Life Stinks (Comedy)

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A rich businessman makes a bet he can survive on the streets of a rough Los Angeles neighborhood for 30 days completely penniless. During his stay he discovers another side of life and falls in love with with a homeless woman.
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It may take more skill and intelligence to live without money than to make and spend a great deal of it, and that is the buried message of "Life Stinks," a warmhearted new comedy from Mel Brooks.It's easy to sit inside an air-conditioned car and feel scorn for some poor wretch who is trying to earn a quarter for wiping a rag across the windshield. But if we were out there on the streets without a home or money, what bright ideas would we come up with? Donald Trump can make millions selling condos to other millionaires, but could he make 10 bucks in a day if he had to start from scratch? The conventional wisdom in these situations is that the poor and homeless should get a grip on themselves, should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But if they have no boots, what then? Wasn't it Anatole France who said that the Law, in its magnificent equality, prohibits the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges and begging in the streets? What Brooks does with this idea is tell a fable of a rich urban developer who finds himself on the streets, in the ghetto, wondering where his next meal is coming from.Brooks plays the rich man himself. His name is Goddard Bolt, and he intends to buy a large, wretchedly poor area of Los Angeles, tear it down, and start over - at immense profit to himself. His archenemy in business is a predatory capitalist named Vance Crasswell (played by Jeffrey Tambor with oily superiority). They get in a bidding and bluffing war, and it finally all comes down to a bet: The Brooks character bets he can live for 30 days, by his wits, as a homeless bum - without ever stepping foot outside the area.This is a premise Brooks and his writers have borrowed from "Sullivan's Travels," the 1939 Preston Sturges classic in which Joel McCrea plays a Hollywood director who went on the road as a bum. But the streets are a little meaner in 1991 than they were in 1939, and the affluent are stingier. It is sometimes all Brooks can do to make his movie seem like a comedy, when the desperation of the homeless is so evident in every scene.But he pulls it off. He gets mileage out of his own efforts to emulate the panhandlers he sees - he wipes a windshield, he dances and hopes people will toss coins into his hat - and he makes some friends on the street, who steer him toward the nearest soup kitchen. And he meets some kindred spirits, like Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), who lives in an alley that she has furnished as her living room. The movie's best scene is one in which, together, they transform poverty into fantasy, in a dance inspired by the old MGM musicals."Life Stinks" is a new direction in Brooks' directing career. The typical note in most of his earlier work was cheerful vulgarity, as he went for the laugh, no matter what. He has made some of the funniest movies I've ever seen, including "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein." This is not one of them. It has its laughs, but it's a more thoughtful film, more softhearted toward its characters. It's warm and poignant.Brooks, as usual, is his own best asset. As an actor, he brings a certain heedless courage to his roles. His characters never seem to pause for thought; they're cocky, headstrong, confident. They charge ahead into the business at hand. There is a certain tension in "Life Stinks" between the bull-headed optimism of the Brooks character, and the hopeless reality of the streets, and that's what the movie is about.Download here

There's Something About Mary (Comedy,Romance)

Love is in the hair.
No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. Everybody else was on their own.
The most fun you can have on video.
There's Just Something About Her...
Warning: The guys who did 'Dumb & Dumber' and 'Kingpin' bring you a love story.
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Ted was a geek in high school, who was going to go to the prom with one of the most popular girls in school, Mary. The prom date never happened, because Ted had a very unusual accident. Thirteen years later he realizes he is still in love with Mary, so he hires a private investigator to track her down. That investigator discovers he too may be in love with Mary, so he gives Ted some false information to keep him away from her. But soon Ted finds himself back into Mary's life, as we watch one funny scene after another.
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What a blessed relief is laughter. It flies in the face of manners, values, political correctness and decorum. It exposes us for what we are, the only animal with a sense of humor. ``There's Something About Mary'' is an unalloyed exercise in bad taste, and contains five or six explosively funny sequences. OK, five explosive, one moderate.I love it when a movie takes control, sweeps away my doubts and objections, and compels me to laugh. I'm having a physical reaction, not an intellectual one. There's such freedom in laughing so loudly. I feel cleansed.``There's Something About Mary'' is the latest work by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, brothers whose earlier credits include ``Dumb & Dumber'' and ``Kingpin.'' Good taste is not their strong suit. ``Dumb & Dumber'' includes a scene where a blind boy realizes his parakeet's head is held on with Scotch tape. ``Kingpin'' includes a scene where a bowler's artificial hand gets stuck in the ball and rolls down the alley, flop flop flop.Now here is a movie about a woman who is beautiful, sunny, good and pure, and inspires a remarkable array of creeps to fall in love with her. There's ... just something about her. Mary is played by Cameron Diaz as a high school knockout who amazes the geeky Ted (Ben Stiller) by asking him to the prom, even though he has pounds of braces on his teeth. (``I have a thing about braces,'' she muses, long after.) Ted turns up proudly for the date, only to set off the first of the movie's uproariously funny sequences when he asks to use the toilet and then somehow catches in his zipper that part of the male anatomy one least wants to think about in connection with zippers. (``Is it the frank or the beans?'' asks Mary's solicitous stepfather.) In a lesser film, that would be that: The directors would expect us to laugh at his misfortune, and the plot would roll on. Not the Farrelly Brothers. When they get something going, they keep on building, daring themselves to top each outrage. I won't reveal how the scene develops, apart from noting the perfect timing involved with the unexpected closeup.Thirteen years pass. Ted is still in love with Mary. He hires a sleazy investigator named Healy (Matt Dillon) to track her down. Healy, wearing one of those mustaches that shout ``distrust me!,'' finds her in Miami, discovers she is an unbelievable babe who is still single and decides to grab her for himself. He tells Ted that she weighs 250 pounds, has four children by three fathers and has just shipped out for Japan as a mail-order bride.Healy's trick is to eavesdrop on Mary's conversations, so he'll know just what she wants to hear. Among the things most important to her is her retarded brother Warren (W. Earl Brown), who doesn't like to have his ears touched. Healy poses as the person of her dreams (an architect with a condo in Nepal, who loves to work with retarded people), but he raises the suspicions of another of her suitors, Tucker (Lee Evans), who is an architect who uses crutches. Maybe.Further plot description would be pointless. The plot exists, like all screwball plots, simply to steer us from one gag to the next. In the TV ads, you may already have seen the moment when the dog of Mary's deeply tanned neighbor needs to have its heart restarted. That's because the dog has been tranquilized. There also is a scene where the dog is on speed, and his human target does things with walls and furniture not seen since Donald O'Connor's ``Make 'Em Laugh'' sequence in ``Singin' in the Rain.'' Then there are the peculiar and intimate preparations Ted goes through in anticipation of his first date with Mary. I have paused here at the keyboard for many minutes, trying to decide how to describe them (a) in a family newspaper, and (b) without spoiling the fun. I cannot. I will simply observe in admiration that after the scene explodes in disbelieving, prolonged laughter, the Farrellys find a way to blindside us with a completely unanticipated consequence that sets us off all over again.Among the other characters in the movie are Chris Elliott, as Dom, a friend of Ted's, who has a nervous skin condition (``Do you know what it feels like to have a whitehead on your eyeball?''), and Magda (Lin Shaye), the neighbor, whose tan makes her look like she's been put through the same process that produces Slim Jims. Magda is funny in a bizarre over the top way, but Dom is more creepy than funny, or is it just that we're afraid we'll catch his skin rash? Stanley Kauffmann, the great film critic of The New Republic, was on Charlie Rose's show the other night, sharing the discoveries of 40 years as a film critic. What he has noticed over the years, he said, is that we are getting more good dramatic films than in the old days--but fewer good entertainments. It is easier to excel at drama than at comedy. I have no idea if Kauffmann will like "There's Something About Mary," but his point applies for me: After months and months of comedies that did not make me laugh, here at last is one that did.Download here

3000 Miles to Graceland (Action,Comedy,Crime,Drama,Thriller)

Crime Is King.
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It was an ingenious enough plan: rob the Riviera Casino's count room during an Elvis impersonator convention. But Thomas Murphy decided to keep all the money for himself and shot all his partners, including recently-freed ex-con Michael Zane. With $3.2 million at stake, the Marshals Service closing in, and single mom Cybil Waingrow and her son Jesse constantly confounding things, Michael must track down Murphy.
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Here's a movie without an ounce of human kindness, a sour and mean-spirited enterprise so desperate to please, it tries to be a yukky comedy and a hard-boiled action picture at the same time. It's about a gang that robs a casino while masquerading as Elvis impersonators. I was nostalgic for the recent "Sugar and Spice," in which cheerleaders rob a bank while masquerading as five pregnant Betty dolls (plus one Richard Nixon).The movie has a heavy-duty cast, with top billing shared by Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner. Russell once played Elvis, very well, on TV, and hits some of the right verbal notes here. Costner, the leader of the gang, chain-smokes and looks mean. His fellow criminals include Christian Slater, David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine, who is the black guy and therefore the first to die, adhering to an ancient cliche this movie lacks the wit to rewrite.The casino robbery involves a gory bloodbath, all gratuitous, all intercut with an Elvis revue on one of the show stages. Not intercut a little, but a lot, complete with dancing girls, until we see so much of the revue we prefer it to the shooting. (Looks like dozens of patrons are killed, but the movie of course forgets this carnage the minute it's over.) The gang makes off with the loot, there is the inevitable squabble over how to divvy it up, and then the movie's most intriguing and inexplicable relationship develops.This is between Kurt Russell and Courteney Cox, who plays the mom of a bright young kid (David Kaye), and is stranded in the Last Chance Motel, one of those movie sets from a Road Runner cartoon.Cox's character is intriguing because we never understand her motivation, and inexplicable because she doesn't, either. She really does like Russell, I guess, and that explains why they're in the sack so quickly, but then the kid, who is about 8, creeps into the bedroom and steals Russell's wallet. The movie never questions the wisdom of showing the kid in the room while his mother is in bed with a stranger. One imagines that the filmmakers were so tickled by the plot point that the moral questions just didn't occur to them.At a point later in the movie, the Cox character drives off in a car containing most of Russell's loot, while leaving her son behind with him. Would a mother do this? Some would, but most movies wouldn't consider them heroines. There is an "explanation" for her behavior, based on the fact that Russell, a criminal she has known for about 10 minutes, is obviously a good guy and likes the guy--but, come on.The plot is standard double-reverse, post-"Reservoir Dogs" irony, done with a lot of style and a minimum of thought. It's about behavior patterns, not personalities. Everybody is defined by what they do. Or what they drive: As the film opens, Russell is in a 1957 red Cadillac, and Costner drives a Continental convertible of similar vintage, perhaps because they want to look like Elvis impersonators, more likely because all characters in movies like this drive 1950s cars because modern ones are too small and wimpy.The cast stays top drawer right down to the supporting roles. Kevin Pollak turns up as a federal marshal, Jon Lovitz is a money launderer, Ice T is hired muscle. You guess they all liked the script. But the Russell and Costner characters are so burdened by the baggage of their roles that sometimes they just seem weary, and the energy mostly comes from Cox--and from the kid, who seems to be smarter than anyone else in the film, and about as experienced.I will give "3000 Miles to Graceland" credit for one thing, a terrific trailer. When a bad movie produces a great trailer, it's usually evidence that the raw materials were there for a good movie. I can imagine a blood-soaked caper movie involving Elvis disguises, a lonely tramp and her bright-eyed son, but it isn't this one.Download here

Music and Lyrics (Comedy,Music,Romance)

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Cheery Alex Fletcher lives comfortably in Manhattan off the residuals from his 80's pop success and reprising his hits at school reunions, theme parks, and state fairs. But those gigs are declining, so he jumps at the chance to write a song and record it with reigning teen idol Cora Corman. Trouble is, he's good at melodies but needs a lyricist and has less than a week to finish. Enter Sophie Fisher, subbing for a friend who waters Alex's plants; she's a pretty good poet, quick witted, and could do it, if she'd agree. But there's some sort of shadow over her head that Alex may not be able to charm his way past. And what if they do get a song written, what then?
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It's impossible not to feel affection for "At Long Last Love," Peter Bogdanovich's much-maligned evocation of the classical 1930s musical. It's a light, silly, impeccably stylish entertainment, and if the performers don't come up to the comparisons they evoke with the genius of Astaire and Rogers, that's not entirely their fault; the studio tradition that developed and nurtured the great musical stars no longer exists, and a movie like this has to be made from scratch.Well, not altogether from scratch: The music and lyrics are all by Cole Porter, a special enthusiasm of Bogdanovich and his star, Cybill Shepherd, who recorded an album of Porter last year. There are 16 Porter classics, and in an age when original songs composed for the movies tend to seek the level of "Love Theme from the Towering Inferno," maybe it's a good idea to go back to the golden age of popular American composition and cherish once again "It's De-Lovely," "Well, Did You Evah?," "Just One of Those Things" and the title song (which, legend has it, Porter acually began writing while waiting for the doctors to arrive at the scene of the accident that crippled him for life).Bogdanovich has found a story and setting that sound the right tone in company with the songs. His screenplay involves a sophisticated (and yet sometimes childishly innocent) dalliance among four members of the idle rich or would-be rich (everyone's idle). There's Burt Reynolds as a playboy millionaire, Miss Shepherd as a beautiful heiress, Madeline Kahn as a Broadway star and Dullio Del Prete as a seductive Italian gambler. They sip champagne almost without respite, dance the night away, run through a series of wrecked limousines and touring cars, trade partners and try never, ever, to be bored: It's like 'Private Live' rewritten by Thorne Smith.The story, of course, is totally inconsequential, as it should be, and Bogdanovich is good at keeping it floating some few inches above the ground; he's not giving us a tribute to the great musicals like "Swing Time" and "Top Hat," he's trying to make another one. He doesn't succeed, primarily because his performers aren't really suited to musical comedy, but he doesn't fail to the extent some of the reviews would have you believe.Cybill Shepherd is a wonder to behold, but she isn't a gifted singer and no regimen of voice lessons is going to make her one. She didn't do a very good job on her Cole Porter album, and she's no better here, although at least we're permitted to see her as she sings, and that provides a certain compensation. Before Bogdanovich, a devoted student of movie classics, makes further attempts to present Miss Shepherd as a singer, he'd do well to rerun "Citizen Kane," particularly the scene of Susan Alexander's disastrous opera debut.Burt Reynolds, on the other hand, isn't really expected to sing and dance well; the fun is in watching him try to have fun in a low-key way without making a fool of himself, and he generally succeeds. His Clark Gable-style moustache and his over all bearing remind us of Gable grinning foolishly during absurd production numbers and having a ball. Miss Kahn is tart and has a nice edge, Del Prete is a satisfactory Latin lover and there's a very funny, understated supporting performance by John Hillerman as Rodney the butler.The movie's no masterpiece, but I can't account for the viciousness of some of the critical attacks against it. It's almost as if Bogdanovich is being accused of the sin of pride for daring to make a musical in the classical Hollywood style. "At Long Last Love" isn't "Swing Time," but then it isn't "Funny Lady" either, thank God. Bogdanovich has too much taste, too sure a feel for the right tone, to go seriously wrong. And if he doesn't go spectacularly right, at least he provides small pleasures and great music.Download here

Coyote Ugly (Comedy,Drama,Music,Romance)

The Boss. The Law. The Dreamer. The Flame. The Heartbreaker. The Girls of Coyote Ugly.
This party never ends.
Tonight, they're calling the shots.
Wanna dance? The hottest party of the year.
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Sexy, romantic comedy about a girl in her early 20s named Violet Sanford going to NYC to pursue a dream of becoming a songwriter. Violet gets a "day" job as a bar maid at a nightclub called Coyote Ugly. Coyote Ugly is the city's newest hot spot were the employees are a team of sexy, resourceful women that provoke the clientele and press with their mischief.
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"Coyote Ugly" is a cliff-hanger in which Piper Perabo ventures into a Jerry Bruckheimer production and escapes more or less untouched.The film stars Perabo as one of a group of heedless wenches who dance on a bar and pour straight shots down the throats of the seething multitude. In a movie of this sort, it is inevitable that the song "I Will Survive" will sooner or later be performed by drunken pals. Next week's opening, "The Replacements," makes us wait an hour to hear it. "Coyote Ugly" takes no chances and puts it under the opening titles. Do you get the feeling these movies are assembled from off-the-shelf parts? There is a story beloved in movie lore about the time Howard Hawks asked John Wayne to appear in "El Dorado." Wayne had already starred in Hawks' "Rio Bravo" and "Rio Lobo," which were essentially the same picture. So was "El Dorado." "Shall I send over the script?" asked Hawks. "Why bother?" asked the Duke. "I've already been in it twice." Does Jerry Bruckheimer have the same nagging feeling of deja vu as he compares each new screenplay to those that have gone before? I wonder if he suspects his movie may not be original, as he contemplates a story about a girl from New Jersey who dreams of being a songwriter, moves to Manhattan, meets a guy, gets a job and has a heart-rending reconciliation with her dad, all in a movie that ends (yes, it really does) with the final line, "What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?" Bruckheimer and his director bring superb technical credits to this wheezy old story, and they add wall-to-wall music to make it sound like fun. But you can pump up the volume only so far before it becomes noise. I don't ask for startling originality in a movie like "Coyote Ugly." I don't object to the scene in which the heroine and her guy neck in a convertible and regard the lights on a Manhattan bridge. I am not even surprised that the hero drives a classic car (no characters in Bruckheimer movies drive cars less than 25 years old unless they are parents or gangsters). I don't even mind the obligatory line, "It's payback time!" All I ask is that I be surprised a couple of times. Give me something I can't see coming and make it more unexpected than a beloved character getting hit by a car instead of having a heart attack.In the movie, Perabo, who has big-time star power, plays Violet, a working-class girl from South Amboy, N.J., who packs up and moves to a cheap apartment in Chinatown (where she meets not a single Chinese person) and gets a job in Coyote Ugly, a bar that would be the result if you took the bar in "Cocktail" and performed reckless experiments on its DNA.It's the kind of bar you would fight to get out of--and you'd have to. Customers are jammed so tightly together, the fire marshal can barely wedge his way into the room. They are offered no mixed drinks, no wine, just "Jim, Jack, Johnny Red, Johnny Black and Jose--all my favorite friends," according to Lil (Maria Bello), the sexy blond who owns the club. "You can have it any way you want it, as long as it's in a shot glass." Violet auditions for her job, which consists of dancing on top of the bar, pouring drinks, dumping ice on customers who get into fights and spraying the others every so often with the soda gun. These are skilled dancers. They can do Broadway routines on a slippery bar top, while drunks grab at their ankles. Every once in a while, just for variety, they pour booze on the bar and set it on fire.Many of the movie's shots are high-angle, looking down at the customers, their mouths upturned and gulping like gasping fish. Illuminated by garish neon, they bear an uncanny resemblance to Hieronymus Bosch's paintings of the damned roasting in hell.After a shaky start, Violet becomes a hit at the bar; meanwhile, she tries to place tapes of her songs around town. She has stage fright, you see, and can't sing her own songs because she's afraid to sing in front of an audience, although she will obviously do almost anything else.She meets Kevin (Adam Garcia), an awfully nice Australian short-order cook who encourages her, and even bribes a guy to give her an audition by trading his precious Spider-Man comic. They would no doubt have steamy sex, except that Bruckheimer, a student of straws in the wind, knows this is the summer when PG-13, not his old favorite R, is the coveted rating. (His "Gone in 60 Seconds" was also PG-13, which may explain why Angelina Jolie was missing from most of the film.) "Coyote Ugly" finally leads up to the questions: (1) Does she find the courage to sing? (2) Do they stay together after their Idiot Plot Misunderstanding? and (3) Do all of her dreams come true? There is a reason to see the movie, and that reason is Piper Perabo, who I first noticed in "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," writing that she was "so fetching she sort of stops the clock." She has one of those friendly Julia Roberts smiles, good comic timing, ease and confidence on the screen, and a career ahead of her in movies better than this one. Lots better.Download here

Friends with Money (Comedy,Drama,Romance)

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A drama about three married women, their husbands, and their lone single friend.
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"Friends With Money" resembles "Crash," except that all the characters are white, and the reason they keep running into each other is because the women have been friends since the dawn of time. Three of them are rich and married. The fourth is, and I quote, "single, a pothead and a maid." That's Olivia (Jennifer Aniston), who used to teach at a fancy school in Santa Monica, "but quit when the kids started giving her quarters."

The other friends are Jane (Frances McDormand), who screams at people who try to cut in line ahead of her; Christine (Catherine Keener), who writes screenplays with her husband, and Franny (Joan Cusack), whose biggest concern is that her husband spends too much money on their child's shoes. Jane's husband is Aaron (Simon McBurney). "He's so gay," says Olivia. Christine's husband is David (Jason Isaacs). They fight over what the characters should say in the screenplay they're writing, and then they simply fight: She tells him his breath stinks, and he tells her she's getting a lard butt. Not a demonstration of mutual support. Franny's husband is Matt (Greg Germann), whose problem, as far as this film is concerned, is that he has no problems.

The characters meet in various combinations and gossip about those not present, and all three couples spend a lot of time on the topic of Olivia, who they agree needs a husband, although their own marriages don't argue persuasively for wedded bliss. Olivia finally gets fixed up with a physical trainer named Mike (Scott Caan), who in some ways is the most intriguing character in the movie, and certainly the biggest louse. Consider how he asks to go along with her when she cleans houses, and what he asks her afterward, and the present he gives her, and the "friend from junior high school" he sees in a restaurant.

Meanwhile, the marriage of Jane and Aaron is melting down because of her anger. She's a famous dress designer who has decided not to wash her hair, which becomes so greasy her husband turns away from her in bed, although maybe he really is gay. Or probably not, and neither is his new friend, also named Aaron, although they do enjoy trying on sweaters together. Meanwhile, Christine and David are putting a second story on their house, which will give them a view, and we all know that if you're fighting, the best thing to do is remodel.

"Friends With Money" was written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, whose two previous features were wonderful studies of women and their relationships: "Walking and Talking" (1996) and "Lovely and Amazing" (2001). Both of them also starred Catherine Keener, who is expert at creating the kind of Holofcener character who speaks the truth with wit, especially when it is not required. Cusack can do that, too, although she is underused here.

The movie lacks the warmth and edge of the two previous features. It seems to be more of an idea than a story. Yes, it's about how Olivia's friends all have money, and at one point Jane suggests they simply give her some to bring her up to their level. As it happens, characters do exactly that in novels I've read recently by Stendhal and Trollope, but in modern Los Angeles, it is unheard of. If you have millions and your friend is a maid, obviously what you do is tell her how much you envy her. Working for a living is a charming concept when kept at a reasonable distance.

The parts of the movie that really live are the ones involving Olivia and the two men in her life. First, Mike, the fitness instructor, and then Marty (Bob Stephenson), a slob who lives alone, is very shy, and hires her to clean his house. When the rich friends go to a $1,000-a-plate benefit, they invite Olivia along, and she brings Marty, and when she goes to pick him up, she suggests that maybe he should think about wearing a tie. This he is happy to do. At the dinner, he smooths down the tie with pride and satisfaction. Watch the way Aniston regards him while he does this. She is so happy for him. At last she is the friend with money. Not cash money, it's true, but a good line of credit in the bank of love.Download here

Bambi (Animation,Drama,Family)

A great love story.
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The animated story of Bambi, a young deer hailed as the 'Prince of the Forest' at his birth. As Bambi grows, he makes friends with the other animals of the forest, learns the skills needed to survive, and even finds love. One day, however, the hunters come, and Bambi must learn to be as brave as his father if he is to lead the other deer to safety.
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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

So, I looked up the list and here it is, with only a couple changes. (I added "Fight Club" because it's essential and it hadn't been released at the time I made the list.) I remember I tried to represent key examples of all important genres, movie stars, directors, historical movements, and so on -- like an overview of the 20th century in 101 movies. Yes, there are many more I'd like to add, but remember, this is only a primer. How many have you seen? (Hot titles should link to Roger Ebert's reviews.)Full meandering, long-winded, digression-filled, "will he ever get to the point?" intro here.

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) Stanley Kubrick"The 400 Blows" (1959) Francois Truffaut"8 1/2" (1963) Federico Fellini"Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972) Werner Herzog"Alien" (1979) Ridley Scott"All About Eve" (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz"Annie Hall" (1977) Woody Allen"Apocalypse Now" (1979) Francis Ford Coppola*"Bambi" (1942) Disney"The Battleship Potemkin" (1925) Sergei Eisenstein"The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) William Wyler"The Big Red One" (1980) Samuel Fuller"The Bicycle Thief" (1949) Vittorio De Sica"The Big Sleep" (1946) Howard Hawks"Blade Runner" (1982) Ridley Scott"Blowup" (1966) Michelangelo Antonioni"Blue Velvet" (1986) David Lynch"Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) Arthur Penn"Breathless" (1959 Jean-Luc Godard"Bringing Up Baby" (1938) Howard Hawks"Carrie" (1975) Brian DePalma"Casablanca" (1942) Michael Curtiz"Un Chien Andalou" (1928) Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali"Children of Paradise" / "Les Enfants du Paradis" (1945) Marcel Carne"Chinatown" (1974) Roman Polanski"Citizen Kane" (1941) Orson Welles"A Clockwork Orange" (1971) Stanley Kubrick"The Crying Game" (1992) Neil Jordan"The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) Robert Wise"Days of Heaven" (1978) Terence Malick"Dirty Harry" (1971) Don Siegel"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972) Luis Bunuel "Do the Right Thing" (1989 Spike Lee"La Dolce Vita" (1960) Federico Fellini"Double Indemnity" (1944) Billy Wilder"Dr. Strangelove" (1964) Stanley Kubrick"Duck Soup" (1933) Leo McCarey"E.T. -- The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) Steven Spielberg"Easy Rider" (1969) Dennis Hopper"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980) Irvin Kershner"The Exorcist" (1973) William Friedkin"Fargo" (1995) Joel & Ethan Coen"Fight Club" (1999) David Fincher"Frankenstein" (1931) James Whale"The General" (1927) Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman"The Godfather," "The Godfather, Part II" (1972, 1974) Francis Ford Coppola"Gone With the Wind" (1939) Victor Fleming"GoodFellas" (1990) Martin Scorsese"The Graduate" (1967) Mike Nichols"Halloween" (1978) John Carpenter"A Hard Day's Night" (1964) Richard Lester"Intolerance" (1916) D.W. Griffith"It's a Gift" (1934) Norman Z. McLeod"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra"Jaws" (1975) Steven Spielberg"The Lady Eve" (1941) Preston Sturges"Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) David Lean"M" (1931) Fritz Lang"Mad Max 2" / "The Road Warrior" (1981) George Miller"The Maltese Falcon" (1941) John Huston"The Manchurian Candidate" (1962) John Frankenheimer"Metropolis" (1926) Fritz Lang"Modern Times" (1936) Charles Chaplin"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam"Nashville" (1975) Robert Altman"The Night of the Hunter" (1955) Charles Laughton"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) George Romero"North by Northwest" (1959) Alfred Hitchcock"Nosferatu" (1922) F.W. Murnau"On the Waterfront" (1954) Elia Kazan"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) Sergio Leone"Out of the Past" (1947) Jacques Tournier"Persona" (1966) Ingmar Bergman"Pink Flamingos" (1972) John Waters"Psycho" (1960) Alfred Hitchcock"Pulp Fiction" (1994) Quentin Tarantino"Rashomon" (1950) Akira Kurosawa"Rear Window" (1954) Alfred Hitchcock"Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) Nicholas Ray"Red River" (1948) Howard Hawks"Repulsion" (1965) Roman Polanski"The Rules of the Game" (1939) Jean Renoir"Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks"The Scarlet Empress" (1934) Josef von Sternberg"Schindler's List" (1993) Steven Spielberg"The Searchers" (1956) John Ford"The Seven Samurai" (1954) Akira Kurosawa"Singin' in the Rain" (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly"Some Like It Hot" (1959) Billy Wilder"A Star Is Born" (1954) George Cukor"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951) Elia Kazan"Sunset Boulevard" (1950) Billy Wilder"Taxi Driver" (1976) Martin Scorsese"The Third Man" (1949) Carol Reed"Tokyo Story" (1953) Yasujiro Ozu"Touch of Evil" (1958) Orson Welles"The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) John Huston"Trouble in Paradise" (1932) Ernst Lubitsch"Vertigo" (1958) Alfred Hitchcock"West Side Story" (1961) Jerome Robbins/Robert Wise"The Wild Bunch" (1969) Sam Peckinpah"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) Victor Fleming* added belatedly for reasons explained at the bottom of this post, here.Download here

Lost in Translation (Comedy,Drama)

Everyone wants to be found.
Sometimes you have to go halfway around the world to come full circle
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Bob Harris is an American film actor, far past his prime. He visits Tokyo to appear in commercials, and he meets Charlotte, the young wife of a visiting photographer. Bored and weary, Bob and Charlotte make ideal if improbable traveling companions. Charlotte is looking for "her place in life," and Bob is tolerating a mediocre stateside marriage. Both separately and together, they live the experience of the American in Tokyo. Bob and Charlotte suffer both confusion and hilarity due to the cultural and language differences between themselves and the Japanese. As the relationship between Bob and Charlotte deepens, they come to the realization that their visits to Japan, and one another, must soon end. Or must they?
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The Japanese phrase "mono no aware," is a bittersweet reference to the transience of life. It came to mind as I was watching "Lost in Translation," which is sweet and sad at the same time it is sardonic and funny. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two lost souls rattling around a Tokyo hotel in the middle of the night, who fall into conversation about their marriages, their happiness and the meaning of it all.These conversations can really only be held with strangers. We all need to talk about metaphysics, but those who know us well want details and specifics; strangers allow us to operate more vaguely on a cosmic scale. When the talk occurs between two people who could plausibly have sex together, it gathers a special charge: you can only say "I feel like I've known you for years" to someone you have not known for years. Funny, how your spouse doesn't understand the bittersweet transience of life as well as a stranger encountered in a hotel bar. Especially if drinking is involved.Murray plays Bob Harris, an American movie star in Japan to make commercials for whiskey. "Do I need to worry about you, Bob?" his wife asks over the phone. "Only if you want to," he says. She sends him urgent faxes about fabric samples. Johansson plays Charlotte, whose husband John is a photographer on assignment in Tokyo. She visits a shrine and then calls a friend in America to say, "I didn't feel anything." Then she blurts out: "I don't know who I married." She's in her early 20s, Bob's in his 50s. This is the classic set-up for a May-November romance, since in the mathematics of celebrity intergenerational dating you can take five years off the man's age for every million dollars of income. But "Lost in Translation" is too smart and thoughtful to be the kind of movie where they go to bed and we're supposed to accept that as the answer. Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed, doesn't let them off the hook that easily. They share something as personal as their feelings rather than something as generic as their genitals.These are two wonderful performances. Bill Murray has never been better. He doesn't play "Bill Murray" or any other conventional idea of a movie star, but invents Bob Harris from the inside out, as a man both happy and sad with his life -- stuck, but resigned to being stuck. Marriage is not easy for him, and his wife's voice over the phone is on autopilot. But he loves his children. They are miracles, he confesses to Charlotte. Not his children specifically, but -- children.He is very tired, he is doing the commercials for money and hates himself for it, he has a sense of humor and can be funny, but it's a bother. She has been married only a couple of years, but it's clear that her husband thinks she's in the way. Filled with his own importance, flattered that a starlet knows his name, he leaves her behind in the hotel room because -- how does it go? -- he'll be working, and she won't have a good time if she comes along with him.Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" was about a couple who met years after their divorce and found themselves "in the middle of the night in a dark house somewhere in the world." That's how Bob and Charlotte seem to me. Most of the time nobody knows where they are, or cares, and their togetherness is all that keeps them both from being lost and alone. They go to karaoke bars and drug parties, pachinko parlors and, again and again, the hotel bar. They wander Tokyo, an alien metropolis to which they lack the key. They don't talk in the long literate sentences of the characters in "Before Sunrise," but in the weary understatements of those who don't have the answers.Now from all I've said you wouldn't guess the movie is also a comedy, but it is. Basically it's a comedy of manners -- Japan's, and ours. Bob Harris goes everywhere surrounded by a cloud of white-gloved women who bow and thank him for -- allowing himself to be thanked, I guess. Then there's the director of the whiskey commercial, whose movements for some reason reminded me of Cab Calloway performing "Minnie the Moocher." And the hooker sent up to Bob's room, whose approach is melodramatic and archaic; she has obviously not studied the admirable Japanese achievements in porno. And the B-movie starlet (Anna Faris), intoxicated with her own wonderfulness.In these scenes there are opportunities for Murray to turn up the heat under his comic persona. He doesn't. He always stays in character. He is always Bob Harris, who could be funny, who could be the life of the party, who could do impressions in the karaoke bar and play games with the director of the TV commercial, but doesn't -- because being funny is what he does for a living, and right now he is too tired and sad to do it for free. Except ... a little. That's where you see the fine-tuning of Murray's performance. In a subdued, fond way, he gives us wry faint comic gestures, as if to show what he could do, if he wanted to.Well, I loved this movie. I loved the way Coppola and her actors negotiated the hazards of romance and comedy, taking what little they needed and depending for the rest on the truth of the characters. I loved the way Bob and Charlotte didn't solve their problems, but felt a little better anyway. I loved the moment near the end when Bob runs after Charlotte and says something in her ear, and we're not allowed to hear it.We shouldn't be allowed to hear it. It's between them, and by this point in the movie, they've become real enough to deserve their privacy. Maybe he gave her his phone number. Or said he loved her. Or said she was a good person. Or thanked her. Or whispered, "Had we but world enough, and time..." and left her to look up the rest of it.Download here

Trapped (Crime,Drama,Thriller)

Fear strikes back
It was the perfect plan until she refused to be the perfect victim!
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Joe Hickley thinks he's got a great scheme: kidnap the child of rich parents, hold it for 24 hours, keeping the mother under his control while an accomplice gets the ransom from the father, who is on a trip. But things go very wrong when he tries this scheme on the Jennings family, in part because their daughter Abby is asthmatic, and in part because the Jennings' find out more than Hickley wants them to know.
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I suspect that the more you know about Japan and movies, the less you will enjoy "Memoirs of a Geisha." Much of what I know about Japan I have learned from Japanese movies, and on that basis I know this is not a movie about actual geishas, but depends on the romanticism of female subjection. The heroines here look so very beautiful and their world is so visually enchanting as they live trapped in sexual slavery.

I know, a geisha is not technically a prostitute. Here is a useful rule: Anyone who is "not technically a prostitute" is a prostitute. As dear old Henry Togna, proprietor of the Eyrie Mansion in London, used to cackle while describing to me his friend the Duchess of Duke Street, "Sex for cash, m'dear. That's my definition."

Is the transaction elevated if there is very little sex, a lot of cash, and the prostitute gets hardly any of either? Hard to say. Certainly the traditions of the geisha house are culturally fascinating in their own right. But if this movie had been set in the West, it would be perceived as about children sold into prostitution, and that is not nearly as wonderful as "being raised as a geisha."

Still, I object to the movie not on sociological grounds but because I suspect a real geisha house floated on currents deeper and more subtle than the broad melodrama on display here. I could list some Japanese films illustrating this, but the last thing the audience for "Memoirs of a Geisha" wants to see is a more truthful film with less gorgeous women and shabbier production values.

This is one of the best-looking movies in some time, deserving comparison with "Raise the Red Lantern" (in more ways than one). On the level of voluptuous visual beauty, it works if you simply regard it. The women are beauties, their world swims in silks and tapestries, smoke and mirrors, and the mysteries of hair when it is up vs. hair when it is down.

I am not disturbed in the least that the three leading Japanese characters in the film are played by women of Chinese descent. This casting been attacked as ethnically incorrect, but consider that the film was made by a Japanese-owned company; the intent was not to discriminate against Japanese, but in favor of the box office. The movie was cast partly on the basis of star power: Ziyi Zhang, Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh are not only great beauties and gifted actresses, but box office dynamite. Even in Japan, Zhang and Li outgross any Japanese actress.

They do wonders with their characters, who are trapped in a formula fiction but suggest possibilities they cannot explore. There isn't the faintest suggestion of free will, but then free will has never played much of a role in the world of a geisha. That's made clear at the outset, circa 1929, when a widowed fisherman sells his daughters on the human market in Kyoto. The older girl, although hardly old enough for sex, is sold directly into prostitution, while the 9-year-old Chiyo (Suzuka Ohgo) is sold to a geisha house where she will be an unpaid servant until it is determined if she is elegant enough for the house's clientele.

The house is run by Mother (Kaori Momoi), and its ruling geisha is Hatsumomo (Gong Li). Chiyo quickly becomes best friends with Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh), a girl about her age, and they are raised by the house under a strict discipline that trains them for a lifetime of flattering wealthy men. They learn that love has no role in this world (although Hatsumomo sets a bad example). Geisha lore hints that they do fall in love with clients, but the operative word is "client" and the love is not free. Nobody wants it to be -- not the geisha, who is earning her living, or the client, who is using money to control a woman while maintaining his independence and, for that matter, to observe a distinction between his geisha and his wife.

The key male in the story is the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), who first encounters Chiyo when she is a child, and suggests her to Mother. As Chiyo and her beauty grows, it becomes clear she may represent a threat to the dominance of Hatsumomo. The story resumes when she is in her mid-teens and is purchased from Mother by Mameha (Yeoh), Hatsumomo's rival, whose master plan is to use her control of the younger girl to win control of Mother's house away from Hatsumomo, who expects to inherit the reins. Hatsumomo in response acquires Pumpkin as her own proxy in the battle. It is amazing that a client stepping through their doors is not killed in the crossfire.

Chiyo is renamed Sayuri, and is now played by Ziyi Zhang. The movie, almost like a tourist, prowls the geisha quarter of Kyoto, visits a sumo wrestling match and attends a dance performance where Sayuri stars. Then World War II intervenes (that is the best word for its role in the film), and in peacetime the Chairman now desperately needs Sayuri, who has always and still does love him, perhaps because he steered her as a child into the best geisha house. It suits him for Sayuri to become the friend of his colleague Nobu (Koji Yakusho), and there is great intrigue surrounding the auctioning of Sayuri's virginity. This takes place, if my math is sound, at her fairly advanced age of about 26, which reminds me that Oscar Levant claimed: "I've been in Hollywood so long, I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin."

I realize that my doubts and footnotes are completely irrelevant to the primary audience for this movie, which wants to see beauty, sex, tradition and exoticism all choreographed into a dance of strategy and desire. "Memoirs of a Geisha" (directed by Rob Marshall of "Chicago") supplies what is required, elegantly and with skill. The actresses create geishas as they imagine them to have been, which is probably wiser than showing them as they were. There is a sense in which I enjoyed every frame of this movie, and another sense in which my enjoyment made me uneasy. I felt some of the same feelings during "Pretty Baby," the 1978 film in which Brooke Shields, playing a girl of 12, has her virginity auctioned away in New Orleans. The difference is that "Pretty Baby" doesn't evoke nostalgia, or regret the passing of the world it depicts.Download here

Two for the Road (Comedy,Drama,Romance)

They make something wonderful out of being alive!
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The ten-year marriage of Mark and Joanna Wallace is on the rocks. In flashback they recall their first meeting, memorable moments in their courtship and early wedded life, their travels through Europe, their broken vow never to have children, and their increasing tensions that led to both of them having extra-marital affairs.
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