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Hillbilly Elegy

A Tearjerker Steeped in Americana Starring Two of the Greatest Working Actresses
It's not often that filmmakers touch on subject matter which reveal greater truths about a neglected part of our society. Ron Howard digs into the forgotten dregs of Appalachian society and holds a mirror to the socioeconomic realities of an unnurturing environment and the fortitude, faith, and blind "luck" which is required to pull oneself out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Glenn Close--in a monumental role as a fierce, yet vulnerable matriarch--is no less than exceptional as a woman trying to raise her grandson to a better life. Amy Adams shows yet again what a dependable star she in the Hollywood constellation. Complete with carefully manicured visuals and a moving score, this is the event movie of the year.


A collection of great debuts
Newcomer Adepero Oduye plays Alike (Le for short), a seventeen-year old high-schooler living in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood. She's smart and creative, much to the approval of her parents; but to their dismay, unbeknownst to them (or due to their unwillingness to accept and/or approve), she's also a lesbian with a masculine persona, or simply a Pariah.

Alike lives with her much more girly sister Sharonda (Sahra Mellesse) and parents. Kim Wayans, best down for her broad comic characterizations from the 1990's In Living Color, shows off her dramatic chops as Alike's mother Audrey, a Christian-valued matriarch who doesn't have so much an agenda, but an affliction. She wants the best for her daughters, but her religious subscription limits her ability to love her eldest daughter completely. Unlike most black men in films about black women, Alike's father Arthur (a stalwart, yet relaxed Charles Parnell) doesn't always have his daughter's (or wife's) best intentions in mind, but he's neither shiftless, emasculated, physically abusive or non-existent as is every man in The Color Purple and the like.

In an ironic twist, Audrey introduces Alike to the daughter of a coworker, in hopes of steering her away from the butch influence of her best friend Laura (a cool, thoughtful Pernell Walker). Though her time with Bina (Aasha Davis) assumes a predictable route, it doesn't end as one might expect. To boot, the magnetic personalities of the characters are sufficient enough to make the trip worth it. As well, their shared love of alternative music provides one of the best film soundtracks in quite some time.

In the film's social environment, women who dress as men and love other women are considered pariahs. Feminine lesbians don't fare much better, but they, as well as others, view themselves as bisexuals who are going through a phase. They are not a threat, because of their non-confrontational gender qualities and the belief is that they'll eventually assume a more traditional place in society. It's one of the many conundrums that test Alike and help her become a stronger and better person, as well as writer.

The inevitable confrontation scene between Alike and her folks arrives unannounced without much of a consistent buildup. Yet, steering away from cheap sentimentality, it also avoids any hints of condensation. There are no martyrs or villains, only fully rounded characters.

It's difficult not to compare Pariah to the recent Precious, as there are so few films made about African-American women. Lee Daniel's popular directorial effort was dark, gritty and pulled no punches. And while it over-indulged in a broad range of emotions, it saved face with its sharp social commentary. However, along with the newly released The Help, one had to wonder if the best the marketplace had to offer in intelligent fare about black women is located at the lower rungs of society. It's not that those films are unacceptable and not to be appreciated, but the ghettoization gets to be monotonous.

That being said, Pariah's setting doesn't necessarily break the cycle, but it's a fine example of compelling storytelling. Directer Dee Rees is an exciting new filmmaker with great promise. Moving beyond her personalized debut, I stand in anticipation of where she will go from here.

Leave It on the Floor

Cult Film Waiting to Happen
Director Sheldon Larry's Leave It On the Floor is a musical about the Los Angeles ball culture, bred out of an East Coast phenomena of underground LGBT youth dating back decades, but most prominently featured in its progenitor the documentary Paris Is Burning. Thrown out of their biological homes, black and Latino queers find and congregate in new "houses," led by an elder (or "house parent") and then compete in periodic competitions, dancing and vogueing down their own runways in outrageous costumes, often simulating their own version of the outer world, judged by their own peers. As a result, a newer, much stronger family is formed where everyone is accepting of their differences and they are able to operate at a level disallowed in mainstream society. This movement is responsible for giving birth to the idea of the pop star, including, but not limited to, such icons as Madonna, Lady Gaga ("'House' of Gaga" borrows the term from these ad hoc homes/teams) and Beyonce's alter- ego Sasha Fierce. Much like the music industry co-opted black R & B in the 1950's and popularized the form by concocting Elvis Presley, most of these ladies owe a great part of their success to this subculture.

The story concerns Bradley Darnell Lyle (the talented Ephraim Sykes), a black queer youth, thrown out by his mother Deondra (Metra Dee along with her fingernails are hilarious at first, before the low-budget laughs give way to the stone-cold reality of how heartless the mother is). He takes off in her car and gives "meet cute" a new definition when Carter (well-cast Andre Myers) crosses his path. Their exchange is indicative of how truly smart and sly Glenn Gaylord's (who also wrote the songs) screenplay is. From there, Bradley slowly immerses himself in the world of ball culture, meeting all kinds of characters along the way, including his house mother Queef Latina (Barbie-Q, who can threaten to stick her foot up anyone's ass with the best of them) and Eppie Durall (James Alsop almost steals the whole show) who wants nothing more than to give birth to her children.

The more upbeat songs are generally stronger than the slower ones. Princess Eminence (a divinely bitchy Phillip Evelyn, who also gives a heartfelt performance) gets to sing the toe- tapping "Justin's Gonna Call," explaining to Bradley that greener pastures await. And "Knock Them Mothafuckers Down" is a driving bowling-alley number about kicking ass and taking names that makes a catchy companion piece to the film's self-titled theme. While the movie doesn't quite properly weave Caldwell Jones (Demarkes Dogan as Queef Latina's lover) into the story, his rap duet with Carter, "This Is My Lament," achieves an odd beauty. "I'm Willing" and "Don't Jump Baby" didn't ring any tears, but "His Name Is Shawn," about the perception of and fight for identity of transgender and queer youth between the biological families who have ostracized them and the chosen families who have opened their arms to them is astonishing, appropriately awkward and strangely moving. The soundtrack also creates a really cool mash-up between "Ballroom Bliss" and Bradley's self-pitying "Loser's List."

Like 1970's Blaxploitation, there are some rough edges which work to the film's advantage. It's painfully obvious that the actors sing to their own vocals (a common practice in musicals that is less apparent in higher-budgeted affairs), but it's unimportant and hardly distracting.

To an outsider, at first, the Los Angeles ball culture may appear narcissistic and superficial. People prance down their runways, gesticulating and shooting irreverent poses, while being cheered on and/or booed in the process, all of which this attitude spreads into their respective homes. Yet, we eventually bear witness to talented dancers and contortionists, as well as the time and creativity which the artists invest into their costumes and makeup, but, ultimately, most importantly, the resilient fabric stitching these untraditional families together.

Floor is both a celebration of a marginalized culture which has been around for ages and developed out of a Darwinian instinct to exist and thrive, but its songs and sass beg for audience participation. Its flamboyance and musical revelry create an experience not unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show, although I could be deathly wrong, as no one else immediately around me was bopping their head to the beats. This may have just been another indication of my square white boyness. Still, if this film could achieve a small fraction of the popularity and response of Rocky's, it would certainly be a respectable reflection of where our society is at today, especially considering the quality level is on par with modern classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch.


Incredibly Stupid "Suspense" Movie
If you haven't seen this movie yet, consider heeding the warning of a complete stranger: avoid it at all costs. It's two hours of your life that you won't get back.

Clive Owen plays a husband and father whose daughter is a Type-1 Diabetic. He is also a very unintelligent man who finds himself overtaxed by his work and family life and falls for Jennifer Aniston on a train. The rest of the film is a series of surprising plot twists. Actually, no, that's not true. What follows is a series of plot contrivances that have nothing to do whatsoever with character development or surprising the audience at any turn.

The big "shock" I smelled forty minutes away. If the film had been been more involving, then waiting for that moment would have been more fun. Instead, we watch Owen's character continue to shoulder more than a man could possibly carry. But, it's hard to sympathize with a character who is too dense to visit his local police station. I mean, really, are there people like him out there? Of course, once he digs himself into a hole that not even Macgyver could get himself out of, the movie devises a ridiculous attempt for Owen to vindicate himself.

The acting is fair. Vincent Cassel has a lot of fun with the role of smug villain. Xzibit is okay, as well as Owen. Aniston doesn't really fit her part, but she isn't horrible. You see why it doesn't matter how she does after you realize what role she's really playing. It's hard to believe that along with "Rumor Has It," this was one of the films she chose to do to launch her film career post-"Friends".

The Family Stone

Was Expecting Worse
I went into this film with an open mind and low expectations. Afterall, it was a Hollywood holiday film for the family; it didn't have great potential. Apparently, my preconceived notions allowed me to enjoy myself. The screenplay is episodic at times, but the writing is decent and the performances are surprisingly fresh. Sara Jessica Parker has the enviable task of playing a fairly unlikeable character, but carries it off well. She plays a woman meeting her boyfriend's family for the first time. Everything pretty much works against her favor. Keaton, as usual, is in her element and Rachel McAdams is a lot of fun. The ending is trite and predictable, but I enjoyed most of the action leading up to it.

Surrender, Dorothy

Any movie that can appropriately and humorously use a Woody Allen reference is alright in my book
My mother asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with her while I was visiting. I normally don't watch TV movies. I don't have the patience for them or even most cinematic movies these days, but every now and again, I'll be surprised by what the networks come up with. So, not wanting to disappoint my mother, I acquiesced. Spotting Vilmos Zsigmond's name as the cinematographer during the opening credits made me feel a little more hopeful.

Diane Keaton plays Natalie a mother grieving the loss of her daughter Sara. Sara was spending the Summer with old friends of hers at a New England beach house. Their vacation had just started when she dies in a car accident on the way back from getting ice cream. In order to deal with her death, Natalie ends up taking her daughter's place at the beach house. Initially, it is an awkward situation for everyone on two different levels. On top of dealing with Sara's death, Natalie never really cared for Sara's friends. Dealing with their own grief, the friends still recognize the delicate nature of the situation, knowing Sara was all she had, and humor her desire to be in the environment where her daughter spent the remaining days of her life.

The acting is good. Keaton is, of course the standout. She runs the gamut of emotions without turning herself into a clique, even when the material starts to border on the ridiculous. The scene where she hallucinates the clouds spelling out "Surrender Dorothy" (the "Land of Oz" reference her and Sara greeted each other with) is silly, but Keaton conveys the delirium Natalie feels at thinking she could actually bring her daughter back to life.

At first, I wished that we had gotten to know Sara just a bit more than we did. But, then, I realized that it made sense for us to only get a glimpse of her, because, as with the loss of anyone close to us, we all experience the desire to have just spent a little bit more time with them and/or gotten to know them just a little bit more. One of the things that I liked about this movie is that a lot of the way it took shape was very deliberate and effective. Another example would be a scene early on, before her death, when they are sitting outside, talking, drinking and having a good time. The camera kept going around in circles. I rolled my eyes thinking it was pretentious and then I even started feeling a little nauseous. Afterwards, I realized that its hyperkineticness served the story. They were friends, sitting around catching up with each other at a feverish pace, while inebriated. The memory of that night as their final one together with Sara probably took on a heightened reality after she died.

Because it is a TV movie, I don't judge it too harshly. It is at mercy of much higher censorship standards than a theatrically or video released film. And, I was surprised by some of the content in this CBS-movie-of-the-week. We saw people taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. We saw two young men in a homosexual relationship. We saw a woman in her late 50's in a lead role! None of this was without limits, of course. We saw the young heterosexual couple in bed, as well as them kissing. We saw no such interaction in the homosexual couple. That isn't to say that it should have occurred, only that to me it suggested a double standard. It would have been fine if I didn't see anyone romantically in bed together. But, this is a major network. I give it kudos for the aforementioned risky content it included (even if it was necessary just to tell the story). So, if it has to pay the price by not so subtly (to me, anyway) asserting a conservative bias, so be it. Just don't shoot be for observing it.

For a while, I was hoping the writers were shrewdly implying Natalie was this close-minded Republican, who was, ultimately, teachable. She reminded me so much of Bree Van Kamp from American TV's "Desperate Housewives." She is a very conservative woman who had a very unusual response to grieving the loss of her husband. We never really understood why Natalie wasn't friends with Adam, her daughter's best friend. We know that she didn't invite any of Sara's friends to the funeral, but there was specific discussion of her disdain towards Adam. We also know, towards the end of the film that she blamed him from keeping her daughter from moving on with a straight man. However, through most of the movie, I was thinking she was homophobic, but the writers didn't just come right out with it. But, then, she didn't judge Adam's boyfriend on the merit's of his gay relationship with Adam, especially considering his philandering ways. I was also trying to insinuate an antiabortion stance from the reaction she had when she found out about Sara's pregnancy. But, it could pain any mother in her position, whether pro-Choice or antiabortion, who found that her recently deceased daughter had given up an opportunity to give birth and, therefore, had given up a chance to leave a part of her behind. Oh, well, there goes that theory.

My favorite line involved Natalie reading Adam's latest play. She alluded to his previous work being a really good comedy (which begged the question of how she could go on not liking him, yet interested in what he had to write) and sensed that she was now dealing with a really uninteresting drama. She then insisted that he cannot go all Woody Allen on her "like when he made'Interiors.'" Any movie that can appropriately and humorously use a Woody Allen reference (delivered by one of his former muses no less) is alright in my book. Too bad my mother was asleep at that point to enjoy it!

Welcome to the Dollhouse

One of the Best Films Made About Junior High Ever (If Not the Best)
This is a painful, but hilarious coming of age story that has aged well about a truly awful junior high school experience. Dawn Wiener is the middle child (ala Jan Brady from the "The Brady Bunch") of a low middle-clash East Coast family. Her older brother looks awkward and nerdy as she, but is preoccupied enough with getting into college that the social hierarchy of adolescence has little effect on him. Her younger sister is the adored, coddled princess and crown jewel of a pretty rusty crown. Though she's ostracized and/or humiliated by most of her peers, Dawn has a friend in Ralphy, a skinny, effeminate boy, who she makes aware is at the absolute very end of the pecking order of life. Director Todd Solondz takes us on a journey through a brief moment in this girl's life, putting her through the absolute worse and unforgiving situations, but doing so with reverence. Yes, we can laugh at her and her life, but we also love her resilience.

Der Untergang

Engrossing, Effectively Told Story From Another Point of View
This film depicts the lives of several infamous and lesser known Germans in the final days of Adolf Hitler, as the Russians took Berlin, leading up to the victory of the Allied Forces in World War II. It is told through the eyes of one of Hitler's final secretaries. As well as detailing her experiences, it also closely follows the story of a doctor, a young boy and Hitler himself. What is unique about this film compared with most World War II-related movies, is that it tells a story from the perspective of the "enemy." In addition, it's also unusual in that it is neither condemning nor condoning of the events that take place. It non-judgmentally observes the events as they unfold. As defeat becomes more evident, each character finds his or her own rationalization to cope with the reality. Some steadfastly cling to their National-Socialist beliefs while others watch as their leader begins to spiral downward into mental delusion and his Parkinson's Disease grows increasingly more severe. The strength of this film's story and production values place it on par as a comparable companion piece to Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" and "Saving Private Ryan."


Worth a shot.
I've never seen an Irwin Winkler film up until now, but, judging by his body of work, I figured this would make a credible production, which it was. Kevin Kline, who seems to be aching for another Academy Award lately (Life as a House, Emperor's Club), is all too convincing as an practicing homosexual who can't find everything he needs in a man, so he marries a woman for companionship. He plays Cole Porter, a famous songwriter from the early-mid 20th century who composed some of the most memorable songs in American musical history. Ashley Judd plays his wife Linda Lee Porter. I have always thought Ashley Judd an interesting, but not particularly great actor. She delivers a tempered performance of a woman who has to deal, almost daily, with an agreement she had made within herself that she was willing to commit to a man who never promised to love her in every way she desired. The story is told ala "It's a Wonderful Life," with Jonathan Pryce as the guide who sits down with Porter in a small empty theatre and watches the chronology of his relationship with his wife and their connection to his music through a series of musical numbers which often segue into the actual movie we're watching. Many famous musicians from across the ages perform Porter's songs and Kline and Judd sing as well. Kline displays his many talents and Judd shows us why she isn't a singing Judd, but doesn't go as far as embarrassing herself. I often found myself wanting more out of the staged musical numbers themselves, namely for them to be longer and more elaborate.

This film was well put together, but overly focused on this bond between the two leads through better or worse. It often feels like the same scene played differently over and over again. Very episodic, I was hoping to learn more about Linda through, perhaps, more friends of hers or family. I don't plan on watching this film again, but I can't complain too much about every little crumb Hollywood tosses to its adult market. One last thing, I enjoyed how this film inadvertently thumbs its nose at the right-wing and shows how true it is that love makes a family. 6.

House of Sand and Fog

Faithful adaption of the book
This film has almost as much emotional resonance as the novel that it is based on, and, this may be due in large part to the cinematic potential of the source material coupled with the novelist's involvement in the film's process. A unique story in that it deals with characters who aren't entirely sympathetic or unlikable. It delves into the gray area that is life where it isn't about right or wrong, but a small collection of characters who are just trying to do what is best for them and the consequences that follow. Refreshing for the era in which we live where people are so desperate to define public figures as heroes or villains.

The cinematography is luminous. Vadim Perelman shrewdly creates a rather mythic quality to the "House." My only quip is with the ending. The filmmakers, including the author of the book, believe they made the right choice in the changes that were made. I disagree. That aside, with or without the changes, the ending happens much too quickly, and could have easily been drawn out a bit more.

Jennifer Connelly is an actress I never gave much thought to. Here, she strikes a balance with her character where it's just as easy to criticize her as it is to root for her. She makes it look so effortless to boot. Ben Kingsley is equally effective. Shohreh Aghdashloo, though, as Kingsley's wife is the real star her. She takes the role of a subservient Iranian-American housewive and gives her an intense power. Also, Frances Fisher has never looked better.

These days, I don't understand much about filmgoer's tastes. But, I am surprised that this film wasn't as successful as it could have been. Very under-rated and underappreciated.

Carlito's Way

Credible big-budget De Palma with Penn in full form
Brian De Palma lends his masterful directorial hand to a story about a recently released convicted drug dealer. He insists that he's going straight, but, then, he says something not quite as memorable as "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." Al Pacino playing a Puerto Rican-American is a stretch, physically and vocally. The latter of which becomes all too pronounced whenever his voice pops in the annoying narration. But, this is familiar territory for Pacino, except without the family. He's on the other side of the Italian mob and nobody has his back. His closest ally is cocaine addicted Jewish lawyer cum gangster-wannabe, played by Sean Penn. If you want to know why people bandy about how Penn is `the greatest actor of his generation' and don't understand why, then perhaps his performance in this film will convince you. Any other actor would like a fool in the hair and make-up he sells to the audience rather effortlessly. The guy is a chameleon. Viggo Mortensen appears briefly in a cameo and leaves quiet an impression. At times, particularly towards the end, the material gets trite and cartoonish. Yet, there are scenes that are so well choreographed and teem with tension, that you have to take your hat off to the director. He's a living legend. 7/10.

Body Double

This is what you get when you cross Hitchcock with porn
This is what you get when you cross Hitchcock with porn. Borrowing from `Rear Window' with a little `Vertigo' thrown in, add Tippi Hedren's daughter and you get De Palma either paying homage to the original cinematic master of suspense or a dissection of his oeuvre. Jake is a struggling actor who tangles himself up in a tale of mystery and obsession. After a series of mishaps, he finds himself ogling a neighboring woman from the window of his swanky temporary digs (think Star Trek Enterprise) up in the Hollywood hills. The deeper he digs into the story unfolding before his eyes, the more he is forced to confront his fears and deal with his own sexuality. The film has a similar structure to De Palma's `Dressed to Kill,' and his tongue is pressed even further into his cheek. The usual De Palma jolts and yuks are there, but, perhaps not with as great of a frequency. The running time is a flabby 114 minutes, the length of which is most felt during the first half. He has some innocuous fun with a `music video' rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's hit song `Relax,' as well as the closing credits. Not his best, but certainly not his worst. 6/10.

Margaret Cho: Notorious C.H.O.

Adequate, though disappointing.
Margaret Cho returns to the stand-up circuit with a filmed documentation of her 2001-2002 tour, specifically in Seattle. Though not side-splittingly funny, there are plenty of impressions (ditzy L.A. blonde, straight truck-driver types and, yes, even her immortalized mother) and personal stories (life in L.A. and her mother's camel ride in Israel) that make this somewhat satisfying. Though there isn't an overt political agenda, there is a sentimentality which lingers that I'm not normally accustomed to with Cho. It should be said, however, the leg filmed during that particular circuit was a few months after September 11th, which, unfortunately, sucked up almost every last bit of audacity in the comedy world at the time. There are some behind the scenes stuff that includes the two wonderful people that brought her into this world. 5/10


Cut-and-paste effort assembled around Diane Lane takes on a life of its own
Adrian Lyne isn't a director brimming over with integrity. His depiction of women over the years reeks of misogyny and over-indulged sexual fantasies. 'Unfaithful' is no different, though the gender scales tip a bit closer towards the middle. His showcase of the female one might even say is slightly more respectful than from his past 'heroines.' And his middle-aged upper-class white male (Richard Gere) isn't such an innocent bystander this time around. The story is stolen and over-told and the direction, music, cinematography, etc., when taken individually are all pretty much paint-by-numbers. But pieced together around the centerpiece of the project, Diane Lane, who plays an adulteress wife, the film actually takes on a life of its own. There's the much talked about train scene, which could have been quite ludicrous, but Lane's facial expressions and focus saves it from ridicule. 6.

Basic Instinct

This is the only film with Sharon Stone you ever really need to see.
King of smut screenwriter Joe Eszterhas gives us his most inspired screenplay, amid most of the garbage he's contributed to film history. A project that is completely aware of how truly awful it is, it still retains high respect for its audience. What we get is some premium, grade-A trash. Paul Verhoeven spares no dollar on his lavish locales and lush score. At the center of the whole production is Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel, the high-profile paperback novelist who is the main suspect in the murder of a wealthy San Francisco businessman. She quickly reads and hooks the detective on the case (Michael Douglas) into her web of potential danger.

So what if the film's views are misogynistic and insists that a woman whose in touch with her sexuality must be seen as a threat? Stone's style is shallow and unnaturally melodramatic, but given the context, she achieves rare heights as the smooth sex-pot.

The sex in the film is violent and overdone, perhaps necessary to remind the audience of the deliberate nature of its crassness. Without it, the film may suffer, but the carnal interludes are little more than diversions from richly cheap dialogue and an audacious performance by Stone. This is a film not to be taken seriously, but seriously quoted. It's a shameful, fun romp, complete with one-dimensional characters operating in a world with no sense of reality . . . but done with real style.

Fatal Attraction

Glenn Close, A Woman Scorned (An Understatement)
Glenn Close plays against type as an overtly sexual professional weaving family man Michael Douglas into her dens of psychosis. Her incomparable intensity initially seduces, but eventually repels the husband and father. The tension gradually increases as the fabric of this man's family slowly begins to unravel. As he repeatedly escorts the woman to the exit, all Hell breaks loose. Douglas' first unofficial submission in a series of persecuted white male films, he begins playing flawed, yet misunderstood men targeted by villainesses misguiding him with their sexuality. One could chastise this film for its social overtones. Read a little too closely, and you could detect a dated assertion that a woman's place is in the home. If you want to find a disgruntled female, look no further than any woman who placed career before marriage/motherhood. Times have changed, but thankfully we have this film that liberally played with such themes. The reshot ending has bombast, but lacks the integrity of the original shown to the disapproval of test audiences at the time. But, from a marketing perspective, it was a pretty shrewd move. This was the first film to show two people having sex in a kitchen sink, a blowjob conducted in an elevator and a boiling bunny and go on to multiple Oscar nominations (including Best Picture).

The Others

Exquisitely tempered pace, wonderful casting, and a crowd-pleasing ending make this one of mainstream Hollywood's best film in years.
The concept is lovely: Supposedly deceased husband from the war leaves behind wife (played by Nicole Kidman) and two children. The kids are photosensitive to light so the curtains throughout the mansion must remain closed at all times. Wife hires a new staff of three and then strange things begin to happen.

The story is so well-thought out to most every detail, which makes the ending so sound and shocking. `The Sixth Sense' precedes it by two years and regenerated an entire film genre in the Hollywood spectrum. Typically, that film would stand as the measure of the subsequent submissions, which would slowly degenerate into paler imitations until the phenomenon faded out. However, I believe that not only has `The Others' one-upped the sense and raised the stakes, but will hold up much better over time. Not only is the first viewing exciting, but the second viewing shows just how well done this film is.

The mansion that is the centerpiece for the film is masterfully shot from the attic to the kitchen, with Kidman opening, closing, and locking doors everywhere she goes all the time, as well as constantly drawing the drapes.

There isn't really a weak link in this small troop of a cast. Kidman delivers an especially anal, unreserved performance as an over-protective British mother who teeters on being borderline psychotic. The kids are like Christina and Christopher Crawford: the overly headstrong sister and cute, lovable and innocent younger brother. The maid's kindness, with her sidekicks the mute and the groundskeeper, turns deliciously ominous as we get closer to the secret they carry with them.

"Open Your Eyes" and "The Others" have been two of the best films I've seen in the last five years. I am looking forward to Alejandro Amenabar's future endeavors.

9: Highly recommendable, creepy, psychological ghost story. Inspires repeat viewings.

The Silence of the Lambs

Questionable, but strangely acceptable camp emanates from this chilling, engaging suspense story.
***Warning: SPOILERS herein***

One of the few Best Picture winners (not that the A.A.S. is any great measure of quality), and the only one since I've been alive, that I actually think may have been one of the best pictures of the year it came out, if not the best. It's not without flaws, but it certainly offers some of those most riveting examples of mainstream filmmaking.

The plot: lt. Jack Crawford sends one of his top academy students, Clarice Sterling (played with unwavering focus by Jodie Foster), unbeknownst to her, as a covert, but feeble and desperate attempt to extract information about a serial killer on the loose from genius psychiatrist Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins, who, I imagine, will never be able to usurp this performance) who is incarcerated in an asylum for the criminally insane. She exchanges information about the killer for biographical details about herself. Through F.B.I. missteps, Lector manipulates the situation towards freedom while guiding Sterling to the killer and recognition for her efforts. All the while, there is the subplot involving the killer and his current victim from her initial kidnapping towards the end of her captivity. The killer feels he is a transsexual failed by society and modern medicine, who takes his aggression out by selecting over-weight females, kidnapping and starving them, before killing them and removing their skins.

The film takes itself mostly seriously with a slightly off-beat tone one could expect from director Jonathan Demme. However, it's the ending, while fun and clever, that throws into question the film's integrity. Did we just witness the emotional journey of a young woman's plight to deal with her childhood ghosts while trying to save another young woman from dying or are we rooting for a truly psychotic man too intelligent and bored with this world while our tongues are pressed firmly in our cheeks? The film is mostly representational of the novel, which has an easier time alluding these questions with its pulpish nature.

Whatever the case, the interaction between Foster and Hopkins are chilling and mesmerizing. The scenes with Ted Levine as James Gumb are mostly gruesome and disturbing, but hardly worth protesting for negative gay stereotyping. (I feel the same sentiment towards Basic Instinct was unfounded; however, it probably did help them both at the box office, I imagine) For a film where you know who the serial killer is from the beginning, it's engaging and suspenseful none-the-less. And Clarice Sterling offers its audience a modern heroine which they embraced, which isn't that frequent, if you think about it. She's just finds herself in the confines of a film whose intentions are somewhat dubious.

The success of `Lambs' ignited an inferno with the serial killer genre wh ich became hugely popular with inferior-quality, even more dishonest films like `Se7en' and `Fallen.' I own a DVD-version of the film and watch scenes every now and then, but mostly for the camp its degenerated to.

10: One of the few films, one can use the term "modern classic," though its not exactly classy.


A film for the disgruntled, anti-social teenager at heart.
The story is questionable: new boyfriend convinces impressionable girl to slowly kill off all the popular people in the school to make it a better place. The message isn't good: commit murder and blame it on the external influences of others.

The plot is somewhat inspired, but rough around the edges. "Heathers" breaks conventions, but doesn't adhere to any rules, so it's not heavy on substance. It attempts to be high camp and succeeds on those merits: its the unrestrained bitchiness-of-it-all that makes this film so watchable.

Heathers creates its own style of dialogue without seeming put-upon, like, let's say "Swingers." The language is trashy and lewd, but it finds its voice in Heather Chandler, played by Kim Walker (may she rest in peace), so effortlessly ferocious in her ability to cut people down, and the jeamous, unfaithful disciples who surround her.

Many of the performances can be annoying and/or unmemorable, with the exception of parts that really matter, namely, Veronica and Heather #1 -3. Country Club Courtney and Betty Finn are also fun in smaller roles and most of the adult roles deliver. Some of the guys are appropriately oafish and cocksure (like Kurt and Ram), and I felt very indifferent to Christian Slater's Jack Nicholson/James Dean.

This is a film that I watched over and over again on the HBO we got free somehow in the late 80's after our neighbor's started subscribing to it. (!?) Perhaps it appealed to my queer nature. I can't think of any other reason, because I wasn't any of those characters. I was somewhere between Peter Dawson (sans wealthy background), played by Jermey Applegate (may he rest in peace) and the geek who accidentally sneezes the milk out of his nose, although a friend enjoyed teasing me that I was Betty Finn. (while he self-appointed himself Heather Duke!) Maybe. It just had this cult-trash glimmer and came out when I was still a teenager. My high school life was uneventful, so I lived vicariously through the Heathers, I guess.

10: There's really nothing like it.

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