2003 March

(1 Mar) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978, John Landis) 24
[ That’s a smash hit, wildly influential cult comedy? Huh. Oh, the pieces are there, with Harold Ramis co-writing, Ivan Reitman producing and John Landis directing, and there’s no denying that John Belushi is a force of nature, but like “Caddyshack”, I just didn’t find “Animal House” all that funny. It’s enjoyable enough as a goofy parade of boozing, gratuitous nudity, futile and stupid gestures and great ‘60s rock & roll but the cast, mostly constituted of non-professionals, is interchangeable and the humor seems tame by today’s standards. Maybe it’s a you-had-to-be-there thing, the way that people might not get what’s the big deal with “American Pie” in 25 years. One more thing: am I just Spike Leeing or are the racial attitudes in “Animal House” damn questionable? There’s the scene where they mistakenly walk into an all-Black nightclub and end up running out in terror (“The Negroes took our dates”) and what’s with a movie that finishes with the frat boys running their “deathmobile” into a float marked “Togetherness” and tearing apart the big black hand from the big white hand it was shaking? ]

(2 Mar) Tigerland (2000, Joel Schumacher) 84
[ Colin Farrell plays Bozz, an angry army draftee who’s full of charisma, arrogance, passion and profound disrespect towards authority. He’s the exhilarating protagonist of this unexpectedly compelling Viet Nam movie. We’ve seen so many war movies in recent years that I’m finding them tiresome, but Joel Schumacher (of all people) brings surprising intimacy and edginess to this film. It’s actually less a war movie than a rather homoerotic yarn about rugged young men training to go kill or get killed in a pointless conflict overseas who are growing ever more tense until they have to jump on each other and fight or hug and cry (and maybe make out). “Tigerland” is like “Full Metal Jacket” but without the underwhelming second half. Who knew the man behind “Batman and Robin” had such a raw, powerful film in him? ]

(4 Mar) Fun in Acapulco (1963, Richard Thorpe)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 70

(5 Mar) Mary Poppins (1964, Robert Stevenson) 93
[ Entirely shot on the Disney studios backlot with elaborate sets and matte paintings, overflowing with magic and song, “Mary Poppins” is as artificial as it is irresistible, as corny as it is charming. The blend of live action and various forms of animation is dazzling, the musical numbers are catchy and the cast is wonderful. Julie Andrews makes for one foxy English nanny and Dick Van Dyke steals many a scene as a cheerful chimney sweep. “Mary Poppins” might just be the most “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” family movie I’ve ever seen! ]

(6 Mar) Julie Walking Home (2003, Agnieska Holland) [ review ] 69

(6 Mar) Buying the Cow (2002, Walt Becker)
[ Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 25

(7 Mar) The General (1926, Buster Keaton) 64
[ Keaton stars as a train engineer who’s rejected from enlisting in the Civil War and is seen by his peers as a “disgrace to the South”. His girlfriend even tells him that she doesn’t want him to speak to her again until he is in uniform! I have always been uneasy with this kind of rah-rah patriotism and as the current President of the USA encourages “either you’re with us or you’re against us” sentiments, it’s even harder to swallow even in a light-spirited film like “The General”. In any case, other than from a historic viewpoint I don’t see how this should rate as one of the best films of all time (according to a Sight & Sound poll). It’s little more than a couple of long chase sequences (between a locomotive driven by Keaton and one filled with soldiers from the North) filled with slapstick. Keaton’s stunts and pratfalls are impressive and amusing enough but then so’s the average Jackie Chan movie! ]

(10 Mar) Anchors Aweigh (1945, George Sidney) 89
[ Aaah, the glory of MGM musicals! This was high spectacle, unconcerned with stooping down for attention-deficit-disordered audiences and tying things back into reality (like last year’s overrated “Chicago”). This is fantasy, really, a pure balls-to-the-walls song-and-dance extravaganza where people sing just because they feel like it, thank you very much. This 1945 classic features THE dancer in Gene Kelly and THE singer in Frank Sinatra, but Kelly can sing himself and Sinatra can dance, too! The two play marines on leave for three days in Hollywood who end up having to babysit an orphan boy- and his pretty aunt Susie! Highlights include Kelly and Sinatra’s tapdance duet, impressive performances by pianist-conductor José Iturbi (playing himself) and the scene in which Kelly teaches Jerry (the mouse from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons) how to dance! ]

(12 Mar) Best in Show (2000, Christopher Guest) 90
[ This mockumentary about show dogs and the people who love them is a hilarious satire but also a keen character study. The script by Guest and Eugene Levy is full of wit but it’s the cast’s endearing performances that make “Best in Show” such a treat. Not to mention all the cute doggies, cuuuute dooogiiiies!]

(13 Mar) eye see you (2002, Jim Gillespie)
[Reviewed for the Apollo Movie Guide ] 33

(13 Mar) My neighbour Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki) 95
[ In typical Miyazaki fashion, this film is beautifully animated, the characters are endearing and the story is magical and fun and touching, too. But what really makes this one special is the Totoros, fuzzy creatures with superpowers that only children can see. These guys are kick ass superfly cool! ]

(14 Mar) Willard (2003, Glen Morgan) [ review ] 35

(15 Mar) Bringing Up Baby (1938, Howard Hawks)) 44
[ I’m generally quite fond of old American movies, but I had much trouble sitting through this “classic” screwball comedy.. The humor seemed rather contrived to me and Katherine Hepburn’s manipulative loudmouth and Cary Grant’s stuffy nerd of a zoologist quickly grow obnoxious. I didn’t root for them to hook up, I just wanted them to shut up! The leopard’s pretty cool, though. ]

(16 Mar) Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen) [ review ] 100

(17 Mar) Waiting for Guffman (1996, Christopher Guest) 91
[ Guest (who also co-wrote the script with Eugene Levy) stars as a faaabulous Off-Off-Off-Off-Broadway playwright and director relocated in the Midwest who’s mounting a musical play celebrating the 150th anniversary of Blaine, Missouri, “The Stool Capital of the World!”, using a cast of locals which includes a dentist (Levy), a Dairy Queen clerk (Parker Posey) and the couple who runs the travel agency (Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara). Basically, this mockumentary is to community theater what “This is Spinal Tap” is to hair metal and “Best in Show” to dog shows: a hilarious send-off but also an affectionate social snapshot. ]

(19 Mar) Le rayon vert (1986, Eric Rohmer) 20
[ The ’80s weren’t kind to pop culture, even when it comes to Rohmer’s classy, contemplative art films. Like in all his work, nothing happens for 98 minutes, we just watch as self-centered French people talk on and on and on, and then they eat, and then they whine some more, they eat, they go to the beach, they talk, they eat… What makes this title morbidly boring is how uninteresting and obnoxious the actors/characters and the (badly) improvised dialogue are. My pal Olivier calls it the dullest movie ever made, but I found it strangely compelling and unintentionally amusing in its relentless uneventfulness. ]

(19 Mar) The Hot Chick (2002, Tom Brady) 65
[ “A Happy Madison production.” These words fill most critics with nameless dread, but as a fan of ‘90s Saturday Night Live I’m actually giddy to see every juvenile comedy starring the likes of Adam Sandler and yes, Rob Schneider. I mean, Schneider switching bodies with a gorgeous but bitchy high school cheerleader? Priceless. “The Hot Chick” might be dumb as a pile of bricks, but it’s funny and kinda sweet, too. ]

(19-20 Mar) The Osbournes – The First Season (2002, MTV) 81
[ They fight, they yell, they curse but more than anything, they love each other. The appeal of the show (now available on DVD) is in how it manages to make us feel empathy for the Prince of Darkness! Ozzy turns out to be quite the regular schmoe, struggling to raise teenagers (amusingly oddball Jack and the absolutely lovable punkette Kelly) picking up dog dookie and watching TV, all the while hilariously moaning and mumbling. Then there’s his wife Sharon, whom he clearly couldn’t live without: she’s discipline, affection and craziness all wrapped into one irresistible package. Beware: watching this unique yet typical family through their ups and downs can be addictive! ]

(20 Mar) This is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner) 78
[ The mother of all mockumentaries, it follows England’s loudest band on an increasingly pathetic North American tour. What’s funniest about the film is that however ridiculous these hairy metal-heads can be, they’re not all that stupider than other rock bands before and since. “It’s such a thin line between clever and stupid.” I personally prefer the mockumentaries directed by Christopher Guest (who co-wrote and starred in “Tap”, along with Harry Shearer and Michael McKean), but this is still a really fun film to watch. ]

(21 Mar) Dreamcatcher (2003, Lawrence Kasdan) [ review ] 54

(22 Mar) Swing Time (1936, George Stevens) 66
[ Generally regarded as the best of the Ginger Rogers-Fred Astaire musicals, this song and dance romance tells the simple story of a gambler who falls in love with a pretty dance instructor (as if Astaire needed tapping lessons!). The humor is corny (cuffs on pants? Hi-larious.) and the attitudes are outdated (who ever thought that white actors in blackface was a good idea?) but still, how could one resist the sight of Rogers and Astaire waltzing so gracefully? ]

(22 Mar) Emmanuelle (1974, Just Jaeckin) 72
[ “Mélodie d’amour chante le coeur d’Emmanuelle…” Cheesy music, loose direction, laughably pretentious dialogue, soft-focus cinematography, exotic locations around Thailand, sleazy French (I mean, “Freedom”) playboys and gorgeous women who swing both ways: does that add up to an amusingly “classy” erotic classic? Almost. What seals the deal is the presence of Sylvia Kristel, who conveys an intoxicating blend of naiveté and sensuality, innocence and lust. “Mélodie d’amour chante le corps d’Emmanuelle…” ]

(22 Mar) Seconds (1966, John Frankenheimer) 94
[ Propelled by quasi-expressionist black & white cinematography and a gloomy score, this surreal film noir about faking your own death and getting a second chance to live the life you dreamed of is as visionary and thought-provoking as Frankenheimer’s earlier “The Manchurian Candidate”. John Randolph and Rock Hudson are both amazing as the ‘before’ and ‘after’ faces of the protagonist whose midlife crisis takes into “Twilight Zone” territory. “Stomp those grapes!” ]

(23 Mar) Chopper (2000, Andrew Dominik) 39
[ The Australian accents are almost incomprehensible, the “bleached” cinematography is an eyesore, and while real-life criminal Mark “Chopper” Read’s story is one of ultraviolence and amorality, the movie’s supposed to be funny, right? Long story short, I didn’t “get” this film. It’s ugly, mean and pointless. Star Eric Bana does have a nice intensity, though. Hopefully it’ll be put to better use in “The Hulk”. ]

(24 Mar) Spy Kids 2 – The Island of Lost Dreams (2002, Robert Rodriguez) 63
[ A few minutes into this second film of the all-ages franchise I thought, whoa, this looks damn cool for a kiddie flick! Well of course it does, it’s directed by Rodriguez, he who can craft wonders with little money and almost all by himself! This is fascinatingly illustrated in “Robert Rodriguez Ten Minute Film School: Big Movies Made Cheap”, one of the best DVD special features I’ve ever seen. This behind-the-scenes featurette is as dynamic as the movie itself, establishing furthermore what a virtuoso Rodriguez is. Think about it, his film is as impressive and action-packed as George Lucas’ “Attack of the Clones” yet it cost five times less! “Spy Kids 2” is all over the place and the plot makes absolutely no sense, multiplying characters, extravagant locations and goofy creatures into one big colorful mess, but it’s all in harmless fun and in the midst of all the craziness, Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara manage to hold the film together as the adorably badass Carmen and Juni. ]

(26 Mar) Hero (2003, Zhang Yimou) [ review ] 93

(27 Mar) Hero (2003, Zhang Yimou) [ review ] 93

(29 Mar) What a Girl Wants (2003, Dennie Gordon) [ review ] 45

February / April