Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2018
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France
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G.I. Jane 2 out of 4 stars

Over the years Ridley Scott has given us some movies with powerful female characters who have become virtual pop culture icons. These include Alien’s Ripley and, of course, Thelma & Louise. Will the press-dubbed “G.I. Jane” be yet another? Or is this merely one more Demi Moore movie that no one wants to see? Certainly the timing of this flick’s release couldn’t be better, what with women in the military, sex in the military, and gays in the military all still prominent in the headlines. The story deals with the first woman allowed to train as a Navy SEAL, but don’t look for the thoughtfulness of last year’s Courage Under Fire. This is a Hollywood movie through and through, which means that Moore is not only equal to all men but is invariably superior to them and also to the cynical politicians who put her in this position in the first place. The plot ultimately resembles An Officer and a Gentleman and Ridley’s brother Tony’s Top Gun. But in those flicks it was Richard Gere and Tom Cruise who had to learn to grow up. In G.I. Jane, it’s everyone except Moore who has to learn their lesson. The film is thus in spirit the feminist equivalent of the Rambo movies. (Seen 30 July 1997)

Galaxy Quest 3 out of 4 stars

It’s hard enough assigning stars to movies, but so far I have managed to do so without qualifying them. But I suppose in this case I need to clarify that my three-star recommendation (you know my rating system by heart, right?) may apply only to that segment of earth’s population (94 percent by my last count) which are Star Trek fans. Okay, hedges aside, this flick is largely another vehicle for Tim Allen, and as in The Santa Clause, he plays an ordinary guy who has lost his way but through incredible events finds himself challenged to live up to a popular legend. The formula still works fine, but the true delight is the all-so-knowing satire of the Trek franchise and its rabid devotees. Allen is suitably Shatner-esque as a hammy egotist living off past glory. Alan Rickman displays Nimoy-ian frustration at his lifelong typecasting as an extraterrestrial (plus a bit of Patrick Stewart-ish noblesse oblige). Sam Rockwell radiates that the same deliriousness he showed in Box of Moonlight and The Green Mile as the bit player who, in a fit of Scream-style self-awareness, realizes that he is the expendable crew member. And Sigourney Weaver’s presence is more than a mere Nichelle Nichols/Majel Barrett riff since her busty, blonde communications officer is such an unlikely contrast to her Ripley character of the Alien movies. Writer David Howard and director Dean Parisot display a wonderful knack for lampooning people (in this case, well-known actors and their emulative fans) in a way that is dead-on and yet affectionate. I was not surprised to see that Parisot’s previous credits include the most underrated TV satire of modern times, the wonderfully droll Bakersfield P.D. (Seen 20 January 2000)

Ha-Gamal Hame’ofef (The Flying Camel) 2 out of 4 stars

How could you not like a gentle Israeli comedy that depicts a grudging but growing friendship between an eccentric old European Jew and a pushy, younger Palestinian garbage collector? (Almost like a Hebrew version of Chico and the Man!) Old Professor Bauman lives in a shack surrounded by a virtual junkyard. He is obsessed with the past and resents anything too new. Phares determines that Bauman’s shack is on his father’s old orange grove and, while Bauman is away, moves in and makes himself at home. And, just in case, this doesn’t provide enough cultural and religious friction, they soon find a trailer parked on the lot which houses Gina, a Catholic novice from Italy who is attractive enough to turn men’s heads even in her habit. (By the end of the movie, it’s pretty clear why the innocently uninhibited Gina will never make a good nun.) The plot is driven mainly by Bauman’s obsession with re-building an old statue of his father’s, a camel with wings. But the heart of the story is about people of different backgrounds learning to respect each other and to get along somehow. And we can’t get enough of that message these days! The funniest bit, to my mind, is when Bauman drags Phares to a Passover dinner which turns out to have a definite feminist bent. (Seen 25 May 1995)

Gamera: Daikaiju Kuchu Kessen (Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe) 1 out of 4 stars

You can tell how this movie is going to go in the very first scene. The captain of a tanker in the middle of the ocean says to one of his officers something like, “I just can’t sleep, thinking what if something were to happen to this shipment of plutonium.” Interestingly, nothing much actually does happen to the plutonium, but plenty else does. Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe is the first Gamera movie in 24 years, marking the 30th anniversary of the first Gamera movie. The thing about monster movies is that they are either so crudely done that you can laugh at them or else they are so well done technically that you are blown away. This movie tries to have it both ways. The monsters look more or less like they always did, which is to say, silly. But the surrounding effects take advantage of 1990s technology. But if the mood is right and it is late enough at night, you can still get into it. But enough of that. Bring on the new Godzilla! (Seen 8 June 1996)

Gangs of New York 2 out of 4 stars

There is a strangely morbid but sentimental fascination that New Yorkers have with their own city that can be perplexing to those of us who don’t live there. This movie is a case in point. As Martin Scorsese picked up his Golden Globe for directing this film, he repeated how long it had been a dream of his to make it. So, I guess this makes Gangs of New York to Scorsese what Once Upon a Time in America was to Sergio Leone. It starts with a bloody battle, like Saving Private Ryan, and has an cataclysmic ending with Leonardo DiCaprio at the center of things, so that makes it like Titanic. But it’s more. It’s an Irish immigrant drama with DiCaprio in the Tom Cruise role and Cameron Diaz in the Nicole Kidman role. Daniel Day-Lewis achieves a minor miracle by taking a character that is essentially a caricature and infusing him with life. DiCaprio, on the other hand, takes a character that is essentially a cliché and infuses him with Leonard DiCaprio. Along with Woody Allen, no director is more associated with NYC than Scorsese, and this film is clearly a (bloody) valentine to the Big Apple. The final minute or two features a view of the Manhattan skyline that morphs from the 1860s to the late 20th century, and it is quite moving. Too bad it’s so brief and comes so late, since the rest of the film plays like some post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick in which civilization has broken down, like, say, the Mad Max movies or, dare I say it, Escape from New York. (Seen 23 January 2003)

Garage 2 out of 4 stars

This is the movie that followed Once as a surprise Irish winner at a major international film festival. It won the Art et Essai award at Cannes a couple of months ago and turns out to be the rural flipside of director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Mark O’Halloran’s previous collaboration about society’s urban detritus, Adam & Paul. Garage plays mostly like a gentle, warm-hearted comedy—boosted by the considerable talents of Irish comedy institution Pat Shortt, who plays a grown man of limited intellect and more than a little innocence and who relies on the kindness of friends and neighbors to get by. An old schoolmate has employed him forever in a rundown filling station outside of town, providing him with both a home (such as it is) and some income. “The town looks after its own,” says Josie, in one of those self-satisfied platitudes that usually turn out to be true in rural areas but not always. You see, there is another side to life in small places, not-so-subtly demonstrated by a friend, with a bothersome litter or unwanted puppies, who deals with the problem as people in the Irish countryside are wont to do. In that moment, Josie instinctively understands what it means to be part of nature’s excess. As a relative of an approximate real-life counterpart to Josie, I am here to say that Shortt has got the character spot on. It’s a brilliant acting job that, ironically, may be best appreciated by those who don’t live in Ireland, i.e. those who aren’t familiar with Shortt and his repertoire of comic characters. The fact that we know Shortt so well is the only thing that gets in the way of his performance. As for the film itself, because of its ultimate message, it is in the strange position of being easy to enjoy but a little hard to like. (Seen 14 July 2007)

Garfield 2 out of 4 stars

At one point in this first screen adaptation of the ubiquitous comic strip cat, the titular feline gives a sly knowing look at the audience, as he gives out about a famous cat on TV being, well, ubiquitous. It was inevitable that Garfield would eventually find his way onto movie screens, and it is just as well that he waited until the technology was such that a CGI Garfield could give us the familiar fat cat that we know from the funny papers, interacting with live actors. And, while much of the cynical flavor of the comic is preserved (thanks in large part to brilliant voice work by Bill Murray), it was also inevitable that, for the sake of movie conventions, Garfield and his human Jon would also have to be sentimentalized. This is basically one of those Disney (spiritually, not literally) family comedies, with Garfield playing the role usually given to Tim Allen or Jim Carrey, learning to adjust his priorities. The movie is harmless fun and leaves us with an interesting (for these politically charged times) final moral message: electric shock torture is justified when directed at someone who is mean to animals. (Seen 07 October 2006)

Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (Garfield 2) 2 out of 4 stars

The adaptation of Garfield from comic strip to movie screen is just about as good as it can be. The CGI strikes the right balance between reality and the pussy we know from the funny papers. And Bill Murray was born to give the self-absorbed feline voice. About the only thing that doesn’t travel well from newsprint to celluloid is the love life of Garfield’s master, Jon. He is meant to be the perpetual dweeb who never gets a second date. But movies demand that he get a girl like Jennifer Love Hewitt. The sequel’s plot has our heroes traveling to England, where they get involved in a dispute over a manor’s inheritance, involving a host of barnyard creatures, giving the film a strange Babe-meets-Gosford Park kind of vibe. I would like to report that the English setting gives rise to a host of delightful cameos from our favorite British actors, but I’m afraid that, on screen, we get the sort of English actors we are accustomed to seeing in U.S. sitcoms (Roger Rees, Jane Carr). We do better with the voices of the animals, with the likes of Tim Curry, Bob Hoskins, Jane Horrocks, Richard E. Grant, Vinnie Jones and Rhys Ifans. Strangest of all is the role of the Wile E. Coyote-like villain, which seems to have been written for John Cleese but is filled by, of all people, Billy Connolly. In the end, the movie is amusing if not magical. You may not come away believing a cat can talk, but you will be hungry for lasagna. (Seen 5 August 2006)

Gattaca 3 out of 4 stars

Any movie that brings together Alan Arkin, Gore Vidal, and Ernest Borgnine would be worth seeing for that fact alone, but this feature by Andrew M. Niccol is also thoughtful, intriguing, and well-made. We’re in George Orwell/Aldous Huxley territory, but it’s all the more chilling because this world doesn’t look all that different from our own and we’re clearly on the threshold of being able to genetically engineer and monitor ourselves in the ways depicted in the film. Ethan Hawke is a genetically “deficient” (i.e. normal) man who passes as superior through old-fashioned means: he works hard at it. His deception gets him into Gattaca (sounds like Attica), which is sort of a futuristic NASA that seems to be run by a conservative insurance company. His co-workers are all genetically perfect, so they have faces and bodies like Uma Thurman’s. Jude Law (Bosie in Wilde) is on hand as another obnoxious elitist twit. More than suspenseful, Gattaca is thought-provoking and haunting. Michael (The Piano) Nyman’s score enhances the mood. (Seen 6 November 1997)

Gaudi Afternoon 2 out of 4 stars

In a way, the real star of this film is Antoni Gaudí, the neo-Gothic Catalonian architect who put his mark on Barcelona. Every time one of his structures comes into view in this movie, it gives the picture a definitely needed lift. The film is something of a tribute to Gaudí, not just in the title, but in its complicated, twisting style, winding its way through the narrative and leaving you (for a time anyway) baffled as to where it’s headed or how it’s going to come out. The director is Susan Seidelman, and if you liked her Desperately Seeking Susan, then you will likely enjoy this too, since it has a similar story of an ordinary woman drawn into a series of serio-comedic adventures involving an odd assortment of characters. The cast is first-rate. Judy Davis is an American ex-patriot living in Barcelona and doing translations of Latin American novels. (Her current one is called La grande y su hija.) Recent Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden looks rather like Elvira, Mistress of the Night, playing the strange woman who offers her an odd job. And Lili Taylor returns to the manic sort of personality she exhibited in I Shot Andy Warhol but as a character that results in her looking like a young Linda Hunt. After a fairly strong first half, the film lags toward the end, once the central mystery has explained itself ad infinitum. But Davis is always interesting to watch, not to mention Barcelona and the work of Antoni Gaudí. (Seen 29 May 2001)

Gazon maudit (French Twist) 0 out of 4 stars

I read where France has submitted French Twist for an Academy Award nomination. This amazes me because French Twist is merely one of those amusing but forgettable low-brow comedies that the French seem to enjoy for some reason. (We are, after all, talking about a people who revere Jerry Lewis as a god.) It’s almost as if the United States were submitting Dumb and Dumber for a French award. French Twist has all the main elements of gallic humor: 1) infidelity, 2) people becoming very angry and waving their arms at each other, 3) supposedly titillating sexual situations, and 4) infidelity. The “twist” is that some of the sex involves two women. This way the film can appeal to three audiences simultaneously. Straight men can laugh at Laurent’s predicament because “thank God it’s not me!” Straight women can laugh at how silly the men are. And gays can laugh at how silly the straights are. This was the third of three films I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival’s Women in Cinema series. The cast includes Victoria Abril (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, High Heels) and Josiane Balasko (Too Beautiful for You) who also directed. (Seen 31 January 1996)

The General [1926] 3 out of 4 stars

This is considered Buster Keaton’s greatest film, although personally I liked Steamboat Bill, Jr., which he made two years later, a bit better. Based on an actual incident during the War Between the States, Keaton plays a train engineer who is refused enlistment in the Confederate army because of his useful occupation. (Nobody bothers to tell him this is why he has been refused.) But he gets his chance to be a war hero anyway (and, of course, impress his girl) when his train is stolen by the enemy and he single-handedly undertakes to get it back. The plot is a pretext for one sight gag after another, all arranged around trains in constant motion. As always, the elaborate setups and carefully orchestrated choreography, calculated to make everything appear random and accidental or just plain lucky, is a miraculous spectacle to behold. Even in an age where stunts can be enhanced digitally and nothing is impossible in film, it is hard to imagine that computers could generate the fluidity and complexity of Keaton’s stunts. It is all impressive enough to our modern eyes. What must audiences of the time have thought, when cinema was still so young? And all through the elaborate proceedings, at the center of it all, is Keaton who, no matter how much chaos is going on around him, always has that deadpan look about him. He may get worked up about the loss of his beloved train or, secondarily, losing his girl, but nothing really perturbs him. He and that face of his are immortal. (Seen 11 July 2009)

The General [1998] 3 out of 4 stars

Once when my future Irish bride was driving me through Dublin’s Rathmines district, she happened to mention rather casually that “a guy was killed on this street by the IRA” in 1994. Now a movie has been made about that guy, and it has garnered a director’s award for John Boorman at Cannes. Martin Cahill was a flamboyant gangster—the sort who would self-confidently break into homes at night and then unblushingly stand in the dole queue the next day. As chronicled by Boorman in glorious black and white, Cahill had a Roddy Doyle sort of childhood followed by a John Belushi sort of adulthood. Indeed, his nemesis (Jon Voight, who collaborated with Boorman on 1972’s Deliverance and who sports here a fine Kerry accent as a cop) is nothing so much like a calmer version of the apoplectic dean in Animal House. Boorman romanticizes Cahill shamelessly, but Cahill is clearly the perfect role for character actor Brendan Gleeson (I Went Down). The film wants to portray Cahill as a victim of changing times, but the truth is all too apparent: Cahill was a major catalyst for the changes that did him in. (Seen 29 May 1998)

Gentleman Prizefighter 2 out of 4 stars

This is documentary about legendary boxer “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, but it’s a bit more than that as well. It’s also about Irish emigration to America in the 19th century, about how boxing evolved to become the sport that it is today, about the link between boxing and show business and about the birth of cinema. Andrew Gallimore’s film follows the Corbett family from Ireland to San Francisco. James Corbett’s father was from Partry, County Mayo (a village I drive through regularly) and his mother was from Dublin. While Corbett’s fame came from defeating John L. Sullivan for the world heavyweight title, he actually spent more time (and made more money) on the stage and, later, on film. Even back then, showmanship was a large part of boxing. As this film has it, Corbett was the transition point where boxing went from an illegal pastime fought with bare knuckles to a mainstream entertainment that became more “civilized” by way of the Marquess of Queensbury rules, which required, among other things, gloves. Narrated by the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson, the movie is rich with actual footage of classic fights (or contemporary recreations), as well as liberal use of Raoul Walsh’s 1942 feature film Gentleman Jim, in which Corbett was played by a perfectly cast Errol Flynn. (Seen 11 July 2012)

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 3 out of 4 stars

Released the same year as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), this movie similarly celebrates the virtues of gold digging. But here the celebration is more un-self-consciously carefree. Maybe it’s because this is a musical, which was honed on the stage before hitting the big screen. Maybe it’s because Howard Hawks was directing (instead of Jean Negulesco). But ultimately, the answer has to be that this movie lets Marilyn Monroe exploit her talents as a singer, dancer and an actor. Yes, once more she is playing the dumb blonde, but she is a dumb like a fox—just as she clearly was in real life. In Negulsco’s movie, she was relegated to the shadow of Lauren Bacall’s star turn, but here she and Jane Russell hold the stage equally and play off each other beautifully. No one remembers that Monroe’s character was Pola Debevoise in How to Marry a Millionaire, but Lorelei Lee is a character that has become immortal. One cannot help but wonder what kind of career Monroe would have gone on to if she had lived. Would she have played Lorelei into old age, as Carol Channing ended up doing instead? But it doesn’t matter. Thanks to the magic of film, we have her and Russell’s performances forever. And they are definitely worth keeping. (Seen 31 July 2011)

Georgia 2 out of 4 stars

Georgia is a “small” film about two sisters who have both embarked on singing careers. One is talented, successful, well-adjusted and has a nice family. The other is aimless, talentless, alcoholic and a drug abuser. (And you just know which one we will be spending more time with.) To give you an idea of the premise, it’s kind of as if Ginny Reilly and Courtney Love were sisters and Ginny had lots of fans and Courtney had none. This film picked up an Oscar nomination, but ironically it wasn’t for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s flashy, no-holds-barred portrayal of self-destructive Sadie but rather for Mare Winningham’s understated performance in the title role as supporting actress. The movie is essentially a character study (written by Leigh’s real-life mother apparently based on Leigh’s real-life sister) and presented episodically. The relationship of the sisters is compelling and well dramatized, and there are a number of good actors in supporting roles. Soggy Seattle and its environs make an appropriate backdrop for a rather depressing story. (Seen 13 February 1996)

Gerontophilia 2 out of 4 stars

On the wall above his bed Lake has a huge poster of Mahatma Gandhi. For other young men this would be a political or spiritual statement. For Lake it is erotica. On the street his eye is constantly drawn to the old crossing guard stopping cars for pedestians. Things reach a head (so to speak) when, in his job as a lifeguard, he finds himself aroused while applying mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an attempt to save an elderly swimmer. Lake’s growing consumption by the titular predilection will catch his girlfriend unawares. Cute as a button with an attractive Quebecois accent (the movie is mostly in English although Lake and his mother occasionally slip into French), Lake and Désirée make an endearing hipster couple. The die is cast, however, when Lake’s mother gets him a job at the nursing home where she works. He finds himself drawn particularly to octogenarian Melvyn, who is one of those declining movie oldsters who turns out to be bright, fun and interesting once he is off his meds and someone shows him a bit of attention. And then we are off into Harold and Maude territory. Playing Lake, Pier-Gabriel Lajoie is very appealing in a role that is tricky to say the least. He exudes such innocence and earnest curiosity (Désirée keeps calling him a saint) that his sometimes questionable actions do not feel nearly as creepy as they probably should. As Melvyn, Walter Borden reveals the object of Lake’s desire to be someone whose life and history could actually fascinate a young hipster. The screenplay was written by Daniel Allen Cox and the movie’s director, the symmetrically named Bruce La Bruce, who is one of the more eclectic filmmakers to come out of Canada. (Seen 13 May 2016)

Get Bruce 2 out of 4 stars

This documentary about Hollywood comedy writer Bruce Vilanch will have you rolling in the aisles. Never mind that Vilanch is one of the most-sought-after gag writers in the industry, you can’t help but laugh just looking at his mischievous grin peering out from under an impossibly curly bush of hair. When Donny Osmond met him, he told Vilanch he looked like a Muppet and he was right. Then there are Vilanch’s vast collection of tee-shirts, which proclaim things like “My other body is in the shop” and “Will work for liposuction.” Virtually every comedian and quite a few actors sing the praises of this man for the camera. His forte seems to be those quips that celebrities make at awards shows, and we get a large sampling of the best ones. His successes and occasional failures run the gamut from Billy Crystal’s hilarious song-and-dance numbers at the Academy Awards to Bette Midler’s serenade to Johnny Carson on his last Tonight show to Ted Danson’s disastrous turn in blackface at Whoopi Goldberg’s Friars roast. Only toward the end of the movie do we get an insight into the demons that drive Vilanch, when this gay man speaks emotionally of the many friends he has lost to AIDS. Worth the price of admission all by itself: Robin Williams’s impromptu rendition of Jack Benny and Rochester in The X-Files! (Seen 16 May 1999)

Get Him to the Greek 2 out of 4 stars

There were a couple of reasons that this movie, despite its clear targeting of the raunch-hungry, seemed as though it could appeal to me. One was that its central character Aldous Snow was the single best thing about Nicholas Stoller’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The other was a review in The New Yorker that pointed out that this is basically the same story as My Favorite Year, one of my most cherished movies. Is it possible that, despite all the inevitable wallowing in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, that this could turn out to be a film as sweet as Richard Benjamin’s? Or is it what it seems on the surface: a raucous send-up whose high concept is This Is Spinal Tap meets Planes, Trains & Automobiles? The portents were better than average since it is a product of the Judd Apatow factory, which specializes in the surprisingly sentimental and moral kicker to an otherwise adolescent experience. In the end, I laughed quite a bit (the skewering of celebrities who are full of themselves never gets tiring) and was uncomfortable in a couple of places. But disappointingly, the film only made the most mechanical motions of displaying any kind of real heart. If you want a much better rendering of a touching rock star-nebbish relationship, check out Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher in Love Actually. But at least we get first-class performances from Russell Brand and Jonah Hill. Rose Byrne and Elisabeth Moss are also quite good, and Sean (aka a couple different rapper names) Combs is a revelation as a comic actor. And the cameos by TV host Meredith Vieira and Nobel-winning pundit Paul Krugman are priceless—not because they play them well or are good sports but because they seem so genuinely alarmed to be involved. (Seen 6 July 2010)

Get Out 3 out of 4 stars

This early 2017 release has been pleasing crowds since last year’s Sundance, and it is easy to see why. First and foremost, it is a well-constructed, creepy, paranoid thriller that keeps you involved right up until the final credits roll. It evokes conspiratorial cult horrors going back at least as far as Rosemary’s Baby and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it mostly recalls Bryan Forbes’s The Stepford Wives. On top of that, though, it is an extremely clever and knowing race-relations satire. A necessary update to Stanley Kramer’s seminal Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, this movie’s genius is the way it makes us see an affluent, ostensibly liberal, white family through a black man’s eyes and shows us how creepy than can seem—in spite of all their apparent best intentions. When these WASPs fawn over President Obama and Tiger Woods to their new African-American acquaintance, they are nothing but sincere, but that does not make them any less off-putting. The menace does not come from revulsion of the Other but from the covetous embrace of it. This impressive first movie by actor/comedian Jordan Peele becomes a canny allegory about what is like for a minority culture to see itself subsumed by a majority one and to see your own kind assimilated. As the increasingly uncomfortable hero, London-born Daniel Kaluuya skillfully registers all the same reactions we ourselves would have in his shoes. As his girlfriend, Girls veteran Allison Williams makes an impressive transition from displaying all the perfunctory millennial outrage about racism to something darker. As her parents, the always-welcome Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener have their types down to a tee. They unsettle us even when we can discern no particular reason for it. Actually, the whole movie unsettles us, just by framing the ordinary in a particular way. It has a touch that might impress even David Lynch. It’s the kind of film that is so good at what it does that, by rights, it should actually have a political impact. Of course, its targets will all think it is about someone else. (Seen 31 January 2018)

Get Real 2 out of 4 stars

A real crowd-pleaser from start to finish, this feature debut by Simon Shore is more or less everything a teen romantic comedy should be. Its strengths are Patrick Wilde’s witty script and the movie’s extremely engaging lead actor, Ben Silverstone, who is endearing and attractive as a gay sixteen-year-old. Despite being so young, Silverstone’s character is extremely unconfused. He’s already quite sexually active and secure in his identity, although he keeps his orientation and “love life” secret from everyone except his closest friend. Complications ensue when he makes the transition from anonymous encounters to a real romance with a popular older student. Mostly, the situation is played for laughs, and there is one particularly funny scene involving the two boys slow-dancing with their dates at a student ball. Inevitably, since this is a “gay-themed” film, the issue turns out to be not so much the romance but the politics. And by the end, we literally get a lecture emphasizing the usual message: being in the closet is bad, being out is good. (Seen 28 May 1999)

Get Shorty 3 out of 4 stars

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising how many movies are about, well, movies. After all, that’s what filmmakers know best. Get Shorty falls into this category. Sure, it has John Travolta playing a hood somewhat similar to his role in Pulp Fiction, but don’t be fooled. This flick really has more in common with The Player (including a few cameos and walk-ons by uncredited stars and other people in the business), although it is not as dark as Altman’s film. It is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (best known for the Addams Family movies) and features Gene Hackman who does his usual great job, this time as a sleazy Roger Corman-esque director. This film is very easy to take, and it is one of those refreshing movies where smart people come out on top and stupid people generally get what is coming to them. (Seen 1 November 1995)

Getting to Know You 3 out of 4 stars

Director Lisanne Skyler co-wrote Getting to Know You with her sister Tristine, and its a labor of love that paid off. Their idea was to make an omnibus film of Joyce Carol Oates stories. They took their idea to Shadowcatcher Entertainment, which had produced Smoke Signals, and were told that the movie would be more salable if the stories could somehow be combined into one, à la Slacker or Chain of Desire. And the result has turned out wonderfully. It is clear why Smoke Signals had impressed the Skyler sisters, as the running theme through Getting to Know You is child/parent estrangement and guilt. Sixteen-year-old Heather Matarazzo (of Welcome to the Dollhouse) has just the right quality as the lonely central character who has been carrying a secret. Michael Weston makes a good impression as the young man who chats her up in a bus station and engages her with his endless stories about the strangers who come and go. And Bebe Neuwirth, an accomplished stage performer, shows that she is more than just Frasier’s ex on TV with her accomplished turn as a sad and bitter wife and mother. (Seen 20 May 1999)

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X 2 out of 4 stars

How could you not see a movie with a title like this? And of course you would have to see it at midnight. But since we were in Galway, we had to settle for 10:30 p.m. But the star, Will Keenan, was there to fill us in on the flick’s strange history. As he told it, the walking anachronism that is Paul Bunnell gathered the cast together a decade ago to film a few minutes of the movie so he could use it to raise funding. They would hear from Bunnell every couple of years, but nothing seemed to be happening. Then, a couple of years ago, the project was finally a go. And Bunnell’s dream of a black-and-white 1950s-style sci-fi/hoodlum/musical became a reality. This movie holds two very significant distinctions. 1) It was shot on the last 35mm Plus-X black-and-white film stock ever produced by Kodak—and it looks great. 2) It features the final screen appearance of Kevin McCarthy, star of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as the Grand Inquisitor who exiles Johnny X and his gang to earth. Another familiar face is Paul Williams as a talk show host. There aren’t always enough ideas to fill its 106-minute running time, but it looks great. The cast give it their all, and the production values aren’t bad for what is essentially a spoof. Kudos to De Anna Joy Brooks who goes all out as Johnny’s love Bliss, Reggie Bannister and Heather R. Provost as a very funny couple trying to cash in, and Creed Bratton who plays an aging rock zombie superstar like a cross between Johnny Cash and Ozzy Osbourne. (Seen 12 July 2013)

The Ghost (The Ghost Writer) 3 out of 4 stars

We are brought to an isolated island where things are creepy and definitely not what they seem. And no, Martin Scorsese did not direct this. Another cinematic master, Roman Polanski, did and he has returned to familiar form, exploring a lost soul following a deceased predecessor down a dark, ominous path. Think The Tenant done up as a ripped-from-the-headlines political thriller. Polanski and Robert Harris adapted Harris’s novel about a former British prime minister being pursued over war crimes, clearly intended to evoke a far-leftish view of Tony Blair. Polanski—who knows a thing or two about the long arm of the law reaching out from the past to grab somebody—manages to make an exclusive island off Cape Cod seem utterly claustrophobic. The PM’s compound is a concrete bunker that is like some sterile modern art museum, filled with the coldest of staffers and most inscrutably exotic of hired help. Originally Nicolas Cage was meant to play the titular ghost writer of the PM’s memoirs and Tilda Swinton the PM’s bitter wife. We can only imagine what kind of manic energy and weirdness that version would have had. Instead, Ewan McGregor is perfectly fine, if subdued, as the hack who perpetually finds himself in need of drink, and Olivia Williams is very convincing as a woman who does not suffer fools but feels constantly surrounded by them. Pierce Brosnan is nothing like Tony Blair but he is right for the lifelong politician he is playing. But the real star is the mood of menace that Polanski so skillfully weaves and mesmerizes us with, despite the fact that not that much actually happens. And the ending is the rarest of cinematic accomplishments. It is completely satisfying despite the fact that it does not pass the laugh test when you think about it later. (Seen 21 April 2010)

Ghost Town 3 out of 4 stars

At one point in this delightfully screwball comedy, Ricky Gervais’s dentist asks Greg Kinnear’s lately deceased adulterer why he is in formal attire. Kinnear doesn’t bother to answer, but film buffs know the answer. This is one of a number of nods to the classic 1937 fantasy comedy Topper, which starred Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. This is one of those rare comedies that openly acknowledge their forebears but do not rely on the memory of them instead of on originality. And for once the joys of the movie derive less from special effects or manipulation but mainly from the dialog. The banter between Gervais and the wonderfully quirky Téa Leoni is so strange, oddly timed and enchanting that we would expect that it was written by some indy auteur type. Instead it was dreamed up by powerhouse screenwriter David Koepp (who also directed), who usually pens for the likes of Steven Spielberg (War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Ron Howard (Angels & Demons), and John Kamps, whose previous writing credits are for kids movies (The Borrowers, Zathura: A Space Adventure). Leoni is one of those screen dames whom we just don’t see often enough in the movies. She may have been meant more for the era of Carole Lombard and Myrna Loy than for our current epoch of plastic entertainment. For years she has been criminally under-used or misused, although her talents have shined in movies like Flirting with Disaster and You Kill Me and her little-seen 1992-93 sitcom Flying Blind. Gervais, on the other hand, is the most unlikely of romantic leads, but he is the consummate misanthrope, which works perfectly for this flick. His delivery of sarcastic zingers is so dead on that he nearly wins us over to his deliciously sour point of view. (Seen 13 November 2009)

Girls Town 1 out of 4 stars

My high-concept shorthand for Girls Town is: Thelma and Louise (and a friend) meet MTV’s The Real World. First-time director Jim McKay goes for a cinéma verité style; his actors contributed to the script in a workshop, resulting in the impression that some scenes are made up as they go along. The story deals with three high school students who must come to grips when their close friend Nikki commits suicide with no apparent warning. They eventually learn that this act may have been precipitated by a rape that Nikki suffered. In their feelings of sorrow and guilt, they wind up becoming something of a vigilante group, not only punishing Nikki’s presumed rapist but at least one other male chauvinist pig. Included in the acting ensemble is Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol, Cold Fever) who seems to be doing a John Travolta imitation. It is explained that Taylor has been held back more than once, to explain why someone her age is still in high school. Presumably, her friends were held back as well. (Seen 7 June 1996)

The Giver 2 out of 4 stars

Apparently Jeff Bridges and his family loved Lois Lowry’s novel so much that they would film their own home movies of it and he was trying to get a proper feature film of it made for a couple of decades. The premise is a well-worn one by now in YA dystopian literature. At some point in the future, a community has succeeded in engineering all the conflict and risk out of life. Everyone’s life is kept mellow by central planning, which has control of living arrangements (the word “family” is discouraged) and procreation. For some reason, though, one person is tasked with maintaining memories of how the world used to be in the bad old days—sort of like keeping the smallpox virus locked away so that it doesn’t go completely extinct. Bridges, at his crustiest, is the current Receiver of Memories and, as the movie opens, young Australian actor Brenton Thwaites is chosen as his designated successor. We quickly see why this whole Receiver of Memories idea is (at least from the Council of Elders’ point of view anyway) a bad idea. In a strange way, the film evokes the 1998 flick Pleasantville in that the film is generally in black and white but people who can perceive the real world begin seeing things in color. Given that the director is Phillip Noyce, who made Dead Calm and Patriot Games, you would think this movie would be more exciting. But because most of the characters have had everything interesting bred out of them and the plot is basically an all-too-obvious allegory, its theme of rebelliousness kind of falls flat. But at least we get a certain amount of creepiness from Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, mostly seen as hologram with a severe Joni Mitchell hairdo. (Seen 31 May 2015)

Gladiator 2 out of 4 stars

This movie gives every indication of wanting to be a high-minded historical epic celebrating the human spirit, like Stanley Kubrick’s classic Spartacus. But it’s really a bloody, escapist revenge movie in the vein of Mad Max. Its redeeming qualities include Russell Crowe, who makes a dandy lead. His voice, looks and demeanor suggest a young Richard Burton. That evocation of a vanishing generation of talented, hard working and hard playing British and Irish actors is appropriate, given the presence of a very old-looking Richard Harris and a fine performance by Oliver Reed (who died during the filming), whose role eerily requires him to make lots of speeches about death. Hopes for the production were high, given director Ridley Scott’s track record with Blade Runner and Alien, but the action scenes here look like a video game. Where lots of action movies use slow motion for effect, Scott oddly speeds things up at crucial times, so that it’s hard to follow what’s going on. Is this a ploy to boost eventual DVD sales because people will have to buy them to be able to see the action scenes at a reasonable speed? As for the plot, well, the villain is a draft-dodging head of state with inappropriate sexual longings, who consolidates his power with a populace distracted by games and mindless entertainment and who can be neutralized only by a group of wise senators. Who wrote this anyway? Ken Starr? A strange thing: during much of this flick there are red petals floating everywhere. Apparently, DreamWorks had a lot of them left over after American Beauty. [Related commentary] (Seen 5 May 2000)

Go 3 out of 4 stars

What a great idea. Take Shakespeare’s classic tragedy King Lear and set it in present-day Los Angeles as a slacker comedy. Of course, Go doesn’t do actually that, but I’m sure that some movie will real soon. As for this movie, it is Doug Liman’s follow-up to his previous paean to Los Angeles nightlife, Swingers. I gather from the film that the word “go” is now slang for that most exhilarating (and, for young males, brief) of human experiences, which more or less captures the rousing feel of this youthful, urban, shaggy dog story. Inevitably, the plot structure is borrowed from Pulp Fiction and also inevitably, it involves the sort of characters who think that it is a really cool idea to rip off a drug dealer or to shoot a Las Vegas bouncer. But its unabashed preoccupation with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll make the whole thing a lark, something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets Jackie Brown. John August’s script is quite amusing, and director Liman provides great visuals to go with it. Standouts in the cast include former child actor Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter), who is definitely all grown up now, and William Fichtner, who looks unnervingly like Christopher Walken. Best-known cast members Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr play ironically on their TV fame. The insight on the “Family Circus” cartoon strip alone is worth the price of admission. (Seen 11 April 1999)

God Bless America 2 out of 4 stars

This flick wants to be a Thelma & Louise for frustrated, middle-aged men. A movie like this begs us to ask, what exactly is the point? What message is writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait trying to send us? It doesn’t seem to be exactly political since the targets of the film’s venom fall on both sides of the political divide. And, although the Tea Party and Fox News-style bloviaters seem to get special attention, the main character’s outrage over the coarsening of the culture is after all essentially a conservative plaint. The movie’s strongest ire, however, is reserved for a thinly veiled version of American Idol. Goldthwait does his best to make us sympathize with Joel Murray’s Frank, but it’s hard to warm up to a guy who complains about everything thing that’s on TV and the radio but still watches and listens every day and every night anyway. But we’re not really meant to take it too seriously. After all, you can only smirk when Frank asks a Bill O’Reilly/Sean Hannity-type cable news star why he has to be so mean—just before blowing him away. I would like to think that the essence of the movie is when Frank and his twisted teenage accomplice Roxy (a standout Tara Lynne Barr) endlessly catalog people they hate and unwittingly wind up including each other. As Pogo said decades ago, we have met the enemy and he is us. Anyway, I would be lying if I didn’t confess that I got some satisfaction when Frank and Roxy blew away some teens who were chatting away on their cell phones during a movie. (Seen 10 July 2012)

God Help the Girl 2 out of 4 stars

The main question posed by this little film is whether it holds any interest for people who are not Belle and Sebastian fans. That’s a Scottish musical group, if you have to ask, and, strangely, a mere few months ago I would have been in a position to make that judgment. But since then I have not only become acquainted with B&S (thanks to my kid) but have become rather fond of their twee brand of folk/indie/pop songs. This flick is written and directed by Stuart Murdoch, the group’s leader, and presents a fictionalized version of the creation of the musical project that shares its name with the movie. But you don’t really need to know all that. This is basically the story of Eve (Emily Browning, all grown up since she was Violet in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), who keeps escaping from the hospital where she is in recovery and forms a friendship with two other aspiring musicians. She and James (Olly Alexander) and Cassie (Hannah Murray, much less harried than her Gilly character on Game of Thrones) have an idyllic summer in Glasgow and find some degree of musical fulfillment in forming a band. The tone is generally realistic—at least until the characters spontaneously break out in song, making this feel at times like a companion to Sunshine on Leith. None of it is particularly consequential, but the songs are nice and you can’t help but wish that you were cool enough to be hanging out with this trio in sunny Scotland. (Seen 7 September 2014)

God Said, “Ha!” 3 out of 4 stars

A couple of years ago tragedy befell Julia Sweeney, and I’m not just talking about her movie It’s Pat. Amazingly, out of it all came a one-woman stage show, which then became a one-woman “concert movie.” Ordinarily, you wouldn’t expect that watching someone standing around for an hour and a half talking about a couple of people with cancer to be very fun, let alone outright hilarious, but somehow Sweeney pulls it off. There is pathos and humanity in her first-hand account of her brother’s illness and her own, but what will stick in viewers’ minds is her dead-on descriptions of what it is like for someone in their 30s suddenly to have her parents living on top of her. The generational cultural shock here is every bit as recognizable as it was in Albert Brooks’s Mother. Personally, I was relieved to learn from her anecdotes about her news-junkie father that I am not the only NPR listener to be intrigued by what Cokie Roberts wears during her morning chats with Bob Edwards. This winner of the 1998 Golden Space Needle Award from the Seattle International Film Festival also includes a couple of subtle and poignant reminders of the unusual number of tragedies that have befallen alumni of Saturday Night Live: a character voice clearly borrowed from Gilda Radner and a passing reference to Sweeney’s mentor, Phil Hartman. (Seen 5 April 1999)

Gods and Monsters 3 out of 4 stars

Surprisingly, neither of the people who read these rantings of mine has been so rude as to question me as to how in my Oscar predictions I could reasonably opine that Ian McKellen was deserving of the Best Actor award for Gods and Monsters—before I had even had a chance to see the movie! Well, some things you just know. And now that I have seen it, I know I wasn’t wrong. McKellen is simply a treasure, and the role of English-born filmmaker James Whale in his final days is perfectly suited to him. He is so much better here as a young man’s (kinder, gentler) preyer and seducer than he was in Apt Pupil that it’s not even worth making a comparison. As for director Bill Condon, he is totally deserving of his Oscar (for screenplay) as well. While the story has more than a little in common with Sunset Boulevard, Condon is wise to downplay that angle and to instead concentrate on weaving in a most touching way the themes and images from Whale’s Frankenstein movies. Thanks to this film, we will never look back on those Universal “horror” classics quite the same way again. (Seen 31 March 1999)

Godzilla 2 out of 4 stars

The reason all the critics have been dumping on poor Godzilla is that the (other) critics are all grown-ups and for some reason they think that Godzilla was made for them! All it took was one glance at the audience in a Tralee multiplex to discern that the average age for appreciating this film was only marginally higher than that of the crowd seeing the purple dinosaur next door. Sure, this movie has a singular lack of tension, dramatic or otherwise, and the leads (Matthew Broderick and some woman) are so bland that you feel like tearing into a package of Wonder Bread for a thrill. But the real problem is that we have all been indoctrinated by Steven Spielberg (notably with Jurassic Park and its sequel) to expect something more intense—sometimes too intense for rugrats. Anyway, the special effects are good, and the kids cheered when Godzilla was winning and grew quiet when he suffered his setbacks. The main difference between this flick and Roland Emmerich’s earlier success, Independence Day, is that while watching Independence Day we actually wondered what we would do if flying saucers really did appear in the sky. Watching this movie, it never occurs to us once to wonder what we would do if Godzilla showed up for real. (Seen 17 July 1998)

Gold in the Streets 2 out of 4 stars

Imagine if the characters on the TV series Friends were young Irish people who were mostly in the U.S. illegally and you’ve got a little bit of the flavor of Gold in the Streets. It’s also a bit reminiscent of Barry Levinson’s classic young buddies flick Diner. This is an Irish production directed by Elizabeth Gill and based on a play called Away Alone. Since the characters are Irish, they drink a lot, smoke a lot, swear a lot, and get homesick a lot—when they’re not in full-blown depression over the state of their lives. The group’s de facto leader is Richard Harris’s son Jared, who played the titular victim in I Shot Andy Warhol. The point of view is the doe-eyed innocent Liam (who looks strangely like Andie MacDowell), just arrived from the Irish countryside hoping to make his fortune in New York City. As melodramatic as this flick gets, it’s not on quite the same level as, say, El Norte as an immigrant drama. All in all, America is a grim place for these lads. The only one of them to get any shot at all at the vaunted “American dream” does so only by trading on his Irish-ness for rich, sentimental Yanks. (Seen 20 March 1997)

The Golden Compass 3 out of 4 stars

It’s official. I am a terrible father. I dragged my seven-year-old to this movie which, depending on your country, the powers that be say she shouldn’t be seeing for five or six more years. On top of that, it will probably make her grow up to be an atheist. But, of course, my real concern was: is she old enough to deal with seeing Nicole Kidman in full ice queen mode? Actually, it was the Munchkin who dragged me to the movie. Authority is somewhat inverted in our household. I will confess to knowing next to nothing about the English author Philip Pullman or the series of books which has spawned this film and its coming sequels—other than what I have gathered from the media. Pullman’s aim is allegedly to argue against either religion in general or Christianity in particular. Call me ignorant, but I’m not sure that a story full of miraculous acts, mystical prophecies and a young messiah is the best way to me to argue against Christianity. Sure the religious figures in the movie seem to have been borrowed from The Da Vinci Code and, as in that movie, they seem a throwback to the age of the Medicis. But, as one radio wag I heard pointed out, if the people who run your church are like the Magisterium, you probably should be in a different church anyway. Taken strictly as a movie (which it is, after all), The Golden Compass is a fine entertainment—the kind that movies were originally invented for. Young Dakota Blue Richards is a dandy heroine, the plucky kind of girl who advances quickly from facing down neighborhood bullies on her street to facing down vicious warriors and talking polar bears in frozen wasteland. Thanks to the state of the art of technical effects, this fantasy world comes alive in a way that wasn’t really possible just a few short years ago. In that regard—in fact in almost every regard—this movie is like The Chronicles of Narnia, right down to its attendant religious kerfuffle. My cynical side makes me suspect that this is not entirely a coincidence. Just as it seemed to me that The Bourne Ultimatum and Live Free or Die Hard were essentially the same movie but aimed at different politically-inclined market segments, the Narnia and His Dark Materials movie series seem like they’re the same flicks but aimed, respectively, at the religious and irreligious. [Related commentary] (Seen 16 December 2007)

Goldeneye 1 out of 4 stars

There is something comforting in being told the same story over and over. That’s why children make you read their favorite books to them again and again and correct you if you get anything wrong. Practically every James Bond movie is the same exact film, so it becomes a question of: how well did they tell the story this time? (Answer: the best in quite a while.) In watching Pierce Brosnan’s delayed maiden outing as 007, one is reminded that Bond really was a direct precursor to contemporary action movies, and the series can only benefit from the latest technology. (The opening sequence is great, and there is a pretty cool car-tank chase through St. Petersburg later on.) But, as one NPR reviewer has noted, cultured Europeans like Bond are now usually the bad guys in American movies like Die Hard where the hero is a beer-guzzling blue-collar type. In a way, James Bond is the cinematic equivalent of Playboy magazine. What once seemed cool and sophisticated is eventually revealed as pure adolescent fantasy. But, hey, it’s still fun to go back and take a peek every now and then! (Seen 17 November 1995)

Goldfinger 2 out of 4 stars

I would have been a bit too young to be brought to see this hit James Bond movie when it first came out, but I have a vivid memory of my teenage brother coming home from a night out and excitedly telling me all about it. That was really my first introduction to the James Bond character and, in my mind anyway, this was the breakthrough movie that made the British master spy a pop culture icon. By this third installment in the movie series, the formula was well set. But, as with the previous two outings, the plot seems fairly tame by later 007 standards. The titular villain (embodied piggishly by German actor Gert Fröbe) isn’t a madman with an underground lair bent on world conquest. He is merely a ruthless gold magnate who does not suffer people getting in his way. When he has a comely female lackey memorably dispatched while in Bond’s company, our hero undertakes a vendetta that leads to the uncovering of an ambitious plan to compromise Fort Knox. In addition to one of the most distinctive villains in the series, this movie makes a couple of other major contributions: the aforementioned woman killed by being painted in gold and the, ahem, gold standard in Bond girl names, Pussy Galore, incarnated by then-star of The Avengers Honor Blackman. (Seen 10 March 2012)

Goldfish Memory 3 out of 4 stars

Not to worry, this isn’t some memoir about a beloved childhood pet. It’s a sophisticated modern romantic comedy along the lines of They All Laughed or About Adam. The title refers to one character’s oft-repeated assertion that a goldfish can only remember the previous three seconds, explaining why it doesn’t die of boredom swimming around a bowl. A similar principle ostensibly explains why people keep falling in love despite all their previous bad experiences. So the film is in the end a celebration of the trials and tribulations and highs and lows of all kinds of lovers. Writer/director Liz Gill is scrupulous in ensuring that every gender combination of lovers is included, with many of the characters willingly switch-hitting as they move from one partner to the next. In this film, Catholic Ireland is an extremely open-minded and politically correct place (or at least its capital is), where same-gender relationships raise fewer eyebrows than serial dating the student body of Trinity College. Much of the film’s pleasure comes from watching attractive people combining and recombining in intimate relationships, but its theme of romantic hope triumphing over hard experience is also very welcome. Sean Campion is particularly convincing as the professor who finds, nearly from one day to the next, that he has become too old to keep on dating his students. (Seen 11 July 2003)

Gone to Earth 2 out of 4 stars

There is a story behind this 1950 movie. It was directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the legendary British team which did a slew of highly regarded movies like The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus. It was produced by Hollywood’s David Selznick and stars Jennifer Jones, who was to become Mrs. Selznick. Mr. Selznick had artistic differences with the directors, however, and ended up re-shooting a lot of the movie and releasing it in the U.S. as The Wild Heart. So the film festival presented a rare opportunity to see the English version. Technically, the film cannot be faulted. The story, however, was met with some derision by the audience. Somewhat reminiscent of Wuthering Heights, it concerns a wild gypsy girl named Hazel who, in a fit of anger against her father, vows to marry the first man who proposes. The lucky guy turns out to be the parson, who is not exactly exciting. Meanwhile, the squire (a dastardly cad who all but twirls his mustache) has a hypnotic attraction for Hazel. This film proves once again that old movie maxim (which I’ve just made up): if a bottomless pit is introduced in the first reel, someone will surely fall into it in the last reel. (Seen 4 June 1987)

Gonggongeui Jeok (Public Enemy) 2 out of 4 stars

It’s hard to know what to make of this Korean police thriller cum comedy by Kang Woo-Seok. The hero, if you can call him that, is the proverbial law enforcement loose cannon. But he is so far off the law-and-order scale that he is a virtual parody of a rogue cop. Detective Kang has been so busy for 12 years collecting bribes and beating people up that he has never made a single arrest. But then, pressured by an internal affairs investigation as well as a personal vendetta against a yuppie serial killer, he suddenly begins seeking justice—with a vengeance. It’s as though a cop from a Police Academy movie were on the trail of American Psycho. There is a definite nod to an entire history of Hollywood flicks about cops who who rub everyone, including their superiors, the wrong way because they alone know how to catch an impossibly super-human villain. But even Clint Eastwood never had to solve a case after being busted to traffic cop, as Kang has to. The movie provides some gut-wrenching thrills, as well as confirming what we’ve always suspected about fund managers. (Seen 10 March 2003)

Gonin 3 out of 4 stars

If you have been entertaining any thoughts at all about ripping off the Yakuza (Japanese mafia), seeing this film will certainly dissuade you. This is essentially a caper film that bears a passing resemblance to The Usual Suspects. Five men (one’s an ex-cop), all down on their luck in one way or another, come together to pull off one big score. But there the similarities end. This film, directed by Ishii Takashi, is so damned stylish that it takes a good 15 or 20 minutes to even figure out what’s going on. After that, it’s just a matter of seeing things work their way to their inevitable, bloody conclusion. But nothing happens quite the way you expect it to. And the imagery is truly haunting. While the world already has a few too many gangster films, this one is quite well done. (Seen 20 May 1996)

Gonin II 2 out of 4 stars

One of my favorite films at the last Seattle film festival was a stylistic and violent Yakuza flick called Gonin. Unfortunately, my friend Darlene and I were about the only ones who liked it. So imagine my excitment when I saw that there was a sequel in this year’s festival! Then imagine my consternation when Ishii Takashi’s directing style turned out to be very different this time around. Rather than enigmatic MTV-style photography and elliptic plot development, this time we have a more conventionally told gangster story. Again, the plot involves a group taking on the Yakuza, but this time they are all women who all happen to be in a jewelry store when the Yakuza rob it. On the spur of the moment they join together to rip off the mob. At least the action is satisfying in a Hong Kong sort of way. Or as my friend Michael said of the main characters, “They have this Energizer bunny/Charlie’s Angels/Wild Bunch thing going.” (Seen 25 May 1997)

Good bye, Lenin! 3 out of 4 stars

This is one hit European movie that won’t quickly be snapped up by Hollywood to be remade in America. (If it is, the hero will probably be played by Toby Maguire, although the star Daniel Brühl is actually a dead ringer for Matthew Lawrence.) The film’s premise is one that pretty much only works in Germany, circa 1989-90. The plot sounds like a wacky idea that Hollywood might have indeed come up with. A Berlin woman, a strong supporter of the East German government, goes into a coma just before the Berlin Wall is about to fall. When she wakes up months later, the doctors say that a bad shock could kill her. So her devoted son goes about creating the fiction that East Germany still exists and is in fact flourishing. This provides ample avenues for laughs, not to mention a fair amount of nostalgia for former East Germans. But the film is way more than that. It is a wistful and emotional elegy for a state that no longer exists and which, after all, was founded on some pretty high ideals—even if they weren’t actually realized. By the end of the film, we realize that young Alex Kerner has been creating the fiction of a triumphant East Germany even more for himself than for his mother. (His elderly neighbors also come to see the Kerners’ apartment as an oasis from a scary new reality.) And when Alex meets the father he hasn’t seen for years (but who was living just a few miles away in West Berlin), we also experience the tragedy, injustice and estrangement caused by the division of Germany. This is one of the deftest mixtures of comedy and melancholic regret we have seen in some time. (Seen 10 July 2003)

Good Bye Solo 3 out of 4 stars

Here is an excellent example of how a “small” movie by a single young filmmaker about friendship and mortality can put big Hollywood movies like The Bucket List to shame. In a chat after the screening, writer/director Bahareh Azimi, in asking the audience to spread word of mouth, joked that his film would get little attention because it doesn’t star Will Smith and Gene Hackman. The sad thing is that a Hollywood remake of this lovely gem probably would. Filmed in Azimi’s native Winston-Salem, North Carolina, it stars Senegal-born actor Souleymane Sy Savane as the titular Solo, an outgoing and friendly cab driver with hopes of improving his lot. He insinuates himself in the life of one of his fares, a crusty old man named William who has organized well in advance a one-way journey to a steep drop-off in the mountains. William is memorably played by Red West, who was a boyhood pal of Elvis Presley and later his bodyguard and then a stuntman and actor. After scores of TV and movie roles, this is his first star turn, and he is an impressive, grizzled screen presence. The story of these two men is moving but not maudlin and speaks volumes about the human need for connection. (Seen 13 October 2008)

Goodbye Charlie 2 out of 4 stars

When the premise of a movie is a murder victim coming back in a different body, you would reasonably expect the story to be about bringing the killer to justice. But this Vincente Minnelli movie is really about the culture and mores of early 1960s Hollywood, so we find that not only does everyone know who killed Charlie but nobody much cares. Even the victim himself doesn’t seem to hold much of a grudge. Instead, in the best of eastern religious tradition, Charlie has been returned so that he can learn and better himself, but the opportunity is wasted. Reborn in the body of a very healthy looking Debbie Reynolds (barely in her 30s when she made this) Charlie goes about what he does best: seduce. But this time he is doing it for money rather than pleasure. His/her potential targets include his own killer (Walter Matthau, as a Hungarian producer, shamelessly sporting the strangest accent you’ve ever heard) and Pat Boone, playing totally to type as a wealthy white bread scion. The fact that the story, drawn from a play by George Axelrod, is more about social criticism than farce explains why the movie is completely overshadowed by star Tony Curtis’s other, and superior, gender-bender, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot. In 1964 the idea of a straight man finding himself attracted to a woman with the soul of his male best friend may have been plenty provocative, but time has not been kind to the gimmick. In the end, the supernatural angle seems wasted. If you have trouble figuring out why Franny looks so familiar, it’s because it’s Ellen Burstyn, in her big screen debut, working under the name McRae. Boone gets the best line: “I’m not a teetotaler. Not on special occasions. Mother’s birthday. When a Republican president’s inaugurated.” (Seen 5 November 2010)

Good Dick 2 out of 4 stars

They say there’s someone for everybody, and this movie certainly makes the case for that aphorism. The young woman played by writer/director Marianna Palka seems bound and determined to have no one in her life. And the young man played by her real-life boyfriend Jason Ritter (son of John) seems, for some reason, equally determined to have her in his life. She is a regular renter of porn tapes in the Los Angeles video store where he works. It is the kind of place where the young staff spend their free time commenting on each others’ lives, discussing the coming apocalypse and using the word “dude” a lot. There are a number of amusing bits and some genuinely moving ones. Anyone who has ever pursued a relationship against tough resistance will certainly relate, although I would say that few go to the lengths that Ritter does. In the end, this is a contemporary fairy tale, and as usual the damsel needs to be rescued. Watch for a nice cameo by Charles Durning. Most inexplicably funny line: “It’s a Scottish movie.” (Seen 18 October 2008)

The Good Girl 2 out of 4 stars

I’ve read several articles that tell how Jennifer Aniston had to work really hard to learn how to slump her shoulders for this role. She does a pretty good jump of slumping, but you don’t really notice because Jake Gyllenhaal does an even better job. With this and Donnie Darko, he really has that not-quite-mentally-right-young-man thing down really well. And with this and Lovely & Amazing, he really has that bedding-a-bored-older-woman thing down really well too. Directed by Miguel Arteta, this Madame-Bovary-in-a-small-Texas-town story has a lot of truths in it. (I can personally attest that telling-a-woman-you’re-a-writer thing actually does work sometimes.) The early scenes establishing Aniston’s boredom with her life could easily be an American version of a Mike Leigh film. But Aniston’s wacky coworkers (Zooey Deschanel is very good as a young woman who does her best to keep things interesting) also tend to make this feel like a sitcom. (Seen 12 October 2002)

Good Morning, Babylon 2 out of 4 stars

This U.S.-French-Italian co-production is a loving homage to films and filmmaking and to being brothers and to being Italian. Which is only natural since it is made by two filmmaking Italian brothers. Paolo and Vittorio Traviani have made Padre, Padrone, Night of the Shooting Stars, and Kaos. Their films always seem just a little bit magical, almost like a fairy tale, even when dealing with the most common of events. The story concerns two brothers who leave Italy for America in the early part of this century, hoping to make enough money to save their family’s business. The family, consisting of dad and seven sons, are all craftsmen. They restore beautiful Romanesque cathedrals. In America, the brothers don’t find any Romanesque cathedrals to restore, but they do wind up in Hollywood building sets for legendary filmmaker D.W. Griffith (played by Charles Dance, who was Meryl Streep’s husband in Plenty, but probably got seen by more people as the bad guy in The Golden Child). They help build the sets for Griffith’s Intolerance, a film telling four different stories that demonstrate the futility of war (and making up for The Birth of a Nation, which didn’t exactly go a long way toward furthering civil rights). The secret to the brothers’ success is their commitment to being equal in everything. But when that equality is upset, all hell breaks loose. In fact, World War I breaks loose. The parallels are clear. The Tavianis consider filmmaking as worthy an art as the cathedrals in Italy. And people are only going to go on making the art as long as they don’t destroy it through war and intolerance. And that’s only possible as long as we are all brothers (or sisters too, I suppose) and agree that we are equals. Vincent Spano, who previously has mainly played teenagers (Baby, It’s You, Rumble Fish, Creator) does a nice turn as one of the brothers. This is another lovely film from the Tavianis. (Seen 7 June 1987)

Good Night, and Good Luck. 2 out of 4 stars

After (finally) watching this movie, I came out of the cinema needing a smoke and scotch. That’s the kind of movie it is. If All the President’s Men (which this film emulates in theme, if not in style) was journalism history dressed up as a 1970s paranoid thriller, then this flick is journalism history dressed up as a 1950s paranoid film noir. As director, George Clooney evokes the era brilliantly in black and white with stark lighting, attention to detail and the contrived but welcome presence and jazz stylings of singer Dianne Reeves. The term “McCarthyism” entered the language long ago, although many people who throw the term around at times seem to have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, exactly what Senator Joseph McCarthy did. This movie provides a history lesson, although we understandably find out much more about Edward R. Murrow and his CBS colleagues than about McCarthy. This raises the question: why hasn’t someone like Oliver Stone already made a movie about the infamous Wisconsin senator? Clooney clearly intended to draw a parallel between the McCarthy era and our own time but, in America’s current polarized political culture, it is hard to imagine the country being cowed by a such a demagoguing politician. In the 1950s there weren’t 10 million bloggers, ready to jump on every public utterance by a politician or a journalist. (To their chagrin, CBS and The New York Times, which are deservedly the heroes of this particular story, learned that when they offered up a demonstrably bogus memo as part of a story about President Bush’s National Guard service.) Many people are nostalgic for a time when 1) journalists showed backbone and took on powerful figures and 2) everyone believed everything journalists said. Unfortunately, the press could not credibly do both simultaneously for long and, besides, people only like an aggressive, advocate press when they happen to agree with it. There is much, much more to say on this topic, and maybe I will get around to it one of these days. In the meantime, it is worth remembering what Hollywood was doing back in those days. To be sure, there were some thoughtful and powerful movies in the 1950s, but what many of us remember is that, coinciding more or less with the Communist witch hunt, there was a bunch of a paranoid scifi flicks about Martians and pod people taking over people’s minds and threatening our existence. See, George, Hollywood isn’t always out of touch with the rest of the country! [Related commentary] (Seen 14 March 2006)

Good Vibrations 3 out of 4 stars

I always promise myself that I’m not going to watch any more movies about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They’re just too depressing and I get tired of being on edge waiting for the next bomb to go off or the next hail of bullets. But this one is different and well worth seeing. It’s the story of a real person, Terri Hooley, who found his own way to bridge the divide in sectarian ravaged Belfast. Hooley is the sort of man that you thank God that he exists, while at the same time thanking God that you are not married to him and that you are not his business partner. The son of a perennially failed Socialist candidate, Hooley seems to have inherited a stubborn independent streak and had no interest in choosing sides in Northern Ireland’s strife. Instead, he had only a passion for music. We follow his course as a club DJ (watching his work dry up because people stopped going out) and then a record shop owner. His Good Vibrations shop became a Belfast legend, as it became a magnet for punk musicians and fans who did not care about anybody’s religion or politics. His promotion of local musicians led him to personally release their music on records. His biggest coup was releasing the first record for the Derry band The Undertones—although in typical fashion he wound up giving it away (almost literally) for a song. At times the movie ticks all too obviously the boxes on the musical biopic template, but directors Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros d’Sa give us a story that is funny and optimistic without making much more of it than it actually was. At the Galway Film Fleadh screening, we got to see Hooley himself and his reaction made clear that the film had hit close enough to home as a portrait and as a story. It also made clear that Richard Dormer, who played him, caught him dead on. (Seen 14 July 2012)

Good Will Hunting 3 out of 4 stars

If you’ve been wondering why this Matt Damon guy has succeeded Matthew McConaughey as the magazine cover boy du jour, you can get a pretty good idea by seeing Good Will Hunting. This is a much better place to see his work than in The Rainmaker. By comparison his Will Hunting character makes his earnest young John Grisham lawyer look like the two-dimensional cardboard cutout it is. And in Good Will Hunting, it isn’t just Damon’s acting talent that is on display. He wrote the screenplay with his good buddy Ben Affleck, who had the lead in Chasing Amy and who here (imaginatively enough) plays the good buddy. Damon turns in an impressive performance, evidenced by the fact that he holds his own with Robin Williams, playing an older, burned-out version of his Dead Poets Society teacher. The director is Gus Van Sant, but this is not quite like anything he has done before; his familiarity with troubled youth and young male bonding (e.g. My Own Private Idaho) definitely gives the film resonance. This flick is light years better than Phenomenon or Powder, which it sort of resembles. And it is one of those rare films that will appeal both to men (a fair amount of drinking and swearing) and to women (some hugging and crying). And it just might be the first film where we hear Minnie Driver using her own accent. (Seen 10 December 1997)

A Good Year 3 out of 4 stars

If you are looking for surprises out of left field and unexpected plot twists, then this is probably not your movie. In fact, if you have seen even one romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. (You know the drill: events and people cause charming but self-absorbed English twit to readjust his shallow priorities.) But this is way better than a Hugh Grant movie because 1) it doesn’t have Hugh Grant in it and 2) it is lovingly filmed in Provence. It is based on a novel by Peter Mayle, who spurred hordes of Anglophone readers to flock to southern France with his memoir A Year in Provence. This movie is likely to propel another wave. How strange that this lovely movie is made by the same director/star team that gave us Gladiator, Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Surprisingly, Crowe is quite good, in the dapper romantic hero tradition of the two Grants (Cary and Hugh). The real star of the film, however, is Provence, with its glowing landscapes and its way of life, both real and mythic—as well as the eternal cultural love/hate relationship between the English and the French. Albert Finney is on hand as the beloved uncle who leaves the château to Crowe, and Freddie Highmore plays Crowe’s character as a child. It’s a testament to the charm of this flick that, even though it was my third movie of the day, I simply didn’t want it to end. (Seen 13 October 2006)

Goodbye Christopher Robin 2 out of 4 stars

Is it true that, as my kid pointed out, all movies with “goodbye” in the title are invariably tearjerkers? This one certainly is. More specifically, it is the kind of movie in which, for most of its running time, the characters annoy you quite a lot but, in the last stretch, you cannot keep the tears from welling up. Is that good storytelling or just good manipulation? It is the kind of nicely photographed movie that makes you desperately wish you could live in an Edwardian English country house but simultaneously makes you hate Edwardian England. It is interesting that a film, which dissects and more or less obliterates the early twentieth century notion of what it meant to be English, features as its central couple an Irish actor and an Australian one. No wonder Christopher Robin was destined for such a difficult adolescence. His father is General Hux from Star Wars and his mother is Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad. Fortunately for Billy Moon, his lovely nanny is that nice school girl from Trainspotting. We begin by wanting to root for Domhnall Gleeson’s Alan, fresh from the war and shell-shocked to hell, and Margot Robbie’s Daphne, doing her best to bring him back to normality. But they quickly lose us with characterizations that feel more like score-settling than illumination. The one enduring light in all of it is Kelly Macdonald’s Olive the nanny. She is the heart, soul and conscience of the movie. The performance of young Will Tillston in the title role is nothing short of impressive and his eyes haunt you long after. Unfortunately, writers Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan insist on using him a bit too much as their own mouthpiece. In the end, this is a cautionary tale about the repercussions of celebrity, especially where children are involved. Though the people depicted have since passed on, in a strange way this interesting and touching movie by UK TV director Simon Curtis feels strangely like one more violation of little Billy Moon’s privacy. (Seen 30 October 2017)

Goodbye Mr. Chips 2 out of 4 stars

There is something about people trying to make musicals of James Hilton’s novels. They certainly make for good movies. After all, Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon and Sam Wood’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips (starring Robert Donat) are classics. The 1973 musical version of Lost Horizon is a different story altogether. At least the musical version of Mr. Chips, released four years earlier, wasn’t as bad. Actually, the 1969 version, starring the magnificent Peter O’Toole, barely seemed like a musical at all. The songs aren’t really integrated into the story except as occasional musings of the characters—and one big stage production featuring co-star Petula Clark. That leaves the movie, directed by Herbert Ross and adapted by Terence Rattigan, feeling not quite like a real musical but not really a non-musical. There are times when one wishes they had gone all the way and cast Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the lead roles. But, no, they would have been better off to play it all straight like the 1939 film. The movie is most definitely not a waste of time. (Watching O’Toole never is.) His delivery of the lines of the bookish, anal retentive title character is always a delight. But it all feels a bit too predictable and a bit too inevitable. Also making the movie worthwhile is O’Toole’s then-wife Siân Phillips, who steals all her scenes as Clark’s outrageous actor friend. (Seen 9 July 2008)

The Goonies 2 out of 4 stars

Seven years after he directed the first Superman movie, two years before he made the first Lethal Weapon movie and three years before he directed Scrooged, Richard Donner made this jolly kids adventure movie under the auspices of Steven Spielberg and with a screenplay by Home Alone/Harry Potter maven Chris Columbus. The movie is as much fun as that makes it sound, although there is some strange dragging of the pace toward the end, just when things should be the most exciting. The cast of kids (featuring then ubiquitous Corey Feldman and future Hobbit Sean Astin) harks back to the days of Our Gang and Little Rascals, with a very young Josh Brolin as the hunky older brother. The imposing Anne Ramsey (Throw Momma from the Train), Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliani make a dandy trio of villains. Just to make sure the movie appealed to kids, the filmmakers loaded it up with regular gross-out gags and a fair amount of swearing. More than those movies starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar, this one actually captures the spirit of the old Scooby-Doo cartoons. All that and photogenic Astoria, Oregon, too. (Seen 27 December 2008)

Gosford Park 3 out of 4 stars

When Ian McKellen stepped up to the podium at the Golden Globes (unfortunately not to receive one himself), he quipped that he was the only British actor not to appear in Gosford Park. It nearly seems to be true, although I had thought that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had cornered the market on well-established British acting talent. What’s amazing is the fact that there is so little overlap (with the notable exception of Maggie Smith and the less notable exception of Geraldine Somerville) between the large casts of the two films. Of course, apart from their sprawling Brit casts (with a couple of Yanks in Gosford Park), the films have nothing at all in common, except the fact that they were both directed by Americans. When I first read about Gosford Park, I thought it might be essentially an English variation on Robert Altman’s under-appreciated, eccentric-character-populated tale of intrigue, conniving and sudden death, Cookie’s Fortune. And that’s definitely one way to view it. Another way is as an homage to all those British TV exports that so many Americans have become addicted to, the way earlier generations of non-Americans became addicted to westerns. Indeed, this could pass as an Agatha Christy adaptation, except that instead of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, we get a very droll Stephen Fry, as the most inept detective since Inspector Clouseau. Another way to see this film is as an acting showcase. And who comes out on top? Ms. Smith stands out for having and executing many of the best lines. But any acting prize would have to go to Helen Mirren, who is impeccable as the coldly efficient, perfect head housekeeper. In the end, she makes the most of the best (if not flashiest) role of the piece. (Seen 29 January 2002)

Gothic 2 out of 4 stars

Altered States early 19th century style. Ken Russell’s latest. Ostensibly about the night Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley and a couple of other people got together to tell ghost stories. Things get out of hand. Ghosts. Vomit. Leeches. Homosexuality. Heterosexuality. Bisexuality. Drugs. Food. Dead babies. This one has it all. A wonderful film for the whole family. (Seen 16 May 1987)

Grace of Monaco 1 out of 4 stars

What could have been more propitious? Three years ago the Opening Night film at the Festival de Cannes was a star-studded movie set just down the road in the principality of Monaco. It starred Nicole Kidman and Tim Roth and celebrated relatively recent film as well as royal history. The result, as regularly happens at the world’s most famous film fest, was a lot of booing. Was this flick really that bad? Allow me to damn it with faint praise by saying that I have seen worse. It’s actually fairly respectable as a guilty pleasure but probably not guilty enough. What were director Olivier Dahan and screenwriter Arash Amel thinking? The film begins with Grace Kelly finishing her final role, To Catch a Thief for Alfred Hitchcock, and then proceeds to place Kelly in her own Hitchcock movie, presumably one adapted from Daphne du Maurier and with Parker Posey as creepy Mrs. Danvers. Things evolve into some sort of espionage thriller as the 1962 diplomatic tussle with France over Monaco’s tax haven status is hyped up as a high-stakes conflict risking outright armed hostilities. There is also a bit of a detour into My Fair Lady territory with Derek Jacobi as Profressor Higgins. Various famous people—Roger Ashton Griffiths as Hitchcock, André Penvern as Charles de Gaulle, Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Onassis, Paz Vegas as Maria Callas, Philip Delancy as Robert McNamara—come and go. Not of it feels real for a moment. In fairness, the filmmakers acknowledge at the outset that this is a fictionalized narrative, so maybe they would have been better off heightening the absurdity even more. Then again, maybe not. As it is, they are stuck in an uncanny valley where the characters are too real to be pure plastic but not real enough to invest in their story. (Seen 18 June 2017)

Grace of My Heart 2 out of 4 stars

Grace of My Heart isn’t just like an old-fashioned movie. It’s like three old-fashioned movies. It’s reminiscent of those old musicals about energetic songwriters on Tin Pan Alley. By the end, it’s like one of those fawning TV movie-of-the-week biographies—even though its protagonist, Denise Waverly, is fictitious. Oh yeah, and it’s a smidgen like A Star Is Born. This is Allison (Gas Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca) Anders’s affectionate homage to women pop songwriters of the late 1950s and 1960s, and it definitely has nostalgic charm. Illeana Douglas, a wonderful actress whose face would seem to relegate her to wisecracking best friend roles, makes the most of the lead as a Philadelphia heiress who matures into an artist with social consciousness. John Turturro (who eerily resembles Ron Silver on the old Rhoda TV series) is her abrasive but lovable boss/mentor. Matt Dillon is on hand as a Brian/Dennis Wilson composite. (Seen 27 September 1996)

La Gran final (The Great Match) 3 out of 4 stars

The landscapes are exotic, breathtaking and majestic and represent the kind of cinematography that we are used to seeing in historical epics. But the humor and incongruity in coexisting cultures are reminiscent of the art house comedy hit The Gods Must Be Crazy. Directed by the Spaniard Gerardo Olivares the movie tells three simultaneous stories about men in far-flung corners of the globe going to some bit of trouble to see the final match of the 2002 World Cup, which was played between Germany and Brazil. In Mongolia, a group of nomads “borrow” power from an electrical line for their television and must contend with the authorities, who happen upon them. In the sandy desert of Niger, men in a camel caravan make a deal with the driver of a (sort of) bus to detour to, not a tree, but a tall monument that marks where a tree once stood, to use it as an antenna for their telly. And, in the Amazon rain forest, a group of tribesmen go to great lengths to get a satellite dish to work from a tree before being forced to find another TV to watch. In one of the most amusing of many funny moments, they approach a supposedly American missionary (the most obese actor that could be found, obviously) who drinks Coca-Cola and can’t be bothered to switch his TV from a baseball game. The movie is fascinating for the glimpses it gives us of worlds we rarely, if ever see, in the movies, and it makes us feel that, for one day every four years anyway, soccer really does bring the world together. (Seen 14 July 2006)

The Grand Budapest Hotel 3 out of 4 stars

What to make of Wes Anderson? After a while, his films start to seem like a series of holidays with his friends. He finds great locations and/or builds great sets and then populates with them his personal rotating virtual repertory company of actors, even if his most regular collaborators—in this case Owen Wilson and Bill Murray—have mere walk-ons. But the fun that exudes from these projects is deceptive. What seems effortless and throw-away on closer examination turns out to be the obvious product of laborious planning and work. In this movie particularly, the attention to detail is astonishing. Yes, there is a (deliberate) artificiality to the sets, the story and even at times the acting. But it’s all of a piece with the prevailing designs of the main time and place depicted (middle Europe in 1932). Even the narrative structure is the equivalent of a set of Russian nesting dolls—a flashback within a flashback within a book being read by a young woman. The ultimate effect is feeling as though we have spent 100 minutes ingesting a treat as light and as elaborate as one of Mendl’s pastries. It’s all also very funny and strangely satisfying. In the standout role in a large cast of familiar faces (some of which are made unfamiliar) is Ralph Fiennes, who is a comic revelation as the ultimate concierge cum flexible gigolo. Inexplicably, part of the charm is the fact that with no apparent concern for consistency the sprawling international cast, for the most part, use their own British/American/French/Irish accents. (Seen 29 June 2014)

The Grand Seduction 2 out of 4 stars

The setup is not unlike that of the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure: a yuppie doctor is forced to serve time in a very remote and picturesque corner of North America. But whereas the TV show was about how the town changed the young doctor, this movie is about how a depressed harbor is changed by everyone finding a purpose in working together to seduce a young plastic surgeon to be their local GP in order to attract a new factory. A Hollywood movie might have made the doctor our point-of-view character as it observed the quirky locals, and his flirtation with the local postmistress would have been the main plot point. But this is not only a Canadian film but one that is a remake of a 2003 French language Canadian film, so we are never quite sure what to expect. Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero comes to mind. The helmer is actor and sometime director (the memorable Last Night) Don McKellar. Dublin’s own Brendan Gleeson plays the local ringleader in a manner not unlike his criminal turn in The General, and Canada’s acting icon Gordon Pinsent (Away from Her) steals scenes—and gets the best laughs—with mere looks and quick observations. The object of the seduction is British Columbia’s Taylor Kitsch, who is like a fresh-faced Ryan Reynolds who hasn’t yet worn out his welcome. Part of the unexpected charm is the film’s eschewing of the usual narrative tropes. The comely postmistress has little to do with whether the doctor stays or not. Welfare payments only crush the souls of the dole recipients. And the big petrochemical company is not evil but a savior. (Seen 11 July 2014)

Grand Theft Parsons 2 out of 4 stars

This is a flick I had been wanting to see for a long time. The late country-rocker Gram Parsons has all the prerequisites for legend-dom, and it’s strange that he hasn’t been immortalized to the same extent as, say, James Dean or Elvis, or at least Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix. After all, he was very talented, had a major fan base during his life, was wild-living and good-looking and, most importantly, he died young. He seemed long over-due for a film treatment, and this movie deals with one of the odder and most legendary parts of his life: the part right after it ended. In 1973, Parsons expired at the age of 26, after a drug and drink binge in Joshua Tree, California. Apparently, acting on a wish once stated by Parsons, his road manager Phil Kaufman and a friend managed to spirit Parson’s body away from Los Angeles International Airport and bring it back to Joshua Tree for an improvised ritual burning. The story is downright mythic in 20th century music history, so it is a bit of a let-down that this movie by David Caffrey (the Irish director who made Divorcing Jack and On the Nose) makes the whole incident a fairly standard caper comedy. It doesn’t help that we learn precious little about Parsons himself or what there was about his brief life that would inspire such a bizarre tribute. Johnny Knoxville (of Jackass fame) plays Kaufman, and Christina Applegate has the blonde bitch role as Parson’s scheming girlfriend. Robert Forster turns in a dignified performance as Parson’s father, although in real life it was actually Parsons’s stepfather who was trying to bring Parsons’s body to Louisiana, for less sentimental reasons than portrayed here. (Seen 17 December 2004)

Grande École 2 out of 4 stars

The longer we watch this 2004 movie, the more obvious it becomes that it is adapted from a play. This is not only because of the amount of prolonged conversation but because the ideas are laid out and presented in such a schematic and organized way. The title refers not only to the Grandes Écoles (of roughly equivalent status in France to Ivy League schools in the U.S. and Oxbridge in Britain) but also to its literal meaning of “big school.” In a flashback to his primary school days, the protagonist Paul is seen being teased by some of his father’s workmen about whether he is going to big school or little school. By the beginning of the film’s narrative, Paul (Grégori Baquet) has indeed been accepted into one of les Grandes Écoles, an elite business school, even though his heart really lies in the liberal arts. This is not the only way he is being untrue to himself—or maybe just very adaptable. Though he has a girlfriend who would prefer him to live with her, he insists on rooming with two other guys because, frankly, he has the hots for one of them. As if that is not complicated enough, he also begins an affair with a young Arab workman (as played by Salim Kechiouche, the only truly sympathetic character of the piece), reminiscent of the ones who teased him when he was a schoolboy. This sets us up not only for some artfully explicit and varied sex scenes but also for the inevitably profound gallic soul searching—or at least posturing—about class, gender, politics and young adult angst in general. When Paul’s girlfriend Agnès (Alice Taglioni) proposes a wager over who can seduce his hot roommate Louis-Arnault (Jocelyn Quivrin) first, we feel we are in the territory of Dangerous Liaisons—or at least that of its 1999 update Cruel Intentions. There is something antiseptic about it all. While there are lust and urges at every turn, there is precious little passion. Worse, by the end, despite the academic setting, the characters seem to have done precious little growing or learning. Jean-Marie Besset co-adapted the screenplay from his play along with director Robert Salis. (Seen 16 August 2017)

Grease 2 out of 4 stars

The Missus said something interesting after we saw the 20th anniversary re-release of Grease. She opined, “I think I liked the first one better.” Even though this wasn’t actually a remake, she has a point. Grease is a much different movie in 1998 than it was in 1978. Its attraction always was (and still is) the schmaltzy 1950s-style songs and the loopily energetic dance numbers—sort of a latter-day Bye Bye Birdie with a nod to West Side Story and a wink at (the non-musical) Rebel Without a Cause. What was different then, however, was that people (stoked by American Graffiti and Happy Days) couldn’t get enough of the lame stretches between musical numbers featuring supposed leather jacket cool. Ironically, what had been threatening and dangerous in its time was now a comforting, nostalgic reminder of a more innocent time! But is Grease supposed to make us nostalgic for the 1950s, which it was lampooning, or for the 1970s, when popular musical tastes became flashy but simplistic? In any event, the movie is still harmless fun. (Seeing it again certainly beats seeing Grease 2.) And, more than getting an early look at John Travolta, it’s worthwhile for getting some of our last looks at the likes of Eve Arden and Joan Blondell. (Seen 22 July 1998)

Great Expectations 1 out of 4 stars

If William Shakespeare can be modernized, moved to Florida and made into a date movie for the ‘90s, then why not Charles Dickens? But if Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is MTV, then Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations is definitely VH1. As the young Finn (Pip in the novel), Jeremy James Kissner brings a youthful charm not unlike Ethan Hawke’s in Joe Dante’s 1985 movie Explorers. Unfortunately, as the adult Finn, Hawke runs the gamut from dim to obnoxious so that next to him Gwyneth Paltrow’s snobbish Estella doesn’t seem all that bad—even if she has grown up to get engaged to Michael Kinsley’s clone. Robert De Niro pops up (literally) as a kinder, gentler version of the homicidal maniac he played in Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake. And Anne Bancroft gets to chew scenery as (more or less) Norma Desmond, making it possible for us to hear 50 different versions of the song Bésame Mucho. (Seen 30 January 1998)

The Great Gatsby [1974] 2 out of 4 stars

Every few decades we get an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s much praised novel. This was the third of four big screen versions (there was a TV movie starring Mira Sorvino and Toby Stephens in 2000), and until recently was the one that dominated in our mind. On paper it was perfect casting: the gorgeous but somewhat mysterious Robert Redford as Gatsby and soft-spoken waifish Mia Farrow as Daisy. The screenplay was by none other than Francis Ford Coppola, whose The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II came out the same year. Although it won Oscars (for costumes and music), it left a lot of people cold. The director was Englishman Jack Clayton, whose other notable films included Room at the Top and The Innocents, and he seems to have approached the proceedings as if he was chronicling the Edwardian Age rather than the Jazz Age. This movie is certainly more faithful to the novel (it includes a couple of key elements that Baz Luhrmann’s recent version annoyingly omitted, including the rather critical appearance of Gatsby’s father), but Luhrmann’s is arguably more in tune with the spirit of the book. Aside from occasional bursts of party scenes, the tone is staid in the manner of “quality” pictures of the time. In the end, although Redford and Farrow are perfect visually, they are both a bit too blank to engage us fully. More successful are the go-to psychopath of the time as Daisy’s husband (Bruce Dern) and the go-to crazy woman of the time as his mistress (Karen Black). Also well cast is Sam Waterston as the passive narrator and soon-to-be Bond girl Lois Chiles as Daisy’s slyly seductive friend Jordan. Also required to get a special mention here is the actor who plays Karen Black’s sister. It is Kathryn Leigh Scott in an all-too-rare big screen role. Her several roles on Dark Shadows included the oft-menaced Maggie Evans and future vampire Barnabas Collins’s doomed love Josette. (Seen 26 July 2013)

The Great Gatsby [2013] 3 out of 4 stars

When a novel is as highly lauded as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the conventional wisdom is that a movie version is doomed to failure because it cannot live up to the quality of the writing. But with this particular book, I think there is another hurdle that is hard to overcome. Gatsby is a bitter critique of a time and place when substance was in short supply and excess was in oversupply. It is not hard to see parallels between the Roaring Twenties and more recent boom and bust cycles, and this film version by Baz Luhrmann does a great job of making those parallels clear. The hurdle, though, is that, while a book can describe conspicuous consumption and lavish parties somewhat clinically, it may well be impossible for a visual medium like film to portray these things without seeming to celebrate them—in spite of an underlying message that it is all shallow and unequal. And no one does lavishness and excess quite like the Australian Luhrmann. So, in a strange way, what was meant to be an indictment of American society and its economic structure ends up becoming a celebration of those things. The villain is meant to be Joel Edgerton’s Tom Buchanan, but in the end he is just one more flawed character caught up in events out of control. The story itself is not particularly complicated, and its tragic ending is like something out of an opera. So who better to stage it than an opera impresario like Luhrmann? Yet despite the director’s reputation for lavishness (and red curtains), the film is not so much operatic but like a music video. Indeed, it occurred to me while watching it that you could eliminate the dialog and you’d have a dandy extended video for MTV. Yet, so much of Fitzgerald’s text has found its way into the soundtrack (in Tobey Maguire’s voiceover) that you could nearly release an audio-only version of the movie as a pretty good book on tape. And that would be fine, but what you miss with a book version is the treat of seeing a sheer spectacle. And that is how the film ultimately succeeds. Viewers born around 1980 may get additional pleasure out of the flick by pretending that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is named Jack and Carey Mulligan’s is Rose and that this is an improbable sequel to Titanic. (Seen 16 June 2013)

Green Lantern 2 out of 4 stars

Let’s be real. I know that super-heroes like Green Lantern and Flash have their devotees but, seriously, didn’t most of us buy those comics because we had extra change in our pocket and we already had all the Supermans and Batmans? Superman and Batman had well thought out backstories (i.e. origins), but concepts of later heroes were kind of lazy. Oh, he got his powers in a lab accident or, oh, an alien shows up with a magic ring. Green Lantern had the additional drawback that his magic (sorry, highly technically advanced alien technology) ring couldn’t just stop a bad guy with a blast of pure energy. It had to make a virtual giant hammer or shovel. This thinness of concept really shows up on the big screen. There’s also a mismatch between the scale of the framing story (super-beings protecting the whole gosh darn universe) and the hero’s personal story (inevitable father issues and romantic complications). Thor managed this kind of balance quite nicely. Green Lantern doesn’t. The one actor who manages to create a three-dimensional character is the chameleon-like Peter Sarsgaard in what is essentially the Harry Osborne role to Ryan Reynolds’s Peter Parker. Too bad his character’s part in all of this doesn’t make much sense. This isn’t the worst movie ever made, and New Zealand director Martin Campbell certainly did a fine job rebooting James Bond. But when it comes to adapting a comic book, he is clearly no Christopher Nolan or Sam Raimi. (Seen 19 June 2011)

The Green Mile 2 out of 4 stars

On New Year’s Day it seemed safe to come out of my Y2K bunker and see if the world had survived, and thankfully it had. That means it’s time to finally start catching up on all of the end-of-year movie releases. The critical opinion on The Green Mile has been sharply divided between those who love it and those who hate it. And it’s easy to see why. This flick does a job on the imagination and on the heartstrings in the best Hollywood tradition. And the creative team—Frank Darabont (director) and Stephen King (source novel)—is the same one that gave us The Shawshank Redemption, a sentimental favorite of mine since I saw it on my very first date with The Missus. But, while this prison movie has echoes of Darabont’s earlier one, it piles on a lot more movie reverberations from other films, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Birdman of Alcatraz and the deservedly less well known Powder. And by the time Gary Sinise shows up for a chat with Tom Hanks in their best Southern drawls, we can’t help think about Forrest Gump too. In the end, the film comes off like an elaborate indictment of capital punishment, but it’s a much more emotional and less reasoned one than the admirable Dead Man Walking. The Green Mile’s stirring power is undeniable, but its effect tends to fade afterward under the weight of logic. Could prison guards and death row prisoners really be this goofily lovable and convivial? The truth is that The Green Mile comes awfully close to doing for death row what Hogan’s Heroes did for Nazi war prisons. (Seen 1 January 2000)

Gremlins 3 out of 4 stars

This wonderful 1984 flick by Joe Dante made my famous list of five twisted Christmas not-quite-classics. It was an uproarious crowd pleaser when Dante previewed it at the Seattle International Film Festival. When I later brought a friend to see it at a suburban multiplex, which turned out to be mostly deserted, it didn’t have quite the same effect. It turned out that a lot of the fun was seeing it with a crowd—especially a crowd of enthusiastic movie fans. Still, the film holds up pretty well, even if the titular creatures look pretty puppet-y by modern CGI standards. This is because there is something basically satisfying about seeing filmed stunts in a flick like this over action that was clearly added in post-production. The setting is a strong nod to Frank Capra since Kingston Falls is a thinly veiled re-creation of It’s a Wonderful Life’s Bedford Falls. It even has its own Mr. Potter in the form of Polly Holliday (Flo from the sitcom Alice), who is in equal measure the Wicked Witch of the West. The film’s fundamental joke is set up by Dante regular Dick Miller, who describes the “gremlins” that got blamed for every problem in WWII military equipment. The gremlins here become literal saboteurs in a series of hilarious sight gags as well as standard horror movie setups. The best sequence is Frances Lee McCain’s battle with the creatures on her own turf, the kitchen, using every implement at her disposal, including the blender and the microwave. Also nice to see are bit parts for veteran character actor Harry Carey Jr. and legendary animator Chuck Jones, to whose work for Warner Bros. the movie pays tribute. Watch for a very young (but already heavily employed) Corey Feldman, on the cusp of his roles in The Goonies and Stand by Me. (Seen 2 January 2014)

The Groomsmen 2 out of 4 stars

Ever since Fellini’s I Vitelloni, it seems to be a given that every few years we will see on the big screen yet another generation of men trying to come to terms with how women, children, jobs and responsibility in general keep infringing on their youth, which was supposed to be eternal. The classic of the genre, for Americans anyway, is Barry Levinson’s Diner, and this movie may well remind you of that flick. This time the thirtysomethings coping with life are longing for their high school glory days in the 1980s. And they live in the working class Irish-American New York milieu that is familiar from earlier films written and directed by Edward Burns (The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One). Burns plays Paulie, whose wedding is fast approaching, as is the birth of his daughter. Not only is he having trouble accepting the major changes looming, but his four groomsmen have picked this already-stressful time to act out their own various emotional, medical and identity issues. Oh, yeah, and they’re getting the old rock band back together for the wedding. (The first of their old covers they try out for the occasion is Greg Kihn’s “The Breakup Song.”) Fortunately, the cast (including such familiar faces as John Leguizamo, Jay Mohr, Matthew Lillard and Brittany Murphy) is generally watch-able and keep things entertaining. But the plotting is a bit too schematic and the various plot strands get tied up a bit too neatly for this to be considered much more than a diverting comedy, punctuated with a few bits of drama. (Seen 20 February 2007)

Grosse Fatigue 2 out of 4 stars

Grosse Fatigue is not only the title of this movie, but it also describes my physical state after attending 40 film festival screenings in twelve days. Oh well, the festival is now halfway over, so I’ll just mainline some more espresso and keep on going. Anyway, Michel LeBlanc is a comic actor who is well known in France. Carole Bouquet is model/actor who first got noticed in the title role of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire and has been seen in other movies and lots of Chanel commercials. (She has an English speaking role in A Business Affair which was also seen in this festival.) LeBlanc and Bouquet play themselves in this silly comedy which LeBlanc directed. They clearly have a great time sending up their own screen personas as well as their public images. The premise is that someone is taking over LeBlanc’s life by pretending to be him. As LeBlanc’s nightmare becomes crazier and crazier, he and his double eventually trade places entirely. At one point he tries to get work as his own celebrity look-alike and is rejected. There are many hilarious bits in this movie, as well as cameos by lots of French film celebrities. The film also gets some good shots off at Hollywood and at Gerard Depardieu. (Ironically, this is one of the few French movies I have seen in 20 years that does not include the ubiquitous Depardieu.) The gags get kind of lame in the second half, but they are worth enduring for the film’s end which features unexpected appearances by Phillippe Noiret and Roman Polanski. The film ends on just the right note with a loving nod to French cinema. (Seen 30 May 1995)

Grosse Pointe Blank 2 out of 4 stars

What could be more traumatic than being a young woman stood up on prom night? How about being the guy who stood her up and returning to face her ten years later? If that’s not scary enough, what if you found yourself attending your ten-year high school reunion and it was in Grosse Pointe, Michigan? This wry, ironic comedy nicely captures the mixed emotions that come from returning home and facing old ghosts at the end of one’s young adulthood. One’s ten-year reunion typically comes at a tricky time because, well, it comes at that age where lots of rock stars die suddenly. Cleverly, the movie exaggerates this experience by giving its protagonist, John Cusack, the ultimate isolating profession: professional assassin. As the love interest, Minnie Driver is strangely Julie Kavner-ish. Other delights in this film are Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, and John’s sister Joan in humorous supporting roles. (Seen 22 September 1997)

Groundhog Day 3 out of 4 stars

This is the movie that single-handedly redefined the words Groundhog Day. Before 1993 they referred simply to the day in folklore on which a burrowing animal can forecast whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter. After 1993 it took on the additional meaning of waking up every morning and finding every day relentlessly the same. Storywise this is basically Bill Murray doing the same trick he did five years earlier in Richard Donner’s Scrooged. Except that instead of Christmas the “holiday” is Groundhog Day. (Actually, this is generally the same trick Murray often plays—in movies like Rushmore, Lost in Translation, St. Vincent and even this year’s The Jungle Book.) He is the hip, jaded, wise-cracking Scrooge who gets transformed by supernatural intervention. We never learn exactly why Murray’s cynical meteorologist is made to relive the same (for him) tedious day over and over countless times, but the reason is implied. Fate or the gods or Friedrich Nietzsche or something is forcing him to live that day over until he finally gets it right. What to him is boring repetition eventually leads to insight that simple, small-town life is the most authentic. (Do the filmmakers actually believe this? Not a chance.) Along the way, director Harold Ramis (one of Murray’s fellow Ghostbusters) and co-writer Danny Rubin have much fun with the implications of knowing every day will get a re-do. Do we believe in Murray’s transformation at the end? More than we did in Scrooged. The film is surprisingly sweet and unexpectedly profound, which explains why it became instantly entrenched in the popular culture. (Seen 18 June 2016)

Grumpier Old Men 2 out of 4 stars

This sequel to Grumpy Old Men (which I never saw, but that doesn’t seem to matter) is basically an extended situation comedy about a couple of old farts in a small town in Minnesota. As a comedy, it is episodic and largely character-driven. The plot, to the extent that there is one, seems an afterthought. It’s great to see old pros like Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Ann-Margret, and Sophia Loren doing their stuff. But it’s 88-year-old Burgess Meredith (playing Lemmon’s crusty 95-year-old father) who steals the most laughs with his crude double and single entendres. Also, watch for Ann Guilbert (Millie on the old Dick Van Dyck Show) as Loren’s Italian nightmare of a mother. While not a fabulous film, Grumpier Old Men is perfectly harmless. (Seen 22 December 1995)

Guantanamera 3 out of 4 stars

What we have here is your basic Cuban screwball road comedy. Directed by the same team that gave us 1995’s Strawberries and Chocolate (Juan Carlos Tabio and the late Tomás Gutierrez), Guatanamera tells the story of a group of people escorting a corpse from one end of Cuba to the other and of the two truckers whose journey continually intertwines with theirs. A guantanamera, by the way is a woman from Guantánamo. (Bet you didn’t know that when you were singing the song back in the 1960s.) Anyway, the guantanamera of the title is Gina who is married to a jerk named Adolfo, a bureaucrat who hopes to reverse his sagging political fortunes with a complex nationwide funeral scheme. One of the many twists and coincidences of the story is that an old student of hers, who always had a crush on her, is on the same road. The film is alternately funny, touching, whimsical, and magical. And definitely worth the trip. (Seen 18 May 1997)

The Guard 3 out of 4 stars

Well, here’s yet another embarrassing thing. In the normal course of events, I would have been among the first to see this Irish hit, since it premiered at July’s Galway Film Fleadh, which I have not been in the habit of missing over the past decade. But this was the year I went off to the States for a visit in July, so not only did every man, woman and child in Ireland see this movie (four or five times each) before I did, but everyone on the whole planet has seen it by now. Now, as objective as I try to be, that’s the sort of thing that could put me off a movie. And the fact that this is a mash-up of several genres is another thing that I could find annoying. And then there is the fact that, as a resident of rural Ireland, I tend to get a bit defensive when filmmakers try to have a bit of fun at the expense of people up the country. But, in spite of these obstacles, The Guard is a winner. Is it a rural comedy of manners? Sorta. Is it a fish-out-of-water, cop buddy movie à la Beverly Hills Cop? Kinda. Can it possibly be a riff on Casablanca or even High Noon? Surprisingly, uh, yeah. We’ve seen Brendan Gleeson do this thick-as-the-wall force-of-nature shtick before (notably in John Boorman’s The General), but he’s so good at it that it seems like it’s the first time we’ve ever seen it. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh has assembled an impeccable trio of villains in Mark Strong, Liam Cunningham and a wonderfully psychotic David Wilmot. Women don’t get that much to do, but there are some nice turns from Fionnula Flanagan, Dominique McElligott and Katarina Cas. The hard part with this kind of genre-balancing act is not letting it all fall apart by the end, but McDonagh has managed to come with an ending that is ambiguous without being frustrating. Does this qualify as the first real bacon-and-cabbage western? (Seen 15 September 2011)

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 out of 4 stars

This could easily have gone so very wrong. An anthropomorphic raccoon? A (barely) talking plant? We’re in Howard the Duck territory here—something the filmmakers are not unaware because… well, because. For the record, I kind of enjoyed the commercial debacle that was the 1986 movie Howard the Duck, but this is much better. It is a big superhero cartoon of a movie that plays like an action comedy. The premise and tone are reminiscent of such 1980s Star Wars-inspired space westerns as Battle Beyond the Stars and The Last Starfighter. But unlike those efforts, this has the whole established Marvel mythos behind it to give it more depth. The survival and persistence of supposedly outdated technology is always a nice touch in big screen sci-fi, so our hero’s attachment to his 1970s cassette tapes—not to mention the resultant soundtrack that harkens back to an era when many of us were still reading comic books—is fairly inspired. The movie is perfectly cast, led by Parks and Recreation’s unfailingly likeable Chris Pratt. And to say that Vin Diesel demonstrates unexpected acting range and depth in the role of a talking plant life form with a three or five-word vocabulary is not the put-down it sounds like. Likewise, professional wrestler Dave Bautista, as Drax, achieves an amazing amount of empathy in what is essentially a two-note role. If you have ever wondered what people mean when they say “popcorn movie,” this consistently entertaining flick by Troma veteran James Gunn is your answer. As always with Marvel movies, you will want to stay for the end of the credits because… well, because. (Seen 9 August 2014)

Guiltrip 2 out of 4 stars

The husband in Guiltrip makes Winston Chao’s character in Red Rose, White Rose seem like Phil Donahue! Liam is a corporal in the Irish army and he doesn’t treat his wife Tina nearly as well as he does the troops. (And he doesn’t treat them very well either.) This is one of those movies where the main characters can’t get across a room without experiencing a flashback. But that’s a good thing because there wouldn’t be much of a movie without the flashbacks. As the film opens, Tina is trying to hook up a portable CD player while waiting for Liam who is extremely late arriving home. Through the flashbacks, we learn that Liam and Tina both have had eventful days and, unknown to both, their days were intertwined. Also, both of them have something to hide. This first feature by Gerard Stembridge is clever and involving, although the ending is somewhat less than satisfying. (Seen 29 May 1996)

Gulliver’s Travels 2 out of 4 stars

Needless to say, a movie like this requires a major suspension of disbelief. And I’m not even talking about the notion of tiny little people living in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. I’m talking about the idea that a woman like Amanda Peet could be taken with a nebbish like Jack Black. Talk about dating way beneath yourself. The story, of course, is inspired by an 18th century classic which, as these things must go, has now become a premise for a series of set pieces and sketches tied together by an ostensible moral of being authentic and not plagiarizing. Some of the visuals are quite eye-catching, but what we need is the true wit of a modern-day Jonathan Swift. Plot-wise, things are strictly by the numbers. Particularly annoying for people like me is to see such talents as Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate brought on board and then to assigned mainly with reaction shots. Swift’s original was essentially a pretext for satirical social commentary, and that’s what we have here, such as it is. There is somewhat tired culture-conflict humor with Black’s slob American shaking up Lilliputians, who are basically British. I suppose you can find a message here about the ill effects of the dominance of U.S. culture in the world, but the filmmakers’ hearts aren’t really in it, so ours aren’t really either. But the movie, directed by Rob Letterman (of animated fare like Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens), at least provides a few laughs, and that’s not nothing. (Seen 27 December 2010)

A Gun, a Car, a Blonde 2 out of 4 stars

Tom Epperson, who co-wrote this movie with director Stefani Ames, explained that it was “title-driven,” meaning that the idea came from a comment that any movie could be sold if its title mentioned a gun, a car, and a blonde. (Apparently not, however, since this film has yet to find a distributor.) Epperson and performers Billy Bob Thornton and Jim Metzler previously collaborated on 1992’s One False Move. In this film, Metzler plays a man with spinal cancer who is convinced by his best friend (John Ritter) to use fantasy to deal with his chronic pain. This leads to extended black-and-white fantasy sequences that essentially parody (quite nicely) films noirs of the 1940s and 1950s. People in Metzler’s real life become characters in his imagined life, putting this film in the company of The Singing Detective and The Wizard of Oz. The blonde of the title is Andrea Thompson, who should be best remembered as a telepath in Babylon 5 but who I understand is also on some TV show called NYPD Blue. Her voice and shoulders are made for this type of role. And in one memorable scene we see a lot more than her shoulders. All in all, this movie is a satisfying entertainment. (Seen 3 June 1997)

Guwak Tsai Sam Tsi Jeksau Jetin (Young and Dangerous III) 2 out of 4 stars

Everyone keeps worrying about what is going to happen to Hong Kong’s economy and political liberties when China takes over. But what about Hong Kong action movies? Are the dastardly Communist bureaucrats going to ruin them by insisting that the English subtitles actually consist of coherent sentences? Or that the stories involve things that could actually happen in real life? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, we have Young and Dangerous III, part of trilogy(?) of films, all made in 1996. (If only George Lucas could work that fast…) This is about gang warfare, fighting, deception, fighting, revenge, and lots and lots of fighting. And it doesn’t seem to matter one bit whether or not you’ve seen the first two movies. It’s frightening to think that the world could be deprived of this cultural resource. Please write the United Nations and express your concern today! (Seen 18 May 1997)

Guys Reading Poems 3 out of 4 stars

Rarely does a film title sum up so succinctly what you can expect from a movie. The vast majority of this film’s hour and thirty-eight minutes do indeed consist of guys reading poems. If movies like Mamma Mia! can be described as jukebox musicals, then this flick could fairly be called a jukebox poetry recital. In other words, writer/director Hunter Lee Hughes has stitched together more than thirty poems to serve as monologs in a narrative that tells a harrowing story of mental illness and emotional abuse. That may sound grim, but the result is strangely exhilarating. Despite some cinematic touches—inventive transitions and edits and a lakeside scene shot on location—this is really a filmed play. The appeal is in the performances and the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Watching actors speak in verse makes it feel like something akin to Shakespeare. The unusual story about what happens in a world of artists when someone goes off the rails, causing the innocent to suffer, haunts long after. The quality of acting from the large cast is uniformly fine. Interestingly, though the cast is male-dominated and the story focuses on male experience, the standout performer is Patricia Velasquez, a Venezuelan actor who has appeared often on international screens, both big and small. (She was one of two actors to play Colombian soap star Marta Estrella during the first season of Arrested Development.) Special mention also has to be made of Hughes’s direction of the young child actor Luke Judy, whose performance is crucial to the whole thing working and who does not strike a false note once. The poems come from a variety of sources, including such well-known ones ranging from the Old and New Testaments to William Blake, Bertolt Brecht, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walter Scott, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth and William Butler Yeats. Included in the impressive collection are a pair of poems by the filmmaker, and his “I Want a Lover!” particularly stands out. It all builds to an impressive and emotionally lifting climax that visually and magically melds performance, reality and cinema. This gem spent the past couple of years screening at various international film festivals and has recently been released on DVD/Blu-ray and streaming platforms such as iTunes. (Seen 25 February 2018)

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