

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne, THE SEARCHERS) has been fighting Indians on the Plains for 15 years — a long way away from his family. He learns that his son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr., THE YEARLING) has flunked out of officer school and now has enlisted. Well sure enough, he is assigned to Kirby’s unit. Kirby tries to keep their relationship as business, but this becomes even more difficult when his estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) shows up. Jeff makes friends with fellow troopers Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson, THE WILD BUNCH) and Sandy Boone (Harry Carey Jr., SILVER LODE). It’s up to gruff Irish sergeant major Timothy Quincannon (Victor McLaglen, THE QUIET MAN) to whip the troopers into shape.

Blogs THE RING TWO (2005) (**)

In Hollywood, all successful genre films get a sequel. I wasn’t very impressed with the first RING, so you can imagine what I was thinking going into the second one.

The hero of the original film Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts, KING KONG) and her son Aidan (David Dorfman, PANIC) have moved away to start a new life away from the curse of the evil videotape. However, as we see in the first sequence, the tape has found its way to their new sleepy town. However, this time around the ghost Samara (Kelly Stables, THE HAUNTED MANSION) isn’t as interested in killing the people who watch the videotape, but now wants to possess Aidan and have Rachel as her new mommy. Now Rachel must unravel the mystery once again, finding the solution that eluded her in the first film.

Blogs PYGMALION (1938) (****)

George Bernard Shaw’s classic play has been remade or outright stolen since the dawn of cinema. Every teen makeover movie owes its origins to PYGMALION. Most people are introduced to the story via the musical MY FAIR LADY. Though versions came before and many have come after, Leslie Howard’s version is universally considered the best.

Truly the adaptation is quick, smart and never stagy. If you have lived in Paris Hilton land your whole life and don’t know the story I’ll briefly outline it. Prof. Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard, GONE WITH THE WIND) is a top linguist who takes a bet with Col. George Pickering (Scott Sunderland, 1939’s GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS) that he can pass a cockney “guttersnipe” off as a princess by transforming her speech and manner. His test subject is the flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS), who meets him on the street one night and visits his house the next day asking to have speech lessons so that she can get a proper job at a flower shop.

Blogs THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) (****)

James Whale was a director who was always assigned to direct horror films, which he infused with his own sense of campy humor. This is probably the funniest of all of Whale’s films that I have seen thus far.

Lazy playboy Roger Penderel (Melvyn Douglas, NINOTCHKA) is driving through the English countryside with his bickering friends Philip and Margaret Waverton (Raymond Massey, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS & Gloria Stuart, 1997’s TITANIC). It’s pouring outside, which causes a landslide. To get out of the weather, they arrive at an old dark house where the sibling owners, Horace and Rebecca Femm (Ernest Thesiger, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN & Eva Moore, 1946’s OF HUMAN BONDAGE), allow them to stay the night. The Femms have a hulking and scary looking butler named Morgan (Boris Karloff, FRANKENSTEIN) — think hairy Lurch. Rebecca keeps yammering on about the evils of the family and the cursed house, scarring the wits out of Margaret.

Blogs MARAT/SADE (1967) (****)

Based on the German play, THE PERSECUTION AND ASSASSINATION OF JEAN-PAUL MARAT AS PERFORMED BY THE INMATES OF THE ASYLUM OF CHARENTON UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE MARQUIS DE SADE, director Peter Brook (1963’s LORD OF THE FLIES) took it from the London stage to the screen using actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The story is set in one room where as the full title states the inmates of the Charenton asylum perform a play directed by the Marquis De Sade.

It is true that De Sade wrote and performed his own plays while in the asylum, which was under the direction of Monsieur Coulmier, who believed that art had a healing effect on the insane. For the film, the actors play inmates playing the roles in the play while a silhouetted audience watch the production from the other side of a set of bars.

Blogs M*A*S*H (1970) (***1/2)

M*A*S*H is a comedy like no other. I come to this with some baggage. I grew up watching the TV series, which is a far more typical sitcom than this film. The film is far darker. My first viewing came when I was a holier than thou college student with a PC chip on my shoulder. I hated the film. With a few more years under my belt, I still find the film cruel and juvenile at times, but it’s honest and that’s what makes it so good.

Set during the Korean War, the film takes place at a front line surgical unit where the doctors and nurses engage in any vice they can think of to ease the pain of the horrible reality of war. Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland, KLUTE) and Trapper John McIntyre (Elliott Gould, THE LONG GOODBYE) are new doctors to the M*A*S*H unit and swoop in like a whirlwind. Along with martini-loving Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT), the duo is there to do their job, which is to save lives to the best of their ability, whether it be on the surgery table to by drugging a Korean 17-year-old so that he won’t be drafted into the army.

Blogs THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (1945) (****)

Released in Britain in 1943, this film was banned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill for foreign distribution until 1945. Unlike many of the war films of WWII, the picture isn’t blatantly patriotic, centering its attention on a bloated, walrus-mustached “Colonel Blimp” character, who some feel Churchill felt was a satire of himself.

The title may seem like an enigma for those not familiar with who Colonel Blimp was. He was cartoon character created by David Low, who was a fat, pompous, irascible, jingoistic and stereotypically English soldier. The directing, writing and producing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCICUSS) take this archetypical character and use it as a launching point to tell the story of a career soldier who desperately tries to hold on to his usefulness as he grows older. The 40-year time frame and the “downfall” of the main character in many ways reminded me of CITIZEN KANE. In quality, it deserves to be mentioned in the ranks of KANE as well. Yep, it’s that good.

Blogs HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) (***1/2)

William Castle is kind of the P.T. Barnum of B-movies. For his film THE TINGLER, buzzers were installed in theaters to give tiny shocks to audiences members, sending them leaping from their seats. He is best known for his horror films, but he also made Westerns and sci-fi pictures.

Frederick Loren (Vincent Price, HOUSE OF WAX) is a millionaire who invites five strangers to his creepy estate for a ghost party. He will pay the guests $10,000 each if they are able to stay the night. However, it is rumored that seven people have died in the house and their ghosts still remain. The guests include: young typist Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig, GIANT), astronaut Lance Schroeder (Richard Long, TV’s TWILIGHT ZONE), paranoid ghost believer Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook Jr., THE KILLING), skeptical psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal, TOM, DICK & HARRY) and socialite newspaper reporter Ruth Bridgers (Julie Mitchum, 1956’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS).

Blogs HOUSE OF USHER (1960) (***1/2)

Starting in the 1950s, Roger Corman began his long and notorious career of directing and mainly producing low-budget horror and actions films. He helped launch the careers of such directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard as well as actors like Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. His 1960 version of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER is a Technicolor gothic, starring Vincent Price. Fans of the film have lifted it up so high that it has been included in the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

The story begins with Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon, THE LONGEST DAY) riding to the Usher estate to see his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey, TV’s ZORRO [1958]), who he meet while she was visiting Boston. However, the butler Bristol (Harry Ellerbe, TV’s RAWHIDE) tells Philip that Madeline is sick and that her brother Roderick (Price) is refusing guests. After Philip insists, Roderick meets with Philip and tells him that the Usher family is cursed. As Philip tries to take his beloved away, her brother does everything to keep her confined in the crumbling house. The family’s past haunts Roderick to a morbid degree.

Blogs HI, MOM! (1970) (***)

Playing almost like an experimental film, this chaotic movie from Brian DePalma (DRESSED TO KILL) has too much going for it to be ignored, but not enough to be revered.

Jon Rubin (Robert DeNiro, who is actually reprising his role from DePalma’s GREETINGS) has returned from Vietnam and hooks up with a porn producer to film peeping tom films of himself seducing a women named Judy Bishop (Jennifer Salt, SISTERS), who lives in the housing project across from his apartment. As Jon films the tenants across the street, we peek into various lives — a family whose mother has bought a new film camera, a gigolo who has a new woman every night, an avant garde artist who paints his subjects black and Judy who sadly watches as her roommates go out on dates with their boyfriends night after night as she stays home watching TV.

Blogs THE APARTMENT (1960) (****)

Romantic comedy-wise this is the best there has ever been. Billy Wilder (SABRINA) wrote and directed this Oscar winner, which tells the tale of two people who get took and in the process find love.

C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon, SOME LIKE IT HOT) is a low-ranking automaton at a huge insurance company in New York City. Through happenstance, his apartment has become the secret rendezvous for execs at his firm to take their mistresses, which often leaves him at work late or worse, sleeping in the park. He puts up with it, because these are powerful men, who can get him out of his little desk in a sea of little desks.

Like most of the men at the firm, he wishes he could take out the pretty elevator girl named Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT). Turns out she is having an affair with personnel director Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, DOUBLE INDEMNITY), who finds out about “the apartment” and wants in on the action. With a promotion in sight, Baxter agrees not knowing that it’s Miss Kubelik that Mr. Sheldrake will be taking back to his abode. Sly wit seeps into every moment. With all the adulterous men coming in and out of the apartment, Baxter’s neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen, MCLINTOCK!) asks if the iron man would like to donate his body to science.

Blogs THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (2005) (***1/2)

This observant study of divorce and the egos of artists is often as funny as it is poignant.

Walt Berkman (Jesse Eisenberg, ROGER DODGER) idolizes his father Bernard (Jeff Daniels, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT), a writer who wrote an award-winning book a number of years back, but now can’t get his new work published. Walt quotes his father’s ideas as his own even when he hasn’t even read the books Bernard is referencing. Walt’s mother Joan (Laura Linney, P.S.) has just sold her first story to the NEW YORKER. Bernard is a highly competitive person, who is quite resentful toward his wife’s rising career as his seems to be fading.

One day, Bernard and Joan sit Walt and his younger brother Frank (Owen Kline, who is the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY) down to tell them that they are separating and that they will share custody. Bernard slyly takes stabs at Joan, revealing to Walt that she had an affair, which spurs Walt to demand to stay at his father’s place all the time. As time goes on, Walt becomes more and more like his egotistical father and grows more and more disgusted with his mother.

Blogs SIX SHOOTER (2005) (***1/2)

I see quite a few short films a year — mostly animated ones. However, it’s usually pointless to review them, because for a general audience they cannot be seen. Apple’s iTunes has changed this problem, making all the animated and live-action Oscar-nominated shorts available for download. This is how I was able to see SIX SHOOTER — the winner for best live-action short.

The morbidly dark comedy follows Donnelly (Brendan Gleeson, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE), a middle-aged man whose wife has just passed away. Right from the start me know that the film has a twisted sense of humor when Donnelly places an unexpected picture in the hands of his departed wife. On the train home, he sits across from a young man (Ruaidhri Conroy, HART’S WAR), who has an offensively loud mouth and has no qualms saying the worst things in the world especially to a clearly distraught couple (David Wilmot, INTERMISSION, & Aisling O’Sullivan, THE BUTCHER BOY).

Blogs THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO (2005) (***1/2)

Set in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, the film chronicles the ups and downs of the Ryan family from the point of view of its patriarch Evelyn (Julianne Moore, BOOGIE NIGHTS), who helps the large family make ends meet by entering every jingle or poetry contest that she can. If raising 10 kids wasn’t hard enough, her husband Kelly (Woody Harrelson, NORTH COUNTRY) is a drunk who spends their money frivolously and has a bad temper.

Evelyn, with dogged determination, puts a happy spin on all their problems big or small. Kelly, on the other hand, wallows in his sorrow. He is privately proud of his wife’s winnings, but publicly resents them because they make him feel like less of a man because he can’t support his family on his own. Tuff (Ellary Porterfield, TV’s STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU) (who in real life wrote the memoir the film is based on) is the most out spoken of the children when it comes to the behavior of their father. Evelyn, like she always does, is honest about her husband to her kids, but can also highlight the good in him as well.

Blogs MIRRORMASK (2005) (***)

From the Jim Henson Co. comes this trippy family fantasy where a teenage girl must uncover the secrets of a dream world before her dark side takes her place in the real world.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas, YES) is a juggler in her family’s circus, but not by choice rather obligation. When her mother (Gina McKee, NOTTING HILL) falls ill, Helena regrets a wish she made that her mother would die. The illness spurs Helena’s father (Rob Brydon, TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY) to make the tough decision to close down the circus. The night before Helena’s mother’s operation, Helena is transported into a dream world made up of her elaborate drawings.

In the dream world, blob-like shadows are devouring the City of Light. The Princess of Darkness, who looks just like Helena, has run away throwing the whole realm into chaos. The Queen of Light, who looks just like Helena’s mother, has fallen into a deep sleep and the Queen of Darkness, who also looks like Helena’s mother, is sending out the shadows in an effort to force the Princess back home. As Helena begins to piece together the puzzle, she learns that only the mysterious Mirror Mask can awaken the Queen of Light, so she sets out to find it with the help of the shifty juggler Valentine (Jason Barry, TITANIC).

Blogs DOMINO (2005) (**)

To describe the film I’ll use a reference from the film — it’s like “a ferret on crystal meth.” The film is actually based on a true story, but I’m sure only about a handful of real events remain.

Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley, PRIDE & PREJUDICE) was a real person — the daughter of MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE star Laurence Harvey. Once her dad died, she was shipped off to boarding school by her mother, Sophie Wynn (Jacqueline Bisset, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS), who went out looking for a new rich husband. Domino was a Ford model for a time and went to a year of college, but that really wasn’t her thing. She was tough and wasn’t afraid to get into fights. So she read an ad in the newspaper for a bounty hunter class and signed up. Those are the real facts of the real person’s life that I am vaguely sure are at least close to reality.

Blogs BUBBLE (2006) (***1/2)

The new film from director Steven Soderbergh (SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, ERIN BROCKOVICH) got a lot of press when it was released in theaters in January. However, it wasn’t about its content, but about the way it was released. It debuted in theaters on a Friday, came out on DVD the following Tuesday and was on the HDNet TV network within a week. It was part of an experiment to utilize the press for a theatrical release to support the DVD sales all at the same time. Theater owners were angry, but I think it’s much a do about nothing. Big blockbusters aren’t going to be released this way. But for a small film like this one, the fact that people are seeing it is a triumph. The release model is a wonderful new tool for low-concept films with no star-power to get in front of audiences. Now onto the film.

Blogs 2046 (2005) (***1/2)

Director Kar Wai Wong’s loose sequel to his acclaimed IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, 2046 is a haunting ode to lost love and how it effects our future relationships.

Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung, HERO) is a writer who when he’s not working as a journalist pens highly erotic novels. His most successful book was titled 2046, a sci-fi story where lovers travel to 2046 to reclaim past memories but never come back. To Chow, 2046 represents his lost love. He moves into the Hotel Oriental in Hong Kong, wanting to rent room 2046, but its occupied by a woman named Mimi (Carina Lau, INFERNAL AFFAIRS II), who when Chow knew her in Singapore went by the name Lulu. Over the course of the film, Chow will chronicle the lives of two women — his landlord’s daughter Wang Jing Wen (Faye Wong, CHUNGKING EXPRESS), who is in love with a Japanese man named Tak (Takuya Kimura) to her father’s dismay, and the beautiful and flirtatious Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). Chow is a playboy, who is haunted by the mysterious memory of a woman (Gong Li, FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE), who rejected him years ago.

Blogs V FOR VENDETTA (2006) (***1/2)

Remember, remember the 5th of November. That is the call of the vigilante V (Hugo Weaving, THE MATRIX). The film is set in a future where the U.S. has turned into a leper colony and Britain is ruled by a fascist regime, which uses the fear of terrorists to keep its citizens in line with the ruling party.

Evey (Natalie Portman, CLOSER) works at the top British TV network and heads out for a rendezvous with TV celeb Deitrich (Stephen Fry, GOSFORD PARK). It’s past curfew and she is accosted by the secret police, but saved by V, who takes her to his “concert” — the destruction of the Old Bailey. Big Brother-like leader Adam Sutler (John Hurt, 1984) is furious the next day and begins a propaganda campaign to downplay the incident.

Blogs BRICK (2006) (****)

This homage to classic film noir is unlike any film noir that has come before. Set in a modern high school, the characters talk like they’re straight out of the MALTESE FALCON or THE BIG SLEEP.

Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, MYSTERIOUS SKIN) is a loner, whose girlfriend Emily Kostach (Emilie de Ravin, TV’s LOST) has left him and gotten herself mixed up with some shady dealings. Right from the get-go we know she is died. We flashback to two days before her untimely demise to follow the events that led to her death and then follow Brendan as he tries to piece the murder together.

In his efforts, Brendan is aided by The Brain (Matt O’Leary, FRAILTY), a smart kid who seems to have the word on all the dealings at the school. Brendan starts with the cool kids Emily was hanging with, which includes wanna-be football star Brad (Brian J. White, MR. 3000), which leads to punk druggie Dode (Noah Segan, ADAM & STEVE). But nothing is as it seems. Brendan finds himself involved with twenty-something drug dealer The Pin (Lucas Haas, WITNESS) and his muscle Tugger (Noah Fleiss, STORYTELLING). And like any good film noir there are mysterious ladies such as school play diva Kara (Meagan Good, ROLL BOUNCE) and The Pin’s damsel Laura Dannon (Nora Zehetner, TV’s EVERWOOD).

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