Search form

AWN Blogs

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.

Blogs THE MACK (1973) (**1/2)

This is the pimp daddy of blaxploitation flicks. It was a huge box office hit and I can see how it has influenced a lot of rap artists. Just out of jail after serving five years, Goldie (Max Julien, HOW TO BE A PLAYER) was a car thief and thug for The Fatman (George Murdock, STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER). Now free, he decides to become the richest pimp in Oakland.

Goldie uses his new wealth to buy his mom (Juanita Moore, DISNEY’S THE KID) a nice house, but his brother Olinga (Roger E. Mosley, TV’s MAGNIUM P.I.) is trying to clean up the streets and doesn’t approve of his brother’s pimpin’ ways. Moreover, Goldie can’t get a break from the man in the form of corrupt cops Hank (Don Gordon, BULLITT) and Jed (William Watson, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) as well as The Fatman, who is on his case to get back into drug dealing and car stealin’. Playing Goldie’s faithful sidekick is Richard Pryor as Slim.

Blogs JERSEY GIRL (2004) (***)

Not to be confused with the charming 1992 romantic comedy starring Jami Gertz, this film is director Kevin Smith’s first foray into more mature material that does not contain his famous characters Jay and Silent Bob. It’s a winning, heartfelt film that warms its audience over by dealing with conflicting emotions in a truthful way.

The film follows high-powered PR man Ollie Trinke (Ben Affleck, GOOD WILL HUNTING) as he suffers the death of his wife (Jennifer Lopez, ANGEL EYES) forcing him to raise their daughter, Gertie (Raquel Castro, forthcoming LITTLE FUGITIVE), on his own. For Ollie, his fast paced life in the city is in total conflict with raising a child, so he enlists the help of his father (George Carlin, DOGMA). The film deals honestly with the issues of balancing work with family and the sacrifices we have to make when having kids.

Blogs THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004) (***)

Director Roland Emmerich likes to destroy things in his films. He likes to do so in fun popcorn flicks, like he did in STARGATE and INDEPENDENCE DAY. I haven’t seen his GODZILLA, but I know he destroyed things (almost his career I think). But when he tries to get serious, we get the awful THE PATRIOT (aka BRAVEHEART IN THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR).

With THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, Emmerich takes on the serious topic of global warming, which allows him to destroy things with natural disasters this time. The film isn’t a message film, but if it makes at least one person read some real science about global warming than it was worth it. So what it comes down to is, if you like to see things get destroyed than you’ll like this film.

Blogs LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003) (***)

This film is solid family entertainment that kind of looses its steam closer to the end. The start of this film is brilliant. The satire of Hollywood is dead on. Bugs Bunny is about to make a new picture, but Daffy Duck wants more respect. Warner Bros. exec Kate (Jenna Elfman, TV’s DARHMA & GREG) shows the other execs that Daffy isn’t as popular as Bugs in addition to being difficult. So she fires Daffy and recruits security guard/wanna-be stunt man DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser, GODS & MONSTERS) to kick Daffy off the studio lot.

The beginning is zany and truly captures the feel of the classic Looney Tunes. Director Joe Dante (GREMLINS) and animation director Eric Goldberg (FANTASIA/2000) have obvious respect for the source material unlike so many associated with the dreg that was SPACE JAM. The in-jokes fly fast and furious. Two of my favorite bits are Shaggy and Scooby confronting Matthew Lillard about his performance in SCOOBY-DOO and Fraser as DJ Drake commenting about Brendan Fraser in THE MUMMY movies.

Blogs LOLITA (1962) (***1/2)

I saw Adrian Lyne’s 1997 LOLITA before I saw Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 version. It’s amazing how the relatively same plot and story could be told in too starkly different ways. Lyne’s is a dark, tragic drama while Kubrick’s is a satirical, dark comedy.

Prof. Humbert Humbert (James Mason, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH) decides to take a room at the home of Charlotte Haze (Shelley Winters, A PLACE IN THE SUN) after he catches a glimpse of her daughter Lolita (Sue Lyon, THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA), claiming it was Mrs. Haze’s offer of cherry pie that persuaded him to stay. The film is filled with sly double entendres. And of course no one delivers them better than Peter Sellers (BEING THERE) who plays Clare Quilty, a TV writer who had a brief fling with Mrs. Haze, but only remembers Lolita.

Blogs LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1993) (***)

Based on the famous Mexican novel, this film tries to capture the traditions of magical realism on film. Told by a narrator as a family legend, the story follows the love tale of Tita (Lumi Cavazos, BOTTLE ROCKET) and Pedro (Marco Leonardi, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO). Pedro wants to marry Tita, but her mother Elena (Regina Torne, TV’s RIVALES POR ACCIDENTE) won’t let her because she is the youngest, and tradition states that she must take care of her mother until her mother dies. So as a way to stay close to Tita, Pedro agrees to marry Tita’s oldest sister Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi, A DAY WITHOUT A MEXICAN).

At first, I hated the heated soap opera material this film presented. It was melodrama to the nth degree. However, once the magical realism kicked in, I found myself drawn in and captivated by the grand tale and the originality of the metaphors. I will always remember Tita’s quilt, her rose petal quail dinner, the cake she makes for her sister’s wedding and the story of the matches. These are the details that bring life to the melodrama.

Blogs HOPE AND GLORY (1987) (***)

Director John Boorman is best down for DELIVERENCE, which this film couldn’t be more different from. The film is a sentimental look at the young life of Bill Rowen (Sebastian Rice-Edwards, only film performance), who lived in London during the German Blitz with his eccentric parents Grace (Sarah Miles, TV’s QUEENIE) and Clive (David Hayman, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA), nymphomaniac teenage sister Dawn (Sammi Davis, FOUR ROOMS) and little sister Sue (Geraldine Muir, JUST ASK FOR DIAMOND).

The film works because it takes the child’s point of view about the air raids, which, to Bill, are a blast. Based on Boorman’s own experiences, the film is rich with detail, if not a little idealistic and sentimental at times. It really captures the true sense of being a kid at the time and how being young at any time in history is relatively the same.

Blogs BAADASSSSS! (2004) (***1/2)

It’s amazing that a film about the making of another film turns out better than the original film. SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG exploded into cinemas in 1971, starting on only two screens in the U.S. and becoming the highest grossing independent film of that year. Even more importantly, the film started the sub-genre of blaxploitation films. If there were no Sweetback; there wouldn’t have been a Super Fly or a Mack or even a Shaft.

Melvin Van Peebles will be remembered as the man who opened up America to a poor black man’s perspective as well as telling America that films with black heroes can be box office successes. And who better to tell Melvin’s story than his own son Mario.

Blogs THE ALAMO (2004) (***)

The latest telling of the Alamo tale had a host of strikes against it going into theaters. First, it was supposed to star Russell Crowe and be directed by Ron Howard, but they stepped down from the picture after Disney wouldn’t allow Howard to make this his SAVING PRIVATE RYAN with all the blood and gore he could muster. So Disney brought in THE ROOKIE director John Lee Hancock to craft a PG-13 version of the tale. With a budget of $95 million and a box office gross of only $22 million, you think Disney would have been better off letting Howard make his more adult version?

Come on, I bet you a lot of teens or even 20-somethings won’t even know whom William Travis is. This isn’t a tale for the mall crowd. In the end, the Hancock film still deals with the real men that participated in the story and not the legends that surround them.

Blogs TAKING LIVES (2004) (**)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 16, 2004 at 10:53pm

Scene: Hollywood execs sitting in a big office. One turns to the other. "Hey, let's make a film where a serial killer plans out elaborate ways to kill people, taunting the police along the way." Second exec, "I don't know, what's the twist." First exec, "It's set in Canada." Second exec, "Brilliant… and we can film it there too." Brilliant?

I'm pretty much a sucker for detective stories. I like mysteries. But the formula is getting old. When I first saw the trailer for this film and saw Angelina Jolie lying in the grave, I wanted to vomit. Grand dramatic gestures by cops are so lame. RED DRAGON nailed how to show a detective getting into the mind of the killer in my book. Additionally, TAKING LIVES throws common sense out the window. Time and time again, the contrivances of the plot make you shake your head.

Blogs RIPLEY'S GAME (2003) (***)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 16, 2004 at 10:47pm

This sequel to THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY was always intended to be a theatrical release, but Fine Line bailed on it and the film went direct-to-video. The film works as an interesting morality thriller where the emotionless and amoral Tom Ripley (John Malkovich, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) wraps dying innocent Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott, ENIGMA) in a web of assassinations for insulting him at a party.

The delight of this film is the devilishly witty interplay between Ripley, Trevanny and Reeves (Ray Winstone, SEXY BEAST), the criminal Ripley wishes would have stayed in his past. Trevanny’s moral dilemma is at the core of the film. He signs on to do an awful thing for a good reason, but finds that no bad thing goes unpunished.

Blogs SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER… AND SPRING (2004) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 16, 2004 at 10:32pm

This poetic Buddhist story has a lot to say about life and death, sin and redemption and love. The metaphor of the changing season representing the stages of life isn't a revolutionary artistic touch, but director Ki-duk Kim does it with original and breathtaking beauty.

Each season represents a different section in the life of the film’s characters. An old monk (Yeong-su Oh, LITTLE MONK) lives on a small floating house in a lake in the mountains. He is in care of a young boy (Jong-ho Kim, film debut) who he teaches metaphorical lessons about life and death. When the boy becomes a teen (Jae-kyeong Seo, RESURRECTION OF THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL), a young sick girl (Yeo-jin Ha, film debut) comes into the care of the monk. The teenage apprentice is quickly smitten by the girl. What happens next I will leave as a surprise. But I will say, the film deals with the issues of rebellion, temptation and redemption.

Blogs THE SON (2003) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, September 16, 2004 at 10:18pm

In the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Olivier (Olivier Gourmet, READ MY LIPS), a Belgium carpenter who works at a center for troubled children. He is asked to take on another student named Francis (Morgan Marinne, THE SEXUAL LIFE OF THE BELGIANS), but refuses claiming that his class is full. After Francis leaves, Olivier follows after the boy and watches him and the film allows us to discover the situation as things unfold naturally.

People will think ominous things throughout the film, which will keep them glued to the screen. It's amazing how well-written drama can have a viewer on the edge of their seats like a thriller. This film has gotten universal praise winning prizes at Cannes and making several top ten lists. It deals with a story of loss in a very natural way. Once secrets are revealed one will see that the story could have been extremely melodramatic, but the directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (ROSETTA) have the patience to just observe and let the audience make up their minds.

Pages