Thursday Night Movie Club
Titles K through M

- thursday, 10/16/03
quentin tarantino's "kill bill: vol. 1" (uma thurman, david carradine, lucy liu, daryl hannah, vivica a. fox, michael madsen, michael parks, and sonny chiba).  interesting, hard to describe type of flick.  certainly violent and cartoonish, full of oddball stylistic quirks, and very episodic; in fact, it was presented in "chapters".  very interesting and multi-genre music all through, in typical tarantino fashion.  many beautiful and compelling images, especially a snowy japanese garden.  you don't get any character development or anything, but definitely a lot of good quality violence, can't complain about that!  basically, an assassin is attacked (presumably for trying to retire) at her wedding, and left for dead.  after four years in a coma, she is back for revenge against her former colleagues.  and she is good at it!  by the by, as in "pulp fiction", QT seems to have a fetishistic attachment to uma's feet.  maybe that says more about me for noticing it, than it does about him!

- thursday, 4/22/04
quentin tarantino's "kill bill: vol. 2"  (uma thurman, david carradine, michael madsen, daryl hannah, michael parks, bo svenson, larry bishop).  man, what a disappointment!  KBv1 was so good, I expected this installment to be at least as good.  but no.  it was very, very talky, and not in a good way!  tarantino is known for great, funny, sideways, infuriating dialogue, but the chatter in this flick was tedious, clichéd, and bland.  there were a few flashes of brilliance (like the homages to martial arts clichés in the mountain training sequence), but mostly it was just tedious, talky, self indulgence. even the violence was meager, and of a nature to make you say "WTF?"  I worry that QT has reached an exalted hollywood position where there is nobody left to take him aside and say "Quentin... this really sucks man, you have to fix it!"  the plot finished off the story of "the bride" wreaking vengeance on those who sought to kill her on her wedding day.  ho hum.  QT, I'll look forward to a more interesting story next time.

- friday, 7/23/04
antoine fuqua's "king arthur" (clive owen, keira knightley, and stellan skarsgard).  a pretty much worthless waste of time.  character names from the king arthur legend are hijacked for use in a totally unrelated tale of roman mercenaries fighting saxons in fifth-century england.  muddily-directed fight scenes, boring and stilted dialog, and incomprehensible relationships combine for a total snoozer.

- friday, 12/23/05
peter jackson's "king kong" (naomi watts, jack black, adrien brody, and andy serkis).  this movie was worth the wait and worth all the hype.  funny, exciting, full of in-jokes, a total roller-coaster ride.  peter jackson definitely knows how to shoot, pace, and edit an action flick!  the dinosaur scenes put "jurassic park" to shame.  the three main leads were just perfect for their roles.  it's three hours long, which I'm sure some folks wouldn't like, but I thought the time flew by.  oh, the plot, in case you don't know: a movie producer and his crew go to an isolated island in search of great location shots, and find a giant twenty-five foot gorilla, which they bring back to new york to exhibit.  all sorts of mayhem ensue.

- thursday, 5/12/05
ridley scott's "kingdom of heaven" (orlando bloom, david thewlis, liam neeson, marton csokas, alexander "dr. bashir" siddig, brendan gleeson, jeremy irons, and edward norton).  not bad, but not that great either.  just your basic "swords and sandals" kind of flick.  girl-man orlando wasn't quite as effeminate as usual, and there was plenty of neat violence and computer-generated blood splattering as christians and muslims fight it out over custody of the holy land.  it was great to see star trek's dr. bashir again, and of course brendan gleeson was excellent as always.  but still, nothing new or exciting.  maybe it's just me, but I couldn't help but compare just about every scene in this flick to a corresponding scene in "the two towers" and especially the siege of helm's deep.

- thursday, 10/27/05
shane black's "kiss kiss, bang bang" (robert downey jr., val kilmer, michelle monoghan, corbin bernsen, and larry miller).  this was sort of a parody of raymond chandler, dashiel hammet type movies, but with a post-modern twist.  they ironic voice over by robert downy jr. was mostly annoying, but did add to the air of surrealism.  the film definitely earned it's R rating with plenty of swearing, violence, and naked ladies.  nothing to complain about in that department!  the plot, sort of a convoluted murder mystery, was interesting, and the characters were good and the acting was fine.  exciting in spots, funny in other spots.  if you don't mind a sort or twisted noir with some annoying affectations, you might like it.

- thursday, 5/24/01
brian helgeland's "a knight's tale" (heath ledger, rufus sewell, mark addy, paul bettany, alan tudyk, other nobodys).  interesting genre-blending flick, which combines rocky-style competition, monty-python and three-stooges style humor, and medievel settings to take you on a fun, if illogical, ride.  basically, a squire of a dead knight decides to take matters in his own hands and compete in jousting competitions, even though he is ineligable due to his low birth.  heath ledger perfects the art of looking totally stupid but pulling it off. his sidekicks make the movie with their totally believable and lovable antics.  and the soundtrack by Queen, BTO, David Bowie, etc., puts the "classic" into "classic rock".  good, rolicking, stupid fun.  and don't you DARE leave before the end credits are finished, or you miss one of the best scenes.

- thursday, 6/23/05
stephen chow's "kung fu hustle" (aka, "gong fu") (stephen chow, wah yuen, qiu yuen, siu lung leung, etc., etc.).  this was a very strange type of film that is tough to categorize.  it was made in china, by chinese filmmakers, and for a chinese audience.  so the western viewer necessarily sees something skewed.  personally, I found it to be about two thirds action and one third comedy, with a touch of personality and pathos thrown in that I might have imagined, or on the other hand, maybe I only saw a smidgen of what was intended!  who knows.  but overall, I enjoyed it, mostly for the creative and joyful violence.  at the end of the day, it was infinitely better than that execrable "crouching tiger" bullshit we got a few years ago that tried to be oh so mystical, but ended up being little more than pretentious crap!  oh yeah, the plot: organized crime gangsters in (1950s?) shanghai try to wipe out a poor ghetto neighborhood, unaware that it harbors some retired kung-fu grand masters, and their uber-powerful offspring. uh-oh!

- thursday, 9/25/97
"LA Confidential" (kevin spacey, russell crowe, guy pearce, james cromwell, danny devito, kim basinger, david strathairn).  great film-noir type of mystery set in post-war LA; great acting, fascinating plot, high body count.  reminded me of "the big sleep". (trivia: the phoney-name of the geeky cop's dad's killer was "rollo toMAHsee" (spelling unknown))

- thursday, 10/21/04
jay russell's "ladder 49" (joaquin phoenix, john travolta, jacinda barrett, robert patrick, balthazar getty, billy burke).  although the material is nothing you haven't seen a dozen times before, this is a surprisingly gripping and very well made and entertaining little flick.  basically a slice of life depicting the personal and professional lives of baltimore firefighters, seen through the eyes of a young rookie as he matures into a seasoned veteran, all the while trying to balance the dangers of the job with his need to provide security for his family.  but I am quite curious how the filmmakers kept the studio honchos from tacking on the predictable hollywood ending, though.

- saturday, 12/5/98
orson welles' "the lady from shanghai" (orson, rita hayworth, everett sloane, glenn anders).  not up to the usual welles famous directorial genius, but a decent basic mystery/thriller in sort of a hitchcock mold.

- thursday, 7/27/06
m. night shyamalan's "lady in the water" (paul giamatti, bryce dallas howard, Jeffrey wright, bob balaban, and m. night himself).  a very strange movie.  the kind that one hesitates to recommend, without some explanation. I loved it, but will YOU? not necessarily.  if you liked previous shyamalan flicks, and appreciate his slow, careful, twilight-zoney plots, you might.  basically, paul giamatti plays a sad-sack super of a cheap apartment complex in suburban philly, who suddenly finds himself taking care of an unnatural chick from another dimension. she makes him feel very alive, and he wants to help her. but, she is in danger from creatures from her universe, and he must help her, despite the peril.  all the diverse characters and details that mean nothing in the first half finally come together for the feel-good ending. the movie critic character played by bob balaban is a nice touch, but will probably ensure that the movie gets very few good reviews!

- thursday, 6/30/05
george a. romero's "land of the dead" (simon baker, john leguizamo, dennis hopper, asia argento, robert joy, pedro miguel arce).  george romero pretty much invented the zombie movie back in 1968, and has had to put up with innumerable poseurs ripping him off ever since.  he finally roars back with the latest word on the topic.  in this flick, living humans have come to terms with a world pretty much overrun with zombies, and have learned how to scratch out a meager but decent living in this new landscape.  but now... the zombies have learned a new trick: they are starting to THINK!  oh no!!  you can see this movie, like all romero's zombie movies, as an allegory about the class struggles between the haves and have nots (as in having a pulse or not!), or you can just enjoy the joyful gore.  I did the latter.  leguizamo shone as the self-serving anti-hero.  hopper was creepy and wonderful as per usual.

- thursday, 6/21/01
simon west's "lara croft: tomb raider" (angelina jolie, jon voight).  this is a particularly soulless action flick with practically no characters, feelings, humor, or interest, just high-tech special effects.  it's like one of those videos they use in high-end stereo stores to show off the resolution of their HDTV sets.  the story, such as it is, involves a zillionaire heiress seeking trinkets around the globe to prevent a secret society from taking over the world.  an excellent example of how, if you don't care about the characters or their problems, the movie isn't worth much.  however, credit where it's due: angelina has about the poutiest lips ever filmed, bordering on obscene!

- thursday, 7/31/03
jan de bont's "lara croft tomb raider: the cradle of life" (angelina jolie, gerard butler, ciaran hinds, chris barrie, noah taylor).  marginally better than the first installment, but that ain't saying much.  lara and an evil weapons merchant chase after each other for possession of "pandora's box" which has the power to destroy all of humanity.  we get a series of fight scenes, chase scenes, and stunts in various world-wide locations (santorini, shanghai, hong kong, africa), all executed without a trace of fun, humor, believability, or excitement.  it was like watching someone else play a video game.  but I did kind of like the "shadow guardians" or whatever they were called, near the end.

- saturday, 10/26/02
rented bernardo bertolucci's new director's cut of his 1987 "the last emperor" (john lone, joan chen, peter o'toole, victor wong, dennis dun, ric young).   I saw this in the theater when it came out, and thought it was fairly interesting.  but not understanding the politics or history, I felt that most of the subtleties eluded me.  then this summer, I spent two weeks in china, and learned quite a bit about the back story.  so I figured I'd rent the flick and see if it meant more to me.  unfortunately, the director's cut crams in an additional hour (!) of stultifyingly dull material to an already dangerously tedious story!  three and a half hours of very, very boring stuff.  skip it, and watch "big trouble in little china" instead, with several of the same actors and actual action!

- wednesday, 11/27/96
walter hill's "last man standing" (bruce willis, bruce dern, christopher walken, william sanderson).  lots of great violence and macho scowling by willis and walken, and great near-black-and-white photography and directing, but somehow a feeling of "so what" by the end of the flick.  still, it was fun to watch.  the feeling of emptiness was probably because the cinematography was so good, i expected a big payoff at the end.

- thursday, 1/18/96
"lawnmower man 2" (matt frewer, patrick bergen), pretty lame!  but its always good to see matt frewer, no matter how lame the vehicle.

- thursday, 8/14/03
stephen norrington's "the league of extraordinary gentlemen" (sean connery, naseeruddin shah, peta wilson, tony curran, stuart townsend, shane west, jason flemyng).  the best word for this movie is "preposterous", as in the premise, the plot, and the leaps of faith you need to make to enjoy it.  a madman is out to precipitate world war in 1899, and a rag-tag band of late victorian-era fictional superheroes are assembled to stop him.  all the characters were interesting, but they really didn't belong together, and the preposterous concepts just added up to total lack of suspension of disbelief (like, an immensely huge submarine cruising down the canals of venice).  I did rather like some of the visuals, though, like the submarine itself, the CGI hulk-esque mr. hyde, the invisible man, the african landscapes, and of course the gunfights and the explosions.  and the guy who played captain nemo was a hoot.  hmmm, maybe I liked it after all?  nahhh, just giving credit where it's due to some of the minor details.

- saturday, 3/22/97
cable move at home alone - mike figgis' "leaving las vegas" (nicholas cage, elizabeth shue) - atmospheric slice of life with little plot; good characterizations and feelings of the hopelessness of life, great music (except that it was by sting).  less humor than i expected.

- thursday, 10/26/00
jackie chan's "the legend of drunken master" (directed by chia-liang liu and jackie chan, starring jackie and a bunch of people you've never heard of).  i'm really surprised this movie hasn't garnered scores of protests from the anti-drinking busybodies!  it's about a humble chinese boy who stumbles upon a plot to steal cultural antiquities and sell them to foreigners.  chan and his buddies leap into action with his patented brand of acrobatic martial arts.  the twist this time is that he gets really good at it when he's had a few belts of booze and starts doing "drunken boxing".  i can sympathize with him!  having never seen a jackie chan movie before, i wasn't really sure what to expect.  basically, the plot is about on a level with your standard saturday morning cartoons, but the action sequences are amazing and will leave you gasping; sort of a cross between bruce lee and the three stooges!  ("moe, larry, the gin!!")  also, the mother is hilarious as a lucy-ricardo-style schemer with great facial expressions.

- thursday, 11/10/05
martin campbell's "the legend of zorro" (antonio banderas, catherine zeta-jones, rufus sewell, alberto reyes, adrian alonso, nick chinlund, and pedro armendariz jr.).  not nearly as good as the previous flick (the mask of zorro), but it was still fun.  good likeable characters, and good hateable bad guys, plus lots of fun, violent "zorroing" in the action scenes, make it worth the price of admission. yes, the story and plot are really silly and stupid, and the dialogue is quite cheesy. but, if you just want some mindless fun for two hours, I would recommend it. antonio banderas continues to be a good action star for the guys, and (I assume) decent eye-candy for the ladies.  oh, the plot?  well, zorro and his true love elena are split up by federal agents who need her to get cozy with a french immigrant spy who wants to blow up the tender young US of A.  like the plot matters!

- saturday, 10/18/97
john sayles' "lone star" (chris cooper, elizabeth pena, kris kristofferson, matthew mcconaughey, frances mcdormand) on cable tv.  slow moving but affecting western/mystery/self-discovery story. interesting blends between the flashbacks and the current-day scenes. slowly finding the truth was fun.

- thursday, 12/27/01
peter jackson's "the lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring" (elijah wood, ian holm, ian mckellen, viggo mortensen, sean astin, liv tyler, cate blanchett, john rhys-davies, orlando bloom, hugo weaving, sean bean).  anyone who knows me, knows that i'm the world's biggest star trek geek.  well, it's lesser known that i'm almost as big of a "lord of the rings" geek.  and dad-gummit, i loved this movie!  every single internal vision that i've had of the book for the last 25 years rang true in this cinematic adaptation.  i'm planning to see it again and again and again.  the look was perfect, the characters rang true, the pace was appropriately quick but properly loving and caring over the settings, and the effects were awesome.  the swooping "camera" movements (in quotes since i assume most of it was computer generated rather than camera generated) were perfect at suggesting the awesome scope of the epic story, and always moved the plot along at the proper speed (fast but not too fast).  the details of the plot were tweaked in minor ways, but how else can you convert an epic novel into a movie?  i'm amazed that they could pack so much story into a mere three hours, and further amazed that those three hours flew by in what felt like half the time.  i can't wait to see it again, or to see the next two installments.  and i hope that "the silmarillion" isn't too far behind!

- tuesday, 12/31/02
peter jackson's "the lord of the rings: the two towers" (most of the same blokes as last year).  almost everything that a tokien geek could want: violent action, beautiful scenery, great epic camera movements, and just the right amount of humor.  in a word, the movie is awesome.  be warned, though, it does deviate from the book more than the first movie did.  at first that bothered me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the changes do make for better cinema.  after all, a movie ISN'T a book.  the most interesting thing about this movie, though, is the fact that all three flicks were filmed at once, before the first one was even released.  so the actors and crew were never "making a sequel".  and that shows up on screen; there is none of that indefinable "sequelly" feeling that you usually get.  you literally feel like you are watching the next chunk of one long movie. however, even though there is no difference in "feel" from the first installment, there are several differences in syle:  this one is more action-oriented, and doesn't have the pastoral, bucolic charm that the opening scenes in the shire gave to "fellowship".  it also seemed less philosophical than the first; more plot driven and less idea driven.  but still every bit as good, if not better.  still has the exhilarating, swooping camera movements that I loved so much.  and gollum was incredible and amazing.  go see it!  I'm gonna see it again, over and over.  we promises, yess, preciousss!

- wednesday, 12/24/03
peter jackson's "the lord of the rings: the return of the king" (all the same blokes as before, plus john noble as denethor).  with only two viewings so far, I can't yet decide how I would rank this one among the three films.  but needless to say, it is a worthy capper to the series.  if the first film had the most "whimsy", and the second had the most relentless action, this one seemed to have a balance somewhere in between.  excellent effects, casting, dialogue, acting, pacing, editing, scenery, and imagery.  the only possible quibble is how much was left out; but at 200 minutes, how much more did they dare shoehorn in?  bottom line, this flick completely lived up to, and exceeded, expectations, and will be a classic forever.  I especially liked, in no particular order: the signal beacons, the army of the dead, the look of Minas Tirith, the palantir, Pippin's singing, Denethor's flaming leap (even though it violated the letter of the book), a second helping of "fool of a Took!", the battle on the Pelennor, the stairs of Cirith Ungol, the orc-suits of Frodo and Sam, the Smeagol back-story, the killing of the witch king, the mumakil, the contest between Legolas and Gimli, Frodo and Gollum's struggle at the brink, and the final line (that could NOT be changed!).  can't wait for the extended edition!

- sunday, 4/30/06
rented andrew niccol's "lord of war" (nicolas cage, bridget moynahan, jared leto, ian "bilbo" holm, ethan hawke).  the tale of an international weapons dealer, always one step ahead of Interpol.  this would make a great companion piece to "thank you for smoking" as both films focus on the dedication of the "hero" without making a judgment about what he is doing.  very sarcastic, sardonic, and tongue in cheek.  it is a perfect vehicle for nic cage, and his ability to represent an off-beat character that you come to love, even if you hate him at the same time.  slow moving and thoughtful rather than exciting and action-packed, in stark contrast to the marketing for the film.  I liked it a lot.

- friday, 3/14/97
david lynch's new flick, "lost highway" (bill pullman, patricia arquette (in two roles), balthazar getty, robert blake, robert loggia, gary busey, richard pryor, and of course the recently late jack nance).  less funny than recent lynch films, but just as bizzarre, thought provoking, and confusing.  lots of odd, haunting images, characters that you can almost connect with, and situations that are familiar yet very weird at the same time.... like a fresh elvis costello album, it's impossible to say if i liked it or not the first time out!
- saturday, 9/23/00; watched it a second time, showing on Bravo network.  the first time i saw this flick, in the theater, i judged it to be 99% incomprehensible. but now, i have upgraded it to merely 90% incomprehensible (a video tape and pause button help a lot!).  but i think it is starting to make sense to me.  quentin tarantino, god love him, likes to make looping and self-referential plots, but lynch makes ole QT look like an amateur!  and this movie makes "twin peaks" seem about as easy to understand as an episode of the brady bunch!  but i must say it was very enjoyable, in a twisting, confusing, maddening, grisly, and strangely hilarious sort of way.  bravo, DL!!

- thursday, 5/29/97
steven spielberg's "the lost world - jurassic park" (jeff goldblum, richard attenborough, pete postlethwaite) - a really boring and pointless sequel to "jurassic park".  dinosaur effects were so perfect they were boring.  there was no plot and no structure to the story, and I just plain didn't care about anything or anyone on the screen.  even the tension and suspense you expect was missing.  no "big concept" or theme to grasp, either. and the only two women in the film were both butt-ugly.

- thursday, 5/11/06
paul mcguigan's "lucky number slevin" (josh hartnett, bruce willis, lucy liu, morgan freeman, sir ben kingsley, and stanley tucci, with brief cameos by danny aiello and robert forster).  movies like this make me glad I'm not a professional movie reviewer, because I don't know if I would recommend it to most people or not. I enjoyed it a lot, but many people probably wouldn't get it. you have to see a lot of movies to understand most of the humor.  hartnett plays slevin, a man who is mistaken for the friend he is visiting, a friend who is in trouble with two different (and warring) mobsters. soon slevin is playing them off each other, like clint eastwood in "a fistful of dollars." bruce willis plays the hitman, lucy liu is the love interest, and everyone else is either a cop or a mobster. (or both?)  the tone is kind of strange, sort of a cross between a film noir and a screwball comedy. it sort of works. the plot is intricate but followable, and there is lots of blood which is never sugar-coated. the dialogue is cheesy, but meant to be, and very quotable.  if you like oddball films with quirky humor and graphic violence, this one is for you.

- saturday, 7/8/00
rented arne glimcher's "the mambo kings" (armand assante, antonio banderas, cathy moriarty, talisa soto, maruschka detmers, roscoe lee browne, desi arnaz, jr., tito puente); great story of relationship between an older and younger brother (i can relate), immigrants from cuba to america, artists searching for success, independence vs. the establishment, and family vs. the outside world.  armand and antonio are both awesome at portraying tortured yet passionate souls, and the music is great!  can be viewed as light entertainment or tortured need for success at all costs, both professional and personal.

- thursday, 8/12/04
jonathan demme's "the manchurian candidate" (denzel washington, meryl streep, liev schreiber, kimberly elise, jon voight, al franken, roger corman, zeljko ivanek, dean stockwell, sidney lumet, and a totally wasted ted levine, miguel ferrer, charles napier, and tracey walter).  very good movie; a taut thriller, full of paranoia and suspense and surprises, and very well cast and acted.  in fact, the cast is embarrassingly top-heavy, leaving numerous of my favorite actors underutilized.  even meryl streep was good, who usually annoys the shit out of me!  I've always been a big fan of the original frankenheimer/sinatra version, and this is a worthy successor, with enough changes from the original that it still keeps you guessing.  basically, a hero from the gulf war comes home to launch a political career, but is he really a hero?  or has his entire trajectory been engineered by conspiratorial forces beyond our comprehension?  only denzel's nightmares hold the key.

- saturday, 10/16/04
tony scott's "man on fire" (denzel washington, christopher walken, marc anthony, giancarlo giannini. dakota fanning, rachel ticotin, and mickey rourke).  a movie that starts off like a serious character study, then morphs into an ultra-violent revenge yarn with the good guy basically turning into an above-the-law bad guy.  denzel plays a bodyguard in Mexico city, haunted by demons from his past career in the military.  his charge, a cute little blonde crumb-cruncher, gets kidnapped and supposedly killed.  he goes on a rampage, and the bodies stack up like cordwood.  very stylishly directed in tony scott's usual MTV/hip-hop fashion, and very mean spirited.  not like that's a bad thing, of course!

- thursday, 11/15/01
the coen brothers' "the man who wasn't there" (billy bob thornton, frances macdormand, james gandolfini, jon polito, tony shalhoub, michael badalucco).  murder, blackmail, and adultery in small-town america in the late 1940s.  part homage to the film-noir classics of the forties, and part parody with occasional flashes of bitter black humor, all with the famous coen twist.  the best part was the absolutely gorgeous black and white photography.

- thursday, 12/19/96
tim burton's "mars attacks!" (jack nicholson (in two roles), glenn close, jim brown, annette benning, pam greer, tom jones, danny devito, michael j. fox, sarah jessica parker, martin short, rod stieger, paul winfield, jo don baker, pierce brosnan, many more) - a pretty stupid spoof with some good animated martians, lots of references to other flicks (independence day, dr. strangelove), and funny to talk about later in retrospect - but basically stupid to watch.

- thursday, 7/23/98
"the mask of zorro" (dir: martin "goldeneye" campbell; starring anthony hopkins, antonio banderas, catherine zeta jones, stuart wilson, matthew letscher, tony (seinfeld's "salmon rushdie") amendola, pedro armendáriz jr., and l.q. jones).  very fun and rousing swashbucker, with lots of revenge, honor, and hidden identities.  I was very impressed with antonio banderas, as I was when I saw bits of "desperado" on tv awhile ago.

- thursday, 11/20/03
peter weir's "master and commander: the far side of the world" (russell crowe, paul bettany, and billy boyd).  this reminded me a lot of an episode of the original "star trek":  you have the swaggering captain beloved by his crew, the hard-headed ship's doctor who is his best friend and antagonist at the same time, and the cat-and-mouse battles with enemy ships, all while traveling and exploring strange lands.  quite well done, and very entertaininig.

- friday, 8/4/06
rented richard shepard's "the matador" (pierce brosnan, greg kinnear, hope davis, and philip baker hall). good, thoughtful flick, about friendship and loneliness and how we trade what we have for what we need. pierce plays a hitman, who is good at his work, but lonely. kinnear plays a plain vanilla businessman, who is happy but lacks excitement in his life. together, they provide each other what they are lacking. several surprise twists and turns reveal an interesting story. the title comes from pierce's explanation of how a good hitman is like a good matador: he executes a swift kill, with no muss, no fuss, and minimal blood and pain. well worth a rental.

- thursday, 10/2/03
ridley scott's "matchstick men" (nic cage, sam rockwell, alison lohman, bruce altman, bruce mcgill).  an interesting combo platter of a con man flick with a personal growth flick.  nice thing about the combo:  in a typical con man movie, you are always watching out for the final, unexpected "gotcha" at the end.  but since this was also a personal growth movie, you didn't know if the final "gotcha" would be there or not.  so the ending was able to keep you guessing (mind you, I'm not saying if it was there or not!).  also, since it was very well written, directed, and acted, it was a treasure all around.  good stuff!

- thursday, 4/8/99
"the matrix" (directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski; with keanu reeves, laurence fishburne, carrie-anne moss, joe pantoliano); very original solipsistic s-f epic; great effects, high concepts, nice violence, and total unpredictability. i really liked the use of chicago street-corner names with australian scenes; gave it a totally other-worldly feel.

- thursday, 5/29/03
andy and larry wachowski's "matrix reloaded" (keanu reeves, laurence fishburne, carrie-anne moss, hugo weaving, jada pinkett smith, gloria foster, monica bellucci, and anthony zerbe).  I've only seen this movie once so far, and it clearly requires more than that. on one level, the action and special effects are great and worth the price of admission all by themselves. on another level, the solipsistic philosophy is interesting, twisting, and self referential in a godel/escher/bach sort of way, but I can't really decide if it's all too silly and superficial, or profound and worthy of deep pondering. I'll let you know after I take in another viewing. oh yeah, the plot: it involves the further adventures of neo, morpheus, trinity, et. al. and their rage against the machines that dominate all the surviving humans on planet earth with their cyber-simulated reality. stay tuned!

- thursday, 11/6/03
the wachowski brothers' "the matrix revolutions" (keanu reeves, carrie-anne moss, hugo weaving, mary alice, laurence fishburne, jada pinkett smith, monica bellucci, bruce spence, and anthony zerbe).  as a brainless action movie, with lots of special effects and explosions and violence, this movie works great.  as a final answer to all the existential solipsistic questions raised by the first two movies, it falls flat.  but I was actually glad to be rid of the philosophical baggage and just enjoy some good futuristic mayhem!

- thursday, 6/14/01
christopher nolan's "memento" (guy pearce, joe pantoliano, carrie-anne moss, stephen tobolowsky).  this is definitely a thinking man's movie.  a guy with no short-term memory is trying to solve his wife's murder.  but how does he remember the clues he uncovers?  by taking copious notes and photos, and tattooing the really important stuff onto his body.  in order for the audience to share in his feeling of never knowing what just happened in the recent past, the story is told in reverse; that is, short, five-minute or so chunks of normal time are told in backward order so you only know what IS going on, not what just DID go on a few minutes ago.  the gimmick works well and the movie is a lot of fun in an intellectual sort of way.  you can search for deeper meanings if you want to (i.e., don't we all just live in the present?) but it's fun if you do or not.  some good unexpected humor, too.

- wednesday, 7/3/02
barry sonnenfeld's "men in black II" (will smith, tommy lee jones, lara flynn boyle, rosario dawson, patrick warburton, david cross, tony shalhoub, rip torn).  nothing new or much different from the original version; more of the same good, stupid, fun.  sort of like a TV show with a huge special effects budget.  just be sure to check your brain at the door and be in the mood for something light and fluffy.

- thursday, 3/8/01
gore verbinski's "the mexican" (brad pitt, julia roberts, james gandolfini, bob balaban, j.k. simmons, gene hackman).  this is a really cute little movie.  actually, it's THREE cute little movies in one.  the first movie is brad pitt, as a tony-danza-esque stooge of a small-time crime boss, sent to mexico to retrieve an ancient pistol (the title "mexican") and everything goes wrong for him.  the second movie is julia roberts (who must have taken acting lessons lately, because she isn't nearly as annoying as she used to be) kidnapped by james gandolfini, because the crime boss thinks brad pitt is hijacking the pistol and wants leverage.  the third movie in the movie is the flashbacks to the ancient gunsmith who crafted the pistol in the first place, and the love story and curse that befoul it.  eventually, it all comes together like a seinfeld episode.  fortunately, brad pitt's scenes with julia roberts are minimal, so she can't drag him down too much.  overall assessment: fun stuff!!

- thursday, 8/26/99
kelly makin's "mickie blue eyes" (hugh grant, jimmy cann, jeanne tripplehorn, burt young, james fox, and joe viterelli); easy going, forgettable but pleasant fluff about mobsters and a guy who doesn't fit in, with some nice complex plot twists to keep it interesting.

- saturday, 1/31/98
clint eastwood's "midnight in the garden of good and evil" (john cusack, kevin spacey, allison eastwood, geoffrey lewis).  a quirky southern character study thinly veiled as a courtroom drama.  unfortunately, neither the drama nor the characters were in the least bit interesting, although denise (who spent 10 years in arkansas) thought the characters rang true and were hilarious.

- thursday, 2/10/05
clint eastwood's "million dollar baby" (clint, hilary swank, morgan freeman).  basically, an old crotchety boxing trainer reluctantly takes on an eager young chick who wants to learn to box, and takes her to the heights of the sport.  but, despite all the boxing, it isn't really a boxing movie.  it is about guilt, loss, regret, and fear.  especially clint's character's.  slow, languid direction, along with lots of sad-sack characters, add to the melancholy feel.  very well made, but not for everyone.  the ending is a total downer, but I won't discuss it here as it is kind of a twist.  I'll just say that they could have called the movie "any which way but ambulatory".  and it could have used clint's old orangutan to spice things up!

- thursday, 2/12/03
gavin o'connor's "miracle" (kurt russell, patricia clarkson, buncha young kids).  I'm not a sports guy by any means, but this was a great movie about the US olympic hockey team that beat the defending world champion russian team in 1980.  it wasn't so much about the team or even the sport as it was about the coach: a dedicated, almost monomaniacal man on a mission.  you aren't particularly inclined to like him, but you sure do respect him.  and watch him with riveted attention.  I always loved kurt russell, but I have even more respect for him now, playing such an atypical character that you barely even recognize him.  some of the clothing fashions were embarrassing, but the classic rock soundtrack was great!!

- thursday, 6/27/96
brian depalma's "mission: impossible" (tom cruise, jon voigt, emilio estevez, ving rhames, jean reno, vanessa redgrave, emanual beart), an OK thriller, marred by cruise's lack of acting abilities.  good clinical, "how-to" type directing by depalma, though, and nice supporting jobs by reno and rhames.

- thursday, 6/1/00
"mission: impossible - 2" (directed by john woo; with tom cruise, dougray scott, thandie newton, ving rhames, rade serbedzija, and anthony hopkins), slick and highly produced action mystery, marred only by the non-acting smugness of mr. cruise, who earned his starring role by virtue of being producer of the film.  when will hollywood finally wise up and stop casting this pinhead? probably when we start refusing to pay money to watch his mugging face.  oh well, except for him, it was pleasant enough mayhem, with bio-hazard apocalypse and high-tech spy gadgets and slo-mo stunts and the trademark john woo acrobatic gunfights.  also, it showed what a beautiful country australia is, and what a beautiful woman thandie newton is. (to read larry's more in-depth review, click here.)

- thursday, 3/16/00
"mission to mars" (gary sinise, don cheadle, jerry o'connell, tom robbins, connie nielsen); amazingly, this was directed by brian de palma!!  what was going through his mind?? he used to be an auteur.  oh well.  this flick is a poor man's "2001", with reheated space adventure and history-shaking discoveries and alleged behind-the-scenes at NASA type stuff.  overly manipulative and kinda boring, especially where a major character is forced to die in a heart-tugging way, but we really don't have any reason to care about him in the first place.  take a pass, and wait for de palma's next crime drama!

- thursday, 2/28/02
mark pellington's "the mothman prophecies" (richard gere, laura linney, will patton, debra messing, alan bates). i've been looking forward to this movie for quite awhile, since it is based on a series of actual events that i read of long ago (being a big fan of true-life unexplained phenomena).  and i was not disappointed.  the movie had the feel of a big-budget version of "the twilight zone" or "x-files"; lots of unexplained goings-on, which are still unexplained at the end of the story, but in a good way.  it was not particularly true to the few known real facts about the mothman experience, but it was stylishly directed and gripping to watch, and made you think pretty hard about the nature of what we can know and what we can't know.  i also liked how there were TWO characters based on john keel, they guy who wrote the original book on mothman: the richard gere character based on the young john keel investigating the events when they really took place, and alan bates (the "dr. leek" character) as the older, wiser, more cynical john keel of today.  if you doubt that the older character is really keel, just look at the spelling of their names!

- thursday, 10/25/01
david lynch's "mulholland drive" (justin theroux, naomi watts, laura harring, ann miller, robert forster, dan hedaya).  DL's version of monty python's "confuse a cat" - a non-linear whodunnit designed to make you stop thinking logically and just soak up the atmosphere, themes, and emotions.  and there are plenty of them! sleazy movie moguls, scary gangsters, an innocent ingénue, a mysterious buxom brunette, a rotting corpse, an eerie nightclub, a magic box, and some intense lesbian doesn't make a lot of sense, but that apparently is the whole point.

- thursday, 5/23/96
lee tamahori's "mulholland falls" (nick nolte, chaz palminteri, christopher penn, michael madsen, melanie griffith, jennifer connelly, john malkovich, treat williams, bruce dern, daniel baldwin, andrew mccarthy, william peterson, aaron neville, and i think louise fletcher), a fairly good modern noir cop flick centered on four tough guys in hats.  the four guys, all great on their own, were kinda wasted this densely packed, but still good.

- thursday, 5/13/99
stephen sommers' "the mummy" (brendan fraser, rachel weisz, bernard fox, and a buncha nobodies).  what a treat!  great action, humor, grisly deaths, egyptology, special effects, and a really good looking chick - something for everybody!  very indiana jones-ish, but brendan fraser is much goofier and more fun-loving.

- thursday, 5/17/01
stephen sommers' "the mummy returns" (brendan fraser, rachel weisz, john hannah, arnold vosloo, oded fehr, patricia velazquez, freddie boath). a family of adventurer/egyptologists battles mummies and armies of the undead to save humanity.  basically, this is a "summer movie" played just for fun, and very good at it.  lots of action, humor, and escapism, with great effects and rolicking fun.  just be sure to check your brain at the door, since it doesn't make much sense. but it is very well done for what it is, and even the damn kid didn't annoy me.  also, brendan fraser (don't call him "frasier") is excellent at playing the down-to-earth tough guy.  and another thing: the vast computer-generated army of dog-demons is MUCH more believable than any of the programmed armies in "the phantom menace" ever were!

- thursday, 9/13/01
peter hyams' "the musketeer" (tim roth, catherine deneuve, stephen rea, justin chambers, mena suvari).  this movie is a good old fashioned swashbuckler, complete with flashy costumes and sword fights, very good good guys and very bad bad guys, and great cheesy lines.  it's not going to win any awards, but it is fun to watch; errol flynn would be proud.  there also seemed to be lots of barrels around in almost every scene.  it was good to see stephen rea in a juicy role as a conniving cardinal richelieu (is this his first movie since "crying game"?).  tim roth, as usual, steals the show.  peter hyams, as usual, is his own cinematographer, which guarantees some very nice visuals.  the only negative was the very bland leading man, who could have shown a little more enthusiasm.  a brooding swashbuckler just doesn't cut it.

- thursday, 5/9/96
"mystery science theater 3000: the movie" - one of my all time favorite TV shows, done up for the big screen.  but it was not much different than any episode of the television version, certainly not any better.  in fact, the big screen format was kinda distracting!  on tv, this will probably not even be noticeable as a theatrical release.

- thursday, 10/23/03
clint eastwood's "mystic river" (sean penn, tim robbins, kevin bacon, laurence fishburne, marcia gay harden, laura linney, and eli "the ugly" wallach).  another one of those two-movies-in-one kind of things.  it was a pretty good whodunit type of mystery, plus a pretty good psychological melodrama, all at the same time.  basically, three childhood friends grow up and grow apart, then are thrown back together when one's daughter is murdered, and the investigation turns up all kinds of old scars and secrets.  nice surprise to see an uncredited "tuco" as a liquor store owner.  and I think tim robbins is turning into michael j. pollard!

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