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SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) (**)

Oh this all-female twist on FATAL ATTRACTION is a paint-by-numbers thriller. Well, it’s a thriller in name only because it very rarely chills at all.

Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda, A SIMPLE PLAN) has recently broken up with her fiancée Sam Rawson (Steven Weber, TV’s WINGS). She puts an ad in the paper and receives a call from the mousy Hedy Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY). Soon enough we see that Hedy isn’t as mousy and soft-spoken as she first appeared and it becomes “creepier and creepier” when she starts to take on the look and personality of Allison.

The film follows the formula for this kind of film to the T. There’s a cute pet, so you know what will happen to it. There’s a convenient gay neighbor so you know what will happen to him. Everyone shows up on cue and the contrivances crammed into the film for the plot to move forward are explained away with total lameness. Skilled writing isn’t this film’s strong point.

Blogs

THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939) (****)

On many best films of all time lists, this film inevitably makes an appearance. In the 2002 Sight & Sound poll (the definitive poll of critics and filmmakers every 10 years), the film was listed at #3, only behind Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE and Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO. Is the film great? Yes. One of the best of all time? Well that can always be up for debate.

Part of the film’s power relies on the knowledge of the viewer going in. You need to know the film was made in 1939 just as the Nazis were knocking on France’s door. You also have to know a little bit about French society as well. Director Jean Renoir claims in a note at the beginning of the film that the production is not a social commentary, but that’s as much of a lie as any lie perpetrated by the characters in the film.

Blogs

THE NAVIGATOR (1924) (****)

In this silent classic, Buster Keaton plays spoiled millionaire’s son Rollo Treadway, who wants to marry snobby rich girl Betsy O’Brien (Kathryn McGuire, SHERLOCK, JR.) He plans the wedding and books a cruise for their honeymoon. All he has to do now is ask her. However, she denies him. So, saddened Rollo heads out on the cruise by himself. Through some mishaps Rollo and Betsy both end up on a steamship that is set adrift in the ocean.

Most of the humor of the film comes from the two rich kids being completely helpless on the ship. The gags are often character based and flow nicely. Besides Keaton’s impeccable comic timing, this film shows off McGuire’s skills as well.

Blogs

LOS OLVIDADOS (1952) (****)

Wow is this film good. I’m just discovering Luis Buñuel’s work and I’m quickly becoming a fan. This film, (also known as THE YOUNG AND THE DAMNED) made in 1950 and released in the U.S. in 1952, takes a look at young street gangs in Mexico City. This film came in a period of Buñuel’s career after he was kicked out of the European scene for making a film deemed sacrilegious and the beginning of his work in Mexico.

The gritty black and white photography and the 1950s setting made me think of those “educational” films of the period that warned kids off drugs or sex. The film’s theme of street gangs adds to the comparison. However, Buñuel is too good of a director to make a preachy piece of propaganda. He was never shy to court controversy in the name of brutal realism and this film doesn’t shy away from the real hardships of ghetto life.

Blogs

ICHI THE KILLER (2001) (***1/2)

Not since IRREVERSIBLE have I had such a hard time coming to a decision about what I really think about a film. This movie shocks with sex and violence, but unlike the gut-wrenching reality of the violence in IRREVERSIBLE this film is like Quentin Tarantino on acid.

A yakuza (gang) war breaks out after the boss of the Anjo gang goes missing (i.e. killed). His sadomasochistic second-in-command Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano, THE BLIND SWORDSMAN: ZATOICHI) sets out to find the truth no matter who he has to torture or kill. What we soon discover is that renegade yakuza Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto, DEAD OR ALIVE 2) is controlling sociopath killer Ichi (Nao Omori, DOLLS), driving him to wipe out the yakuza. Other key characters include yakuza boss Suzuki (Susumu Terajima, CASSHERN), sadomasochistic opportunist Karen (Paulyn Sun, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE), former cop/ current yakuza gunman Kaneko (Hiroyuki “Sabo” Tanaka) and Takeshi (Hiroshi Kobyashi), a young boy saved from bullies by Ichi.

Blogs

HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992) (****)

Gabe (Woody Allen, ANNIE HALL) and Judy Roth (Mia Farrow, ROSEMARY’S BABY) are shocked when their best friends Sally (Judy Davis, THE REF) and Jack (Sydney Pollack, TOOTSIE) announce that they are separating. This news opens up doubts and old wounds in Gabe and Judy’s marriage.

Jack and Sally say they mutually want to see other people, but she doesn’t know that he has already been seeing aerobics teacher Sam (Lysette Anthony, KRULL). So, Judy sets up Sally with her co-worker Michael Gates (Liam Neeson, SCHINDLER’S LIST), who she is really infatuated with. Meanwhile, Gabe becomes intrigued by his 20-year-old writing student Rain (Juliette Lewis, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?).

Blogs

HOUSE OF WAX (1953) (***1/2)

Prof. Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price, LAURA) is a slightly-off wax sculptor who desperately resists the urging of his partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts, TV’s THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) to put a house of horrors in their wax museum. After Jarrod resists, Burke decides to set fire to the museum and collect the insurance.

Jarrod is presumed to have died in the fire, but he reemerges in a wheelchair with burnt hands to start a new museum that now includes a house of horrors. So who is the scarred man that stalks the night? The mysterious murderer sets his sights on Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk, TV’s THE RED BUTTONS SHOW), who witnesses him killing her socialite friend Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones, 1956’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH).

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GALLIPOLI (1981) (***)

This interesting look at the infamous World War I battle at Gallipoli in Turkey is unlike any “war” film I’ve ever seen before. The actually fighting doesn’t start until almost an hour and a half into the film. The film takes its time establishing the characters before it thrusts them into the war.

Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee, EMMA’S WAR) is a young track star who desperately wants to fight for his country, but is at first turned down for being too young. He meets up with drifter Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson, MAD MAX), who at first doesn’t want to have anything to do with the war, however his best mates Billy (Robert Grubb, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME), Barney (Tim McKenzie, WITH PREJUDICE) and Snowy (David Argue, THE COCA-COLA KID) want to join the adventure. The film chronicles the young men’s journey and actual struggle to join the army, which is led by the British on a suicide mission.

Blogs

CREEPSHOW (1982) (**1/2)

Anthology films are so hard to judge, because you want to recommend the strong segments and disregard the weaker ones. Inspired by the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s, this film was written by Stephen King and directed by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD master George A. Romero. The film is comprised of five tales of phobia, bookended by a story of a father who takes his son’s CREEPSHOW comic away.

The first tale is “Father’s Day,” which tells the tale of Sylvia Grantham (Carrie Nye, TV’s THE GUIDING LIGHT) who has a twisted relationship with her now dead father. This segment has an early performance from Ed Harris (APOLLO 13) who has a run-in with a tombstone.

The second segment has a country bumpkin named Jordy Verrill (King) discovering a meteorite that contains a strange substance. The third and best segment — “Something to Tide You Over” — has Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen, NAKED GUN) seeking revenge on Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson, TV’s CHEERS), who is having an affair with Richard’s wife. Richard’s revenge has a twisted inspiration to it. It’s hard to remember that Nielsen started out in drama and is very good at it. His latter years of being typecasted as a slapstick man hide his talent as a bona fide actor.

Blogs

THE BROOD (1979) (***1/2)

Often written off as exploitation trash, I beg to differ. You have to look deeper and listen to what the characters are going through to understand the underlying meaning of the film. Director David Cronenberg is known for his gross-out moments. I mean he made THE FLY remake and this film has its gross moments as well. However, I feel they work and add to the creepiness of this film because they sum up at the end of the film.

Frank Carveth (Art Hindle, PORKY’S) is a caring father toward his 5-year-old daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds, THE DEAD ZONE). His wife Nola (Samantha Eggar, DOCTOR DOOLITTLE) is at a psychiatric institute under the care of the menacing Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, GLADIATOR). Frank is worried about his daughter visiting his wife when he discovers bruises on the little girl. Raglan’s methods are called Psycho-Plasmics, where Raglan plays the person the patient has issues with and helps them rid them of their rage, which often creates bumps on their skin. Nola has some major issues with her divorced parents Juliana (Nuala Fitzgerald, CIRCLE OF TWO) and Barton Kelly (Henry Beckman, I LOVE YOU TO DEATH).

Blogs

THE BIRDS (1963) (***1/2)

Hey, guess what? I love another Alfred Hitchcock film. Every Hitchcock film I have seen before, I would want to see again. The master’s follow-up to PSYCHO isn’t as good as its predecessor, but it’s still a delightful thriller that has genuine scares and tension.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, MARNIE) is a beautiful socialite who has a meet-cute moment with lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor, GIANT) in a pet store. She pretends to be a worker there and Mitch plays along even though he knows exactly whom she is. She’s known as a practical joker and he doesn’t like her public persona. As a way to prove him wrong and impress him, Melanie finds out where he lives and plans to buy two love birds for his 11-year-old sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), whose birthday is that weekend.

Blogs

THE BEYOND (1981) (**)

Lucio Fulci, along with his elder Mario Bava (who he worked for) and his contemporary Dario Argento, are the trilogy of Italian horror legends. Fulci and Argento are best known for their gory horrors flicks. They took the gore of George A. Romero’s zombie movies to the extreme. I’ve seen two films each from Fulci and Argento. I like Argento, who makes gory horror with stories that remind me of Hitchcock and DePalma. I have not liked Fulci. Where Argento wants to scary you; Fulci wants to repulse you. Gore for gore sake in horror films is pointless and exploitative. When it’s done right it’s frightening.

But the former art critic and medical student Fucli seems obsessed with melting and torn human flesh. He also has something with eyes popping out or poked in. I think his place in cinema history comes from the fact that his imagery is unforgettable. But the bad car wreck that I saw last week is unforgettable too and that isn’t art.

Blogs

Nik Phelps performs with Frederick Hodges

NIK PHELPS PERFORMS HIS SCORE FOR WINGS!!!! SUNDAY, MAY 15th at the
DARKROOM

If you missed it at the Balboa Theatre, in Point Arena or on our performance
tour of Scotland, you have one more chance to see and hear Nik and pianist
Frederick Hodges perform Nik's score to the 1926 Academy Award winning film
WINGS.

WINGS, staring Clara Bow, Buddy Rodgers & Richard Arlen, is still as strong
an anti-war film as it was when it was originally made, with exceptional
acting by a superb cast.

Dr. Hal Robbins will MC the evening, giving us all an added treat with his
remarkable and witty store of knowledge.

ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY!!! 8:00 P.M.

Blogs

April Hwy. clean-up

COME CLEAN THE HIGHWAY WITH NIK & NANCY -- Spring is here so let's take to
the highway to do something for Mother Nature (and ourselves too!!!
Sunday, April 24th. We meet at our house at 9:00 AM for brunch, watch the
safety film and then take to the highway for a couple of hours of good clean
fun!!! Be sure to save time afterward for the Bar-B-Que in our beautiful
back yard and even stick around for the evening film. Be sure to wear long
pants and good walking shoes. Questions??? meeting address???? call Nancy
at 415/ 681-3189

Blogs

THE HITCHER (1986) (***)

Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell, SOUL MAN) is a college-aged drive away driver going from Chicago to San Diego. Late one night he picks up a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Rutger Hauer, BLADE RUNNER). Soon enough he realizes that he has picked up a sick killer.

Through quick thinking, Jim gets away and this begins Ryder’s torment of Jim, taunting him and making his life a living hell. Jim finds an ally in diner waitress Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY), though the world seems against him.

This cat and mouse tale is tense and fast moving. As the situation gets tenser for Jim, the film carries the same feelings to the audience with ease. Hauer is a perfect choice for the twisted sadomasochistic villain. Some of the film’s scares are classic moments. You won’t forget the French fries or what happens to Nash.

Blogs

THE WOODSMAN (2004) (****)

It’s hard to say out of the five actors (Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Don Cheadle and Johnny Depp) who got nominated for the Oscar, which one I’d drop, but it seems a shame that Kevin Bacon did not get nominated for what is his best performance ever. This smart and even-handed look at a pedophile is human and haunting.

Walter (Bacon, FLATLINERS) has just been released from a 12-year prison sentence for molesting girls aged 10-14. He gets a job at a lumberyard, where he meets tough and forward gal, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick, WHAT’S COOKING?). However, lumberyard secretary Mary-Kay (Eve, BARBERSHOP) is very leery of the new guy. Walter’s brother-in-law Carlos (Benjamin Bratt, MISS CONGENIALITY) visits him, but his sister refuses to. Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def, upcoming HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY) pays Walter visits as well, talking down to him like he is the scum of the Earth.

Blogs

VERA DRAKE (2004) (****)

Though this film deals with abortion, it’s not about abortion. The film is a character study about a woman who does illegal and possibly dangerous abortions for all the right reasons.

This character is Vera Drake, played amazingly by Oscar-nominee Imelda Staunton (MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING). Director Mike Leigh (SECRETS & LIES) skillfully crafts this tale, which sets up Vera’s life and family before thrusting the drama of the story upon the audience. Stan (Phil Davis, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY) is her devoted blue-collar husband. Sid (Daniel Mays, ALL OR NOTHING) is Vera’s son, a tailor by day, wanna-be player by night. Ethel (Alex Kelly, ALL OR NOTHING) is Vera’s mousy daughter.

Blogs

THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND (2004) (**)

First time writer/director Matthew Ryan Hoge has seen AMERICAN BEAUTY a few too many times. This film is like an entire movie following the weird neighbor Ricky from the Oscar winner. This is the film’s crucial mistake.

At the start, Leland P. Fitzgerald (Ryan Gosling, THE NOTEBOOK) stabs autistic boy Ryan Pollard (Michael Welch, STAR TREK: INSURRECTION) twenty times and laments about the sadness. Leland is an emotionally stunted young man who is consumed by emotion but cannot express it. His father -- famed writer Albert T. Fitzgerald (Kevin Spacey, AMERICAN BEAUTY) -- has no relationship with his son, except for his purchase of a trip every year for Leland. (Note: Do not name a famous writer character after a famous writer unless you are writing about the real famous writer.) Albert comes to town smelling a book, but doesn’t ever go to see his son.

Blogs

SPANGLISH (2004) (***1/2)

When James L. Brooks decides to direct a film, chances are you won’t be disappointed. Take his track record — TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS. However, when I heard mixed things about SPANGLISH, I was luke warm about seeing it. But now I know, if Brooks directs something you need to see it.

The film is narrated by Cristina Moreno (Shelbie Bruce, film debut), a Mexican immigrant whose mother Flor (Paz Vega, SEX AND LUCIA) moved them to L.A. to get a better life. Paz speaks no English, but still gets a job as the maid of the Clasky family.

John Clasky (Adam Sandler, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE) is a world-renown chef. The best way to describe his personality is to state his philosophy on getting food reviews. A 4-star review is terrible because it brings way too pressure to the restaurant. A 3 1/2 makes you feel bad that you were just shy of perfection. But a 3 1/4 star review is great, because its respectable and allows you to keep working under the radar.

Blogs

THE RECKONING (2004) (***1/2)

THE RECKONING is an unusually layered mystery dealing with corrupt leaders in the 1300s. Nicholas (Paul Bettany, MASTER & COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD) is a priest on the run – for he has been caught sleeping with another man’s wife and maybe an even worse crime. He comes upon a troupe of actors led by Martin (Willem Dafoe, THE ENGLISH PATIENT), who takes him in to fill a hole in the cast after one of their member’s dies.

They arrive at a town, run by Lord De Guise (Vincent Cassel, IRREVERISIBLE) and discover that a young boy has been recently murdered for which a deaf and dumb woman named Martha (Elvira Minguez, THE DANCER UPSTAIRS) stands to hang for the crime. Martin’s Bible-inspired plays have been doing poorly so he decides to put on the story of the murdered boy. Troupe member Tobias (Brian Cox, THE 25TH HOUR) doesn’t like the idea, because the story was not given to them by God. However, he is outvoted by the other members, including Martin's sister Sarah (Gina McKee, ATONEMENT), who is fascinated by Nicholas' mysterious persona. When Nicholas and Martin go to visit the accused for research, they discover a thicker mystery than they thought. As a way to cleanse his soul, Nicholas takes it upon himself to find the truth, which leads to complications that he couldn’t have expected.

Blogs

I HEART HUCKABEES (2004) (**1/2)

David O. Russell is a smart filmmaker, having made FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and THREE KINGS. This time around he’s a little too smart for his own good.

Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman, RUSHMORE) is having an existential crisis, involving three coincidental run-ins with a tall African man named Stewart Nimieri (Ger Duany, film debut). So Albert hires existential detectives Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman, RAIN MAN & Lily Tomlin, 9 TO 5). I’ve seen the movie and don’t really know how to explain what an existential detective really is. It’s kind of a cross between a private eye, a therapist and a New Age guru. But don’t call them therapists, because that ticks them off. They spout a philosophy that everything in the universe is connected and meaningful. They try to discover why it’s meaningful.

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OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004) (***)

Steven Soderbergh (SOLARIS) usually makes smart films, but here he returns to his cool mode for the sequel to his OCEAN’S ELEVEN heist flick. The first film was fun disposable entertainment filled with stars. The sequel has the same flare.

The film begins with Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS) — the casino owner who gets robbed in the first film — tracking down the original heist gang and threatening to kill them if they do not return the cash they stole plus interest. So Danny Ocean (George Clooney, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY), now married to Benedict’s ex-wife and his former wife Tess (Julia Roberts, CLOSER), regroups the gang and goes to Europe for his next heist.

Blogs

I HAVE FOUND IT (2000) (***)

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood film before than your first one might be disconcerting. However, once you get into the mix of melodrama and song, you might find yourself having a great time. That’s exactly how I felt watching this Indian version of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.

Due to my lack of understanding of Tamil, I will provide names and actors when I can. Sowmya (Tabu) is the practical daughter in her family, but falls for a young filmmaker. Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai, BRIDE & PREJUDICE) is the poet of the family and dreams of grand love. She is certain that she has found it with a young businessman, but the crippled Capt. Bala (Mammootty) may be a better choice.

If you know the Jane Austin tale then you know that these women will experience hardship and poverty and will learn to love with all their hearts. The film is grand and peppered with music video-like interludes that take place all over the world.

Blogs

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947) (***1/2)

This Oscar-winning best picture was a landmark film in dealing with anti-Semitism and prejudice in general. Philip Schuyler Green (Gregory Peck, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and his family have been brought to New York by a large newspaper that wants Phil to do a series on anti-Semitism. At first Phil is reluctant because he doesn’t know what else to say that hasn’t been said before. One night, he has an epiphany — he will pretend to be a Jew and write the article from that perspective.

In New York, he meets wealthy socialite Kathy Lacey (Dorothy McGuire, THE GREATEST SOLD EVER TOLD) and soon the widower and the divorcee are engaged to be married. Phil sees first hand the prejudice toward Jews from doctors and rich snobs and from the perspective of his childhood friend Dave Goldman (John Garfield, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE). He also sees it in Jews like his secretary Elaine Wells (June Havoc, 1945’s BREWSTER’S MILLIONS). But the most powerful example of casual bigotry comes from Kathy, which creates riffs in their relationship.

Blogs

FAIL-SAFE (1964) (****)

The fact that this movie and DR. STRANGELOVE came out in the same year is mind-boggling. The film is the dramatic flipside of Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satirical masterpiece. With this film, Sidney Lumet just solidifies himself in my mind as one of my favorite directors.

A technical malfunction causes a group of fighter planes to attack Moscow. Because of the way procedure works the planes cannot be called back. The President (Henry Fonda, LADY EVE) struggles with what to do and is advised by dovish Brig. Gen. Warren A. Black (Dan O’Herlihy, ROBOCOP) and hawkish political science professor Groeteschele (Walter Matthau, CHARADE).

The direct line with the Russians is by-the-book Gen. Bogan (Frank Overton, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and the nervous Col. Jack Grady (Ed Binns, THE VERDICT). Flying the mission is dedicated soldier Col. Cascio (Fritz Weaver, CREEPSHOW). Helping the President with his crucial communications with the Russians is young translator Buck (Larry Hagman, TV’s DALLAS).

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