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Unstoppable (2010) (action, ***1/2 overall, ****+ for action) (11-30-10)

 

While on the subject of runaway trains, I have dusted off my review of the excellent Runaway Train which is available from Netflix.

Runaway Train (1985) (***1/2, action, drama)

Dam Busters, The (1955) (***, docudrama) (8-04-10)

The Dam Busters (Book), (8-04-10)

 

The Informant! (2009) (***, docudrama, black comedy) (6-02-10) (D-Steven Soderbergh; Scott Z. Burns (screenplay), Kurt Eichenwald (book); Matt Damon, Eddie Jemison, Scott Bakula, Allan Havey, Melanie Lynskey) Mark Whitacre (Damon) was a top vice president of agri business giant Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, Illinois. He was also responsible for uncovering one of the largest cases of corporate malfeasance on record. While looking into something else, Whitacre who has decided to turn on his unscrupulous employers reveals to the FBI that ADM is engaged internationally in a huge price fixing cabal. This is the discovery that makes careers. Sounds familiar? Well it isn't. This is an insider expose like none you have ever seen before. Quirky in the extreme. As hard it is to believe, this is apparently a reasonably accurate portrayal of the book. To say more would be to spoil much of the fun.

Damon reveals an acting side that I have never seen before. He is outstanding as the mercurial, Whitacre. Played with just the right amount of humor. Whitacre is an outgoing, gregarious overweight, good natured old boy, which is a stunning reversal from the icy, wooden, lean, cat-like killing machine Bourne. After continuous physical training where he couldn't gain an ounce in the Bournes, Damon reveled in being able to eat anything and everything he wanted to gain the 40 pounds for the part. The other acting is excellent with his wife Ginger (Lynskey) being the catalyst for much of what happens and hard suffering FBI agents who have to repeatedly pick up the pieces.

The Hangover (2010) (***1/2, comedy) (6-02-10) (D.-Todd Phillips; W.-Jon Lucas, Scott Moore; Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson) First the warning. Low brow, totally tasteless. So low it has to reach up to touch the bottom. On the other hand some nearly lethally funny sequences. It opens with a phone call with some bad news for a bride-to-be. Really bad news. The best man is calling from the desert, bloody and bedraggled. A once fine piece of automotive machinery (her father's prized car) quivers in the background. The three groomsmen are there but they have lost the groom and have no hope of finding him, although they lie to the bride.

Flash back two days to the event leading to this debacle. Doug (Bartha), the groom, allows his two buddies, schoolteacher Phil (Cooper) and dentist Stu (Helms), to talk him into a weekend bachelor party in Vegas. The bride's very off the wall brother, Alan (Galifianakis), joins them; he is after all soon to be family so they had better get used to him. Bad choice, Doug. After a wild night, they wake up in a spectacular suite in Caesar's Palace--not a place their budget could support. Worse they have no memory of the prior night. Worse still, they have a chicken, a baby (no mommy), and assorted other oddities sharing their rooms. They do not, however, have a groom or any hints as to where he might be. Hopefully what happened in Vegas isn't going to stay in Vegas, at least not the groom.

How they unravel what happened and more or less piece their world back together is the story. And a totally off-the-wall story it is. Just when you think it may be becoming traditional, another bizarre twist. The valet bringing their car comes to mind. One might call this comic noir. Everything the buddies do sucks them deeper into the quagmire, and the list of characters and plot twists is worthy of The Maltese Falcon.

Ultimately, it does make a semblance of sense. Most of the items fall into place, especially if you stick around for the credits where the contents of the camera are revealed. It could have happened that way.

Knight and Day (2010) (***, romance, comedy, thriller) (7-19-10) (D.-James Mangold; W.-Patrick O'Neill; Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Jordi Mollà) If you want good solid summer entertainment, look no further. Ignore all the bad press and the problems with getting to the screen. The final product works. Cut from the same mold as Hitchcock's Cary Grant style classic romantic thrillers. It even includes a Hitchcock McGuffin; a "thingamajigee' that everyone wants, but what it really is doesn't matter other than everyone wants it and will do anything to get it. Well, almost a McGuffin. On the way home to her sister's wedding with a classic carburetor, June (Diaz) literally runs into Roy (Cruise) in the airport, get's bumped from a full flight, get's reinstated and ends up sitting next to dream Roy in a virtually empty flight. Perhaps alarm bells should have gone off here, but instead she decides Roy may be Mr. Right and goes to freshen up. When she gets back things are not as they seem which results in one of the great sequences in the film and precipitates the great chase of the remainder of the film.

Who is Roy? Well he may be a spy, he may be trying to steal the McGuffin, or he may be trying to protect the McGuffin. In traditional Hitchcock fashion, June doesn't know whether she should snuggle up to him or turn him in. Therein lies the fun as facts, allegiances, and villains change with every breath. The film is somewhat over-actioned, but Diaz and Cruise are a perfect pair. Two more charming actors you will be hard pressed to find; their chemistry is perfect and the dialogue delightful. We could have used more words and less action, but when they are bantering, their dialogue and their comic timing are perfect.

The plot is nonlinear with delightful twists at every turn. The humor ranges from slapstick to droll. The action sequences are good, and Cruise and Diaz apparently did many of their own stunts. They are clearly having a blast, and we can share in it. One last thing, do watch out for those truth serums.

Shutter Island (2010) (****, psychological thriller) (7-19-10) (D.-Martin Scorsese; W.- Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel); Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine) I think Shutter got a bad rap in part due to the previews, which portrayed it as a standard horror film, and people went it to it expecting too little. While there is horror, it is a stellar thought provoking psychological drama and character study. The year is 1954 and U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) are on a ferry to isolated Shutter Island, which houses a prison for the criminally insane. Their job, track down a murderess who escaped from an inescapable locked room. As the director of the facility Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) said "We don't know how she got out of her room. It's as if she evaporated, straight through the walls."

Our view of the island brings a deep sense of foreboding, which proves to be prophetic. Hell on earth. Everything on the island is creepy and out of kilter. The guards are brusque, evasive, sinister. Cawley and his second Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (von Sydow) are seemly reasonable and enlightened until Ted pushes too hard. Then one begins to wonder who should be the inmates. The patients are what you would expect and keep slipping guarded warnings to Ted. Things quickly degrade and the island becomes cut off due to an onrushing storm. Escape is no longer an option. In the maelstrom, we learn that Ted is damaged in his own right. A veteran of WWII, he has seen things that no human should have to endure. The term Post Traumatic Syndrome hasn't been invented yet, but it has been the scourge of returning veterans since the world's first war. Shutter Island is the last place that his delicate psyche should be placed.

I won't say anything further about plot other than there is a resolution, although many will not like it. The acting is stellar. DiCaprio is perfect as the damaged marshal confronted yet again with stresses that destroy minds. The cinematography and editing are masterful - no surprise with Scorcese and his long term collaborator legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The island and prison is an integral character in this tapestry of despair.

My only complaint with the film is that I thought the director became too enamored with his film making in a number of places. He let scenes that were perfect run on well past where they had made their point.

The last 15 seconds of the film and the one line of dialogue are the most perfect ending to any film that I can remember. If you don't get it, replay it and study all the nuances. Not an uplifting film, but a disturbing thoughtful one that justifies at least one more viewing.

Avatar (PG-13) (2009) (***1/2, sci fi, action) (3-17-10)

Sherlock Holmes (2009) (***, action) (3-17-10)

The Proposal (2009) (***, romantic comedy) (3-17-10)

Stone Cold (2005) (***1/2, crime, drama) (12-29-09)

Appaloosa (2008) (***1/2, western) (12-29-09)

Love at First Bite (1979) (12-29-09) (***, horror, comedy, vampire)

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

Keeping Mum (2005) (***, black comedy) (12-7-09)

Flawless (2007) (***, caper, crime) (12-7-09)

PSI Movies. (12-2-09)

PSI Movies. (12-2-09) I thought that I would review two films that deal with psi or psychic abilities such as precognition and remote reviewing. One, Suspect Zero, I think works pretty well. The other The Men Who Stare at Goats doesn't.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) (12-2-09) (**, comedy, war, sci fi)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) (12-2-09) (**, comedy, war, sci fi) (D.-Grant Heslov; W.-Peter Straughan (screenplay), Jon Ronson (book); George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang) The film opens with the quote "More of this is true than you might imagine." Unfortunately that is true. From 1978 through 1996 when project Stargate was closed down, the US military plowed 10s of millions into psychic research such as remote viewing. Goats is an alleged comedy based on a young reporter Bob Wilton (McGregor) who is seeking his identity and meets one of the top psychics Lyn Cassady (Clooney) in Iraq. Bob recognizes this as the scoop of a lifetime and follows Lyn on his pilgrimage to fix "something". Lyn doesn't know what, but his psychic skills tell him he'll know it when he finds it.

If wandering aimlessly around the desert while learning the history of psychic research is your cup of tea, you might enjoy Goats. For me the best part was when it ended. Basically, the script is a mess. It is disjointed, illogical (even accepting the premise that psi works), and not funny. Watching quirky people such as the founder of the U.S. Army's First Earth Battalion Django (Bridges) establish the unit and deal with psi powers is supposed to be funny and, in the right hands, it is probably is. But not here. I got perhaps two or three mild chuckles throughout the film. A real pity given the cast. Clooney just doesn't seem to have the filter for selection of scripts. He has some great ones, and some dogs or perhaps goats is a better word.

As a New Mexican, the one thing I did enjoy was the scenery. I thought the sand was amazingly white for a traditional desert. It looked a lot like White Sands. For good reason as it turns out. It was. The sand may have been a little wet since it wasn't the blinding white that White Sands normally displays, or perhaps with modern cinematography and post filming editing, they made it look more normal.

The joke on the watch had my wife and I laughing as soon as it was introduced and before the punch line. We knew exactly what was coming. Obviously, most of the rest of the audience didn't get it. If you didn't get it, it is a generational thing. Ask your parents or grandparents to explain it.

We have a local remote viewer Joe McMoneagle (Daily Progress, Nov. 22, 2009 B1) who was with Stargate through its full period and claims to have been Stargate's top viewer. He now claims to make a living doing remote viewing for select unnamed clients. All I can say is that remote viewing has been repeatedly shot down in controlled tests and even the government closed down Stargate, although McMoneagle claims this is due to a narrowness of viewpoint and unwarranted skepticism. How about absence of positive results as a more likely cause. Incidentally, he thought Goats was a very funny comedy.

Suspect Zero (2004) (***, crime, thriller, horror, sci fi)(12-2-09)

Suspect Zero (2004) (***, crime, thriller, horror, sci fi)(12-2-09) (D- E. Elias Merhige; W.-Zak Penn; Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlin, Keith Campbell) I know that I will get static on this one. It is not rated well on IMDB, and I clearly see weaknesses in the film. However, I think it is put together in such a disturbing cohesive whole that it makes up for the weaknesses. The cinematography, the editing, the music all combined into a nightmare scenario. After fade to black, I was totally adrenalized. There aren't many suspense films that do that to me.

Benjamin O'Ryan (Kingsley) is a serial killer with a unique speciality. Aaron Eckhart( Mackelway) is a discredited FBI agent sent to the hinterlands of Albuquerque, NM for penance. It quickly becomes clear that O'Ryan is tormenting Mackelway for some undetermined reason with information on his and other killings and leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Without giving anything away that you don't learn in the first few minutes, O'Ryan has psychic powers. He is also enormously disturbed and in a living hell.

The film is a nightmarish collage of quick cuts to his drawings, viewings and ongoing incidents. The music is an integral component of the terrifying tapestry. You don't necessarily see a lot, but you see more than your mind really wants to see. There are people whose minds are like a horrific Hieronymus Bosch painting-death, despair, agony, decay. And you are placed much too close. If you are unfamiliar with Bosch, a 15th century artist way ahead of his time; Google Hieronymus Bosch, view images. However, unlike Google, the film won't give respite.

Kingsley is pivotal and perfectly manages the demanding role of a man on the verge of losing it. Eckhart is adequate, and Moss is a suitable place holder. Yes, I know the plot doesn't always hold together and you can pretty much see the ending before you get there, but I forgive it for its strengths.

As an aside the film was shot predominantly if not exclusively in New Mexico, which is becoming a haven for film makers. Lovely scenery - at least for someone who loves desert. One humorous line is when Eckhart, upon just arriving in Albuquerque asks about a Starbucks and is dismissed with what an unreasonable suggestion. Trust me, Albuquerque is a very cosmopolitan city with all the accouterments you would expect for a major city of a million.

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

The Atomic Café (1982) (****, documentary, social and political commentary, satire, humor, plus a few more) (10-14-09)

State of Play (2009) (***, crime, drama) (10-14-09)

Duplicity (2009) (***, crime, romance, thriller) (10-14-09)

Confusionaka CONfusion (2003) (***1/2, crime, caper) (10-14-09)

Animal House (1978) (****, low brow comedy) (10-14-09)

Julie & Julia (2009) (***1/2, docudrama, comedy) (9-7-09)

Teenager Films. (9-7-09)

Teenager Films. (9-7-09) There are several teenager films that don't' fall into the usual comedy, sex farce, or slasher genre that I thought I would hit. These are Graduation, a caper film, Brick, a film noir, and Disturbia a remake of Hitchcock's Rear Window. They work with varying degrees of success.

Graduation (2007) (***, action, crime) (9-7-09)

Graduation (2007) (***, action, crime) (9-7-09) (D.-Michael Mayer; W.-Michael Mayer, Cory Turner; Shannon Lucio, Riley Smith, Chris Marquette, Chris Lowell, Adam Arkin, Aimee Garcia) A teenage caper film. In the opening you track a trail of blood across a bank floor with a noir style voice over. Obviously the caper did not go well. Flash back two weeks earlier to learn how we arrived here. Four friends on the verge of graduation need money for a family emergency. With the usual criminal mindset, what could be more logical and audacious than robbing one of the student's father's bank. The friends from different backgrounds and very different personalities make for an uneasy alliance when it comes to criminal acts. I won't say more about plot other than that the acting is solid, the characters interesting, the plot adequately convoluted, and the resolution satisfying.

Brick (2005) (***1/2, noir, crime, drama) (9-7-09)

Brick (2005) (***1/2, noir, crime, drama) (9-7-09) (DW.-Rian Johnson; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Emilie De Ravin, Lucas Babin, Richard Roundtree) If Dashiell Hammett had been a Valley teenager growing up now, he might well have written Brick. It is classic hardboiled film noir in a modern setting. We have all the elements. A tough loner Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) stumbles onto the body of his murdered ex-girl friend Emily (De Ravin) and may have just missed the murderer. He spends the rest of the story seeking who and why, and then revenge. Our principals are in a society alienated from those around it, in this case the adults, school, and the law who at best are indifferent and at worst active participants in the disruption of the lives and actions. Quirky characters with names like The Pin (Haas), Big Stoner (Babin ), Tugger (Fleiss), and The Brain (O'Leary). Sharp dialogue that caters to their insular society. Humphrey Bogart and Dick Powell from The Maltese Falcon and Murder My Sweet would have felt right at home in the mean streets of Brick.

Ultimately, like much noir, Brick is less about the details of the plot and more about atmosphere, character interactions, dialogue, and survival in a lethal environment. So if you are fond of film noir, you are likely to find Brick a clever entertaining diversion.

Disturbia (2007) (**1/2, suspense) (9-7-09)

Disturbia (2007) (**1/2, suspense) (9-7-09) (D.-D.J. Caruso; Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse) A nice teenage set up and homage to Hitchcock's classic Rear Window. Seventeen year old Kale Brecht (LaBeouf ) loses his father in a tragic accident and become withdrawn, uncommunicative, and hostile. This culminates with him punching out a teacher and being placed under house arrest for the summer with a tracking bracelet that restricts his movement to his house. Out of boredom, he becomes a voyeur and begins watching his neighbors. Things really begin to unravel when he begins to suspect his neighbor of being a murderer. However, this is a world where adults don't take kids very seriously, and certainly not a screw-loose teenager. So no one will believe him. Aided by his mobile girl friend, he begins to investigate. For those familiar with Rear Window, the setup and implementation is directly parallel to Jimmy Stewart's and Grace Kelly's roles.
The film works to here as a clever homage to Hitchcock. Unfortunately, the whole effect is ruined in my opinion by the extended end segment that turns into a standard teen horror film. If you like homage and Hitchcock, there is something in here for you. But do be prepared for the letdown ending. If you have never seen Rear Window, it is one of the classic great suspense films. Hitchcock's opening scene is one of the greats. It conveys more information without a single word than most directors can do in 10 minutes.

State of Play (2003) (7-31-09) (****, thriller, drama)

Timecrimes aka Los cronocrímenes (2007) (***,scifi) (7-31-09)

Nine Queens aka Nueve reinas (2000) (***1/2, drama, crime, thriller) (7-29-09)

The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008) (**1/2, action ) (7-29-09)

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

Taken (2008) (***, action, thriller) (7-23-09)

Angels and Demons (2009, ***1/2, action) (6/30/09)

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) (**1/2 adults, **** children, fantasy, comedy, action) (6/23/09) With photos

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) (**1/2, drama, crime, action) (6/23/09)

Star Trek (2009) (****, space opera, science fiction) (6-10-09)

Cypher (2002) (***, suspense) (6-10-09)

Transsiberian (2008) (***1/2, suspense) (5-29-09)

Let the Right One In (2008) (***1/2, vampire, drama) (5-29-09)

Polar Storm (2009) (**1/2,sci fi)

Charlie Wilson's War (2007) (****, docudrama, war, espionage) (4-8-09)

Charlie Wilson's War (2007) (****, docudrama, war, espionage) (4-8-09) (D.-Mike Nichols; W.-Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), George Crile (book); Tom Hanks, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman) Outrageous. Unbelievable. Funny. If this had been presented as fiction, it would have been laughed out of the theater; however, it is basically all true but more on that later. On February 15, Russia acknowledged their 20 year anniversary of their withdrawal from Afghanistan; a venture that cost them about 30 thousand deaths. Charlie is a fascinating window into Russia's defeat in Afghanistan and the amazing story of why they lost: Congressman from Texas "Good time Charlie" Wilson, a beautiful rich ultra-right wing Texan Joanne Herring, and renegade Greek-American CIA agent Gust Avrakotos . Charlie was noted in Congress for his delightful personality, womanizing, wild partying, and his ability to deliver a deciding vote for others. This all changed on a wild night in Vegas when he happened to tune in on Dan Rather's segment on the plight of the Afghan people and the vastly outclassed Mujahedin fight against the occupying Russians.

What was much less appreciated by his colleagues was that Wilson was extremely bright and a cunning and masterful political tactician. And he now had a cause for which he could collect on all the favors he had accumulated. Herring, who ended up being Charlie's lover and confidante, was positively rabid on the Russian invasion and proved Charlie's muse and backbone. Gust was the "get it done" with all the right connections and the less-orthodox-the- better arm of the trio. All seriously flawed people, but the right people and the right combination at exactly the right time in history.

You want sex? You want drugs? You want political assassinations? You want political intrigue? You want a belly dancer and a coalition between Pakistan, Egypt and Israel? You want totally outrageous and unbelievable? You want people who are bigger than life? Plus much, much more? You have come to the right place. And you will probably learn more about our political system workings than you really wanted to know. I'm not going to give you too many facts and spoil your first viewing.

How true? Actually very close to the facts. The initial meeting between Gust and Charlie is fictionalized, but the personalities and their interactions are very true to character. It could have happened that way. The time line was compressed and the political dealings were stripped down. The helicopter incident actually came very late and was more dramatic than shown in the film. Charlie did burn down his neighbor's garden and get him voted out of office. Gust didn't break the glass but otherwise the incident is accurate; both men thought the other was there to apologize-what a setup. The belly dance was much wilder than shown in the film. By the Russian withdrawal, Gust had been banished to the hinterlands and was no longer in contact with Charlie, although he was present at the awards ceremony.

There have been many complaints about Hank's portrayal of such a wild individual. I thought Hanks did an excellent job and, after watching interviews with Wilson and historical film clips, an accurate one. However, the script writers toned Charlie down enormously. As unbelievable as he appeared in the film, reality was far wilder. I suspect they thought a more accurate presentation would be considered ridiculously over the top by the audience.

This is an amazing story. Touching, sad, funny, infuriating, gripping, suspenseful, and politically timely. If you like the movie, you must see the documentary The True Story of Charlie Wilson and then read the original book Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile.

The True Story of Charlie Wilson (2007) (***1/2, documentary) (4-8-09)

The True Story of Charlie Wilson (2007) (***1/2, documentary) (4-8-09)(W.-Aaron Bowden; Narrator- Bill Lloyd; Michelle Ashley, Frank V. Gaide, Melanie Morgan) This History Channel two-hour documentary provides the factual basis for the movie and shows the real people. The true time line is better shown and the facts are better set into historical and political context. You get interviews with the still living principals, which always helps bring history to life; unfortunately, Gust was dead. Charlie and Joanne are clearly charismatic individuals. The documentary is peppered with little anecdotes such as where one of their new weapons systems fired unexpectedly and burned down a DC filling station, but was successfully covered up.

The one glaring irritant is the re-creation of several incidents such as the Vegas hot tub incident with actors. This was not necessary and it detracted from the historical accuracy of the rest. In short, a must-see if you find the subject and the original film interesting. Which brings me to the definitive source. The book Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile. This is a must-read. The True Story DVD available from Sneak Reviews.

Charlie Wilson's War (****, book) (4-8-09)

Charlie Wilson's War (****, book) (4-8-09) (W.-George Crile) The definitive source on Charlie Wilson's war. The movie and the documentary only touch on the complexities of the characters, the situations, the politics, and the machinations involved. Further, all of the characters, especially Gust and Charlie, were far wilder and flamboyant than portrayed in the film. Reality was even less believable than portrayed in the film. As indicated in the film, Gust really did hire a witch to cast a curse; the book goes into gory details. A James Bond novel is almost tame by comparison.

The book has outraged the right and the left. The left considers it jingoistic. The right feels that the Reagan government gets short shrift in its treatment and was much more responsive to the war than portrayed. The book actually does give more credit to the Reagan administration than the movie. Reagan was the one who signed off on the Stingers over the CIA objections. It was principally the CIA that resisted Charlie and especially the Stinger Missiles. They were genuinely fearful that his escalation would bring the US and the USSR into direct military conflict, and felt that a lower level conflict would ultimately bleed the Russians dry much like Vietnam had us. The civilian casualties were just collateral damage. The Afghan toll was estimated at over a million. Further they were deeply worried about the deployment of heat seeking missiles in the hands of third world countries and no real controls over their dispersion. This point was not without concern as there have been a number of incidents involving attempts or successful interception of planes worldwide by Stingers including commercial aircraft, although none in mainline countries to date. Certainly, many of the weapons fed to the Mujahedin by the CIA have subsequently found their way into terrorist hands

Yes, Charlie did want to build schools after the Russians left. However, this would have been fruitless. Even before the Russians left, the Afghans had turned on each other like jackals over a carcass and with their centuries-old grudges were tearing each other's throats out in a bloody civil war but now armed to the teeth with the latest weapons. Crile has a thought provoking concluding chapter Unintended Consequences on the aftermath of the war and its contribution to the rise of global jihad and 9/11.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the book is a fascinating read. It is also depressing in regard to our government. Your worst fears about the backroom dealings and horse trading in our Congress were wrong. It is actually worse. Far worse.

Diamond Men (2002) (***1/2, drama, comedy) (4-8-09)

The Hill (1965) (****, drama) (1-26-09)

Laura (1944) (***1/2, drama, noir, mystery, murder, classic) (1-26-09)

The Good Shepherd (2006) (**, spy, drama) (1-15-09)

The Company (2007) (****, spy, action, drama, history) (1-15-09)

Breach (2007) (****, docudrama, spy) (1-15-09)

The Bank Job (2008) (***1/2, crime, drama, thriller) (1-2-09)

Green for Danger (1946) (***1/2, mystery) (1-2-09)

Constantine (2005) (***, horror, supernatural) (1-2-09)

The Orphanage aka Orfanato, El (2007) (***, ghost story, horror) (1-2-09)

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) (****, animated, comedy) (12-12-08)

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) (****, animated, comedy) (12-12-08) (D.- Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath; W.- Etan Cohen, Darnell, McGrath; voices by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Bernie Mac, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, will.i.am) OK. My Looney Tunes, lower middle class sense of humor is showing. I thought that the original Madagascar was a good kids movie with a few good laughs and a lot of dry patches. 2 has a few dry spots, a lot of funny patches, and some nearly lethally funny. I'll have to see it again to get all the dialogue that I missed while I was laughing. I should add that my grandchildren (4, 8 and 11) loved it as did my daughter, but while my wife enjoyed it, she didn't think it was as good as I did.

The animals that were stranded on Madagascar in part 1 are attempting to return to New York. These include the self-centered lion Alex (Stiller), a neurotic zebra (Rock), a love-struck giraffe (Schwimmer), a well rounded (is there any other kind) hippo Gloria (Smith), King Julien (Cohen), and his second in command (Cedric). The method of escape is those ever resourceful penguins who have managed to make a cargo cult vintage aircraft air worthy - well maybe. And off they go to New York. New York is a long way and a spectacularly unplanned landing in Africa interrupts their trip. Be careful what you ask for. A return to ones roots may not be quite as you have foreseen. We get the continuation of the Giraffe-Hippo romance where Melman is too tongue tied to tell Gloria what he thinks. We get family bonding with Alex and his long lost family, acceptance of different approaches to life, and a little skullduggery courtesy of a power hungry lion. The lemur, King Julien, whom I found obnoxious in Madagascar has either improved or he has grown on me. His overbearing insolence, his ride rough shod over everyone attitude and especially his solution to the water crisis all work. For the little ones, the only problem area is the opening where we get a sad separation of Alex from his parents as a young cub. However, you can reassure them that all will work out in the end.

The penguins are my favorite characters. So efficient, so ruthless, so prone to understatement in the face of disaster. Everyone, including humans had better watch out when they are around. On the other hand the little old lady is really dangerous and hungry; it is good that penguin isn't on the menu.

The film has plenty of Looney Tunes slap stick. It also has an abundance of verbal humor. There is more than enough adult humor lurking in the corners to keep most adults happy that they were "forced" to bring children to the film. The plane comes to mind. In more than one place the adults were the only ones laughing; the kids must wonder about us. And near the end we get one totally unexpected payback of an earlier sight gag that is a genuine hoot.

Just remember Maurice's disappointed "And the science was so sound!"

RocknRolla (2008) (***, crime, gangster, black humor) (12-12-08)

Quantum of Solace (2008) (***, Bond, action, crime) (12-12-08)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (****+, satire, war, drama) (3-3-99) (11-18-08)(D.- Stanley Kubrick; Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones) One of Kubricks earlier black and white works. This is one of the funniest and most savagely satirical antiwar works since Chaplin's The Great Dictator. Even in this day of the breakup of the Soviet Empire, the views of government, the military, and human nature are still consistent. If you saw this movie when you were young, you very likely missed much of the subtle wit and insights; see it again. The movie is loosely based on the deadly serious book Fail Safe, which was also made into a movie by the same name. As an antiwar statement, Strangelove is the best.

The plot revolves around the launching of a nuclear first strike against the Soviets by Colonel Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) of Burbpulson Air Force Base. Peter Sellers has 3 parts (mad scientist, US president, and RAF officer). Slim Pickens has one of the most memorable "rodeo" rides in history. George C. Scott as the gung ho AF officer is priceless while he is bragging about our technology being so good that it (whoops!) guarantees the end of the world. As any good satire, you find yourself laughing, stop short, and ask "My God, how can I be laughing at this?" Especially the end. When it first showed audiences literally walked out stunned and in a daze. Numerous Academy Award nominations. World SciFi Society Hugo Award. A MUST SEE. (10-23-95)

Additional Material (11-18-08) I just showed Dr. Strangelove to Monroe Hill Resident College. It had an extremely good turnout and a very enthusiastic crowd. My only regret was that most of the students had seen it before. It is a film that deserves, nay demands, a new audience. It is timeless and one of my top 10 films. I showed the Special Edition DVD, which had the documentary The Art of Stanley Kubrick from Short Films to Strangelove and Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove. These alone would be worth the price of the DVD

I’ll pull a few things from these extras. Peter Sellers did three roles: the President, Captain Mandrake, and Dr. Strangelove. He was also supposed to do Captain Kong. He was stressed out by the four roles and wanted to drop the fourth because of the Texas accent, but he did manage that. Unfortunately, during one of the rehearsals, he fell 15 feet from the bomb bay of their bomber model and broke his leg. Since the role required reasonable athletic activity, he had to pass on the part. The director had seen Slim Pickens in other films and decided he was perfect for the role. When Pickens, who was the Cowboys cowboy first came swaggering onto the English set in full western regalia, people commented that he had already gotten dressed for the part, not appreciating that this was Slim Pickens. His rodeo ride has become one of the most famous icons in filmdom.

The movie was scheduled to have a pie fight in the war room. However, they only had time for one take and the actors were clearly enjoying themselves too much for the mood the scene was supposed to set. It really wouldn't have worked anyway, but the clips on the short are a hoot. Incidentally, President Reagan wanted to see the War Room when he assumed the presidency only to find out that it was created for the movie and actually didn't exist. It certainly looks like it should.

The interior of the B-52 was entirely the designers creation. The Air Force wouldn't supply any information. When some military brass got a screening of the film, they went white when they saw the interior of the cockpit. Kubrick then told the designer that everything that he had used in its creation had better be unclassified or they were in serious, serious trouble.


Bond.... James Bond. With the arrival of the much awaited new James Bond movie this week, I thought that I would go back and fill in some of the holes in my reviews and bring a little historical perspective to the Bond phenomena.

Dr. No (1962) (***, action, Bond) (11-12-08)

Dr. No (1962) (***, action, Bond) (11-12-08) (D.-Terence Young; W.-Ian Fleming (novel), Richard Maibaum (screenplay); Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson) The roots of one of the biggest film franchise series of all time. Dr. No is dated and suffers from a less than optimum budget. However, it sets the stage and introduces one of the two best Bonds, Sean Connery. The plot is convoluted, the woman beautiful, the villains delightfully evil, the action sequences respectable, and there are even a few gadgets. This is the only Bond without an action sequence at the beginning, but it introduces many of the icons of the series. The gun barrel view of Bond, the theme music, the beautiful world locations, the repartee, the one liners, and the timeless “Bond. ….James Bond”, which incidentally was the American Film Institute’s number 22 movie quote.

The plot is almost secondary other than that it puts Bond in a series of increasingly dangerous and helpless situations. MI6 loses contact with their operatives in Jamaica and Bond goes out to see what happened. It involves the loss of US space launches, the CIA, a megalomaniac genius selling his skills to the highest bidder. But enough of plot.

A few interesting tidbits. Connery is terrified of spiders and InterNet Movie Database (IMDB) claims they used a stunt double in the bedroom scene. Amazingly well done if correct. Regardless, the absolute vehemence with which the arachnid is dispatched suggests that could well have been done by Connery. My friends who raced sports cars at the time this came out were amused at the spectacle of a pre-war LaSalle hearse keeping up with a Sunbeam Alpine sports car on a curvy mountain road. No way! But it does make a good chase sequence. The underwater viewing port was an error. They used stock footage for the fish, but only realized too late that their size was all wrong. Thus, the line from Dr. No about the magnifying ability of the window. Finally the iconic picture of James Bond standing with the long barreled automatic across his chest was a fluke. The photo had to be redone at the last minute, and his Walther PPK was still at the studio. The photographer had an air pistol in his car, and this is what you see. I think it improves on reality. Connery was about the third choice for the part­depending on which of the various versions you believe. Fortunately, the others had conflicts or weren’t willing to commit to the required 3 film contract. (IMDB).

Ursula Andress as Honey Rider is a major weakness of the film. Her acting is so wooden as to verge on petrified. However, she didn’t really want the role and was talked into it by her husband. Plus, her voice is dubbed by another actress. She does, though, make a spectacular Botticelli entry from the sea.

Connery is perfect as Bond. Cool, composed and with an undercurrent of danger. They did tone down his ruthlessness in the killing of Dent. In the original take Bond emptied his automatic into Dent’s back; it was reduced to a coup de grace.

Jack Wiseman as Dr. No is satisfying. Cold, intelligent, ruthless. We are developing our regulars (M, Felix Leiter, Moneypenny), but the venerable role of Q has not yet been fleshed out.

Not great, but satisfying and a good place to beginning watching Bond films and see how the series evolved.

From Russia with Love
(1964) (***1/2, action, Bond)

From Russia with Love (1964) (***1/2, action, Bond) (11-12-08) (D.-Terence Young; W.-Johanna Harwood (adaptation); Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Eunice Gayson, Lois Maxwell) The second Bond film and SPECTRE is out for revenge on Bond for killing their agent Dr. No and costing them a bundle in blackmail. They use every trick including poisoned shoes in the hands of over the top wicked Rosa Klebb (Lenya). The bait is a decoding machine Lektor the British wish to recover and a beautiful Russian spy Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi). However, the real villain is master assassin Red Grant (Shaw) in a role to die for. He is so suave, so genteel, and so persuasive, but a truly frightening elemental force when unleashed. In short a perfect villain and counterpoint worthy of Bond. If you like Shaw here, check out The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and Jaws.

In keeping with the growing philosophy of the Bond movies, we are treated to spectacular locations (Turkey), the Orient Express, beautiful women, great action pieces, a growing number of gadgets, one liners, and a delightfully entertaining plot. What makes this one of the top Bond’s in my opinion is the characterization of Bond. This Bond probably comes as close to capturing the Ian Fleming Bond of any of the movies up to the latest one. Bond’s intelligent, captivating, suave veneer covers a man of few morals, ruthlessness, and determination. In short a controlled psychopath who you are glad is on our side. Connery does it perfectly.

We are introduced to the venerable and much loved Q (as in quartermaster) Desmond Llewelyn. While this part of Major Boothroyd was used in the first film, Llewelyn raises it to an art form and assumes the name Q. He is like a fussy old woman worrying about a speck of lint on her drapes, only his drapes include some of the most lethal and imaginative weapons known to man. He is hard suffering and resigned from long experience that whatever he gives Bond, he will be lucky if he gets the ashes or fragments back in a brown paper bag at the end. Llewelyn died in a car accident in 1999 while driving home from a book signing to promote his autobiography. In reality he hated machines.

This is the first Bond film with the introductory action sequence. It is a gem and a complete shock. The rock theme as always is great.

Goldfinger (1965) (****, action, Bond) (11-12-08)

Goldfinger (1965) (****, action, Bond) (11-12-08) (D.-Guy Hamilton; W.- Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn (screenplay); Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe, Shirley Eaton, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Cec Linder, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn) In the third Bond, Goldfinger , it all comes together. The perfect combination that would serve the franchise and make it one of the longest running and incredibly successful film series on record. The music, the opening, the sets, the women, the locations, the gadgets, the cars, the wit, the one-liners, the action. It is all here and more.

Of course a gem requires a great villain. Auric Goldfinger as the man who loves gold more than Midas, but without any redeeming humanity fills the bill admirably. Aided by his taciturn but very able henchman, Odd Jobs, Goldfinger will give Bond one of his most dangerous body-strewn cases. Goldfinger has one of the great film lines as he responds to Bond’s question “Do you want me to talk?” as an industrial strength laser approaches Bond on a trajectory that will shortly bisect him – starting at one of his more delicate parts. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t such good idea to beat the hypercompetitive Goldfinger at golf.

The caper is nothing less than an audacious raid on Fort Knox. Incidentally, the interior was an artist’s creation. There is no public information, but it probably doesn’t look that cool.

Enormously entertaining. So if you haven’t seen Goldfinger or seen it in recently, check it out.

Casino Royale (PG-13) (****, action, Bond) (11-12-08)

Casino Royale(PG-13) (****, action, Bond) (11-12-08) (D.- Martin Campbell; W.-Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis; Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Mads Mikkelsen) A stellar reinvention of James Bond with much closer roots to Ian Fleming’s original. Indeed, this is the first Bond novel, so we get to see the roots of many of the Bond icons. Daniel Craig reinvents the role. In my opinion there are now two best Bonds. Sean Connery for the 20th century and Craig for the 21st. You know from the opening that this is not going to be the same old same old. The credits are different. Graphic art rather than dance. Grittier. Less polished. The opening action sequence is terse, brutal, realistic with no glossy special effects. Just two men in a give-no-quarter fight to the death. But not to fear, there is no shortage of rip the arms off the chair action sequences. Action junkies will get their rush; but Casino introduces characters that you can empathize with. Flawed, but believable, human beings.

Craig is the centerpiece. A deeply damaged man. Ruthless. An intelligent, articulate thug. A near sociopath who owes his position and success to the government, and he will do anything to repay them­but in his own way. His exchange with Vesper Lynd (Green) on the train is incredibly revealing about his past and personality. However, inside this armor, he can be and is reached in a very believable fashion.

Green does an excellent job as a love interest. Initially she is totally turned off by his sexist attitude, but develops a growing appreciation of his humanity. Also, her response to the fight in the stairwell is completely believable. Judi Dench as M is a powerhouse. Commanding, articulate and with fabulous repartee. Her comments on the government and the lower quality of the current 00s are gems. The villains are classic. Ruthless, intelligent, and very able at what they do. Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) as the primary opposition is a formidable opponent.
The one chase sequence that stands above all others is with Sabastian Foucan. Foucan does free running (an Anglicized form of parkour). This is the art of getting between two point as efficiently and with as much flair as possible. It involves the ability to cross over or through just about anything in an athletic way that defies gravity. These runners have to be seen to be believed. I just watched Jackie Chan’s Mr. Nice Guy, and he used many of the same techniques. As a technical aside the telemetry system used to save Bond is in fact existing technology.

When they announced that Craig was going to be the next Bond, I couldn’t believe it. I had seen him as the sniveling, weak willed gang lord son in Road to Perdition. There was no way he could play Bond. The juxtaposition of these two films shows what a superb actor Craig is.

In my opinion, this is the best Bond yet. The concluding line is delivered with such cool ruthlessness that it chills one to the bone, and may be a lead in to the new one. I can’t wait for the new one.

Chaos (2005) (***, action, crime) (9-8-08)

Cloverfield (2008) (2008) (*, sci fi, monster) (9-8-08)

The Dark Knight (2008) (***1/2, action, noir) (6-10-08)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) (***, action, 3D) (6-10-08)

Unknown World (1951) (*1/2, sci fi) ) (6-10-08)

Unknown World (1951) (*1/2, sci fi) ) (6-10-08) (D.-Terry O. Morse; W.-Millard Kaufman; Bruce Kellogg, Otto Waldis, Jim Bannon, Tom Handley, Dick Cogan, George Baxter, Marilyn Nash) A black and white version of Journey to the Center of the Earth. This is available on the 50 sci fi movies for $20 disk sets. It is a classic low budget sci fi. Or perhaps zero budget as shown by the special effects on the drilling craft. It has two interesting features. Much of the underground world is created thanks in part to Carlsbad Caverns, which made it a popular view in New Mexico. Second, it has an embedded political warning about the cold war and the risk of nuclear annihilation. This was a common theme in films from the 50s, and this one concludes with the warning that we had better fix the problem because there is no alternate world to run to.

Other than these two points there is little to recommend this movie. As I recall I enjoyed it as a child, but it has not aged well. Unfortunately on the print we watched the shots of the cavern do not do it justice, but it does look like you get into some parts that the public doesn't see such as the bottomless pit.

Photos from Carlsbad. Note the two people (very small) standing to the left of the spire.


First Snow (2006) (***1/2, drama, psychological thriller, noir) (6-10-08)

ALL·E (2008) (**1/2 adults, **** children, animation) (7-25-08)

Get Smart (2008) (**1/2, comedy, action) (7-25-08)

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

28 Weeks Later (2007) (**, horror) (6-10-08)

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

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

Walter Mathau (6-4-08)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) (****, drama, crime) (6-4-08)

Charley Varrick (1973) (****, crime, drama) (6-4-08)

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) (****, crime, drama, noir) (6-2-08)

The Host aka Gwoemul (2006) (***, horror, comedy) (6-2-08)

Sunshine (2007) (**, sci fi, drama, horror) (6-2-08)

Michael Clayton (2007) (***1/2, drama) (2-25-08)

No Country for Old Men (2007) (****, crime, drama, noir) (2-25-08)

There Will Be Blood (2007) (***1/2, drama) (2-25-08)

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour 3D (2008) (**1/2 adults, **** children of the right age, rock concert, documentary) (2-6-08)

Enchanted (2007) (***1/2 adults, **** children, fantasy, comedy) (1-21-08)

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007) (**1/2 adults, **** children, action) (1-21-08)

Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) (1982) (****+, sci fi, documentary, etc.) (1-16-08) Released in December 2007.

Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure (2007) (****, documentary, animation, science education) (1-16-08)

The good, the bad and the ugly (films). (8-13-07)

The good, the bad and the ugly. (8-13-07)

 Some films you expect to be good and are bad. Some films you expect to be bad and are good. Some films don’t give you what you thought you were paying for at all. Some films are bad and give you exactly what you were after. I review several films that fall into these categories. See Black Dahlia, The, Black Dahlia, and Dementia 13

Black Dahlia, The (2006) (1 ½*, crime, drama) (8-13-07)

Black Dahlia (2006) (No rating, see review; crime) (8-13-07)

Dementia 13 (1963) (***, horror) (8-13-07)

Shockwave aka A.I. Assault (2006) (**, sci fi) (8-13-07)

The Void (2001) (**, sci fi) (8-13-07)

The Proposition (2005) (***1/2, western, drama) (2-20-07)

Snakes on a Plane (2006) (**, action) (2-20-07)

Serenity (2005) (***, space opera, sci fi) (6-12-06)

The Kennel Murder Case (1933) (***1/2, crime) (6-12-06)

The Kennel Murder Case (1933) (***1/2, crime) (6-12-06) (D.-Michael Curtiz; W.-S.S. Van Dine (novel); William Powell, Mary Astor, , Eugene Pallette, Ralph Morgan, Robert McWade, Robert Barrat) First rate Philo Vance film based on the novel. Archer Coe (Barrat) is found dead in a locked room. Clearly suicide, but Vance (Powell) sets out to prove otherwise. There is certainly no shortage of people who wished Coe dead, but who and how are the questions. The plot is intriguing, the dialogue sharp and incisive, and the humor droll and frequently black. The chemistry between Vance and Hilda Lake (Astor) is fabulous. If you like the Thin Man series, you will equally like Kennel.

Casanova (2005) (***1/2, historical comedy) (6-12-06)

A Sound of Thunder (2005) (***, sci fi) (6-12-06)

Mission Impossible III (2006) (***, action) (6-12-06)

Mission Impossible III (2006) (***, action) (6-12-06) (D.- J.J. Abrams; W.-Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and J.J. Abrams; based on the TV series created by Bruce Geller; Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Michelle Monaghan) Mission Impossible is like the Bond series. You don't check your credibility at the door, you put in a box, place it in the closet, close the door, and don't unwrap it until you get back from the theater. MI III follows true to the original TV series pattern of setting up a McGuffin that the squad has to deal with. In this case it is the Rabbit's Foot being brokered by ruthless arms dealer Owen Davian (Hoffman). What we are treated to is increasingly outrageous and complex schemes to overcome the different obstacles that present themselves to the Impossible Mission team. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has retired and is getting married to Julia (Monaghan). There comes one last little job that he cannot say no to, which initiates the fall from the precipice.

The film provides a series of beautifully orchestrated action sequences with mixtures of live and computer generated effects. For me they all looked good on the big screen. I particularly liked the bridge sequence, although the Vatican part was ridiculously and delightfully amusing.

Hoffman does a fine job as a heavy. Here is a psychotic who revels in the manipulation and destruction of others. While he has no intention of dying, he is more than willing to do so without a whimper and will happily spit in the face of his killer. The supporting cast is good.

We don't watch too many high energy action films, and we enjoyed this one. The only place that it fell down was in the human relations sections, which frequently went on too long, but were fortunately few in number. We kept thinking: "Cut out the kissing and the crying and get to the action!"

Mr. Murder (1998) (***, sci fi, thriller) (6-12-06)

Mr. Murder (1998) (***, sci fi, thriller) (6-12-06) (D.-Dick Lowry; W.-Dean R. Koontz (novel); Stephen Baldwin, Julie Warner, Bill Smitrovich) Koontz books frequently do not translate well to the screen. I felt that Mr. Murder works due largely to the casting of Baldwin as the two leads. Without giving too much away Marty Stillwater (Baldwin) finds himself being hunted by an exact replica Alfie( Baldwin) who believes that he is in fact Stillwater and has been deprived of his rightful heritage by Marty. Marty is mister nice guy. A good father, a good husband. The sort of person that you couldn't imagine hurting a fly. You might not even notice him. He is Mr. Zero. Alfie is brutal, ruthlessly efficient, lethal and enormously immature. He doesn't really understand the situation, but he is Darwinian enough to make the right moves to survive and to try to make the world a sane place for himself. In spite of his initially passive personality, Marty turns out to be equally Darwinian; he is going to protect his wife and daughters at all costs. Marty is played as a real person rather than as a super hero, and, given the 3 hours of the TV production, you get a chance to see him mature into the part. Alfie, in spite of leaving a trail of bodies, is a genuinely sympathetic character. He has to be destroyed, but you would feel badly about it. As far as the science is concerned, check your brain at the door, accept the premise, and enjoy a tour de force performance by Baldwin.

 Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005, ***1/2, documentary) (4-5-06)

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005, ***1/2, documentary) (4-5-06) (D-Alex Gibney. Based on the book, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron  by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind; narrated by Peter Coyote; as themselves: Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling, Lou Pai, Mike Muckleroy, Sherron Watkins, Red. James Nuter, Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind) As the Enron trials of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling go into their death throes what could be more timely than the DVD release of this documentary. With the outcome, we can be suitably outraged or depressed. Enron gives us the background to better judge what is happening. As I understand it, we are lucky to get the DVD. The film was a hot potato, showed only limitedly, and no one wanted to take responsibility for the DVD. The operating principle of these guys seems to be the mantra of Gordon Gekko from the film  Wall Street “Greed is good.” The film explores the spectacular rise and catastrophic fall of Enron. It is a scathing indictment of the corporate culture and the individuals involved, and moral bankruptcy was the order of the day. In the early stages, whether what they were doing was unethical or illegal is not so obvious to an outsider, but with the setting up of the fictional offshore companies to hide their losses and make the books look really good, it clearly falls on the illegal side. Then came the California debacle where the Californians were screaming there was no energy shortage and they were the victims of a conspiracy. I confess to having thought it was just whining on their part when their extravagant energy usage came home to roost. Dead wrong. A magnificently orchestrated artificial crisis that jacked energy prices and profit for Enron through the roof. The robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century must be applauding in their graves.

With modern audio recording of many conversations and email as well as videos and hearings, we have an unprecedented look at the workings of the company and the individuals. We get conversations of traders engineering the next blackout in California and laughing about how “Grandma Millie” is going to suffer through it as they positively revel in their expected profits.

What did Enron actually market? Other than themselves, I never really understood that. However, I do understand the enormous arrogance and chutzpah of the people involved, their total contempt for the victims of their excesses, and their complete unwillingness to accept any responsibility for the consequences of their actions. And it wasn’t just the Enron people who ate the losses. Employees of companies purchased by Enron found their retirements either gone or vastly diminished when Enron tanked.  I was also impressed with one of the apparently legal tactics they used: “market  to market." If Enron began a venture that could  make $50 million 10 years from now, it could claim the $50 million as current income! What a nifty way to balance out a major loss, particularly when you are the ones predicting the future value. Skilling is even shown satirizing this in an in-house video.

My only negative point is that the director gets flashy and throws in superfluous asides. Not necessary and it detracts from the story, which is riveting and stands on its own.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) (****, animation, humor) (1-30-06)

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) (****, animation, humor) (1-30-06) (D.-Steve Box, Nick Park; W.- Nick Park; voices: Nick Park Sallis, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Kay, Nicholas Smith) A great family movie, and adults won’t object either. For those of you who don’t know, Wallace is an inventor, and Gromit is his faithful dog. It isn’t always clear who is the brains of the outfit, but Gromit certainly has the most common sense. Oh, did I forget to mention that the animation is all claymation (stop motion animation with clay figures)? And what marvelous claymation. Nick Park, the animator, gets more expressiveness and subtle acting out of clay than many actors do in the flesh. Parks introduced this dynamic duo with three 30-40 minute shorts including A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers. His first full-length film was Chicken Run, a story of caged chickens in a concentration camp-like setting. Were-Rabbit is his second full length film and what a gem. The animation is as good as it gets. The humor ranges from slapstick to the best droll British remarks. As with his other films, it draws shamelessly on the conventions of a genra style, in this case horror films. The lighting, the music, the action is right out of classic 40s-50s horror films.

The plot is that the town is about to have their giant vegetable festival (the vegetables are giant, not the festival), the bigger the better. This joyous event has been endangered by an infestation of cute, but hungry, bunny rabbits. Fortunately, Wallace (Sallis) and Gromit are keeping them at bay, and turning a profit at the same time. In the process of cleaning out her garden, Wallace has become smitten with the “beautiful” Lady Campanula Tottington (Carter), and the feelings are mutual. Unfortunately, there is an unscrupulous, and insufferable suitor, Victor Quartermaine (Fiennes), who would like to eliminate Wallace. However, this is only the substructure for the plot. What is the worst thing that could happen to a giant vegetable festival? A were-rabbit, of course. Ravenous at night. Hidden by day. And thus riotous insanity ensues with Wallace and Gromit trying to catch the rabbit, the suitor trying to discredit Wallace and capture Lady Tottington, and Gromit trying to keep a lid on things. And the villagers? Think back to the old horror films.

My one complaint with the earlier Chicken Run was that it was too long. I thought the format worked better in shorter doses. I think Were-Rabbit overcomes this. It wasn’t too long for me. However, if you saw and didn’t like any of his earlier work, this film probably isn’t for you. The film plays at both adult and children’s levels, so I expect my granddaughters to love it. I saw it on a plane; I enjoy comedy and have a hearty laugh. I suspect the people sitting around me sort of pulled away as though to say “I have no idea who this guy is, and I don’t know him. So don’t blame me.”

If you liked any of the earlier Wallace and Gromit, get a copy as soon as it comes out, but don’t eat anything while you are watching. Like in Were-Rabbit, you never know where a belly laugh will spring out at you. Oh, do pay close attention to the names of the characters.

Note: It was enjoyed every bit as much by 5 and 8 year old granddaughters as I expected.

Syriana (2004) (***, action, drama) (1-30-06)

Syriana (2004) (***, action, drama) (1-30-06) (DW- Stephen Gaghan; based on novel by Robert Baer; George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper, Christopher Plummer, Max Minghella, Jeffrey Wright) A bleak, cynical view of world politics and business as told through several interrelated or overlapping stories. Money and oil drive our world, and those in control will not allow any disturbance of the status quo. Those at the bottom have nothing to lose, and no real stake in the outcome, so they are nihilists. Those in the middle trying to make a better world are caught in the jaws of the above and below. My wife enjoyed this more than I did. But she explained why afterwards, and I have to agree with her. This is a film you have to immerse yourself in, let it flow over you, and accept where it goes and what develops. I struggled through the film trying to fit all the pieces together as if it were a complete jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t, and to try, just leads to frustration and  missing the flow of the film. Since it was by the director of Traffic, which is similarly structured, I should have expected it.  The film takes place in the Middle East with input from the U.S. and China. Everyone has an agenda and a goal. It involves idealism and cold pragmatic brutality. Some movies, the less you know before you watch it, the better. I think this is one. So if you want more, go see it. The acting is excellent. The cinematography absolutely stunning. The endings are, unfortunately, believable and appropriate. The monologue by Danny on government, business, and corruption tops “Greed is Good” from Wall Street.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) (****, fantasy, action) (1-23-06)

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) (****, fantasy, action) (1-23-06) (D.-Andrew Adamson;. Screenplay: Ann Peacock, Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; based on novel by C.S. Lewis; Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, : Anna Popplewell, James McAvoy; voices by Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Rupert Everett, Jim Broadbent) A rollicking children's adventure movie that doesn't insult adults. I had never read any of the Narnia series, so other than a brief description of the opening, I knew little about it. During the blitz, two brothers and two sisters from the Pevensie family are sent to the safety of the country. They are staying in the home of an idiosyncratic professor (Broadbent) and his tyrannical house keeper who wants to protect him from rabble such as these children at any cost. The children accidentally discover that a wardrobe leads to a magical kingdom of Narnia. Narnia is populated with a variety of mythological creatures and has been incased in ice for a century under the spell of the Ice Witch (Swinton). A prophecy predicts the spell will be broken by humans. Thus ensues an epic battle between good and evil. The witch is powerful, cunning, and ruthless; she is not about to release her grip to a few feeble humans. Aiding the children is a revolt organized and led by the lion Aslan (Neeson).

The land is populated with a variety of wondrous creatures and sights. These include a faun (half man, half goat), centaurs, a Father Christmas, talking creatures including beaver, a fox, and wolves. The youngest girl, Lucy (Henley), is absolutely stunning. In her first unexpected entry into Narnia, her face absolutely glows in wonder. I don't know what they did to help this, but it works. I personally found it one of the high points of an otherwise excellent film, and her behavior and reactions throughout the rest of the film are almost as good. The other children do a fine job of carrying their parts. Their sibling interactions are believable as is their ultimate family loyalty. Swinton does a stellar job as the witch. Her role is pivotal, and she had to be evil, but believable. Too little and the threat disappeared. Too much and it would be too campy, at least for adults. She plays it just right, with the surface veneer of respectability and compassion when it meets her needs, but with an explosive edge when she is tried.

The film does have a major battle scene that is like a child-acceptable version of the battles in the Lord of the Rings. I gather it has been magnified for the film to help give it punch for the video game generation. Some of the images and the developing plot may be a bit strong for younger children, but those who have read or had the story read to them should have no problems.

As with the Lord of the Rings, Narnia could not have been made 10-15 years ago. The special effects were just not up to it. Now, if you can imagine it and have enough money, you can put an absolutely convincing image on the screen. Our first introduction to Narnia includes the faun Mr. Tumnus (McAvoy). The upper body is man with some make up, but the bottom is a perfectly articulated pair of goat legs. Like the other images, it is so real that you promptly forget it is effects and just accept it. Aslan is just a little off, but his articulation is almost perfect. Apparently, they originally tried to use a real lion, but when they looked at the takes, it looked less real than the cgi.

I think it entertaining that the right and the left have made such a fuss over the film. The right is delighted to find an excellent film that espouses Christian values. The left find the film subversive in that it couches religion in a children's adventure movie. Lewis was deeply religious and the movie certainly has strong Christian elements. However, they are within a strongly pagan environment with deep non-Christian roots. The basic plot is traditional with an epic battle between good and evil with heroes (in this case children) saving the day, which transcends all cultures. Lighten up - on both sides. It is a charming, well done, children's adventure. It is as moral as many films that have no explicit Christian component. Enjoy it, and take away what you want.

 Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) (****, docudrama) (11-28-05)

Point of Order (1964) (documentary, ****) (11-28-05)

Citizen Cohn (1992) (***1/2, docudrama)

Front, The (1976) (****, drama)

Batman Begins (2005) (***1/2, action, fantasy) (10-18-05)

 Pacifier (2005) (*** for adults, **** for children) (10-18-05)

Lord of War (2005) (****, action, crime, war, drama) (10-10-05)

The Constant Gardener (2005) (**1/2, drama) (10-10-05)

Flightplan (2005) (***, suspense, thriller) (9-28-05)

Sahara (2005) (**, action) (9-28-05)

National Treasure (2005) (9-28-05)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) (**1/2, action, romance) (7-19-05)

 War of the Worlds (2005) (****, sci fi) (7-19-05)

Cellular (2004) (***, thriller) (6-22-05)

House of the Flying Daggers (2004) (***, historical drama, martial arts, romance) (6-22-05)

War of the Worlds -an overview: (6-22-05) The good, the bad (actually the awful), and the yet to be released. The good is the classic 50’s thriller. The bad is the 2005 remake which follows reasonably closely the original Wells’ book, and was clearly released now to beat and capitalize on the soon-to-be released Spielberg film, which I am eagerly anticipating. I include below my old review of the original plus a review of the new release.

War of the Worlds (1953) (****, 50's Science Fiction) (1974). (1-17-95) (7-8-96) (6-22-05)

The War of the Worlds (2005) (1/2* for using most of Wells’ dialogue, sci fi) (6-22-05)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) (**, sci fi, humor) (6-01-05)

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

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

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) (***1/2, crime, action)

Lost in Translation (2003) (**1/2, romance, comedy)

City of Ghosts (2002) (*1/2, action, noir, crime) (4-19-05)

Jakarta (1988) (**, noir, action) (4-19-05)

 Touching the Void (2003) (****, documentary, docudrama) (3-28-05)

The Triplets of Bellville aka Triplettes de Belleville, Les (2003) (***, animation) (3-28-05)

Abandon (2002) (*1/2, suspense) (3-28-05)

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

Time for a few grade Z sci fi. (2-23-05)

The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) (**, sci fi) (2-23-05)

10.5 (2004) (*, sci fi, action, horror) (2-23-05)

10.5 (2004) (*, sci fi, action, horror) (2-23-05) (DW.- John Lafia, W.-Christopher Canaan;   Beau Bridges, Warren Christie, David Cubitt, Fred Ward, Kaley Cuoco, Kim Delaney) Made for TV miniseries. The really big one on the west coast. Not just a 9 or a 10, but a 10.5 on the Richter scale! The quake may 10.5, but the rating is in the basement. If you like watching chaos and things falling down, this may be your cup of tea, especially if you like hackneyed plots, ghastly lines, poor acting, and ludicrous plot. How about fusing the tectonic plates together with a series of nuclear bombs? Just remember, no one is a complete failure; you can always function as a bad example. 10.5 is a great bad example. It does have some reasonable special effects. This is a throw away on an evening when you have nothing better to do. Oh, I would also add to the requirements that it is be shown on cable for free. As for gaffes, my wife caught this one. While a newscaster is detailing the arrival of troops in San Francisco, the banner across the bottom proclaims "Marshal Law". I suppose given the quality of some news shows, this may not be a problem but reality.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) (**1/2, sci fi, horror, comedy) (2-23-05)

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

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) (****, sci fi, horror, spoof, comedy) (2-7-05)

Kinsey (2004) (***1/2, docudrama) (1-24-05)

Alien Hunter (2003) (***, sci fi) (1-24-05)

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

Stepford Wives (2004) (bomb, comedy, satire) (12-31-04)

Real Life (1979) (***, satire, comedy) (12-31-04)

Langoliers, The (1995) (**, horror, sci fi) (12-31-04)

Shall We Dance? (2004) (***1/2, drama, comedy, dance) (12-7-04)

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) (**, adults; **** children) (12-7-04)

No Man’s Land (2001) (***1/2, drama, war) (12-7-04)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) (***1/2, sci fi, action) (10-22-04)

Forgotten, The (2004) (**, suspense) (10-22-04)

Secret Window   (2004) (**1/2, suspense, mystery) (10-22-04)

Others, The (2001) (***, horror, suspense) (10-22-04)

Love of Grade Z. (10-22-04)

Love of Grade Z. (10-22-04) My love of grade Z shows in the following reviews. I cannot bring myself to rate many of these very highly, but I did watch them all from first to last frame. Epoch, Day of the Triffids, Megalodon, Timebomb.

Day of the Triffids, The (1962) (**, sci fi, horror) (10-22-04)

Megalodon (2004) (**, horror) (10-22-04)

Timebomb (1991) (**, sci fi, action) (10-22-04)

Epoch (2000) (**, sci fi) (10-22-04)

Hero (2004) (****, war, drama, romance, historical) (10-12-04)

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004) (***1/2, fantasy) (10-12-04)

Hell's Angels (1930) (***, war, drama) (10-11-04)

The Princess Diaries (2001) (** adult, **** child, comedy) (10-11-04)

Road to Eldorado, The (2000) (***, animation, comedy) (10-11-04)

The Train (1964) (****, war, docudrama) (9-9-04)

The Manchurian Candidate (2004) (***, suspense) (9-9-04)

Collateral (2004) (***, action, thriller) (9-9-04)

Spartan (2004) (****, action, drama) (8-24-04)

Bourne Supremacy, The (2004) (***1/2, Action) (8-24-04)

Bourne Identity (1988) (***, action) (8-24-04)

Shrek 2 (2004) (***1/2, animation, comedy) (7-23-04)

Running Man, The (1987) (**1/2, sci fi, action) (7-23-04)

Ringu (1998) (***1/2, horror) (7-21-04)

Ring, The (2002) (***1/2, horror) (7-21-04)

Short Fuse (2001) (***1/2, drama, crime) (7-20-04)

Welcome to Mooseport (2003) (**, comedy) (7-20-04)

Wizards   (1977) (bomb, sci fi, fantasy, animation)

Arachnid (2001) (**, horror) (7-20-04)

Girl With A Pearl Earring (drama, romance, ****) (6-29-04)

Day After Tomorrow, The (2004) (**1/2, Sci Fi) (6-29-04)

Matchstick Men (2003) (***1/2, comedy, crime, drama) (6-8-04)

Jackie Brown (1997) (***1/2, crime, drama) (6-8-04)

Kill Bill, Vol. 1. (2003) (***, martial arts, drama) (6-7-04)

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004) (****, action) (6-7-04)

Van Helsing (2004) (**1/2, horror, action) (6-7-04)

Mystic River (2003) (****, drama) (5-17-04)

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) (***, drama) (5-17-04)

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

And now for something completely different. Two black and white post-apocalypse French films. One is done entirely with still photographs, while the other is done without a single spoken word. (02-09-03)

Jetée, La aka The Pier (1962) (****, sci fi)

Dernier Combat, Le aka The Final Combat, The Last Battle, The Last Combat (1983) (***, sci fi)

Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World (2003) (****, action, historical) (02-06-04)

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

Mr. & Mrs. Smith(1941) (**, comedy) (02-06-04)

The Killer is Loose (1956) (**1/2, noir) (02-06-04)

Support Your Local Sheriff(1969) (****, comedy, western) (12-22-03)

Storm of the Century (1999) (***, horror) (12-22-03)

Johnny English (2002) (**1/2, comedy) (12-22-03)

Versus (2001) (*1/2 for film, *** for dust cover, action, supernatural, comedy) (12-22-03)

The Maltese Falcon aka Dangerous Female (1931) (***1/2, drama, crime) (12-26-03)

Captain Blood (1935) (***1/2, action) (12-26-03)

Heavy Metal (1981) (12-26-03) (***, animation, sci fi, fantasy)

Paycheck (2003) (***, sci fi, action) (12-30-03)

Libeled Lady (1936) (***1/2, comedy) (12-30-03)

Armored Car Robbery (1950) (***, crime, noir) (12-30-03)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) (**, sci fi) (12-31-03)

Dreamcatcher (2003) (** for those who have not read the book, *** for those who have, sci fi, horror) (12-31-03)

Kansas City Confidential (1952) (***, crime, noir) (12-31-03)

Reptile, The (1966) (**1/2, horror) (12-31-03)

Scotland, Pa (2002) (**, black humor) (12-31-03)

Gate of Hell (1953) (***1/2, historical drama) (12-31-03)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) (***, horror) (12-31-03)

Kill Baby Kill (1966) (**1/2, classic horror) (12-31-03)

Bunker, The (2001) (**, horror) (12-31-03)

Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003) (****, action, pirate, supernatural) (8-19-03)

Suddenly(1954) (***1/2, action, suspense, noir) (8-19-03)

28 Days Later(2003) (***, horror) (7-14-03)

Nashville (1975) (***1/2, drama) (7-14-03)

Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas (2003) (***1/2, animation, fantasy) (7-7-03)

Salton Sea, The (2002) (***, crime, noir, drama) (7-7-03)

Cube (1997) (***, psychological thriller, horror) (6-30-03)

Baby Face (1933 (**1/2, drama) (6-9-03)

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

Chicago (2002) (****, musical, crime, satire, comedy) (3-10-03)

Art of Illusion, The (1990) (***1/2, documentary) (3-10-03)

Humoresque (1946) (***, drama) (3-04-03)

Hollywood Dinosaurs (1991) (**1/2, documentary, sci fi, horror) (3-04-03)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) (****, comedy, romance) (2-17-03)

Rats, The (2002) (**, horror) (2-17-03)

Shanghai Knights(2003) (**1/2, comedy, martial arts) (2-24-03)

Femme Fatale (2002) (***1/2, noir, thriller) (2-24-03)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)(****, action, fantasy) (1-13-03)

Zulu (1964) (****, docudrama, war) (1-6-03)

Catch Me If You Can (2003) (12-30-02) (***, docudrama)

Singin' In The Rain (1952) (***, musical) (12-30-02)

Lilo & Stitch (2002) (***1/2, animation, comedy) (12-23-02)

Tape (2001) (***, drama) (12-23-02)

Treasure Island   (1950) (***1/2, action) (12-16-02)

White Zombie (1932) (***, horror) (12-16-02)

Signs (2002) (***, sci fi, suspense) (12-9-02)

Skinwalker (2002) (***, mystery) (12-9-02)

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

XXX (2002) (***1/2, action, Bond) (12-2-02)

Eight Legged Freaks (2002) (**, horror, sci fi, comedy) (11-25-02)

Final (2001) (***, mystery, sci fi?) (11-25-02)

Army of Darkness (1993) (***, action, comedy, horror) (11-18-02)

Golem, Der aka Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, Der (1920) (11-18-02)

Lion in Winter, The (1968) (10-8-02) (****, drama, historical customer)

Training Day (2001) (***, crime, action) (9-9-02)

Lantana (2001) (****, drama, thriller) (9-16-02)

Sweet Home Alabama (2002) (**1/2, comedy) (9-16-02)

American Buffalo (1996) (***, drama) (9-23-02)

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002) (**, comedy) (9-23-02)

To Be or Not to Be (1942) (***, comedy) (9-23-02)

Red Dragon (Prerelease comments) (9-30-02)

Manhunter (1986) (****, crime, psycho thriller) (reprinted 9-30-02)

Manhunter DVD(9-30-02)

Changing Lanes (2002) (***1/2, drama, suspense) (9-2-02)

Men in Black II (2002) (***, sci fi, humor) (9-2-02)

Road To Perdition (2002) (***1/2, crime, drama) (7-22-02)

Gangster Films (7-22-02)

Gangster Films (7-22-02) Watching Road to Perdition reminded me of another fine gangster flim, Once Upon a Time in America. It just so happened we then saw it on AMC (not letterboxed, with a few ads, and at least some of the sex and violence cut out), which reminded us of how much we like it. My original review is at Once Upon a Time in America.. It is coming out on DVD this year and is available on laser disk at Clemons Library; they have players.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, The aka Pacte des loups, Le (2001) (7-15-02) (****, fantasy, horror, drama, action)

Night of the Demon aka Curse of the Demon (1957) (***, horror, drama) (7-1-02)

Sum Of All Fears, The (2002) (***1/2, war, drama) (8-26-02)

Enigma (2002) (***, drama, war, romance ) (7-8-02)

Shock Corridor (1963) (**1/2, drama) (7-8-02)

Bourne Identity, The  (***1/2, thriller) (6-24-02)

Guilty Hands (1931) (***, crime) (6-24-02)

Heist (2001) (***1/2, drama, crime) (6-24-02)

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) (***, war, drama) (6-24-02)

Grade Z Movie Fix. (6-17-02)

Void, The (2001) (*1/2, sci fi) (6-17-02)

Vampire, The (1957) (*1/2, horror) (6-17-02)

Moulin Rouge! (2001) (6-17-02) (unrated, musical, fantasy, comedy, drama)

Last Castle, The (2001) (***, drama) (6-10-02)

True Romance (1993) (***, crime, drama) (6-10-02)

 Insomnia (6-3-02)

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

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

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

State and Main (2000) (unrated, comedy) (5-27-02)

Safety Last (1923) (***, comedy) (5-20-02)

X-Men (2000) (**1/2, sci fi, fantasy, action) (5-20-02)

Rabid (1977) (**, sci fi, horror, vampire) (5-20-02)

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones (2002, ***) (5-13-02)

Spider-Man  (2002) (***, fantasy) (5-13-02)

Metropolis (2001) (***1/2, anime, sci fi) (5-6-02)

Farscape (5-6-02)

Sea Wolf, The (1941) (***1/2, drama) (4-30-02)

Ghosts of Mars, The (2001) (*1/2, Sci fi , horror) (4-30-02)

Monsoon Wedding  (2002) (***1/2, comedy drama) (4-23-02)

Panic Room (2002) (***, thriller) (4-23-02)

Last Orders (2001) (***1/2, comedy, drama) (4-15-02)

Pink Panther, The (1964) (**, Comedy) (4-15-02)

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The   (1962) (**1/2, Western) (4-08-02)

Videodrome (1983) (**1/2, horror) (4-08-02)

Black Scorpion, The (1957) (**, Sci fi, horror) (4-08-02)

M*A*S*H (1970) (***1/2, black humor, drama, war) (4-01-02)

Virus (1999) (*1/2, sci fi, horror) (3-25-02)

Holmes Triple Feature. (3-25-02

Dressed to Kill (1946) (3-25-02) I have already reviewed the single film DVD of this movie. The problem with the film and sound on the earlier disk was not the state of the film, but the quality of the reproduction. The triple feature has a fine visual-audio reproduction of the film.

Terror By Night  (1946) (***, crime) (3-25-02)

Woman in Green (1945) (***, crime, drama) (3-25-02)

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (2001) (***1/2, fantasy) (3-18-02)

Suspicion (1941) (***, suspense) (3-18-02)

Peter Pan (1953) (***1/2, adult, ****, child, animation, fantasy, musical) (3-11-02)

Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (3-11-02)

Woman in the Dunes (1964) (***1/2, drama) (3-4-02)

Count of Monte Cristo, The (2002) (***, action, drama) (3-4-02)

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

Peter Pan (1953) (***1/2, adult, ****, child, animation, fantasy, musical) (3-11-02)

Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (3-11-02)

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone (2001) (***1/2, fantasy) (3-18-02)

Suspicion (1941) (***, suspense) (3-18-02)

Virus (1999) (*1/2, sci fi, horror) (3-25-02)

Holmes Triple Feature. (3-25-02) This DVD at Sneak Reviews has three classic Sherlock Holmes films with the dynamic duo of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce doing their stellar job of playing Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Dressed to Kill (1946) (3-25-02)

Terror By Night  (1946) (***, crime) (3-25-02)

Woman in Green (1945) (***, crime, drama) (3-25-02)

M*A*S*H (1970) (***1/2, black humor, drama, war) (4-01-02)

Mulholland Drive (2001) (****, ??) (2-25-02)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) (unrated, animation) (2-25-02)

Chuck Jones, Requiem. Dead at 89 on February 22, 2002. (2-25-02)

Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, The  (1979) (****, comedy, animation) (2-25-02) (9-28-99)

Road Runner/Coyote celebrated its 50th anniversary on September 19. (2-25-02) (9-20-99)

Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens, a Life in Animation (2000) (documentary, ***1/2) (2-25-02)

Amelie (2001) (***, comedy) (1-21-02)

Gosford Park (2002) (**1/2, drama) (1-21-02)

Joy Ride (2001) (***1/2, thriller) (1-14-02)

Swordfish (2001) (***, thriller) (1-14-02)

Cane Toads   or Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988) (12-31-01)

Last Wave, The (1978) (***1/2, drama) (12-31-01)

Night Caller from Outer Space (1965) (**1/2, sci fi) (12-31-01)

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) (****, fantasy) (12-24-01)

Following and The Man Who Wasn’t There: A Comparison. (12-17-01)

Following (1998) (***1/2, crime, noir) (12-17-01)

Man Who Wasn't There, The (2001 (***, film noir,crime) (12-17-01)

Forgotten (1999) (***, crime, thriller) (12-17-01)

Nostradamus and Mission to Mars: A Comparison. (12-10-01)

Nostradamus (2000) (***, sci fi, horror, action) (12-10-01)

Mission to Mars (2000) (*1/2, sci fi) (12-10-01)

Play It Again, Sam (1972) (***1/2, comedy) (12-03-01)

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (*** for adults, animation, comedy, fantasy) (12-03-01)

Dressed to Kill (1946) (**1/2, crime) (12-03-01)

Cat and the Canary, The (1927) (***, horror, humor, classic, silent (11-26-01)

One Night At McCool's (2001) (***1/2, black comedy) (11-26-01)

Hang Em’ High (1967) (***, western) (11-19-01)

Picture of Dorian Gray, The  (1945) (***, horror) (11-19-01)

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) (***, animation, fantasy, sci fi) (11-12-01)

And Then There Were None  (1945) (***1/2, mystery) (11-12-01)

Virginia Film Festival 2001

Life as a House (2001) (***, drama, comedy) (11-5-01)

Cat's Meow, The (2001) (***, drama, docudrama?) (11-5-01)

Great Dictator, The (1940) (****, comedy, war, satire) (10-29-01)

Woman, A (1915) (10-29-01)

Some Like It Hot (1959) (****, comedy) (10-29-01)

Children of Paradise (1945) (****, drama, romance) (10-29-01)

Unknown, The (1927) (***, drama, horror) (10-29-01)

Three Stooges, The Classic Collections from Digital Disc Entertainment (***, comedy) (10-22-01)

Memento (2001) (****, noir, crime, drama) (5-9-01) (10-22-01) (DVD) review added. DVD Review Now Added.  

Himalaya aka Himalaya - l'enfance d'un chef aka Caravan (1999) (****, docudrama drama, adventure) (10-15-01)

Number Seventeen (1932) (**1/2, crime) (10-15-01)

French Connection, The (1971) (****,docudrama, crime) (10-01-01)

Battlefield Earth (2000) (**, sci fi) (9-24-01)

Stalker (1979) (****, sci fi) (9-24-01)

Get Carter (2000) (**, crime, drama) (9-17-01)

Get Carter (1971) (****, crime, noir, drama) (10-9-00, 9-17-01)

Time Machine, The (1960) (***, classic, sci fi) (9-10-01)

Dracula (Spanish Version 1931) (***1/2, classic, horror) (9-10-01)

Rat Race (2001) (**, comedy) (9-3-01)

Claim, The (2001) (***, drama) (9-3-01)

Enemy At The Gates (2001) (***, war, drama) (8-24-01)

Thirteen Days (2001) (***1/2, docudrama, thriller) (8-17-01)

Legally Blonde (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (8-13-01)

Draughtsman's Contract, The (1982) (***1/2, costume drama) (8-13-01)

Jurassic Park 3 (2001) (***, action, sci fi) (7-30-01)

She Done Him Wrong (1933) (****, comedy, classic) (7-30-01)

Sexy Beast (2000) (***1/2, crime, suspense) (7-23-01)

Lara Croft Tomb Raider (**1/2, fantasy) ((7-23-01)

Evolution (2001)   (**½, comedy)  (7-16-01)

Legend Of Drunken Master AKA Jui kuen II (1994) (7-16-01)

Taxi Driver (1976) (***, drama) (7-2-01)

Pursued (1947) (***, noir, western, classic) (7-2-01)

Paradine Case, The (1948) (**, drama) (7-2-01)

Winter Sleeper AKA Winterschläfer (1997) (****, romantic thriller, drama) (6-25-01)

Rocket Ship X-M (1950) (**1/2, sci fi, classic) (6-25-01)

Mummy Returns, The (2001) (**, action) (6-18-01)

Mummy, The (1999) (***1/2, horror, action)  (6-7-99) (6-18-01)

Dante's Peak (2000) (**1/2, action, disaster) (6-18-01)

Shrek (2001) (****, comedy, drama, animation) (6-11-01)

Fall of the House of Usher, The  aka Chute de la maison Usher, La (1928) (***1/2, horror) (6-11-01)

Spy Kids (2001) (2000) (***, comedy, family, action) (6-4-01)

Repo Man (1984) (**1/2, sci fi, humor) (6-4-01)

Titus (1999) (****, drama) (5-28-01)

Tailor Of Panama, The (2001, ***1/2) (5-21-01)

Rififi (1954) (****, noir, crime) (5-21-01)

Memento (2001) (****, noir, crime, drama) (5-9-01)

My Best Fiend aka Mein liebster Feind – Klaus Kinski (1999) (***1/2, documentary) (4-16-01)

Dick (1999) (** or ***, comedy) (4-16-01)

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) (****, drama) (4-9-01)

Bedazzled (2000) (**, comedy) (4-2-01)

Land That Time Forgot, The (1975) (*1/2, sci fi, fantasy, action) (4-2-01)

High Noon (1952) (****, Drama, Western)

U-Turn (1997) (**, noir, crime) (3-26-01)

Mexican, The (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (3-26-01)

Snatch (2000) (****, comedy, crime) (3-19-01)

Fury (1936) (***1/2, drama) (3-19-01)

Red Planet (2000) (***, 50s sci fi, space opera) (3-12-01)

Mummy, The(1932) (***1/2, horror, classic) (3-12-01)

Warlock (1991) (**1/2, horror) (3-12-01)

Octopus (2000) (**, horror) (3-5-01)

Telefon (1977) (***, spy) (3-5-01)

Ride with the Devil (1999) (***. War, drama) (2-26-01)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) (**1/2, horror) (2-26-01)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) (****, comedy) (2-12-01)

House on Haunted Hill, The (1958) (***, 50s horror) (2-12-01)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) (***1/2, fantasy, martial arts, romance, drama) (2-12-01)

Traffic (2000) (***, crime, drama) (2-12-01)

Chocolat (2000) (***, comedy) (2-12-01)

Brute Force (1947) (****, crime, film noir, classic) (1-29-01)

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) (***1/2, **, comic noir)  (1-29-01)

Emperor and the Assassin, The (1999) (****, historical drama)  (1-29-01)

Cast Away (2000) (****, drama) (2-5-01)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (***, comedy) (2-5-01)

Two more movies from the Film Festival:

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) (***, horror) (1-22-01)

Attack of the Bat Monsters (2000) (***, comedy) (1-22-01)

Reservoir Dogs (1992) (***, crime, drama) (1-15-01)

Kwaidan (1964) (***1/2, horror, fantasy)  (1-15-01)

Small Time Crooks (2000) (**1/2, comedy)   (1-15-01)

Vertical Limit (2000) (***, action) (1-8-01)

Bullitt (1968) (***1/2, crime, action)  (1-8-01)

U-571 (2000) (***, action, war) (1-1-01)

Xmas Turkeys 2000. I thought that in view of the day (12-25-00), I would give you a few Christmas Turkeys. These are films with first rate credentials that, for one reason or another, ended up being awful and should be avoided like the plague. Actually, this rating is not correct by my usual standards. I have a straight Turkey category, which is for films that are so bad that they are unintentionally funny, campy, or just plain amusing in the badness. However, in the Christmas spirit, I will give you Hush and Drowning Mona. I will also review Unbreakable. My wife would definitely put it in the Christmas Turkey category, but I thought it much better than that.

Hush (1998) (*, thriller)  (12-25-00)

Drowning Mona (2000) (*, comedy)  (12-25-00)

Unbreakable (2000) (**1/2, suspense)   (12-25-00)

Emperor's New Groove, The (2000) (***, animation, comedy) (12-18-00)

Titan A.E. (2000) (**, animation, sci fi) (12-18-00)

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) (***1/2, docudrama, war)   (12-11-00)

Shane (1953) (****, Western, classic)  (12-4-00)

Meet the Parents (2000) (comedy, ***1/2) (11-20-00)

Nurse Betty (2000) (***, comedy, crime) (11-20-00)

Palmetto (1998) (**1/2, noir) (11-13-00)

Pitch Black (2000) (***, sci fi, horror) (11-13-00)

Virginia Film Festival Animal Attractions (2000 Thirteenth) (I'll add to this as I complete Festival reviews)

Restored Films at The Virginia Film Festival 2000 (11-27-00)

Lost World (****) (Restored version 2000) (11-27-00)

Lost World, The (1925) (***1/2, classic, sci fi, fantasy) (10-11-93)

Nosferatu (****) (Restored version 2000) (11-27-00)

Nosferatu (1922) (****, horror, classic) (2-8-93)

Shadow of the Vampire (2000) (***1/2, drama, black humor) (11-27-00)

Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens, a Life in Animation (2000) (documentary, ***1/2) (11-6-00)

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) (***, horror) (1-22-01)

Attack of the Bat Monsters (2000) (***, comedy) (1-22-01)

Chicken Run (2000) (***1/2, animation—actually claymation)  (11-6-00)

Halloween 2000 (10-30-00) It’s Halloween, you expected something else?

Utraviolet (1998) (****, vampire, horror) (10-30-00)

Vampires AKA Jim Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (**1/2, horror) (10-30-00)

Bats (1999) (**, horror, sci fi) (10-30-00)

TV Remakes. (10-23-00)

Fail-Safe (1964) (****, drama, war) (7-24-00)

Fail Safe (2000) (***, cold war thriller, drama) (10-23-00)

High Noon (1952) (****, Drama, Western) (10-23-00)

High Noon (1951) (10-23-00) Additional comments.

High Noon (2000) (**1/2, drama, western) (10-23-00)

Get Carter (1971) (****, crime, noir, drama) (10-9-00)

Things to Fear (10-2-00)

Poseidon Adventure, The (1972) (***, drama, action, disaster) (10-2-00)

Deep Rising (1998) (***, horror) (10-2-00)

Longest Day, The (1962) (****, docudrama, war, action) (9-25-00)

Cyborg (1989) (*1/2, action, sci fi)   (9-25-00)

Satanic End of the World Films:  (9-18-00)

Rosemary's Baby (1968) (****, classic, horror) (9-18-00)

Ninth Gate, The (1999) (***, horror, suspense) (9-18-00)

End of Days (1999) (**1/2, action, horror, suspense) (9-18-00)

Frequency (2000) (***1/2, drama, crime, suspense, sci fi, fantasy) (9-11-00)

Caddyshack (1980) (**1/2, comedy) (9-11-00)

Saving Grace (2000) (***, Comedy) (9-4-00)

Snake Eyes (1998) (***1/2, action, suspense, noir) (9-4-00)

Cell, The (2000) (***, crime, suspense, horror, sci fi) (8-28-00)

U.S. Marshals (1998) (***, action, thriller) (8-28-00)

Hollow Man (2000) (**, horror, sci fi) (8-21-00)

Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, The (2000) (**1/2, Fanatasy, comedy) (8-21-00)

Space Cowboys (2000)( ***, comedy, drama)   (8-14-00)

Guns of Navarone, The (1961) (***1/2, action, war) (8-14-00)

Stir of Echoes (1999) (***, thriller, drama, horror) (8-7-00)

Perfect Storm, The (2000) (***, docudrama, action)  (7-31-00)

High Fidelity (2000) (***, comedy) (7-24-00)

Fail-Safe (1964) (****, drama, war) (7-24-00)

Shanghai Noon (2000) (***, Western, comedy, martial arts) (7-14-00)

Picnic (1955) (***1/2, drama, classic)  (7-14-00)

Event Horizon (1999) (**1/2, sci fi, horror) (7-7-00)

Election (1999) (***1/2, satire, comedy) (7-7-00)

Fantasia (1940) (****, animation) (6-19-00)

Fantasia/2000 (2000) (***1/2, animation) (6-19-00)

Shot in the Dark, A (1964) (***1/2, comedy, classic) (6-12-00)

AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Laughs (2000) (****, documentary, comedy) (6-12-00)

Gladiator (2000) (****, action, drama) (6-5-00)

Head Above Water (1996) (***, BLACK comedy)(5-15-00)

From Here to Eternity (1953) (****, drama, war) (5-15-00)

Thirteenth Floor, The (1999) (***, sci fi, thriller)  (5-8-00)

Things to Come (1936) (**1/2, sci fi, classic)  (5-8-00)

Spartacus (1960) (****, drama, historical costumer) (5-1-00)

Born To Kill (1947) (***, noir)  (4-24-00)

Sci-Fi Files, The (1997) (TV-Series, documentary, ***1/2)  (4-24-00)

Hangmen Also Die (1943) (***, war, drama) (4-17-00)

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) (4-17-00)

Rules Of Engagement (2000) (***, war, drama) (4-10-00)

Ronin (1998) (***, action) (4-1-00)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) (***1/2, drama) (4-3-00)

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

Cat Ballou (1965) (***1/2, comedy, Western)  (3-27-00)

Lady in the Lake (1946) (**1/2, noir, crime)   (3-27-00)

Wonder Boys (2000) (***1/2, drama, comedy) (3-20-00)

Man From Laramie, The (1955) (***, Western) (3-20-00)

Sugata Sanshiro AKA Judo Saga (1943) (***, action) (3-13-0)

Lost in Space (1999) (bomb, sci fi) (3-13-00)

Sanjuro (1962) (***, Western, action) (3-6-00)

Trial (1955) (***1/2, courtroom drama)  (3-6-00)

House of Wax (1953) (**1/2, horror) (3-6-00)

Cider House Rules, The (1999) (****, drama) (2-28-00)

King Solomon's Mines (1937) (**1/2, action, adventure, classic) (2-28-00)

Insider, The (1999) (****, Docudrama) (2-21-00)

Purple Noon AKA Plein Soleil (1960)  (2-14-00)

Talented Mr. Ripley, The (1999) (***1/2, crime, drama) (2-14-00)

Limey, The (1999) (***, crime) (2-07-00)

Mark of Zorro, The (1920) (****, action, swashbuckler, silent, classic)

End Of The Affair, The (1999) (**1/2, drama) (1-31-00)

EXistenZ (1999) (***1/2, sci fi) (1-31-00)

American Beauty (1999) (****, drama) (1-24-00)

Keeper of the Flame (1942) (***, drama, classic) (1-24-00)

Galaxy Quest (1999) (***, sci fi, comedy) (1-17-00)

Mark of Zorro, The (1940) (***1/2, action, classic)

Snow Falling On Cedars (1999) (**1/2, drama) (1-10-00)

Man Who Would Be King, The (1975) (****, action, war) (1-3-00)

Toy Story 2 (1999) (****, animation) (12-27-99)

Flying Serpent, The (1946) (**1/2, sci fi, horror) (12-27-99)

Sleepy Hollow (1999) (***, fantasy, horror) (12-20-99)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (***, classic, horror) (12-20-99)

Run Lola Run (1998) (fantasy, crime, ***1/2) (12-13-99)

Being John Malkovich (**1/2, fantasy, humor) (**1/2, 1999) (12-13-99)

World Is Not Enough, The (1999) (***, Bond) (12-6-99)

 Civil Action, A (1999) (***1/2, docudrama) (11-15-99)

Born To Kill (1947) (***, noir, crime, classic) (11-8-99)

Killer's Kiss (1955) (**1/2, crime, noir) (11-8-99)

TechnoVisions

Melies Project, The (1999) (**1/2, silent, instrumental)  (10-25-99)

Baraka (1992) (****, documentary, visual imagry)   (10-25-99)

Playtime (1967) (****, comedy)  (10-25-99)

Stan Winston at the Bayly Museum

Buster Keaton's The General

Virtual Roller Coaster. (11-1-99)  

Dial M for Murder 3D (1954) (11-1-99) Full Review

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) (***, 50s sci fi) (11-1-99)

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