Search form

AWN Blogs


HOTEL RWANDA (2004) (****)

Don Cheadle (OCEAN’S ELEVEN) was robbed of an Academy Award. I’m not knocking Jamie Foxx’s amazing performance in RAY, but Cheadle gave the best performance of last year. He plays hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who finds himself in an unlikely position of sheltering thousands of Tutsis from the Hutus during the genocide in Rwanda.

If you think that a new Hitler couldn’t rise to power again you are wrong — it’s happening all over Africa and no one is doing a damn thing about it. This powerful and important film brings a human touch to the atrocities that happened in Rwanda and one man’s place in history. Rusesabagina is a master player, he knows how to talk and bribe people so that he can get what he wants. He puts his motives first and then the hotel’s. This mutually helps both parties.


THE DEAD ZONE (1983) (***1/2)

Director David Cronenberg (THE FLY) isn’t really known for doing things subtly, but here he constructs a low-key thriller based on a Stephen King novel, which is one of the best films about psychics that I’ve seen.

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, THE DEER HUNTER) is an average, conservative schoolteacher. He’s dating Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams, GAS, FOOD, LODGING), who he promises he will marry someday. But then, he’s involved in a car crash, which plunges him into a coma. When he awakes five years later, Sarah has married and has had a child. On top of it, Johnny is plagued with new psychic abilities.

The film deals with the effects of the coma and his new abilities with a natural approach, which makes the film thoroughly believable. Johnny at first wants to hold a press conference about his new powers, which turns into a circus and leads to his mother having a fatal stroke. Afterward, Johnny often hides from his second sight powers even when Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skeritt, M*A*S*H) wants him to help in a murder investigation. Later, when he sees the future of corrupt politician Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, APOCALYPSE NOW), he must reconcile his feelings and find a way to act in the greater good.


HEAD IN THE CLOUDS (2004) (***)

Especially in the Golden Age of Hollywood people went to the movies to see beautiful people in dramatic settings fall in love and end in tragedy. This film is a throwback to those days. And who better to fit the bill of beautiful people than Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz and Theron’s current real-life boyfriend Stuart Townsend.

Theron (MONSTER) plays Gilda Besse, a half-American/ half-British elite who is notorious for her carefree attitude. She meets a student with a social conscience named Guy (Townsend, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) one night when she stumbles into his dorm room to stay out of the rain, ending up staying the night. Their lives intersect several times, as they grow older. Guy becomes a teacher and Gilda dabbles in anything she can.


DATE WITH AN ANGEL (1987) (**)

Cute, but terminally silly – this film is pretty much a low-rent SPLASH with wings. Jim Sanders (Michael E. Knight, TV’s ALL MY CHILDREN) finds a gorgeous angel (Emmanuelle Beart, MANON OF THE SPRING) in his pool. She is hurt and he helps her heal her wing. However, this does not sit well with Jim’s fiancée Patty Winston (Phoebe Cates, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) or her mean father and cosmetics company owner Ed (David Dukes, GODS AND MONSTERS).

Jim’s friends George (Phil Brock, RIVER’S EDGE), Don (Albert Macklin, GRACE OF MY HEART) and Rex (Peter Kowanko, SOLARBABIES) see a fortune in exposing the angel. Jim’s stepmother and Patty’s real mother Grace (Bibi Besch, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and Jim’s father Ben (Vinny Argiro, MARS ATTACKS!) try desperately to patch things up between their children.


THE FINAL CUT (2004) (***)

This sci-fi thriller finds its strength in an original premise. Alan W. Hakman (Robin Williams, ONE HOUR PHOTO) is a cutter, which are people who edit the recorded memories of a recently deceased person who has had a Zoe chip implanted into their brain when they were children. Alan is the best at what he does and often takes the cases no other cutter will touch. The ones where he has to make disgusting people look like saints.

Hakman is quite obsessed with his work and with a childhood memory that has haunted him his whole life. His relationship with bookstore worker Delila (Mira Sorvino, MIGHTY APHRODITE) is rocky. Hakman is assigned to cut a “rememory” for Charles Bannister (Michael St. John Smith, BLADE: TRINITY), a lawyer for Eye Tech, the creators of the Zoe chip.


BELLE DE JOUR (1967) (****)

Luis Buñuel was a director who liked to push buttons and flaunt conventions. Beside his famed surrealist short, UN CHIEN ANDALOU, this is the first film of his I have seen. Séverine Serizy (Catherine Deneuve, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG) is a 23-year-old, frigid newlywed, whose husband, Pierre (Jean Sorel, A QUIET PLACE TO KILL), is a doctor. She loves her husband, but really isn’t turned on by his classic good looks and his devotion to her purity.

Through their sleazy family friend, Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli, ATLANTIC CITY), Séverine learns of a brothel where married woman go while their husbands are at work. Curious and driven by an inner compulsion, Séverine goes to the whorehouse and becomes an afternoon prostitute named Belle de Jour.



There’s a great Hollywood yarn that goes along with the production of this film. It started with the legendary John Frankenheimer (1962’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) directing and starring Liam Neeson (KINSEY). But when Frankenheimer died in 2002, Neeson stepped down from the project.

Production company Morgan Creek hired Paul Schrader (writer of TAXI DRIVER, director of AUTO FOCUS) to make the film on the quick with Stellan Skarsgard (BREAKING THE WAVES) as the lead. Schrader claims that Morgan Creek knew he was going to make a physiological horror film, but when he screened his first cut Morgan Creek decided they wanted a more modern scare-fest.

So they hired director Renny Harlin (DIE HARD 2) to spice it up, which lead to an almost complete reshoot of the movie. So now Morgan Creek had not made one $45 million movie, but two films costing $85 million. The Harlin version only grossed $41.8 million in the U.S. and just over $76 million worldwide. The lackluster performance of the film matches the content of the film perfectly.


THE BANK DICK (1940) (****)

I love W.C. Fields. He is a sarcastic SOB and marvelous. Much like his character in the amazing IT’S A GIFT, Fields here plays smokin’ and drinkin’ deadbeat Egbert Sousé.

His wife Agatha (Cora Witherspoon, THE WOMEN) and her mother Hermisillo Brunch (Jessie Ralph, THE GOOD EARTH) think very little of Egbert, who they see as a total bum. Egbert’s little daughter Elsie Mae Adele Brunch Sousé is a little hellion who often bludgeons her father with whatever she can throw at him. His older daughter Myrtle (Una Merkel, 1961’s THE PARENT TRAP) is very conservative and is dating the bank manager Og Oggilby (Grady Sutton, WHITE CHRISTMAS).

Egbert often hangs out in the Black Pussy Cat Café, which is run by Joe Guelpe (Shemp Howard, famed Three Stooge). Egbert kind of stumbles through life like Forrest Gump and good things just come along. One day at the Black Pussy, he cons his way into directing a B-movie shooting in his town. But the end of that job ends in his typical slacker fashion.


BABY DOLL (1956) (***)

Tennessee Williams sure made sudsy melodramas and this one’s like a giant bubble bath. Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden, PATTON) is a Southern good ol’ boy, who owns a rundown cotton gin. He lives in a rundown plantation house with his 19-year-old bride Baby Doll (Carroll Baker, GIANT), who has never had sex with her husband. She’s waiting until she’s ready. However, she did promise Archie that she’d be ready when she turned 20, which is two days away. Their relationship is tense and becomes more so when all their furniture is repossessed.

Spurred by sexual frustration, Archie lashes out and burns down the cotton gin of his rival, Silva Vacarro (Eli Wallach, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY). As Archie works, Silva pays Baby Doll a visit in an effort to get her to admit to Archie’s crime. However, it turns into a game of seduction as well.


CLOSER (2004) (****)

Not as emotional brutal as many made it out to be, but nonetheless brutally true in its observation of the troubles and hang-ups that surround love and relationships.

Obituary writer and wanna-be novelist Dan (Jude Law, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) helps stripper Alice (Natalie Portman, THE PROFESSIONAL) after she is struck by a car. After which, they start up a relationship. Then the film jumps forward, Dan is now taking photos for his book cover, which are being taken by freshly separated Anna (Julia Roberts, PRETTY WOMAN). Dan kisses Anna, who kisses him back, but she won’t see him because of Alice, who knows Dan is unfaithful. Later on, Anna meets dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen, I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD) in an embarrassing episode, which brings a very funny moment to this somber film.


THE SENTINEL (1977) (***)

Just read the cast for this film — Chris Sarandon (THE PRINCESS BRIDE), Martin Balsam (PSYCHO), John Carradine (THE HOWLING), Ava Gardner (THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA), Burgess Meredith (ROCKY), Eli Wallach (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY), Christopher Walken (THE DEER HUNTER), Jerry Orbach (TV’s LAW & ORDER), Beverly D’Angelo (NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION), Jeff Goldblum (THE FLY) and Tom Berenger (MAJOR LEAGUE). Now most of this cast serves in cameo roles, but it adds a pedigree to the film that makes it feel more lush.

The real star of the film is Cristina Raines (NASHVILLE) who plays rising model Alison Parker. She is dating defense lawyer Michael Lerman (Sarandon), whose wife committed suicide two years prior. Alison has attempted suicide twice in her life and is skittish about marrying Michael. So she sets out to rent an apartment of her own.


BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (2004) (***1/2)

Actor Stephen Fry, who has appeared in British TV’s JEEVES AND WOOSTER and the BLACKADDER series as well as film like A FISH CALLED WANDA and GOSFORD PARK, makes his directing debut with this satire of the idle rich during the early 1930s.

Based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel VILE BODIES, the story centers on young writer Adam Fenwick-Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), who starts off his literary career by having his novel confiscated at customs. He is engaged to Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING), who parties day and night. Adam does not want to marry her until he has enough money. Surrounded by friends – gossip writer Simon Balcairn (James McAvoy, WIMBLEDON), cheeky homosexual Miles (Michael Sheen, UNDERWORLD) and ditzy Agatha (Fenella Woolgar, VERA DRAKE) – Adam stumbles into money and out.


THE RUNDOWN (2004) (***)

I will go on record – The Rock is a good actor. Don’t disregard this review yet. For the kinds of films he has done so far — action with a splash of comedy at times — he is better than Arnold Schwarzenegger or even Sylvester Stallone have ever been. (Exceptions to this would be Stallone in ROCKY and ROCKY II). The Rock’s only current rival for this kind of action film would be Vin Diesel, who I think is a better character actor than a star. See BOILER ROOM for proof.

The Rock (SCORPION KING) plays retrieval expert (aka hired muscle) Beck, who at the beginning of the film must retrieve a gambling debt rung up by an NFL quarterback. Beck tries to go the non-violent route, but ends up demolishing the quarterback’s entire offensive line. It’s a stylish and well-choreographed action sequence that starts off the film well.



What makes this documentary on artist Andy Goldsworthy so good is we get to see him make art. By focusing on his creative process, filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer has also told a fascinating tale about the man behind the art.

Goldsworthy’s work is totally original. The only way of describing it is to call it -- Christo gone organic. Goldsworthy’s work ranges from egg shaped piles of stones, wood and ice to S-shaped stonewalls and various other nature-inspired works. Many of his creations only last for a short time and then are destroyed by nature from which they came.

We watch as he constructs his delicate works that can fall apart in an instant. He also talks a lot about what influences him, the images and themes that are constant in his work and his motivations. By looking into the mind and heart of this one artist, the film looks into the world of all people who have the uncontrollable desire to create.


RE-ANIMATOR (1985) (***1/2)

Director Stuart Gordon has never been better than his work here in his theatrical film debut. He mixes many lurid influences from horror comics to B-movie thrillers to George Romero's zombie movies to classic Universal Studios monster movies to H.P. Lovecraft. This well-crafted horror film isn’t really scary as it is macabre. It’s a dry and dark comedy more than a thrill ride. It’s gory. And it’s totally entertaining.

Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott, BAD DREAMS) is a medical student, who is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton, BODY DOUBLE), the pretty daughter of the medical school’s dean Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson, TV’s FALCON CREST). Arriving from studying in Switzerland, young medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, TRANCERS II) becomes Dan's roommate. The creepy and peculiar young man quickly alienates himself by questioning his teacher Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, THE GUYVER), an arrogant creep (always a great personality combination).


BEING JULIA (2004) (***)

This isn’t the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last film about the trials of an aging actress. This isn’t ALL ABOUT EVE, but star Annette Bening makes it quite engaging.

Bening (AMERICAN BEAUTY) plays stage legend Julia Lambert, who is worn out from performing. She is feeling her age and is alienated from other people due to her star status. Her husband Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE) is a distant and vain man, who lives a separate life from Julia. One day a young American named Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans, THE BOYS & GIRL FROM COUNTY CLARE), who adores Julia and ends up seducing her, comes into their lives.

This affair sparks new life in Julia, however is becomes obvious that young Tom is an ambitious social climber and more interested in the young actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch, ELLA ENCHANTED). Julia is often counseled by her dead mentor Jimmie Langton (Michael Gambon, GOSFORD PARK), her assistant Evie (Juliet Stevenson, TRULY, MADLY, DEEPLY), her best friend and crush Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood, I, ROBOT) and her son Roger (Tom Sturridge, VANITY FAIR).


BAD EDUCATION (2004) (***1/2)

One thing can be said — Almodóvar (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, TAK TO HER) never makes a boring film. This neo-noir is like none other you have ever seen or will probably ever see.

Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez, TALK TO HER) is an indie filmmaker and one day an old friend from grade school pays him a visit. Ignacio (Gael García Bernal, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) and Enrique went to a Catholic school together and Ignacio has written a story based on their experiences as a child combined with a sort of revenge fantasy future. Ignacio is now an actor and wants to be called Ángel. At first Enrique brushes him off, but after reading his tale of a transvestite blackmailing the priest that sexually abused him the filmmaker is fascinated. When Enrique talks with Ángel, the young man is determined to play the cross-dressing Zahara, despite the uncertainty of Enrique.



This film is a smart romantic comedy about looking for Mr. Right or Ms. Right. Erin Castleton (Hope Davis, AMERICAN SPLENDOR) is newly single. Her boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman, BOOGIE NIGHTS) has left her because she won’t participate in his leftist rallies. She’s a sad and cynical person, whose mother puts a personal add in the paper for her. Her personal ad dates contain some of the funnier moments of the film.

Running on a parallel story is Alan Monteiro (Alan Gelfant, MONKEYBONE), a plumber who volunteers at the aquarium and studies hard to become a marine biologist.

The film develops the characters through debates about love and relationships with friends. The two characters' lives weave in and out of each other with them just missing a meeting. The film is smart and observant about relationships and dating.


800 BULLETS (2002) (**1/2)

This Spanish import from 2002 has just arrived on DVD in the U.S. The chief reason I rented this film was because it made Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News’ top ten list a few years back. I can see why people really like the film, but I feel it doesn’t work completely.

The film is a parody of Westerns. Carlos (Luis Castro) is a rebellious and destructive tween whose mother Laura (Carmen Maura, VALENTIN) tells him very little about his father who died in a stunt accident on a movie set. Carlos learns that his grandfather Julian (Sancho Gracia, EL CID: THE LEGEND) is still alive and works at a rundown tourist trap, which was originally used as a Western town in spaghetti Westerns. Skipping out on a school skiing trip with his mom’s credit card in hand, Carlos heads off to meet his grandfather. Filled with guilt over his son’s accidental death, Julian rejects Carlos at first, but after the tike bails him out of jail they become quick buddies.



This film from John Ford (THE QUIET MAN) is the archetypical Western. It tells the legendary conflict that led to the shootout at the O.K. Corral. Henry Fonda (THE GRAPES OF WRATH) stars as Wyatt Earp, who takes the job as marshal of Tombstone after his youngest brother James (Don Garner, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY) is killed by cattle rustlers. Earp believes Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan, RIO BRAVO) and his sons are involved.

At first the wild town is reluctant to accept the new lawman, especially the town’s top gambler Doc Holliday (Victor Mature, THE ROBE) and his on-and-off-again Indian girl Chihuahua (Linda Darnell, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS). However, Wyatt and Doc soon become friends. However, Wyatt becomes torn when Doc’s true love from back East, Clementine Carter (Cathy Downs, THE SUNDOWNERS), comes to Tombstone.


ZOMBIE (1979) (*1/2)

Lucio Fulci is considered one of Italy’s masters of horror. From this film, I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve seen this movie on greatest horror lists, but I don’t know why. It’s not scary and often boring. As I have said many times before, gross things are not inherently scary. Bad things happening to people are not inherently scary. It takes context and tension to make things scary. The threat of gross stuff and death is scarier.

After her father’s boat washes up in New York with a zombie on it, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, THE LAST HUNTER) sets out to discover what happened to her dad. A newspaper reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch, MOONLIGHTING) teams up with her, which leads them to take a boat with Brian Hull (Al Cliver, THE BEYOND) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay, OMBRE) to the Caribbean. When they arrive on an uncharted island, they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER), who has been working to uncover the mystery of zombies much to the dismay of his beautiful wife Paola (Olga Karlatos, PURPLE RAIN).


WINCHESTER '73 (1950) (***1/2)

There’s nothing revolutionary or subversive about this Western. It’s a fairly straightforward revenge drama. However, skilled writing that plays with story conventions combined with the always-wonderful screen legend James Stewart, the film emerges as a solid piece of cinema. As we will learn, greed for power is a dirty business to be in.

The film begins with Lin McAdam (Stewart) and his best friend High-Spade Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell, TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH) riding into Dodge City where sheriff Wyatt Earp (Will Geer, IN COLD BLOOD) is holding a shooting contest for a rare Winchester rifle. Lin runs into Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally, JOHNNY BELINDA) who we can tell by their stare down have had a bad past together.


LA STRADA (1956) (****)

I simply love this film. It’s amazing. Slow-witted poor girl Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA) is bought by a traveling performer named Zampanò (Anthony Quinn, GUNS OF NAVARONE), who is a brute. She goes along because her mother and four younger sisters barely have enough to eat and Zampanò will pay 10,000 lire.

The duality of Gelsomina and Zampanò relationship is fascinating. He tears her down, but also teaches her talents that give a purpose to her life. Later in the film while working for a circus, they meet aerialist The Fool (Richard Basehart, BEING THERE), who has had an antagonistic relationship with Zampanò for years. The Fool can be a mean-spirited jokester at times, but underneath he has a very kind streak. He works as the mirror opposite of Zampanò.


THE KING AND I (1956) (***)

This famed musical is brought to life with wonderful performances by Deborah Kerr (AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER) and Yul Brynner (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).

Kerr plays Anna Leonowens, an English schoolteacher brought to Siam by the king (Brynner) to teach his children and his wives. Their relationship starts out rocky due to a clash of cultures, but they warm to each other as Anna learns the true heart of King Mongkut and he learns what a woman can really teach a man.

Brynner steals every scene he is in. He commands the screen and makes us forget that Hollywood during the 1950s felt any “ethnic” looking actor could be interchangeable as any ethnicity.

Tension arises when the King’s chief advisor Kralahome (British actor Martin Benson [ANGELA’S ASHES] who is the least convincing actor ever cast as an Asian) disapproves of the new idea’s Anna is feeding into the head of the king and young Prince Chulalongkorn (Patrick Adiarte, FLOWER DRUM SONG). Likewise, Anna and the king butt heads over the slave-like treatment of his young wife Tuptim (Rita Moreno, WEST SIDE STORY), who is really in love with Burmese messenger Lun Tha (Carlos Rivas, TRUE GRIT). Both Moreno and Rivas pass as Siamese okay. No more a problem than Natalie Wood passing as a Puerto Rican in WEST SIDE STORY.



This black comedy is hilarious and simply perfect. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price, SON OF DRACULA) is 12th in line from being a Duke. His mother (Audrey Fildes) married for love and was disowned by her family. She wasn’t even allowed to be buried in the family tomb. This enrages Mazzini who sets out to eliminate the people in his way.

Those eight people are all played by Alec Guinness (BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI) in a tour-de-force performance equal to that of Peter Sellers in DR. STRANGELOVE. This British comedy is droll and often laugh out loud funny.

Price is perfect as the murderous conniver. In addition to his murder plot he simultaneously woos his childhood love (who rejected him when he was poor) named Sibella Holland (Joan Greenwood, TOM JONES) and one of the heir’s wives Edith D’Ascoyne (Valerie Hobson, GREAT EXPECTATIONS). The dialogue and voice over is wry and sly. Both the cast and director Robert Hamer (THE SCAPEGOAT) have wonderful timing.