Bay Weekly’s 10th Annual
Groundhog Day Movie Guide
Burrow down for another six weeks of good watching
Now that wiretapping’s been made legal, we don’t have to wait until February 2, when drowsy groundhogs are dragged, kicking and screaming, out of their burrows, to find out that winter is in no hurry to pack its bags. We threaded our wire down into the burrow, across the way in Kudzu Valley, where a flourishing clan of Chesapeake groundhogs make their home.
You’d think they’d learn, wouldn’t you? came a voice loud and clear. February is February, and it’s not going to be spring any time soon. Heat up the hot chocolate, ’cause I’m going to be chilled to the bone after I’ve done my duty by crawling out to give those shivering humans hope.
While I’m out, I’ll drop the new Netflix order in the mailbox. And I’ll pick up Bay Weekly. This is the issue with that list of movies to see us through to spring. Have we got enough popcorn?
As every smart groundhog knows, once more this year Bay Weekly writers have conspired to choose 40 great, good or merely entertaining movies to get us through to the first day of spring on the vernal equinox, March 21.
We’ve spanned eight decades, arranging our picks in 10 watchable categories by date, from oldest to newest. Again this year, we’ve shined our spotlight on movie stars and movie makers who took their last bow in 2006.
Add popcorn, warm drinks and good company and make like the groundhog. Burrow down till spring.
Action ~ Adventure
This genre is high-octane, gear-ratcheting action by men, women, machines and monsters. With fast cutting, steep slopes and hard edges, it comes at you like a roller coaster. In some of the best of type, quick minds replace fast feet, fists and guns.
King Kong Double Feature
1933 • NR • 100 mins.
Director: Merian C. Cooper
2005 • PG-13 • 187 mins.
Director: Peter Jackson
The 1933 black-and-white original is one of the greatest movies ever filmed. If you google King Kong, you will get an astounding 36 million hits, and with good reason: Everyone has something to say about it. I can only imagine what it was like seeing it for the first time in ’33.
Written and directed by Merian Cooper, an adventurer and documentary film maker and based on a dream he’d had of a giant ape that terrorized New York, it used special effects and animation to produce a movie unlike anything ever seen before.
Arguably its originality and creativity have yet to be equaled, though Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake has come closest.
The advances in animation and blue-screen projection Jackson utilizes are awesome; Kong has never been more real. At the same time, he has retained the spirit and adventure of the original story.
Schedule this double blockbuster for the weekend. With the accompanying special features and documentaries, which are superb, you may be enthralled for two whole days and your downtime will never have been better spent.
Once Upon a Time in the West
1968 • PG • 165 mins.
Director: Sergio Leone
Leone’s meticulous classic, released two years after his landmark The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, pushed his reputation as the visionary of the Western. Ample eye close-ups and dusty stand-offs naturally abound, but the treasure of the film remains Leone’s stylized evocation of scant virtue amid a depraved landscape.
The plot centers on four characters whose varied aims illustrate the frontier’s response to the encroaching railroad. Merciless gunman Frank, played by smiling, blue-eyed Henry Fonda, connives with a debilitated railroad baron to reap the profits of the Pacific-bound expansion. To that end, Frank murders savvy landowner McBain and his children, while McBain’s New Orleans bride, Jill, struggles to elude the killer. Entwined in the conflict, as well, is the adaptable bandit Cheyenne, portrayed by the smirking Jason Robards, who Frank frames for McBain’s killing. Finally, Charles Bronson deftly fills the role of Leone’s trademark nameless avenger. With his torn hat and harmonica strung around his neck, Bronson gets his finest moment with the showdown at the end of Leone’s unforgettable first scene.
Running at nearly three hours, the movie takes time, but the pay-off is extraordinary in every respect, not the least of which is Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack.
1977 • R • 109 mins.
Director: Clint Eastwood
For Clint Eastwood fans and all those who thrive on suspense and action, the 1977 thriller The Gauntlet is a must. Eastwood directs and stars as Ben Shockley, a disappointed, mediocre cop on the downhill side of his tenure. Under false pretenses he’s ordered to escort a professional hooker (played by Sondra Locke) from Las Vegas to Phoenix to testify in what he’s told is a minor trial. What he doesn’t know is that lots of people on both sides of the law want this woman dead, and they all consider him expendable. Their trip is rife with obstacles that include ambushes, crooked cops, violent bikers, gunfire, explosives, making for lots of dynamic action. The ending finds the pair in an ‘armored’ bus facing a barrage of more than 8,000 bullets. Some action thrillers are more absorbing than others; this vengeance-loaded, 30-year-old draws you into the tension of its plot and keeps your adrenaline pumping.
Ride With the Devil
1999 • R • 139 mins.
Director: Ang Lee
Set in a violent corner of the Civil War South southwestern Missouri, a slave-holding Union state guerrillas called bushwackers (Confederate) and Jayhawkers (Union) preyed on soldiers, civilians and each other. Starring Tobey Maquire and Skeet Ulrich, this movie shows how war unleashes violence on a personal level. Neighbors who attended their neighbors’ children’s weddings now kill each other for revenge. Some soldiers cross the line to become murderers and robbers; others, like Maquire’s character, learn their humanity. The movie drags at times, and Maquire’s antique narration takes some getting used to, but director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is a master of action sequences. He shows the action in real time: Fighting happens fast, and he doesn’t slow anything down for the viewer. A night attack on Union cavalry (again for revenge) is filmed in the dark, with the black screen, the shots and cries and sounds of horses. All this could be another cinematic excuse for violence except that no movie could exaggerate the actuality of Civil War Missouri. The atrocities are well documented. Real historical characters some of them undoubtedly psychopaths such as William Quantrill, the young Frank and Jesse James and Bloody Bill Anderson thrived in this violent culture. This movie is about riding with the devil.
In the stereotype, Woman has been very good, very bad or very sorry. In the true chick flick, our heroine steps out of the stereotype. At last, she has a good time and though she may not get everything she wants she gets what she needs.
Comic drama: 1987 • PG • 102 mins.
Director: Norman Jewison
Moonstruck is a delightful story of a slightly eccentric, sometimes dysfunctional Italian American family dealing with cultural expectations and generational differences. Cher earned an Oscar for her performance as Loretta Castorini, a repressed middle-aged widow engaged to the wrong man, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). When Loretta meets Johnny’s black-sheep brother, Ronny, played to droll perfection by Nicolas Cage, the family’s world is turned upside down. Loretta’s sleeping passions awaken, and her family must learn to accept her newfound sexuality and expectations, while at the same time facing the reality of her parents’ less-than-perfect marriage.
Vincent Gardenia is delightful as Loretta’s cheating father, Cosmo, and Olympia Dukakis earned her own Oscar as best-supporting actress for her portrayal of Rose, Loretta’s long-suffering mother.
Drama • 1989 • PG • 117 mins.
Director: Herbert Ross
Steel Magnolias are strong southern women who persevere and ultimately triumph over tragedy. They are outwardly delicate flowers made of stronger stuff who emerge from trials with their spirit and hairdos intact.
Four friends gather in Truvy’s Beauty Shop in a small parish in modern-day Louisiana for touch-ups and talk. Shirley McLaine plays the cantankerous Ouisir, and Olympia Dukakis her recently widowed friend, Clairee. Their fights are side-splittingly funny with some unforgettable lines. “Oh Ouiser, don’t you know I love you more than my luggage?” says Clairee after a particularly rousing battle. Darryl Hannah is almost unrecognizable but adorable in her nerdy glasses as Annelle, who lands a job in Truvy’s despite the fact that, she says “My work gets a little poufy when I’m nervous.” A young Julia Roberts plays Shelby, a bride-to-be who longs to experience everything life has to offer despite a life-threatening illness. Sallie Field plays Shelby’s mother, M’Lynn, to a tee. A hauntingly beautiful musical score complements the story.
There is tragedy, yes. Will you cry? Yes! But the tears are the satisfying kind. Steel Magnolias sets the gold standard for chick flicks.
Drama • 1987 • NR • 102 mins.
Danish, Swedish and French with English subtitles
Director: Gabriel Axel
Babette’s Feast is a poetic film of austerity, piety and belief in the uplifting quality of sumptuous perfection. Axel’s Danish/French film, based on a story by Isak Dinesen, won nine international awards, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
In a tiny 19th century hamlet along the Danish coast, two aging sisters nurture a small devout congregation begun by their stern, and now dead, father. A flashback to their younger days reveals the sisters’ beauty and the devoted attention of their admirers. Intervening circumstances determine each of their lives, though their decisions haunt them as they question their chosen destinies.
Babette, a political refugee from civil war in France, arrives at their home alone and penniless. Under the sisters’ thatched roof, she finds solace in the day-to-day task of cooking their simple peasant food. When unexpected good fortune appears, Babette turns the gift into an elegant feast for the town, pouring her artistry into the banquet. Axel gently portrays the villagers’ struggle with their puritanical sensibilities as the uncommon delicacies reveal poignant truths of the heart.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty
The Butcher’s Wife
Comic Drama • 1991 • PG-13 • 104 mins.
Director: Terry Hughes
Marina (Demi Moore) is a young girl who lives alone at a lighthouse and dreams of a shipwrecked man. When a butcher (George Dzundza) washes ashore, she believes that her dream has come true so she marries him and moves with him to New York. But something is not right. Slowly she realizes that the man she married was supposed to help her find her true love, a psychologist, who now avoids her. Worse yet, she sees that she is keeping the butcher from his love, a shy customer and blues singer. Marina gathers her courage and faces her destiny. A price that must be paid, yet Marina’s choice gives us hope.
Classics & Epics
Whatever the genre, it’s never been done better. Classics set the gold standard, and they never grow old. Prepare to be thrilled, or thrilled again.
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Drama • NR • 1948 • 126 mins.
Director: John Huston
This true American classic offers deep insight into the souls of people driven by greed.
Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) are two drifters stranded in a small Mexican town with little money and not much hope for the future. They meet Howard (Walter Huston), who knows a lot about gold and how to find it. Dobbs and Curtin are persuaded by Howard to join him in a gold prospecting venture into the Mexican mountains where, as Howard claims, the gold is just waiting for them.
They do find gold, but their problems are only beginning. If you’re carrying around a fortune, how do you protect it? Where do you put it when you’re sleeping? Dare you sleep at all? Can you trust your partners? What do you do with the surplus if you’ve so much gold you can’t carry it all?
Director John Huston worked on the play for six years before finally casting his father as Howard. He considered Ronald Reagan for the part of Curtin but settled on Holt. Huston picked the right cast, and the result is a movie that’s one of a kind.
Romantic comedy • 1957 • NR • 103 mins.
Director: Stanley Donen
In 1957, it was the charming Audrey Hepburn that film fans embraced, and Stanley Donen was the director to match the queen of class with Fred Astaire in romantic Paris.
A bookish Hepburn plays a reluctant star model for New York’s top fashion magazine. Her ticket to Paris to see an esteemed beatnik philosopher is to pose for photographer, and suitor, portrayed by Astaire. Their photo sessions, drama and romance play out on the streets, monuments, cafes and museums of Paris.
The duo rounds out their love story with singing and dancing sequences to the music of George and Ira Gershwin, including hits “I Love Your Funny Face,” and “He Loves and She Loves.” Hollywood nominated the film for four Oscars the next year, but it won out only in the hearts of movie-goers.
Lawrence of Arabia
Historic drama: 1962 • G • 228 mins.
Director: David Lean
If you’re looking for a mesmerizing three-hour celebration of cinematic ecstasy and a rousing good story, look no further: It has found you. Watch it on the largest screen you can muster; the vastness and beauty of the desert are worth any effort. Back in the days when Arabia still wasn’t a simple place, but bad guys were more obvious, and the oil had not yet been discovered, there was a truly adventurous man: Thomas Edward Lawrence. The illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman, a landed Irish Baronet, T.E. Lawrence received a very formal education. After completing his doctoral thesis on the Crusades, Lawrence toured the Middle East alone and on foot, trekking 1,000 miles over three months. He later returned twice, first as a working archeologist, then as a British liaison to the Arab Revolt during the First World War. There he became a legend. David Lean’s masterpiece and make no mistake, it is a masterpiece is a marriage of epic storytelling, incredible photography and a grand, real-life adventure. It swept the Academy Awards in 1962. You will see why.
The Man Who Would Be King
Drama • 1975 • PG •129 mins.
Director: John Huston
In Rudyard Kipling’s India of the 1800s noisy, colorful, dusty two appealing deserters from the British army, played by Sean Connery and Michael Caine, steal boxes of muskets and head north through the snowy passes. They are seeking a country untouched by the modern world to dominate with their weapons and military know-how. They find Kafiristan in the far reaches of Afghanistan. With luck, nerve and bluster, they succeed. Connery becomes king and, with the help of Billy Fish (played by Saeed Jaffrey) and some loyal locals, the pair brings peace and prosperity to a warring kingdom. But they overreach. Connery begins to believe he is king: immortal and deserving all a king deserves including the beautiful Roxanne (played by Shakira Caine). The natives, once deceived and awed, rise up. Kipling’s story is a cautionary tale for people of one culture believing they can control people of another.
The great Huston gives the movie humor, excitement, grand sweeping views of mountains and plains, and two charismatic actors seem to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. Christopher Plummer does a great turn as a serious and slightly perplexed Kipling.
Comedy has many forms. From the smile of delight to the side-splitting wrench, all get inside you. Each of the movies chosen by this year’s critics will grab you in a different place.
The Seven Year Itch
1955 • NR • 105 mins.
Director: Billy Wilder
Wilder takes us on a flirtatious romp laced with parody in this quintessential ’50s comedy. Stuck in steamy Manhattan after sending his wife (Evelyn Keyes) and son to cooler Maine, Tom Ewell brings his Broadway character to the screen as a summer bachelor caught between temptation and fidelity. In a daydream, Ewell sees himself as irresistible to women, including his wife’s best friend, who he locks in a frothy ocean embrace a la From Here to Eternity. His steady monologue and wild imagination reveal his desires, conscience and fears as he vows to remain faithful only to have voluptuous model Marilyn Monroe move in upstairs. Predicaments abound as Monroe innocently nips at the bewildered Ewell’s heels. Monroe is at her breathless best, gleefully enjoying the passing of a subway train as she stands above the grate, leading to the iconic moment when her white dress blows up around her waist. Light-hearted fun with a nostalgic air: a true Monroe classic.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty
1970 • PG • 116 mins.
Director: Robert Altman
Robert Altman had a prolific career as a writer, producer and most famously as a director, spanning well over a half-century. He died last year at the age of 81.
His masterwork of humor contrasted with the horrors of a distant war. It takes place in Korea in the ’50s, but the film is unmistakably about Vietnam. A military medical unit (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, MASH for short) compensates for the carnage of battle with hilarious pranks and nimble comic banter.
Whether this is your first or your fifth viewing, you’ll be again mindful that our nation has survived difficult times before, and we will again. Altman’s humor buffers us against the pain and suffering of combat and allows us to recover our humanity through laughter. We could use more of his touch right now.
1983 • PG • 96 mins.
Director: Mel Damski
The late actor Peter Boyle, who died in December, surely would rank the crazy comedic pirate spoof Yellowbeard as one of the most fun films he ever made, if only because of its great cast of fellow-comedians. Boyle stars as pirate Moon, along with the late Graham Chapman (as Yellowbeard), Madeline Kahn, John Cleese, Peter Cook, James Mason, Eric Idle, Cheech and Chong and other funny people in this wild film of high-seas adventure.
Yellowbeard is allowed to escape from prison because the queen’s men hope he’ll lead them to his buried treasure. Hook-bearing Moon, bent on revenge against his former pirate boss, and his less-than-loyal sidekick played by the marvelous Marty Feldman, who died during filming jump into the hilarious fray. Yellowbeard’s ‘wife’ brilliantly played by Kahn is also drawn to pursue the treasure, along with El Nebuloso and other unsavories. This sadly underrated classic is sure to please all who appreciate comedy in the style of Monty Python and Mel Brooks.
Out of Rosenheim (Bagdad Café)
1987 • PG • 92 mins.
Director: Percy Adlon
This quirky comedy begins with an argument and ends with magic. German tourist Jasmin (Marianne Sägebrecht) argues with her husband and takes off alone across the Mohave desert. At a run-down restaurant and motel, The Bagdad Café, Jasmin’s arrival eventually transforms each of the lost souls living there, including a crusty Hollywood set painter in snakeskin boots (Jack Palance, who died last year). Hopeful and sweet, Out of Rosenheim received an Oscar nomination for best music and won the 1989 Cesar for Best Foreign Film.
These are the movies that make converts. Like religion, they inspire their faithful in ways that heathens cannot fathom.
Aguirre: Wrath of God (Aguire, der Sorn Gottes)
Historical drama • 1972 • R • 100 mins.
German with English subtitles
Director: Werner Herzog
The setting is the Amazon River of South America in the 16th century, and Francisco Pizarro has already laid waste to the Inca civilization. Don Lopes de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) leads a group of Spanish adventurers down the River in search of riches and the fabled golden city of El Dorado. Werner Herzog is one of the most distinctive directors of our time; his Aguirre is on most 10-Best lists of foreign films. While you watch this movie, keep in mind that it was filmed on location under incredibly primitive conditions with a crew totaling eight people. Klaus Kinski, an actor linked with Herzog throughout much of his career, gives a performance as intense as you’ll ever witness. View it a second time with the director’s commentary for an especially enriching experience. You’ll never again think of film making in quite the same way.
National Lampoon’s Animal House
Comedy • 1978 • R • 109 mins.
Director: John Landis
For everyone who cries at the sight of spilt beer and shouts Toga! when the going gets rough. For everyone who thinks seven years as an undergraduate is not near enough. For anyone who has pondered the question, Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Such sorts will be happily transported by National Lampoon’s Animal House to pledge weeks, mid-term exams and homecoming parades.
When John Belushi graced the world, his role as a Faber College student with a 0.0 GPA was arguably his finest performance. Backed by a rambunctious crowd of Delta fraternity brothers, Belushi portrays college life at its raunchy best.
Animal House is the quintessential collegiate comedy. Even independents (no Greek affiliation) will enjoy the irresistible sounds of Sam Cooke, Percy Faith and the Isley Brothers, who shaped a generation of students not only at fictional Faber College, but throughout the nation.
Cannibal Women in the Avocado
Jungle of Death
Satire • 1989 • PG-13 • 90 mins.
Director: J.F. Lawton
Guys, you’ll love this movie for its star, Adrienne Barbeau (as Dr. Kurtz) and her comely cannibal sisters. Gals, you’ll love it for its plot. This campy 1989 film is a spoof on just about everything. G-men, led by Bill Maher as Jim, with help from Dr. Margo Hunt (played by Shannon Tweed), must tame the dangerous avocado jungle, located in southern California. Their assignment is to quell a group of ‘Amazonian’ women who are capturing and dining on men who enter their enclave.
Because of their ‘special’ diets, these wild but very shapely, scantily attired females have created a national security crisis by preventing harvest of the country’s critical avocado crop. The ensuing clash is a satirical commentary on sexism, government and other weighty issues. It may not be Academy Award material, but this film is so much fun that it’s become a cult classic.
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar
Comedy • 1995 • PG-13 • 109 mins.
Director: Beeban Kidron
Wong Foo is a fun, campy chick flick/ buddy movie with a twist: The female leads are played by three macho guys in drag. These queens are enthusiastically portrayed by Wesley Snipes as Noxeema Jackson, Patrick Swayze as Vida Boheme and John Leguizamo as Chi-Chi Rodriguez. It’s a kick to watch these familiar romantic leading men so obviously enjoying themselves as they apply lipstick and strut about in gorgeous gowns. The film’s title refers to the autograph on Julie Newmar’s photo that is lifted as a talisman from a restaurant wall as the three begin a cross-country road trip. When their car breaks down in a small Midwest town, the unlikely trio manages the ultimate glamour makeover on the town’s dowdy and depressed populace. It’s all good fun with a little dramatic punch added in as Vida effectively and satisfyingly deals with one townie’s abusive husband.
To Wong Foo is a warm-hearted and compassionate film that delightfully succeeds in encouraging women to appreciate their inner girly-girl and men to embrace their feminine side.
Dramas give our emotions a workout, putting us in the shoes of characters whose pathways are very different from our own. For that difference we’re often fervently grateful, for the rules of drama are harsh. Through pity and fear, our emotions are washed and rung out. Maybe, we come out cleaner.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
1958 • NR • 108 mins.
Director: Richard Brooks
Sex appeal purrs from Elizabeth Taylor’s lips and spills from Paul Newman’s liquor glass in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Tennessee William’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
After the death of his best friend and former college football teammate, and amid rumors of his wife’s unfaithfulness, Brick, played by Newman, spirals into a liquor-fueled pity party. His wife, Maggie, tries to claw her way back into the loving arms of her husband, denying infidelity and begging Brick to question his dead best friend’s loyalty. The duo travel to Brick’s family estate, a lavish antebellum home in Mississippi, to celebrate the birthday of patriarch Big Daddy. Big Daddy, played by Burl Ives, is also dying of cancer, a fact that causes father and son to examine their lives of opulence and materialism substituting for love. Maggie’s balancing like a cat on a hot tin roof, but will she land on her feet?
Bound for Glory
1976 • R • 147 mins.
Director: Hal Ashby
Unlike recent film biographies of musicians, such as Ray and Walk the Line, this portrayal of Woody Guthrie’s rise to fame among the disenfranchised only tackles a brief, albeit eventful, period in the singer’s life. In this difference the movie excels, as it does not hasten to capture all the misfortune and drama in Guthrie’s life. Instead, the tale begins with Woody already a father and husband, painting signs to get by in a small Texas town in 1937. To learn all about Guthrie’s life his Oklahoma childhood, his mother’s instititonalization, his two later marriages, his ill health pick up a book.
David Carradine is fine as Guthrie, often bringing off a loafing good humor in balance with the rambler’s irresponsible home life and yearning to aid the broken spirits of the California labor class. Ronny Cox adds a stellar supporting role as Ozark Bule, the band leader and union organizer who discovers Woody’s talent. A montage of traveling clips toward the end of the film highlights many of the songwriter’s great tunes. The movie borrows the title of Guthrie’s semi-autobiographical novel.
1993 • R • 124 mins.
Director: Peter Weir
A man (played by Jeff Bridges) is in an airplane crash. Through luck and an act of kindness (he changes seats to comfort a young boy), he walks away without a scratch. His wife, others from the airline, a psychiatrist, a lawyer all expect him to get back to normal. But he doesn’t. He has faced death, and his life isn’t the same. In this drifting state, he befriends a fellow passenger whose baby died in the crash (Rosie Perez, who won a best supporting actress Academy Award for this role). No one else understands either character; they understand only each other.
1996 • R • 117 mins.
Director: Michael Hoffman
A brilliant, beautiful and breath-taking epic about Robert Merivel (Robert Downey Jr.), an aspiring doctor who is suddenly elevated to the Court of Charles II and succumbs to the temptations that abound there. When Merivel falls in love with the king’s mistress (Merivel’s wife in name only) he is banished to work at an insane asylum. There, the doctor finds logic in the madness of an inmate, Katherine (Meg Ryan). Merivel is inspired, Katherine is cured and they go off together. Almost three movies in one, the story continues as Merivel battles the plague, finds new strength and reclaims his home.
If all movies could fit into categories, we’d be bereft of the unimagined treats and surprises they can bring us.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin
TV Series • 1975 • NR • 20 episodes @ 60 mins.
Creator: Jeffrey Rice
Darren McGavin died last year at 83, after a long and productive career as actor, writer and producer, mostly for television. One of his most enduring legacies was an odd, entertaining and original take on the supernatural.
Twenty-three years before The X Files there was Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin.
Racing about the country as a reporter, McGavin, as Carl Kolchak, pursued vampires, zombies, werewolves, aliens and assorted supernatural entities.
The series did not run long, only 20 episodes, but it had a devoted following and became a cult favorite. McGavin was later given cameo roles in two prominent X Files episodes in acknowledgement of the original inspiration. Lay in a lot of popcorn for this series; you won’t be able to walk away.
Swimming To Cambodia
Monologue • 1987 • R • 85 mins.
Director: Jonathan Demme
This 87-minute monologue promises to be as entertaining as watching paint dry. But Spalding Gray, the film’s sole performer, proves to be a captivating storyteller. Gray sits behind a desk, recounting his exploits and encounters in Southeast Asia while playing a small role in the 1984 film, The Killing Fields. Gray’s only props are a microphone, a glass of water, a pull-down map and a diagram of the bombing of Cambodia.
The film can be uncomfortable and at times troubling as Gray peels back the layers of misinformation and misconception surrounding our country’s presence in Southeast Asia. His recollections of rampant prostitution and illegal drug use are unabashed and unrepentant.
Spalding Gray’s body was found in New York’s East River in March, 2004. He was deeply depressed, and suicide is assumed.
Children of Heaven (Bacheha-Ye aseman)
Inspirational drama • 1999 • PG • 88 mins.
Farsi w/English subtitles
Director: Majid Majidi
This heartwarming look at Iranian life and the determination of youth became an international hit, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film and winning the Grand Prix du Americas at the 1997 Montreal Film Festival. Young Ali picks up his little sister Zahra’s shoes from the cobbler, then at the market loses them to a thief. So begins the children’s plot to keep the loss a secret from their parents, who cannot afford another pair. Ali’s love for his sister and his respect for his family drive this beautifully moving film, as the two sibling’s share one pair of shoes, exchanging them in an alleyway between her morning classes and his afternoon ones. A possible solution appears when Ali signs up for a road race where third prize is a pair of sneakers. Majidi gives us a powerful and emotional glimpse into lives made heroic by love.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty
Dancing at the Blue Iguana
Improvisation • 2001 • R • 123 mins.
Director: Michael Radford
A slice of strip club life, Dancing at the Blue Iguana is a remarkably original movie. Widely recognized for his more conventional films, among them Il Postino and 1984, Radford selected the cast from 150 who auditioned primarily on their capability for improvisation. Given only the movie’s title and setting, they spent weeks in L.A. strip joints, then improvised script and scenes based on what they found.
Like reality, the result is beautiful and ugly, never neatly wrapped. Strippers, some young and voluptuous, some not so, clutch handfuls of crumpled dollar bills to their breasts as they return to the dressing room. A widowed cryptographer, a regular at the club, augments his failing eyesight with opera glasses. A cold-blooded assassin falls in love. Everywhere, men and women use each other. Some reach for intimacy and fulfillment, usually finding something less.
Expect wonderful performances from the entire cast, particularly Sandra Oh and Daryl Hannah, who also directed the excellent how-we-made-it documentary included on the DVD.
Mystery ~ Suspense
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 can so startle you that you bump your head on the ceiling of your burrow.
Death Takes a Holiday
1934 • NR • 79 mins.
Director: Mitchell Leisen
When the Grim Reaper (Fredric March) decides to experience mortal life, he takes a vacation from escorting the dead and invites himself into the gorgeous Italian villa of Duke Lambert (Guy Standing). The Duke, whom the Grim Reaper threatens with death if he does not comply, accepts the uncomfortable responsibility of playing host. But to stay alive, the Duke must meet two demands: The other guests cannot know the Grim Reaper’s true identity (he poses as the mysterious Prince Sirki), and the Duke must show the Grim Reaper a good time. A threatening but curious persona, the Grim Reaper engages in uncomfortable, probing chats with the other guests. He gives almost everyone the creeps, except the beautiful Grazia (Evelyn Venable) with whom he falls in love.
1954 • PG • 112 mins.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock turns us all into voyeurs in this masterful thriller. Jimmy Stewart plays L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jeffries, a photojournalist whose daring exploits land him in a wheelchair with a hip-to-toe leg cast. Desperately bored after six weeks confinement, Jeffries turns to watching his Manhattan neighbors across the alley as soaring heat opens up their apartment windows and their lives. In turn, we watch Jeffries and his fashion model girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (played by Grace Kelly), as they argue over their differences, only to be united in their determination to sleuth out a killer.
Hitchcock’s comic touch adds to the suspense, leading us until the final pulse-raising moments when all is revealed.
Dotty Holcomb Doherty
1981 • R • 113 mins.
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
As nearly perfect as any Hollywood murder mystery has ever been, this movie will enthrall you. Kathleen Turner turned in a red-hot performance that made her a major star overnight. William Hurt was at his peak. It has plot turns that continually surprise you, and a tight, flawless screenplay.
“It’s a hot summer. Ned Racine (William Hurt) is waiting for something special to happen. And when it does … He won’t be ready for the consequences.” That’s the tagline for Body Heat, and you won’t be ready for what happens either.
1992 • R • 118 mins.
Director: Michael Apted
The term atmospheric mystery usually connotes darkness, mist and lonely streets. In Thunderheart the atmosphere is established by bright sunlight, vistas of the Dakota Badlands and rusting cars and dirt roads of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. FBI agent Ray Levoi (played by Val Kilmer), who is part Sioux, is sent to the reservation to investigate a murder. A sense of corruption pervades the movie. But who is corrupt? The United States government? The FBI? What about the tribal government, which wants to put down the “traditionals” who are causing trouble?
The crew-cut Kilmer gets only distrust from an Indian policeman (Graham Greene), a Lakota school teacher (Sheila Tousey) and a Lakota shaman (Marvin Thin Elk). As his character comes alive to the land, the Lakota culture, the plight of the people and his Indian heritage, he begins receiving that trust and gets closer to the complex truth.
Not Just for Kids
These films feature young people, but as stories of becoming they’re full of appeal for all ages.
Drama • 1937 • G • 115 mins.
Director: Victor Fleming
A spoiled, arrogant young boy has fallen into the sea from his father’s yacht. The hard-boiled crew on an outbound, commercial fishing boat rescues him, but they refuse to believe his story and insist he work out his tenure.
Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of the gruff Portuguese fisherman, Manuel, who takes the kid under his wing and teaches him the rewards of hard work, good character and life at sea.
An exceptionally well-done film with an accurate portrayal of a fisherman’s life under sail and the blossoming of a young man’s under adversity. See this one with your whole family; it will enchant everyone.
Animated Disney adventure • 1973 • NR • 83 mins.
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
The classic story of robbing the rich to feed the poor goes animated in this 1973 retelling. The characters in this punchy tale are animals: a smooth fox plays Robin Hood, and Little John is a big bear.
Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men plot ways to get the poor villagers back their money, which has been pried away for taxes by the deceitful Sheriff of Nottingham and egocentric King Richard. A rooster minstrel narrates the story, which includes disguise, scheming, a colorful archery competition and romance between Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
Nominated for an Oscar, this over 30-year-old movie taught justice and humor to two generations. Now re-released in the Disney Gold Classic Version, in DVD format, it will give a third generation fun in the forest.
Clash of the Titans
Mythic adventure • 1981 • PG • 118 mins.
Director: Desmond Davis
An epic story of gods, goddesses and monsters, The Clash of the Titans thrills with the stunning clay animation of Ray Harryhausen. The majestic and sometimes petty whims of Lawrence Olivier (Zeus), Claire Bloom (Hera), Maggie Smith (Thetis) are realized as a semi-mortal hero, Perseus, rides the flying horse, Pegasus, to battle Medusa and the Kraken. This one will transport your back to a time when horses flew, when magic was doled out with vengeance and when the hero had to answer riddles before he could save the princess.
Animated fantasy adventure • 2002 • PG • 125 mins.
Director, chief animator and writer: Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki’s animated fantasies, all now available in excellent English-language versions via the Disney organization, have won worldwide acclaim and no small financial success. Spirited Away is the highest grossing picture ever made by Japan’s film industry and may be Miyazaki’s masterpiece.
Chihiro, the film’s protagonist, finds herself in a parallel universe inhabited by spirits of shape and substance bounded only by Miyazki’s nearly boundless imagination. They range from tiny creatures created from soot (their job is stoking the furnace at the bath house) to the stink spirit, a grotesque blob of smelly slime who demands a bath. The genesis of this creature, a rusting bicycle embedded in his innards, was Miyazaki’s participation in a river cleanup.
The model for Chihiro was the nine-year-old daughter of one of Miyazaki’s friends, and children in that age range will be entranced by Chihiro’s adventures and growth as she learns to tap strength within herself. Adults may find the film so rich with symbolism that it’s exhausting to make conscious note of it all, so it’s probably better to simply let his stunning images flow into your subconscious. There they will, have no doubt, work magic.
Sci-Fi ~ Fantasy
Of course movies are all about make-believe, but it’s the special job of fantasy and science fiction to work out what if, stretching realms of imagination beyond dimensions yet discovered.
1988 • PG • 104 mins.
Director: Penny Marshall
Being a kid is awkward, dull and subservient. So when Zarco, a mechanical carnival wizard, offers wish fulfillment, 12-year-old Josh Baskin asks to be big. That’s when Tom Hanks steps in. The then-32-year-old Hanks, looking freshly 22, puts a 12-year-old mind into his plastic body, mining every move and gesture for comedy. Funniest of all is his visit to the toy store FAO Schwarz; his death throes by alien robot gun fire and dancing Chopsticks duet are physical-comedy classics Charlie Chaplin would have envied. Equally charming is his depiction of what every kid would do if only he could. Backing the comedy is insightful characterization. The 12-year-old Josh (young David Moscow) and best friend (Jared Rushton) are real boys; and Hanks matures his character skillfully and soulfully, as he unwittingly wins a girlfriend (the animated Elizabeth Perkins) and gets caught on the fast track of the toy business. All together, Big’s a wonderful extension of real life into the dimension of fantasy.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Donnie Darko: The Directors Cut
1991 • R • 133 mins.
Director: Richard Kelly
This is a clever, quirky film with a mind-bending plot. Its audience has steadily grown over the years until seeing it has become a virtual rite of passage among new film fanatics.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a teenager plagued by sleep-walking episodes. His nocturnal wanderings cause him to avoid death when a jet airplane engine inexplicably crashes through the roof of his house.
Alternative time-travel possibilities and a phantom in a bunny suit keep you guessing the outcome of this eccentric storyline until the last few moments. The options are many, but there is only one answer or is there?
Don’t miss this movie if you like a well-done puzzle wrapped in an excellent mystery.
Army of Darkness
1992 • R • 81 mins.
Director: Sam Raimi
Dark, foreboding and hilarious: All these words apply equally to this time-warped celebration of paranormal demons and skeletal armies of the night.
B-movie icon Bruce Campbell is Ash, the bumbling anti-hero. Trapped in a supernatural vortex, he is sent back to 900ad, more or less. Armed only with a chainsaw, his shotgun and an Oldsmobile convertible, he struggles to assist a feudal society in battling the dark forces that assail them. He also has to find his way back to the 20th century.
1996 • PG-13 • 106 mins.
Director: Tim Burton
As president of the United States, Jack Nicholson welcomes the first Martians to earth. Ack, Ack, Ack, reply the Martians, blasting everyone in sight.
Mars Attacks is pure science fiction satire: ludicrous, ironic and funny. Wait, Stop. We come in peace, the Martians repeat as they annihilate the planet, stopping now and then to pose for snapshots. Only the quick insight of an unlikely hero may save the day, teaching us to always visit our grandparents, for we never know what we’ll learn.