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Blogs ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) (***1/2)

There’s no doubt about it – Bruce Lee rocks. Lee (FIST OF FURY) plays Lee, a Chinese martial arts master that is recruited by a secret British government agency to infiltrate a martial arts tournament to uncover information about Han (Kien Shih, BETTER TOMORROW III), a wealthy crime lord and host of the competition.

Also in the competition is an in-debt American gambler named Roper (John Saxon, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and Williams (Jim Kelly, BLACK BELT JONES), a black man from Los Angeles who wants to get himself out of the ghetto. The film works as a Chinese James Bond flick. It throws in colorful villains especially Han, who is like a Chinese Dr. No, complete with the white fluffy cat.

Blogs STAR WARS: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977) (****)

I’ve reviewed this film before, but this review is based on the new DVD release of the film. What struck me this, my zillionth or so, viewing of the film is director George Lucas’ brilliant attention to detail. Sci-fi before STAR WARS never had a lived in feel. Before STAR WARS, the buildings and vehicle were shiny and perfect like they were just put into use right before the film took place. The world of STAR WARS sucks you in because you instantly and subconsciously sense a history that is new and original. Lucas truly created a new world.

He makes the characters iconic without being ironic. The characters are strong types, but human enough that we care about what they care about. Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO are all household names. And the actors who played them, whether they like it or not, are synonymous with those roles.

Blogs ENCHANTED APRIL (1992) (***1/2)

What’s so great about this 1940s set film is you think you know where its going and don’t mind, but when it surprises you you’re delighted.

Lottie Wilkins (Josie Lawrence, WHO’S LINE IS IT ANYWAY?) is a flighty, but good-natured woman who is married to a penny-pinching banker named Mellersh (Alfred Molina, SPIDER-MAN 2). She sees an ad in the paper for an Italian villa to rent and convinces solemn Rose Arbuthnot (Miranda Richardson, SPIDER) to join her. Because the 30 pound each price tag is a bit too high for them, they advertise for two other women to join them. Answering the ad are Mrs. Fisher (Joan Plowright, AVALON), an elderly woman who is set in her ways and likes to drop the names of the many dead authors who were her friends, and Lady Caroline Dester (Polly Walker, EMMA), a wealthy heiress who wants to get away from the prying eyes and hands of the men in her life.

Blogs SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986) (***1/2)

Spike Lee’s first feature was shot in black and white and cost $175,000 to make. It went onto make $7 million at the box office and launched Lee’s career. It also served as one of the key independent films of the 1980s that helped launch the explosion of indie cinema in the early '90s. For black cinema, it also helped move portrayals of African-Americans on the screen away from the stereotypes of the blaxploitation era.

Set in a thriving Brooklyn, the film chronicles the love life of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Jones, NEW JACK CITY), who is dating reserved “nice guy” Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks, THE FIVE HEARTBEATS), conceited model Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell, BOOMERANG) and out-of-work jokester Mars Blackmon (Lee). The main focus of the movie is Nola and Jamie’s relationship. All three of the men have a tough time with Nola sleeping with other men. This film was about female sex in the city before there was a SEX IN THE CITY.

Blogs COLD CREEK MANOR (2003) (*1/2)

What makes this film so disappointing is that it was done by people with real talent. Director Mike Figgis has made brilliant films like LEAVING LAS VEGAS and TIMECODE. For COLD CREEK MANOR, he must have turned his brain off; it’s the only logical explanation.

Logic is something that this film doesn’t have. Cooper Tilson (Dennis Quaid, FREQUENCY) is a documentary filmmaker, who moves his family out of New York City after his son Jesse (Ryan Wilson, film debut) is hit by a car. Cooper’s wife Leah (Sharon Stone, CASINO) is some exec at some company who is offered a VP job by her boss if she sleeps with him. If you think I’m giving away too much info, this comes early on and goes nowhere. That’s a pretty solid statement about the whole film. In the process of getting to its preordained ending, the film goes nowhere, builds no tension, gives no thrills and hardly entertains.

Blogs CADDYSHACK (1980) (***)

Actor/director/writer Harold Ramis (GHOSTBUSTERS) made his directing debut with this comedy. Centering on the shenanigans that occur on a country club golf course the film is filmed with laughs and anchored by several good comedic performances.

The film is pretty typical of the ‘80s sex comedy. Caddy Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe, THE SLUGGER’S WIFE) is kissing as much butt as possible to secure himself the club’s caddy scholarship. The chief recipient of his butt kissing is conservative judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight, TV’s MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW). Serving as Danny’s mentor is the free-spirited heir Ty Webb (Chevy Chase, FUNNY FARM), who is wooing Smails niece Lacey Underall (Cindy Morgan, TRON). Hanging around the clubhouse to the chagrin of Judge Smails is millionaire land developer Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield, LADYBUGS). In addition, assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray, GROUNDHOG DAY) is on a mission to rid the golf course of one pesky gopher.

Blogs SERPICO (1973) (****)

If you’ve read any of my other reviews of Sidney Lumet’s films, you know that I’m a gushing fan. If you haven’t read them then you may be asking, “who’s Sidney Lumet?” Other than film freaks like me, he is little known by the general public, but the general public knows his films, which include 12 ANGRY MEN (the best film about the American judicial system), DOG DAY AFTERNOON (the best bank robbery movie) and NETWORK (the best movie about the TV news industry). He makes great films. You can also add to that list THE VERDICT and RUNNING ON EMPTY. Now lets get to SERPICO, one of the best films about a whistle blower I’ve ever seen.

First and foremost, Al Pacino as Frank Serpico is what makes this film so great. Serpico is a young cop who understands the changing ways of the 1970s and wants the police department to adjust as well. He dresses like a hippie and works in plain clothes. He makes connections and collars that uniformed cops could only dream of making. Serpico is a breath of fresh air in an institution that is stubbornly set in its ways, especially when it comes to blackmail and pay-offs. Serpico will have nothing to do with the dirty money and that makes his fellow cops nervous and suspicious. Serpico’s desire to do the right thing puts his life in danger and estranges him from his friends and family.

Blogs BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974) (****)

If there were ever a filmmaker that could truly be called a “man’s director,” Sam Peckinpah would be that director. This film starts out with the pregnant Theresa (Janine Maldonado, only film performance) sitting by a river. Her father El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez, WILD BUNCH) is furious that she is pregnant and calls for the head of her lover Alfredo Garcia.

Two of El Jefe’s hitmen Sappensly (Robert Webber, 10) and Quill (Gig Young, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?) turn up in a brothel looking for Alfredo and meet piano player Bennie (Warren Oates, 1941), who knows how to find Alfredo and wants to get paid for it. Bennie learns that Alfredo has hooked up with his favorite prostitute Elita (Isela Vega, THE STREETS OF L.A.), which upsets him. He then discovers that Alfredo is already dead, but the hitmen want proof (i.e. Alfredo’s head). So Bennie and Elita head out on a road trip to find Alfredo.

Blogs SCARFACE (1983) (****)

Say hello to my little friend! You may have never seen Brian DePalma’s SCARFACE, but you know that line. This is a film filled with classic lines and Al Pacino’s bravado performance drives them into your memory. Some disregard this film as a scene eating exercise for Pacino (THE GODFATHER), but what they don’t get is that the over-the-top behavior is the character of Tony Montana, who was raised on the gangster films of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

Montana is a Cuban immigrant who dreams of attaining the American Dream in Miami. He likes to pretend he’s a political exile to cover up his criminal past. He’s violent and paranoid, which is a deadly combo. He’s especially paranoid about his little sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, THE ABYSS) and whom she dates. He’s smart about the drug business, but indulges himself too much. Excessive greed and a huge ego lead to his downfall as well.

Blogs BRIAN'S SONG (1971) (***1/2)

This is a Lifetime movie for men. Friendship + Disease = Box of Kleenex. So why is this famous TV movie good, because stars James Caan and Billy Dee Williams are great.

The story chronicles the real life friendship of Chicago Bears football players Brian Piccolo (Caan, THE GODFATHER) and Gale Sayers (Williams, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK). Their friendship broke color barriers. They were the first black and white players to room together on the road. Piccolo is a hard-working, positive attitude kind of guy with an aw-shucks sense of humor. Sayers is reserved, quiet and doesn’t like the spotlight on himself. They feed off each other -- Piccolo brought Sayers out of his shell and Sayers drove Piccolo to become a better ball player.

Blogs SAMURAI 2: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE (1956) (***1/2)

The second film in director Hiroshi Inagaki’s SAMURAI trilogy brings us on the journey of Musashi Miyamoto (Toshiro Mifune, RASHOMON) as he studies to be a samurai. His love Otsu (Kaoru Tachigusa) has left her home in search of him, selling fans to survive. Otsu’s former fiancée and Musashi’s best friend Matahachi (Sachio Sakai) is now the drunken husband of Oko (Mitsuko Mito) who is running around with Toji Gion (Daisuke Kato, SEVEN SAMURAI). Oko’s daughter Akemi (Mariko Okada) too longs for Musashi. However, Musashi has fallen in love with the sword and fighting.

He challenges the leader of a samurai school named Seijuro Yoshioka (Akihiko Hirata, GODZILLA), who Oko is trying to set up with Akemi. In the meantime, top swordsman Kojiro Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta, GYANGU) comes into town. As well, courtesan Dayu Yoshino (Michiyo Kogure, TEA AND RICE) and old monk Nikkan (Kokuten Kodo, THRONE OF BLOOD) will play key roles in Musashi’s journey.

Blogs SAMURAI 1: MUSASHI MIYAMOTO (1954) (****)

Hiroshi Inagaki’s SAMURAI series is a trilogy much like LORD OF THE RINGS, where the story arch travels the length of all three films. Takezo (Toshiro Mifune, THE SEVEN SAMURAI) is a wild kind of man, who wants to become a samurai so that he can be famous and inflate his ego. Takezo convinces his best friend Matahachi (Rentaro Mikuni, KWAIDAN) to join the war, despite Matahachi’s engagement to Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa, MR. PU).

Separated from the other soldiers, Takezo and Matahachi end up in the care of 16-year-old Akemi (Mariko Okada, AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON) and her mother Oko (Mitsuko Mito, UGETSU), who make money by salvaging valuable items from dead samurai. As the film progresses, Takezo ends up the prisoner/student of monk Takuan Osho (Kuroemon Onoe, SAMURAI 2: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE).

Blogs BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970) (***1/2)

The idea of the film grabbed me from the first moment I read about it and the film grabbed me from the first moment I started watching it. Directed by Robert Altman (GOSFORD PARK, MCCABE & MRS. MILLER) and starring Bud Cort (HAROLD AND MAUDE), the film follows Brewster McCloud (Cort), who lives in a bomb shelter in the Houston Astrodome as he sets out to create a pair of wings so that he can fly. For Altman, this film was his follow-up to M*A*S*H, which was a huge success. This film is the kind of pet project that a filmmaker gets to make only because he’s the hot guy on the block.

Helping out Brewster is his de-winged guardian angel Louise (Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H). In the process of getting material and information for building the wings, Brewster and Louise get caught up in a string of murders. One of the deaths is Abraham Wright (Stacy Keach, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER), Brewster’s former employer, a vile landlord who makes the landlord in Chaplin's silent classic THE KID seem understanding. Wright was also a brother of two other brothers who may be of interest to someone who wants to build a pair of wings. The victims are always found with bird crap on them. The evidence against Brewster seems undeniable. But like everything in this film, nothing is as it seems.

Blogs ROBOCOP (1987) (***1/2)

Paul Verhoeven has a style all his own. His action films mix dark satire with graphic violence. His TOTAL RECALL is wonderful. However, he also has on his resume shameful duds like SHOWGIRLS and HOLLOW MAN. ROBOCOP was his first big budget U.S. film and it’s quite amazing how he mixes humor, satire and dark futuristic sci-fi together.

Set in the near future, crime has run rampant in Detroit. Police work has been outsourced to a mega-corporation. Dick Jones (Ronny Cox, BEVERLY HILLS COP) has a new robot he wants to sell to the police, but its test run doesn’t go so well. Young exec Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer, TV’s THE STAND) quickly steps up with an idea for a cyborg cop, which is more reliable. Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, THE ORDER) and Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, DRESSED TO KILL) are two cops who chase down vicious gang leader Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith, TV’s THAT ‘70S SHOW). When Murphy is killed savagely by Boddicker's gangs, he becomes the brain of the RoboCop.

Blogs BODY HEAT (1981) (****)

Writer Lawrence Kasdan made his directing debut with this neo-noir film, which brought back the femme fatale to the big screen. The set-up is pretty standard, but the pay-off is what makes the film so great.

In the first scene, we meet low-brow lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt, THE ACCIDENTIAL TOURIST), who is a ladies man with stale lines that he even admits only work on women who haven’t been around too long. One night he meets Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner, ROMANCING THE STONE), who’s married and blows him off. They meet up again and soon enough are wrapped up in a sultry affair set to the humid summer temperature of southern Florida. Their affair heats up and talk begins about wanting Matty’s millionaire husband Edmund (Richard Crenna, FIRST BLOOD) dead.

Blogs THE BIG HEAT (1953) (****)

In director Fritz Lang’s (M) classic film noir, good cop Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford, GILDA) sets out to take down a crime syndicate, which controls the police department. The film begins with the suicide of a police officer on the pay roll of crime boss Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby, THE SHAGGY DOG). The officer wrote a letter that spills the beans on the whole affair, which the officer’s wife Bertha Duncan (Jeanette Nolan, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) uses to get herself on the pay roll.

Bannion is assigned the case and when he starts poking around he gets the hunch that the whole business smells foul. Bannion talks with the police officer’s mistress Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green, THEM!), which leads to her death. As Bannion pries deeper, more people get hurt, including his beloved wife Katie (Jocelyn Brando, MOMMIE DEAREST) and Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame, OKLAHOMA!), the ditzy girlfriend of Lagana’s muscle Vince Stone (Lee Marvin, DIRTY DOZEN).

Blogs RED RIVER (1948) (****)

In the opinion of many critics and film scholars Howard Hawks’ RED RIVER is one of, if not the best, Western ever made. It’s hard for me to say if it’s better than HIGH NOON, STAGE COACH, WILD BUNCH or THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, but it ranks up there with them.

Thomas Dunson (John Wayne, THE QUIET MAN) is a grizzled frontier man who leaves his wagon train and his woman to set up a ranch in Texas. After he sees the burning of the wagons in the far distance, he knows his love Fen (Coleen Gray, RIDING HIGH) is dead. Soon he encounters a boy, who survived the attack, named Matt Garth who has a cow. With Dunson’s bull and Matt’s cow, Dunson adopts the boy and starts their ranch. After 10 years, Dunson has built, by any means necessary, his ranch into the biggest in Texas.

Blogs BARRY LYNDON (1975) (***1/2)

Director Stanley Kubrick tackles all types of cinema. From war to sci-fi to horror, he has tapped into many genres. Here he adapts a period novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, the writer of VANITY FAIR. In many ways, BARRY LYNDON is the male version of VANITY FAIR.

The story chronicles the rise and fall of Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal, LOVE STORY) and how he becomes Barry Lyndon. He is a poor Irish boy who has a grand love for his cousin Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton, THE DUELLISTS), who seduces him, but decides to go for the older solider John Quinn (Leonard Rossiter, OLIVER!). Eventually, Barry challenges Quinn to a duel, which leads Barry to have to flee to Dublin, where he to forced to join the British army, which leads to Barry being forced into the Persian army, which leads Barry to becoming a gambling partner to The Chevalier de Balibari (Patrick Magee, CHARIOTS OF FIRE), which leads to Barry meeting Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson, S.O.B.), which leads to Barry becoming Barry Lyndon. Get all that?

Blogs THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969) (***1/2)

The film is like a mirror opposite of DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. An unconventional teacher instills art and individualism in the students against the wishes of the school’s establishment. The differences are that MISS JEAN BRODIE takes place in a girl’s school and the film looks at the free-thinking teacher negatively.

In an Oscar winning performance, Maggie Smith (HARRY POTTER) plays Jean Brodie, a bohemian teacher whose personality brightens the room when she enters, but also singes the drapes as well. Each year, Brodie picks four girls to become her special “Brodie Girls,” which she tries to mold in an image that she feels fit. The students we meet are the dependable Sandy (Pamela Franklin, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE), the beautiful Jenny (Diane Grayson, BLIND TERROR), the emotional Monica (Shirley Steedman, 1970’s JANE ERYE) and the stutter Mary Macgregor (Jane Carr, TV’s DEAR JOHN).

Blogs AFTER HOURS (1985) (****)

Martin Scorsese is not known for comedy and this film is his only full feature venture into laughs. From this film, he should try comedy more often, because I laughed consistently throughout this entire film.

Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) is a worker bee at a publishing company. He meets an attractive woman named Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette, PULP FICTION) at a coffee shop and gets her number. He calls her when he gets home and she invites him over to her friend’s place. It’s late, but Paul still goes. His life will never be the same after this night is over. Paul falls into a weird world and tries the entire length of the film to just get back home.

Blogs THE ORDER (2003) (**1/2)

The idea of a Sin Eater is fascinating. The devil, in some twisted screw you to God, allows sinners outside the Catholic Church to rid their sins and enter heaven by having a Sin Eater eat the person’s sins.

In the beginning of the film, we meet a priest named Dominic (Francesco Carnelutti, EXCELLENT CADAVERS), who is the leader of an ancient sect of Catholicism, which searches for knowledge of all things, especially the supernatural. They fight ghosts and demons as well as look for Sin Eaters. That’s when William Eden (Benno Furmann, MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA), a Sin Eater, comes to visit. Alex Bernier (Heath Ledger, 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU) and Thomas Garrett (Mark Addy, THE FULL MONTY) are the last of the Order and set out to find what happened to Dominic and where the Sin Eater is located. Along for the ride is escaped asylum patient Mara Sinclair (Shannyn Sossamon, THE RULES OF ATTRACTION), who has had a crush on Alex for years. Pulling the strings over Alex and Thomas’ mission is the Vatican’s liaison Driscoll (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP).

Blogs THE 39 STEPS (1935) (****)

I am in total awe of Alfred Hitchcock. His mastery of film is so amazing. He can take a simple story that’s not all that original and make it seem like its something you’ve never seen before. THE 39 STEPS is probably Hitchcock’s most famous film from his British period, because it was a hit in the States as well.

Canadian playboy Richard Hannay (Robert Donat, GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS) takes a woman named Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim, THE MAN WHO WATCHED THE TRAINS GO BY) back to his place after a riot breaks out in a theater where they were watching the performance of a man dubbed Mr. Memory (Wylie Watson, JAMAICA INN). She’s being followed and tells a tale of spies and a man with a missing finger, who is out to get secret plans. In the morning, she ends up with a knife in her back, thrusting Hannay to run for his life from the spies and the police who think that he murdered Annabella. In his travels, Hannay crosses paths with a woman on the train named Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, MY FAVORITE BLONDE). She resurfaces later and how she gets attached to Hannay is ingenious.

Blogs MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) (***1/2)

Based on a true story, this is the film that put the term Turkish Prison into the national vocabulary. Billy Hayes (Brad Davis, CHARIOTS OF FIRE) and his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle, PUPPET MASTER) are on a trip in Turkey. Unknown to Susan, Billy has decided to smuggle hashish out of the country to sell in the States. He gets caught at the airport and imprisoned.

In jail, Billy becomes friends with kind Swede Erich (Norbert Weisser, POLLOCK), drugged out British intellectual Max (John Hurt, THE ELEPHANT MAN) and angry American Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW). Billy and his friends have to endure unthinkable torture physically, mentally and sexually. Hamidou (Paul L. Smith, DUNE) is the harsh head guard of the prison and finds enjoyment in beating the prisoners. He’ll even come on his day off to beat prisoners with his two young boys in tow. The last scene with him opens up a whole new psychological dimension to the character who seemed simply cruel at first. Also a key person in the prison is Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli, JOHNNY STECCHINO), a prisoner who serves as a snitch to the guards and a supplier of tea and drugs to the prisoners.

Blogs VAN HELSING (2004) (**)

Well, the film looks really good. The set design is wonderful and the character design is fresh (even if Van Helsing looks like Vampire Hunter D). However, I got a strong impression throughout the film that too many cooks were stirring this plot.

Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, X-MEN) is part of a special order out of Rome that fights evil. He’s immortal, but doesn’t have any memories of his past. You know, much like his character Wolverine in the X-MEN films. Jackman’s getting type cast already. He sets out on a mission with his sidekick Friar Carl (David Wenham, LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS), who serves as comic relief and a 19th Century Q. Their mission is to save Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale, PEARL HARBOR) and her brother Velkan (Will Kemp, MINDHUNTERS) from Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, MOULIN ROUGE!), who has been killing the Valerious family for decades. If Dracula succeeds in killing both Anna and Velkan then their whole family will be doomed to hell. Dracula tries to enlist Frankenstein’s Monster (Shuler Hensley, SOMEONE LIKE YOU) to help him in his evil deeds, but the gentle giant will have nothing to do with him. So Dracula sends his brides Aleera (Elena Anaya, TALK TO HER), Verona (Silvia Colloca, first film role) and Marishka (Josie Maran, LITTLE BLACK BOOK) out to suck blood.

Blogs SUPER SIZE ME (2004) (***)

In the wake of recent lawsuits filed against fast food chains claiming that the restaurants made the defendants obese, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock set out to see what the effects of eating McDonalds food for a month for breakfast, lunch and dinner would be. The stipulations of the experiment were that he couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t on the McDonalds menu, had to at least eat everything on the menu once and if he was asked to super size a meal he had to say yes.

He started out the diet very healthy at 185 lbs. and ended up 210 lbs by the end of the month. He had added on nearly 10 lbs. in the first week. Even surprising the doctors in the film, his liver began to fail. One doctor described the affects as the same as an alcoholic on a binge. Maybe the title of the film should have been LEAVING LAS MCDONALDS. He also experiences emotional and sexual problems as well as the feelings of junky who only feels better if he gets his sugar and fat high.

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