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U Turn

The funniest movie I've ever seen
Bobby Cooper is having a bad day. In fact, Bobby Cooper is having a very bad day. Stuck in a small Arizona town in the desert when his car breaks down, he begins to meet the townspeople. And that's when the fun begins. It starts with Darrell, the mechanic who's working on his car. The mechanic from hell. Come to think of it, most of the townspeople were from hell. And like Dante, everything Bobby does sends him to a deeper section of hell. I found myself saying 'You gotta be kidding me!' every five minutes. Nothing is what it seems. Even when you think you've figured it out, it still catches you off-guard in places. It's somewhat similar to Red Rock in that way. The movie spoofs the whole neo-noir genre and it even winks at itself. This is Oliver Stone at his best. I still can't think about this movie without grinning. As weird as they were, the characters were believable. Over-the-top, but believable. This is the quintessential black comedy. And the most hilarious.

If you can get past the language, rent this one. It's a winner.

Shirts & Skins

Sometimes it seems that all the intelligent story-telling in film today is done by independents and short films, and that's certainly true of this short.

This is an unusually well-done character study, centered on Chinese-American businessman Michael Lin (Ben Wang), an out-of-towner visiting New York along with several other members of his company for a diversity meeting before going out for dinner as a group. As the only Asian at the meeting, he feels isolated at first, but he perks up when Anne Weisman (Sam Tsao), a Jewish Chinese-American attorney for the company arrives late for the meeting. But she immediately makes it clear that she has a different agenda, and she does not identify with him or her Asian heritage. After several attempts by him to engage her in friendly conversation, she rudely brushes him off and pointedly ignores him when they go to the bar.

Michael proceeds to get very drunk, and begins to behave boorishly. He eventually storms out of the bar, and while walking around the complex, strips his shirt off in mid-winter and in his drunken rage, enacts vestiges of his Chinese heritage.

I don't want to spoil the ending by giving it away, but it's surprising and sad. This short is well worth watching.

Touch Base

tour de force
Lili Taylor is spectacular in what is essentially a one-woman show about Darcy Winningham, the brown-nosing, office drama queen who doesn't do much of anything, but who's very good at looking busy while gabbing on the phone. She chats away all morning, making and receiving calls, but her best friend, who works in another department in the same office, isn't answering.

It's sort of a comedy, but a very black comedy. As the morning wears on, the bosses keep walking by Darcy's desk. Darcy senses that something is afoot, but she's not sure what. Then she learns that one of her friends was fired, and she has to prepare her friend's presentation for a meeting on very short notice. You can see the panic rise as the ground slowly melts beneath her. Is the company making some wholesale changes? Is Darcy about to be fired? Did her best friend also get fired? But if that's the case, then why hasn't anyone seen her and why isn't she answering her home phone? Did something sinister happen to her friend?

Exceptionally well-done short.


Great independent film
I think the above reviewer saw a different movie; literally. Their review has nothing to do with the short film (approximately 20 minutes) 'Bliss' that I saw on IFC.

This is a brilliant little film about a twenty-something young man, Henry, who gets invited to a huge Friday night bash at a stranger's house. He meets up with a friend there, but his friend is on the prowl and soon becomes preoccupied and forgets all about Henry. Stranded with no one he knows left to talk with, Henry feels very disconnected from the goings on. He proceeds to get drunk, and jumps into the pool, where he resides on the bottom for a minute. The pool apparently sobers him somewhat, and he goes to the kitchen to wring the water from his clothes, where he meets a cute girl who is at the party only because she's the designated driver for her girlfriend, who she lost track of hours earlier. She feels just as disconnected from the party as Henry, and they begin small talk. As she leaves, Henry asks for her phone number.

As for the rest of the film: Well, I'm not gonna spoil it, but the best part is the last few minutes. You'll just have to hope that IFC runs it again. And don't miss it when they do. The story line is only so-so, but it's so well told, it's an exceptional viewing experience.

A Bronx Tale

One of the best films in decades
Once in a while you see a movie that absolutely nails a time and place, and 'A Bronx Tale' is one of those movies. This coming-of-age story about a young Italian boy growing up in the heart of Little Italy in The Bronx in the 1960's is Robert DeNiro's directorial debut, and it's an auspicious one. Everything about the story rings true; the neighborhood, the mobsters, his family and friends, the gambling; all of it. I visited 187th Street in the Bronx just 2½ months ago, and I could easily imagine everything happening there, even though the bulk of the movie was filmed in Astoria, Queens. I also saw the Broadway play starring Chazz Palmintieri less than 4 weeks ago.

The principal character is a young boy named Calagero, and the movie is the story of how his life was molded by his experiences growing up in the neighborhood. Through a serendipitous event, he is befriended by a neighborhood mobster, Sonny, who takes him under his wing. His hard-working bus-driver father opposes the relationship and confronts the gangster at one point. But Calagero's friendship with the gangster continues to flourish through his teen years. As he reaches his mid-teens in the late 60's, his racist friends lean towards troubles beyond the usual teenage rowdiness and try to drag Calagero with them. A large subplot is the interracial romance he pursues with a girl from school. It seems doomed from the outset, due to pressures from all their friends and families, and society itself. Everyone except Sonny.

It took me a few months to fully appreciate this movie. Everything about it is so *honest*. It is at times, happy, sad, funny, crazy, romantic, terrifying and nostalgic. I won't reveal the dramatic ending, but I will spill one bean. The author of this semi-autobiographical story is also named Calagero, but he's better known as 'Chazz' Palmintieri, who is also the star. It rates as one of the better movies I've ever seen. Salut, Signor DeNiro.

Cleats of Imminent Doom

What a wonderfully conceptualized work of writing, casting and directing! I'd like to see more of Craig Hammill's work. Unfortunately, this 2005 short is the last thing he's done. What a shame.

The movie is about 2 young girls' soccer teams playing in the championship game, and how their materialistic parents meddle in their lives in their attempts to show their brand of caring. As another reviewer posted, the Cleats are lovable losers. They're led by coach Bob, who has five daughters, and has been coaching girls soccer for 15 years. He's still looking to win the championship - at any cost. Their nemesis is the Black Widow Princesses, led by coach Dino, a former Italian soccer superstar whose career was cut short by an injury. Coach Dino is accompanied by his chain-smoking wife, Sofia, a famous Italian model, and their daughter Giulietta, who is one of the stars of the team.

After the introduction of all the major characters, the game is on. By early in the second half, the Black Widows have a 3-goal lead. Can the Cleats overcome the deficit? Watch it and see.

Although it's a light-hearted movie, there was a sadness in the main character, Jenny, as the other kids went home with their parents while she was left alone. The sense of loneliness was further highlighted by crickets chirping while she walked home alone at sunset down a quiet, deserted street. I also sensed a sadness and strain in Giuletta, probably due to the pressure she was under from her parents to live up to their expectations.

The story itself is nothing special, but it's so well done and the characters are so likable, it's worth watching over and over again. It's still playing on IFC from time to time. It's the most enjoyable 20 minutes you'll spend watching a short. Don't miss it!

I found the casting call for this movie on the internet at Auditions were held the final 2 weekends in September, 2002, rehearsals were held October 5th & 6th, and shooting took place over 5 weekends, beginning October 11, 2002. Several of the character's parents were used as extras, although none played the parents of their own children. None of the actors or actresses were paid.

Blue City

Definitely different
This is a wonderful example of film-making, probably by a student or young filmmaker early in their career. What can I say? It's about a depressed, suicidal man, a young boy with a basketball and two car thieves. There's no real plot, although the film manages to hold your attention with wonderful lighting, camera angles and the facial expressions of the characters. No filming location is listed, but it has the look of having been filmed in or near Red Hook in Brooklyn. The dialog is minimal. This short is not what I'd call a 'keeper', but it is worth a look-see.

I'd like to see more work by this director.

Miracle Mile

Touching story
I saw this movie on the IFC short film festival that runs about twice a week. Partly in English and partly in Korean with subtitles, this is a sensitive and poignant story about a young Korean woman who travels to the United States to fulfill her mother's dying wish; to find the brother her mother gave up for adoption years before. Upon her arrival, she is picked up at the airport by a gypsy cab driver who is also Korean. It's obvious that he picked her because of her vulnerability; in a strange country with a strange language, and agrees to help her find her brother as long as she pays the fare. She has limited financial resources, but he finds lodging for her at a third-rate hotel where the friendly clerk is also Korean. His callousness thaws over the next few days as they get to know each other while he drives her from place to place in the frantic search for her brother; often acting as her translator. Her sense of urgency, isolation and sadness all at the same time is almost palpable. But her search brings unexpected results, which I will not disclose here.

Plain and simple, this is one of the most sensitive and intelligent short films I've seen in years. It's absolutely brilliant. Do not miss it.

The Sadist

Surprisingly good thriller
This low-budget flick is based on the escapades of late 50's thrill-killer Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. I would like to have seen at least some minimal character development. A 5-minute segment introducing the audience to the teachers and what they were doing would have helped. But other than that, this is a surprisingly good suspense movie with some minor, unexpected twists at the end.

According to TCMUndergrounds' Rob Zombie, the entire budget for the movie was $33,000. This one couldn't be remade with a budget 1,000 times greater.

Three schoolteachers are on their way to see an LA Dodgers baseball game when their car breaks down. They stop at a little restaurant/garage/junkyard out in the middle of nowhere to see if they can get a part to fix the car and still get to the game on time when they are confronted by a young couple on the run. Arch Hall, Jr's portrayal of the angry, psychopathic killer is a little over the top, but it works. There is a budding romance between two of the schoolteachers which is played against a background of terror. One of them is played by Arch Hall, Jr's cousin, Helen Hovey.

The terror continues as the plot unravels. I won't spoil the ending, but if you like suspense thrillers, this is a movie that's definitely worth watching.

The Grass Harp

A surprisingly wonderful movie
If you're looking for an action-packed movie you probably won't enjoy this beautiful piece of film-making. You absolutely have to change gears to appreciate the wonderful and sensitive story it tells. Watching this movie is very much like watching an extended episode of The Waltons, right down to the narration and beautiful music. Good performances by all, and I especially enjoyed Piper Laurie's portrayal of sensitive and delicate Dolly Talbo, who lives under the thumb of her younger sister, played by Sissy Spacek. Ironically, Piper Laurie played Spacek's mother 19 years earlier in Carrie. The movie tells a tale of life and love in a small Southern town, and days gone by.

Having said that, the one criticism I have of the movie is that I didn't really CARE about the characters. I enjoyed very much watching the characters interact, and being reminded of life in a world that has almost completely disappeared. But I was more amused by them than passionate about them.

While this film may not be perfect, it's a wonderful movie; more intelligent than at least 90% of what comes out of Hollywood. As another reviewer suggested, if you have a couple of hours of quiet time, sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy.

I Wake Up Screaming

Film Noir lite
As a fan of film noir, I had to see a movie with this name. But the title, which calls to mind classics like "Sorry, Wrong Number", is misleading. There's no screaming here, unless you consider the browbeating the police gave their suspects. Victor Mature plays Frankie Christopher, a smarmy Manhattan sports promoter who decides to make a waitress he meets, Vicky Lynn, played by Carole Landis, into a star. He wines and dines her and gets her seen in all the right places with all the right people. But when she turns up murdered soon after telling him she's leaving him to go to Hollywood, he's naturally the number one suspect in her death.

Mature's performance is O.K. but pedestrian. I had never seen Carole Landis before. She was a lovely lady, and apparently she did her own singing in the movie. She gave a decent performance and had a nice voice. Sadly, her own life ended tragically just a few years after this movie was released. But the real stars of the movie were Laird Cregar as ominous police inspector Ed Cornell who was investigating the case, and Betty Grable in a rare dramatic role as Carole Landis' roommate/sister, Jill Lynn. Cregar's character was reminiscent of Orson Welles' Hank Quinlan. His performance certainly helped make this lightweight movie a little more interesting than it might have otherwise been.

It's clear that Grable had the chops to play dramatic roles, and I wish she had been cast in more of them. But once she became famous, the studio probably had her typecast in musical comedies and didn't want to take a chance on alienating movie-goers by casting her out-of-type. She certainly gave a more-than-creditable performance.

Wonderful direction by Bruce Humberstone and great film-noir lighting, including the obligatory light-through-the-blinds-casting-shadows shots. I particularly liked the shot of Mature's character's eyes as pools of light in the sea of his darkened face. Quintessential film noir.

If you're a film noir fan, this one's worth a look. Just don't expect Double Indemnity.


"Crash" is a nice attempt to make a meaningful movie, but unfortunately, it falls short. The situations are contrived; the characters too stereotypical and the results too pat. The music was slow and depressing, and the entire movie seemed to crawl at a snail's pace. The racist cop who felt up the black lady in front of her husband; then saved her life the next day? Get real. The little girl accidentally shot by a gun that was loaded with blanks. Ad nauseum. The only dialog that sounded real was the old man with the urinary problems. The dialog sounded like what the people might have thought, but would probably never say out loud. Everything about the movie seemed two-dimensional. But it's biggest sin was that I never cared about the characters.

Six stars for a noble try, but no cigar on this one.

Island of the Dead

One of the worst
I found this move interesting, mostly because it was filmed on Hart Island, which is sort of the Potter's Field for New York City. Hart Island is a desolate, God-forsaken plot of land in Long Island Sound that is totally off-limits to everyone except the prisoners from Riker's Island who are assigned burial duty there.

The acting was O.K., except for Malcolm McDowell, who came across as cartoonish. Talisa Soto was nice to look at, but her character was, as someone else had mentioned, wooden. There was no meaningful character development, and you never really cared about any of the characters. The plot was not even remotely believable. It was a *boring* movie.

But it's biggest sin was the cinematography. Virtually the entire picture was shot about 2 stops too low, probably to add a feeling of gloominess to the picture, but it just made watching the movie irritating. And when they got to the night scenes, you couldn't see much of anything. Just a bunch of voices in the dark.

Unless you're very interested in Hart Island, don't waste your time or money renting this one.

Phantom Lady

Great Film Noir
Let me start out by saying that this is not a great movie. I'd equate it roughly with "Fallen Angel", another B-noir from the 40's. As with many movies of it's genre, the story line is not particularly believable, and the acting is mediocre at best. The one scene that best captures the feel of the movie is the above-mentioned scene where Elisha Cook, Jr. has a frenzied look on his place as he plays drums in a small jazz club. The sense of frenzy is heightened by the sheer volume of the music. But film noir is all about style, and this one has lots of it. Movies like this were probably the training ground Orson Welles' later work. I almost expect to see Hank Quinlan (Touch Of Evil) step out of the shadows.

Fallen Angel

I wanted to like this movie, but I just couldn't. Although this is Otto Preminger's follow-up to "Laura", it's not in the same league. The story is even less believable than "Laura", and I found that I couldn't care less about the characters. Dana Andrews is perfect for this kind of movie, and I thought Alice Faye did a respectable job as well, but the highlight of the movie was Linda Darnell's legs. With no real tension between the characters, the result was a boring movie. Still, I found it better than the vast majority of the movies being released today. Stylistically, I did enjoy the movie. Great scenes of light and shadow, and night scenes with pools of light on wet streets. This is an excellent example of the film noir style. With even a little bit of plot, this could have been a memorable movie.

Dog Days

Strange and haunting are just two of the adjectives that describe this look at relationships. It's like an updated, outré Twilight Zone episode. The country is at war; the neighbors are disappearing and a man who believes he's a dog shows up at a family's house. At first, Lisa, the daughter, is disturbed by him, but comes to accept him and names him Prince. He eats scraps of food and even chases sticks for her. Her father, on the other hand, feels threatened by the dog. His nominal reason is fear for his daughter's safety, but at some level, his feelings about his manhood are challenged. Tensions rise, and the end is very disturbing. A must-see for those who enjoy intelligent film-making.


Captures the Midwest
Every once in a while you see a movie that is so authentic it seems eerie. This movie captures the look and feel of a small, midwestern town in the mid-50's perfectly. I know; I grew up in one. This is a superb production from top to bottom. William Holden portrays drifter Hal Carter, a man who never decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. He rides a freight train into town to visit old fraternity buddy Alan Benson, played by Cliff Robertson. The ensuing fireworks his visit sets off change the lives of many of the townspeople forever. The sexuality is more hinted at than obvious in this movie, but somehow that works better than the blatant sexuality of today's movies. First-rate performances from all. This movie is truly a classic. It seems to get better every time I see it.

They Won't Forget

Loosely based on the Leo Frank Case
A fictionalized account of the Leo Frank case, who was falsely accused and convicted of the murder of Mary Phagan, and later hanged by a mob. It closely follows the facts of the case. It's not one of the classics, but it's a decent movie; one of those little gems that's worth watching if you get the opportunity. Excellent performance by Claude Rains. Also features Lana Turner in her first credited movie role portraying the victim.

Radio Inside

This movie was developed from a Jeffrey Bell story and mini-movie that appeared on A&E's wonderful series "ShortStories". The original movie was bizarre; tantalizing; haunting; provacative. The characters were interesting; even fascinating. I couldn't help wondering what happened to them after the end of the movie, so it was with great anticipation that I rented the video. Bummer. It should have stayed a 20-minute movie. All of the principal characters were recast with different actors, and an eerie story became a trite and boring story line. The full-length movie? Forget it. But if you ever get an opportunity to view the original; I recommend it highly.

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