Wednesday, December 31, 2008

When Harry Met Sally

Rob Reiner, 1989 (9.0*)
Director Rob Reiner's best film is a personable and magnetic love story, which begins when Meg Ryan needs a driving partner for a long trip home on a college break, and a friend hooks her up with her boyfriend Billy Crystal, who is a deluxe macho jerk, so the two grate on each other like sandpaper.

They meet again a decade later after divorces and strike up a platonic friendship that seems to defy the odds. After consoling each other over failed romances, they start spending more time together. Then the age old question arises: can best friends remain friends without sex “rearing its ugly head”? Look for Reiner’s mother, who sadly passed away this year (08), with the film’s best line, a cinema classic, after Ryan demonstrates “faking it” for Crystal in a restaurant.

One of the all-time classic romantic comedies.

Note: As this film has a terrific New Year's Eve scene, I'm reposting it on this day.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

50 First Dates

Peter Segal, 2004 (8.4*)
Surprisingly touching comedy that manages to add a twist: Drew Barrymore plays a girl who has a memory disability, namely short-term memory loss which prohibits her from remembering anything but the past up to the current day, and not retain any new memories; so to her it's contantly the same Sunday over and over, while those around her age and change so slowly that it's imperceptible to her.

Adam Sandler starts dating her, being attracted to her eccentricity (building her waffles into a teepee), and likes her enough to put up with the fact that she’s forgotten him on each new day. So each date is like a first date (for her anyway) all over again, hence the title. So far, this is the only Adam Sandler film I’ve enjoyed, and it's also one of Drew's best, as this screenplay has a heart as well as gentle, tasteful humor, including some animal jokes as Sandler's character is a zoologist with a penchant for polar wildlife (and saving them), like penguins and walruses.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Thank You For Smoking

Jason Reitman, 2005 (9.1*)
Brilliant satire of both the lobbying of congressmen by various industry groups and also the PR put forth by capitalist salesmen. Aaron Eckhart turns in his best performance as a tobacco lobbyist, getting a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. He hangs out with lobbyists for other dangerous industries like alcohol and firearms, and they brag about high number of deaths each one’s industry racks up!

Nominated for numerious awards, deserved more than it got. Look for the gorgeous Maria Bello and Katie Holmes, the always perfect Robert Duvall and William H. Macy as co-stars. Director Jason Reitman’s best film yet, a classic razor-sharp satire of big business, deservedly won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay, as the script makes arguments for all sides and lets the viewer decide these issues for himself.


My Man Godfrey

Gregory La Cava, 1935, bw (8.1*)
Fun and lovable screwball comedy starts with rich girl Carole Lombard, in perhaps her best film, going on a scavenger hunt with her aristocratic friends, when she finds street bum William Powell (of the Thin Man Series), whom she brings home to find that he's a well-mannered gentleman with a heart of gold, so she hires him as a butler. Original and unexpected 30's comedy that is the type that makes us say "they don't make comedies like this any more".


Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Good Shepherd

Robert De Niro, 2006 (8.4*)
Based on a true story, this is the best directed film from Robert De Niro, who also co-stars in this film about Edmund Wilson, played as a straight patriot by Matt Damon. Wilson was recruited as an intelligence agent during WW2, before there really was a CIA established, so he's around in the formative days of the cold war of intelligence vs. the commies and other subversives. This is a realistic spy movie, so look for less action than the Bourne series of Damon's, but it's gripping and rewarding on its own merits, and also has Angelina Jolie but in an undemanding role.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Game

David Fincher, 1997 (8.6*)
This is pure adrenaline pumping entertainment. Sean Penn has a wealthy brother, Michael Douglas, who does little but run his corporation. For his birthday (what do you give a billionaire who literally has everything?), Penn enrolls Douglas in a mysterious sounding "Game", which promises unique excitement designed for the participant.

What follows is far more than Douglas bargained for when he signs a release to waive liability in case he dies, which is a distinct possibility. When he tries to investigate 'the company', it's completely disappeared. Debra Kara Unger is the mysterious blonde who helps him escape gunfire and attempt to survive the Game. David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010)) always makes interesting and unique films that keep you glued to the plot, this one could be his best.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

As today (12/26) is my birthday, also Boxing Day in the Commonwealth, I decided to re-date some of my favorite film's posts to today, so I'm moving about five or so from my all-time top 10...

"Jesus is not p****d that his birthday is on Christmas" - Bart's chalkboard to open a Christmas episode, The Simpsons


Band of Brothers

2001, 10 Hours (10*)
Dirs: Tom Hanks, Philip Alden Robinson, Mikael Salomon, David Nutter, David Leyland, David Frankel, Tony To

Best Miniseries (Emmy, GG)

Based on the book by historian Stephen Ambrose, who worked with Ken Burns on The Civil War for PBS and who also co-produced, this immense achievement follows Easy Company from training in England, to their parachute drop the night before D-Day until the end of the war, and is interspersed with interviews of surviving participants.

Reportedly this cost producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg over 100 million, followed their collaboration on Saving Pvt Ryan, and is now perhaps the best docudrama of all-time. The D-Day parachute drop sequence alone is probably the best war footage yet produced - it combines the best CGI special effects with historical accuracy and exciting editing to create a nightmarish vision of war never seen before. This is no battle in space with imaginary deaths of aliens, this is the real thing and exactly what happened to thousands of allied soldiers.

Worthy of its length, each part is a different film with a different director, hence the overall consistency may appear uneven to the most discerning, but that's a triviality. I also think having an unknown cast was a stroke of genius, because it makes it seem like we're watching real soldiers, not some star pretending he is a real wartime participant.

This is an all-time top 10! 6 Emmys for 19 nominations


Lawrence of Arabia

David Lean, 1962 (10*)

Best Picture (AA, BAA, GG)
AFI and Time Mag Top 100
This lengthy and epic biopic of T.E. Lawrence, the man who liberated Arabia, inspired many modern filmmakers to become directors, notably Martin Scorsese, who said "it was the first film in which the hero was not a role model to be emulated." Indeed, it presents a complex and non-judgmental portrait of one of the most important figures in history, largely due to the intense performance of Peter O'Toole in his first starring role, at age 26.

The story and pace may start a little slow, but it expertly reveals a personal side to a major part of 20th century history. The panoramic cinematography and music are among the best in film, the entire project defines the word epic. It's easy to get lost in the vast landscape here, just as the desert swallows up individual lives.

If you want a man's film, this one has not a single woman in it! Some of the film may have some excessive masochistic violence, yet I'm sure it's even toned down relative to real war; much of the combat at that time was hand to hand.

The film deservedly won 7 Oscars® overall, including picture, director, screenplay, cinematography, editing, sound, music. Unfortunately, Peter O'Toole, in the role of a lifetime, lost to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

O'toole, who spent two years in the desert making this film, said that he hoped he never saw the desert again in his lifetime. Ironically, after leaving after the war, neither did T.E. Lawrence.

Quote: Thank Allah that when he made you a fool he gave you a fool's face. (Anthony Quinn)
Quote: I have nothing; I am a river to my people. (Anthony Quinn)
Quote: War is for young men of courage and valor; keeping the peace is for old men with nothing else to do. (Alec Guinness)



Chris Noonan, 1995 (10*)
Babe (from an award-winning children's novel) is my favorite children's film and animal film both. It qualifies as real action, but uses animation to make the animals mouths move so they can talk, and it works superbly. Oscar®-nominated actor James Cromwell is terrific as the farmer who buys piglet Babe for a Christmas dinner but finds something special in the pig, whose voice was Christine Cavanaugh's. The film was nominated for Best Picture, losing to the inferior Titanic. This riotous comedy from Australia actually hurt pork sales nationwide after its release.
Quote: I hear that if you don't do something useful, the humans eat you! (The Duck, who wants to be a rooster)

Awards Won (17)

U.S. Oscar – Special Effects
Best Fantasy Film - Acad. Of SF – Fantasy Films
Best Film Score – Australasian Perf. Rights Assoc.
Cinematography of the Year – Australian Cinematographers Soc.
Best Comedy Film – British Comedy Awards
Best Family Film – Critics Choice Award (Broadcast Film Critics)
Best Director, Original Music – Film Critics Circle of Australia
Best Feature Film – Genesis Awards
Best Comedy/Musical Picture – Golden Globes
Golden Screen, Germany
Studio Crystal Heart Award – Heartland Film Festival
Film of the Year – London Critics Circle Film Awards
Newcomer of the Year (Chris Noonan) – London Critics
Best Sound Editing, Golden Reel – Motion Pic. Sound Editors, USA
Best Film – Nat. Society of Film Critics Awards
Best New Director (Noonan) – New York Film Critics Circle Awards


Dr. Strangelove

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dir: Stanley Kubrick, 1964, bw (10*)
Best Picture (BAA)
AFI Top 100
A perfect black comedy, even in black and white like a documentary, a satire of the cold war and nuclear paranoia.

The story begins when renegade Gen. Jack D. Ripper, Sterling Hayden in his best role, decides to attack the Soviet Union ("they're messing with our precious bodily fluids") with his nuclear bomber group. Peter Sellers (robbed of an Oscar for this!) has a field day playing three parts: Mandrake, the nervous British assistant to Ripper, the baffled President of the U.S. inside the war room, as well as the title character, a Nazi scientist confined to a wheel chair who's an expert on the "doomsday" weapon, and who can't control his hand, which both gives the Nazi salute and attempts to strangle himself!

In fact, Kubrick also wanted Sellers to play the bomber pilot that Slim Pickens made famous, and that character wouldn't be the same without the Texas persona; Sellers said "I can't play everybody". George C. Scott is hilarious as a gung-ho general in the war room, a character seemingly based on Gen. George Patton ("we can catch the Russkies with their pants down!") . A classic in every sense, probably Kubrick's tightest film, beginning to end, terrific pace.

Quote: Gentlemen, there's no fighting in here - this is the war room! (Sellers as President)


Hero (China)

Zhang Yimou, 2002, China (10*)

This astounding film is quite simply one of the greatest films ever made in my opinion; it's also the highest grossing film in Chinese history which gives you some indication. Jet Li said it was the best script he has ever read, and left him in tears. The film's visual lyricism is sheer poetry, and the sound is so good that Bose used it for a tv ad for their surround system. The plot is full of twists and turns, as an assassin is telling the film's narrative to the King of Qin of how he defeated three assassins, one of them Ziyi Zhang, long-time enemies of the king from neighboring kingdoms, and the story changes as he tells it.

Director Zhang Yimou's (director of 2008 Olympic opening) masterpiece, at least two years in the making, and Yimou had to employ another director for the martial arts sequences - this was a major epic undertaking, which also used thousands of extras from the Chinese army. This is a film you'll watch over and over, and likely in Mandarin without subtitles once you know the story, so that the awesome visual compositions have no distractions.


Raising Arizona

Joel Coen, 1987 (10*)
This is one the funniest and fastest-paced comedies ever made, and my favorite film of the Coen Brothers. The story starts at breakneck speed, as we get robberies and chases involving lead character Nicholas Cage before the opening titles even roll, about 15 minutes into the film.

During his prison photo shoots he meets a weepy guard played by Holly Hunter, who informs him that "my fi-ants done left me"; what ensues is a whirlwind romance, marriage, then another weepy Hunter disclosure "I'm barn" (meaning barren or infertile). Cage then gets the line of the film: "The doc said her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase". Roger Ebert said that "people just don't talk this way", but here in Georgia they sure do, and remember the Coen Brothers are from Texas.

The couple reads about quintuplets born to local unpainted furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona, brilliantly played by scene stealing Trey Wilson (who died shortly after filming, causing the film to be dedicated to him), and Hunter convinces Cage to "go get me a toddler! they got too many, we ain't got any".

The rest of the film is a riotous post-crime spree involving a bounty-hunting biker played by ex-boxer Randall "Tex" Cobb, two escaped former inmates of Cages who drop by (John Goodman is surprisingly unfunny in his part), several chases with baby in tow, and everyone else chasing the baby stealers. The dialogue is ripe with great lines, the visual style is as exciting as any action adventure, even the baby is funny, and the result is perhaps the funniest comedy of all time.

Quote: Down at my store we got one motto: "Do it my way or watch your butt!" (-Nathan Arizona, talking to the FBI)
Quote2: Boy, did you know you got a panty on yer head? (a local pickup driver who picks up Nick Cage hitchin a ride just after an armed robbery)


Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Dir: Bill Melendez, 1965 (8.6*)
All you have to do is hear the terrific Vince Guaraldi jazz piano music, which is worth owning on CD, naturally, and this tv cartoon special lights images in your head that can evoke waves of humorous nostalgia. The comic strips of Charles Schultz come alive, and along with “The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which parodies Easter and Christmas both, with promises of the "great pumpkin" appearing overnight in the pumpkin patch to leave presents for believers), these are must-see’s for kids of all ages, and anyone with heart. The wry tone, the simplicity, the kids voices, Linus' love of Beethoven, Lucy pulling the football back (a joke that never gets old), the silent dances of Snoopy (who fantasizes himself to be wartime aerial ace The Red Baron) all this works perfectly and are short enough for the short attention span world. These are now some of the best holiday classics for the whole family, and can be enjoyed again and again.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Richard Donner, 1988 (7.6*)
Ok, so it’s not a great movie, it’s still another enjoyable Christmas film, and certainly a unique update of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with humor replacing the seriousness. Bill Murray is a heartless tv-exec, making everyone perform a live holiday special on Christmas Eve (with Buddy Hackett and a tumbling Mary Lou Retton in a schlocky tv version of A Christmas Carol, no less!). He’s a total scrooge, not even softened by his big-hearted secretary Alfre Woodard.

In some hilarous visits from ghosts, especially a masochistic Carol Kane, he starts to soften up and realize what a jerk he’s become. Lots of great cameo roles here: Karen Allen as Murray’s ex-girlfriend, Robert Mitchum as a numbers-conscious network exec, Bobcat Goldthwaite as a shotgun-toting disgruntled employee, Eliott Loudermilk.

Quote: oooo... you know I like the rough stuff! (Carol Kane)
Quote2: Did our guys do that? We’re gonna get phone calls! (the ghost of Christmas present shows him a vision of hell inside his coat) (Murray)
Quote3: He called you a flatulating butthead, and he likes you in a certain kind of way (Bobcat to Mitchum)


The Shop Around the Corner

Ernst Lubitsch, 1940 (8.0*) bw
This is probably the most appealing and successful of famed director Ernst Lubitsch, who excelled in heart-warming comedies with original stories, which spawned generations of copycat plots. In fact Shop was remade first as In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and Van Johnson (yet still took place in the holidays!), and recently as You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. None hold a candle to the original however, which also takes place at Christmas so this is actually another holiday film that is often overlooked.

James Stewart plays a clerk in a store in Budapest, Hungary (but they all speak perfect English!), working for Frank Morgan (he was the ‘man behind the curtain’ in the Wizard of Oz, also the traveling salesman). Margaret Sullivan is hired in the shop and she and Stewart don’t get along in person. However, each one has a secret pen pal who stirs their hearts and imagination, but they’ve yet to meet in person, each lacking romantic self-confidence; and of course, they are really each other’s secret admirers, and that’s all just the beginning. Down one star for some serious stuff in the middle spoiling the comedic pace, but Stewart and Morgan excel in this. This screenplay and its execution are still more original and fresh today than the copycat remakes and Lubitsch was an early comedy master, so this is a must-see holiday movie.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Inspector Morse Series

John Madden, various others, British tv, 33 films, 1987-1999 (8.8*)
The highly successful BBC series about a police homicide inspector is popular for one reason: actor John Thaw, always an underrated actor (Goodnight Mister Tom, Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four), and always exactly what he should be for the role, and he carries everything he's in on his shoulders; here he's a lonely bachelor who likes opera, beer, and solitude. His repartee with co-star Kevin Whately as Sgt. Lewis, a likeable family man, keeps the crimes from being all serious; he seems to barely tolerate Lewis' lack of experience, and treats him more like a servant than an equal, looks at him with the disgust of a disapproving father.

Each mystery is actually film length, usually two hours, and each is very well written; the first dozen or so are from novels by the original author Colin Dexter. Some latter years only saw one produced per year. The series begins with The Dead of Jericho and finishes with a 33rd, The Remorseful Day, filmed while actor Thaw was dying. The highest rated by users are 1-Remorseful Day (#33), 2-The Way Through the Woods (#29), 3-Deadly Slumber (#26), 4-The Wench is Dead (#32), 5-Dead on Time (#21). This is as good as British mystery gets.


Monday, December 22, 2008

The Ruling Class

Peter Medak, 1972, (7.5*)
Offbeat and downright alarming black comedy, featuring one of Peter O'Toole's juiciest roles. An earl, a member of the House of Lords, dies, and his nutty son O'Toole, who currently thinks he's Jesus Christ ("because when I pray, I find that I'm talking to myself"), inherits his estate and position. Everyone from relatives to the church is now working to "cure" him, and occasionally people, including O'Toole, burst into song! There's also murder and mayhem, as the barbs at British aristrocracy and inheritance are witty and wide-ranging. A little long at 2.5 hrs, there's a second half that I can't mention without being a spoiler. This will either surprise and entertain you, or baffle you and make you say "What the H are they doing?"


Whistle Down the Wind

Bryan Forbes, 1961, bw (8.5*)
This beautiful story shot in black and white is actually from a novel by star Hayley Mills' mother, Mary Hayley Bell. Injured convict Alan Bates hides out in a farmer’s barn; when his kids discover him, he gasps “Jesus Christ” just before passing out, so the kids assume he’s Jesus, after all, he’s in a stable when they find him. They hide and take care of him, and so the story takes on the perfect holiday message of innocence, non-judgment, and caring. A rare film that should be known better and seen more often.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

How the West Was Won

John Ford, George Marshall, Henry Hathaway, 1962 (7.4*)
This panaromic epic attempts to tell the story of the American western frontier as it advanced historically by using separate family stories connected to one family, the Prescotts, fathered in the beginning by Karl Malden.

Earlier versions had these awful vertical lines from a extreme widescreen process using three cameras and overlapping images, but they finally remastered this digitally and removed the lines, so its now worth watching again. However, the different sections and stories don't really mesh and the film lacks pace, perhaps from having 5 segments by three directors, actually tries to use lots of narration by Spencer Tracy to tie it together, so it seems like a History Channel special at times.

Many major stars are in this: James Stewart as a trapper, Debbie Reynolds as Malden's daughter who heads west, Gregory Peck as a gambler who romances her, Walter Brennan as a river pirate, John Wayne as a union general, Henry Fonda as a buffalo hunter. However, many of these talented actors are basically wasted without much to do; Fonda was the best to me. An ambitious attempt, worth watching for the sound, scope, and color cinematography, and the best buffalo stampede in cinema history.

Quote: I'm a God-fearin' man and I tell the truth as I see it (Malden)
Quote2: I settled down for a year once and it took 10 years off my life (Fonda)


Friday, December 19, 2008

Being John Malkovich

Spike Jonze, 1999 (8.9*)
Music video director Spike Jonze (not to be confused with comic musician Jones from the 40's) has crafted one of the more unique and inventive comedic fantasies in film history.

First of all, there's an office that occupies a half-floor in buiding, only it's a vertical half so the ceiling is about 5 feet high, you have to crawl off the elevator into the half floor, and then everyone's stooped over all day. Inside this office John Cusack finds a portal, a secret panel in a wall that leads one inside the head of actor John Malkovich, and you experience whatever he's going through for 15 minutes, then you are rudely dumped from the sky onto some grass next to a freeway outside L.A.!

Cameron Diaz plays Cusack's wife, also look for Sean Penn, Charlie Sheen, Mary Kay Place, and Catherine Keener. You'll probably either love or hate this Oscar®-nominated screenplay by Charles Kaufman (Oscar® winner for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but you'll have to agree that has the unique and unexpected; it actually deserves its cult classic status.

PS - one wonders if due to casting if this may have been titled "Being Adam Sandler", "Being Charlie Sheen", or (yikes) "Being Patrick Swayze"?


Thursday, December 18, 2008

As Good As It Gets

James Brooks, 1997 (9.0*)
Superb acting makes this romantic comedy one of the best of the genre. Oscar®-winner Jack Nicholson plays a near-psycho eccentric romance novelist, who avoids cracks religiously with his feet but apparently not in his head. He’ll only eat at one restaurant, and patient waitress Helen Hunt (also an Oscar®-winner) is the only one who will wait on him, so they sorta have an oddball connection.

Meanwhile, Jack’s gay neighbor, Greg Kennear in a terrific Oscar®-nominated performance, is beaten by robbers and Jack has to take care of Kennear’s dog (great dog acting too!), forming an instant bond, which leads to a friendship with Kennear in return. The best thing about this film is the script, which shows character growth, a willingness to change, and unusual bonds formed by those in need.

Director James Brooks (creator of tv's Taxi, The Simpsons) always makes good films (such as Terms of Endearment, this could be his best. Should have won Best Picture but came out the year of Titanic. Three Oscars


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good Will Hunting

Gus Van Sant, 1997 (9.0*)
Superb acting and an Oscar-winning screenplay by co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who wrote the screenplay to get parts for themselves as actors, and they end up with an Oscar apiece for writing – now that’s Hollywood! Damon plays a janitor at MIT who solves a difficult math problem left on a hallway blackboard just because he can.

When discovered, the professors get psychologist Robin Williams, in an Oscar winning supporting role, to attempt to pull Damon out of his shell and use his potential. Minnie Driver is excellent as the romantic interest, receiving an Oscar nomination, as did Damon for Best Actor). Affleck is funny in a supporting role. Director Gus van Sant (Drugstore Cowboys, My Own Private Idaho) has made a small masterpiece, and his most appealing film. Two Oscars (would've been more in any non-Titanic year)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Kenneth Branagh, 1996, 4 hrs. (8.6*)
We finally have not only a modern widescreen Hamlet, but the complete four-hour play as well for the first time in cinema history. Branagh has done a terrific and ambitious job here making the play much fresher and more palatable (not exactly a fun romp like Much Ado About Nothing or Merry Wives of Windsor) than previous screen incarnations.

Add to his 70-mm widescreen perspective (a few glorious scenes use this well) about 20 famous actors in cameo parts, and we finally have an entertaining Hamlet indeed. Co-stars Kate Winslet as Ophelia, and Julie Christie as his mother, Derek Jacobi as the king. Look for Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon, Charlton Heston, Gerard Depardieu, and others.

Quote: To thine own self be true
Quote2: Neither a borrower nor a lender be
Quote3: Doubt the the stars are fire; doubt that the moon's above; doubt that the truth's a liar; but never doubt my love (Hamlet to Ophelia)


Monday, December 15, 2008

Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton, 2007 (7.5*)
Best Picture (GG)

This has to be seen to be believed, as Johnny Depp shows that he has a David Bowie-esque singing voice in this musical about a barber who murders his victims in Victorian London, while girlfriend Helena Bonham Carter, who also sings quite well, cooks them up into Mrs. Lovett's meat pies that become the popular delicacy in London.

This is not for all tastes, and is actually quite gory, so it will likely appeal to teenagers more than anyone. As a successful stage play, there wasn’t realistic butchery like this, just simulated violence, so it would work better as a musical fantasy in that medium than it does in cinema. Some of the Stephen Sondheim music is actually quite unique and good, and this was one of the biggest musical plays since the 50's. Depp’s awesome range as an actor now has to include musicals.

More: for those interested in the gory story without any music, check out The Tale of Sweeney Todd with Ben Kingsley as Todd (!), and Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Lovett.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bride and Prejudice

Gurinder Chadna, 2004, India (8.0*)
If you've never seen an Indian musical, this should be your first! It's a retelling and updating of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, hence the title. The incredibly beautiful Aishwarya Rai has the main role (thankfully), as the eldest of four unmarried daughters, Lalita, so naturally the film is about the father trying to marry off all his daughers, who have the be the most beautiful sisters in all of film history.

There are some very good musical numbers here, not as many as a western musical, but a rousing dance sequence involving hundreds of wedding party guests where its "men vs. women" is one of the best musical numbers I've seen on film; up one star for this alone. The ballads don't fare quite as well, but this is still Bollywood at its finest, joyous and exhuberant, and a good introduction to Indian films.

Note: Many consider Aishwarya Rai to be the most beautiful actress in the world (plus she can dance and sing), and I would heartily agree. (apologies to Scarlett, Halle, Eva and Salma - each has been dethroned!)


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Six Feet Under

Alan Ball, TV Series (9.1*)
One of the most interesting and unique tv series ever, Six Feet Under was about a family who owns and operates small mortuary. Peter Krause (Sports Night, Dirty Sexy Money) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) play two brothers who inherit the business when their father dies in a car accident in the first episode. The show's creator, Alan Ball (hey, another Georgian!), won an Oscar for the screenplay of American Beauty; this show is much quirkier.

Each episode begins with an untimely death, then the show usually includes this person's final arrangements. Basically a black comedy, the emphasis was on the darker rather than the comedic side; the irony derives from the fact that we're all going to need this family's business eventually, maybe sooner than we expect.

Some serious issues are covered: Krause's marriage to Rachel Griffiths (Brothers and Sisters) seems to be drifting apart; Hispanic mortician and cosmetic reconstruction expert Freddy Rodriguez feels that he is considered hired help rather than a valuable partner; the widowed mother Frances Conroy (Desperate Housewives) is having a terrible time dealing with loneliness; Krause constantly has conversations with his dead father, Richard Jenkins (a best actor nominee for The Visitor) who had his own secret life that's slowly revealed.

The terrific music is by multiple Oscar winning composer Thomas Newman. The show ran for six seasons, and won numerous awards, and is one of the best serious shows in tv history.

Note: Look for Ball's name on the gravestone in the opening credits, which were some of the best ever thanks to Newman's music.


Friday, December 12, 2008

The Bourne Trilogy

Roger Young, Paul Greengrass, 2002-07 (9.0*)
This is a nearly perfect series of spy films, with just the right mix of action and deeply complex plot development. Matt Damon has finally found his mark with these films, who knew he would be a perfect Bondish spy with deadly skills and a boyish American charm that you could trust?

The series begins with Bourne Identity, when he awakens in the Mediterranean with amnesia, and we slowly learn the facts of his existence along with Bourne; this dvd has alternate endings. Co-stars Franke Potente (Run Lola Run) as his friend. The second film, Bourne Supremacy, adds the terrific actress Joan Allen as a CIA specialist assigned to bring him in. The third film, Bourne Ultimatum, finds him again battling the agency for truth and identity and freedom. This series is actually more rewarding than the 007 films, which are usually too flippant and self-absorbed to be taken seriously (see my two exceptions reviewed here), yet Bourne also has more action than the realistic John le Carre novels (Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Smiley's People). These three must be seen in sequence, they are all a connected story.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Stunt Man

Richard Rush, 1980 (7.7*)
Director Rush garnered an Oscar nominations for directing and screenplay for this stylish film about filmmaking, while Peter O’Toole, playing the director of the film being made (a mediocre B-film at that), was nominated for Best Actor. Steve Railsbeck plays a Vietnam vet on the lam, and he chances upon O’toole’s location film set just as a stunt man dies filming a risky stunt, a car crash off a bridge into a river. O’Toole offers the ex-con a choice: do the stunts for the film or he’ll turn him in, so Railsbeck becomes the new stunt man. There’s some exciting stuff here about filmmaking, and reality vs. fantasy and making your reality, etc… but don’t look for anything more heady than just good entertainment.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Batman Begins

Christopher Nolan, 2005 (8.9*)
This Batman film is a prequel chronologically to the original series, and stars Christian Bale (American Psycho, Empire of the Sun) as Bruce Wayne. In the original Batman, he was already a flying mammal, so this film attempts to show the roots of his obsession with both bats and crime fighting, and includes a trek to the Himilayas.

Liam Neeson has a small but meaty part as a martial arts trainer, Morgan Freeman assists with technical weapons expertise, and Michael Caine plays the butler, valet, confidante, and manager of the bat cave. Katie Holmes is here, one supposes for eye candy. Terrific director Nolan (Following, Memento) shows that he can work magic with a big budget and terrific cast, and a good script. This may be the best of the entire Batman series.


The Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan, 2008 (8.5*)
The sequel to Batman Begins is another terrific film from director Nolan. Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne, as does Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in their same roles. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the romantic interest in this movie, and Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking, Conversations with Other Women) is terrific as a district attorney who sees Batman as an ally and helps take on major organized crime from the legal and respectable perspective.

Head villain this time is The Joker, played very darkly and realistically by the late Heath Ledger in his last role, and he became the 2nd actor to win a posthumous Oscar® (along with Peter Finch for Network). Don't expect the humor we saw from Jack Nicholson as the original film Joker, this one's a truly homicidal psychotic with possibly the worst hair in the history of cinema, green(ish), greasy, and stringy. Perhaps a little long, down a star for slowing the pace, but still with some terrific action sequences and special effects.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Spider-Man Trilogy

Sam Raimi, 2002-2006 (8.3*)

The Spider-Man series is another superhero series based on comic books, but what makes this one different is that the superhero is nothing but an ordinary nerdish high school pupil, played by Tobey McGuire (The Cider House Rules). He becomes Spiderman when on a field trip he comes across some bio-engineered spiders, gets bitten, and somehow the DNA becomes involved with his and he becomes a sort of humanoid spider with some radical spider-web skills. This is nothing but pure fantasy, but works very well on an action-adventure level if you don't want to think very much, especially since the special effects are top-notch; it's like a high speed comic on steroids.

The first film uncovers the family history and secrets, and tells us why Peter is living with his aunt and uncle, and introduces James Franco as a best friend, Kirsten Dunst as the childhood romance, and Willem Dafoe as the villain, who uses science and technology to become the Green Goblin. The second in the series is probably the best paced and features an imaginative villain with mechanical arms played by Albert Molina, definitely a science experiment gone bad. The third shows unveils Spiderman's "dark side" and even his uniform changes from red to black, but it's the slowest paced of the three.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Iron Man

Jon Favreau, 2008 (8.2*)
This is another worthy entry into the comic book superhero into film genre, such as Superman, Spider-Man, Batman - it's another Marvel Comics character, so the film has more action and weaponry than say the Batman series, and is actually a pretty good combination of hard science fiction with gadgets not that far into the future, and fantasy, which allows our hero to become a small jet and therefore fly - you simply have to ignore the fact that he appears indestructible when he's really just a weapons inventing scientist! (Being protected basically by sheets of iron, I kept thinking of Fistful of Dollars!)
Jeff Bridges
is a perfect corporate 'Mr. Evil', but perhaps the biggest surprise is that Robert Downey, Jr. became a believable action hero, also that average comic actor (and sometimes indie director) Jon Favreau (Swingers) can direct a big budget action film! Wonders never cease...


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Say Anything

Cameron Crowe, 1989 (7.8*)
Very enjoyable teen romance, one of the first efforts from director Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry McGuire, Vanilla Sky); the former Rolling Stone rock writer had only written Fast Times at Ridgmont High before this. Average guy John Cusack has fallen for beautiful and brainy Ione Skye, who seems to not be interested, but of course Cusack persists, else there wouldn't be a film. Light romance, just entertainment but very much worth watching.


Ferris Bueller's Day Off

John Hughes, 1986 (7.6*)
This sophmoric high school comedy was a Hughes' (16 Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) specialty in the 80's, and this was the most successful of the batch, and still the most watchable years later. Matthew Broderick plays high schooler Bueller who fakes feeling ill in order to skip a day of school, but what starts a just another slacker day eventually turns into a local cause as nearly the entire town seems to get involved eventually. Jeffrey Jones (Amadeus, Beetlejuice) has a hissable part as the fascist school principal who becomes obsessed with busting Bueller; Jennifer Grey, in her original recognizable face, is the angel/devil sister that you both love and hate; Mia Sara is the eye candy; Cindy Pickett is the gullible mom. Don't look for much intelligence, just an entertaining ride down juvenile boulevard.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, 1991 (9.1*)
Best Musical/Comedy Picture (GG)
This is the animated Disney version, and one of their best animated films ever. Much of the design for the animation movement mimics camerawork on early Hollywood musicals, which is appropriate since this also has some songs that are very well integrated into the plot, which is basically about a trapped princess who falls in love with a "beast of a man". This was the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and is a treat for kids and adults both. Three songs were nominated for Oscars, a first. Two Oscars (Music Score and Song)


101 Dalmatians

Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961 (8.2*)
Animated Disney doesn't get any better than this. Dalmatians have a litter of 15 puppies, and if that isn't enough of a problem, the evil Cruella De Vil, the voice of Yvonne DiCarlo and probably the best name for any film villainess, wants to make a fur coat out of a hundred-and-one Dalmatian puppies. Man, that's evil personified! Of course we have heroes, narrow escapes, nail-biting, but it is Disney, so you feel confident that they won't skin 101 puppies! Forget the live action remake, this version is the one to see again and again.



James Algar, 1940 (8.5*)
Way ahead of its time, Disney created a series of artistic interpretations of short classical music works, and though each film was animated, the styles (other than the classic Mickey Mouse one) were not the usual Disney cartoons. In fact, some were downright frightening for small children, like "Night on Bald Mountain" or "Rite of Spring". Each viewer will likely have different favorites, and not all will work for everyone, but it's safe to say that Mickey as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" ranks way up there as the best of both animated music and Disney's favorite character. This was an historical film in the history of animation.


Friday, December 5, 2008

The Madness of King George

Michael Hytner, 1994 (8.6*)
This is an acting tour-de-force by Nigel Hawthorne (Oscar nominee), recreating his stage role as King George at a time when he apparently went mad, often proving himself unfit to rule; he would sometimes pounce on women at court and have to be dragged off them. Many think he was unable to keep the American colonies due to this illness. Helen Mirren shines as his wife, with an Oscar nod for supporting actress (she was robbed!), who stands beside him like a true partner through all the turmoil. It eventually became a major national issue, with Parliament getting involved. This is a terrific expose of a little-known piece of British history


Thursday, December 4, 2008


Doug McGrath, 1996 (8.3*)
Gwyneth Paltrow scores again with her British accent in this Jane Austen romantic comedy, about a wealthy woman who attempts to play matchmaker for each of her single friends except herself, whether they want her help or not. This is the funniest of Austen's novels, as we get to see early sitcom at work, 1800's style. This novel was also the basis for the updated U.S. comedy Clueless, with Alicia Silvertone ("As if!"), where it was moved into a Beverly Hills high school! Here it gets the full-blown British costume treatment.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

An Ideal Husband

Oliver Parker, 1995 (8.1*)
If you've never seen Oscar Wilde, this is a good place to start, with a romantic comedy with enough drama and intrigue to maintain tension and plot. Jeremy Northam is an upstanding member of Parliament, happily married to Cate Blanchett, but who is being blackmailed for a political vote by Julianne Moore. Best friend Rupert Everett attempts to help hold it all together, and along the way the plot twists and turns in typical Wilde style. Minnie Driver is dazzling (terrific costumes and hats) as romantic interest, and the production beautifully captures the aristocratic lifestyle of the era. A sophisticated comedy of the type the British seem to excel in creating.


The Importance of Being Earnest

Oliver Parker, 2002 (7.5*)
Parker once again tackles Oscar Wilde, this time remaking the 40's bw classic. Colin Firth and dedicated bachelor Rupert Everett are best friends. Each has a secret life he has invented to enable getting away: Colin escapes to the city from the country, where he is ward and executor for Reese Witherspoon, while Rupert escapes the city and creditors by fleeing to Colin's country estate. Each man gets into romantic entanglements, Firth with Everett's cousin Frances O'Conner (whose dodgy mother and Rupert's aunt Judi Dench is a stickler for tradition), Everett with Witherspoon. The title comes from Reese vowing to only marry a man named Earnest, even getting the name tattoed on her derriere. This is classic situation comedy, in this case romantic comedy, in which characters will stop at no length to get the mate of their fancy.
Note: In Wilde's An Ideal Husband, the characters all attend a theatre performance of Earnest.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To Have and To Have Not

Howard Hawks, 1944, bw (7.6*)
This was the sultry Lauren Bacall’s dazzling screen debut, as she steals this version of an Ernest Hemingway story from star Humphrey Bogart, as well as his heart, soon becoming Mrs. Bogart (anyone can see why!). William Faulkner actually co-scripted this story (with Jules Furthman), very reminiscent of Casablanca (from 2 years earlier), of a selfish American in French Vichy territory, in this case Martinique. Bogart runs a deep-sea fishing charter service with alcoholic buddy Walter Brennan, apparently here for humor, and tries to remain apolitical. Victor Buono steals scenes as a polite but slimy Vichy official hunting down anti-Nazis on the island. Obviously not as good as Casablanca, and bogged down by some unnecessary songs (Bacall sings! but 3-4 times? down a star for this...), but still worth seeing as an example that era’s romances, where the war was present but took a back seat to onscreen seduction.
Quote: Waz ya ever bit by a dead honey bee? (Brennan)
Quote2: You do know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow. (Bacall)


The Spanish Prisoner

David Mamet, 1997 (8.0*)
This is another Mamet con-artist crime classic, like House of Games. Campbell Scott (son of George) has created a valuable formula for a company, who then becomes the target of corporate espionage. Steve Martin has an interesting straight part here, but its hard to describe this film without giving anything away; suffice to say that if you like intellectual puzzle crime stories with twists and turns rather than gunplay, this will be a very rewarding film for you. Some of the acting lacks intensity, but its not that style of film, this is more like a long, slow crime you can savour.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Mad Men

Alan Taylor, Tim Hunter, others; 2007 (8.4*)
Emmy - Best Drama Series
As tv series go, this one is both maddeningly slow (down one star for lacking intensity) yet insidiously addictive. The title is for "Madison Avenue Advertising Men", and the show centers around the Sterling Cooper ad agency in New York City around 1959. The actors look like 50's people, so do the costumes, the interiors, the furniture, even a grocery store - in short, the art direction is impeccable. In fact, the characters smoke in every scene (even the menu explodes into cigarette smoke on the dvd!), and drink constantly, so this is a better 50's show than any done back then, when these activities were forbidden. We also see people climbing into beds and couches together, and all the men seem to cheat. This is really an adult soap opera disguised as a drama about advertising, mass psychology, an era of excess, and a general lack of morality and responsibility.

John Hamm is the lead actor (and Golden Globe winner), as the handsome, virile, and unfaithful Donald Draper, and we slowly find that he has some major skeletons in his closet. His wife, January Jones, is a Grace Kelly-type former model, and the women in the ad offices "know how to fill out a dress", especially office manager Christina Hendricks, a redheaded, blue-eyed goddess. Don't expect lots of action here, but do expect lots of 50's style and mood. Won the Emmy for Best Drama Series in its first season, and is from AMC no less, not a major network.

Note: That older partner dude in his socks playing Sterling is Robert Morse, best known for the 50's musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, so his casting here is a great film reference.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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