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By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 9:47pm

Epic and gothic  -- the second half of Mike Nichols miniseries based on Tony Kushner’s play is fulfilling and maddening and wonderful.

Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson, THE ALAMO) has left his wife Harper (Mary-Louise Parker, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES), who floats around in a Valium daze, to strike up an affair with Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman, ROGER DODGER). Prior Walter (Justin Kirk, LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION!) has been visited by The Angel of America (Emma Thompson, MUCH ADU ABOUT NOTHING), who wants Prior to become a prophet. Belize (Jeffrey Wright, ALI) worries about Prior’s struggle with AIDS and that he may be having delusions. He also has to deal with the foul nature of Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, HEAT), who has been secretly admitted to the hospital to treat his AIDS.


GOING MY WAY (1944) (***1/2)

This film is a charming, uplifting tale that exemplifies the kind of films that were greatly popular during the World War II years. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Bing Crosby), Best Supporting Actor (Barry Fitzgerald), Best Director (Leo McCarey), Best Music, Original Song (“Swinging on a Star”), Best Writing, Original Story (McCarey) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Frank Butler, Frank Cavett). (An interesting trivia note is that Fitzgerald was also nominated as best actor, which the Academy changed the rules on later about being nominated in both categories).

Fitzgerald (THE QUIET MAN) plays an elderly priest named Fitzgibbon. Crosby plays the young priest Father Chuck O’Malley, who has been assigned to Fitzgibbon’s church to liven things up and help save it from financial ruin. Fitzgibbon is very set in his ways and clashes with O’Malley’s more modern and less pious approach to the ministry.


HELL HOUSE (2001) (***1/2)

This fairly non-partisan documentary about an evangelical church in Texas putting on its controversial haunted house displays the best and worst of the more fundamental Christian movement in America.

For 10 years, Trinity Church has been putting on Hell House, where different mini-plays display real world violence from a fundamental Christian perspective. The people who put on the performance really are dedicated to the cause of bringing the message of Jesus to non-believers. The film does a wonderful job of just watching the process of the Hell House being constructed from auditions, to practice, to script writing to performance.

To say that some of the people involved are extreme would be stating things too lightly. Some members of the church speak in tongues, which is a belief that a strange seemingly unintelligible language comes from ones heart and talks untainted to God. The phenomenon of tongues is definitely interpreted differently in other more mainstream Christian churches than the literal depiction in the film.


THE ODD COUPLE (1968) (***1/2)

Neil Simon adapted his play for the screen and was benefited by wonderful performances from Jack Lemmon as finicky Felix Ungar and Walter Matthau as sloppy Oscar Madison.

The film starts with a depressed Felix wondering the streets of New York. His wife has just filed for divorce. At his weekly poker game, Oscar and his other friends wonder why Felix is late. The humor of the film comes from the situation and how Felix hopeless bungles through it. It perfectly walks the line between the tragic and the humorous.

To help out his pal, Oscar invites Felix to stay at his apartment. What could be more logical than two recent divorcees moving in together? Not when its Felix and Oscar. Felix’s clean freak attitude quickly gets on the nerves of Oscar and begins to cramp his style.


DUPLEX (2003) (*1/2)

When Danny DeVito steps behind the camera, we usually get a dark comedy. The 1980s THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE WAR OF THE ROSES are shining examples of his work. His recent DEATH TO SMOOCHY and DUPLEX make us wonder what the heck is going on. DUPLEX is crude, shallow and its worst sin is that it’s quite unfunny.

Alex Rose (Ben Stiller, REALITY BITES) and Nancy Kendricks (Drew Barrymore, CHARLIE’S ANGELS) have bought a duplex in Manhattan. However, due to rent control, they cannot kick out the elderly Mrs. Connelly (Eileen Essel, FINDING NEVERLAND) from the upstairs apartment. The old woman quickly becomes a nuisance to the yuppie couple and inadvertently leads to all sort of misery for them. This leads Alex and Nancy to want to murder Mrs. Connelly.


THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004) (***1/2)

Based on the award-winning children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, this film from director Robert Zemeckis (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT) is an enchanted ode to believing in the potential for magic, mainly in Santa Claus.

Using motion-capture technology to animate a digital version of the actors, the film is part visual effects, part animation and part live-action acting. A lot has been said about the creepy nature of the characters, which has led to a love it or hate it attitude toward the film. From my rating you see that I fall into the love it club. I agree at times some of the characters look stiff and not life like, but for the most part I didn’t notice or better yet didn’t mind.


LAURA (1944) (****)

This is one of the stranger film noirs you may ever see. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews, THE LOVED ONE) is assigned to the murder case of beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney, NIGHT AND THE CITY). McPherson first interviews the gossip writer Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb, 1950’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN), who then accompanies him to interview socialite Ann Treadwell (Judith Anderson, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) and Laura’s boy-toy fiancée Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price, THE FLY).

What’s fascinating about the film is the implausibility of the actions of many of the characters, but the film’s lack of caring. Would an investigator really take a murder suspect along for the ride to interview other suspects? When McPherson interviews Lydecker, the writer is in the bathtub, eventually getting out and asking McPherson for his robe. How many murder suspects appear fully nude (even if its off camera) to the detective?


NOW, VOYAGER (1942) (****)

I just love Bette Davis. It’s hard to say that this film is Davis at her best, because that would undermine her amazing work in ALL ABOUT EVE, JEZEBEL and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? Her transformation in this film is drastic, but the testament to her skills is that never for a second do you believe she isn't the same character.

In this film, Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a woman in her late twenties to mid-thirties who has become a meek spinster under the tyrannical authority of her traditional mother (Gladys Cooper, MY FAIR LADY). One day, Charlotte’s sister-in-law June (Bonita Granville, THESE THREE) brings psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains, NOTORIOUS) to the house to help Charlotte, who is on the brink of a mental breakdown. Charlotte ends up at Dr. Jaquith’s sanitarium where she learns to come out of her shell and become her own person.


DOOR TO DOOR (2002) (***)

Based on a true story, director Steven Schachter (THE WOOL CAP) and star William H. Macy (THE COOLER) have crafted this heart-warming TV biopic that chronicles the story of Bill Porter (Macy), a man with cerebral palsy who through patience and perseverance became a top door-to-door salesman for the Watkins company.

Porter’s mother (Helen Mirren, CALENDAR GIRLS) drives her son to succeed. Porter’s dedication to the products he sold and determination made him a born salesman. The film paints Porter as an inspirational figure in the mode of movie-of-the-week fashion. Where this film stands above the typical movie-of-the-week is through Macy’s wonderful performance and the relationships the film develops with the women in Porter’s life.


DAY OF WRATH (1943) (****)

Director Carl Theodor Dreyer spent his career perfecting and rewriting his main themes in every film that he produced. He was a perfectionist and spent a great deal of time planning his films and saving the money needed to film them the way he wanted.

Set in the 17-Century, the film follows a Puritan reverend named Absalon Pedersson (Thorkild Roose, THE BLACK CHANCELLOR), who is involved in the persecution of witches. He has married a woman much younger than him named Anne (Lisbeth Movin, BABETTE'S FEAST). What we come to learn as the church puts the elderly Herlofs Marte (Anna Svierkier, only film performance) on trial for witchcraft is that Anne’s mother was also charged with witchcraft and Absalon married her to shelter her. Absalon’s mother Meret (Sigrid Neiiendam, LIFE ON THE HEGN FARM) hates Anne and is always skeptical of her every move. Then Absalon’s grown son Martin (Preben Lerdorff Rye, THE RED EARTH) comes home and quickly becomes smitten with his father’s young bride.


A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935) (***)

Before moving on to direct films like GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, OUR TOWN, KINGS ROW and THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, Sam Wood helmed two of the Marx. Bros.’ most famous films. OPERA came first followed by A DAY AT THE RACES two years later. As you can see from my star rating and review of RACES, I don’t think that the Marx Bros. films are classics.

They’re funny, but too chaotic at times. It’s the zaniness that some people like but it doesn’t work as a film. Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) is a shady business manager who is trying to help the rich Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont, HORSE FEATHERS) get into high society by donating money to the opera. Meanwhile, Driftwood’s friends Fiorello (Chico Marx) and Tomasso (Harpo Marx) are trying to help their singer friend Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones, A DAY AT THE RACES) get a lead part in the opera company’s performance in New York City. However, the company star Rodolfo Lassparri (Walter Woolf King, GO WEST) has different ideas, especially when it comes to Ricardo’s girlfriend and female singing star Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle, RADIO DAYS).



The film is loosely based on the true-life story of Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis, GANGS OF NEW YORK), an Irish man wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years for an IRA terrorist bombing that he had nothing to do with. The film is a startling case of injustice, fear and racism.

Director Jim Sheridan (IN AMERICA) took some liberties to make his point (he combined multiple people into solo characters, created characters to highlight ideas, changed dates to add drama), but like HURRICANE the end product is too powerful and poignant to make a fuss over the changes. Gerry was a petty thief in Belfast, who crossed the IRA one too many times. His father, a local businessman named Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite, AMISTAD), makes a deal with the IRA and sends his son to London.



Based on Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, this Sci Fi Channel miniseries tells the tale of Ged (Shawn Ashmore, X2: X-MEN UNITED), a young man who dreams of becoming a wizard. Ged displays great gifts of wizardry, which attracts the attention of wizard Ogion (Danny Glover, LETHAL WEAPON), who has little patience for the young wanna-be wizard. So Ged heads off to a wizard school where he meets his good friend Vetch (Chris Gauthier, FREDDY VS. JASON) and causes himself a lot of trouble.

In the meantime, Ged dreams of a beautiful priestess named Tenar (Kristin Kreuk, TV’s SMALLVILLE), who trains under the tutelage of High Priestess Thar (Isabella Rossellini, BLUE VELVET). What the priestesses don’t know is that one of their own – Kossil (Jennifer Calvert, THE WAITING ROOM) – has teamed up with the warring King Tygath (Sebastian Roche, 15 MINUTES), who wants to unleash the power of the Nameless Ones to make himself immortal.


A DAY AT THE RACES (1937) (***)

Director Sam Wood also helmed the Marx Bros. film A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, which came out in 1935. Most of the same cast appeared in both films. OPERA is often listed as the better film, but I think that RACES is a more complete film. As you can see from my three star rating, I don’t find it a classic though.

Groucho, Chico and Harpo are wonderful comedians and performers, but their films are stock comedies, which are relatively just a string of gags. Throughout watching this and OPERA, I kept thinking, “Will future generations view Adam Sandler films as art?” I’m not saying that the Marx Bros. are bad in a Sandler kind of way, but they’re the same culturally. Broad comedy that appeals to the masses, which were very successful.


A MIGHTY WIND (2003) (***1/2)

Christopher Guest (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) has made a career out on doing mockumentaries. His most recent is probably his most subtle, which makes for bigger laughs when it succeeds. I’ve read a few comments about the film being dull. I think those are the viewers that are not getting the joke. This one is plays it very close to the bone.

The story follows a tribute concert put on after the death of famed folk promoter Irving Steinbloom. His son Jonathan (Bob Balaban, GOSFORD PARK) tries to arrange for three of his father’s favorite groups to perform – The Folksmen, The Main Street Singers and Mitch & Mickey. The Folksmen are comprised of bass player Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer, HISTORY OF WHITE PEOPLE IN AMERICA), lead singer/guitar player Jerry Palter (Michael McKean, THIS IS SPINAL TAP) and banjo player Alan Barrows (Guest). The humor of their segments comes from their recollections of their heyday and their thoughts on being retro.



This is epic filmmaking at its best. Visual stunning. Highly dramatic. Poetically told. Director Yimou Zhang has done it again. Not since… well… Yimou Zhang’s HERO earlier this year has the screen become so fantastical.

Set at the end of the Tang Dynasty, the government has become corrupt and a rebellion has begun. The chief rebels are the House of Flying Daggers, a band of assassins who weld deadly accuracy with knives. Two police deputies Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro, RETURNER) and Leo (Andy Lau, 1993’s STREET FIGHTER) suspect that a new blind showgirl Mei (Ziyi Zhang, RUSH HOUR 2) at the brothel may be an assassin. Eventually, Jin poses as a rebel and frees Mei from prison, so that she will lead him to the new leader of the House of Flying Daggers.


DARK VICTORY (1939) (***)

This film may be the inspiration of every Lifetime “dying woman” chick flick ever made. That doesn’t make this film bad though. You can’t slight something good for the bad things it spawns.

Judith Traherne (Bette Davis, NOW, VOYAGER) is a young socialite, who lives a carefree lifestyle of wealth and privilege. She fills her days with her friends Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald, WUTHERING HEIGHTS) and Alec Hamm (Ronald Reagan, KINGS ROW) partying and arguing with her horse trainer Michael O’Leary (Humphrey Bogart, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE). She a good-hearted person and brings cheer to any room she enters. But she starts having headaches and vision problems, which led to a riding accident. The handsome Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent, JEZEBEL) operates on her, but learns that he has only alleviated her symptoms, but can do nothing about saving her life. Complicating matters, Judy falls in love with her doctor.


THE CANDIDATE (1972) (***1/2)

Director Michael Ritchie (DIGGSTOWN) takes a very Robert Altman-approach to this fly-on-the-wall look at a Senatorial campaign. Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle, TAXI DRIVER) is a top campaign advisor for the Democratic Party, who convinces civil rights attorney Bill McKay (Robert Redford, THE STING) to run against Republican incumbent senator Crocker J. Jarmon (Don Porter, TV’s GIDGET).

Lucas convinces McKay to run on issues, because Jarmon is a shoo-in to win. McKay takes the bait. We discover that McKay is also the son of a popular former Californian governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas, BEING THERE). Bill McKay is pretty liberal and Jarmon is pretty conservative. Jarmon is a very polished politician while McKay is a bit rough around the edges.


THE BLOB (1958) (**1/2)

This film sort of defines the image of 1950s B-sci fi/horror flicks. Two teens in love – Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen, BULLITT) and Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut, TV’s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW) – find themselves tormented by a killing machine from space.

In a sense, the filmmakers didn’t take the film all that seriously with the opening title song being a chipper, do-wop song about the Blob. That’s the other thing that drains the film of any real scares – the Blob. It’s a red goo that slowly creeps toward its victims. Surprisingly, the 1988 remake made the red goo seem scary… at least a little bit.

At first, Steve and Jane tell their tale of the Blob to the police who don’t believe them. This doesn’t stop the Blob from consuming very animal in its path. So Steve and Jane round up the teens in town to warn everyone.



Nick Broomfield is a fearless documentarian, who asks the tough questions and puts himself on the line for his work. In 1992, Broomfield made the powerful film AILEEN WUORNOS: THE SELLING OF A SERIAL KILLER, which chronicled how the famed serial killer Aileen Wuornos was used by many people in her life that tried to cash in on her infamy. AILEEN: LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER come out to coincide with the release of the fictional version of Wuornos’ story, MONSTER. LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER serves as part sequel- part re-envisioning of the original film.

The new film, which was co-directed by Joan Churchill, recaps the findings of the first film as well as fills us in on what has happened since. The new film recaps Wuornos’ life in brief much like an A&E biography would. The rest of the time the film takes advantage of Wuornos’ trust of Broomfield, giving him exclusive interviews.


THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) (****)

After only watching 10 minutes of this film, I knew why this film gets a mention in a Quentin Tarantino film. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE creates its characters in iconic fashion and puts them in interesting moral dilemmas. It captures the camaraderie of war as well as its brutality and pointlessness. There's great action, but the clash of the characters' personalities is what creates the thrills.

Commodore Jensen (James Robertson Justice, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG) brings together a force of top soldiers to go on a suicide mission to sneak onto the island of Navarone and destroy the two giant guns there that have prevented the Ally warships from rescuing a squad of soldiers stranded on a nearby island. Time is of the essence because the Germans want to draw Turkey into the war and plan to murder the soldiers.


20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) (***1/2)

The film gets past its Disney-fied moments with a wonderfully burly performance by Kirk Douglas and the inherent intrigue of the Captain Nemo character. Set in the 19th century, rumors of a giant sea monster wrecking ships are flying fast and furious. Prof. Pierre Arronax (Paul Lukas, THE LADY VANISHES) is skeptical, but won’t write off the possibility of a sea monster existing. His dutiful assistant Conseil (Peter Lorre, CASABLANCA) is a little more reluctant to voice his opinion, especially in front of reporters. Ned Land (Douglas) is a veteran whale hunter, who is hired to look for the sea monster. He, however, does not believe in the monster at all.

The three set out to find the monster and what they find is a technologically advanced submarine, helmed by Capt. Nemo (Jason Mason, LOLITA). After Arronax’s ship is sunk by Nemo’s Nautilaus, Nemo takes Arronax, Conseil and Land on board. Nemo’s ethics and lack of faith in humanity disturb Cornseil and Land, but the Prof. falls under the Captain’s spell, intrigued by the science that Nemo has discovered.


SISTERS (1973) (****)

Forget about DRESSED TO KILL or BODY DOUBLE, SISTERS is Brian DePalma’s masterpiece. It’s more horror than thriller. The film starts with aspiring model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder, SUPERMAN) and newspaperman Phillip Woode (Lisle Wilson, TV’s THAT’S MY MOMMA) meeting as contestants on a CANDID CAMERA-type game show. Danielle wins a steak knives set and Woode wins dinner for two at an African theme restaurant. They decide to go to dinner together. At dinner, Danielle’s ex-husband Emil Breton (William Finley, THE FUNHOUSE) shows up. He’s super creepy and starts the strange tone that is veiled over the rest of the film.

The film is filled with a lot of twists and turns throughout. I don’t want to reveal any of the film’s secrets, but I can say there is a vicious murder. Danielle is one of a famous Siamese twin pair with her sister Dominique, who isn’t very nice. Wrapped up in the crime are upcoming, women’s lib reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt, TV’s SOAP), who witnesses the murder, and veteran private detective Joseph Larch (Charles Durning, TOOTSIE).


A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) (****)

The first PINK PANTHER film was good, but uneven. The second is great. It’s one of the most consistently funny films I’ve ever seen. And that is mainly due to the pitch perfect performance from Peter Sellers (BEING THERE) as the determined, but dimwitted detective Jacques Clouseau.

The first film lost focus because it dealt with the David Niven character too much when Sellers was stealing the show. A SHOT IN THE DARK puts Sellers’ Clouseau smack in the center where he belongs. The film starts with an elaborate sequence where various people in a mansion sneak off in the middle of the night to different rooms to have affairs. The sequence ends with a murder. The crime seems pretty much cut and dry with the maid Maria Gambrelli (Elke Sommer, 1979’s THE PRISONER OF ZENDA) discovered with the gun in her hand over the dead body. But with bumbling Clouseau on the case nothing is as easy as it should be. All of this happens to the dismay of police chief Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom, SAPRTACUS).