Search form

AWN Blogs

Blogs YOUNG ADAM (2004) (***)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogs THE HOLE (2001) (***)

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

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

Blogs DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) (***)

The original DAWN OF THE DEAD is one of my favorite horror films. I was quite dismayed when I heard Hollywood was going to remake it. In the end, the new film is more of a re-envisioning of the original, because very little of the original plot remains.

Ana (Sarah Polley, THE SWEET HEREAFTER) is a nurse, who wakes up one day to a crisis where the world is turning into zombies. And like the zombies in 28 DAYS LATER, these walking dead can book. Ana ends up barricaded in the mall with police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames, PULP FICTION), level-headed Best Buy employee Michael (Jake Weber, MEET JOE BLACK), thug Andre (Mekhi Phifer, 8 MILE), Andre’s pregnant Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina, THE LADIES MAN) and jerky security guard CJ (Michael Kelly, UNBREAKABLE).

Blogs OLDBOY (2005) (****)

This film has been playing the festival circuit since last year and won the Grand Prix from the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Based on a Korean manga, the story begins with Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi, PAINTED FIRE) at a police station after getting into a drunken fight, which makes him miss his three-year-old’s birthday. Then suddenly, Oh finds himself in a one-room prison with no reason for being there. His only company is a television set, through which he learns that he has been accused of killing his wife. Over the years, he also falls in love with a TV chef named Mido (Hye-jeong Kang, THE BUTTERFLY).

After 15 years of imprisonment, Oh is days away from tunneling himself to freedom, when his captors let him go. He has a long list of more than 200 people he thinks could have done this to him and he sets out to find answers. The film serves as a revenge flick, as well as a mystery. He meets up with Mido who falls in love with him as well. She is the kind of innocent girl who takes in stray puppies no matter how haggard they look. The deeper he gets into the mystery the stranger things become and he's certain that the wealthy Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu, WONDERFUL DAYS) was involved.

Blogs WINGED MIGRATION (2003) (***1/2)

This is a film for anyone who has ever listened to a tape of loons or any other nature sounds. Even if you haven't, it's still for you too. The innovation that sets this film apart from other nature docs is its revolutionary cinematography. With super light cameras and planes, we are able to fly alongside birds like I’ve never seen before.

The film chronicles the migration of an array of various types of birds from all over the world. It creates a real awe for the journeys the birds take just to survive. The film is a perfect mix of straight nature shots, subtitled information and narration. The film even used some wonderful editing to establish emotional mini-stories around issues that birds have to face along their travels like hunters, predators and just getting stuck in the mud.

Blogs VALMONT (1989) (***1/2)

Director Milos Forman had already started this film when it was announced that Stephen Frears would be doing DANGEROUS LIASONS based on the same novel by Choderlos de Laclos. Frears’ film had a smaller budget and more stars and was eventually released before Forman’s film, going on to garner several Oscar nominations and wins. A year later few people were interested in seeing the same story again. Subjecting VALMONT to a dismal box office gross of barely over a million dollars. And for a film that cost $35 million that’s not good. These facts are not a comment on the quality of the two films, only an explanation of why you may have never heard of VALMONT.

The main difference between the two films is that VALMONT is based more on the original book while DANGEROUS LIASONS is based more on the stage play that was popular on Broadway at the time. As well, DANGEROUS LIASONS takes a more American view of love and sex where VALMONT is more European.

Blogs ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) (****)

This is the best film I’ve seen all year thus far. This film shows cinema at its most inventive, smart and beautiful. A friend of mine told me that if there were ever a “beautiful film” this would be it. I couldn’t agree more.

Joel Barish (Jim Carrey, MAN ON THE MOON) is a shy man who has been dating outgoing, flashy and impulsive Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet, IRIS). After a big fight, Joel discovers that Clementine has gone to Lacuna Inc. to have a procedure done that erases the memories of Joel from her mind. Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson, IN THE BEDROOM) revolutionized the processes of ridding bad memories and his office consists of receptionist Mary (Kirsten Dunst, SPIDER-MAN), technician Stan (Mark Ruffalo, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME) and slacker assistant Patrick (Elijah Wood, LORD OF THE RINGS). So Joel decides to rid himself of his memories of Clementine. As Joel goes through the process, we get a better understanding of both Joel and Clementine as well as their relationship.

Blogs HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) (***1/2)

Based on a stage play titled FRONT PAGE that had been filmed before this and then after, HIS GIRL FRIDAY changes the sex of the news reporter trying to get married to great success. I’ve seen parts of the later FRONT PAGE that starred Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and surprisingly, this film doesn’t even change the character’s name, leaving it Hildegaard “Hildy” Johnson.

In this film, the character is played by Rosalind Russell (PICNIC), but the other twist is that she was once married to her publisher Walter Burns (Cary Grant, NORTH BY NORTHWEST). Hildy comes to the paper to tell Walter that she is getting married to straight-laced insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy, TRADING PLACES). Walter doesn’t like the idea and does everything to persuade her to stay on as a reporter and not marry Bruce.

Blogs GERRY (2002) (***1/2)

Two guys named Gerry walk into the desert… Sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s the start of Gus Van Sant’s haunting film about two friends who set out for a day hike in the desert and end up hopelessly lost.

There have been other films about people getting lost, but none of them have been this natural. The film strips all artificial drama from the story and presents the tale in a poetic straightforward way. Some may find the style infuriating, much like Van Sant’s wonderful ELEPHANT. I found it fascinating.

The film has very little dialogue and features very long shots of the characters just walking. You really get a true sense that these two guys have been friends for a long time, because there isn’t any profound conversations between them. Early on in their ordeal they talk about casual things like we all talk about on an average day like a funny thing that someone saw on WHEEL OF FORTUNE or an update on how one is advancing in a videogame. The actions and attitudes of the characters tell us things about them that are never said directly.

Blogs ULZANA'S RAID (1972) (****)

Westerns, as well as sci-fi, often serve as iconic genres that allow filmmakers to make social comments they would be unable to make in a straight-forward fashion. HIGH NOON was about the Red Scare and THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS was about communism.

ULZANA’S RAID tells the story of a renegade Apache named Ulzana (Joaquin Martinez, DIE ANOTHER DAY) and the military party, led by Lt. Harry Garnett DeBuin (Bruce Davison, X-MEN), that are set out to capture or kill him. Aiding DeBuin on his first mission are white Indian expert McIntosh (Burt Lancaster, ATLANTIC CITY) and Indian tracker Ke-Ni-Tay (Jorge Luke, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER).

DeBuin is a minister’s son who doesn’t understand the savageness of what the Apache are doing. However, the young soldier is hard pressed to admit what the white man does to the Indians. At one point McIntosh says “To be mad with the Apache’s for what they do is like being made at the desert for not having water.” Sharing screen time with the emotional story is also the intelligent action, which drives the tale. McIntosh and Ke-Ni-Tay’s planning and strategy on what Ulzana will do next is fascinating.

Blogs STAR WARS: EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) (***1/2)

The conclusion of the epic STAR WARS series is a mixed bag. It’s successful in bringing the story to a satisfying emotional conclusion. It’s bumpy parts lie in the “too cute,” often Muppet-like character designs of the alien races and poor direction from Richard Marquand, whose only other directing job that any one really knows is the thriller JAGGED EDGE starring Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges.

JEDI picks up soon after the place where EMPIRE STRIKES BACK left off. Han (Harrison Ford, REGARDING HENRY) is a prisoner of the gangster Jabba the Hut and Luke (Mark Hamill, JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK), Leia (Carrie Fisher, THE BLUES BROTHERS), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, TERROR) and Lando (Billy Dee Williams, MAHOGANY) set out to rescue their friend.

Blogs FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) (***)

It’s surprising that this film is so defined as a comedy, because it’s the dramatic moments that work best. Cameron Crowe, director of ALMOST FAMOUS and SAY ANYTHING…, started his career in film as the screenwriter of this film, which was based on his book.

Directed by Amy Heckerling (CLUELESS), the film follows several groups of characters. The main character would be Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh, HUDSUCKER PROXY), a 15-year-old girl who is desperate to have sex and have a boyfriend… specifically in that order. Encouraging Stacy’s plans is her beautiful best friend Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates, GREMLINS), who constantly talks about her older boyfriend who lives in Chicago.

Blogs STAR WARS: EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) (****)

Oh, the sequel. Too many great films have been tainted by poor sequels. STAR WARS did not suffer this fate. Like THE GODFATHER and THE TERMINATOR, things only got better with part two. STAR WARS established the main characters and EMPIRE explored their emotions.

All good sequels build off of where the first film left off. With parallel stories, the plotting of EMPIRE is more complex than A NEW HOPE. After the wonderful initial battle on the ice planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker, MONA LISA) venture off to find the Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz, THE MUPPET MOVIE) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Leia (Carrie Fisher, THE ‘BURBS), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels, 1978’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, TERROR) escape Hoth in the Millennium Falcon fleeing from the Empire.

Blogs ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) (**)

This film from John Carpenter is a cult hit, but its really just average sci-fi action fare. One of its main problems is the completely implausible premise. The film proposes that crime rises in the U.S. 400% in 1988 and that by 1997 the isle of Manhattan has been turned into a prison. The U.S. gives up on New York City? Come on. The premise could work if the story and characters were solid, but that’s not the case here.

A rebel from the Liberation Front of America hijacks Airforce One and plans to crash it into New York. The President (Donald Pleasence, HALLOWEEN) ejects himself from the plane and ends up being kidnapped by The Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes, SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT). Because the police have been kicked out by the inmates, the police chief Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) enlists inmate and former special forces soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, BACKDRAFT) to find and rescue the President within 22 hours or die. Along his journey, Snake hooks up with dimwitted Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine, MARTY), Brain (Harry Dean Stanton, PARIS, TEXAS) and Brain’s buxom girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau, TV’s CARNIVALE).

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.

Pages

randomness