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CORPSE BRIDE (2005) (***)

Tim Burton ventures back into the world of spooky stop-motion animation like he did with A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS with this ghoulish tale of a nervous man who mistakenly marries a corpse.

Based on a Russian folk tale, the film follows Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) who is being set up with Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson, BREAKING THE WAVES) in an arranged marriage. Victor’s parents Nell and William (Tracey Ullman, THE TRACY ULLMAN SHOW & Paul Whitehouse, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) are fish merchants trying to move up in society by marrying their son off to the daughter of Lord Finnis and Lady Maudeline Everglot (Albert Finney, BIG FISH & Joanna Lumley, ABSOLUTELLY FABULOUS), who are trying to marry off their daughter to someone with a little bit of money because they are secretly destitute.

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TOPPER (1937) (***1/2)

The story behind this film has been done numerous times. Marion and George Kerby (Constance Bennett, 1934’s MOULIN ROUGE & Cary Grant, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) are carefree socialites that paint the town red on a nightly basis. Cosmo Topper (Roland Young, KING SOLOMON’S MINE) is a banker who wishes that his extremely conservative wife Clara (Billie Burke, THE WIZARD OF OZ) would let him live a little.

George is on the board at Topper’s bank and Marion sees the adventurous side in Topper and wishes to bring it out. After dying in a car crash, ghosts Marion and George feel they have to do one good dead to get out of limbo and into heaven. Their mission is to treat Topper to the wild life.

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THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) (*)

The first 10 minutes of this trash fest were hilariously bad. From boo moments that had me laughing out loud to a lingering shower scene that has a fetish for the female buttocks, I was entertained with the pure camp of it all. Then it starts to go into copy HALLOWEEN mode and loses its campiness and replaces it with pure boredom.

Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN), besides getting naked, likes to throw slumber parties, where her pretty female friends wear the skimpiest clothing possible. Trish wants to invite the new girl from next-door Val (Robin Stille, AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION), but the other girls don’t like her because she makes them look bad at basketball.

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PRIME CUT (1972) (***)

This strange archetypical gangster film derives much of its success from its unexpected setting and its performers. Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin, THE BIG RED ONE) is a top enforcer for the Chicago mob who is sent on a mission to Kansas City to collect $500,000 from a former associate named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman, MISSISSIPPI BURNING), who runs a meat packing plant that fronts for his drug and prostitution trade. Previous, bagmen have either failed or have been turned into hot dogs by Mary Ann’s oafish brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott, NORMA RAE).

Nick and Mary Ann have a past, which certainly involved Mary Ann’s beautiful wife Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins, THE BEES). During Nick’s first showdown with Mary Ann, the enforcer rescues drugged up orphan Poppy (Sissy Spacek, CARRIE) from being displayed naked in a pen for gawking men.

Blogs

THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) (ZERO)

When this film was released, they marketed its controversy and played it up as a daring artistic experiment. The wonderful Criterion company released it on DVD. Criterion usually picks films that are sure masterpieces, hard-to-find foreign films from important filmmakers or daring experiments. THE NIGHT PORTER falls under the latter category. Definitely daring, but also definitely a failed experiment.

Max (Dirk Bogarde, A BRIDGE TOO FAR) works as the night porter at a fancy German hotel. He becomes shocked and nervous when he catches sight of Lucia Atherton (Charlotte Rampling, SWIMMING POOL), who has the same reaction to seeing him. We then flashback to World War II when Max was an SS officer and Lucia was a prisoner. He becomes infatuated with her and rapes her. Max is about to go on trial for his war crimes and Lucia is one of the only remaining witnesses. So why doesn’t she turn him in right away? Because she liked it. Staying in Germany, after her husband leaves, she goes to Max and rekindles their sadomasochistic affair.

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) (***)

Gus Van Sant’s second feature is a clear example of an artist trying to find his voice. The film is part realistic drama, part contemporized version of Shakespeare’s HENRY IV as well as some flares of whimsy.

Mike Waters (River Phoenix, STAND BY ME) is a narcoleptic prostitute, who comes from a poor, turbulent family. His best friend is Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE), another male hustler, who isn’t really gay, but uses sex for its power and rebelliousness. Scott comes from a rich and powerful family and will inherit a fortune when he turns 21.

Mike’s story is told naturally, but Scott’s story is told through the poetry of Shakespeare. The tone swifts are abrupt and don’t mix well, creating a bit of a disjointed feel throughout the film. It keeps the audience at a distance. Scott is supposed to love his street mentor Bob (William Richert, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) more than his own father, but we never have an emotional connection to their relationship.

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MY BODYGUARD (1980) (***1/2)

Some movies come out of left field and surprise the heck out of ya. I caught this charming film on a Big ‘80s marathon on Encore, having followed the dubious LOVER BOY. For a teen film, the movie has real weight and grit.

Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace, VAMP) is the new kid in his school. Bully Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon, CRASH) extorts money from kids to protect them from rumored psychopath Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin, SERENITY). After taking just too much abuse, Clifford actually gets Ricky to be his bodyguard. Clifford wants to thank Ricky for his help, but the tall loner doesn’t really want to make friends. But Clifford is persistent. The rest of the film develops the strange friendship that develops between the wealthy Clifford and the poor Ricky.

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MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) (**)

This Canadian-produced teen slasher flick is actually better than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies that it rips off. But that’s not saying much.

T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman, BLACK ROSES) left his small coalmine town, called Valentine’s Bluff, to make it big in the big city. But after falling on his face, he’s returned home to work in the mine he left town to avoid. Now his former girl Sarah (Lori Hallier, THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD) is dating Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck, SCANNERS). There are other characters, but who cares about them, because they’re just fodder for the killer, who is rumored to be a miner who was buried alive and went crazy.

Twenty years prior he escaped from a mental institution and killed people in town, demanding that they never hold a Valentine’s Day dance again, for it was the party that everyone was rushing off to when the mine collapsed.

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THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (1995) (**)

With such a whimsical title, one would expect a bit of whimsy, but the film for most of its running time plays as a dramatic (also a bit fantastic) coming-of-age tale.

Randall “Randy” Dean (Laurel Holloman, TV’s THE L WORD) is a teenage lesbian, who dresses tomboyish and only has one friend — a gay boy named Frank (Nelson Rodriguez). Randy lives with her lesbian aunt Rebecca (Kate Stafford) and her girlfriend and her ex-girlfriend. She’s been having an affair with a married woman named Wendy (Maggie Moore, AMERICAN SPLENDOR). Then one day, Evie Roy (Nicole Ari Parker, BOOGIE NIGHTS) stops by the gas station where Randy works and Randy is smitten.

Later, the two run into each other in the bathroom at school and talk about Evie’s recent break up with her boyfriend. Soon enough the two girls are hanging out together and Evie doesn’t seem bothered that Randy is gay. The developing romantic relationship between Randy and Evie is made complex by the fact that Randy is white and Evie is black; Randy is poor and Evie is rich; and Randy is a loser and Evie is popular.

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HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962) (***)

This is the kind of film that’s enjoyable enough while you're watching it, but I’ll probably forget I saw it two weeks from now.

It chronicles four generations of a family who participated in taming the Wild West. It’s epic and filled with Hollywood legends from John Wayne to Henry Fonda to Jimmy Stewart to Gregory Peck. It has all the conventions of the Western crammed in from rapid runs to mountain men to Indian attacks to wagon trains to stampedes to a train robbery. Everything about the film smells of a Hollywood product and that’s why it works. It’s a treasure of a kind of filmmaking that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s the same gimmick that makes the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies so fun.

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GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) (***)

The title tells you straight out what historical episode this Western deals with. The film is quintessential 1950s Hollywood — bright colors, high melodrama and such a squeaky clean Wyatt Earp that you’d think he was visiting from the cast of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. What makes the film fun and not something to laugh at from a 21st Century perspective is the performance of Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday and his interaction with Burt Lancaster’s Earp.

The film develops the unexpected friendship between moral lawman Earp and killing gambler Holliday. The film emphasizes a Western moral code that probably only existed in the movies. Earp kicks off the friendship when he rescues Holliday from a lynch mob. Throughout the film Holliday struggles with his raging desire for revenge and his promise to Earp to not kill anybody.

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THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (1987) (*1/2)

The main reason I wanted to see this film was because I wasn’t allowed to see it when I was a kid. I collected the trading cards and love them. The movie actually disappointed me. You might be thinking — well, what were you expecting. I was expecting something so bad that it was good. Some elements are like that, but the lead character story is just a mediocre after school special drama. It’s not completely awful.

Dodger (Mackenzie Astin, DREAM FOR AN INSOMNIAC) is a small 14-year-old who is always being bullied by Juice (Ron MacLachlan) and his gang. Sadly Dodger has the hots for Juice’s girl Tangerine (Katie Barberi). He works at an antique shop for eccentric owner Cap’n Mancini (Anthony Newley, 1967’s DOCTOR DOLITTLE), who has a mysterious garbage can in the shop. One day it gets tipped over and out come the Garbage Pail Kids, who are played by little people in costumes with animatronic heads.

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CLASS (1983) (**1/2)

The film has a solid foundation, but what it builds on top seems to have been built with no blueprint. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a more serious take on THE GRADUATE, a buddy flick or a teen sex film.

Jonathan Onger (Andrew McCarthy, ST. ELMO’S FIRE) is a high school student at a top boarding school. His roommate and best friend Skip Burroughs (Rob Lowe, AUSTIN POWERS) is from an extremely wealthy family and struggles to live up to his father’s (Cliff Robertson, SPIDER-MAN) expectations. After an embarrassing mishap, Jonathan is band from going to the school dance. So he ventures out to a bar were he starts up a heated affair with the much older Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), who thinks Jonathan is a grad student. What Jonathan is surprised to learn after visiting Skip’s home on Christmas break is that Ellen is Skip’s mother.

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CATWOMAN (2004) (*)

The film is a poorly executed foray down the clichéd road of superhero revenge tales. Patience Phillips (Halle Berry, MONSTER’S BALL) is a klutzy graphic designer for a huge cosmetics firm. She will be fired by her tyrannical boss George Hedare (Lambert Wilson, THE MATRIX RELOADED) unless she redesigns her campaign within 48 hours.

On the way to deliver her new designs, she overhears George’s maniacal wife Laurel (Sharon Stone, BASIC INSTINCT) talking about the deadly effects of the new beauty product the company is about to launch. Subsequently, Patience is killed and then is brought back to life by some cats, giving her superhuman powers and making her the next in line of free-spirited catwomen.

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BABY FACE (1933) (***1/2)

This film recently appeared on TIME Magazine’s top 100 movies of all time list. It was an unusual choice because the film isn’t widely considered a classic. However, the simple tale works quite well and the provocative subject matter seems to jump off the screen with more daring just knowing the year in which it was made.

Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck, THE LADY EVE) is the daughter of a speakeasy owner, who pimps her out to his wealthy clients. After her father’s untimely death, Lily, along with her black friend Chico (Theresa Harris, OUT OF THE PAST), moves to the big city and sleeps her way to the top of a large bank. Her fling with the young executive Ned Stevens (Donald Cook, 1936’s SHOW BOAT) and then his boss J.P. Carter (Henry Kolker, HOLIDAY), who happens to be Stevens’ fiancee’s father, creates great scandal.

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APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986) (**1/2)

This film for most of its running time is a standard teen slasher movie. Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, WAXWORK) is a rich girl who invites her friends to stay with her for a weekend at her remote mountain estate. Friends include: hot and mopey medical student Rob (Ken Olandt, LEPRECHAUN), Rob’s girlfriend Kit (Amy Steel, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2), conservative Texan Harvey (Jay Baker, SHAG), slutty Nikki (Deborah Goodrich, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS), jokester Skip (Griffin O’Neal, GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE), prudish bookworm Nan (Leah Pinsent, WAKING THE DEAD), perverted filmmaker Chaz (Clayton Rohner, TV’s INTO THE WEST miniseries) and hornball cornball Arch (Thomas F. Wilson, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) (***1/2)

Based on the classic Lewis Carroll novel, Disney’s animated adventure is a cornucopia of craziness, saturated with silliness from the moment we enter Alice’s wonderland. For Carroll's story, the lucidity of animation seems perfect, and the Disney animators are up to the task in this underrated gem.

Alice (Kathryn Beaumont, PETER PAN) is a young daydreamer who finds herself chasing a white rabbit with a pocketwatch (Bill Thompson, LADY AND THE TRAMP) down a rabbit hole into a strange new world. At first Alice is taken in by the nonsense of the land, but after some time becomes tired of the insanity.

The film is one delightful set piece after delightful set piece, which have a subversive message of predators on children underneath. In addition, depending on your persuasion, the film either has an anti- or pro-drug message as well. The top highlights of the film include the manic un-birthday party led by the Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn, MARY POPPINS), March Hare (Jerry Colonna, MAKE MINE MUSIC) and Dormouse (James MacDonald, THE RESCUERS) and the pompous, hypocritical Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton, PICNIC).

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THE 47 RONIN PART 1 (1941) (***)

Split into two parts, Kenji Mizoguchi’s epic samurai picture is the most well respected film to come out of Japan during World War II. Mizoguchi is considered one of the Japan’s best filmmakers of all time. The only other film I have seen of his is UGETSU, which is amazing. THE 47 RONIN is more of a political intrigue story than an action adventure epic like those of Akira Kurasawa.

Lord Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) attacks and mildly wounds court officer Lord Kira after he is insulted by the bureaucrat. Because Kira is a royal butt-kisser — literally — the officials rule that Lord Asano must commit ritual suicide. Lord Asano’s loyal samurai petition for their master to be spared while the motives of Chamberlain Kuranosuke Oishi (Chojuro Kawarasaki), Asano’s second in command, are brought into question.

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LAYER CAKE (2005) (***1/2)

Matthew Vaughn, producer of LOCK, STOCK & TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH, makes his directorial debut with this gangster tale, which has more in common with GOODFELLAS than the stylishly hip films he produced with director Guy Ritchie.

The film is narrated by an unnamed gangster, who in the credits is referred to as XXXX. The character is played by Daniel Craig (ENDURING LOVE), who is quickly building an A-list resume of solid work. He’s a drug dealer who likes to keep his operations hush-hush and wants to retire. He works for vulgar loudmouth Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham, GANGSTER NO. 1), who tells XXXX that the reason guys like him don’t ever get out of the business is because they make too much money for guys like himself. That doesn’t bode well for an early retirement.

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KONTROLL (2005) (***1/2)

This hip flick from Hungary plays to an electronica beat that brings a cool vibe to the strange world discovered within.

The film follows control officers on the Budapest subway system whose job it is to make sure the passengers have purchased tickets. Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi) is the quietly cool leader of his loserish crew of control officers. The Professor (Zoltán Mucsi) gives sound advice to the hyper new guy Tibi (Zsolt Nagy). Muki (Csaba Pindroch) — a narcoleptic, which can be quite dangerous in his line of work — seems to be a guy who tries too hard to be cool. Bulcsú keeps a distance from everyone and we learn that he lives in the subway system, not ever going to the surface.

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DEAR FRANKIE (2005) (***1/2)

Lizzie Morrison (Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING) is a single mom who with her deaf son Frankie (Jack McElhone, YOUNG ADAM) and her mother Nell (Mary Riggans) keep moving to stay away from her abusive husband Davey (Cal Macaninch). But Frankie doesn’t know that. The boy believes that his father works on a ship called the Accra and when the boat actually pulls into their town Lizzie decides to pay someone to pretend to be Frankie’s dad.

From the premise you might think this film is a sappy melodrama, but it isn’t. It’s written and directed with such subtly and real heart that it’s quite moving, engaging and never sugary sweet. Lizzie’s boss Marie (Sharon Small, THE INSPECTOR LYNLEY MYSTERIES) finds the stranger (Gerald Butler, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), who Lizzie pays to take Frankie around. He takes the boy for fish and chips, to play soccer and to skip rocks on the ocean. When they come home, he suggests that he come back to see Frankie the next day, taking Lizzie with them.

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THE BROWN BUNNY (2004) (*1/2)

The most controversial film of last year’s Cannes — Vincent Gallo’s follow-up to his overrated BUFFALO ’66 was panned by most critics as the worst film to ever make it into the festival. Roger Ebert’s comments on the film received a curse on his colon from Gallo, who went on a tirade against the film’s detractors. Co-star Chloë Sevigny (BOYS DON’T CRY), who actually performs fellatio on Gallo in the film, was brought to tears at the press conference. For the Toronto Film Festival later in 2004, Gallo reedited the film and received much more positive reviews. Even he and Ebert made up and the veteran critic gave the reworked BROWN BUNNY thumbs up.

However, I think critics who are giving the reworked version praise are doing so because they know the secret. It’s the secret at the end of the film that changes the meaning of everything that came before and gives it a much stronger emotional weight. For me sitting through the film for the first time, I was bored, and angered. Bored by the pacing and the meaninglessness of the whole thing and angered by Gallo’s egomania.

Blogs

WEDDING CRASHERS (2005) (***)

Though it could have been funnier than it was, this film contains some laugh-out loud moments, good performances and a strong conclusion.

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson, THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn, SWINGERS) have been friends for years and love to crash weddings to hook up with hot women. After their latest season of crashing is over John seems disheartened by their misadventures. Then Jeremy drops the wedding of all weddings to crash into John’s lap. The daughter of Secretary of the Treasury Cleary (Christopher Walken, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN) is getting married. John reluctantly goes, but is smitten by the secretary’s middle daughter Claire (Rachel McAdams, THE NOTEBOOK), who we find out is engaged to alpha male Sack Lodge (Bradley Cooper, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER).

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GRIZZLY MAN (2005) (****)

Since first reading about this film, it became something I had to see. It takes a lot to make me this excited about a film. And usually I’m let down, however with this documentary my expectations were exceeded.

Timothy Treadwell was a failed actor who became a semi-celebrity because for 13 years he spent his summers living with and protecting the wild bears of the Alaskan wilderness. It didn’t matter that they were on a nature reserve and that poaching really wasn’t a problem in the area, Treadwell was on a mission. He filmed more than 100 hours of himself in the wild getting way too close to bears and befriending wild foxes. The tragedy of the tale is that he was eaten by one of the bears in 2003. As a helicopter pilot in the film says, “He got what he was asking for.”

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THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005) (***1/2)

This smart, adult thriller from CITY OF GOD director Fernando Meirelles is surprising in many ways for what it does and doesn’t do.

Based on the bestselling John Le Carré novel, the story follows the relationship of mild-mannered British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes, THE ENGLISH PATIENT) and 24-year-old radical Tessa (Rachel Weisz, THE SHAPE OF THINGS). The central mystery of the film is who and why was Tessa killed, which is revealed early in the film at which we flashback to Justin and Tessa's strangely brief courtship and the events that lead up to Tessa’s murder.

Rumors abound regarding Tessa’s relationship with black doctor Arnold Bluhm (Hubert Koundé, HOW I KILLED MY FATHER) and even Justin’s boss Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston, SILVER CITY). It seemed that Tessa is up against a major pharmaceutical company that may be killing Africans. The mystery of Tessa’s death wasn’t much of a mystery to me, but for Justin he must find out for himself the details.

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