Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott R. Larson





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RV 2 out of 4 stars

It seems a bit soon for yet another remake of The Hills Have Eyes. But here it is. Except this time it is a comedy. And instead of radiation-crazed mutant cannibals, our hapless family on vacation encounters (cue screechy violin horror music) Red State Americans! This movie was my Father’s Day surprise, and I have to say that nothing says “Father’s Day” like a movie, in which the first five minutes drive home the point that the cute, cuddly cherub in love with her daddy will, in a few short years, grow into a surly teen who thinks he is beyond lame. We have actually seen this zany “family comedy” numerous times before, but it usually has “National Lampoon” in the title. Connoisseurs looking for excrement gags will not be disappointed, but at least there are a few pretty good gags along the way, notably a sequence in which Robin Williams attempts to drive the titular road behemoth over an inaccessible mountain pass. And some of the jokes about urbanized families trying to cope with life on the road and spotty GPRS coverage do ring true. And for those keeping score, this movie confirms at least one item on our list of values often promoted by Hollywood movies but which no one in Hollywood actually believes in: the one about how it is better to be poor and happy rather than work for an immoral corruption run by jerks. It also adds a new one: people who drive everywhere in RVs, love country music, home-school their children and drop the Jesus’s name in their conversations are really good, decent people after all. (Seen 17 June 2006)

Rabbit-Proof Fence 3 out of 4 stars

Australian director Phillip Noyce first caught our attention with the 1989 no-frills but effective suspense/thriller Dead Calm. He then went on to make major pictures like Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Saint and The Bone Collector. Rabbit-Proof Fence marks a return to Australia and no-frills style, and the result is a splendid adventure story with a social conscience. The title refers to a fence that was erected the entire length of Australia to keep rabbits on one half of the continent away from the farms on the other half. The titular fence is obviously a metaphor for a divided country, but it also does double duty as an unlikely pathway that leads the protagonists home. Set in 1931, the film deals with the Australian government policy of confiscating “half-caste” children (i.e., those having a white parent) from their aborigine parents and placing them in camps for training as domestic workers and to “assimilate” them into Australian society. (This policy officially ended only in 1970.) The film could easily have wallowed in moral finger-pointing, but instead it sweeps us up in an epic (and true) adventure of three young girls who escape from one such camp and set out to make their way over 1,500 miles back home. The heartless government policy is given a face in the form of the bureaucrat in charge of the program, who is the movie’s Inspector Javert. Played by Kenneth Branagh (in icy, anal-retentive mode), he is a chilling portrait of the evil done by people in power who have ostensibly good intentions but extremely narrow and dogmatic vision. (Seen 13 October 2002)

The Rafters 2 out of 4 stars

A young woman with long, dark hair is sitting alone a train. She is headed toward a mysterious old house with many secrets and perhaps a ghost. Can it be? Is Irish director John Carney a Dark Shadows fan? It’s hard to know. In any event, this is definitely a change of pace from Carney’s last couple of flicks, the sci-fi spoof Zonad and the breakout musical hit Once. Despite all the supernatural trappings, this movie actually has more than a little in common with Carney’s 2001 film On the Edge, which also touched on issues of mental illness and suicide. The young woman in question (or “weird train girl,” as she is referred to by the two American backpackers she meets during her journey) is making a pilgrimage of sorts to a house in the Aran Islands that is apparently significant in her past. We are never quite sure if we are in for a proper ghost story or more of a psychological study. It turns out that Inis Mor is a good location for this sort of movie. Its isolation permeates the atmosphere, the Irish language gives it a mysterious exotic feel, the weather is very changeable and, in the best Dark Shadows tradition, there is a seriously high cliff. This may not be the thrill ride that Hollywood has led us to expect from haunted house movies, but it goes a long way on mood and unsettledness. (Seen 12 July 2012)

Raghs-e-Khak (Dance of Dust) 2 out of 4 stars

When a movie is described, as this one has been, as “pure cinema,” what is really meant is that there is no dialog. For me, in this case, that isn’t a bad thing since there are also no subtitles and Farsi is one language I just haven’t gotten around to picking up yet. The photography here is truly accomplished, and the images linger in the mind. I couldn’t help but be struck by how much the Iranian landscape resembled the dusty California valley where I was born. Why is this film called Dance of Dust? Perhaps the dance is the movement the dust makes from earth to bricks to buildings and, in some cases, back to earth again. (We learn a lot about making mud bricks while watching this movie.) Perhaps the dance is life itself. Life in this desolate village certainly seems all too susceptible to the winds. Much of the world-weary cast seem to be playing themselves—with the noticeable exception of the young central character, whose range of dramatic expressions and halo of thick black hair seem calculated to break our hearts. Director Abolfazl Jalili has picked up prizes in Tokyo and London for this work. (Seen 27 May 1999)

Raiders of the Lost Ark 3 out of 4 stars

The genius of this blockbuster from Steve Spielberg (very hot after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) was its natural appeal to two different but overlapping audiences. Younger people enjoyed it as a thrill ride. A friend who saw it before I did in 1981 recommended it by saying, “You know how every movie has one or maybe two really good parts? This whole movie is nothing but good parts from beginning to end.” At the same time it appealed to lovers of classic Hollywood movies by evoking the intrigue of old spy movies, the exoticism of foreign locations, the manly hero facing danger and the spunky dame who is his match. The whole thing was modeled after movie matinee adventure serials and, in principle, the characters should be two-dimensional and the plotting by the numbers. Somehow, though, the pacing, the banter, the infectious good humor and, not least, the screen presence of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen and character actors like Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies (future Gimli in The Lord of the Rings) and Denholm Elliott make it all work. Certainly there was no shortage of talent involved. The screenplay was by Lawrence Kasdan (right after his Empire Strikes Back script and the same year he directed Body Heat), working from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman (between his directing gigs on The Wanderers and The Right Stuff). What stands out is Spielberg’s absolute knack for visual set pieces. Has any exhaustive montage of great movie moments since not included the bit with Indy fleeing the giant boulder in the Inca cave? Can we possibly think of the scene in which an unimpressed Indy pulls out his gun and shoots a sword-wielding attacker, overly prone to showing off, in the marketplace? And let’s not get started on melting Nazis. This movie reset expectations for action flicks forever. They have all had to keep up a faster pace ever since. As a result, new viewers today will probably not appreciate what a shift it represented three and a half decades ago. (Seen 1 October 2016)

The Rainmaker 2 out of 4 stars

In the best of Hollywood traditions, mega-director Francis Ford Coppola and mega-author John Grisham let us have our cake and eat it too in The Rainmaker. We get to wallow in cynicism over the sleaziness of the legal profession, over the lack of humanity in insurance companies, and over big corporations dumping on the common man. But we also get a feel-good story about how good sometimes triumphs over pure evil when one person’s principles triumphs over his own ineptitude. Part of the fun of this flick is picking out the numerous famous faces in the sprawling cast, sometimes playing dramatically against type. Andrew Shue as the wife beater from hell? And when did Mickey Rourke age enough to play a gray-haired character role? Matt Damon is very convincing as the callow, naively innocent law school graduate, and Danny DeVito is very convincing as the para-legal who talks and acts exactly like Danny DeVito. Also, Jon Voight makes a dandy villain, although he and his dastardly associates have the worst poker faces I have ever seen in any movie courtroom. (Seen 8 November 1996)

Rampo (The Mystery of Rampo) 1 out of 4 stars

You know how in romantic American movies there is usually at least one scene that is shot in slow motion with no dialog and lots of lush music playing on the soundtrack? Well, practically this whole movie is that way. This is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen or heard. It is rich with mood, atmosphere, and lush orchestral passages. If only I had some idea what it all meant! For the record, Edogawa Rampo was a real person who wrote erotic thrillers which were sometimes banned in Japan in the 1930s. In this film, Rampo has written a haunting tale about a woman who murders her husband by locking him in her hope chest. The story is censored by the authorities, but to Rampo’s amazement his suppressed story seems to have somehow become real and he meets the widow face to face. He begins a sequel so that his literary alter ego (a detective) can pursue the widow who is now living in the gothic mansion of an extremely weird marquis. (How weird is he? Well, he has to dress up as his own mother to make love to his mistress. Is that weird enough for you?) As the movie wends toward its climax, the barrier between reality and literature gets thinner and thinner until they converge in an ending that isn’t all that unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beats me whether this spellbinder will find a popular audience or whether it is destined for midnight cultdom. (Seen 26 May 1995)

The Randomer 2 out of 4 stars

Do not be fooled. This brand new (it was still being edited the night before its Galway Film Fleadh screening) romcom may give every indication of being up to the minute in its topicality and observations of the current urban scene and 21st century social mores, but its themes are as timeless as any flick’s. College lecturer Meg has just turned 39 and her life is perfect. She and her boyfriend Teddy have a nice apartment in the heart of Dublin with all the trendiest bars, restaurants and clubs at their doorstep. She has no interest in a life like her younger sister’s, out in the suburbs with a new baby born every couple of years. Until she does. Something clicks (the proverbial biological clock) and suddenly she decides she wants to have a child after all. The question then becomes how she will go about accomplishing this and how complicated can she make her life and everybody else’s in the process. The screenplay is by Gerard Stembridge and we get very much the same glittering yuppie Dublin that he essayed a decade and a half ago in About Adam and which will be unrecognizable to those who like their Irish cinema to involve farms and codgers. This very entertaining tour of modern life has all the polish and style of any of Stembridge’s films, but he did not direct. It is a student project of the training and funding organization Filmbase, which has previously given us such flicks as Poison Pen. Naji Bechara, Caoimhe Clancy and Iseult Imbert are the directors. George Hanover radiates as Meg. John Lynn is very droll as the laid-back Teddy. Neilí Conroy and Siobhán Cullen are amusing and endearing as the couple across the hall. And Daryl McCormack is quite winning as the too-good-to-be-true young man from Mullingar who clearly has very good semen. (Seen 6 July 2016)

Ransom 2 out of 4 stars

Before the opening credits have even finished, we catch a glimpse of career psychopath actor Lili Taylor dishing some food and we immediately know that events aren’t going to turn out well. But then with a title like Ransom we probably figured this flick wasn’t going to be about a lovely picnic in the French countryside anyway. In fact Ransom, like Cape Fear, is a 1950s movie about a family’s worst nightmare which has been remade by (surprisingly) a major director and major stars to take advantage of 1990s style intensity and brutality. Ron Howard has definitely come a long way since he made such whimsical fantasies as Splash, Cocoon, and Willow, but the question is: in which direction? The material gives Mel Gibson and Rene Russo plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery and wrench the gut, but the story is never as thought-provoking as it wants to or should be. And, as in Cape Fear, the final scenes get increasingly perposterous and over-the-top. (Seen 8 November 1996)

Rat 2 out of 4 stars

I found myself laughing a lot at this silly movie, but that doesn’t mean I felt good about it. The idea of people turning into animals and the humorous consequences that could unfold goes back a long way in cinema, probably most commercially successfully in Disney’s The Shaggy Dog. Shaggy dog, indeed. The north Dublin locale gives it a bit of that Roddy Doyle flavor that Irish movies often try to emulate. But in terms of tone, this is basically an urban Waking Ned Devine, with perhaps just a dash of Father Ted-style church bashing thrown in for good measure. The casting is ideal and even includes one or two Irish actors. Pete Postlethwaite is perfect in the title role because, well, he does after all look like some kind of rodent. Imelda Staunton (the nurse in Shakespeare in Love) is his long-suffering, insufferable wife. Kerry Condon (How Harry Became a Tree), looking very Heather Graham-ish, is their daughter. And people who know Frank Kelly only as the demented Father Jack on Father Ted will not recognize him here as the erudite, know-it-all uncle. Another actor who plays a priest on television, Niall Toibin, plays one here, but he’s even less warm than Ballykissangel’s Father Mac. At one point, he is heard to give out bangs about how vexing it is to perform the last rites for someone and then they don’t die. The director is Steve Barron, whose c.v. includes the 1998 Merlin miniseries and the 1993 Coneheads movie. (Seen 9 March 2002)

Ratatouille 2 out of 4 stars

How can you not like a movie that has as its central message the notion that we should welcome vermin running through our kitchens? While mice have long been a cute staple of animated fare, this is the first time I can remember rats being made lovable. On the surface, Ratatouille’s memorable line seems a repudiation of a memorable line from Brad Bird’s previous big-screen animated blockbuster. (Bird, who also wrote the screenplay, co-directed Ratatouille with Jan Pinkava.) Many cited this exchange from The Incredibles as signaling a conservative political sensibility: “Everyone’s special, Dash”; “Which is another way of saying no one is.” This time the message is “Anyone can cook,” meaning, perhaps, that everyone is special after all. But no. The film’s message is resoundingly anti-elitist, which is consistent with the earlier film’s philosophy. Anyone can cook all right, but who the great cooks will turn out to be depends on individual merit—not class or even formal education. For what it is, this flick is fairly standard, although its technical execution is of an amazingly high quality that we have now come to boringly take for granted from Pixar. What is interesting is the way it attempts to convey the idea of tastes by way of visuals. It’s an impossible task, but it achieves a reasonable amount of success. Ratatouille thus enters that subgenre of film (e.g. Babette’s Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Big Night) that makes one leave the cinema with hunger pangs. (Seen 27 October 2007)

The Raven 2 out of 4 stars

This is another of those movies I originally saw with my pal Eric at a matinee in our hometown when it still had a cinema. I found this movie so cool that it stuck with me for years. It had all the elements that I would cherish in years to come: supernatural themes, the struggle between good and evil, a tragically lost love and hopes of somehow bringing her back from the grave. Only years later would I realize that the filmmaker was the legendary Roger Corman and that the movie was undoubtedly made for peanuts. Seeing it again after all these years, something else becomes immediately clear. Corman was to movies what Dan Curtis was to daytime television. I can’t imagine that this movie did not heavily influence Curtis, who was also a master at doing a lot with little money, in the set design and storylines three years later when he introduced Dark Shadows. Only ostensibly based on the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, the film has a dream horror cast: Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and the scream queen herself, Hazel Court. And who is the young male romantic lead other than an impossibly callow looking Jack Nicholson. The tone is largely tongue in cheek, so it is okay to laugh at some pretty clunky visual effects and an obviously hand-drawn castle instead of a proper matte painting. But have some respect, kids. This movie is proof is that big screen portrayals of wizards and their political conflicts did not begin with Harry Potter. (Seen 7 August 2011)

Rear Window 3 out of 4 stars

When we think about “Alfred Hitchcock movies,” no single film fits our idea of what that means better than Rear Window. As with his most crowd-pleasing stuff (e.g. North by Northwest), it is the story of an ordinary man caught up in an extraordinary and dangerous situation—accompanied by a beautiful blonde. And, as with his most critically acclaimed stuff (e.g. Vertigo) it is about an oddly repressed bachelor dabbling in voyeurism—and involved with a beautiful blonde. (Let’s not even get into his extremely phallic telephoto lens.) And, as with his most haunting and jarring films (e.g. Psycho), we are treated to a climax of armrest-gripping tension and suspense. (And, yeah, there’s a blonde involved there too.) The climax in Rear Window works well because of the slow, true-to-life build-up that makes it feel so real that we can’t help but identify completely with Jimmy Stewart’s plight. Interestingly, it may be even more suspenseful today than it was at the time of the movie’s original 1954 release because of all the stalker and slasher movies that have come and gone since. They have built up our fears and expectations of what can happen in a movie when a homicidal villain is about. It’s a testimony to Hitch’s genius that the ending can still be so unsettling even though it is tame by modern cinematic standards. (Seen 22 February 2000)

Rebel Without a Cause 3 out of 4 stars

Can it really be 40 years since Rebel Without a Cause came out and James Dean died? Before a Memorial Day screening of a new print of this classic, its screenwriter Stewart Stern read a letter that Dean wrote to a young cousin espousing strongly pacifist beliefs. After noting that only about three people who worked on Rebel are still alive (Dennis Hopper is another), Stern read a moving letter that he had written on the occasion of Dean’s death to the aunt and uncle who had raised him in Indiana. Before the main feature, we were treated to ten minutes of screen and wardrobe tests from Rebel and East of Eden. Afterwards Stern answered questions from the audience. Some of the more interesting revelations: Warner Bros. rewrote Stern’s ending of the movie. Originally, Dean was supposed to die along with Sal Mineo, but the studio thought it would be too depressing. And the title Rebel Without a Cause, which has nothing to do with the movie, was tacked on because Warner Bros. had purchased the rights to a book by that name (which was unfilmable) and it sounded better than the original title, The Blind Run. (Seen 29 May 1995)

RED 2 out of 4 stars

There’s something cool about seeing Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth slinging big weapons in a comic book-style action movie. If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that, before Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren played their well-known much-lauded roles, they previously paid their dues, respectively, playing hoodlums and doing a bit of cheesecake as in Excalibur’s Morgana. Like everybody else involved in this flick, they clearly know better than to take themselves too seriously and are obviously having a good time. This is a violent action movie done up as light comedy. The plot has a passing similarity to this year’s Salt, and the comparison is instructive. The Angelina Jolie vehicle was gritty and intense in the style of the Bourne movies. Even the similarly geezers-as-viable-action-heroes-themed Expendables (which also included Bruce Willis in the cast, albeit briefly) went a bit darker and rougher than this piece of escapist entertainment. Willis’s movie persona has always been the working class guy who has more sense than all the empty suits who cause the problems in his life. That matures (if that’s the right word) nicely as Willis becomes more and more of a seasoned citizen and the empty suits are young know-nothings (in this case, Eomer from the Lord of the Rings movies, New Zealander Karl Urban). Willis looks to be a fantasy role model for aging baby boomers in the way that Buddy Ebsen’s private eye and Andy Griffith’s lawyer were for their parents. In the end, the movie’s best bits go to wild-eyed John Malkovich as the obligatory crazy guy and to chameleon-like Brian Cox as a romantic Russian spook. Tip for the cinematically confused: do not mistake this for part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s French language Three Colours trilogy. (Seen 17 November 2010)

Red Eye 2 out of 4 stars

It is a comment on the state of air travel these days that the Hollywood studios have realized that they can get a lot of air miles, in movie terms, of automatic paranoia, frustration and suspense just by setting it on an airplane. Before the current Flightplan, Wes Craven put us through the excruciating process of boarding and sitting through an overnight domestic flight that nearly didn’t need the terrorist plot to make the whole thing bloodcurdling. In fact, the movie is a virtual catalog of our deepest rooted modern-day fears. They’re all here: not only air travel but also terrorism, relationships with parents and even the inescapable Dr. Phil. In a way, this movie does for the pressurized lifestyle of young professionals what Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street did for teenage insecurity. Indeed, this is essentially a remake of Elm Street as a conventional suspense thriller, with Cillian Murphy as a more charismatic version of Freddy Krueger and the plucky and engaging Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Wedding Crashers) reprising Heather Langenkamp’s resourceful climactic battle with her tormenter in the final act. The result is a fairly exhilarating 85 minutes. And it’s not only the terrorism theme that makes this movie feel up-to-the-minute. The Department of Homeland Security comes off as distressingly incompetent. (Seen 27 September 2005)

Red Riding Hood 2 out of 4 stars

It’s not a good sign that, in the course of watching this 2011 film by Catherine Hardwicke, we get more caught up in how to pigeonhole it than in actually following its story. The fact that it is drawn from the same fairy tale that has inspired provocative flicks about female sexuality (notably Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves) and that Hardwicke’s debut feature was a searing portrait of female adolescence (Thirteen) might cause us to think it will go that route. On the other hand, the recent trend of fairy tales to be turned into violent action flicks might be another way to go. In the end, though, as a werewolf movie it has less to do with the old Universal horror movies and more to do with Hardwicke’s most prominent film to date, the original Twilight. It begins as a medieval whodunit focused on who exactly is the lycanthrope terrorizing an isolated village—and, in the best Murder, She Wrote tradition, various suspects are lined up for us. (One of them is the always welcome Julie Christie, still radiant as she enters her 70s.) Then it sort of wants to become a remake of The Crucible with Gary Oldman in the thinly veiled Senator McCarthy role. In the end, however, it becomes yet one more romantic fantasy with a young girl swooning over a young man, with supernatural complications. (Seen 23 March 2013)

The Red Shoes 3 out of 4 stars

Pretty much undisputed as the best movie about ballet ever made, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classic still holds up well 62 years after it was first released. Exquisite color photography by Jack Cardiff and location footage at London’s Covent Garden and the Paris Opera and in Monte Carlo give it a visual beauty and sweep that many movies of the time didn’t have. The beginning scenes masterfully evoke what it is like to be a passionate fan of the arts and then progress to depict faithfully what it is like to be young and creative and to have all your potential ahead of you. The centerpiece is the mounted ballet, like the movie called The Red Shoes (after the Hans Christian Andersen tale), within the movie, which becomes its own reality, as it turns into a full movie production rather than merely a filmed stage performance. And, of course, the movie as a whole mirrors the fairy tale and ballet, as it poses the tension between devoting yourself completely to art and having a personal life. It was a stunning film debut for real-life Scottish dancer Moira Shearer (she only made a handful of other movies), but the performance of the Austrian Anton Walbrook, as the impresario who rules his company with a dictatorial hand and demands everything from his protégés, was absolutely necessary as well. Bearing a passing resemblance to Walt Disney, he straddles that fine line between being a monster and someone who could compel people to do anything and everything for him. (Seen 9 July 2010)

Regarde les hommes tomber (See How They Fall) 2 out of 4 stars

This flick has been called a “French Reservoir Dogs.” Now there’s a scary thought! Fortunately, a more apt description would be simply to call it “French.” The first film by Jacques Audiard, this seamy frog noir yarn pretends to be about crime and obsession, but in the end it is really about male bonding—and not necessarily in the healthiest sense. Jean Yanne is an aging Philippe Noiret type who becomes inexplicably obsessed with finding the gunman who put his cop friend in a coma. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Mathieu Kassovitz (who both would later play the title role at different ages in Audiard’s Un Heros Tres Discret) are a couple of losers who have something of a C3PO/R2D2 relationship. At least until they make a career breakthrough that puts them on a collision course with Yanne. The film isn’t so much a thriller or suspense piece as a character study meant to haunt. For me, the most haunting touches were the (reservoir?) dogs which seem to be harbingers of bad luck. (Seen 18 September 1997)

The Reggae Movie 2 out of 4 stars

If you like raggae music, you will probably like this movie. If you don’t, you may not. There are no interviews, no voice-over, barely a subtitle or two to let you know whom you are watching and listening to. What you’ve got is 92 minutes of music performed by some of the best artists of the genre, filmed at various locales around the world. (The music does pause briefly at one point for a few quick words from Sandra Bernhard.) Featured artists include Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Burning Spear, Inner Circle, and many others. (Seen 19 May 1996)

Reindeer Games 3 out of 4 stars

Is it just me or is there something physically about Ben Affleck that reminds one of Adam Sandler? If such a resemblance exists, it doesn’t hurt the tone of this twisting and turning caper movie at all. This flick has its own eccentric sense of humor, starting with the title. It is from a throw-away line by long-haired Gary Sinise, playing a villain who makes up for what he lacks in intelligence with pure meanness. In a blatant Gene Autrey reference, the guy he says it to is named Rudy, the hapless yet resourceful chap played by Affleck. The yuletide references get thicker still when we realize that he thinks Affleck’s name is Nick. But a better indication of the film’s dark humor is the opening shots of several Santa Clauses who have been violently blown away. Or its final shots of a goofily incongruous Norman Rockwell ending. The plot’s setup suggests that we might be in store for some sort of American Crying Game remake, but since the girlfriend in question is Charlize Theron, we can be pretty sure that she’s not going to pull a Jaye Davidson. There will in fact be many plot twists before this is all over, but it’s a fun ride all the way. A good old-fashioned suspense flick, it follows John (The Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer’s previous effort, Ronin, as an entertaining time at the movies. The writer is Ehren Kruger, who penned the equally perverse Arlington Road and who is taking over from Kevin Williamson on the third Scream movie. This flick’s best line: “I had better sex in prison.” (Seen 25 January 2000)

Die Reise (The Journey) 2 out of 4 stars

The title refers to the trip made by a man named Bertram from Lebanon to Germany with his small son. He has just snatched the boy from his ex-wife, who is in a terrorist training camp. But the Reise also refers to Bertram’s whole life, which is chronicled by a sometimes confusing series of flashbacks. This film is based on a true story. The real “Bertram” committed suicide after these events and his family declined to have the movie filmed until they found a dispassionate director, which explains why this German movie was directed by a Swiss. Bertram is the son of a Nazi poet who, spiritually, never surrendered, after World War II (which Bertram is old enough to remember). At the university, Bertram becomes involved in radical politics and protests against U.S.involvement in Vietnam. He and his wife split when he draws the line at terrorism and she decides she likes a more radical comrade better anyway. All in all, the film is quite evocative of the permutations the Germany psyche has gone through from Hitler to Baader-Meinhoff. (Seen 20 May 1987)

Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript) 3 out of 4 stars

Okay, so maybe you won’t want to sit through this 1965 movie because it is three hours long and it’s in black and white and it’s in Polish with subtitles. But you would be missing out on a true experience. But you might not be able to see it anyway because it isn’t available on home video and for years film prints of it have been rare and of varying quality and length. I first saw it about 20 years ago in Edmonds, Washington, but I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was because the only reason it was playing there at all was because the theater owner had just happened to find a print in the basement of a Detroit furniture store! A full-length 35mm version is now in distribution (thanks to the late Jerry Garcia, who funded a search and restoration), and this cult classic is definitely worth another look. It is now easy to see how The Saragossa Manuscript’s intertwining stories within stories (at one point I counted five nested narratives) anticipated such tangled-plotted contemporary flicks as Pulp Fiction, Go, and Magnolia. And the fourth or fifth time we see our hero Alphonse wake up in the morning in the exact same spot under the gallows, we can’t help but see a debt owed by Groundhog Day. And when the howling mad Pascheco suddenly turns matter-of-fact to tell his own story, we can’t help think of Mel Brooks’s better satires. Part ghost story, part shaggy dog story, part metaphysical musing and part screwball comedy, Wojciech Has’s pixilated masterpiece just keeps on truckin’. (Seen 8 February 2000)

Relax… It’s Just Sex 2 out of 4 stars

The title serves as fair warning. If you don’t want to see a movie about sex, then don’t see this one. It’s about a group of friends, and they have sex all the time. And when they’re not having sex, then they are obsessing about sex. And when they’re not obsessing about sex, then they are chatting casually about sex. Got the picture yet? This movie is about sex. Sort of as if Friends were on an adult cable TV channel and half or more of the gang were gay. But the title is also grimly echoed in a repugnant rape scene that deliberately casts a pall over this otherwise sitcom-like flick. What’s really strange is how watching the rape seems to be an erotic turn-on for most of the characters. The best known cast members are Jennifer Tilly and Paul Winfield, but also on hand are Lori Petty (of Tank Girl fame) and Serena Scott-Thomas (of Diana: Her True Story fame). Susan Tyrrell has a very amusing cameo as a woman who can’t accept the fact that her daughter has broken up with her girlfriend—but it’s never explained why she and her husband have American accents and the daughter has a very English one. (Seen 22 April 1999)

La Religieuse (The Nun) 2 out of 4 stars

A handsome costume drama, this flick is adapted from Denis Diderot’s novel, which was published in 1796 after he had died. The book began as a prank, as the author pretended to be a young nun writing to a friend of his for help in escaping from an oppressive convent. The 1966 adaptation of the novel by Jacques Rivette caused something of a scandal, but that’s not likely to happen this time around. In director Guillaume Nicloux’s hands there is little residue of pranks or scandal here, but rather an earnest tale of a young woman’s travails. Pauline Etienne plays the teenager Suzanne, who is shipped off to a convent once her two older sisters have been married off. It turns out that her birth was the result of her mother’s indiscretion and the family are determined to see her safely ensconced in the religious life. Unfortunately, convent life turns out to be more brutal than hazing season at a military academy. But plucky Suzanne does not give up on escape, even though in those days breaking a nun’s vows was extremely difficult to accomplish legally. Before it is all over, she will find refuge (or so she thinks) in another convent with a much more kindly mother superior. Unfortunately for her, Supérieure Saint-Eutrope turns out to be (sorry for the spoiler, but I may never again get a chance in my whole life to write this sentence) last year’s Galway Film Fleadh special guest, the much lauded and admired Isabelle Huppert, as one crazy-ass lesbian nun. (Seen 14 July 2013)

The Reluctant Revolutionary 2 out of 4 stars

We’ve heard a lot about the Arab Spring for several seasons now, but for most of us it remains little more than a few images of protesting crowds on our television screens. This movie gives us a more personal look and in a country that generally was not in the headlines, Yemen. British documentarian Sean McAllister was in Yemen at the time that protests escalated against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and did much filming despite potential risks to himself. During his time there he was escorted around by a tour guide named Kais (pronounced “case”). Kais becomes the focus of the film, as we witness his struggle to keep his tour company afloat amid a dearth of tourists and the stress it puts on his family life. Indeed, we learn so much about Kais’s life that, at times, it feels as though we are watching an exotic form of reality TV. Moreover, Kais willingly conforms to a classic media narrative. He goes from being a cynical supporter of the president to expressing solidarity with the protestors when the government uses violence against them. To his credit, McAllister does not edit his film to put himself in any kind of heroic light. In fact, if anything, he comes off as overly concerned for his own safety and nearly insensitive to Kais’s travails. In the end, the film is an intriguing fly-on-the-wall look at a moment in Middle East history, although we have no more clue than the actual participants as to where it is all headed. (Seen 12 July 2012)

Rendez-vous 2 out of 4 stars

Bizarre French film that is an obsessive love story and also may or may not be a ghost story. The cast is very young and very attractive. Jean-Louis Trintignant, who used to be young and attractive, is now playing old farts and does so in this movie. The plot raises a lot of mysteries and then resolves them, mostly satisfactorily. But then it keeps on going, and then it doesn’t end so much as it just stops. (Seen 23 May 1987)

The Replacement Killers 2 out of 4 stars

This is the kind of movie that takes place in a crime world milieu where the penalty for being a cop who kills a powerful crime lord’s beloved son is to have a stealthy, lone hit man sent out for revenge but the penalty for being that hit man and having second thoughts is to have fifty guys come after you with enough artillery to conquer Iraq and several neighboring countries. The star here is Hong Kong film legend Yun-Fat Chow and, as the previous sentence suggests, this is basically a Hong Kong action flick in spirit if not in technical reality. (Read high body count.) There are lots of slow-motion scenes and throbbing music on the soundtrack, sort of like MTV. Indeed, director Antoine Fuqua’s main previous credit is a Coolio video. John Woo is one of the producers and, while it doesn’t feature the over-the-top inventiveness of Woo’s Face/Off, The Replacement Killers is plenty exciting in its own right. Mira Sorvino further distances herself from her Mighty Aphrodite image, playing a passport forger who happens to be one tough cookie. (Seen 19 February 1998)

Ressources humaines (Human Resources) 2 out of 4 stars

I went into this expecting a horror movie because some of my scariest experiences have involved groups of people calling themselves “Human Resources.” The title, of course, can be taken two ways: its literal meaning (the potential of people) and its more usual meaning in large corporations (a place where over-paid, under-qualified hacks sit around and think of ways to torture hapless employees). This choice of title by first-time director Laurent Cantet is a good indication of his earnestness. The plot involves an idealistic university business student who returns from Paris to his small, provincial town to do summer work-study in HR at the local factory, where his old friends and his father work. His assigned task is to help smooth over the transition to the 35-hour workweek. His foray into the treacherous shoals of management and union politics makes for an interesting and realistic study, but the story’s progression is an even better study in the difference between French and American attitudes toward work. The local union leader, by American standards, is a rabid, confrontational, dogmatic firebrand who would have even Al Gore nervously calling for security. Yet she is meant to be the reasonable one here. So, after a very promising beginning, the film devolves more or less into propaganda. (Seen 25 May 2000)

The Return of the Jedi 3 out of 4 stars

If I were to ask you, “What is the real historical and cultural significance of The Return of the Jedi?” you would probably answer, “Of course, that costume that Jabba the Hut makes Princess Leia wear during the first half of the movie!” And, yes, while that is significant, there is something even more profound going on here. Look at Luke Skywalker. He is basically a baby-faced nerd with funny hair who masters technology and the supernatural to single-handedly overthrow an evil empire and become the most important person in the universe. In other words, this movie (along with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) foretold the whole Microsoft story! Anyway, the movie was great before it was a “special edition,” and it’s still great. Sure, it gets a bit too cute and cartoony at times, but Harrison Ford’s perpetual smirk keeps things in perspective. Trivia note: A friend of mine who should know says that the Ewoks actually speak Tibetan. (Seen 29 April 1997)

Return to Me 3 out of 4 stars

I managed to go into this movie without knowing a whole lot about it, which was amazing and fortunate. I had seen the trailer all right, and it wasn’t particularly promising. The impression was that we would have the usual romantic comedy with two people obviously meant for each other but for whatever reason yadda yadda with best friends giving advice all the time yadda yadda. And the title suggests that we’d be hearing a schmaltzy Dean Martin song. Well, that much is all true. More alarming was the fact that in the first few minutes it was easy to see exactly where this flick was headed and it wasn’t necessarily somewhere we wanted to go. It even looked as though we might be getting a supernatural love story in the vein of Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait. But, surprise of surprises, once you get through a somewhat somber first reel, Return to Me turns out to be a delightful character-driven story infused with the joy of falling in love and all the wacky Italian(+Irish!)-American family dynamics of Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck. David Duchovny acquits himself way better than his years on The X-Files series might have suggested, and Minnie Driver is also fine without evoking any of the numerous other similar characters she has played, starting with Circle of Friends. But the movie’s true joys come from the supporting cast, which includes the likes of Carroll O’Connor, Robert Loggia, Jim Belushi, and Bonnie Hunt, who not only co-wrote the screenplay but also makes an impressive directorial debut. (Seen 28 April 2000)

Revengers Tragedy 2 out of 4 stars

Alex Cox, the mind behind Repo Man and Sid and Nancy is back, and his newest movie does for post-Elizabethan tragedy what his Straight to Hell did for spaghetti westerns. A liberal adaptation of a 1607 play by Thomas Middleton, Revengers Tragedy may remind audiences a bit of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The backstory is that southern England has been destroyed by a comet and the north is ravaged by gang warfare and urban decay. (We don’t actually know this from watching the movie; I got it from the program notes.) Like My Kingdom (another recent update of centuries-old tragedy), it is set in Liverpool, but it resembles modern-day Liverpool the way Escape from New York resembled New York. Coherence is not Cox’s strong suit, but the film is oddly compelling. It is always fascinating to watch, and the musical soundtrack is very nice. Christopher Eccleston is hypnotic as the Count of Monte Cristo-like hero. And Derek Jacobi is, well, you have to see him. (Seen 11 October 2002)

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Chavez: Inside the Coup) 2 out of 4 stars

This documentary, which picked up best documentary prizes at the Seattle and Galway film festivals, came about through a bit of fortuitous luck on the part of the filmmakers. Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain went to Venezuela and asked for access to President Hugo Chavez to do a video profile. After much persuading, they got their access and were settled into to capturing him on video on a daily basis when he was briefly ousted by a coup in April 2002. Their close-up footage of the whole event, supplemented by footage from other sources, became an absorbing documentary for the BBC and RTÉ. The film is fascinating for its fly-on-the-wall view of everything happening in the Chavez camp as the crisis develops and then overtakes the government, ending finally with Chavez’s triumphant return from detention. Its drawback (or strength, depending on your point of view) is the filmmakers’ conscious decision to approach the subject with a definite point of view, which is that Chavez is a savior to his people, opposed by villainous reactionaries. This point of view colors every frame of the film. A documentary that approached the more ambiguous reality of the situation would have been even more interesting and useful. Bartley and O’Briain want to make Chavez (who, as the film notes briefly, once led his own military coup) Salvador Allende. Now facing a possible constitutional recall, Chavez may be better likened to Gray Davis. (Seen 19 October 2003)

Richard III 3 out of 4 stars

This is one of the best action flicks I’ve seen in a long time. I definitely have to get down to the video store and see if I can pick up Richard and Richard II! Okay, now that I’ve had my little joke, it is worth noting that there is a fair amount of action and violence in this film, and the ending would not out of place in a Bruce Willis vehicle. In other words, a popular entertainment of its time has successfully been updated to be one for our time. Normally, I tend to be unimpressed by Shakespeare adaptations that get overly gimmicky by updating the time period. But darned if moving Ricard III to the 1930s doesn’t work quite well. Fascism was rising elsewhere in Europe. What if it had in England? What if it had been imposed by a branch of the royal family? (Their roots were in Germany after all.) This conceit also makes the somewhat complicated plot much easier for 20th-century audiences to follow, and the conflicts seem so much more (dare I say it?) relevant. It just drives home the point of how little things change. (Perhaps the next adaptation will be set in modern-day Iraq?) Ian McKellen is great in the title role. He is every dictator and politican who presented one face to the public and another deadly one to his enemies, both real and perceived. (Seen 27 February 1996)

Ride 2 out of 4 stars

We know from the very first scene that Jackie is an over-protective mother. She spends her nights on the hallway floor in front of her young son’s bedroom door. We attribute her obsessive behavior to the kind of personality that has made her a high-power New York editor. But later on we learn that there is a much more specific reason that she clings so tenaciously and protectively to her (now) young adult son. When he does not return from a visit to his dad in Southern California—he has dropped out of school to live the romantic life of a surfer cum writer—it presents a major crisis for her. And it is that crisis and the extremes to which it drives her that provide the comedy in this family dramedy. While the story is not particularly remarkable, it is involving because Jackie is played by the always likeable Helen Hunt, who also wrote and directed (her follow-up to 2007’s Then She Found Me). Jackie is an entirely real person, and we’ve all known someone like her. The plot allows for enough New York/California culture clash to do Woody Allen proud, and Hunt finds a suitable foil in Luke Wilson as a surfing instructor with an odd mix of laid-back insouciance and drill sergeant drive. The considerable surfing footage—a major element of the story—is quite good, considering that it is meant to look realistic rather than spectacular. And the actors give every appearance of doing their own surfing. As Jackie’s son, Brenton Thwaites is full of youthful earnestness befitting an aspiring writer squirming under the all-too-loving thumb of a monster editor. Especially endearing is David Zayas as the hapless limo driver who is all but kidnapped by Jackie and winds up becoming an integral part of her new makeshift West Coast family. (Seen 5 July 2015)

Ridicule 2 out of 4 stars

As hard as it is to believe just after the Clinton and Dole campaigns, there was a time in history when looking foolish or silly could actually be a detriment to a political career. That time was the 18th century in France. Which makes it all the more amazing is that in those days important people walked around in elaborate wigs and costumes that make Priscilla Queen of the Desert seem like an Amish movie. In a society like that, what could possibly make someone stand out as silly? The answer: being the victim of a razor-sharp witty put-down like being called the Marquis de Stumblebum. Somewhat reminiscent of Dangerous Liaisons, Ridicule tells the story of an innocent (Charles Berling, who looks a bit like the male half of the couple in those Taster’s Choice commercials) in the court of Louis XVI. This is also a story of plunging necklines, but I digress. This film by Patrice Leconte makes it clear why the aristocracy never stood a chance in the French Revolution. Their best defense against the peasantry would have been to invite them to a party and then make fun of them! (Seen 9 December 1996)

Riding Giants 2 out of 4 stars

One unexpected insight we get from this new documentary from Dogtown and Z-Boys director Stacy Peralta is why there is such a macho quality to the feature films of director/screenwriter John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn). He’s a surfer. Which probably explains why his Big Wednesday is cited by many as one of the few decent surfer movies ever made. Otherwise, as we learn in one of this documentary’s several entertaining asides, the history of surfer movies is not particularly illustrious. It was the first Hollywood surfer movie, Gidget in 1959, that popularized and mainstreamed the sport. Until then, surfing was a small subculture of people, who pursued the next big wave in a life-consuming quest that smacked of religious devotion. In fact, the movie argues that 1950s surfers unsettled bourgeois America (which called them “beach bums”) in much the same way that hippies did in the 1960s. Peralta follows surfing from its roots in Hawaii and then bounces back between there and California to track serious surfers’ continual search for ever bigger waves. Three major figures dominate: 1960s giant Greg Noll (who has eerily aged into a look- and sound-alike for Jonathan Winters); Jeff Clark, who discovered the primo surfing spot Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California, and surfed it entirely alone for 15 years; and Laird Hamilton, who has used advances in technology (notably jet skis, for towing) to make it possible to ride waves that were previously too big to catch. As a documentary, the film succeeds at what it needs to do. It makes us feel the all-consuming passion that drives these single-minded devotees. Even when we stare at what they’re doing and feel our heart in our throat. (Seen 15 October 2004)

Riding the Rails 2 out of 4 stars

Back before we had “street people” and “the homeless,” there were bums, tramps, and hoboes. Riding the Rails is an earnest documentary by Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell which recounts a time in America during the Great Depression when millions of people took to freight trains in a continual nationwide search for work or for food or just to keep moving to keep hope alive. The film concentrates specifically on teenage hoboes, probably because some of them are still alive, and in fact several provide on-camera reminisces of the time. (One of them still compulsively hops trains even though he is in his 70s and has a home and wife.) The portrait that emerges is one of a time of hopelessness tempered with camaraderie. The film wants to point a wagging finger at the country’s pre-New Deal indifference to these people, but what stands out is the thrill and enthusiasm these people felt for catching and riding trains all over the country. (Seen 16 May 1997)

Rien ne va plus (The Swindle) 2 out of 4 stars

Since this film is by Claude Chabrol (his 50th, as it happens), the only question is: what kind of Hitchcock film is it reminiscent of? Since we have a couple of high-living thieves trekking to various picturesque European locales, it has to be It Takes a Thief Hitchcock. Victor and Betty have been working scams together for years, and their con games go down like clockwork. But then Victor learns that Betty has been weaving a plan of her own, and then the question becomes: is one of the con artists conning the other, or are they both being conned? With two old pros like Michel Serrault and Isabelle Huppert playing this pair, you know that the acting will be first-rate. They establish a nicely ambiguous father/daughter kind of competitive/cooperative rapport. In other words, this is Entrapment without the special effects and with a lot more character and plot. The penultimate scenes, where the pair confront some very bad men with a penchant for opera, are particularly well-done. (Seen 23 May 1999)

Riget (The Kingdom) 2 out of 4 stars

Although I saw 82 screenings at the 1995 Seattle International Film Festival, I somehow managed to miss the film that took the top prize, The Kingdom. (In my defense, it was shown only one time and it had running time of nearly five hours.) Fortunately, thanks to an engagement at Seattle’s Varsity Theater (November 22-28), I’ve finally gotten my chance to undo my oversight. This is a film that begs for high-concept shorthand like “ER meets Poltergeist” or “Danish Twin Peaks in a hospital.” (Other people have already thought of those; my own take would be “Paddy Cheyefsky’s The Hospital meets Don’t Look Now.”) Shot with a jerky hand-held camera and edited haphazardly to make it seem almost like a documentary, the film presents a hospital harboring supernatural secrets and a large cast of characters. To list just a few, we have an arrogant Swedish neurosurgeon who cannot hide his disdain for all things Danish, a crusading junior doctor who likes to bend the rules, a hypochondriac spiritualist, a medical student given to macabre practical jokes, and two dishwashers with Downs syndrome who act as a sort of Greek chorus for the proceedings. It is all very entertaining stuff, although this isn’t so much a film as it is an off-beat television series that apparently (like all the best ones) gets canceled after four manic episodes. (Seen 25 November 1995)

The Right Hand Man 1 out of 4 stars

For the second time in this film festival, we get to see a couple of horses getting it on, and once again it bodes ill for the poor people who have to watch this and the rest of the movie. Rupert Everett (the pretty actor who starred in Another Country and Dance with a Stranger and has been dubbed by the deputy festival director as Pouty Lips) plays Lord Harry, a horse-loving scion and sole heir to an aristocratic Australian family. Unfortunately, Harry has diabetes and when he faints while racing in a carriage, there is an accident that kills his father and injures his arm, which ends up having to be amputated (on-screen; ugh!). But Harry is still keen on driving his horses, and his incredible bitch of a mother still wants an heir, so he hires Ned, a handsome, healthy young man to do all those physical things that Harry can no longer manage. If that made you think something dirty, don’t feel bad. The makers of this film are way ahead of you. Harry is in love with the doctor’s daughter and she with him. She has a very medical and scientific bent. When a pet monkey arrives severely damaged in shipping, she wastes few tears before setting about dissecting it. She, Harry, and Ned enter into some sort of weird ménage á trois (or ménage á cinq, if you are counting the arms involved). This is one of the few movies that got hissed at the end, and the only one I can remember where a festival official apologized to the audience afterward. The moral: beware of movies in this festival that deal with the intimate affairs of horses. (Seen 24 May 1987)

Les Rivières pourpres (The Crimson Rivers) 2 out of 4 stars

Why is it that it seems to be easier to make a good beginning to a movie than a good ending? I mean, some of the best movies I have seen are great because of their strong endings. (Dr. Strangelove comes to mind.) But in recent times, it seems as though lots of movies start out great but just can’t sustain it all the way to the end. This one by Mathieu Kassovitz (director of La Haine and star of A Self Made Hero) is a case in point. A police thriller, it builds suspense and mood nicely for much of its running time, not to mention providing some spectacular photography of the French Alps. But, once we figure out most of its mystery, the movie just gets plain silly. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play cops working two different cases that wind up merging, forcing them to cooperate. Reno (who could well be replaced by Bruce Willis in an American remake) is a legendary investigator of France’s most difficult cases, who is close to burning out. Cassel (say Keanu Reeves in the US version) is the brash younger detective who apparently looks on an investigation as an opportunity to rough up skinheads. In the best Hitchcockian tradition, each has an Achilles’s heel. Reno is afraid of snarling dogs, the way Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes, while Cassel has never actually shot anybody and isn’t sure that he could. Watch for Dominque Sanda in a cameo as a very weird nun. (Seen 4 June 2001)

The Road Within 2 out of 4 stars

We have had film characters with Tourette’s syndrome before, but usually the condition is played for laughs. This debut feature by Gren Wells (she also wrote the cancer-themed movie A Little Bit of Heaven, starring Kate Hudson and Gael García Bernal) takes a more human view of the syndrome yet doesn’t shy away from mining its comic potential, as well as that of obsessive/compulsive disorder. You could say that this is something of a serious caper comedy. Wells has assembled a very good young international cast with Ireland’s Robert Sheehan (The Mortal Instruments Irish TV’s Love/Hate), America’s Zoë Kravitz (X-Men, Divergent) and Britain’s Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) playing a trio of afflicted residents of a clinic treating their respective Tourette’s, anorexia and OCD. Plotwise, we get a lot of the standard movie stuff—father/son issues, road trip becoming a spiritual journey, quest to scatter a parent’s ashes and a lot of personality clashes. Still, the cast is so good (including Robert Patrick as Sheehan’s dad and Kyra Sedgwick as the head of the clinic) that we don’t mind so much. And there is some nice photography of Yosemite and Santa Cruz. All through it, though, the heart of the film is really the emotional challenges of the young characters who, as young people always must do, reject the society in which they find themselves and try to build their own—inevitably finding that it a lot harder than they expected. Patel is very amusing in what is arguably the funniest role, and if he should choose to specialize in this kind of character, he could easily be the next generation’s Edward Everett Horton. But it is the mesmerizing Sheehan who continually draws our eye. Middway through his 20s when he filmed this, he looks as though he could go on playing waifish adolescents forever. (Seen 27 November 2015)

Robin and Marian 3 out of 4 stars

What a delightfully strange movie this is. The themes are all about legends and how they should not overstay and should recognize when their time is over. Yet the cast is populated with people we were not tired of then (1976) and are not still. Robin Hood, in the charismatic guise of a bearded Sean Connery, has to keep reminding us that he has well outlived the normal lifespan of a man in the 12th century, but it doesn’t help. He and Audrey Hepburn, both in their mid-40s, are so vibrant and vital that we do not buy any of this past-their-prime nonsense for a moment. No more than we buy that the Spanish landscapes are England. In a way, to the extent that this is an action movie (it is really a bittersweet romcom) it presages the most recent movies of Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger in that the hero gets to quip about his aches and pains. This historical epic of a sitcom was penned by playwright/screenwriter James Goldman, who did a similar job on Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter. The director is Richard Lester, who has made a career of tweaking the legends of everyone from the Beatles (A Hard Day’s Night, Help!) to The Three Musketeers in a popular series of movies to a couple of Christopher Reeve Superman movies to even a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid prequel. Connery and Hepburn are perfect. She had been sorely missed in the nine years since Wait Until Dark. He is clearly enjoying the throwing-off-the-legend thing a half-decade after Diamonds Are Forever. He even gets to have a re-match with Robert Shaw (a slyly grinning Sheriff of Nottingham) with whom he had a memorable tussle on a train in From Russia with Love. (Shaw had famously lost a tussle with a shark the previous year in Jaws.) Clearly not done, Connery would make an uncredited cameo as King Richard 15 years later in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood movie. In this flick, the Lionheart is played by Richard Harris, clearly enjoying a role that allows him to self-indulge in a thoroughly self-indulgent character. The rest of the cast is a joy, including Nicol Williamson as Little John, Denholm Elliott as Will Scarlett and Ronnie Barker (of The Two Ronnies fame) as Friar Tuck. Ian Holm makes quick appearance as a contemptuous King John. A product of the mid-1970s, the movie is all about making the heroes un-heroic. With leads like Connery and Hepburn, good luck with that. (Seen 21 June 2017)

Robin Hood 2 out of 4 stars

My brother-in-law Joseph is convinced by now that there is some law requiring any really terrible villain in a movie to be played by the English actor Mark Strong. In recent weeks Joe and I have seen him bedevil Sherlock Holmes and attempt to obliterate the super-hero Kick-Ass. And here he is again, this time not only trying to dispatch the heroic Robin Hood but actually doing his best to enable the conquest of England by the perfidious French. Boo! Hiss! What? You don’t remember a French invasion figuring in your memories of the adventures of the fabled archer? Well, that is because this is decidedly not your Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn/Patrick Bergin (or even your Kevin Costner/Cary Elwes) brand of Robin Hood. Director Ridley Scott and scenarist Brian Helgeland have set out to fit the legendary hero into what is known of English history at the time. As such, the film is more or less a prequel to the version of Robin Hood we are familiar with and, because of the Crusades angle, works as a sort of bridge between the traditional Robin Hood movies and Scott’s own Kingdom of Heaven. If the trailers made it seem as if this would somewhat similar to Scott’s and Russell Crowe’s collaboration on Gladiator, they were not leading you astray. This is the same sort of historical heroic epic. And for my money, this is somewhat better—maybe because the CGI doesn’t intrude on the action as much (some but not as much). Russell Crowe is a dandy hero—as grim and determined and manly as you want. He is the sort of fellow who can fell a foe galloping on horseback a mile away and who, by speaking up in the midst of a huge crowd, suddenly draws everybody’s attention. And, it has to be said, there is a reason Mark Strong keeps getting hired. Few actors are as much fun to hate as he is. Reminiscent of Kingdom of Heaven, Scott does his best to plant his contemporary political bona fides (according to Crowe, his friend musician/activist Billy Bragg suggested a key angle for the plot) by having the hero pronounce the Crusades, from which he is returning after many years, morally wrong. But the irony is that the very plot of the Robin Hood story guarantees that this will practically be a Tea Party manifesto. Not only do we learn about the evils of a government greedy for ever more taxes but also of the importance of maintaining secure borders. [Related commentary] (Seen 12 May 2010)

Robots 2 out of 4 stars

This is a movie that is extremely hard not to like. But let me try. And fail. As an entertainment, it is everything that the “child within” in (or just with) you could want. Technically, it is brilliantly executed, although we have seen so many brilliantly executed computer animations by now that this doesn’t impress quite as much as it once did. As a story, well, it is everything the child within you could want. But the adult within you will inevitably find it derivative. The story is the kind of idea that Frank Capra might have come up with if he had been into making special-effects-laden action movies. The Capra-esque story of the little guy taking on the big, evil powers-that-be is just one of many obvious movie references in this movie, which range from Star Wars to Braveheart and even include a marvelous send-up of Singin’in the Rain. Or is this fanciful celebration of all things mechanical really sending up A Clockwork Orange, which in turn was sending up Singin’ in the Rain? There are so many movie homages to movies with their own homages that you can’t keep track anymore. For example, the story here is strangely similar to the live-action 1994 Flintstones movie, a comparison emphasized by the fact that Halle Berry is back in the almost the same identical plucky-corporate-insider-who-has-a-change-of-heart role. The voice cast is impressive but generally doesn’t matter. The likes of Mel Brooks, Drew Carey and Jim Broadbent are underused. And, as for the hero, would we ever know or care that it was Ewan McGregor’s American-accented voice? The notable and clear exception, as would be expected, is Robin Williams as the comic-relief buddy Fender. While he, surprisingly, doesn’t quite steal the movie like Eddie Murphy’s donkey in the Shrek movies, he is still the best part of this flick. And his neurotic/cowardly characterization, emphasized by a long hawk-nosed mechanical face, make his character something rather delightful and unexpected: an Edward Everett Horton for the 21st century! (Seen 17 March 2005)

The Rock 3 out of 4 stars

The Rock moves so fast and the edits are so frenetic (effects heightened by a pounding musical soundtrack) that if you so much as blink while watching this sucker you’re liable to miss six or seven scenes entirely, not to mention a couple of major plot developments. To sum up, visit the restroom before the movie starts. Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage lend much more presence to the proceedings than the entire cast (except Vanessa Redgrave) of Mission: Impossible. As the renegade general who sets things in motion, Ed Harris exudes such competence and charisma that you almost want to root for him. Unfortunately, he is the sort of military patriot who chokes up when he sees soldiers fall in battle but thinks it is okay to wipe every civilian in San Francisco as a bargaining ploy. (A good number of the city dwellers should logically have been wiped out already during a take-that-Bullet! car chase in the first part of the film.) Also shoe-horned into this overflowing mix are a reference (rip-off?) from Pulp Fiction and a humorous wink at Oliver Stone. (Seen 14 June 1996)

The Rocket Post 1 out of 4 stars

Everything has conspired to make me feel like a terrible person for not liking this movie more. It begs to be loved. Its themes include favoring peace over war, true love, and international understanding. There’s even a scene where a community comes together to save a whale. On top of that, the director Stephen Whittaker died of cancer (aged 55) while post-production squabbles kept the movie, which was shot under great difficulty in 2001, from release. Add to that the fact that this movie was actually shot where it is meant to take place, on a remote Scottish island, with the Scottish roles all played by real Scottish actors. What kind of cad am I? The movie is loosely based on a real incident. In 1938, Gerhard Zucher (played by the Dane Ulrich Thomsen) is one of a number of German rocket scientists, who have come to Britain to practice their craft, since they could not (not yet anyway) find work in Germany. The government sends Zucher and an assistant to the island of Scarp to work on a method of delivering mail by rocket. At first, there are tensions between the locals (some of whom fought in the First World War) and the newcomers, but there is also a growing attraction between Zucher and the spirited Cathy (engagingly played by Shauna Macdonald). As I write this, it all sounds wonderful. So why wouldn’t I like it? The main problem is the bulk of the film plays like a romantic comedy set against a fanciful Gaelic background, reminiscent of movies like Waking Ned Devine, filled with stock characters out of any number of British comedies. But, in the end, it wants to be very serious and very important. Now, it isn’t wrong or impossible to mix light and darkness in a movie. Roberto Benigni did it brilliantly in Life Is Beautiful. But the key is to have a protagonist who can win us over. Thomsen’s Zucher is a bit dim for such a hero. (“It’s not funny,” Cathy pouts, when he has done something to upset her. “I know,” he declaims, sounding a bit like Data the android. “I find nothing funny. I am German.”) And that makes it hard to buy the romance or, by extension, that we should treat this as something other than a gentle comedy with the wrong ending. Also, it doesn’t help that the soundtrack is full of the same sort of cloying music that British Airways pipes into a plane as you’re waiting for take-off. (Seen 9 October 2006)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show 2 out of 4 stars

This marks the second time I have seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show but only the first time I have actually heard it. Decades ago I saw it at midnight at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle’s University District. Being the personality type I am, I found myself frustrated to be missing much of the dialog because of everyone around me, all dressed in impressively inventive costumes, talking loudly at the screen—when they weren’t singing and dancing. The term “cult movie” has been bandied about for years and applied to so many flicks that it nearly lacks meaning, but if any film qualifies for the label it is this one. Sometime after its release in 1975 its screenings took on the trappings of a religious ceremony. But what about the movie itself? Adapted from Richard O’Brien’s stage musical, the thing is absolutely daft and bonkers. It is the fever dream of an English-born/New Zealand-reared lad who grew up on science fiction double features and straight-on rock’n’roll. Campy and kitschy, it starts out in middle America by way of a Grant Wood painting and then passes through James Whale’s Frankenstein and The Old Dark House and winds up in a totally crazy science fiction finale. Plot coherence is not a strength but the song and dance numbers are very catchy. Coming just a few short years before the world learned about AIDS, it caught the spirit of the times in its unabashed celebration of hedonism and loss of inhibitions. The way a marriage ceremony between Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his blond bodybuilder creation supplants the traditional wedding that opens the film is pretty darn prophetic. It is Curry’s show, and he makes the most of it, channeling Mae West with absolutely none of the constraints under which she had to work. Personally, I found the late Charles Gray’s turn as the criminologist a highlight—not “boring!” as the cultists like to shout at him. Of course, it is interesting to see future Golden Globe-winner Barry Bostwick and future Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon getting their early, um, exposure. Definitely naughty in its time, these days it nearly qualifies as family entertainment. What do today’s teens think of it? Well, the main comment I heard following a Halloween weekend screening in Dublin was that the titular Rocky bore an eerie resemblance to Boris Johnson. (Seen 31 October 2016)

Rocky Road to Dublin 2 out of 4 stars

Let’s get the cheap jokes out of the way first. No, this isn’t about ice cream. Or even about the state of Irish highways. (Ka-ching.) It’s a personal documentary by a Paris-based Irish expatriate (Peter Lennon, who has very recently passed away), in which he takes stock of the state of the Irish “revolution” a half-century after the Easter Rising. As it happens, that anniversary coincided with all kinds of unrest in Europe and America. This film holds the distinction of having been the last one shown at the 1968 Cannes film festival—before it was closed down by directors in solidarity with students demonstrating in Paris. While not banned by the infamous Irish film censor (who actually appears in the film), it was barely seen in Lennon’s home country—at least until the Irish Film Institute restored and re-released it a few years ago. So what was the fuss all about? For those who cannot remember the 1960s and, more particularly, for those who aren’t Irish, it may be hard to figure out. Lennon (working with cinematographer Raoul Coutard, whose other films around the same time included Godard’s Week End and Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black) poses the question, what do you do with a revolution once you’ve won? And then he presents us with a number of talking heads (including the late politician/writer Conor Cruise O’Brien and then-Irish-resident director John Huston, who says it would be good if there were more indigenous Irish film), spends a fair amount of time at a hurling match and observing Father Michael Cleary. Father Michael is presumably included because he is a somewhat hip, modern type of priest and provides a contrast with the older, tradition-encrusted clergy we see. In an extended bit, we see Father Michael giving an energetic rendition of “Chattanooga Shoeshine Boy” in a hospital ward, and we also hear him saying that he wishes he could get married and have a family. Seeing the film today, that point is overshadowed by the fact that, many years later, it emerged that Father Michael actually did have a family—with his housekeeper and their two children. As a call to revolutionary arms, the film is long past its sell-by date, but it still holds a fascination, as a time capsule into an era that seems a lot farther in the past than it actually is. (Seen 26 March 2011)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 3 out of 4 stars

One of the charms of the very first original Star Wars movie was that the bones of its narrative style was the old two-reel movie serials. Consequently, that first movie (later dubbed Episode IV – A New Hope) began as if picking up from a cliffhanger of a previous episode. That previous episode, however, did not actually exist—until now. As everyone who cares—and even many who do not—now knows, Rogue One adds another piece to the Star Wars saga which happens to the one that immediately precedes A New Hope. Once the viewer cops on to this, the film’s ending becomes all too apparent and yet, paradoxically, of all the seven Star Wars motion pictures that have followed that first one, this is the one that achieves the most exhilirating sense of the new and unfamiliar. That is because, apart from several cameos provided by voice actors and CGI artists, this movie is populated by previously unknown characters. For the first time in decades we watch a Star Wars movie wondering with sincere curiosity about each of the characters’ agendas and what their ultimate role will be. Moreover, the franchise returns to its Saturday afternoon entertainment roots by providing an ensemble fight-to-the-death adventure. It seems incredible yet inevitable that this has all been put together by Gareth Edwards, who only six years earlier made the minimal-budget Monsters. The movie has its flaws but, in the best popcorn entertainment tradition, they tend to be apparent only after the lights have come up. Felicity Jones makes a dandy reluctant rebel leader, although her transition from cynic to inspirer seems a tad sudden. Diego Luna makes a good opposite number for her, and Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang and Riz Ahmed are so cool that we wish this crew could come back for more adventures. Needless to say, the ending has taken on much more emotional resonance than the filmmakers could have possibly expected. That, along with the dark nature of this particular story, make this the most moving of all the entries in the franchise. (Seen 1 January 2017)

Le Roi de Coeur (King of Hearts) 4 out of 4 stars

I cannot honestly account for the fact that this wonderful and beautiful film did not find its way onto either my top ten films in languages other than English list or my six great “war as absurdity” movies. I have no excuse other than the obvious one—sheer rank incompetence. But let’s make up for that now. The story is as simple and straightforward as any timeless fable. Amid the insane carnage that was World War I, a blustering British colonel (Italy’s Adolfo Celi who, the previous year, had played a Bond villain in Thunderball) for no logical reason sends a humble pigeon minder to defuse a German bomb in a small French town. The residents have fled but in the course of a chase by German soldiers, the inmates of the local mental institution escape and take their place, complicating hapless Private Plumpick’s task. As the young Scotsman becomes seduced by the strange and artful troupe of supposed crazies, the message is clear. The real insanity lies outside the asylum walls. The patients’ world view of adoring that which is beautiful and living purely in the moment makes so much more sense than soldiers killing each other over pieces of ground that do not matter. Directed by Philippe de Broca (who would go on to make many more delightful comedies, including Dear Inspector and its sequel Jupiter’s Thigh), the endearing characters in their fanciful costumes provide one glorious staging after another. To be honest, I loved the movie because this was where I first met and fell in love with Canadian actor Geneviève Bujold (as the tutu-wearing Coquelicot). I henceforth followed her career slavishly through movies like Anne of the Thousand Days, The Trojan Women, Earthquake, Obsession, Coma, Trouble in Mind, The Moderns and Last Night. Doubtless, others similarly came under the spell of the young Alan Bates (as Private Plumpick). Some fine French actors (Pierre Brasseur, Jean-Claude Brialy, Michel Serrault) are on hand as well. Is the film’s message overly simplistic? Of course. But that only enhances, rather than detracts from, its beauty. A masterpiece. (Seen 27 December 2015)

Roma wa la n’touma (Rome Rather Than You) 2 out of 4 stars

When we first meet Zina, we wait with her for water to boil in one of those stove-top espresso makers. In real time. A lot of things happen in real time in this movie, like when Zina and her boyfriend Kamel drive slowly through a sprawling seaside community, not quite knowing how to find the man they are looking for. The leisurely pace of the movie and the laid-back nature of Algerian culture belie Kamel’s determination to get out of the country. Anywhere in the world is fine with him, although he is focused on Europe in general and Italy, where he once spent time before, in particular. The movie makes this desire quite understandable. The couple are bullied by a sadistic local police chief, and Zina’s mother warns her to be careful where to sit on the bus lest it be bombed. More resigned to her life than Kamel, Zina quotes Kafka as saying that the Statue of Liberty wields a club. Responds Kamel, “That’s because he didn’t get his visa.” The film’s pacing is so languid that, even when fairly dramatic things eventually happen, they seem to be occurring far-away and in slow motion. It is probably no accident that this pair remind us a bit of the two in Godard’s Breathless. (Seen 16 October 2008)

Roman Holiday 3 out of 4 stars

This movie is a fairy tale, not because it is about a reverse Cinderella who gets to stop being a princess for a day, but because it is about a reporter (stalwart Gregory Peck) who behaves decently and respectfully. Filmgoers got their first real look at Audrey Hepburn in this romantic comedy/drama in 1953. She made such an impression that she won the Oscar for Best Actress and, with this movie, her screen persona was pretty much defined. Gamine-like yet stylish, she somehow managed to project worldly sophistication and down-to-earth innocence at the same time. To borrow a formulation sometimes used about the James Bond character, she was the woman that women wanted to be and men wanted to be with. Most of her future film roles would echo, in one way or another, this escaped princess partying on the streets. Directed by William Wyler, the movie is leisurely in a way that audiences tend not to tolerate anymore. Particlarly nice is an opening scene involving Hepburn’s young princess and her shoe that tells us everything we need to know about her. Roman Holiday also featurs another Hepburn trademark, which would be echoed in two of her final big screen appearances, Robin and Marian and They All Laughed: the long, drawn-out, heartachingly romantic good-bye. (Seen 8 November 2008)

Ronin 2 out of 4 stars

There is a federal law that any movie car chase through city streets has to obliterate at least a few fruit and vegetable stands along the way. (Smashing up tables at a sidewalk café scores bonus points.) Ronin is well in compliance with this statute. It features two breathtaking car chases (one in Nice, the other in Paris) that demonstrate good old-fashioned stunt driving at its best. The one with two cars going the wrong way down a busy freeway has to be seen to be believed. One of my favorite moments occurs at this point, when a passenger in one of the cars nonchalantly decides it’s well past time to buckle up the old seat belt. Ronin is something of a throw-back to spy thrillers that used to take themselves seriously and didn’t wink at the audience or indulge in comic book style action (i.e., well before Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis). It’s your basic mercenary caper movie with double-crosses and triple-crosses (and in that sense it’s a bit reminiscent of The Usual Suspects) with a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it romantic subplot and some quasi-sentimental male bonding between Robert De Niro and Jean Reno. That Ronin would be such a satisfying entertainment should be no surprise since its director is John Frankenheimer, who made The Manchurian Candidate and The Train. (Seen 16 October 1998)

Room 3 out of 4 stars

This is stunning film is awfully hard to shake off. It sticks with you and doesn’t want to let go. I don’t know if affects non-parents entirely as much as parents, but I suspect that it may. I have noticed that most discussions about it are careful about describing the story beyond the establishing premise, which is of course a young woman and her child confined to a single room by the man who kidnapped her seven years earlier. Importantly, it is not a thriller (although there are a couple of sequences that are all the more intense because of the realistic treatment); it is a drama. And, in spite (actually because) of the artificially confined world in which it exists, narratively is not really about confinement but about childhood, parenthood and ultimately the miracle of how our minds perceive the world. Everything is seen from the perspective of five-year-old Jack. We see and know only what he sees and knows, making this a movie that should not have worked as well as it does. But director Lenny Abrahamson (Garage, What Richard Did) coaxed a miraculously natural and affecting performance from young Jacob Tremblay. As Ma, Brie Larson shows there is way more to her than could be discerned in flicks like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Trainwreck. And the impressive screenplay gives hope to all of us budding novelists. Canada-based Irish writer Emma Donoghue undertook the adaption of her own novel before it was even published—just to ensure that, if a film were made, it would be made right. It not only paid off in an amazing movie, but it won her Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar nominations. Larson has already picked up Golden Globe and BAFTA statuettes for her trouble, and she is up for an Oscar along with Donoghue and Abrahamson. If there is any justice, the film will also get the Best Picture prize. (Seen 15 February 2016)

Rotilõks (Rat Trap) 2 out of 4 stars

Like so many movies, this one starts out strong. Set in Tallinn, capital of Estonia, we follow three seemingly unconnected people. A visiting Russian man (who reminded me a bit of Daniel Craig) is pinching his pennies. The other two have even more severe money issues. So when they all wind up at the same party in a politician’s house and his stash of cash goes missing, as the final three to leave, they become the prime suspects. But the politician doesn’t just report the apparent theft to the police but takes matters into his own venal hands with the help of a powerful, corrupt family friend. This leads to some brutal, realistic scenes that make the story quite compelling. Unfortunately, the strong start and suspenseful midsection leave us wanting something bigger by the end. It needn’t have been some improbable Hollywood-type ending—just something worthy of all that went before. Still, it’s not at all bad. Indeed, this is a very fine bit of entertainment from screenwriters Andres Puustusmaa (who directed) and Tigran Agaveljan. (Seen 7 November 2011)

Rough Magic 2 out of 4 stars

A decade ago Clare Peploe made an sophisticated and amusing comedy about English people on holiday in Greece called High Season. Now she has directed Rough Magic, which is about Americans (and a Brit) in Mexico in the 1950s. Based on a novel by James Hadley Chase called Miss Shumway Waves a Wand, the movie starts off like a film noir but gradually evolves into a Latin American style fantasy. Bridget Fonda is a magician’s assistant who is inexplicably engaged to sleazeball Senate candidate D.W. Moffett. After witnessing an apparent murder, she flees to Mexico where she encounters Russell Crowe, a hard-bitten former journalist. Things eventually get a bit silly along the way, and there are some good laughs. But overall, this effort isn’t as satisfying as High Season. (Seen 25 May 1997)

Rounders 2 out of 4 stars

Noir-ish and character-driven like his previous movies (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), John Dahl’s Rounders doesn’t have anywhere near the delirious suspense of those films. So what we mainly have is a thoughtful study of a friendship between a fairly responsible young man and a loser who, in a clear case of self-appraisal, goes by the moniker “Worm.” This is also a cautionary tale about denying your true nature. Matt Damon plays a much more interesting law student than the one in The Rainmaker, and Edward Norton is strangely Sean Penn-like as Worm. Most of us have had a Worm in our lives, but thankfully this kind of gonna-get-rich-quick-can-you-just-lend-me-a-couple-of-dollars type of buddy usually doesn’t get you in deep dung by cheating at poker in a room full of cops or by stiffing the Russian Mafia, here represented by John Malkovich chancing his arse with a thick accent and idiosyncratic mannerisms. Also in the cast is Famke Janssen, who has the distinction of having had the second best name of any Bond girl (Xenia Onnatop) in Goldeneye. (Seen 3 October 1998)

The Royal Hunt of the Sun 2 out of 4 stars

If you have admired the many decades of work by Christopher Plummer ranging from The Sound of Music to his Oscar-winning performance in Beginners, then maybe you’ve thought to yourself, you know, I’d really like to see him in a movie where he wears a loincloth the whole time. Well, then this is your movie. Four years after he was Capt. Von Trapp, he played the Incan emperor Atahualpa in this final (credited) movie directed by Irving Lerner. It was adapted (by formerly blacklisted screenwriter Philip Yordan) from a play by Peter Shaffer, whose other adapted works have included such films as Equus, Amadeus and even The Pad and How to Use It. Plummer gives an interesting performance that definitely has something vaguely Peruvian about it, but it’s a bit strange that he towers over the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, played by Robert Shaw, exactly midway between his memorable turns in From Russia with Love and Jaws. Also on hand (as “young Martin”) is 1960s poster boy Leonard Whiting, hot after his starring role in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Filmed in Almería, Spain (site of many a spaghetti western), the landscape isn’t really that reminiscent of Peru, but that doesn’t matter because this movie isn’t so much a historical recreation as a talky expounding of ideas. The film has it that Pizarro and his captive Atahualpa form a bond and that the conquistador does not want to put him to death. In the end, he effectively becomes Pontius Pilate to the Inca’s Christ figure. And he winds up desperately hoping for the prophesied resurrection. Spoiler Alert! It doesn’t come. (Seen 17 September 2012)

The Royal Tenenbaums 3 out of 4 stars

The characters in this new movie by Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore) are so strange, quirky, unlikely and odd that you feel that they just have to be real people. Perhaps like members of your own family. Or the family of someone you know. Anyway, it’s very safe to say that, if you enjoyed Rushmore, you enjoy this too. Maybe even more. (I did.) While well written by Anderson and his regular collaborator Owen Wilson (an on-screen fixture in Anderson’s films, as well as such fare as the recent Behind Enemy Lines), what keeps you laughing are the visuals. The film is full of sly sight gags that can’t even be described because they wouldn’t sound funny at all. You have to see them. Like the paintings in Owen Wilson’s character’s apartment. Bill Murray seems to have joined Anderson’s acting stable (along with Owen and his brother Luke), here playing a character more than a little reminiscent of the one he played in Rushmore. He even acquires another adolescent sidekick, who looks eerily like that flick’s hero, Max Fischer. While this movie cannot exactly be called fast-paced, so much is going on visually that you will want to see it again or, better yet, get the DVD when it comes out. (In the meantime, you’ll want the soundtrack.) Guys particularly will want to be able to freeze-frame a flashback sequence involving Gwyneth Paltrow. (Seen 4 January 2002)

Rules of Attraction 2 out of 4 stars

In some ways, it is possible to see Rules of Attraction as a sequel to Igby Goes Down, since it has a similarly sardonic view of the sorts of people who populate elitist Northeastern universities. In fact, with a bit of imagination, we can see James Van Der Beek’s character as being a slightly older version of Ryan Phillippe’s character. In reality, he’s the younger brother of Christian’s Bale’s character in American Psycho, since both movies are adapted from novels by Bret Easton Ellis. This film presents a rather dreary view of university life, where attending an occasional class is secondary to going to parties, doing drugs and getting laid. To the extent that there is a plot, it seems to be a teen update to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, in which hell is defined as “the others.” Ian Somerhalder, a gay student with a completely malfunctioning sense of gaydar, lusts after Van Der Beek. But Van Der Beek is in love with Shannyn Sossamon, who is attempting to remain faithful to her boyfriend, who is off cavorting all over Europe. The best scenes, however, are in a completely incidental sequence in which Somerhalder attends a dinner in New York with an over-the-top friend and their two self-medicating mothers (Faye Dunaway and Swoosie Kurtz). There are some cleverly inventive visual tricks by director Roger Avary, notably a few instances of reversing the action and playing it over again from another character’s point of view. This gives us the sense of a spring being tightened and released. But, by the end, we mainly just feel relief that our student days are behind us. (Seen 10 March 2003)

Rules of Engagement 2 out of 4 stars

We have seen this before. In fact, quite a few movie clichés have been pulled together here. The running theme is how the world has changed (for the worse) and there’s no place for true warriors who fight with grit and honor anymore. We also have the tense military courtroom drama (as in, for example, A Few Good Men), but since director William Friedkin is apparently not a bleeding heart liberal like Rob Reiner, the Jack Nicholson character (here played by Samuel Jackson) is actually the good guy. And there’s even the subplot about the mediocre attorney (Tommy Lee Jones) rising to the challenge in the trial of his career, like Paul Newman in The Verdict. While the film’s point of view is clear from the beginning, during the first half we think we might actually be getting a thoughtful examination of some tough issues when our noble hero seems to have gunned down innocent women, children and old men in a chaotic situation. But, not to worry, the movie ultimately spares us any such confusion or second guessing. I don’t want to say that Friedkin has a political agenda here, but in the tradition of so many “military” movies (e.g. the Rambo series) every single politician or bureaucrat is incompetent, weak-kneed or just plain corrupt. Moreover, there is a prominent photo of Al Gore at the scene of an ignominious American retreat, G. Gordon Liddy has a voice cameo, and the most dastardly scheming lying villain of the story is named “Bill.” (Seen 25 April 2000)

Rumor Has It… 2 out of 4 stars

It was probably not a good sign that, shortly into this romantic comedy, I found myself liking its premise so much that I desperately started hoping that someone would do a good remake, sooner rather than later. You know, someone with a proven track record with successful romantic comedies (and maybe with Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross in the cast). You know, someone like Rob Reiner, who has directed movies like The Sure Thing, When Harry Met Sally…, The American President and The Story of Us. Oops, Rob Reiner made this movie. Oh, well. Actually, I have never really cared for Reiner’s romantic comedies, even the one about Harry and Sally that everybody else seemed to like so much. I think Reiner is much better with everything else he does, i.e. This Is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, Misery, A Few Good Men. Still, Reiner gets a fair amount of mileage here out of the very idea that Jennifer Aniston learns that her family may very well be the one that inspired the novel The Graduate, which then became a landmark movie. But the whole thing is largely undone by how self-absorbed and shallow Aniston’s character is. To be fair, there are some pretty funny bits, as well the pleasure of seeing Shirley MacLaine trying to chew scenery, when the writers have given her lockjaw, and one genuine moving scene toward the end. But the film stands condemned for not being satisfied with trying (and failing) to ruin The Graduate for us but also then trying to do the same for Casablanca and, as it turns out, even Deliverance. (Seen 7 February 2006)

Running with Scissors 2 out of 4 stars

This 2006 film falls into a category that I call you-can’t-believe-the-crazy-sh*t-I-went-through-as-a-kid sub-genre. (The best other comparable example of this sub-genre I can think of is Tod Williams’s 1998 movie The Adventures of Sebastian Cole.) Ryan Murphy (who went on to adapt and direct Eat Pray Love) adapted and directed this movie after Augusten Burroughs’s book about his own adolescent experiences. As with Williams’s movie, it has a certain “you had to be there” feel in that the strange characters and events come across with less impact on a movie screen than they would in a conversation or on the pages of a book. The other main problem is that, in the main role, Joseph Cross (who was 20ish at the time), while sporting very boyish looks akin to the young Neil Patrick Harris, is too old for the role. Only after he has taken up with a lover two decades his senior does the script highlight the fact that he is supposed to be in junior high. (Of course, having an actor the correct age would have opened up a whole other can of worms.) On the positive side, Murphy has assembled a dream cast. Annette Bening, in the meatiest role, gets to show more acting chops than in her Oscar-nominated role in The Kids Are All Right. In a smaller role, Alec Baldwin gets to show much more range than the similar character he would play in It’s Complicated. The chameleon-like Brian Cox fascinates as the psychiatrist who is really more of a cult leader. And the film reunites the leads of Shakespeare in Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow as Cox’s very strange daughter and Joseph Fiennes as Cross’s schizophrenic lover. Most poignantly, the late Jill Clayburgh still manages to project humanity even while made to look hideously ridiculous. The icing on the cake is that she is addicted to watching Dark Shadows. (Seen 4 February 2011)

The Runway 3 out of 4 stars

Not surprisingly, this crowd-pleaser picked up the audience’s award for Best Irish Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh. Like any number of other Irish productions over the years, this is a shameless shaggy dog story, but it is impossible to resist. It has the sentimentality laced with rough ages of Mike Newell’s Into the West but with a considerable dose of Spielbergian-style manipulation toward the end. Inspired by actual events involving a Mexican pilot who made an emergency landing in County Cork in 1983, Ian Power’s movie imagines that he is a Colombian involved in shady dealings. He is discovered by young Paco, who just happens to have been falling to sleep at night to Spanish language tapes because his mother has told him that the father he never knew is a Spanish sailor. As a result of Paco’s somewhat dodgy interpreting, the local village resolves to help the refugee rebuild his plane and make a strip for the hoped-for take-off. Shouldering most of the screen time, young Jamie Kierans does a fine job as Paco, and Mexico’s Demián Bichir (Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che biopics and Esteban on Weeds) strikes the right note as a reluctant substitute father figure. Helpfully, his Spanish lines are translated for us by subtitles—as are those of the local Traveller community. Many familiar Irish faces populate the village, with rural Irish life once again being largely played for laughs. But authenticity is not the key objective of this charming flick (partly filmed in Luxembourg!), but rather to provide a fair number of laughs and a lump-in-your-throat good time. (Seen 10 July 2010)

Rushmore 2 out of 4 stars

With several songs from the 1960s on its soundtrack and an offbeat view of adolescence trying to turn into adulthood, Rushmore is rather reminiscent of those anarchic, slightly subversive youth movies of the Generation Gap days—like the ones Bud Cort used to star in. But since this is the 1990s, our young hero Max Fischer isn’t rebelling against a materialistic society but rather doing his best to embrace it. The surprise is how touching this odd little comedy about an unlikely love triangle in a prep school turns out to be. There is something so recognizable about the character of Max that he could easily become an emblematic icon, as Dustin Hoffmann did in The Graduate. Jason Schwartzman seems born to the role, and Bill Murray is a revelation as a prominent alumni supporter who is still wrestling with his own inner prep student. This amusing and gentle tale is quite well written and includes more than its share of quotable lines. Particularly droll is our hero’s penchant for writing and producing student plays based on action movies. Rushmore is a very welcome follow-up to the debut film of Wes Anderson (who co-writes with his brother Owen), Bottle Rocket. (Seen 2 April 1999)

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