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KILL! (1968) (****)

If the Criterion Collection puts out a title on DVD, I always pay attention. I’ve hated some of them, but I never wonder why they put it out. KILL! is one of the titles that I never heard of, but now know why they found it worthy.

It’s like YOJIMBO crossed with THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY with dashes of slapstick humor that you’d find in TOM JONES. In fact, the book the film is based off of is the same Akira Kurosawa used as the basis for his YOJIMBO sequel, SANJURO. If I had any complaint with the film it would be that I lost track of the numerous characters very quickly. However, I loved the film anyway and wouldn’t know what to cut if asked.

Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai, RAN) is a former samurai who has lost the taste for fighting. Hungry, he runs into a young farmer named Tabata (Etsushi Takahashi, ZATOICHI AT LARGE), who dreams of becoming a samurai. Both men end up getting caught between sides in a civil war between factions of a samurai clan, lead by corrupt chamberlain Ayuzama (Shigeru Koyama, ZATOICHI MEETS YOJIMBO). Leading the seven rebels is Tetsutaro (Naoko Kubo, ZATOICHI'S FLASHING SWORD), who is in love with the beautiful Chino (Yuriko Hoshi, GHIDRAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER), however he is not the only one of the rebels who loves her, which makes for some tension when they are all holed up in a cabin in the woods. Complication after complication pile one on top of the other. There are a lot of other key characters that I didn’t mention, but to list them all would be tough and would give away too many of the film’s surprises.


F/X (1986) (***)

This interesting thriller presents an intriguing premise. Government agents, lead by Lipton (Cliff De Young, GLORY) and Col. Mason (Mason Adams, UNDER SIEGE), hire special effects wizard Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown, COCKTAIL) to help them fake the murder of gang informant Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach, TV’s LAW & ORDER). But as in cases like this who can be trusted is questionable.

Aiding Rollie is his actress girlfriend Ellen (Diane Venora, HEAT) and f/x assistant Andy (Martha Gehman, THE LEGEND OF BILLY JEAN). Once things get really hairy, detective Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy, COCOON) is assigned to the case and smells something funky.

The set-up is great and the plot provides a bunch of nice twists. Unlike a lot of thrillers and action films, the main characters have realistic skills and use them to save their lives. The action seems to actually be building one event at a time without a predestined plot driving the story direction.


FARGO (1996) (****)

I swear this film gets better every time I see it. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy, THE COOLER) can’t get a lucky break in life. He works for his father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell, LEGALLY BLONDE), who owns a car dealership among other businesses. He’s got a sweet business deal he wants to put together, but can’t get the money for it. So he devises a plan to have Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi, DESPERADO) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare, MINORITY REPORT) kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrud, PLEASANTVILLE) forcing his father-in-law to pay a ransom, which part will go to the kidnappers and part will go to him so he can pay off his mounting debts and start his new business.


THE WEDDING DATE (2005) (*1/2)

The gender flipped version of PRETTY WOMAN doesn’t even understand why that fantasy worked. Kat Ellis (Debra Messing, TV’s WILL & GRACE) is desperate to make her ex-fiancee Jeffrey (Jeremy Sheffield, TV’s MERLIN) jealous at her sister Amy’s wedding that she hires legendary male prostitute Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney, ABOUT SCHIMDT). Jeffrey is the best man for Edward (Jack Davenport, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL) who is marrying Amy (Amy Adams, JUNEBUG).

Messing’s character is annoying and rude. Mulroney’s character is the cool and calm “perfect man,” who knows how to woo any woman. Never works for one second. Then the film tries to have Kat and Nick fall for each other. There’s less chemistry here than in a social studies class. There’s also a twist-secret that Nick finds out before Kat that is so lamely executed.



South Korea is a hotbed of a lot of really cool cinema right now. Director Chan-wook Park is leading this revolution. His OLDBOY from earlier in the year has grown on me the more and more I think about it. The twist at the end of that film is truly shocking. Like OLDBOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE grips you from the start with its kidnapping tale and then spins in directions that you can’t imagine where it will go next.

Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin, SAVE THE GREEN PLANET!) is deaf and dumb and works a hard labor job in an effort to take care of his sick sister (Ji-Eun Lim), who desperately needs a kidney transplant. When he is laid off, his anarchist girlfriend Cha Yeong-mi (Du-na Bae) devises a plan to kidnap the daughter of his former boss, Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song, JOINT SECURITY AREA).


SKY HIGH (2005) (***1/2)

Disney really let a potential blockbuster slip through their fingers with this one. It’s HARRY POTTER with superheroes and they didn’t see the potential in a great franchise. The film got dumped in August with little support and wasn’t even screened for all the critics.

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano, LORDS OF DOGTOWN) is the son of the two most famous superheroes in the world — The Commander (Kurt Russell, ESACPE FROM NEW YORK) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston, JERRY MAGUIRE). He is about to attend a special high school for superheroes and is an instant celeb because of his parents. Making things worse is that his powers haven’t materialized yet.

His best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker, EMPIRE FALLS), who can control plants, tries to cheer him up, but he is too afraid that he will be assigned to sidekick courses instead of hero courses like his dad. If this weren’t bad enough, he has a run in with dark loner Warren Peace (Steven Strait, UNDISCOVERED), whose mother was a hero and his father was a villain that Will’s father put away. During a cafeteria altercation involving fireballs, Will discovers his superstrength. After this, he is moved to the hero courses where beautiful mechanics wizard Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, THE RING TWO) takes a liking to him.


THE SKELETON KEY (2005) (**1/2)

This supernatural thriller is well-crafted and engaging, but only to a point. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson, ALMOST FAMOUS) is a caretaker for older people in New Orleans. She takes a position with Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands, THE NOTEBOOK) to take care of her husband, Ben (John Hurt, ALIEN), who cannot speak and can barely walk after an accident in their home. The Devereaux’s lawyer Luke (Peter Sarsgaard, SHATTERED GLASS) informs Caroline that several nurses have not worked out, which adds to her suspicion that maybe Violet has something to do with Ben’s affliction.

While snooping around, Violet finds strange things in the attic. Her friend Jill (Joy Bryant, ANTWONE FISHER) informs her that its hoodoo, which is a form of magic that sprung up in the bayou years ago and can only have an affect on those who believe in it.


THE SEA INSIDE (2004) (***1/2)

For some reason it took some time for me to get around to seeing the 2004 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s funny that I’d see this film a day after watching LEAVING LAS VEGAS for the films have a lot of similarities. The central characters want to die. Their loved one(s) don’t want them to die, but the central characters are adamant and do not want to be persuaded differently.

THE SEA INSIDE tells the true-life story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS), who at the age of 20 became a paraplegic who could not move any of his limbs. For 28 years, he has been cared for by his brother’s wife Manuela (Mabel Rivera) and later with the help of her son Javier (Tamar Novas). Ramon is part of an euthanasia organization fighting for his right to die. Taking his case is lawyer Julia (Belén Rueda), who is suffering from a disease that afflicts her with frequent heart attacks and will one day leave her a vegetable.


MYSTERIOUS SKIN (2005) (***1/2)

At a running time of 99 minutes, I wanted more. The film comes to a fine and inevitable resolution, but I wanted to find out how the truth would affect the characters’ future. This is the only thing that keeps this film from being truly brilliant. Nonetheless, this is an important film that should not be missed for those seeking serious and provocative cinema.

When Neil McCormick (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) and Brian Lackey (Brady Corbet, THIRTEEN) were kids, they played on a Little League team together. They weren’t friends, but they share an experience that has influenced their lives in profound ways. One day when a game was rained out, their coach, Heider (Bill Sage, BOILER ROOM), molested them.


MUST LOVE DOGS (2005) (**)

Romantic comedies today all have gimmicks. It’s the only thing that makes them stand out. I was surprised that this film didn’t have one, but that’s not a good thing. The film is a collection of random “character moments” that really don’t amount to much. Nothing surprises you in the least about what happens.

Sarah (Diane Lane, THE PERFECT STORM) is recently divorced and her sisters Carol (Elizabeth Perkins, INDIAN SUMMER) and Christine (Ali Hillis, KISS KISS BANG BANG) are desperately trying to get her back into the dating scene. They sign her up on (which the film blatantly reminds us three times) and she goes through one of those over-the-top montages of horribly unbelievable bad dates. Then she ends up going to the dog park with Jake (John Cusack, HIGH FIDELITY), who is also recently divorced, whose friend Charlie (Ben Shenkman, ANGELS IN AMERICA) just wants to get him laid.


FOUR BROTHERS (2005) (***1/2)

John Singleton is a director who many consider a one hit wonder. Yet I disagree. BOYZ N THE HOOD and BABY BOY are amazing films. POETIC JUSTICE was good and his remake of SHAFT was a solid crime thriller. FOUR BROTHERS falls into the same category as SHAFT.

Like SHAFT, FOUR BROTHERS is not only driven by the plot, but by the nature of the characters. The film begins in a convenience store with the murder of Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan, THE OTHERS), a white woman living in Detroit who has been a foster mother for dozens of kids. Only four of her kids were unable to find permanent homes, so she adopted them herself. After her death they come home to find out what really happened.



This fictionalized version of the Brothers Grimm, who wrote some of the most famous fairy tales, is a film about Jacob Grimm’s desperate desire to hold onto his belief in magical things. Because the film fails to establish this idea with any strong emotional power early on, the film suffers in the beginning.

After Jacob’s purchase of magic beans leads to the death of his sister, Wil (Matt Damon, OCEAN’S TWELVE) and Jacob (Heath Ledger, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) grow up and become con men, who fake supernatural events and then get paid to rid the town of their witches and demons. When the French authority of their area discovers their scheme, sadistic French military leader Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce, BRAZIL) makes a deal with the Brothers Grimm. They will travel to a village where another group of con men are working in order to reveal their deception.


WALK THE LINE (2005) (****)

The best biopics capture the world and people around the celebrity. Earlier in the year, CAPOTE did this and now WALK THE LINE, about the life of Johnny Cash, does the same.

Cash’s story is a familiar rock cliché. He came from nothing, rises to fame, gets hung up on drugs and alcohol and the then conquers his addictions. What makes this film so special is that the film finds what makes Cash’s typical tale so special, which is Johnny’s love story with June Carter.

Last year, Jamie Foxx deserved his Oscar for embodying Ray Charles in RAY. Joaquin Phoenix is just as good as Johnny Cash. And as with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Truman Capote in CAPOTE, Phoenix should be a lock for at least an Oscar nomination. As for Reese Witherspoon playing June Carter, she should start writing her Oscar acceptance speech right now for she’s the best of the year.


SYRIANA (2005) (****)

Those who pay attention to global political issues surrounding the oil industry will learn nothing new from this film, but for a passive political observer this film will be an eye-opener. Nonetheless, for people in the know and for those who know nothing, the film delves into the corruption of the oil industry and the governments that support them.

The film is labyrinthine in how it deals with the issue, which is so complex that not one single character in the film knows the whole picture. It’s not as confusing as some have made it out to be, but the film certainly does not present any easy answers.

There are four major threads that weave together in the film. Bob Barnes (George Clooney, OCEAN’S ELEVEN) is a CIA agent married to a CIA agent who is desperate to settle down for his son’s sake. Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) is a commodities broker based in Geneva, whose co-workers have little faith he can seal the big deal with the Emir of an oil rich Middle Eastern country. Bryan is married to Julie (Amanda Peet, CHANGING LANE), who wishes her husband could spend more time with his family as well. Through a bizarre accident, Bryan becomes an advisor to the Emir’s son Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN) and finally feels he is involved in something important. Bennett Holiday (Jeffrey Wright, 2004’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) is a lawyer assigned to investigate any wrongdoing involved in the merger of two giant oil firms — lead by Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer, THE INSIDER) and Jimmy Pope (Chris Cooper, AMERICAN BEAUTY). His investigation leads to loud-mouthed lobbyist Danny Dalton (Tim Blake Nelson, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?), who isn’t ashamed to say that corruption is how things run. In the final thread, Wasim Khan (Mazhar Munir, film debut) is a young Pakistani oil worker, who after a major oil company merger, is out of a job in a foreign country, which leads him to join an extremist Islamic school.


THE NEW WORLD (2005) (****)

Terrence Malick is a director who works very sparingly. But when he does, you must pay attention. Visually he is one of the best filmmakers alive.

The film tells the love story between Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher, film debut) and English settler John Smith (Colin Farrell, ALEXANDER). The film begins at the point when Smith arrives in the New World and continues until Pocahontas marries tobacco merchant John Rolfe (Christian Bale, BATMAN BEGINS) and travels to England.

The film is deceptive and lyrical, moving at a measured speed. The pacing to the film is part of the film’s metaphor. Smith becomes lost in the “perfect” world of the Indians and envisions it as a dream. Their world provides a freedom that he didn’t know existed.


MUNICH (2005) (****)

Steven Spielberg has got guts to make this film. It’s not that no one has said what he is saying before, but it’s never been said in such a high-profile fashion. Spielberg used his power in Hollywood to make a challenging debate on the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The film chronicles Israel’s response to the murder of its 11 athletes at the 1972 Olympic games in Munch, Germany. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen, THE STATION AGENT) decides to retaliate. Her government sets up a secret assassination team to hunt down the men who planned the Black September attack and kill them. The leader of the group is Avner (Eric Bana, THE HULK), whose father was Meir’s old bodyguard. The other team members include hotheaded Steve (Daniel Craig, LAYER CAKE), the older, level-headed cleaner Carl (Ciaran Hinds, ROAD TO PERDITION), toy/bomb maker Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz, AMELIE) and fake ID expert Hans (Hanns Zischler, SUNSHINE). Their contact at Mossad is Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush, SHINE), who blindly believes in the cause and has the luxury to do so because he never gets his hands dirty.


MATCH POINT (2005) (****)

Many critics are making a big deal about this film being Woody Allen’s return to form and they are totally right. This is his best film since 1989’s CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (which this film most resembles in theme and tone) and it’s one of the absolutely best films of 2005.

In addition, many say the film is unlike anything Allen has done before, but if you’re familiar with Allen’s work you’ll recognize his signature ironic stamp on the material. And unlike his work with MELINDA AND MELINDA earlier in the year, he is not afraid to be truly tragic and take his premise in surprising and daring territories.

Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) is an ex-tennis pro, who gives up the tour to become a country club pro. He comes from a poor family and has used tennis as his ticket into the upper crust of London society. However, he’s a major pretender — spouting philosophies about Dostoevsky like he’s an expert when he just finished reading the Cliff Notes. At the club, he meets Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode, CHASING LIBERTY), a trust-fund baby who lives the high-life on his father’s money. Through Tom, Chris meets Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer, DEAR FRANKIE), who injects Chris into high society even further. However, at one of the Hewett’s parties, Chris is smitten by a sexy American, wanna-be actress named Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson, LOST IN TRANSLATION). However, to Chris’ sadness, she is engaged to Tom.



I was surprised with this film, because I was a little disappointed with it. Woody Allen is a master of taking a plot concept and mining it for all its worth. His PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO is a brilliant example of this. Here, comedy playwright Sy (Wallace Shawn, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) and dramatic playwright Al (Neil Pepe, ANALYZE THIS) debate if life in inherently comedic or tragic. They are presented with a tale and both decide that it is comedic and tragic respectively. The rest of the film is their version of the tale of Melinda, who is played in both versions by Radha Mitchell (FINDING NEVERLAND).

In both versions, Melinda stumbles into a dinner party uninvited. In the drama, she is the friend of Laurel (Chloe Sevigny, BOYS DON’T CRY) and Lee (Jonny Lee Miller, HACKERS). Lee is a struggling actor who is having an affair with an acting student. At a party, Melinda meets a pianist named Ellis (Chiwetel Ejiofor, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS). Melinda’s life has been one tragedy after another and this is but another chapter. In the comedy, Melinda is the depressed next-door neighbor of filmmaker Susan (Amanda Peet, CHANGING LANES) and out-of-work actor Hobie (Will Ferrell, ANCHORMAN).


KING KONG (2005) (****)

I had total confidence that Peter Jackson would nail this film and I was right all the way. How he was able to create a film that both honors the original and builds upon it is staggering.

The first thing that I’d like to address is the over-exaggerated complaint that the film is too long. No one complained about length with LORD OF THE RINGS. Millions of people have bought extended editions of those films. Critics have planted the seed that the film is too long and audiences are either staying away because of it or are going in antsy to start off with. Jackson earned some filmmaking capital with the RINGS series and what we get with KONG is the extended edition right away. With FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS, Jackson had to cut a lot of the character moments, which hurt the film. The extended edition of that film turned the film from a three-and-a-half star film to a solid four-star affair. We get the whole deal with KONG on the big screen, which is where this film was meant to be seen.



Ang Lee has had a very diverse directing career. He has made films such as SENSE & SENSIBILITY, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and THE HULK. What all his films have in common is a great sense for the romantic. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is no different.

The film has been labeled with the tag — the gay cowboy movie — however, it is much more than that. The film is an ode to loneliness, pent up anger and the fact that any love affair can be torn apart by the realities of life. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger, THE BROTHERS GRIMM) is a quiet, lonely young man, who buries a lot of anger from his youth. He meets Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal, DONNIE DARKO) when they are assigned a job to watch over a flock of sheep out in the wilderness of Brokeback Mountain. Over time, Ennis opens up to Jack, maybe the first person he has ever felt comfortable with to do so, and they eventually fall in love.


THE WILD ONE (1953) (****)

For anyone into popular music, this is the film where the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got its name. And what an iconic club it is.

Marlon Brando stars as the leader of the Black Rebels, Johnny Strabler. The gang of 40 or so ride into a small town for a motorcycle race where they are kicked out. In another small town, they race around causing trouble and making a spectacle of themselves. Sheriff Harry Bleeker (Robert Keith, WRITTEN ON THE WIND) tries his hardest to make peacemaker between the gang and the townspeople. Johnny takes a liking to the girl who works at the diner named Kathie (Mary Murphy, THE DESPERATE HOURS). However, when biker Chino (Lee Marvin, CHARADE) gets in an altercation with townsfolk, tensions start to bubble.


WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) (***1/2)

This spy adventure is a thrilling example of the genre that overstays its welcome a bit with some needless action sequences then redeems itself with a smart ending that reminds us of the film’s previous highlights.

Set during WWII, British agents, led by Jonathan Smith (Richard Burton, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLFF?), are assigned a mission to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold and rescue a captured U.S. Army Brigadier General George Carnaby (Robert Beatty, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), who knows the plans for the Normandy invasion. Members of Smith’s crew are American lieutenant and top assassin Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) and MI6 spy Mary Elison (Mary Ure, LOOK BACK IN ANGER). Complicating the mission is the fact that the Nazis have infiltrated MI6 and know about the mission.


TRUST (1991) (***1/2)

Trust me, this film has a pretty standard melodramatic plot, but presents it with a satirical twist that is off-putting and totally engaging. Maria Coughlin (Adrienne Shelly, THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH) is your typical early ‘90s high school student with her big hair and florescent clothing. She tells her parents that she is dropping out of school and that she’s pregnant.

Like I said it’s like a soap opera and it only gets more dramatic. As things develop, Maria ends up becoming a slave to her mother, Jean (Merritt Nelson, HENRY FOOL). Meanwhile, we meet Matthew Slaughter (Martin Donovan, SAVED!), a talented young engineer, who is slightly off and angry with the dishonesty and lack of depth of the modern world. He lives with his father Jim (John MacKay, KRUSH GROOVE), a gruff obsessive-compulsive, who is always on Matthew’s case. Soon Matthew and Maria meet, developing a strange bond.


SUDDENLY (1954) (***)

This quick thriller is a curious product of its day and age. The sleepy town of Suddenly, California is getting an unexpected visitor on the train — the President of United States. Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden, DR. STRANGELOVE) teams with chief secret service agent Dan Carney (Willis Bouchey, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!) to secure the town for the President’s arrival.

Before this, we learn that Shaw has been courting the pretty widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates), who has a young son nicknamed Pidge (Kim Charney, HOW THE WEST WAS WON). Her husband died in WWII and she has a tough time dealing with Tod’s stance on guns and violence. Moreover, her father Pop (James Gleason, 1947’s THE BISHOP’S WIFE) is a former secret service man and lectures her on patriotism. Claiming to be an FBI agent, John Baron (Frank Sinatra, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) shows up at the Benson home, taking the family hostage. He’s being paid to assassinate the President.



Clint Eastwood directs one of his all-time best films in this Western metaphor for the feelings Americans felt after the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal.

Josey Wales (Eastwood) is a Missouri farmer, whose family is brutally murdered by Union troupes during the Civil War. Wales joins a band of irregular rebels fighting against the Union and when the war is over refuses to take an oath of loyalty to the government. His feelings of resentment are well founded in that the oath is really a trap.

With injured young rebel Jamie (Sam Bottoms, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) in tow, Josey goes on the run from bounty hunters and Union soldiers who want to hunt him down. Hot on his trail are Fletcher (John Vernon, ANIMAL HOUSE), a former rebel who sold out his fellow rebels, and Terrill (Bill McKinney, THE GREEN MILE), the murderous Union soldier who killed Josey’s family. Along the way, Josey picks up a group of tagalongs, which includes wise old Indian Lone Watie (Chief Dan George, HARRY AND TONTO), fiery Indian squaw Little Moonlight (Geraldine Keams), straight-talkin’, no-nonsense Kansas farmer Grandma Sarah (Paula Trueman, MOONSTRUCK) and Sarah’s slow, but beautiful granddaughter Laura Lee (Sondra Locke, EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE) among others.