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I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) (****, crime, docudrama, classic) (1-11-99)

I Am Legend (2007) (***, horror, sci fi) (6-10-08)

I Bury the Living (1958) (***, horror, suspense)

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) (***1/2, animation, comedy) 3D version. (7-23-09)

Ice Harvest (2005) (12-2-09) (***1/2, film noir, crime, black humor)

Icicle Thief, The (1989) (**1/2, comedy)

If... (1968) (***, drama, fantasy?)

I Know Where I'm Going (1945) (**-comedy/romance)

I Married a Witch (1942) (***1/2, comedy, fantasy) (02-06-04)

Impostor (2002) (***1/2, sci fi, thriller) (5-4-04)

Impostors, The (1999) (**, comedy) (3-27-00)

In a Lonely Place (1950) (***, drama, crime)

Incident, The (1967) (***, crime, drama)

Incredibles, The (2004) (***1/2, humor, animation, action) (12-31-04) )

Independence Day (1996) (***, sci fi, action)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) (***, action) (7-25-08)

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) (***1/2, adventure)

In Enemy Hands (2004) (***, action, war) (3-28-05)

Infernal Affairs aka Wu jian dao (2002) (****, crime, suspense) (2-7-05)

 In-Laws, The (1979) (***1/2, comedy)

The In-Laws (2003) (**, comedy) (5-31-05)

Innerspace (1987) (***, humor, drama)

Innocent Blood (1992) (***, horror, humor)

In Search of History: The Real Dracula (2000) (12-29-09) (***, documentary, horror, vampire)

Insider, The (1999) (****, Docudrama) (3-21-00)

Insomnia (6-3-02)

Insomnia (1997) (***1/2, thriller, film noir) (6-3-02)

Insomnia (2002) (***1/2 or ****, thriller, crime) (6-3-02)

The Interpreter (2005) (***1/2, suspense) (5-31-05)

Interview, The (1998) (****,  suspense) (5-27-02)

Interview With The Vampire (1994) (***, horror, drama)

In The Bedroom (2001) (***, drama) (3-4-02)

In the Line of Fire (1993) (***1/2, suspense)

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) (**1/2, horror)

Into the Badlands (1992) (***, western, horror)

Into the Fire (1987) (**1/2, suspense)

Into Thin Air (1997)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (***1/2, 50s sci fi, horror)

Invisible Man, The (1933) (***1/2, sci fi)

Iron Man (2008) (***1/2, comic book hero, action) (6-4-08)

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) (**, horror, sci fi) (4-17-00)

Italian Job, The   (2003) (***, crime, action) (6-9-03)

It Happened One Night (1934) (****, romance, comedy, classic)

It Happened One Night: Interesting Fact

It’s What You Didn’t See aka Ojos que no Ven (***, suspense) (12-2-02)

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) (***, crime, drama, noir)

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (**1/2, horror)


I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) (****, crime, docudrama, classic) (1-11-99) (D.-Mervyn LeRoy; Paul Muni, Glenda Farrell, Helen Vinson, Preston Foster, Edward Ellis, Allen Jenkins) A scathing social commentary on the inhumane chain gang system of Georgia in the 20s and 30. The Vietnam War was not the only war with displaced returning vets. Muni, a decorated war hero, finds that he wants more than the job as a factory clerk that he had left. With his new engineering training he wants to create things, but times are hard and lots of vets are out of work. He ends up little more than a starving bum. Being a peripheral in a robbery nets a long sentence at hard labor. An escape. A false identity. A successful reintegration into society. A disaster, and finally, an end that is as bleak as the blackest film noir.

The film was a first for many of the prison and escape scenes that have become cinematic film icons. The story is terse, brutal. No subtlety. But then the chain gangs weren't subtle. Muni is excellent. An Everyman. Although not especially easy to warm up to, he was nevertheless someone we can empathize with and fully understand all of his decisions and actions. Even today, I would not consider this film for the squeamish.

The film was based on Robert E. Burns' autobiographical story. Basically the story was true except for two important particulars. He actually did steal the $5.29 in order to eat, and he finally succeeded in evading the Georgia legal system with the help of three New Jersey governors. Burns actually slipped into Hollywood and worked for a few weeks on the film, but ultimately the stress and risk were too much, and he fled back to the safety of New Jersey. The book and film helped bring about the collapse of the brutal Georgia chain gang system. Warner took a big a chance on the film as social commentary was not done in films. However, Chain Gang was a success and helped establish Warner as the studio with a social conscience--it also helped save the ailing studio. Even though Georgia was never named in the film, it led to numerous law suits against the studio, the banning of the film in Georgia, and threats to the studio head and director that should they ever cross the border into Georgia they would be treated to a dose of the social evil that they so roundly denounced. [Details from the Cinebook review in Microsoft's Cinemania '95]. Beginning

I Am Legend (2007) (***, horror, sci fi) (6-10-08) (D.-Francis Lawrence; W.-Mark Protosevich, Akiva Goldsman; (Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith, Darrell Foster, Dash Mihok, Joanna Numata) Yet the third try at making the classic book by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) into a film. There was The Omega Man, the Italian zero-budget The Last Man in the World starring Vincent Price, and now a modern remake. In terms of capturing the raw elemental power of the story and the message of the story, only the Italian film comes close, and it too is marred by the ending and the low budget. That being said, this is an adequate popcorn movie. A plague sweeps the earth. Those it doesn't kill, it turns into light fearing zombies (think vampires in their reaction to light) that kill and eat the remaining survivors. In the current version, the zombies are not shambling brain dead, but energized with the strength, speed, and ferocity of the Rage Virus victims of the 28 Days and Weeks. We get the story in flashbacks as the movie progresses.

It all started out well enough with a cure for cancer. It cured cancer, but it mutated to something far more lethal. Attempts at containment are futile, and the military evacuation of Manhattan is depressingly believable. Years later, military doctor Robert Neville (Smith) is the sole survivor in Manhattan, perhaps in the world. He is immune to the disease in both the airborne and bodily fluids form, while his dog Sam is only immune to the airborne form. By day he hunts and tries to capture the zombies and figure out how the disease works and how to cure it. By night he hides as the zombies rule the street. Years have gone by, and he is nowhere near a cure. As you might expect for a social animal devoid of any human contact, he is no longer playing with a full deck in terms of his behavior as we see in his regular visits to the video store and interactions with the mannequins. These scenes are played with touching humanity. He eats canned food and unsuccessfully tries to bring down one of the many deer that have overrun the overgrown and decaying city - the effects here are outstanding, and the city should be billed as one of the actors. However, one would have hoped that with years of military training, his hunting skills would be a bit more refined. However, I guess he is a doctor first and a soldier second. He has set up and, in spite of years of silence, carefully tends a radio beacon that gives instructions on how to meet him if there is anyone listening.

Neville precipitates a crisis when he captures a zombie woman from one of the hives. I think this is where the movie falls down and where had it followed through with what the writer clearly had in mind could have raised the movie to a much higher level. Reading between the lines, the zombies are not totally mindless and lacking in the last traces of humanity as claimed by Neville. Had the movie built on the personal antagonism in a clearer fashion, it would have been much richer. As it was the end is more like just your standard horror slasher bloodbath.

Smith does an excellent job with the part. Half rational, half crazed, and genuinely touching in some of his scenes such as the ones with his sole companion Sam and the mannequins.

The writers do manage to build a script in which the title makes sense; even if it isn't Matheson's. Recommendation: If you want a passable "germ takes over the world" film, give it a try. If you want the real thing, go back and read Matheson's stellar I Am Legend, a gem still waiting for the proper screen treatment.

As an aside, my wife and I wonder how long they debated before they arrived at the inventor of the cancer cure. Beginning

I Bury the Living (1958) (***, horror, suspense) (D.-Albert Band; Richard Boone, Theodore Bikel, Peggy Maurer, Herbert Anderson) Don't let the tacky name turn you away. This creepy, disturbing little horror thriller only slightly shows it age. Boone is a businessman who gets his turn at being the chairman of the town's cemetery committee. Only he begins to fear that he may be able to kill by inserting pins into plot positions on the cemetery map. Taut editing, surrealistic atmosphere, good acting, and an unbalancing plot hold you on edge until the end. The scene where Boone and his uncle confront each other is a particular stand out. Also, the pivotal map should be credited as one of the actors. (11-3-97) Beginning

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) (***1/2, animation, comedy) 3D version. (7-23-09)(D.-Carlos Saldanha, Mike Thurmeier; W.-Yoni Brenner; Karen Disher, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Simon Pegg, Ray Romano, Chris Wedge) Great family entertainment. Our 6, 8 and 12 year old grandchildren loved it. The adults didn't suffer too much either unless it was from pains in their sides from laughing. We follow the further adventures of that motley crew from the earlier Ice Age films. These include the sloth Sid (Leguizamo), the mammoth Manny (Romano), his mate Ellie (Latifah ) (now expecting), and the saber toothed cat Diego (Leary). The pending arrival of the new addition stresses the interrelationships, and Sid in his typical hair brained fashion finds and adopts three eggs about twice his size. It turns out they hatch into playful tyrannosaurus who immediately seize on Sid as their mother. This probably wouldn't have worked out anyway given the different dietary requirements of the principals, but the arrival of Mom, who gives Manny a size inferiority complex, solves part of that problem. Without going into details we find the crew trying to rescue Sid in a lost world beneath the ice complete with a wily one eyed weasel, Buck (Pegg), who loves living on the edge, and this world is a good place given that Mom is not the meanest thing around.

The humor ranges from slapstick to topical to sophisticated to a bit (but not too much) tasteless. And if one joke doesn't work, you don't have time to brood over it before the next one bowls you over. This is one that I won't mind having on DVD.

Of course, no Ice Age would be complete without Scrat (Wedge), the hyperkinetic saber tooth squirrel (I love that concept) in pursuit of his holy grail, that elusive acorn which may yet be the death of him. Scrat has never been too successful even battling the forces of nature, but this time he has serious competition from a devastating luxuriously furred femme fatale squirrel Scratte (Disher). Scrat, never long on smarts, is totally discombobulated by her charm. Her seductive wiles would not be out of place in the best film noir. Many of their interactions are pure Looney Toons and gave me some of the best belly laughs in the film. Her flowing fur is probably one of the most beautiful and realistic hair ever rendered by a computer.

The 3D also works very well. It is not so distractingly in your face, but just adds texture and depth to their world. The directors are beginning to adapt to the new technology and are recognizing that sometimes less is more. As an aside the velociraptors incorporate the latest scientific views of them. Unfortunately, at least at the Seminole, the surcharge for 3D is now up to $3.50 a head and even if you bring your own glasses from another show, no reduction. Personally I think this may be a bad move ultimately for ticket sales. 3D is nice, but I question whether it is that nice.

Ice Harvest (2005) (12-2-09) (***1/2, film noir, crime, black humor) (D.-Harold Ramis; W.-Richard Russo , Robert Benton; John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Lara Phillips, Connie Nielsen, Mike Starr, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid) A perfect Christmas movie. Along with The Ref, this is one of my favorite black Christmas films. It's Christmas Eve in Wichita, there is a terrible ice storm, and we are about to be treated to theft, blackmail, mayhem, and murder - all done with sublime black humor. Charlie Aglist (Cusack) is a mob lawyer who is handling a lot of seasonal cash until the banks open. His good "friend" Vic (Thornton) convinces him that the cool two million makes for a nice retirement package for them. Vic makes a good oily Mephistopheles for Charlie's nice, but basically weak character. With friends like Vic, one doesn't need any enemies. But Charlie is about to have many. To make good their exit, they have to act nonchalant for a few hours before getting out of town. But this is noir, and a wrong decision is about to open the trap door to hell under Charlie. A raging ice storm along with hints that the mob boss Bill Guerrard (Quaid) has wind of some chicanery are some of the complications. Each of Charlie's actions designed to extricate himself, merely sinks him deeper into the quicksand. To further complicate the night, local business woman Renata (Nielson) has a little problem of photos in the wrong hands.

Cusack's Charlie is perfect. Few actors can carry off the sad sack, sleaze character of Charlie and still make him sympathetic. Thornton is marvelous as Vic; his predatory looks alone make you nervous, and then he speaks. Nielson is a great foil as Charlie's love interest. Their little mating games are perfect. Platt provides much of the comic relief. The rest of the film is populated with intriguing people, many of them low lives just trying to make it through life. Ramis does an excellent job and exploited the fact that an ice storm moved in when they were expecting snow to match the book. Harvest reminds me of the Coen's Blood Simple.

As Charlie says "As Wichita falls... so falls Wichita Falls." Beginning

Icicle Thief, The (1989) (**1/2, comedy) (D.-Maurizio Nichetti, Maurizio Nichetti, Caterina Sylos, Labini, Heidi Komarek, Renato Scarpa) At Sneak Reviews. Nastily satirical film on the butchery of movies by commercial TV. While the TV is Italian and the shows allegedly higher class than their American counterparts, you will have no trouble recognizing the Madison Avenue mentaltiy. Includes such scenes as the critic making the most profound comments on the deep philosophical meaning of the upcoming movie. What we know, and the viewers don't, is that he was given the movie title and a brief plot synopsis just moments before his live review. Then we have the dismemberment of the film itself with more ads than movie. However, Nichetti adds the twist that the viewers, the actors in the film and in the ads, and the director all start interacting with each other and getting into each other's space in the most literal sense. The movie we are allegedly getting on TV is a heavy drama called The Icicle Thiefa take off on The Bicycle Thief. By the end, it becomes pure farce through the unanticipated interactions. It takes quite a while to get rolling, but then I found about the last half clever and amusing. I would definitely have to consider this one off beat and not for all tastes. Some may recognize the director-actor Nichetti as the disheveled imprisoned cartoonist in the charming Allegro Non Troppo. (7-25-94) Beginning

If... (1968) (***, drama, fantasy?) (D.-Lindsay Anderson; Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick) Others rate this movie very highly. I am less certain. A brutal authoritarian boy's school, vicious senior whips, and a group of anti-establishment wise guy juniors leads to a contest of wills and a final violent climax--or does it? A mixture of hard core realism and surrealistic uncertainty. Color and black and white are mixed apparently at random as are the realistic and surrealistic elements. In the final analysis, the question is what, if anything, is real? In my opinion, the movie fails. It is not Kafkaesque enough to be insane, and too realistic to be straight. However, the getting there and the trying to sort it out are entertaining. Definitely not for everyone. This is one of the earliest, if not the earliest appearance of the very gifted Malcolm McDowell. He had already mastered the smiling, manipulative jovial veneer that hides something more, much more. Originally released as an X and quickly cut to an R for increased market. I believe that we originally saw the X version; if so, there was a second of frontal nudity--which can rate a soft R now. Review based on R rated video. (3-1-93) Beginning

I Know Where I'm Going (1945) (**-comedy/romance) (D.-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. Cast: Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Finlay Currie, Pamela Brown, Valentine Dyall, Petula Clark) Very highly rated by Maltin (****) and Kael. It just doesn't do much for me. Hiller knows what she wants and it consists mostly of pound notes. She is going to be married on a Scottish isle to a rich industrialist, but bad weather strands her in a coastal town where she falls in love with Livesey. A few cute scenes are undermined by unrealistic plot and irregular cadence. Great whirlpool. Best parts are the slices of daily life of these austere, proud local residents. (8-3-94) Beginning

I Married a Witch (1942) (***1/2, comedy, fantasy) (02-06-04) (D.- René Clair; Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Cecil Kellaway, Robert Warwick) A delightful piece of fluff that does exactly what it intends to do, entertain. “Long ago when people still believed in witches,” Puritans in the town of Rock burned Daniel (Kellaway) and his daughter Jennifer (Lake) as witches and buried their ashes under a freshly planted oak tree so that its roots would keep them locked in forever. Good call. They actually were witches. One little problem, nothing lasts forever. 

The witches were denounced by Jonathan Wooley (March). Before departing, the sweet young thing put a curse on his family that they would never be happy in love. She also left him with a taste of things a bit more of the flesh. Over the intervening generations we get a sampling of just how unsuccessful love can be for the cursed. It only takes one person (Hayward as the wife).  Oh, we never do find out what the rest of the curse was, but by the end we can make a good guess, and it probably wouldn’t make Jennifer’s father very happy.

Now to the present. Wallace Wooley is about to be elected governor. And about to once again marry the shrew, in this case one Estelle Masterson (Hayward) who once again will make his life a hell. And who should escape from the stately oak but father and daughter. Long before we see them, we learn a great deal about them from their conversation as they float vapor-like over the countryside. Once they assume corporeal form they will make Wooley’s life much more interesting than a simple shrewish wife. Lake is delightful as the mischievous Jennifer who drives her father up the wall. As she nags him to give her physical form, he laments that every time he does she gets into trouble. An understatement. I would say that having them burned alive meets the criteria of trouble. The body that she ends up with is Veronica Lake’s. Stunning. Sexy. Charming. Everything that Wooley’s intended is not. Jennifer is also intent on doing a little mischief. However, magic is a two-edged sword as everyone is about to find. Kellaway is a delight as the father. Evil, but with real style and a few very human weaknesses. Parents will appreciate him as he tries to keep his daughter on the straight and evil.

The humor ranges from droll to slapstick. The wedding is a hoot. The dialogue is witty. The chemistry between Lake and March is stellar as is the rest of the supporting cast. March’s reactions are completely believable. As a modern intelligent man, he cannot imagine anything other than bad luck and a flaky young woman as the interpretation of the destruction of his life. Which, of course, leads to much of the humor.

Witch is witty and great fun. It showcases some great talent and, for the time, respectable special effects. Shows regularly on Turner Movie Classics.

Impostor (2002) (***1/2, sci fi, thriller) (5-4-04) (D.- Gary Fleder; story- Philip K. Dick; adaptation- Scott Rosenberg; Gary Sinise, Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tony Shalhoub) What is human? One of the recurrent themes in Philip K. Dick's science fiction, Impostor once again explores this nagging question. I had never even heard of this film, but the cast and the dust cover description intrigued me. The year is 2079. Earth is not doing well in a take-no-prisoners war of extermination with the Centauri. Spencer Olham (Sinise) goes to bed one night as one of earth’s top weapons’ designers, who may indeed be putting the finishing touches on the ultimate weapon. He wake's up to a loving and much loved wife Maya (Stowe), goes to work, kibitzes with h is best friend Nelson (Shalhoub), and in a Kafkaesque twist the trap door to hell opens up under him. He finds himself public enemy number one, and his persecutor is the ruthless and capable Maj. D.H. Hathaway, a man who harbors no doubt as to Spencer's guilt. Hathaway is a perfect weapon in his own right. A pure psychopath who kills as easily as most swat flies, and sleeps like a baby on the bier of those who needed to die to accomplish his ends. A weapon that is supremely useful in time of war, and you hope that he is on your side. And thus begins the horrific struggle as Spencer tries to prove who he really is.

Impostor is an intelligently scripted, beautifully crafted psychological study of a man forced to question his own identity while trying to survive. The acting is first rate and subtle. Sinise is Everyman.  The success of the film rests on him, and he carries it. We empathize with him and can envision how we would react similarly under such horrific circumstances. Stowe has a smaller but pivotal role. In a brief few minutes at the beginning we see them together and, with virtually no dialogue, we know more about their relationship than most movies can establish in an entire film. Shalhoub is perfect as the friend who interacts easily with Spencer in a way that only a close relaxed friendshipof many years can manage. D'Onofrio gives a chilling portrayal. Intense. Confident. Ruthless. A man’s whose humor is like the slam of an opening gallow's trap door.

Impostor is also a taut, edgy thriller.  Well paced. Unbalancing. With a musical score that complements the visuals. It builds inexorably to a climax of stunning power. And it works because you relate to Spencer Olham and his plight.

The original Impostor was a 37 minute short film that followed the short story closely. It was then expanded to a 95 minute B film, which for me is the far better of the two. This expansion does have some down sides. On close analysis it introduces some logical holes that were avoided by the brevity of the original, although the plot is so fast paced I didn’t really notice them as I watched. And what sci fi doesn’t have some holes in it? The budget was low, so the special effects weren’t up to the standard of a good A rated film. However, this is a character, not an effects, driven film. For me, Impostor is a far better film than the effects-driven Minority Report.

The DVD has both the full film and the original 37 minute short. Watch the full version first. I think it works better because it allows Sinise to develop his character much more extensively. Then watch the short. It actually differs in a few important particulars that open up additional avenues of discussion. My wife and I have spent far more time discussing the film than we spent watching it.

Weapons can be too good. Spencer laments with an Einstein quote while viewing his technological monster: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity. And I'm not sure about the universe."

So if you like dark, intelligent, thought-provoking sci fi, check out Impostor on DVD. Available at Charlottesville Video (formerly Beyond Video) at Willoughby Square on 5th St.. Beginning

Impostors, The (1999) (**, comedy) (3-27-00) (D/W- Stanley Tucci; Maurice: Oliver Platt, Stanley Tucci, Lili Taylor, Campbell Scott, Alfred Molina, Steve Buscemi, Isabella Rossellini, Billy Connolly, Tony Shalhoub) I think this was an attempt to recreate the madcap humor of the Marx Brothers. Unfortunately, it is only sporadically successful.  The time is the thirties. Two broke, out of work actors Maurice (Platt) and Arthur (Tucci), through no fault of their own (well, almost no fault),  are running from the law.  They end up on an ocean liner running from just about everyone except the sympathetic social director Lily (Taylor).  Throw in chases, mistaken identities, a dethroned queen, a fascist steward, a mad nihilist bomber, an inept actor and you have the plot.  It doesn't work. There are too many threads that never connect and the madcap humor generally falls flat. Too bad. Tucci and Platt are very talented and their friendship and interactions with each other are earnest and completely believable. The few scenes that work show what could have been if they had maintained it. However, the Marx Brothers are a hard act to follow. Tucci was much more successful in a Groucho-like part in Brain Donors.  My recommendation is check out some of the original Marx Brothers (e.g., Duck Soup, A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera) or the much better Brain Donors , which pays fine homage to these early kings of anarchistic humor. Beginning

In a Lonely Place (1950) (***, drama, crime) (D.-Nicholas Ray; Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy, Robert Warwick, Jeff Donnell, Martha Stewart) In contrast to so many leading men of his time, Bogart masterfully played a lot of memorable marginalized characters. In Lonely, he plays a talented, but believably self-destructive screenwriter who has an affair with aspiring actress Grahame. He is also on a short list of suspects for the murder of a young woman. Bogart's character is complex and appropriately unpredictable. His character also has eerie similarities with Bogart's own brutal and highly self-destructive life before he married Lauren Bacall.

My wife thinks the murder plot was unnecessary. However, I think it was essential in the way it kept the plot so unbalanced. (4-20-98) Beginning

Incident, The (1967) (***, crime, drama) (D.-Larry Peerce; Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Beau Bridges, Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Ed McMahon, Diana Van Der Vlis, Mike Kellin, Jan Sterling, Gary Merrill, Donna Mills) A tight nasty little black and white thriller where two loose cannons, a pair of drunken young toughs, terrorize a NY. City subway car. The tension builds relentlessly and inexorably to a fine climax. Martin Sheen debuts as the tough who is a follower. The other tough (Tony Musante) as the movie's centerpiece does a superbly believable, very frightening psychopath. As virtually the entire movie takes place in the subway car, it could have originally been a stage play. Occasionally runs on commercial TV. Beginning

Incredibles, The (2004) (***1/2, humor, animation, action) (12-31-04) (DW.-Brad Bird; Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee, Wallace Shawn, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Brad Bird, Elizabeth Pena) What happens to real superheroes when they find the world unreceptive, even hostile, to their skills? As presented by The Incredibles, their downfall is collateral damage in the form of minor injuries to the rescued, property destruction, people who don’t want to be rescued. Enter the lawyers ever ready to sue and the news media ever ready to present the disaster of the day and the microphone in the face of the “aggrieved”. The end result: The government Super Hero Protection Program. Now being well hidden and having a family of super children, we get the next stage in the story. Mr. Incredible (Nelson) and Elastigirl (Hunter) now have two superhero children Violet (Vowell) and Dash (Fox) and not so super baby Jack (at least in terms of having super powers). How do superheroes manage to tolerate hiding their skills in a world of mediocrity? Of doing an 8 to 5 job in a cubicle, especially one where the customers come last? Of maintaining a family of superhero children including a love struck teenager? Of surviving in a modern suburb? Especially where all must hide their super traits?

 

The Incredibles addresses these and many other deep philosophical issues. It is a spoof of superheroes, modern society, and the pressures of raising a family.  It never takes itself seriously, but has a great time twisting the usual situations. Of course, any superhero film must have a super villain, in this case Syndrome (Lee), super gadgets, weaknesses, and human conflicts. And a master of armament E (Bird) who is not your typical Q.

 

The animation is what you have come to expect from Pixar, the characterization good, and humor from the droll to the slapstick. The film draws heavily on classic (and not so classic films); so having  seen a lot of films won’t hurt the humor. These include the Bond films, Starship Troopers, Robocop, and the superhero films. However, only aficionados of grade Z sci fi are likely to pick up that Kronos is a 50’s sci fi film.

Independence Day (1996) (***, sci fi, action) (D-Roland Emmerich; Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Putnam, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsh, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein) After all the hype, how does it actually stand up? First, you must see this on the big screen! Unfortunately, ID4 wants to be Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark--from which they steal shamelessly, but it doesn't come close. Nevertheless, I found it overall a satisfying adrenaline rush. The story line and some of the plot twists are from War of the Worlds with higher tech creatures from another star. We just represent ants in their sugar, and the solution is extermination. The ensemble cast works well albeit at times rather cliched. A major fault, in my opinion, is that the actors rarely are given the opportunity to demonstrate the necessary intensity required to accompany the devastation of our world. However, Smith as a fighter pilot and Goldblum as a communications nerd are quite entertaining as are a number of bit players. For fans of TV's Star Trek The New Generation: Can you find Data?

Even by Space Opera standards, plotwise, you can drive one of the invader's 15 mile diameter saucers through the holes in it; in particular, the method of overcoming their defense is totally ludicrous. Another disappointment was the creature. After the other visuals, you expect more. I guess there are only so many possible creatures.

However, ID4 is not really about plot or character development. It is about sheer overwhelming visual impact, and it works for me. The effects and visual imagery are awesome, and appear to be largely done with models. The initial emergence of the alien ships from their reentry firestorm is one of the most striking images I can recall on film. The destruction of our cities is impressive. The fear inspiring systematic destruction of Los Angeles in War of the Worlds (1953) was not bested until Terminator 2. Independence Day does even better. The battles work but are almost too busy to visually interpret--which is probably very realistic.

The violence is at the Star Wars level. But the PG-13 rating deserves respect. The near annihilation of man could be pretty strong stuff for younger children.

You will catch innumerable homage bits to earlier films. A particularly amusing one is when Goldblum fires up the computer on the alien craft--I was impressed with the number of people who were familar with it. If you don't catch it, check out the dated, but exceedingly influential, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On the TV news sequences many people play themselves. One surprising entry is the news caster George Putnam, who I was amazed is still around. When we were in Los Angeles in 1971, Putnam was the highest paid news anchor in the country. He was also the most outrageous. He had a deep booming voice of God delivery, but if you listened closely what he was saying it was total nonsense. For fans of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, the vapid Ted Baxter was modelled closely on Putnam.

For films such as this, cooperation of the military is incredibly helful in reducing costs and getting shots that would be too expensive to fake. The military liked the script, but said the reference to Area 51 in Nevada had to go. The film makers said no deal. So what you see was done without the assistance of our armed forces. "Area 51?", you ask. Oh, that is the super classified area (the government denies it even exists, but there it sits) where the US did autopsies on, and now keeps, the space aliens from an earlier crash. (7-8-96)

Notes: ID4 used 50 minutes of computer graphic images (CGI)--the largest of any film to date. Generally the CGIs were overlayed with real models. Many of the models were large since small models generally lack presence and believability. For example, the white house was a 12-foot model. The Statue of Liberty with the shadow of the alien craft passing over it was a superb model (about 3-4 feet high). The shadow was from a parked fire truck and the film makers did a time lapse with the sun moving across the sky. The cars flying through the air were miniatures blown into the air against a blue screen and then overlayed. The effect of the fireballs rushing through the city was accomplished with models lying on their side and an explosion underneath. This was required so that the fireball would race directly through the models into the camera. If the models were upright the fireball would have risen as it moved towards the camera. Also, see War of the Worlds. (7-22-96) Beginning

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) (***, action) (7-25-08) (D.-Steven Spielberg; W.- David Koepp, George Lucas; Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LeBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent) First let me assure you, no facts were harmed in the making of this movie. In fact none were even used. Classic Indiana Jones. While a bit long in the tooth like Harrison Ford, it is rousing good entertainment. Jones is like an old pair of shoes. Ragged, weather beaten, and comfortable. You know just what it is going to be like when you step into them. No real surprises, just a comfortable old friend. This times Jones is up against the Russians lead by the ruthless Irina Spalko (Blanchett) in a search for the Crystal Skull and its power. The opening extended action sequence gets your blood flowing. Afterwards, he doesn't want in to the search for the skull, but a young man Mutt comes with a story and a request Jones cannot refuse. Thus, begins a quest for the Crystal Skull complete with the Russian and Jones and cohorts leapfrogging each other in their quest punctuated with epic action sequences responsible for the lead changes. You get gun fights, sword fight from moving vehicles, and much more.

Kate Blanchett makes a great villian, Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood is back in fine form with the couples' delightful bickering. Shia does a fine job as Mutt with an entrance that will be instantly recognizable for watchers of old films. Come to think of it, some of the humor works best if you are familiar with old films or grew up in the 50s. In fact I anticipated one of the punch lines in the desert long before the rest of audience and found myself laughing our loud before anyone else got it.

The film has received a lot of negative press over its unreality. The term "nuking the fridge" has become the catch phrase describing the ridiculous extremes to which the film has gone. Get serious. How anyone can claim with a straight face that some of things in the first and third Jones were more realistic is beyond me.

Without giving anything away, after watching the film our 11 year granddaughter could hardly wait to go to the Roswell UFO museum in New Mexico. The museum did not disappoint.

As far as leaving fact in the dust, I don't believe that gun powder is magnetic or driver ants get that large. While there are crystal skulls, they are all modern fakes passed off as antiquities. If you want to spend some delightful time check out the critical analysis of the archeology and reviews of the film by archeologists at the Archaeology Magazine web page

http://www.archaeology.org/indianajones/

In short while Crystal Skull is not the first Jones or even up to the third, it is a fine big screen presentation and one for the DVD collection. Beginning

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) (***1/2, adventure) (D.-Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover) If you haven't seen it recently, treat yourself. Go back and reacquaint your body with adrenaline. Another blockbuster cliff hanger movie from Spielberg's fertile mind. Great entertainment with cliff hanger draped on cliff hanger (sometimes literally) until the nervous system can hardly stand it. This time Indy is off to save his father (Connery) and locate the Holy Grail. Of course we are treated to the usual complement of sharp dialogue, crisp wit, evil Nazis, a beautiful woman, supernatural terrors, car-boat-plane-motorcycle chases, etc. While a fabulous yarn, the greatest pleasure is watching the superb Ford and the incomparable Connery bounce off of each other. The witty interplay and chemistry between the two is so effortless that it is hard to remember that they are acting. Who else could reduce Indy to an irritated schoolboy but his father? Academy Award for Sound Effects Editing. Incidentally at least some of the opening was shot in Arches National Monument in Utah. You can recognize the Three Gossips, Double Arch, and Balancing Rock. See my comments on Arches in Thelma and Louise. Arches is one of the natural wonders of the world, and everyone should see it. Don't let that toy called Natural Bridge in Virginia jaundice your view. See the real thing. Beginning

Things to notice: In the speed boat chase the steering wheel on her craft changes sides. This is not an error but a deliberate cinematic tool. In sequences where you are cutting between different views, the mind and eye expect action to follow a smooth flow. If the cuts upset this orderly arrangement, it jars the mind and breaks focus. To preserve the proper flow, it is necessary to flip some of the film to cause the action to flow in a consistent fashion. In some movies you can apparently catch signs running backwards. (2-15-94) Beginning

In Enemy Hands (2004) (***, action, war) (3-28-05) (D.-Tony Giglio; W.- John E. Deaver; Til Schweiger, Thomas Kretschmann, Connor Donne, Scott Caan, Clark Gregg, A.J. Buckley, William H. Macy) Turn off your critical facilities about plot details and the technical aspects of undersea warfare during WWII and you have can enjoy an unusual plot with a certain level of realistic moralizing and ethical decisions. In the closing days of WWII when being on a U-Boat was tantamount to a death sentence, a US submarine is sunk by a German U-Boat. The survivors are picked up. What the Germans don’t realize until it is too late that the US crew is carrying a virulent form of meningitis that quickly kills or incapacitates almost everyone on the submarine. How the two sides react and the moral and ethical decisions make up the bulk of the film. Reasonable acting, passable special effects, and interesting plot twists make for a respectable pop corn film. Review based on DVD with no extras. If you want a much more realistic technical portrayal of submarine warfare (and the size of the interior), check out U-571. Beginning

Infernal Affairs aka Wu jian dao (2002) (****, crime, suspense) (2-7-05) (D.-Alan Mak, Andrew Lau; W.-Alan Mak, Felix Chong; Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Chapman To, Lam Ka-tung, Ng Ting-yip, Wan Chi-keung) A stellar crime drama, suspense thriller, and psychological study. The film opens with a brilliant collage of bits and pieces of a Buddhist temple that ends with a quote from the Nirvana Sutra superimposed over fire. “The worst of the 8 hells is called continuous hell. It has the meaning of continuous suffering.” Actually the quote is referring to the worst of the 8 hot hells as there 8 lesser cold ones also. The film then develops its convoluted, fascinating plot. The Hong Kong police are infiltrated by a high level mole. His cover is deep; Inspector Lau (Lau) went though the police academy 10 years earlier and has risen to a very high level with brilliance and performance. The gang that put him there has been infiltrated by a police operative Yan (Leung) with equally convincing credentials and success. The two men are unaware of each other until they are both intimately involved in a planned drug bust. This reveals their existence to each side, but not their identity. Then, begins a deadly cat and mouse game where each tries to ferret out the other. These two men have far more in common than they realize, and, like the giant Go game in the opening, placement of a single piece can totally rearrange the board. The game escalates as each man nearly exposes the other.

Infernal Affairs is more of a psychological study of the two men than a suspense story, although it certainly manages that. The Hong Kong English title I Want to Be You  is very telling. Here are two men who have spent most of their adult lives performing stellarly at the very thing their underlying psychology dictates they are opposed to. Lau has had the better of it since he has only had to do his job as a cop, but the balloon payment on his loan is now about to come due, and it is going to be expensive. Now each man is trying to hunt down his alter ego while trying to remain true to his role. How they react to these stresses is clearly and convincingly portrayed by the two actors. The final scene brings home with stunning finality the significance of the Nirvana Sutra quote.

The acting is good with even the bit players doing an excellent job. The two leads in particular are deep, brooding, introspective, and convincing. The cinematography and editing are crisp, taut, and unbalancing as required by the story. Some of the scenes are devastingly effective. The last scene in the garage is a gem.

Based on the DVD, which has two good complementary shorts. The alternative ending was clearly correctly rejected over the one used. Don’t watch the trailer before you watch the movie as it gives too much away. The film is in Cantonese with good English subtitles. However, sometimes the action is so quick it is hard to keep up. A second viewing wouldn’t hurt.

In-Laws, The (1979) (***1/2, comedy) (D.-Arthur Hiller, Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Richard Libertini, Nancy Dussault, Penny Peyser, Arlene Golonka) Quite simply an off the wall blast. It is actually fortunate that there are a few places where the humor doesn't work, otherwise entire theaters would have been wiped out as the audiences laughed themselves to death. A young couple plans marriage and the two prospective fathers in law get together for the first time. Arkin is a hyperexcitable middle-class dentist whose worst fear is about to be realized as his carefully manicured, perfectly ordered world is pulled totally out from under him. Falk is ..... Well, we're not completely sure, but whatever it is, it may be federal and is wickedly clandestine. Falk, a master of deadpan understatement and an ability to roll with the heaviest of body punches without even a grunt, is the straightman to Arkin who comes unhinged if a piece of dental floss is out of place. This is one of the oddest couples since Laurel and Hardy. Of course, they end up in a banana republic with a delightfully outrageous megalomaniac dictator (Libertini). I won't bother you with plot as its main importance is to push these two fine actors together. As their plight deepens and their life insurance premiums rise through the stratosphere, Arkin bounces off Falk like a demented super ball in a racket ball court. The humor ranges from droll gems to Max Senett Keystone Cops. For this baby, find an uninterrupted two hours, lean back, and be prepared to nurse aching sides. (1-23-93) Beginning

The In-Laws (2003) (**, comedy) (5-31-05) (D.-Andrew Fleming; Michael Douglas, Albert Brooks, Robin Tunney, Candice Bergen, David Suchet, Ryan Reynolds) First, a look at the original. The original The In-Laws had Alan Arkin as a neurotic dentist who went hyper if a piece of dental floss was out of place. His daughter is about to be married to the son of a man (Peter Falk) who does something, something probably terribly questionable, probably illegal, and certainly unsafe.   Falk is the epitome of deadpan serenity. This odd couple, of course, ends up in a banana republic with a megalomaniac dictator (Richard Libertini in a show-stopping role) bent on someone collecting on their life insurance policy. This bit of insane farce plays the two masterful actors off against each in with some of the biggest verbal and slapstick jokes on the screen. If you expect logic or coherent plot, this is a movie to avoid like the plague. If your sense of humor is correct, it is nearly lethally funny.

In this remake, they made one right and one wrong decision. The good news is that they chose to modernize and alter the plot; repeating the original would be impossible. The bad news is that they remade it at all. The total insanity just isn’t there and much of the humor falls flat. Douglas and Brooks just do not bring the essential sparks to the screen to keep this film from being torpedoed.

Recommendation: Rent the original. They have it on VHS over at Sneak Reviews

Innerspace (1987) (***, humor, drama) (D-Joe Dante; Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan) Entertaining buddy story where Quaid, a test pilot, is shrunk to be injected into a rabbit. The experiment is aborted by an espionage raid, and to save the unsuspecting Quaid the fleeing scientist injects him into the even more clueless Short. The humor unfolds as Quaid discovers where he is and what happened, and Short concludes that the voice that he is hearing when no one is around is real, and not a one way ticket to Bedlam. The villains range from delightfully nasty to Keystone's Cops incompetent. A pleasant little romp with Short having the good lines and scenes in his unhinged best manner, but Quaid doing an excellent straight man. Ryan is pleasant and believable when Quaid via Short is trying to convince her that he (Short) is actually the middle man for her ex lover Quaid who is doing the talking (got that?). Oscar for Best Visual Effects--not bad, but it must have been a poor year overall. Beginning

Innocent Blood (1992) (***, horror, humor) (D.-John Landis, Ann Parillaud, Robert Loggia, Anthony LaPaglia, David Proval, Chazz Palminteri, Lius Guzman, Don Rickles) High spirited tongue in cheek take off of that much beloved genre, the gangster-vampire movie. Parillaud (Le Femme Nikita) does a super job as the lusty, hungry yet rather innocent vampire Maria. Campy, funny, hammy but well acted. However, not without gore and violence. Maria is hungry and sets out for a late evening snack, but she likes to cover her tracks. A newspaper article on a convenient Mafia war supplies the excuse for yet another dead body and the classic line: "I think I'll eat Italian."

An untimely interrupted dinner leads to a resurrected Mafia Don (Loggia) who is despicable before the event, but delightfully repugnant as the true nature of his affliction dawns on him. Maria and a cop team up (sort of) to finish dispatching the Don. Loggia and everyone else has an absolute ball. I won't spoil the fun, but you will long remember the morgue scene, Loggia's first meal, the "disgusting shirt", the expression on Don Rickles at his first meal, and the fight over the cop. My favorite, however, is when LaPaglia is trying to convince his colleagues that this woman in his car rips throats out, has super human strength, drinks blood, etc.; and every time they look in, this winsome little thing smiles sweetly and waves daintily at them. Also, how many of the horror movies playing on the TVs can you identify? Not to be missed by connoisseurs of vampire movies. See Vampires. (3-7-94) Beginning

Insomnia (6-3-02) I’m going to review two films, Insomnia and Insomnia. We watched the current release in the theater and were so intrigued by it that after extensive discussion of the film we rushed out and rented the Norwegian film Insomnia on which the current film is based. Both films are first class and yet with sufficiently different takes that they can be watched as two separate films. My wife, however, does not recommend watching them back to back. She found the direct comparison too distracting. I will add that the Norwegian film has gratuitous sex and nudity while the American film has a gratuitous chase sequence and a final shoot out, although the Norwegian film is not completely immune from the last point. Minor issues in otherwise well crafted, acted and intelligent films. Do be careful about reading reviews of these films as key plot elements are frequently revealed. The striking cinematography in both films is an integral part of the story.

I will describe the similarities in the two films here and the differences and details in the separate reviews. A crack pair of homicide detectives is sent to a remote town in the far north where the brutal, but sophisticated, murder of a young woman has local police stumped. Fist fights, domestic abuse, drunkenness, and an occasional knifing is their usual fare. So far north in fact that the sun never sets. An incident occurs, the lead detective makes a fateful decision, and in classic film noir fashion is dragged into shifting quicksand where every struggle only forces him deeper. The details of the incident are critically different in both films and give each film its subsequent psychological flavor. Many of the shots in the remake are taken directly from the Norwegian film, but in spite of this they are very different films. The Norwegian film is available in VHS and DVD at Sneak Reviews. Beginning

Insomnia (1997) (***1/2, thriller, film noir) (6-3-02) (DW.-Erik Skjoldbjærg; W.-Nikolaj Frobenius; Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg, Gisken Armand, Maria Bonnevie, Kristian Figenschow, Thor Michael Aamodt, Bjørn Moan) The head detective, Engström (Skarsgård) arrives with a big reputation and some political baggage. However, nothing prepares him for the assault that is about to take place on his ethics and responsibility as “the incident” occurs, the killer becomes unearthed, and the guilt is partitioned. Unfortunately for Engström, the eternal daylight is further disrupting his life. He is unable to sleep and becomes increasingly paranoid and unstable as the long day progresses. This is neither a whodunit nor a detailed psychological study, although the killer’s justification makes crazed sense. Indeed, the plot and the detective’s action don’t really hold together. However, I didn’t mind. The film is much more a mood piece that preys not only on the detective’s mind but on the viewers. Skarsgård is very good as the detective and the supporting cast works well with the subject matter. There is an interesting interplay on the Swedish and Norwegian languages that had it not been for one line would have gone completely over the typical viewer. The film has some violence and there is one scene that is sure to shock animal lovers. Do remember, it really is pretty dark in here. In Swedish and Norwegian with excellent subtitles. Beginning

Insomnia (2002) (***1/2 or ****, thriller, crime) (6-3-02) (D.- Christopher Nolan; W.- Hillary Seitz; Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Maura Tierney, Jonathan Jackson) Coming off Memento fame, Nolan establishes that he is no flash in the pan, and given money and big talent, he can deliver an intelligent, riveting film. As I have indicated, I think we are looking at a major talent here. L.A. homicide detectives Will Dormer (Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Donovan) arrive in Nightmute, Alaska. They clearly carry heavy emotional baggage. As Dormer will shortly discover, he doesn’t even suspect what heavy is. Between events and his increasing disintegration as he is unable to sleep, he begins his slide into hell.

Dormer comments on inspecting the body, “He crossed the line and didn’t even blink.” Dormer already knows more about the killer than the killer suspects about himself. Insomnia is a rich psychological study primarily of Dormer but also of the killer and to a lesser extent of local police officer Ellie Burr (Swank) who idolizes Dormer and has read everything about him. Insomnia is classic film noir--with the lights on. Hell is only one choice away. It is about lines crossed, decisions made, their consequences, their implications. At what point does an immoral decision made for a moral reason become immoral? Our characters will find some answers to these questions, and they won’t necessarily like them.

The acting is stellar with Pacino overshadowing everyone else including the excellent Williams. The cinematography and sound are creepy, disturbing, disorienting. The opening credits were instantly recognizable as from Imaginary Forces, an ideal opening for such a film

The script has been changed in significant points from the original. There is more ambiguity, especially on one critical point. More searching for what really happened as opposed to what one thought happened. The way in which the relationship between the killer and Dormer is opened up was a stellar choice (credited to original authors Nikolaj Frobenius and Skjoldbjaerg, working with Hillary Seitz). These changes make the film logical and the characters’ behavior understandable. They are also perfect for the ambiguity of human thought and perception that is a recurrent theme in Nolan’s work.

So be disturbed. Rent Insominia or go see it in the theater. Better yet. Do both. Insomnia will be the least of your problems. Beginning

In Search of History: The Real Dracula (2000) (12-29-09) (***, documentary, horror, vampire) (W.-Charlie Ryan; Producer-Charlie Ryan; Radu Florescu, Raymond McNally, Bram Stoker) An informative History Channel 45 minute documentary on the long and varied history of vampires throughout the ages and throughout cultures. They have taken many forms, but ultimately they are bad news for humans. Or frequently bad news for those declared vampires by the populace. The main focus is on the real basis for our modern vampires, Transylvania Count Vlad Tepes, less graciously known as Vlad the Impaler for his brutal way of dispatching countless men, women and children. As an aside, Tepes is revered as a national hero because of his success at driving the Turks out. Also, Dracula folklore does not appear to be high on the Rumanian conscience. We know a young man from that area (mid-twenties) who learned about Dracula from movies when he got older. Beginning

Insider, The (1999) (****, Docudrama) (3-21-00) (D.- Michael Mann; W.- Eric Roth and Michael Mann; Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, Diane Venora, Philip Baker Hall) Based on the Vanity Fair article, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," by Marie Brenner. Don't let the term docudrama turn you away. Insider is more suspenseful, more emotionally brutal, and more revealing of human nature than most drama and suspense films. Insider was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director (Michael Mann) and Best Actor (Russell Crowe). I think that this should also have been on the Best Picture list.

I won't get into the accuracy of precise details in the film. The broad picture is correct and in the headlines. A disgruntled, fired tobacco employee, Jeffrey Wigand, (Crowe) ultimately ends up leaking critical evidence against the third largest tobacco company Brown & Williamson to 60 minutes producer Lowell Bergman (Pacino). For reasons, including legal liability, CBS balks on airing Wigand's interviews. After The Wall Street Journal exposes the situation and prints his court testimony, CBS runs their interview. The tobacco industry suffers a staggering $246 Billion nation wide court loss. What the headlines don't reveal, but which Insider does, are the personalities, the fears, the machinations, and the human cost of these headlines.

Insider is masterful story telling. Mann unravels the incident with consummate skill and superb use of visual and aural effects. The acting is superb. These are not one-dimensional characters. These are real people. Complex. Mixtures of good and bad, weak and strong. Making right and wrong decisions. Bergman is good. A driven type A. A master at psychological manipulation and extraordinarily proud of his record of never letting one of his sources down. Wigand is short tempered, vindictive, secretive. We watch as he makes decisions that affect everyone around him based purely on his own perceived needs and despite lip service to the importance of his family. Crowe's performance is stellar both in appearance and acting. Crowe had to add 18 apparent years and 35 actual pounds to match the more mature Wigand. We can feel the cumulative tonnage of his decisions bearing down on him as he disintegrates under the pressure. We dread that we might ever be placed in a situation analogous to his. Wigand's wife comes off as weak, but given her husband the behavior is rational. The dinner in New York tells ever so much about Wigand and their relationship. While I may respect Wigand and Bergman, I do not believe that I would be close friends with either.

Mike Wallace (played superbly by Plummer) was so displeased with the portrayal of him in the film and in Premiere Magazine (December, 1999), that Premiere just published a letter from him (March, 2000). Given the vagaries of human nature, the fluctuations of our opinions and statements, our ability to interpret what we see in multiple ways, I think that most of what he says is consistent with the film. Actually, Wallace comes off pretty well in the movie both early on as things start to go bad ("We are the standards of information. Is this Alice in Wonderland?") and after CBS has been exposed (60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt (Baker) says the whole debacle will blow over in 15 minutes and Wallace says "No. Fame is a 15 minute half life. Infamy lasts a little longer.

" Incidentally, "tortious interference", one of the legal problems dealing with Wigand's confidentiality situation, is a real legal Catch 22. If Wigand's interview had been broadcast initially, "The more truth he tells, the more it costs us.". Since what he said was so incredibly damaging, had Brown & Williamson successfully invoked it against CBS, they would have owned CBS. And we would have tobacco owning the news itself, rather than just controlling it.

Ultimately, Mann understands our need for heroes. Bergman says to Wigand. "We are running out of heroes. Guys like you are in short supply." Warts and all, we take our heroes where we can get them and with whatever the motivations for their behavior. Wigand and Bergman are heroes.

Comparisons with the excellent A Civil Action are inevitable. For me, Insider is the better of the two. In part I think this may reflect that Wigand's situation is much closer to what many of us could find ourselves in and, therefore, strikes a more responsive psychic chord. Beginning

The Interpreter (2005) (***1/2, suspense) (5-31-05) (D.- Sydney Pollack; Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Jesper Christensen, Yvan Attal, Earl Cameron, George Harris, Michael Wright) There aren’t many intelligently crafted thrillers that depend more on brains than action. Interpreter is one of those. Refined suspense of the Hitchcock school.  Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor established him as a master of the suspense film, and he hasn’t lost his touch. As with Condor, Pollack has managed to ratchet the tension to the breaking point within the initial few minute sequence in Africa.  Most directors would sell their souls to achieve this anywhere in one of their films. And Pollack is just getting started. Switch to New York where United Nation’s interpreter Silvia Broome (Kidman) hears fragments of a conversation that suggests that a soon to visit African leader Zuwanie (Cameron) is targeted for assassination. Certainly, Zuwanie has enough blood on his hands that many would lovingly rip his heart out, but how believable is her information? Secret Service agent Keller (Penn) thinks not very. Especially given Broome’s background and her delay in reporting it, there may be more going on than seems to meet the eye.

No, I am not going to give you any more plot details. The pleasure in watching a film like this is trying to integrate the different elements as new facts and threads are brought to light, to read between the lines on what the principals are really thinking and why, and to predict the outcome. Interpreter probably gives you enough to sort it, but I mainly went for the ride. It all makes sense at the end.

The acting is excellent with Kidman being stellar. Penn manages to subdue his hyperkinetic energy to match the needs of his character and be a perfect foil for her. The rest of the cast does an excellent job of pulling all the pieces together. The cinematography is excellent as is the sound track. My references to Hitchcock are very deliberate. Beside the stylish suspense, one of the scenes has tremendous overlap with a lesser known Hitchcock movie. If you don’t know which one after watching the film, let me know.

There is another place where a comparison with Hitchcock is relevant. Some critics have savaged the film as being unrealistic. How could the one person in the UN who could have understood the obscure African dialect spoken, just happen to be in a position to hear it? Give me a break. It was a necessary construct for the plot. One could level exactly the same complaints against virtually all of Hitchcock’s films and most other suspense films. But once you accept that premise the rest of film follows. So lighten up; it’s just a movie. If you want to watch a first-class thriller that doesn’t depend on action sequence but more on the mental, then give Interpreter a look—especially on the big screen. I also very much like the overall moral of the film, although I felt they could have been a little less heavy-handed, but my wife thought it was done right. Finally, unlike so many films, they ended this one at the right moment and with the right touch. Not your overbearing, fill in all the blanks Hollywood ending. Incidentally, the African language Ku was an artificial construct for the film as was the country. 

 

Interview, The (1998) (****,  suspense) (5-27-02) (D:-Craig Monahan;W:-Craig Monahan, Gordon Davie; Hugo Weaving, Tony Martin, Aaron Jeffery, Paul Sonkkila, Michael Caton, Peter McCauley) “I don’t know Mr. Fleming. How does the mind work?” Don’t watch the trailer or read any other reviews than this one before you see the film. It is too easy to give things away. The Australians have a way with psychological thrillers. The Interview is about as nasty as they come. Without giving anything away, since the original audience would have known this, interview is Australian for a police interrogation. The film is largely between two men in one room with a few critical outsiders, elements, and flashbacks thrown in. Eddie Fleming (Weaving) is being interrogated by Detective Sergeant John Steele (Martin). We quickly begin to suspect there is much more, very much more, going on than what is showing on the table. What we don’t even begin to anticipate is the depths and the dark corners to which we shortly become privy. Many thoughts come to mind as the interview proceeds. Kafka is high on the list. Just what are the stakes being played for? And, ultimately, what did you actually see and what is the truth? My wife has a firm belief, but I can see how someone can convincingly argue for the totally opposite interpretation.

Taut dialogue. Wheels within wheels. Superb acting. An interplay between the leads that is stellar. The film is put together like a Chinese puzzle box. No wasted space or movement. Not a single misstep by the director or the actors. Oh yes. A film not for the squeamish.

We were amazed to discover that this is Monahan’s first film for which he shares the writing credits. I suspect we are looking at a major talent here. A man with the subtlety and sophistication that Nolan showed in Memento. The final frame is a gem that will hang in your mind long after the fade to black.

Fleming is one of Australia’s top actors. The part calls for a range of expression, a mercurial personality, and the ability to convey so much with so little. The film floats on his performance. Martin is a perfect foil. Driven, autocratic, ruthless; but also highly intelligent and a master of human manipulation. One of my neighbors was a police officer and Martin’s performance reminded me of him. Actually, it should have since the actors sat through many real police interviews to get the details right.

I had first seen Fleming in the little known but excellent Australian film Proof. His performance there was breathtakingly good. Incidentally, for fans of Russell Crowe, he also starred in Proof.

Review based on the excellent DVD at Sneak Reviews. The DVD has a fine voice over commentary by the director and alternative scenes with the director’s commentary. The film was shot in 25 days with a single camera. The police station was a set. “Just goes to show how the mind works.” Beginning

Interview With The Vampire (1994) (***, horror, drama) (D.-Neil Jordan; Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater) Based on Anne Rice's novel of the same name. First, I have never read any of her novels so I am commenting only on my impression of the film. This is not your typical horror film. It is a psychological study not of the victims but of the vampires themselves. The horror is internalized in what they have become and how they must adapt to their condition. The film begins with 200 year old Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt) granting an interview with a newsman (Slater). His motives are less than clear, which should give Slater even more unease than he feels.

Interview is strikingly filmed. Dark, brooding and permeated throughout with a strong sense of decay and despair. Cruise as the master Lestat is perfect for the part. His sleek good looks, insinuating manners, and unbridled sexuality exude evil. Dunst is fabulous as the 12 year old trapped forever in her youthful body. Even as her mind ages, she is biologically doomed to be treated as a child; the interplay with the maid is very affecting from both of their standpoints. Near Dark also plays the age scenario very well. Pitt is well cast here as victim rather than as the exploiter of some of his other roles.

Ultimately those who go into Interview expecting an action packed vampire flic will be disappointed. Interview is more a story of over 200 years of suffering but where Louis has still not yet suffered enough to be willing to take his own life. See Vampires.

Interesting Note: Rice recently took out a full page ad in a New Orleans' newspaper describing the new restaurant "Straya" near her mansion as hideous. I admit, it looks a bit gaudy, but let's be frank. Accusing something of being over the top in New Orleans is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500. And Rice, who charges $22 for fans to tour her mansion, which is filled with skeletons and macabre items, and who happily unfolds out of a coffin is no arbiter of taste. On the other hand, "Straya" now occupies the abandoned used car dealership where Lestat first saw his reflection in Interview. So maybe there are other reasons for her unhappiness. (4-28-97) Beginning

In The Bedroom (2001) (***, drama) (3-4-02) (D.- Todd Field; Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, William Mapother, Marisa Tomei) At first this looks like a love story between college student Frank Fowler and older, divorced Natalie (Tomei). It isn’t. This is merely the set up for the tragedy that unfolds between the parents, Matt (Wilkinson) and Ruth (Spacek). If you don’t already know how the story goes, do not let anyone tell you about it beforehand. The film is being considered for numerous awards including best picture, actor (Wilkinson), actress (Spacek), and supporting actress (Tomei). The acting is stellar and alone worth the price of admission. The mood is beautifully set up both in cinematography and music. The relationship between the young lovers is beautifully portrayed. Much of the interaction between Matt and Ruth is depressingly and wrenchingly believable as they struggle with, and fail to communicate in, their grief. Unfortunately for my wife and myself there are a number of weaknesses in the story. We found the ending jarring and unbelievable given the characters that were presented. In many ways too Hollywoodish without better preparation in the script. We did not find the critical role of Natalie’s husband Richard (Mapother) believable in terms of what we saw of his behavior. A key to one interpretation of the film can be found not in the title but in one of the early scenes on the boat.

In the Line of Fire (1993) (***1/2, suspense) (D.-Wolfgang Peterson, Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo) Taut, cerebral white nailer. Any good killer willing to die could kill a President. But just killing isn't enough for a psychotic master assassin (Malkovich). He wants to go out in style and be remembered forever in legend and textbooks, like John Wilkes Booth. To make the game challenging and the prize worthy of his talents, Malkovich prepares to warn the Secret Service. Then a truly entertaining element is added when Eastwood discovers the plot. Eastwood is a nearly burnt out secret service agent who was at Kennedy's assassination, might have been able to save him, and is haunted with personal demons. Malkovich makes Eastwood his government contact and foil, but added a very vicious psychological game of cat and mouse. Most of the exchange between the two is carried out over the phone interspersed with crisp action when the call is traced. Malkovich is positively protean in his appearances, and his suave, seductive Mephistophelean conversations with Eastwood are masterfully understated horrors--especially given that Eastwood's soul is being bared to the entire Secret Service. If Malkovich doesn't get an Oscar nomination, it will be a crime. Russo is an agent both drawn to and repelled by Eastwood's old style non PC way of looking at things. There is relatively little violence for a movie of this class. Peterson spends most of his time ratcheting up the tension; he is masterful at creating paranoia even when nothing is actually going to happen. When something does happen, it is a relief so you can at last release that pent up adrenaline. After Fire, you will know why you would never want to be a Presidential bodyguard. To quote Malkovich, "It isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." Fire plays the game extremely well. Incidentally, the brief but flawless clips of a young Eastwood with Kennedy were computer edited by combining films of the two. Again, the increasingly true adage: Photograhic proof, isn't. (7-19-93)

Things to notice: That really is Clint Eastwood hanging six stories above the alley. The jumper was a stunt double, Eastwood does have a safety harness, and the shots of Malkovich were shot later as required by the camera work. However, this is pure unadulterated Eastwood hanging on for dear life. The gun in the mouth was a Malkovich ad lib, which the director considered truly sick and loved. (7-26-93) Beginning

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) (**1/2, horror) (D.-John Carpenter; Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, Bernie Casey, John Glover, David Warner) Sam Neill is John Trent, a very good insurance fraud investigator. Sutter Cane, an extremely well selling horror writer, disappears, an apparent suicide, along with the only draft of his latest and greatest book In the Mouth of Madness. His books are so disturbing that readers have a nasty tendency to go berserk and commit unspeakable crimes after reading them. No one has seen this current book except in bits and pieces, but the evidence is that Mouth makes his earlier novels look like Winnie the Pooh. Trent knows a rat when he smells one and goes about unearthing what to him is a clear case of fraud; if the books turns up after all this free publicity, think of the sales. Well, perhaps "unearth" was an unwise choice of words, as Trent begins to realize after he reads a couple of Cane's novels and his dreams become increasingly bizzare and frightening. Trent and Cane's agent (Carmen) follow Cane back to the town of his novels. In my opinion, films such as this work when they can get past your defenses and disturb you at a very fundamental level. Madness works pretty well for about the first two thirds. It is systematically unbalancing and disturbing both visually and aurally and plays freely with the lines between reality, dreams, and madness. However, after Cane (Prochnow) appears, it shifts over to a pretty standard gore fest. Also, while Neill was good as the very pragmatic, hard-nosed investigator, I think he lacked the dynamic range for the Madness portion of his role. (1-8-96) Beginning

Into the Badlands (1992) (***, western, horror) (D.-Sam Pillsbury; Bruce Dern, Mariel Hemingway, Helen Hunt, Dylan McDermott, Lisa Pelilian) Frequently surrealistic, disturbing tales told by bounty hunter Dern in a film noir voice-over style. "Where dreams and phantoms walked.... Somewhere stuck between civilization and the ninth circle of hell--the Badlands." Dern in his black duster and garb, wire frame granny glasses, and flat brimmed hat makes a fine figure of death and destruction; his reading skills must be limited because he cannot get past the first half of the wording on the "DEAD or Alive" wanted posters. His transportation is a small open wagon with a tiny ineffectual parasol that becomes increasingly delapidated as the film and his oddessy progresses. The wagon also sports the spurs of the many deceased earlier cargoes, much like cars once sported foxtails for decorations. Everywhere Dern goes he plants the seeds of primordial fear and of destruction in those he meets. I don't think the two interleaved stories work especially well, and the one with the two women seems inconsistent with the story. However, you can sort that out in your own mind.

In my opinion, Badlands is nastily effective as an atmospheric mood piece that leaves you uneasy, jumpy, and a little afraid of the dark. The cinematography is superbly unsettling, the music a continual nagging thorn at the back of your mind, and the Badlands... Oh, such an integral part of the surrealistic tapestry. Austere, bleak, inhospitable, and brutally beautiful. In short terrain that only Southwesterners can love. The Badlands in this case are instantly recognizable by New Mexicans as the intense, varied terrain around Sante Fe, New Mexico. The one town is the film set near Galisteo, the one used for Silverado and many other recent Westerns. Badlands is not for everyone, but those into nightmares should check it out. Beginning

Into the Fire (1987) (**1/2, suspense) (D.-Graeme Campbell; Lee Montgomery, Susan Anspach, Art Hindle, Olivia d'Abo) A hitchhiking rock musician seeks food, lodging and work in a snowbound Canadian town. What he finds instead is that he is no match for a disgruntled, murderous wife and a sweet young thing who conspire to make his stay much more exciting than a visit to Disney Land. With its certain depraved style, two very sexy women a man might well be willing to kill for, and more plot twists than a maze, Fire rises above its Joe Bob Briggs drive in theater roots. At the end one of the principal's total lack of comprehension of what has really happened is a painfully believable twist of fate. While the road traveled may have a few too many twists for it own good, the trip is not dull and has a certain brutal fascination. (3-29-93) Beginning

Into Thin Air (1997): As recommended to me, I have gone back and read the book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Anchor Books, 1997). This is the inside story of the disasterous events of the 1996 assault on the mountain in which 11 climbers perished. Horrific. Frightening. Compelling. It beautifully complements the film Everest. An IMAX Experience. (9-7-98) Beginning

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (***1/2, 50s sci fi, horror) (D.- Don Siegel; Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Virginia Christine) 79 minute version at Sneak Reviews. Cult classic B movie. Low budget, black and white, and still viciously scary. Small town doctor slowly comes to grips with alien invasion as residents are systematically replaced by soulless duplicates hatched from pods. Taut intelligent scripting, crisp editing and photography. Manages to convey a true sense of paranoia without blood and gore. Has been claimed to have deep philosophical implications about the McCarthy era and communism. Maybe. Regardless, it still makes for a nasty evening. The orginal 76 minute cut was too bleak for the studio, and they inflicted a totally unecessary 3-minute emergency room sequence at the beginning and end to make it more of an upper. Just stop at the superbly nightmarish freeway scene. Rereleased in 1979 in original cut. The influential director, Sam Peckinpah is seen as the meter reader. Script by Daniel Mainwaring from Jack Finney's serial The Body Snatchers. (9-19-94) Beginning

Invisible Man, The (1933) (***1/2, sci fi) (D.- James Whale; Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, Una O'Connor, William Harrigan, E.E. Clive, Dudley Digges, Dwight Frye) Master horror director Whale creates landmark movie in special effects( courtesy of F/X master John P. Fulton). While now a bit hokey in some of the dialogue, it still packs a mean punch. The plotting is crisp, the tension exceptionally well handled, and with an entertaining level of black humour. Based on H. G. Wells' story, scientist discovers secret of invisibility but cannot reverse the effect. He didn't realize that a side effect is to convert him into a raving megalomaniac. He terrorizes the countryside and is finally brought down by nature. This is Rains' debut and he does a good job since you can never see his face and everything must be done by voice and body movementsalthough in any scenes where you don't see parts of the invisible man, it is a stunt double.

As in any good effects movie, F/X aided the plot not superceded it. The invisible man himslf was done by overlays. The suit was filmed with the stunt double wrapped completely in black working against a black background. This image was then used to create a high contrast matte that was combined with the original film to print another copy where the the necessary parts of the scene were blank, and finally the original picture of the suit was printed into this blank space. The invisible man's movements were extremely difficult to get right since he had to move naturally but never present an open sleeve to the camera or get his hands in front of his body. If he did, this would eclipse part of the things you should see. To prevent the eye holes from showing, they were either touched up by hand later (miles of film) or he worked completely blind with no eye holes. The mask fit so tightly he had air lines feeding him, and their noise made it almost impossible for verbal communication. Note the superb effect where he is unwrapping the bandages. You can see through his head and view the bandages on the back side! This was probably done with a dummy, which was equipped with artificial lungs to make it look like he was breathing. Foot prints appearing in the snow were done by digging a shallow trench, putting boards over it, and then covering this with artificial snow. Footprint-sized cutouts supported by pegs were placed where footprints were supposed to appear. To make the footprint appear, the pegs were pulled out with a cord and a foot shaped indentation appeared in the snow. Simple and exceptionally effective. Details from Movie Magic, The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema, John Brosnan, New American Library, 1976.

Maltin say Frye (the mad assistant in the original Frankenstein) is in there, but I missed him. (11-16-94) Beginning

Iron Man (2008) (***1/2, comic book hero, action) (6-4-08) (D.-Jon Favreau; W.-Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby; Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg) Based on the Marvel comic book of the same name and produced by Marvel. An enormously satisfying super hero romp. Tony Stark is the genius head of major weapon systems developer Stark Industries, which he inherited from his father. He is handsome, articulate, brash, egocentric, a womanizer, a great salesman for his product, and a brilliant weapons designer. The morality of his business has never bothered him; he sells to the good guys and clearly rationalizes what he does. He is supported by his girl Friday Pepper Pots (Paltrow) who clearly has a thing for Tony in spite of his alley cat morals, best friend Jim Rhodes on the military side of the equation, and his second in command Obadiah Stone (Bridges) who was with the company before Tony came of age and took over. Obadiah is such a lovely Old Testament name.

Tony is about to have an epiphany while in Afghanistan demonstrating his latest technological terror, the Freedom line Jericho rocket. He shortly finds himself on the receiving end of his own designs and ultimately a captive of a terrorist group who want him to build the Jericho. What they should have taught in terrorist school is that you don’t give the top weapons designer in the world a free hand in a workshop. It requires little imagination from the title to figure out what he does build.

The early prototype is just the germ of the idea that will mature into one of the most extraordinary weapons seen on film. We get in on its design and testing, frequently with unpredictable results. “Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.” Tony doesn’t lack ego. This has got to be one of the most beautiful pieces of machinery ever seen on film. Sleek, elegant, colorful, functional, and a model of its inventor.

A super hero must have enemies and must use his powers for good. Tony has these in spades and does. And of course the climactic battle.

The film is filled with humor, snappy dialogue, and excellent chemistry between the principals. Downey is perfect for the part and Paltrow is a perfect counterpoint. Their relationship is completely believable as is his having kept it purely business. She could be no one night stand, and he couldn’t afford to lose her.

The film has a few problems. One can argue over the morality of the weapons business, and Tony’s conversion is perhaps a bit too easy and swift. As Tony says before his conversion: “They say that the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once... I present to you the newest in Stark Industries' Freedom line. Find an excuse to let one of these off the chain, and I personally guarantee, the bad guys won't even wanna come out of their caves.” The very same can be said for Tony’s machine. However, like all his earlier inventions, once it is known that such technology exists, it is only a matter of time before others will be able to duplicate it or buy it. Obadiah has a penetrating statement to this effect. Finally for a super hero movie, some of the scenes seemed to me a bit too realistic and out of the headlines.

As an aside, Leslie Bibb who plays the bothersome reporter Everhart is a local woman who grew up in Nelson County and whose career has been followed closely by the locals.

Do stick around for the end of the credits. There is about a 30 second clip that leaves no doubt as the fate of a sequel. Beginning

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) (**, horror, sci fi) (4-17-00) (D.-John Frankenheimer; W.-Ron Hutchinson, Richard Stanley; Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, Ron Perlman, Marco Hofschneider, Temuera Morrison, William Hootkins, Daniel Rigney, Nelson de la Rosa, Peter Elliott (II), Mark Dacascos) There is a great story here, but Island doesn't do it. Based on the story by H. G. Wells, this remake of the classic Island of Lost Souls adds little to the original. Man's hubris as he rushes headlong into reengineering nature in his own image and the disastrous consequences of this arrogance. Lots of great make up, flash and boom, do not solve the basic problems of a total lack of focus on the people or the issues.

Edward Douglas (Thewlis) is rescued from pirates by Montgomery (Kilmer) and taken to a remote Pacific island. The island is populated by genetically and surgically altered animal/humans created by the brilliant but crazed scientist Dr. Moreau and his equally unbalanced assistants.

You can alter the physical appearances, but you cannot change the basic nature of your subjects. So no matter how human their appearances and how intelligent, there are always elements of the original creatures--much as the timelessness of the Greek tragedies leave us with no doubt that our own basic nature has not changed despite the intervening thousands of years.

The film touches on the horror of degeneration, the all too human agony of the creatures/humans as their world spirals towards destruction, and the overweaning pride and arrogance of the creators. However, it never effectively develops these items, which should be the true focus of the film. As with the island, the film spirals off into an incoherent disaster of explosions and creatures running around killing everything in sight with automatic weapons.

I will give an alternative view of the film. My daughter enjoyed it more than I did. She took it as being totally camp. Given the creatures, Kilmer's over the top performance, and especially Brando's Moreau, a case can be made for this. Brando is corpulent and dressed in Pope-like robes and riding in a Pope-mobile-like sedan chair as he dispenses justice and rules with the arrogance of a god. In a camp interpretation, animals machine gunning and blowing up things may actually work.
One thing that does work is the marvelous creature effects by Stan Winston. In particular, the humanity and expressiveness portrayed by the Hyena-Swine (Rigney) and several of the other creatures is truly amazing. The performance of Thewlis is suitably puzzled, understated, and ultimately frantic as he tries to extricate himself and Aissa (Balk). Beginning

Italian Job, The   (2003) (***, crime, action) (6-9-03) (D.- F. Gary Gray; Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, Donald Sutherland) You want great summer escapism? Have I got the film for you. The latest The Italian Job. Check your brain at the door, lean back in the seat, and get a great dose of caper film, chase film, and revenge films all stuffed into two hours. There are two similarities with the original film. A small piece of this is spent in Italy, and crooks use really zippy Mini Coopers, although in the current film there is an actual real purpose for them. There is one major difference. The original was dull; this one is anything but, although I do confess to liking the ending of the orginal.

A masterful job is brokered by John Bridger (Sutherland) on his last big heist, master strategist Charlier Croker (Wahlberg). The team consists of second Steve Frezelli (Norton) who lacks imagination, geeky computer wiz Lyle (Green), wheel man Handsome Rob (Statham), and Left Ear (Def) who hasn’t seen an item that he could not disassemble artistically with precise liberal applications of explosives. The heist goes flawlessly, but the human element leads to double cross and murder.

The survivors spend the rest of the film getting even along with the help of master, but legal, safe cracker Stella (Theron). The characters are interesting. The interplay between them is believable as they good-naturedly verbally jab and spar at each other’s foibles just as you would expect in a group of people who have worked successfully together for years.

The films has more double crosses and twist and turns than a tic-tac-toe game and a British hedge maze. No one is stupid and it isn’t always clear how things are going to play out, and what the response to the latest gambit by the other side is going to be. The way of getting the gold is, shall we say, different. Oh, you may never be able to hear the word Napster and keep a straight face again.

Oh yes, the scene where Green is sitting in the car mimicking (mauling might be a better phrase) the conversation between Handsome and the woman was not in the script. Green was making it up as he sat there watching and the camera man just kept the camera running. When they looked at it afterwards, it was such a hoot and perfect for the film that they incorporated it. Beginning

It Happened One Night (1934) (****, romance, comedy, classic) (D.-Frank Capra; Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns, Alan Hale, Ward Bond) The first "Screwball Comedy". Gable and Colbert were almost accidentally paired in this film, which was almost universally considered to be a throw away of no importance. Minimal advertising, indifferent reviews, and the label of "Capra-corn" led to a poor initial showing. The second release (imagine that happening today) led to a blockbuster.

The chemistry between Colbert as a spoiled rich girl on the run from her father, and hard drinking, fired newsman Gable is marvelous. The plot is really irrelevant except as way to set up the romance and the obstacles to fulfillment. The dialogue is sharp and witty. The physical set ups, largely constrained to a bus or motel rooms, are perfect. One Night has some of the great set piece scenes in cinema. In particular, the hitchhiking scene is a cultural icon that everyone will savor and anticipate as it develops. The "Walls of Jericho" sequence was used, with appropriate credit, on the soap opera General Hospital several year ago. In short, One Night is still a modern crowd pleaser.

Gable was loaned to second rate Columbia as punishment for goldbricking on a film. Colbert declared that no other actress would take the part because it involved only one costume change. Colbert agreed to do it if they could fit it into a 4-week slot before she did Of Human Bondage and if they doubled her usual salary. While nominated for an Oscar, no one expected it to win (it was the first film to sweep all five main Oscars). In fact, Colbert was at the train station waiting for a New York train during the Oscars. When they realized she was a winner, her agent raced to the station to pick her up and she accepted her award in travelling clothes. The film made both Colbert's and Gable's careers.

For one scene Colbert was supposed to show her leg, but refused. So they brought in a chorus girl double. On seeing the scene, she stated that her legs were better and did the scene herself. However, she did draw the line at taking as much off as Capra wanted in some scenes. Gable infuriated the undershirt industry. In one scene where he took his shirt off, he wasn't wearing an undershirt, unlike most American males at the time. This act practically bankrupted the industry. Review based on the poor print at the Virginia Film Festival and the subsequent discussion as well as an excellent AMC print showing this month on cable. See Bringing Up Baby.

Interesting Fact. Clark Gable received an Oscar for his performance in this film. This Oscar was auctioned off recently over the objections of the Academy, which claimed Gable had offered them the first right of purchase. To no avail. The Oscar sold for over $600,000 to an anonymous buyer much to the consternation of the Academy. We soon discovered that the buyer was Steven Spielberg. Spielberg then gave the Oscar to the Academy! So I guess there is a Santa Claus. Beginning

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) (***, crime, drama, noir) (D.-H. Bruce Humberstone; Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar, William Gargan, Alan Mowbray) The Maltese Falcon (1941) is considered the very beginning of film noir. Screaming is another fine example. The stylistic opening, the lighting, the shadows, and the plot are all there. A great opening with the point-counterpoint interrogations. Grable's sister ends up dead at the very beginning. Mature, who made her into a celebrity, is at the top of the suspect list. However, there are plenty of other likely candidates and the probable ordering changes with almost every scene and additional piece of information. Cregar is a creepy cop who wages ruthless psychological warfare on Mature. A good mystery with an ending that holds together. The story line doesn't allow you to pick out the killer from the beginning but if you are fast, you can figure out each revelation before they hit. The only thing which didn't work at all was the sound track. We found it consistently intrusive and generally inappropriate--a fault with many earlier films. Also, maybe the title, which is fine noir, makes more sense in the novel than it did in the film. (3-18-96) Beginning

It’s What You Didn’t See aka Ojos que no Ven (***, suspense) (12-2-02) (DW.-Beda Docampo Feijóo; Luis Brandoni, Mauricio Dayub, Alejandra Flechner, Agustina Lecouna, Luis Luque) Intriguing Argentinean film. Mysteries like this are always a little frustrating to write about. Since the story line is offbeat, I don’t want to give anything away that will spoil the film. So I will be terse. The film opens with a murder and you get to follow several principals as they try to unravel the mystery. These include a detective, a lawyer, and a young writer. The murdered victim was powerful and had no shortage of enemies. The title is apt but not necessarily in the way you might think as I don’t think this is one that you can figure out on the basis of the available data, although ultimately it is logically consistent. However, the film is more style and character development than a solvable mystery. The characters are interesting, their interactions believable, the final resolution acceptable, and I particularly enjoyed the detective. In summary, an entertaining evening. Reviewed based on the DVD from Sneak Reviews. No extras except the trailer, which you absolutely should not watch until after the film. In Spanish with good subtitles.Beginning

I Walked with a Zombie (1943) (**1/2, horror) (D.-Jacques Tourneur, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, James Ellison, Edith Barrett, Christine Gordon, Theresa Harris, James Bell) Dated but stylish forties horror. Don't let the title turn you off. Excellent atmosphere and black and white imagery. The contrast of light and dark and use of shadows is beautiful. The violence is never graphic, but very effective nevertheless. It is what you don't see that should frighten you. Canadian nurse Dee goes to Carribean island to care for zombie-like wife of Conway. There was much more to her brain damage than a fever, as is quickly revealed by the local natives, familial strife, and the incessant voodoo drums. Very loosely based on Jane Eyre! Tourneur was also responsible for the 1942 Cat People. (2-1-94) Beginning