Better Not Leave Your Burrow Yet
With Six More Weeks of Winter
Its Time Again to Snuggle Up with a Good Home Video
A reliable source over in Kudzu Valley tells us that about the early February habits of groundhogs, theres been some myth-making going on.
The way we hear it, the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, found itself in need of a little economic development when the coal and railroads ran out. Fortunes had worn pretty thin, when, one February 2, an out-of-work public relations person out walking in the woods stumbled over a groundhog whod just popped up into the morning sun.
Why dont you watch where youre going? said the groundhog.
Speaking of going, where are you going? said the public relations type. You groundhogs are supposed to hibernate until winter is over.
Thats true, said the groundhog. But how do you think we know when winters going to be over? Every February 2, one of us comes up top to test the weather. If we see our shadow, it means six more weeks of winter. No shadow, and we expect spring about the middle of March.
Wow! said the PR sort. Youve given me an idea!
And that, says our source, a local groundhog by the name of Chessie Chip, is how groundhog day came to be and how the town Punxsutawney comes to be the center of the universe every February 2.
But dont you believe it, advises Chip. Its all a myth perpetrated by a groundhog with important business, who didnt have time to stand around talking to some gullible human.
Off the groundhog went, chuckling all the way to the store, on the errand of replenishing the colonys supply of popcorn and movies for another six weeks hunkered in the warmth of a cozy burrow.
To satisfy your colony until the spring thaw, many minds and diverse tastes conspire to create this yearly special. Still, weve got some notable redundancy, which we take to signify good taste. Appearing on our list twice are five artists: Robert Redford (actor, The Sting; director, A River Runs Through It); Harrison Ford (actor Witness; and, under Dont Bother, The Widow Maker); Robert Shaw (actor, The Sting; The Deep); Julie Andrews (actress, The Sound of Music; Mary Poppins); Michelle Pfeiffer (actress, Scarface; Russia House).
Theres also a father-son team of father Carl Reiner (actor, The Russians Are Coming
) and son Rob (director, When Harry Met Sally).
Now, here are seven decades of great, good or merely entertaining movies, divided into 11 categories with the last category a warning of the truly wretched.
High-octane, fueling high-gear action by women, men, machines and monsters. With fast cutting, steep slopes and hard edges, it comes at you like a roller coaster. In some of the best, quick minds replace fast feet, fists and guns.
1983 R 170 mins.
Who can forget the chainsaw scene, or Al Pacino as Tony Montana with his machine gun, wired on coke? Say hello to my little friend! This blood-and-guts Brian de Palma crime-drama epic follows Cuban refugee Tony Montana into the hard-edged world of cocaine-dealing glamour, thence the haze of addiction and ruin. An Oliver Stone screenplay about greed, ambition, and ruin, with supporting performances by Michelle Pfeiffer as Montanas wife and Mary Ellen Mastrantonio as his sister. Not for the faint or tender of heart.
April Falcon Doss
1973 PG 129 mins.
Small-time crook Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with veteran con man Harry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to bring down the Chicago mob boss (Robert Shaw) who killed their friend. Set in 1936, this mind-driven Depression-era flick features Scott Joplins ragtime jazz with a musical score by Marvin Hamlisch, a terrific supporting cast (Eileen Brennan, Charles Durning, Harold Gould, Ray Walston), and a surprise ending. George Roy Hill, who also teamed up with Redford and Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, directs this seven-time Academy Award winner including best picture.
1977 PG 2:03
A young couple (Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset) scuba diving on a Caribbean vacation discover a small glass vial filled with an orange liquid. The local treasure hunter (Robert Shaw) identifies it as part of a shipment of morphine lost during WWII. And theres more good news: The morphine sits atop a sunken galleon containing even richer treasures. Now for the bad news. Island drug lord (Louis Gossett Jr.) wants to keep everything for himself. Explosions, shootings, strangulations and voodoo curses ensue. Great underwater scenery includes a gigantic moray eel that lives in the old ship and would just like everyone to leave him alone. And lets not forget Bisset, who prefers to dive in a T-shirt.
As the movie says, its Woman on Top. In the true chick flick, our heroine steps out of the stereotype, has a good time and though she may not get everything she wants she gets what she needs, no penalty attached.
When Harry Met Sally
1989 R 96 min.
Satirist Nora Ephron wrote and comedian Rob Reiner directed this funny movie about a man and a woman who meet on a cross-country car trip and spend the next 11 years finding out that they are wildly in love with each other. Pessimistic Harry (Billy Crystal), who always reads the end of the novel first in case he should die before he gets there, is convinced men and women can never be friends because the sex part always gets in the way. Sunny Sally (Meg Ryan), who cant place an order in 10 words or less, tries to prove him wrong.
Shakespeare in Love
1998 R 122 mins.
Young William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) is suffering writers block, toiling hopelessly on his new play Romeo and Ethel, the Pirates Daughter when young noblewoman Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) disguises herself as a man to land the part of Romeo during her last days of freedom before her scheduled wedding to the beastly Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). This witty romantic comedy bursts with humor rooted in gender disguises, gender wars and the work of the Bard himself. Itll delight theater fans to see Shakespeare come so vividly to life. Watch it again to catch the one-liners and literary allusions peppered throughout.
April Falcon Doss
Woman on Top
2000 R 92 mins.
Improbable as it seems, the luscious Penelope Cruz goes unappreciated in director Fina Torres sensual Latin chick flick. And shes not alone. Many of the women rooting her on in warm dens throughout Chesapeake Country will have observed that no matter how good a woman is, somebody close to home is going to find her not good enough.
Sensibly, this Brazilian senorita takes action, first to find her own strength, then
to get that guy out of her heart. She succeeds on both scores. First, she soars to success as a Julia Childs of hot dishes. Then, she heals her heart with the help of a voodoo goddess. But when the guy has a change of heart, whats a girl to do?
The sweet sultriness of scene and senorita will make this chick flick a favorite for men as well as women.
Classics & Epics
Whatever genre theyre in, nobody does it better: Never has. Maybe never will.
1937 NR 1:43
On a Pacific island, colonialism destroys native bliss when an over-zealous governor (Raymond Massey) imprisons seafarer Terangi (Jon Hall) for a murder he didnt commit. Terangi escapes and rushes to his wife (Dorothy Lamour dressed in a sarong) as a hurricane strikes the island. Director John Ford uses then state-of-the-art special effects for the last portion of the movie as the hurricane (the real star of the movie) sweeps over the island. Waves and wind destroy the church, carrying away islanders whove tied themselves to trees and boats. You wont see better storm scenes.
1960 NR 125 mins.
One of the amazing things about writer-director Billy Wilders 1960 masterpiece romantic comedy is how it is both very much of its time and timeless. Sure, the dialogue sparkles; and sure, the performances are stellar (Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine oh my!). But every time I see this black-and-white beauty, I am captivated by the portrayal of 1960s New York singles culture in the office and home, while being equally struck by how non-dated the personal interactions come across. Rent it and be dazzled.
The Sound of Music
1965 G 174 mins.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? Put her in the Austrian Alps and let her sing. Robert Wise directs this classic starring young Julie Andrews as Maria, the would-be nun, who finds romance when she takes the job as governess to the children of Christopher Plummers charming Captain von Trapp. When the Captain refuses to play in Nazi games of pre-WWII Austria, Maria leads the singing von Trapp family in an escape over the mountains, abetted by crafty nuns who know a little about car maintenance. Rogers and Hammersteins songs and the Austrian Alps provide a colorful backdrop to this musical based on the real life of the von Trapp family singers.
Theyve gone too far, you say, shaking your head as your sides are splitting. Thats why we love em so. The 60s, this years judges agree, were particularly funny years.
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
1966 NR 126 mins.
Its the middle of the cold war when a Soviet submarine captained by Alan Arkin accidentally runs aground on a sleepy, little island off the coast of New England. Unable to free their sub, the Russians come ashore. The natives, a riotous cast of small-town characters (Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters and Brian Keith), think their island is being invaded. Each side bumbles along, tripping over their irrational fear of the supposed enemy. Director Norman Jewison tried for a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations with this warm comedy.
1963 NR 129 mins.
Tom Jones grabs viewers by the funny bones and carries them along through the bawdy pleasures of country lasses, food and fox hunts, the boisterous adventures of the road and the sex-in-the-city intrigue of 18th-century London. Albert Finney charms as rowdy, good-hearted Tom who, with his spirited true love Sophia (Susannah York), suffers through parental disapproval, mistaken identities, competing lovers, conniving relatives, the threat of hanging and revelation of long-kept secrets.
As Sophias earthy father, Hugh Griffiths volatile country squire is balanced remarkably by the haughty complaints of Dame Edith Evans as his sister: Brother, I think you improve daily in ignorance, she says.
The film won four Oscars: best picture, best musical score, best adaptation from Henry Fieldings 1749 novel of the same name and best director, Tony Richardson. Its fresh enough to win again this year.
The Gold Rush
1925 NR 85 mins.
If computer-generated, picture-perfect imitations of reality have you wishing for simpler times, this all-time great film is a sure cure-all. Considered by many to be Charlie Chaplins best work, The Gold Rush still delivers more laughs than most anything from Hollywood a Hollywood born of the creative genius of Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and others.
Luddites aside, who wants to be behind technology? And so its likely that the better part of a few generations have come and gone without watching The Gold Rush, a black-and-white silent movie now more than three-quarters of a century old.
Even if youve never seen a Chaplin movie, you cannot have escaped the icons of this film: The Little Tramp with the ballooning pants and the signature waddle; the dance of two dinner rolls speared on forks; the hungry rag-tag Tramp making a feast of a shoe.
In the Yukon during the mid-1800s Gold Rush, Chaplins tramp braves the frigid wilds, bears and bear-ish gold miners in search of riches, love and happiness. Does the ending deliver any of the three? If you know Chaplin, its not a question, but the film does deliver laugh upon laugh.
These are the movies that make converts. Like religion, they inspire their faithful in ways that heathens cant fathom.
1958 NR 85 mins.
Director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.s original sci-fi thriller offers everything from the man-eating, gelatinous space alien to drag-racing boys in classic cars. A young Steve McQueen (in his first lead role) must convince his fellow townspeople that, no, the towns doctor did not go on vacation he was digested by the Blob! In the meantime, danger oozes through cracks and crevices into living rooms, movie theaters and diners all over town. The theme song alone Beware of the Blob by Burt Bacharach and Hal David is worth the money to rent this camp classic.
1966 NR 95 mins.
Seeing the tepid surf movie Blue Crush this past year brought back to me how great the 1966 surfing documentary Endless Summer really is. Every summer, a group of friends and I gather to watch our remarkably clean-cut movie surfers, Mike and Robert, brave thunderous waters as they travel the world in search of the perfect wave. Its completely tongue in cheek, and our surfer stars and our surfer director Bruce Brown are in on the whole thing. Generous of them to let us in on it, too.
Drunken Master & The Legend of Drunken Master
1978 R 107 mins. and 1994 R 99 mins.
In The Legend of Drunken Master, Jackie Chan reprises the comic role he created in Drunken Master, the movie that launched him into prominence as a different kind of Hong Kong martial arts movie hero. In both, Chan plays wayward son Wong Fei-Hung. In the first, he is apprenticed to master So Hi, who teaches him the art of drunken boxing, whose stances (with names like down the hatch) spoof traditional martial arts poses. In the 1994 sequel, Fei-Hung needs to use every tool he can including the forbidden drunken boxing to battle against corrupt steel mill owners and the foreigners who would steal Chinas artifacts and history. Chans acting and comic timing are not as mature in the earlier film, but the fight scenes in both will leave you breathless, and Chans antics bring in the laughs.
April Falcon Doss
Our emotions get a sweat-raising workout in these movies, for, wearing the shoes of their characters, we feel their pain and pleasures, hopes and dreams as we walk pathways very different from our own.
A River Runs Through It
1992 PG 124 min.
In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing
So begins this beautiful movie based on the autobiographical novella of the same title by Norman Maclean. In rich prose Maclean tells the story of his family: his father, played by Tom Skerritt, the preacher-fly fisherman; his devoted mother, played by Brenda Blethyn; and Brad Pitt as the reckless brother who turns fly-fishing into an art though he cannot control his own destiny. Robert Redford directs this masterpiece, set in Montana at the junction of the great trout rivers.
1985 R 119 mins.
Samuel (Lukas Haas) is an Amish boy traveling through Philadelphia with his mother, Rachel (Kelly McGillis), when he witnesses a police officers murder. Detective Book (Harrison Ford) investigates the murder and, in an unforgettable scene, Samuel identifies the murderer as another police officer (Danny Glover) from a picture hanging in the precinct. Learning that other officers are involved, Book whisks Rachel and Samuel back to Amish country where he hopes they can disappear. During their escape, Book is injured and he remains with the Amish. Rachel, a widow, nurses the detective, and, as he heals, their attraction grows. But can Book live in the Amish world? Can he and Rachel escape the inner-city violence that brought them together?
The Bridge on the River Kwai
1957 NR 160 mins.
Winner of seven academy awards and 27 national awards, director David Leans fast-paced, epic, World War II anti-war drama, stars Alec Guinness and William Holden. Its based on an actual event involving a group of Allied POWs under the command of Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who were ordered by Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), commandant of the POW camp, to build a bridge over the Kwai River to help the Japanese move supplies and troops from Bangkok to Rangoon. Shot on location in the steamy, dense tropical jungles of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the film builds in intensity through the psychological struggle of wills between Colonels Nicholson and Saito, symbols of different, opposing cultures, who share the same inflexible obedience.
Carol Pierini Woller
Even in our global cinematic village, movies that come to us from other cultures bring us the world in new ways capturing us despite subtitles.
Under the Sand
2000 Not Rated 1:35 France
Under the Sand is a success of acting rather than action. Director and screen writer Francois Ozon filmed the first scenes of this grown-up movie about the experience of loss and uncertainty over a couple of years, then talked through the rest of the story with actress-collaborator Charlotte Rawlings.
Metaphors abound. A husband (Bruno Cremer) in search of firewood, picks up a log at the meeting of woods and sand. The underside is rotted and crawling with insects. After announcing that he is going swimming, he disappears from the beach while his wife reads a book. Has he drowned? Has he committed suicide? Has he escaped to some other life?
As the wife, Rawlings uses her expressive face takes the viewer through a treasury of emotions as she denies, then accepts, then denies her husbands fate. Her head is under the sand. Illusion vies with reality. A new lover competes with a husband who will not disappear. Past, present and future are packed into scenes where words enhance but do not substitute for emotions.
Another metaphor ends the movie.
Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
1994 NR 123 mins. Taiwan
Ang Lee who leapt to fame in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon wrote and directed this mouth-watering film about the lives and loves of a widower and his three grown daughters in modern day Taiwan. A celebrated chef of Taipei, the father has lost his sense of taste since his wifes death. Only true love can bring it back. Philosophies and dishes clash every Sunday evening when the family sits down to dinner. If youve seen Tortilla Soup (made later in 2001), you already know the story.
Wings of Desire
1987 PG-13 127 min. German
For those of you who have seen the two-bit 1998 Hollywood remake City of Angels, much of the magic of Wings of Desire may be lost. But for those of you fortunate enough to have not seen either yet, rent the 1987 German original by Wim Wenders. This emotional and romantic film about an angel considering mortality has so many surprises and so much going on. My only problem watching this movie is losing my place because it sets my mind racing. A mind-blowingly original experience.
What will happen next? You hold your breath, so wrapped up in the stories, scenes and characters unfolding on the screen that a summons from real life barking dog, ringing phone, crying child can so startle you that you bump your head on the ceiling of your burrow.
1990 R 126 mins.
In the film version of master spy-writer John LeCarres novel, Barley (Sean Connery) is a tired, heavy-drinking, British publisher who receives a manuscript on Soviet defense capabilities from Katya (Michelle Pfeiffer). Soon British intelligence and the CIA are involved, and the heads of the two agencies (James Fox, Roy Scheider) are trying to out-spy each other. Barley is recruited to befriend Katya and discover the author of the manuscript. Katya offers Barley a chance at redemption, and more than friendship develops between them. But the Soviets are also in on the game, and Barley must choose his loyalty: Britain or Katya. Director Fred Schepisi filmed this movie during Glasnost, bringing the Western world wonderful, fresh views of Moscow and Leningrad.
1986 R 121 mins.
A serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy for the bite marks he leaves on his victims forces FBI Agent Will Graham (William L. Peterson of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fame) out of retirement. Graham is legendary for his ability to get inside the heads of serial killers and figure out their next move. Years earlier Grahams mind games led to the capture of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox) but not before the cannibal carved Graham up a bit. Now Graham must consult Lecter to understand the Tooth Fairy.
This movie is based on the first Hannibal Lecter book by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon. Another movie version of the book is currently in theaters starring that other well-known Dr. Lecter. But dont think Manhunter and Coxs Hannibal arent up to the competition. They are. Nothing can compare to the final scene played out between Graham, the Tooth Fairy and his next victim as the heavy beat of Iron Butterflys In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida ticks away what may be the final seconds of their lives.
Strangers on a Train
1951 NR 101 mins.
Many people imagine murdering someone they hate even if just in passing thought without acting on the thought. But Bruno (played by Robert Walker), the lazy, lunatic son of a millionaire wants to take his fantasy one step further. What if two complete strangers meet on a train and agree to commit each others murder?
Crisscross is what Bruno calls it: the perfect murder scheme. No motives, easy alibis. The perfect scenario for Alfred Hitchcock to explore mankinds and womankinds morbid fascination with murder.
Tennis star Guy (Farley Granger) inadvertently agrees to the homicidal proposition, and Bruno sets the plan into action.
Brunos unfolding creepiness will make your skin crawl. Hitchcocks twisted sense of humor adds outbursts of laughter that do nothing to ease the suspense. Watch for the classic scenes: a crazed merry-go-round and its heroic operator; the tennis ball-watching audience.
Hollywood toned down an earlier British version (also Hitchcocks), which heightened Brunos homosexuality, not to mention his psychotic tendencies. Look for the DVD that offers both versions.
Not Just for Kids
These films may have special appeal for younger audiences, but theyll reawaken the experiences of childhood for many an adult viewer. In this years nostalgic selection, all three judges return to the decade of their birth: the 60s.
1968 G 90 mins.
Okay, so maybe this one was for adults in the first place, but that shouldnt disqualify it. The Beatles had nothing to do with the production of this fantastically animated 1968 musical (those arent their speaking voices), but they liked it so much that they fully embraced it and even added some musical bonuses. The psychedelic pop art animation trips you out while avoiding any overt drug references. I remember seeing this movie on TV as a seven-year old; my love for the Beatles has continued unabated ever since.
1964 G 139 mins.
Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way in her Oscar-winning role as the magical nanny Mary Poppins. Robert Stevenson directs a standout cast with Dick Van Dyke as the gentleman chimney sweep Burt, whose toe-tapping on the roof-tops of London is brilliant. Glynis Johns is the well-meaning but absent-minded suffragette mother, and David Tomlinson plays punctual Mr. Banks, who learns Marys lesson: that we need to take time for whats really important. Thats a lesson as relevant today as it was 31 years ago.
The Incredible Journey & Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
1963 G 80 mins. and 1993 G 84 mins.
This pair of Disney movies offers up an animal odyssey as two pet dogs and a cat traverse forbidding wilderness to return home to the children they love. In both movies, the parents short-sightedly decide to temporarily relocate the family and leave the pets in a friends care; the animals set out to find their owners and their homes. The 1993 remake is easier to find, an energetic comedy with animal voices provided by Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox and Sally Field. The 1963 original offers up 1960s mores and production values: the Canadian wilderness is a little washed, children carry hunting rifles and father knows best. Even the more dated one, though, offers a sweet and heartwarming story about loyalty, friendship and courage.
April Falcon Doss
What lies ahead? Will the world of our grandchildren improve or reduce our own? Last year, our judges gave two-to-one odds on a future redeemed by benevolence out there or in here. This year, with war looming and weapons of mass destruction multiplying, theyre anticipating terror and totalitarianism.
1995 R 105 mins.
This slow-starting thriller will have you on the edge of your chair or under a pillow within minutes. It is the scariest movie I have ever seen, with lots of blood and gore and all the scary stuff you could want, including a deadly disease that turns into a nightmare under the city. People trapped in the subway try to save the world from the horror of this deadly living thing. Surely not for the wimp in the family.
1980 R 93 mins.
A young Mel Gibson looking like a young Mel Gibson
shouldnt this be a chick flick? Only for women not in any way faint of heart.
The original forerunner to The Road Warrior and its spawn, Beyond Thunderdome (with a fourth film due out in the coming year), Mad Max was Gibsons breakthrough movie, a low-budget flick filmed in the Outback of his native Australia. In this dystopic vision of a post-nuclear world, vicious bikers roam the roads, terrorizing citizens and police alike. After his partner is left for dead by one of these rogues, Max retires from the police force and sets out with wife and child for a more peaceful life. Needless to say, he finds nothing of the sort in this hyper-violent, revenge-driven movie thats part chase-film, part Dirty-Harry action flick and part sci-fi/horror.
1976 PG 118 mins.
The year is 2274. Humans have rebuilt post-apocalyptic society in a great, underground city. Computers and machines make life easy, allowing a youthful population to pursue hedonistic pleasures. The catch? At age 30, everyone must succumb to either Renewal (euthanasia) or Carrousel, a weird, violent ceremony that supposedly lifts body and soul to eternity and ultimate rebirth (a less peaceful form of euthanasia). The official party line is that Renewal and Carrousel are good things, but rumor suggests that there is another choice: a place called Sanctuary, where people if they can escape the city can live out a lifetime. The few who believe this rumor attempt to escape, becoming runners.
Michael York is Logan 5, a Sandman (or policeman) who pursues and kills anyone refusing to participate. The story gets interesting when the hunter realizes he will soon turn 30. The government wants to use him to discover if Sanctuary exists and where it is.
Warning: Though Logans Run was hailed for its special effects in its time, the effects seem ridiculous by todays standards. Its still a fun flick.
K-19: The Widowmaker
2002 PG-13 138 mins.
Kind-hearted Captain Polenin (Liam Neeson) balks at launching his submarine because its not properly constructed or equipped. Hard-hearted Captain Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is placed in command over him. While at sea, the nuclear reactor falls apart, leaking radiation throughout the ship and threatening nuclear disaster.
The Russian accents come and go; the political officer stereotypically snivels party slogans. Its too bad. The movie, based on an incident aboard a Soviet sub in 1961, should have done greater justice to the crews bravery in not only saving their ship but averting a nuclear catastrophe.
2002 R 133 mins.
Another great story is wasted on the in-your-face blood and guts thats now standard fare for war movies. More standard fare is served up in the person of Nicholas Cage, who postures and pouts his way across a stage that doesnt belong to him. For this were cheated of the fresh and heroic story of the World War II Navajo soldiers who spoke the unbreakable code their own language that helped win the war in the Pacific.
The Four Feathers
2002 PG-13 125 mins.
Billed as one of those serious epic period pieces and featuring young beautiful stars like hunk-of-the-month Heath Ledger, The Four Feathers looked like it might be trying to make an early statement for Oscars when it was released last September. Not quite. This spiritless and stuffy action/drama about a late 19th century British soldier who must redeem his honor is a complete and utter bore. It was in and out of the theaters in no time, which is precisely how much time you should give it.