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DEAD ALIVE (1992) (****)

Before becoming the Oscar-winning director of THE LORD OF THE RINGS series, Peter Jackson made this satirical horror film, which is hands down the goriest flick I've ever seen. I mean blood and guts by the gallons. I mean characters taking lawnmowers to zombies. Do not watch this film while eating. It will make you nauseous. If it seems like you can't stomach a movie like this than don't watch it. This is for certain tastes only.

However, if you like dark, witty, inventive horror comedy than you have to see this film now. Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme, LA VIE EN ROSE) is a weak momma's boy. He lives to please his demanding mum (Elizabeth Moody, HEAVENLY CREATURES). She even follows him on a date with Paquita Maria Sanchez (Diana Peñalver, THE MOST AMAZING GAME), who feels that she is destined to be with Lionel even though a tarot card reading states that death hangs over him.


CHASING LIBERTY (2004) (**1/2)

Anna Foster (Mandy Moore, SAVED!) is the 18-year-old daughter of the U.S. President James Foster (Mark Harmon, FREAKY FRIDAY). Anna so desperately wants some freedom from the oppressiveness of being watched by Secret Service agents at every turn. The Fosters are going to Prague and Anna convinces her father to let her go out with the French president’s daughter Gabrielle (Beatrice Rosen), accompanied by only two agents Alan Weiss (Jeremy Piven, JUST WRITE) and Cynthia Morales (Annabella Sciorra, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME).

However, the President doesn’t keep his promise and sends out a horde of agents. When Anna discovers this, she runs away to the Love Parade, which he father strictly forbid her to go to. In her dash from the agents, she hitches a ride with a complete stranger named Ben Calder (Matthew Goode, Woody Allen’s upcoming MATCH POINT), who happens to be an undercover agent. So when the President finds out, he allows Anna to go with Ben so that she feels like she has some freedom.


AUDITION (1999) (***)

This is my second Takashi Miike film and it's such a hugely different film from ICHI THE KILLER. Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, THE GRUDGE) is a widower. His son Shigehiko (Retsu Sawaki, HUSH!) is now a teenager and he wants to find a new wife. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa (Jun Kunimura, KILL BILL: VOL. 1) presents an idea — they will hold a fictional movie audition for Shigeharu to meet woman. He quickly becomes enamored with quiet and shy Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), who has had a great lose in her past.

The film is a satirical look at relationships and the pursuit for the ideal mate. With a surprising ending (only surprising if you don't know Miike really), the film has a pretty cynical view of male/female relations.


WHITE NOISE (2005) (**)

The major problem with this film is that it takes a pretty creepy idea and makes it boring. The film deals with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), which is the belief that ghosts can be recorded on radio and TV channels between frequencies.

Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton, BEETLEJUICE) is an architect, who loses a loved one. One day, Raymond Price (Ian McNeice, FROM HELL) comes to Jonathan and tells him that Jonathan's loved one has contacted him through EVP means. Jonathan quickly becomes a believer and along with Raymond and bookstore owner Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger, SUNSHINE) they desperately try to contact the deceased.

Many times throughout the film, you say to yourself — hey, that's an interesting idea, I wish they would have done more with that. Part of what makes EVP creepy is the unexpectedness of the voices and their eerie sound. The film captures it a little bit, but doesn't deal enough with why the dead are contacting the living. Well, not in any really emotional or interesting way.



I was very impressed with director Guy Maddin after seeing his inventive DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN'S DIARY. In his latest venture, he takes his vintage silent movie look to the next level. You know a Maddin film right from the start, because it uses the conventions and look of silent cinema as its style. In DRACULA, Maddin used the conventions for subtle satirical purposes. He does the same here, but to a more poignant and successful extent.

By toning down his exuberant style from DRACULA, he has crafted a satire on sadness. Set in 1933 in Winnipeg during the Depression, the legless Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini, BLUE VELVET) issues a call to all nations to participate in a contest to discover what nation's music is the saddest. The winner will receive $25,000.



The plot structure of this film is very close to that of the book, THE DA VINCI CODE. Clues to a treasure/ secret are hidden within public documents or monuments/ works of art. I have not read THE DA VINCI CODE, but the movie is coming soon. But first we have this film, which on a very innocent level works really well. What kid hasn’t dreamt of a good ol’ treasure hunt? This film provides that fantasy. And with a PG-rating anyone in the family can enjoy it.

Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage, LEAVING LAS VEGAS) comes from a family that has been entrusted with the secret for finding a huge treasure, squirreled away by the Founding Fathers, Masons and Knights Templar. Ben’s grandfather John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer, THE INSIDER) was the person who sparked the treasure hunt bug in him and his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight, COMING HOME) has been trying to crush it, because he doesn’t want his son to waste his life like he did, looking for a treasure that might not exist.


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

Brad Anderson is an interesting filmmaker. His NEXT STOP WONDERLAND was smart and funny and his SESSION 9 was one of the scarier horror films that I’d seen in ages. Now he creates an atmospheric thriller that succeeds greatly from solid performances and a stellar ending.

First off, the performance of Christian Bale (BATMAN BEGINS) as Trevor Reznik is amazing. He dropped 60 lbs. for the role and is literally skin and bones, adding an inherent creepiness over the entire film. Equally as compelling is Jennifer Jason Leigh (THE HUDSUCKER PROXY) as Stevie, Reznik’s favorite prostitute, who really just wants someone to not treat her like dirt for once.

Reznik also visits an airport diner to see kind waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, I’M NOT SCARED). Reznik’s major problem is that he hasn’t slept in over a year. Stevie and Marie worry about his health. His co-workers are now finding their former friend quite strange. Then when the mysterious bald-headed machinist Ivan (John Sharian, CALENDAR GIRLS) shows up things go down hill from there, including Reznik causing an accident that maims a co-worker.


LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (2004) (***)

This romantic comedy was a big hit in its native country of France. It has a whimsical AMELIE feel to it, but with a touch of darkness like WAR OF THE ROSES.

Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Sophie (Marion Cotillard, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT) have been friends since they were eight years old. Since then they have been playing a game of dares with each other. As youth, the dares were fairly harmless parks like saying dirty words in class or peeing on the principal’s office floor. The film uses a bit of an unbelievable conceit to keep these two friends from hooking up at a younger age. There is no doubt that these two people are meant for each other.

However, when they get older and Sophie wants to get more serious, she can’t trust if what Julien is saying is for real or just a game. This leads into an exchange of dares that are emotionally brutal and even dangerous.


ENDURING LOVE (2004) (***1/2)

This drama — masked as a thriller— is a debate on what is love. A random event, which results in a person's death, brings philosophy professor Joe (Daniel Craig, LAYER CAKE) to meet scruffy Jed (Rhys Ifans, NOTTING HILL).

Joe is a practical and rational thinker, who has an idea that love is just an evolutionary trick to make people procreate. He is the kind of person who rationalizes everything. Jed is irrational, believing in the intangible and creating grand cause and method out of any sign or gesture. He begins stalking Joe, believing their one shared experience has linked them.

The whole of the tragic event, including Jed's weird behavior, starts to unravel Joe as well. His stable relationship with Claire (Samantha Morton, MINORITY REPORT) becomes strained as he becomes more and more rational thus more and more emotionless. The film is quite observant when it comes to how people deal with random tragedies. I loved how the film used Joe and Jed's characters to display the extreme sides of its central premise, allowing Claire to serve as the middle ground.


Dennis Tupicoff reception, 4th of July Reminder

Nik and Nancy are back from the Annecy International Festival of Animation -- it was wonderful to see old friends and make lots of new ones -- I'll write a separate article about Annecy in a week or so so that anyone who isn't interested in animation (although I can't imagine who that would be) won't have to read it.

We return to San Francisco just in time to host a party for renowned Australian animator Dennis Tupicoff. THIS IS A PARTY FOR ANIMATION PEOPLE - NOT ONE OF OUR MASSIVE PARTIES, but if you are from the animation world, please come and meet Dennis. He has been in Los Angeles where a retrospective of his work was screened and is coming up to visit Nik and I for a few days.


HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (2005) (***1/2)

Studio Ghibli is the true master of current animation. That's solely due to the greatness of director Hayao Miyazaki. He keeps saying that he's going to retire, but that would only make the world a dreary place. I felt both his PRINCESS MONONOKE and SPIRITED AWAY were the best films of their respective years of release.

Sophie (voiced young by Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING and old by Jean Simmons, SPARTACUS) is a young, quiet hat maker, who doesn't think she is pretty. One day she has a run in with the greedy Witch of the Waste (Lauren Bacall, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT), who turns Sophie into an old woman. The next day Sophie leaves her hat shop and ends up on a wizard's moving castle. The wizard is Howl (Christian Bale, BATMAN BEGINS), a handsome and charming young man who can turn into a giant monstrous bird.


WOLFEN (1981) (***)

This thriller/horror flick is more than your typical werewolf movie. Rich industrialist Christopher van der Veer (Max M. Brown, only film performance) and his wife Pauline (Anne Marie Pohtamo, MANHATTAN) are savagely murdered. Gritty detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney, TOM JONES) is assigned the case.

Helping him is forensic scientist Whittington (Gregory Hines, WHITE NIGHTS) and Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora, HEAT), an investigator for a security company that guards wealthy individuals. When strange wolf hairs show up on the victims, Dewey makes the leap that Native American activist Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos, STAND & DELIEVER) might be involved in some supernatural way.



This film is one of the most deceptively deep motion pictures I've ever seen. By the end of the film, I knew the main character more deeply than I know acquaintances in real life.

Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) is a widower who over time has isolated himself from people and become quite cold, because he finds the world too critical. He is being given an honorary degree from his old university and must travel there to accept it.

After having a strange dream about death, he decides to drive to the event instead of taking the train. His dedicated housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl, SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) doesn't like the change in plans, but Isak's daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin, CRIES AND WHISPERS) decides to ride along with him even though she does not like him because he is cold and distant like her husband/his son Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand).



This 1960 sci-fi/horror flick is a unique take on the classic alien invasion/ possessed child tale. One day in a small town in England all the citizens just faint on the spot. Scientist Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders, ALL ABOUT EVE) was talking to his soldier brother-in-law Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) at the time. Alan brings in the military and discovers that any living thing that crosses a certain point entering the village faints on the spot.

Then as mysteriously as it started it ends with everyone waking up. No one is hurt, but strangely 12 women in town are now pregnant. After the mothers give birth, the town discovers the strangeness of the children, which all have dark eyes, bleach blonde hair and are developing at an unusually fast rate.


THEM! (1954) (***1/2)

This film is why 1950s B-movie sci-fi is so great. This film was the first of the big bug series of flicks that infested the decade. Though it's clearly a B-movie, it doesn't act like one, because it plays its material straight and with a natural tone.

Police Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) discovers a 5-year-old girl (Sandy Descher, THE PRODIGAL) wandering alone in the desert in a daze. The side of her trailer has been bashed in and so has the side of the general store. After an officer is killed, FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness, TV's GUNSMOKE) is assigned the case and calls in scientists Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY) and his daughter Dr. Pat Medford (Joan Weldon, 1954's THE COMMAND). What they discover is that the atomic bomb testing in the desert has mutated the ants in the region to 9 feet. So the film's heroes must destroy the mutant ants, but what will they do when the bugs reach Los Angeles?


SWING TIME (1936) (****)

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the perfect duo. They have instant likeability. They both light up the screen. Their chemistry together is magic in an effortless way. They both have great comedic timing. Oh yeah, and they dance better than any two people in the world.

John “Lucky” Garnett (Astaire) is a dancer and a gambler, whose current dance troupe doesn’t want him to get married and leave them. So they make him late for his wedding to rich girl, Margaret Watson (Betty Furness, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION). Once Lucky arrives after all the guests have left, Margaret’s father Judge Watson (Landers Stevens, ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS) wants to throttle him at first, but consents to letting Lucky marry his daughter if the young man can go to the city and make $25,000.


THE STEPFATHER (1987) (**)

This horror/thriller starts out fairly well, but spirals into cliché and cheese toward the end.

Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn, TV’s LOST) has murdered his family and started a new life with a new wife Susan (Shelley Hack, TROLL) and new teenage daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen, D.C. CAB). Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen, GONE IN 60 SECONDS) is the brother of Jerry’s last wife and has begun a tireless crusade to find Jerry and kill him. Susan has been in a lot of trouble since her real father died. Jerry desperately wants to have the perfect family, but when things go awry he snaps.

O’Quinn’s performance is very good even toward the end when he’s given cheesy lines to say that just don’t work. He develops a killer that is tormented and trying not to be a killer. But at one point the film abandons this characterization for a more typical psycho killer mode. This is where the film unravels and shows its warts.



This documentary follows the strange yet fascinating story of Annabel Chong (whose real name is Grace), who became internationally known for having sex with 251 men in a 10-hour straight session.

The film shows her as a complex and deeply tormented person, who one of her former teachers describes as an introvert pretending to be an extrovert. She claims she got into porn because she likes sex a lot, which is probably a half-truth. Her main reasoning seems to be as a form of rebellion against an oppressive and conservative upbringing in Singapore and London. She likes to shock.

Another layer of her psyche has her engaging in sex acts that demean and are demeaning. She justifies all her actions as a statement of feminist rebellion against the double standard that women should not enjoy sex and should not have multiple partners when for men society says the opposite.


NINE 1/2 WEEKS (1986) (**1/2)

Adrian Lyne is a director that isn’t afraid to tackle sexuality on the screen. I’m not a fan of his FLASHDANCE, but that image of Jennifer Beals (or her body double) being splashed with water has become an iconic erotic image. FATAL ATTRACTION is one of the better “From Hell” thrillers being the definitive affair from hell. He dealt with infidelity unsuccessfully in INDECENT PROPOSAL (but it still had people thinking) and successfully in UNFAITHFUL. Lyne dealt with a weird sexuality in JACOB’S LADDER as well as in his best film LOLITA.

However, NINE 1/2 WEEKS was his first real foray into sexuality. Several of the film’s sex scenes have become iconic and parodied over and over again. Elizabeth (Kim Basinger, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) is a conservative divorcee, who is shy about sexuality until she meets John (Mickey Rourke, DINER).


LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) (***)

This Technicolor noir begins with writer Dick Harland (Cornel Wilde, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) returning to his family cabin after serving two years in prison. His lawyer and friend Glen Robie (Ray Collins, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER) then tells the story of what happened to lead to this point.

On the way to Robie’s house in New Mexico, Dick meets Ellen Beret (Gene Tierney, THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR), who along with her cousin/ adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain, 1950’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN) and mother (Mary Philips, 1932’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS), is also going to Robie’s house. There her family has gone to spread the ashes of their dead father. Ellen is engaged to DA Russell Quinton (Vincent Price, LAURA), but that doesn’t stop Ellen from falling in love with Dick and marrying him within days. Oh, did I mention that Dick looks like her father. Yep, this picture gets Freudian.



Jack Nicholson reteamed with his FIVE EASY PIECES director Bob Rafelson for this strange ode to brothers. David Staebler (Nicholson) is a depressed and skeptical late night radio DJ, who broadcasts his "true" tales of woe. One day he gets a call to come to Atlantic City from his big brother Jason (Bruce Dern, DIGGSTOWN).

When he arrives, David discovers that his brother is in jail and wrapped up with mobsters including Lewis (Scatman Crothers, THE SHINING). After Jason is bailed out, he tells David that he has a great deal for building their own casino/hotel on their own private island in Hawaii. David is of course skeptical right from the start. However, Jason has two devoted followers his girl Sally (Ellen Burstyn, ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) and his younger girl Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson, only film performance), who dreams of being Miss America.


KISS ME DEADLY (1955) (****)

This deceptive film-noir/crime yarn brings gumshoe Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker, PATHS OF GLORY) into a murder mystery that involves some pretty shady characters. The tale starts out as a fairly competent detective tale, but that is all just set up for the stellar ending that is totally unexpected and quite powerful. When most films of this nature have their hard-boiled detectives soften up by the end of the film, this flick does the exact opposite to startling and thrilling extents.

The events of the film begin when Mike picks up Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) by the lonely roadside. Then when Christina gets murdered and Mike almost loses his life along with her, he is determined to discover what he can get out of the deal for himself. This is where he enlists the female skills of his long-suffering girl/partner Velda (Maxine Cooper, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?).



George Lucas has gone to the dark side of the STAR WARS franchise and made a great film. All the naysayers need to shut up. All the fans have something to rejoice about. It’s not only the best film in the prequel trilogy; it’s better than RETURN OF THE JEDI.

The story, as we know, is how Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, SHATTERED GLASS) falls to the Dark Side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader. The film starts with Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, TRAINSPOTTING) on a mission to rescue Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, SLEEPY HOLLOW) from the Sith Lord General Grievous. Anakin later learns that his wife Padmé (Natalie Portman, CLOSER) is pregnant and he begins to have dreams of her death while giving birth. Plagued by the death of his mother, Anakin is tormented with his seeming powerlessness to stop his loved ones from dying.


UNDERTOW (2004) (***1/2)

David Gordon Green is a young director whose work is subtle and surprisingly deep. I love his films GEORGE WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS. His new film UNDERTOW is a far more mainstream film for the underrated director whose work reminds me of Terence Malick (THE THIN RED LINE), who actually produced this film.

Due to setting and story, UNDERTOW reminded me a lot of Charles Laughton’s brilliant cult classic NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. Chris Munn (Jamie Bell, BILLY ELLIOT) is a teen who is confused about the world like most teens are. However, he is being isolated from a good portion of the world by his father John (Dermot Mulroney, ABOUT SCHMIDT), who is greatly depressed over the death of his wife. Also a part of this small family unit is 10-year-old Tim (Devon Alan, SIMON BIRCH), who is a strange child who eats paint and mud and then throws up. He’s a smart kid who reads a lot, but is not emotionally mature enough to handle the hardships of life.


DARKNESS (2004) (*1/2)

This film falls into the tried and true warning — filmgoers beware of films released in the theaters in January, because they are often crud. Dimension tried to trick people and release this film last Christmas, but it smells like its right from the January dumping ground. Considering the film was made in 2002 and stat around for two years doesn’t build confidence as well.

Now I’ll admit that the film started out promising, especially with some great cinematography and production design. Teen Regina (Anna Paquin, FINDING FORRESTER) and her family have moved from the States to a European country where even electricians speak perfect English. Her father Mark (Iain Glen, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER) has had another episode and is becoming more and more angry. Regina’s little brother Paul (Stephan Enquist, film debut) begins to have bruises on his neck and starts drawing those cliché kids’ horror film drawings that creep people out. Well, they creep Regina out — her mother Maria (Lena Olin, MYSTERY MEN) is one of those movie moms who can’t see the bruises or unhinged husband before her eyes until it suits the plot. But we know something is up when the shadows under Paul’s bed keep stealing his colored pencils. I hate it when that happens.