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Stay tuned for the End of Year Spectacular –
Jacquie’s Top Ten DVDs of 2004!

Contents                                               AtWork01 (Under Construction)

Movies to See
(click a title to read Jacquie's review, or scroll down to read them all in reverse chronological order).  See Jacquie's Random Ramblings below.
Movies to Skip
21 Grams
24 Hour Party People
28 Days Later
3000 Miles to Graceland
50 First Dates
Along Came Polly
American History X   
American Splendor  
Auto Focus
Bad Santa
Badasssss!
The Battle of Shaker Heights  
Better Off Dead
The Big Bounce                   
The Big Empty           
Big Fish          
Bubba Ho-Tep
Casa de los Babys
City of God
Club Dread
Coffee and Cigarettes
Collateral
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
Control Room
The Cooler           
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys   
Dawn of the Dead
The Day After Tomorrow
Death to Smoochy 
Die, Mommie, Die!   
Dirty Dancing:  Havana Nights     
Dirty Pretty Things 
Dogville
Elephant
Elf
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Eurotrip
Fahrenheit 9/11
Flirting with Disaster
The Fog of War  
Four Rooms        
Garage Days
The Girl Next Door
Girl With a Pearl Earring   
God Is Great, and I'm Not
Godsend   
Good Bye Lenin
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Hidalgo              
House of Sand and Fog   
The House of Yes                           
Identity      
I'm Not Scared               
In America                   
Intolerable Cruelty  
Jersey Girl
Kill Bill:  Volume 2
L.I.E.  
The Ladykillers
L’Auberge Espagnole
Laurel Canyon                        
Life Is Beautiful
Little Shop of Horrors
Lord of The Rings:  Return of The King  
The Lost Boys
Love Actually           
The Magdalene Sisters  
Man on Fire   
Maria Full of Grace               
The Matrix Revolutions               
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mayor of Sunset Strip
Mean Girls
Monster
Mystic River    
Paycheck
The Photographer
Pieces of April
The Perfect Score
The Prince and Me
The Punisher
Raising Helen
Road to Perdition       
Run Lola Run 
Saved!
Say Anything         
Scorched
Scotland, PA
Shaolin Soccer
Some Like It Hot    
Spartan     
Spiderman 2       
Spellbound    
Starsky and Hutch
Super Size Me
Taking Lives
The Station Agent   
The Stepford Wives
The Terminal
Touching The Void        
The Triplets of Belleville 
The United States of Leland
Van Helsing     
Walking Tall         
Whale Rider
Whipped
The Whole Ten Yards 
With a Friend Like Harry
15 December 2004
I, Robot
– Seriously, people.  I’ve warned you.

14 September 2004

Home on the Range.  I couldn’t even finish it.

03 September 2004
I have it on good authority that you shouldn’t watch Triggermen.

20 July 2004
**SPECIAL REPORT**
If you’re inclined to go see I, Robot, give me a call.  For eight bucks, I’ll come pour some lye in your eyes instead.  It’ll be less painful, and it won’t last two hours.

Never Die Alone

Against the Ropes

21 June 2004
The Singing Detective.
  Unless you have a lot of hallucinogens, that is.

05 June 2004
My Baby’s Daddy
  I know I shouldn’t condemn movies I haven’t seen, but just read that title over again.

25 May 2004

Torque
You Got Served
Down With Love
(I’ve probably said this before, but it bears repeating)

11 May 2004
Narc
Love Don’t Cost a Thing
Timeline
Out of Time.


29 Apr 2004
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
Honey
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Duplex


14 Apr 2004
Gothika
Mona Lisa Smile
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Underworld
Gigli

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Spider-Man 2
Sam Raimi is a genius, plain and simple.  His adaptation of Spider-Man shattered box office records, and in this film he has accomplished the rare distinction of crafting a sequel as good as, if not better than, the film it follows.  After a whirlwind of Alex Ross stills that recap the last movie, this one finds college student Peter Parker trying to hold down a job, keep up his grades, and get his shit together in time to win Mary Jane Watson’s heart.  Oh, plus he has to save New York from supervillains.  And protect his secret superhero identity from the vengeful son of his old nemesis.  He becomes increasingly resentful towards the burdens of being Spidey and decides to quit, just as mad scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) starts hunting him in an evil octopus suit.  Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man radiates loneliness, human frailty, and frustration.  Just go watch this movie; I don’t know why we’re even talking about it..  Reviewed  15 December 2004

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Elf
Overexposed comic star Will Ferrell is back, this time in an instant Christmas classic.  He plays Buddy, an orphan raised by stodgy elf Bob Newhart after inadvertently winding up in Santa’s sack (which only sounds dirty, I swear).  When he learns that he’s a human, and doesn’t really fit into a world populated by elves, he runs away to find his real father—James Caan.  Seriously, people, I can’t make this shit up.  The bad news is that his dad is a heartless publishing exec who can’t even connect with the son he already has.  His encounters with a mailroom, a revolving door, and a cynical Gimbel’s elf (Zooey Deschanel) make an incredibly sweet, funny, adorable movie.  Directed by Jon Favreau, star of Swingers and The Big Empty, whom I would give my left foot to have drinks with.  Just wait for the mixture of laughter and horror as Buddy eats gum off a subway railing.. Reviewed  15 December 2004

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The Terminal
Steven Spielberg’s latest directorial effort finds Krakozhian national Viktor Navorsky (Tom Hanks) stranded in Kennedy, thanks to a coup in his home country.  Until a stable government is established there, he has no country, invalidating his passport and preventing his entrée into New York City.  Security jerk Stanley Tucci watches, Big Brother-like, for Navorsky to make a break for it, at which point he can be arrested.  Based on the true story of an Iranian refugee who was stranded in de Gaulle, it’s a sweet, slow, sentimental film, with some genuinely funny moments as Viktor learns how to live in an airport..  Reviewed  15 December 2004

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Maria Full of Grace
Seventeen-year-old Colombian girl Maria has a crappy life.  She works in some kind of florist sweatshop where she can’t take bathroom breaks, then turns over her pay to support her sister’s bastard kid.  When she gets pregnant by her idiot boyfriend, she decides that drug muling doesn’t seem so bad.  She swallows pellets of narcotics and shipped to New York, along with several other girls whose GI tracts are similarly filled.  But drug muling ain’t easy, and trouble awaits in the States.  This is an interesting and well-done drama, and a friendly remember that Colombia is not someplace you want to live.   Reviewed  15 December 2004

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
I’ll be totally honest, and admit that I remember precious little of the plot from this movie, although I watched it a few weeks ago, and also read the book in college.  Young wizard Potter is on his way back to Hogwarts with his friends Ron and Hermione, but eeeeevil wizard Sirius Black has escaped from wizard prison and is coming to kill him.  Meanwhile, the prison has dispatched its soulless Dementor guards to find Sirius, and they seem to want to kill Harry, too.  Director Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también) has created a sort of tone piece, much darker and more sinister than the first two Potter films.  This may be the last film Rupert Grint (Ron) makes before succumbing to Child Actor Syndrome, as suggested by press photos in which he appears totally cracked out.  Reviewed  28 October 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
The Stepford Wives

Nicole Kidman’s campy comedy remake of the Ira Levin horror novel is honestly kind of fun, especially with its star-studded cast, bright colors, and wild costumes.  Kidman, whom I generally detest, plays castrating network executive Joanna Eberhart, whose husband, Walter Kresby, moves the family to a Connecticut idyll after her nervous breakdown.  The slovenly, nerdy men there all have conspicuously perfect wives, and Joanna begins to wonder why.  It’s an acceptable waste of a couple hours, made infinitely creepier by the fact that Bette Midler looks exactly like my mom.  Reviewed  15 December 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
Collateral
For an action movie, there really isn’t that much action happening here.  The very latest in Oscar buzz, Jamie Foxx, plays cabbie Max, who picks up Tom Cruise’s Vincent, a well-dressed man with weaselly eyes (wait, Tom Cruise looks like that all the time).  Vincent offers Max a fat stack of currency in exchange for driving him to five stops in one evening, then getting him to LAX by 6 AM.  Max reluctantly agrees, going against the Cabbie Handbook, only to find out that his fare is a ruthless hitman.  It’s a relatively engaging drama, though not as suspenseful as the makers might have hoped; heavy foreshadowing led me to figure out the ending long before it came.  Reviewed  15 December 2004

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I'm Not Scared
This Italian film is a study in perspective.  Ten-year-old Michele discovers a little boy hidden in an underground cave, and begins to suspect that his shady father may be responsible.What’s valuable about this tight drama is the way that the viewer sees only what Michele is privy to as he tries to save young Philippe from his captors.  Also, very cute girls watch this film, and if you watch it, you can talk to them about it. Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Control Room
Every time I told someone that this documentary was about Al Jazeera, they said, “Who?”  Seriously, this happened more than once.  In fact, documentary filmmaker Jehane Noujaim depicts the U.S. military action in Iraq (not war, because that requires Congressional approval) from the perspective of the most popular and controversial news channel in the Arab world.  Her sensitive filmmaking lends dignity and humanity to a conflict that has suffered direly from the spin of the U.S. media.  The result is a film more important, and certainly more objective, than Fahrenheit 9/11.  Reviewed  28 October 2004

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28 Days Later
Like zombies?  Of course you do.  Danny Boyle’s finest directorial accomplishment (with the possible exception of Trainspotting) is a gritty, grainy, shot-to-digital zombie flick that genuinely scared the crap out of me.  Bike messenger Jim wakes up in a London hospital after a coma to find that everyone is just sort of…gone, having succumbed to viral zombification.  He finds a small band of survivors to team up with, and the emotions of horror and loneliness and shock are palpable.  This modern horror masterpiece includes some amazing shots of the deserted London.   Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Dawn of the Dead
  This is probably a really good movie, especially if you like zombies (which we’ve already established).  I didn’t watch all of it, but from what I hear…you know. Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Flirting with Disaster
Before making Three Kings and the existential comedy I Heart Huckabees (which I’m dying to see), David O. Russell directed this comic masterpiece.  Ben Stiller plays Mel Coplin, an adoptee whose desire to find his birth parents interferes in his relations with his newborn son.  Tea Leoni is seductive adoption worker Tina, who leads Mel and his beleaguered wife (Patricia Arquette) on a confused journey to find his parents.  A brilliant supporting cast, including Lily Tomlin, Mary Tyler Moore, and Alan Alda, and an uproarious script make this one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time.  Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Whipped
This is a brutally harsh sex comedy about what happens when three scammers all fall for the same girl.  Amanda Peet plays Mia, the dream girl to sensitive Jonathan, asshole Eric, and “East Village enigma” Zeke.  The dialogue is extremely explicit, but also incredibly hilarious, especially if you spend a lot of time hanging around guys.   Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Little Shop of Horrors
  Nothing beats a musical about a plant with a taste for humans.  Rick Moranis stars as Seymour Krelborn, the downtrodden and lovesick flunky in a failing skid row flower shop.  When he discovers a mysterious and amazing plant, things begin to turn around – at least until he has to satisfy the plant’s blood lust.  This film features one of Bill Murray’s funniest scenes, wherein he plays the masochistic patient to Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist.  Reviewed  28 October 2004

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MOVIES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
Van Helsing
If I had to choose between watching this movie and chopping off my right foot with a Ginsu knife, I’d be down a foot.  If I had to choose between watching it and eating rancid shrimp, I’d be getting my stomach pumped.  If I had to choose between watching it and watching I, Robot, I’d say, “Do your worst, Will Smith.”  The plot is awful, the effects are terrible, and the acting is bad enough to trump Kate Beckinsale’s hotness factor.  It has an unusually high “What the hell?” factor (I said “What the hell?” twice in the first seven minutes).  For God’s sake, don’t watch it.  Reviewed  28 October 2004

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MOVIES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
Raising Helen

Unless your name is Beth, you have no excuse for watching this movie.  It’s insipid, uninspired, unfunny chick-flick material.  Kate Hudson plays a fashionista who inherits her sister’s three kids, and has to make appropriate lifestyle adjustments, like trading the casual sex and drinking for dating a pastor and keeping her niece virginal.  I feel about Kate Hudson much the same way I feel about Denzel Washington: I keep watching the movies they both make, hoping that sooner or later I’ll be rewarded, but I keep getting kicked in the ass instead.  Even the usually delightful Joan Cusack is crap in her role as Hudson’s “Supermom” sister. .   Reviewed  28 October 2004

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s films wrongly billed as comedies.  Just because Jim Carrey’s in it, or because there’s some zany music in the trailer, doesn’t mean this film is going to be a laugh riot.  Director Michel Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman take a long, hard look at a doomed relationship between Carrey’s quiet Joel and Kate Winslet’s hyper, neurotic Clementine.  After the relationship ends, Joel learns that Clementine has undergone a new procedure to remove all traces of him from her memory, and, hurt and angry, he decides to do the same to her.  But once the procedure has started, and he has no way to go back, he changes his mind, and begins a furious effort to preserve what remains of her in his memory.  It’s an intensely beautiful film, with a stellar cast that includes Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo.  I’ve heard more than one person compare it to Annie Hall, which is good if you can’t get past Woody Allen’s neurosis.  Caveat: Don’t watch this movie within, oh, six months or so after any breakup, no matter how well you think you’re coping.. Reviewed  12 October 2004

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The United States of Leland
Writer/director Matthew Ryan Hoge crafts a brilliantly dreamlike drama about the aftermath of a teenager committing an abhorrent murder.  Don Cheadle plays Pearl Madison, a juvenile hall teacher who tries to make sense of the crime while gathering material for a book.  It’s about being hurt and hurting others, about trying to understand why we do the things we do.  The superb ensemble cast features Ryan Gosling as Leland; teen angst queen Jena Malone as a smack addict; “Dawson’s Creek” vet Michelle Williams, who’s been making increasingly good movies since leaving the Creek; and Kevin Spacey as a misogynist, alcoholic novelist..  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Mean Girls
Tina Fey’s first screenplay makes for a hilarious teen comedy that everyone I know seems to love.  After spending her childhood with anthropologist parents in Africa, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) makes her first foray into American high school at age 16.  Her sweet naïveté is no match for the Plastics, a sort of Heathers-for-the-new-millenium clique.  With the help of arty outcast Janis and “too gay to function” Damian, she sets out to sabotage the Plastics.  Aside from the great writing, what makes this movie stand out is that it’s populated with more extreme versions of the very kids you remember from high school: the bitches, the dumb girls, the bitter teachers, and a hilarious math geek with gangsta aspirations.  At Blockbuster, we gang up on people to make them rent this movie..   Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Saved!
At American Eagle Christian High School, everyone just loooooves Jesus.  Led by rabid fundamentalist Hilary Faye (singer Mandy Moore), the Christian Jewels clique (“like a girl band for Jesus”) works hard to convert anyone that doesn’t fit their model of Good Christianity, like Hilary Faye’s atheist brother Roland, and Cassandra, “the only Jewish” at the school.  Christian Jewel Mary (Jena Malone again) nearly drowns when she finds out her boyfriend Dean is gay, but Jesus encourages her to have sex with Dean to fix him.  Dean’s parents send him away to degayification camp, but it’s too late: Mary is pregnant, and when word gets around, life at American Eagle is a nightmare.  It’s sweet, fluffy, on-message satire in the same way that But I’m a Cheerleader was, and it’s funny as hell. Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Coffee and Cigarettes
Jim Jarmusch’s collection of short films created over a 17-year period features hilariously incongruous pairings of actors and musicians, just having conversations over coffee and cigarettes.  Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes discuss Jack’s Tesla coil, which he’s hauled over in a wagon; Steve Buscemi asks a pair of twins which one is evil; Tom Waits and Iggy Pop make each other uncomfortable.  My favorite moment is probably when Alfred Molina (Doc Ock in Spiderman 2) earnestly asks 24 Hour Party People’s Steve Coogan to love him.  The shorts are cleverly interconnected in ways that may not be immediately obvious, and also feature Bill Murray, Steven Wright, Roberto Benigni, and Cate Blanchett as schizophrenic Cate Blanchett, among others.  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Super Size Me
News flash: McDonald’s is bad for you (sorry if my telling you this screws up your pending lawsuit, but it had to be done).  Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock decides to find out just how bad by indulging in a 30-day McDonald’s-only diet.  The otherwise healthy man, who is in great shape and exercises regularly, has to try everything on the menu at least once, and super size whenever he’s asked to.  His emotional and physical health deteriorate almost immediately, and one can only assume his relationship with his vegan girlfriend is strained, too.  In addition to this well-publicized stunt, the documentary looks at our national eating habits, including the problem with school lunches.  It’s funny, it’s troubling, and it’ll either make you swear off McDonald’s for life, or else crave it so badly that you have to go to the drive-thru before the credits finish rolling.  Plus, Spurlock is hot, even post-McDonald’s.   Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Fahrenheit 9/11
Everyone should watch this, plain and simple.  While I might not agree with a lot of Michael Moore’s tactics, and while I do in fact consider him to be a potentially dangerous propagandist, I still think he makes points that the voting-eligible public needs to be aware of.  Is it an eye-opener?  Probably not, if you follow the news at all.  Does it cross the line into “unfair” from time to time?  Of course.  But still, you should go see it.  And vote.. Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Good Bye Lenin
After Alex’s father flees East Germany, his mother throws herself into supporting the Communist regime as vigorously and unquestioningly as she can.  One night, when she’s on her way to a ceremony at which she’ll receive an award for her devotion to socialism, she sees Alex arrested at a protest, suffers a heart attack, and lapses into a coma, during which the Berlin Wall falls.  When she wakes, Alex and his sister, Ariane, try to recreate the old days in their apartment to protect their mother from the culture shock that will inevitably result if she goes outside.  He frantically tries to find the Ossi foodstuffs that are no longer available, makes fake news reports, and lies to her about the encroaching advertisements outside their windows.  Billed as a comedy, it’s really more of a drama about family, with Alex trying to reconnect with his absentee Wessi father, and fighting with his sister and girlfriend about the right time to tell his mother the truth about the world around them..  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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OLD FAVORITE PICK OF THE WEEK
Death to Smoochy

Poor critical response really sunk this little gem of a black comedy from director Danny De Vito.  Edward Norton plays Sheldon Mopes, an earnest, wholesome, squeaky-clean idealist who performs as Smoochy the Rhino at children’s hospitals and methadone clinics.  Jon Stewart is soulless puppet Frank Stokes, a children’s TV producer who taps Sheldon to be his new star after Rainbow Randolph (Robin Williams) is busted by feds in a payola scandal.  The story that unfolds features the Irish mob, a half-retarded former boxer, a catty TV exec with an embarrassing past, and a midget named Angelo.  It really is hilarious, I promise..  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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 MOVIES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
Dirty Dancing:  Havana Nights

I’ll be honest: I liked the first Dirty Dancing movie, but that’s okay for me to admit, because I’m a girl.  When I heard they were making a sequel, I said, “What?  Why?!?”  This movie really lived up to my expectations.  Rich white girl in Havana on the eve of the revolution, blah blah, dance contest, blah blah, sexy Cuban boy, blah blah.  I watched it because I have too much free time and because I’m in love with Diego Luna.  Please, please don’t make the same mistake. Reviewed  12 October 2004

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MOVIES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
Walking Tall
On the other hand, I have no idea why I watched this movie.  Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen the original, so maybe I’m missing something, or something.  But in my experience, when a movie makes me go, “What the hell?” more than once, and in this case, in the span of only a few minutes, it’s a bad movie.  It tries to warn you away by the simple fact that the Rock is the top-billed star, but did I heed its warnings?  No.  That’s 85 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.  This movie is so bad, in fact, that I tell customers I haven’t seen it just so I don’ t have to tell them what a freaking train wreck it was.  At least I watched it in good company..  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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MOVIES YOU SHOULDN'T WATCH
The Day After Tomorrow
I have a theory that my friend Will and I could have written this movie.  Combining his keen knack for dialogue with my knowledge of science, we might have even written a better movie, because at least we both understand the importance of a climax in narrative structure.  As we watched this disastrous disaster movie, I was literally saying many of the lines before the actors could.  That’s bad.  The special effects were pretty cool, and I do love Jake Gyllenhaal, but still.  I genuinely believe that watching this movie resulted in the loss of IQ points (even more so in certain friends and coworkers who actually like it)..  Reviewed  12 October 2004

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Badasssss!
Is—is that Mario van Peebles?  Why yes, it is!  And what’s more, he’s playing his own father, Melvin, in the story of how he fought The Man to bring us the birth of blaxploitation!  See, after the success of his movie The Watermelon Man, Melvin came up with a new idea: a movie about an ordinary black man turned revolutionary, a movie that would honestly depict the state of race relations while giving the black community a new hero.  In spite of his difficulties with finding financial backing, union troubles, and a clearly unconventional home life, he assembled a Rainbow Coalition crew and worked himself blind to create Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and a genre was born.  Mario wrote and directed this movie based on his father’s book, How to Get the Man’s Foot Outta Your Ass, and it’s actually a great film, with trippy cinematography, a solid soundtrack, and Nia Long.  Melvin’s disappointments, frustration, and inner demons really come to life—especially the latter, in the form of an angel on his ceiling. Reviewed  14 September 2004

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The Ladykillers
It’s not the Coen Brothers’ best film (that would be O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and it’s not even their funniest (that would be Intolerable Cruelty, and anyone who disagrees can go straight to hell).  And I haven’t seen the Alec Guinness original, so I can’t even say whether or not it’s a faithful adaptation.  But I can say that it is funny, with Tom Hanks taking the sort of role that George Clooney would usually occupy: an overly charming Southerner with the gift of gab.  He plays dream tenant Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, PhD., whose band of Rococo musicians is actually a motley crew of riverboat robbers.  Landlady Mrs. Munson, an old, old-fashioned Baptist who sends a little money every month to Bob Jones University, grows suspicious, and he has to concoct a plot to get her out of the way.  Worth watching; plus, it’s really fun to say, “We must all have waffles.  We must all have waffles forthwith!” .  Reviewed  14 September 2004

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The Punisher
So maybe I’m a little biased here, given that I freaking love comic book movies (except The Hulk; curse you, Ang Lee!).  And any movie with John Travolta as the bad guy has got to be pretty silly (see Swordfish).  But I’ll admit to liking this one.    Thomas Jane plays the title avenger, retired FBI agent Frank Castle, whose family is killed as retribution for his role in a major bust.  Left for dead, he comes back to kill everyone involved.  He’s self-destructive, with a lust for Wild Turkey; he’s antisocial, in spite of his lonely neighbors’ efforts to draw him out; he’s single-minded, killing people and blowing stuff up.  The Popsicle interrogation scene, lifted directly from the books, is hilarious, and Castle is believably badass.  It’s mindless action, but for what it is, it’s good.  Reviewed  14 September 2004

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With a Friend Like Harry
You know that feeling when you run into someone that you feel like you should remember, but you don’t?  Isn’t it worse when they remember you?  And isn’t it worse still when they can recite verbatim a Gothic-style poem you published in your high school journal?  Wait, that’s never happened to you?  Huh.  In this French film, Michel is vacationing with his family when he runs into Harry in a rest stop bathroom.  Although he can’t remember Harry, Harry remembers everything about him, and wrangles an invite to the villa for himself and his cute-but-dumb girlfriend, Plum.   Harry bestows increasingly outlandish favors and gifts on the family, and everything seems to be okay, until he decides that Michel’s parents are really just getting in the way.  It’s a genuinely creepy film, and will make you think twice about every chance meeting.. Reviewed  14 September 2004

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MOVIE I HATED, AND WHY
Man on Fire

Ever since Denzel got that Oscar, the whole world’s gone to shit.  I keep watching his movies, hoping that sooner or later one of them will be really good, but it just hasn’t happened yet.  Here he plays an alcoholic who becomes a bodyguard in Latin America, where apparently kids go missing like pancakes at Kirstie Alley’s.  His young charge, Dakota Fanning, gives him a new lease on life, blah blah, then gets kidnapped and killed when the ransom is stolen.  He vows to exact revenge Punisher-style on everyone who had a hand in it, only without all the cool weapons and the sweet-ass GTO.  It’s long, and pretty boring, and all the guys he’s after look alike after a while; plus, the fast-motion and stop-action photography that seem really cool in the intro just get relentless and irritating. .  Reviewed  14 September 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
Jersey Girl

I’m a huge, huge fan of Kevin Smith’s oeuvre.  I’ve seen Mallrats probably, like, twenty times, and let’s be honest: that’s a bad movie.  Jersey Girl is a radical departure from his usual sharp wit and crude humor, playing more like a valentine to his wife and daughter.  Ben Affleck plays Ollie Trinke, a publicist at the top of his game, who wants nothing more out of life than to be rich and wildly successful and impregnate J. Lo.  Alas, his plans are derailed when she dies in childbirth, right around the fifteen-minute mark, and he loses his job for publicly trashing a client.  So he moves back in with his wisecracking father (George Carlin), and devotes his life to getting back in the game.  Fortunately, Liv Tyler shows him the way.  It’s sweet, sentimental, and pedestrian, but good if you’re not into thinking too much. .  Reviewed  14 September 2004

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The Girl Next Door
This teenage romantic/sex comedy has been hailed by some critics as “this generation’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and while I think that such comparisons are over-generous, it’s still entertaining.  Emile Hirsch (Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) plays Matthew, a college-bound senior who realizes that he’s never had any fun.  Enter Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert), the gorgeous new neighbor with a shady past who pushes him to break out of his shell.  Timothy Olyphant is excellently creepy as Danielle’s agent, and Matthew’s A/V geek friends Eli and Klitz are a riot.  It’s funny, it’s naughty, and it plays like this generation’s Risky Business.. Reviewed  03 September 2004

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L’Auberge Espagnole
It’s like The Real World: Barcelona.  What happens when you put seven Europeans in a house together with no common language, virtually no privacy, and pressing academic concerns?  Romantic entanglements, illicit and immoral sex, drunkenness, pot smoking, and visual hallucinations of medieval Dutchmen, of course!  The center of this film is Xavier, a French kid who moves to Spain for a year to study in the Erasmus program and pine for his beautiful but crazy girlfriend.  When he completes his Master’s, he’s all but guaranteed a prestigious job in the bureaucracy thanks to his father’s connections.  Stress and sexual frustration start to get the better of him, and he starts crushing on lesbians and married women; meanwhile, his zany Euro-roommates are having wild adventures of their own.  One of my favorite things about this film is how all the images in the seemingly random title sequence are eventually tied together.  Reviewed  03 September 2004

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Shaolin Soccer
From the great minds who brought you The God of Cookery (which you should go find and watch immediately) comes this absurd wire-fu comedy about a Bad News Bears-type soccer team.  Golden Leg, who took a dive in the China Cup years earlier after he was promised a coaching position in exchange, now finds himself snubbed.  He decides to organize his own team to defeat Team Evil; he finds students of Shaolin kung fu who have never played soccer before, and sets about training them.  It’s over-the-top parody, but great for people who always laugh at kung fu movies anyway.  Reviewed  03 September 2004

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Dogville
This film may be too good for you.  Clocking in at three hours, Danish minimalist director Lars von Trier’s latest epic is as brutal and distressing as anything else he’s done.  It was criticized for being anti-American, and sat in the can for years before getting distributed in the States.  The people of the title town, an isolated and economically depressed mountain town, agree to hide the mysterious stranger Grace (Nicole Kidman) from unknown pursuers and untold danger.  Since they are clearly putting themselves at risk, she volunteers to help them around their homes in whatever humble ways she can; but as the townspeople perceive the risk increasing, they increase their demands on her time, spirit, and body until they are brutalizing her.  Broken into nine acts, what’s really remarkable about this film is the absence of sets.  It was shot on a nearly bare soundstage, and where buildings should be, their outlines are drawn on the ground in chalk.  Though it’s strange and long and troubling, this is absolutely worth watching, and the ending will almost certainly surprise you.  Reviewed  03 September 2004

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OLD FAVORITE PICK OF THE WEEK
Better Off Dead
This movie never stops being funny to me.  John Cusack plays Lane Meyer, a high school kid who’s dumped by his girlfriend Beth after he fails to make the ski team.  Thinking he can’t live without her, he begins to contrive of          waystooffhimself,eachtimefailingmiserably.
What’s best about this movie is the eccentric and hilarious characters that populate it: Lane’s mother, who is the world’s most horrifying cook; his brother Badger, who never speaks and tries to build a rocket ship in the garage; Ricky, the insufferable snot-nosed neighbor; the paper boy, who chases Lane in pursuit of two dollars; two immigrant brothers who race everyone they encounter on the road, while commentating in a Howard Cosell voice; and Charles De Mar, Lane’s best friend, who complains that “This town is so small, we can’t even get real drugs” while buying up all the whipped cream he can.  Really, really funny stuff..  Reviewed 03 September 2004

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Kill Bill Volume 2
Number one with a bullet.  The second half of Tarantino’s opus follows Uma Thurman’s Bride character on her revenge rampage.  If you were put off by the violence in Volume 1, take heart: in spite of some cringe-inducing scenes, this one is less absurdly graphic.  There’s a lot more humor and story and heart here, and some amazing homages to kung fu films, as well as other genres.  The cast is fantastic, with David Carradine’s Bill turning out to be more sympathetic than we could reasonably have expected.  A scene depicting a trailer fight between the Bride and Daryl Hannah’s Elle Driver is one of the most brilliant things Tarantino’s ever produced.  Further, this is probably one of the last things Tarantino will do before his mind is totally destroyed by coke.*  Watch it.  Seriously. Reviewed 18 August 2004

*This is purely speculation.  I have no evidence that Tarantino uses coke now, or has ever used coke.  I wish him and Sofia Coppola the best in their burgeoning, if troubling, director-love.  If you need me, I’ll be on the phone with my libel lawyers.

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Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Rodney Bingenheimer’s life plays like a country western song.  From the time his domineering divorcée mother abandoned him on Connie Stevens’ doorstep to “become a man,” to his clearly unrequited love for his best friend Camille, nothing in this man’s life has been easy.  But before you feel too bad for him, note that he schmoozes with celebrities everywhere he goes.  The iconic KROQ DJ—he was the first in the country to play Blondie, the Ramones, Coldplay, and even Isadore Ivy, Spaceman-at-Large—and former club mogul has now been relegated to the graveyard shift at the station.  This documentary is fascinating for its contrasts: Courtney Love and Nancy Sinatra proclaim their affection for him, but his life is distressingly empty.  He has an impressive collection of rock memorabilia, including autographs from Elvis and photos with Andy Warhol, but his own father is hard-pressed to find photos of Rodney.  The music is amazing and diverse, and the film creates in Rodney a sympathetic, even pitiable, character.  Reviewed 18 August 2004

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Godsend
Kids are creepy.  Historical precedent for this abounds (see The Bad Seed, The Shining, The Exorcist, The Good Son, Frailty, and so on).  But what if you have a nice, normal, non-creepy son who dies in a freak accident, and Robert De Niro offers to clone him for you?  And what if, after eight years, the clone starts exhibiting some troublingly homicidal tendencies?  Movies have never provided us with a guide to this situation—until now!  Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos play the bereaved parents, whose desire to recapture their life with young Adam overshadows what would otherwise be a healthy fear of De Niro.  This movie reminds us why not to procreate, although it would be nice to see a film that doesn’t portray stem cell experimentation as the domain of the mad scientist.  Reviewed 18 August 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
 The Lost Boys
The news that I had never seen this movie was met with universal shock and horror.  Apparently, I have no culture whatsoever, and am a failure as a “movie person” for missing out on it, although I was, like, five when it came out.  Jason Patric and Corey Haim play brothers who have been transplanted by their divorced mother to fictional Santa Clara, the unofficial “Murder Capital of the World.”  As will happen with troubled teens, Patric falls in with a bad crowd—of vampires.  Kiefer Sutherland, whom I intend to marry, is the super-creepy, peer-pressuring head of the vampire clique.  Dianne Wiest, as their mother, believes that the boys’ strange behavior is a backlash against her starting to date again.  It stands the test of time fairly well, although I wonder if people actually found it scary when it came out.  Also, this movie reaffirms my notion that everything that Corey Feldman touches is gold.  Reviewed 18 August 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
The Prince and Me
This is a chick flick, but it’s worlds away from most of the crap that comes out these days.  Julia Stiles is adorable as Wisconsin farm girl-turned-premed Paige Morgan, who, after some predictable conflicts, falls for the prince of Denmark, and has to decide between Staying On Track and becoming the new queen.  There are some genuinely funny scenes and moments that kept me laughing out loud.  Naturally, as with any prince-of-Denmark movie, Hamlet is mentioned over and over.  The movie doesn’t have much in the way of dénouement, but it’s still a fun little diversion.  Reviewed 18 August 2004

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MOVIE I HATED, AND WHY
Taking Lives 
There are only two reasons to watch this movie: a vaguely psychotic, stalkerish love for Kiefer Sutherland, and the desire to see Angelina Jolie naked (again).  It’s obvious that we’re supposed to be surprised by the true identity of the killer who becomes his victims, but if you can’t work it out in the first ten minutes, you’re truly short-bus material.  This is also the most horrifyingly grisly movie I think I’ve ever seen; mutilated corpses abound, heads are ripped off bodies, and so on.  In the climactic fight scene at the end, I very, very nearly threw up.  My advice?  Wait till it’s a weeklong rental, advance to 1:16, watch Angelina have sex with Ethan Hawke, and then turn it off, maybe pop in a Disney movie.  Reviewed 18 August 2004

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APOLOGY
For years, I cited 3000 Miles to Graceland as an example of the Bad Movie.  The reviews were abysmal, and I had lost virtually all faith in Kevin Costner.  The problem?  I hadn’t seen it.  But I didn’t need to see Waterworld to know that I didn’t want to, right?  I even made fun of faithful reader and movie connoisseur Brandon for championing it.  Then I watched it, and it was pretty freaking cool.  It’s still not a brilliant film, but it’s enjoyable as what it is: a silly, double-crossing, violent caper movie.  Ex-cons Kurt Russell and Costner lead a band of Elvis-impersonating casino robbers, Jon Lovitz is a sleazy money launderer, and Courteney Cox is gorgeous as a single-mom-cum-femme-fatale.  So, Brandon, I’m sorry, you were right. Reviewed 18 August 2004

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MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Kill Bill: Volume 2 is out on video next Tuesday, 11 August 2004

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Garage Days
Director Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) redeems himself after the travesty of I, Robot.  Garage Days positions him as a punk-pop, pre-Swept Away Guy Ritchie.  The story, about a band on the verge, is broken roughly into three uneven segments: the first uproarious, the second melancholy, and the third redemptive.  An exceptional soundtrack, hyper-stylish photography and fantastic camera effects evoke some of the best music videos in recent memory, complete with a post-ironic self-awareness.  The talent is strong, with excellent performances from an ensemble cast of Australians largely unknown here. .  Reviewed 05 August 2004

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The Photographer
A year after his auspicious debut in the New York photography world, Max is under pressure to produce new work, but he’s feeling uninspired.  During a bender on the eve of his deadline, he finds a packet of dazzling photos left in a bar by a mysterious stranger.  He plans to pass them off as his own, but they’re stolen when he saves another stranger from a mugging.  He teams up with a band of new friends on a mystical quest through the city to find them.  It’s a quirky, funny film with an interesting cast (including the darling Maggie Gyllenhaal) and great visuals, plus a pervasive sense of magic.  Reviewed 05 August 2004

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Touching the Void
So you’re climbing an unconquered, snow-covered Andean peak with a buddy, when you fall off the edge of a cliff, break your leg, and your buddy, losing his grip, cuts your rope.  It might be time to reevaluate your circle of friends.  This is a pretty intense documentary about British mountaineers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, whose expedition to the top of Siula Grande in the 80s was marred by a terrible accident.  It’s a great story of survival, but absolutely not for the faint of heart.  While there’s nothing gory to see, I found myself gagging a few times at the graphic descriptions of injuries.  But if you think you can handle it.  Reviewed 05 August 2004

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WILL'S GUEST REVIEW
Hidalgo

Hopefully heralding the return of the Great American Western, Hidalgo is pure swashbuckling hyperbole based (rather loosely, one supposes) on the alleged travels and tribulations of Pony Express rider Frank T. Hopkins (played by Aragorn of Arathorn with a Stetson and six shooter) and the title character, his trusty wild-mustang steed, who deservedly gets top billing.  The film stumbles from a soporific and shaky start involving some nonsense about Indian persecution, and overly symbolic existential drama surrounding Hopkins' mixed ancestry that rendered me unconscious at around the half hour mark.  But hold yer'... you know.  The narrative builds to a steady gait with the duo's ocean crossing to a sandy land peopled with haughty English speaking Arabs.  We're introduced to some nice scenery and a cast of mostly forgettable, mostly swarthy boilerplate comrades and adversaries in a grand quest of honor to win a 3,000 mile desert race against scores of thoroughbreds possessed of superior pedigree but inferior heart to our stout protagonists.  Then a gun sounds and we're charging at full gallop toward high
adventure and a predictable outcome that reassures audiences who may have lost faith along the way just whose hemisphere is better. Psst! Hey Omar, don't mess with Texas!  So, my recommendation: If you've outgrown your MTV-induced ADD, but your inner child has emerged enough intact to become immersed in a world where nobility of spirit trumps plain old nobility, and one good horse and rider can prevail against all the forces of nature and the evil of mankind, then you should saddle up and watch Hidalgo.  Warning: This is not Black Stallion, The(1979).  It is a western set in the Middle East - as such there are shootings, kidnappings and beheadings.  Small children should wear blinders..  Reviewed 05 August 2004

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MOVIE I HATED, AND WHY
The Whole Ten Yards
It’s only been, like, a week since I watched this movie, and I already can’t remember enough about it to write a coherent review.  Memorable, huh?  What I remember most is that there wasn’t a single spot where I laughed out loud.  Not one.  And it’s not that hard to make me laugh.  I expect better from a cast that includes Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, and Amanda Peet.  Now, to be fair, I didn’t watch The Whole Nine Yards, to which this is a sequel, but I don’t think that would have helped.  Reviewed 05 August 2004

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The Big Bounce
Based on a novel by Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Out of Sight), this is the quintessence of a fun summer movie.  It’s a breezy, entertaining caper set in Hawaii with a cast that elevates it beyond direct-to-video fare.  Owen Wilson plays a construction worker with an unusual knack for getting into trouble, and beautiful model Sara Foster debuts as an equally troublemaking femme who approaches him with plans for a heist.  Light on plot, the movie includes talent like Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise, and Bebe Neuwirth.  If you don’t like Owen Wilson, you’ll almost certainly hate this movie, because it’s little more than a vehicle for him to do…what he does.  But if you’ve enjoyed him in other movies, you’ll like this. ..  Reviewed 20 July 2004

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Starsky and Hutch
If you don’t already think Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell are horribly overexposed, you almost certainly will soon.  But meanwhile, you can enjoy this lighthearted update of the classic TV series.  Stiller and Owen Wilson play Bay City cops, partnered against their will by a no-nonsense captain.  It fits every cop-show cliché, with Vince Vaughn as a nebbish who traffics in coke, and Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear, the pimp-turned-informant.  Ferrell makes a hilarious appearance as dragon-fetishist/convict Big Earl, and the Gran Torino is too beautiful for words..  Reviewed 20 July 2004

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Casa de los Babys
Darryl Hannah, Lili Taylor, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, and Maggie Gyllenhaal offer strong performances as American women trying to adopt third-world babies.  Local laws require them to live for a time in the South American country from which they want to adopt, and they clash with each other, struggle with local culture, and grow increasingly frustrated with waiting.  From director John Sayles, it’s disjointed and somewhat anticlimactic, but it stays interesting by showing not only the American women, but the impoverished pregnant teens, and the kids who don’t make it to rich American homes.  Reviewed 20 July 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
Say Anything
I’m a huge John Cusack fan.  Huge.  I saw Grosse Point Blank on my first date.  But somehow this one always eluded me.  Here, he plays Lloyd Dobler, a recent high school graduate and aspiring kickboxer (he calls kickboxing “the sport of the future”) who decides to finally act on his longtime crush on a brainy classmate.  Diane (Ione Skye) is a wealthy overachiever who realizes, on the eve of her graduation, that none of her classmates really know her.  She falls for Lloyd, but she knows she’s leaving for a fellowship in England, and her father, whose business practices are under investigation, disapproves of Lloyd.  Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut is a sharp, witty romance that effectively captures the longing of teenage love. Further, the image of Lloyd standing outside Diane’s window in a trench coat, hoisting a stereo blaring “In Your Eyes,” is iconic..  Reviewed 20 July 2004

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MOVIE I HATED, AND WHY
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
Are you a 10-year-old girl?  No?  Then there’s no excuse for you to watch this contrived piece of crap from the House of Mouse.  It becomes clearer and clearer to me that movie execs really are working from a formula for preteen movies, but they can get away with it because of the frequent turnover in their target demographic.  Not only is Confessions uninspired schlock, but it rips off Pygmalion, too.  Shunned by the popular girls in Dellwood, NJ, Manhattan transplant Lola (née Mary, played by Lindsay Lohan) concocts a plot to show up her nemesis at a concert.  Meanwhile, she has to cope with eccentric parents (gasp!) and the stress of starring in the school musical.  The worst part?  The movie sets up a potential love interest in the form of classmate Sam, but then ignores him completely until the last thirty seconds of the movie, when a clumsy voiceover reveals that Lola and Sam are dating!  Seriously, just don’t watch this.
.  Reviewed 20 July 2004

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**SPECIAL REPORT**
Spiderman 2
If you haven’t seen the first one yet, watch that, and then go.  It’s really worth it.  I have a lot to say about the movie, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet..  Reviewed 06 July 2004

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The Perfect Score
Scarlett Johansson and Erika Christensen head a teen cast in this caper about high school kids who, feeling they’ve been maligned by standardized testing, conspire to steal a copy of the SATs.  Each of the six principals fits a neat stereotype—the good girl, the jock, the stoner, and so on—which has drawn comparisons to The Breakfast Club.  However, this movie is much less dark and rebellious, and is successful at being a silly, lighthearted comedy..  Reviewed 06 July 2004

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The Butterfly Effect
As with nearly every movie touted as a “sci-fi thriller,” I wrote this movie off as terrible before I even watched it, but my low expectations were far exceeded.  Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, who’s suffered mysterious blackouts at times of great stress throughout his life.  He’s shared an abnormally traumatic childhood with friends Lennie, childhood love Kayleigh, and Tommy, Kayleigh’s sadistic brother.  As a psych student in college, he revisits Kayleigh in an effort to piece together his missing memories, but discovers that he can return to the past and change the future.  It’s an interesting, creepy film.  Amy Smart is mostly wasted in her role as Kayleigh, but mark my words: Elden Henson will be the next Philip Seymour Hoffman.  A side note: I really want to like Eric Stoltz.  I really, really do.  But it’s hard when he keeps playing alcoholic pedophiles and any number of other creeps. .  Reviewed 06 July 2004

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Die, Mommie, Die!
High camp at its absolute highest.  Drag legend Charles Busch, in an adaptation of his stage play, portrays washed-up singer Angela Arden, who kills her washed-up producer husband with an arsenic-laced suppository.  Her daughter Edith, a daddy’s girl if ever there was one, enlists her effeminate brother Lance (ejected from prep school for inciting a gay orgy) in an attempt to get Angela to incriminate herself.  Meanwhile, Jason Priestley is lurking around, seducing everyone in sight.  It’s bizarre, extreme, and funny, with several twists complicating the final reel. .  Reviewed 06 July 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
Scotland, PA
Set in the 70s, this is a darkly comic adaptation of Macbeth.  Maura Tierney and James LeGros play Pat and Joe “Mac” McBeth, two viciously ambitious employees at Duncan’s Café, a small-town proto-fast food restaurant.  They plot to wrest control away from the owner, Norm Duncan, and his two disinterested sons.  Andy Dick, Amy Smart, and Timothy “Speed” Levitch are stoner stand-ins for the three witches, and Christopher Walken is hysterical as Lieutenant McDuff, a new-age vegetarian brought in to help out the local police.  This Sundance pick is a slick update, with a great soundtrack and some very, very funny moments.   Reviewed 06 July 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
24 Hour Party People
Ever listen to Joy Division?  How about New Order?  This indie is a self-referential historical mockumentary about Factory Records, a little punk label out of Manchester that handled these bands and Happy Mondays.  It’s a little complicated in much the same way American Splendor was, in that it features historical footage and cameos from the people the movie is about, and it’s glad to call these to your attention.  Packed with a blaring new wave soundtrack and vaguely psychedelic visuals, it chronicles the birth of the rave culture.  Worth a watch if you’re interested in the aforementioned bands, but probably not terribly friendly to the general public..  Reviewed 06 July 2004

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The Station Agent
Peter Dinklage plays Fin McBride, a dwarf with a train obsession.  When his only friend dies suddenly, Fin inherits a train depot in rural Jersey where he decides he can live like hermit.  However, his solitude is constantly interrupted by a garrulous Cuban vendor, a clumsy woman grieving a recent loss, and a librarian with boyfriend trouble.  Debut director Thomas McCarthy displays reverence for each of the film’s principals.  It’s a sweetly comic and gently tragic story with an amazing supporting cast, including personal favorite Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek) and Bobby Cannavale.  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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Bad Santa
Comic book nut Terry Zwigoff directs this holiday-themed movie being released in June.  Why June?  Perhaps because it’s so staunchly opposite of everything that other Christmas movies hold dear.  Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie, an itinerant department-store Santa and vicious drunk who pulls off an annual holiday heist with his “little helper,” Marcus.  Work brings the duo to Phoenix, where a slow kid with the holiday spirit and a lush with a Santa fetish latch onto Willie.  The humor is dark, misanthropic, and crude, but also very, very funny.  The film also got an unexpected publicity surge because it features John Ritter’s last role..  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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50 First Dates
Call it a comic version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Or Memento.  Anyway, Adam Sandler plays Henry, a Hawaii marine-park vet who enjoys a constant stream of flings with tourists.  He meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore) in a diner, and wants to woo her, but is warned off by the diner’s staff: following an accident, Lucy lost her short-term memory, and wakes up every day with a blank slate.  Against the wishes of her family, Henry launches a campaign to reactive her memory and win her over.  Don’t be put off by a dislike of Sandler’s frenetic earlier work; his films are becoming increasingly mellow, showing ever more restraint and subtlety.  Director Peter Segal skillfully uses montage, and the soundtrack is jam-packed with stellar 80s cover songs..  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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Spartan
This is a David Mamet film.  For those not familiar with the writer/director, Mamet’s impressive body of work includes Glengarry Glen Ross, State and Main, Heist, About Last Night…, and many others.  In this taut thriller, Val Kilmer plays a special-ops type who’s brought in on an extremely high-profile, and highly secret, kidnapping case.  Mamet gives no information whatsoever, making the audience work to figure out what’s going on, who’s involved, and how high it goes.  It’s full of the needle-sharp dialogue that fans expect, and some slick and often surprising action..  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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The Cooler
Veteran character actor William H. Macy stars as Bernie, the unluckiest guy in the world who is days away from finally working off an old gambling debt.  Bernie’s bad luck is so great that he has found singular success as a “cooler,” a casino employee who can end the winning streaks of other gamblers just by standing close to them.  His luck changes abruptly when he becomes involved with Natalie (Maria Bello), a beautiful cocktail waitress with an unpleasant past.  Alec Baldwin, in an Oscar-nominated role, plays one of the best movie villains in recent memory, running his Rat Pack-style casino with an iron fist.  It’s a drama with little action, but it’s interesting to see the myriad small ways that Bernie’s bad luck is manifest.  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
Some Like It Hot
A certain cousin of mine asked me a couple years ago, “Why would you want to watch a movie in black and white?”  So as a public service, I’m revisiting this racy 1959 comedy classic that never stops being funny.  Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play Joe and Jerry, two struggling and indebted jazz musicians during Prohibition who are forced into hiding after witnessing a gangland massacre.  They don dresses and become Josephine and Daphne, members of an all-girl band headed for Florida.  Their cover is threatened when Joe falls for bandmate Sugar, played by the incomparable Marilyn Monroe, and when a rich playboy falls for Daphne.  Director Billy Wilder made some of the finest films of the American cinematic canon, including Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd., and here he coaxes hilarious comic performances from his cast..  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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MOVIE I HATED AND WHY
Elephant
In the Kevin Smith movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, there is a scene that shows Gus van Sant shirking his directorial duties to count a big pile of money, while Ben Affleck tells him, “You’re a true artist, Gus.”  I couldn’t get that out of my mind while I watched this vain, plot-deficient film that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.  It’s about Columbine-like high school killings, a subject close to the hearts of those of us who were in high school at the time.  The film introduces several unlikable characters with flaws that are hinted at, but never fleshed out, and follows them around school from behind.  That’s right, it’s nearly 80 minutes of staring at the backs of teenagers that are just about to get mowed down in the cafeteria.  And the killers are like caricatures of the killers, playing violent video games, listening to Marilyn Manson, and exploring their “sexual confusion” in the shower.  Seriously, it sucked.  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
Auto Focus
In one of the best casting decisions maybe ever, Greg Kinnear plays Bob Crane, star of Hogan’s Heroes, in this biopic.  The film depicts Crane’s ascent from Bridgeport, CT radio DJ to prime-time TV star, while simultaneously chronicling his fall into increasingly public sexual debauchery.  Willem Dafoe is excellent as seedy friend John Carpenter, who rides Crane’s coattails into a world of perverse excess, though I’m beginning to wonder if he’s ever really acting.  The story is relatively engaging, and the acting is good, but some pacing issues during the last half-hour or so keep me from giving my official endorsement.   .  Reviewed 21 June 2004

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Mystic River
Sean Penn plays Jimmy Markum, a moderately shady Boston-area convenience store owner whose 19-year-old daughter is murdered.  The investigation reunited him with two boyhood friends, investigating officer Sean (Kevin Bacon) and abuse victim Dave (Tim Robbins).  The convoluted story earned comparisons to The Usual Suspects, and while I find that to be gratuitously favorable, this complex drama directed by Clint Eastwood is worth a look.  Reviewed 05 June 2004


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City of God
Though I’m not familiar with his other works, this Brazilian film leads me to suggest that director Fernando Meirelles might be the next Tarantino.  Narrated by Rocket, an aspiring photojournalist, it tells the story of life in the Rio slum Cidade de Deus during the 60s and 70s.  As petty, Robin Hood-like robberies escalate to drug-fueled gang wars, the young men of Cidade de Deus realize the inevitability of involvement.  Based on a true story, the film is highly stylized, brutally violent, and injected with quick humor that undercuts the hopelessness at its center.  In Portuguese, with English subtitles.  Reviewed 08 June 2004

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God Is Great, and I'm Not
The ever-delightful Audrey Tautou (Amélie) plays Michelle, an aspiring model who believes that adopting the religion of her current beau will make him love her even more.  She decides to convert to Judaism to please her boyfriend, Francois, but observing Shabbat isn’t enough to cement her place in his life.  It’s a drama, but still entertaining.  In French with English subtitles. .  Reviewed 05 June 2004

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Eurotrip (unrated)
This is our guilty pleasure pick of the week.  I didn’t even mean to see this movie, but I was talked into it, and it turned out to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages.  Relative unknown Scott Mechlowicz plays Scotty, who is ditched by his conniving girlfriend at his high school graduation. Newly single, he discovers that his longtime German pen pal Mike is actually Mieke, a gorgeous girl with a crush on him, but only after giving her the brush-off.  With his depraved friend Cooper and twins Jenny and Jamie, he embarks on a tour across Europe, aiming to find Mieke and profess his love to her.  A little crass, but also genuinely funny, Eurotrip had me laughing the whole way through.  Keep an eye out for a hilarious cameo by Matt Damon.  Reviewed 05 June 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
The House of Yes
 
Former indie It Girl Parker Posey plays Jackie-O, an aristocratic, Kennedy-obsessed schizophrenic whose intense attachment to her twin brother is challenged when he reveals his sudden engagement.  While it’s a terribly dark movie, it features some of the sharpest, wittiest comic dialogue I’ve encountered. And it has Tori Spelling!  No, seriously.  Reviewed 08 June 2004

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NEW FEATURE: MOVIE I HATED, AND WHY
Monster
Charlize Theron won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as truck-stop-hooker-turned-serial-killer Aileen Wuornos, and I think the Academy voters were clearly out of their minds.  I mean, did they just not bother watching 21 Grams?  All she seems to do here is look awful in her oft-discussed makeup job, and say “fuck” a lot.  Her character is never sympathetic, the story drags, and Christina Ricci’s performance as Wuornos’s lover, Selby, was infinitely better.  One review I read said it was “like a Lifetime movie, only with the volume turned up really loud.”  I’d be hard pressed to better describe it. ..  Reviewed 05 June 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
Along Came Polly
This comedy starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, while not great by any means, had moments.  Stiller plays Reuben, a risk-averse newlywed whose wife leaves him on their honeymoon, and Aniston is Polly, the capricious, carefree acquaintance who catches his eye.  Brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is alternately hilarious and horrifying as Reuben’s friend Sandy Lyle, whose one claim to fame, a role in a Breakfast Club-type 80s movie, inflated his ego beyond repair...  Reviewed 05 June 2004

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HONORABLE MENTION
Paycheck

I thought this would suck.  I really did.  But I sort of enjoyed it, so if you have any predisposition to see it, you’ll have my endorsement.  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
Four Rooms
This comedy is actually a collection of four short films, each by a different director, following Ted (Tim Roth), a beleaguered bellhop on his traumatic first night of work.  In the first, Madonna plays the leader of a coven of witches trying to resurrect the goddess Diana.  The second finds Ted in a hostage situation when a hotel guest mistakes him for someone having an affair with his wife.  Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) directs the third, in which Antonio Banderas plays a gangster who goes out to a party with his wife, entrusting his awful children to Ted.  Finally, Quentin Tarantino directs and acts in the fourth; he and his drunken cohort try to pay Ted to chop off one of their friends’ fingers.  The whole thing is riotous in a very, very screwed-up way..  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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Pieces of April
Katie Holmes of Dawson’s Creek fame plays April, who invites her family to visit her in New York for Thanksgiving.  She’s going to try to prepare the feast by herself, although she clearly has no culinary talent whatsoever.  Further, she doesn’t really get along with her mother, who’s now stricken with cancer, and the rest of the family disapproves of her punk lifestyle and her string of questionable boyfriends.  It is in turn hilarious and poignant, and splits about 50/50 between April’s disastrous attempts to learn to cook, and the rest of the family’s stressful drive to see her.  Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt, and Derek Luke are among the excellent supporting cast..  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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Club Dread
Don’t listen to any other reviews on this one.  I’m convinced that the reason it didn’t do well in the theaters (besides opening opposite The Passion of the Christ) is that people just weren’t smart enough to get it.  Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe behind Super Troopers, does slasher-comedy set at an all-inclusive, hedonist resort where staffers start getting picked off one by one.  Bill Paxton is hilarious as Coconut Pete, in a role he describes as “a poor man’s Jimmy Buffett”—a washed-up singer turned resort mogul whose one big hit, “Piña Colada Burg,” earned him legions of ditzy groupies.  It’s silly, it’s crass, it’s over the top; it’s pure, puerile fun.  And it features a great Pac-Man gag that should have anyone in my approximate demographic in hysterics. .  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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Bubba Ho-Tep
This one’s going to be hard to find.  Its virtually nonexistent theatrical release consisted of seven prints of the film traveling around the country, being shown in a handful of theaters at a time.  Cult icon Bruce Campbell stars as Elvis, alive (though barely) in a retirement home.  Ossie Davis is a delight as JFK, having survived an assassination attempt masterminded by Lyndon Johnson.  Now--and stay with me here-- the two men join forces to battle a soul-sucking mummy preying on the denizens of the retirement home.  The zany premise yields some good laughs, but it’s really a dark film, a meditation on loneliness, aging, and regret.  It’s very stylishly edited, and is worth seeking out.  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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Laurel Canyon
Future Batman Christian Bale and the impossibly beautiful Kate Beckinsale play Sam and Alex, a hyper-ambitious, ultraconservative übercouple who’ve both just graduated from Harvard Med.  Sam accepts a psychiatry fellowship in L.A., planning to stay in the vacant house of his mother, Jane (Frances McDormand), a successful record producer.  But when the couple arrives at Jane’s chic bungalow in the titular Canyon, they find her still there, working on an overdue record with a rambunctious band.  While Alex tries to write her dissertation in genomics, she becomes increasingly drawn into Jane’s freewheeling lifestyle.  Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, it lacks some of the artistic flair of her earlier film, High Art, but contains similar themes: at its heart, it’s about jealousy, the seductive power of a foreign lifestyle, and people who can’t connect with each other.  Not for people who require closure from a film, but it’s a sexy piece of work with a great score from Shudder to Think’s Craig Wedren.  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Number one with a bullet.  I won’t even bother patronizing with a synopsis, but this whole trilogy just kicks ass.  Now, *some* of you haven’t seen the first two Lord of the Rings movies yet, and I just don’t get that.  You really can’t watch this Oscar-winning powerhouse without the first two; it won’t make a lick of sense.  So go watch Fellowship and The Two Towers right now.  I’ll wait..  Reviewed 25 May 2004

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The Triplets of Belleville
Nominated for Oscars in the Animated Feature Film Oscar and Music (Song) categories, this French masterpiece that should have kicked the crap out of Finding Nemo is an adult cartoon, but not in the Fritz the Cat sense.  The story is about Madame Souza, whose adult grandson is kidnapped during the Tour de France.  With her tremendous dog, Bruno, she sets out to find him on a mysterious journey filled with frogs, aged singing sensations, trains, and Le French Mafia.  The art fuses outlandish caricature and captivating scenery, and there are great laughs to be found.  For those of you who hate subtitles, put down your reading glasses: it’s told without dialogue.
  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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In America
Define “emotional roller coaster.”  Director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) brings us one of the most poignant and emotionally authentic films maybe ever.  After losing a son, an Irish family immigrates to Manhattan and struggles to adapt.  The script is amazing and fresh, and the acting is exceptional; you’ll feel the breathtaking triumphs and agonizing setbacks with heartrending realism.  You’ll cry, but it’s so emotionally rewarding.
  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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Road to Perdition
I may not be the person best qualified to review this film, because I clearly have an unreasonable fixation on the mob.  But, in the tradition of The Godfather, this is more about the complex relationship between fathers and sons than about crime.  Tyler Hoechlin gives a solid performance as Michael Sullivan Jr., who realizes that he doesn’t know what his dad really does for a living.  Turns out Dad (Tom Hanks) is the beloved protégé and button man of the local Irish mob boss, and young Michael’s curiosity makes him the target of a clumsy hit.  Father and son go on the road, running from the mob.  I could do without the predictable bookend narration, and Hanks’ performance as the bereaved, revenge-minded father, while richly nuanced, is less refined than I’d expect.  Still, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) crafts a stylish, moody picture, featuring an excellent score.
  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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Girl With a Pearl Earring
In his feature film debut, Peter Webber directs a historical romance of both great narrative restraint and uncommon visual splendor.  I don’t normally go in for historical films, especially those that are so purely speculative in nature, but this one, while not terribly story-oriented, is one of the most beautifully shot films in recent memory.  Colin Firth plays painter Johannes Vermeer, and Scarlett Johannson is Griet, the maid who may have inspired the titular painting.  The use of color is dazzling, the light is magnificent, and cinematographer Eduardo Serra is clearly a genius.
  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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The Fog of War
Subtitled “Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, this Oscar-winning documentary feature gives that man’s take on major military events in the last century.  Comprised of interviews with the iconic Secretary of Defense, former Ford Motor Company president, and reformed Brylcreem enthusiast, the film cobbles together a scintillating personal and professional history.  McNamara speaks about World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam with the thoughtful, intelligent insight of experience.  And what’s more, there’s a neat camera trick involving slow-motion footage with an identical, hyper-sped up shot superimposed over it.
  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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The Battle of Shaker Heights
The progeny of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Project Greenlight contest, this film got a small, more or less direct-to-video release.  In test screenings, audiences apparently couldn’t peg it as either a comedy or a teen drama.  Up-and-coming actor Shia LeBeouf plays fervent Civil War re-enactor Kelly Ernswiler, a high school kid with troubled parents and a mouth that gets him into trouble.  With his new rich-kid buddy Bart, he decides to apply military strategy to his own bully problems.  The script is sharp and witty, and LeBeouf’s delivery is deliciously deadpan.  It’s short, funny, and deals with the family’s deeper problems, like Dad’s recovery from an old heroin habit.  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
American History X
Edward Norton stars as a reformed skinhead trying to keep his brother from heading down the same hate-filled and perilous path.  It’s a great story, but one of the squirmiest movie experiences since Requiem For a Dream (NMP translation: it’s going to make you uncomfortable to watch, but that’s what it means to do).  The cast includes Stacy Keach, Beverly D’Angelo, and Edward Furlong.  Reviewed 11 May 2004

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Love Actually
This is a delightful romantic comedy about the pursuit of True Holiday Love in a cynical age. The multiple, often intersecting storylines feature a remarkable ensemble cast, including Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and Laura Linney.
  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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The Big Empty
Directed by Rochesterian Steve Anderson, The Big Empty is a neat little film that went direct to video, despite favorable reception at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The story follows John Person (Jon Favreau), an out-of-work actor whose creepy neighbor offers him a lot of money to take a suitcase to a remote town. This deeply bizarre story has some unexpected talent—Darryl Hannah, Kelsey Grammer, Sean Bean, and Rachael Leigh Cook.  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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Big Fish
Rochester critic Jon Popick called it “the best family film since Whale Rider.” Billy Crudup plays a young writer whose relationship with his dying father is complicated by the tall tales the father constantly spins. It’s a magical film about the search for personal truth and the need to connect with loved ones at an honest level
  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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Whale Rider
While we’re on the subject, this New Zealand export is a gem. Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her turn as Paikea, a young Maori girl who frustrated her chief grandfather’s hopes by not being a boy. Their people need a leader, but her grandfather refuses to acknowledge her power.
  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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The Magdalene Sisters
Inspired by actual events, this film follows women imprisoned by their families in Irish Catholic laundries, where they were dehumanized and exploited. Dark, affecting, and true. If you get the DVD, check out the PSAs before the feature by Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, and Julianne Moore, which remind you that you’re a drunk with an eating disorder, and your husband beats you.  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Like boats? Like the Royal Navy? Like Russell Crowe? You’ll love Master and Commander, an epic and fairly satisfying jaunt aboard the HMS Surprise. Russell Crowe is Captain ‘Lucky Jack’ Aubrey, trying to stymie Napoleon’s efforts at world domination. I’d bank on this becoming a franchise.
  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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BEHIND THE CURVE PICK OF THE WEEK
Life Is Beautiful
I only recommend foreign films when it’s really, really worth it. This acclaimed Italian film is worth it. It’s a touching love story, a zany comedy, and a drama about the horrors of the Holocaust in one. It’s sweet and funny, but the ending will kick your ass, I assure you.  Reviewed 29 Apr 2004

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American Splendor
This acclaimed film, starring Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis, is adapted from Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical graphic novel series (for the uninitiated, graphic novels are like long-form comic books that deal more with real life than with superheroes). Placing this film in the comedy category is misleading, because while there is a lot of situational humor, it also deals with the pain of a mundane existence and the trauma of serious illness. A moving, entertaining film.
  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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Scorched
It’s hard not to overlook this ensemble comedy, because it was dumped direct to video despite being consistently entertaining.  The Desert Savings Bank’s disaffected employees all scheme, independent of one another, to rob their place of employ.  Features Alicia Silverstone, John Cleese, Woody Harrelson, and Road Trip’s Paulo Costanzo, whom I predict is on the verge of big things.
  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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Intolerable Cruelty  
One of the most underrated films of last year, this flick provides uncommonly witty satire on the state of marriage and divorce.  Starring George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this film is brought to you by the Coen brothers, responsible for greats like Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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House of Sand and Fog
Most NMPs will recoil at the concept of a drama about real estate foreclosure, but this is a compelling drama with realistically complex characters and stakes that, while low, set in motion a wonderful tension.  Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) is a young woman trying to get her Bay Area-home back from a stoic immigrant (Ben Kingsley) who bought it at auction.
 Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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21 Grams
There’s a trick to watching this movie.  The first, say, 20 minutes or so, being presented out of chronology, won’t make any sense, but if you sit through that, everything will come together.  A great cast, with Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Naomi Watts, energizes this affecting drama about spirituality, loss, revenge, and new beginnings.  For those who haven’t seen trailers, the title refers to 1907 experiments that revealed that humans lose 21 grams at the moment of their death—leading to postulation that the change was caused by the soul leaving the body.
 Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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Dirty Pretty Things
London is filled with illegal immigrants who are forced by their alien status to do demeaning, inhumane, and often illegal work to support themselves.   This film focuses on illegals who discover shady dealings in the hotel where they work.
  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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The Matrix Revolutions
Revolutions  I’m not even going to lie and say this was a good movie.  It totally wasn’t.  But if you saw the first two, then you have to see the third for closure.  And if you haven’t seen the first one yet, go rent it.  Now.  I’ll wait..  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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Identity
This tight little picture turns thriller conventions on their ears.  Tense, eerie, but not gory, it’s the story of strangers stranded in a motel together during a rare flood in the desert, who just can’t stop dying. Stellar cast, with John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and Amanda Peet, among others.
  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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MISCELLANY BIN - Other Films You Should See
Run Lola Run, Spellbound (the documentary, or the Hitchcock. They’re both good), L.I.E., The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
  Reviewed 14 Apr 2004

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Random Ramblings
Welcome to the inaugural edition of my movie newsletter for non-Movie People (henceforth, NMPs: those of you who enjoy a good movie, but don’t have the time, or in some cases, the desire to watch the sheer volume of movies that I and my ilk do). A trip to the video store will yield bays full of dreck like Cheaper By the Dozen, Under the Tuscan Sun, Daddy Day Care, Down with Love, and Hollywood Homicide, but being an NMP is no excuse for bad taste. Video stores (Blockbuster included) don’t stock as many copies of even the most accomplished and beautiful films, because they just don’t rent as much. It’s easy to overlook the few copies of these gems that do exist if you don’t know what you’re looking for, so as a public service, I present this guide to Movies You Should See. Some are extremely recent releases, others are not, but all are worth at least a viewing.

A FINAL NOTE It has come to my attention that some of you haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies. What the hell are you waiting for?
  Comments 14 Apr 2004

You may subscribe to this newsletter via e-mail because I think you stand to benefit from it. If you disagree, send comments, questions, corrections, and unsubscribe requests to monkeyjax@hotmail.com. Share this newsletter as you will. If you know anyone else who would like unqualified movie advice, have them send a blank email with subject line “Movienews” to same.   Comments 11 May 2004


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