Movies, once seen, must be discussed. Some movies are good, some are bad. When it comes to film, though, there is no accounting for taste: just one example, some people can't stand Star Wars , a film that stands holds some of my fondest childhood memories. Some people couldn't stand Austin Powers OR There's Something About Mary, two films I consider the funniest in a while. On the other hand, I thought Ace Ventura was hilarious, and I don't understand what it is about Johnny Mnemonic and Judge Dredd that people hated too much. Mysteriously, one of my favorite comedies is Top Secret, a moronic early Val Kilmer that almost nobody saw. I finally did meet another person who liked it as much as I did - he is now one of my best friends.
The funny thing about movies is that everybody has an opinion about them, and no two are the same. Another funny thing is that since people don't stick to genres with their tastes in film the way they might with literature or music, movies tend to be fairly universal in a way that literature or music can't be, and so films enter our culture absolutely. They are complete and varied vicarious existences. Maybe what I mean is that although there are people who only read political thrillers or only read romance novels, and there are also people who won't listen to anything but rap or classical music or whatever, there aren't many people who will only watch comic book adaptation films, war movies, Tom Cruise movies, etc. So this is my movie reviews page where I will offer my opinions (which are just my opinions).
This page will contain several elements:
Movie Reviews of Japanese films:
Overrated Movies (or, There's No Justice in Film):
Movies to avoid at all costs:
Not awful - movies that were unfairly drubbed
(** note ** - most recently reviewed movies listed at start of “movie reviews” section. Most recently Japanese films reviews at start of “movies reviews of Japanese films” section.)
I will try to review films that I mostly have good things to say about, as well as little-seen films that I feel are worth discussing. The occasional pan will appear if they are by people who should have known better, otherwise they are in their own section at the bottom. Film reviews will be updated regularly. New reviews of western films will be reviewed at the top, new reviews of Japanese films will be reviewed at the top of the reviews of Japanese films section.
Movies reviewed: About Love Tokyo, the Abyss, Airheads, All Quiet on the Western Front, Ame Agaru, American Beauty, American History X, American Movie, Amy, Another Day In Paradise, Antarctica, Apartment Zero, Arlington Road, Armageddon, Atlantic City, Audition, The Avengers, Back to Back, Barcelona, Barry Lyndon, Baseketball, Battlefield Earth, the Beach, the Beguiled, Being John Malkovich, the Best in Show, Betty Blue, Big Daddy, the Big Lebowski, Birth of a Nation, Bitter Moon, Black Sunday, Blade (Hong Kong), The Blair Witch Project and Curse of the Blair Witch, the Blue Angel or die Blaue Engel, the Bone Collector, Bound, Bowfinger, Boys Don't Cry, Breakfast of Champions, Breaking the Waves, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Bringing out the Dead, Erin Brokovitch, the Brood, Buffalo 66, Bullet Ballet, Bulletproof, Canadian Bacon, Capricorn 1, Carlito's Way, Carrington, Cascadeur, Caspar, Celebrity , Charisma , Charlie’s Angels , Chasing Amy , Chicken Run , Children of Heaven , Chinese Torture Chamber , Clerks , Cold Fever , The Collector , Color of Paradise , Conan the Destroyer , Consenting Adults , the Cotton Club , Crazy Lips , Cube , Cyclo , Mrs. Dalloway , Dancer In The Dark , Days of Heaven , Deep River , Detroit Rock City , Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo , the Devil's Advocate , le Diner des Cons , Diva , Dog Race , Dogma , Driving Miss Daisy , East of Eden , the Eiger Sanction , 8mm , El Mariachi , Enemy At The Gates , eXistenZ , the Eyes of Laura Mars , Eyes Wide Shut , Faces , Farewell Beloved Lupin , Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , The Final Cut , First Blood , Flawless , Fletch , the Frighteners , the Funeral , Galaxy Quest , Gallipoli , Gattaca , Gemini , The General’s Daughter , Ghost Dog , Ghost in the Shell , Gladiator , Go , Gojoe Reisanki , Goodfellas , the Good the Bad and the Ugly , Gohatto , Gonin , Gorgeous , Gummo , the Guyver 2: Dark Hero , Hakuchi , Hammett , Hana-bi , Hang ‘Em High , Happiness , Heavenly Creatures , the Hidden , High Fidelity , Hillary and Jackie , Hot Dog , Hot Shots Part Deux , Hugo Pool , the Hunger , Ice Station Zebra , Innocent Blood , the Insider , In The Heat of the Night , Irma Vep , the Iron Giant , Jackie Brown , Jacob's Ladder , Jason and the Argonauts , Jesus' Son , Jingi Naki Tatakai , Joe Kidd , Joyu Rei , Junior , The Juniper Tree , Kids Return , Kikujiro no Natsu , Killer Condom , Killing Zoe , Kingdom , Kingdom (again), The King of New York , A Knife in the Water , Kubitruri Kikyu , Kujaku , Kuro Ie , Kyoko , Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains , L.A. Without A Map , Laputa , the Last Days of Disco , the Legend of 1900 , Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses , Let's Get Lost , Little Nicky , Little Odessa , Little Voice , Lola Rennt , Looking For Mr. Goodbar , the Lost Highway , The Lost World (1925), Lotta pa Boakmakargatan , Love Letter , Love and Death , Lulu on the Bridge , Once Upon A Time In China and America , One Step on a Land Mine, It's All Over , M , Magnolia , Mallrats , the Manchurian Candidate , Mandohay , Manhunter , and the Berlin Affair , The Man With The Golden Gun , Meet The Parents , Miami Blues , Midnight Express , A Midsummer Night's Dream , Momontai , Multiplicity , Mystery Men , the Next Best Thing , Nocturne Indien , Nurse Betty , Once Upon A Time In America , On Her Majesty’s Secret Service , Orgazmo , Over the Edge , Owl's Castle , Pi , Mildred Pierce , Parasite Eve , Party Seven , Pecker , the Phantom of Liberty , Pink Cadillac , Pink Panther , Postman , Rabid , Ran , the Red Violin , Ring , Ring 0: Birthday , The Right Stuff , Roadkill , Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion , Romeo Must Die , Ronin , Roots , Rushmore , The Saint , Salvador , Same Hada Otoko to Momojiri Onna , Shaft (1999), Shark Skin Boy Peach Hip Girl , Samurai Fiction , The Scarlet Letter , Scary Movie , the Scent of Green Papaya , Scream , Scream 2 , Scream 3 , Secret Society , Shallow Grave , She’s Gotta Have It , Shiko Hun Jatta or Sumo Do, Sumo Don't , Shrek , Shuri , the Siege , Simple Plan , The Sixth Day , Slacker , Sleepy Hollow , Smilla's Sense of Snow , Snatch , Soleil Rouge , Space Jam , Summer of Sam , Sunset Blvd. , Sleepless Town , Snow Falling on Cedars , The Son of the Pink Panther , the Straight Story , Swallowtail Butterfly , the Sweet Hereafter , Swingers , Tetsuo - the Iron Man , Theatre of Illusion , They Live , the Thing From Another World (1951) , The Thomas Crown Affair , Throne of Blood , Tightrope , Tonari no Yamada-kun , Top Secret! , Total Eclipse , Totoro , The Towering Inferno , Toys , Trees Lounge , Tron , True Crime , The Truman Show , 12 Angry Men , 12 Monkeys , Twin Peaks , 200 Motels , U-571 , Unhook the Stars , Uzumaki , Vampire in Brooklyn , Vampire's Kiss , Waiting For Guffman , Walker , War and Peace , the Waterboy , the Way of the Gun , the Wedding Singer , We're No Angels (1989) , Westworld , What Dreams May Come , Whatever Happened to Baby Jane , Witness , Xiu Xiu - the Sent Down Girl , X-Men , the Year of Living Dangerously , Yojimbo , You Only Live Twice , Zatoichi , Zorro , etc.
note: links to individual movies listings on the Internet Movie Database (a.k.a. IMDB) are provided with each title. Once on a listing page, say for Star Wars , other pages relating to that movie can be found by accessing links in the left-hand menu column, as well as cross-referenced actor/writer/director listings, a movie poster, trivia, etc.
Orgazmo - Gross-out film about porno-makers and a dick-superhero should have been stupid, but was in fact a laugh riot. Matt Stone and Trey Parker directed themselves better than veteran comedy director David Zucker did in Baseketball, so good for them. Nice to see Ron Jeremy in a role where he keeps his pants on. go to top
Deuce Bigalow Male
- Very funny Rob Schneider film that has Adam Sandler's fingerprints all over
it - it may have been an Adam Sandler flick if it had a sports angle.
Lots of fun with the word "male whore" and the like. The
PC among us might not like the fun poked at the obese and the big-boned and the
blind, but the jokes are all hilarious, most especially the baseball game scene
with the woman with Tourettes Syndrome.
go to top
the Siege - When this
terrorist-attack-on-America film came out in 1998 I was quite disgusted in the
film-makers creation of an ugly non-issue, and also disappointed with director
who had made the excellent Glory. Then when September 11th, 2001
made the film seem like a spooky piece of self-fulfilling prophecy I decided I
had better watch it. Many films like this have been made (True Lies,
Air Force One, to name but two of the dozens and dozens of pre-September
11th 2001 terrorist attack films) but this is the only one that deals with the
obvious social ramifications of persecution of Middle-Eastern arabs. As
pointlessly sensational as films like this may have been at the time, the film
does do a pretty good job. Unfortunately, Bruce Willis as an army
commander, is awfully cheezy, and the message is ten miles wide. The
ending showdown is a near perfect copy of another Denzel Washington film where
he has to face down another egotistical military figure. Yeesh.
Nice performance by Tony Shalhoub, also seen in Galaxy Quest in a
very different role, this time as an Arab-American with a lot on his mind.
go to top
the Frighteners - Steven King gets the Back
To The Future treatment with special effects, Michael J. Fox's cuddly lead
character, and Robert Zemekis' guiding hand. Director Peter Jackson
followed this with Lord Of The Rings, and apparently a lot of the
special effects are similar. Good enough story, all-too-perfect ending
that may or may not be a ripoff of that Patrick Swayzee flick.
go to top
Kingdom (Riget) 1 and 2
- A classic noir TV series to seriously rival Twin Peaks in the creepy/ghoulish
black humor flirting with the supernatural ingenious character study film.
Set in a haunted hospital staffed with strange doctors and patients, each
of the eight episodes shocks with its inventiveness and bizarre ideas.
Being a Lars Van Trier project it is quite bleak, but it is also full of
sick parody and twisted humor. Required viewing for those who can get a
hold of a subtitled copy (or who can understand Swedish and Danish).
go to top
Galaxy Quest - Funny film about the
cast of a cancelled sci-fi series living through convention hell, given a
chance to be real star champions through a galactic misunderstanding is pretty
funny, although the plot does get in the way of the fun somewhat. Classic
"pulling out of spaceport" scene is a scream!
go to top
the Iron Giant - Excellent animated
film that follows the ET story of a young boy discovering a secret creature and
hiding him from bad military types who want to exploit him and ruin his
goodness. The robot itself is very cool, and the kid's interaction with
his sidekick, a beatnik mecano-artist, is brilliant. Cold war delusions
about nuclear missiles nicely highlighted for those who have forgotten that
these weapons are still out there somewhere.
go to top
Beatiful film, very cool computer animation, but the plot is a little lacking.
A lot of the humor potential is wasted in favor for the animation, the all
star names, and the surprise ending. In other words, the script could
have been tighter. I also object to the misleading trailer, which
indicated that the film would be full of fairy tale characters and in-jokes,
something which was discarded ten minutes into the film. And what's with
every comedy these days doing a rip-off of that famous Matrix scene? I
now count three, Shrek along with Deuce Bigalow Male Gigalo, and Scary
go to top
Meet The Parents - Very funny film about
a man going to meet his future in-laws. He's worried they won't like him.
He enters a weekend from hell. The plot is well-developped, and all
the actors are excellent, especially Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro.
Plenty of funny scenes in the trailer, like the classic airport flight
announcement scene, but surprisingly many of the film's funniest scenes weren't
in the trailer at all!!! Despite all the laughs, though, there is some
very intense cruelty in this film, bringing it quite near to being a black
comedy in fact, although this is somewhat glossed over. Near the end when
the drama element of the film started getting serious, I thought to myself
"well, I guess there won't be any more comedy in this movie," but the
film surprised me by keeping it coming. This film is obviously set up for
a sequel, let's see how long it takes for one. Oops, spoke too soon… Meet The Fockers is already in
go to top
Ice Station Zebra - I wanted to see this
film because I heard that it was such a favorite of Howard Hughs' that the
insane billionaire would screen it endlessly in his disinfected chambers.
Strange ice world looks like a Star Trek set at times, and I wonder what
fun main star had with the all-male cast. Shares elements of the
Fantastic Voyage (there is a suicidal traitor in our midst) and all those
submarine films, not to mention the Thing From Another World. Good
clean family fun.
go to top
Mystery Men - Quirky Ben Stiller
comedy, surrounded as he is by talent such as Janeane Garofalo, William H.
Macey, Greg Kinnear, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Waits, and the great great great, much
missed Paul Rubens as the Spleen! Where was this guy all this
time? The guy's fifty years old this year!!!! Mystery Men is a
so-so funny comedy about super heroes with strange powers - the shoverler uses
a shovel, the Invisible Boy who is only invisible when people are not looking
at him, etc. Quite funny, but sort of disintegrates near the end - a few
weeks after having seen it I have no recolletion whatsoever of how it was
eventually resolved. The good guys must have won or something. I wonder
if they set it up for a sequel or not...
go to top
Color of Paradise - Iranian
film about a young blind boy in a school in Teheran. When all the parents
come to pick up the children for the holidays, he is left waiting. When
his father, a widower, finally comes to pick him up and take him to the family
village we learn the reason for the father's reluctance to bring his boy home.
A beautiful film, shot mostly in a small, lush, green village far far
from Tehran and a world away. Beautiful.
go to top
Best in Show - Christopher Guest's
parody of dog shows, something that is a parody just waiting to happen.
Still waiting for him so set his sights on the other obvious objects of
media parody - sports coverage, "professional" wreslting, TV
commercials, etc. Following the mold of Waiting For Guffman and
almost as funny.
go to top
Nurse Betty - Black comedy, but not
too black, from one of the nastiest directors in Hollywood. Always good
to see Morgan Freeman as the black man who breaks the stereotypes, Aaron
Eckhart excellent as a scumbag asshole husband, Renee Zellweger showing that
she can carry a movie by being fresh and funny in every scene she is in.
Plot may seem conventional to some when it sews itself up neatly by the
end, but this is a film with style. Nice one.
go to top
Little Nicky - Very funny film about
Satan's good son, a real nice guy with a bit of an inferiority complex, in a
battle with his two older brothers, who are bullies of course. Funny
stoner couple to rival Jay and Silent Bob, funny heavy metal jokes, and Harvey
Keitel as Satan. Good cameos (except for Henry Winkler, who is
practically wasted with a mere two seconds of film time) make this a very fun
movie, much better than its near clone Dogma, which was
"controversial" but not interesting at all.
go to top
Enemy At The Gates - Depressing war drama
about the siege of Stalingrad and the battle of the two snipers is fascinating,
since both are sympathetic. Jude Law is great as the young hero of
Stalingrad, as is Joseph Feines as a near-blind intellectual wannabe reporter.
Bob Hoskins is spooky as a ruthless Nikita Kruschev and Ron Perlman shows
what he's made of as a jaded officer. Legend of the showdown between two
inhumanly skilled snipers goes back to "the Painted Bird" by Jerzy
Kosinski and perhaps even earlier. Considering that this human drama
occurred near the turnaround of World War Two and one of the cruellest sieges
of modern times, this was really a film that was waiting to be made (as is
"the Painted Bird," come to think of it). I'd like to find out
if it was based on a true story or not.
go to top
Many people liked Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels better than Snatch
(the eternal debate), but I probably prefer Snatch to the other one. Naturally
they are both in the same British gangster vein, but I like the medium use of
Brad Pitt in a manic role, a la Twelve Monkeys (another British
director... uh huh) who does a great job, as well as the casting of Dennis
Farina, who usually tends to spice up any movie he's in.
go to top
Rather funny change of pace for David Zuker - a straight forward comedy about
guys who invent a new sport on the spur of a moment by blending basketball and
baseball rules. Matt Parker and Trey Stone are funny in the film, but the
film clearly wants to be an Adam Sandler film, right down to the goofy casting
of Ernest Borgnine (a la Henry Winkler and Carl Weathers in those Adam Sandler
films). For bigger Borgnine yucks, try Borgnine On The Bus,
although this film has its moments too.
go to top
Secret Society - Extremely dull drama
about a fat woman in Britain who gains self confidence by joining a sumo cult
for fat women. Doesn't miss a single cliche. Absolutely horrid.
Avoid, even if you are a sumo fan. Practically every British film
comedy-drama about underdogs in a small town in England (Brassed Off, the
Full Monty, etc.) of the last ten years was better than this. Spend
your time more wisely than seeing this drek. I'm usually pretty forgiving
with films, often endeared to their bad points, but this one had absolutely
nothing going for it at all.
go to top
Children of Heaven – A poor young boy
loses his sister's only pair of shoes on the way back home from the cobblers,
and for the rest of the movie he has to share his only pair of shoes with her.
Two people sharing the same pair of shoes is a pretty unusual situation,
and a film can be based on it as this one proves abundantly. A large part
of the film is spent with the boy's simple and innocent mission - to get a new
pair of shoes for his sister. The final scene is perfect.
go to top
The Man With The Golden Gun – Scaramanga, the original three-nippler (see Kevin Smith's ripoff in Mallrats for a laugh if you like) is the real star of this movie. Cheezy Roger Moore's first Bond, he shows off his lame upper class British kung fu in one of the film's worst scenes. Nail island, in the gorgeous national park near Pattaya/Krabi is also featured, although it's supposed to be Hong Kong I believe. Check Herve Villechaize (Tattoo from Fantasy Island) in his role as the original "Mini Me." Christopher Lee’s career has recovered since this movie with roles in both the Lord of the Rings and the new Star Wars trilogies of films.
go to top
In The Heat of the Night – Warren Oates stars as a deputy observing Sidney Poitier and Rod Serling stare each other down in this southern murder mystery that takes place not just in the heat of the night, but also in the heat of a hot, hot summer day. Classy action.
go to top
Cyclo – Wild ride through a big city in Vietnam as our hero, a young cyclo driver, gets ground through the gears. The roving camera follows him as he gets beaten up, has his cyclo stolen, is forced to work for a dragon lady with a retarded child, different characters are woven into the quilt and the roving camera is the ultimate voyeuristic tool for seeing into meetings with prostitutes, near escapes, riots, explosions, and other wild shenanigans. I watched this without English subtitles and was still blown away. What a film!
go to top
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) – Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, does it get any cooler? Steve is a millionaire playboy who robs banks for fun. Faye is sent in by the cops to bring him down. A final heist is pulled off. Classy flick is probably even cooler now than it was when it was released. I can't see how a Pierce Brosnan remake can have anything on the original, even over 30 years later.
go to top
Strange Mongolian film that seems to have had the same set designer as the old
Star Trek series. Wish I could have seen it with English subtitles, as I
got lost instantly. The Mongolian language sounds very cool, kind of like
Klingon (kidding), hope I can see more Mongolian films in the future.
go to top
Flawless – How about "Braless" instead? Robert DeNiro very good in his role, but not an appealing movie. Phillip Seymour Hoffman given a showy role, but doesn't really do much for it, and his drag queen is uninteresting - he's been much much better in most of his last half dozen roles, including his small spot in "the Big Lebowski." For Joel Schumacher I still like 8mm better. He still hasn't properly made up for all those crappy Batman movies yet. Val Kilmer and George Clooney as the Batman? Puh-lease.
go to top
Blade (Hong Kong) – Amazingly violent Hong Kong kung-fu historical drama, the labyrinthine plot nearly impossible to work out without subtitles. Filmed mostly at night for that extra depressing atmosphere. Watch bad-ass scrappers utterly destroy their opponents, watch entire villages razed to the ground, watch lives torn apart. Try to live through this relentlessly violent thriller without feeling utterly drained.
go to top
The Sixth Day – This movie about clones is actually pretty good, with Arnold Schwartzenegger casting artistic pretentions (working with a good director, trying to act, etc.) to the wind and just gets ugly as he has to save his skin when a clone turns up in his house. Some sore ot mix-up that he had nothing to do with, now he's being attacked by bad guys. Some Robocop-style (or is that Total Recall?) black comedy, at least you can say that it's nowhere near as bad as the Running Man.
go to top
The Juniper Tree – Early Bjork film with a young songstress playing a medieval witch-girl. With her sister she is on the run from her evil mother and suspicious step-father. Based on the Brothers Grimm, which is slanted more towards the step-father and his family. Funky, spare, in Icelandic language.
go to top
Gorgeous – Possibly Jackie Chan's worst movie. Described in Time magazine as a breakaway for Jackie, moving away from splashy thrills territory and more into acting and drama, the "plot" involves a kooky, naive Taiwanese beauty going to Hong Kong and becoming involved with Jackie and another millionaire playboy rival. Nothing works in this awful movie, I wish I hadn't wasted my time. I've seen dreadful, but this was really intolerable.
go to top
Soleil Rouge – Dreadful ramen western (a coin termed by the film Tampopo, of which this is an early example) has an evil Alain Delon stealing a Japanese sword in a train robbery with misfit Charles Bronson reluctantly helping Mifune Toshiro to win it back. Set in the American west, it is truly bizarre that everyone speaks French, much less Mifune!!! Hate to say it, but latter-day films Once Upon A Time In China And America and Shanghai Noon do it much better than this venerable flick.
go to top
The General’s Daughter – Since I don't really remember ever seeing a murder mystery on an army base with an army dick stepping on people's toes (does A Few Good Men count?) as if it were a Raymond Chandler flick, I guess this one chalks up points for originality. Travolta and James Woods are great as always, and the kinky sex that is hinted at (but barely seen) iskind of interesting. Good for its caliber, meaning it is miles beyond a crappy thriller like the Bone Collector.
go to top
Space Jam – Non-actor Michael Jordon works with seasoned pros Daffy, Bugs, Yosemite Sam, and many others as they take on evil galactic corporate types. Good for a laugh, with some funny cameos, although fans of the truly bizarre early Loony Tunes could never be satisfied with what is essentially kiddy fare.
go to top
Cotton Club – Richard Gere and Nicolas Cage again. Cool period drama by Francis Ford Coppola showing gangsters in the jazz age. Not considered a great film, or even a good film, by many critics today, it is still miles better than a lot of other films that try to do the same. Needlessly forgotten.
go to top
Looking For Mr. Goodbar – Diane Keaton comes of sexual age in this film, showing how a pretty and intelligent woman can be used up in the night clubs of swinging Manhattan. She meets kinky hustler Richard Gere, looking pretty young and doing a manic Nicolas Cage impression, the film has one of the most intense final five minutes of any film I've ever seen since the Doom Generation. Yoiks!!!
go to top
Gallipoli – Mel Gibson in a film when he was still a real actor, much before he became the sad cliche that he is now, about the arrival in Europe of Australian soldiers set on helping rid the world of German/Turkish imperialism. Most of the film shows their coming of age and allows us to learn their characters, introducing the themes of British and Australian rivalry, before allowing the Turks to slaughter them in a senseless military campaign. The Turks eventually lost their war, but the Australians lost heavy in Gallipoli. Sad and ironic, a great film.
go to top
Once Upon A Time In China and America – Jet Li in his sixth outing as Huang Fei Hung in the Hong Kong action series, this time falling setting up situations that Jackie Chan films would later rip off like having a Chinese fighter in the wild west (Shanghai Noon) and having the lead character develop amnesia and be adopted by local native people (Who Am I). Cool action scenes of course, with Li's signature eye-pooping stunts and lightning kung-fu blazing a patch on the screen, not to mention a bad-add bad guy who looks like he could play for Motorhead. Great!
go to top
Charlie’s Angels – I thought I would hate this movie, or at least be able to laugh at it. Instead, it was much more enjoyable than it should have been. Cool stylistic directing took away some of the cheeziness of the bad comedy (Lucy Liu's failed cakes, Cakeron Diaz's airheadiness), and the cliched action sequences (helicopter chase along shore road), but the plot was fine, and the inspired casting really helped things move along. Lots of out-loud laughs too. Nice kung fu. A lesson to the producers of crap like Mission Impossible and the Avengers on how TV adaptations probably should be done (but not too often, please).
go to top
Dancer In The Dark – Scary and spooky human drama that is larger than life and all about money. Bjork is great, even if the hand-held camera effects and production values begin to grate and get in the way of the story. A parable of the fantasy life of the mind.
go to top
Hilary and Jackie – Another harrowing biopic, this time about a musical family like Carrington, but with a powerful perfomance by Emily Watson instead of a subtle Emma Watson. Again, high jinx and madness among the upper classes and the artistic elite, lots of fun and nastiness before things get horrible and nasty. Interesting to see just how opposite the sisters create themselves to be.
go to top
The Collector – The collector collects women. He kidnaps a beauty, wants her to fall in love with him. A prototype for both Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and Kiss The Girls, maybe even for the Silence of the Lambs if you consider the kidnapper's butterfly collection. Lots of tension as the audience struggles with the anti-hero and their interest in the movie - do we want this creep to be brought to justice, or do we sympathize with him and want him to continue his plan. Doubles as a black comedy.
go to top
All Quiet on the Western Front – Brilliant anti-war film from 1930, showing the lives of young German boys as they are tricked into joining the war effort. Shows their enthusiasm in the early days of war, the honing of the survival skills (for the ones who do survive), and their cynicism in the closing days of the war. Sad, sad, sad. Couldn’t prevent the same thing from happening 9 years later, either.
go to top
Carrington – Biopic about a gay man (Johnathon Pryce as Lytton Strachey) and the straight woman who loves him (Emma Thompson as Dora Carrington) in the British art world during and after World War Two. Gritty, warts and all tale that includes plenty of infidelity, suicide, murder, war, death and destruction, yet shown in a no nonsense, bleak, British biopic kind of way. Nice!
go to top
Wonder Boys – Boring film about an unsympathetic professor, Michael Douglas, involved in highjinx in university as he smokes dope, fools around, acts un-professorly, hangs out with his students, works on his manuscript, overcomes writers block, signs a book deal, gets his life back together. Somewhat of a black comedy, but not what you'd expect from the director of the tight, exciting L.A. Confidential. Reminds me too much of another film, what on earth was it? See the underrated (and nearly forgotten) D.O.A. instead. I've only seen the Dennis Quaid remake, but the original should be good too.
go to top
Shaft (1999) – Samuel Jackson is way cool as Shaft, the nephew of the original Shaft (Richard Roundtree), even if the plot of this crappy movie isn't very cool. Nice clothes, though, and cool cameo by Roundtree as Uncle Shaft. Dan Hedaya in one of his countless bit parts as a shifty dude. Good enough for its type of film if you can overlook the cliches, good productions values, nice duds.
go to top
Tightrope – Pink Cadillac – Hang ‘Em High – True Crime – Joe Kidd – the Eiger Sanction – Continuing in the tradition of reviewing Clint Eastwood films, of which there seem to be quite a few here… Tightrope is not very good, one of those films where they give up keeping the identity of the killer (of prostitutes) secret half way through the films and just let the film lead up to the ultimate showdown. First third of the film is interesting and titillating as detective Eastwood begins to notice a trend between his nightly visits to prostitutes and the corpses that start popping up. Another imperfect character for Eastwood, a widower and father who is still human. Pink Cadillac is another film with an unsatisfactory ending as the bad guys (who are of course inhumanly bad) are foiled and left behind, but enough good mood generated by the interaction between bounty hunter Eastwood and runaway mother Bernadette Peters. Early cameo by Jim Carrey doing an armless Elvis act - funny for the 5 seconds he is on. Apparently Eastwood cast Carrey after hearing about Carrey's famous Clint Eastwood impressions, rather bizarre. Remember the Eastwood impressions Carrey does in Mask? Jim Carrey now makes much more per film thatn Clint Eastwood does. Hang Em High is a good western where Eastwood's character is nearly lynched by a group of vigilantes, then goes to work for the law to run 'em in. Fans of Gilligan's Island will recognize the Skipper, Alan Hale in his first post-Gilligan's Island acting role, as one of the cold-blooded vigilantes. Strange to see the old guy again here. Joe Kidd has Clint first helping killers hired by corrupt landlords who are after righteous outlaws, then switching sides and helping the outlaws survive the killers. Shades of Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars. True Crime is a sweet little film about a reporter, almost as an afterthought, decides to prove the innocence of a guy on the day of his execution (at midnight). All the elements tie up well, despite the everything-in-a-day implausibility of it all, and Clint is great in another one of his (very) imperfect characters. This time he is an alcoholic playboy liar, still trying to "do the right thing." James Woods is also a treat as his cynical seen-em-all editor. The Eiger Sanction is a James Bond riposs that is unintentional black humor. Clint goes to work for the FBI (that seems like a particularly vile J. Edgar Hoover who is hiring him) to perform a political assassination in the mountains of Switzerland. Cool action and a few good laughs.
go to top
U-571 – Interesting sidebar film, considering I was reading the Cryptonomicon at the time and it was on the same thing - breaking the Nazi enigma code in World War 2, and at the same time not letting the Nazis know that it had been broken so they could develop a new one. Tense thrills with Harvey Keitel and Jon Bon Jovi, unfortunately Matthew MacConnaughty is cast as a dowdy officer, a role in which this dopey unappealing actor is clearly miscast.
go to top
The Towering Inferno – A spooky film when you consider the real towering inferno in New York City on September 11th, 2001. Classic performances from Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and tons of others. Interesting to see OJ Simpson and Richard Chamberlain on film too. Good, tense action, better than most disaster films from a time when the disaster film wasn't a tired cliche yet.
go to top
Battlefield Earth – Panned as the worst
film of the year, and possibly ever. I watched it, knowing it would be
bad, but curious to see just how bad it could be. I also expected plenty
of stuff to laugh at, but it was not to be – the film is so bad that I was
thoroughly depressed by the end. Painful. John Travolta and Forrest
Whittaker deserve to never work in this town again.
go to top
Snow Falling on Cedars – Gorgeous, languidly-paced, tale of life and death and racism in town trying to deal with its Japanese-American citizens and the legacy of World War Two and Japanese-American internment. In a climate of unsettled debts and distrust there is a death and a senseless accusation of murder. What would clearly seem like a case that couldn’t be argued for lack of evidence becomes old news when flashbacks reveal the grudges and bones in everyones closets. A great book and a great film, great casting, effective flashbacks, and a wild flawless script.
go to top
The Son of the Pink Panther – Should-have-been-funny revival of the classic Pink Panther trail with Alberto Benini, a brilliant casting choice, is oddly uncompelling. Herbert Lom, as Inspector Dreyfus, is also a let-down as he forgets his hatred of Clouseau and returns to sanity. Don’t bother.
go to top
Right Stuff – Cool as a cucumber tale of the space race gets extra points for the line “why are we competing with the Russians – they’re our allies!” Nice shots of families and fathers becoming pilots, great character develeopment – hell, great characters – and cool shots of jets and rockets flying around. Long, but every second a joy, of which not the same can be said of Apollo 13. Sam Shephard not professorly for once as the kick-back champion Chuck Yeager.
go to top
Miami Blues – Alec Baldwin unhinged as a violent hustler on the streets of Miami. Fred Ward as the schmucky detective on his trail. Jennifer Jason-Leigh as the prostitute in love with the desperado. Cool above-the-law highjinks and nice pacing, even if the movie has been forgotten a decade later.
go to top
Nocturne Indien – Jean-Hughes Anglade wanders India – Bombay, Madras, Goa – searching for a lost friend of his. Dark and mysterious throughout, it becomes clear eventually that the main character is on a psychological search for someone who might not exist. Meeting interesting people along the way – a doctor in a room of files, a religious philosopher starving himself, a deformed clairvoyant on a pilgrimage who warns him about illusion (clearly a theme of the film) – the film ends properly in a classy restaurant with a beautiful woman. Rather like David Lynch without the gloomy edge, the dialogue is mostly in English with a bit of Portuguese, and at the end (finally) a little French.
go to top
L.A. Without A Map – Boyish undertaker in a small Scottish village meets wandering American actress, is smitten, and gives it all up to chase her to L.A. where they meet, marry, and he sells his screenplay Uzi Suicide (which has nothing to do with Guns ‘n’ Roses) for big money. Easy. On the way he meets colorful L.A. types like Julie Delpy, a psychotic ego-maniac after his wife, the Leningrad Cowboys, and a whacked out house painter Vincent Gallo. He also receives encouragement from Johnny Depp, animated out of the poster for Dead Man (Depp also has a cameo in character). Directed soberly by Mika Kaurismaki, i.e. brother of Leningrad Cowboys Go America director Aki Kaurismaki.
go to top
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – The only Bond film with George Lazeby, the only Bond film with Telly Savalas as Ernst Blofeld, who brings the beautiful (horny) women representing the countries of the world to the roof of Europe, i.e. a Swiss mountaintop, to conduct “allergy research.” Pretty good for a Bond film at least, it is fun to watch the odd pairing of stars at their only shots at these roles.
go to top
Happiness – An omnibus of horrors as the lives of a dozen depressed souls connect, knowingly or unknowingly, in some California urban limbo, a la Robert Altman’s Short Cuts married to American Beauty. Disturbing for its portrayal of a hopeless pedophile, unsparing in its raw emotional terrorism, slow-moving yet intense, it is clearly a film everybody everybody has to see. Like Magnolia, and starring some of the same people, but much much better. It does, after all, have a decent role for Lara Flynn-Boyle, something nothing since Twin Peaks has accomplished.
go to top
Final Cut – Jude Law is dead, his friends gather to watch a little video he has assembled, to watch it as per his final request (or something like that). They miss their dear friend Jude dearly and are shocked at his death, but their feeling begin to change as we watch Jude’s video, which reveals that he had for some time been engaged in a film project of his own – spying them and capturing their crimes, betrayals, infidelities, indecencies, hypocrisies, and exposing them. It becomes vicious and frightening, and leads the film to its only possible conclusion. First rate experimentation that works.
go to top
Days of Heaven – Gorgeous Terrence Malick film about harvesting wheat. Richard Gere kills a man in Chicago and goes on the run with his girl and her kid sister, ending up on the farm of ailing gentleman farmer Sam Shephard. History repeats itself, and the end of the film merges with Malick’s previous masterpiece Badlands. The film is less about the people in it than about the magnificence of the land around them, hence the larger than life Gere becomes a blip on the horizon. Malick is more a cinematographer than a director of characters, and the three films he has made in three decades should be required viewing for anyone serious about film.
go to top
Capricorn One – Bizarre sci-fi film from the seventies that features three astronauts that allow themselves to become part of a faked Mars landing mission – they hang out in a studio and pretend that they are broadcasting from space. When the mission fails and they are supposed to be dead, they realize that they are living evidence that needs to be buried and begin to run for their lives. Interesting character dynamics and mock-tense chase scenes make for a great cheesy film, even if Elliot Gould’s leaden acting in the role of the expose reporter nearly sinks the ship.
go to top
King of New York – Christopher Walken as the white leader of a gang of black thugs (including Lawrence Fishburne) wipes the streets of New York with his enemies on both sides of the law, fancying himself a modern-day Robin Hood who uses his dirty money to help the poor by building hospitals, etc. Nutty concept dealt with well, Walken has never been cooler, and the ultraviolence and orgies somehow don’t even seem excessive – this movie was built for them. Annoying actor David Caruso makes and appearance before he is blown away (boo hoo).
go to top
Chicken Run – Oddly uncompelling claymation film from claymation master Nick Parks. Maybe it is that the Wallace and Gromit films were just right cramming it all in at twenty minutes, the ninety minute Chicken Run tends to lag. It also suffers from uninteresting characters, although friends of mine who are familiar with the Yorkshire characters caricatured here tend to disagree. Mel Gibson’s presence as the American stud rooster is also kind of annoying – when will Gibson play an Australian again?
go to top
Unbreakable – Modern day comic book-like fable about a guy who is indestructible is a fascinating character study that rises high above Batman, Superman, and even the great Dark Man. Willis mumbles his way through most of it, as he does in so many of his movies, but is not astray. Samuel Jackson is a blast as the mysterious mentor of the film and creates a brilliant contrast to Willis – plain to extravagant, working class to highly educated, light to dark, strong to weak, dull to sharp, good to evil. The directing style is also fascinating and makes the viewer feel that they are watching a new force bud and grow. Already looking forward to the sequel.
go to top
Malcolm X – A very long, hard,
Spike Lee joint. Great to know more about Malcolm X and the situation of
hypocrisy in the U.S. in the ‘60s, with a fascinating coda in light of the
perception of Muslim violence in the September 2001 terrorism in NYC and
Washingtion DC. May potentially create more issues now than it did then,
but that won’t add to anything. Not being an expert, I don’t know what
the film didn’t say, and can only speculate or guess toward it, but the tale of
a dedicated man who turned his life around and tried in his own way to help
people is depicted well. We see a little how he helped people, and we see
his frustrations, which continue today. Excellent performance by Denzel
Washington, who at the beginning of the film just looked like Denzel Washington
but by the end of the film looked a lot like Malcolm X.
go to top
Junior – Danny Devito, Emma
Thompson, and Arnold Schwartzenegger star in a retarded movie about a wacky
scientist (Arnie) who figures out how to make himself pregnant. I watched
it for the second time this year only because my wife is also nine months
pregnant. Thank God it’s only a movie, I’m off the hook.
go to top
Detroit Rock City – The return of the
Porkys movie. Silly relatively good-natured rock flick with Edward
Furlong hacking his way through a roll where he yells a lot and gets
upset. Clever in drawing strings together, and full of great ‘70s rock
and a few pretty hilarious moments and broadcasted doses of Home Alone style
humor. KISS produced it and its their vehicle, but sensible they don’t
use only KISS songs. Shannon Tweed is in it, briefly, reprising her
award-winning role from Hot Dog – the Movie. Naturally she looks
fine!!! What makes this film great for me is that somebody had finally
found a way to throw the forgotten Blue Oyster Cult classic “Godzilla” into a
soundtrack (and that killer riff rivaled only by the best of Black Sabbath),
not to mention good Cheap Trick tunes, and two versions of “Highway to Hell” –
the original, and somebody who sounds like Tom Cochrane. Funny how ‘70s
rock kids looked like grunge stars.
go to top
She’s Gotta Have It – An early (the first?)
Spike Lee Joint, with all the earmarks of a true independent film – bad acting
and sound, grainy black and white footage, great storyline and dialogue.
Mars Blackmon (Lee) wears the glasses that inspired Jiang Zemin, as the sexy
(but essentially unattractive) Nora Darling turns the heads of three men and
one (truly attractive) woman. Lee’s compelling and rarely-seen-in-film
sister Joie Lee is underused and only appears in a few scenes at the beginning
go to top
The Lost World (1925)
– Early claymation broke ground then as special effects, could be easily
reproduced by a group of kindergarteners today. The inspiration for both King
Kongs and that crap film Jurassic Park II. Based on a story by Arthur
Conan Doyle, it is a silent film and shows explorers going into Brazil to find
dinosaurs trapped on a plateau for thousands of years – nobody gets on and
nobody gets off it. Melodramatic life-saving and lost love/jealousy
stuff, not to mention rubber monsters stomping things. Monsters get loose
in New York too, great. At a mere 50 minutes, the film doesn’t have time
to get laden down and draggy, great stuff all the way through.
go to top
High Fidelity – A case for liking the
film better than the book. Decent flick with John Cusack the depressed
main character and narrator of his life as a slacker record shop owner on the
outs with his girlfriend, pushing 40 and wondering what it all means.
Nice appearance by M.I.A. ‘80s star Lisa Bonet.
go to top
You Only Live Twice – Dodgy Bond flick that
shows Mr. Bond in Asia – faking his assassination in Hong Kong, then shagging
slant-eyed lovelies in Nippon. Second time he gets married only to have
his wife killed instead of him. Himeji castle, located downtown in a large
city of over a million people and considered the finest surviving medieval
Japanese castle, makes an appearance as a covert ninja training camp for the
Japanese secret service.
go to top
Love and Death – Non-stop belly laughs
for the first half of this film. I was thankful that it became less funny
toward the end so that I could catch my breath. Woody and Diane Keaton
are frustrated lovers who attempt to assassinate Napoleon and generally deal
with life in war-torn czarist Russia. This film was clearly not filmed in
New York City, unlike most of the funny man’s other flicks.
go to top
Barry Lyndon – Filmed in the British
countryside with natural lighting (hence all the candles in night scenes), it
is a humorless retelling of the rise and fall of a young nobleman in the
tradition of Tom Jones (also a Thackeray tale) and Love and Death, but told in
most unsmiling fashion and style. Cool film. Great even.
go to top
East of Eden -
An Elia Kazan film adapted from John Steinbeck novel and James Dean's film
debut, one of only three films he made during his year-long career as a true
film star, East of Eden is a stunning, concise film. It tells the story
of a young man who has discovered a family secret, and as such is reluctantly
at war with his father and his brother; the boy simply cannot accept that is it
his fate and nature to be so, nor can he accept the fact that being so doesn't
automatically brand him as bad - at least he is aware of who and what he is and
that alone cannot make him bad. The film is all James Dean's.
Oddly, the film merely tells about a third of what is in the novel and cuts out
some characters completely (significantly Lee the servant and Sam Hamilton the
confidante), but covers enough of the tale to be satisfying. In many ways it is
better than the book, in the way that it condenses the tale and cuts out the
go to top
A brilliant little excuse for an independant film, following a day in the life
of Austin Texas as the camera wonders from human interaction to human
interaction: the film opens as a man (actually the director, Richard
Linkletter) gets into a cab at the bus station and begins to tell the cabbie
about the strange dream he just had on the bus; when the man gets out of the
cab, he encounters an accident that has just occurred. The camera then
follows one of the witnesses for a while, then follows one of the people he
interacts with, then follows that person, et cetera et cetera for the rest of
the film, which feels like one long 90 minute take. The camera is in this
case the eponymous "fly on the wall." An intriguing premise, I
wonder that it's never been done before. Many of the people that are
followed about are really interesting - human victories and tragedies are
hinted at, mysteries are hinted at - and there is not a wasted moment in the
whole film. Fascinating. A million times better than Linklater's
bigger budget follow-up, Dazed and Confused , which wasn't much more
than a pot movie and a light-hearted rehash of Over the Edge . He
must have had fun filming it with Milla Jovovich, back in the days before she
was an international celebrity.
go to top
Before seeing this film I had heard about battles between director and studio
and expected the worst; watching it I was therefore pleasantly surprised - it
was a funny, immature film. Tons of great dialogue, a semi-interesting
plot, tons of lowbrow humor, and the presence of Jay and Silent Bob make the
film great. Filming things I'd never seen before in film, like
recreations of intricate Wile E. Coyote "gotta get that
Roadrunner" stunts, were pretty funny. Michael Rooker still
enjoyable in a bit part as the psychotic "girlfriend's father from hell TV
show producer" caricature, everything tied up neatly at the end like a Scooby
Doo episode. Kevin Smith seems to be especially good at inventing pop
culture; what I mean by that is that when he introduces the topless fortune
teller that the heroes go to the flea market to see, he makes it seem like
practically every flea market has a topless fortune teller - in reality, there
is probably not a single topless fortune teller anywhere in the western
world. So there!
go to top
American Movie -
An independant film maker shoots a documentary about another independant film
maker and his struggle to make a film. Everything about Night of the
Living Dead fanatic Mark Borschach seems too strange to be real: we witness too
many classic moments in the life of this colossal misfit - the arrival of the
MasterCard, the tantrums, the strange surreal dynamics, the wooing of funders -
that this is either a scripted "documentary," or the film-maker has
found someone even more poor and unsuspecting than he himself that he can
sadistically observe from a pedestel without the guy noticing what was going on
and shouting out "hey, why do you have the money to shoot a film and I
don't?" Imagine a successful writer like John Irving following me
around all day so that he could observe what it is like to be an anonymous
writer with an uncertain future, all so that he could write a piece on him for
Esquire magazine! Still seeming more real than real, the urban squalor
right out of a John Waters film exactly (it was filmed in Milwaukee), it is
still very interesting meeting the people in Marks life, particularly his
family and close friends, watching his project develop, and finally seeing old
footage of him as a young film-maker - forever, immortal, enjoying good summer
times. Wow. An interesting side-note - hearing an accoustic version
of the Metallica song "Fight Fire With Fire," it was surreal to note
how rather like flamenco it could sound! See the movie, then visit http://www.americanmovie.com/ to get your own copy of
Borschach's first short film Coven .
go to top
Sophie's World -
A Swedish film which I couldn't see with English subtitles - thank God I had
already read the book, since it concerns the consolidation of the entire
history of western philosophy... all neat and tidy like! The girls of the
book - one real, one fictional - are cute, and the worlds they inhabit are very
Swedish, very cute middle class, very Lotta
. A tough concept to bring to film, it is nevertheless still a very
visual novel, and its brief lecture passages are passed over quickly. A
nice, sunny film.
go to top
Jason and the Argonauts - A classic 1963 film that makes stunning use of early special effects to tell the tale of Jason and his band of merry men as they sail the Argos to a city at the end of the world to steal the Golden Fleece. A swordfight with animated skeletons at the end of the film is the show-stopper, so be sure to stick around. Jason's romance with sorceress Medea is overshadowed by what we know will eventually become of their relationship. This film is the first part of a longer story for which it seems no sequel was ever made.
An ancient classic from the early days of special effects - that
is, special effects as we know them today. Storms created out of nowhere,
giants stepping on real human beings and seeming to actually crush them to
death! Just like it must have been when it really took place way
back then in ancient Greece. Legends are told and retold and provide
shaky motivation for people to sail to their dooms on the other end of the
world, the gods take active interest in the doings of men and chose sides;
Jason sails off on the Argos, living through adventure after adventure.
He saves a drowning witch, the woman he will one day marry, divorce, who will
kill his children... A sad tale told in the most epic of epic
tones. Good fun for the whole family, and still lots of fun nearly fifty
go to top
We're No Angels (1982) - An oddball comedy starring a younger Robert DeNiro and a very young Sean Penn, with minor roles for lots of familiar faces like Demi Moore, John C. Reilly, and Wallace Shawn. DeNiro is best in this film, mugging it all the way through and able to carry the one-joke humor of a qiuck-tempered convict in priest's clothes. Demi Moore's a beautiful young prostitute mother who learns a valuable lesson should rank as one of her cheesiest roles, although she played it with the sassy compassion you'd come to expect from Ms. Moore. By the end Sean Penn seems rather neglected, although the homoerotic scenes with John C. Reilly are actually somewhat amusing. Gunfight at the end is also completely unnecessary. Watch the opening credits and remember that this was filmed in the '80s, its producers obviously expecting that they had a blockbuster on their hands. A roundabout remake of the 1955 movie of the same name that starred Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray as the escaped convicts, although there is actually little similarity...
Robert DeNiro mugging his way through this big-budged '80s film is
about the best thing this comedy of errors has going for it. Already from
the opening this-is-going-to-be-a-big-hit establishing shots, it is clear that
the producers were desperate for the hit that they didn't get in this
film. Demi Moore plays her typical sassy character, the too-rarely seen
Wallace Shawn can be relished for a while, and the then-unknown John C. Reilly
also has a bit part. Sean Penn is young and handsome, but not very cool
and ends being totally underused. Still, a cute little film.
go to top
Ronin - Ronin is the latest thriller blockbuster from John Frankenheimer, the problematic director of the Manchurian Candidate and Black Sunday and films against which Ronin will inevitably be compared. Ronin tells a good story about mercenaries who are hired to steal a MacGuffin (i.e. an innocuous object essential to the plot, in this case a suitcase whose contents are never revealed; see also Pulp Fiction ). With its tale of outlaw professionals, ambushes, betrayals, European settings, it might as well be Mission Impossible, and with DeNiro doing his dangerous professional act racing around in cars and shooting his way out of bad situations, it might as well as well be Heat. After a murky start, the film does pick up a bit, but for everything that the film does right (relatively comprehensible labyrinthine plot, a good kissing scene, excellent car chase and shootout scenes, beautiful locations, every scene that DeNiro is in), it has others that are not-so-right (a silly German psycho as one of the main villains, repetitive or parallel scenes, incessant back-stabbing). Overall I think that the film was a good one, and I'd recommend it to anyone who liked Mission Impossible and Heat and similar films, but I'd still be curious to hear what they had to say about this messy attempt at making a really good film.
A John Frankenheimer film, therefore in the same vein as the
Manchurian Candidate and Black Sunday and of similar intense quality. The
tale of Robert DeNiro as a vigilante who joins other guns for hire (among them
Jean Reno) in a plot to steal a silver briefcase with undisclosed
contents. Attempting to pull the job off and to find out more about who
is behind it, being betrayed more than once, getting shot after not just the
I.R.A. but the Russian Mafia become involved, and devlopping feelings for a
burned out Irish beauty are all part of what it takes to make the world a
better place. Frankenheimer has some great touches, including high speed
chases through city and country and a cool kiss scene, but betrays his love for
stadium assassinations in the finale by ultimately plagiarizing from
himself. He also uses the same devices more than once, making things feel
gimicky, and I still can't figure out what the German hacker was trying to
prove by sniping at children on a schoolyard.
go to top
the Year of Living
Dangerously - A Peter Weir film, and
an early appearance of Mel Gibson before he started jumping nationalities and
playing insufferable action heroes. Sigourney Weaver is also fine as a
love interest, but the film nearly wholly belongs to the fabulous Linda Hunt,
in this film playing the dwarf-like male character Billy Kwan. Everything
about this film is fine, from the pacing to the contrast between callous
journalists and passionate rebels and the fact that it embarassed the corrupt Indonesian
government of the time that it was made at all. Unlike Salvador , the Year of Living
Dangerously keeps the authorities on a pedestal until near the end, when things
reach their disastrous climax. Essential.
go to top
Another Peter Weir film, set in America among the Hamish community, and one of
the rare films Kelly McGillis can be seen in. Harrison Ford is younger
and his role unchracteristically underplayed. The juxtaposition of the
corrupt city and its bad cops with the pure world of the country-living Hamish
is like a blow to the head, but any scenes among the Hamish are dearly
appreciated. Cool fight at the end teaches other films how it really
should be done, with every tense second totally believable - no single good guy
mowing down ten bad guys. Very inventive use of a grain silo.
Similar ending to L.A. Confidential, but much more smoothly executed. A
pity Peter Weir now has his hits among personality-driven moral fantasies like
the Truman Show.
go to top
Cool special effects and graphics hold up well nearly twenty years later, but
looking at video games and the computer world portrayed by this film in the
wooly pre-Windows/pre-Internet is perhaps just as interesting. Artificial
intelligence in evil corporation's computer creates a virtual dictatorship as
it builds its strength to eventually take over the earth. Good, silly
fun, nice Journey song in the credits too. Look for the sequel to come
out in the near future, but unlike the original it will have a lot of worth
competition (the Matrix, etc.) establishing itself among the other computer
virtual reality films.
go to top
Scary Movie -
If you have seen the three Scream films and I Know What You Did Last Summer and
the Blair Witch Project, see Scary Movie. Although it is a little odd to
have a horror parody of a film (Scream) that is itself also a parody of horror
films, this is a different type of parody - not the intelligent variety like
Scream, but the slapstick Top Secret/Naked Gun/Hot Shots kind. A long
list of funny scenes too silly or rique to recounter. Best joke may be
the use of the actor who played Squiggy on Happy Days, a balance for the fact
that Scream used Henry Winkler, a.k.a. the Fonz from Happy Days, neither of
whom have acted much since Happy Days was cancelled. Unfortunately, the
film is relatively unambitious in that it doesn't seek to include films made
more than five years before it, but there's probably too much there and would
be best served by being reserved for the sequel.
go to top
Hot Shots Part Deux -
Again, silly parody of the films that were made to be parodied, in this case
Rambo (the original Hot Shots parodied Top Gun). But silliness is often a
good substitute for true humor. Worth seeing for Martin Sheen's cameo
alone. Non-stop funny/silly from beginning to end. And I don't just
say that about any movie!
go to top
A film about a middle class suburban guy who's too busy at work and at home
that he seeks an escape by cloning himself. It is hard to care about the
silly concerns of the boring Michael Keaton and the annoying Andie MacDowell,
as they trudge about their spacious this-is-obviously-a-movie-set house whining
about when they can get all the renovations they dreamed about done. I
don't remember the last time I saw a film that was so utterly middle class in
its concerns. Skip the stupid opening parts and go straight to where
Keaton clones himself, which is where the film truly begins. Keaton
proves himself to be a very competent comedy actor as he interacts with 3
clones of himself, each one radically different - there is the original
well-rounded Keaton, then there is the selfish workaholic Keaton, the sensitive
faggy Keaton, and the inbred man-child Keaton. Each of them has their own
character, quirks, and are much funnier than the original. When the
latter goes away to collect his thoughts, the film has its funniest scenes when
the little lady of the household starts feeling a bit randy. Icky son and
daughter luckily forgotten in the second half of the film. This is
actually one of those flicks that seems to have been inspired by a Flintstones
episode (see also the Burbs).
go to top
Bringing out the Dead -
Steam of consciousness night-in-the-life of an ambulance driver as he rages at
demons, internal and external, as he probes life death madness drugs crime love
and loyalty in a tough New York City burough. May be one of Martin
Scorsese's messiest productions, but it is surely meant to be that way.
Scorsese's mildlife crisis-like attempt at seeming like a younger director of
the MTV-influenced generation may be all too transparent, but it does work most
of the time. Before I saw this film, I actually knew nothing about the
lives of New York City ambulance drivers, something that I can only imagine to
be one of the more hellish professions available and the proper place for just
the right sort of crazy person.
go to top
the Abyss -
Strange, sentimental tale with all of the proper moments of tension (it is a
James Cameron film after all), the film ends sentimentally with a lot of gee
whiz wide-eyed wonder. Skin-crawling scenes involving the ocean depths
stretch believability far beyond the snapping/caring point, although
testosterone induced bug-eyed underwater insanity is worth a few chuckles
nonetheless. This film will not be remembered as one of Cameron's better
projects - Titanic meets ET.
go to top
Driving Miss Daisy -
Considered a film about ridiculous black stereotypes, the film tells the tale
of a black driver for a grumpy Jewish matriarch. Film bounces between
issues, rarely getting too serious, but is charming in telling a tale of aging
and unlikely friendship. Outstanding performances from Jessica Tandy and
Morgan Freeman, and even Dan Akroyd is good in a straight role as a rich
Southern Jewish factory owner.
go to top
the Legend of 1900 -
The tale of a piano player and the boat he lived his entirely life on, the film
is unsatisfying as it tells its rediculous tale bouncing from episode to
episode with only a few intereting scenes that actually work. Not really
a great film, watch the same director's Cinema Paradiso instead.
go to top
Mrs. Dalloway -
A Virginia Woolf tale and a director who undertakes the difficult task of
reproducing the stream-of-consciousness mood of just such a novel -
successfully. Dreamy and beautiful, relaxing and not at all perplexing,
the tale of a woman and the near-lesbian affair of her youth, Peter the confused
romantic young man she gave up and Dalloway the man she marries told in lush
flashback and also in the dreary present as Mrs. Dalloway hopes and prays that
her party will not go awry.
go to top
le Diner de Cons -
A test of my French ability seeing this without English subtitles, but I think
I got most of it. Obviously based on a play (talky script, limited
locations, use of less than half-a-dozen actors), le Diner de Cons tells the
tale of one true idiot and one circumstantial idiot: the latter a rich snob who
gets his kicks out of inviting total idiots to a dinner and laughing about
their idiocy with his friends but bites off more than he can chew with the
former, who prodeeds Cousteau-like to ruin his life. Enter a wife, a
lover, a rival, and another idiot, and you have the making of a pretty
hilarious farce. Expect this French comedy to be remade by Hollywood some
day (it's inevitable), but don't expect it to be as funny.
go to top
Lotta pa Brakmakargatan -
A delightful film about a young girl about a cute little Swedish kid who lives
in a nice house in the country and her hope to be able to get her dad to buy a
bicycle for her birthday. I saw it without subtitles, so most of the
inpenetrable Swedish dialogue rolled off of me, but who cares.
go to top
What Dreams May Come -
Every review I read of this film said how bad it sucked. Actually not
that bad, I'm a bit of a fan of the director, Vincent Ward, who directed the
of the Human Heart
. I'm still looking for his film called Navigator. Robin Williams
is not acting at his insufferable worst (as in Toys, Mrs. Doubtfire or Good
Morning Vietnam) but also not at his best (as in Good Will Hunting, the Fisher
King or Dead Poets Society). Williams dies and goes to heaven.
Highlights from his life are told in flashback. Interesting things happen
in heaven, as there are still quite a few trippy illusions happening, although
the director makes the mistake of using the same trick twice. The
"dreams" that come may seem a bit goofy to most, but hey - who knows
what the average person's perfect dream world may look like? Trippy
special effects, and the voyage into hell is interesting to say the
least. An ambitious film that hits most of its marks.
go to top
Chevy Chase made this film when he was still considered funny, but to watch it
today it seems pretty weak. Fletch is an undercover reporter who wears
various costumes and gives phony names that are really obvious (i.e. "My
name is Hull. Bobby... Hull."), the joke being that nobody
recognizes the names he uses. Nearly intriguing plot involves a rich guy
paying him to kill him, but Fletch is on the case and manages to pull all the strings
together. If the overall structure of the movie seems familiar, that is
probably because it is virtually identical to Eddie Murphy's first Beverley
Hills Cop (1984) film, which had came out a year before Fletch (1985).
Murphy's film is better, although the body count is also higher. The
Fletch character is supposed to be revived in the future by Kevin Smith, of
Clerks and Mallrats fame, look forward to Fletch making more blow job
go to top
Pink Panther films
- The Pink Panther (1964), the Return of the Pink Panther (1975), the Pink
Panther Strikes Again (1976), the Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), the Trail
of the Pink Panther (1982). Directred by Blake Edwards, the handful of
Pink Panther films are wholly a vehicle to show the comic genius of Peter
Sellers in his most famous character of Inspector Clouseau. What is
striking about watching the films over 20 years after Sellers' early death, is
just how exceptional the scenes that Selelrs is in are, in direct contrast to
the flat lifeless scenes where he is absent. Later films rectify that by
showing Sellers even more, and by inflating Herbert Lom's character in a role
as an insane police captain. Watch his outrageous Dr. Evil prototype in
the Pink Panther Strikes Again and wonder where Mike Myers gets the nerve to
steal character and plot from so well-known a source. Only the first few
films really have much to do with the actual "pink panther," a huge
diamond with a single flaw shaped like a panther. Cool opening scenes
with animated Clouseau and Panther. The Return of the Pink Panther is
practically a remake of Hichcock's To Catch A Thies (1955). Strangely,
the second film in the series, A Shot In The Dark (also 1964), is not available
in Japan. Alan Arkin stars in the film Inspector Clouseau, which Peter
Sellers is not even in and is of marginal interest only. The Trail of the
Pink Panther (1982) released after Seller' 1980 death, stitched together from
go to top
This early Oliver Stone project is a tale of a Hunter S. Thompson-style
journalist and photographer, played by James Woods in all his slimy glory, as
he explores the contradictions of the revolution and American involvement in El
Salvador in the '80s and the horrible, messy situation that was developing for
the poor people of this country. Stone weasels his way into money and
situations, takes pictures at slaughters, visits the rebels, helps doomed
American nuns, alternately befriends and antagonizes government and military
officials, and is present at the assassination of Bishop Romero. Finally,
all he can hope to achieve is to save his Salvadorean girlfriend and their
child. A fascinating, well-scripted film, tragic, and as always a great
forum for the incredible intensity of Woods.
go to top
Made for Australian TV and available on video, "Amy" is a young girl
who tragically witnesses her loving rock star father's tragic onstage
electrocution death and loses her ability to speak and hear. Her
condition is psychological, but her future is a point of disagreement between
her mother, doctors, and state workers. Money is also a problem - there
is no more coming from the record company - and Amy and her mother move to a
poor neighborhood populated by loveable eccentrics and hoods. A musician,
who seems to spend his days writing songs and playing the guitar, is the first
to reach out to Amy as he discovers that she responds to song just as she won't
react to spoken words. An affecting personal tale evolves, and Amy's
condition is cured. I'm tempted to sneer at the way the film is resolved,
but would rather first find out if "Amy" is based on any kind of true
story! Great music abounds, especially the haunting song thay Amy sings
with her loving dad as seen in flashbacks, as well as those of the neighboring
porch guitarist. A worthy film and deserving a close look.
go to top
the Funeral -
Not the Japanese film by Itami Juzo, but the little film with the big cast
(Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, a mustachioed Vincent Gallo, Benicio Del Toro,
Anabella Sciorra) by artsy trash director Abel Fererra. Showing a day at
brother Gallo's wake, with flashbacks, the film tells the tale of a mob family
involved in unions and early 20th century American socialist organization and
the messy cut-throat business that they are in. Fascinating themes, an
interesting setting, intricate family relationships, madness, and gunplay all
have equal footing in this cool little forgotten film.
go to top
Birth of a Nation -
The classic 1915 black and white silent film that apparently legitimized film
as art and gave birth to Hollywood. Film previously had been seen as low-brow
entertainment, kind of like titty bars might be seen these days, but
"Birth of a Nation" ambitiously balloons its scope to epic
proportions to tell a tale of a Southern family before and after the American
Civil War, ground later covered by "Gone With The Wind" and even
"Roots." Based on a book called "the Clansman,"
opening with the words "the introduction of the African to American soil
brought the seeds of decay" and ending with a portrayal of the Ku Klux
Klan as justified defenders of Southern dignity. As such, the film can
now only be seen as an outrageous perversion of what the KKK is really all
about, with scenes of the rescue of women by black rapists and black mobs -
time has shown that it could only really have been the other way around.
But with two seperate views of life in the South, what was it really like there
in the 1870s? In 1915 the Civil War probably still survived in living
memory, and the defeat by the North and the influx of "carpetbaggers"
and other profiteers must have stung bitterly. Altogether, Birth of a
Nation is a fascinating time capsule ride into both film history and American
history itself, no matter how dubious its politics are.
go to top
the Thing From Another
World (1951) - The original
Thing movie is a silly thing that doesn't stand the test of time and should not
be seen in deference to John Carpenter's remake of 1981 "the
Thing." The Thing is a lumbering Frankenstein, a kind of plant-like
breeding object trapped on earth after its spaceship is blown up accidentally
by the military and it is thawed out by a carelessly-placed electric blanket
(?!). Nobody gets killed, no transformations or even any special effects,
and the science-no-matter-what scientific idealogue doesn't even gets his
come-uppance, although he does wander off sulkily, a sheepish look on his
go to top
Farewell Beloved Lupin
- The final episode of the second Lupin Sansei TV series, the tape number 26
actually has 5 episodes. Of note are only the last two episodes, both of
which were created under the guiding hand of a young Miyazawa Hayao: the second
last is a castle heist story that foreshadows the Lupin movie "the Castle
of Cagliostro," and the last one which introduces characters from several
of Miyazawa Hayao's animated features - namely, the robot creatures of the
"Laputa" film, and the future girl-warrior of
"Nausicaa." The story itself is marvelously scripted, and the
pace never lets up for the full 22 minutes of seamless animation and its
near-perfect orgy of destruction. To discuss the plot would be to give
things away, suffice it to say that the city is under attack by an invincible
robot thief, and Lupin and his team of thieves is involved. Just watch it
- knowledge of Japanese not necessary. An earlier, cornier episode
details the struggle between Jigen, who has lost the magic cowboy hat that
gives him his powers, and "Minnesota Fats," with a shooting pool cue
that ricchochets bullets like pool balls. D-U-M-B!!!
go to top
the Scent of Green
Papaya - a beautiful,
rain-drenched portrait of the day-to-day living of an upper-class Vietnamese
household over the course of ten years, as seen through the eyes of a young
female servant. Political turmoil has nothing to do with the world shown
in this film, it is all about the rains and the sun and keeping the floors
clean. The house is beautiful, the scenes in the garden are lyrical and
haunting, all this in addition to the fact that through this film many viewers
will get their first extended exposure to the Vietnamese language itself.
There are no scenes that take place outside of the house itself until the end,
when the family has to send the girl to work in another home when they can no
lnoger afford to keep her. Among the more beautiful scenes in the film
are images of her bathing, fully clothed - it is serene and just a little
sexy. A perfect film right down to its perfect ending, the film will
relax you like a massage and you'll have a deep, pleasant sleep to look forward
go to top
the Insider -
Michael Mann finally made a film without a ton of weapons. The Insider is
the true story of an unlikeable man who is fired from his job working in big
tobacco and is eventually convinced by a producer from 60 Minutes to tell his
story. The first half of the film focuses on the insider, played
brilliantly by Russel Crowe and his struggle to come to terms with what he
feels he must do, and the second half is about the TV producer, played by Al
Pacino, and his struggle to air the story itself in light of legal threats
coming from the incredibly powerful tobacco industry. Crowe puts in a
better performance in this film than in his Oscar-winning role in Gladiator,
and the way he plays such a complicated, contradictory, and essentially pitiful
man is both brave and astounding. Unfortunately, the ambitous focus of
the film and the way it had to tell two stories in order to tell the whole
story ultimately unbalanced the film somewhat and Crowe is barely seen in the
second half of the film as Pacino is seen fighting the networks, but Mann does
a brilliant job with his moody direction, and the unusual soundtrack music used
in the film makes this a stylish masterpiece of its own.
go to top
Hailed as Steve Martin's first really funny movie in a decade, the film is just
as much a showcase for Eddie Murphy to showcase his new-found
multiple-role-acting ability. Bowfinger goes for big laughs in the way
that the Player went for irony and black comedy and tells the tale of
pathetic Hollywood losers who launch a pitiful attempt to make a boner of a
film. Martin actually has plenty of sharp lines to keep him going with a
full head of steam, but Murphy is the best in his two roles - playing himself,
and playing a nerdy video rental store clerk. The plot, about a producer
fallen on hard times who tries to make a film with action star Murphy, doesn't
let the fact that Murphy refuses to do the film stop him and engages in Hong
Kong style gueurilla film-making by filming Murphy secretly. Sounds funny
already, doesn't it. The film that they are making is called "Chubby
Rain"!! Already sounds similar to Paul Mazursky's the Pickle,
but believe me it's much better. Check out Heather Graham as the actress
just off the bus from Kansas who will sleep with anybody.
go to top
Over the Edge -
Of note if only for being the film debut of a young Matt Dillon, Over the Edge
is about bored pampered neglected middle-class teens who are into smoking a bit
of grass and doing a bit of vandalism whenever they aren't riding BMX bikes
over their suburban development wasteland and shoplifting. A safe but
unappealing setting is turned into a hell as the kids start a bit of a 1917
revolution of their own, foiling their parents plans of prosperity and
stability, and class war erupts. Matt Dillon is OK in his typical role as
the cute bad kid kid with an incliation to petty crime who inspires the worship
of his peers (as he played in roles from Over the Edge in 1979 to Singles in
1992), and others are fine as well. Stupidly caricatured wide-lapel
adults in the film defy reason, as they come down extra hard on their children
for doing the dumb things that kids do, and then shoot themselves in the foot
by shutting down the one thing that they kids have of their own (a drop-in
youth center) and putting them on the streets. Overall a decent film with
a message, even if it is hard to feel the pain of middle-class kids with
nothing to fight against except acute boredom. Boyz 'n the Hood it sure
go to top
Heavenly Creatures -
Bleak true story about a gloomy girl called Pauline Yvonne Parker, played by
Melanie Linskey, in 1950s New Zealand who escapes into fantasy, who is inspired
by love and friendship when a new girl Juliet Marion Hulme, played by a young
Kate Winslett, appears in her school. The two girls build an entire
fantasy world, complete with clay figures, even as their young lives are torn
apart - first by the effects of Winslett's tuberculosis, then by her selfish
parent's divorce and impending relocation, and finally by parental concern over
the more intimate parts of the two girls indestructible friendship. All
of the scenes in the film are magical, perfectly wrought things, especially the
ones where the inhabitants of the girl's fantasy land come to life and the
girls are able to walk dreamlike around the actual castle world they have
created! The director Peter Jackson's next films will be the ambitious Lord
of the Rings film trilogy, already the most expensive film project ever
concieved with a budget of over $800 million.
go to top
Black Sunday -
Classic John Frankenheimer film about a terrorist attack on the Superbowl that
makes use of explosives in the Goodyear blimp! Astounding character study
by a master of suspense (see the Manchurian Candidate for further proof,
as well as the flawed Ronin , all of which contain stadium shootout
elements), all of the main characters are brilliant - the late Robert Shaw as a
Mossad agent with a ravaged soul, Bruce Dern as a vet with a bone to pick with
the US government (a la John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire), and
Marthe Keller as a cold-hearted Palistinian beauty who is Dern's angel of
destruction. Probably the inspiration for other stadium terrorist films
such as Shuri .
go to top
Atlantic City -
One of the understated classics of cinema, Atlantic City is directed by Louis
Malle and stars Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster as lonely people struggling
to leave Atlantic City and find meaning in their lives. As truly
extraordinary circumstances combine in their respective spheres, chemistry is
produced, lightning flashes, a cannon explodes... Coming unexpectantly
into a stash of stolen drugs in the middle of a dry spell, Lancaster and an
unwitting Sarandon are both able to realize various small private dreams in
truly astonishing ways, hailing this as one of those perfectly plotted and most
elegantly crafted films out there and another reason to add to the list of why
Louis Malle will be so sorely missed. Also check out Malle's "My
Dinner With Andre" star Wallace Shawn in a one-line bit part as a
waiter! Canadian TV viewers out there might be interested to
see the supporting cast sprinkled with oddball Canadian personalities like
Louis "Seeing Things" Del Grande and Al "the King of
Kensington" Waxman, not to mention CITY TV bigwig Moses Znaimer!
Obviously, it's no coincidence that CITY TV is a major producer/sponsor of the
go to top
Boys Don't Cry -
The astounding but true tale of a young woman who wanted to live as a boy in
the rural wilderness of white trash America and the tragedy of her (his)
life. The narrative is tight, the film's pacing never lapses, and
everything about this unlikely love story comes together perfectly as it builds
up in intensity at its explosive finale. But besides being a tragedy, the
film is also a beautiful love story, and the young couple in question has a
wonderfully realistic fluidity and appeal. A great movie.
go to top
John Marley and Gena Rowlands in a rambling film about Californians who come
home from work, have a few drinks, go to a party, meet some friends, meet some
party girls, then go over to the girls house to continue the party.
Mostly everybody spends their time laughing good-naturedly, although all of the
very long scenes are at some point punctuated by contension, anger, and raw
feelings. Similar perhaps to a Woody Allen, in terms of its middle-aged themes
of divorce and new love, the dialogue and camera style could not be any more
different. See it if you can find it.
go to top
Hot Dog...the Movie -
Shameless tits and beer movie made in the '80s, in the Porkeys vein, but on an
interesting ski theme. The good guys are brash and funny, the bad guys
twiddle their mustaches, the sex is utterly proposterous, and every other scene
is beer-fuelled; but even so it's hard to dislike this nutty little film that
would otherwise be too easy just to sneer at. So forget about the plot,
laugh at the stupid jokes and enjoy the incredible skiing which is worth the
rental price. Check out the eye-poppingly un-PC dialogue in the bar scene
that deals with the mixing of a drink called "the Leg-Spreader"!!!
go to top
Erin Brockovich -
Is it Brokovitch or Brokovich? I can never remember. Excellent film
by Stephen Soderbergh about a sassy single mother former beauty queen just
getting by who stands up, takes charge, and organizes a class action case by
learning on the job and making up the rules as she goes along.
Criticizing the plot is useless, since it is a true story, but hinging the case
on a coincidence would have been the formulaic stretching point had it been
simply a typical Hollywood blockbuster. Julia Roberts is fine in
this film, even if it is a reprisal of her first movie role in Mystic Pizza
when she also played a sassy, willful girl who's not as dumb as she looks, but
I say that the real star is the director who puts scenes together like magic -
just watch the scene at the beginning of the film when Julis is driving away
from the bank to see what I mean. Some might disagree, though, and claim
the real star of the movie is Julia Roberts' skimpy wardrobe and the
specially-designed bras that keep popping out of her suddenly very ample
bosom. Interesting to speculate that a beauty queen with a killer
bod could actually be run into the ground in contemporary American society, but
maybe it actually did happen. But this is not exclusively Julia Roberts'
film and Aaron Eckhart is good to see in a major motion picture, albeit a bit
too woeful as the biker with the heart of gold, and Albert Finney is fantastic
as the lawyer with the heart of gold who's just a bit goofy... Keep an
eye out for the real Erin Brokovich, who has a cameo as a waitress in a scene
about 10 minutes into the movie, her single line something like "will you
be having anything yourself, miss?"
go to top
Romeo Must Die -
Half-decent crime and action film, with the unintentional comedy of its failed
scenes truly undeniable, equally undeniable is the real reason to watch this
film: to get a bit more of Jet Li, here in his Hollywood acting debut.
His English is fine, and his infrequent kung fu scenes pretty darn good
too. Needlessly covered up with stylistic computer graphics, he still
occasionally manages to jump and swing the way fans of his Hong Kong films know
and love, particularly in the brilliant opening prison break scene and the near
Jackie Chan comedic football scene. Once again Vancouver doubles for New
York (see also Red Bronx) despite the fact the that two cities look nothing
alike. The Romeo and Juliet connection is nearly nonexistent, providing
little more than a snazzy title, the film actually has more in common with King
Lear and Richard the Third than any other Shakespeare play...
go to top
Ridiculous metaphysical book that doesn't do a good job of casting the pantheon
of Judeo-Christian as comic book characters, and having Alanis Morrissette play
the role of God is in my books more of a minus than the big plus other reviews
I have read of the film have called it. Kevin Smith gave himself too big
a role in the film, although it is fine to see Jason "Jay" Mewes do
more talking than he has ever done in a Kevin Smith film (he is in all of
them). The talented Alan Rickman sadly wasted too. Not Smith's best
film, falling way, way behind Clerks and Chasing Amy.
go to top
Jesus' Son -
Stitching together the Denis Johnson's brilliant short stories is no easy task,
and the director Allison MacLean does a pretty
good job of getting the narrative right, while applying interesting stylistic
touches by telling the story out of sync. The oddly unsatisfying casting
of Billy Crudup as F.H., the loser junkie protagonist of the film, may be the
its biggest flaw. See the film if you like, it's not bad, but for God's
sake please at least read the book!
go to top
the Way of the Gun -
A kidnapping drama directed by Christopher McQuarrie (red hot screenwriter of the
Usual Suspects) with Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro as wandering
desperadoes who kidnap surrogate mother Juliette Lewis intending to get ransom
from the crooked couple whose baby it is (or might be), along with James Caan
as a veteran clean-up man. Phillippe and Del Toro play their roles
smartly and rather minimally, aside from the numerous gun battles, and James
Caan is extremely appealing. The film has many problems, mainly
incongruity, extreme violence, and a wretchedly dark ending, but it is spiced
with moments of delicious black black black comedy as well as excellent
characters... wretched lowlife scum that they may in fact be. Caan and
Del Toro's comeraderie among antagonists instantly reminds of Heat and
other films like it. Black enforcer/ bodyguard
Taye Diggs, last seen in Go, has near overpowering stage presence
and is a delight to see work his magic here too. Overall a worthy film.
go to top
A Midsummer Night's
Dream - The fifth film version
of the classic Shakespeare play isexactly what you'd imagine it to be, albeit
mysteriously updated from ancient Athens to 19th century Italy. Kevin Kline
good as Nick Bottom, the ass, Stanley Tucci as the satyr Puck, Rupert Everett
as Oberon, and Michelle Pfeiffer splendid as the pampered faerie queen
Titania. Most of the inhabitants of the human realm are less interesting,
merely available for intrigues and being manipulated by the hidden spirits of
the forest on a magical night. Final play-within-a-play is funny, but
anticlimactic, lessening the presence of a "Made In Hollywood" stamp
that the film could never really escape from. Catch "Allie MacBeal"
star Calista Flockhart in a rare pre-anemia feature
go to top
Yet another "what is virtual and what isn't" film, this time from
flesh fetish director David Cronenberg. Working from his first original
screenplay since Videodrome, Cronenberg creates a mysterious virtual
reality role playing game frought with danger. Stylistically the film is
great, but as it develops the appeal of the game is seriously questioned, as is
the plot of the whole film itself. Interesting spine-jacking devices to
make even the most heavily-punctured body artists squirm are perhaps a
highlight of the film, as are fleshy game control modules and the bio-gun that
fires teeth, but these are really just props. I wonder what we should
really expect of Mr. Cronenberg these days...
go to top
the Last Days of Disco -
Very talky film about cerebral beautiful young white ivy league types starting
careers in New York while witnessing the last days of disco, this is Wilt
Stillman's third film in a trilogy about cerebral beautiful young white ivy
league types following Metropolitan and Barcelona . As
such, it uses an unrecognizable (save for Chloe Seigny) cast, keeps the
dialogue crackling, and nothing much of substance actually happens to the
characters. Most of the action happens in an unnamed disco, although the
occasional late-night cafe, office, or apartment is also glimpsed.
Interesting deadpan speeches about the Disney legacy (Scrooge MacDuck, Lady and
the Tramp as a moral play, and the death of Bambi's parents by hunters giving
birth to the environmental movement) and the final passionate vindication of
the legacy of disco. As a plus, the film has brief cameos from some of
the actual Metropolitan and Barcelona characters and that
guy reprises his Barcelona role .
go to top
The ultimate Scorsese mob movie, watch Robert DeNiro and Ray Liotta age as you
are taken from the '50s to the '70s through twenty years of mob history.
A perfect companion to the Sopranos, which this film borrows from heavily: the
line "I had two families, one with my wife and parents, and the other with
the mob," and even lifts out a few of the actual actors like Lorraine
Bracco and Michael Imperiali, who plays Tony Soprano's nephew Christoper in the
series. Everything about this film is a winner, and DeNiro nearly takes
over the whole film with is awesome presence as the increasingly paranoid thief
Jimmy. Check out the film's lone black actor - stooping, mumbling and
lurking about, but instantly recognizable as Samuel L. Jackson. Ray
Liotta's narration throughout gives it that based-on-a-book feel, it works well
given the framing story.
go to top
Back to Back -
Michael Rooker is very appealing in this cliche-ridden B-movie about a
quick-tempered cop who has been suspended from his job and whose marriage has
fallen apart, who nevertheless gets involved with a Japanese hitman in town to
knock off a crime boss while at the same time re-establishing himself as a good
father to his semi-estranged daughter. The quick-moving plot manages to
sew everything together quite well and thrown in plenty of clever surprises,
although the film does borrow heavily from John Woo's the Killer.
Japanese-American actor Ryo Ishibashi is good, and Bob Cat Golthwaite has a
silly cameo as a bank robber having a bad day.
go to top
the Beach -
The controversial book adaptation and Leo's first post-Titanic feature about
slackers escaping society by seeking an utopic lifestyle as voluntary
castaways. Like a blend of Cast Away, Robinson Crusoe , Gilligan's
Island, and Trainspotting, the film was pretty universally
panned. Despite this, I found very little to criticize it for, and often
found myself comparing it with the book, which I had read before. There
are a few changes that the film makes over the book, and some of them are successful,
the first one being that the main character never actually has any sex in the
book, nearly unbelievable for a 21-year-old guy on a beach in Thailand.
The film clears up this point, and at the same time actually makes the ending
less violent than the book's. What the film can't do, however, is
convincingly show Richard, the main character, descending into madness and
psychosis a la that little voice in his head, courtesy of Robert
Carlyle's character Daffy - this is finally picked up three quarters of the way
through the film, way too late. I think I have a special fondness for
this film and the book since it partially mirrors my own experience in Thailand
- and it things had worked out differently, I might have been Richard!
go to top
Smilla's Sense of Snow -
An X-Files espisode set in Denmark. The film begins off well with a
beautiful but emotionally detached young woman, played by the sensuous Juile
Ormand, who lives in Copenhagen but is of Greenmark Inuit descent who suspects
the true motive of a group of industrialists whose sphere of influence touches
her world through a young Inuit boy who is murdered. Her investivations
begin when the boy, who lives in her building and is one of the only people she
has befriended and grown to care for, dies falling off of the roof of their
apartment building. A suspicious misanthrope incapable of becoming close
to anyone, she becomes obssessed with what she doesn't know about her
environment. She suffers the kindness of her father, played nicely by the
fascinating Robert Loggia as a widower who has married a bitch younger than his
daughter (?), then falls in love with a mysterious stranger who lives in her
apartment. Eventually, she gets on a ship to the polar ice shield to
investigate a fallen meteorite and somehow the conclusion comes together.
Many strings ties together quite sloppily toward the end, the threats to her
safety mostly appearing and disappearing or lumbering around like the Borg in
Star Trek. The least effective polar film I've seen, ranking below Map
of the Human Heart
, and Antarctica .
go to top
I don't like slasher films on principle, and it took me a while to build up an
urge to want to see Scream. Now that I have seen it, I'm glad that I
have. It begins with a classic slasher film scene - the brutal
psycho-manipulation and murder of Drew Barrymore (who only appears in this
opening scene in the film). The rest of the film is a black comedy that
uses every trick in the book to introduce clever manipulative elements to keep
the viewer guessing. Similar to an episode of the Simpsons in
parts. Awesome extended cameo by Henry Winkler, rarely seen since his
time playing Fonzie in Happy Days (but also seen in the
) - check the scene where he insults the janitor! Interesting
Tarantino/Kevin Smith moments as the film analyzes itself. At this point
it is obvious that director Wes Craven has grown disgusted with himself for
making this kind of film - his following film was Scream 2 (for the money,
probably, and a chance for a last laugh) and he has recently directed a
non-horror with Meryl Streep (!) and a film for Bill Clinton's presidential
library (!!). A parody of horror films recently has focussed its humor on
this film - as funny as that film might be, it is still parodying a
parody. The film is called Scary Movie , which ironically was also
the working title of Scream and the term mentioned most often in Scream.
go to top
and Scream 3 - If you liked Scream
and are curious about the sequels, the short advice is... don't bother.
Both films are rehashes of the original without any of the irony. Even
the intriguing concept of a film within a film is wasted. Neither of the
films have anything that the first doesn't have, except that one
"major" character from the first film dies in each of the
sequels. Unfortunately, it isn't Cortney Cox's annoying Gail
Weathers character. If you don't want to waste 2 hours of your life
simply to find out who bites the dust, email me
and I'll tell you.
go to top
Arlington Road -
A film that owes a debt to both the X-Files and the Burbs .
Jeff Bridges is a professor of American history who focuses (obssesses) about
terrorism and whose FBI agent wife was killed in an FBI screw-up. This
makes him a ripe target for someone who can be victimized by a group of
fundamentalists/terrorists who plan to blow up federal buildings, one of whom
may be his next-door neighbor. A film of frightening portent, the
surprise ending is actually quite a shock. In a film that veers from B to
A and back again, from formulaic to blazingly original, it is odd and confusing
that it appears initially to be inspired by previous efforts like Hitchcock's Rear
Window, that Flintstones episode with Albert Brickrock/Alvin Bonehard
(remember?), the Burbs, and who knows what else. Changed references to
Oklahmoa City, Timothy McVeigh, and the Pine Hill shootout make it all a bit
dodgy. Joan Cusack is very good reprising her role of Debbie Jellinski in
Addam's Family Values.
go to top
The Next Best Thing -
Madonna and her gay friend "accidentally" have a kid together.
The first half of the film focuses on her attempts to get her life on track,
the second half focuses on his relationship with his son, something few openly
gay men have I suppose. As a film like this requires a plot, things in
the relationship/friendship get strange. Happily, the more challenging
part of the film features the better actor, and despite some downturns things
turn out well in an almost-credible way. Mostly recommended for people
who like Madonna as a mature woman who's into yoga.
go to top
Adam Sandler films
- My wife saw the Wedding Singer and
really liked it. What a flick - cheezy '80s music and fashions (check out
the Van Halen jersey - when was the last time you saw one of those), cliched
plot, silly jokes. The film is definitely carried by the immense likeability
of Sandler and Drew Barrymore. And an amusing cameo by Billy Idol who
definitely deserves to be in a film like this. I guess I liked it
too. Big Daddy was a similar funny film
about the likeable Sandler with a likeable kid, full of mean jokes that make
fun of people and an actual attempt by Sandler to act in a supposedly heartfelt
speech at the end of a court scene (compare with Rupert Everett's in the
Next Best Thing
) that may be unintentionally funny. Perhaps at his funniest when calling
out to total strangers, like the goth in the park. Nice imitation of an
underachieving college frat boy coasting through life with no worries or
problems of his own. Happy Gilmore is a hilarious sports movie about a
guy called Happy Gilmore whose goal in life is to be a hockey player who is
shocked and disgusted to find that his real talent is his golf swing. Seeing
Sandler hit a golf wall as if her were making a slap shot in hockey is
basically worth the price of admission, and Carl Weathers as a golf coach with
a wooden arm is pretty hilarious too. Altogether, Happy Gilmore was a bit
better than Sandler's next sports film, The Waterboy -
an odd little film that follows Happy Gilmore closely as it has Sandler playing
a Forrest Gump-like simple guy with a low IQ and special abilities, i.e. he's
the best tackler the football team has ever had, hence his promotion from water
boy to star player. Lots of little things, like a decent performance by
Kathy Bates, a role for the long-lost Henry Winkler (a.k.a. Fonzie - when was
the least time you saw him? Oh yeah, he was in Scream ...), and some funny
one-liners. I liked the two rural hicks in the stands - the
normal-looking one was the guy with the jackass lines while the guy who looked
inbred always knew what he was talking about. Sample line: "That
guy's the best runningback since Joe Montana." "Joe Montana was
a quarterback, you idiot." "No, I meant Joe
Montegna." One of Sandler's early movies was Airheads, where
he plays third fiddle to (at-that-time-bigger-stars) Brendan Frazer (groan) and
Steve Buscemi (yay, Steve). Sandler is practically not funny at all, he's
just there. The concept of the film is that a struggling rock band
suddenly finds themselves unwitting highjackers of a radio station, using it to
launch their rock careers. The movie is not bad, with occasional moments
of sharp humor and a good cameo from Lemmy of Motorhead, but overall this film
by Heathers director Michael Lehmann doesn't live up to the director's
promise. Film is most interesting for early appearances of actors who
have gone on to greater roles, such as Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld),
David Arquette (Dewey in the Scream movies) and others. Made just after
Airheads, with Keenan Wayans top billed, is Bulletproof .
Good clean fun with undercover Wayans selling out new best friend, hustler
Sandler, in order to bring in the big dealer - James Caan. OK comedy with
some funny bits courtest of Sandler, I'm glad that both him and Wayans have
more recently been able to make funnier movies than this one. I now have
to decide what I feel about Adam Sandler now - funny guy, likeable, kind of
making humor in the Chevy Chase/Mike Meyers vein, dopey, stoned, slacker
humor. I'm still amazed that this guy came out of nowhere (I'd never
heard of him last time I lived in North America in 1994) and suddenly he's
earning $25 million for his films, none of which are more than harmless,
unambitious comedies. Still, I'm glad for comedians like him, Mike
Meyers, and even Jim Carrey - comedy was a dying art form just a few years
back. Thanks, guys.
go to top
War and Peace -
A cool film with classic performances from Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn,
among others, although it can't quite begin to reach the scope of the novel in
its mere 3 hour running time. Doesn't quite capture the sense of the
futility of war that pervades whole long sections in the novel, nor does it
ever truly inspect the characters in any real depth. May seem like a soap
operatic inspection of the dalliance of young, unattached blue-bloods in the
Russia of the Tsars as it was invaded by Napoleonic France. Still
dazzling in its epic scope, wild battle scenes, and senseless destruction.
go to top
American History X -
A big brother movie, except this big brother is a Nazi skinhead doing time for
murder. Comparisons instantly made to Little
, especially since the little brother in both movies is played by the
always-compelling Edward Furlong. A snapshot of the worst corner of
whiter American psycho-suburbia, American Beauty going to gory
extremes. Most interesting scenes investigate the soft white underbelly
of the American skinhead/white supremecist movement, most touching scenes
investigate the dynamics of a fallen family and the loss of innocence.
This film really has a bit of everything - black and white mixed with color (a
fitting analogy considering the film's theme of black versus white), past
versus present, live and death, good and bad, extemism and tolerance, whatever.
go to top
The old Yul Brynner classic, and the prototype for Jurassic Park about
the theme-park-with-a-brain gone psycho that ends up killing its guests.
Good clean fun as Yul fulfills his role as a robot cowboy whose only purpose is
to get killed repeatedly in phony gunfights again and again, he and the other
robots eventually get fed up and go on a killing spree. Despite the corny
role, Yul exudes roomfuls of intoxicating charisma whenever he is on camera,
leaving us rooting for him and not the human guy who exudes mid-70s esthetics
and positively can't act.
go to top
"Kunta Kinte!!!" This fascinating 9-hour mini-series is still
available on video, despite the fact that it is 25 years old. Watch it
and be fascinated by a story on this scale about the shame of America was never
told like this before and hasn't been told like this since. Marvel at the
acting from famous and infamous TV personalities and '80s celebrities like O.J.
Simpson, Sandy Duncan, Lavar Burton (Geordie Laforge on Star Trek: the Next
Generation), Todd Bridges (Willis on Different Stokes), Scatman Crothers, Lou
Gosset Jr., Ed Asner, poet Maya Angelou, Lloyd Bridges, Brad Davis (Midnight
Express), Lorne Greene (Bonanza, Battlestar Galactica), George Hamilton, Robert
Reed (Mr. Brady on the Brady Bunch), Vic Morrow, John Quade (often appearing in
the A-Team, Fall Guy, Hill Street Blues and CHips, and the Buck Rodgers TV
shows), and many others. Telling the story of the descendants of author
Alex Haley, Roots goes back to the jungles of Africa, showing the ascent to
manhood of a young warrior of the Mendinka tribe, then his ascent into slavery
as he is captured and put on a boat to America in the 1750s. He is
enslaved, he learns English and becomes a part of the slave culture, he tries
to escape, he has a family. Successive generations of Kunta Kinte's ancestors
are portrayed, along with the indignities suffered upon them in the name of law
and order at the time, and all the way up to the Civil War when they are
finally freed and have to deal with the hatred of them by their former masters
(also the seeds of the modern Ku Klux Klan) and move on to greener
pastures. The series begins strongly with the truly moving portrait of
Kunta Kinte's loss of paradise and enslavement, but becomes weeded down in
melodrama in the latter part of the series when the tales is less about slavery
and more about lesser human tragedies like murder and revenge. Since Alex
Haley's death, the Roots story has become quite a controversial one as it has
been revealed that he had in fact not retold the story of his true ancestors
but embellished and plagiarized, with contemporary acedemics covering up for
him in favor of the cultural importance of the tale he told. It is good
to know the true background of the tale, but Roots can at least still live on
as the tale of countless unrecorded occurrences of just the same things that
happened in Roots - the same, and worse!
go to top
A recent entry in the rare sub-gendre of inter-related epic day-in-the-life, of
which I can only think of Short Cuts and Twenty Bucks as another
example of... Following the fascinating Hollywood lives of two child
prodigies (one in his heyday and in crisis, the other twenty years later and
still in crisis), a cop, a millionaire and his golddigger with a soft heart
wife, his self-centered pop-psychology TV-wonder son, a cancer-ridden quiz-show
presenter, and a hard rain at the end of a hard night. Endlessly
fascinating, but in the end not quite as good as Short Cuts. Featuring
excellent repeat performances from director P.T. Thompson's other film Boogie
Nights from actors John C. Reilly and Julianne Moore, two actors I could
stand to see much more of.
go to top
Vampire in Brooklyn -
Wes Craven directs Eddie Murphy in a washed-out horror/comedy about a vampire
in Brooklyn. Real star of the movie is the stunning Angela Bassett, a
She-Hulk with perfect teeth. Murphy is occasionally charming as the
vampire-of-undistinguished-accent, as is the comic relief with the Renfield he
hires, but the special effects and the plot are not that hot. Best scene
shows the vampire in disguise as a preacher using pertty backwards logic to get
a whole congreagation to shout out that evil is good! Definitely watch
this movie if you like Angela Bassett, but if you want to watch a great movie
about a black vampire, check out Blade. Oh, maybe this qualifies
as a spoiler, but....... this is also one of those movies with a final scene
that sets you up for a sequel that will never come.
go to top
the Hidden -
Since I always thought this was probably a crappy B-movie, I never really put
the Hidden on my list of movies to watch some day. To my surprise, a
friend recommended it so enthusiastically I got curious and just had to watch
the thing. Good thing I did - this is another one of the severaly
under-rated classic strange films. Strange things are afoot as
law-abiding citizens turn criminal, rob banks, blow people away mercilessly,
steal fast cars, and just go nutty. As it turns out... Well, FBI
agent Dale Cooper... er... that is an FBI agent played by Kyle MacLachlan is
after the killer, picks up a local cop as guide, and then things get really
strange. One of the highlights is a very smart killer, the kind we can
almost see thinking. Watch what happens when the killer sets his eye on a
statuesque stripper and then a U.S. senator!! MacLachlan's cop partner
spends the first half of the movie uttering every cop cliche in the book (which
has to be worth something), and MacLachlan's deadpan responses are all spot
on. Made before the flood of similar movies like They Live, I
Come In Peace, and Men In Black .
go to top
Manhunter is the filmed version of Thomas Harris' "Red Dragon,"
directed by Michael Mann. By virtue of the fact that Harris' Silence
of the Lambs was the monster hit that everybody saw, and the fact that it
now looks like Hannibal is set to be the new biggest-grossing film of
all time, it's kind of odd that more people haven't seen this film, that it
isn't a retro video hit, whatever. Stranger still, Manhunter has virtually
the same plot as Silence of the Lambs, while having a different actor playing
the role of Hannibal Lector. Michael Mann, known for his part in creating
the cool as ice world of Miami Vice but also for directing Pacino and DeNiro in
Heat, uses similar material and makes a very different movie from the
one that Johnathan Demme did. Manhunter is a cool film about an FBI agent
who abandons his family to pursue a killer while engaging the sinister Dr.
Lector (with whom he is still at war psychologically after bringing him to
justice 3 years previously) for help/advice. As he is in only three
scenes, the Dr. Lector in Manhunter gets even less screen time than he does in
Silence of the Lambs. And while the actor playing him does well, he quite
clearly has none of the living verve that Anthony Hopkins has. Still, it
is interesting to watch this film and compare it to the later
"version," as it becomes crystal clear how very different these two
excellent directors are. Word has it that Red Dragon is to be made into a
sequel with Sir Anthony, although that hardly seems necessary. A prequel
that shows Lector's initial capture seems more interesting than even a sequel
at this point. The inclusion of a blind woman who is threatened by the
real killer puts this film in the dubious company of inferior product like Jennifer
8 and Blink .
go to top
I didn't think that Gladiator was such a good movie. It was exciting and
had excellent fighting scenes and great computer graphic sets, but Russel
Crowe's character fighting for Roman democracy was pretty much campy B-movie
material. This movie is (was?) listed 57 on the Internet Movie Database's
top 250 films of all time, where I think it really has no place. Director
Ridley Scott's style is most apparent in portraying the sinister worm of an
emperor, played well by Joaquin Phoenix, and his sinister relationship with his
sister, played by the immaculately beautiful Danish actress Connie Nielson who
previously played a private school teacher in Rushmore . Russel Crowe
makes a sympathetic hero, and his anger and violence seethe in the ring, but
his gentle humanity and sentimentality was perhaps too stop and start to be
believable. "I am gladiator" may have already become a classic
line of modern film.
go to top
Twin Peaks and
Fire Walk With Me - Watching the whole
Twin Peaks series, plus the Fire Walk With Me prequel, requires a 25 hour time
commitment, but those hours just fly by because everything about the world of
Twin Peaks is totally engrossing. This was the second time I watched it,
so I was keeping my eye open for new things. The unwrapping of the murder
of Laura Palmer, as well as its further implications, is strange stuff, but
always fascinating. The series probably represents some of the best
quality TV ever produced, with some of its strangest and most frightening
moments as well. That said, it is also true that there is plenty of
comedy in the series, particularly of the dark kind. Each episode
contains classic lines and classic scenes. TV of this caliber may never
be seen again, although the Sopranos recently has come close. Best scenes
involve the ghostly characters from the Black Lodge and trying to understand
their meaning. If you haven't seen it all already, do yourself a favor
and watch it. Watch for the recurring motifs - twins, fire, owls,
dancing, the Venus de Milo, circles, coffee, etc. Fire Walk With me is a
bit uneven as a David Lynch project, but it does have its special moments,
primarily with the Black Lodge characters, as well as David Bowie's and Chris
Isaac's characters. Unfortunately, Laura Palmer is actually more
interesting dead. Hopefully a DVD will be released with the many scenes
that were trimmed from this film, as many of the characters that were in the TV
series had their scenes deleted in Fire Walk With Me.
go to top
- Shuri is the Korean word for a kind of fish. The film opens to a scene
of a secret North Korean commando training camp. The candidates in the
school are put through the most brutal training I have ever seen on film, as they
are regularly pitted against each other in mortal combat to see who is the
toughest and most ruthless. Then we are in modern Seoul as we meet young
police officers who are on the hunt for hidden operative Shuri and trying to
find out what her directive is. They later discover that she and a team
of commandos are after a new weapon developped by the Korean military.
Even later they discover her secret identity. The film is an excellent
suspense action thriller that puts all of the James Bond films to shame,
largely due to the fact that conflict between North and South in Korea is very
serious business. Retarded American films like the Siege don't
even have any issues compared to the reality of the situation described in
Shuri. Bond villains are ultimately after money or power or sadistic
violence, but the villains in Shuri are more than anything idealists who are
sick of seeing excess in the South while their comrades starve in the
North. Shuri is interesting, well-acted, well-scripted and developped,
has excellent stunts and explosions, is not gratuitously violent, and makes me
want to see more Korean films. No source on the IMDB yet
go to top
Leningrad Cowboys Meet
Moses - More Leningrad Cowboy
fun from Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, this time the Leningrad Cowboys
become real Mexican cowboys, and they are still the worst band in the
world. Their evil manager shows up again, now calling himsels Moses, and
hatches a grim plan to return them to their homes. Lots of grim, deadpan
humor, and choppy editing in the Kaurismaki fashion. Perhaps not as funny
as the first Leningrad Cowboys film, but then again that was too strange a film
to really be ha-ha funny too. One of a kind.
go to top
Waiting For Guffman
- This is a mockumentary of the dreams of the people of a small town as they
prepare a play for a town festival that is to be reviewed on opening night by
an influential New York film critic, Guffman. All of the participants are
interviewed and we see the development of their play. Everything that
they say or act out is hilarious, but they do it serious and deadpan in a way
that pokes serious fun at documentaries and the way that they are made.
This film is funny from beginning to end and full of memorable lines like
"Corky can sing and act, and the only other person who can do that
is Barbara Streisand." Impossible to believe that real people could
ever have been as self-deluded as this, but then again truth is stranger
than fiction. Christopher Guest, the director and star, has a new movie
out about dog show culture, which was a spoof just waiting to happen. See
all of his films.
go to top
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the Fabulous Stains
- This is a rock 'n' roll movie about a fictional all-girls punk band, starring
a very young Diane Lane and , as they become a national frenzy while on
tour with a phony punk band that has just been released from their opening spot
on a tour for phony washed-up rock stars. Lots of good character
development, some good music, some comedy, some passion, and only a little bad
acting. The Stains would have been a cool band had they been a real band,
and just that shows how the film works.
go to top
Fear and Loathing in Las
Vegas and the Bone Collector -
These are probably the two worst movies I had to watch this year. They
are bad for different reasons, but the worst thing is that not only did I see
them both in the same week, but I actually paid video rental fees for both of
them! Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is based on a book by Hunter S.
Thompson that I have read twice but never enjoyed (I know people who swear by
the book - they probably enjoyed the movie as well). If you like watching
people out of control on drugs, destroying hotel rooms, vomitting, walking
crooked, whatever, then you might appreciate this movie. Anybody with
extensive drug experience might understand this film better than I did, but
what kind of a goal is that for a film project like this one? I believe
it to be a waste of time for the talented people involved in watching it, as
well as anyone who takes the time to watch it, but I looked at the viewer
comments for this film on the net and I see that a lot of people loved this film
and could relate closely to it, maybe liking it enough to watch it repeatedly,
hmmmm... The Bone Collector is a film that tried to use a big cast to
make a B-movie about a serial killer, a la Silence of the Lambs and Copycat
. The Bone Collector is the most like Copycat, in that it wastes the
talents of the stars, and also puts one of them trapped in a room while a
masochistic assistant does the legwork. Both end with a confrontation in
the home of the helplessly housebound Academy award nominee. Nothing
about this film was good, although some people did enjoy Angeline Jolie's puffy
lips. I liked the weak Twin Peaks ripoffs (i.e. cryptic clues left at the
murder scene) better. Again, viewer comments on Amazon and IMDB rave
about what a clever film this was. Yeesh...
go to top
- El Mariachi is a short film by Paul Rodriguez, the director who went on to film
Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn. It is the story of a desert town in
Mexico and a young musician who comes into town. He becomes involved with
feuding gangsters, meets a girl, falls in love, and has to fight for his
life. There is a case of mistaken identity. Thinking about this,
Desperado is a kind of remake of El Mariachi, but in fact the films are quite
different in style and content. El Mariachi is probably the better of the
two, since Desperado is over the top in a Rambo kind of way. El Mariachi
is short and sweet, funny, and in the end we care more about the hero than we
do about Antonio Banderas. If you have seen Desperado and liked it but
didn't know about this film, try to find it and watch it.
go to top
Rabid , and the Brood -
These are the first three films of David Cronenberg, films he released before
he became well known with his breakthrough hit "Scanners." All
of these films have better acting than you find in Scanners, and the same
gritty, dark, wintery Canadian feel. Shivers is about sexual mania in an
apartment complex in Montreal, Rabid is about vampires on the loose in Montreal
and stars the lovely Marilyn Chambers, and the Brood is a freaky psychological
horror. All of the movies are very well-scripted and full of creepy
chills. It is even more interesting that the development of ideas are
based more on medicine and science than hocus-pocus and Cronenberg always tries
to ground his monsters with some sort of medical basis. He never
disappoints even with his early efforts, and these movies should not be missed.
go to top
Clerks is one of those rare films that is almost totally based on dialogue, and
great dialogue at that. As the title indicates, it is about the life of
clerks, convenience store and video store clerks respectively, and what happens
to them in one relatively eventful day on the shift. It is like a film by
a slummin' Whit Stillman, or Woody Allen with an NHL attitude. It looks
like shit because it was filmed with no budget, but that's why it is great like
Roadkill , one of my favorite
movies. Almost all of the scenes work, so who cares if the lead guy can't
act? Extra points go out to getting around the fact that the film-maker
couldn't have the gates open at his place of work (the convenience store) and
for having a hocky game happen in the middle of the film.
go to top
A surrealistic trip into the bleak southern world of rural Virginia (or is it
Alabama?). The director, who also wrote the screenplay for Kids
but was passed over by the studios for directing in favor of Larry Clark, has a
weird sense of narrative and camera style. The protagonists are the
oddest set of misfits ever committed to film and they lurch about weirdly
killing cats, bullying each other, grimacing psychopathically, or just fixing
sandwiches and taking baths. Rural southern poverty is disturbing, as is
the scenes of basements filled with decades of accumulated junk, to a quirky
soundtrack of eclectic southern music, death metal, grindcore, ukelele...
go to top
They Live -
They Live is another B-movie directed by John Carpenter. It is about
people with conspiracy theories, but the conspiracy that they uncover is
stranger than any yet. They discover that the yuppie population of suits
and bourgeoisie has been infiltrated by aliens, and you can find out about them
and the subliminal advertisin that programs humans into consumer sheep if you
have a little help from... It is interesting to watch the protagonists
discover just what a sick world we live in, and the film gets stranger and
stranger as the film progresses. Good fight between the two main leads as
they bash each other's brains out trying to show how they're really doing the
other a favor! Plenty of cheezy black humor. And if you're still
not convinced, wait for that last scene...
go to top
12 Monkeys -
Another one of those films you have to watch twice (along with the Usual
Suspects), 12 Monkeys is a very wild little psycho-drama about a time
traveller who must unravel the secret of his world's destruction. The
hero is played by a super strong psychopathic Bruce Willis, accompanied by the
most beautiful woman in Hollywood Madeline Stowe. He trips back and forth
between the future and the past and learns as we learn about the fate of the
world. A manic Brad Pitt is also on hand to put in an inspired
performance as a lunatic (yet quite different from the lunatic he played in the
excellent Kalifornia). Director Terry Gilliam's bleak cityscapes
are viscerally beautiful, as is his odd chaotic/lyrical vision of an
apocalyptic future, and his interpretation of "the child is the father of
the man" scenario that James Cameron developped unsuccessfully in this
film's "seperated at birth bastard twin" Terminator 2 is
masterful indeed. Check it out if you haven't already.
go to top
First Blood -
The first of the Rambo movies, this one started an '80s dynasty, for what
that's worth. The film is fine and full of great action, especially when
considering the rumor that stuntman Sylvester Stallone broke ribs in some of this
stunts. Still watchable nearly 20 years later. I had no problem but
some people claim to not be able to understand Stallones's speech, so pay
attention. As a keener bonus, try to read the book - Rambo kills nearly
everyone he can in it, and he escapes jail riding a motorcycle naked! Now
that's definitely something that they should have kept in the film.
go to top
A film that I thought would be a little sharper, Rushmore is about a young boy
called Max, studying in a preporatory school on a scholarship, and the things
that shape his young life. It attempts a surreal verite interpretation of
life in a strange boys world, finally imploding into quirky silliness.
Great acting by Bill Murray (perhaps his first real chance since Mad Dog and
Glory, an overlooked film from a few years ago), and one of the most
beautiful female leads ever seen on film - melt into those eyes.
go to top
American Beauty -
A problematic Osacar winner, a live-it-or-hate-it film like nearly no other in
a while, American Beauty tells the tale of a suburban loser and the oddballs he
entangles himself with - a wife, a daughter, nutty neighbors and
co-workers. While he blames himself for being a failure, what only the
viewer realizes is that he is the only sane/normal person in his world, a world
destroyed by the mediocrity of suburbia. How can he help the fact that he
lives surrounded by gun toting maniacs? The film tells the tale of the
last year of his life compellingly, introducing the characters that shape it
slowly and methodically, if at times manipulating the viewer to try to
second-guess the ending - good luck. Nice, tight plot, good acting, and a
setting that probably many of us can relate to.
go to top
the Straight Story -
A David Lynch film like no other, focussed as carefully on a single character
as no film he has done since Eraserhead, this film tells the true story
of Alvin Straight. Richard Farnsworth plays Straight, and at the same
time commits to film the most endearing character to ever appear in a David
Lynch film. The film still manages to find place for the trademark
quirky/spooky/deranged imagery that Lynch is famous for, but it is also full of
tender moments and wisdom. The film tells the tale of Alvin as he drives
from his home to that of his brother several hundred miles away on a tractor
mower. The trip that would take a day instead takes several months, and
the telling of this tale creates a road movie like no other. Sissy
Spaceck makes a welcome appearance as his daughter Rose, who suffers from a
strange speech impediment that causes her to hang on her words. Still,
Richard Farnsworth is the life of this film - if you don't recognize the name,
it means you haven't seen the film.
go to top
Called Riget in Danish, this film is from a Danish TV series directed by Wunderkind
Lars van Trier. It concerns a large hospital, young doctors, and
some ghosts. It was difficult for me to understand the dialogue, as it was
in Danish and I was watching a version that only had Japanese subtitles, but
the languid pacing and general lack of interesting material left me pretty
sleepy. A horror film for insomniacs, perhaps?
go to top
Chasing Amy -
A film about a young couple in love. They go through hi-jinks like nearly
no other film couple as homosexuality, promiscuity, and the enthralling world of
underground comic books threaten to tear them apart. A Kevin Smith film
not quite as cerebral as the mighty Clerks, this one still manages to
throw the viewer for a few loops despite the odd problem with slow pacing or
wooden situations. Might have been better as a slightly shorter
movie. Bonus points if you like bearded twenty-something guys, this is
the movie for you!
go to top
- Chasing Amy is a love story, but it is as unusual a love story as you'll ever
find. There is a secret and a twist and a surprise ending. This is
more plot than you'd expect from Kevin Smith, the guy who gave us Clerks.
As is usual with his films (we know now), they are all self-referential, so you
hear about the incident that occurred in the bathroom in Clerks and other
things, Jay and (not so) Silent Bob are in the film, and the two male leads
wear rediculous beards/goatees. Maybe there was a visual pun in there
somewhere, I don't know. I am still undecided if this film was
over-acted, or if the lead couple was not credible. As often happens, I
think the best acting came from the character who annoyed me the most - it may
not be acting on his part, but for him to affect me that adversely must show
some sort of intent as well as talent. And I still think Kevin Smith
looks like my friend Chris.
go to top
I was certain I wouldn't enjoy this film, until I saw all of the great cameos
(Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci the "exorcist", Dan Ackroyd as
a Ghostbuster, Mel Gibson as himself, and others) and the campy acting by Faye
Dunaway and Eric Idle - then I was hooked. A young Christina Ricci is
almost as interesting to watch in a children's fantasy tals as an adult
Christina Ricci is in a stylish piece of noir by a trendy director, and the computer
animated ghosts are a hoot as well. Even Mr. Bland Bill what's-his-name
can't bring this film down (he's clearly best as a supporting character anyway,
just watch the Accidental Tourist again) and nice nice Casper doesn't
miss a chance to pull on the heart stings. It's all there. If you
have to watch a movie with a kid, try to make sure it's this one - you'll enjoy
it as well.
go to top
The fantastic first sound film of the great German director Fritz Lang, M is
the tale of a child-murderer being hunted on the streets of London. The
good crooks of Berlin, when finding that their turf is being squeezed by cops
hunting a killer, nobly take matters into their own hands and hunt the kiler
themselves. A harrowing chase and a chilling kangaroo court trial are
only some of the highlights of this incredible film. Peter Lorre's sense
of panic and mad frustration become our own as his impeccable acting literally
spills out of the screen and onto the floor in front of your TV set. Not
a film to be missed by anyone. Home of the classic line "you don't
know what it's like to be me!" Ageless.
go to top
Being John Malkovich -
For the last few years, it seems like every year there have been a few films
that were so fresh and innovative that they became buzzwords on their own and
everybody had to see them. American Beauty , the Blair Witch
Project, Magnolia and others. This year it has been this film,
full of more surprising scenes than any other film I can remember ever
seeing. To write about this film is like dancing about architecture, it
really must be seen. This film made me feel different going out of it
than going in, that is apparently what the sensation of being in John
Malkovich's head can do to you. I'd like to know who they pitched the
movie to besides John Malkovich. Can you imagine "Being Charlie
go to top
Xiu Xiu - the Sent Down
Girl - Chinese film debut of Twin
Peaks star Joan Chen. The radiantly beautiful and pure Xiu Xiu is one
of millions of young Chinese who were dispatched to the countryside in the
Sixties to work towards bridging the gap between urban and rural
lifestyles. In her case she is sent to the most rural of all possible
locations, the middle of nowhere in the foothills of Tibet, where she is to
help the salty Lao Jin develop his land into a ranch. It is the story of
someone who has reached the end of the earth and finds that there is no way
back. The end of the earth is a beautiful place, but unfortunately Xiu
Xiu is a young girl with a future ahead of her. Lao Jin is an old man,
rumored to have been castrated for some crime twenty years earlier. He is
a beautiful soul, and Xiu Xiu is also one of the lushest, most glorious
individuals I have ever seen on film. This film also may be one of the
most beautiful I have ever seen from China, easily as good as Red Sorghum
or any of Zhang Yimou's best. Must be better than Joan Chen's follow-up
to this film, Autumn in New York. There is nothing more I can say about Xiu
Xiu, I bow my head...
go to top
the Guyver 2: Dark Hero -
The Guyver - where Spawn meets H.R. Giger. Based on a Japanese
manga series about a man cursed with an attachment to a mysterious bio-suit
that he uses to stomp creepy-crawly aliens disguised as humans, the original
movie featured Mark Hamill as a CIA agent who turns into a cockroach. The
sequel stars newcomer David Hayter and hits all the buttons - opening fight
scene, short tempers, inner torment, sweating, contorted faces, betrayals,
revelations, a love interest, and exploding pickup trucks. In these ways
it is no different than an episode of Magnum P.I. The plot follows a
young man, Sean Barker, who is tormented by the Guyver suit that takes over his
body and allows him to kick the ass of any evil-doers, like the gang of thieves
in the opening sequence, although it doesn’t seem to give him the power to save
innocent bystanders. While watching TV one day, Sean learns that an
archeological team has found strange drawings on a cave wall – they happen to
be identical to the ones that he finds himself doodling endlessly for no
apparent reason. Sean goes on a mission to discover the truth about
himself and ends up becoming part of the team and the thing that they are
excavating. It would probably be a good idea to approach this film with
low expectations regarding the plot, though, since it has other rewards –
wildly lethal body armor, cool creature effects, great fight choreography, nice
set design, maybe even some competent acting. At one point, so many
mysterious characters had been introduced that I didn’t know what was happening
and the plot actually seemed very interesting. Overall the effect the
movie has is quite pleasing, although it is also true that the special effect
and fight scenes can be broken down into the ones that remind the viewer of
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, and which ones don't. The fight scenes and
special effects do build in intensity, and towards the end the film is more
like a full-on Hong Kong action film than a B-movie sequel, and the result is a
pretty cool flick... except for the exploding pick-up, that is.
go to top
Another Day In Paradise -
Another film by Larry Clark, who seems to have a career in film ahead of him
after the "success" of Kids. Starring a beautiful young
couple with miles of young flesh who are intent to embark on a life of crime
and drug addiction, as well as their mentors in their chosen lifestyle
portrayed by James Woods and Melanie Griffith. Despite the needles and
injections, Woods and Griffiths steer their roles as Woods and Griffiths would
(Woods: nice guy/bad guy. Griffiths: pleasure-loving but strong).
As it takes shape into being a heist-gone-wrong movie, Lou Diamond Phillips
enters the film as a gay bar manager who is some sort of uber-hood, and
the film takes plenty of expected/unexpected turns. Of particular note
for the great lighting. Final scene would have been better if the corn
had been higher, but I guess the crew couldn't linger on the set for another
couple of months...
go to top
A. C. G. T. We now know these as the names of the molecules
that make up human D.N.A., as well as the title of the film and the name of the
corporation of the film. In an excellent framing narrative of this film
(perhaps better than the film itself deserves), Ethan Hawke brings us
up-to-date with himself plus the state of the world some years from now,
when D.N.A. is everything. A plausible/intelligent future-of-humanity
film (along the lines of Soylent Green but painting a slightly brighter
picture), Gattaca starts off as a conspiracy tale of Olympic proportions that
becomes a murder mystery and a morality tale. Reviewers seemed to
have had higher hopes for this film in general, according to what I have read
about it so far. Jude Law is very good as a fallen Olympian. Not a
bad film, although it is rather stylish and dowdy with its efforts to portray
yuppies of the coming century along with their concerns. If we look
carefully, we might discover that this films is merely a remake of the
Secret of my Success with a new flavor-of-the-month actor + Uma
Thurman. Maybe that's being a bit cruel, since I generally approve of
this film, despite it being the type of high concept film that compels the
reviewer to find fault with it (hence the general trend to...). Enhanced
by good performances by Ernest Borgnine and Gore Vidal (!).
go to top
Remember when you saw the previews for that Charlie Sheen/Nastassja Kinski film
Terminal Velocity and you couldn't believe the stunts that they melded
to the plot, and resolved that you would see the film no matter how bad the
movie itself was? Well, this is exactly the same type of film.
Austensibly about an Indiana Jones-like quest for a lost Russian treasure (that
adds to the ante with a few Naxi treasures of its own) that follows a trail of
cryptic cyphers, the film is actually more of an excuse for incredible stunts
that attempt to "out-Jackie Chan" Jackie Chan himself. This is
not to say that the plot sucks - it is actually quite intelligent (in a
ridiculous sort of way), but it must still stand in the shadow of the stunts
themselves. I enjoyed this film from beginning to end, although I fail to
see how a go-cart can pace a huge motorcycle on a crowded highway. Check
out the review on the Internet Movie Databast and learn about the shame of a
very serious German movie-goer who is sorry that this movie was ever
go to top
Little Odessa -
Jewish Russian hitman (Tim Roth) goes back to his home ground on business (for
reasons that are never really made clear) and clears the air on all of his old
baggage. Complex characterizations abound, the scenes are nothing but
beautiful, grim, and stark. Edward Furlong fine as his young and
influencable brother. Filmed in winter for full effect.
go to top
A John Waters film about the irresistably likeable Pecker, and his quest to
take great pictures in Minneapolis. Along the way he manages to upstage
the pretentious New York art world, but that isn't nearly as important to him
as having a laugh with his slacker friends: among them Christina Ricci, his
coin laundry-operating girlfriend who takes her job way too seriously, his
fag-hag sister and her gay stripper friends, his best buddy whose only true
gift is shoplifting, his demented grandmother and her talking Mary doll, his
second-hand clothing clerk mother and bartender father, etc. etc., not to
mention various cops, strippers, and shopkeepers. As enjoyable as any of
Waters' films, perhaps just a little more so.
go to top
Mildred Pierce -
The Joan Crawford classic, with her exuding raw star power even when she plays
a humble housewife. Following her life as she goes through a divorce,
then searches for a job to accomodate her horribly obnoxious upwardly mobile
bourgeois snob of a daughter, who hates her mother for working for a
living. Nice check-shredding scene. Framed as a murder mystery, but
more about her development as a character than any kind of murder.
Unfortunately, the murder investigation framework allows a police inspector to
hog scenes in the opening and closing parts of the film and ham up the screen
in one of the worst performances I remember. Daughter Ida is beautiful
and incredibly unsympathetic, sleazy opportunist Monty Beragon delightfully
slimy, the other men in Mildred's life also suitably awful. "Mildred
Pierce" was later made into a really sharp song by Sonic Youth.
go to top
Sunset Blvd. -
Literally and figuratively. An early example of a great black comedy, as
creepy and funny as the Addams Family, yet also as sinister and steadily
unsettling as Body Heat or Apartment Zero. Opening with a
body floating in a pool, the story is narrated by William Holden and follows
his screenwriter character as he moves around Hollywood escaping creditors
until he comes upon the dilapidated mansion of aging silent screen legend and
bitter recluse Norma Desmond and interrupts the funeral for her dead chimpanzee.
The film gets steadily stranger and stranger as Holden accepts the job of
editing Norma's comeback script and his new lease on life becomes his
life. Gloris Swanson plays a delicious vamp, and silent screen director
Erich von Stroheim plays her "butler," Max. By the end we know
all about the floating body in the pool, but that is secondary to the film's
real finale, which can only be described as one of the darkest, most richly
entertaining scenes of film noir.
go to top
Sleepy Hollow -
Grimy gothic thriller by Tim Burton. Redefines the term "style over
substance." A-list actors were not required to make this film.
Occasional moments of cheap, grisly humor only "redeeming
value." Should be regarded as Tim Burton's Showgirls.
Check out the Scooby Doo ending.
go to top
Little Voice -
Excellent film about a shy girl Laura, who everybody calls Little Voice, living
in a small English village, who is discovered by fallen svengali Michael Caine
to be one of the most talented voices this side of Ella Fitzgerald.
Raised on a steady diet of big band records (Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, and
Marilyn Monroe in particular), her only inheritance from her dear departed dad,
Little Voice speaks in a shy murmur of despair, but sings with her heart on fire.
When forces contrive to put her onstage where she "belongs," she
becomes an instant hit. But trying to exploit her natural talents against
the will of her shaky mental state proves to be a feat too large for any one
person. The highlight of the film is Little Voice, played by Jane
Horrocks, who sang all of her old parts. The scenes where something snaps
in Little Voice's mind and she uses stage characters to verbally pummel her
tormentors should become classics.
go to top
What I came to understand to be one of the worst movies of the year turned out
to be not that bad at all - it was thoroughly creepy... in a good way.
Following private Nicolas Cage as he is paid to investigate the legitimacy of
an apparent snuff film, the film tries to be even darker and slimier than Seven.
Joaquin Phoenix is quite good as a porn shop clerk who helps Cage explore the
soft white underbelly of the porn world, as is James Gandolfini in a role as a
guy much more corrupt than family man Tony Soprano. About five things
could have been changed to this movie to actually make it great, but there is
no way that this movie is even a fraction as bad as the wretched Sleepy
Hollow. This doesn't mean you really need to see this
film. Funny, I usually hate Joel Schumacher films.
go to top
Finally I get to review a current film and ho ho, it's a film about my
favorite superheroes comic book (high school days) directed by Brian Singer and
written by my old primary school buddy and fellow X-Men fan David Hayter.
One of the most enjoyable comic book adaptations as a film, as slick and
smoothe as Spawn. Serious X-Men fans might be dissatisfied, but I
believe that this film has taken the best of the series and improved on it (the
concept of the mutant, Professor Xaviers School of Gifted Mutants full of
teenagers with wild powers, an emphasis on developping the character of
Wolverine, villains like Sabretooth and an improved Toad and Mystique) and
gotten rid of some of the worst things (lame characters like Henry Peter Gyrich
and Senator Kelley, lame X-Men like Nightcrawler and Colossus, less emphasis on
potentially lame characters like Cyclops and Professor X, and a younger Rogue
that works better onscreen than she does in the comic) that clutter up the
series. Great casting overall (particularly Wolverine, Storm, Jean Grey),
great special effects, good pacing, good enough story. While X-Men
sequels were practically garuanteed from the beginning, this film is
self-contained and more similar to a single comic book than a part of a long
epic story and that's just fine in my books.
go to top
Unhook the Stars -
Gena Rowlands in a film directed by her son Nick in the style of her late
husband John about a sensitive, worrying mother whose own daughter leaves home
in disgust at the beginning of the film. The rest of the film is about
her getting to know her messed-up neighbor, a young mother in a stormy
relationship, and babysitting her kid. Wry and charming and rarely
manipulative, this film will probably make the personal favorite lists of most
people who watch it. With Gerard Depardieu as a Quebecois trucker and
Jake Lloyd in his acting debut at age 7.
go to top
A film about a tormented genius called Max Cohen in a modern-day math mystery.
As unsettling in parts as Tetsuo, the film often blacks in and out with
the main character as it attempts to get inside his head - not only is our
unpleasant egoist trying to uncover a deep, universal truth grand consolidation
theory at the heart of the irreglar number 3.14 (etc. etc.), but he suffers
from crippling migraine headaches and manages to find himself at the heart of
two or three conspiracies. While some not all of the ideas are original
(the "innocent man involved with a conspiracy he knew nothing about"
had already been a cliche already for years and years before it was first used
in the Flintstones cartoon series), that doesn't stop this film from having
more style and substance than almost any other film around. Main
character may be the most unpleasant hero in film, topping even Vincent Gallo
in Buffalo 66. Supporting characters are also outsanding throughout,
particularly the charming/demonic publicist Marcy Dawson, the exotically
beautiful Indian neighbor Devi whose honest friendship Max spurs, and also the
fellow Jewish numerologist Lenny Meyer on a mission for a Talmudic society who
also knows a thing or two about numbers. Especially admirable for the
record low budget it was made on.
go to top
Ghost Dog -
a deep stylish film by Jim Jarmusch, reminiscent in many ways of Luc Besson's Leon.
Cool tunes, deep vibes, languid pacing, and bloody action in this tale of a
doomed assassin who considers it a essential to live by medieval (i.e.
long-dead) standards of honor. Great minor characters, ingenious
assassinations, plenty of trademarked Jarmusch urban humor, and great minor
characters among them a young black girl who loves to read, a Spanish
ship-builder, a native-American pidgeon handler, and a Haitian ice-cream seller
and Ghost Dog's best friend. Deserves to be a new cultural icon even more
then Leon does. Available on video in Japan since summer 2000.
go to top
Conan the Destroyer -
Not a fantastic film by any stretch of the imagination, but full of great
characters and enough unintentional humor to keep anyone going. Just
because you didn't see this when it was relevant (was it ever relevant?) should
not stop you from watching it. I mean, Wilt Chamberlain is dead
now, and you'll never have another chance to see him in a film with Grace Jones
and Arnold Schwartzenegger. More comic book than a real comic book,
particularly the ending.
go to top
Summer of Sam -
A long wanking movie with an interesting premise: the lives of New Yorkers
during the summer that David Berkowitz was at large killing young women.
Sexy and at times able to develop interesting charcters, this film is probably
only of real interest to New Yorkers over 30. The rest of the world can
watch a different Spike Lee Joint, or some better film that actually has
something to say about the human condition...
go to top
Eyes Wide Shut -
This is it, isn't it? This is the movie to review, the toughest nut to
crack. I waited for a long time to see this movie, and maybe it was like
sitting on my hands. I have seen every Stanley Kubrick except for Barry
Lydon (the only title not available on video in the video stores I go to in
Japan) and although I like them all, I am no fanatic. I had already had
an issue about this new movie before I saw it - I really dislike Tom Cruise,
and wonder why any serious director would ever use him. Then there was
that dumb Time issue - "Tom and Nicole Like You've Never Seen Them
Before." Like they had to stop the presses for that one! It
smelled like phony baloney from a mile away. All this is besides the fact
that everybody I knew who saw it said it was awful, and avid Kubrick fans came
off as limp apologists in its defense. Now a year after all the hype, I
finally sit down and watch this movie on video, not really knowing what to
expect... but expecting the worst nonetheless. I watched it and found it
100% worthy of the Kubrick oeuvre. It was also a fascinating movie, and
one I will not soon forget. To make a crude analogy I have to think about
films like Ghost, Event Horizon and the Devil's Advocate -
flawed morality plays that left me shaken nonetheless; but Eyes Wide Shut
should not be compared to these movies at all, since it in fact transcended
them quite utterly. While I was watching it I had to think of a million
different themes from dozens of other movies, among them Tom Cruise's own the
Firm (family is threatened as "hero" gets pulled into a web of
lies), as well as Rosemary's Baby , Vampire's Kiss and the
Devil's Advocate, not to mention the silly manipulation of the Game and
the representation of a Heironymous Bosch painting as a tableau vivant.
Or how about a serious version of After Hours ? But Kubrick films
are in a totally different realm, and it is obvious just watching this
film. As I was watching the movie I found myself analyzing it in strange
ways - is this gratuitous, or is it the mark of a master? I have never
been to London or New York, but I have heard that the midnight streets of
London were made up to look like Greenwich Village - how realistic are those
scenes? Are the superfluous scenes important or are the important scenes
superfluous? Were all the scenes in the film shot 40 or 50 times - even
the one of Tom and Nicole walking out of their apartment? And how much of
the movie was created/edited posthumously (most significantly the final
scenes)? And just what are the dark priests saying backwards during the
evil scene? But after a while none of this seemed important. I
forgot about the phony opening shot that establishes just what a gorgeous body
Nicole Kidman has. I got over the "rich people who suffer from
problems don't have my sympathy" thing. And after a while I even
stopped noticing how Tom Cruise was acting the same character he has always
acted in every movie he has been in (using the same mannerisms, same speech,
etc.) as he lusts after women with perfect bodies while he has a woman with a
perfect body waiting for him at home... and just enjoyed the plot and the
mystery and the dumb sympathetic/unsympathetic characters. Wow. And
then I realized that it was a totally creepy movie full of obvious plays of the
hand and gimmicks. Many of the "superflous" scenes display
this, such as the excessive sexual baiting of the characrer. More happens
to this man in a 48-hour period than happens to most people in their lifetimes,
yet he seems to have led an uninteresting life up 'till that point. This
is a very problematic movie that was very beautifully shot. Since it was
imperfect it left lots of dumb questions unanswered... but I guess in the end I
prefer that to a "perfect" movie that leaves me dazed and weak.
It is an odd cap to a long and brilliant (other people's words) career.
Kubrick was notoriously thorough in his thought and planning and method and
technique. Nothing important could have gone unnoticed. And this is
go to top
The Blair Witch Project and
Curse of the Blair Witch -
The Blair Witch Project is the spooky new film that mixs horror with cinema
verite, by not the plot is well-known and street news and infamy leave few
surprises. On top of this, the video-cam "cinematography" (if
it can be called that) and annoying personality conflicts, raw nerves, and
panic tend to wear on the viewer. Luckily it is short, and gets down to
it without too much fat - short and sweet. This is a tense and scary film
and a horror the way they should be - mysterious, dream-like (nightmare-like).
The legend built up around the Blair Witch, and all the references to
"her" make it seem like there is a real witch involved, although none
is ever seen. The same is done to fine effect in the Japanese Ring series of films with the
enigmatic witch Sadako. Despite its obvious flaws, this is an
original and well-made film. The Curse of the Blair Witch is a
documentary about the film and the events which led up to it, almost
making it feel like a mocumentary about a mocumentary. It covers a lot of
the territory of the film itself, and should probably be seen after the
film. Coolest part may be the "clips" of a Sixties documentary
about witches, and shows an interview with a hippy witch who discusses the
Blair Witch legend. Some subtleties are revealed that add to the
story-as-we-know-it. As a mockumentary is it interesting and well-made,
but altogether it is still funny to think that some people really believe that
this is a true story - a quick look at the IMDB links for the movie (above)
shows that the three actors involved have been in film projects since they
supposedly disappeared in the black hills.
go to top
The new film by Woody Allen that features Leonardo DiCaprio in a quick scene
playing himself. This time Kenneth Branagh plays the lovable loser of the
Woody Allen genre, roles that have been played by everybody from Gena Rowlands
to John Cusack to Michael Caine to Mia Farrow herself... except that Branagh is
not really so lovable. Cameos by Winona Ryder and Charlize Theron are
fine. Judy Davis over-acts very convincingly, and Joe Mantegna reprises
his Alice role. Hits some of the marks of other better Allen
films, but ultimately is rather empty.
go to top
200 Motels -
A wacky movie that just goes on and on. Frank Zappa only appears in
musical scenes playing the guitar, while Ringo Starr performs as Frank (with
Frank's hair and beard and sweater) in other scenes. Sicko weirdo Zappa
groupies like Pamela DesBarres and Bianca Jagger star topless, while Keith Moon
is there as a perverted nun. Nutty film if you think of it as a
film. Great performances by the Mothers of Invention, sixties music like
you never knew if you only know classic rock radio. Gets better toward
the end, but bless you if you have the patience.
go to top
Buffalo 66 -
You don't see movies like this very often - totally unsympathetic characters in
a John Cassavetes-like film, not to mention the brilliant use of a forgotten
Yes classic song (I used to listen to Yes in high school, yet had forgotten
that incredible bass riff). Great from beginning to end, even if you are
saying to yourself "what the heck?" the whole time. Angeilica
Huston is barely recognizable in this film. Anyone who has grown up in
suburbia can surely relate much much more to this film than almost
any other film set in suburbia. I don't even know what comes close.
Opening scene is in front of a prison as the main character gets out of
"the big house." How many other scenes have started off with a
guy getting out of jail? In contrast, how many films have ended with a
scene of a guy goin into jail? This is all irrelevant to the
film. Before you saw this film how much did you know about it? If
you haven't seen this film, how much do you know about it? If the answer
is "almost nothing" then you are just like me. It is imprtant
to not know much about this film going in, or it will hold no surprises.
go to top
12 Angry Men -
One of the best movies I have ever seen. One-setting film makes it feel
like a play, but effort is made to remove claustropobia by making every camera
angle unique. In the age of O.J. Simpson etc. trials, this is an
important film to see. The difference between the characters is
established in the opening scens of the film, but it really takes off in
unbelievable intensity as the film progressess. A young man is accused of
murdering his father (Brothers Karamazov situation), but none of the details of
the trial are made available at the beginning of the movie - it just goes
straight to the jury chamber. All of the details of the trial come out
circumstantially as the argument in the jury room continues - everyone is ready
to convict except for one. As it turns out, he is the only one who has
been paying attention during the trial, which raises questions about group
dynamics... without any real revelations of course! One of the tensest
and most worthwhile films I have ever seen, a real wonder of screenwriting and
acting. There are 12 angry men, and you really feel like there are
go to top
A Knife in the Water -
A film set on a sailboat. Danger and suspicion and tension and sexual
situations and other fun things. An early Roman Polanski film that looks and
feels more like a true European film (a character study that is generally
uneventful) than a Roman Polanski film, it is nevertheless interesting to watch
Polish-born Polanski direct Polish actors. It also demonstrates some of
the monotony and listnessness of being stuck on a sailboat on a windless day,
certainly one of the only films to ever do so.
go to top
A little-more-than-a-day-in-the-life of Hollywood slacker types, involving some
sex and a trip to Las Vegas with hip dialogue and great music. Sound like
Swingers yet? This time none
of the characters are aspiring actors (although all of the roles are acted by
real aspiring actors), the music is techno, there are more drugs than alcohol,
and there is a gay couple involved in a sting operation. A fine film, one
of those that answers its mysteries as it creates them, and finally comes
satisfyingly full-circle. This time the whole screenplay is as good as
its dialogue. Best point is the casting of the entrancing Sarah Polley,
this time playing a beautiful, wretched bitch to her earthly angel in the Sweet Hereafter .
go to top
the Red Violin -
A wise art film that traces the tale of a certain red violin and its gory
history... meaning the gory history of some of the people who played it.
Not everyone who played it has an interesting history, but the film focuses on
four or five of the people involved in it. To glue it together, there is
a framing story of the violin's discovery, its restoration, and its
auction. The modern-day portion features Samuel Jackson as a very
believable art historian working for the auctioneers, and he is just as
convincing as a passionate music lover as he is as a sleazy hood in other
high-profile films that made him famous. Great cinematography as the
film-makers show the violin being played by different people who blend in and out
while the violin itself remains fixed. Need I even say that the music is
go to top
the Beguiled -
A very underrated film. Yankee soldier Clint Eastwood is wounded behind
the lines, then taken in and treated by the lonely women of a school for
southern ladies. Initial distrust turns to slavish devotion, as smooth
talker (!) Clint wins the passionate love of more than half of the ladies of
the school. Intense psychological drama, perhaps most unusual film where
he does things that he hadn't done before and hasn't done since, nevertheless
everything comes off well. A must-see for fans of obscure cinema.
go to top
By the same director as my favorite Betty Blue, this film is more like a Robert
Altman film than the other film, which is more like a Phillip Kaufmann
film. A complex film involving a young man's opera obssession and his
involuntary involvement with the white slave trade. While the premise may
seem week (the old mixup problem again) action scenes and tension buildup are
the work of a master, as are the quirky characters that are just a bit more
than disposable. Final standoff in main character's loft a classic,
naturally fetishized opera music throughout.
go to top
Lola Rennt -
The film that made the big stir this year, along with the Blair Witch
Project, this one works with potetntial and fantasy and alternate futures,
while flirting with MTV-style action shots and pace and a techno beat.
Fine premise wears thin near the end, and people now agree that it is not the
perfect mind-blowing thrill of the pre-hype, and is actually flawed!!!
It is still a very unique film and practically a must-see for cinophiles.
I thought that this would be a woman running for 90 minutes practically
non-stop, she actually runs for much less than that. Lots of fast pace,
some slow points. But even Speed , the film this is most worth
comparing to for now, had to catch its breath every now and then.
go to top
Simple Plan -
Yuck. I don't know what the hype was about this film. Utterly
unsympathetic smart-but-stupid Bill Paxton gets involved with free money and a
Stephen King-like ever-increasing-sense-of-despair plot where
everything-goes-wrong. No hope for a happy ending as we tear our hair out
and yell at the screen "you idiot, that is the worst thing to do in this
situation!!!" Sure it was tense and suspenseful, but still...
Same premise as Shallow Grave , which was done to much
better effect. Only Billy Bob Thornton's standout performance saved this
movie for me, and liberal use of Bridget Fonda saves added annoyance.
go to top
Chinese Torture Chamber -
This is certainly the nuttiest film I have ever seen. "Chinese"
and "torture" is right, "sex" should also be mentioned
prominently. This film covers all of the bases that a typical Chinese
sexual morality play (like "the Golden Lotus" or "Dream of the
Red Chamber") where rich nymphomaniacs and their influential stickmen
manipulate the law to realize their desires, until they get their just desserts
in the end. The torture itself is very inventive, explicit, and terribly
disgusting. The film is horrifying, hysterical, and terribly
stupid. It is also thoroughly enjoyable. Hollywood could never
produce mondo insanity like this, it might be interesting to watch it back-to-back
with Eyes Wide Shut. Apparently a sequel exists, but I wouldn't waste my
time and just enjoy this one for what it's worth. Highlight - two
immortals shaking the heavens and the earth with their mighty mighty
humping. Several sex scenes go the full 12 rounds, some in in a T.K.O.
go to top
Who Am I? -
This is the new Jackie Chan movie. Every time Jackie Chan releases a new
movie, it is always an event. The stunts, the physical comedy, the James
Bond compare/contrast game... This one seems to have a plot involving
evil CIA agents selling high tech information that they have stolen, Jackie
becomes involved as a crack commando who loses his memory and is adopted by an
African tribe. He meets some girls, discovers who the bad guys are, and
ends up moralizing - but this is not the reason to watch the movie: of course
it is the stunts . Jackie jumps up walls, does amazing things with
cars (the quickest parking job ever and the escape from the dead end street,
etc.) and how he figures out how to get off of the roof using a rubber hose
despite the fact that he is handcuffed. A fight in Rotterdam using clogs
is pretty hilarious too. Check out the first scene - it never fails, but
Jackie Chan movies always have the worst white actors ever seen on film.
The gangster in the cowboy hat at the end was pretty classic too, it was as if
he had jumped out of Pulp Fiction and into an Ed Wood film.
go to top
Analyze This -
I enjoyed this movie a lot. It has Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal, and
is directed by Harold Ramis, the former SCTV guy who every few years directs
inspired comedies like Groundhog Day (which I also thought was
intriguing, funny, and underrated), National Lampoon's Vacation , Caddyshack,
Strange Brew, and others. Again it is a high-concept movie - this
time it is about a mafiosa who has to start seeing a shrink to deal with his
issues. This seems to be a rehash of the Sopranos, which
admittedly has the luxury to leisurely dissect action, plot, black comedy,
psychology and drama over a whole TV season; this movie attempts it all in just
under two hours. DeNiro plays his funniest tough guy role since the
long-forgotten Midnight Run , and Crystal is not too shabby
either. My biggest complaint is that many of the characters are
under-used. The only female role, played by the completely neglected Lisa
Kudrow, just further proves that some movies can't include real roles for women
(for an antidote check out the Romy
film, a movie she carried with Mira Sorvino) and the great Chazz Palminteri is
relegated to the position of a cartoon caricature, as he often is in
films. I had mixed feelings about the ending - it seemed like cold fish,
but then again... maybe it was a Scooby Doo ending (see the first Wayne's
World movie for more details).
go to top
Hugo Pool and
Irma Vep - Sometimes it is the
"quirky", "little", "directionless" movies
like Hugo Pool or Irma
Vep that really turn me on. Hugo Pool is the story of the misfits of
a small town and the things that happen during a day of pool cleaning.
Robert Downey Jr. is in it playing a drugged out Hollywood type, and the film
itself is directed by his father Robert Downer Sr. I saw a film of his
called Too Much Sun a few years ago and it was just horrible, but dad
pulled through this time. The characters are interesting, and the story
is touching, and big things happen in a little way. Sean Penn is in it
wearing blue suede shoes, and the stunning Alyssa Milano is in the lead role as
the tattooed pool cleaner Hugo. As a suburban character study, it is in
some ways similar to Steve Buscemi's Trees Lounge. Irma Vep
"stars" Maggie Cheung as a Hong Kong action movie queen who is called
in to Paris to make a "cat thief" film for a washed up French
director. Maggie Cheung is fabulous and she speaks English throughout the
movie, as do the French actors she works with. The humor is subtle, the
satire is large, and it's lots of fun watching Maggie attempt an adventure as a
"real" cat burglar. But it is all just a movie, get it?
This movie scores extra points for creative use of my favorite Sonic Youth song
("Tunic") and the deconstruction that occurs at the end of the flick
just feels so natural - a movie about people making an unfinished movie shouldn't
know how to resolve itself. I predict that I might never encounter
another person besides myself who has seen this great little film, so please
surprise me. It is worth seeing just to experience the magic of finding
out what "Irma Vep" really means. If you have seen these
movies, please email Peter Höflich with your comments.
go to top
a sharp new movie starring a slim (!) young Vince Vaugn, about struggling
actors in Hollywood. It follows their trips to Las Vegas, their time
spent/wasted in bars and at parties, agonizing lives spend engaging in sexual
promiscuity or chasing the perfect woman. It generally follows the
anxieties of the world's most neurotic comedian as he agonizes over the girl he
left behind while he waits for her to call. There are classic scenes,
such as the one with an answering machine that talks back, and a ripoff of the
"men walking" scene at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs that
follows a discussion of Tarantino ripoffs. Some may find the irony of the
film a bit heavy-handed, but the main attraction of this gem of a film is the
dialogue, which really sparkles... Prevalence of hip swing in L.A. may
date it a bit.
go to top
What can I say about a tense crime drama about lesbians that rip off the
mob? It's sexy and smart, and maybe not many people know that it is by
the same directors of the Matrix, hence it is their prototype of
"cool, stylish, and edgy." Jennifer Tilly is great, finally
rising to a significant role above that of the ditzy blonde (by dying her hair
black, among other things) she usually plays, as is Gena Gershon who
regrettably fades into the background somewhat in the second half. Meg
Tilly's boyfriend is also inspired as the sleazy yet loyal hood who turns out
to be a little smarter than anyone thought. It is intriguing that a film
has been made that builds up around a lesbian relationship the way this one
does, and I am pleased to see the switched ideals work so well. For
example, it follows the mood of Body Heat where two strangers meet, fall
into love (or lust), then unhatch a plot of sorts, neither really sure if they
should trust the other. The twist is that there is no way that this movie
could have worked out as well with a heterosexual couple. Good work,
go to top
Breaking the Waves -
This film probably tops a lot of people's "best of" lists, it is one
of the rawest, starkest films about deprivation and sainthood yet made.
Filmed in rural Ireland, it shows the wedding of a slightly unsettled young
virgin, and follows the changes her life takes when disaster strikes. It
is about guilt and sacrifice and redemption, the cinematography is stunning and
there are shadows and light everywhere, as well as effective use of thematic
songs to introduce each "chapter." This film can be compared to
Betty Blue, another starkly beautiful favorite of mine that centers on
the characters of a troubled couple, but this one is somehow more complex and
ambitious. It has everything you need in a film, including a perfect
go to top
Canadian Bacon -
Canadian Bacon is a funny movie that may be hard to find in the shops. If
you do come across it, consider watching it, but be prepared for lots of
"I can't believe that they said that." It is a movie full of
vicious mudslinging, dense satire directed at the most inoffensive of objects,
the poor Canadian. In fact, it shows Americans spilling bile at Canadians
in the same quantities that Canadians usually spill it at Americans. In
this case it is not a chip on the shoulder, but a device to let clever
screenwriters make fun of stupid common people. Essentially a group of
cameos by people like Alan Alda, Rhea Perlman, John Candy, and Richard Wright.
Canadian John Candy gets extra laughs as a right wing American who makes fun of
Canadian beer. It was also his last movie, but he did go out with a
bang. Lots of quotable lines in this one, make sure you have a scratch
pad handy, especially during Boomer's "the black guy always dies
first," speech. Directed by Michael " Roger and Me
go to top
A simple film full of great dialogue about vain American expats living in...
Barcelona. As could be expected from the director of Metropolitan
, the dialogue is the draw to this film, in fact without the great patter there
would be very little to this film. Sinister, human characters that are
somehow too human, it is nice to be watching this type of a film from
someone besides Woody Allen. If you come across this innocuous title in
the video racks, it would be quite easy to pass it by - but DON'T!!!
Save Armageddon for another night.
go to top
Trees Lounge -
This is another dialogue film, a film about losers who live in a small town,
work small jobs, and hang out at the bar called "Trees Lounge."
Filmed by Steve Buscemi (actor, director) in his home town with a cast of his
friends and relatives, this is a little film that will keep you interested in
the charming characters of a Simpsons-like world of funny, charming
go to top
Lulu on the Bridge -
This is a film that I should have hated, but somehow didn't. Written and
directed by Paul Auster, the author of Smoke and Blue in the Face
fame, it is much less annoying than the latter film (but not as good as the
former) or any of Auster's novels, which are all intriguing but ultimately disappointing.
Starring Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, and Willem Defoe, the characters seem
somehow at ease with each other, like they're not really acting. It is
about jazzman Keitel who gets shot after a set, and deals with his recovery,
his new love, and the mystery of the floating jewel that changes his
life. The interrogation by Defoe's character, which might seem contrived,
seems to me more like a recurring nightmare. Is it a coincidence that it
all seems like a dream? Check out the surprise ending, and think about
the major film it was lifted from, and maybe it will all make sense...
go to top
the Sweet Hereafter -
A great Canadian film by one of the greatest Canadian directors, Atom Egoyan,
this film seems more unrelentingly Canadian than any Canadian movie in recent
years. I don't remember a more snowy, remote film. Hated the vile
Ian Holm in A Life Less Ordinary? Check out the sweetly sadly vile
Ian Holm in this one. A film about personal tragedy on many levels, it
focuses on the true story of a fatal school-bus crash in rural British Columbia
and the lives affected by the crash. In a seemingly idyllic world where nobody
is innocent - here Egoyan casts his lot permanently with the likes of David
Lynch, David Cronenberg, Akira Kurosawa, Lawrence Kasdan, and others - the
director's somber corruption seems more true of average people than any of the
other mentioned directors. This is a movie you will not soon forget, if
ever at all...
go to top
Dashiel Hammett mysteries have been well-loved over the years and have been
filmed before, but never like Wim Wenders in this one-time-only diversion for
his slick big-studio debut and tribute to film noir. Similar in some ways
to the long-forgotten City Heat, with elements of the overblown and
underrated Hudsucker Proxy, this film follows the fictionalized Hammet
himself, as a character in a Dashiel Hammet-like adventure who pursues an
adventure that resolves itself like other great movies of this type - Devil
In A Blue Dress, Chinatown , and Body Heat. A fine,
funny, lite whodunnit that is more pulp fiction than Pulp Fiction.
Plus it gives a strong role to an Asian-American actress. Watch it.
go to top
Innocent Blood -
A vampire film by overrated studio hack John Landis that stars Anne Parillaud
as a troubled vampire (who has to deal with turning an evil mafia don into a
super-evil uber-goons), but which really focuses on the metamorphoses of
mafia lawyer Don Rickles and the truly inspired godfather Robert Loggia as they
become the blood-sucking undead. As much as I think Anne Parillaud is a
sexy goddess, I didn't really care too much about her character or her love
interest (although the sex scenes of the undead never looked better). I
also wonder how it is that if she is a vampire she can still see her self in a
mirror or fly through a church. The evil vampires in this movie carry the
film, and Loggia's performance is enough to pay for the cost of the
video. Watch for cameos by Chazz Palminteri as a hood and Sam Raimi as a
deep-freeze attendant, making him the king of the big director walk-on.
go to top
the Big Lebowski -
A string of three clever black comedy masterpieces in a row - this one has
strokes so broad and humor so subtle that it took me quite a while to recover
from the shock of seeing this bizarre movie... by realizing slowly that it was
actually a great comedy. What do I mean? Well, my first reaction
was "say what," and I was ready to say that it was a disappointment
coming from the Coen brothers - a first. But a day later, I found myself
thinking to myself "waitaminnit," two days later thinking
"waitaminnit," three days later thinking
"waitaminnit..." I had to watch it again, and when I did it all
worked out - the outrageous comedy, the great lines, the Simpsons-like situations,
the outrageously clever plot, the surreality that is all too real in an insane
world like ours (like Los Angeles), and great performances by Coen Brothers
favorites John Goodman, John Torturro and Steve Buscemi. Buscemi may
deserve an award for the underplayed and deliberately subtle delivery of his
character and its total non-relevance to the plot (coming on top of Fargo
, and all). Jeff Bridges, as "the Dude" is such a caricature
that to laugh at him is so obvious that it is not even funny... and that is in
itself very funny. He is the only uninteresting character in the
film. With this film, because the Coen brothers really threw it all into
a pot just to see what it would look like... albeit in the Coen Brothers style
- very very deliberately.
go to top
Map of the Human Heart -
This film nearly defies any type of explanation, since it hits nearly all of
the most unlikely reference points: an Arctic WWII artfilm set in Canada and
Europe by a New Zealand director starring a pan-Hollywood/Eurofilm all-star
cast, it tells the life story of an Inuit superstar while taking the term
"map of the human heart" both literally and figuratively. Dragon
star Jason Scott Lee has never been better (see his recent Hollywood slum roles
in films like Soldier ) and Anne Parillaud is great as a lisping metis
social climber. While some of the strokes may seem broad, and John
Cusack's appearance is difficult to justify, the film hits much more often than
it misses. It is often pure magic, particularly the sex scene on top of
an inflating hot-air balloon. Aaah, to be in the right place at the
go to top
the Blue Angel
or die Blaue Engel
- A classic 1930 story of a pompous German school teacher, the stout Emil
Jannings (also in the classic Cabinet of Doctor Cagliari , the ultimate
goth/Bauhaus imagemaker) portraying all of the proper teacherly stereotypes,
who falls inexplicably in love with Marlen Dietrich's "Blue Angel,"
much to his despair. A fascinating film by any standard, it is delicious viewing.
As difficult to believe that this film is 70 years old, it is even more
difficult to imagine how different it must have been from films of its time if
it is still so watchable today. The story of what happened to actors
Jannings and Dietrich after this film was made are even more interesting, even
to enter legend with the occurrences of WWII.
go to top
Alain Delon film, not the Antonio Banderas film) - good fun for the whole
family, as Alain Delon playing a wimp... meanwhile he's really the great
Zorro. The Banderas film wasn't too bad either. Sometimes hard to
believe that they once made movies like this.
go to top
She's So Lovely -
A Nick Cassavetes film about a guy who loves his wife so much that he flips out
and goes insane. When he emerges from 13 years of haziness spent in the
loony win he knows that he still loves her and the 13 years have meant
nothing. Comparison to daddy John Cassavetes 1974 film A Woman Under
the Influence about a man (Peter Falk) who flips out and send his loony
wife to the head doctors, only to understand that he loves her and the 6 months
away have meant nothing. Although it might make more sense to discuss the
differences than the similarities, She's So Lovely is still a wild,
harrowing film, a lot of fun to watch since it is patched together with moments
of ragged humor, and Nick manages to elicit great performances from the
reliable Sean Penn and the fluky John Travolta, as well as Penn-movie stalwart
go to top
the Eyes of Laura Mars -
Faye Dunaway, Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 's Billy),
Raul Julia, Michael Tucker, and a Tommy Lee Jones with nearly a full head of
hair. Cool creepy murders, controversy in the art world, strange cops,
photography, glamour, fashion, murder in the art world. Great film, high
go to top
Jacob's Ladder -
One of the best movies made in the late eighties, and one of the most
intriguing films ever, with a great performance by a young Tim Robbins.
Suffers from a few major screenwriting blunders (like the stranger who rushes
in to let Robbins' character Jacob in on the secret of his fate) that can be
forgiven. I watched this just before I read Coin Locker Babies by
Murakami Ryu, which has a similar pretext: a Vietnam vet suffers trauma,
hallucinations, and flashbacks that prevent him from making his date with
destiny, while becoming embroiled in a bizarre conspiracy, all within an
atmosphere of paranoia and alienation so thick that it will certainly come out
of your pores after two hours submersed in it.
go to top
Let's Get Lost -
The ultimate jazz documentary, this shows Chet Baker in the final weeks of his
life. The crew is even present in Cannes when he dies/ends his
life. Mixing interviews (both praising and lauding Chet) with film
footage and current footage, the winding weaving non-lineality of it keeps us
just a little disoriented, just the way we like it when we wanna get lost...
go to top
What Happened to Baby
Jane - How incredible are
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (two of the creepiest of the classic screen
"beauties") together on the same screen as aging
malevolent/benevolent former stars? This film is remarkably brave for
Crawford and Davis, former stars themselves by this time playing Hollywood
sisters who lived out their retirement and loving and hating each other for
being the sources of all of each other's greatest happiness and deepest
misery. It set the tone for future psychological love/hate entrapment
dramas like Misery , etc. Was the beach ending of this film the
inspiration for the beach ending of Barton Fink ?
go to top
Vampire's Kiss -
This is a vampire film starring Nicolas Cage that looks like a gritty
'80s flick. Probably the only reason to see this film is for the
performances of Nicolas Cage and Jennifer Beals. Cage stars as a demented
yuppie who self-destructs after he becomes deluded that he is turning into a vampire
following a hot date with vampiress Beals. Watching Nicolas Cage throw
himself all over the set and froth at the mouth is truly something I have never
experienced in a high-profile movie before, and Jennifer Beals makes up for Flashdance
with her wicked performance as someone comfortable in the manipulator's
seat. Unrelenting, and even pathetic in moments, it is also quite
hilarious if you step back a bit and view it as a black comedy. Surely an
underrated movie in the same pile of films as Bright Lights Big City, Less
Than Zero and other flashy trash. If you have seen this movies,
please email Peter Höflich with your comments.
go to top
the Devil's Advocate -
People will probably laugh at me for saying anything good about this
movie. I found this movie entertaining, sufficiently creepy and scary,
and full of interesting twists. As a morality tale, it is not very
original - it will be as easy for a lawyer to come off as sympathetic as
it would be for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle - but it has some
good performances, especially by Al Pacino who comes off with the best
lines. Watch if after you have seen Author, Author , not
go to top
the Lost Highway -
Did I just write about a manipulative movie that twists reality? This one
does it too, but in a diametrically opposite way. This film is a moody
piece of noir that shows innocent, naive and mischievous (reckless?) characters
tempt fate until their sick world is overwhelmed with a dread that deepens into
real fear and a confrontation with true supernatural evil, made real in the
flesh of a woman and a strange man. Sound like a blend of Twin Peaks,
Wild At Heart, and Blue Velvet ? It really is. For
fans of David Lynch (and I can't imagine anyone else actually enjoying this
mysterious film), there is nothing new to see here, although the warm feeling
of the familiarly thrilling style and technique can't be beat by anything else
- every single scene has "David Lynch" written all over it, and I
imagine it is this that endears the viewer to the film. This film is full
of great performances, particularly by Robert Loggia, continuing where he left
off in Innocent
. Henry Rollins can be glimpsed for a second in a jail, Roseanne Arquette
is sexy as hell, the music is fine, and even Bill Pullman (Bill who?) is
acceptable as a slightly boring but rather troubled
go to top
Shallow Grave -
One of the tensest movies I have ever seen. "What's a little murder
between friends" is the movie's tagline, and it sums up the premise better
than any other. Basically, three loving roommates inherit millions when
their new roommate dies... which is when their problems begin. Early film
from the directors who would later go on to direct Trainspotting , A
Life Less Ordinary, and the Beach , this one might be one of the
most remarkable since it builds up suspense through doomed plot elements with
less help from the crutches of "style," "technique," or
"gimmicks." This is one of those dark films like Gonin , Killing
or Dog Day Afternoon or even Friday the 13th where you find yourself
helpless to alter the fates of hapless characters you sympathize with and will
want to yell at the screen "no, you fool, don't go along with their
plan." But at least with Ewan MacGregor's good looks and recent
superstar status, it seems pretty obvious that if anyone is to survive the car
crash that is Shallow Grave it will be him... or will it?
go to top
Killing Zoe -
Didn't I just mention this film in the previous review? Talk about three
tense movies in a row. Reminds me of the time I saw Kalifornia ,
Straw Dogs , and Reservoir Dogs back-to-back.
I was a nervous wreck. I couldn't keep food down for a week.
Killing Zoe seems to start off as an indie buddy film about old friends who are
now cool professional criminals, but then becomes an ironic shootout disaster
movie with a love interest. Fans of French cinema will be happy to see
the astonishing Jean-Hughes Anglade (
) as well as the ravishing Julie Delpy, all speaking English (and a little
French, for the sake of realism). Check out the hard partying the doomed
bank robbers engage in before the heist, truly something of a wonderful filmic
go to top
Romy and Michelle's High
School Reunion - I thought this film
was by the director of Heathers at first, but no no no I was
wrong. It is the sane twin clone of that film. Where the Heathers
went for shock, Romy and Michelle go for slapstick comedy and caricature, as
well as some subtle insights. Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow are Romy and
Michelle (or Michelle and Romy) and they are quite lovable (or annoying) as two
airy slackers trying to make it big in L.A., but can't feel adequate without
getting back to their roots at their high school reunions... where it turns out
that they were geeks in high school and not popular cheerleaders. Well,
some fantastic stuff happens, and it's not Grosse Point Blank , but they
do run into Janeane Garafalo as the bitchy chain-smoker from hell, as well as
the prerequisite in-group-gone-awry. A fun movie, but not too deep, and There's
Something About Mary it ain't either.
go to top
Shark Skin Boy, Peach Hip Girl - A super-cool flick about a thief (shark
skin boy) on the run from the yakuza killers he has ripped off, picks them off
one by one at a forest resort. Involved is a girl who saves his life
(peach hip girl), a jealous uncle hotel proprietor who lusts for her, the
killer he hires to get rid of shark skin boy (the assumed lover), a fashion
consultant/passport forger, and a frosty yakuza wife who never removes her
glasses. Funny/interesting flourishes abound, crisp yet languid pace
drips style, oddly places flashbacks juxtapose, and nobody is cooler than Asano
Tadanobu as the shark skin boy. Great!
go to top
Supposed to be a cool scary movie, utterly incomprehensible. I couldn’t
follow it without subtitles, even my wife turned it off after 45 minutes of
torture shaking her head and she normally likes this kind of thing.
Kubitsuri Kikyu – Three short stories by manga artiste Kobayashi Kenjiro (?). First one is about high school students that commit suicide (trippy), another one is about jealous love (standard, spooky), third one is about high school girls who are attacked by flying balloon heads as they walk home from school (trippy). Naturally it is the last skit that is featured in the trailers and the title, it is also what makes it worth the price of the rental. Strange, easy to understand even if you don’t speak Japanese, fun, wild, amazing, strange. I told my Japanese friends that I had watched this movie, which none of them had ever heard of, and they now all think I’m a total weirdo.
Gojoe Reisanki – Telling the legendary tale of Heian prince Minamoto and his battle with the warrior monk Benke at Kyoto’s Gojoe bridge, which still stands on the Kamo river in Kyoto – you can sit there and have a beer. Directed stylistically, the film is an unrelenting bloodbath with the invincible Minamoto slashing away at squads of opponents sending sprays of hot blood shooting up above the tips of the bamboo trees, the film is really all about death on the battlefield in the face of a juggernaut. All the murder gets boring after a while until the final duel on the bridge when we know it is finally about to end. Whew!
Bullet Ballet – Stylistic film by Tetsuo – the Iron Man director Tsukamoto Shinya, starring himself and a cast of scary long-hairs, about a man whose girlfriend kills himself with a handgun (illegal in Japan and difficult to obtain) who becomes obsessed with tracing her steps and arming himself as well. In the course of his quest, he meets scary hoods and becomes involved in gang warfare on the darkened streets of Tokyo badlands at midnight. Part Akira, part Iron Man, all style. Hard to figure out what is happening, enjoyable only if you allow the images to roll off of your mental palate like cheap vodka on the tongue.
Party Seven – More fun and games from the director of the stylish and cool Shark Skin Boy and Peach Hip Girl with the film’s star Asano Tadanobu playing a peeping geek, along with six other crazies that round out the party of seven. Nearly all dialogue, except for the cool hyperkinetic animated opening credits that also reveal the background for the story, the film would probably have been more interesting had I seen it with English subtitles – the eternal problem for me here in Japan, alas. Nice weirdness quotient, good twisted ending, and quirky angles make for a pretty interesting film – if you can follow it.
Theatre of Illusion -
I honestly have no idea what this long film was about. My wife could only
stand to watch 45 minutes of it herself before she was hopelessly lost. A
classic by Suzuki Seijun, I hope I can watch it with English subtitles some
go to top
Kuroi Ie - This is a spooky film
about insurance fraud. In one "black house," members of a small
family seem to have regular illnesses, lose limbs, or turn up dead. At
the company that this family has just taken a policy out on, a young insurance
agent begins to have serious hassles dealing with the strange family. The
film, which starts off as a black comedy, quickly turns into a psycho suspense
killer thriller. The husband of the black family is interesting as a guy
with a few screws loose and an impenetrable accent, his wife stands out as a
cold-blooded ice queen who is very serious about bowling, and the young
insurance agent is exceptional in being a proper young man one minute and a
quivering coward the next. A film with as many significant bowling scenes
as the Big Lebowski .
go to top
Owl's Castle -
This is a tale from historical Japan of 400 years ago. It chronicles Oda
Nobunaga's attempted destruction of the ninja clans, who he considered
untrustworthy as their merenary status kept them working for whichever side
paid them best. The film picks up as a revenge mission against the
shogun, then becomes more complicated as the protagonists become enmeshed in
internecine inter-clan warfare. Lots of cool swordplay and martial arts,
stealth and secret weaponry. Also a memorable attack on prime shogun
Toyotomi Hideyoshi in his inner sanctum. Check out an appearance of the
most beautiful actress in Japan Hazuki Ryona, whose inhuman beauty lights up
the otherlwise dreary Parasite
go to top
Uzumaki means whirl, whirlpool, or vortex. The theme of this film is
vortex images, and the stylistic director of the film works hard at putting
them everywhere he can - in clouds in the sky, in 6s and 9s on license plates,
in people's hair, just about everywhere. In a cursed town, high school
students notice that everybody is acting pretty strange as a typhoon hits the
town... There is not much of a plot to this film, just stylish scenes
that build up on each other mysteriously, there is no resolution. You
just watch the film and see what happens. There are other films by the
same director, including one about floating heads, I think I want to see more
go to top
Audition is based on a novel by visceral novelist Murakami Ryu, which is
unfortunately not one of the three Murakami Ryu books available in English
publication. It concerns a widower who becomes bewitched with a young
actress who has auditioned for a movie his company is producing. He dates
her, then becomes concerned about her past when she disappears. The spare
direction and lack of a pounding soundtrack make this film a bit different from
other "psychotic beauty" films, and the extent and intent of her
psychosis is also painfully warped. The film jumps back and forth in time
in an interesting way that I think is successful, and the whole film works
quite well overall.
go to top
Crazy Lips and
Joyu Rei - Both of these films are horrors, but neither of them are any
good. In a way they remind me of Ring
, which also wasn't great, although it was better than these two. Ring 0
begins in a haunted actors studio and ends with a lynch mob in a forest. Joyu
Rei (actress' soul) is about a haunted film stage, and Crazy Lips ends with a
lynch mob in a forest. I saw both films on the same night and felt oddly
like I had seen Ring 0 again. Joyu Rei is a short, slow-moving film about
a ghost whose image turns up mysteriously in a film that a group of young
actors are making in a studio. The director feels some connection to the
woman in the image. The ghost murders an actress on the set and causes
some havoc. The director is also in love with his star, so he has a lot
on his mind. Crazy Lips is a black comedy, it is also one of the most
extreme films I have seen, with plenty of rape and murder. It is the
story of a crazy family - the father was executed as a serial killer, and now
the brother is on the lam and wanted for a similar crime. The mother and
sisters are left to fend for themselves, so they consult a psychic to try to
find the killer. This is a bad move, as the psychic and her henchman soon
take over their lives. The sisters discover that they also have psychic
powers, and eventually there is a lynching in the forest. Renegade CIA
agents and enraged parents are involved, there is also an appearance by the
U.S. military. The actress who plays the older sister looks eerily like a
Japanese Winona Ryder. It could be Winona Ryder is she spoke
perfect Japanese. Odd. This was not the worst film I've seen this
year, but it was definitely an insane B-movie. See it if you don't mind
rape and murder in the films you watch.
go to top
Tonari no Yamada-kun -
The new animation feature from director Miyazaki Hayao's Studio Ghimli is an
adaptation from an old Japanese 4-panel comic strip, more Sazae-san than
Tonari no Totoro. It is in every way a radical departure from any
of the director's other work, with only a few episodes of Ghimli trademark
roller-coaster kinetic animation, and a very sketchy animation style. It
is in every way loyal to the spirit of the comic strip (and comic strips in
general), with some stibute paid to the Charlie Brown animated specials of
yore. While most of the film is funny episodes (I found myself laughing,
even though I don't speak Japanese) from Japanese family life, there are some
longer narratives, especially at the end. The mother and grandmother's
thick Osaka dialect is also worth a few laughs, since they work the lingo like
comic masters. Great fun.
go to top
Wild Zero -
Yet another rock 'n' roll movie about zombies (yawn...), this time starring the
breathless Tokyo rockers Guitar Wolf. Essentially a road movie about a
young rocker who drives out into the country to find it crawling with zombies,
he calls in Guitar Wolf who wipe the landscape with zombie butt. At the
same time he joins a motley group of misfit survivors and even falls in
love. Everything about this film is over-the-top kitsch humor, from the
impossibly cool Guitar Wolf themselves, to the Thailand-dressed-up-as-Japan
setting. Check out the soundtrack too, it will rip a layer of skin off of
go to top
A Hong Kong romantic drama with a (mostly) Japanese cast. Starring the
impossibly short Okamura from TV comedy duo 99, it follows his adventures as
his (trendy fashion model) girlfriend leaves him and goes off to Hong Kong on a
quest for Jackie Chan. He follows her, hoping to win her back, gets work
in the Hong Kong film industry as a stuntman, tries to win her back but falls
in love with a beautiful Chinese refugee instead. Most of the film concerns
their attempts to communicate and their slow falling in love. More
romance than comedy, if you can believe it from Okamura, who comes off as quite
sympathetic despite his normally weasely TV character.
go to top
Love Letter -
A film about two people who have the same name. It starts in Kobe with a
young woman mourning the death of her boyfriend. She finds his address
from his old home in Hokkaido and writes him a symbolic letter. She is
suprised when she receives a reply from him. She later finds out that it
is not her dead boyfriend, rather a girl who went to school with him and who
shares his exact name. They begin a correspondence, nearly meeting once,
until all is revealed. Coming off less like one of his usual spare
stylish urban adventures and more like a nostalgic tale of lost high school
love that could have been written by Murakami Haruki, this film is nonetheless
poignant and sentimental in all the right ways.
go to top
the Idiot. Directed by Tezuka Makoto, son of the late king of manga
Tezuka Osamu, this long film chronicles the life of a man, trendy actor Asano
Tadanobu, who alternates life in a quiet neighborhood peopled with eccentrics,
with the high style world of cruel entertainers in the WWII Ministry of
Propaganda. Undeniably a strange, incomprehensible film, it does have a
great beginning sequence, an interesting love story and some good ideas.
go to top
Also known as Away With Words. A Hong Kong drama starring Japanese
actor Asano Tadanobu and a motley case of Chinese and Western actors.
Surrealistic/stylistic/avant garde construction/deconstruction of the life of
drifter Asano, which marries scenes from his dazed and happy life as a
permanent attachment to the counters and couches of a dingy little blue Hong
Kong bar with scenes from his childhood in Okinawa. A week after
seeing this film I have already forgotten what it was about, but I will never ever
forget how beautiful it was. Directorial debut of the director of
photography for Wong Kar-wai's films Christopher Doyle. More like a Wong
Kar-wai film than even a Wong Kar-wei film!
go to top
The new film from Tetsu director Tsukamoto Shinya (who will never
escape the "director of Tetsu" tag behind his name), based on a story
about evil twins by Edogawa Ranpo, early writer of truly inspired creepy
detective fiction... whose pen name is a derivation of "Edgar Allen
Poe", by the way. This is a tale of twins seperated at birth, one
who becomes a doctor after being raised in luxury, the other who turns to a
life of crime (and a mission of revenge) after being abandoned because of the
icky snake-like birthmark on his leg. Film differs from short story in
that the evil twin keeps his brother alive in a dry well in order to torment him
with tales of lustful nights with the doctor's young wife ( a la
Face/Off), but all of the stylish effects (doom and gloom foreboding, plus the
fact that none of the actors have eyebrows) are Tsukamoto's. Cult
favorite Motoki Masahiro (a.k.a. Mo-kun) stars, other cult favorites Asano
Tadanobu and Takenaka Naota (Mo-kun's pal from the film Gonin ) also appear.
go to top
One Step on a Land Mine,
It's All Over - Wow. The film
that should have made Asano Tadanobu's reputation on the international film
festival circuit, but probably didn't. True story about the life of war
photographer Ichinose Taizo, who took pictures in Vietnam but fell in love with
Cambodia and finally disappeared there in 1972 while trying to get to
photograph the Khymer Rouge-held Angkor Wat. Taizo. Taizo.
Taizo. This film has enough English dialogue that English subtitles are
barely ever needed, which is good for me here in Japan where there are
no English subtitles.
go to top
Ame Agaru -
Kurosawa Akira's last last film, this one was developped from notes he
was working on at the time of his death, but directed by someone else. It
is a very good film and faithful to the Kurosawa oeuvre , showing the
simple tale of a legendary but poor samurai swordsman who suffers from the fact
that he is too kind to people. Awesomely wicked, swift swordplay abounds
in this film, giving anyone with a taste for this thing more than enough of
their fill, perhaps the first time in a Kurosawa film since the great ronin
films Kurosawa made with Mifune Toshiro in the fifties and sixties.
go to top
Kikujiro no Natsu -
The first light-hearted film from Takeshi in what seems like quite a long
time. The tale of simple-minded (or just plain lazy) Kikujiro, played by
Takeshi, as he accompanies a young boy on a summer quest to find the mother who
abandoned him. What they find is astounding. Part road movie, part
comic omnibus, the film sways from one hilarious episode to another.
Never ever having appeared as more of a clown, it's almost unbelievable that
Takeshi can still make movies this tender. Western viewers of this film
can see parts of Japan almost never seen, particularly legal bicycle race
gambling, rural bus stops, Japanese beach camping, and other wacky stuff.
go to top
Ring was a movie sensation in Japan a few years ago, a new type of horror
masterpiece that was edgy and moody. North American audiences might find
it more similar to an episode of the X-Files than an installment of Scream.
The film centers around the mystery of a certain video tape that contains
mysterious images. Anyone who watches the tape has a week to live before they
die a horrible death... which would be spookily ironic if you yourself were
watching it on video. Naturally, an investigative reporter gets on the
case, and eventually involves her parapsychologist ex-husband in it.
There is a kid there too, as well as a rotting corpse called Sadako. In
Japan, nobody will ever again name their kid Sadoko because of this film.
This is not a slasher film, but a superior story with much more tension than
blood. If any Japanese film deserves glorious cult status, it is this
one. Imagine if the North American distributors could attach an urban
myth to it, something along the lines of "mysterious deaths occur one week
after victims watch Japanese video 'Ring.'" The original novel was
written by a highly regarded literary type, who also penned sequels, one of
which is called Rassen (spiral) which was turned into a movie, as well
as a third novel Loop . Rassen is a fine film as well,
although it twists the concept of the Sadako legend so violently that the two
films can be regarded to stand on their own. A film called Ring 2
was produced, which picks up the thread of Ring, and a TV series was also
developed. The most recent film episode is called Ring 0: Birthday
, but audiences are starting to lose interest...
go to top
Ring 0: Birthday - Ring 0 is a prequel to the events described in the other Ring movies, and uses as very real, very living Sadako as its protagonist. Sadako is a young beauty who has entered a film group. Strange things happen on the set of the play she is working with, a lead actress dies, and Sadako takes over the lead. The director falls in love with her, there is tension on the set, and things come to a head on opening night as secrets of her past are revealed and the night explodes into violence. The film moves on to a climax with a lynch mob in a forest. The film is quite slow moving at the beginning, with little of the quirky horrific imagery of the other films, but eventually builds up the pace to become a truly exciting and mysterious horror film. Several things are learned about Sadako's legend and who the ghoul Sadako really is, adding to the whole Sadako legend and making it even more interesting.
The tense homoerotic film of six motley losers who conspire to rip off the
Yakuza - not a good idea! Unrelentless from beginning to end showing
deranged fringe dwellers being pushed to extremes, it will leave you ragged and
gasping, destroyed by its bleak vision. This is gutter film noir at its
finest and a type of film that rarely gets made, although superficial analogies
can still be made to Reservoir Dogs - it is in fact a much darker
film. The lovable Takenaka Naoto from Shall We Dance? and Shiko Funjatta (a.k.a. Sumo Do, Sumo Don't )
is frightening as an unemployed salaryman with frayed sanity, as is Beat
Takeshi as a gay hitman.
go to top
Shiko Funjatta or
Sumo Do, Sumo Don't -
Sumo movies are certainly a rare thing, even in Japan, where ping pong movies,
volleyball movies, marathon movies, judo and kendo movies are not that
rare. This one is a heart-warming comedy (by the director of Shall We
Dance) about a group of university students who, for one reason or another,
enter the misfit-prone area of collegiate sumo. Containing more actual
physical comedy than the somewhat moribund Shall We Dance, it contains all of
the crucial elements of a sports movie (budding romance, surprise wins, a trip
to the finals, and the final parting of ways) and as such is pretty light fare,
but to see it all in a sumo situation where people have to have a sense of
humor before they even step in the ring is a refreshing change, especially when
the fattest person on the team is the female manager.
go to top
The new 1999 film by Ojima of In The Realm of the Senses and Merry
Christmas Mr. Lawrence (his first film since Mr. Lawrence, 1983) fame,
Gohatto is a samurai tale of in-house politics in a samurai dormitory, focusing
on the beautiful but fiercely idealistic young samurai (Matsuda Ryuhei, played
by the son of veteran actor Matsuda Yusaku, a superstar in Japan who died of
cancer just after making Ridley Scott's Black Rain ) and the attention
paid to him by gay veteran samurai. Takeshi is in it as well as a
patriarch with tough decisions to make, his most subdued role in years. A
less complex film than you expect, it is seamless and flows so smoothly that I
was surprised that it ended so quickly. Although I am a little divided
about how I feel about it, I still have the sneaking suspicion that if it is
not overlooked it will certainly be regarded as a great film in future years.
go to top
Manji and the Berlin Affair - Manji is an old '50s
movie about a sexpot who seduces first a rich housewife, then her rich and
powerful husband. The retro chic of the film is still powerful to this
day, with Wakao Ayako quite stunning as the Nancy Sinatra-esque sex kitten,
although this won't stop the kitsch from cracking an unintentional smile or
two. Melodrama thick and thicker, and if you speak Japanese this would be a
good place to hear some heavy old Kansai dialect. Based on a tale by
Tanizaki Junichiro, one of the sleaziest and most complex of Japanese
novelists. "Manji" is the term that is used to describe the
Buddhist swastika "hooked cross", it is also a term used to describe
"two bodies intersecting" as if in a lovers embrace. Naturally,
when a Western (German-Italian) remake was made, it became a tale of a woman
and her Nazi bureaucrat husband in the thralls of a young Japanese art student,
and was called "the Berlin Affair." It is a bit colder than the
Japanese original, but still not without its B-movie kitsch merits. In
English, and stunningly over-acted. Directed by Liliana Cavani of Night
Porter fame. .
go to top
Samurai Fiction -
Samurai Fiction is a lite movie that is just what it says in the title - a
stylish samurai flick that attempts to be as good as Pulp Fiction , it
also attempts to be a comedy. Not that it isn't funny, it does find
itself somewhere between teen humor and adult humor, perhaps straddling
both. Good martial arts magic, fine sword fighting, and one of the
scariest bad guys since Darth Maul... except that's his real face.
go to top
Jingi Naki Tatakai -
Actually a TV series, this is an incomprehensible yet stylish yakuza
drama that balances the bad men who are bad because of greed versus those who
uphold a complicated sense of honor and dignity. If you can get your
hands on it, you should watch it. Tarantino's best scenes of crime noir
all found their source right here.
go to top
Deep River -
Deep River is the stunning tale of five individuals who join a tour to India: a
man who has just lost his wife, a woman who is unsatisfied with her
superficiality, a young ascetic philosopher, and others. They are all
tormented (by war, death, loneliness, the existential void) and end up looking
for different rewards on this trip - and sure enough each does find
something. India and the land that gave birth to the Buddha is the
dynamic backdrop for this tale, but it doesn't take away from the focus on the
strong characters yet serves to flesh them out. Based on the novel by
Christian writer Endo Shusaku, it also features one of the last film
appearances of Mifune Toshiro, as well as former teen idol Okita Hiroyuki who
took his own life in 1999. Both film and novel are highly recommended.
go to top
- There is a TV series as well as a film version of the classic story of the
blind swordsman of medieval Japan. Zatoichi is an inspired character, comparable
as such to the Mifune Toshiro ronin character of the Kurosawa samurai films, or
even to Clint Eastwood's "man with no name" in the Serge Leone
spaghetti westerns. I have only seen the film version, which came
later. In it you see Zatoichi humbled until he can take no more, and he
busts up corrupt samurai to vent his fury. He is also seduced by a
tattooed Yakuza dragon lady. The body count is high, making this a
prototype of bloodier (and stupider) films to come. Example: Zatoichi
knows that a group of samurai have been sent to kill him, so he walks into the
forest with a lantern in the dead of a moonless night - when the killers
approach, the blind Zatoichis douses the light and dispatches the would-be
killer in total darkness. Check out the famous moving ear stunt - legend
has it that the actor who plays Zatoichi learned that trick just for this film.
go to top
Parasite Eve -
this is a "horror" movie, Japanese style. Japanese horrors tend
not to be slasher types, more similar to Hitchcock or the X-Files than anything
else. This one imitates the supernatural mysteries of the far-superior Ring
movie, although at least it starts off well. Handsome young doctor loses
his beautiful young wife to a car crash, then reanimates her using data
gathered in his experiments on parasitic micro-organisms. It hams up the
special effects, emphasizing a disturbing feeling of "liquidity."
In this way it is kind of like a slurpy B-Barton Fink or
something. Maybe I am being to kind, I should probably say that this
movie sucked, or at the very least that it "fell apart near the
end." Main reason to rent this movie may be to experience the
inhuman beauty of the star Hazuki Ryona.
go to top
Film review (This review was printed in the February 2000 issue of the Kansai Time Out under the title "Chinese Characters"):
One of the great ironies of being a film buff
in Japan is the frustrating inability of many foreigners to find any of the
best Japanese films with subtitles, many of which are unavailable outside of
Japan. Unless you have a handy dandy translator for a friend who will
explain the intricacies of Ring, or settle for films like Hana-bi
and Tetsu-o or Godzilla movies that need no translation, you might want
to find Japanese movies that are filmed in a foreign language. There are,
in fact, several good films made in Japan with Japanese actors in foreign
languages, the most being that of Japan’s oldest cultural advisor - Chinese.
Imagine a major film in your native country that uses big name stars, but where half of the dialogue is in a foreign language (in this case Chinese and English). Such a movie is Swallowtail Butterfly by director Iwai Shunji, starring Chara and Watabe Atsuro (from the Stalker trendy drama) and Hiroshi Mikami . (Watch carefully and you’ll see the actor who plays Suzuki-san from the old Nova commercials playing a customs clerk) The movie is set in a Burroughs/Murakami Ryu Interzone/future Japan setting where a plunging yen has trapped foreigners in a cavernous Yentown where they kill time, get into trouble, or build great futures. There’s drugs, violence, romance, counterfeit money, and American boxing. This movie lacks nothing stylistically, and despite its daunting length of 145 minutes, it mixes it up as successfully as any movie around. The plot is unimportant – it wanders around borrowing from Naked Lunch , the Commitments , La Femme Nikita, etc. What is important is the quirky and strangely lovable characters that people its barren landscape. One of the most interesting is the American manager of the fictional Yentown Band (headed by Chara, who says many of her lines in Chinese) who was born and raised in Japan, but can only speak Japanese due to “the awful English-language education in Japanese schools.” He could have been Sick Boy from Trainspotting. The major characters of this film are still Chinese, however, and they are amazing. This is the Japan that some of us must have imagined we were coming to when we escaped out own countries, but are probably glad we didn’t find. But if you don’t have time to sit through the movie, please at least check out the soundtrack – it’s great!
After Swallowtail Butterfly, a great Japanese movie that has high Chinese content is About Love Tokyo . Directed by Mistuo Yanagimachi, starring Jun Togawa and Hiroshi Fujioka, it is filmed with a Japanese and Chinese cast in Japan and focuses on a group of exchange students from China and the pressures that they live with –primarily dealing with money, secondarily dealing with Japanese attitudes towards Chinese. The main character is a young man who lives in a student inn with his Chinese classmates, all of whom are going through some sort of life crisis. He is almost indifferent, a survivor, who starts the movie slaughtering cattle and ends it as a male host, in the interim going through a wave of pachinko scams that brings him together with a tough (but impotent) yakuza and the girl of his dreams – for the moment. She is a Japanese-born Chinese, and she is his literal opposite - namely an overseas Chinese who yearns to go back to China but can’t. Coincidentally, a parallel movie to this one exists - a Chinese film called "Those Left Behind", which describes the life (and intrigues) of spouses who remain in China while their partners are "studying" in Japan and the corrupting influences of such conditions.
Sleepless Town is a different creature from the above altogether. It was filmed in Tokyo and directed by a Hong Kong director Chi-Ngai Lee, starring Taiwanese-Okinawan Kaneshiro Takeshi and Mira Yamamoto , with small roles by Seijun Suzuki (a famous Japanese movie director) and Shihung Lung (the Taiwanese father from the " Wedding Banquet " and other films by Ang Lee). Working from the commanding source material of Japanese novelist Hase Seishu, it casts our young superstar as an Antonio Banderas in a role that would have better suited a Humphrey Bogart . In a film almost entirely populated with Chinese actors or Chinese characters, it would be easy to believe that this can be another John Woo drama where the hero’s aim never fails, where there is love and betrayal, and where the plot is anybody’s guess. Basically, the film moves through Kabuki-cho in Tokyo as if it were home sweet home, through a series of betrayals between the Taiwanese, Beijing, and Shanghai mafia, where the hero has to work through a maze not of his own creation to save his own life and however many of those close to him as he can. From the novel by Seishu Hase, an author so fascinated by Chinese culture that he took his pen name from a Hong Kong B-movie comedian.
Dog Race, by Korean-Japanese director Sai Yoichi. It is a film in the Abel Fererra mode where a Bad Lieutenant type cop lives a dangerous, dreary and druggy existence. His life is made miserable when his best Chinese girlfriend is killed by Korean gangsters, and his Korean-Japanese crony develops a mind of his own. Although it is filmed in a similar vein to “Swallowtail Butterfly ”, this film unfortunately takes people at face value and offers its take almost totally in Japanese. Kishiya Goro, a TV talent famous for being in Sai Yoicihi’s first movie “ tsuki wa dotchi ni dettaeru ” as well as the Hops commercials with SMAP’s Nakai-kun, plays the cop – sleazy yet somehow human and almost lovable, his blackly humorous macho-man acting manages to work quite well.
go to top
Film review (This review was printed in the December 2000 issue of the Kansai Time Out under the title "Breaking the Language Barrier"):
Video buffs have one reason to celebrate in Japan – they have
struck it rich by being on top of the best selection of Japanese videos in the
world. Unfortunately, since none of them have English-language subtitles,
anyone who has yet to master the language would be better off living near a
video superstore in a major city back home.
But take heart – there are plenty of great “wordless” Japanese films that you can follow while ignoring the dialogue completely! “Wordless” films generally come in two types: the ones with plots so familiar that the dialogue is merely dressing, and others that rely largely on images. Hanabi and Kids Return are of the latter type, and both are directed by cult director Kitano Takeshi - the omnipresent TV host often seen wearing bad make up in his alter ego “Beat” Takeshi. Hana-bi is a film about a Bad Lieutenant-style cop who is so burned out that he has practically nothing to say and the film shows him taking care of his crippled former superior, comforting his dying wife, and showering contempt on everyone else. The film is very visual and extremely dark. Kids Return is a movie about nasty high school kids and their roads to nowhere. One bad boy brings his friend into a boxing club, only to be upstaged by the friend’s natural talent. The bad boy leaves the club, and returns a tattooed mafiosa, the other boxes his way to…
Antarctica, or Nankyoko Monogatari in Japanese, is a film by veteran actor Takakura Ken (the Clint Eastwoood of Jollywood, also seen in Black Rain and Mr. Baseball) about a team of sled dogs unintentionally abandoned in Antarctica at the onset of cold weather. The cinematography is stunning, and the tale of how the dogs survive (or don’t survive) a winter in the alien landscape of the south pole is interesting to watch and touching. This is not a Disney movie.
Filmed almost entirely in English, Cold Fever is the tale of a young salaryman (Nagase Masatoshi, also featured in the Japanese-language segment of Jim Jarmush’s Mystery Train) who undertakes a pilgrimage to Iceland to burn incense and give offerings at the icy spot where his parents died while vacationing. Daily life in Iceland seems bizarre to our alienated hero, and perhaps to us too as we play tag in international expatriate culture – and maybe this is a point we can gain from this backwards/forwards film. A similar English-language film that looks and feels warmer is Kyoko , filmed in New York and Florida and directed by the visceral novelist Murakami Ryu. It follows the title character, a truck driving dancer, as she goes to America to track down the Hispanic former G.I. from whom she learned her first dance steps as a girl. She finds him, then takes part in the family drama that surrounds him as he lies in the death throes of AIDS, finally helping him fulfill his dying wish. Finally, don’t forget the inimitable Swallowtail Butterfly , reviewed above, which also has a high English quotient.
Memories is an omnibus anime feature produced by Akira director Otomo Katsuhiro, similar to Heavy Metal, that offers three intriguing short films from three different directors, each with minimal dialogue: a space fantasy, a hilarious story of the geek working at a military contractor who swallows the wrong pill, and a darkly beautiful vision of a totalitarian/Stalinist future that recalls the Eurocomic worlds of Mobius and Bilal, also directed by Otomo.
Totoro is a children’s fantasy that most adult movie fans may already be familiar with. It is fantastic, imagistic, and easy to understand (if you can suspend your disbelief). Among the features of Miyazaki Hayao it is surely the easiest to understand, although most of his movies will still be rewarding in one way or another – the recent Princess Mononoke may be a visual delight, but give up trying to understand what is really happening. The engaging Laputa may still be within reach of foreign audiences, since it somehow manages to combine Stand By Me with Bond movie action and Jonathan Swift’s Laputa chapter in “Gulliver’s Travels.”
One of the strangest Japanese movies ever filmed is the cult classic Tetsuo - the Iron Man. The first feature directed by Tsukamoto Shinya, it has almost no dialogue and is a splatterfest collage of surreal black and white film images edited together to tell the story of the young man who finds a metal spike lodged in his body - the metal spreads until he becomes a robot and has to face a deadly opponent from his guilty past.
The films of Akira Kurosawa also offer opportunity to the non-Japanese speaker. While they all tend to be dialogue-heavy, there is a window to them through well-known remakes of his films: anyone familiar with A Fistful of Dollars or Last Man Standing should be able to follow what is happening in the original Yojimbo (also glimpsed in a scene of the Bodyguard ), just as Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a prototype for the Magnificent Seven. On the other hand, the Hidden Fortress, which is said to be the inspiration of Star Wars, is not similar enough to be of any assistance in understanding the plot.
Besides the movies of his that were adapted, Kurosawa also has excellent adaptations of Shakespeare plays: Ran is a luscious retelling of the story of King Lear set in medieval Japan, while Throne of Blood (or Kumo no su jo in Japanese) does MacBeth. Watch them and match the characters. Throne of Blood is particularly surreal – the language doesn’t sound like Japanese, rather a language from outer space, and the visual style recalls the early days of cinema, not the 1950s when it was made.
The best has been saved for last: Same hada otoko to momijiri onna , a.k.a. Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl is a stylish glam crime flick, similar to a flashy Reservoir Dogs. The plot involves a bank robber who is trying to keep his loot away from his former pals, funny stylish outrageous comic book yakuza, who have tracked him down and are out to kill him. He picks up a confused bank teller on the way, and she joins him in an all-night showdown in the forest. The riotous action, locations, and visual style never leaves much doubt as to what is happening, making it a great video to play at parties with the sound off - as is Tetsuo or Memories… or even Totoro !!
Same Hada Otoko to Momojiri Onna, Tetsuo - the Iron Man, Memories, Totoro, Ran, Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, Hana-bi, Kids Return, Antarctica, Cold Fever, Kyoko, Laputa,
The important thing about watching videos in Japan is to be patient, and to remember that there are options for everyone. Some of the above mentioned videos are practically required viewing for anyone living in Japan, so make sure you don’t go home without viewing at least a few of them – you might never come across them again.
go to top
the Hidden - A hilarious, rollicking film about a killer and the cops chasing him down. Full of some cool surprised and wild humor, as well as fast cars, explosions, gun fights, alien transformations, and some well-placed heavy metal music. Not discussing the plot is best, since it is best to know almost nothing about the film except what already mentioned. Nice deadpan acting by Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI agent in his third film, made just after Blue Velvet and just before Twin Peaks, looking mighty young, skinny, and boyish. The plot is nearly seamless and quite impressive. Amazing that this director, also responsible for Nightmare on Elm Street 2, never went on to make anything notable. Also MacLachlan's best film outside of projects directed by David Lynch (and probably better than Dune). Before a friend recommended this to me I had no intentions of watching this film, probably likewise for most people out there.
Apartment Zero - I am still looking for another person who has seen this movie, although my friend Rich assures me that "everyone in his film class has seen it." This is the scariest psychological horror film I have ever seen. It has everything - an Argentinean setting, a mysterious room-mate, a psychologically unstable wimp, a cool and self-assured secret agent whose cool is slowly disintegrating, mystery and horror, and the inevitable terror of the mise en abyme. Should I call it a "subtle Silence of the Lambs "? Directed by a certain "Martin Donovan", a.k.a. Carlos Enrique Varela Y Peralta-Ramos (and therefore he is not the Martin Donovan known and loved by fans of Hal Hartley films). His only other real film credit: screen writer for Death Becomes Her . If you have seen these movies, please email Peter Höflich with your comments.
When I was living in Taiwan in the early ‘90s, one of the things people liked to do was go to places called “MTV”, as in movie television. There you could take a group of friends, select a video disc, order a drink, and watch a flick on a large screen TV in a private room, throw cushions everywhere. My friend Vince and I had a hard time deciding on a movie, finally Vince suggested "Apartment Zero", a film neither of us had seen or knew anything about although it looked interesting enough. We put it on and were completely blown away. For many years after that, Vince was the only other person I knew of who had seen the film.
"Apartment Zero" is the best film that nobody has ever seen. It has always been an enigma to me why even film buffs have never heard of this movie, much less seen it. It is neither underground cinema nor an art flick. It was set in Buenos Aires, but the dialogue is almost all in English. Of the actors, at least one (Colin Firth) has made some sort of a name for himself. The director, Martin Donovan (a.k.a. Carlos Enrique Valera Y Peralta-Ramos and not the same Martin Donovan of Hal Harley film fame) has gone on to screenwrite for the big boys in Death Becomes Her, before disappearing off of the face of the earth. "Apartment Zero" should probably be considered a total failure. Anybody who has actually seen this film, though, will probably know just what a remarkable film it is. Compelling and endlessly fascinating with great character study, yet also gloomy, depressing, (and ultimately also thoroughly grisly and distressing), it is not a film you will soon forget... making its total anonymity even more a mystery. The only movie I dare compare it to would be Henry - Portrait Of A Serial Killer, except that it has more charm, humor, and subtlety, not to mention better acting.
"Apartment Zero" tells the story of Adrian LeDuc, a lonely, uptight theater manager whose fastidiousness and priggish ideosyncracies cause us to smirk - until a trip to the insane asylum when we meet his mother, whose mental health is in a state of advanced deterioration. Adrian puts an ad in the newspaper to find a roommate, and what he gets is Jack, a James Dean-esque American, instantly likeable, who turns Adrian's life around. The rest of the movie is spent watching their strange friendship develop, as it is revealed that Jack has a few secrets of his own. And that is all I should say about the plot – the less you know the better. You'll just have to watch it.
The cast of characters is rounded out by the other tenants of the
apartment building, with whom Adrian has a very prickly relationship.
They provide some comic relief, as well as local color, and just the right
touch of drama, to keep the film from becoming claustrophobic. They also
give the film a European air ("Apartment Zero" feels like a French
film at times). The strength of a film like this is seeing how things
unfold, without haste, and with a certain kind of precision. We have time
to make guesses, and we watch the characters of Jack and Adrian become more and
more complex. Each is the epitome of his type, and their friendship both
unbelievable and symbolically appropriate. The ending is also a perfect
and inevitable one - it is also one that is open to multiple
interpretations. The final three scenes each show an ending of their own,
almost as if the director couldn’t decide which one to use (any of them would
have been fine), but it is the last one that is spookiest and will haunt me for
a long time to come. Sweet and slimy, the perfect after-film feeling, and
this film bathes in it.
go to top
Betty Blue -
My vote for a desert island flick if I could only take one film.
Probably my favorite film out of the hundred thousand films I have seen.
When I found out that it was my girlfriend's favorite film as well, I decided
then and there to marry her... and we lived happily ever after. We even
named our cats Betty and Zorg, after the heroes of this film: these characters
are engaging and fascinating, funny, insane, sad, and have lived lives beyond
any of our years. The situations that they enter are entertaining and
beautiful, but in the end it is Betty and Zorg themselves that keeps the
viewers fascinated. The soundtrack is also phenomenal - moody, energetic,
subtle, powerful. I love everything about this movie from the perfect
sunset of the movie poster to the talking cat at the end. Maybe you will
too. People who say that "French films just don't make any sense"
should take another look (just never mind the cat). If you have seen
these movies, please email Peter Höflich with your comments.
go to top
"A rock 'n' roll movie about a girl who learns how to drive."
My vote for the greatest Canadian movie ever, I doubt if this film has been
seen much outside of southern Ontario. Essentially a black and white rock
'n' roll movie about a girl who learns how to drive, it follows the adventures
of Ramona as she takes a taxi through northern Ontario on a quest for an errant
touring band, meets odd people, a quixotic serial killer, a quixotic director
(played by the true director) making a film within the film, and discovers her
independence. Featuring cameos by Nash the Slash and Joey Ramone, among
others, it was made on a shoestring budget by the great Bruce MacDonald, who we
all hope will be able to fulfill his promise and go on to bigger and better
go to top
Top Secret! - I consider this film
my favorite comedy, God knows why since nobody else does (although Roger
Ebert's review does back me up). It is done by the folks who gave us the
"Naked Gun" series and other comedy ripoffs full of sight gags, but
this one features a young Val Kilmer, as well as a rare appearance by Omar
Shariff. The pretext itself should be enough to make anybody want to see
the film: the Elvis-ish Nick Rivers goes on tour in Nazi East Germany in the
Fifties/Sixties, but unwittingly gets involved in the French Resistance (?!?)
because of a girl. Best line: two teenage German girls go up to Nick
Rivers, on the run from the police, and ask him "Excuse mee, are yoo zee
famous Neek Reevers?" He evades them by replying "No, you must
be mistaken. I'm... I'm Mel Torme." (Two other Mel Torme jokes
follow in quick succession). Stupid comedy that is really brainy.
See also the Airplane and Naked Gun series, some of which are
just as funny but not as clever.
go to top
the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Why isn't Serge Leone
everybody's film hero? In this epic movie every type of disaster you
could ever think of occurs, the three leads are an inspiration, and who can
beat that ending? Clint Eastwood has made many fine films since that one,
but he has never topped it. The scene that gets me is the one when these
three hardened killers (who have agreed to an uneasy truce) are walking through
the U.S. Civil War battlefields... and even they are appalled by the senseless
go to top
The Third Man - This probably
shouldn't be on any list of underrated films since it is recognized as a film
masterpiece... except for the sneaky feeling I have that nobody realizes that
this is one of the best movies of all time. It is hardly on anyone's lips
when they talk about tight plots, great characterization, creepy shifty-eye
types, mystery and noir , and climactic sewer chases in post-war
Vienna. Next time you hear someone talking about some movie that kept
them on the edge of the seat, ask them if they have seen The Third Man, a.k.a. the
king of the movies that can keep you on the edge of your seat. I must
admit that when I was in Vienna a few years ago and heard about "the Third
Man" tours, I didn't really have any idea what they were about, making it
quite obvious to me now that the film is probably a cherished gem from someone
else's generation. This film and the Manchurian Candidate changed
my life, and this one did it with Joseph Cotton, not Sinatra.
go to top
Cube - Yet another great Canadian film
that came out of the blue and went nowhere. It is a scary near-future
fable/moral tale/fantasy about a doomed group of civilians trapped in a
Hitchcock situation once they find them selves together in a maze.
Thankfully, no explanation as to why they are there is offered, with the film
focusing on their attempts to escape. Some people found their hostility
towards each other a bit difficult to swallow, but it is just not that type of
movie (i.e. Labyrinth, Mortal Combat, etc.). Be prepared
for a claustrophobic set, surprises, and delicious irony. The best part
of seeing this film on video is the chance to see an earlier short film by the
same directors called Elevated following the main film. At a mere
11 minutes, its concision makes it even a bit more enjoyable than Cube,
although its Saki-esque or Roal Dahl-like evil humor may be a bit unsettling in
go to top
the Phantom of Liberty
people think about Luis Bunuel, they probably think about the Discreet Charm
of the Bourgoisie, but I think that few know about this movie. Based
on sight gags in the way that the latter is, it is still funnier in its
unrelentless pursuit of the mysteries of existence, taking great delight in the
inversion of the inappropriate and the appropriate - monks in a drunken
gambling orgy, people who sit around the table to defecate together and then
slip off to the toilet for a little bite to eat, and a girl who is reported
missing when she can't be seen by anyone despite the fact that she is just in
the room. Call it theatre d'absurde or insist (like Wittgenstein)
that there is a rhinoceros in the room, but do yourself a favor and
check it out.
go to top
Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia
Likewise with Sam Peckinpah, the master of the blood-splattered orgy of
bullets, this little film doesn't always make the list with the Wild Bunch
and Straw Dogs . It's all
about sleazy people, hitmen, double and triple-crosses, guys clawing out of the
sand after they have been buried alive, and the smelly fly-infested head of
Alfredo Garcia decomposing on the front seat of a car driving across
Mexico. It doesn't get much rawer than this, but if truth is stranger
than fiction it stands to say that more than one life has gone down this same
go to top
the Hunger - I saw this movie once
years ago, my impression of it was "huh?" I watched it again
recently and was very impressed. Catherine Deneuve is still stunning,
Sigourney Weaver is young and sassy, David Bowie is handsome and cool and
elegant, and the three have great sexy on-screen chemistry. A lot of
critics hated it, though, I wonder if they found it pretentious. Well,
yes, it was pretentious... it's no fun criticizing something for its obvious
faults. I can't believe that this is the first movie by Tony "Top
go to top
Midnight Express - Fear fraught, yet
luscious, it tells the harrowing story of a foolish tourist who rots in a
Turkish prison for drug smuggling. Nearly the whole film is a depiction
of hell, with so little relief that the main character is visibly surprised
when things change at the end of the film. One of the surprise
performances of the film is by Randy Quaid - anyone who has written him off for
his wimpy roles ( Quick Change , etc.) will be surprised with his
ferocious slugging character who is an unrelentless prison-breaking failure.
go to top
THX-1138 - This is such a strange
little movie, that it is surprising somehow that it was directed by a pre-Star
Wars George Lucas and starred Robert Duvall. In an ultra-capitalist
utopian society where workers are kept drugged and loveless to increase
efficiency, the film is all about perception as the stars go off their drugs in
order to overcome their numbness and actually feel a bit of love.
"You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the
masses. Thou art an object of the divine, created in the image of man, by
the masses for the masses. Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy
more, buy more now. Buy and be happy." Several of the scenes
are very surreal including the one in the prison that has no walls, just an
endless foggy whiteness. Watch this one and try to find stylistic
glimpses of the Star Wars universe, then just a glimmer in Lucas' eye...
go to top
Another tense political thriller, the title of which has entered the cultural lingo,
even for younger audiences who have never seen it or even know what it is
about. A captain (Laurence Harvey) comes back from the Korean war and is
awarded for his bravery in saving the lives of all of the members of his
squad... or so everyone has been told. The truth is that he and his men
were captured by the North Koreans and everyone brainwashed. Frank
Sinatra plays a member of his squad who unravels the conspiracy and finds
tentacles that touch North Korea, the Kremlin, and... Washington. What
sounds like a corny Cold War story (the stereotypes, which might have been
serious business in 1962, don't quite seem real anymore) comes alive at the
touch of director John Frankenheimer. I can't remember what life was like
before I had seen this film.
go to top
Once Upon A Time In
Sergio Leone's last film is an epic tale that is thoroughly engaging and
seamless. It tells the tales of Jewish mobsters, from childhood to
adulthood, offering so many of the elements of comedy, suspense, drama, fear,
love, betrayal, and maturity that a film can offer that the four hour
running time doesn't seem long at all (beware shorter versions, they apparently
destroy the continuity and are definitely not worth the time). Set mostly
in a luscious Prohibition era setting, it stars Robert DeNiro as a tormented
and loyal (but love-bitten) strongman with James Woods (at his career best) as
the shady bootlegging boss. After having seen this movie, however, I have
to ask myself the questions: which famous politician does he most resemble just
before he dies? Tenuous comparisons can be made to Miller's Crossing,
although this is a much more ambitious and engaging film and belongs in the Lawrence
of Arabia realm. If you're planning on just going to sleep for
four hours one evening, please do yourself a favor and give some time to this
incredible piece of film history instead.
go to top
Bitter Moon - On a cruise ship, a
wheelchair-bound (and very sleazy) American tells the story of his many loves
to an idealistic British newlywed, emphasizing in particular the stormy
relationship he had with his wife, the virgin flower whom he molded into the
embodiment of feminine carnality (and his own personal Frankenstein
monster). This film may seem tres corny to many viewers, but I was
fascinated with this "hell hath no fury" tale of the heights of
passion and the depths of despair, particularly when I stopped and thought
about how easily this story could have become mine - it is a matter of meeting
the wrong person at the right time. Directed by Roman Polanski, this film
is twenty or thirty times better than his wretched Frantic. Both
films star the luscious Emanuelle Seigner.
go to top
Carlito's Way - Carlito, played by Al
Pacino, gets out of jail and tries to go straight. This is a film showing
why he just can't seem to do that. It has all sorts of drama, betrayal,
action, comedy, and great characters - kind of a small scale Once
Upon a Time In America . Great performances by everyone mentioned -
Al Pacino, a barely recognizable Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman
and John Leguizamo as "Benny Blanco from the Bronx," the film's Bobby
Peru. None of the critics liked this film, but I couldn't understand
their reasoning when I read their reviews (saying, for example, that Pacino is miscast!?).
I believe not too many people saw it but I think it stands the test of
time. For a while I was hesitant to watch it because I thought it looked
like a downer, but when I finally rented it I was glad I did. I am not a
big fan of Brian De Palma (see below), whom I consider very overrated, but this
one can be compared favorably with his other great film the Untouchables (I
don't even want to talk about Scarface).
go to top
Anything by Brian De Palma or John Boorman or Joel Shumacher . Who are these guys? Who said that they could make important films? (important exception: De Palma's Carlito's Way and the Untouchables). I want to put Tim Burton on this list after seeing Sleepy Hollow , but Mars Attacks won't let me.
Armageddon - I still can't understand why anybody would want to see this movie. It is quite clearly a B-movie with an "A"-cast. Kind of like Sleepy Hollow , come to think of it. Even the great Steve Buscemi was awful, not to mention Billy Bob Thornton who has obviously done much better work. I knew this one would be awful before it was even released when I checked out the soundtrack and saw Aerosmith and Journey songs on it, and sure enough the end result was true to over-blown form. I saw this movie in less-than ideal conditions - on an airplane as far away from the screen as possible. The headset audio was fine, the video wasn't. Redeeming feature - the caricature of the broken-down space station was good for a laugh or two. Watch Con Air instead.
Jackie Brown. Somehow this film was both overrated ("Man, what a great flick") and underrated ("how could the director of Pulp Fiction have come up with this crap?"). It was enjoyable as spunky, sleepy, somber, over-long high quality story-telling, but I can't find any reason to get excited about it other than that. All of the performers have been better in most of their films, especially the ever-engaging Samuel Jackson who is generally just tiresome. Exception to that statement is Pam Grier, who was quite fine.
The Truman Show - I guess Truman was a poor tortured soul. I probably wouldn't have minded watching a sick movie about mental torture if it had been more interesting, but this should have been a sinister black comedy and not a drama/coming-of-age feelgood movie. Jim Carrey haters naturally despise that Hollywood is taking him seriously, but I am not one of them - his fine acting still didn't register much of a blip. Am I a grinch for hating this one? It might have made a good short story or novella.
Fletch. A painfully unfunny film. Why is it so high in people's esteem? Right down to the Herbert Faltemeyer soundtrack it is essentially an unviolent, unfunny remake of Beverley Hills Cop , which was no great movie either, although it did have execution. And Serge.
series of films. Maybe enough time has gone by that we can finally begin
to admit that none of them were any good anyway. The four films edited
together may have enough redeeming features (set design, the Prince song,
Pee-Wee Herman cameo, Jim Carrey's inspired manic Riddler) to have made one
GREAT movie, but by the third movie Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher and that
Chris O' Donnell guy really flogged that dead horse even deader and deadder,
leaving George Clooney out in the cold with a dreadful Arnold and Uma in the
evil villain roles. How likely is it that we will see a fifth Batman film
with a fourth actor filling the suit? Watch the animated series instead.
go to top
I have been neutral about quite a few films
that other people have hated. I really have at least a few good things to
say about arguable bad films (or just "bad" films) that my
peers despised like Titanic , the Mummy, Dances With Wolves,
Moon , Canadian
Bacon , the
Devil's Advocate (or any other Keanu Reeves films), the
Hunger , Lulu
on the Bridge , Romy
and Michelle's High School Reunion , the Mask of Zorro, etc.
Some of my favorite movies are badfilms like Top Secret
Blue (what Roger Ebert called "a film about breasts"), and
others. Maybe it is my mild disposition... but! There are a few films that have been created, perhaps with
good intentions, that I ultimately cannot forgive. In order to save you
time and money, I am making a list of movies that I wish I had never seen...
Gojoe Reisanki: Bloody beyond any previously viewed excess, and with no discernable story or plot.
The Hot Spot, Tightrope, Chicken Run, Great Expectations , Bringing In The Dead, the Legend of 1900, Agnes of God , Romeo Must Die - Not bad per se, these films were simply pretty boring and not worth their time, despite the talented stars and directors involved.
Dogma - I wanted to like this Kevin Smith film, but in the end had to admit that it was pretty awful.
Something Weird - Low budget sixties horror film that is pretty laughable. Gangster type gets involved with a pretty woman who forces him to murder. Turns out she's a witch!!!
Soleil Rouge - Charles Bronson and Mifune Toshiro speaking French in the wild west! This awful film was probably the first ramen western.
Charisma - Awful Japanese horror that was completely imcomprehensible.
Playing God - David Dukovny film. Interesting set up of a drugged up surgeon slumming with gangsters, but quickly becomes awflu.
Fletch - Can't understand why this is considered by some a comedy classic. Unfunny rip-off of Beverley Hills Cop an embarassment for Chase, who was once actually a comedian.
the Son of the Pink Panther - Despite the presence of Roberto Benini as a perfectly-cast son of Clouseau, this film has nothing to offer either fan and non-fan.
Vampire In Brooklyn - Eddie Murphy intolerable as a vampire who is in love with himself. Only one or two funny scenes. Angela Bassett is good (as always).
Manhunter - Some people like this early Hannical Lector film, but I thought Michael Mann didn't do a very good job. Still, nice to see Dennis Farina again.
Secret Society - Intolerable British comedy drama about fat women doing sumo. "The ways of the orient are so mysterious" patronizing crap.
Battlefield Earth - I heard that this film was bad, but I wanted to at least watch it
for a few laughs. It was so bad that there really was nothing to laugh
Dragon Fight - With Battlefield Earth one of the worst movies ever made. Gladiator movie that makes absolutely no sense at all. Painful to watch.
Gorgeous - Painfully bad Jackie Chan movie. Nothing could have prepared me for how awful this film was. Poor Jackie.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Some people loved this pointless and murky film (read the viewer comments on the Internet Movie Database to see what I mean), but I think the appeal to this film lies in a long history of heavy drug use. It was unwatchable, and possibly even worse than Toys!
Toys - This probably gets my vote as the most unnecessary movie ever. The director was clearly trying to do something different with this film, like re-create some kind of magical child's world we could all wish to escape to, but nothing about this movie worked. Most unnecessary was this film's plot (some people don't believe that there was one). Maybe it should have been a documentary or a "mockumentary." I actually shut this one off near the end when I watched it on video, something I almost never do (although I did it for Consenting Adults , see below). If I had taken a date to see it in the theaters at the time, I might have ended up slitting my wrists. Robin Williams has rarely been this awful, and his list of awful performances is actually pretty long! Check out Good Will Hunting to see what he can do if he sets his mind to it. I laughed when I re-read the Roger Ebert review of this disaster - he struggles to find nice things to say about it. Sorry Roger, you're a fraud if you liked this terrible flick.
Consenting Adults - You'd think that Kevin Kline and Kevin Spacey would be good together, especially under the direction of Alan Pacula ( Sophie's Choice, All the President's Men, the Parallax View and Klute, among others). I found this film about an average joe (Kline) who makes the dodgy choice of wife-swapping (gross!) with a murderer (Spacey) unwatchable and generally worthless, making it yet another movie about simple people leading happy lives who can't resist the temptation of making their lives miserable. I couldn't stand the pain after an hour, so I actually turned it off - something I rarely ever do with even the most awful ripoffs (although I did it for Toys, see above). I did watch Pacula's bland the Pelican Brief from start to finish, though, so maybe I can see another case of the great director going wrong. Kevin Spacey is still a skilled actor and he really gave me the creeps in this movie. I shouldn't diss a good actor plying his trade, but maybe if his character hadn't been quite so thoroughly revolting...
Killer Condom or Kondom des Grauens. What a disappointment after a promising first half, which portrays the comic rather faithfully but then branches out into an even broader plot about homophobia at large. Sexual liberation good, homophobia bad! Maybe the film version was the original "Killer Condom" plus a new story "Clones of the Killer Condom" all rolled into one. Read the much superior comic instead (even if you don't understand German) or switch off after the first killer condom is disposed of about an hour into the flick.
The Avengers. Nothing could have prepared me for how bad this movie was, since I must admit that I was intrigued at the prospect of seeing Sean Connery as a "bad guy." He was OK, so was Uma Thurman's body suit, but there was nothing else that worked in this movie, especially not Ralph Feinnes. It was almost as bad as Mission Impossible , which at least had nice cameos by Jean Reno and Ving Rhames , two guys who can improve almost any movie.
The Hollywood Godzilla. Maybe I have a soft spot for the big guy, but making him an evil Jurassic Park escapee, then blaming his creation on the French, was just too much for me to take sitting down.
Total Eclipse - Rimbaud and Verlaine shagging in England, Belgium, and France. This should have been a more interesting, given the source material and the presence of David Thelwis and Leonardo DiCaprio, but somehow it wasn't. Maybe Thelwis would have done better playing both roles.
Postman - just writing this is as good as admitting that I watched this film voluntarily, despite smelling the stink from miles away. I still find it hard to believe that this is the same guy who directed Dances With Wolves, which I don't mind admitting I enjoyed... although it is easy to believe that it was made by the same guy who "starred" in Waterworld. Please never confuse this waste of film with Il Postino, which was a wonderful film that really everybody should see.
Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games - When I think that people take movies that star Harrison Ford like this one seriously, I just feel empty inside. And I want to cry again.
The Saint - Yuck. Val Kilmer as the master of all disguises, trying to make money as an international man of mystery, seducing large-breasted rocket scientists, etc. Some people told me that this was their favorite movie of the year, but how can I take them seriously now that I have seen how bad it is? The Russian bad guys has more character than anyone else in this dumb flick. Watch Kilmer in Top Secret instead, please.
Ghost in the Shell - This is rumored to be a great anime classic, along the lines of Akira, but I did not find this to be true at all. I found it boring and pointless. Akira actually was a good movie.
Space comedies like Spaceman or Rocket Man. These went straight to video for good reason: it is because they are very painful to watch.
should never have seen the light of day - the Exorcist 2: the Heretic,
Darkman 2, Mortal Combat 2, the Crow 2, Highlander 2, Escape
From L.A., Addams Family Reunion , Star Trek 3, Farway So
Close, Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me, etc.
go to top
Coming after movies to avoid at all costs, some of which received semi-favorable reviews by apologist critics (" Toys " and "Last Action Hero " come to mind as examples), comes a short list of films that were drubbed despite the fact that they are actually pretty good films. I am not trying to say that these were good films, but I do believe that these movies are at least as decent as the average "decent film," maybe even a little bit better.
What Dreams May
Come - people hated this movie, I thought it was stylish and trippy, good stuff
from Vincent Ward, Kiwi director of "Map of the Human Heart."
the Beach - Leonardo Dicaprio movie set in Thailand, wildly unpopular and part of a clear decline in the films of its director, actually wasn't all that bad.
Big Trouble in Little China - John Carpenter's loving homage to kung fu action sterteotypes, this film should have been bigger than that dumb Die Hard flick.
Johnny Mnemonic - A William Gibson story, a Matrix prototype, Beat Takeshi and Henry Rollins. Despite Keanu Reeves' lead, this film wasn't awful at all.
8mm - The fabulous Nicolas Cage, on the hunt for a snuff film ring. Even though it was a Joel Schumacher project, this film wasn't awful at all.
Bitter Moon - Sick sexual politics, courtesy of Roman Polanski. Wasn't awful at all.
Carlito's Way - Al Pacino is one of his most sympathetic roles since Dog Day Afternoon. Wasn't awful at all.
Purple Rain - Sure Prince is gross, but try to hold the tears back at the end. Wasn't awful at all.
Canadian Bacon - A funny spoof of the Can-Am rift, something I have been living for years now. Wasn't awful at all.
The Astronaut's Wife - Creepy, cool, spooky. Could have been a Twilight Zone episode. Wasn't really that awful at all - what were you expecting from this type of film anyway?
the Devil's Advocate - Creepy, cool, spooky. Could have been a Twilight Zone episode. Wasn't awful at all.
the Hunger - Sexy, stylish, and it even has a plot. Wasn't awful at all.
Ace Ventura - I know several people who back me up with this one. Jim Carrey's William Shatner impression in this film must be what made him famous.
Judge Dredd - Sly Stallone was made for this role. What did you expect of a comic book adaptation? Wasn't awful at all.
email: Peter Höflich
All original writings copyright Peter Hoflich, 2000
shhhh... nobody down here but us counters