ALL THE PRETTY HORSES: We avoided this film when it was in the theaters because its critical reception was so lukewarm. Roger Ebert liked the film a lot, but most of the other critics seemed to feel that the film didn't do justice to the book. However, we enjoyed the video version and feel that had we seen it originally we probably would have given it a B. Based on the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy, it is the story of two young men who, in 1949, travel to Mexico in search of the "old west." They hope to find a great ranch and work on it as cowboys. Matt Damon and Henry Thomas are the cowboys. Along the way they meet Blevins, a young runaway who proves to be trouble. Damon and Thomas find work on one of the largest ranches in Mexico and Damon falls in love with the rancher's beautiful daughter, Penelope Cruz. She also proves to be trouble. Ruben Blades plays the rancher. Eventually, the two young cowboys wind up in a Mexican Penitentiary. Gorgeous scenery and pretty horses and Matt Damon make for an entertaining movie. It was directed by Billy Bob Thornton and Sam Shepard and Bruce Dern appear in cameos. THUMBS UP.
AMERICAN MOVIE: We once heard Martin Scorcese say that filmmaking was a disease: When you have the disease, you will beg, borrow and do anything to make your movie. This documentary is about a young man named Mark Borchardt who has a bad case of filmmaker's disease. It follows him for three years as he struggles to finish a thirty minute film called COVEN, which he pronounces as KO-ven because he doesn't think it should rhyme with ven." He is thirty years old and delivers newspapers and works in a mortuary/cemetary to help finance his moviemaking. He cajoles his elderly uncle into becoming an executive producer for a $3000 investment. His friends, his mother, and even his children help him bring his dream to a reality. This documentary is, I feel sure, far more interesting than the movie Borchart made. But he did make it, and that is his success., although his life, as seen in this documentary, seems to be the epitome of failure. AMERICAN MOVIE is sad and pathetic most of the time, but occasionally it is very, very funny. One moment made me laugh so hard we had to pause the video until I recovered. Even so, I hesitate to give this a thumbs up for the general audience. It is, however, a must see for anyone who wants to make movie. In his review Roger Ebert wrote, "Mark Borchardt is a real person. I have met him. I admire his spirit, and I even admire certain shots in the only Borchardt film I have seen, COVEN. I saw it at the 1999 Sundance film festival--not because it was invited there, but because after the midnight premiere of AMERICAN MOVIE, there wasn't a person in the theater who didn't want to stay and see Mark's 35-minute horror film, which we see him making during the course of the documentary. Last year's discovery was not COVEN but THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. It cost $25,000 and so far has grossed $150 million. One day Mark Borchardt hopes for that kind of success. If it never comes, it won't be for lack of trying." A QUALIFIED THUMBS UP.
AMERICAN PSYCHO: The New York Times review called this A sleek, satirical, yuppie-era Jekyll and Hyde. A Welsh actor, Christian Bale is Patrick Bateman, a Wall-Street executive who dresses in designer suits, lives in an classic minimalist apartment, and spends a great deal of time taking care of his body. He tells us in great detail exactly how he exfoliates and moisturizes his skin each morning. His life consists of meeting friends for drinks, getting reservations in popular restaurants, listening to music, comparing business cards with his colleagues, and murdering people. The film is based on Bret Easton Ellis 1991 best seller. It was directed by Mary Harron and Roger Ebert thought that having a woman director was a plus. He thinks that Harron sees Bateman as A guy who's prey to the usual male drives and compulsions. He just acts out a little more. Ebert also thinks that the function of the murders in this film Is to make visible the frenzy of the territorial male when his will is frustrated. The movie gives shape and form to road rage, golf course rage, family abuse and some of the scarier behavior patterns of sports fans. The murders are horrible and bloody, but somehow not real. In fact, there are many who argue that most of the killings take place in Batemans imagination. We gave this film a marginal thumbs up because, although we think it is a good movie, all that blood will turn off some viewers. It is worth seeing, though, if only for the remarkable performance of Christian Bale. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
AN AMERICAN RHAPSODY: This is a beautifully acted and well told story of a Hungarian couple, Peter (Tony Goldwin) and Margit (Nastassja Kinski), who, in 1950, flee from their oppressive communist country for the USA. They take their eldest daughter Maria, with them, but they are forced to leave behind their infant daughter Suzanne. They expect to be reunited in a few days, but things go wrong and Suzanne stays in Hungary. She is raised by loving foster parents until she is six years old. At that time, Peter and Margit are finally able to arrange for the American Red Cross to bring Suzanne to their new home in Los Angeles. Suzanne is naturally homesick for the people she thinks of as Mama and Papa and bewildered by the sudden changes in her life. At age 15, Suzanne (Scarlett Johanssen), a typically rebellious teenager, travels back to Budapest to try and discover just who she is. Eva Gardos wrote and directed this movie which is based on her own experience. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
APT PUPIL: Apt Pupil was directed by Bryan Singer (The Ususal Suspects) and adapted from the Stephen King novella collection that also spawned The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me. However, it is neither as uplifting as Shawshank nor as nostalgic as Stand By ME. Apt Pupil is a disturbing story about appalling people, yet, eit is strangely haunting. It exposes the evil that lurks in the heart of men. Todd Bowen is a High School senior who discovers that an elderly man living in his town is a Nazi War Criminal. Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) has been living in the U.S. since the fifties under an assumed name. Todd seems like the All-American boy. He is a good student and star baseball player, but, he has developed a fascination with the Holocaust. He blackmails Dussander into telling him all about the Concentration Camps, in exchange for keeping his secret. Dussander is chillingly unrepentant. He enjoys relating details of the butchery, and Bowen is as an absorbed listener. Gradually, the old man begins to control Bowen, and the story takes a grisly turn. Bruce Davison, Elias Koteas, David Schwimmer, and Joe Morton also appear. This one has limited appeal, but it is well directed and well acted. McKennen is particularly good. A QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
BARBERSHOP: Gary and I watched Barbershop the other night and quite enjoyed it. Set on the South Side of Chicago, it follows a day in the life of Barbershop owner, Calvin (Ice Cube). He has inherited the shop from his father and it is a fixture in the neighborhood, functioning almost like a mens' club. But Calvin has a dream--he wants to start a recording studio--so he sells the shop to a local loan shark. Almost immediately, Calvin regrets it, and spends the rest of the day trying to cancel the deal. But the plot of this movie is secondary to the wonderful characters who populate the Barbershop. Cedric the Entertainer is Eddie, the old man of the shop, who never seems to cut anyone's hair, but has a million stories and opinions. The movie is charming and amusing. Thumbs Up
BEDAZZLED: It's The Devil and Daniel Webster, only in this movie Daniel is Brendan Frazier and the Devil is Elizabeth Hurley. And you've never seen a Devil like her! Harold Ramis directed this modern take on an old tale and he did a splendid job. Frazier plays a loser who signs a contract with Hurley: Seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Frazier takes on many different personas as he lives each wish, from a Columbian drug lord to a professional basketball player. He is good at all of them. Hurley looks fabulous and her outfits are worth the price of the rental. Francis O'Conner II (Artificial Intelligence) is the woman that Frazier pines for. Peter Cook wrote the clever script. We liked this quite a bit more than we expected to. THUMBS UP
BREAD AND ROSES: This drama about a Los Angeles janitorial strike is sort of a Hispanic Norma Rae. It tells the story of a young Mexican woman who enters the country illegally to join her sister, Rosa. Rosa manages to get Maya a job working on the cleaning crew of an important Los Angeles office building. The janitors in this building are not union members, and they are paid only $5.75 and hour. With the cost of living in LA, this is not a living wage. They have no benefits either. Sam, a union organizer persuades some of the janitors to pressure the owners of the building to hire union help. His tactics reminded me of Saul Alinsky. Sam organizes demonstrations that will embarrass and pressure the owners of the building. What we liked about this movie was the glimpse it gave us into the lives of people who work at a job that brings them no respect. One janitor tells Maya that he thinks the uniform they wear makes them invisible. The director, Ken Loach, is British. He obviously has left-wing leanings, but he doesn't make noble stereotypes out of his characters. And he doesn't give his film a sentimental happy ending. The film is partly sub-titled. Ebert and Roeper both gave it THUMBS UP. So do we.
BREAD AND TUPLIPS: Movieviewers Bill & Rita W., Scottsdale, AZ, recommended this charming Italian film and we thoroughly enjoyed it. . The message of the film is that it is never too late to bloom and introduces us to the lovely Rosalba. She is on a bus trip with her husband and two sons when she is inadvertantly left behind at a rest stop. Instead of waiting for her husband to come for her, she decides to hitch a ride home. On a whim, she accepts a ride to Venice, a city she has never seen. Her day of freedom extends to several weeks, much to the consternation of her obnoxious husband. Rosalba enjoys her freedom, her job in a florist shop, and the friends she makes, and we enjoy it with her. Licia Maglietta, the actress who plays Rosalba, is, according to Roger Ebert, the reason for the film's charm because she is so likeable. We can enthusiastically recommend this one. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
BROKEDOWN PALACE: We liked this story of two young American girls who innocently get involved in a drug smuggling operation and wind up sentenced to 33 years in a Bangkok jail. Claire Danes and Kate Bechinsale play the nave Americans and Bill Pullman is a lawyer who tries to help them. We think it is worth a look. THUMBS UP
THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB: A good man is hard to find, and that truism applies to both women and men. The gay friends in THE BROKEN HEARTS CLUB seem to spend most of their time talking about men and looking for that special someone. Dennis (Timothy Olyphant) is worried because at 28 he feels the only thing he's good at is being gay. Disillusioned with casual sex, he yearns for a committed relationship. Patrick worries because in Los Angeles, gay men are all 10s looking for an 11, and he feels that on his best day he's not more than a 6. Jack (John Mahoney) is the only truly happy man, perhaps because he and his partner have been together for 30 years. Jack is the manager of a softball team from which the movie gets its name. This 2000 movie makes the gay life look a lot easier than it looked thirty years ago when BOYS IN THE BAND was released. Both movies stress the importance of friendship, but this movie has a lot more hope. Directed by Greg Berlanti, it also stars Dean Cain as a superficial hunky movie-star wannabe. He's quite good, as are all the other young men. We enjoyed it! THUMBS UP
BUTTERFLY: A sweetly told story of a young boy during his first year in school. The setting is Spain after the Republic was created in 1931 and leading up to the Civil War which began in 1936. The boy is adorable--his large eyes and expressive face beautifully convey the magic of being young. His teacher, a caring man, introduces the boy to the wonders of nature in general and butterflies in particular. A loving bond is established between them. The boy's father is the town's tailor and his older brother is an aspiring saxophone player. The story is told in a lazy-summer-afternoon fashion but it is very well told. The ending is quite dramatic and very moving. THUMBS UP
CHUCK AND BUCK: This is a weird story of two childhood friends--Chuck and Buck. Chuck grew up. Buck didn't. When Buck's mother dies, he tries to regain the closeness he had with his "best friend." And it was a very close relationship, if you catch my drift. Buck seems oblivious to the fact that he makes Chuck, now called Charlie, very uncomfortable. He persists in his pursuit of Chuck's attention to the point of stalking. At loose ends in Los Angeles, Buck decides to write a play about two boys who were best friends. The scenes that involved casting and rehearsing the play were of particular interest to us. Chuck is played by Chris Weitz. Mike White makes Buck a very strange yet sympathetic character. He has a childlike yearning for love, but no idea how to go about finding it. This is one strange movie, but it is also rather haunting. One critic said the film "straddles a razor blade between revulsion and pathos and dares audiences to go along for the ride. " It was a Sundance Film Festival favorite, so if you like that sort of thing you may want to take a look. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
CELEBRITY: In this latest from Woody Allen, Kenneth Branagh plays Woodys role. Branagh mimics Allens stumbling speech, self-deprecating humor, and the rhythm and cadence we associate with Woody Allen. You can almost hear Allens voice when Branagh speaks. As is typical with a Woody Allen film, you have a series of scenes populated with well-known names. Judy Davis has what might be called the lead role. She is an Allen favorite and no one plays nervous depression better than she does. Also appearing are Wynona Ryder, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, Hank Azaria, and Leonardo DiCaprio in a cameo performance as a movie star who beats up his girlfriend and trashes a hotel room. CELEBRITY is shot entirely in black and white, an affectation that Allen actually pokes fun of in the movie. If you like Allens films, youll probably enjoy this reasonably pleasant effort. THUMBS UP
CITY BY THE SEA: The premise of this movie is good: A worn out NYPD cop, whose father was executed for murder many years ago, now faces the possibility that his son is a killer. Not many actors can play a worn out cop with more authenticity than Robert DeNiro. James Franco is Joey, Det. Vincent LaMarca's junkie son, and he is impressive in the role. Frances McDormand is LaMarca's girlfriend and her presence in a film always raises the interest level. It is the personal relationships that make this a film worth seeing. All the pieces are here for a superior movie, but this one is merely a good movie. However, we can recommend this video. THUMBS UP
COBB: Two hours and seven minutes is long for a movie about a truly nasty man. We can see why it was not popular at the box office. But many people think Ty Cobb was the greatest baseball player of all time and Tommy Lee Jones is surely one of the greatest actors of all time. Jones brings Ty Cobb to life in this movie. Cobb seems to have antogonized everyone he ever met: His own children refused to talk to him. But the man had both demons and greatness inside him, and we learn something about him in this biopic. Bill Enoch, one of our Movie Viewers and a former professional baseball player, recommended this video. If you like baseball, and you like Tommy Lee Jones, it might be worth a look. THUMBS UP
THE CUP: This sub-titled film about Tibetan monks living in India was a runner-up for the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival last year and was also a hit at Sundance this year. The story is an interesting blend of the sacred and the secular. You see the monks praying and studying, but you also see the young monks playing soccer with a coke can serving as the ball. These adolescent monks are soccer-crazy, and the simple plot revolves around their efforts to watch the World Cup matches on television. The young monks are played by the residents of an actual monastery in the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan, and the mountain scenery is spectacular. The director, Khyentse Norbu, is a lama who is the spiritual director of several Buddhist colleges and meditation centers. He is recognized in his culture as the third incarnation of a leading 19th-centruy lama. In this, his first film, he also proves to be a capable filmmaker. He gives us a humorous and gentle glimpse of monks as "real" people. THUMBS UP
DESERT BLUE: Last year we reviewed videotape called Dancer, Texas, about some young friends living in a small Texas town. This film reminded us of that one. Here, the friends live in Baxter, California famous for having the worlds largest ice cream cone. Baxter also has a beachside resort with no water. When a truck carrying a mysterious substance overturns, the EPA quarantines the town while they investigate a possible biohazard. A young TV star, travelling with her father, must spend a couple of days in Baxter and therein lies the story. We thank Loretta for recommending this oneit was a delight. Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, John Heard, and Sara Gilbert are in the cast. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
DIAMOND MEN: This is a video you don't want to miss! Eddie Miller (Robert Forster) has been a travelling diamond salesman for thirty years. After a heart attack, he is told that he can no longer be insured to carry expensive diamonds, and his only chance to save some kind of employment is to spend six weeks training a brash young man to take his place. Bobby (Donnie Wahlberg) is the trainee, and when he hears that Eddie has been selling for 30 years, he says, "That's longer than I've been born!" The more the two men travel together, the more they begin to like each other. Bobby becomes determined to find a woman for Eddie, whose wife died recently. The movie was written and directed by Daniel M. Cohen who was once a diamond salesman. Forster, who won a 1997 Oscar nomination for Jackie Brown, is wonderful, and Wahlberg (TV's Boomtown) is also impressive in this character-driven movie. It sounds like a typical buddy picture, but it so much more than that. Roger Ebert said in his review, "The movie keeps surprising us. First it's about salesmen, and then it's about lonely men, and then it's about sex, and then it's about romance, and then it's about crime. It reinvents itself with every act." We highly recommend this film. It is so much better than the typical Hollywood fare. Enthusiastic Thumbs Up
DOUBLE JEOPARDY: I can see why people liked this movie. Ashley Judd is very engaging and Tommy Lee Jones is always fun to watch. Plus, its satisfying to see the wronged heroine get a bit of her own back. But the script is not simply implausible--it is ridiculously implausible. Gary said that the acting was good enough to make you wish the script had been better. I agree. MARGINAL THUMBS UP
DUETS: Liv (Gwynth Paltrow) finds a father (Huey Lewis), (Paul Giamatti) finds a new life, and Reggi (Andre Braugher) finds freedom from prison--all to the tune of Karaoke. There's also a third story involving a cab driver and a would-be singer in this movie about people who travel around the country entering Karaoke competitions The big surprise was the duet that Giamatti and Braugher sang. It's a terrific version of "Try A Little Tenderness" and we thought it was the movie's best musical number. It was nice to see Braugher in a different light and to discover what a great voice he has. Paltrow is the weakest singer of the bunch, but her duet with Lewis was appealing. . It's an interesting movie, but we had the feeling it should have been better. This is what the New York Times had to say: "Every so often a movie comes along that's bad in such original and unexpected ways that it inspires an almost admiring fascination. You leave the theater in a state of amazement, and say to yourself, "Well, I've certainly never seen anything like that before," a response that's not unrelated to the thrill you feel after having seen something truly wonderful." We give it a very MARGINAL THUMBS UP
EAST-WEST: In 1946 the Soviet Government invited all citizens living in exile in Europe to return to their motherland. Alexi, a doctor, takes them up on their offer and persuades Marie, his French-born wife, to emigrate. With their young son, the arrive in the Soviet Union full of hope, but they never anticipated what life in Stalin's Russia would be like. It doesn't take long for Marie to bitterly regret leaving France. Both she and Alexi want to leave, but once Russia gets a citizen in her clutches, she never lets go. Because Alexi is a doctor, he is a valued citizen, but, as a foreigner, Marie is under suspicion. The story of her attempt to escape is riveting. Catherine Deneuve plays a famous French actress who tries to help Marie. The running time of this film is 125 minutes, but it is time well spent. The dialogue is both French and Russian and there are English subtitles. THUMBS UP.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES: What if Napoleon Bonaparte didn't die on St. Helena? What if an imposter took his place on the island and Napoleon traveled back to claim his throne disguised as Eugene Lenormand, a common seaman? That would make quite a story. And it does make for a pretty good movie. Ian Holm is both Napoleon and the imposter Lenormand. The film moves at a leisurely pace but we were increasingly captivated by Napoleon's journey and his final appreciation of the joys of a simple life. Holm is excellent and so are the other actors. The film was inspired by Simon Leys' 1992 novel The Death of Napoleon. THUMBS UP
ENEMY OF THE STATE: This one will keep you awake. There are enough car crashes, explosions, and gunfire to satisfy the most ardent action fan, and enough high tech bugging, tracking, and video devices to satisfy the most ardent computer geek. Will Smith plays a labor lawyer who unwittingly becomes a threat to a group of covert operatives within the National Security Agencywhich is, I suppose, the movies version of the C.I.A. Gene Hackman is a former operative who has gone underground. John Voight is the villain. Most of it is improbable, at least I hope so. There is a Tarentinoesque ending that made me laugh. Not a bad evenings entertainment. Roger Ebert gave it three stars. THUMBS UP
EVELYN: This is a good old-fashioned heart-warming story and we very much enjoyed it. Desmond Doyle (Pierce Brosnan) is a father who loved his children so much that he eventually forced a change in Irish family law. The story, based on a true incident, takes place in the 1950s. When Doyle's wife abandons the family, his three children are taken into custody and placed in church-run schools. Even though he straightens out his life, giving up drink and getting a job, he is unable to get his children back. A trio of lawyers--Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, and Alan Bates--pleads his case in front of the Irish Supreme Court. Brosnan, so elegant as 007, is completely believable here as a working man. The little girl who plays his daughter, Evelyn, is adorable and quite a good little actor. Julianna Margulies also appears. This is an emotionally satisfying film and we recommend it. THUMBS UP
: Sunspots have been known to interfere with communications here on earth. In this movie, the mother of all sunspots creates a situation where two men can talk on a ham radio although they are living thirty years apart. Frank is a fireman with a six-year-old son named John. He is living in 1969. The other man is John, Frank's son who is now 36 years old and living in 1999. That Aurora Borealis is really something! The movie answers the age-old question, What would happen if we could change the past? The answer is, if you change one event in the past, everything changes. In Frequency we see a man talk to the boy he was. We see memories change as events are altered. We see a crime solved smlultaneously in both the past and the future. I can see why people enjoyed this movie--there is a nice father/son thing going on here, and some events are exciting. Dennis Quaid as Frank, Jim Caviezel as John, and Andre Braugher as a friend to both father and son, all perform capably and sincerely. However, the circumstances are so fantastic that it's hard to get involved. I got minimally involved and can give the film a QUALIFIED THUMBS UP. Gary, however, thought it was far too unbelievable and gives it an ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS DOWN
We rented this DVD because Ebert & Roeper touted it as an under-appreciated film. Ostensibly a story of Jack The Ripper, it is really about Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp), the policeman in charge of the case. Abberline is an opium addict whose drugged sleep brings visions of crimes yet to happen. His Sergeant calls them his "intuitions." Abberline's investigation of the murders and mutilations lead him to the highest reaches of London society and to the secret society of the Freemasons. We were once again impressed by Depp's skill as an actor. Heather Graham is Mary Kelly, one of London's "unfortunates" who is being stalked by The Ripper. Ian Holm is Sir William Gull, a famous physician/surgeon who gives some assistance to Abberline. In fact, the identity of Jack The Ripper was never discovered, but a website indicates at least 21 suspects. The screenplay for From Hell
was written by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, and is based on the graphic novel (i.e. comic book) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It advances one theory of the Ripper's identity. The real star of the movie is the dramatic and stunning direction by the Hughes brothers--Allen and Albert. They demonstrate an incredibly skillful command of the moviemaking art with this moody and violent movie. The film was shot on location in the medieval streets of Prague and has the look of Victorian London. If you can tolerate murder most bloody, then by all means take a look at From Hell
. Thumbs Up
THE GATHERING STORM: We watched the HBO movie, The Gathering Storm, on DVD and enjoyed Albert Finney's performance as Winston Churchill. The movie covers the time just before England went to war with Hitler's Germany. Vanessa Redgrave make a lovely Clemmie Churchill. Derek Jacobi, Tom Wilkinson, Jim Broadbent and Linus Roache wound out a stellar cast. If you are at all interested in WWII history, you might enjoy this one.
GET REAL: This British film is very earnest: It plays almost like a textbook on how difficult it is to be a teenager in the closet. Steve has hidden the fact that he is gay from all his friends and family except for Linda, his best friend. We see how lonely he is; how he meets men in the park outside the mens room; how he develops a crush on John, the most popular school jock. Imagine Steves surprise when the John turns out to be way at the back of the same closet. The scenes between the two young men are quite goodthe actors do a suprisingly good job of making their love affair sweet and convincing. However, the script is contrived and some of the events verge on soap opera. This one probably has limited appeal. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
GHOST WORLD: A strangely intriguing movie about Enid (Thora Birch) a recent high school graduate who can find no direction in life. She has one good friend, Becky, and they spend most of their time standing apart from, and poking fun of everyone they know. Enid likes Josh (Brad Renfro) but is incapable of doing anything about it. She forms a strange friendship with Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a middle-aged man who, by anyone's standards, is a dork. Only to Seymour can Enid talk about what's on her mind. The characters created are fully realized and memorable, and the actors do a fine job of bringing them to life. The film was directed by Terry Zwigoff who also gave us CRUMB--a weird movie about Robert Crumb, the underground comic artist who created Fritz the Cat. It's interesting that Ghost World is based on an underground comic book by Daniel Clowes, who co-wrote the screenplay with Zwigoff. Thumbs Up
GIA: We can see why Angelina Jolie made such a splash with her performance. GIA is based on the life of Gia Carangi, a supermodel from the late 70's. The movie follows her life from a rebel working in her father's diner at age 17 to her death in 1986 at age 26 from AIDS, one of the first women in America whose death was attributed to the disease. In between, she followed a downward spiral of drug abuse and failed relationships. Not exactly a happy film, but one terrific performance for which Jolie won an Emmy. I'm quite sure this one is out on video, because it is a 1998 movie. THUMBS UP
GIRLFIGHT: An angry adolescent, living in the projects, trains to be a fighter. That sounds like a typical prizefight movie, doesn't it? This one isn't typical, though, because the fighter is a woman. Michelle Rodriguez is intense as Diana, the high school senior who finds a home and respect in the ring. She is a powerful presence: You can't take your eyes off her when she is on screen, especially when she puts on her game face. Diana formers a romantic attraction to another fighter training at the gym and, inevitably, they must fight each other for the flyweight amateur title. Her boyfriend, Adrian (Does that remind you of Rocky?) is capably brought to life by Santiago Douglas. The story is handled sensitively and the script is well written. In an interesting note, John Sayles, who is one of the producers, appears as a high school science teacher. The director and writer, Karyn Kusama, was named best director at Sundance for GIRLFIGHT, which also won the Grand Jury Prize. Roger Ebert spoke with Rodriguez at Cannes, and he commented that she was ideally cast in the movie, not as a hard woman or a muscular athlete, but as a spirited woman with a temper, and fire in her eyes. Rodriguez told him that she trained as a boxer for the movie, and enjoyed it, but finally "I had to stop the boxing because your ego flies all over the place and I started to actually welcome the challenge of someone in the street stepping up to me." She was, indeed, ideally cast. THUMBS UP
GREENFINGERS: Movieviewers Judy M. and Diane U., Phx, AZ, both urged us to see this enjoyable British film that is based on true events. It demonstrates the possibility of rehabilitation through gardening. The setting is one of Britain's alternative prisons, which houses men who have committed violent crimes but are still considered redeemable. One of them, Colin Briggs (Clive Owens-The Croupier &Gosford Park), thinks of himself as a prisoner--nothing else. But with the help of his roommate, Fergus (David Kelly, who took the immortal nude motorcycle ride in Waking Ned Devine) he discovers a talent for gardening. With the help of some other prisons, Briggs creates a beautiful garden, eventually entering the Hampton Court Garden Show. Along the way, he even finds someone to love. The story was criticized as "overly romantic," and "the kind of movie you're content to wait for on your friendly indie cable channel." It is, however, a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, and in addition to Owens and Kelly, it also stars Helen Mirren. And that's recommendation enough. THUMBS UP
HART'S WAR: We thought this was a good WWII movie. (Of course, it stars Colin Farrell, so I was bound to like it. This is the first film he made after his debut performance in Tigerland.) Farrell plays an Army Lieutenant who is captured by the Germans. After questioning, he is sent to Stalag VI, where he runs afoul of the US Army Colonel in charge of the detainees--Col. McNamara, played by Bruce Willis. This is an unusual POW story: It involves racial prejudice and has a rather bizarre Court Martial sequence. Terrence Howard and Vicellous Shannon play two Black American pilots who are captured and sent to Hart's POW Camp. Their presence ignites the racism that Black soldiers frequently experienced during WWII. Howard is the soldier facing a court marital, and he is excellent. The Commandant of the Stalag is also interesting--a complex character. Here is a quote from Ebert's review: "Marcel Iures, a Romanian actor, is sharp-edged and intriguing as the Nazi commandant; when he gets condolences on the death of his son in battle, he muses, "I killed my share of English and French soldiers in the first war. They had fathers, too." Ebert gave it 3 stars; We give it a THUMBS UP.
THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
: This movie is based on the classic novel by Edith Wharton. It depicts wealthy New York society in the early 1900s when the language used was terribly proper, but the feelings expressed were mostly insincere. To give you an idea of the kind of dialogue in this film, one character actually says, "If obliquity were a vice, then we would all be tainted." The story begins in 1905 when Lilly Bart (Gillian Anderson) is poised on the brink of making a good marriage. She loves an attorney (Eric Stoltz), but he doesn't have enough money for a proper husband. The men who have enough money don't interest her. She longs to be independent--to have a flat of her own--but all her upbringing has prepared her for is marriage. She doesn't make good decidions, and we watch as her reputation is gradually ruined, not by her own actions, but by the actions of her "friends." One of her friends, Bertha (Laura Linney) is particularly hateful to her, and although Lilly has the power to destroy Bertha, she does not. Her goodness is not rewarded. Dan Akroyd, Terry Kinney and Anthony LaPaglia also appear. The running time of this film is 140 minutes. After the first hour, we weren't sure we could stick it out, but gradually the story and the characters grew on us, and, by the end, we quite liked it. We thought that Anderson displayed considerable acting skills. In his review, Roger Ebert wrote, "The movie will seem slow to some viewers, unless they are alert to the raging emotions, the cruel unfairness and the desperation that are masked by the measured and polite words of the characters." For those who like this sort of thing, we give it THUMBS UP.
(NOTE: I should mention that for a movie called THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, there is little mirth in it. However, I woke up the next morning thinking about Lilly Bart. There aren't that many movies that make that strong an impression. I really liked this one!) THUMBS UP
IGBY GOES DOWN: Igby (Kiernan Culkin) is one screwed up young man, and little wonder. His father (Bill Pullman) is totally bonkers, his older brother (Ryan Phillippe) is, according to Igby, a fascist, and his mother is a controlling bitch. Igby calls his mother by her first name, Mimi, because, as he says, "Heinous One is a bit cumbersome." Igby is sort of a 21st century Holden Caufield and Culkin is excellent in the role. This bizarre indie film was critically acclaimed, but didn't last long in the theaters. We can understand why. It is a very strange film. We sort of liked it, but we can't recommend it except to people who like weird and unusual movies. It was written and directed by Burr Steers. Roger Ebert gave this film 3 and a half stars and said: " It is an astonishing filmmaking debut, balancing so many different notes and story elements. What Steers has not lost sight of, in all the emotional chaos, is heart."
INHERIT THE WIND: We saw an impressive version of Inherit The Wind on network TV the other night. It stars George C. Scott, in his last filmed performance, as Matthew Brady, the prosecuter in the famous Scopes trial. Jack Lemon does not jump to mind as perfect casting for Henry Drummond, the defense attorney patterned after Clarence Darrow, but he did an excellent job. Beau Bridges was equally fine as Hornbeck, the H.L. Menken character, and Piper Laurie was Bradys faithful wife. We thought the Judge was particularly good. He was played by the actor from Northern Exposure who recently appeared on ER as Mark Greens father. The film is available on videotape and we think you will find it worth watching. THUMBS UP
INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE: Gary says his thumb is way up for this one. Halle Barry won an Emmy for her portrayal of Dorothy Dandgridge in this biopic that was an HBO original. It is available now on videotape and we definitely recommend it. Barry is terrific. Dandridge was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Carmen in Otto Premingers Carmen Jones, and she starred again with Sidney Potier in Porgy and Bess. She was the first black movie star/sex symbol and that is never an easy thing to be. We think you will enjoy learning more about her. THUMBS UP
INVENTING THE ABBOTTS: "If the Abbotts didn't exist, my brother would have had to invent them," says Doug Holt (Joaquin Phoenix) at the beginning of this 1997 movie. His older brother, Jacey (Billy Crudup) is obsessed with the rich, socially prominent Abbotts. Jacey is convinced that Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton) stole his father's patent for a file drawer, and had an affair with his mother (Kathy Baker) after Mr. Holt's death. But then, Jacey likes to invent stories, so we never know what is true. Doug narrates the story and describes Jacey's attempts first to romance Eleanor Abbott (Jennifer Connelly) and then to marry the oldest Abbott daughter. Meanwhile, Doug and Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler) form a friendship. The screenplay is based on a story by Sue Miller and was directed by Pat O'Connor who also directed A Circle of Friends. That 1995 film introduced us to Minnie Driver. O'Conner seems to have an eye for young talent, and we particularly enjoyed the young talent in this film. Interesting to see Crudup and Connelly, who, in this cast, take a back seat to the then more well-known Phoenix and Tyler. The NY Times review said that the the movie "is best watched as a showcase for radiant young talent." We agree, although we also enjoyed the simple story set in 1957 in a small town in Illinois. We also thought that Kathy Baker and Will Patton were worth watching. We give this one a Thumbs Up.
JOE THE KING: Movie Viewer Kay Schmitt recommended this video that answers the question, What happens to kids who have lousy parents and a difficult childhood? Joe (Noah Fleiss) and his brother do their best to avoid their father (Val Kilmer), a man who works as a janitor in Joes school and spends most of his waking hours either drinking or swearing at his sons. Joes mother is not quite as bad, but she wont win any mother of the year prizes. We werent happy with the beginning scenewe thought the mean schoolteacher (Camryn Manheim) was grossly overdone. Fleiss did an admirable job and Kilmer is a surprise in an unusual role for him. The ending was quite touching, but we werent as fond of the movie as Kay was. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
KANDAHAR: This movie, written and directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, is the story of a woman who fled Afghanistan to live in Canada, but now returns to her native land to help her sister, still living in Kandahar. It plays more like a documentary, because the plot is secondary to the trip that Nafas (Nelofer Pazira) is taking. It provides a stark and haunting picture of life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. One of the most memorable scenes is that of a Red Cross helicopter flying over a refugee camp and dropping artificial legs by parachute, as one-legged men hobble on their crutches to try to catch them. The film is partly subtitled, but much of it is in English because Nafas records her trip on a tape recorder. Another principle character is an American who went to Afghanistan to fight the Russians, but stayed to act as a doctor to the sick and starving people. THUMBS UP
THE KID: Ok, it's Disney and it's awash in sentimentality, but it's also entertaining. Bruce Willis is Russ, a successful, stressed-out image consultant who starts seeing an hallucination of his eight-year-old self. What's more, when eight-year old Ross looks at his grownup life, he doesn't like what he sees. He's forty, he doesn't have a family, and he doesn't even have a dog. No wonder the adult Ross has developed a twitch. Willis is really quite good and so is Spencer Breslin the young actor who plays the kid. We also liked Emily Mortimer who is Willis's love interest. She is an Audrey Hepburn type and has tremendous charm. Lilly Tomlin is funny as Willis's long-suffering secretary/assistant, and Jean Smart, looking terrific, has a small part If you have time on your hands one of these summer evenings, you might enjoy it. MARGINAL THUMBS UP
L. I. E.:
In the opening scene, we see Howie Blitzer (Paul Franklin Dano) balanced on a railing above the Long Island Expressway. Later we hear him say, "On the Long Island Expressway there are lanes going east, lanes going west, and lanes going straight to hell
The title of this film is an abbreviation for the Expressway. Howie tells us that many people have died on that road--Harry Chapin, the movie director Alan Pakula, and Sylvia Blitzer, Howie's mother. He is a lonely boy, missing his mother and angry with his father who has too quickly brought a girlfriend into the house. He is an unusual 15 year-old: He knows who Marc Chagall is, he writes poetry, and he quotes Walt Whitman. Through a delinquent friend, Gary (Billy Kay) Howie comes in contact with Big John Harrigan, subtlety played by Brian Cox. Big John likes young boys, and he befriends Howie. There is much sexual yearning here, but Big John also acts like a real friend. If there can be such a thing as a sympathetic pederast, Big John is it. Cox is outstanding! In Roger Ebert's review of the film he said, "The most remarkable thing about "L.I.E.," a drama about a 15-year-old boy and a middle-aged ex-Marine, is that it sees both of its characters without turning them into caricatures
." The film ends with Howie once more looking down at the Long Island Expressway. His voice over says, "It's taken a lot of people, but it's not going to get me
was directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Stephen M. Ryder, Michael Cuesta and Gerald Cuesta. We give it a Thumbs Up.
THE LAST OF THE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS: Judi Dench stars here as Elizabeth, a recently widowed woman who spent her WWII years playing saxophone in a band called "The Blonde Bombshells." When she begins to play her horn again, she starts on a journey of memory and reunion. She encounters Patrick (Ian Holm), who played for a time with Bombshells in drag to avoid his National Service obligations. Elizabeth's granddaughter encourages her to reunite the band, and promises to book the Bombshells for her school dance. Elizabeth and Patrick trace most of the old band members, and some of them actually agree to play a reunion gig. The trumpet player (Olympia Dukakis) is a wealthy drunk, the trombone player has joined the Salvation Army, the alto Sax player is in jail, and so it goes. Leslie Caron appears briefly as the bass player, and Cleo Laine belts out the tunes. It is great fun. The 2000 movie was produced by HBO, and Dench received a Golden Globe nomination for her role. The reviewer on the Digitally Obsessed website said, "There are worse ways to spend 84 minutes than by enjoying some fine World War II-vintage music and memories with The Last of the Blonde Bombshells." We enthusiastically agree. THUMBS UP.
LAUREL CANYON: This movie is worth renting for the pleasure of watching Frances McDormand create another of her quirky yet totally believable characters. In this film she is a rock music record producer and a throwback to the free-spirited 70s. She smokes pot, drinks her breakfast, and is sleeping with a musician 16 years her junior. The musician, Ian (Alessandro Nivola), is a charmer. (Nivola uses a British accent here, but he was born in Massachusetts.) Her son, Sam (Christian Bale) has been away at school in the East. When he returns to California to take a psychiatry internship, he brings with him his brilliant fiancÚ, Alex (Kate Beckinsale). Alex is writing her dissertation on the reproductive system of fruit flies. She is very uptight. Sam is embarrassed by his unconventional mother, but Kate gradually falls under the spell of both Jane (McDormand) and Ian. She loosens up quite a bit. Meanwhile, Sam is attracted to a colleague played by the lovely Natascha McElhone. Their visit to Laurel Canyon has a liberating effect on both of them, but we're not certain what happens because the film has a non-ending. The script isn't remarkable, but if you like McDormand, you might enjoy this one. Thumbs Up
LIBERTY HEIGHTS: We took my sister Judys advice and rented this fourth in a series of movies set in Baltimore and directed by Barry Levinson. We loved it. Gary says its the best movie hes seen in a long time. Levinson borrows heavily on growing up Jewish in Baltimore. His first film was Diner, then came Tin Men and Avalon. We have liked all of them. Liberty Heights is set in 1954 when the Baltimore schools were first integrated. Prejudice against blacks and anti-Semitism both flourished at this time and both are dealt with in this film. Ben, a young Jewish boy, forms a friendship with Sylvia, a colored girl in his class, much to the consternation of both sets of parents. Sylvia introduces Ben to black musicians and there is a wonderful sequence involving a James Brown concert. Bens older brother, Van, has his own problems when he falls for a rich suburban debutante. Meanwhile Bens father (Joe Mantegna) is having business difficulties: His burlesque hall is dying for want of patrons and he has suffered a catastrophic loss in his numbers business. Bebe Neuwirth plays Bens mother. These four Baltimore films are Levinsonss loving homage to his childhood and his hometown. This one is definitely worth seeing. If you havent seen the others, we suggest you rent them, too. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING: (1975) We watched this 1975 film starring Michael Caine and Sean Connery because it was filmed in Afghanistan. The movie is only so-so--In fact I slept though the middle of it--but it gave us an idea of how formidable the terrain is in that mountainous country. And of course, Caine and Connery are always fun to watch. Shikira Caine, Michael's wife appear in this film. It was adapted from a Rudyard Kipling tale, and it was a twenty-year labor of love for director John Huston. THUMBS UP
MANSFIELD PARK: I love Jane Austen movies and this is an excellent one. Typically, the language is intelligent, the characters are interesting, and true love wins out in the end. Premiere Magazine thought this was the best of the Austen films, but I liked them all. Gary finds them a bit too gentile and has some difficulty getting involved. The stories remind him of soap opera19th century style. THUMBS UP
ME, MYSELF, I: Thumbs way up for this delightful comedy/romance. Pamela (Rachel Griffiths from Hillary and Jackie) is a magazine writer whose biological clock is ticking madly. She has had enough of the single life and wonders what her life would have been like if she had married her old boyfriend, Robert. A sudden accident changes her life: She finds herself living the life she might have had with Robert and their three children. Griffiths expressive face is a joy to behold in this preposterous yet completely satisfying film. I loved it! ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
MUMFORD: This one is worth renting. We both enjoyed Mumford which was written and directed by Lawrence Kasden of Big Chill fame. Loren Dean is Dr. Mumford, the new psychologist in the town of Mumford. No, thats not a misprint. Mumford, the doctor, rapidly becomes the most popular therapist in Mumford, the town. Among his patients are Sofie (Hope Davis), a young woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Skip (Jason Lee), a young billionaire who cant make find a woman who likes him for himself, Althea (Mary McDonnel), who tries to cure her unhappiness with compulsive shopping, and Henry (Pruitt Taylor), whose self-image is so low that he doesnt even appear in his own fantasies.. Mumford, the doctor, simply listens to his patients. Whats more, he seems to care about them, and that is a powerful combination. We liked everyone in this movie, and it was especially nice to see Hope Davis. She really is special. Alfre Woodard and Ted Danson also appear. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
MUSIC OF THE HEART: Real life stories dont always translate well into movies. In this film, they told two stories. First, the story of the East Harlem Violin Programhow it got started, how successful it was, and how school budget cuts almost eliminated it. This is the kind of story that makes for a predictable but satisfying movie. Its always heartening to see children rise to the challenge of being excellent. The second story is that of Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), the mother of two boys who needed a job when her husband left her for another woman. I think the first story was better drama than the second. Although Streep is always good, I couldnt seem to care that much about Robertas personal story and I think it took more time than it was worth. I did enjoy the violin scenes and the final concert at Carnegie Hall was stirring and heartwarming. It is a shame that so many school districts are cutting their music and arts programs. Programs like Guasparis teach so much more than music: They teach discipline, the importance of teamwork, and the willingness to work hard to achieve a goal. Arts programs may also have a lot to do with teaching civility, something that is sorely lacking in todays world. THUMBS UP
MY LIFE SO FAR: In this British import a ten-year-old boy recounts the story of his life so far. The film is set in the late 1920s on Kiloran, an estate in Scotland. Frazier introduces us to his lovely mother, Moira, (Mary Elisabeth Mastrantonio) and his playful father, Edward (Colin Firth), who cultivates spaghum moss. Also in residence is Fraziers grandmother played by Rosemary Harris. Edward hopes to inherit the estate when Gamma dies, but Moiras brother Morris (Malcolm McDowell) is convinced that his mother will leave the estate to him. Adding to the tension between the two men is Morriss beautiful young wife, Heloise, who captures the hearts of both Frazier and Edward. The film isnt plot driven, but simply the fond remembrances of a remarkable young boy. It is a charming film that moves at a loving and languid pace. My Life So Far is based on the memoirs of a real personSir Denis Forman, former director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Roger Ebert ends his review this was: Sir Denis may have his knighthood and the Royal Opera House to run, but there is a poignancy that colors every scene of "My Life So Far." Ebert says he is homesick for Kiloran. So am I. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP