Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France
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Kaboom 2 out of 4 stars

Gregg Araki is back. I mean, he is back to the form we knew him for before he made his breakthrough 2004 movie Mysterious Skin. Since then, he has made the 2007 stoner comedy Smiley Face and this. Cataloguing Kaboom in Araki’s oeuvre, it is closest in tone to Nowhere, in that is a strange mixture of comedy of manners and paranoid thriller that exists in Araki’s particular world of achingly attractive teenage characters who are completely comfortable with their fluid sexuality and who seem to be under the perpetual influence of some sort of drug. The filmmaker’s alter ego in these movies used to be James Duval, but it’s a sign of how much time Araki has been at this that Duval is now pushing 40 and turns up in a hirsute character role as someone called the Messiah. Here the action focuses on Thomas Dekker (John Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and currently in The Secret Circle), who is nothing if not watchable. Joining him in his soft core escapades are busy English actor Juno Temple, blond god Chris Zylka (also of The Secret Circle and who will be Flash Thompson in the upcoming Spider-man reboot) and, as Dekker’s mother, Kelly Lynch—just to remind us how long it has been since Gus Van Sant made Drugstore Cowboy. When Araki did this kind of stuff in the 1990s, it seemed fresh and authentic. Now it’s starting to just seem creepy. On the other hand, I guess that’s what it is meant to be. (Seen 8 December 2011)

Kaméleon (Chameleon) 3 out of 4 stars

This is the one about the con man who is in the game so long that he can’t be sure that he isn’t the one now being conned. A slick Hungarian thriller (with some comedic elements) by Krisztina Goda (she directed Children of Glory), the story keeps us involved right up until the very end. Gábor, aided by his partner in crime and childhood best friend, has the perfect scam. He targets lonely women, researches them thoroughly and then becomes their perfect suitor—only to leave them at the altar after having cleaned out their bank accounts. This works fine until Gábor becomes fixated on targeting a dancer who is not the needy type who is his typical mark. Things quickly get complicated as he has to initiate multiple scams to keep his plot moving—and he has to juggle multiple identities without one betraying the other to the increasing number of people involved in his machinations. The tangled scheme grows to include, among others, an ambitious TV actor and an eminent medical specialist with a secret life. Suspense builds as Gábor has to go to ever greater lengths to keep up the multiple charades. In the lead role, Ervin Nagy has just enough charisma to make us believe female singletons would find him too good to be true. And the director (who co-wrote the screenplay) does a very good job maintaining the pace right up to the very end—a rare feat with many movies these days. (Seen 7 July 2010)

Kaosu (Chaos) 3 out of 4 stars

This film opens with a couple having dinner in a very nice restaurant that looks to be expensive, even by Japanese standards. This glimpse of their life gives the appearance of an existence that is perfectly content, if a bit bland. But, as anyone who has ever seen an Alfred Hitchcock movie can attest, things are not always what they appear. This twisty and tricky film noir was director Hideo Nakata’s follow-up to his hit thriller Ring (subsequently remade in America with Naomi Watts) and its sequel. It has to be daunting to make this sort of movie, since any movie fan worth his or her salt will have seen enough examples of the genre to anticipate at least some of the turns in the plot. But, after a deceptively slow start, this flick manages to keep us guessing and on the edge of our seats for most of its running time. In this, the film is masterful, as well as being erotic in a way that Hitchcock was never able to be. We never have any idea until the final frames exactly how it will turn out, and that is an exhilarating feeling. But then, there is only one thing you can count on in films noirs. It’s usually not a good idea to trust a beautiful woman. (Seen 13 October 2004)

Karakter (Character) 2 out of 4 stars

The interesting thing about this well-made film is how it evokes the visual style of movies, particularly German ones, that were being made around the time that it takes place (the 1920s and 1930s). The protagonist (Fredja van Huet) even looks a bit like a very young Peter Lorre. The film’s theme of a problematic parent/child relationship is certainly timeless, and van Huet’s portrait of an ambitious young man who’s practically sole purpose in life is to be a lawyer is nothing if not timely. Director Mike van Diem based the movie on his favorite classic Dutch novel, and what is compelling about the story is the ambiguous intentions of van Huet’s father. Is he really trying to punish the lad because of his frustrations with the mother, or does he really think he is building his character by putting some adversity in his way. Unfortunately, this ambiguity is pretty much dispelled in a finale that is a bit too Hollywood. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why this entry from the Netherlands picked up the Best Foreign Film Oscar. (Seen 29 September 1998)

Kate & Leopold 1 out of 4 stars

Director James Mangold’s last movie, Identity, was nifty if gimmicky, but it could have been dismissed as simply Psycho lite. Anyway, it was a definite improvement over his 2001 romance Kate & Leopold, which was definitely Somewhere in Time lite. You certainly can’t fault the actors. Meg Ryan does her typical perky romantic comedy thing, but her character is oddly un-involving, which is bad since modern American women in general are clearly meant to identify with her. And Hugh Jackman erases any memory of Wolverine from the X-Men movies as the Anglo-American New York aristocrat yanked out of his own era. This is one of those flicks that assumes we know the story so well already from other movies that it doesn’t need to work very hard at making us root for the right outcome. As Jackman gallantly races down a mugger on horseback, we are meant to cheer reflexively, perhaps remembering how we felt watching similar scenes in, say, Crocodile Dundee. The ultimate irony of this movie is its theme of unauthentic modern lives deriving from people devoting all their energies to things they don’t actually believe in (Ryan is, of course, in marketing), and yet there is no evidence on screen that Mangold and company really believed in this movie. (Seen 5 October 2003)

Kelly’s Heroes 3 out of 4 stars

Seen today, this wonderful war/caper/adventure/comedy flick actually seems more subversive than it did in 1970. Sure, it ends with American troops being greeted as liberators by joyous French villagers, but the cheering crowd doesn’t realize that the Yanks are making off with a fortune in gold stolen from the local bank. The American officers in this flick are universally incompetent and the soldiers cop on easily to the fact that they are just pawns of the politicians and the generals. But it’s easy to forget that the World War II movie back then was as much a generic adventure format as westerns or gangster movies. The stories were pretty much divorced from reality anyway. After all, back then even a Nazi POW camp was considered suitable fodder for a TV sitcom. In the end, it is the sprawling cast that makes this movie. Clint Eastwood, poised between his spaghetti western and Dirty Harry phases, is basically the same steely-eyed stoic hero he was in his westerns. Indeed, there is an explicit homage to the Leone films near the film’s climax. Telly Savalas, who had just played Blofeld in a Bond film and would soon be playing Kojak on TV, is perfect as the loose bull of a sergeant. Donald Sutherland’s oddly counterculture tank driver has echoes of his role in M*A*S*H, which came out the same year. Don Rickles plays himself to fine comic effect. Playing apoplectic sidekicks are Stuart Margolin and Gavin MacLeod, with great faces among the grunts, including Harry Dean Stanton. And, as a comically gung-ho general, Carroll O’Connor uses most of the exact same tics and mannerisms that he would soon be employing for TV’s Archie Bunker. What is amazing is how well the movie, filmed in Yugoslavia, manages to balance the broad comedy with some fairly tense action sequences. (Seen 3 March 2006)

Khaneye Zire Âb (The House Under the Water) 2 out of 4 stars

No, this isn’t about an upside-down mortgage. It’s a movie setup we have seen before. A man on the far side of middle age gets out of prison and sets out to pick up the pieces of his life. But this movie was made in Iran, and its protagonist, Morteza, gives whole new meanings to the word melancholy. As played by Masoud Rayegany, Morteza carries the weight of the world on his sunken shoulders and it is impossible to tell where his perpetual cigarette smoke ends and his unkempt forest of hair begins. His wife has moved away with a new husband and we learn that his son has recently died in a tragic accident. Morteza was imprisoned for smuggling, but we learn that he was involved in another tragic incident as a child, in which a friend drowned. Improbably, Morteza finds himself caught up in an uncannily similar incident almost immediately after his release. And, as fate would have it, he finds himself arrested by a police lieutenant who was the third child in the original incident. There is a heavy mood of old guilt and world weariness in this tale. Morteza seems incapable or unwilling of defending himself, and we are left to wonder why the lieutenant’s wife becomes so interested in the case. In the end, there is something spiritual and poetic in all the emotional pain portrayed in this film. Sepideh Farsi wrote and directed. (Seen 7 November 2011)

Kick-Ass 3 out of 4 stars

I wasn’t around when the first comic books came out, but I’m pretty sure that, at the time, they seemed pretty frivolous. But, over time, the likes of Superman and Batman became part of the popular culture and bigger than life, i.e. myths. Eventually, they had to be de-mythologized and that’s what Marvel Comics did in the 1960s with superheroes like Spider-Man. Steve Ditko, Stan Lee and others told the same stories but made them seem fresh by imagining, what if this were happening in the real world that the reader recognizes? What if the hero had the same problems and concerns as the geeky, teenage readers? But a funny thing about the de-mythologizing business: eventually, the de-mythology becomes its own mythology. And so, a generation or so after the birth of Spider-Man, we get Kick-Ass, which de-mythologizes the de-mythology. Whereas Superman became a hero because his planet blew up and then Spider-Man became a hero because his uncle was killed by a mugger, Kick-Ass gets his start after… well, see it for yourself but don’t blink or you’ll miss the most fleeting of cameos by Elizabeth McGovern. In the end, Kick-Ass is to superheroes as Maxwell Smart was to secret agents, which means that not only is this a superhero parody but the movie itself is a riff on Hong Kong action flicks and, particularly, Quentin Tarantino mayhem. And just as foreign filmmakers (e.g. Wim Wenders) sometimes have a knack for capturing the American landscape and pop culture in ways that is paradoxically harder for the home-grown talent, a bunch of Brits have equaled, or maybe surpassed, Sam Raimi in terms of capturing the adolescent thrill (and, it has to be said, perversity) of the adrenalin rush that a cool comic book can give a teenager. The creative mind behind the character is Mark Millar (working with artist John Romita Jr. who, like his father, is closely associated with Spider-Man), a Scotsman well-known for his work with Marvel, who created the comic book nearly in tandem with the film. The director is Englishman Matthew Vaughn, who has previously helmed Layer Cake and Stardust. And Yanks who don’t watch much Brit cinema will probably be totally unaware that two of the major characters are played by Englishmen (Aaron Johnson, who recently played John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, and Mark Strong, who has played a host of villains in movies like Sherlock Holmes and the upcoming Robin Hood and Green Lantern). Is the movie fun? You bet it is. Is the body county atrociously high? You bet it is. Kudos to Nicolas Cage for a hilarious Adam West impression and to Chloë Grace Moretz for having more screen presence than a lot of actors twice her size. In case you need to be warned, probably best to leave your grandparents or grandchildren, as appropriate, at home. (Seen 14 April 2010)

Kicking and Screaming 2 out of 4 stars

Twenty years ago this month—under circumstances that to this day I am obliged not to divulge—I found myself watching a yet-to-be-released movie about which I knew nothing. Since the opening credits gave no information other than the title, I had no idea who had made it until the very end. But I quickly became convinced that it was a Whit Stillman film because it was about young intellectual student types who did an awful lot of talking and (mainly) because it had Chris Eigeman in the cast. It turned out I was wrong. The film was the debut of a twentysomething filmmaker, i.e. someone nearly two decades Stillman’s junior but something of kindred spirit. It would be a full decade before I noticed the name Noah Baumbach again—when he made a movie called The Squid and the Whale. Superficially, Kicking and Screaming is a similar story to Joel Schumacher’s flick from a decade earlier, St. Elmo’s Fire, i.e. a group of friends graduate from college and find it hard to adjust to post-third-level life. The difference is that this group do not actually leave college. They go on living in the same places and hanging around campus and following the same cycles (punctuated by titles) of the comfortably familiar school year. The extreme case is Chet (Eric Stoltz) who is still a student after a full decade. The setting has the feel of an East Coast liberal arts college—probably because Baumbach himself had recently graduated from Vassar—but was filmed at Occidental College in Los Angeles. It doesn’t all quite add up to a coherent story, as opposed to a series of vignettes, and it kind of just stops at the end, but it has some very funny—and even touching—moments and quite a bit of witty dialog. In particular, a climactic airport speech by Josh Hamilton is a thing of beauty. The central plot strand has Hamilton’s Grover not quite dealing with his feelings over his girlfriend’s (Olivia d’Abo) decision to go study in Prague, but there’s plenty of other stuff going on as well. The fresh-faced cast of characters are likeable—if more than a little self-involved—and has indy cred provided by the likes of young Parker Posey. If it feels at times like a dry run for Friends, well, that feeling is only enhanced by the presence of Elliott Gould (whose son Sam is also in the cast) as Grover’s dad. (Seen 25 June 2015)

The Kid Stays in the Picture 3 out of 4 stars

The title comes from an utterance by producer Darryl F. Zanuck. Robert Evans, the subject of this glorious documentary (drawn from his autobiography of the same name), was a very lucky, if not particularly gifted, pretty boy actor in the 1950s. Twice, within months, he was spotted at random in public and cast in major movies: first, to play the young Irving Thalberg in the Lon Chaney biopic The Man of a Thousand Faces; second, to play the bullfighter Pedro Romero in The Sun Also Rises. The latter film’s major talent (including stars Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner and the novel’s author, Ernest Hemingway) demanded that Evans be fired, for insufficient acting ability. After Zanuck saved his job, the ambitious Evans more or less decided to give up acting and “be the guy who gets to say, ‘The kid stays in the picture.'” Soon he was the head of production at Paramount Studios, answering to a new corporate owner, Gulf + Western (satirized by Mel Brooks in Silent Movie as “Engulf + Devour”), which wanted the studio lifted from the bottom rung of the Hollywood ladder. And, boy, did Evans deliver. In a seven-year period, he oversaw no fewer than four pop culture landmarks. He brought Roman Polanski to America to make Rosemary’s Baby. Two years later Love Story was released, with Evans newly married to its star, Ali McGraw. He picked a young director with an unimpressive track record, Francis Ford Coppola, to make The Godfather (because he wanted an Italian to direct it). And he worked with Polanski and Robert Towne to produce Chinatown. Needless to say, things could only go down from there. Given that everything is seen from Evans’s perspective, the film is ultimately self-serving. But Evans does such a good job of telling his story (his hard-boiled, no-nonsense New York delivery, wherein it sounds perfectly natural to call women “dames”) that we feel are getting a reasonable version. As for the visuals, the filmmakers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen work with a lot of still photos but bring them to life with some mesmerizing special effects. It’s worth waiting for the end credits to see some 1970s footage of Dustin Hoffman doing a parody of what he imagined Evans would be like in the year 1996. (Seen 6 October 2005)

The Kids Are All Right 2 out of 4 stars

When Peter Townshend wrote those lyrics (and song title) for the 1965 Who album My Generation, he probably didn’t imagine that his young audience would one day want to apply that sentiment to their own kids—or even grandkids. But what comes around goes around and baby boomers will find the couple played by Julianne Moore and Annette Benign and their parental travails all too familiar. Of course, most families don’t have to cope with how to deal with the anonymous sperm donor whose DNA is shared with the kids. But if it wasn’t that, it’d be something else. It would be dealing with a daughter moving away to college or a son hanging out with a bad influence. This is essentially a domestic comedy with dramatic overtones that shows how families work things out. The dramatic tension is provided by the appearance of Mark Ruffalo as the donor, who has had a good run with a carefree, laddish life but is now feeling a desire for family—thereby upsetting the existing family’s equilibrium. In the end, those who have put in the time are the ones rewarded with the strongest ties, and that is how it should be. Moore and Bening’s work is no less than what we have come to expect. The kids are Australian Mia Wasikowska (of the recent Alice in Wonderland) and American Josh Hutcherson (whose character is saddled with the name Laser), who has matured nicely since movies like Zathura: A Space Adventure and Bridge to Terabithia. The director is Lisa Cholodenko, who previously gave us High Art and Laurel Canyon. (Seen 11 July 2010)

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 3 out of 4 stars

Whew! After berating Quentin Tarantino for years, I find myself giving his fourth flick three stars. (It seems like this guy has been around so long and done so much that it’s hard to believe this is only his fourth movie.) I didn’t want to give it three stars, but I was forced against my will. I was afraid Uma Thurman would come and beat me up if I didn’t. That’s how this movie is. It picks you up by the ears and throws you across the room and makes you beg for your breath. More than any other of his flicks, this one shows that Tarantino is the man who put the I in Irony. His tongue is so firmly in his cheek here that it actually punctures his cheek and makes a bloody hole in it. Tarantino’s love of movies is indisputable, and that love is on full display here. We see his love of Hong Kong action flicks, of Russ Meyer movies, of samurai movies, of Yakuza movies, of spaghetti westerns, of Japanese anime, of American comic books and cartoons. The list is endless. So is Tarantino’s appetite for gore. Never has movie violence been so cartoon-like and graphic at the same time. When people get shot or stabbed or lose a limb in this movie, blood gushes out like an open fire hydrant. Someday Tarantino may make a truly great film. This flick shows he has the style and verve and technical skills to do it. But it’s always for a joke. We are never allowed to take anything seriously for more than a few minutes. In the closing credits, he thanks his “brother” Robert Rodriguez, and the two really are a pair. Neither has yet matured enough artistically to work without the wink. The only unintentional joke I spotted in the whole movie was also in the closing credits, where the state of California and Governor Gray Davis are thanked. (Seen 13 October 2003)

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 3 out of 4 stars

Quentin Tarantino’s movies basically do for old B action movies what the Red Robin restaurants did for fast food. He takes something we loved in our youth and makes it “adult” (and not necessarily in the good sense of the word, but definitely in the fun sense). Taken together with Vol. 1, we have a breathtaking pastiche of various mini-movies, aping the styles of Tarantino’s favorite flicks. The mixture of styles and characters can be a bit jarring, like when Michael Madsen’s trailer trash character starts making deals over a fabulous, exotic samurai sword. But no more so than when the titular Bill starts waxing philosophical over Superman comic books. The story here echoes the first film, as Uma Thurman has to claw her way back (this time even more literally) from the grave, before she can (re)begin her rampage of vengeance. With the movie’s liberal dosage of eastern philosophical kung fu mumbo jumbo, it is entirely fitting and appropriate that Bill is played by David Carradine. What’s even better is that, with age, Carradine’s face, manner and voice seem to have morphed into those of the late Jason Robards, who was one of the best things about Once Upon a Time in the West, which is also fitting, since there is a heavy Sergio Leone influence going on here as well. We can’t help also being reminded of David Lynch when Michael Parks shows up, sporting one of the weirdest accents we have ever heard. In the end, this pair of movies is so well made and compelling that we wish it would take itself just a bit more seriously. We know Tarantino can do it; he did it with Jackie Brown, and let’s hope that in the future he will find a way to marry the tone of that film with the hyperkinetic energy of this one. In the meantime, the Kill Bill movies are entertainment enough. Technical question: so, is this Tarantino’s fifth movie or merely the second half of his fourth movie? (Seen 23 April 2004)

Kill Your Darlings 2 out of 4 stars

I just may have to reevaluate my assessment from eight years ago of Daniel Radcliffe’s acting strengths relative to Rupert Grint’s. Radcliffe has certainly had the more interesting film career since. And he’s awfully brave to take on this role, which once again has him playing a boarding student with a problematic home situation and about to discover a wondrous potenttial—not to mention also wearing horn-rimmed glasses. But John Krokidas’s movie barely has us thinking of Harry Potter. Our minds are more likely to wander to various rebellious-students-take-on-conservative-oppressive-authority flicks like Dead Poets Society or even, in this film’s depictions of the burgeoning Beats’ wilder escapades, Animal House. But one thing this movie has in common with the Hogwarts tales is that our point-of-view character often seems much less interesting than those about him. Radcliffe is the callow Allen Ginsberg who arrives at Columbia University to become smitten instantly with Lucien Carr, who comes off as pretentious and posturing but is made charismatic in spite of this by Dane DeHaan. Jack Huston and Ben Foster, as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, are relegated to mere supporting turns in deference to the triangle consisting of Radcliffe, DeHaan and Michael C. Hall as the creepy thirtysomething man (although not creepy enough, given the actual facts) who had been obsessed with Carr since the younger man was 14. Kill Your Darlings falls prey to the usual problem of artist biopics—it can’t help but trivialize both the artists and their art. Still, it is an interesting, if sordid, story and, in the final stretch, it finds an interesting take on Carr’s legal defense for a notorious homicide and how it would have affected Ginsberg. As with much of the movie, though, it is hard to know how accurate that take is or whether the movie has anachronistically applied its own contemporary consciousness. (Seen 28 July 2014)

Killers 2 out of 4 stars

We figured out as far back as Knocked Up that Katherine Heigl is basically Mary Tyler Moore. And that’s fine, although we know from Ms. Moore’s career that her persona ultimately worked best on the small screen surrounded by extremely talented comic foils. This movie has MTM meeting cute on the French Riviera with a secret agent. But this agent is not so much James Bond as a cuddly Jason Bourne without the memory loss. Actually, he’s Ashton Kutcher. And actually this action/romcom is really a part of that romcom subgenre about the domestic travails and personal problems of professional killers. While it may have a superficial resemblance to the overwrought Mr. & Mrs. Smith, its tone is really closer to that of the wittier Grosse Pointe Blank. The director is the Australian Robert Luketic, whose line of romcoms runs from Legally Blonde to Monster-in-Law to The Ugly Truth. This one benefits by the welcome inclusion of Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara as Heigl’s parents. The twisty premise and execution are actually rather well done, but unfortunately the story necessarily requires a boring stretch late in the first half, and that’s where the film’s weakness becomes all too apparent. To get through that section, we need sparkling banter, but Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin’s screenplay doesn’t provide it. Instead we get the kind of mindless relationship patter that fills daytime TV. (Seen 17 June 2010)

Killing Bono 2 out of 4 stars

Imagine if you had dreams in school of your band becoming successful and famous and the other band in school turned out to be the Beatles. Or, if you are Irish, it turned out to be U2. This actually happened to a man named Neil McCormick, and he wrote a book about it (Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelganger), and now director Nick Hamm has made a film of it. Well, at least I think it happened to McCormick because whatever story there is here has been embellished to extreme proportions to make a madcap comedy that is also a nostalgic look back at a particular era in rock music in the British Isles. To summarize the themes (obsessive jealousy over someone you considered your equal massively passing you out, the weird dynamics between brothers) only makes the movie sound more serious than it intends to be. Neil is played by Prince Caspian himself, Ben Barnes, as someone not without talent but too caught up in his envy of his former schoolmate. Younger brother Ivan is played Michael Sheehan, who may be on his way to becoming Ireland’s James Franco. Martin McCann does an uncanny impression of the young Bono, upon whom fame and fortune land on despite the most laid-back of personalities. If the jokes and the clothes are not reason enough to see the movie, it is worth watching since it features the final performance of the late Pete Postlethwaite, who contributes a lovely turn as the lads’ kindly, light-in-the-heels Camden landlord. It makes us miss him all the more. (Seen 6 April 2011)

The Killing of John Lennon 2 out of 4 stars

Every time some monstrous criminal is about to be put to death, one of the various arguments offered by death penalty opponents is that we can learn a lot of useful information by keeping these people alive and studying them. Because Mark Chapman committed his murder in New York, he was not put to death and has been a guest of the state for more than a quarter-century and will continue to be—as long as his parole requests continue to be denied. So there has been plenty of time to study him. Writer/director Andrew Piddington says that his film is a thoroughly researched account of how Chapman spent the weeks before and after he shot Lennon in the doorway of his New York co-op. “There is not a conceit in the entire film,” he declares proudly. Well, maybe the impressionistic touches depicting Chapman’s frequently fevered state of mind are not a conceit. And I wonder if one of the most chilling moments (after Chapman has been chatting up two women in front of the Dakota, he mutters to himself in anticipation of what they will soon be saying, “He seemed so nice!”) is actually documented somewhere. But what is certain is that there are extensive voiceover monologues taken verbatim from Chapman’s own writings. And that is the discomfiting thing about this whole enterprise. Piddington’s direction is exemplary and the starring performance of Jonas Bell, in his first credited movie role, is award-worthy. But throughout the film’s 114 minutes we endure the queasy, unclean feeling that, with this movie, Chapman has gotten exactly what he wanted. He is the hero (or anti-hero, if you wish) of his own epic. He has become famous—again. And, by spending this time with us, he earns at least a modicum of understanding or even sympathy. I actually made a conscious decision over the past 27 years to know as little as possible about Mark Chapman. Now I know way more about him than I could ever have wanted. (Seen 16 October 2007)

The King Is Alive 2 out of 4 stars

You think your last vacation was a nightmare? Pity the group of tourists in this movie. After a problem with their airplane, they are bused hundreds of miles and, through sheer incompetence, wind up in the middle of the desert with no petrol. Faced with a major challenge to their survival and a real possibility of lingering death, they band together to do what anyone else would do in this dire situation: they go about mounting a production of King Lear. Okay, in fairness, it makes a bit more sense when you see it in the film. But, once we know that we have a play-within-a-movie, we know pretty much what has to happen. Yep, reality has to start imitating art and the group of actors more or less represent all of humanity. The director is the Dane Kristian Levring, and this film subscribes to Dogma 95, in which a bunch of European [more precisely, they’re Danish] filmmakers agreed that they wouldn’t use any technology in their movies that might make them interesting to watch. Okay, that was a cheap shot. The film is actually plenty interesting to watch, even if there is no artificial light or post-production special effects. What’s left is some nice minimalist photography, a script the begs the scenery to be chewed, and a cast with the teeth to gnash to high heaven. Familiar faces include Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Davison, with Janet McTeer as an aptly self-described bitch and David Bradley doing a lovely job as the catalyst for the drama production. (Seen 22 May 2001)

King of the Travellers 2 out of 4 stars

There is a tendency in Irish film to romanticize the Traveller community. This was certainly the case in Mike Newell’s Into the West. There was a social realism version of romanticism going on in Perry Ogden’s quasi-documentary Pavee Lackeen. Even Guy Ritchie kind of got into the act with Snatch, in which Brad Pitt played an Irish gypsy in England. In King of the Travellers, writer/director Mark O’Connor goes more of a contemporary Shakespearean route (think West Side Story in rural County Dublin but without the musical numbers), or is it more of a primetime soap opera kind of thing? Anyway, whatever he has done, it comes out quite entertaining and engaging and full of energy. And it feels up-to-the-minute, as several of the key plot points are, as they say, ripped from the headlines of recent Irish newspapers. Despite the heavy dose of melodrama, there is an air of authenticity due to the fact that actual Travellers were cast. The standout is Peter Coonan as too-wild-for-his-own-good Mickey the Bags. As long as he is on screen, the movie has a sense of danger and excitement that keeps us gripped. Also good is Michael Collins as the sensible patriarch Frank, who is clearly brooding over old secrets. And in the pivotal role of young John Paul, John Connors seems so unlikely that when he demonstrates true emotion and power later on, it comes as a bit of a revelation. (Seen 14 July 2012)

King Ralph 2 out of 4 stars

This odd 1991 comedy capitalized on the popularity of John Goodman, who then was starring in the hit TV sitcom Roseanne. It is based on the old formula of the ordinary, slovenly working class slob who unexpectedly winds up in a position where he must hobnob with the crème de la crème of aristocracy. The premise is arguably distasteful. The entire British royal family is wiped out in a freak accident, although it is not meant to be the real royal family but a fictional one (the House of Windham). And, of course, instead of reaching out to one of the legions of lesser royal relatives throughout the UK and Europe, the people in charge opt for the American son of the late king’s father’s bastard. Based on the novel Headlong by Welsh actor Emlyn Williams, the film was directed and written by David S. Ward, whose main accomplishment was Major League and its sequel. (In light of the hoopla over the death of the Princess of Wales six years after this movie came out, it is morbidly amusing how much in stride the Brits are shown taking the loss of the entire Royal family.) While not exactly a comic masterpiece, the main charm of this flick is seeing Goodman interact with the likes of Peter O’Toole, John Hurt and Richard Griffiths—who all mug good-naturedly in what amounts to an elaborate Christmas panto. Interestingly, this is to date the only time that O’Toole and Hurt have appeared on the big screen together. Goodman’s love interest, the appealing Camille Coduri, would go on to geekdom immortality by making numerous appearances as Billie Piper’s mother on the rebooted Doctor Who. (Seen 27 August 2012)

The King’s Speech 3 out of 4 stars

Essentially a hybrid of one of those British historical costume dramas so beloved of PBS viewers in America and a funny-but-touching bromance, this movie is way better than it has a right to be. It consists largely of expository scenes, inevitably necessary when covering a lot of complicated history, resulting in uncomfortably dressed actors largely talking about events going on outside the drawing room. And the complete focus on a monarch’s ability to perform as a speech reader tends to trivialize the momentous historical events involved. That, in spite of all that, the film turns out to be riveting has everything to do with the caliber of performance from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. And also from the writing by David Seidler. The screenplay sets up several simultaneous parallels that keep us engaged. For example, both Firth’s Duke of York and Rush’s speech therapist are outsiders in English society, one for being a royal, the other for being Australian. Similarly, the Prince of Wales’s inappropriate liaison with an American divorcée is contrasted his brother’s unconventional friendship with a commoner. Moreover, director Tom Hooper has included some nice literary echoes in the casting. When about-to-be-crowned King George VI finds himself butting heads with the Archbishop of Canterbury, it turns out to be none other than the screen’s preeminent stammerer of all time, Derek Jacobi of I, Claudius fame. And when Firth meets his therapist’s wife, darned if she isn’t the same actor (Jennifer Ehle) who played Elizabeth Bennet to his Mr. Darcy in the 1995 miniseries Pride and Prejudice. (Younger viewers may prefer to forgo this game and instead see how many actors from the Harry Potter movies they can spot.) In the end, though, it all comes down to whether or not this is a good story well told. As the people who hand out awards can and will see, it very much is. (Seen 23 January 2011)

Kingdom of Heaven 2 out of 4 stars

Every time we get a new Ridley Scott movie, there is a dreaded question to confront. Was it made by the genius who gave us masterpieces like Alien, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down? Or was made by the filmmaker who has given us such puzzlements as Legend and Gladiator? The good news is that it isn’t nearly as bad as Legend. You can probably guess the bad news, although you may not consider it bad news, since a lot of people seem to have liked Gladiator. And at least Gladiator had Russell Crowe in it. One cannot help but wonder what this Crusade flick would have been like with someone with the acting heft of Crowe or Christian Bale in the lead. Orlando Bloom is pretty as all hell and he was a dandy Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, mainly because mostly what was required of him was, well, to look pretty. But in an historical epic like this, you really need to have someone who can dominate the screen, and Bloom cannot convince us for a minute about his crime, repentance, spiritual search or transformation into legendary military leader. As far as Scott’s storytelling, there are some strange ellipses in the narrative (a shipwreck and a major battle slip by off-screen, as if Scott ran out of money or hard disk space on the computer doing his CG effects), and we have the confusing situation of a film that seems to be a “message” movie, but we can’t tell exactly what the message is. It might be that Europeans should stay out of the Middle East or maybe it’s that only good Europeans should get involved in the Middle East, but not the sort of Europeans (and presumably their American descendents) that want to start wars. One message comes through pretty clear, however: Muslims are devout and honorable, and most Christians are shameless hypocrites. (Seen 22 June 2005)

Kings 2 out of 4 stars

Based on a play by Jimmy Murphy, this Irish language movie presents a world that will be familiar to devotees of the American stage, i.e. men on the far side of middle age looking back with bitterness and regret at the unrealized hopes and dreams of their sunny youth. The specific situation here involves a group of young men who left Connemara together for London in the 1970s and now find themselves alienated and older than their years, as they gather for the funeral of one of their number. Tom Collins’s film unabashedly subscribes to two articles of faith among many in the west of Ireland: 1) living anywhere outside of Ireland is a form of hell and 2) no one can get ahead in life without selling out his friends. Having said that, the cast do an excellent and convincing job of playing men who have not coped well with the passing of time. Peadar O’Treasaigh is especially good as the heartbroken father of the dead man. The best known face is that of Colm Meaney (of Star Trek and The Commitments), who is perfect at conveying someone trying to convince himself not to feel guilty that he has done better than his mates, although he is too much the Dubliner to really seem like he is from the Gaeltacht. There are few surprises along the way in this drama, but it does transport you to that strange place of laughter and bitter tears that is the Irish psyche. (Seen 28 December 2008)

Kingsman: The Secret Service 3 out of 4 stars

It is a measure of this film’s wit that it can take a very tired trope of modern movies, i.e. the facile meta-referencing of itself as a movie to thus compare itself to other movies, and make it seem fresh and funny. More than once in this flick, a character says, “This isn’t that kind of movie” and it comes off as brilliant instead of an easy cheat. Kingsman isn’t so much a send-up as a celebration—and subversion—of the 1960s heyday of spy movies and TV shows. It would be easy to say that the writing/directing team of Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn have done to that genre what they did to fairy tales in Stardust and to comic books in Kick-Ass, but this one (also based on a comic) is so much better. The pair also gave us a more standard comic book movie in X-Men: First Class, but one can appreciate why Vaughn preferred to move on to this rather than be tied down with X-Men: Days of Future Past. As to be expected, given whose work this is, there is more than a bit of outrageousness and even political incorrectness. An infamous scene in a rather hateful Kentucky church is particularly provocative. The term “comic book violence” has come to denote brutality that is softened by its exaggerated and stylized nature, but this movie revels in video game violence, where the mayhem dotes on its own software origins. Best of all for cynics like me, the film gleefully confirms every suspicion we harbor about the elite in general and the political elite in particular. One could actually derive some kind of cogent political treatise out of its warped—yet not unfounded—view of where our world is going. The casting is spot on, with Colin Firth having the time of his life and relative newcomers Taron Egerton and Sofia Boutella making strong impressions. Yes, the movie goes rather laddish at the, ahem, end, but even that seems worth it—if for no other reason than all the tut-tutting it has provoked among people who have had to pretend that they didn’t enjoy it. (Seen 15 February 2015)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang 2 out of 4 stars

Here’s another thing I didn’t see coming. The older he gets, the more Robert Downey Jr. looks and sounds like Dustin Hoffmann. And when did Corbin Bernsen morph into the late Michael Conrad? Apparently not related to any of the three other movies that have more or less the same title, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of those films that makes a point of reminding you regularly that you are watching a movie, specifically a Raymond Chandler-like multiple murder mystery. In doing so, it makes itself much more entertaining and amusing than emotionally involving and gripping. It features extremely clever dialog by screenwriter Shane Black (also directing, for the first time), who wrote the Lethal Weapon movies as well as the sadly underrated Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero. In a way, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the anti-Lethal Weapon, i.e. Black vents about Hollywood, about silly police move conventions, silly crime novel conventions and even people who don’t stay to watch the end credits. In one particularly amusing scene at the end, he takes on the way some characters in movies always turn up alive after all the laws of science and nature say that they should definitely be pushing up daisies. The material is tailor-made for the chronically ironic Downey, and Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan make dandy foils for him. You’ll probably laugh a lot, but after it’s over, you won’t care that much. (Seen 23 November 2005)

Kisses 3 out of 4 stars

There is a lovely sequence in this film when two children hitch a ride on a barge on one of Dublin’s canals and the movie changes from black and white to color. Not only is this the first view I have ever gotten of what it would be like to travel to Dublin’s city center by canal, but the movie manages to evoke both The Wizard of Oz and Huckleberry Finn all in one go. Kisses was written and directed by Lance Daly, who previously gave us more typical independent fare with flicks like Last Days in Dublin and The Halo Effect. Dylan and Kylie are two adolescents living next door to each other—and who will probably need subtitles if and when this flick makes it to the U.S. market. Neither has a great home life, and when things turn yet worse for them, they take it on the lam to the city in hopes of finding Dylan’s older brother, who left home years before. At first their adventure is a lark, with bright lights, shopping centers, buskers and spending money that Kylie swiped from under a bed. But inevitably things turn dark, as the night wears on. Daly nicely captures the magic and fears of most large cities, as seen through the eyes of a child. And the two young leads, Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry, turn in commendable, realistic performances. In a particularly nice touch, the music and spirit of our young lad’s namesake, Bob Dylan, seems to be everywhere. (Seen 11 July 2008)

Klavim Lo Novhim Be’yaroq (Dogs Are Colour Blind) 2 out of 4 stars

One of the first scenes we see in this Israeli comedy is a woman in a business suit lying on her back and having a conversation on her mobile phone while the gynecologist who is examining her tries to ask about her sex life. This gives us an idea of the kind of humor we are in for. The film spends one night following a group of people whose paths keep crossing in strange and inevitable ways. The characters include a couple who are having marital difficulties, a pimp/gangster and his prostitute, a guy who just wants to watch a game on TV, a randy cop who tries to train his dog to recognize traffic signals (hence the title), and a couple of incompetent burglars. This is a completely harmless and amusing way to spend 92 minutes. (Seen 4 June 1997)

Kleine Teun (Little Tony) 1 out of 4 stars

Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam makes odd movies that initially seem light and humorous but relentlessly turn dark. His 1996 film The Dress was about a garment that ruined the life of virtually everyone who touched it. A dress turns up in this movie too, and once again nothing good happens to the three people involved. There are some truly amusing moments in the first half of the film, as something of a romantic triangle develops on a farm involving a husband and wife and the young woman hired to teach the husband to read. (The wife has tired of reading the subtitles to him when they watch foreign films on TV.) But, bit by bit, the movie turns into a somewhat lighter (which isn’t saying much) take on the plot of Arturo Ripstein’s Deep Crimson. The main upshot of Little Tony is: if you ever find yourself driving through the Dutch countryside after having seen this film, those quaint little farmhouses won’t look quite so benign. (Seen 19 May 1999)

Knallhart (Tough Enough) 2 out of 4 stars

Of course, if this was a Hollywood movie, young Michael would become a virtual action hero by the end of it. On the other hand, as a look at the problems of youth in urban areas, this German film by Detlev Buck isn’t exactly neo-realist either. Through the eyes of young Michael, we see the stark contrast between the Berlin suburb where he has been living with his mother and her doctor boyfriend and the inner city neighborhood where they move after the boyfriend kicks them out. It is a world where blond-haired Germans seem an ethnic minority and where gang bullying is rampant. Fifteen-year-old Michael is too pretty and baby-faced not to be a target, but he is determined not only to survive but to thrive. Ironically, his fine features are his apparent salvation, as a chance encounter with a drug lord allows him to be spotted as the perfect, innocent-looking courier. But Michael, well played by David Kross, soon gets a lesson in exactly what this sort of life entails. And a single event (one that gets depicted multiple times in Hollywood films with little thought or repercussion) becomes a harrowing and traumatic rite of passage in a dark, dark world. (Seen 16 July 2006)

A Knight’s Tale 2 out of 4 stars

If the title A Knight’s Tale seems a bit literary for a film that is essentially your basic rock ‘n’ roll knights-in-armor jousting movie, there’s a reason for it. The anachronistic touches and jarring inclusion of rock music may seem like a blatant attempt to draw a teen audience, but there’s more going on than that. The film’s goofy humor, coupled with the inclusion of a major literary figure as a key character and much consequent wry observation on the art of writing, make this a sort of a Monty Python and the Holy Grail meets Shakespeare in Love. The writer/director is Brian Helgeland, who has scripted a mixed bag of Hollywood films that includes Highway to Hell, Assassins, L.A. Confidential, Conspiracy Theory, The Postman and Payback. He concedes that some bad experiences with studios, including his frustrated directing effort on Payback (against his wishes, the ending was changed so that Mel Gibson could live), colored this screenplay and it can be read as an allegory of the writer-director struggle. And the strange soundtrack just happens to include tunes he was listening to while working on the script. The movie is fun to watch and even a bit touching in places. Not the least of its pleasures are some attractive faces, including the lead, Heath Ledger, who is no stranger to anachronistic heroes, having updated Shakespeare in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You and played an Irish prince fighting Romans(!) in the short-lived TV series Roar. But the show is stolen by Paul Bettany’s hilarious turn as the voice of writers everywhere. (Seen 25 April 2001)

Knocked Up 3 out of 4 stars

I really struggled with giving this its third star. After all, by now the trademark (or, if you will, formula) of the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogan coterie is clear. Give the lads a comedy on the high end of raunchy but lace it with unexpected sweetness and an even-more-unexpected bit of moralizing at the end. Well, after this flick and The 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad, it won’t be that unexpected anymore, so we’ll have to see what else these guys have. Now genre-wise, Knocked Up treads well-worn Hollywood territory. The man-child, who entertains us with his perpetual childhood only to be forced by life to finally grow up a bit, is a multiplex staple (cf. Wedding Crashers ad infinitum). But at least in this movie, our arrested adolescent is spurred to grow up by the one thing in life that actually does get many young men (and sometimes even not-so-young men) to do some growing up. By focusing on two couples, writer/director Apatow makes some all-too-sharp observations on the eternal battle of the sexes, both in the early stages and in the later stages of a relationship. (He also makes some hilarious observations on life in L.A.) But he conspires to finish up with a nearly foolproof ending, the high point of virtually any romantic relationship. We know everything we need to know about Seth Rogan’s character when he discloses that he has lived for years entirely off a modest accident settlement. We know everything we need to know about Katherine Heigl’s character when she discloses that she has never smoked dope and that her favorite female actor is Mary Tyler Moore. In this movie Heigl is Mary Tyler Moore. She has a Mary Richards-type personality and a Mary Richards-type job and goes on disastrous Mary Richard-type dates. But for once, it has somehow all worked out, in the messy, unexpected way that life sometimes works out. For that affirming message not overly sugar-coated (plus a bunch of good laughs), this movie squeaks by with its third star. (Seen 24 September 2007)

A Koldum Klaka (Cold Fever) 2 out of 4 stars

Sometimes a journey takes you to a place that is on no map. These words close Cold Fever, a beautifully photographed film by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson (Movie Days), letting us know, if we didn’t already, that this film is about an Iceland that is in no atlas. At times this Iceland resembles the bare white landscape of Fargo’s Minnesota. At other times it is an eerily beautiful netherworld where you never know when a supernatural spirit might appear. We see the country from the point of view of Atsushi (Masatoshi Nagase), a young Japanese man who has come to perform a memorial service for his parents who died there seven years before. This alien perspective makes the film resemble nothing so much as a Jim Jarmusch movie. The exception to this is a strange interlude with an American couple (Fisher Stevens, Lili Taylor) who seem to have no place in the movie except as an obligatory nod to Quentin Tarantino. (Seen 2 June 1996)

Komikku zasshi nanka iranai! (Comic Magazine) 2 out of 4 stars

Very, very black Japanese comedy about television journalism in the age of junk culture. The hero is a TV reporter, who follows actresses around airports and, when they refuse to utter one word to him, he shows the film on TV and pronounces, “As you can see, she didn’t deny the rumors about her affair.” The climax is when a couple of hit men break into a businessman’s apartment and off him while a mob of reporters films the whole thing. (Note: This really did happen in Japan.) The highlight for me was a bubble gum pop group of prepubescent girls singing a song called “Please Don’t Take My School Uniform Off.” (Seen 23 May 1987)

Kopps 2 out of 4 stars

Josef Fares follows up his hit Jalla! Jalla! with another screwball comedy, collaborating with many of the same people who worked on the previous film. If Jalla! Jalla! was more or less Sweden’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, then Kopps is its Andy Griffith Show. Actually, the Andy Griffith comparison works pretty well because, on that old American TV series, people always greeted each other by saying, “Hey.” And in this movie, they greet each by saying, “Hej.” But maybe a better comparison is the Police Academy movies, since the four cops on patrol in this rural town are all more Deputy Barney than Sheriff Andy. The humor is gentle and easy to take, with the best bits being the Walter Mitty-like fantasies of one of the cops, whose inspiration for police work comes from movies like Die Hard and various Hong Kong flicks. The plot involves a scheme by the officers to avoid having the station closed due to a lack of local crime. Inadvertently, the movie explains why it is so hard for governments to cut spending. (Seen 12 July 2003)

Korea 2 out of 4 stars

It is 1952 and John Doyle has much to be bitter about. He fought for the Irish Republic but now, three decades later, the only way of life he has known—fishing the lakes of Ireland’s Midlands—is coming to an end because the government wants to attract English tourists for sport fishing. And Ben Moran, whom John hates because he was on the side of the Free State in the civil war, is now a government official and much better off than he. Also disillusioning is the fact that so many young Irish are emigrating because there are not enough opportunities for them at home. (One of these was Ben’s son Luke who has come home in a coffin after the U.S. sent him to war in Korea.) John still mourns his wife who died young, and soon his only child Eamon, who is graduating from school, will leave him. Perhaps the hardest blow of all is that Eamon has fallen in love with Ben’s daughter Una. The conflict between John and Eamon is the heart of what is really a very simple story. This dark, brooding movie is based on a short story by John McGahern. It was beautifully, if gloomily, filmed in County Cavan by Cathal Black who explained after the screening that it was originally supposed to be under an hour but eventually expanded into feature film length. This was its first public showing. It will open in Ireland in the fall. (Seen 8 June 1995)

Korei (Séance) 3 out of 4 stars

I am well on my way to becoming a Kiyoshi Kurosawa (apparently no relation to that other Kurosawa) fan. His two movies that I have now seen are creepy and atmospheric and keep you involved and guessing from beginning to end. This one is based on the novel Séance on a Wet Afternoon, which was previously made into a movie in 1964, starring Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough. But Kurosawa has clearly put his own stamp on the material and it is easy to draw comparisons with his earlier film Cure. Both involve sleuthing psychiatrists (as well as detectives) delving into the paranormal, and both explore marriages consisting of a troubled wife and a very (perhaps overly) supportive husband. And both generate major creepiness. Junko has a problem that we have seen in movies before. Simply put, she sees dead people. But where The Sixth Sense (and more extremely, 1999’s The Haunting) relied on periodic visual shocks to put us on edge, this movie does it with such simple things as lighting, camera angles, shadows, and pacing. And, since movies like this have now conditioned us for years to expect certain things to happen, it’s refreshing and satisfying (and, in a way, even more creepy) when they don’t, that is, we just don’t know what to expect. (Seen 29 May 2001)

Krapp’s Last Tape 2 out of 4 stars

If you want to have the battle of your life, try seeing this film after just a few hours sleep the night before. It is the longest 58 minutes you will ever spend. It’s a filmed version of Samuel Beckett’s one-character play, which John Hurt performed on the Dublin stage. The movie version was filmed at Ardmore Studios by Canadian Atom Egoyan (Family Viewing, Exotica), who knows a thing or two about stories involving magnetic recording media. Beckett is definitely an acquired taste, and if I can take his absurdist approach to writing, it’s only because I studied French literature as one of my majors at university. (Both Ireland and France claimed Beckett as one of their own, once he became sufficiently famous.) For most people, this will be unwatchable. Still, Hurt gives a powerful performance, working with a minimum of dialog, some of it not completely coherent. Krapp lives and breathes, and we feel that we know him. If there is a message to this story, it is that life is full or regret, and watch where you throw your banana peels. (Seen 17 October 2003)

Kull the Conqueror 2 out of 4 stars

I suppose it’s a sign of the times that in this movie Kull the Conqueror is a much more politically correct and sensitive guy than he was in the original pulp fiction writings of Robert E. Howard. When Kull becomes king of Valusia through an incredible bit of luck and chutzpah, his administration gets off to an even rockier start than when Bill Clinton tried to open the military to gays. Kevin Sorbo looks fine in the title role, although his speech seems a bit refined for a barbarian/pirate/warrior and he is given to wisecracks not unlike that other fantasy hero he plays on TV. Once again Tia Carrere makes an alluring villain, although we keep waiting for her to do something more awful than habitually punch out the hapless wizard who resurrected here. The movie is entertaining enough in a strangely old-fashioned way. It’s kind of like one of those adventure movies in the 1950s and 1960s that featured heroes like Sinbad and starred actors like Guy Williams. The producer, not coincidentally, is Rafaella De Laurentiis who was responsible for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan movies and 1996’s Dragonheart. (Seen 29 August 1997)

Kung Fu Panda 2 out of 4 stars

As entertaining as this typically amusing DreamWorks animation is, I couldn’t help thinking, while I was watching it, that it would be even more fun to see footage of Dustin Hoffman as he was reading his lines into the microphone. Cross off one more item on my list of things I never expected to see in my lifetime: Dustin Hoffman more or less playing Yoda. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about this movie, and I laughed out loud a couple of a times, particularly at the scene involving acupuncture interrupting a conversation with the overly serious Tigress voiced by Angelina Jolie. In a strange way, I suppose this movie is the anti-Incredibles, in that it harks back to the traditional children’s entertainment message that everyone is special—even a lumbering and obese panda voiced by Jack Black. More interesting, however, is its other message: that what is written on the paper is not nearly so important as that people believe in it. (Seen 7 September 2008)

Kurotokage (Black Lizard) 2 out of 4 stars

This Japanese movie was made in 1968, and it is reminiscent of the Cinemascope Technicolor spy capers of that era. (The main theme music sounds an awful lot like Charade.) But this movie veers into high camp. The title character, a master femme fatale criminal, is played by Japan’s leading fernale impersonator. He/she goes through more hair-do and clothing changes in two hours than Joan Collins went through all last season. The evil Black Lizard has a weak spot: she is in love with Japan’s No. 1 detective, who has sworn to arrest her. A lot of fun. I won’t go out on a limb and say that this film has an appeal for a very specific audience, but I did notice that I was the only guy in the audience not wearing lavender. (Seen 23 May 1987)

Kurt and Courtney 2 out of 4 stars

This documentary by Nick Broomfield purports to be about Kurt Cobain, but it is really about the weird things some people will say if you point a camera at them. The “star” here is Nick Broomfield, who wanders around Washington state and California looking perpetually perplexed as people (many of them quite strange) share their stories—some real and some perhaps imagined—about Cobain and Courtney Love. The film is, of course, notorious because of the airtime it gives to conspiracy theories about Cobain’s death—notably from Love’s own father, a real piece of work who was marginally involved in her life. Broomfield appears not to be believe the conspiracy twaddle, but in the apparent interest of “open-mindedness” (or is it perverse fascination?) he pays it a lot of attention. The fact is, though, he uncovers more than enough evidence to show that being married to Love would be enough to drive a man to suicide. Among the few truly worthwhile bits in this oddity are the interviews with Cobain’s aunt who plays haunting recordings of Kurt as a child. This is the most we get about the man himself in a film that (for legal reasons) is entirely lacking any music by Nirvana. (Seen 8 July 1998)

Kyua (Cure) 3 out of 4 stars

In the men’s restroom after the screening of this one, the guys were throwing around comparisons to The X-Files and Twin Peaks. I can live with that, but I would also throw in a dash of Silence of the Lambs. This 1997 film by Japanese hotshot director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is inevitably dubbed “a psychological thriller,” and never has that label seemed more apt, since what is going on in the various characters’ minds is absolutely crucial to this multiple murder mystery. Ordinary people are suddenly and temporarily turning violent and killing someone close to them, and that’s all of the plot that I dare divulge. Ultimately, the story comes down to a duel between a detective determined to crack the case and the strangest film villain we have seen in a long time. A perpetually dazed, long-haired student type, he is a strange cross between Charles Manson and Hannibal Lecter. And, since this is essentially a mystery of the mind, expect one of those “huh?” endings. (Seen 16 May 2001)

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