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Blogs COLLATERAL (2004) (****)

A Michael Mann film is usually always a treat. COLLATERAL is not a let down. It works both as an actioner and as a character study.

Max (Jamie Foxx, RAY) is a cab driver in L.A. He picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise, MAGNOLIA), who offers him $600 dollars for the whole night if he drives him to five locations. After the first appointment ends in a man falling onto the roof of Max’s cab, the film kicks into high gear.

The film deftly balances between action sequences and character building moments. Max has been a cabbie for 12 years as he nitpicks over the details of setting up his own limo service. He’s a neat freak, meticulous and doesn’t take risks too often. Vincent couldn’t be anymore different. He’s a great risk taker and has philosophically come to terms with his occupation as a hired killer. The world doesn’t care about him, so he doesn’t care about the world.

Blogs THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004) (***)

Low-budget horror/sci-fi flick PITCH BLACK has become a cult hit and helped propel star Vin Diesel into stardom. Capitalizing on the success of the first film, director David Twohy was allowed to make a sequel with greatly expanded resources.

The murderous convict Riddick (Diesel) is still running from bounty hunters. He gets a bit ticked off when he discovers that the newest bounty on his head comes from one of the people he saved in the first film – Imam (Keith David, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY). The night-visioned killer comes to discover that Imam’s planet is under attack from a violent cult called The Necromongers, which are led by Lord Marshal (Colm Feore, CHICAGO). Riddick becomes a reluctant hero, especially when he learns of the murderous track the young girl (Alexa Davalos, AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF) he saved in the first film has taken.

Blogs THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) (***)

Matt Damon has gotten himself a nice little franchise with the Jason Bourne character. I was quite surprised with the original – THE BOURNE IDENTITY. The new film picks up where the first one left off. Jason Bourne (Damon) and his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente, RUN, LOLA, RUN) have been running around the world trying to keep away from the CIA. Russian businessman Gretkov (Karel Roden, HELLBOY) sends an assassin named Kirill (Karl Urban, LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS) to set up Bourne and kill him, so Bourne must set out to find the truth.

Meanwhile, new CIA director Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, THE ICE STORM) is convinced that Bourne is behind the recent assassinations in Germany and enlists other CIA agents – Ward Abbott (Brian Cox, 25TH HOUR), Danny Zorn (ABANDON) and Nicky (Julia Stiles, SAVE THE LAST DANCE) – who have dealt with Bourne in the past to aid in her search. Bourne doesn’t hide from CIA agents, drawing them out to discover why they are after him.

Blogs SABRINA (1954) (****)

Billy Wilder directed my absolute favorite romantic comedy of all time – THE APARTMENT. In SABRINA, he continues the magic. I saw the 1995 remake with Harrison Ford first, but it pales in comparison. Along with a win for legendary costume designer Edith Head, the film received five additional Oscar nominations, including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Audrey Hepburn, in her second American film, receiving a second Oscar nomination.

Hepburn (WAIT UNTIL DARK) plays Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of a rich family’s chauffeur, who has been in love with the Larrabee family’s younger playboy son David (William Holden, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) since she was a little girl. Her father Thomas (John Williams, THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS) wishes she could just get over David, especially when she goes away to cooking school. When an older and more sophisticated Sabrina returns from Paris, David quickly becomes smitten with her, despite being engaged to Elizabeth Tyson (Martha Hyer, MY MAN GODFREY). This development greatly worries David’s older, more mature, brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart, THE AFRICAN QUEEN) and his cigar-smoking, liquor-drinking father Oliver (Walter Hampden, ALL ABOUT EVE), because Elizabeth’s father is the owner of a company that the Larrabees want to acquire. So, Linus sets out to get David out of the picture for a while and woo Sabrina himself. But what Linus doesn’t expect is that love happens.

Blogs BUSH'S BRAIN (2004) (***)

Wanna know why George W. Bush won the election? Watch this film. The film looks at the work of Bush’s senior advisor Karl Rove. Based on the best-selling book, the film lays out pretty much the same information. The talking heads in the film make a strong case for how Rove will try to win at any cost.

From bugging his own office to starting whisper campaigns about Texas governor Anne Richards being a lesbian and senator John McCain having a black love child, his fingerprints seem to be clearly on all those occurrences. The wealth of similar actions in every campaign that he is involved in begs to say that he is behind these actions.

The worst information the film issues is the man’s determination to destroy people who cross him. It seems clear that he did this to agriculture officials in Texas, which looks similar to the CIA leak in the White House. He was kicked off the Reagan-Bush campaign for linking info.

Blogs TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (2004) (**1/2)

After seeing clips of this film at Comic Con, I was looking forward to it greatly. The film came out and got some fairly positive reviews. However, there was a host of critics that hated it or at least didn’t think it was “all that” as the kids would say. As I see it, the film is really hit or miss.

The film works brilliantly when it points its satire at cheesy action movies. The heightened conflict and the plot structure are very funny. The opening scene is a perfect example of the satire working. Terrorists arrive in Paris and Team America shows up to blow up the day. After one of the members dies, team leader Spottswoode (Daran Norris, THE CAT IN THE HAT) goes out to recruit Broadway actor Gary Johnston (Trey Parker, SOUT PARK) to join the team. Gary’s artificial conflict with being an actor and being asked to save the world is quite good.

Blogs THE INCREDIBLES (2004) (****)

Brad Bird is an animation genius. He went from directing THE SIMPSONS to directing THE IRON GIANT to his newest masterpiece THE INCREDIBLES.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s COACH) is a top superhero, but after saving a suicidal man that didn’t want to be saved lawsuits end up forcing all superheroes into the witness protection program. Mr. Incredible, now Bob Parr, lives in the suburbs with his wife Helen (formerly Elastigirl) (Holly Hunter, THE PIANO) and his children Dash (Spencer Fox, screen debut), Violet (author Sarah Vowell, screen debut) and baby Jack Jack (Eli Fucile and Maeve Andrews, both screen debuts). Bob now works at an insurance company, which he hates. Once a week, him and his old superhero friend Lucius Best (aka Frozone) (Samuel L. Jackson, JACKIE BROWN) go out to listen to the police scanner in their car to see if they can do something secretly heroic.

Blogs KALIFORNIA (1993) (***)

The main reason to watch this film is for the performances of Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis. This film falls into the tried and true sub-genre of serial killer thrillers. Brian Kessler (David Duchovny, TV’s X-FILES) is a writer working on a book about notorious serial killers. He decides to visit the various locations of the murders for inspiration as well as give his photographer girlfriend Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes, SWIMMING WITH SHARKS) as a chance to take photos. Because he has already spent his advance, Brian posts a ride share for people going to California. The only people to answer are Early Grayce (Pitt, 12 MONKEYS) and Adele Corners (Lewis, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?), who are the most stereotypical white trash you will ever see.

Blogs THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) (***1/2)

Director James Whale had a lot of clout in Hollywood after the success of FRANKENSTEIN and was able to cast the relatively unknown actor Claude Rains in the lead role as Jack Griffin, which is part of the success of the film. Rains’ face is only seen once, but it’s his voice and dialogue delivery that really sells the material.

Griffin is a scientist who has invented a serum that turns people invisible, but also turns them mad. He desperately wants to find a cure so that he can return to his beloved Flora (Gloria Stuart, TITANIC). However, Flora is being wooed by wimpy scientist Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan, “G” MEN) and, as Griffin gets more insane, he turns his violence toward Kemp.

Blogs I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) (***1/2)

It’s all about the atmosphere. Young nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee, 1935’s BECKY SHARP) takes a post in Haiti to look after Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon, MISSION TO MOSCOW), the wife of wealthy mine owner, Paul Holland (Tom Conway, FALCON’S BROTHER). Betsy meets Paul on the ship to the island and likes his honest and mysterious manner.

Paul’s half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison, THE GHOST GOES WILD) doesn’t think as much of Paul as Betsy does, especially when he’s indulging his habit of consuming large quantities of alcohol. The men’s mother Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett, 1944’s JANE EYRE) is a doctor who helps the native people. Jessica is… well… a zombie. Nothing seems to cure her and Paul likes the fact that Betsy doesn’t believe in hocus pocus. But things will change.

Blogs ZATOICHI (1989) (***1/2)

The Zatoichi series is hugely popular in Japan. It has spawned 27 features and a 100 episode TV series. Shintaro Katsu spent most of his career playing the iconic character – a blind low-class masseur who has blindingly fast swordplay skills. The series mixes action and comedy much like INDIANA JONES.

In his final appearance as Zatoichi, Shintaro also wrote and directed the film. The direction and style is highlights, but the film’s iconic portrayal of the character is what makes the film so wonderful. The film follows Zatoichi on a journey to avenge the murder of a mother and father by warring yakuza (gangsters), which leaves a flock of children orphans. The film takes its time to develop the plot and characters. I especially liked the relationship between Zatoichi and the masterless samurai (Ken Ogata, SEPTEMBER 11).

Blogs HOOP DREAMS (1994) (****)

This is easily one of the best documentaries of all time. The film chronicles the lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee from high school freshman through their senior years. If the film were about basketball or football or baseball or the National Spelling Bee, it would be telling the same tale to some degree. Competitions, notably sports, seem to be the only ticket out of the ghetto for many children.

Early in the film William and Arthur are recruited to play for top private school St. Joseph’s. William is considered to be the next Isiah Thomas, who also went to that school on his way to the NBA. He’s put on the varsity team as a freshman. Arthur plays on the freshman team. He has the skill, but lacks the discipline. When his parents can’t pay his tuition, he is kicked out. William on the other hand who looks to be a future high school All American gets all his tuition paid for by an alumni.

Blogs THE WITCHES (1990) (***1/2)

Based on a book by Roald Dahl (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), this film from the eclectic director Nicolas Roeg (DON’T LOOK NOW) is very aware of how children view the things that go bump in the night. Kids see signs that make them certain that the supernatural is real.

Our hero Luke (Jasen Fisher, PARENTHOOD) has the added assurance that witches are real from the tales of his grandmother Helga (Mai Zetterling, TV’s MISS JULIE). Dahl’s story knows how to build real fear on a childlike level. Luke’s parents die, his grandma is sick and he runs into a witch while in his treehouse. This sets the mood for when Luke and his grandmother set off to England. In their hotel, the convention of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is being held. Soon enough, Luke discovers that the convention is really for witches led by the Grand High Witch Miss Eva Ernst (Anjelica Huston, THE ROYAL TENEBAUMS). The witches, who loathe little children, plan to turn all the kids in England into mice and Luke becomes one of their victims.

Blogs WALL STREET (1987) (****)

It’s hard to watch this film with fresh eyes, because every film about the stock market since has been profoundly influenced by this film. Director Oliver Stone’s (PLATOON) father was a stockbroker so the filmmaker had a close personal insight into the cutthroat world of stock trading.

Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen, HOT SHOTS!) is an eager young broker, who keeps calling big-time investor Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, FATAL ATTRACTION) so that he can get 5-minutes to pitch ideas to the man. As their relationship develops, Gordon asks Bud to do more and more shady dealings, including obtaining insider information, which is a federal offense. But Bud goes along for the ride. Along the way, he makes big bucks and lands a beautiful artist girlfriend named Darien Taylor (Daryl Hannah, SPLASH). The real battle of ethics comes when Bud tries to save the airline that his father Carl (Martin Sheen, APOCALYPSE NOW) works for.

Blogs A HOME OF OUR OWN (1993) (***)

Post MISERY stardom Kathy Bates takes on the lead in this Kleenex box flick. Bates has the flasher role, but the real central character is narrator and Bates’ oldest child Shayne Lacey (Edward Furlong, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY). After their father dies, the Lacey tribe loses everything. So Frances Lacey (Bates) packs up her family and moves to Idaho.

She finds a plot of land and half finished house from Mr. Munimura (Soon-Tek Oh, MULAN), who becomes a benefactor to the family despite the complaints of Frances, who is a hard-headed woman who refuses to take hand outs. Frances sets her mind to building a house for the family by themselves. The general plot isn’t all that different from any single mother fighting for her family tale, but it’s the film’s perspective that makes it interesting.

Blogs THE THING (1982) (***)

This film is John Carpenter’s attempt at an ALIEN-like horror flick. The film isn’t as good as the first two ALIEN flicks, but it succeeds in its own right. Like the ALIEN films it takes its time developing the story, but it doesn’t develop its cast as fully. ALIEN gets more into the social hierarchy of the ship where THE THING presents more character types. However, I was still captivated by the mood of THE THING.

The isolation of the South Pole locations really adds to the oppressive tone. The story follows an American outpost on Antarctica, which investigates a Norwegian outpost after two Norwegians fly a helicopter into their camp and shoot wildly at a dog. Pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) flies Dr. Copper (Richard A. Dysart, L.A. LAW) to the Norwegians’ base where they discover that a deformed human-like being has been discovered in the ice. The Americans quickly discover that the alien being can duplicate other beings. Before too long, a subtle paranoia sets into the camp, led by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley, COCOON). The other characters include cook Nauls (T.K. Carter, BAADASSSSS!), stoner pilot Palmer (David Clennon, SILVER CITY) and flame-throwing badass Childs (Keith David, PLATOON).

Blogs HARRY AND TONTO (1974) (***1/2)

This is a film about an old man and his cat. It’s also a bittersweet ode to aging. Harry Coombes (Art Carney, TV’s THE HONEYMOONERS) has been living in the same apartment in New York City for decades. The world is changing around him. He’s not bitter about it – he just soldiers through.

His best friends are Jacob Rivetowski (Hebert Berghof, 1963’s CLEOPATRA) and his pet cat Tonto. When his apartment building is set to be torn down, he is forced to move in with his son Burt (Philip Bruns, FLASHDANCE) and his family, which consists of Burt’s crabby wife Elaine (Dolly Jonah, only film performance), know-it-all hippie son Burt Jr. (Cliff De Young, GLORY) and son Norman (Josh Mostel, WALL STREET), who has taken a vow of silence as his new “thing.” This spurs Harry and Tonto’s wandering ways. They head off to Chicago to see Harry’s daughter Shirley (Ellen Burstyn, THE EXORCIST), who floats from one troubled marriage to the next. They eventually make it to California to see Harry’s down-on-his-luck playboy son, Eddie (Larry Hagman, TV’s DALLAS).

Blogs FRANTIC (1988) (***)

Roman Polanski’s FRANTIC is a no frills thriller that excites by setting up its premise and letting the characters follow it to its logical conclusion. Nothing makes a better thriller than when the characters initiate the action rather than having the action thrust upon them.

Dr. Richard Walker (Harrison Ford, WITNESS), a world-renown doctor, is in Paris with his wife Sondra (Betty Buckley, ANOTHER WOMAN) for a conference. Sondra picks up the wrong suitcase from the airport and then once in their hotel disappears. Dr. Walker then frantically questions people to find out the details of what happened to his wife. Dr. Walker starts with the logical places, and when he starts to believe that his wife has been kidnapped, he does everything in his power to find the people who did it. Along his journey, Dr. Walker teams up with low-level hustler Michelle (Emmanuelle Seigner, THE NINTH GATE), who was involved with the switching of her suitcase for Mrs. Walker’s.

Blogs DRESSED TO KILL (1980) (***1/2)

Many directors make a “Hitchcock” film and this film is just one of Brian De Palma’s “Hitchcock” films. Borrowing a lot from PSYCHO and a bit from REAR WINDOW, De Palma crafts a murder mystery that keeps the viewer on edge and wanting to know what happens.

Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson, 1960’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN) is sexually frustrated widower who has remarried a lug. Her son Peter (Keith Gordon, LEGEND OF BILLY JEAN) is a scientific genius. She visits her psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine, SLEUTH) to talk out her problems. One day at the museum, in a very detailed sequence of images, Kate flirts with a stranger later identified as Warren Lockman (Ken Baker, SAFARI 3000). This incident will spin the film into unexpected twists and turns that are part of the joy of the film. Other chief characters include sleazy looking police officer Det. Marino (Dennis Franz, TV’s NYPD BLUE) and Liz Blake (Nancy Allen, ROBOCOP), a high-class prostitute who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Blogs SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY (1971) (***)

This film was a big critical hit in its day and many consider it a classic. It follows the love triangle between 40-something homosexual doctor Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch, NETWORK), 30-something heterosexual divorcee Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson, MARAT/SADE) and 20-something bi-sexual artist Bob Elkin (Murray Head, GAWAIN AND THE GREEN NIGHT).

There are no secrets between the three lovers; Daniel and Alex even share some of the same friends. With the sexual revolution of 1960s still making waves in American, this British film was praised for its civility in dealing with modern love. Bob is very at ease with the arrangement and even plans to leave England to go to America and pursue the business potential of his artwork. Alex seems to have the most difficult time dealing with the relationship with Bob, stemming from her abandonment issues with her husband and father. Daniel seems more sadly at ease with the arrangement because as a gay professional love seems to be a thing of fantasy.

Blogs STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984) (***1/2)

You can definitely say that you’ve never seen anything like this before. The film follows bottom-rung hustlers Willie (John Lurie, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST) and Eddie (Richard Edson, DO THE RIGHT THING). Willie moved to New York City from Hungary and hasn’t done a single thing with his life. A good day for him is sleeping in.

Then unexpectedly he has to take in his cousin Eva (Eszter Balint, TREES LOUNGE) who is flying in from Budapest. He doesn’t want her there and she knows it. They begrudgingly get along until she moves to Cleveland to live with their aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark, only film performance), who only speaks Hungarian with a few dashes of English. A year passes and after some trouble with a poker game, Willie suggests to Eddie that they drive to Cleveland to visit Eva, who is happy to see them because it’s a change. But the new location doesn’t change, Willie and Eddie. They continue their boring and redundant existence. This is when they decide that going to Florida will really be a change, but it isn’t.

Blogs DAVE (1993) (***)

As a director Ivan Reitman is best known for making the two GHOST BUSTERS films. DAVE follows Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline, A FISH CALLED WANDA), an owner of an employment agency who acts as a presidential impersonator on the side. He gets called to be the body double for the real president Bill Mitchell (Kline), who engages in a tryst with an intern named Randi (Laura Linney, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME).

After the president has a stroke, his chief of staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella, LOLITA) and communications director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn, STIR OF ECHOES) plot to have Dave pose as the president until they can find a way to out the current vice president Gary Nance (Ben Kingsley, GANDHI) and replace him with Alexander. So Dave has to learn to fake out everyone in the country, especially the First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN), who happens to loathe her husband. The cast also features Ving Rhames (PULP FICTION) as a secret service agent, Charles Grodin (BEETHOVEN) as Dave’s CPA friend Murray and Bonnie Hunt in a cameo performance as a White House tour guide.

Blogs SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961) (****)

Some people view this film as a true classic. It made the AFI list for the 100 greatest American movie romances. Some people view the film as a sudsy melodrama.

Wilma Dean Loomis (Natalie Wood, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) and Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty, REDS) are high school students, who are madly in love. The film is set in 1929, but it could take place today. Wilma Dean feels the pressures of being a “good girl” from her mother (Audrey Christie, THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN) and Bud feels equal pressure from his father Ace (Pat Hingle, HANG ‘EM HIGH) to go to Yale and become a big success. The will of the two younger lovebirds’ parents is forced upon them and drives them apart.

Blogs SAMURAI 3: DUEL ON GANRYU ISLAND (1957) (***1/2)

We return to the final chapter in Musashi Miyamoto’s (Toshiro Mifune) journey to becoming a samurai. Accompanying him is his student Jotaro (Kenjin Iida). Musashi is more at peace, but guilty about his last encounter with his love Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa), who is still devotedly following him.

Kojiro Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta) is even more determined to prove himself as the best samurai. Akemi (Mariko Okada) is still in love with Musashi and very jealous of Otsu. This final installment in this epic series is about Musashi finding peace with his past and balancing his love with his anger.

The remarkable thing about the film comes so clear and profound when viewed in context with the first two films. Each cast member has had their own journey that concludes in this film, some of which are surprising. I loved how this film shows Musashi displaying his skills as a samurai without having to even raise his sword. What makes the whole trilogy so special is that with each new lesson that Musashi learns there are new issues that he has to deal with. Epics can take on grand statements about life and experience and this one is one of the best.

Blogs CURLY SUE (1991) (**)

CURLY SUE is sweet and heartwarming, but will give you tooth decay and the warming of the heart may be due to indigestion.

Bill Dancer (Jim Belushi, TV’s LIFE WITH JIM) is a homeless con man who uses the little girl Curly Sue (Alisan Porter, PARENTHOOD) to help him scrounge up a meal and a few bucks wherever they can. One day they scam a high-powered New York lawyer named Grey Ellison (Kelly Lynch, DRUGSTORE COWBOY) by pretending that she hit Bill with her car. Due to the intervention of her jerky boyfriend Walker McCormick (John Getz, MEN AT WORK), Bill and Sue only get a meal. Then guess what happens? Come on guess. Grey ends up hitting Bill with the car for real and takes him and Curly Sue into her home.

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