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IN AMERICA (2003) (****)

The amazing thing about this film isn't that its concept is anything groundbreakingly original, but that it succeeds in telling a familiar tale with such originality and genuine heart.

After losing their son Frankie in an accident, Johnny (Paddy Considine, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) moves his family – wife Sarah (Samantha Morton, MINORITY REPORT) and daughters Christy (Sarah Bolger, TV's A SECRET AFFAIR) and Ariel (Emma Bolger, INTERMISSION) – to New York City to try his hand at an acting career. The family struggles living in an apartment with junkies and overcoming the great sorrow of losing Frankie.

The way the story uses the mundane problems of a poor family -- like living in an overly hot apartment – to such poetic extent is amazing and powerful. The family befriends their downstairs neighbor Mateo (Djimon Hounsou, AMISTAD), who is an angry, struggling artist suffering from AIDS. This relationship brings up insecurities between Johnny and Sarah as well as larger life and death issues.


IRIS (2001) (****)

This was a film from 2001 that escaped my viewing for too long. I came and went in the theaters and the only reviewer that I read at the time, Mr. Ebert, only gave it two stars. But then, three of its four leads were nominated for Oscars and Jim Broadbent (BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY) won best supporting actor. I must admit that before this movie I didn't know who Iris Murdoch was. The movie wasn't a highlight reel of her life's accomplishments, but captured her ideas and nature and wrapped it into a larger poem on the cruelty of Alzheimer's disease.

The film flashes back from the 1950s to the 1990s looking at Iris at the beginning of her career (Kate Winslet, HEAVENLY CREATURES) and then at the end of her life played by Dame Judi Dench (MRS. BROWN). However, you could argue that the film's central character is Iris' husband John Bayley played by Hugh Bonneville (MANSFIELD PARK) as a young man and Broadbent older.


CITY OF GOD (2003) (****)

I have wanted to see this film for over a year and a half now. Ebert ranked it the second best film of 2002. It was released in U.S. theaters in January of 2003. Despite this fact (which usual hurts a film because Academy members forget) it was still nominated for four Oscars in 2003 -- Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a smash hit in its native Brazil and ranks it as its readers' 31st most popular film of all time. Have I made you want to see it yet?

Here's the story: Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues, GOLDEN GATE (PALACE II)) lives in the ghetto of Rio called the City of God – where corrupt cops fruitlessly try to control the street gangs. Rocket is the narrator of the film, which chronicles two decades of life in the slums. Rocket starts out by telling the story of his brother's gang and how Lil' Dice (Douglas Silva) grows up to become Lil' Ze (Leandro Firmino), the most ruthless gangster in town. Lil' Ze does this by murdering whomever stands in his way and accomplishes it by the age of 18. The only person who keeps Lil' Ze under control is his best friend Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), who serves as a peacemaker, especially between Ze and rival gang leader Carrot (Matheus Nachtergaele).


ELEPHANT (2003) (***1/2)

This film is a meandering ode on school shootings. Unlike the TV's movie BANG, BANG, YOU'RE DEAD, this film doesn't try to make a grander message about why school shootings happen. It just shows this particular event unfolding. The film watches as the characters go through their day — one that many won't survive.

John (John Robinson) is the son of an alcoholic and has had many visits to the principal's office. Elias (Elias McConnell) is a photography student. Nathan (Nathan Tyson) is the big man on campus and a lifeguard. His girlfriend is Carrie (Carrie Finklea), who may or may not be pregnant. Jordan (Jordan Taylor), Nicole (Nicole George) and Brittany (Brittany Mountain) are a gaggle of popular girls who have an unusual group ritual they do. Michelle (Kristen Hicks) is a nerdy girl, who doesn't like to wear shorts in gym class. Benny (Bennie Dixon) is an African-American athlete who helps John's girlfriend Acadia (Alicia Miles) escape from the school. Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) are the killers. While watching them prepare for their murderous actions, we get glimpses of some of their motivations for doing what they do, but nothing is definitive.


PETER PAN (2003) (***1/2)

Visually stunning and inventive, this film is a wonder family film that brings to life a classic fairy tale. The story works as a simple adventure for kids, but there are deeper, heavier issues dealt with which adults will find fascinating, maybe even a bit chilling. How does it appear when Capt. Hook gets in the way of the fledgling love of innocent Wendy and Peter?

Based on the play by J.M. Barrie, Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood, film debut) is coming upon a time in adolescence when her father (Jason Isaacs, HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS), her mother (Olivia Williams, RUSHMORE) and her aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave, GODS & MONSTERS) feel she should put aside her daydreaming and storytelling and think about becoming an adult. However, Wendy would rather continue to tell pirate tales to her brothers John (Harry Newell, film debut) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell, film debut).



This French, Canadian and Belgium animated feature is the most original animated film I've seen since TOY STORY. Paced by catchy music, this genre-bending film has a beautiful hand drawn aesthetic, painting a lush surreal world. Like Bill Plympton's brilliant I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON, this film has an anything-goes approach that is witty and silly and altogether fun.

Madame Souza is raising her grandson after his parents' death. He's sad and his grandmother does everything she can to cheer him up including buying him a dog named Bruno. In the end, she discovers that he loves bicycles and ends up training him into a world-class cyclist. Then during the Tour de France, the Mafia kidnaps her grandson to use in a shady gambling ring. Madame Souza, with trusty Bruno by her side, heads out across the Atlantic to the city of Belleville (i.e. New York City) to rescue her grandson. There she teams up with '30s singing sensation the Triplets of Belleville in her attempt to out smart the gangsters.


ON GOLDEN POND (1981) (****)

A four star film to me is one that breathes new life into film or sometimes even life. This film touched on aging and coming to terms with death like no other film I've seen and did it with dignity, grace and a lot of humor. Before I saw this film, I thought it would be all serious and somber, but I was wrong. It's very funny. I laugh out loud more at this film then a lot of so-called comedies.

The plot is pretty simple -- Ethel (Katharine Hepburn, THE AFRICAN QUEEN) and Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda, GRAPES OF WRATH) are a old couple who spend their summers at their lake front home. Norman is turning 80 and Ethel has invited their estranged daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda, BARBARELLA), her boyfriend, Bill (Dabney Coleman, WHERE THE HEART IS) and his son, Billy (William Lanteau, TV's NEWHART) to Norman's birthday party. Tensions between Norman and Chelsea run thick and by the end of the weekend, she has asked her parents to take care of Billy for a month while she and Bill run off to Europe. Norman is pretty crotchety and complains a lot and Billy doesn't like the idea of being dumped with two old strangers for the summer. However, before too long, Norman and Billy strike up a friendship.


JERRY MAGUIRE (1996) (****)

I guess you could call this a romantic comedy, but it's more of a character study. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise, MAGNOLIA) is a high-powered sports agent, who one day has a crisis of conscience and writes a mission statement that urges his business to focus less on money and more on the clients. Its title is "The Things We Think, But Do Not Say." Despite a standing applause for the gesture, he is quickly fired. Bringing to mind the statement – some things should be left unsaid.

Maguire tries to round up his clients to come with him, but he is only able to sign cocky wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr., AS GOOD AS IT GETS) and a verbal agreement from the father of college quarterback sensation Frank Cushman (Jerry O'Connell, TV's SLIDERS). In a dramatic exit from his work, he calls for people to come with him, creating a very nervous silence. However, accountant Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger, CHICAGO) stands up and joins Maguire in his noble (if not foolhardy) cause.


HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (2003) (****)

I am impressed with the complexity of the characters in this film. Based on a book by Andre Dumas III, the film is a harrowing look at the intricate drama of a dispute between two people over the ownership of a house.

Kathy (Jennifer Connelly, DARK CITY) is a recovering drug addict who is going through a deep depression following the death of her father and departure of her husband. Due to a bureaucratic mistake, she loses her house over a $500 unpaid tax, which she never really owed. In the meantime, the state auctions her house, which is purchased by Iranian immigrant Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley, SEXY BEAST). Behrani was a coronal in the military and used to own seafront land in his homeland until the Shah came into power. He works two jobs as a road maintenance worker and a clerk at a convenience store. He does this to try and keep up his family's wealthy lifestyle. He is angry at his state in life and rules over his wife Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo, MARYAM) with strong authority. However, down deep, he cares immensely for his family especially his teenage son Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout, film debut).


DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) (****)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this film is one of the best slice of life films ever made. It does for the 1970s what AMERICAN GRAFFITI did for the 1950s. And yet both films seem to be telling the same story. I guess kids of all generations pretty much go through the same sort of stuff.

The story follows various groups of high school students on the last day of school in 1976. Seniors, both girls and boys, look forward to starting the hazing traditions of the new freshmen when the bell rings. If the film really has a main character it's Randall "Pink" Floyd, played by Jason London (THE MAN IN THE MOON), the starting quarterback and Mr. Popular. His couch has given him a "Pledge" form to sign stating that he will not do drugs. It's one of those silly things that schools make kids do to make parents think that the school is actually addressing an issue. It's the kind of thing kids sign, while smoking a joint. Pink out of principle doesn't want to sign the form and debates in his head the purpose of sports, cliques and living by other people's rules.



This romantic comedy is one of the best and most unorthodox ever made. It really doesn't follow the typical formula of boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy and girl fall apart and boy and girl come back together (most often having to run somewhere to meet up). As the title suggests, the film is made up of the characters attending weddings and one funeral. The title is a stroke of brilliance adding a level of tension to the film that makes one anxious about whom is getting hitched next and whom is going to die.

Charles (Hugh Grant, LOVE ACTUALLY) is a hopeless bachelor trying to find Mrs. Right. He has a way of always putting his foot squarely in his mouth though. His group of friends include: Tom (James Fleet, CHARLOTTE GRAY), an awkward man who happens to be one of the richest in England; Tom's brooding sister Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas, THE ENGLISH PATIENT); Charles' deaf brother David (film debut); the flashy Scarlett (Charlotte Coleman, MAP OF THE HUMAN HEART); the fun-loving Gareth (Simon Callow, NO MAN'S LAND); and the soft-spoken Matthew (John Hannah, THE MUMMY). At the first wedding of the film, Charles meets American Carrie (Andie MacDowell, GROUNDHOG'S DAY) and falls for her instantly. This brief affair sets up other chance meetings at weddings and funerals for the course of the film. It seems they are meant for each other, but fate seems to pull them apart.


CHARADE (1963) (****)

If you know enough about Alfred Hitchcock to recognizes his style, but not enough to know all his films than you could easily think that CHARADE is one of his pictures. This is not a slight against director Stanley Donen (TWO FOR THE ROAD), but his film embraces all that is Hitchcockian. The innocent thrust into dangerous situations. The unexpected humor. Witty dialogue. And Cary Grant.

Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn, TWO OF THE ROAD) wants to divorce her husband because he lies to her. Then she returns home from vacation to discover that he has sold all their things and has gotten himself murdered. She goes to his funeral where she meets a trio of shady men — Tex Panthollow (James Coburn, ADDICTION), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy, COOL HAND LUKE) and Sylvie Gaudel (Dominique Minot, THOMAS). She is then called in to the American consulate by CIA agent Leopold Gideon (Walter Matthau, MIRAGE), who explains to her that the men at her husband's funeral and her husband stole $250,000 during WWII and may want to kill her for the money, which she doesn't know it's whereabouts.



Based on a true story, the film chronicles the unimaginable treatment of the girls imprisoned in the Magdalene Sisters Asylums of Ireland. The crux of the story revolves around four girls. Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff, ENIGMA) is sent to the Catholic home after she is raped by a cousin. Rose (renamed Patricia in the home) (Dorothy Duffy, film debut) is sent away for getting pregnant. Crispina (Eileen Walsh, NICHOLAS NICKLEBY) is a slow girl who was also sent away for having a child, who is given to her sister. Finally, Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone, ELLA ENCHANTED) is sent away from her orphanage for no more than flirting with boys.

Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES) is the head of the home and rules over it with sadistic flare. The fact that McEwan was able to infuse some humanity into the character is amazing. The idea is that through hard labor the girls will save their souls from sin… and make a lot of money for the church from the laundry services they provide. The girls are treated like slaves and many stay there for the rest of their lives. Girls who escape and are brought back are brutalized. Some of the nuns subject the girls to sick humiliating games, ruling over them like the girls are subhuman.


KILL BILL: VOLUME 2 (2004) (****)

A lot of debate has arisen over the splitting of KILL BILL into two parts because it was indented to be one film. Does the film work as two films? Yes. Mainly because they have two different tones. Audiences going into VOLUME 2 thinking they are going to get the same non-stop action as the first film will be disappointed. The first film was closer to samurai and kung fu films, where as the second is closer akin to spaghetti Westerns.

What's so strikingly different about this film from the first is the time it pays to developing the characters. The film starts with a black and white recap of the first film by The Bride (Uma Thurman, GATTACA), reminiscent of old film noir trailers. Then the story flashes back to the massacre at the Bride's wedding rehearsal where we get more background on The Bride, including what she's been doing with her life since leaving the assassin's crew of Bill (David Carradine, TVs KUNG FU). This is the quiet before the storm.


PERFECT BLUE (1998) (***1/2)

This is the debut film from Satoshi Kon, director of anime features MILLENNIUM ACTRESS and TOKYO GODFATHERS. I'm not a huge fan of the critically acclaimed ACTRESS, but I'd say PERFECT BLUE is on equal footing with the wonderfully whimsical GODFATHERS, which I quite enjoyed. Kon likes to take on a new genre for each of his films and PERFECT BLUE emerges from the land of the psychological thriller. Like in ACTRESS you question why this film is animated, but it doesn't ruin the film.

Mima Kirigoe is a big pop star from a singing trio, who decides to abandon singing and become an actress. Right from the beginning she is stalked by a strange-looking, obsessive fan. Her managers Rumi, a former pop star herself, and Tadokoro disagree with the new direction of Mima's career, starting with a rape scene in a movie, then nude pictures. After awhile so does Mima. Fueling her doubt is a Website dedicated to her called Mima's Room, which seems to know her inner thoughts, pushing her to the edge of insanity. Before too long, she has reached the point where she has a hard time deciding what is real and what is imaginary. Then people around her start to get murdered and she doesn't know if she may be involved.


THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992) (***1/2)

How faithful this adaptation is to the James Fenimore Cooper novel I do not know. The plot for the most part is a standard romantic adventure. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis, GANGS OF NEW YORK) is a white man raised by Indians, who falls in love with Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe, BAD GIRLS), the oldest daughter of British colonel Edmund Munro (Maurice Roeves, TV's DAVID). Or course like most great romances, their needs to be a love triangle so we get shady British officer Duncan Hayward (Steven Waddington, SLEEPY HOLLOW), who loves Cora, but she does not return the same feelings.

Cora, Duncan and Munro's younger daughter, Alice (Jodhi May, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH), fall into grave danger and Hawkeye, along with his Indian brethren Chingachgook (Russell Means, BUFFALO GIRLS) and Uncas (Eric Schweig, TOM AND HUCK), rescue them, leading Hawkeye to fall in love with Cora to the dismay of Duncan. It's pretty standard stuff really. But what makes this film so good is the detail.


OPEN RANGE (2003) (***1/2)

When Kevin Costner is good (i.e. DANCES WITH WOLVES, FIELD OF DREAMS) he can be great. But when he's bad (i.e. THE POSTMAN), he's awful. Costner proves himself with his film, making a solid Western in the classic sense. The film has something to say about the effects of violence, especially war, on a man's psyche.

Costner plays Charley Waite, a quiet cowboy, who has been working for Boss Spearman (Robert Duvall, THE APOSTLE) for more than a decade. Boss Spearman is kind and wise, but he's cautious about strangers. Working with them is the childlike big man Mose (Abraham Benrubi, TV's ER) and the young Hispanic rookie Button (Diego Luna, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN). When Mose goes to town for supplies and is jumped by locals, Boss and Charley want to make their presence known to the men that threaten them, which include crocked Irish landowner Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon, GOSFORD PARK) and corrupt sheriff Poole (James Russo, THE NINTH GATE). In the meantime, they get Doc (Dean McDermott, A COOL, DRY PLACE) and Sue Barlow (Annette Bening, AMERICAN BEAUTY) to fix up Mose. Charley has an instant attraction to Sue. When tragedy strikes, Boss and Charley ride into town for their revenge.



The Coen Brothers have displayed their unique sense of style in their films like RAISING ARIZONA, BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO. They often skirt the line between black satire, film noir and screwball comedy. CRUELTY is probably their most accessible mainstream film and conjures up the best of Hollywood's Golden Age screwball laugh-fests.

Miles Massey (George Clooney, O' BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) is L.A.'s top divorce lawyer. They teach a class on his pre-nup agreement at Harvard Law School. He's a conniver and a cheat; no case is too difficult to win. Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann, CAT'S MEOW) has been caught red-handed cheating on his wife, Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones, TRAFFIC), who wants to take him for everything he's got. She's a pro at this sort of thing, having her own go-to private eye named Gus Petch (Cedric the Entertainer, BARBERSHOP). However, she underestimated the skills of Miles Massey, who wins. But that's just a set back for Marylin. Next up for this seductress is naïve very-Texan, oil man Howard (Billy Bob Thorton, SLINGBLADE). The poor sap is just a tool for Marylin to get back at Miles. She doesn't like to lose.



Two things have to come together to make a good documentary a great one -- skilled and dedicated filmmakers that know what questions to ask and who to ask them to and serendipity. This film has both. The film chronicles the lives of the Friedman family, whose patriarch was convicted of child molestation along with his youngest son. It was one of the most famous such cases in American history. What the filmmakers lucked into with this documentary is that the oldest son, David, filmed and video recorded many family meetings even after Arnold, the father, and Jesse, the son, were arrested.

The film unblinkingly peers into the turmoil that this family went through. We get glimpses of Arnold as a funny, happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but after the charges were brought against him, he becomes a quiet, meek guilt-ridden lump. Elaine, Arnold's wife, seemed to love her husband before the charges, but old buried issues boiled to the surface and she quickly wrote him off. This betrayal by his mother created great anger and resentment in David, who sees his father through rose-colored glasses and sees his mother through cloudy resentment. Seth, the middle child, didn't even participate in the film, which adds to the story's mystery and makes the reading of the affects on the family more complex. Jesse, the youngest son, seems the most resolved about the situation and the most honest about the way he views both his father and mother. The last family member interviewed is Arnold's brother Howard, who is very emotionally scarred by the scandal. A revelation about Howard late in the movie adds a whole new wrinkle to him and his brother.


READ MY LIPS (2002) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, February 14, 2004 at 10:32am

This French thriller is a film that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved. Ordinary people thrust into extraordinary events. The frumpy Carla (Emmanuelle Devos, FORGET ME) is a secretary at a construction firm. She is partially deaf – able to read lips though. The men at the office ridicule her behind her back. They have a knack for always discarding their coffee cups on her desk. Overworked – one day her boss tells her to hire an assistant.

The employment agency sends over newly released convict, Paul (Vincent Cassel, IRREVERIBLE), who has no office skills whatsoever. At first repulsed, but strangely intrigued, Carla hires Paul and quickly gains a feeling of authority, finally having someone under her. In a way identifying with Paul's outcast persona, she helps Paul get a place to live. When a colleague steals a project she has been working on for three years, Carla asks Paul for some help. This "criminal" act starts Carla and Paul exchanging favors for favors, leading to Carla reading the lips of gangsters to find out when a bag of laundered money is coming in so Paul can steal it.


BATTLE ROYALE (2000) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, February 14, 2004 at 12:01am

This film from Japan was an international sensation. It was a controversial one as well. I saw it by getting an all-region DVD from Korea off e-Bay for Christmas. But I am now seeing it at some indie rental outlets for rent. I've been waiting two years to see this film and it was well worth it. Simply explaining the plot will explain the controversy.

It's set in a near future Japan where adults have lost all faith in the morals of the teen generation. As a way to keep the youth as a whole in line, they have instituted a new act where one ninth-grade class a year is chosen to participate in Battle Royale. The 42 students must kill each other off one by one until only one teen survives. If you don't kill, a collar around your neck will explode, killing you.


FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Saturday, February 14, 2004 at 12:01am

This may be the most underrated Bond movie of the series. It's easily the most realistic and one of the most thrilling. I can't yet say if it's Roger Moore's best, but it's a huge step up from his first outing in the miserable LIVE AND LET DIE. But we'll get back to Moore later.

The film starts off by acknowledging ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, which was the first non-Connery Bond film and the one where Bond gets married and his wife is murdered. In the beginning of this film, James Bond visits his wife's grave, which adds an emotional pull to the film that sometimes Bond films lack. The first sequence where Blofeld controls Bond's helicopter is humorous and a wonderful wink from the filmmakers that this entry in the series is killing off the silliness and excess that had been building up.