Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France
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Tadpole 3 out of 4 stars

So, where were all these older women who are into “tadpoling” when I was 15? This movie, by Gary Winick, happily marries the happy, literate, upscale New York lifestyle of a Woody Allen comedy with the good-natured titillation of an episode of Sex and the City. Our precocious 15-year-old hero, Oscar, is deep into Voltaire and quotes liberally (in the original French) from Candide. We are, of course, to understand that Oscar is a modern-day Candide (an idea that has been used before; c.f. The Buddha of Suburbia). To me, however, he seems to have been more inspired, in his yearning for an older woman, by Stendahl’s Le Rouge et le Noir. But then, by the time he arrives at an awkward dinner with his father, the object of his affection and the woman he bedded the night before, he might feel more influenced by Georges Feydeau. At one point, Tadpole acknowledges its debt to The Graduate, and viewers might also be reminded of Rushmore. But while that film’s Max Fischer was a bit of desperate social climber, Oscar is perfectly comfortable in the world to which he was born. He’s every bit as passionate as Max, but he’s wiser in knowing when to give up and move on. Bebe Neuwirth has deservedly been gathering kudos for her turn as the uninhibited family friend who is happy to help with a young man’s education. (Seen 10 October 2002)

The Tailor of Panama 3 out of 4 stars

The opening, where we see Pierce Brosnan getting upbraided by an irate superior in a government office in the heart of London, is so familiar. But make no mistake, this is no James Bond movie. In fact, Brosnan is a downright jerk, and it’s a bit scary how good he is at playing one. This twisting of expectations and established movie images is just a hint of the cleverness and wit that has gone into the writing of The Tailor of Panama. But what would you expect? It is a collaboration by John Le Carré himself and the director John Boorman, who has given us films like Excalibur and The General. Later on, Geoffrey Rush (in the title role) drops the name of a “Mr. Connery” and we know that this playfulness is no accident. Even Jamie Lee Curtis’s role is a bit of a riff on her spy’s wife in True Lies and her Yank-among-the-crazy-Brits in A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. This is indeed one of the best written movies we have seen in a long time. To emphasize its literary pedigree, they even included playwright Harold Pinter as Rush’s ghostly mentor. In an early scene Rush describes Panama as “Casablanca without heroes,” and by the end, this delightfully cynical film will have validated him in spades. I fear, though, the film may miss its rightful audience, as I overheard a few people in the suburban cineplex where I saw it (apparently lured by the participation of Brosnan and the spy theme) grumbling that there weren’t enough car chases, explosions or action stunts. Of course, there weren’t. This is a much better film than that. If you like your political satire served up fine crystal decanters in a clubby oak atmosphere, you will be well pleased indeed. (Not since the TV series Dallas has an entertainment vehicle posited so consistently the notion that the wealthy and powerful cannot hold a discussion without a glass of hard liquor in each hand.) The U.S. military, in particular, get its most satirical drubbing since George C. Scott did a number on it in Dr. Strangelove. Note: the boy who plays Rush’s son will be very well known within the year. He has been cast as Harry Potter. (Seen 30 March 2001)

Tainoi Mattam Linlingfat (Forbidden City Cop) 3 out of 4 stars

There seems to be a trend in Hong Kong sword-and-sorcery action epics to slip more and more into outright parody. I’m not sure that I favor this direction, but I can make an exception for Forbidden City Cop. This loopy comedy is guaranteed to have most any audience convulsed in belly laughs for most of its running time. It is a period piece, but with an anachronistic central character who is ostensibly cowardly but also outlandishly inventive enough to continually defeat his enemies. Sort of like one of those cartoons where Bugs Bunny shows up in the Old West. The comic schtick and frequent sight gags are only slightly marred by occasional mugging and winking at the camera. As in the American parody Spy Hard, the best part is at the very beginning with a hilarious homage to the James Bond movies. (Seen 29 May 1997)

The Talented Mr. Ripley 3 out of 4 stars

One thing’s for sure. Gus Van Sant would have done much better to cast Matt Damon (instead of creepy Vince Vaughan) as Norman Bates in his 1998 Psycho remake. Actually, he would have done much better to use his budget and cast to make a whole new movie, but I’m getting way off track here. Damon’s bookish, obsequious title character in Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel is quite reminiscent of everyone’s favorite motel operator in terms of his repressed sexuality, identity confusion and violent demons. But he also has a fair amount in common with Rushmore’s young Max Fischer in his relentless need to insinuate himself and to belong. Minghella brings the same visual appeal and allure that he brought to The English Patient and so this film stands up nicely to René Clement’s 1960 French version, Purple Noon. This is in spite of the fact that Minghella ends his film on a surprising enough but unsatisfying note and, more seriously, leaves Ripley’s sexuality completely unambiguous. In Purple Noon much of the tension came from the fact that we weren’t sure if Ripley was lusting after young Mr. Greenleaf or his girlfriend. Here, we are left wondering if the film isn’t merely another in a long cinematic line (cf. The Celluloid Closet) to posit that homosexuality is a sickness or whether it belongs to a more recent trend that asserts that trying to stay in the closet is what leads to violence. Trivia note: this film actually qualifies as a prequel to Wim Wenders’s 1977 German classic, The American Friend, since Dennis Hopper played an older version of the Ripley character in that one. (Seen 4 January 2000)

Tampopo 3 out of 4 stars

This Japanese movie does for food what Last Tango in Paris did for sex and what Rocky did for boxing and what Apocalypse Now did for war and what The Magnificent Seven did for Mexican villages. You would have to consider this an extremely funny comedy, unless you happen to be a turtle in which case you would have to consider it a snuff movie. It is really just a string of black-outs and skits strung together, all dealing with food and the Japanese obsession with it. Much of the film deals with the adventures of Tampopo (which is Japanese for Dandelion), a young widow who is trying to be the best noodle cooker in Japan. If you are like me (and God help you if you are), you will have a great time picking out all of the many references to other movies, including westerns, Rocky, gangster movies, etc. Very, very funny. And I guarantee that, if you see this movie, you will never think about egg yolk in the same way again. If you get the chance, see this flick. But not on an empty stomach. (Seen 4 June 1987)

Tangled 3 out of 4 stars

Well, this is curious. It’s a computer-animated fairy tale, but it isn’t brimming with hip pop culture references or obvious winking at the audience. It’s a Disney feature-length cartoon that follows the studio’s long-established formula for modernizing fairy tales, but using up-to-the-minute tools more associated with spoofs like the Shrek movies. The studio was probably right not to call this Rapunzel, but I’m not sure Tangled is a great title either. But it does kind of capture the Broadway musical feel that has become the Disney trademark since 1989’s The Little Mermaid. (Good old reliable Alan Menken is still providing the melodies.) The main character (voiced by Mandy Moore) may still be called Rapunzel, but in this version she wields her extensive mane like a super-power, at times more reminiscent of Spider-man than a Disney princess of yore. The other comfortable Disney elements are there: wondrous spectacles, lots of stock clownish supporting characters, the small animal sidekick, a couple of fabulous chase/action set pieces, a sentimentally (spoiler alert!) happy ending and a truly disturbing villain. What is it with Disney, Sigmund Freud and mother figures? The character voiced by Donna Murphy may well scare children, but she is even more likely to send a few chills up the spines of grownups—especially those with deep-rooted parental issues. In the end, it is hard to find fault with this as an entertainment, and there is much to like. I was especially cracked up by the ruffian who aspired to be a mime. (Seen 28 January 2011)

Tapas 3 out of 4 stars

Tapas is a good title for this romantic comedy from Spain. Not only does a fair amount of the action take place in a tapas bar, but it’s a bit like getting served three or four small films, making the movie, as compared to a standard film, analogous to how tapas compare to a standard meal. It is also a bit like every movie, from American Graffiti to Crash, that weaves several intermingling storylines together. Lolo runs the bar and is more or less Spain’s answer to Archie Bunker. He’s rude, obnoxious, a bit ignorant and his wife is fed up. Raquel, a shopkeeper, has been split from her husband for two years and is trying to decide between the internet lover she has never met in the flesh and the young and passionate son of one of her customers. And matronly Conchi supplements her pension by dealing drugs and minds her ailing husband. And there’s more. The film, directed by José Corbacho and Juan Cruz, is wry, amusing and, by the finale, more than a bit touching. In the end, it is a celebration of love, no matter what the circumstances or what the age. Warning to certain U.S. AM radio hosts: you definitely won’t like at least one of the subplots. (Seen 20 February 2006)

Tár úr steini (Tears of Stone) 1 out of 4 stars

It is always a challenge in films about artists to portray the creative process, particularly when the art is a non-visual one like musical composition. Tears of Stone’s solution to this is to show the composer Jón Leifs working furiously with superimposed images of musical notation and a crashing Icelandic sea while his music plays dramatically. There are too many passages like this where the filmmakers try to let Leifs’s music convey people’s feelings rather than dramatizing them. This Icelandic film (mostly in German) tells a true and harrowing story. As a pure Norseman living in Germany, Leifs was quite welcome as an artist when the Nazis came to power. But his wife was Jewish which put them and their two daughters in jeopardy. Intentionally or not, the film doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of Leifs while not helping us much to understand him. The liberal use of his music on the soundtrack asks us to feel but not comprehend. (Seen 3 June 1996)

Target Fascination 2 out of 4 stars

If the title does not seem familiar to you, there is a reason. This is a brand new movie, completed just last week but which should be showing up in the near future at film festivals. Filmed in Sydney, it is the second feature of Australian brothers Dominic and Andrew Pelosi, who directed and wrote respectively. Their previous effort three years ago was a dark comedy called The Big Noise. This one is fairly dark as well, but it is definitely not a comedy. Joe Riley is an elderly man who has recently been released from prison. A couple of decades earlier, he committed a terrible crime. Working with a mediator named Clive, he is now preparing to meet the mother and sister of his victim and, in fact, have dinner with them at the mother’s house. Probably the best way to describe the movie is as a psychological drama since much of our interest comes from trying to work out what exactly is going on in the minds of the various characters. The pacing is deliberate and the focus is squarely on the actors, in the manner of European art films. Some of the dialogue has the feel of thoughtful stage play, as in an introductory scene where Joe visits his brother. As Joe, Darrell Hoffman has a great face for film. Gaunt and crevassed but with lively eyes, his visage conveys a lifetime of experience, not all of it good. As the mother Caroline, a woman whose life revolves around her large, well-kept garden, Pamela Eagleson is somewhat inscrutable. It is her actions throughout the drama that surprise us and keep us guessing at what is really going on in her mind. The story does not build up to any big cathartic moment as you might want too expect from a story about old wounds and the possibility of redemption. Nor is there any pat resolution. The film will be best appreciated by those who enjoy a meaty dramatic exploration of human beings at their most natural and most conflicted. As to what the filmmakers’ intentions ultimately are, our best clue may be the title, which is not explained in the movie but which is a term that has been used to describe fighter pilots who focus so intently on their targets that they actually fly into them. (Seen 13 July 2015)

Tea with Mussolini 3 out of 4 stars

This sentimental quasi-autobiographical piece by Franco Zeffirelli falls not only into a long tradition of movies about Brits in Italy (cf. Room with a View, Stealing Beauty, etc. etc) but also into a more recent surge of charming, humorous comedies about life in fascist European countries during World War II (cf. Life Is Beautiful, Train of Life). The film milks our tear ducts shamelessly but gets away with it because of Zeffirelli’s unabashed sincerity and a wonderful cast. Maggie Smith is perfect as the overbearing and haughty self-appointed queen of the Anglo-Florentine roost. Cher is effective as a high living Jewish American socialite. Judi Dench, in a smaller role (but still larger than her Oscar-winning quickie turn in Shakespeare in Love), looks strangely like Simone Signoret in her last years. Especially touching is Joan Plowright, who plays a role somewhat similar to Fernanda Montenegro’s in Central Station. Her casting generates much resonance, particularly in a scene where this widow of the greatest Shakespearean actor of the century reads lines from Romeo and Juliet with the stand-in for the young Zeffirelli, who went on to make that play a massive popular entertainment in 1968. (Seen 16 June 1999)

Teaching Mrs. Tingle 2 out of 4 stars

The directing debut of Kevin Williamson has this hot scriptwriter stretching his creative range from a TV soap opera about high school students (Dawson’s Creek) and slasher movies about high school students (two Scream movies, I Know What You Did etc.) all the way to a dark comedy about high school students. Actually, the tone and trappings are those of a horror movie, but in this case the bogeyman is a history teacher, played quite chillingly by the excellent Helen Mirren. This is a neat trick since, in every way that counts, the teacher is actually the victim and the students are the assailants. (It’s sort of like Misery but with the Kathy Bates character tied to the bed.) Since this is a dark comedy and it’s aimed at teens, it is to be expected that morality would get all turned around. But the movie actually needs to be darker still to get away with this, and a late title change suggests that it originally was meant to be—until real-life school tragedies started spoiling the fun. As the student who lets her academic ambitions get the best of her, Katie Holmes (Dawson’s Creek, Go) is okay, but she pales in comparison to Reese Witherspoon’s somewhat similar turn in the far superior Election. Anyway, Mirren’s Mrs. Tingle actually deserves a teaching award, if for no other reason than for trying to drill into her students the true meaning of the frequently misused word irony. (Seen 18 September 1999)

Team America: World Police 3 out of 4 stars

If magazine writer Susan Orlean and orchid thief John Laroche were taken aback by the wildly imagined fictional versions of themselves in Adaptation, just imagine the reactions of everyone from Alec Baldwin to Helen Hunt to Michael Moore to Hans Blix to Kim Jong Il to the late Peter Jennings, if and when they saw Team America. Created by the South Park guys (Trey Parker directed and co-wrote with Matt Stone and Pam Brady), this movie is juvenile and offensive, in the way that only truly adolescent minds can evoke. And I mean that in a good way. With Arab and Asian caricatures, a humorous song about AIDS and non-stop graphic sexual references, there is truly something here to offend everyone. So, it is a bit of a surprise that, in the last reel, the film actually comes up with a fairly cogent political statement. Of course, I can’t repeat it verbatim because every noun and verb in the original formulation is disgustingly filthy. But I will attempt to paraphrase it. Basically, the movie says, right-wingers and militarists are idiot jerks and even downright dangerous, but sometimes they are good to have around when someone really evil comes along. That is about as balanced and well-reasoned as movies get these days. That aside, the best thing about the movie is its knowing and relentless skewering of the acting profession and, even more so, movie conventions. Particularly memorable is a love song that keeps getting distracted by its loathing for Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor. The puppets are amazingly expressive, and the characterizations are spot on. Particularly fine is the group’s leader/mentor, with a perpetual something-on-the-rocks glued to his hand. Voice artist Daran Norris sounds strangely like John O’Hurley (the fictionalized J. Peterman on Seinfeld), who in turn sounds like the late Phil Hartman doing an impression of Charlton Heston. (Seen 22 September 2005)

Tears of the Sun 3 out of 4 stars

This movie wasn’t even on my radar until I caught a review of it in The Irish Times which, predictably for a European newspaper, lambasted it for having too favorable a view of the American military. Featuring Bruce Willis (in monosyllabic military macho mode) as the star only added fuel to the fire. In truth, this movie by Antoine Fuqua (The Replacement Killers, Training Day) is an old-fashioned one. It is the one about the quiet, reluctant heroes (sometimes cowboys, sometimes as here soldiers) who against their better judgment (or, as here, against orders) lead a group of hapless civilians to safety. The movie is fairly topical since it plays on western guilt for not getting involved in such violent civil wars as Rwanda’s. (This movie is set in a fictional African country, which the screenwriters call “Nigeria.”) To be sure, this is a movie fantasy of a war. The Americans inflict no inadvertent civilian casualties and have no friendly fire incidents, and the people they liberate are tearfully grateful. Still, the carnage it depicts is true enough to life. Like most other war movies, it means to show us the horror of war, and it does. But, refreshingly, it means to show us something more. It also shows us the horror when we don’t go to war. (Seen 24 September 2003)

Ted Bundy 2 out of 4 stars

At the end of this creepy movie (and I don’t think this is a spoiler since it was in all the newspapers) Ted Bundy is executed in Florda’s electric chair. I don’t know how accurate it is, but Bundy is prepared by having cotton stuffed in his orifices so as not to soil himself. The parallel is obvious: the panicky Bundy is now being violated and killed in a way that is superficially similar to the way he violated and killed scores of young women. I suppose it is left for the viewer to see this either as a comment on capital punishment or, simply, as an eye for an eye. Clearly, Bundy and evil people like him are the best case a person can make in favor of state executions. This film by Matthew Bright is unsettling in its black comic approach to Bundy’s story. Instead of the standard suspenseful music over his numerous attacks and murders, we get cheerful music. And the numbers of murders (more than 28 were confirmed, but he probably killed more than 100) we have to watch start to become ridiculous in their repetitiveness and frequency. The image of Bundy haunts because of his bland good looks and apparent normal-ness. In the title role, Michael Reilly Burke looks a young Christopher Reeve with an occasional Michael Keaton-like grin. But the truly scary thing about this movie is the way it shows how easy it was for Bundy to find his victims, commit his crimes, and elude capture for years—not to mention escaping twice after his initial arrest. (Seen 11 October 2002)

Teenage Kicks: The Undertones 2 out of 4 stars

If you are unfamiliar with The Undertones (as I was), you could be forgiven for suspecting early on that this BBC documentary is a Spinal Tap-style parody of a punk band from (of all places) the Bogside district of Derry, Northern Ireland. Even The Missus, who was in the right time and place to be tuned into this minor pop phenomenon of the late 1970s and early 1980s, was as clueless as I was. (Let’s face it, when it comes to being in tune with her surrounding cultural context, my better half is right up there with George W. Bush.) But lots of people, who were more clued into the punk music scene than we were, will have no trouble remembering these lads, particularly those who lived in Ireland and the UK. This quintet of moptops more or less modeled themselves after the Ramones, and their signature tune, the titular “Teenage Kicks” sounds to me a lot like Blondie’s “One Way or Another.” And they toured America with The Clash. Their history involves the de rigueur commercial rise and fall as well as the inevitable falling out and breaking up. But the film has more than merely nostalgic interest because of where this band came from and the time it existed in. While punks in other countries were merely trying to escape mediocre, unexciting pop music, these lads and the rest of their cohort were seeking musical respite from The Troubles. This dimension gives the film some much needed weight to balance its mostly fluffy pop fan tone. (Seen 11 February 2002)

Le Temps qui reste (Time to Leave) 2 out of 4 stars

Now here’s a film that actually says a lot about the state of Europe in general and about the state of France, specifically. In fact, you can tell a whole lot about cultures by observing the differences between their movies about dying people. The protagonist of this film, Romain, is a young, talented Parisian with a glamorous job and a rising star. But out of the blue he finds out he has maybe three months to live. The point of the movie then becomes: what will he do with the titular remaining time. He makes one very good choice, which is visiting his grandmother, who is played by the always radiant Jeanne Moreau, who is now in her late 70s. Oddly, of all his family and close friends, she is the only one he actually tells he is dying. As they discuss life and death, we are reminded of nothing so much as Moreau’s iconic role in Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, and a big film circle is closed. Otherwise, Romain breaks off contact with his loved ones with no explanation, preferring apparently to die alone. But, in one of those strange movie plot twists, he gets the opportunity to leave something of legacy. Will he take it or will he choose to disappear completely from the world? The answer to that one says as much about humanity in general as it does about the French. (Seen 12 July 2006)

Le Temps retrouvé (Time Regained) 2 out of 4 stars

Stop. Wait a minute before you bite into that madeleine. Viewers, lured into seeing this movie for the chance to glimpse such beauties as Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Arielle Dombasle and Vincent Pérez, after sitting through 158 minutes of this (169 in the original French release) may find the title ironic at best, tauntingly cruel at worst. It is difficult to think of many other works of literature that would seem more unfilmable than Marcel Proust’s life oeuvre Remembrance of Things Past. An asthmatic invalid from the age of 35, Proust spent a lot of time in his own head, which didn’t particularly make for linear narrative. But if any filmmaker is up to this challenge, it may be Chilean-born Raúl Ruiz, who has made some pretty weird flicks in the course of his 40-year directing career. He takes about the only course he can, which is to turn Proust into an early 20th century Billy Pilgrim unstuck in time, as in George Roy Hill’s adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I can’t imagine if this will appeal to audiences not already familiar with Proust, but the photography is certainly nice. It is a good indication of the tone of the film that John Malkovich is on hand as the creepy Charlus, and he fits in just perfectly. Indeed, a good alternate title for this film might have been Being Marcel Proust. (Seen 28 May 2000)

10 Things I Hate About You 2 out of 4 stars

From things I had heard, I expected this movie to be vulgar and offensive, perhaps something along the lines of Cruel Intentions but in a regular high school. So I was delightfully surprised to find that, despite a few requisite elements like a bit of teen smoking, drinking, swearing, etc., this movie is actually fairly wholesome and old-fashioned. It certainly has an impeccable pedigree since it is a contemporary update to a literary classic (Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew) à la Clueless and the aforementioned Cruel Intentions. The funny thing, though, is that the film’s high school setting (Tacoma, Washington’s very photogenic Stadium High School renamed—in one of a whole bunch of bard references—Padua High), its opposites-attract lovers (one Australian), and a few wacky faculty members make it seem a lot like Grease but with younger actors and without the 1950s shtick. TV sitcom director Gil Junger provides two extraordinary moments in the course of the film. One is when Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun) realizes that he has been thoughtlessly used by the object of his affections. The other comes near the end when Julia Stiles, a very good actor, reads the poem that gives the film its title. These scenes alone make the flick worth checking out. (Seen 15 April 1999)

10,000 Saints 2 out of 4 stars

Sex! Drugs! Rock and roll! This flick has all of them and, as it recounts the travails of an alienated teenager leaving small-town Vermont to go live with his freewheeling irresponsible dad in the heart of New York’s 1980s music scene, you might expect it to be a tale of outlandish adventures or maybe even a raucous comedy. Instead, it has the feel of a scrupulous recounting of a true story or maybe something of a counterculture soap opera. Faithfully following the source novel by Eleanor Henderson, co-directors/writers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor, The Nanny Diaries) are intent on recreating the backdrop of NYC’s East Village in 1980s with emphasis on its music scene and the lead-up to the Tompkins Square Park Riot. In the foreground, however, it is an idiosyncratically American story of a teenager whose coming of age involves drugs, death, pregnancy and parents who are still coping with the consequences of rejecting the previous generation’s mistakes. The central character, Jude, is played with suitably dazed glumness—not to mention embarrassing hair—by English actor Asa Butterfield, and the casting is spot on—not only because of striking the right attitude and accent but also because he looks exactly the right age. Hailee Steinfeld (Butterfield’s costar from Ender’s Game) does a fine job as his more worldly sort-of stepsister. Canadian actor Avan Jogia (lately seen playing King Tut in a TV miniseries) is Jude’s sweet but hapless best bud, Teddy. Emile Hirsch is Teddy’s rockin’ Hare Krishna older brother. And Jude’s dad is the go-to actor for dads still doing their own growing up, Ethan Hawke. One wants this movie to grab us way more than it does. It begs for a flashier visual style to equate the energy of the music scene at the time. Instead, the pacing ends up compacting way too many plot details, giving us the sensation that we are watching excerpts from a much longer movie. (Seen 25 September 2015)

The Terminal 2 out of 4 stars

Since the turn of the turn of the millennium, mega-successful director/producer Steven Spielberg, having dazzled a couple of generations with fantastical magic and also finally winning Oscars (for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan), has set about making movies that can best be described as ordinary. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that he began focusing on movies that did not demand the attention of his summer blockbusters or his Oscar winners. Genre movies like Catch Me If You Can and Munich. The Terminal was his Eastern European comedy, with a story that demanded to be called Kafka-esque. It gave Tom Hanks another chance to play an innocent abroad in the big, crazy world and to affect an accent. The fact is, the movie which demands that we see how absurd the world of rules and regulations is, is undermined by Spielberg’s polished style and the all-too-famous faces that populate it. If any project was meant for a low budget and unknown actors, this was it. That is not to say it is a bad film. It’s just that it becomes sentimental when the humor should turn its darkest. Hanks plays a tourist from one of those European countries that, in real life, would barely be mentioned on U.S. television, even it were having a coup or were at war, but which seems to be the predominate concern of news channels playing in the titular terminal. A diplomatic anomaly makes Hanks stateless upon landing at JFK and he is obliged to live in the terminal for weeks. Clearly, this is an allegory about the little guy and the oppressive forces of The System (here personified by the very bureaucratic Stanley Tucci). But the pleasingly low-key film is undermined by an ending that mixes its messages about what it all means. (Seen 24 October 2009)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines 2 out of 4 stars

Here’s another question I’m not supposed to ask. If, in the future, when computers have taken over the world and they have mastered time travel and they use that technology to try to prevent the rise of a human rebel leader but fail, why wouldn’t they just keep going back to the same point in time until they get it right? Sorry, forget I asked. This third installment in the Terminator series is fun enough and necessary viewing for fans of the earlier films. But because not only is the characters’ past already so well known but so is their future, the film suffers from a heavy sense of déjà vu, which is abetted by the fact that director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) follows James Cameron’s first sequel all too closely. It’s like, well, it’s like someone has come back in time from the future and already told us how it is all going to turn out. And, while Cameron’s very original movie had its quirky sense of humor, it played its story straight and deadly serious. But now The Terminator is so ingrained into our popular culture that Mostow almost has no choice but to let Arnold Schwarzenegger became a figure of self-parody. He’s gone from being an object of absolute fear to being the comedy relief. But the film’s playfulness with the series’s conventions has its bright points, like the way it has fun with the fact that Terminators arrive back in time with no clothes. And it’s about time they got a female Terminator (who looks like a supermodel)! (Seen 6 August 2003)

Terminator Salvation 2 out of 4 stars

I promised myself ages ago that the first thing I would do in writing about this movie, when the time came, would be to praise the guy who did the lighting. But I have become convinced that the infamous internet video showing Christian Bale tearing the lighting guy a new one was actually what they call in the industry a “publicity stunt” to raise the profile of the movie. I base this conclusion on the following facts: 1) Bale did not break character once during his tirade, including sticking with his American accent (the actor being, of course, an Englishman), and 2) nobody actually seems to have done any lighting in this movie. A lot of people have been down on Terminator Salvation, but it’s actually pretty darn good. Mark Kermode seems to have dismissed it entirely because it was directed by someone named McG, and he has a point only because, in the opening credits where the words are all caps, it comes out as MCG and makes it look as if it were directed by a corporation. But the bottom line is that movie holds the attention, gives a couple of thrills, never becomes completely embarrassing and it pays homage where it has to to James Cameron’s 1984 popcorn-munching original classic. Beyond that, it has an interesting Road Warrior-meets-Transformers vibe going on. Another jibe has been that Bale uses his Batman voice throughout instead of his Bruce Wayne voice, but that’s okay. His performance makes him look and sound eerily like Kevin McKidd’s shell-shocked war veteran character on Grey’s Anatomy. Adding to the interesting touches is the appearance of Jane Alexander, whose role is so by-the-way that one suspects most of it wound up on the cutting room floor or else she was being set up for something in the next sequel. But the mere sight of her resonates because of her role in a very different type of apocalyptic movie that came out around the time of the original Terminator movie, 1983’s Testament. Among other things, she reminds us that the overall story told by this movie series is darn near playing out in real time. (Seen 24 June 2009)

La Teta y la Luna (The Tit and the Moon) 2 out of 4 stars

Spanish directors have a certain knack for telling intriguing stories about childhood (cf. Cría Cuervos, Spirit of the Beehive). While watching this one, I couldn’t help asking myself, “Gee, why wasn’t my childhood like this?” Jealous of his infant brother, nine-year-old Tete is obsessed with women’s breasts. In his fantasy world, women in shop windows bare theirs to him and the beautiful French woman in the caravan by the beach feeds him (at a distance!) with hers. This quirky tale of childhood confusion, young love, and awakening sexuality is the third of a trilogy by Bigas Luna which also includes Jamón Jamón and Huevos de Oro. In a strange way, it goes a long way in explaining the psyche of the Latin male. (Seen 24 May 1997)

That Darn Cat! 2 out of 4 stars

While not the first title that springs to mind when thinking of classic 1960s Disney live-action flicks, this one is certainly representative. It has many of the Disney regulars, led by Hayley Mills and Dean Jones. And at this remove it is an effective time capsule into early 1960s youth culture. It may seem strange that surfing-obsessed teens would be driving around landlocked Fresno, California, with board in tow, but I can attest that this actually did happen in the San Joaquin Valley of the time. Less explicable is why every other resident of Fresno (Mills, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester) has an English accent. The cast is great. In addition to the aforementioned, we have such stalwarts as William Demarest as Lanchester’s fed-up husband, Richard Deacon as an apoplectic drive-in manager, Ed Wynn as a neurotic jeweler, blonde bombshell Dorothy Provine and Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin as crooks that are fairly scary for a light family entertainment. Of special interest to Dark Shadows fans is the participation of Grayson Hall in the small but pivotal role of the kidnapped bank teller who sets things in motion by slipping her wrist watch around the neck of the titular meandering feline. (Seen 19 December 2008)

That Thing You Do! 3 out of 4 stars

That Thing You Do! makes a nice companion piece to Grace of My Heart as another affectionate, nostalgic look at American pop music in the 1960s. It effectively evokes a time when every teenage boy, inspired by the Beatles, wanted to start his own rock’n’roll band in the garage. The period is lovingly recreated, largely through the camera’s lingering over appliances! And, while the energy and enthusiasm are akin to Bye Bye Birdie, in the end this lighthearted but bittersweet charting of the rise of the fictional Wonders could qualify as the official Hollywood remake of The Commitments. As the drummer who gives the band its spark, Tom Everett Scott grins and mugs like, well, a young Tom Hanks (who wrote and directed). As the moody lead singer, Jonathon Schaech is much less threatening than he was in The Doom Generation. And Liv Tyler is much less objectified, and hence more appealing, than she was in Stealing Beauty. We are regularly reminded who is in charge of the film. Hanks’s wife Rita Wilson has a role as does his erstwhile Bosom Buddies co-star Peter Scolari as a poor man’s Ed Sullivan. The star of Apollo 13 has even managed to work Gus Grissom into the story! (Seen 28 September 1996)

There’s Something About Mary 2 out of 4 stars

As an American abroad, I just have to say that I am completely embarrassed by the tasteless and salacious filth that is disseminated not only at home but all over the world so that people in other countries are left to wonder what kind of culture is so perverse as to entertain itself in this twisted way. But enough about the Starr report. As for There’s Something About Mary, there are some really funny bits in this movie. The kind of things you remember days later and then laugh at all over again, while people stare at you and wonder what’s wrong. This latest spawn from Bobby and Peter Farrelly (who will be forever known as “the Dumb and Dumber guys”) relies on shock value for its biggest laughs, but it also gets a fair amount of mileage from anticipation of the next big gag. For example, a psychiatrist’s odd remark early on about highway rest stops pays off handsomely later on. Of course, this is an unadulterated “guy movie,” but strangely (probably because of its entry into previously uncharted territory about very personal male stuff) it appears to hold some fascination for at least a few women. But instead of relying on wit and sympathetic characters as The Wedding Singer did, Mary mines its laughs from things we all find hilarious, i.e. handicapped people, stalkers, serial killers, and cruelty to small animals. The true audience for this film is made clear by an unlikely reference (involving a dog on speed) to those icons of guy humor, The Three Stooges. (Seen 25 September 1998)

They Came Together 2 out of 4 stars

The problem with a movie that exists mainly to lampoon a particular film genre is that, after a certain point, there gets to be little difference between the spoof and a poorly executed example of the target genre. Commercially successful spoofs, like the Airplane! movies or the Scary Movie series, get around this by raising the anarchy level and the production of sight gags to a pace that leaves the viewer with little time to think too much. This flick by David Wain, a veteran of the comedy troupe The State, takes a braver and more difficult tack. It derives its humor by having the characters continually comment on the clichés they are participating in. And he certainly couldn’t have asked for better leads to deconstruct the modern romcom in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. They nearly have the words postmodern irony tattooed on their foreheads. The setup is that Rudd and Poehler are having dinner with another couple and begin talking about how they met. It was just like a romantic comedy, they laugh and then proceed to make that pronouncement as literal as possible. She’s a klutz, he has commitment issues, she has a quirky little shop and he works for a greedy megacorporation, etc. When pointing out well-worn romcom clichés starts to feel stale, poop gags and/or (once) shocking language fills the gaps. Lots of familiar and funny people fill in the numerous supporting roles, and things never get tedious. Still, it basically feels like it’s made for people who don’t have any friends to watch romcoms with so that they can make snide comments about them. (Seen 27 August 2014)

The Thin Man 3 out of 4 stars

If you are anything like me then I defy you to watch this movie and not be consumed by the immediate desire to mix a pitcher of martinis. This is escapist Depression-era entertainment at its best. The structure is that of the standard whodunnit, leading up to the big reveal at the very end—with all the suspects seated around a dinner table no less. The plot is surprisingly complicated, and the film teems with a wide array of characters. But, of course, the mystery surrounding the absent titular thin man and the string of murders connected to him is all just an elaborate MacGuffin. The real reason to watch this first in a popular series of comedy/mysteries is to enjoy the banter and bonvivant behavior of the detective duo, Nick and Nora Charles. He is ostensibly retired as a detective, having married the wealthy Nora, so much of the movie is spent on his efforts to keep from being drawn into the mystery. In the end, it becomes a game for the pair, an extended murder mystery evening where the bullets are real but are never lethal for our good guys. One could wonder how this time spent with the idle (and frequently pickled) rich played with the punters in the audience beset by a dreary economy, but clearly they enjoyed vicariously living that life for a couple of hours. And what better company than William Powell and Myrna Loy as the fabulous Nick and Nora? And what better reaction shots than those of the infinitely talented actor dog Asta? The ingénue in the story is Maureen O’Sullivan, appearing here in the same year as her second outing as Jane in the Tarzan movies. The first of that series, like this film, was directed by W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke. Also in the cast is a very young Cesar Romero, three whole decades before he would play the Joker to Adam West’s Batman. (Seen 27 December 2014)

The Thin Red Line 3 out of 4 stars

By a strange coincidence, I finally got my chance to see this film one day after Stanley Kubrick died. Having directed Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick ranks as simply the greatest anti-war filmmaker ever. Like any movie about war made since the 1960s, The Thin Red Line probably qualifies as an anti-war film, but is it really? It certainly portrays vividly the brutality of war, but there is also a lot of poetic voice-over musings (strangely reminiscent of Wings of Desire or, less fortunately, its remake City of Angels or, worse yet, TV commercials for the British pharmacy chain Boots) about the “cruelty of nature.” And Nick Nolte is clearly the villain of the piece, as he nearly gives himself a stroke playing the gung-ho lieutenant colonel pushing his men beyond endurance. But doesn’t his ferociousness actually get results in a life-and-death situation? Story-wise, the large sprawling cast adds needed realism (to make up for some mighty unlikely dialog), but it doesn’t make the movie very easy to follow. I kept mixing up James Caviezel’s and Ben Chaplin’s characters, but there was no confusion over Sean Penn, who has matured interestingly into some kind of cross between Lloyd Bridges and Kirk Douglas. While I would rate this flick a notch below Saving Private Ryan, it still gets three stars for photography, composition and a chance to give a few actors some really great death scenes. Besides, who knows how many more decades we’ll have to wait for Terrence Malick’s next film? (Seen 8 March 1999)

Things I Never Told You 2 out of 4 stars

With its offbeat take on relationships and preoccupation with videotape, this movie is something like what Atom Egoyan might have come up with if assigned to do a screwball comedy. It was actually made by Spanish director Isabel Coixet, but the setting is somewhere in North America. (It was filmed in northwest Oregon and in Spain.) The story involves an oddball group of people whose paths tend to cross in interesting and sometimes romantic ways. In the lead role, Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol, Girls Town) tones down her usual psychotic screen persona to being merely odd and quirky and actually endearing. As her possible love interest, Andrew McCarthy (Less Than Zero, Weekend at Bernie’s) looks strangely like James Spader in a James Spader-ish kind of role. Also on hand are Debi Mazar as a transsexual and Seymour Cassel as a man who needs a hug. (Seen 28 January 1998)

The Third Man 4 out of 4 stars

Just one question. Why Greek zither music? I mean, in post-war Vienna? But it doesn’t matter because it works. This whole film works. Which is why it is a classic and why it is the masterpiece in the lengthy career of English filmmaker Carol Reed (1906-1976), whose c.v. included everything from Odd Man Out to Oliver! Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the script is by Graham Greene, that master of stories about Englishmen (or in this case, an American) at sea in some foreign locale. The cast is first-rate too, particularly the little-known actors in supporting roles with the great faces. Not to mention bigger stars like Trevor Howard and Bernard Lee (who would go on to be James Bond’s boss before Judi Dench would take over) as a British sergeant who admires Joseph Cotten’s pulp fiction. Best of all is Orson Welles in the title role, as he ruminates on the legacy of the Borgias versus 500 years of democracy in Switzerland. What a pleasure that the Seattle film festival made it possible to see all of this on the Cinerama’s wonderful giant screen. I read that Greene’s original ending called for Alida Valli to run into Cotten’s arms. Unimaginable. The ending, as filmed, is what film noir is all about. (Seen 18 May 1999)

Thirteen 2 out of 4 stars

Much more frightening than any Freddy or Jason movie—at least to those of us with young daughters—is this movie, which illustrates clearly why thirteen has traditionally been considered to be an unlucky number. The feel of this movie, by Catherine Hardwicke, is a bit like a Larry Clark film. It’s also kind of like a Mike Leigh domestic drama, but with a lot more energy and a lot faster pacing. On the surface, thirteen-year-old Tracy’s descent from good daughter to parent’s worst nightmare seems sudden and inexplicable. What has led her down the wrong path? Possible answers include parents who are too busy to give her time (she lives with her divorced mother), pressure from society in general (lots of sexualized advertising is on display), and particularly the influence of her new best friend Evie, who is a cross between Eddie Haskell and the anti-Christ. The film’s chief assets are fine performances by Evan Rachel Wood as Tracy and Holly Hunter as her long-suffering, not-quite-recovering-alcoholic mom. The film would be depressing indeed if not for an emotional ending that suggests the slightest bit of hope. (Seen 19 October 2003)

This Is My Father 3 out of 4 stars

This Is My Father was the third of no fewer than three films seen in a 30-hour period about Americans looking for their roots in Ireland. (And that doesn’t even count the documentary Three Brothers, made about the making of this film.) But this one gets my nod as the best of this particular lot because of the evident care and love that went into it and the clear effort to make it realistic—something films with this particular theme seldom are. Like The Godfather Part II, this movie really tells two stories: one set in the present day and one in the past. Both plots draw heavily on writer/director Paul Quinn’s own experiences and those of his family. The authenticity pays off without compromising the cherished Irish-American image of the old country. And thankfully the tragic love story told in flashback does not lapse into melodrama but derives its pathos from character and from social truths of the time. The cast is uniformly fine, including well-known actors like Colm Meaney and Brendan Gleeson in minor parts. My wife (who should know) says that the director’s brother Aidan is quite convincing as he cuts turf in the bog. James Caan has his best role in years as the Yank seeking to unravel a family mystery. And Stephen Rea has a blast as a fire-and-brimstone priest who, given a sect change, would not have been out of place in the American South. (Seen 12 July 1998)

This Is Spinal Tap 3 out of 4 stars

This is the movie that finally revealed the reason that mega-bands never take to the stage until well past the officially appointed time. It is because they are wandering around backstage completely lost! Yes, this granddaddy of the mockumentary genre tickled audiences when it came out in 1984, but has it withstood the test of time? Not only is the answer yes, but the world has actually needed three decades to catch up with this movie. This comedy genius invention not only nailed rock bands and movies about rock bands dead on but it presaged reality TV. Its extended improvised bits may have seemed risky at the time for a feature film, but their sometimes rambling, sometimes absurd nature now fit more seamlessly than ever into what passes for entertainment these days. The cast are perfect. Michael McKean captures the strutting frontman. Nicholas Guest is endlessly fascinating as the continuously befuddled pretty boy guitarist. And Harry Shearer totally evokes every laid-back in-his-own-reality longhair from Ringo Starr to The Edge. The bits that became immortal are too many to count. The bizarre deaths of the band’s string of drummers. “These go to eleven.” Nigel’s beautiful, soulful piano melody that turns out to be called “Lick My Love Pump.” The Stonehenge fiasco. My personal favorite was always where Spinal Tap gets billed beneath the puppet show in Stockton, California. The guys have since become so well known for this and subsequent mockumentaries (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration, all directed by Guest) that it is easy to forget that this was the feature directing debut of none other than Rob Reiner, who would go on to make in rapid succession The Sure Thing, Stand By Me and The Princess Bride. Much of the fun comes from the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-‘em cameos from the likes of Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, Anjelica Huston and Fred Willard. Just think. This movie has all that and still manages to give us a bromance that gives Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a run for its money. (Seen 2 June 2015)

This Is the Sea 2 out of 4 stars

Once again John Lynch (Cal, Some Mother’s Son) finds himself caught up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. And once again Richard Harris (The Field) finds himself playing an old farmer who’s spent a little too much time in the solitude of the Irish countryside. This film is a bit different from others that have dramatized the Northern Ireland situation in that it takes place in the time since the IRA/Loyalist cease-fires and the politics are not so much the focus as a backdrop for a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance. The director/screenwriter is Mary McGuckian, whose first film was a surprisingly haunting and touching adaptation of W.B. Yeats’s Words Upon the Window Pane. This Is the Sea is similar to the earlier film in that the plot is presented somewhat sketchily, causing the viewer to fill in several gaps, and the music (by the Waterboys) is integral to the mood and tone of the story. One of the nice things about the film is the way that it presents characters who turn out to be very different from what they appear to be initially. And, surprisingly, the most powerful scene in the movie belongs to McGuckian herself in a supporting acting role. This Is the Sea opened the 1997 Women in Cinema Festival in Seattle. (Seen 24 January 1997)

This Must Be the Place 3 out of 4 stars

This may just well be the most exquisitely filmed and most amusing movie ever to trivialize the Holocaust. It’s a film that is, in a very real sense, all over the map. Directed and co-written by an Italian (two-time Cannes prize winner Paolo Sorrentino), the story ranges from Dublin to New York to Michigan to New Mexico to Utah. Sean Penn plays a former rock star (apparently modeled on The Cure’s Robert Smith), who is living out a quiet retirement in Ireland—at least as quiet as can be managed considering that he still constantly wears the full goth makeup that he used to perform in. The film takes some time to get around to explaining many things, including why Cheyenne still wears his makeup. But it does get to it. But before that, our hero must go on one of those cinematic life-altering journeys. It brings him back to America and in search of a fugitive Nazi (Herr MacGuffin, to be sure). But as is often the case, the journey is the viewers’ own reward. We get one of those European filmmaker takes on the U.S. (think Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas) that is somehow both exotic and authentic. And speaking of the Wenders film, among this movie’s delights is a cameo by Harry Dean Stanton. The scenes in Dublin and Wicklow are also nicely done and totally manage to avoid the quaintness that a lot of non-Irish (and even some Irish) filmmakers inflict on the country. Nobody gets much screen time except for Penn, but each contribution (including those from Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon and even Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson) is a gem in its own right. (Seen 24 September 2012)

This Year’s Love 2 out of 4 stars

The premise of This Year’s Love seems to be that 1) love in modern Britain is completely, or perhaps just mostly, futile and 2) the pool of available people in Camden Town (London) numbers precisely six. Story-wise, the film recounts the events that transpire between Danny and Hannah’s wedding and their honeymoon—during which time some three years happen to elapse. Danny is played by Douglas Henshall with the same manic temper that he displayed in the grimly dark Orphans and the decadently weird Angels & Insects. Dougray Scott (Ever After) seems to be doing an Antonio Banderas imitation as the deodorantly challenged painter who becomes Hannah’s lover after her wedding reception hits a snag. Ian Hart, who for a while made a career of playing John Lennon, is the image of Lennon here but then eerily metamorphoses over the course of the film into Anthony Perkins, thereby mirroring perfectly the evolution of his character. This partner-swapping (anti-?)romance also reunites two cast members of Dancing at Lughnasa: Catherine McCormack (also Mel Gibson’s wife in Braveheart) as Hannah and Kathy Burke as the self-described “fat bird.” Writer/director David Kane’s previous effort was Ruffian Hearts. (Seen 28 February 1999)

The Thomas Crown Affair 2 out of 4 stars

It’s not bad enough that Pierce Brosnan has taken over Sean Connery’s trademark role as James Bond, but now he’s remaking all his other movies as well. Okay, so this is actually a remake of the 1968 film of the same name and not of this year’s Entrapment (despite a passingly similar premise), but Brosnan plays the title role with the same exact coiffed and groomed low emotional energy that he brings to the Bond role. He’s nice to look at, but more fun is Rene Russo who brings a welcome bit of attitude to her insurance agency bounty hunter. And, since this is largely meant to be a wallow in how we imagine the rich and glamorous to live, it is entirely appropriate that she manages to look strangely like Sue Ellen from Dallas throughout. As escapist romantic entertainment, the film is okay. In the early scenes, Brosnan and Russo do manage to evoke some of the style and charisma of a couple like JFK and Jackie. But, by the time she throws a fit upon finding a young blonde (with a perfect supermodel-style sneer) in his bedroom, we feel that we have wound up with Bill and Hillary. (Seen 25 August 1999)

Thor 3 out of 4 stars

When my kid heard that I had seen this movie, her first question was whether it was as good as Clash of the Titans. That’s an easy one. It may be hard to make a mainstream movie about ancient gods without invoking laughter from the audience, but Thor clearly does a much better job. For comic book fans, it may not satisfy those wedded to the dark and gritty tone of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but for long-in-the-tooth Stan Lee and Jack Kirby fans, it warms the heart to see Marvel Studios continue its mostly successful run of movies that manage to capture the spirit of the original comic books at the same time as making fairly watchable cinematic imagery. Granted, the Asgard sections are very video-gamey and look as though they could have been included in a Tron movie. But the footage from New Mexico works just fine. I’ll confess that I was disappointed when I heard that the writers (including my man J. Michael Straczynski, legendary for Babylon 5 and a major contributor to the Thor comics) decided to omit the original storyline that had the lame doctor Donald Blake transform into the thunder god, and I still think that could have been a compelling scenario. But the original comics eventually dispensed with Thor’s mortal identity as an unnecessary distraction and, as executed, the movie completely respects the spirit of the early comics, while still including at least Blake’s name. (I had completely forgotten about the Odinsleep!) Blond, hunky Aussie Chris Hemsworth makes a fine thunder god with his suitably deep voice that is somewhat reminiscent of his late countryman Heath Ledger. Tom Hiddleston brings a unexpected and welcome nuance to the villain Loki. And Anthony Hopkins finally realizes his destiny, as a faux Shakespearean deity. Natalie Portman is the icing on the cake. Serious fanboys know not to be satisfied with the cameos by Stan Lee and JMS. They will sit through all the credits to see the now obligatory teaser scene for the Avengers movie. (Seen 4 May 2011)

Thor: The Dark World 3 out of 4 stars

It does my heart good to see Christopher Eccleston playing an evil Dark Elf. This is the man who deserted Doctor Who after one season because he couldn’t deal with the whole sci-fi fanboy thing and who has declined to have any part in the DW golden anniversary festivities this month. So here he is taking the paycheck for hiding under major makeup and prosthetics to play none other than something called Malekith the king of the Dark Elves. It’s good enough for him. But he couldn’t have landed in a better project. The Marvel/Disney flicks continue not only to be first-rate but superb entertainments. The DC/Warner superhero movies may have more gravitas and mood and tone, but the Marvel ones simply stir one’s spirit. Thor was always my favorite Marvel hero, probably because of my youthful devotion to mythology. This movie, like its predecessor, captures nicely not only the spirit of the early comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby but also the alternating tone between Shakespearean pomposity and New York wisecracking. The film boasts some of the best lines ever, as well as an amusing surprise cameo and not one but two teasers for the next movie for those with the patience to sit through the end credits. Is it possible for most of the cast to steal the movie? Because not only do Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård, as before, run away with their scenes, but so do the wonderful Tom Hiddleston, in a big way, and the always amusing Chris O’Dowd, in a brief way. The plot? The oldest in the world, as far as adventure movies go. Sworn enemies are forced to put aside their differences and work together. Kind of the way Chris Eccleston had to go back to sci-fi/fantasy roles. (Seen 10 November 2013)

A Thousand Clowns 3 out of 4 stars

“Nick, you are about to see a horrible, horrible thing.” “What’s that Murray?” “People going to work.” With that opening exchange, we are off on a romp around New York and, more specifically, around the mind of one Murray Burns. Murray is the timeless creation of playwright and screenwriter Herb Gardner and, it has to be said, the remarkable Jason Robards who brought him to life on Broadway and in this film. There is not much of a story in this portrait of Murray and his wonderful and wacky world. Sure, we have a plot about the relentlessly iconoclast Murray and his 12-year-old nephew—who was abandoned in his studio apartment and who might be taken away by the child protection authorities. But we never get to the climatic hearing where young Nick’s fate is decided, as we might have expected in a more conventional movie. Instead, we watch Murray gambol around New York, eyeing the hordes of zombie-like employees on the street walking to work every morning. Murray, who walked off his job as a writer for a mindless children’s TV show, does not want every day to be the same, as it presumably is for those worker drones. He trades quips with young Nick (alarmingly precocious Barry Gordon) and with Sandra (perky Barbara Harris), the young psychologist who is supposed to be evaluating his home environment, and with Albert (William Daniels), the officious bureaucrat judging his suitability, and with his brother Arnold (Martin Balsam), who is responsible, and with Leo (Gene Saks), the emotionally insecure star of Chuckles the Chipmunk. Murray is that id which rails against conformity and responsibility and boredom and, because of that, we cannot help but love him. But in the end, if he is going to save Nick from a life of conformist humdrum in the future, Murray is going to have to bend in the here and now. But he won’t bend willingly—and we have to love him because of that too. Herb Gardner’s creation (said to be partly inspired by his friend, raconteur and radio personality Jean Shepherd) may be the most evocative remnant of what the spirit of the 1960s was truly all about. (Seen 7 February 2015)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 3 out of 4 stars

After all these years, I still get a bit suspicious when Europeans make movies set in American rural or small-town settings. On one hand, an outsider’s perspective can spot truths that natives overlook, but on the other hand, there is sometimes a tendency to judge and condescend. Maybe I expected London-born writer/director Martin McDonagh to do with the fictional Ebbing (actually filmed in North Carolina) what he has done in numerous plays set in his forebearers’ west-of-Ireland hinterlands—process the region’s sometimes strange local history through a darkly comic jaundiced prism. Despite his gifts as a writer, this flick still has a bit of the feel of “movie America.” Reportedly inspired by actual billboards he saw while traveling in the Deep South, McDonagh has set the film in Missouri—perhaps as a nod to the 2014 events in Ferguson? Indeed, the movie gives every indication that it means to harp on the racism/misogyny/etc. of the town’s deplorables but then, in typical McDonagh fashion, we find that everyone is more complicated than we first thought and no one has a monopoly on virtue. His previous American-set film, Seven Psychopaths, was more of the absurdist crime comedy he mined in his Oscar-winning short Six Shooter and again with In Bruges. Despite its vein of McDonagh-ian humor, though, this movie attempts to be more serious and heartfelt. We root for Frances McDormand’s character in her pursuit of justice, but we come to see she is driven more by personal guilt and regret than by shortcomings in law enforcement. The cops certainly have their flaws, but so does she. Between this and The Edge of Seventeen, Woody Harrelson is definitely at some kind of career peak in quality roles. The always reliable and invariably funny Sam Rockwell really makes the most of an unsympathetic character whom we cannot totally dismiss. As for Frances McDormand, around whom this movie was justifiably built, she is perfect. By now, of course, that is a given. (Seen 18 January 2018)

Three Brothers 2 out of 4 stars

The three brothers of the title are Aidan, Declan and Paul Quinn, second-generation Irish-American brothers who all wound up in the movie business. Aidan is a well-known actor (Legends of the Fall, Michael Collins), Declan is an award-winning cinematographer (Leaving Las Vegas plus many others), and Paul is now a writer/director. They all collaborated on Paul’s new film, This Is My Father. During the shooting of the movie a friend, Fergus Tighe, filmed this documentary. Tighe, who seems to be quite a jovial fellow, happily celebrates this familial partnership and the sentimentality of a “homecoming” to Ireland for the filming. In a Q&A following the screening of Three Brothers, the subjects indicated that things did not always go as smoothly as Tighe’s film suggests, but the family bond is quite evident. Perhaps the best aspect of the documentary is the extent to which it actually shows us the nuts and bolts (usually hidden) of making a movie. (Seen 10 July 1998)

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada 2 out of 4 stars

Now here’s a real cowboy love story. When Tommy Lee Jones loves another cowboy, he doesn’t grope him and fondle him in a tent. No, he throws his dead body over a horse and faithfully brings him on a long metaphorical journey. He did it in Lonesome Dove and he’s doing it again here. Speaking of which, the Texas border area in this film is just bleak enough that I’m surprised that Larry McMurtry didn’t have something to do with this movie too. Rather, it was written by Guillermo Arriaga, who also penned Amores Perros and 21 Grams, and directed by Jones himself. Scenically and character-wise, this is a fine update to the cowboy mythos we were recently discussing, although Arriaga infuses the proceedings with way more Catholic sensibility than we are normally used to seeing in American horse operas. With a title that sounds as though it could have come from a Gabriel García Márquez story, the film deals heavily in guilt, penance, faith and forgiveness. It is also rather topical, not only because the villain of the piece is an officer of the U.S. Border Patrol but because it deals with negligence with a firearm in Texas. (I’m guessing the vice-president won’t be seeing this.) Jones is perfect for the role he plays here. A real honest-to-gosh Texas cowboy in real life, he is nothing less than authentic and compelling to watch. (Seen 21 February 2006)

Three Dollars 2 out of 4 stars

We can’t help but like this (mostly) amiable movie about the life and travails of thirtysomething government chemical engineer. So we are justified in feeling a bit hurt when the film turns a bit mean toward the end. As is the case with a lot of Australian films of recent years, this one seems to want to fit into every genre going, all at once. At varying times, it seems to be a romantic comedy, a domestic drama, a political thriller, a social commentary, and even a medical drama. It’s almost as though it was made by a committee consisting of Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Ken Loach and Cameron Crowe, among others. (It was directed by Robert Connolly, who co-wrote it with the author of the source novel, Elliot Perlman.) The star is David Wenham, who is nothing if not versatile. He is best known internationally as the noble Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as a comical sidekick in Van Helsing. Here he is one of the nicest (although not perfect) guys you would ever want to meet. He cannot pass a derelict in the street or an elderly person in distress, without stopping to help. And, wouldn’t you know it, he is the only person standing in the way of a developer (the father of a childhood friend, whom he meets coincidentally every nine and a half years) getting a green light to build on polluted land. Nothing quite happens in this movie the way you expect it to and, while the ending is just that little bit hopeful, the message seems to be that life is hard on decent guys. (Seen 12 October 2005)

Three in the Attic 1 out of 4 stars

This is definitely not to be confused with Yvette Mimieux’s earlier attic movie (George Roy Hill’s adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic, with Dean Martin and Geraldine Page). This flick was the last feature film directed by Richard Wilson (he would make a documentary on Orson Welles 25 years later called It’s All True), whose penultimate feature was Invitation to a Gunfighter. Three in the Attic is mainly remembered today for being one of a handful of movies to star Christopher Jones during his brief but hot career in the late 1960s. And this is definitely a flick that is, as they say, of its time. It’s all about those confusing Sixties and that crazy Sexual Revolution they were having. In the end, though, it is basically the strangest idea for a romcom you will ever see. Jones plays university student Paxton Quigley, whose name is clearly intended to become some sort of talisman because it keeps getting mentioned. He falls in love with coed Mimieux but, as an inveterate womanizer, he can’t help but also get into a pattern of weekly liaisons with sultry artist Judy Pace and kooky head case Maggie Thrett. The gag is that, once he’s caught, the three women lock him in an attic and decide to “punish” him by forcing him to have non-stop carnal knowledge—playing on the myth that too much sex can actually kill you. (That’s not really true, is it?) It’s an idea that seemed titillating at the time, but in the end it comes nowhere close to being as funny or thought-provoking as it was meant to. Does the name Br’er Rabbit ring a bell? (Seen 26 May 2013)

Three Kings 3 out of 4 stars

You may have noticed that I have a tendency to describe movies by comparing them to other movies. Okay, so here goes. Three Kings starts out with the hallucinatory war-is-insanity feel of Apocalypse Now, develops a plot reminiscent of the 1970 comedy Kelly’s Heroes, turns into a wallow in guilt over the victims of war à la Welcome to Sarajevo and then winds up as a rescue-the-villagers-from-madmen-in-the-desert action epic not completely unlike The Road Warrior. (Have I left anything out?) This movie’s style is fresh and fast-paced, and some of the battle scenes would do Jerry Bruckheimer proud. The surprise is that it is written and directed by David O. Russell, who has previously given us two quirky but enjoyable comedies, Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster. Only in the ending does Russell really go Hollywood, but otherwise this flick starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube (whose character, amusingly, prefers easy listening music) manages to be both entertaining and subversive as it draws a relentless bead on modern warfare, which is now all about complete detachment from the victims of high-tech weapons, managing the media, and sacrificing innocents to political expediency. (Seen 23 September 1999)

Three Miles North of Molkom 1 out of 4 stars

Clearly influenced by the phenomenon of reality TV, this documentary by Robert Cannan and Corinna McFarlane could nearly be called Big Brother: New Age Edition. The tiny film crew spent a period of time at an event called the No Mind Festival in rural Ängsbacka, Sweden. Seeming oblivious to the cameras, as people in these films invariably do, people take part in the various workshops and events and group discussions and, inevitably, we come to know several of them as well as any characters we might see in a movie. Our de facto point of view character is Nick, identified as an Australian rugby coach, who has shown up as a lark and can’t believe the touchy-feely atmosphere he has landed in. But, as inexorably as any script plotted out in a writers’ conference, Nick’s skepticism begins to melt and, as we feared, he nearly becomes the most gung-ho of any of these self-actualizers. While this character arc may be pleasing to some, it makes the movie harder to watch for others of us. There is one completely unexpected moment near the middle of the film when something sudden and arguably violent happens, and we think that the fallout will make the movie more interesting. But all too soon it all seems forgotten. In a Q&A the filmmakers suggested that there was darker stuff that they chose not to include. I can’t second guess their judgment, but I suspect that, like Nick, they ended up being a bit co-opted by the atmosphere of the place. (Seen 11 July 2009)

The Three Musketeers 2 out of 4 stars

Here’s a clear case of a movie benefiting from low expectations—at least as far as I was concerned. I had heard dire things about Paul W.S. Anderson’s (the English director best known for video game movies like Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil) go at Alexandre Dumas’s classic adventure. The rap was that Anderson had turned this swashbuckler, set in 17th century France, into a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And darned if that observation wasn’t spot on: right down to the music, the impossible action scenes, the spectacular CGI effects, the anachronisms, the cannon-firing battle ships. Hold on. Ships? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll have to go back and read my Dumas because I had forgotten that part. Also, I somehow had not remembered Milady de Winter being such a, well, super ninja killing machine. But then she is played by Andeson’s wife and default leading lady, Milla Jovovich. For many of us, the definitive The Three Musketeers was the pair of movies directed by Richard Lester in the 1970s and starring the likes of Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay and Michael York. Lester made the old classic truly fun. Anderson has made it truly silly, but I have to admit that it’s quite a fun silly. Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans and Ray Stevenson make dandy musketeers. Orlando Bloom (speaking of Pirates of the Caribbean) seems to have evolved quite seamlessly from the pretty ingénue to the slightly foppish villain. And in the old Orlando Bloom role, Logan Lerman has the pretty, smirky cockiness that reminds me for all the world of the young Michael Landon. A special treat is the very funny James Corden, who seems to be playing the servant Planchet as if he was Eric Stonestreet from Modern Family. (Seen 27 October 2011)

300 2 out of 4 stars

If you’re a rabid Frank Miller fan, then you’d have to be pleased with this (second, after Sin City) very faithful adaptation of a graphic novel of his. If you’re a film buff first and a mere a Miller admirer second, then your reaction may be more complicated. And, if you don’t know Miller at all, well, you are probably just dazzled and a bit confused. Not unlike the Greeks themselves, Miller and the filmmakers have taken history and made it bigger and better than life. Everything is exaggerated. The men are bigger and more macho and more stalwart and all have uniform washboard abs. As in Hong Kong action movies, blows echo into the distance and struck bodies fly through the air. And blood splatters everywhere in glorious slow motion. The colors are painterly and otherworldly. Indeed, the action seems to taking place on some other planet—specifically one in the Klingon empire. The invading Persians are only slightly less hideous than the Orcs in Middle-Earth. And, because the visuals are so dazzling and impressive and the characters are so much larger than life, we don’t really connect with it the way we would want to. Still, it’s better than the likes of Troy and Gladiator. Can we take some serious message from this spectacle, as some commentators have been quick to do? Well, yes. Even though the considerable artistic license taken makes this look like a grittier version of The Lord of the Rings, the basic events depicted all really happened. Some will watch the cunning Theron put political calculation over the security of his country and think of Harry Reid. Others will draw the lesson that the superpower of its time, with the mightiest of militaries, was stymied by a relatively small band of determined fighters when it tried to invade another country. But those with a long view will simply note that, if the Spartans had not trained themselves to be such good warriors and had not been willing to fight, the place that sowed the seeds of democracy and western culture would have been overrun. The world today would be a very different place if they had not stood their ground.. (Seen 25 April 2007)

Thumbsucker 2 out of 4 stars

We have been here before. For one thing, there are songs by the late Elliott Smith, whose songs have graced such movies as Good Will Hunting and The Royal Tenenbaums. And Lou Taylor Pucci has (perfectly, I might add) the same deer-caught-in-the-headlights eyes and dangling hair that we have seen in many a previous coming-of-age movie. This could nearly be a Wes Anderson film, except that Bill Murray isn’t in it. But look who is! How did writer/director Mike Mills (adapting Walter Kirn’s novel) get all these people? Young Justin’s parents are Vincent D’Onofrio and Tilda Swinton. His debate team coach is Vince Vaughn (wearing glasses that make him seem unexpectedly like Jeff Goldblum). And his orthodontist is Keanu Reeves, who seems to doing an acting homage to David Carradine. They’re all good and even funny, but the biggest laughs come from Benjamin Bratt, hilariously making light of his TV cop persona. Make no mistake, this is no “teen comedy.” It is actually a thoughtful meditation that is not too far off from Thorton Wilder’s Our Town (or March of the Penguins, for that matter). As Justin’s dad observes toward the end, parents only barely start to know their kids before it is time for them to move on. (Seen 15 October 2005)

Thunderball 2 out of 4 stars

By this fourth outing in the James Bond big screen franchise, the formula was pretty much established for all time. Many people rank this as one of the best, if not the very best, in the series. Maybe, but to my mind the tongue-in-cheek tone that completely got out of hand by the end of the Roger Moore era is already in evidence here. On the other hand, we don’t get any of the sci-fi excesses that cropped up later. As of this point, arch-villain Blofeld is still unseen except for his lap and a cat and is still portrayed by uncredited Anthony Dawson and voiced by uncredited Eric Pohlmann. Bond’s CIA chum Felix Leiter has become younger, as Cec Linder (in Goldfinger) has been replaced by Rik Van Nutter. A distraction for modern Irish viewers is that the main baddie, played by Adolfo Celi, looks unnervingly like disgraced former prime minister Bertie Ahern with an eye patch. In reality, the film’s setup and execution are pretty bare bones. Apart from a mostly-for-laughs initial sequence in France and the obligatory M and Moneypenny chat in London, the whole thing takes place in the photogenic Bahamas. Quite a bit of time at the end is spent with a well photographed underwater fight, which was pretty dramatic at the time but actually looks a bit tame these days. Strangely, in the final moments 007 opts for a quick rescue from his makeshift raft rather than angle, as he usually does, for more smooching time with his nubile companion (in this case, Claudine Auger). (Seen 24 March 2012)

Thunderbirds 2 out of 4 stars

Bring back the puppets. Okay, maybe it’s not quite that dire. This big-screen update to the classic British children’s program is squarely aimed at a very young audience, but they’ll have to be pretty young (and a bit sheltered) to be enthralled by this wholesome mixture of action and comedy. I don’t actually recall the original series myself, but I have to imagine that the puppets had more depth than these characters, as written anyway. Lady Penelope has lots of promise, but she eventually wears out her welcome and finally evokes unwelcome memories of the disastrous Avengers movie. As for the title characters, they are so square-jawed and heroic that it’s just as well they are only secondary players anyway. The real heroes are Brady Corbet, as the youngest Tracy son, and two friends. If the action seems calculated to cash in on the popularity of the Spy Kids movies (but without Robert Rodriguez’s unique take on family dynamics), the trio of youngsters definitely feels purloined from the Harry Potter movies. But it isn’t really like Harry Potter, you see. Harry can’t wait to get away from his oppressive parents and go to the fantastical world at his boarding school and have adventures. Alan Tracy, in contrast, can’t wait to get away from his oppressive boarding school and go to the fantastical world of his family and have adventures. So, you see, they aren’t the same at all. If that’s not enough, the kids’ antics against the sometimes comical intruders feels like a Home Alone rip-off as well. A nearly unrecognizable Anthony Edwards gets mileage out of the character of Brains, mainly through a series of Porky Pig-like utterances brought on by a stammer. But it’s even worse for Ben Kingsley, as the villain, who has finally erased any memory we still might have had of his portrayal of Ghandi. (Seen 29 July 2004)

Tian Mimi (Comrades: Almost a Love Story) 2 out of 4 stars

I hadn’t really thought about this before, but long before Hong Kong started turning out violent action epics and sword and sorcery fantasies, Henry King’s Love Is a Many Splendored Thing was filmed there. We are reminded of this by a character in Comrades: Almost a Love Story who has built a shrine to William Holden with whom she once dined during the filming. The reference is apropos since this movie is clearly in the same tradition—with more than a bit of Doctor Zhivago and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg thrown in for good measure. Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung (Supercop, Irma Vep) are two mainlanders in Hong Kong who belong together but take ten years to figure that out. If you can wait out the stretches that shamelessly milk the sentimentality out of the situation, the movie is actually quite wry, funny, and enjoyable. Particularly nice is the black-and-white opening (reprised to great effect at the end) where country bumpkin Lai stumbles onto an escalator for the first time and rises into a blinding light. (Seen 22 May 1997)

Tic Tac 2 out of 4 stars

I am always leery of films that are labeled “the [fill in the blank] Pulp Fiction” but, for the record, Tic Tac’s inevitable appellation as “the Swedish Pulp Fiction” is mostly apt. What Daniel Alfredson’s directing debut has in common with Tarantino’s vaunted potboiler is a set of mostly unrelated but intersecting plots; characters who all seem to be on some sort of drug; scenes presented out of chronological order to keep things interesting or at least confusing; a constant threat of violence culminating in actual violence; and a pounding, eclectic music soundtrack. But, other than that, the two films have absolutely nothing in common. Indeed, Alfredson’s film is grittier, rawer and less self-consciously hip. And its weaving plot strands of skinheads, corrupt cops, a man who wants to emigrate to Australia, and a would-be high school arsonist certainly go a long way toward obliterating any images of Sweden accumulated from years of watching Ingmar Bergman films. (Seen 27 August 1998)

Tickets 3 out of 4 stars

We don’t often see cinema-as-pure-storytelling done as well as it is in this film about the happenings on a train en route from Innsbruck to Rome. Perhaps that is because it is packed with directorial talent. Not one, not two but three gifted directors took on the trio of interlinking stories that fill the train’s journey. In the segment by veteran Italian director Ermanno Olmi (The Tree of Wooden Clogs), the train becomes a microcosm of modern society, with its class divisions, its barriers, its social isolation and, because of a very strong security presence due to a terrorism alert, a fair amount of repressive paranoia. We get all this, plus a meditation on life, death, love and dreams from our point-of-view character. In a simple climactic act, he opens at least one barrier to extend an act of kindness. The second segment, by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, with a similarly understated but more broadly played style, is a mini-comedy about a bossy general’s widow and the young man who is at her beck and call. There is a love story barely noted here, but by film’s end, it looks to have a happy ending. The final section, directed by England’s Ken Loach, is the most outright entertaining. It features three lively Scottish lads (played by actors who featured in Loach’s 2002 film, Sweet Sixteen) on a getaway from their supermarket jobs to attend a Celtic soccer match. (Thankfully, their dialog is subtitled, along with the Italians’.) Unexpectedly, they find themselves confronting a moral dilemma that brings them into contact with a foreign world, previously glimpsed only on news broadcasts. Will Celtic pride prevail? When we get to the Rome terminal, it most certainly does. (Seen 11 October 2005)

Tie-Died: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Most Deadicated Fans 2 out of 4 stars

The second midnight movie of the 1995 Seattle film festival was a documentary about fans of the Grateful Dead. To be clear, this is not a movie about the Grateful Dead themselves, and there is not one note of Dead music on the soundtrack. This is because the Dead make it extremely hard to license their music, and they also have legal ownership of the word Deadhead which is why this film is called Tie-Died and not Deadhead. Filmed mainly in parking lots and rest stops (it starts out at Memorial Stadium in Seattle), the movie concentrates mainly on the group of people who follow the Dead around from concert to concert. These nomads have formed families and communities on the road. Their children have known no other life. As anthropology, it is fascinating, although it does get a bit repititious at times. As Ken Kesey’s son quotes his father: “The Sixties ain’t over ‘til the fat lady gets high!” (Seen 21 May 1995)

Tierra (Earth) 3 out of 4 stars

Watching Earth is like being in one of those conversations where you really don’t know what the other person is talking about but you can’t help laughing along with them anyway. This is the third film of Spanish director Julio Medem who previously made Vacas and Red Squirrel. There is voice-over narration, but it takes us awhile to realize that this is actually a separate voice of the main character. Depending on your point of view, either this is his “angel” talking or he is schizophrenic. In this film, people die more than once (usually after being struck by lightning) and there is lots of speculation as to how a parasite affects the taste of the local wine. The hero Angel is torn between two beautiful women, one a radiant and wholesome blonde and the other a red-haired, leather-clad biker chick. No wonder he has a split personality! The tone of the film is lyrical and mesmerizing, and you never know for sure what’s going to happen next. But you can’t help watching to find out. (Seen 3 June 1997)

Tieta do Agreste (Tieta) 3 out of 4 stars

It’s been entirely too long since I have had the pleasure of seeing a film by Brazilian director Carlos Diegues (Xica da Silva, Bye Bye Brazil). His movies just can’t help but make you feel good. Among the delights of this film is the presence of Sonia Braga. Once again she brings to life a character created by author Jorge Amado (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands), who appears on-screen to introduce the story. Braga plays Antonieta (Tieta for short), the black sheep of the family who left her backwater Bahia town under a cloud for the big city years ago. Now she returns in triumph to much acclaim, adoration, and jealousy. She has money to burn, but where it comes from is a bit of a mystery. The wonderfully flamboyant Tieta is a combination of Auntie Mame, Eva Perón, and Heidi Fleiss. There are arguments and romances and even an environmental subplot, but not even a couple of deaths or an incestuous affair detract from the sensual, fun-loving atmosphere of the movie. (Seen 4 June 1997)

Timbuktu 1 out of 4 stars

In 2002, the Irish Reels Film & Video Festival in Seattle showed a short film by Alan Gilsenan called Zulu 9, and everyone who saw it was blown away. In the space of 12 minutes, it told a tragic story of cultures coming into conflict and steadily built to a powerfully emotional climax. Many of these same elements are in Gilsenan’s full-length feature Timbuktu, but the result is somewhat different. It tells the story of a Dublin woman who decides to head to North Africa to try to find her brother, a monk, who has been abducted by Algerian rebels. Her partner, who seems quite capable and supportive, offers to go with her, but she demurs in favor of bringing along a friend who is a drag queen rent boy. It is pretty clear that he won’t be much help in a sticky situation, but apparently she thinks he will be good craic (i.e. good for a few laughs). He isn’t. Help does arrive, however, in the form of a mysterious Algerian man, who exhibits a wide range of appetites and a worrying penchant for violence. Like Zulu 9, Timbuktu is some kind of re-working of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The idea has lots of promise and the actors are quite good, so it is doubly disappointing that things don’t gel. The things that worked fine in a short film (jerky camera angles, frequent cuts, mystical mumbo jumbo) get tiresome over what seems a very long 94 minutes. Worse, the characters seem interesting on the surface, but despite lots of opportunity for chat, we really don’t get to know them or to care enough about them. Devastatingly, an ending that should make us cry merely makes us sigh with relief. (Seen 13 October 2004)

Time Bandits 3 out of 4 stars

If you will permit me a tortured analogy, this movie was for Monty Python fans what Star Trek: Generations was for fans of the Enterprise crew led by William Shatner. That is to say that, just as Generations transitioned Star Trek fans from movies featuring Shatner & co. to the Patrick Stewart-led team, Time Bandits was a bridge for those of us who devoured the Python movies (which were mostly directed by Terry Jones) to the film work of Terry Gilliam. Make no mistake, many of us who dutifully turned out for this flick were hoping for, if not necessarily expecting or demanding, yet one more big-screen Monty Python romp. And, while it wasn’t really a Monty Python movie, it had some similarities to one—despite the fact that only two members of the troupe were involved onscreen and in what were essentially cameo roles. The absurdist humor, the abrupt narrative juxtapositions and the tweaking of contemporary British mores were all familiar to Python devotees. And the nonsensical and fantastical imagery were of a part with the bizarre animations that punctuated the Pythons’ TV series—and which were, not at all coincidentally, conceived and executed by Gilliam. But, at the same time, Time Bandits gave us a clear indication of what would lie ahead in Gilliam’s film oeuvre: the The Wizard of Oz-like picaresque journeys of a child through fantasy lands (cf. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), an acid-dripped critique of modern consumer culture (cf. Brazil) and a the pure joy of watching adults revel in fairy tale spectacle (cf. The Brothers Grimm). In the end, however, this movie is essentially a series of comedy sketches, tied together by the usual twisted Python-esque observations on everything metaphysical and English. (The screenplay was by the American-born Gilliam and Michael Palin.) But it is a classic. Certain vignettes live on in the mind, sometimes for no discernable reason: Ian Holm as a Napoleon obsessed with his height and that of other conquerors, Palin and Shelley Duval elliptically discussing his “personal problem,” John Cleese playing Robin Hood as a glib, shallow and superficial politician, David Rappaport calling for more champagne “with plenty of ice” just as the Titanic has its fatal collision, and Ralph Richardson as the buttoned-down Supreme Being (read God) acknowledging the thanks he is getting for showing mercy by saying, “Yes, well, I am the nice one.” The list goes on and on. (Seen 19 April 2008)

Time Code 2 out of 4 stars

If Sir Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, just imagine the fun he would be having with the technology. He wouldn’t have to use tricks to create the illusion of a feature-length film without edits, as he did in Rope. Mike Figgis has not only done it for real in Time Code, but he has done it four times. Simultaneously. The result is definitely an interesting way to tell a story. If you are one of those people who actually like to hear all the dialog and see all the action on screen, well, you are just so twentieth-century. This film is meant for people who grew up listening to the stereo while watching the TV while talking on the phone. But the real-time storytelling and the multiple camera views give a distinctive cinéma vérité feel and more than a little sense of voyeurism. But, with most gimmicky movies of this type, the actual story isn’t really all that interesting on its own. (And besides, Robert Altman has been making movies with lots of people talking at the same time for years.) Its chief pleasures are the usual digs at the movie industry and the Los Angeles lifestyle. To show us that Figgis doesn’t take himself too seriously, he even has one character describe the very idea behind this movie in a meeting and another character promptly labels it as “pretentious crap.” And what of my longtime assertion that Figgis’s movies are mainly about men’s fantasies coming true (cf. One Night Stand)? Two things: Salma Hayek making out with a woman, Saffron Burrows making out with a woman. Court adjourned. (Seen 2 May 2000)

The Time Machine [1960] 2 out of 4 stars

Three years before the first voyage of Doctor Who’s TARDIS, Hungarian-born movie magic master George Pal made time travel look and feel real. The thrill of seeing this movie at the time came from the fact that it actually made the concept of traveling through time believable. Pal’s use of stop-action animation gave a convincing impression of time zooming by from the perspective of the time traveler and prompted every child watching to try building his or her own time travel device. The long lead-up to the special effects—tedious by today’s entertainment standards but effective for those with patience—builds an air of realism that pays off later. Set in London, the mostly American cast (Sebastian Cabot and Doris Lloyd are exceptions) don’t bother to affect British accents, except for Alan Young, who give James Doohan a run for the funniest Scottish accent ever. Inevitably, time has not been entirely kind to this 1960 look into the future. The Missus and the Munchkin were a bit confused, for example, by the 1966 atomic attack on London. And the Morlocks are only scary until we get a good look at them. (We all jumped when a rubbery blue hand suddenly grabbed the comely Yvette Mimieux.) Still, after half a century, it is easier to like this earnestly and sincerely made literary adaptation than it was to warm up to the action-packed remake directed eight years ago by H.G. Wells’s grandson, Simon. (Seen 8 January 2010)

The Time Machine [2002] 2 out of 4 stars

Like its hero, this movie seems to have arrived from the distant past. It seems not to know that the concept of time travel as literary device has been around for a long time now, and a lot of really cool movies and television shows have played around very creatively with the idea—like the Back to the Future movies or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My own readers might suspect that I myself have traveled from the past to write this review, but the film has only now arrived in the land of its co-star, the pop singer Samantha Mumba. (Note to The New York Times: she’s Irish, not Scottish.) I remember way back in 1960 being disappointed that the George Pal film version didn’t do more with the time travel concept. I mean, its world of the distant future could just as easily have been a lost island or another planet as another time. Why didn’t the hero spend more time in the past, observing historical events? Even so, I have always had fond memories of that version, mainly because the time machine itself was so cool. It was good to see the star of that movie, Alan Young, in this new version (in the briefest of cameos). Now he can go back to waiting for that phone call about the Mr. Ed reunion film. And that’s what this film mainly has going for it: nostalgia. Also, the effects of time fast-forwarding around the time machine, like a VCR, are pretty cool. The film also has a few flashes of wit, mainly in the person of Orlando Jones as an introspective computer that could have been dreamt up by Douglas Adams. But mostly the film eschews that spirit for the action and effects of an Indiana Jones movie. But since Spielberg didn’t direct, it’s not as fun as one of his movies. I guess that makes this The Mummy of time travel flicks. (Seen 3 June 2002)

The Time of Their Lives 2 out of 4 stars

The movie’s title itself tells us what’s up, almost as if it were pulled from the film’s pitching notes rather than the scenario. Ditto the poster. It’s Joan Collins-meets-Shirley Valentine. Still, the actors involved here have long since earned our good will, so I for one refuse to be (too) mean. The plot is straight from the zany-comedy clipbook. Older woman in an unhappy and unfulfilling marriage crosses paths with a rest-home escapee who happens to be a notorious former screen star who is aging none too gracefully. Your one has a crazy plan to cross the channel to France for the funeral of the director who made her a star and just maybe get re-discovered by some Hollywood mourner. And perhaps there is some more personal poignant motive involved—just as her new housewife chum has her own sad history to contend with. Fair play to eightysomething Joan for embracing a role that requires her to submit to less-than-flattering photography, and it pays off. If she can’t play a vixen long past her sell-by date, then she can’t play anything. To her credit, she goes well beyond mugging and earns our respect. Of course, her fellow Collins (Pauline who, as far as I can determine, is not a relation) brings echoes of the housewife-escaping-for-an-adventure-abroad she played nearly three decades ago. She makes a sympathetic sidekick who holds our interest all by herself in a less flashy role. Eerily, her facial espressions and voice have become oddly similar to those of Georgia Engel (of the Mary Tyler Moore show and, more recently, Hot in Cleveland). The man candy here comes in the form of 75-year-old Franco Nero, who displays even less vanity than Joan. An amiably welcome presence, he gamely bares all, both front and back. His ex-wife’s daughter by a subsequent marriage, Joely Richardson, also turns up in a brief role that feels so real and moving that we nearly think it came from a different movie altogether. The director is UK TV helmer Roger Goldby. He also contributed the screenplay, which I would definitely consider impressive if told that he knocked it out over a long weekend. (Seen 21 October 2017)

Timothy Leary’s Dead 1 out of 4 stars

The title, of course, comes from an old Moody Blues song. For those of us who remember the refrain from so many years ago, there was a bit of frissonnement a couple of years ago when we heard that Timothy Leary had terminal prostate cancer. This documentary by Paul Davids (Roswell) on Leary’s death and life is just as spacey as many believed Leary to be. Focusing on Leary’s ideas and celebrity, it is really more interesting for what it omits. We get little sense of who Leary was or where he came from before he was a prominent figure. We hear about G. Gordon Liddy busting Leary for drugs, but there is no mention of the fact that the two later did a lecture tour and a movie together. We learn that Leary was actually annoyed by the Moody Blues song, but we aren’t told that the band revised the lyric during Leary’s last months to say, “Timothy Leary lives.” But if you see this movie, you won’t remember any of this anyway. Mostly, you’ll remember (and try to forget) the final scenes where we see, per Leary’s own wish, his actual death plus the (simulated?) removal of his head to be stored on ice. (Seen 31 May 1997)

Tin Cup 3 out of 4 stars

Speaking for myself, I have never seen anything quite so slow, tedious or boring as a game of golf. So it is a minor miracle that someone could actually make a movie that convincingly suggests that golfers might actually be colorful characters and that the game itself can be exciting and breathtaking. If anyone could pull this off, it would be Ron Shelton who has given us such other effective sports-themed films as Bull Durham (which, like Tin Cup, also stars Kevin Costner) and White Men Can’t Jump. Here Costner is again a washed-up, down-on-his-luck type, but now he has the character down to perfection. The movie is supposedly about whether you should play things safe or just forget about the risks and “go for it.” But it’s really about a bunch of loveable low-lifes in a hot, dusty corner of Texas who haven’t completely given up on all their dreams. (In the process, however, it tells us more about our society’s love affair with sports than The Fan ever intended to.) Rene Russo is the classy love interest that Costner aspires to, Cheech Marin is the lovable sidekick, and Don Johnson is the most amiable bad guy I’ve seen in a long time. (Seen 6 September 1996)

Tin Men 3 out of 4 stars

Seeing Tin Men one day after Diner (instead of five years, as was the case the first time) really brings home the continuity between these two nostalgic Baltimore sagas written and directed by Barry Levinson. Not only is the very same diner featured, but so are two of the place’s fixtures, Bagel (Michael Tucker) and Florence the waitress, who pop up again, sort of the way Jay and Silent Bob do in Kevin Smith’s movies. In a way, the aluminum siding salesmen in this flick are similar to the young guys in Diner: they are fighting the good fight against growing up—and losing. In the earlier film, it was the institution of marriage that was ending life as the gang knew it. In this movie, it is the Home Improvement Commission. The bickering duo of Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito portray in essence two different strains of Mickey Rourke’s character in Diner: Dreyfuss reflects his smooth, seductive lady killer side, while DeVito is his totally irresponsible gambling side. With the passage of time, Tin Men becomes easier to appreciate and admire, particularly deft performances by the likes of Frasier’s John Mahoney and the late J.T. Walsh. My nostalgia meter got confused, however, by the appearance of Fine Young Cannibals in this early 1960s setting. (Seen 1 December 1999)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 3 out of 4 stars

The question again arises. When a masterful television miniseries has been made from a popular work of literature and been acclaimed for decades as definitive, why would anyone bother making a feature film from the same material? This question arose three years ago with Julian Jarrold’s Brideshead Revisited, and it arises again with the arrival of this motion picture, emerging from the shadow of the 1979 work of director John Irvin and actor Alec Guinness, for many the definitive George Smiley. As a fan of Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1981 Brideshead Revisited miniseries, I could answer the question about Jarrold’s movie (he needn’t have bothered), but I never saw the Alec Guinness miniseries or, for that matter, read John le Carré’s novel. But on the strength of this movie by Tomas Alfredson (the Swede best known internationally for Let the Right One In), I feel safe in saying that, in this case, another version was indeed worth doing. (What I hear from dyed-in-the-wool le Carré fans seems to confirm this.) In fact, the movie is so good that it makes me actually want to seek out the 1979 miniseries and watch all original 315 minutes. That’s an amazing thing to say, considering that this is a whodunit to which I now have the answer and the plot is simple enough to sum up in a single sentence. That this movie could be so infused with tension and suspense qualifies as something of a miracle, since much of the screen time is given to meaningful but understated looks and terse line readings. If the Brits that populate this story had lips that were any stiffer, they would crack and break off. Spending more than two hours with them made me want to go home to a dingy room and have a glass of whiskey and a cigarette—which is, of course, all I ask of any movie. Many of the UK’s best and brightest are on hand, not to chew the scenery but to tastefully nibble at it. Kudos to Gary Oldman as Smiley (strangely, I could also see Bill Nighy in the role), John Hurt (you can’t tell where he ends and his cigarette begins), Tom Hardy (currently seen in Warrior), Mark Strong (taking a break from playing super-villains), Ciarán Hinds (born to be a red herring because he always looks so guilty), Toby Jones, Colin Firth and the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch, currently our house’s favorite Sherlock Holmes. (Seen 22 September 2011)

Titanic 3 out of 4 stars

One of the little movie games I play with myself is called “How Many Ways Can Danny Nucci Take It in the Shorts?” Nucci (who had a starring role the independent film The Big Squeeze) always seems to be playing earnest young men—in movies like Alive, Crimson Tide, The Rock and Eraser—who die tragically in order to illustrate just how dire things have gotten. Nucci truly makes it into the lamb-to-the-slaughter sweepstakes when he and Leonardo DiCaprio have the incredible luck of winning passage on the Titanic in a poker game. James Cameron’s long-delayed epic is an impressive bit of work. As a history lesson, it gives us a crystal clear view of the hubris that led to one of history’s greatest transportation disasters. As a disaster movie, it provides breath-taking special effects and Hollywood-style action. But most surprisingly, as a romance, this movie has a heart in a fashion that was merely attempted in Cameron’s The Abyss—and apparently sabotaged by the director’s own marital problems. One could only wish for the sort of clever dialog that Hollywood films had in the 1930s rather than the banalities they spout in the 1990s. But you can’t have everything. Let us content ourselves with an ending that is as sweet and as unexpected as the one in Places in the Heart. [Related commentary] (Seen 28 December 1997)

Titanic Town 3 out of 4 stars

Cynics can be forgiven for suspecting that this film was titled expressly to draw in confused adolescent girls seeking their weekly Leonardo DiCaprio fix. But no, the title actually predates Cameron’s blockbuster since it is from the source novel by Mary Costello, who based it on her own mother’s experiences as a peace activist in Belfast in 1972. (The apt metaphor aside, Belfast is actually where the Titanic was built.) This is by far the best film treatment of The Troubles to date, since it deals with “real” people rather than with symbols, martyrs, or tragically noble heroes. As the frazzled Catholic housewife Bernie, Julie Walters is somewhat like Shirley Booth’s old Hazel TV character, except that in addition to laundry and kids she also has to deal with British soldiers running through the house and IRA snipers around the corner. The mixture of the mundane and the atrocious are part of the genius of the film. The black humor is welcome since it can be depressing to watch Bernie learn how loath people are to give up old hatreds. Her improbable odyssey from reluctant neighborhood activist to mediator between the Provos and the British government is laced with inspired touches, including a scene where she fumbles through her purse in Stormont Castle for a list of IRA demands. How strange to think that it would take the politicians a quarter-century to get the same point. (Seen 7 July 1998)

Titus 2 out of 4 stars

If I asked you to name a few of Shakespeare’s plays, I’m betting that Titus Andronicus wouldn’t be the first one to cross your lips. Or even the second. Or third. An early effort by the bard, it is a bit of mishmash, with several characters that would be echoed later on in better tragedies. It’s almost as if King Lear, Othello, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet were all thrown into a violent soap opera about the Roman Empire and the goal was to get a higher body count than the Scream movies. Julie Taymor, who directed the play on stage (as well as the hit Broadway version of The Lion King), says she fell in love with the play and wanted to turn it into a “movie movie.” The result is a spectacle indeed. Taymor adopts the convention of shifting the time period—but not just to one era but to several all at once. So from one moment to another we have the sense of being in classical Rome, then jazz age Rome, then Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Her other main conceit is to tell the entire story from the point of view of a minor character, Titus’s young grandson, who is plucked away in the opening scene from toy warfare on the kitchen table. This actually works quite well and gives the narrative something of a The Wizard of Oz feel. The main reasons to see this flick are for some impressive imagery (including some touches that Peter Greenaway might envy; a meat pie comes to mind) and some serious scenery-chewing by the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange and Alan Cumming (Circle of Friends, Emma, Goldeneye, Eyes Wide Shut), who plays the twisted emperor Saturninus like a debauched Pee-wee Herman possessed by Dr. Evil. (Seen 11 January 2000)

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