"The Slaughter Rule" (Sundance, 2003)
"The Castle Of Cagliostro" (Manga Video, 1979)
An entertaining early Japanese anime action-comedy by director Hayao Miyazaki (best known in America for feature films such as The Iron Giant and Spirited Away...) While not as complex as those later gems, this is still a lot of fun. The story centers on Lupin III, a bon vivant, heart-of-gold, James Bond-ish master thief who goes toe to toe with a malevolent baddie. Oh, yeah, and he saves a damsel in distress. The plot's not that complex, but the execution is pretty nice. Good clean, uncomplicated fun... with some painterly, Kurosawa-like moments of calm thrown in for good effect. Recommended.
"Stitch: The Movie" (Disney, 2003)
Sigh. This hour-long sequel is, of course, not as good as the original feature film, but still has its moments. The plot is that all the previous genetic experiments that led to Stitch ("Number 626") are being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The problem is that we don't really get to see much of them, or to revel in their chaotic qualities the way we did with Stitch in the first film. Also, the scriptwriting and timing are a bit sluggish, particularly in comparison to the lightning-fast, exuberant brilliance of the first film. This is more of a typical for-little-kids, Disney knockoff, with about as much emotional impact as an average Saturday morning cartoon. A pity, really, since I still felt invested in and sympathetic towards all the characters, and if the producers had put a little more creative effort into it, this could have been a lot of fun.
"Running Time" (1997)
Meh. The gimmick is that this film happens in "real time," that is, the action takes place in the same time frame as the film itself. The problem is that this is a bluntly on-the-nose, by the numbers heist-gone-wrong guy film, replete with endless gratuitous swearing, hooker girlfriends, a predictable plot and "edgy" handheld camera work. Very student film-ish, and definitely not worth watching. I got lured in because it stars Bruce Campbell (who I really like from his roles in the Evil Dead movies and the Hercules/Xena TV series... But take my word for it, this film ain't worth it. It's nothing we haven't seen a bazillion times already, and there's no extra anything that redeems it from utter frat-boy mediocrity.
"Drumline" (20th Century Fox, 2003)
A rigidly formulaic teen triumph film that roughly equates being in a marching band with going through Army boot camp. Some hotshot kid has to sort out his differences with his hardass sargeant -- er, I mean, drumline leader -- and who gets the girl once he learns to grow up a little. I thought this would be on a par with the earlier cheerleader film, Bring It On, but sadly, it's far deficient by comparison. The drumming is cool, though, even if there's not enough of it, but the plot kinda limps along, and the lead character is an arrogant jerk whose obligatory character growth is neither impressive nor convincing. I suspect this film was a lot more effective in the theaters, as opposed to on TV, where the drumming seems too controlled and static. This flick was okay; it definitely wasn't great.
"The Quiet American" (2003)
"All That Heaven Allows" (Universal, 1955)
"Tarnished Angels" (Universal, 1957)
"The Kid Stays In The Picture" (2003)
"The Swan" (1955?)
"Stars In My Crown" ()
"Seabiscuit" (Dreamworks, 2003)
"Eye Of The Needle" (1981)
Donald Sutherland is a creepy, ruthless Nazi spy who finds his cover blown
Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer
"Captain From Castile" (20th Century Fox, 1947)
A fine Tyrone Power action picture, with Power at his most George Clooney-esque as a Spanish outlaw who makes his way to the New World as a member of Hernando Cortez's invading army. Power proves his loyalty to Cortez and regains his social status, while getting revenge on the Robespierre-like bad-guy who chased him across the Atlantic. The uncritical glorification of the Conquistador's slaughter of the native people is troublesome, but the film itself moves at a pretty healthy clip, and is an enjoyable, if quite conventional adventure film, taken on its own terms.
"Conquest" (Warner, 1937)
Charles Boyer and Greta Garbo play opposite each other as, respectively, the great Napoleon Bonaparte and a Polish noblewoman who captures his heart. Garbo is stunning: this is her at the height of her sensuality, while Boyer's Napoleon is a fiery, arrogant, magnetic character who gains our sympathy by the film's end. A grand, old-fashioned romance that pays viewers off quite nicely. Recommended.
"Far From Heaven" (Universal, 2002)
Todd Haynes homage to '50s Technicolor melodrama master Douglas Sirk really is a marvel. His work with cinematographer Edward Lachman, in which they painstakingly recreate Sirk's tightly crafted color design, gives this film an arresting look, while the acting and set design are also top-notch. Modern audiences may have trouble relating to the tounge-in-cheek, campy elements of the plot (the film is not simply an homage to Sirk, it lifts whole elements directly from various films), but that's all part of the fun... The imposition of a modernist viewpoint -- one that takes racism and homophobia into account -- onto the claustrophobic social mores of the Eisenhower Era helps give this film dramatic punch, but you also have to be willing to settle into an old-fashioned style of filmmaking to really enjoy all this film has to offer. It's worth it, though!
"The Milky Way" (1929)
Harold Lloyd making the transition into the talkies... It wasn't as rough as you might imagine: he's kindof appealing, but this film is deathly dull. A mild-mannered milkman is built up as a prizefighter, after a misunderstanding in which he seems to have pummelled the champeen in a street fight. I actually coundn't get through this film -- my attention started to wander as soon as they established the plot (and the humor started to drag...) I realized I was kinda bored, and just jumped ship. Couldn't finish watching it, it was too dull.
"The Hours" (Paramount/Miramax, 2002)
I liked this film a lot. I thought the acting, script and cinematography were all remarkable and, not having strong opinions about Virginia Woolfe as a celebrity, I even liked the makeup job that rendered Nicole Kidman unrecognizable. Heck, even Phillip Glass's traditional musical regurgitation didn't bug me here. The connecting arc between the seemingly separate stories was a teensy bit forced, but forgivably so. This film was a class act. Nice art flick.
"In Old Chicago" (Twentieth Century Fox, 1953)
Tyrone Power and Don Ameche star in this stagey, grandiose historical drama, in which the rivalry of two brothers culminates in the Great Chicago Fire of 1873. The plot leading up to the fire is kind of standard fare, but the special effects at the end are really dazzling and horrific. Power gets a bigger, juicier role than Ameche, but they're both pretty good here. A reasonably fun rental.
"Captain's Paradise" (Ealing, 1953)
A deft, charming dark comedy featuring Alec Guinness as a crafty sea captain who has achieved the ultimate male chauvinist dream: the perfect scheme to cheat on his wife. Wives, actually. He has one in each port -- a dowdy, respectable English frump housed up in Gilbralter, and a wild exotic hottie at his love shack in Tangiers. Complications ensue, of course, and while the subtext of sexist humor may be dated or offensive, the script is quite skillful and the performances grand. A lot of attention will go to Yvonne De Carlo, who plays Alec's Latin lady, but the plum comedic role goes to Celia Johnson, who liberates her mousy character with an economical and hilarious transformation. Guinness is great, too.
"Laurel Canyon" (2003)
A semi-disasterous drama about an uptight son of a famous rock music producer (played by Frances McDormand) who grew up resenting the chaotic nature of life with Wild & Crazy Mom, and as an adult still seems to have a big stick up his butt about it. His character is really unlikeable, but the director never clearly tilts us in favor of either his mom or his fiance (who gets stuck between the two of them during a trip to California), and thus the film feels unfocussed and shambling. Frankly, I thought this film was poorly written and sluggishly directed, and I think that writer/director Lisa Cholodenko really doesn't have much feel for or understanding of the rock'n'roll lifestyle she's trying to examine. It felt belabored and awkward, which is a tragedy, considering she had McDormand's immense talent to draw upon -- why not make more of that asset? The music wasn't great either: strike three, I'm outta here.
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