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Rick's Flicks Picks on AWN



Every year there are a handful of films at best that just blow me away and make me feel happy to be a film fan. This is one of those films. This will definitely be on my top-ten list for the year. The title is in reference to the Columbine killers attending bowling class on the day of the murders.

Populist director and author Michael Moore (ROGER & ME) has taken on the issue of gun violence in America. What makes the film so amazing is that he looks at all the easy explanations for the crisis from both the liberal and conservative points of view and shows how all of them really don't prove why America is so much more violent than all the other developed countries. For instance Canada has the same amount of guns per capita, but 10 times less gun violence. But than in Canada, banks probably don't give out free guns when you open a banking account.


THE HAUNTING (1963) (***1/2)

Please don't mistake this film for the remake starring Liam Neeson, which was awful with its laugh-inducing special effects. After watching the original I have proof that Hollywood executives have no idea what makes a movie good. The original flick is not as scary, as it is eerie, while it weaves its intriguing psychological tale. We don't necessarily fear what lurks in the shadowy corners of the screen as much as we fear what lurks in the shadowy corners of the characters' minds.

Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson, 1970's JULIUS CAESAR), a parapsychologist, brings together three people to a haunted house for an experiment. His plan is to bring together psychically charged people into the house to make it come alive. All of his choices back away except for lonely spinster Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris, TV's KNOTS LANDING) and rich socialite lesbian Theodora (Claire Bloom, MIGHTY APHRODITE). Eleanor has cared for her aging mother for years and now that her mother has died she wants to free herself of her boring life. She hides a disturbing paranormal experience from her past deep in her mind. Theodora is snobby and uses her ESP to make harsh observations about people. Rounding out the group is Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn, WEST SIDE STORY), the young heir of the mansion, who really doesn't believe in ghosts at first.


FRAILITY (2002) (****)

This is one of the best films of 2002. It's a rare horror film that has something on its mind other than high body counts. This film will haunt your mind.

The story follows a single parent family lead by Bill Paxton (WEIRD SCIENCE, A SIMPLE PLAN), who is only known as Dad. One day he wakes his two boys, Fenton and Adam, in the middle of the night to tell them that God was given him a mission to kill demons, who are hiding out on Earth as people. Fenton (Matthew O'Leary, DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE) quickly questions whether his father has gone insane and struggles with what he should do to stop him from killing people. In a parallel story line, Matthew McConaughey (A TIME TO KILL) plays one of the kids grown up, but we're never quite sure which one he is. There's a serial killer on the loose calling himself the Hand of God and McConaughey goes to the FBI agent (Powers Boothe, MEN OF HONOR, TOMBSTONE) in charge to tell him that his brother is the killer.


MONSOON WEDDING (2002) (***1/2)

Set in modern India, the story weaves several storylines together during the events that lead up to a big wedding. The film is listed as subtitled, but I'd say only a third of it is in a foreign language, because all the characters speak English, Punjabi and Hindi (sometimes all in the same sentence). Filled with melodrama, romance, music and vibrant color, this film can cross language barriers anyway.

The main story centers on an arranged marriage between Aditi Verma (Vasundhara Das), a native Indian, and Hemant (Parvin Dabas), an Indian who works in Houston. Aditi agrees to the arranged marriage because she wants a change in her life from her married lover, who keeps promising he will divorce his wife. Another love story is between the gorgeous Ayesha (Neha Dubey) and Rahul (Randeep Hooda), the young, very modern visitor from Australia. Probably the most charming love story is between dorky wedding planner P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz) and Verma's maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome). Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey) are the parents of Aditi and worry so much about their children.



I saw this film a couple years back when I was making it a goal to see all the films on the AFI (American Film Institute) 100 Greatest American Movies list. I thought it was good, but it didn't really do anything for me. I caught it on TV the other night and the story opened up for me in a new way, and what I didn't like the first time, I liked this time around. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention the first time or maybe I wasn't ready for it yet. A lot of times we watch films at certain points in our lives and they will touch us differently as we grow and change.

The story centers on the days leading up to the marriage of Tracy Lords (not the porn star turned actress, but Katharine Hepburn, AFRICAN QUEEN) to up-and-coming coal exec, George Kittredge (John Howard, LOST HORIZON). Cary Grant (NOTORIOUS) plays Lords' ex-husband, newspaperman C.K. Dexter Haven, who enlists reporter Macaulay Connor (James Stewart, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey, UNINVITED) to secretly cover the wedding. Love triangles turn into love octagons by the end and you never quite know whom Tracy will marry.


THE IRON GIANT (1999) (****)

This film is one of the smartest and most wonderful animated films I've ever seen. The film is set in the 1950s and satirizes the Red Scare. The amazing attention for detail brings this era to life in a vibrant way. While it address the paranoia of its era and the issues of the Cold War, it does so under the surface. At its core, the film is simply about a boy and his giant pet robot.

The story (very similar to E.T.) follows that boy named Hogarth (Eli Marienthal), who discovers a 100-foot robot in the woods. Hogarth befriends a beat nick artist named Dean (Harry Connick Jr., INDEPENDENCE DAY), who helps him hide the giant in his junkyard. Sightings of the robot are heard around town and a paranoid government agent named Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) comes to town to investigate. Because it quickly becomes too difficult to hide a mental munching 10-story-sized robot, Hogarth must especially use all his wits when his mother (Jennifer Aniston, TV's FRIENDS) takes Mansley in as a border.


HIGH NOON (1952) (****)

Along with STAGECOACH, this is one of my favorite Westerns and one of my favorite films. For people who shy away from Westerns, you should give the better ones a chance. I've found that Hollywood used the Western at times to talk about sensitive topics with a bit of distance like Hollywood does with Sci-Fi nowadays.

The story is simple, Will Kane (Gary Cooper, MEET JOHN DOE) sent Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald, JOHNNY GUITAR) up for murder, but Miller gets out on parole and comes gunning for Kane. It's Kane's wedding day to a Quaker named Amy (Grace Kelly, REAR WINDOW, TO CATCH A THIEF) and she wants to run, but Will knows the killers will just hunt him down and he'll live in fear until that day. Will tries to round up a posse, but for various reasons everyone backs away.


LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963) (***1/2)

Before there was Denzel and Halle, there was Sidney Poitier -- simply my favorite actor of all time. I'll watch anything that he's in and I haven't dislike anything I've seen. And I saw both sequels to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. LILIES is the film that won Poitier his best actor Oscar and until last year he was the only non-white person, male or female, to have won the top acting Oscar. While it's not a defining character for his career, he brings charm, wit and depth to a character that wins our hearts.

In the film, Poitier plays traveling work-for-hire man Homer Smith. He stumbles onto a small nunnery in the desert comprised of five German nuns and gets roped into building them a chapel. The war of wills between him and Mother Superior Maria (Lilia Skala, FLASHDANCE, HOUSE OF GAMES) is classic. The film deals with pride, faith, community, humility and race, but not once do you ever feel like the film is preaching anything. The story is so simple, but ends up being greatly profound.


THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) (****)

Many people have attempted mock documentaries; or mockumentaries; but no one has done it better than the talents behind this film and two other classics, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and BEST IN SHOW. Rob Reiner, playing a fictitious doc maker, follows fake metal band Spinal Tap during their tour to promote their new album, "Smell the Glove." The film works more as a low-key satire than a laugh-a-minute comedy fest. The film deftly skewers bad rock lyrics, pompous star attitudes, rotating band members, kitschy style changes, and feuding bandmates.

Spinal Tap is made up of lead singer David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean, BEST IN SHOW), guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest, THE PRINCESS BRIDE), bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer, TV's THE SIMPSONS) and a rotating drummer, a position plagued by freakish accidents. Over the years, there has been a professional rivalry between David and Nigel, an unspoken tension on who is the true artistic center of the group. Derek is content to just bask in their genius. However, the long simmering tensions come to a head when David's girlfriend Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick, TV's V) bring her astrology into band decisions, which pushes the band's manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra, JUMPIN' JACK FLASH) to the brink.


SAY ANYTHING… (1989) (****)

Cameron Crowe has not made a bad film. He's written everything he's directed and those films consist of SINGLES, JERRY MAGUIRE, ALMOST FAMOUS and VANILLA SKY. However, his first film, SAY ANYTHING…, may be his best and is definitely my personal favorite. The film is hands down one of the best movies ever set in high school. Teen comedy/dramas can only aspire to be as good as this film.

The story follows Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack, HIGH FIDELITY) as he tries to form a relationship with the beautiful valedictorian, Diane Cort (Ione Sky, DREAM OF AN INSOMNIAC). He invites her to a graduation party and she reluctantly comes with him. But as the movie's tag line says, "To know Lloyd Dobler is to love Lloyd Dobler."



What a brave movie for Bette Davis to do. She is so ugly in his film -- and I don’t just mean her character either. Her Oscar-nominated performance is so true and so real that you forget that you're watching a screen legend and feel you're watching a bitter psychopath.

The story follows two sisters Jane (Davis, ALL ABOUT EVE) and Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford, MILDRED PIERCE). Jane, known as Baby Jane, was a child star, who was the main breadwinner for her family for years. However, as they got older, Blanche became the movie star and Jane became a B-movie actress, who only got roles because it was in Blanche's contract that for every picture she did her sister got a picture.


BEN-HUR (1959) (****)

A lot of long movies even when they're good can seem long. However, this movie, clocking in at nearly four hours, zips by. The reason for that is because the action and epic wonder never stop. Modern audiences get turned off by long running times, but BEN-HUR has not faded from popularity, remaining the most beloved Biblical epic ever made.

The story follows the rise, fall and rebirth of Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston, PLANET OF THE APES), a Jewish nobleman living in the time of Christ. In a parallel story the film also follows the rise and fall of Christ himself. And we all know about his rebirth so the film left that part out. The story is a classic tale of two friends torn apart by differing ideologies. Ben-Hur is Jewish and loathes the idea of the Romans suppressing his people. Then there is his childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), who joins the Roman army and is sent back to Jerusalem to head up the garrison there. After an accident, Ben-Hur is made a slave, finally freeing himself to return to Jerusalem to challenge Messala and find his mother and sister, who were imprisoned along with him.


BEING THERE (1979) (****)

This film is one the subtlest satires that I've ever seen. The poignant and funny comedy comes from a very simple premise, one that director Hal Ashby handles with great precision. Too broad it would have been a disaster. This is why star Peter Sellers is such a key to the films success. He plays his character straight without a hint of irony, making him all the more successful and funny.

Adapted from his own novel by Jerzy Kosinski, the story follows simpleminded gardener, Chance (Sellers, DR. STRANGELOVE), who has never left his place of employment since he was a boy, learning all socialization from what he has seen on TV. His employer (the old man) dies and he's kicked out of the only home he has ever known into a world in which he doesn't understand. Through a mistake, he is believed to be a rich businessman and taken in by a very wealthy and influential dying man named Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas, HUD). Chance's simple statements about gardening are mistaken as profound statements about the government and economy. Eventually, he begins to consult the President (Jack Warden, THE VERDICT). Because of his relationship with Chance, Rand feels better about dying, because his wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine, THE APARTMENT) likes the gardener and will have someone to be with after he passes.


THE MATRIX (1999) (****)

What else can one say about the film besides that it's the best action/sci-fi film that has come out in ages. It's smart and a lot of fun at the same time. The Wachowski Brothers, who first made the highly stylish and highly recommended crime thriller BOUND, brought an anime aesthetic to live-action for this film. The bullet time effect has become a landmark in visual effects history, but it's how the visuals are used in service of the story that truly makes this film awesome.

The film follows Neo (Keanu Reeves, SPEED) as he stumbles upon a band of rebels led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?) and discovers that the world he lives in is not what it seems. Morpheus believes that Neo is the Chosen One, a prophesized leader whose superhuman skills will free all humans from the oppression of the mysterious Matrix and their powerful agents, lead by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING). Neo doesn't believe he's special and Morpheus's crew is divided. Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, MEMENTO), Morpheus's second in command, wants to believe with her whole heart, while Cypher (Joe Pantoliano, BOUND) is tired of the rough life of a rebel and has lost faith.


IN COLD BLOOD (1967) (****)

Based on the Truman Capote novel of the same name, the story follows the flight and eventual capture of Perry Smith (Robert Blake, LOST HIGHWAY, TV's BERRETA, and most recently the front cover of major tabloids for be charged with the murder of his wife) and Dick Hickcock (Scott Wilson, PEARL HARBOR, IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) after they slaughter the Clutter family.

Perry is the dreamer of the two killers. He wants to be a Country Western star and dreams of discovering buried treasure. However when it comes to the crime, the reality of the situation seems to wake him out of his often-childlike daze. Hickock is the mastermind behind the crime; the only problem is that he's not very bright. He plans the robbery on a tip he heard in prison and seems to decided on murder as just a matter of fact detail of the crime.



Here’s another amazing film that presents apprehensible behavior and let’s the audience think about what they are watching. This is a horror film on the level of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. With layered characters and deep themes, this is far more than just another splatter fest.

The film follows real life killer Henry Lee Lucas (Michael Rooker, MALLRATS, CLIFFHANGER), his sidekick-in-crime Otis (Tom Towles, THE ROCK) and Otis' younger sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold). The film depicts Henry as a cold-hearted killer, who commits his murders out of sexual frustration, which was spurred on by a troubled childhood. As the plot unravels, Otis joins in on the murders. Though, Lucas is a killer, he reveals his softer side to Becky, who begins to fall for a guy who would clearly be classified as another "wrong guy" in a life full of wrong guys.


HAPPINESS (1998) (****)

Your life will be changed after watching this film. You will think about movies and people in a different way after seeing this film because you have never seen any film like it before. This isn’t a movie for everyone I suppose, but for those willing to challenge their way of thinking this film is a must.

The story follows three New Jersey sisters Joy (Jane Adams, MUMFORD), Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle, TV’s PRACTICE, MEN IN BLACK II) and Trish (HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS). Joy is a hippie/ wanna-be-singer/ slacker, who doesn't have much luck with relationships even when she is the one breaking up with someone, as we see when she breaks the heart of the fat man named Andy (Jon Lovitz, CITY SLICKERS II). Her sisters worry about her after she quits her job “to make a difference” as a strikebreaker at the local adult education center. This new job leads to her getting involved in a dangerous relationship with a Russian thief named Vlad (Jared Harris, Richard Harris’ son, MR. DEEDS).


MEN IN BLACK (1997) (***1/2)

Fun is the best way to describe this film. Forget all of the fancy visual effects and modern dialog, because this one owes a great deal to classic action comedies where the key to the film's success was the relationship between the central buddies. Tommy Lee Jones's Agent K and Will Smith's Agent J are among the best screen buddies of recent years.

The story follows the secret government agency called the Men in Black, which protects space aliens living on Earth and keeps the knowledge of their existence from the general population. James Edwards (Will Smith, ALI, INDEPENDENCE DAY) is recruited to join the agency, but the ultra serious Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones, THE FUGITIVE, BLUE SKY) doesn't think the brash rookie has what it takes. The plot follows Agent K and the newly named Agent J as they attempt to stop a killer alien bug, which disguises itself as a farmer named Edgar (Vincent D'Onofrio, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING), from destroying a galaxy, which would lead to the destruction of Earth.



This is the third film from Wes Anderson (BOTTLE ROCKET, RUSHMORE) and he doesn’t disappoint with yet another comedy classic. Anderson creates an eccentric cast of characters brought to life from an amazing cast. Every aspect of the production from the sets to the costumes serves the quirky material well. The story centers around Gene Hackman's brilliant performance as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family of his own making.

The film follows the attempts of Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman, HOOISERS) to reconcile with his family after he gets thrown out of his apartment. His wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston, ADDAMS FAMILY, GRIFTERS) wants to finally get a divorce so she can marry her accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover, LETHAL WEAPON), but Royal doesn’t like the idea. Their three kids were all geniuses when they were young, but have faded since then.


AMELIE (2001) (****)

This is one of the most uplifting films I have seen in ages. A blissful feeling washed over me while watching it unfold. For two hours, the world didn't seem so cruel. People have problems in the film, but they become infected with the joy of living and that's what the film does to its audience.

The story follows a shy, quirky French girl named Amelie (Audrey Tautou), who decides her new goal in life is to do things to make people's lives better. She had a strange childhood marked with tragedy, but instead of becoming bitter, she develops a rich fantasy world in her mind. Her father Raphael (Rufus, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN) sinks into a closed off world, living in his garden. Not that the doctor was engaging before the death of his wife, he would only touch his daughter when giving her an example, upon which her heart would race, leading him to believe she had a heart condition. Throughout the course of the film, she brings together people who hate each other, raises hopes with lies and love letters, sends a garden gnome around the world and even seeks an elaborate comeuppance on a mean shopkeeper. See the whimsy yet?


CLERKS (1994) (****)

The film that launched the career of Kevin Smith (DOGMA, JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, CHASING AMY) is one of the funniest films that I've ever seen. Filmed in only a few locations in New Jersey on black & white film, this no-budget comedy quickly became the most profitable film of all time at the time of its release. Compared to its budget of $27,000, its earnings of $3.15 million in theaters were enormous. Smith made the film by maxing out his credit cards. Part of the indie craze that ignited in the early 1990s, CLERKS showed that talent is more valuable than budget.

The flick follows the wacky events during one business day in a small town convenience store. Dante (Brian O'Halloran, MALLRATS) is called in on his day off, which starts his day off badly and it only gets more frustrating from there. He's wrestling with his indecision on whether to stay with his current girlfriend Veronica (Marilyn Ghigliotti, DIG) or get back together with his old high school flame Caitlin (Lisa Spoonhauer). His best friend Randal (Jeff Anderson), who works at the video store next door, doesn't have any useful advice. He's more interested in debating the morality of blowing up the Death Star because you kill all the innocent contract employees in the process.



What can you say about this movie besides — classic. If you haven't seen it, you should be ashamed of yourself. It's action-packed, dramatic and funny all at the same time. It uncovers the British, Japanese and American point of view during WWII all in the same film. And David Lean's (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DR. ZHIVAGO) Oscar-winning direction is near perfect.

The story follows the building and then attempted destruction of a bridge in India, which the Japanese want to use as a main means of transport. Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON) is in charge of a prisoner camp, whose prisoners will construct the bridge. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness, STAR WARS, LADYKILLERS), a British officer, and his men are captured and brought to Saito's camp. Already at the camp is American soldier Shears (William Holden SUNSET BLVD., WILD BUNCH), who has a lot of secrets.


DIRTY DANCING (1987) (***1/2)

Here's a classic that's considered one for good and bad reasons. Yeah the film is cheesy at times, but that's part of its charm. Come on, how many times have you said, "No one puts Baby in a corner?"

The story follows Baby Houseman (Jennifer Grey, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, BOUNCE) as she develops a heated romance with the summer resort's dance instructor, Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze, ROAD HOUSE, GHOST). Come on Johnny Castle -- why not just call him Rod Brickhouse? When Johnny's partner Penny (Cynthia Rhodes, FLASHDANCE) gets hurt, Baby volunteers to fill in. So Johnny has to teach her how to dance. Baby's father Jake (Jerry Orbach, CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS) doesn't approve of hanging out with the help though. He's far more pleased with Lisa (Jane Brucker), his other ditsy daughter, and her choice of boys, Robbie Gould (Max Cantor), a medical student.


TWIN FALLS IDAHO (1999) (****)

The first time I saw this film — it made me want to rush out and make a movie. Not very many new films affect me in that way. This film became an art house hit in 1999 and won awards at the Sundance Film Festival. It's a remarkable film debut from Michael Polish, who also stars in this melancholy character study.

The story follows conjoined twins, Blake and Francis Falls (Mark and Michael Polish respectively). Blake is the stronger of the two and his heart is what keeps the sick Francis alive. Because Francis is on the brink of death, the brothers check themselves into a seedy hotel and hire themselves a hooker named Penny (Michele Hicks, former model, MULHOLLAND DRIVE). Penny is a prostitute out of desperation. She is initially scared of the twins, but after having to return to their room for her purse, she starts feeling sympathy for them. Noticing that Francis is sick, she calls on a client/doctor named Miles (Patrick Bauchau, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER), who reveals that Francis' heart is failing. Have the Falls brothers checked into the Idaho Hotel to die?


LEGEND: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (1985) (***1/2)

The director's cut of Ridley Scott's (BLACK HAWK DOWN, BLADE RUNNER GLADIATOR) cult classic breathes new life into the film. The longer version benefits from a better narrative flow. The motivations of the characters are clearer and the entire story takes on a more mythic quality.

The story is a classic fairy tale where the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry, ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) kills the last of the unicorns so that the world will fall into darkness forever. A young forest boy (Tom Cruise) has to save the princess (Mia Sara, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF) as well as the last unicorn.

Some director's cuts make the film leaps and bounds better, but this one just clarifies the story. The studio monkeyed with the film a lot at the time of release -- insisting that it be cut down and that a pop band do the soundtrack. Most of the added footage makes adds more life to the story. However, some of the scenes could have stayed the way they were -- especially the first scene with the unicorn as well as the ending. If you watch the making of documentaries Scott feels the classical Jerry Goldsmith score creates a more epic feel for the production, however the new wave Tangerine Dream soundtrack sounded more fairy tale-like. In my opinion they could have kept the pop soundtrack (except for the last very cheesy song).