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STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) (***1/2)

This movie proves that a great ending can really make a film. William Canfield Sr. (Ernest Torrence, 1924’s PETER PAN) is the owner of rundown riverboat. He has a big rivalry with John James King (Tom McGuire, SHE DONE HIM WRONG), the owner of a big fancy riverboat. William is excited about the impending arrival of his son, Bill Jr. (Keaton) from Boston where he attends college. He hasn’t seen his son in years. William is quickly disappointed when Bill Jr. — a very prissy weakling — shows up.

To make matters worse, Bill Jr. is in love with Marion (Marion Byron, SOCIAL SINNERS), the daughter of his father’s rival. He is pretty inept at working on the boat, which is a big laugh for sailor Tom Carter (Tom Lewis, THE GO-GETTER), much to the chagrin of his boss Bill Sr.


A SONG FOR MARTIN (2002) (***)

Alzheimer’s is the cruelest of diseases. Robbing one’s mind is like stealing their personality. The disease is so unfair to the victim and then so unfair to their loved ones.

This Swedish-language film is based on the life of composer Martin Fischer (Sven Wollter, THE 13TH WARRIOR). In the beginning of the film, Martin strikes up an affair with a married violinist Barbara Hartman (Viveka Seldahl, ANGEL FARM). The two fall madly in love and eventually get married. Soon after, Martin starts to display the quickening signs of Alzheimer’s.

The story is heartbreaking as Martin frustratingly begins to lose the ability to compose, which is his life’s blood. However, the real central character is Barbara, who must deal with the slow loss of the man she loves. At least for Martin, there comes a point when he can’t remember who he was, however Barbara is forced to deal with the man he has become. By the end, Martin is just a child.



DreamWorks’ traditional animated features all attempted to revive old classic Hollywood genres in animation. PRINCE OF EGYPT tried the Biblical epic. ROAD TO EL DORADO tried the Crobsy/Hope ROAD flicks. SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON tried the animal picture. And finally, SINBAD tackled the Greek myth epic adventure. I have not seen EGYPT, but I’ve seen the other three and can say that all of them are good, but not great films. They work for what they are, but they don’t step to a higher level. I’ll get to why I think this happened later.

SINBAD follows Sinbad the pirate (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS) as he is forced into rescuing the Book of Peace from the Goddess of Chaos Eris (Michelle Pfeiffer, BATMAN RETURNS) after he is accused of stealing the book himself. The major wrinkle is that his best friend Proteus (Joseph Fiennes, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) takes his place in prison as a sign of faith, giving Sinbad only 10 days to retrieve the Book before his pal is beheaded. Tagging along for the journey is Proteus’ arraigned fiance Marina (Catherine Zeta-Jones, THE MASK OF ZORRO).


RETURNER (2003) (***)

This Japanese sci-fi adventure is like E.T. crossed with THE TERMINATOR crossed with a John Woo flick.

Miyamoto (Takeshi Kaneshiro, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) is a hitman who is seeking revenge on Mizoguchi (Goro Kishitani, GRAVEYARD OF HONOR) for killing his parents. Then a young teen named Milly (Anne Suzuki, forthcoming STEAMBOY) drops into his life… literally. She’s from the future and blackmails him into helping her on a mission that if she doesn’t succeed at will lead to an alien invasion that will destroy Earth.

The film is filled with stylish action sequences – if not sometimes eye-rolling ridiculous. But at its core, the developing relationship between Miyamoto and Milly is sweet and touching. Kaneshiro and Suzuki have good chemistry, playing the material straight, which makes it easier to believe the craziness of the plot. The film also has some interesting plot twists that keep things interesting. The film melds a lot of sci-fi genres together and has fun with them. It’s an entertaining action adventure that keeps one’s interest by having a nice take on tried and true genre conventions.


THE RED SHOES (1948) (****)

This is the best film about the ballet I’ve ever seen. It has the best ballet sequence I’ve ever seen on film. It also contains one of the most interesting characters in cinema history.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer, PEEPING TOM) dreams of becoming a great ballerina. Julian Craster (Marius Goring, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA) is a young composer who is furious when his teacher steals his music and he hears it in a ballet. Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook, 1940’s GASLIGHT) runs the ballet and when Craster comes to challenge the music, Lermontov aloofly asks him to play his music for him then gives him a job as an assistant conductor. Regarding the stolen music, Lermontov says, “It is far less of a worry to be stolen from then to have to steal.” Lermontov gives Page an audition when they meet at a party, but when she arrives he ignores her like they were strangers. This sets up the film as Victoria and Julian move up the ranks at the ballet as well as move together.


THE PUPPETOON MOVIE (1987) (***1/2)

George Pal’s stop-motion animation is some of the most influential in film history. The detail of his puppets, their movement and the grand scope of the productions are truly amazing. However, what makes many of his films so wonderful are good stories.

THE PUPPETOON MOVIE is a compilation of Pal’s PUPPETOON short films, book-ended by stop-motion animation featuring Gumby, Pokey and other famed stop-motion characters directed by Arnold Leibovit. The book-ends make you only appreciate Pal’s work more because they’re hokey and maudlin.

Musical revues like THE PHILIPS BROADCAST OF 1938 and PHILIPS CAVALCADE blend Busby Berkeley dance numbers with Looney Tunes zaniness. The level of detail in some of the scenes is spectacular. Dozens of characters are moving in a scene, meaning each one had to be moved meticulously every frame.



Preston Sturges is considered one of the screens great comedic directors. I’ve seen four of his films, including SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS, LADY EVE and UNFAITHFULLY YOURS and have enjoyed them all. LADY EVE succeeds by tying the pratfalls with the characters reactions and feelings. Sometimes why a person falls down is what makes the pratfall funnier. THE PALM BEACH STORY has a decent balance, but lacks the character perfection that Fonda and Stanwyck brought to EVE.
In PALM BEACH, we are introduced to Gerry (Claudette Colbert, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT) and Tom Jeffers (Joel McCrea, SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS) as they are frantically trying to get to their wedding. After they make it, a title reads: and they lived happily ever after... or did they? We quickly discover that -- now five years into their marriage -- Gerry and Tom are broke. Tom is a straight-laced inventor with no means of raising money for his revolutionary airport and Gerry is a pampered poodle who spends all their money and can’t do anything around the house. So Gerry decides that for them to get what they want in life she will divorce him, marry a millionaire and then give Tom the money he needs to build the airport.



This is a hard film to get into at first, but eventually its wonder and invention whips you up and takes you along for the ride. A missing scientist has done experiments creating flawed humans. Mademoiselle Bismuth (Mireille Mosse, SWIMMING POOL) is a tiny princess. Les Clones (Dominique Pinon, ALIEN: RESURRECTION) are four dimwitted clones who have narcolepsy. Krank (Daniel Emilfork, CASANOVA), the devious leader of the experiments, is brilliant, but cannot dream.

Alas, he kidnaps children, so he can steal their dreams, however the children are so scared of him that they only have nightmares. A group of Cyclops seek out new children and one day find the fearless Denree (Joseph Lucien, only film performance) at a carnival where he performs with his slow, muscle man brother One (Ron Perlman, HELLBOY). After Denree is kidnapped, One goes searching for him and meets up with a gang of orphans, led by Miette (Judith Vittet). Along the way, they must deal with conniving conjoined twins la Pieuvre, (Genevieve Brunet & Odile Mallet).


OLIVER! (1968) (***1/2)

At first I thought making a musical out of OLIVER TWIST cheapened the point that Dickens was trying to make about the exploitation of orphans. The “bad guys” in the film are watered down because at any moment a cheery song could break out and brighten up the day.

To some degree this idea is true with OLIVER! because never once did I really feel like Oliver (Mark Lester, BLACK BEAUTY) was in any true danger. Oliver gets kicked out of the orphanage, sold to a mortician, runs away to London and then gets caught up in a pickpocket gang, led by the shifty, but kind of lovable, Fagin (Ron Moody, A KID IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT). However, throughout all of that, Oliver lands on his feet and smiles to a nice song. The film also includes follow pickpocket The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild, TV’s H.R. PUFNSTUF), elder and mean thief Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed, GLADIATOR) and his barmaid girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis, THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE).


MARATHON MAN (1976) (****)

This is a strangely fascinating thriller because of its various parallel stories. Thomas Babington Levy – nicknamed Babe (Dustin Hoffman, RAIN MAN) – is a history doctorate student, who is writing a thesis on his father, a left-leaning intellectual who was forced into exile during the McCarthy Red Scare. In the library one day, Babe strikes up a relationship with a mysterious European woman named Elsa Opel (Marthe Keller, BLACK SUNDAY).

In the beginning of the film, Babe’s story is paralleled with the story of Babe’s brother Henry David Levy – nicknamed Doc (Rob Scheider, JAWS), who is wrapped up in shady and dangerous dealings. Elsewhere, we meet former Nazi officer Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier, A LITTLE ROMANCE), who is trying to sneak into the U.S. Additionally we witness an accident with an elderly man (Ben Dova, RUBY’S DREAM). William Devane (FAMILY PLOT) plays Doc’s colleague Peter Janeway. How these various plotlines come together is part of the film’s fascination.



As romances go this isn’t a bad one. The first thing that I’d like to address is casting. Hollywood in its early days (and even sometimes today) is notorious in casting stars to play minorities that they look nothing like. A prime example of this is Charlton Heston playing a Mexican in TOUCH OF EVIL. But like that movie, the casting of Jennifer Jones (SONG OF BERNADETTE) as an Asian in this film works because the performance and story are good.

Jones’ character is also half Chinese and half English, which helps. Costumes, make-up, hairstyle and Jones’ subtle accent also help create a believable illusion. In my college days, this kind of thing would have enraged me. But I’ve lightened up since then. When casting Yul Brynner as an Asian in THE KING AND I, Hollywood displays its racism. But this is art and this is different times. I don’t write off Shakespeare’s plays because I know men originally performed the female parts. So if the performance is not demeaning then I cannot complain too much. I will admit though that casting against race is a dangerous thing, because if its not convincing than it can ruin the whole picture. But here it works.


CARLITO'S WAY (1993) (***1/2)

For director Brian DePalma, CARLITO’S WAY is like the flipside of his SCARFACE. In SCARFACE, Tony Montana desperately tries to cling onto the gangster life as it slips away from him. In CARLITO’S WAY, Al Pacino plays Carlito Brigante, an ex-con who tries to go straight after his lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn, MYSTIC RIVER) gets him out of a 30-year prison sentence on a technicality.

The film deals with much of the same issues as THE GODFATHER III where a criminal has a hard time breaking out of crime when he keeps all his old friends. There’s a great initial scene in the film where Carlito accompanies a cousin to a drug deal and Pacino’s manner speaks more than words about his uncomfortable feelings. After five years of being in jail, Carlito has a tough time dealing with the way the world has changed. He tries to rekindle a romance with dancer Gail (Penelope Ann Miller, THE GUN IN BETTY LOU’S HANDBAG), whose career is in a slump. He takes a job at a nightclub to save money to move to the Bahamas, but he keeps running into the kind of people he really wants to be avoiding. A good example is Benny Blanco from the Bronx (John Leguizamo, SUMMER OF SAM), a cocky up-and-coming pusher who wants to raise his status by getting to know Carlito.


CABIN IN THE SKY (1943) (***1/2)

Director Vincent Minnelli (Liza’s dad) made his debut with this musical, which I’m sure was a risky venture in 1943, because it is composed of an entirely black cast.

Little Joe Jackson (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, TV’s THE JACK BENNY SHOW) is trying to reform after marrying Petunia (Ethel Waters, THE SOUND AND THE FURY). But his old friends lure him into trouble again, which leads to an angel named The General (Kenneth Spencer, BATAAN) and demon Lucifer Jr. (Rex Ingram, SAHARA) making a bargain that if Little Joe can’t stay straight for the next six months he will go to hell. To spice up the temptation of Little Joe, Lucifer Jr. tosses in the sex kitten Georgia Brown (Lena Horne, THE WIZ) and a winning sweepstakes ticket.


THE BIG RED ONE (1980) (****)

Samuel Fuller is a director that I’m just discovering. He’s a big influence on Scorsese. His films are gritty, often dealing with violence.

THE BIG RED ONE follows a sergeant and four soldiers through various battles during World War II. Like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN – or maybe even more so – this film really shows what it is like to be a grunt. Unlike RYAN, BIG RED ONE has no overall mission to drive the narrative. It’s episodic, watching the soldiers move from mission to mission. I got a really good sense of the randomness of war and how death is always lurking around the corner.

Lee Marvin (DIRTY DOZEN) stars as The Sergeant, a survivor of World War I. He’s a grizzled war veteran, who shows little emotion, but is also touched deeply by the senselessness of war, especially when it affects small children. His four privates include: the film’s narrator and pulp writer Zab (Robert Carradine, REVENGE OF THE NERDS), violence skittish Griff (Mark Hamill, STAR WARS), no-BS, Brooklyn-born Italian Vinci (Bobby DiCicco, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT) and baby-faced medic Johnson (Kelly Ward, GREASE).


AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) (**1/2)

AMERICAN PIE was a surprisingly funny film that was smarter than it appeared on the surface to be. AMERICAN PIE 2 was a kind of fans only venture. The third film in the series isn’t all that worse than the first sequel, but it has a bit too much Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott, THE RUNDOWN).

The thing that made the first film work was that it knew exactly how to balance character humor with the gross-out stuff much like THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY did. The reason for this quality's absence from movie I think has a lot to do with the absence of Paul and Chris Weitz (ABOUT A BOY) in the director’s chair. Jesse Dylan’s only directing effort before this film was HOW HIGH.


THE LETTER (1940) (***1/2)

The film is a bit racist, but in a weird way it actually helps the film. Set in Malaya, the film begins with Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis, NOW VOYAGER) emptying a pistol into Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH). She tells her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall, THE FLY) and lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX) that Hammond tried to rape her so she shot him in self-defense. Everything seems cut-and-dry until Joyce’s assistant Ong Chi Seng (Victor Sen Yung, CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU) reveals that a friend of Hammond’s Eurasian wife (Gale Sondergaard, THE BLACK CAT) has an incriminating letter that Leslie wrote to Hammond the day he was killed.


THE JERK (1979) (**1/2)

Moments of this film are hilarious, but as a whole it doesn’t work. Much like many of the Marx Bros. films, this film is just a showcase for Steve Martin’s talents. In his first film performance, Martin plays Navin R. Johnson, an idiot who would make the DUMB AND DUMBER guys look like Stephen Hawking.

Navin has been raised in a poor black family, but doesn’t notice that he’s white until his 18th birthday when his mother (Mabel King, TV’s WHAT’S HAPPENING!!) tells him that he was left on their doorstep. After hearing some ballroom dance music for the first time, Navin is inspired to go out in the world and make something of himself. But because of an initial scene where Navin is a bum, we know the story will be a rags to riches to rags tale. Navin meanders through life like Forrest Gump, moving from gas station attendant to a weight guesser at the carnival to a millionaire inventor.


WIMBLEDON (2004) (***)

Sports and romance have been put together many times before. Something for the guys and something for the girls. So how do you make the formula seem fresh? Add witty writing and great actors and you have a hit on your hands.

Peter Colt (Paul Bettany, MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD) is an aging tennis pro, whose greatest accomplishment was being ranked 11th in the world at one point in his career. This Wimbledon will be his last tournament as a pro. Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst, SPIDER-MAN) is the hot new, young American phenom, who is kind of like a female John McEnroe. Peter and Lizzie meet cute and strike up an affair. They quickly bond and Paul begins to play the best tennis he’s played in years. All of a sudden he’s a star again. His agent Ron Roth (Jon Favreau, SWINGERS) even comes back into the picture. However, Lizzie’s father/manager Dennis (Sam Neill, JURASSIC PARK) isn’t too keen with Paul possibly throwing off Lizzie’s game.


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

Director M. Night Shyamalan has now created a portfolio of films that can be his own worst nightmare. Critics were very polarized about this film. Really a love-it-or-hate-it venture. I think many people brought expectations into the film and were left unsatisfied by the twists. However, I disagree. Like Shymalan’s previous films, the twists are all based on character and theme. This time the twists aren’t as surprising, but they’re still very thought-provoking.

Set in a Puritanical community in a valley in the woods, the town elders led by Edward Walker (William Hurt, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST) have struck a deal with the creatures living in the woods. The villagers will not venture out as long as the creatures do not venture in. Quiet-spoken and brave Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix, SIGNS) wants to travel into the towns to get medicine for the village, but the elders won't let him go, especially his mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN). Lucius is also secretly in love with a smart, tomboyish blind girl named Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard, BOOK OF LOVE), who has a playful relationship with a slow young man named Noah Percy (Adrien Brody, THE PIANIST). That is about as much of the plot as I will reveal.


HEAVY METAL (1981) (**1/2)

I kept asking myself throughout this film if I would like it if it weren’t animated and the answer is no. The animation adds novelty that’s intriguing, but the various stories are only teenage male fantasies of sex and violence that kind of repeat themselves.

The six segments are strung together by the presence of an evil green orb. The first is a futuristic noir tale where a gruff cabbie picks up a lot of trouble when he saves a female scientist’s life. The second finds a teenage boy transformed into a he-man then transported to a primitive world where he must save a beautiful woman from being sacrificed. In the third, a cocky space pirate gets a strange surprise when the green orb influences the testimony of the witness he paid off. The fourth segment is a horror tale of the orb’s murderous rampage upon a WWII fighter plane. The fifth follows two stoner aliens and their robot as they try to influence Earth politics as well as woo an Earth woman. The last segment features a quiet female warrior who sets out to kill the leader of an evil army.


WICKER PARK (2004) (***)

The trailer for this film looked awful, but the film turns out to be quite engaging with some great performances.

Matthew (Josh Hartnett, BLACK HAWK DOWN) is an advertising photographer who has moved back home to Chicago after living in New York for two years. He’s now engaged to the beautiful Rebecca (Jessica Pare, LOST & DELIRIOUS) and is putting together a big business deal in China. But this is all thrown into a tailspin when he believes that he has seen Lisa (Diane Kruger, TROY), the love of his life who happened to break his heart.

The film plays out like a thriller as Matthew desperately searches for Lisa. He meets up with an old friend named Luke (Matthew Lillard, HACKERS) and even gets wrapped up with a mysterious brown-haired woman named Lisa (Rose Byrne, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE).


HAIR (1979) (**1/2)

Why do this musical in the late ‘70s? It was probably dated then and it sure is dated today. Claude Bukowski (John Savage, TV’s CARNIVALE) rides into New York on a bus from the Mid-West. He meets up with hippies George Berger (Treat Williams, THE DEVIL’S OWN), Jeannie (Annie Golden, IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY), Hud (Dorsey Wright, THE WARRIORS) and Woof (Don Dacus, only feature film). Claude is headed into the Army and the band of hippies tries to show him a drug-filled good time. George makes an effort to get Claude to meet rich girl Sheila (Beverly D’Angelo, NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION), who is wooed by the group’s style.

The musical embraces the carefree, rebellious attitude of the 1960s. However, the film seems to play more juvenile than thought provoking. The characters are bums, who don’t work and cheese off their parents when they get in trouble. If that’s not hypocrisy, then what is? I really think that the same exact material could be used as a damning critique of the hippie movement. It never sold the flower power message in a positive light for me.


SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) (***)

After I first saw the trailers for this film, I really wanted to see it badly. Shaun (Simon Pegg, THE RECKONING) is an unmotivated man in his late twenties who works at an electronics store and spends most of his spare time in the pub with his best mate Ed (Nick Frost, British TV’s SPACED), a jobless bloke who spends his day on Shaun’s couch playing videogames.

Shaun’s girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield, BEYOND BORDERS) is fed up with him and his slacker behavior. She is backed up with this sentiment by her flatmate Dianne (Lucy Davis, TV’s THE OFFICE) and Dianne’s snobby boyfriend David (Dylan Moran, NOTTING HILL). Rounding out the cast is Shaun’s doting mother Barbara (Penelope Wilton, IRIS) and emotionless stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy, I CAPTURE THE CASTLE), who Shaun doesn’t get along with. At first Shaun and Ed don’t really even notice that zombies have taken over London. Once they realize what’s going on, they decide to rescue Liz and Shaun’s mum and take them to the safest place they know – the pub.


TROY (2004) (***)

In the same year, we get a nuanced rethinking of both THE ILIAD and King Arthur. Not that TROY and KING ARTHUR are bad films, but like it has been said – when you have the choice of printing the facts or the legend, print the legend.

TROY tries to be GLADIATOR in many ways. In an effort to build more character moments, they forgot the grand drama and spectacle that made films like BEN-HUR great. So strangely enough they fall into a weird middle ground between being grand epics or emotional historical adventures like BRAVEHEART. But in the end, I enjoyed TROY enough to encourage people to check it out.

On a peace mission to Sparta, Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) woos Spartan queen Helen (Diane Kruger, WICKER PARK) away from her husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, DARK BLUE). This upsets Paris’ father Priam (Peter O’Toole, MY FAVORITE YEAR) and brother Hector (Eric Bana, HULK). But more so it upsets Menelaus, who calls on his brother Greek king Agamemnon (Brian Cox, L.I.E.) to invade Troy. To succeed at this feat, the Greek King calls on his greatest warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt, 12 MONKEYS), who despises Agamemnon. During the invasion of Troy, Achilles falls for the Trojan royal niece Briseis (Rose Byrne, WICKER PARK).



The original RESIDENT EVIL is horrible. To say the sequel is a little better isn’t saying much. However, it does keep up the status that no movie based on a videogame has ever been good.

Alice (Milla Jovovich, DUMMY) returns, finding herself as a guinea pig in an Umbrella Corp. lab. In the first film, Alice wanted to take down the company and ended getting wrapped up in a conspiracy involving bio-weapons and the living dead. Now the living dead have escaped from the lab and the people of Raccoon City are trapped, left to die by the all-powerful Umbrella baddies.

A top scientist Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris, HAPPINESS) is desperate because his daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur, EVELYN) is trapped in the city, which will be wiped off the Earth by a nuclear bomb in the morning. So he enlists people inside the city to rescue his daughter with the promise that he will get them out. How he contacts the people inside the city is a plot device so lame that you’d think it came from a videogame.