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Blogs ONE MISSED CALL (2003) (***)

Takashi Miike is a cult figure in Asia and an underground legend in the U.S. for his DEAD OR ALIVE series and ICHI THE KILLER. His films are violent and often stylized. In this film, Miike makes a “grudge film,” a popular horror subgenre in Japan.

The premise has innocent victims receiving cell phone calls from themselves, which predict the day and time of their deaths. Melancholy college student Yumi (Kou Shibasaki, BATTLE ROYALE) has seen two of her friends killed by the grudge and her friend Natsumi (Kazue Fukiishi) goes to a TV exorcist when she receives a call. Helping Yumi figure out the mystery is Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a morgue worker whose sister was killed by the same ghost.

Blogs THE NOTEBOOK (2004) (***1/2)

This film was a surprise hit of last summer. This lovely old-fashioned romance deserves it. Based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, the film chronicles the summer romance of young lumberyard worker Noah (Ryan Gosling, MURDER BY NUMBERS) and pampered vacationer Allie (Rachel McAdams, MEAN GIRLS). This story is being told, however, by Duke (James Garner, VICTOR/VICTORIA) to Mrs. Calhoun (Gena Rowlands, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE), a woman in a nursing home suffering from dementia.

Of course, Allie’s snobby parents John and Anne Hamilton (David Thornton, A CIVIL ACTION, and Joan Allen, ICE STORM) don’t approve of the romance. To describe, the plot of the film would be to describe the plot of hundreds of other romance tales. However, this film is filled with original detail and cliché bending characters, which make the entire film fresh and delightful.

Blogs THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004) (***)

To be honest I know little about Che Guevara. And after watching this film, I still know little about Che Guevara.

The picture is based on Guevara’s diaries as he (Gael Garcia Bernal, BAD EDUCATION) and his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna) traveled South America first on an old motorcycle and then on foot. This trip is created as inspiring Guevara’s revolutionary ideas.

The film is subtle about its message and that is its major detriment. The beginning two-thirds is a simple road picture where two young men travel, encounter hardships with their bike and finding food and seek out women. Then the film throws in the indigenous people who are being exploited. However, the film doesn’t have any contrast to make cultural, economic and racial disparities seem relevant to the characters.

Blogs MEAN CREEK (2004) (***1/2)

The topic of this film isn’t revolutionary -- its been done more complexly before. However, the well-observed characters from first time feature director and writer Jacob Aaron Estes make this film intriguing and captivating.

Sam (Rory Culkin, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME) is a young teen on the smaller side. He is often beat up by classmate George (Josh Peck, SPUN), a slow, heavy kid. Sam and his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan, JURASSIC PARK III) joke around about beating up George. Sam’s girlfriend Millie (Carly Schroeder, TV’s PORT CHARLES) even asks him if he could snap his fingers and George would drop dead would he do it. The sensitive Sam struggles with this moral question.

Blogs LADDER 49 (2004) (***1/2)

Sometimes it’s the details that make a film. This film is fairly rich in detail, chronicling the ins and outs of firefighting. Some of the stuff in this film you might swear you’ve seen before, but this film is really the most fully realized look at firemen.

The structure of the film is flashbacks. Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix, SIGNS) gets trapped in a burning building and thinks back over his life since becoming a firefighter. It shows his introduction to his mentor Capt. Mike Kennedy (John Travolta, PULP FICTION) and the courtship of his wife Linda (Jacinda Barrett, THE HUMAN STAIN). We see him fight his first fire and witness the hardships of the demanding job. The firehouse is filled with a cast of characters including cynical vet Lenny Richter (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY), jokester Tommy Drake (Morris Chestnut, BOYZ N THE HOOD) and brothers Dennis (Billy Burke, ALONG CAME THE SPIDER) and Ray Gauquin (Balthazar Getty, THE CENTER OF THE WORLD).

Blogs I'M NOT SCARED (2004) (****)

Gabriele Salvatores’ (MEDITERRANEO) I’M NOT SCARED is a simple kidnap thriller that achieves grander status do to its observant eye, point of view and style.

Michele (Giuseppe Cristiano) is a 5th grader who lives in a remote village in Italy. His family is poor. His father Pino (Dino Abbrescia) is often away and is mean, but not because he doesn’t love his children, but because he is selfish, lazy and ignorant. You can tell that he really does love his children, as does their mother Anna (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, THE MACHINIST), who, however, tends to go long with what Pino says.

One day while playing with friends, Michele discovers a haggard-looking boy in a hole in the ground near an abandoned farm. Michele is scared, but his curiosity drives him back to the boy. However, when Sergio (Diego Abatantuono, MEDITERRANEO) arrives in town, the situation becomes clearer and more dangerous.

Blogs I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD (2004) (***)

The best way I can describe this film is that the jazz soundtrack fits it perfectly. Will (Clive Owen, CLOSER) is a former gangster who has given up the tough life for a hermit-like existence living on the road. His younger brother Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM) has become a small time drug dealer and hustler, who meets a violent end.

Almost like he knows something is wrong, Will returns to investigate the circumstances of his brother’s death. His return is not welcomed by top gangster Turner (Ken Scott, THE BOXER) and his ex-girlfriend Helen (Charlotte Rampling, SWIMMING POOL) wishes he’d just leave town right away. Other notable characters include Davey’s friend and Will’s former lieutenant Mickster (Jamie Foreman, SAVING GRACE) and the twisted car dealer Boad (Malcolm McDowell, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE).

Blogs WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966) (****)

This film is an emotional kicker. One moment it will have you laughing with its dark humor and in a split second a mean jab by one of the characters will have your stomach turning in knots.

Martha (Elizabeth Taylor, FATHER OF THE BRIDE) and George (Richard Burton, THE LONGEST DAY) have been married for too long you could say. Their marriage is in no way stable. They bicker and fight from the moment we meet them. But it starts off in a playful way and gets more ugly as time goes by. As the film opens, they are arriving home from a party. George is a history professor at the college where Martha’s father is the president. Martha has invited a young new biology professor named Nick (George Segal, FUN WITH DICK AND JANE) and his bubbly wife Honey (Sandy Dennis, THE INDIAN RUNNER) over for drinks.

Blogs SILENT MOVIE (1976) (**1/2)

Mel Brooks’ idea for making a silent movie was great, but the film doesn’t capitalize on its potential. Brooks plays Mel Funn, a recovering alcoholic film director who hasn’t had a hit in ages. Along with his sidekicks Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise, THE LOVED ONE), they set out to make a silent film.

Their Studio Chief (Sid Caesar, GREASE) doesn’t think it’s a good idea, but Funn sells it by saying he’ll get big stars. The Studio Chief is desperate because a huge conglomerate Engulf & Devour, run by Engulf (Harold Gould, THE STING) and Devour (Ron Carey, HISTORY OF THE WORLD: PART I), are staging a hostile takeover of Big Pictures Studio.

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

From the makers of ICE AGE comes this new 3D animated wonderment. Director Chris Wedge’s ICE AGE was a big surprise. His follow-up may be a bit weaker in the story area, but it makes up for it greatly with a breathtakingly constructed world and character designs. This is the kind of movie that looks so good you could turn off the sound and just stare at the visuals for an hour and a half.

Rodney Copperbottom (Ewan McGregor, TRAINSPOTTING) is a young inventor, who tries to invent gadgets that help his fellow bots, mainly his dishwasher father Herb (Stanley Tucci, SHALL WE DANCE?). One day, Rodney sets out to Robot City to pitch his inventions to his idol Bigweld (Mel Brooks, LIFE STINKS), but when he arrives he discovers that Bigweld has disappeared and his company is being run by the shiny and shallow Phineas T. Ratchet (Greg Kinnear, AS GOOD AS IT GETS).

Blogs SCARFACE (1932) (***1/2)

This film is the classic gangster tale, directed by Howard Hawks (RED RIVER) and produced by Howard Hughes. The story deals with the rise of Tony Camonte (Paul Muni, THE LIFE OF EMILE ZOLA) in the ranks of organized crime. Along with PUBLIC ENEMY and LITTLE CAESAR, this film is considered a landmark in gangster films. It is also noted for pushing the boundaries of screen violence. It was actually released in two versions, so that it could play in certain States.

Tony is a thug and murderer for crime boss Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937). He’s reckless and violent and gets a thrill for the kill. Just take note of his childlike giddiness when he gets his first tommy gun. He rules over his sister Cesca (Ann Dvorak, MERRILY WE LIVE) with an iron fist and constantly tries to seduce his boss’ girl Poppy (Karen Morley, MATA HARI).

Blogs ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942) (***1/2)

This is the first of the Bing Crosby/ Bob Hope Road Pictures that I’ve seen. It’s the third in the loose series.

This time around Crosby plays Jeff Peters and Hope plays Orville “Turkey” Jackson, two carefree castaways who end up in Morocco. Penniless in the strange town, Jeff sells Turkey for a few hundred bucks to Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH), who used to be engaged to Sheik Mullay Kassim (Anthony Quinn, GUNS OF NAVARONE).

The film works because the writers Frank Butler and Don Hartman knew how to weave the setting, the gags and the songs together in a way that doesn’t seem forced and allowed us to care about the two main characters.

Blogs THE PRINCE OF TIDES (1991) (****)

Based on a novel by Pat Conroy, this film is a classic melodrama brought to life with extremely well-observed characters. Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte, THE HULK) narrates the story of a Southern man dealing with the secrets of his past.

His marriage to Sallie (Blythe Danner, MEET THE PARENTS) is on the rocks, because he doesn’t express his emotions expect in outbursts of anger. He’s in a midlife funk, having quit his job as a high school teacher and football coach. Additionally, he has a very tense relationship with this willful mother Lila (Kate Nelligan, TV’s A WRINKLE IN TIME). Then he receives word that his twin sister Savannah (Melinda Dillion, A CHRISTMAS STORY) has attempted suicide again.

Blogs DIG! (2004) (***)

This fascinating rock documentary chronicles seven years in the careers and lives of two indie bands – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. We watch as the Dandy Warhols move toward relative success in the U.S. and Europe while The Brian Jonestown Massacre self-destructs.

The main focus of the film is on The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s lead singer and songwriter Anton Newcombe. Dandy Warhols’ lead singer and songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor says many times throughout the film that Newcombe is a genius and revolutionary. However, others, especially band members Joel Gion and Matt Hollywood, would feel he is a mad genius.

Newcombe, probably fueled by his drug abuse, is an egomaniac who often throws tirades onstage or starts fights with audience and band members. As the Dandy Warhols gain more success with a record contract, music videos and tours, the friendship between the two bands breaks up.

Blogs KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962) (****)

Director Roman Polanski made his feature debut with this simple relationship drama. The film begins with a shot of a couple driving in a car – their faces in shadow until the end of the credits when the light comes up. The husband Andrzej (Leon Niemczyk) seems to be a bit older than his beautiful wife Krystyna (Jolanta Umecka). They come upon a young man (Zygmunt Malanowicz) hitchhiking in the middle of the road and pick him up.

The three end up going on a boating trip together. In a very subtle way the film is a love triangle and a tale about two men engaged in a mental arm-wrestling match. Andrzej uses his wealth and age to lord over the nameless young man, but the 19-year-old in turn uses his youth and edginess to threaten the older man in different ways.

Blogs A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT (2004) (***1/2)

From director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – director of AMELIE and CITY OF LOST CHILDREN – comes this epic WWI-set romance. Mathilde (Audrey Tautou, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS) and Manech (Gaspard Ulliel, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF) have been together since their birth. Manech is called off to fight in WWI.

In the beginning of the film, we witness an episode that leads to Manech and four other men being charged with self-mutilation to get out of service, which is punishable as treason. Manech and the men are sentenced to a suicide mission in no man’s land between a French and German trench. The men are considered dead, however Mathilde feels for certain that her love is still alive. Despite suffering from polio, Mathilde sets out to find Manech.

Blogs INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION (1970) (***1/2)

This satirical thriller about police corruption is sometimes too smart for its own good, but has enough wit and devious subversive flare that it succeeds despite its problems.

As the film starts, an Italian police inspector (Gian Maria Volonte, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) slits the throat of his lover Augusta Terzi (Florinda Bolkan, SOME GIRLS) and leaves clues all around the apartment. The film unfolds in two parts as we see the police investigate the murder and flashback to the police inspector’s relationship with Terzi.

The police investigator has just been promoted to the political unit, which spies on subversives. The film is both a psychological study of an insecure man and his need for reassuring his power as well as a satire of anti-terrorism bordering on neo-fascism. As the police move from one new suspect to the next, the inspector feeds them more clues wanting to prove that his status is so great that he is above suspicion.

Blogs HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) (****)

This film has become somewhat of an infamous footnote in cinema history, having the distinction of beating out masterpieces CITIZEN KANE and THE MALTESE FALCON for the best picture Oscar. Certainly those films are “better” than this one, but it doesn’t change the dramatic power that this film presents.

It’s melodramatic and nostalgic, but it tells a gritty story of poor miners and the sacrifices they have to make without ever preaching a message. Film master John Ford is too good for that. The story is narrated by a grown Huw Morgan, played as a child by Roddy McDowall (PLANET OF THE APES). We see the story unfold as Huw’s family deals with hardships at the mine and personal turmoil. The disintegration of the Morgan family is mirrored by the disintegration of the town.

Blogs HIGH SPIRITS (1988) (**)

Neil Jordan is a great filmmaker, who has made films like MONA LISA, THE CRYING GAME and INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE. This comedy/horror mix shows none of the skill Jordan has displayed in any of his other films. However, in Jordan’s defense, he was left out of the editing process by the studio and claims that the film he wanted to make is not what was released.

Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole, THE LION IN WINTER) has turned his ancestral castle into a hotel and is about to loose it to the bank, which plans to move it to Malibu. His mother (Liz Smith, A GOOD THIEF) has told him for years that the castle has ghosts, so he devises a plan to turn the castle into a theme hotel where the staff dresses up in sheets and tries to scare the guests. The guests include: the ineffectual Jack (Jeff Guttenberg, COCOON) and his demanding wife Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION), sex pot tease Miranda (Jennifer Tilly, BOUND), soon-to-be priest Brother Tony (Peter Gallagher, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE) and parapsychologist Malcolm (Martin Ferrero, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA) and his doubting family.

Blogs HEAVEN OR VEGAS (1999) (**)

Deep within this turd of a movie is a wonderful redemption story trying to find its way. Writer/director Gregory C. Haynes has something going at times, but ruins it with flights of fantasy that just don’t hold up. The film can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a romantic adult fantasy or a thoughtful redemption story. As it stands both directions don’t work at all.

But the film isn’t just brought down by a split-personality screenplay, but also its leads Richard Grieco (TV’s 21 JUMP STREET) and Yasmine Bleeth (TV’s BAYWATCH). Bleeth plays a stripper Rachel, who is stuck in adolescence, dreaming of the day her knight in shining armor will come and rescue her. One night she is attacked in a casino parking lot when depressed gigolo Navy (Grieco) comes to her aid. How this episode moves to Navy and Rachel hitting the road to Montana is pure fantasy.

Blogs FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) (****)

I’ve never had an opinion on Spencer Tracy before. Now I see his greatness. Previously I’ve only seen him in films with Katharine Hepburn, who overshadows pretty much anyone else on the screen. In this film, Tracy is front and center as Stanley T. Banks, a man who is wrapped up in his only daughter’s wedding plans.

One night during dinner, Bank’s daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor, A PLACE IN THE SUN) tells him and his wife, Ellie (Joan Bennett, SUSPIRIA), that she is marrying Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor, DAMIEN: OMEN II), who her parents don’t even know. The film chronicles the many trials and tribulations that Stanley goes through in the preparation for the big day from concerns about Buckley to an ever-expanding budget to the bride’s last minute doubts to coordinating all the people involved in the event.

Blogs DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY (2003) (***1/2)

Canadian director Guy Maddin is known in film circles for making avant-garde cinema. His DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY is just that. The film's style perfectly captures the look and feel of a silent film like NOSFERATU. For effect, Maddin even uses color tinting to compliment the mood of the scenes. However, Maddin also uses the elements of silent films for comic effect — oh, how he has fun with melodramatic title cards.

Maddin tells the story of Dracula, mixing the plotline of the Bram Stoker novel with ballet. In 73 minutes, he boils down the plot into its key elements and presents an actually faithful adaptation of the Stoker tale. However, Maddin is too sly to make it that simple. He turns the novel’s themes of sexual promiscuity and foreign invaders into a contemporary satire on those issues. Dracula is played by Wei-Qiang Zhang, which highlights the irrational fears of immigration. The creature of the night stalks the blonde beauty Lucy (Tara Birtwhistle), but has his eyes set on the innocent Mina (CindyMarie Small, 2004's SHALL WE DANCE?). Queue the xenophobic Dr. Van Helsing (David Moroni).

Blogs DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2001) (****)

My original review of this film was very thin. I was tired when I first watched it and was quite confused when the film was over. I’ve seen it several times since then and read countless thoughts and philosophies about the film on the Internet. Now comes the Director’s Cut and I must say it is better than the original.

It brings in information about the time travel philosophy that makes the “how” of the film easier to figure out. However, the film still contains a mind-bending premise that haunts and baffles. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a troubled teen who fears death and being alone. His intelligence is intimidating. Like most teens he thinks about sex a lot and questions authority. But unlike most teens Donnie sees a six-foot rabbit named Frank (James Duval, INDEPENDENCE DAY), who tells him secrets about time travel, tangent universes and the end of the world.

Blogs DINER (1982) (***1/2)

This buddy movie set in 1959 is a nostalgic look at a group of guys beginning to take on adult responsibilities. The plotline that brings these men back together in their childhood hometown is the wedding of Eddie Simmons (Steve Guttenberg, COCOON), who before he will marry his fiancé (which we never see throughout the film) must give the girl a quiz on football that she must pass. It is these kinds of quirky details that fill this funny film.

The other guys in the group include: Laurence “Shrevie” Screiber (Daniel Stern, CITY SLICKERS), who is already married to Beth (Ellen Barkin, THE BIG EASY), but has nothing in common with her; the ladies man with a gambling problem Robert “Boogie” Sheftell (Mickey Rourke, 9 1/2 WEEKS); jokester/ alcoholic/ trust-fund moocher Timothy Fenwick, Jr. (Kevin Bacon, FLATLINERS); talker and tag along Modell (Paul Reiser, TV’s MAD ABOUT YOU); and Billy Howard (Timothy Daly, TV’s WINGS), who impregnated his longtime platonic friend Barbara (Kathryn Dowling, CLARA’S HEART).

Blogs CAROUSEL (1956) (**)

I was excited going into this film. A Rogers & Hammerstein musical dealing with one of my favorite subjects – the circus. Boy was I disappointed.

The story starts out with alpha male carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae, OKLAHOMA!) in heaven hearing that there is trouble with his family back on Earth. After which, we flashback in time to when Billy met his wife Julie Jordon (Shirley Jones, ELMER GANTRY). Both end up losing their jobs over the meeting, but it doesn’t matter because they fall instantly in love with each other. After they're married, they live off Julie’s cousin Nettie (Claramae Turner). Then Billy gets caught up with shady Jigger Craigin (Cameron Mitchell, MY FAVORITE YEAR), which leads to Billy ending up in heaven where he asks to go back down to Earth to help his daughter Louise (Susan Luckey, THE MUSIC MAN).

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