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One of the best films of 2000, this is the kind of film that you love to watch over and over again. That's saying a lot for a subtitled film. Director Ang Lee (ICE STORM) brought to life a Chinese kung-fu move with heart and emotion. I had to twist my wife's arm to go see this in the theater. It's now one of her favorites and she let out an audible, "wow," in the theater when the first character effortlessly takes flight.

Veteran fighter Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat, ANNA AND THE KING) is about to retire and he has given his legendary sword, the Green Destiny, to Sir Te (Lung Sihung, EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN). It also allows him to reunited with his childhood friend, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh, TOMORROW NEVER DIES), who is employed as a guardian. Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien have long loved each other, but have kept their feelings repressed. Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang, RUSH HOUR 2) is the Governor's daughter, who is engaged to marry a man she does not love. Secretly, she is being trained in the Wudan martial arts by thief and murderer, Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng, THE LEGEND OF BLACK MASK), who killed Li Mu Bai's master.


GINGER SNAPS (2000) (***1/2)

This Canadian teen horror film played some festivals in the States, but never got any true theatrical release. The film went straight-to-video in 2001 and has slowly garnered a cult following thanks to the Internet. There is a good reason for this; it's the very smart horror film.

The story follows the Fitzgerald sisters – Brigitte (Emily Perkins, IT) and Ginger (Katharine Isabelle, FREDDY VS. JASON) – whose fascination with death has led them to become outcasts in their community. They stage gruesome death photos and disavow anything girly. They are even late in getting their periods and dread the day they come, thinking they will change into everything they hate. Recently, dogs of their town have been turning up mauled to death. One night, the girls find the culprit – a werewolf, which attacks Ginger. Slowly, the teen starts to go through a transformation, unleashing the animal inside. The original werewolf was smashed by a van, driven by a young drug dealer named Sam (Kris Lemche, EXISTENZ). As Ginger strikes up a relationship with a punk kid named Jason (TV’s NOAH), Brigitte talks with Sam about the werewolf and how to cure someone who has been bitten. Rounding out the cast is the girls’ clueless, caring, but ultimately kooky mother Pamela (Mimi Rogers, GUNG HO).


MONSTER (2003) (****)

The buzz for this film is electric. It's based on the true story of "America's first female serial killer" Aileen Wuornos. It is a low-budget independent film from a first time feature director Patty Jenkins. If you haven't heard of it yet, you will. The main reason for this is Charlize Theron (CIDER HOUSE RULES). She plays Wuornos in a performance that is mesmerizing and brutally real. If she does not win the Oscar, they should discontinue the award forever.

Many people say they didn't even know it was she. With make-up and adding some 20 pounds, the slim, blonde model transformed into a trailer trash female straight from central casting at THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW. A lot of people didn't think she had a performance like this in her from her past work as "the girlfriend" -- they just weren't paying attention. If you watch her performances as the "girlfriend," they are all different. She truly never gives the same performance twice. Check out her performance in THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE to see some of what she can do. Theron embodies Wuornos in everyway. Watch her eyes – she is the character.


THE LAST SAMURAI (2003) (***1/2)

In general, the reviews of this film have been positive. It has made a few top ten lists for 2003. However, the negative reviews for the film always bring up that the movie depicts a white hero coming in to save a minority group. I can see how this opinion is being formed. However, these critics are missing the bigger point.

The story follows decorated Civil War and Indian War fighter Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise, MAGNOLIA) as he is hired to help train the new Japanese military in the ways of the West. Algren is a drunk and has been squeaking out a living by doing gun demonstrations on tour. The Japanese "soldiers" he is supposed to train are peasants and farmers, who must go up against the highly skilled samurai. Even with guns, the Japanese soldiers are no match for the samurai. In the battle, Algren is taken prisoner, because the samurai leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe, U.S. debut) is interested in knowing his enemy and respects the fighting spirit in Algren. Katsumoto places Algren in the care of his sister Taka (Koyuki, U.S. debut), who was the wife of one of the samurai Algren killed. Through his time in the samurai village, Algren learns about the code of honor these people live by and is haunted by the Indian massacres he participated in.


MYSTIC RIVER (2003) (***1/2)

This film perplexes me. The hype is high and it may not have lived up to my expectations. Every year there is a critical sensation that just doesn’t blow me away like all the reviews say it will. Maybe over time, this film will resonate more, once it’s distanced from the hype. But that's not to say I didn't like the film, which is fueled by powerful performances and a harrowing crime story.

The story deals with how tragedy often reaches from our pasts and taints our futures. Dave Boyle (Tim Robbins, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) was abducted when he was an adolescent as his friends Sean (Kevin Bacon, FLATLINERS) and Jimmy (Sean Penn, DEAD MAN WALKING) watched. Over the years, the three friends grew apart. Jimmy went to prison and has been married twice. His daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum, SONGCATCHER), with his first wife, is the love of his life. His new wife, Annabeth (Laura Linney, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), complains that he needs to remember that he has two other daughters. Dave is plagued by what happened to him, unable to reconcile it in his mind. Sean has become a homicide cop and is estranged from his wife who calls him but doesn’t speak.


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) (***1/2)

The second Bond film is considered by many to be the best. It ups the ante from DR. NO and Sean Connery has truly grown into the character. This entry introduced Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the inventor of all of Bond's nifty gadgets. It also starts some of the contrived conventions of the series, but ultimately it balances between the straightforward style of the first film and the superhero elements of later installments.

This time around the plot is far more complex, which makes it more engaging than DR. NO. The evil enterprise SPECTRE plans to ignite a war between the U.S. and Russia, so they can take control of the world in the aftermath. Russian agent Tatiana Romanov (Daniela Bianchi, ALWAYS ON SUNDAY) thinks she is doing a mission for Russia, but she is really being set up by SPECTRE. Her orders are to allow Bond to steal a Russian decoder, and once Bond is killed, his theft will be revealed starting WWIII. However, SPECTRE didn't anticipate the true sexual appeal of James Bond, who easily makes Tatiana fall in love with him. Bond's sexual prowess is definitely pushed more over-the-top than in DR. NO, however Tatiana isn't totally helpless, often helping Bond in crucial moments.


BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2003) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, January 14, 2004 at 12:01am

Gurinder Chadha has followed up her wonderful film WHAT’S COOKING? with this delightful crowd pleaser about an Indian girl named Jess (Parminder K. Nagra, TV’s ER) who just wants to play soccer. The plot is standard “girl fights tradition to do what she wants” kind of story. What sets this film apart is that it has heart and real pathos. The characters are fleshed out and the action of the story occurs naturally.

Jess gets caught playing soccer and her father (Anupam Kher) and mother (Shaheen Khan, CAPTIVES) forbid her from playing. In a lesser film, this would be the big second act conflict that propels the film to an inevitable end. However, this film has Jess continue to defy her parents over and over again, much like a real teenager. She is spotted playing in the park by Jules (Keira Knightley, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) who invites her to play for her female team, which is coached by ex-men’s player Joe (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, TITUS). Those three form an unusually believable love triangle.


BAD SANTA (2003) (***1/2)

To call this movie a black comedy is being kind. It’s a coal black satire of the holiday season. I hardly ever notice cursing in movies now, but this one even pricked up my ears. Maybe it's the context of something innocent like Santa, but this film even shocked me. These are not complaints; they are the biggest compliments I can give this film.

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton, SLING BLADE) is a foul-mouthed alcoholic safe-cracker, who works with a black dwarf named Marcus (Tony Cox, FRIDAY). Every year they pose as Santa Claus and his elf at malls. On Christmas Eve, they rob the mall and live off their ill-gotten gains for the next year. This time around Willie ends up meeting a kid named Thurman (Brett Kelly, OUT COLD), who is an absolute hopeless loser. He starts to cling to Willie hoping that Santa will give him a present for Christmas. At first Willie doesn’t want to have anything to do with the kid, but ends up staying at his house.


FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (1996) (***1/2)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez (DESPERADO) and written by Quentin Tarantino (PULP FICTION), this horror crime film bubbles over with cool. It plays out in two distinct parts — the first is a kidnap story and the second is a vampire yarn. Though completely different, Rodriguez brings a unifying style to the two halves and Tarantino writes the in a dramatic way where "good guys" and "bad guys" must come together to conquer a common enemy. Oh, and it's cool as hell… but I already mentioned that.

Seth (George Clooney, O' BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) and Richard Gecko (Tarantino, DESPERADO) are escaped bank robbers trying to flee to Mexico. Bumps happen along the way mainly due to the extremely unpredictable and unstable behavior of Richard. The Gecko Brothers end up taking hostage the Fuller family, which includes ex-minister Jacob (Harvey Keitel, THE GREY ZONE), teenage daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis, CAPE FEAR) and his Chinese son Scott (Ernest Liu, THE WESTING GAME). They end up at the Titty Twister bar where the management turns out to be blood-sucking vampires.


WORKING GIRL (1988) (***1/2)

In the role that made her, Melanie Griffith (LOLITA) as Tess McGill has never been better. The role allows her to use the sexpot type she played prior to this film, while crafting a much fuller character.

The story follows go-getter Jersey girl McGill as she gets a job as a secretary for no-holds-barred businesswoman Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver, ALIEN). McGill knows a great deal about finance, but she doesn't look or sound the part. After Katharine gets stuck in the mountains after breaking her leg skiing, Tess learns that Katharine had stolen one of her own ideas that Katharine poo-pooed earlier. Tess then assumes Katharine's identity and takes her business idea to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) at a competing firm.


OWNING MAHOWNY (2003) (***1/2)

This character study about a man with a severe gambling addiction continues to prove that Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the best actors working today. Based on a true story about a bank employee who took his employer for $10.2 million, Hoffman sinks into this role completely. He never goes for effect, because like any addict his highs are muted by his addiction. It takes a bigger and bigger risk to even get him to blink.

Hoffman's Dan Mahowny is determined that if he gambles long enough he will be able to pay back all his debts, which he has accrued from gambling. At the bank he is promoted to assistant manager in charge of loans, which he starts making out to himself. His unassuming appearance and nerdy charm allow him to cover up his deceptions. But his gambling has gotten so bad that his bookie Frank (Maury Chaykin, HOSTAGE) cuts him off, because Mahowny starts making impulsive bets just to place a bet. Even bookies have to draw a line on how much they'll take someone for their money. Mahowny has a girlfriend named Belinda (Minnie Driver, CIRCLE OF FRIENDS), who worries and really cares about him, but when he invites her to Vegas with him she finally can't overlook his erratic behavior.


ALL THE REAL GIRLS (2003) (****)

David Gordon Green is quickly becoming a director to watch. His only other film GEORGE WASHINGTON was one of the best films from 2000 and I eagerly await his version of the Pulitzer Prize award-winning novel CONFEDERACY OF THE DUNCES. Again he deals with young characters, this time in their late teens and 20s. ALL THE REAL GIRLS is a simple love story constructed with complex characters.

Paul (Paul Schneider, GEORGE WASHINGTON) is a notorious ladies man in his small working class North Carolina town. He starts dating Noel (Zooey Deschanel, ALMOST FAMOUS), the younger sister of his best friend Tip (Shea Whigham, TIGERLAND), who of course doesn't like the idea when he finds out. Noel has just returned from boarding school and Paul notice how she has grown up. They've known each other their whole lives and they approach this next step in the relationship with thought and idealism. But unlike so many other screen romances, the two lovers have other people in their lives that make a difference. The supporting cast is not just there to serve the plot.


WHAT’S UP, DOC? (1972) (***1/2)

Director Peter Bogdanovich (LAST PICTURE SHOW) set out to make an homage to ‘30s screwball comedies and succeeded with flare. In many ways, it stands with the best of the genre.

Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal, LOVE STORY) and his fiancée, Eunice Burns (Madeline Kahn, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN) travel to San Francisco for a musicology event where Howard is up for a $20,000 grant. Zany craziness ensues from the beginning to the end due to four identical plaid bags each containing Howard’s musical rocks, secret documents, stolen jewels and Judy Maxwell’s clothes. Maxwell (Barbra Streisand, MIRROR HAS TWO FACES) provides most of the wackiness as she wills herself upon Howard, even renaming him Steve.


HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994) (***1/2)

The first time I saw this twisted little film I didn't really like it. But after several viewings, I've been won over by LORD OF THE RINGS director Peter Jackson's tale of two young girls in the 1950s whose imagination and sexuality become too hard to handle for their parents.

Based on a true story, Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey, BUT I'M A CHEERLEADER) is a cubby loner who is nagged by her over-protective, yet caring mother, Honora (Sarah Peirse, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE). Then enters the flamboyant and highly imaginative rich girl Juliet (Kate Winslet, TITANIC). Before too long the two girls create an entire kingdom of knights and maids in their heads, casting themselves as central characters. Pauline starts going by the name Gina and Juliet goes by the name Debora.


WHALE RIDER (2003) (****)

Set in a modern Maori community in New Zealand, this powerful drama chronicles three generations of one family, which is headed by a strictly old-fashioned patriarch named Koro (Rawiri Paratane, 2000’s ACCIDENTS). Koro is disappointed that his son Porourangi (Cliff Curtis, THREE KINGS) has not had a son, but a daughter. Defiantly he named the little girl Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes, film debut) after the mythic leader of the tribe. Porourangi leaves the community and his mother Nancy Flowers (Vicky Haughton, JUBILEE) takes the child in.

Koro’s disappointment fades over time once the love for his granddaughter grows, however, he’s very staunch in his traditional beliefs that his family needs a male descendant from his first-born son to carry on the leadership and traditions of his people. As Porourangi tells Pai, he’s looking for a prophet. When I first heard the plot of this film, I thought that the film was just going to be one of those solid girl-proves-she can-hang-with-the-boys type of films. I just wasn’t prepared for the honest power of this particular story.


28 DAYS LATER… (2002) (***1/2)

This mix of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD series and Stephan King’s THE STAND is the smart man’s zombie movie. This intense horror film has raw energy behind it. Director Danny Boyle has breathed life into a subgenre of scary movies that hasn't felt fresh in ages. There's grit and sweat and anger underneath this story, but there is also heart. The best way I can describe the mood of this film is to call it pure punk rock.

The set-up is typical; a virus quickly spreads through England turning humans into bloodthirsty killers. Jim (Cillian Murphy, GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING), a comatose bike messenger, wakes up in the hospital and finds the city deserted. He soon meets up with Selena (Naomie Harris, TV’s DINOTOPIA) and Mark (Noah Huntley, MEGIDDO: THE OMEGA CODE 2), who have been battling to stay alive against the infected for the last 28 days. Later on the trio meet, Frank (Brendan Gleeson, DARK BLUE), the devoted father of Hannah (Megan Burns, LIAM), and Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston, THE OTHERS), a no-nonsense leader of a small group of military officers.


HULK (2003) (***1/2)

You could call this film the thinking man’s comic book movie. I personally didn’t find it as emotionally engaging as SPIDER-MAN, but it’s another great installment in the comic-turned-movie genre. Director Ang Lee (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) takes a traditional parent and offspring conflict and wraps it into a classic monster movie like FRANKENSTEIN.

Bruce Banner (Eric Bana, BLACK HAWK DOWN) is a talented young scientist who has trouble expressing his buried feelings. He is working on a regeneration healing experiment with his ex-girlfriend Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly, A BEAUTIFUL MIND). An accident in the lab, which should have killed Bruce, only makes him feel better. His estranged father David (Nick Nolte, AFFLICTION) reemerges and sheds light on how his experiments have left his son “unique.” Betty’s distant father General Ross (Sam Elliot, TOMBSTONE) stopped David’s experiments and questions how Bruce could be traveling down the same road as his dad.



(First Reviewed: 11/26/01)
One of the most important things about making a great fantasy/sci-fi film is the creation of the world. That's why HARRY POTTER is so great… The characters are rich and not cliché, which is the most surprising thing about the film. J.K. Rowling knows kids and developed all of them with different strokes… I could spend pages writing about the wonder of various scenes... I can't wait to re-visit this world and these characters in subsequent adventures.

* Upon further review: (****)
My original review stands pretty much as it did originally. However, I really do feel the HARRY POTTER films are turning out as masterpieces of children's entertainment. Like THE WIZARD OF OZ, you can watch them as an adult and not even think once that you're watching a film targeted to kids. That's saying a lot. For all the films I've seen, it's one of the ten best films of 2001.


BULLY (2001) (****)

From Larry Clark, the director of KIDS, BULLY is based on a true story of a group of kids in Hollywood, Florida, who killed their friend. But don't confuse this film with those "based on true events" TV movies that are churned out after every tabloid tragedy. This is an intricate look at how violence leads to violence, and shows the truth behind the statement "idle hands are the devil's playthings."

Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro, GHOST WORLD) and Bobby Kent (Nick Stahl, TERMINATOR 3) have been friends since they were little kids. Ever since then, Bobby has been physically and mentally abusing Marty. The film subtly alludes to Bobby's jealousy of Marty's good looks and his own buried homosexuality. Marty gets into a relationship with Lisa Connelly (Rachel Miner, JOE THE KING), who Bobby eventually rapes. Later on, Bobby rapes Lisa's friend Ali (Bijou Phillips, ALMOST FAMOUS). After this Rachel formulates a plan to murder Bobby. Rounding out the group is Ali's druggie boyfriend Donny (Michael Pitt, HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH), Ali's rehab runaway friend Heather (Kelli Garner, LOVE LIZA), Rachel's overweight cousin Derek (Daniel Franzese, PARTY MONSTER) and the wanna-be hitman Derek (Leo Fitzpatrick, STORYTELLING).



(First Reviewed: 12/23/01)
I liked CHAMBER OF SECRETS quite a bit, even though it didn't blow me away like the first one did. This may be due to the fact that the plot structure is basically the same… The real delight of the film is the added details that have expanded the wonderfully immense world that was created in the first installment. I loved the plot element about mud-bloods… Another highlight is the new characters...

* Upon further review: (****)
I think the real reason I only gave this film 3 1/2 stars was because it didn't seem as original as THE SORCERER'S STONE. But I think I had that reaction because I had already been introduced to the film's universe. After watching this back-to-back with the first film, it really stands up against it. I really can't say that I like one any more than the other. But this is a film that really stands up well to repeated viewings. I'm really looking forward to next June for the third installment.


JAWS (1975) (****)

Steven Spielberg made his name with this film. Every person who has any trepidation when stepping into the ocean, I think in someway it's because they are consciously or subconsciously thinking about this film. Who hasn't gone swimming and sung the theme to JAWS at least once in their lives? The film is a masterpiece. It's a horror picture with heart and extremely well-developed characters.

The plot is simple, a man-eating shark has staked grown off the shore of a beach community as the summer vacation season is about start. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider, ALL THAT JAZZ) is new to Amityville, which won't accept him and his family as Islanders because they weren't born there. After the first two attacks, Brody wants to close the beaches, but community pressure forces him to open them. After a third attack, which threatened his son's life, Brody heads out with oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, ONCE AROUND) and crusty seaman Quint (Robert Shaw, THE STING) to kill the beast.



Part of what makes older action films seem weaker than modern ones is speed. The action seems too slow, thus seeming staged. What this Hollywood classic lacks in all out speed it makes it up with pure bravado.

Robin Hood (Errol Flynn, CAPTAIN BLOOD) is a noble who is loyal to King Richard (Ian Hunter, 1941's DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) who is off on a crusade. In the king's absence, his brother Prince John (Claude Rains, CASABLANCA) rules over the peasants with tyrannical rule. Along with Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone, CAPTAIN BLOOD), Prince John plots to take the throne. Robin brazenly challenges Prince John's rule, which makes him an outlaw. His bold actions attract followers including Much (Herbert Mundin, CAVALCADE), Little John (Alan Hale, STELLA DALLAS) and the drunken Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette, MY MAN GODFREY).



This film is what truly started the re-birth of animation in the U.S. and is one of the best films to come out of the “Me” decade. This visually inventive tale creates a unique world filling it with great characters. And for anyone who loves animation this is the best combination of toons and live-action that has ever been done.

Set in a world where cartoons live alongside humans, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer, DICK TRACY) is a big movie star, but he starts fouling up onset after he suspects that his wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner, BODY HEAT) is cheating on him with the owner of Toon Town, Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye, CAT BALLOU). Studio exec R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern, LOVE AND DEATH) hires PI Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins, MONA LISA) to take some pictures of Jessica with Acme, but when Roger is framed for Acme’s murder Eddie gets wrapped up in clearing Roger and keeping the rabbit away from Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, BACK TO THE FUTURE). Along to aid Eddie and Roger is Eddie’s girlfriend Dolores (Joanna Cassidy, TV’s SIX FEET UNDER).


THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (1978) (***1/2)

As you can guess from the title, the film follows the rise to fame of 1950s rock ‘n' roll legend Buddy Holly. The story plays like most rock ‘n' roll biopics, but it’s set apart by a wonderful performance from Gary Busey (LOST HIGHWAY) as Holly and lots of great Holly music performed live by the main actors.

Along with Jesse Charles (Don Stroud, AMITYVILLE HORROR) and Ray Bob Simmons (Charles Martin Smith, AMERICAN GRAFFITI), the Crickets became a sensation. The film follows the controversy their music caused in their Texas hometown to being the first white band to play at the Apollo. It shows Holly as the confident musician who knew what he wanted and how it should sound. At the record studio, Holly meets Puerto Rican secretary Maria Elena (Maria Richwine, HAMBURGER… THE MOTION PICTURE), who he falls for quickly. We watch as the original members part ways as Holly star rises faster than a rocket and the reunion that never happened because of that fateful plane ride on "the day the music died."


PICNIC (1955) (***1/2)

This film made AFI's 100 Passions list and I caught it on Turner Classic Movies. This 1950s drama is a classic melodrama, rooted into believable characters and emotions. The short time frame and the hot Southern summer setting heat up the emotions, which makes for great drama as well as great entertainment.

Hal Carter (William Holden, NETWORK) is a drifter, who was once an all-star college athlete. He rolls into a small Mid-West town to see if his college friend Alan Benson's (Cliff Robertson, SPIDER-MAN) father can get him a job at the family's grain factory. As Hal tries to find out where Benson lives, he meets the Owens women. Flo Owens (Betty Field, BUS STOP) is the protective mother, who wants her girls to have a better life than she has had. Millie (Susan Strasberg, ROLLERCOASTER) is the 17-year-old tomboy who has won a scholarship to college. Madge (Kim Novak, VERTIGO) is the town beauty, who is unhappily dating Alan.