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Blogs DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE (2005) (***1/2)

This Oscar-nominated documentary is a harrowing account of the economical and ecological affects that the non-native Nile Perch has wrecked on Lake Victoria in Tanzania. Over the last forty years, the huge fish has created a booming fishery business, which is now the chief export of the country. However, the people living along the banks of the world’s second largest lake are starving.

After the fish are processed, the people can only afford to buy the leftover fish heads that are fried up at maggot-ridden facilities. Foreign companies run the fisheries exporting hundreds of tons of fish a day. Planes come in, but bring nothing of worth for the people — only weapons to fuel the profitable civil strife that ravages many of the countries on the continent.

Blogs BREAKFAST ON PLUTO (2005) (***)

Director Neil Jordan most notoriously dealt with transvestites in his remarkable film, THE CRYING GAME. He returns in this film with the boy who wanted to dress like a girl as the center of the narrative.

Patrick “Kitten” Braden (Cillian Murphy, BATMAN BEGINS) is the product of an affair between the priest Father Bernard (Liam Neeson, KINSEY) and his maid Eily Bergin (Eva Birthistle, BLOODY SUNDAY). He is adopted by an uncaring woman (Ruth McCabe, INTERMISSION), who can’t stand his “nancy” ways. His best friend is a girl named Charlie (Ruth Negga, COLOUR ME KUBRICK), who is dating a wanna-be IRA rebel named Irwin (Laurence Kinlan, NED KELLY). Kitten finally leaves his hometown when he decides he’s had enough of his adopted mother’s abuse and heads for London to find his mother. What he’s really looking for is love.

Blogs BEE SEASON (2005) (***)

If you blinked you would have missed the release of this film in fall of 2005. The trailers made the film out to be about a little girl’s magical ability at spelling bees. However, it’s really about a professor whose desire to communicate with G-d gets in the way of him communicating with his family.

Saul Naumann (Richard Gere, CHICAGO) is a professor at Berkeley, specializing in Jewish theology and the Kabbalah, the mystic Jewish religion that Madonna has unfortunately made trendy. He has a very close relationship with his son Aaron (Max Minghella, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL), who shares his interests in music. His young daughter Eliza (Flora Cross, film debut) is too intimidated to enter her father’s office to even tell him that she has made the regional spelling bee. However, when he does find out, she quickly becomes his new favorite, because in Kabbalah the believers feel words can bring the truly gifted in communication with G-d.

Blogs 11:14 (2005) (***)

This direct-to-DVD feature is a fast-paced GO-like tale that follows a group of characters, whose lives weave together in unexpected ways. The plot features two car accidents, two people putting the same dead body in their trunks and the events revolve around 11:14 pm.

To start, Jack (Henry Thomas, GANGS OF NEW YORK) is driving drunk down the highway when he passes under an overpass and a dead body lands on his car. From this point forward, the film chronicles the actions Jack takes to cover up the incident and the events that led up to the crazy occurrence.

Barbara Hershey (LANTANA) plays Norma, who tries to help Jack out on the highway, thinking he’s hit a deer. She’s married to pudgy loaf Frank (Patrick Swayze, DIRTY DANCING), who is worried about his trampy young daughter Cheri (Rachael Leigh Cook, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS), who is dating the skuzzy Aaron (Blake Heron, SHILOH). Clark Gregg (IN GOOD COMPANY) plays Officer Hannagan, whose night is quite busy. Hilary Swank (MILLION DOLLAR BABY), who also produced the film, plays Buzzy, a convenience store clerk, who is asked by her co-worker Duffy (Shawn Hatosy, THE COOLER) to make a huge sacrifice. There are also three teenage friends — Tim (Stark Sands, CHASING LIBERTY), Mark (Colin Hanks, ORANGE COUNTY) and Eddie (Ben Foster, X-MEN: THE LAST STAND) — cruising around causing trouble. Their friendship will surely be tested after a bizarre accident.

Blogs THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) (***1/2)

John W. Campbell Jr.’s story, WHO GOES THERE?, has been adapted in some way for the screen in many forms. Credited to director Christian Nyby, but rumored to have been really directed by producer Howard Hawks, this classic sci-fi film came out in the height of the Red Scare and dealt with creatures invading us from beyond. In addition, the film came soon after Roswell, when America was looking to the skies for possible alien invaders.

Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey, THE CANDIDATE) is called upon to investigate a strange crash site at a remote outpost in Alaska. Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite,1953’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS) is in charge of scientific facility and Hendry has been having a fling with the doctor’s assistant Nikki (Margaret Sheridan, I, THE JURY). The crash is an alien spacecraft and reporter Scotty (Douglas Spencer, SHANE) is itching to get the story out. Even more remarkably, they find a creature frozen in the ice and bring it back to the station.

Blogs STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) (**1/2)

STAR TREK will never be 2001. But that didn’t stop the filmmakers of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE from trying. Director Robert Wise (WEST SIDE STORY) attains the cold tone of space and the methodical pacing of 2001, but where’s STAR TREK in all of this pretentiousness?

Sci-fi was hot post-STAR WARS and Paramount thought it could cash in on the buzz with its cult TV favorite. Set years after the series, Capt. James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is now an admiral. A strange cloud is moving toward Earth and destroying all ships that get in its way. So the Starfleet Federation calls on Kirk to take command of the Enterprise again and discover the nature of the mysterious cloud. His old crew is still aboard the newly supped up Enterprise, except for Spock (Leonard Nimoy), who has been on Vulcan training to rid himself of all emotion.

Blogs SOUL FOOD (1997) (***)

This family drama is remarkable in that it shows a black family that displays the range of the African-American experience. Big Mama (Irma P. Hall, THE LADYKILLERS) is the patriarch of the family. Teri (Vanessa L. Williams, THE PREACHER’S WIFE) is the oldest sister and most successful, which she has a knack for reminding everyone. Her husband Miles (Michael Beach, TV’s E.R.) is also a lawyer, but he really wants to start an R&B music career. Maxine (Vivica A. Fox, KILL BILL) is the middle sister, who is pregnant and married to the good, blue collar worker, Kenny (Jeffrey D. Sams, JUST WRITE), who first dated Teri, but dumped her for Maxine.

The film begins with the wedding of the youngest sister Robin (Nia Long, BOYZ N THE HOOD), who has borrowed money from Teri to start her own beauty salon and has married the ex-con Lem (Mekhi Phifer, 8 MILE). Then the always bad news cousin Faith (Gina Ravera, KISS THE GIRLS) shows up and we know that’s going to be a problem later on. Maxine’s teenage son Ahmad (Brandon Hammond, MARS ATTACKS!) narrates the film, chronicling the family’s trials and tribulations. When Big Mama gets sick, the family begins to break apart. Teri and Miles’ marriage is on the rocks. Lem loses his job. Old tensions between Teri and Maxine flare up. And don’t forget about cousin Faith.

Blogs SHEENA (1984) (BOMB)

I have not laughed so consistently at a movie is ages. And I’m talking the kind of laughing that you cannot control. Some filmmakers would love to hear that start a review of their film — the filmmakers of SHEENA probably won’t. There is a special place in my heart for movies as bad as this one. They provide such endless entertainment that I find them vastly enjoyable.

As a young child, Sheena’s scientist parents are killed in a cave in and she becomes the promised golden child who will save the Zambuli tribe of Africa. The village’s Shaman (Elizabeth of Toro, THINGS FALL APART) takes in Sheena (Tanya Roberts, A VIEW TO KILL) and teaches her the secrets of the Zambuli, which includes talking to animals like you have a really bad migraine and you have to pinch your forehead to help ease the pain.

Blogs BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (2004) (***1/2)

Much maligned by many critics and even movie-goers, I feel this film is still a ton more enjoyable, smart and engaging than 99% of the romantic comedies that are thrust upon the public on a yearly basis. 10 WAYS TO LOSE A MAN anybody? It’s not as good as the original, it goes to the embarrassing Bridget well a few too many times, it recycles jokes and rips off plot points from other movies, but in the end the characters that made the first film great are expanded upon and just as likeable.

The plot picks up four weeks after the first film and follows the budding relationship between Bridget (Renee Zellweger, COLD MOUNTAIN) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING). The film has an observant eye for little details that bring a richness to the characters. Bridget may be an exaggeration of female insecurities, but it is rooted in truth. There’s an argument between Bridget and Mark right after a party that is one of the more honestly written relationship scenes I’ve scene in awhile.

Blogs THE WOMEN (1939) (***1/2)

George Cukor was a director who was labeled in Hollywood as a “woman’s director,” which as you may guess wasn’t viewed with great esteem. This film may be his quintessential “women's” film, especially with a title like THE WOMEN. The campy dramedy has a fine time with the pampered and privileged lives of its catty characters.

Mrs. Stephen Haines i.e. Mary (Norma Shearer, 1938’s MARIE ANTOINETTE) is a pleasant woman and a fine mother to her daughter little Mary (Virginia Weidler, A PHILADELPHIA STORY). She’s loaded, but not conceded as her friends Mrs. Howard Fowler i.e. Sylvia (Rosalind Russell, PICNIC) and Mrs. Phelps Potter i.e. Edith (Phyllis Povah, PAT AND MIKE). Sylvia is devilishly bubbling about the newest gossip she has heard from her manicurist — Mary’s husband is having an affair with Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?), a manipulative gold digger who works at a perfume counter.

Blogs WILDCATS (1986) (***)

This isn’t grand cinema here we’re talking about, but it works nonetheless, mainly because of Goldie Hawn.

Hawn plays Molly McGrath, a high school track coach who dreams of following in the footsteps of her father and coach football. When the JV coach position at her school becomes available, she goes for it. However, she has to get past the chauvinistic varsity head coach Dan Darwell (Bruce McGill, CINDERELLA MAN), who ends up getting Molly the head varsity coach job at the inner city Central High School, where no one wants to coach. He hopes that she’ll quit, which will lead to no one ever hiring her as a coach again.

Like many films in the sports genre, Molly must prove herself to her tough players, which include Trumaine (Wesley Snipes, BLADE) and Krushinski (Woody Harrelson, NATURAL BORN KILLERS). One of her biggest challenges is getting former star player turned petty thief, Levander “Bird” Williams (Mykelti Williamson, ATL) to rejoin the team.

Blogs TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) (****)

Starring folk stars James Taylor and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, this post-EASY RIDER road movie actually stands up better than the counter-culture cult classic. Director Monte Hellman creates an existential trip into the shallow end of both the establishment and the counter culture of the early 1970s.

Known only as the driver (Taylor) and the mechanic (Wilson), the duo travel the U.S. in search of chumps who will challenge their supped up Chevy to a race. Along the way they pick up a pretty hitchhiker known only as the girl (Laurie Bird, ANNIE HALL). While traveling East, they keep passing a Korean War vet in a G.T.O. (Warren Oates, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA), who challenges them to a race across country for the pink slip to each other’s car. The cocky young men take the bet in a second, knowing that they will easily win.

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).

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