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Impossible to believe
31 January 1999
How in the world could this film ever have been a commercial success? I cannot believe this one didn't die like "The Avengers" the weekend after it opened. But some people did like it. Unbelievable. I don't want to give away anything here, but I really must ask, "Would you accept a story in which Sherlock Holmes turned out to be Jack the Ripper? Would you accept a story in which James Bond assassinates the Queen?" Well, not me. This movie's plot was full of holes, the main character behaved stupidly, and the special effects showed activities that were outrageously impossible. (A helicopter tethered to a bullet train was actually FLYING in a tunnel! I couldn't even laugh at that, it was so ridiculous.) Some misguided souls say they like a movie that doesn't make them think. The trouble with this one is that you MUSN"T think about it, else you will seek out the producers to demand back the two hours of your life you have wasted.
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Lone Star (1996)
The sins of the fathers come back to haunt
31 January 1999
John Sayles' direction of this film reminded me of Hitchcock in that I was always aware of the director's style and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the acting and the story. Like "Godfather," this is a tale of families and how the sins of the fathers cast their shadows over the generations. To illustrate the connection, Sayles will slowly track his camera from a conversation in one part of a room to another part of the same room where characters who lived 25 years earlier are conversing. The years have passed, we realize, but all the characters, even the dead ones, are in this together. The technique may sound strange, but it works magically. And another thing: I've always thought Kris Kristofferson was a better singer than actor, and a better songwriter than singer. But in this film he turns in an outstanding performance as a very very bad Texas border town sheriff who disappeared years ago and whose bones have just turned up in the desert. At least we think those are his bones, and to solve the puzzle, the current sheriff, son of the man who became sheriff when Kris disappeared, must dig further than he wants into the town's secrets. And once again, knowing how the film ends makes subsequent viewings just as fascinating as the first.
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Bad science fiction
31 January 1999
Robert Wise once made an intelligent film about an alien invasion of Earth. It was called "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and it's still an entertaining and enlightening work of science fiction. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is everything that "Independence Day" is not. The former appeals to our adult intellect. The latter appeals to what's left of the 12-year-old inside us. Sometimes that's OK, when it works. I'm looking forward to the new Star Wars movie as much as anyone. But aren't we getting a little tired of "government conspiracy" storylines? I've got news for you: If the U.S. President can't keep a little Oval Office hanky-panky secret, his minions certainly can't hide a bunch of aliens out in the New Mexico desert. The "X-Files," government conspiracy plot has run its course for me. (What's that you say? The whole Monica thing is really a plot by the aliens to put one of their own, Albert Gore, Jr., into the top job?) ) Actually, I'd love to see a film that intelligently explores what might really happen if the aliens landed. But "Independence Day," with it's overwhelming special effects and evil/cute aliens that say "uh-oh" before they're blasted to smithereens, is not that movie.
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Bound (1996)
It's a comedy. Really. No, I'm serious. It is a comedy.
31 January 1999
This film played a trick on me. When I watched it the first time I thought it was an excellent, edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller. When I watched it a second time, I realized it was a comedy through and through. Lots of sex and violence, and lots of fun. It's a complicated story, but after talking it over with friends, we couldn't find a single hole in the plot. And now I'm in love with Jennifer Tilly. Well, at least I'm in love with her voice. And don't forget: After you've seen this once, watch it again. Knowing what's going to happen makes it a totally different, and in some ways more enjoyable movie.
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Babe (1995)
It'll do
31 January 1999
This is a modern classic children's film, and as with all classic children's films, "Babe" will charm adults too. I'm a sucker for a play with a Greek chorus…especially if the chorus is composed of singing mice. I was hooked when Babe surmised that the trucks were taking his mother and the other big pigs to Heaven. (It must be a wonderful place, because, after all, nobody ever comes back.) "That'll do pig."
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A film-maker's glory
31 January 1999
"My Father's Glory," and its sequel "My Mother's Castle," tell the story of a young boy's "wonder years" growing up in a family with an adored father, a lovely but frail mother, and assorted eccentric relatives and friends. These are incredibly charming films that feature none of the violent action and highly charged emotions that we've come to expect in popular films today. Instead, they celebrate the simple joys of life in a warm and loving family. When minor but unexpected events occasionally disrupt the day-to-day flow of events, they can seem like terrible disasters. On the other hand, a simple visit to the country can seem like a tremendous adventure. It's not necessary to have seen "My Father's Glory" to enjoy "My Mother's Castle." In fact, I happened to see them out of order and I loved them just the same. But if I had my preference, I'd watch them in order. The final scene of "My Mother's Castle" is emotionally powerful and satisfying; for me it confirmed that every minute I'd invested in these films was worthwhile. I wanted to get up there on the screen and help. In French with English subtitles.
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Second part of a two-part masterpiece
31 January 1999
"My Father's Glory," and its sequel "My Mother's Castle," tell the story of a young boy's "wonder years" growing up in a family with an adored father, a lovely but frail mother, and assorted eccentric relatives and friends. These are incredibly charming films that feature none of the violent action and highly charged emotions that we've come to expect in popular films today. Instead, they celebrate the simple joys of life in a warm and loving family. When minor but unexpected events occasionally disrupt the day-to-day flow of events, they can seem like terrible disasters. On the other hand, a simple visit to the country can seem like a tremendous adventure. It's not necessary to have seen "My Father's Glory" to enjoy "My Mother's Castle." In fact, I happened to see them out of order and I loved them just the same. But if I had my preference, I'd watch them in order. The final scene of "My Mother's Castle" is emotionally powerful and satisfying; for me it confirmed that every minute I'd invested in these films was worthwhile. I wanted to get up there on the screen and help. In French with English subtitles.
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Baseball as Religion
31 January 1999
I was late coming to the realization that baseball is the only professional sport worthy of my attention. Ted Turner began showing Atlanta Braves games on his superstation nearly every evening in the summers, and I began tuning in more and more often. The ebb and flow of the baseball season worked its magic on me and I was hooked. This film, rich in wonder and whimsy, is about that magic. It offers us baseball as religion. "If you build it, they will come." I did.
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The Vanishing (1988)
Brilliant suspense classic
31 January 1999
When I searched for "The Vanishing," all I could find was that abysmal "Americanized" version of the film starring Jeff Bridges. What a horrible mistake of a movie that was. Let's consider, instead, the original film in which a fellow and his girlfriend are on an outing when she vanishes without a trace. He becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to her. Whether he can be completely successful in his quest is the whole point of the movie. Why the original director would remake this little masterpiece in English with a Hollywood ending is completely beyond me. See the original. You won't soon forget it.
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A fascinating, surreal kidnapping comedy
31 January 1999
The Coen brothers have made some remarkable movies (don't miss "Blood Simple"), and this is my favorite of theirs. The story involves the theft of a quintuplet from a couple who obviously have so many babies that they'll never miss just one. It's a comedy. It's a fable. It's a bewilderment. Even the characters' speech patterns are unknown in the natural world. Maybe someday Cliff's Notes will publish an exegesis of "Raising Arizona," and we'll come to a perfect understanding of the fine points of this film. (I understand the relationship between Hi and the biker, but Woody Woodpecker tattoos?) Until then, I'm just going to marvel and laugh.
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Moonstruck (1987)
Moonstruck hit my eye like a big pizza pie
31 January 1999
I insist I'm not a Nicholas Cage fan, even though he appears in two of my very favorite films: "Raising Arizona," and "Moonstruck." His real talent must be knowing how to pick scripts. The subject of this film is love in all its wondrous permutations. Cher is smart, sassy, vulnerable and beautiful, and she deserved the Academy Award for her performance. But what I love most about this story is "Cosmo's moon," the implication of the concept, and the magical way in which an actor pronounced those words. And maybe the dogs.
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Angel Heart (1987)
Brilliant gothic film-noir
31 January 1999
Johnny Angel, you should have known better than to hang around with a guy named Lou Cypher. Didn't you detect just a little whiff of brimstone? Some private eye you are! Stop and think, Johnny; who is killing all those folks you've been talking to? And why? Are you sure you want to find out? This film took me to places I'd never been, and as the revelations piled up my jaw dropped and my heart sank. "Angel Heart" fascinates me as much on subsequent viewings as it did the first time through, when I was as mystified as Johnny. And that elevator just keeps going down…
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An off-beat delight
31 January 1999
No, not the black & white Roger Corman jewel featuring Jack Nicholson, though I suppose I'd watch that one again too. I'm talking about the 1986 color musical with Rick Moranis and Audrey II by way of Frank Oz. Like I tell my friends about "Babe," I love a film with a Greek chorus. In this one, the chorus consists of three Motownish women singers, Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette. I'll watch this film again, just to hear them sing one line: "TO – TAL – E – CLIPSE – OF – THE – SUN!" This is an all-singing, all-dancing science fiction black comedy that features human misery, a sadistic dentist, a masochistic patient, casual murder, girlfriend abuse, and a blood-sucking alien house plant monster. It's hilarious from beginning to end. And the music is outstanding.
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The Perfect Day
31 January 1999
I like good fantasies, and this is one of the best. Watching this film I become a seventeen-year-old again, only this time I have fun. For one thing, I get to live the most perfect day of my life. Of anybody's life. Cut school with my best friend and my best girl. Visit Chicago. Drive a Ferrari. A Ferrari convertible. A classic red Ferrari convertible. Look down on the city from the top of the Sears Tower. View great works of art. Catch a home run in Wrigley Field. Eat at an elegant restaurant. Humiliate the supercilious maitre ‘d. Humiliate the pathetic school principal. Sing "Danke Schoen" and "Twist and Shout" from a parade float while downtown Chicago falls at my feet. Win my hateful sister over to my side. All this, and my loving parents never catch on. Oh wow. I think I'll stop writing this review and go watch it again. And this time, Ferris, can we visit "Pizzeria Uno?"
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A Perfect Film
31 January 1999
I think some movies are perfect. By that I simply mean that given the chance, I wouldn't change a frame. This is one of those movies. The structure of the film is convoluted and full of surprises, but always easy to follow. The first quarter or so of the film is all setup for gags to come later. The viewer must be alert, because there's a payoff for virtually everything that's said or done. This film demonstrates better than any history book that as the decades pass, our understanding of the world changes in ways we don't immediately comprehend. Watch as a 1955 character demands a time traveler tell him who is President of the United States in 1985. His reaction, upon hearing it's Ronald Reagan, is priceless.
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Together with part 2, groundbreaking science fiction
31 January 1999
I can't really discuss "The Terminator" without also discussing "Terminator II." Arnold Schwarzenegger plays essentially the same character in both films, but in Part I he's a (really) bad guy, and in Part II he's the hero. It's a time travel story in which a humanoid robot from the future arrives in the present to murder a woman so she'll never give birth to a child who is destined to grow up to lead what to all appearances is an incredibly unsuccessful fight against humanoid robots in the future. And that's just the first film. In the second film the child is already born and another humanoid robot from the future, a spooky shape-shifter this time, arrives in the present to murder the kid, but a third humanoid robot (Arnold II), programmed this time to do good deeds, follows the bad robot to the present and tries to protect the kid and rescue the kid's mother who is in an insane asylum because she keeps insisting that robots from the future are trying to kill her. Did you get all that? I'm a sucker for a good time-travel story, and the next time this one's on TV, I'll be back. This is first-class science fiction – it's entertaining and it makes me think. (I also really liked Arnold in "Total Recall," but I can never really work up an interest in watching it again because I can't make up my mind whether the story is taking place in the real world or in a brain aneurysm.)
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A fine movie with a breathtaking final scene
31 January 1999
This is a beautifully told story about life in a small Texas town during the Great Depression. Sally Field's husband dies and it's up to her to raise their children and harvest the cotton crop in time to save the farm. It's a fine story, but at the end, the film springs a surprise. Who'd have thought a movie could have a coda? The last scene of the movie is so powerful that when I left the theater I literally felt like my breath had been taken away. I suspect the scene is unique in the movies, and it affects me every time I see it. I've shown this film on videotape to friends a few times, and I always whisper, "Please don't say anything to me during this last scene." It never fails, though; my friends always begin jabbering away in astonishment right in the middle of the best scene in the movie. It's not a big problem, though. They always shut up in wonder and understanding just before the credits start to roll.
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Fa ra ra ra ra!
31 January 1999
This isn't exactly a story from my own childhood, but I identify with it just the same. "You'll shoot your eye out!" "Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra!" Santa's big black boot. "Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time." The dreaded Scott Farkas. "Only I didn't say ‘fudge.'" The tongue on the flagpole. And the presents under that beautiful tree. Ralphie, you make me feel like a kid every time I see this film.
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Maybe I missed the point
31 January 1999
Here's a film that seems to affect some people profoundly, but which leaves me completely cold. I've seen it only once, and that was a long time ago. But I'll never forget my total disappointment in the film, coupled with my dismay that I had somehow completely missed the point. I expected to like it very much. That theme music by Vangelis is soul-stirring, and being familiar with the music before I entered the theater, I expected a story every bit as thrilling. But what I got was a lot of running, a glut of pained expressions, and a religious, won't-work-on-the-Sabbath prig, who didn't bother to check the calendar before leading his countrymen to believe he'd represent them in the Olympics. Great painters, poets, playwrights, inventors, mathematicians, teachers, (I could go on) leave the world a better place for their having been among us. Great runners leave us with records that get broken. The guys in this movie ran fast for their day and thought very highly of themselves, but they weren't the great heroes they were purported to be. Maybe I didn't completely miss the point after all.
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Popeye (1980)
The most unfairly maligned film ever
31 January 1999
Why in the world hasn't this film been released on LaserDisc in letterbox format? There's as much or more taking place in the background nooks and crannies of Altman's "Popeye" than there is up front. And all of it is a clever, inventive, respectful homage, to a comic strip/cartoon character that has never received his much deserved place of honor alongside Mickey, Bugs and Daffy. I want to see ALL of Robert Altman's "Popeye," and pan-and-scan just doesn't cut it. Oh, the music is wonderful, by the way. It's what grabbed my attention one day when I still mistakenly believed the critics who panned this film. I was channel surfing and I heard Olive Oyl singing "He Needs Me" and I was hooked. This film is a jewel. ("What squinky eye?")
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An unlikely masterpiece
31 January 1999
What an unlikely film to recommend. It appears to have been made on the cheap in South Africa, and it features a number of tired movie clichés, e.g. under-cranking, cheesy narration, and stereotypical characters. Nevertheless, this film contains some of the funniest, most meticulously constructed sight gags I've ever seen. I never thought I'd bend double laughing at a Jeep.
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One of the funniest ever
31 January 1999
Life as a student in a small liberal arts college can get mighty strange. Believe me, I know. For the 1962 denizens of Faber College, childhood is in the past, adult responsibilities are in the future, and authority exists only to be mocked. "Animal House" hilariously skewers campus life and societal attitudes in the pre-Vietnam 1960's. I've watched it so many times I've begun to wonder about minutiae like the Tennessee state flag in the background of the "trial" scene. I've also read the book and learned the real reason one of the characters is nicknamed "Pinto." (It's not the reason John Belushi gives in the movie.) But I've stopped looking for deep meanings behind details like the girls wearing copies of the pink outfit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas, and now, whenever I have a chance to see this one again, I just rock along with Otis Day and the Knights and have a great time.
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This film's force will be with us for a long time
31 January 1999
In early summer 1977 I found myself taking in the sights on Times Square one Saturday afternoon, and I came across a long line of people waiting to get into Loews Theater (which turned out to have a screen, oh, about a half mile wide) to see "Star Wars." For several months I'd been intrigued by a silver-gray movie poster at the Memphian Theater back home that said simply, "Coming to Your Galaxy This Summer: Star Wars." My feet were tired from walking all over New York, so I decided, "What the heck," and got in line. When I bought my ticket I was given a pin-on button, about three inches in diameter, upon which was printed against a blue field of stars, "May the Force Be With You." "Wonder what that means?" I thought, and I pinned it on my shirt. I found a seat and for the next two hours, as I sat suspended in space from the front row of the balcony, "Star Wars" transported me, as no movie had before, to adventures in a time and place I could never have imagined. "Star Wars" took my breath away. Almost literally. When the Millennium Falcon kicked into overdrive and the stars stretched, I nearly fell out of the balcony. The next day I traveled home and told all my friends that they would soon see a new science fiction movie that was about to sweep the country and they would all love it. They thought I was nuts, but I was mostly right of course. (Can you believe some people don't love "Star Wars?") Now I have the new version of all three "Star Wars" films on LaserDisc, and I expect to continue enjoying them for years to come. And yes, I like the new versions better. The Jabba the Hutt scene was an especially welcome addition to the first film.
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Mere words cannot describe this piece of trash
31 January 1999
This film is disgusting, perverted, sleazy, squalid, slimy, repulsive, sickening, filthy, nauseating, and basically just a downright unpleasant experience. What's that? You say I've identified only a few of the reasons you like it? You say you're going to cross-dress and head down to the midnight show at the local Bijou this Saturday to recite all the movie's lines, shout back at the screen, and throw things at 200 other cross-dressers? How nice. You and I appear to have different tastes. Have a good time at the show. Come straight home. Bye, now.
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Chinatown (1974)
Smart film-noir
31 January 1999
Smart film-noir draws me in every time. This film is one of the smartest. What casting! The star of the film is 1930's Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson is the flawed good guy, Jake Gittes. Film legend John Huston is the bad guy. The theme is the exercise of power. When Jake was slapping Faye Dunaway, my dismay matched his when we both suddenly understood exactly what she was saying. Few movie moments equal that one for provoking sheer astonishment mixed, finally, with horrified comprehension.
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