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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.


THE NAKED SPUR (1953) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, December 17, 2005 at 10:35pm

Director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart teamed on five Westerns, including the wonderful THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. This earlier film, which had its screenplay nominated for an Oscar (a rare feat for a Western), is actually a grittier and more emotionally complex film. It came out the same year as the sappy and overrated SHANE, but holds up a lot better than that dated “classic.”

Stewart plays Howard Kemp, a Civil War veteran who is forced to become a bounty hunter out of necessity. In his effort to capture killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan, THE WILD BUNCH), he receives help from old miner Jesse Tate (Millard Mitchell, WINCHESTER ‘73) and dishonorably discharged soldier Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker, THE DIRTY DOZEN). Traveling with Ben is Lina Patch (Janet Leigh, PSYCHO), the daughter of a dead bank robber.


BALL OF FIRE (1941) (****)

Coming out in the same year as Barbara Stanwyck’s wonderful turn in THE LADY EVE, this film is just as hilarious and just as fun.

Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and directed by Howard Hawks, the film has eight stodgy professors living in one big house working for years on an epic encyclopedia. Leading the group of scholars is the youngest of them — linguist Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper, MEET JOHN DOE). One day the garbageman (Allen Jenkins, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN) comes in to ask them to answer some questions on a quiz he’s trying to win and they are fascinated with his use of new slang. Potts realizes that his chapter on slang is woefully out of date and has to venture out into the world to discover the current data on the ever-changing topic.


MR. & MRS. SMITH (2005) (***)

The beginning of the film has John (Brad Pitt, FIGHT CLUB) and Jane Smith (Angelina Jolie, GIRL, INTERUPTED) in couple’s therapy. They seem to be resigned to the fact that their marriage is boring. John wants Jane to be more spontaneous while Jane wants John to take more than a nonchalant attitude toward their home life. What they don’t know is that both are leading secret lives as top-notched assassins working for opposite agencies.

But it all comes to a head when they are assigned the same target and they discover their secrets. This sets up an all-out, cat-and-mouse war. John’s associate Eddie (Vince Vaughn WEDDING CRASHERS) is the paranoid type who thinks that Jane has been setting him up for six years. Jane’s right-hand woman Jasmine (Kerry Washington, RAY) doesn’t have a much better opinion of John.


NOBODY KNOWS (2005) (***1/2)

Haunting is the only way to explain this methodically paced picture. This film from Japan looks into the lives of four abandoned children. The film begins with their mother (You) moving them into a new apartment by smuggling three of the children in under the noses of the landlord.

Akira (Yuya Yagira) is eldest and the designated caretaker of the children when their mother disappears. Next in line is the sad Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), who dreams of one day buying a real piano. Following them is silly and mischievous Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) and the adorable 5-year-old Yuki (Momoko Shimizu).

The best part about the film is that the mother isn’t painted out like an arch-villain like a character Shelley Winters would have played in the 1960s. She’s not evil; she’s just very, very selfish. She keeps the kids from attending school and then leaves them for long stretches of time to fend for themselves. One time she leaves for over a month and then comes back with presents like it was no big deal.


MADAGASCAR (2005) (***)

The 2005 animated box office champ has arrived on DVD and it provides enough laughs to be well worth a viewing. Marty (Chris Rock, NURSE BETTY) is a zebra in the Central Park Zoo in New York City. He has never been to the wild and dreams of what it would be like to go. When he shares his desires with his friends Alex the lion (Ben Stiller, DODGEBALL), Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer, TV’s FRIENDS) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith, THE MATRIX RELOADED) they think he’s nuts for wanting to leave the pampered life of the zoo. Especially for Alex, who is the superstar attraction of the zoo, leaving is not an option.

With the help of some spy-like penguins (director Tom McGrath), Marty gets out into the city, which leads to him and his friends being shipped off to a wildlife reserve in Africa. However, along the way, they become shipwrecked on the tropical island of Madagascar where they run into a tribe of lemurs, ruled by King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen, TV’s DA ALI G SHOW) and his right-hand-man Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer, ORIGINAL KINGS OF COMEDY). The lemurs want to enlist Alex to scare away jackals that have been preying on their people. Tension builds between the zoo friends and when the call of the wild takes over, Alex begins to look upon his friends as food.


MURDERBALL (2005) (****)

You will never look at a person in a wheelchair the same after seeing this documentary. It’s fun, exciting, humorous, moving and badass.

The central story of the film deals with quadriplegics who play full-contact wheelchair rugby, leading up to the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece. The central characters are Mark Zupan, the grumpy goatee sporting tough guy from Team USA, and Joe Soares, the bitter, arrogant coach of Team Canada, who use to play for Team USA before he got too old and was cut. Both of these men have dynamic testosterone-fueled personalities and can be total jerks. This is the most joyous thing about the film, which shows quadriplegics as human beings that have varying emotions and personalities.


THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005) (***1/2)

This sequel to Rob Zombie’s HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES was something that I wasn’t looking forward to seeing before it came out. However, the positive reviews for the film made me want to give it a chance. Zombie, the frontman for the band White Zombie, has made a huge leap forward in his filmmaking career with this twisted horror film that harkens back to 1970s classics like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

One doesn’t need to see the nearly unwatchable first film to see this one. The film is bloody and gory and also morbidly funny. Zombie seems to be playing with the conventions of the slasher film, making you drawn to and repulsed by the killers at the same time. The film begins with a police raid on a farmhouse where a family of savage killers and rapists are keeping young women prisoner. The standoff ends with the matriarch Mother Firefly (Leslie Easterbrook, POLICE ACADEMY) arrested and her children Otis (Bill Moseley, ARMY OF DARKNESS) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie, 2004’s TOOLBOX MURDERS) on the run.



The history of this film will become legend. Director Paul Schrader (AUTO FOCUS) was asked to do a prequel to THE EXORCIST. When he turned in his moody dramatic piece the studio decided they wanted something more commercial and hired a new director to virtually redo the entire film with more conventional scares. That movie was EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING and it stank. After it bombed in the theaters, the studio decided to release Schrader’s version to help recoup the costs of making two films.

The core idea of the films is relatively the same, but they couldn’t be anymore different. Schrader’s film is more of a dramatic ode to spiritual doubt and the presence of evil in the world than a scare-fest. Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard, GOOD WILL HUNTING) goes on sabbatical from the Catholic Church after an incident during World War II emotionally scars him. He is involved in an archeological dig in Africa where they find a church buried in the sand.