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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.

Blogs THE RECRUIT (2003) (***)

This twisting CIA thriller is entertaining as it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. However, the film is another grand victim of a trailer that gives too much away. The treat of the film is the twists. The less you know the better the film.

James Clayton (Colin Farrell, PHONE BOOTH) is a top student from MIT, who gets recruited into the CIA by agent Walter Burke (Al Pacino, THE GODFATHER), who knew Clayton’s father. Early on Clayton falls for fellow CIA trainee Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS). Burke keeps saying that “nothing is as it seems” and the film beats this down the audience’s throat like we’re going to get pissed when the next twist comes. It cheapens some of the thrills, but keeps one on the edge waiting for the next turn.

Blogs THE KARATE KID (1984) (****)

I know, I know – this film can be total cheese in parts, but it’s a very fond memory from childhood. Now that I’m older I can see all its warts, but I love it all the same.

The story is simple – new kid in town gets picked on viciously by cool kids then an Asian handyman teaches the kid the ways of karate so that he can defend himself and prove that “he’s alright” to the cool kids. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio, MY COUSIN VINNY) is the kid and Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita, TV’s HAPPY DAYS) is the Asian handyman.

Leading the cool kids is Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka, BACK TO SCHOOL) and the whole row with Daniel is over – of course – a girl named Ali Mills (Elisabeth Shue, LEAVING LAS VEGAS). And as Mr. Miyagi says there is no bad student only bad teacher, so we also get the cool kids’ karate teacher and ex-marine John Kreese (Martin Kove, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II), who teaches no mercy. After one particular beating and meeting Sensai Kreese, Mr. Miyagi-san agrees to train Daniel-san to fight in the All Valley Karate Championships.

Blogs BLUE CAR (2003) (***1/2)

First and foremost, I am struck by this film’s raw honesty. The story starts down a bleak path and isn’t afraid to follow it to its conclusion.

Meghan Dunning (Agnes Bruckner, MURDER BY NUMBERS) is a teen from a troubled single parent home. She often is stuck at home taking care of her little sister Lily (Regan Arnold, CAVEDWELLER), who is so depressed that she won’t eat. Their mother Diane (Margaret Colin, UNFAITHFUL) is balancing a job, going to school and holding down a boyfriend. You can’t slight her for trying to have a life, but you can see how her actions are attributing to the downfall of her children. She passive-aggressively refuses to let them see their father (Mike Ward, TURNING THE CORNER). To help deal with the pain at home, Meghan writes poetry. Her English teacher Auster (David Strathairn, EIGHT MEN OUT) encourages her writing and pushes her to attend a contest in Florida. When her mom won’t come up with the money for the trip, Meghan starts to do illegal things.

Blogs ALFIE (2004) (***)

This is a remake of a 1966 film starring Michael Caine. I’m sure the original film about a womanizing playboy was far more risqué back in its day. Jumping from bed to bed these days can be deadly. This time around Alfie is played by the strikingly handsome Jude Law, who was Oscar nominated for THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY and will be appearing in six films this fall. Like the original, the film is told in a casual style where Alfie talks directly to the camera commenting on the unfolding events and his feelings toward them.

Throughout, the dashing chauffeur has relationships with bored rich wife Dorie (Jane Krakowski, TV’s ALLY MCBEAL), single mom Julie (Marisa Tomei, IN THE BEDROOM), older businesswoman Liz (Susan Sarandon, DEAD MAN WALKING), party girl Nikki (Sienna Miller, TV’s KEEN EDDIE) and his best friend Marlon’s (Omar Epps, THE BEST MAN) girlfriend Lonette (Nia Long, SOUL FOOD). Yep, Alfie even sleeps with his best friend’s girl when he’s trying to get them back together after a break-up. Throughout the film, Alfie hits bumps in the road and seems to land on his feet. It’s his reactions to these events that make the film so interesting.

Blogs PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987) (**)

This is a dumb horror film written by smart people. Master of the macabre John Carpenter wrote this film, which deals with the chaos that occurs on the sub-atomic level. He takes ideas of quantum physics and links them between religion and science.

Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence, HALLOWEEN) has discovered a canister, which contains evil incarnate, in the basement of an abandoned church in L.A. He enlists philosophical professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) to gather students and professors to do studies on the canister. This leads to the canister making homeless people stalk the church like zombies and squirt liquid to people’s mouths. One homeless zombie is shock rocker Alice Cooper.

Blogs THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) (**)

Director Wes Craven is trying to do several things with this film, but they don’t really mesh that well. He’s trying to tell a modern fairy tale/legend as well as mixing horror with comedy.

Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams, MOONWALKER) is a young black boy, living in the worst ghetto imaginable. His family is about to be evicted and his sister’s boyfriend Leroy (Ving Rhames, PULP FICTION) decides to get even with the landlords and rob them of their gold coin collection. Leroy enlists Fool to help. However, little do they know, the landlords Mom (Wendy Robie, TWIN PEAKS) and Dad (Everett McGill, TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME) are insane.

The evil couple are searching for the perfect children, who don’t speak, see or hear any evil. Their daughter Alice (A.J. Langer, MEET THE DEEDLES) is kept prisoner in the house. When the boy children turn bad, they are kept in the basement and fed human flesh. However, one named Roach (Sean Whalen, TWISTER) gets out and lives in the walls of the house. Fool’s mission becomes escaping the house alive and saving Alice.

Blogs CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989) (****)

When Woody Allen is good – he’s really good. This film ranks up there with some of his best, like ANNIE HALL, MANHATTAN and ZELIG. The film looks at the moral dilemmas of ending and starting an affair. One story is tragic and one story is comedic and how they meet in the end is inspired.

Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau, ED WOOD) is a well respected ophthalmologist who has been having an affair with a flight attendant named Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston, THE WITCHES). She continues to push the issue of him leaving his wife with threats of exposing his indiscretion. Judah talks to his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach, TV’s LAW & ORDER), who suggests making Dolores disappear. On the flipside, struggling documentary filmmaker Cliff Stern (Allen) debates starting an affair with a fellow producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow, ROSEMARY’S BABY). Cliff is in a loveless marriage and likes to spend more time with his young niece Jenny (Jenny Nichols, NEW YORK STORIES) than with his wife Wendy (Joanna Gleason, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS). Wendy got Cliff his most recent job, working on a TV documentary about her brother Lester (Alan Alda, TV’s M*A*S*H), a famous sitcom producer, who is a womanizing smooth talker that Cliff loathes on principle.

Blogs THE CONFORMIST (1970) (****)

Director Bernardo Bertolucci is best known to the general public for LAST TANGO IN PARIS and THE LAST EMPEROR, but I think this film is his best.

Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN) is a weak-willed man who joins Mussolini’s fascist secret police so that he can have a “normal” life. Normality is something that Marcello is obsessed with. He marries a beautiful socialite named Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli, DIVORCE – ITALIAN STYLE) so that he will fit in more. On his honeymoon to Paris, he is given a mission to kill his former professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio, THE DESIGNED VICTIM), who fled Italy when the Fascists took over and is vocal in their opposition. But when he arrives in Paris, Marcello is smitten by Quadri’s young bride Anna (Dominique Sanda, THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS), who is sexually liberated and the epitome of non-conformity.

Blogs THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984) (***)

Director Neil Jordan is better known for films like THE CRYING GAME and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. However, he started his career in horror and thrillers. This film is a poetic examination of the underlining feminist meanings of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

The film has three layers. There is a modern section where the teenage Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson, 1988’s SNOW WHITE) dreams of herself in a fairy tale type world where her Granny (Angela Lansbury, TV’s MURDER, SHE WROTE) tells her tales of werewolves. The tales are all allegories to the beast that lies in all men and how women must be careful and not wander off the path.

The look of the film is reminiscent of LEGEND and the werewolf transformations are a step below those in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. There’s a haunting tone to the various stories as well as a wink of cheeky humor akin to the “Lard Ass” tale in STAND BY ME. The film is a bit slow at times and doesn’t have a strong overall arch, but the mood and thoughts behind the film make it worth seeing.

Blogs BULLITT (1968) (***1/2)

Steve McQueen is Frank Bullitt, a desensitized police lieutenant who doesn’t allow his emotions to influence his tactical performance. The film is a fairly straight-forward police procedural, but its McQueen and an interesting plot that makes the film wonderful.

Hot-shot DA Walter Chambers (Robert Vaughn, TV’s A-TEAM) enlists Bullitt to guard a mob informant named Johnny Ross (Felice Orlandi, CATCH-22) at the beginning of the film. After Ross and a cop are shot, Bullitt makes it his mission to figure out what happened, despite Chambers threats to ruin his career. The antagonism between Bullitt and Chambers is awesome. I loved the subtle way the film developed Bullitt’s relationship with his girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). Bullitt never makes any emotional declarations, but we know that his oasis in a world of violence is her.

Blogs BODY DOUBLE (1984) (***)

Brian DePalma likes Alfred Hitchcock. He invokes him in many of his more famous films. If DRESSED TO KILL was DePalma’s PSYCHO than BODY DOUBLE is DePalma’s REAR WINDOW-VERTIGO.

Jake Scully (Craig Wasson, EPOCH) is a struggling actor who suffers from a severe case of claustrophobia. Through a friend, he meets Sam (Gregg Henry, FEMME FATALE), who lends him a place to stay in the Hollywood Hills. The ultra-modern house overlooks the city and Sam shows Jake a special feature of the house – through a telescope, every night, you can see a beautiful woman dance provocatively in the window. When Jake witnesses the woman in trouble, he follows her to make sure that she is safe.

Blogs ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) (****)

This is simply one of the best courtroom dramas ever made. It shows the perfect workings of a defense lawyer. Paul Biegler (James Stewart, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE) is a former DA, who spends most of his time now fishing. This doesn’t really help his fledgling law firm, which can’t even pay its secretary Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden, STAGE DOOR). When he’s around, Paul spends most of his time debating law with drunken lawyer Parnell Emmett McCarthy (Arthur O’Connell, FANTASTIC VOYAGE).

Then Paul gets hired by the attractive Laura Manion (Lee Remick, THE OMEN), whose husband Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara, DOGVILLE) murdered the man who rapped her. What makes this courtroom drama so intriguing is we know Manion is guilty and because we like Paul so much we are fascinated at how he’s going to try to get the soldier off. Laura and Frederick aren’t even that likeable, but we can understand where Frederick was coming from. In the court, Paul must face cocky assistant state attorney general Claude Dancer (George C. Scott, THE HUSTLER). Added to the mix is the genial judge Weaver (real life McCarthy judge Joseph N. Welch) and the mysterious young woman Mary Pilant (Kathryn Grant, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD).

Blogs AGNES OF GOD (1985) (****)

Scandal hits the Catholic Church in Toronto. A young nun Agnes (Meg Tilly, THE BIG CHILL) is found bleeding in her bedroom with a dead newborn in a wastepaper basket. No one in her convent knew she was pregnant, not even mother superior Miriam Ruth (Anne Bancroft, MIRACLE WORKER). Was it a virgin birth? Is Agnes crazy? Why would God allow a clearly innocent nun to get pregnant? Did she kill the baby? And if so, why? And more to the point if she did why did God allow it?

Dr. Martha Livingston (Jane Fonda, KLUTE) is assigned to the case as a court appointed psychiatrist to determine the mental health of the woman. Dr. Livingston soon discovers that Agnes is like a child living in a fantasy world possibly not even knowing how she got pregnant. There is a hard line drawn between Dr. Livingston and Mother Miriam about what should be done about Agnes.

Blogs YOUNG ADAM (2004) (***)

Joe Taylor (Ewan McGregor, SHALLOW GRAVE) is a young dock worker. One day him and his boss Les Gault (Peter Mullan, SESSION 9) pull a body out of the river. This sets the grimy tone of the film.

Director David Mackenzie (SOMERSAULT) does an amazing job of creating mood with the wet and dirty work of hauling coal down the canals of England. So when Joe starts seducing Les’ wife Ella (Tilda Swinton, DEEP END), we sense impeding doom. The affair is about momentary need and lust from both Joe and Ella. Joe is trying to find some stability while Ella is trying to find some passion. However, Joe isn’t the settling down type and scenes with the pretty young woman Cathie Dimly (Emily Mortimer, LOVELY & AMAZING) hint that Joe is not all that he seems.

Blogs THE STEPFORD WIVES (2004) (**1/2)

Frank Oz is never afraid to play his comedy broad. In his more successful films like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS it works really well and to some degree it works in films like BOWFINGER, IN & OUT, HOUSESITTER and WHAT ABOUT BOB? His satirical edge is never lost, but it’s usually as subtle as a sledgehammer to the back of the head.

Unlike the original film of the same name, the wives of Stepford, CT are early on revealed as robotic enhanced versions of the men of Stepford’s spouses. Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman, TO DIE FOR) is an uber-successful TV exec, who gained mega-hits with exploitative series, making women look like a higher species than men. A sticky legal affair leads to Joanna getting fired, which directly leads to her mental breakdown. Concerned, Joanna’s husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick, ELECTION) moves the family to Stepford, where the wives all seem like clones of the women on the cover of BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS circa 1954.

Blogs RAISING HELEN (2004) (**1/2)

The trailer for this film made my skin crawl. But I have to admit the film turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. It’s formula to be sure, but it was written by people who know its formula and try their best to buck the system -- at least a little.

Helen Harris (Kate Hudson, ALMOST FAMOUS) is a young executive assistant to a top fashion agent named Dominique (Helen Mirren, CALENDAR GIRLS). Helen is very much like her oldest sister Lindsay (Felicity Huffman, TV’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) – carefree and fun – and nothing like her other sister Jenny (Joan Cusack, IN & OUT), whose house is described as the showroom for the Pottery Barn. When tragedy strikes with the death of Lindsay and her husband, Helen is granted guardianship of their children.

Blogs A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD (2004) (***)

As one part love triangle, one part character study – the film knows its characters well. Tragedy in Bobby Morrow’s life has left him afraid to be alone, highly sensitive and overly pleasing. As a teen, Bobby (Erik Smith, COLD MOUNTAIN) befriended awkward outsider Jonathan Glover (Harris Allen, TV’s QUEER AS FOLK). Bobby lives life like a feather in the wind. When he and Jonathan get caught smoking pot by Jonathan’s mother Alice (Sissy Spacek, IN THE BEDROOM), Bobby’s reaction isn’t that of panic like Jonathan, but a more human understanding of who he is and who Alice is.

Jonathan is gay and Bobby is… well… Bobby. Jonathan (Dallas Roberts, THE LUCKY ONES) moves away to New York and years later Bobby (Colin Farrell, PHONE BOOTH) moves in with him when he has no where else to stay. Jonathan’s roommate is an older free-spirit named Clare (Robin Wright Penn, FORREST GUMP). Clare is in love with Jonathan, but he’s gay. Jonathan is in love with Bobby, but Bobby is Bobby. When Clare falls for Bobby, the threesome’s lives change, but not in ways that are too turbulent, because Bobby won’t let it happen.

Blogs THE HOLE (2001) (***)

This is a British film that never got a release in the U.S., but now arrives on DVD mainly due to the rising stardom of Keira Knightley (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN). The film begins with Elizabeth Dunn (Thora Birch, AMERICAN BEAUTY) stumbling out of the woods into her boarding school. She and three friends have been missing for 18 days. One of the friends is Mike Steel (Desmond Harrington, TV’s TAKEN), the American son of a world famous rock star, who Elizabeth is in love with. The two others are pretty boy rugby player Geoff Bingham (Laurence Fox, GOSFORD PARK) and “Miss Popular” Frankie Almond Smith (Knightley).

To get out of having to go on a field trip or visit their parents, the four students get brainiac Martyn Taylor (Daniel Brocklebank, THE HOURS) to set up a hideout for them in WWII bunker. Dr. Philippa Horwood (Embeth Davidtz, BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY) is assigned to interview Elizabeth and find out what happened in “the hole.” The happy ending that Elizabeth originally tells is obviously not true and the film spends its entire running time trying to figure out fact from fiction.

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