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I've seen bits and pieces of this film over the years, but never all the way through until now. I was surprised at how subtle some of the satire is and how dead on it is with some of its comments about family vacations. The ending has a nice sardonic touch, which satirizes American family values as well as the Walt Disney empire.

The plot is simple -- Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase, FLETCH) wants to drive his family from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit the Wally World theme park. Along the way they encounter everything that could go wrong. Chase is perfect in the role of the overachieving father, with a dialed down performance that is absent from the other VACATION flicks even the solid CHRISTMAS VACATION installment. His wife Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo, AMERICAN HISTORY X) loves Clark's enthusiasm and encourages him… up to a point. "Rusty" Griswold (Anthony Michael Hall, PRETTY IN PINK) is a typical horny teen and Audrey Griswold (Dana Barron, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) is your typical boy-obsessed, rebellious teen. Rusty is just young enough to still dig his father's vacation plans and Audrey is just old enough to loathe the entire idea.



The first time I saw this film I thought it was only a three-star flick, but like many great movies they don't really hit you until a second or third viewing. There was a lot of hype about this film in critic circles in 2001 and I think I went into it expecting something different. If you have ever seen a Terrence Malick (DAYS OF HEAVEN, BADLANDS, THIN RED LINE) film then you know the style of this picture. The cinematography is warm and rustic, filmed when the sun is just about to set.

The story is slowly paced with no real plot. The film centers on a group of poor kids living in North Carolina. Taking place during one summer, they learn a lot about life, themselves and what they want from their future. George (Donald Holden) is the main character, who's a teenage boy with a skull affliction that prevents him from submerging his head in water. He often wears a helmet to protect his soft skull. He lives with his aunt and uncle, which we find out the reason in a moving scene with George's father later in the film. He's scared of his uncle Damascus (Eddie Rouse, JUWANNA MANN) because the man is cold, distant and mean to dogs. However, like all the characters in the film, he has a reason for being the way he is and we learn about his past in a touching scene between him and George.



The film follows a tribe of Eskimos through hunger, marriage, betrayal, murder and revenge. It's the first fiction film done in the Inuktitut language, starring a completely Inuktitut cast and filmed by a crew comprised of 95% Inuktitut people.

The film starts out with Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) and his older brother, Amaqjuaq (Pakak Innuksuk), as children and how their family gets ridiculed because their father is not a good hunter. When Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq grow up they become great hunters to the envy of another young man, Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq).

Atanarjuat has been in love with Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu) since he was child, however her father has promised her to Oki. Oki is jealous of Atuat and Atanarjuat's relationship, which finally ends in an ancient fighting tradition to win her hand in marriage. The fighting is brutal where the men just punch each other in the temple until the first one is knocked out. Later on, Atanarjuat takes a second wife, Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk), Oki's sister, who turns out to be selfish and lazy.


AKIRA (1988) (***)

This film has long been considered the best anime film of all-time. That's not really saying too much about anime. For those out of the loop, anime is pretty much the all-encompassing term for Japanese animation, mostly intended for adults, which this film would fall under.

The plot follows Kaneda, a young member of a biker gang, as he tries to survive in Neo-Tokyo (Tokyo was destroyed in 1988). Essentially, the plot centers on a government project to elicit the complete potential of humans by experimenting with telekinetic children. Tetsuo, a member of Kaneda's biker gang, is very enraged by his constantly bullied status in and out of the gang. After he comes in contact with one of the telekinetics, he gains untapped power, which soon reaches a point he cannot control.


DELIVERANCE (1972) (****)

Some films seep into the popular vernacular. We quote them without really knowing what we're quoting. I don't know how many times I've said, "He sure got a purr-dy mouth," but I didn't know where it was from, until now.

The film is simpler than I thought it would be, but that doesn't diminish its power. This psychological thriller had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to pop out of the woods next. Four city boys head out onto a river in the Appalachian Mountains that will soon be transformed into a lake once a new dam is completed. Their trip starts out fun, but quickly turns into terror when they get brutally attack by sadistic rednecks. The film equally deals with the ideas of man vs. nature and city folk vs. county folk.


12 ANGRY MEN (1957) (****)

This film is the quintessential courtroom drama. Well, I guess jury room drama is more accurate. Besides a brief prologue and epilogue the entire film takes place in a jury room on the hottest day of the year. An 18-year-old "ethnic" boy is on trial for murdering his father. A preliminary vote shows that all but one juror would vote guilty right away, which would lead the boy to death row.

In a classic performance, Henry Fonda (GRAPES OF WRATH) plays Juror #8, the man who wants to talk about the case before he sends a boy to the electric chair. He's not convinced whether the defendant is guilty or not. As the 12 men discuss the facts of the case we see how "truth" is often shaded by pride, prejudice and cultural status. Juror #3 (Lee J. Cobb, THE EXORCIST) is the most bitter and seems to be putting his own personal problems onto the defendant. Juror #10 (Ed Begley, HANG 'EM HIGH) keeps talking about "those people" and at one point in the film goes on a racist rant, which even people who still think the boy is guilty get up from the table and turn their backs to him. Juror #4 (E.G. Marshall, NIXON) tries to look at the facts with pure logic and no emotion. Juror #7 (Jack Warden, THE VERDICT) seems more interested in getting to his ball game then really giving any real thought to which way he will vote.


THE PIANIST (2002) (****)

Lots of films have been made about the Holocaust, however none has transported me into the experience more than this film. Director Roman Polanski (CHINATOWN, ROSEMARY'S BABY) has assembled scenes of the tragedy similar to the horrors that we have seen before, but he presents them from the eyes of a man just trying to survive.

The story follows the true-life story of famed Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody, SUMMER OF SAM). In college, I read the book, NIGHT, by renowned Holocaust survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel, which depicted how the Nazi's inhumane treatment of the Jews made some of the Jews inhumane themselves. To me that is the saddest thing about the atrocities. To beat a human down so much that they almost cease to be a human. This film shows some of that, which brings a unique emotional power to the film that other Holocaust films have not. Szpilman isn't presented as a hero, but a survivor and a witness. He did what he had to do to live, but was able to retain his identity throughout.



I saw this story done on the stage first, so I knew the story going in. However, the performances across the board are wonderful and brought life to a story often told on both stage and screen -- most recently as YOU'VE GOT MAIL.

This version stars James Stewart (THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) as Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullavan (THE SHINING HOUR) as Klara Novak, two people who strike up a pen-pal romance, but come to hate each other when they unknowingly meet as employees of the department store Matuschek and Co. The two plan to meet, but when Kralik sees that his secret love is Miss Novak, he's unsure what to do. When she sees him she jabs him with a few insults and he leaves not telling her that he's her mystery man. From this point forward, Kralik works to mend his reputation in the eyes of Miss Novak.


ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002) (***1/2)

The film is being billed as a comedy, but it's not a laugh-a-minute fest. If this is a comedy it might be the saddest, most depressing comedy of all-time.

The film follows the life of Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson, AS GOOD AS IT GETS) right after he retires from his assistant VP post at an Omaha insurance firm. He's a 66-year-old man, who doesn't look forward to his retirement and the feeling that he is not needed or not important anymore. He is a cheap man, who plans to travel in a Winnebago with his wife, Helen (June Squibb, MEET JOE BLACK). However, when she suddenly dies, Warren is thrust into a future that he didn't expect.

The film from that point on is his soul-searching journey to find meaning again. There are little things about this film that impress me. I loved the many cause-and-effect moments that happen throughout the film, which bring light to opinions that Warren thought earlier. He judges others, but forgives when he finally is able to turn his gaze back on himself. I liked the brutal honesty of the film, especially how it enlightens us to how people tend to deify their children while they demonize the spouses.


ROAD TO PERDITION (2002) (***1/2)

A lot was made of the fact that Tom Hanks (BIG) has playing a mean-as-nails assassin. Well, in reality he's the softest mean-as-nails assassin I've ever seen. Maybe because it's Hanks you just can't buy him as cold-blooded, but I've seen a lot more intimidating killers than Michael Sullivan. I'm not saying that Hanks was bad, I just don't think that he comes off as mean as the film wanted him to be.

The story is a simple revenge flick, which has Sullivan gunning for the killer of his family, who happens to be the son of the top gangster, John Rooney (Paul Newman, THE STING). Rooney is like an adopted father to Sullivan. Rooney even loves Sullivan more than his own son Connor (Daniel Craig, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER). This situation creates bad blood and, following Sullivan's oldest son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin, TRAIN QUEST) witnessing a murder, leads to the slaughter of Sullivan's family.


PLATOON (1986) (****)

This is the second time that I've seen this Best Picture winner from 1986 and I liked it better this time. But I still can name war pictures that came prior and after this one that say more about the insanity and pointlessness of war. From that negative note, I will say that this film contains wonderful performances from an impressive cast and the cinematography creates an equally claustrophobic and chaotic feeling that heightens the overall mood of the film.

Charlie Sheen gives his best performance as Chris Taylor, a confused college student from a well-off family that enlists in the infantry to see what life is really like. He quickly discovers that war isn't life -- it's hell. Up until this time, Tom Berenger (BIG CHILL) played good guys and Willem Dafoe (STREETS OF FIRE) played bad guys, but director Oliver Stone (BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY) casted them against type as Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias respectively. Barnes understands the brutality of combat and doesn't try to bring conventional morality into madness, because he sees that as madness. Elias is a crusader who tries to retain his humanity by acknowledging the humanity of all people. The two characters are the yin and yang of the platoon and Chris flip flops from one viewpoint to the other depending on the crisis in front of him.


HIGH FIDELITY (2000) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 12:43pm

This is one of my favorite films from the last few years. Something new impresses me about it every time I see it. Romantic comedies are rarely this good. But than romantic comedy characters are rarely written by Nick Hornby.

This unconventional rom-com follows Rob Gordon (John Cusack, SAY ANYTHING…) as he struggles to discover why his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle, in her American film debut), has broken up with him. He makes humorous asides to the camera that comment on his mental state and what he's learning about himself in the process. He's a disgruntled record storeowner, who sits around all day debating music with his two employees, Barry (Jack Black, ORANGE COUNTY) and Dick (Todd Louiso, JERRY MAGUIRE). He'd love to be a record producer, but doesn't have the confidence to take the risk.


PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002) (***1/2)

When I first heard that director Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA) was doing a romantic comedy with Adam Sandler (HAPPY GILMORE, WEDDING SINGER) I thought, oh God, Anderson is selling out? What I wasn't taking into account was that Anderson is brilliant and he saw something in Adam Sandler films that I never did.

The story follows Sander's Barry Egan, an executive at a novelty toiletries company. He struggles to overcome his emotional problems, which stem from the intrusive presence of his seven hen-pecking sisters. When Barry feels trapped, he erupts in uncontrollable fits of anger. His problems make it hard for him to hold down a relationship with his sister's co-worker, Lena (Emily Watson, BREAKING THE WAVES), who he has struck up some real chemistry with even after behavior on their first date that would have scared away 99% of other women. But a later exchange of bizarre "romantic" notions with show how perfect they just may be together. In a parallel storylines, a fraudulent sex line company tries to extort money out of Barry, he finds and caringly restores an abandoned harmonium and discovers a loophole in a Healthy Choice pudding contest that will give him untold frequent flyer miles.



This film isn't just a great animated film — it's a great film. If you think that LORD OF THE RINGS is the best fantasy/ adventure film you've ever seen than think again. MONONOKE has all the originally and action of RINGS, but also has an amazing intelligent message about harmony, peace and preserving nature. This is the kind of animated film that you forget is animated about a minute into it.

Prince Ashitaka (English voiced by Billy Crudup, ALMOST FAMOUS) saves his village from a demon boar god, however he's infected by the beast and is banished from his people. He and his loyal red elk, Yacul, venture out into the world to find the people who turned the boar into a demon and ask the forest god to heal him. Ashitaka arrives in Iron Town where Lady Eboshi (English voiced by Minnie Driver, GOOD WILL HUNTING) is creating guns and wagging war against the forest gods. San, or Princess Mononoke (English voiced by Claire Danes, 1996's ROMEO & JULIET) is a human who has been adopted by the wolf god, Moro (English voiced by Gillian Anderson, TV's X-FILES) and has vowed to kill Eboshi for destroying the forest. Then along comes conniving priest Jigo (English voiced by Billy Bob Thornton, SLING BLADE), who has been contracted by the emperor to cut-off the head of the forest god and bring it back to him. Ashitaka works vigorously as a peace broker between the many warring parties knowing that the survival of all depends on their cooperation.


ROCKY (1976) (****)

To think that Sylvester Stallone wrote this film is staggering. He has never been able to repeat such greatest. But it's not necessarily the all-American underdog story that makes this film so beloved. The characters are the real heart. After this film, Stallone spent the main chunk of his career playing superheroes (even if they didn't have capes all the time). For a tough guy, Rocky's emotional vulnerability is that makes the story resonant outside the ring.

The film follows small-time boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone, OVER THE TOP) as he trains for his one shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. The champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, PREDATOR) losses his ranked opponent before a big bicentennial spectacle. No other contender wants to take the bout because of the short five-week training time, so as an "American dream" marketing concept Creed decides to give the shot to a local Philadelphia boy.


THE CAMERAMAN (1928) (****)

I feel ashamed as a certifiable film nut that this is the first time that I've seen a Buster Keaton film. I've been depriving myself for way too long. In the film community the debate rages on whether Keaton or Chaplin was the true king of silent comedy and frankly I don't care. They are both masters of slapstick and timing, which very few can match. They both knew how to tug at the heartstrings and make you double over in laughter at the same time.

Directed by Edward Sedgwick and Keaton, this film has Keaton playing a wanna-be news cameraman named Buster, who tries to get a job at MGM and at the same time tries to impress the young MGM office girl named Sally (Marceline Day). Standing in his way is current cameraman Harold (Harold Goodwin), who sees Buster as a novice and wants Sally for himself. Buster's footage is often unusable, being overexposed or double exposed. When he gets a good tip of something big happening in Chinatown, he almost loses his life on several occasions. The comedic wonderment of every scene is amazing. You could list all the scenes in the film and say each one was a classic.


WHEN HARRY MET SALLY… (1989) (****)

This is the romantic comedy that all romantic comedies should be held up to. Why is this film so much better than others in the genre? The genre stands pretty predictable with boy meets girl and either something keeps them apart or something tears them apart until they are reunited in the final scene. This is true even about this film, however it's all built around great characters. Though the conventions are there you don't even notice them because not once do you feel some external script device is keeping these two people apart. It's the characters own internal issues that dictate what happens.

I love how the film has Harry and Sally meet than meet again and then finally develop a friendship. The story does a brilliant job showing both the male and female point of view on friendship, love and sex and even shows how those opinions can change over the course of time. As college students, Harry and Sally are almost polar opposites. He's kind of rough around the edges and blunt while she is prim and proper and reserved. The college Sally isn't the same Sally who fakes an orgasm at the table of a diner. Like I said the characters mature over the course of the film, however they still remain the same person at their core with the same issues as they had at the beginning. The older Harry and Sally are just mellowed out versions of their college-aged selves.


GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:33pm

I guess this film would be considered a romantic comedy, but I really think it's much more than that. Harold Ramis' brilliant comedy is accessible while still having an existential quality. If you were immortal, what would you do with your time? What is the point of life… especially when déjà vu becomes a daily occurrence? Would you feel inspired or trapped?

The story follows Phil Connors (Bill Murray, GHOSTBUSTERS), a self-centered weatherman for a Pittsburgh TV station, who has to cover the Groundhog's Day celebration in Punxsutawney. After being trapped in town due to a blizzard, Phil starts living Groundhog's Day over and over again thousands of times. What's ingenious about the story is what Phil does with the chance to live a day over again. At first he's weirded-out, but soon he takes advantage of it to get women into bed, especially Rita (Andie MacDowell, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL), his new producer.


INNOCENCE (2001) (****)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 10:51am

I thought I had seen all the truly great films of 2001, but I was wrong. This is hands down one of the best from that year. Paul Cox's film is a powerful, honest romance that lifts up the heart and makes it warm. I only give four stars to films that inspire me. This one not only inspired me artistically, but also personally.

The story is a simple love triangle between two lovers who were in love when they were young and reunite again when they are in their late sixties. Andreas (Charles Tingwell, THE DISH) writes his teenage flame Claire (Julia Blake, HOTEL DE LOVE) and asks to see her again. They still have the same passion for each other after all this time. Andreas is a widower, but Claire is married to John (Terry Norris, TV's NOAH'S ARK), a man so clueless in his routines that he barely even listens to what his wife says to him. When she tells him that she's having an affair (because she's too old to lie), he thinks she has gone crazy and asks their son David (OSCAR AND LUCINDA), a doctor, to look in on her.


CHICAGO (2002) (***1/2)

By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:33am

This is the kind of film that you think back on and say to yourself "hey, that was a great scene" and by the time you're done you've said that about two-thirds of the scenes in the film. Director Rob Marshall brings the famed Maurine Dallas Watkins and Bob Fosse production to the scene with classic musical flare.

The picture follows the infamous rise to celebrity of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger, NURSE BETTY) after she kills her lover, who had promised to get her a starring gig on the stage. She ends up in the same prison with the infamous Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, TRAFFIC), a successful stage star who killed her sister and her husband. Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah, SET IT OFF) is the warden of the prison and for a "small" fee she sets Roxie up with Billy Flynn (Richard Gere, PRETTY WOMAN), the most successful lawyer in town. After Roxie gets her nobody husband Amos (John C. Reilly, WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) to foot her defense bill, Roxie becomes a media darling thanks to Flynn — even overshadowing Velma.



By Rick DeMott | Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:26am

It's a classic children's film for good reason — it's a great film. Truly great family films break free from their "family" label, and WILLY WONKA's mischievous spirit makes it one of those films. Another thing WILLY WONKA has in common with other great children's films is a darkness that bubbles right under the surface. Willy Wonka smiles and runs a candy factory, but is he secretly a psychotic?

Gene Wilder plays eccentric candy maker Willy Wonka in a performance that is unmatched. Wonka puts five golden tickets in his candy bars allowing five winners and a guardian to participate in a guided tour of his mysterious chocolate factory. As spoiled kids from around the world win slots, the final ticket goes to Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum in his only film appearance), a poor boy who can only buy a chocolate bar after finding money in the gutter. His good fortune inspires his beloved Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson, POSEIDON ADVENTURE) to get out of bed and accompany him on what will turn out to be a wonderful adventure.


THE ACCUSED (1988) (***1/2)

This message flick is a harrowing drama, which chronicles the ordeals of young gang rape victim, Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS). Foster deserved the Oscar for a perfect performance. She is one of the main reasons the film works so well.

Based on a true story, the film depicts the case, which was brought against three men who cheered on the assault. Kelly McGillis (TOP GUN, WITNESS) plays the reserved DA Kathryn Murphy, who puts her career on the line by prosecuting the cheerers. After making a deal with rapists, Murphy feels guilt for not letting Tobias tell her story.

I applaud the film's writer Tom Topor (NUTS) for the perfect construction of the story. Leaving the actual detailed re-enactment of the rape until the end really solidified an often-typical courtroom ending. It also doesn't make the case easy. When Sarah was raped she was in a dive bar, drunk, dancing provocatively in skimpy clothes. It allows for the male ruled judicial system to believe that she asked for it. But for the viewer the brutality of the case just underlines how that mindset it so grossly wrong.



When I reviewed the theatrical version I said, "Like STAR WARS: EPISODE 1, I truly feel this film is just the first act of a much larger epic." I still feel that FELLOWSHIP is very plot heavy and that the real character development will come in the next two installments, however after seeing the EXTENDED EDITION I feel that the film is truly a fantasy classic and there is no point in ever watching the theatrical version again.

My chief comment about what was cut for the theaters is that it smells of executive tampering -- more action, more action. All the scenes or extra notes that were cut were all character development moments. Watching the theatrical version I felt it was just one long chase scene. I especially felt there was something missing from the beginning -- something in the set-up. The EXTENDED EDITION adds a small quiet moment after the opening narration were Bilbo writes about Hobbits in his book. That scene was what was missing. It's amazing what a small change can do to enhance the momentum of a film.


JFK (1991) (****)

This film really shouldn't be that good. Most of the film is exposition, people just talking about what has happened. However, the brilliance of the film is that it's not boring for a second. Oliver Stone has truly made a masterpiece. Along with his editor and sound designer, they have crafted a visually thrilling journey through the labyrinthine plot against the president. As the plot unravels, the scenes pick up speed and the editing becomes more jagged. The sound becomes layered with a subtle ticking clock underneath.

The other driving force is the cast, which is loaded with amazing performances. Kevin Costner as DA Jim Garrison is the central reason the film works. Costner has been known to dial in a performance or two, but when he gets a role he really cares about (see DANCES WITH WOLVES and all three of his baseball films) he really drives home a powerful, convincing performance. Garrison is his best and he really grabs you with his "man in search of the truth" passion. There's a great character scene close to the end when the film slows down a bit (like reaching the eye of the storm) where Garrison can open up to his wife (Sissy Spacek, IN THE BEDROOM). That quiet scene leads right into the courthouse climax where Costner really excels. His closing monologue is one of the best ever — just listen for the quiver in his voice. Plus, Stone throws at us one of my favorite shots in movie history when Garrison finishes his speech and looks directly into the camera to include the audience in on the fight for justice.