L

L.A. Confidential (1997) (****, crime, drama, noir)

Lady Eve, The (1941) (**1/2, romatic comedy)

Lady From Shanghai, The (1948) (**1/2, thriller, crime)

Lady in the Lake (1946) (**1/2, noir, crime)   (3-27-00)

Ladykillers, The (1955) (***1/2, comedy)

La Femme Nikita (1990) (***, action, drama)

Lair of the White Worm, The (1988) (**1/2, horror)

Land That Time Forgot, The (1975) (*1/2, sci fi, fantasy, action) (4-2-01)

Langoliers, The (1995) (**, horror, sci fi) (12-31-04)

Lantana (2001) (****, drama, thriller) (9-16-02)

Lara Croft Tomb Raider (**1/2, fantasy) ((7-23-01)

Last Castle, The (2001) (***, drama) (6-10-02)

Last Man on Earth (1964) (***, Sci Fi horror)

Last of the Mohicans (1920) (***1/2, adventure)

Last of the Mohicans, The (1992) (**1/2, action)

Last Orders (2001) (***1/2, comedy, drama) (4-15-02)

Last Man Standing (1996) (***, crime, drama)

Last Seduction, The (1993) (***, crime, drama)

Last Starfighter, The (1984) (**1/2, sci fi, action)

Last Wave, The (1978) (***1/2, drama)

Laura (1944) (***1/2, drama, noir, mystery, murder, classic) (1-26-09)

Laurel and Hardy and the Laughing Twenties (1965) (****, humor)

Lawnmower Man, The (1992) (**, Sci-Fi)

League of Their Own, A (1992) (***1/2, humor, docudrama)

Leap of Faith (1992) (**1/2, drama)

Legally Blonde (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (8-13-01)

Legend Of Drunken Master AKA Jui kuen II (1994) (7-16-01)

Le Jour Se Leve (US Title Daybreak) (1939) (***, drama)

Leopard Man, The (1943) (**1/2, horror, mystery)

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) (*** action)

Let the Right One In (2008) (***1/2, vampire, drama) (5-29-09)

Liar Liar (1997) (***, humor)

Libeled Lady (1936) (***1/2, comedy) (12-30-03)

The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008) (**1/2, action ) (7-29-09)

Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The (1972) (**1/2, comedy, western)

Life as a House (2001) (***, drama, comedy) (11-5-01)

Lifeboat (1944) (**, drama, war)

Lifeforce (1985) (**, sci fi, horror)

Light Sleeper (1992) (***, drama)

Like Water for Chocolate (1993) (***1/2, drama)

Lilo & Stitch (2002) (***1/2, animation, comedy) (12-23-02)

Limey, The (1999) (***, crime) (2-07-00)

Lion in Winter, The (1968) (10-8-02) (****, drama, historical customer)

Little Murders (1971) (***, black humour)

Little Shop of Horror, The (1960) (***, comedy-horror)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) (**1/2, comedy-horror-musical)

Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1999) (****, humor, crime) (3-29-99)

Lone Star (1996) (****, drama)

Longest Day, The (1962) (****, docudrama, war, action) (9-25-00)

Long Goodbye, The (1973) (**1/2, crime drama)

Longitude (2000) (****, docudrama) (10-16-00)

Long Kiss Goodnight, The (1996) (**1/2, action)

Long Voyage Home, The (1940) (***, war, drama)

Lord of Illusion (1995) (**, horror)

Lord of the Flies (1963) (***, drama)

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) (****, fantasy) (12-24-01)

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)(****, action, fantasy) (1-13-03)

Lord of War (2005) (****, action, crime, war, drama) (10-10-05)

Lost Boys, The (1987) (**1/2, horror)

Lost in Space (1999) (bomb, sci fi) (3-13-00)

Lost in Translation (2003) (**1/2, romance, comedy)

Lost Patrol, The (1934) (**1/2, war)

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) (****, sci fi, horror, spoof, comedy) (2-7-05)

Lost World, The (1925) (***1/2, classic, sci fi, fantasy)

Lost World (****) (Restored version 2000) (11-27-00)

Lost World: Jurassic Park, The (1997) (***, sci fi)

Love at First Bite (1979) (12-29-09) (***, horror, comedy, vampire)

Love Happy (1949) (unrated, comedy)


L.A. Confidential (1997) (****, crime, drama, noir) (D.- Curtis Hanson; Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, David Strathairn, Ron Rifkin, Danny DeVito) The time, 1953. The city, Los Angeles. The women, beautiful. The cops, bent. And everything and everyone is as corrupt as claimed by sleaze meister Sid Hudgens (DeVito), publisher of the tabloid Hush, Hush, which makes The National Inquirer read like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The principals are Jack Vincennes (Spacey), a cop and consultant for his beloved Dragnet-like police show Badge of Honor and with profitable connections to Hush, Hush. Bud White (Crowe) is an efficient, brutal cop with his own inner code. Ed Exley (Pearce) is a young police officer on the rise who wants to do everything by the book, even when his pragmatic avuncular captain Dudley Smith (Cromwell) makes it clear that success only comes by lying, planting evidence, and brutalizing--all in the name of punishing the guilty, of course. Throw in David Patchett (Strathairn), a purveyor of porn, drugs, and high class call girls who resemble film stars--including a Veronica Lake look-alike Lynn Bracken (Basinger). Add a police department that doesn't care how dirty it is as long as it looks good. This volatile stew boils over when stirred by The Night Owl Massacre.

In my opinion, Confidential is the best noir to come along since the superb The Ususal Suspects. The acting is first rate. The characters believable if not sympathetic. The plot satisfying and as complex as The Big Sleep, although Confidential ties up better. The blackmail, the double crosses, and the body count are appropriate. As in any good noir, the moral high ground is as unstable as the quicksand of the film's shifting alliances and as slippery as a blood soaked motel room.

An interesting sideline is the Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato scene in the restaurant. In real life there was a hood named Johnny Stompanato who became Lana Turner's boyfriend--until her daughter killed him.

My only complaint is that I thought the ending too Hollywoodish. However, up to here classic noir. In terms of the blending of venal and mortal sins, L.A. reminds me a lot of the underrated The Big Easy. (9-29-97) Beginning

Lady Eve, The (1941) (**1/2, romatic comedy) (D.- Preston Sturges; Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest, Eric Blore, Melville Cooper) Dated, but at times very funny with both slapstick and crisp dialogue. Wealthy Fonda's life is snakes, snakes and more snakes. That is until something even more interesting in the form of Stanwyck slithers into his life. He is a clueless mark practically screaming "take me", and Stanwyck, the daughter in a family of con artists, certainly plans to oblige. Nicely underplayed by Fonda who, of course, besides being a little eccentric also happens to have all the traits that make for a truly nice person. Stanwyck is excellent as the object of his affection and has a great time in her comedic role. I especially enjoyed the "chance" meeting. The supporting cast of misfits adds to the pleasure. (1-23-95) Beginning

Lady From Shanghai, The (1948) (**1/2, thriller, crime) (D.- Orson Welles; Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted De Corsia, Gus Schilling) Film noir thriller with Welles as sailor hired by crippled lawyer for yacht trip with attractive dissatisfied wife and creepy law partner. Best part is cinematography and set up with truly strange interactions of lawyers, wife, butler, and sailor. The final execution just doesn't work, and I never understood how the original scheme with Wells was supposed to work. However, even today the seminal climactic hall of mirrors shoot out gets your attention. (7-26-95) Beginning

Lady in the Lake (1946) (**1/2, noir, crime)  (3-27-00) (D.-Robert Montgomery; Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames, Jayne Meadows) Raymond Chandler story of Philip Marlowe (Montgomery) as a hard-boiled detective involved in a convoluted case. The most significant feature is showing the entire film, with one small exception, through the eyes of Marlowe. This subjective viewpoint worked moderately well with us being very aware of what really interests him and as shocked as he is as things develop in the scene that he does not see coming. However, it does seriously limit the editing potential. The major weakness is Montgomery and a weak script with little snappy dialogue. Montgomery, who must do everything with his voice, just does not exude the hard-boiled persona and the force of personality required for the part. Ultimately, I would consider Lady an intriguing but unsuccessful experiment. Beginning

Ladykillers, The (1955) (***1/2, comedy) (D.- Alexander Mackendrick; Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Frankie Howerd) Beautifully crafted black humored tale. A really droll gem. Guinness is brilliant, if not totally sane head, of gang that executes armored car heist. Guinness stages the operation from the home of the eccentric Mrs. Wilberforce and her equally unpredictable parrots. To cover the activities, Guinness and his four gang members pose as a string quintet, which practices in the rented room with a little help from a record player. In spite of the continual interruptions by Mrs. Wilberforce to offer them tea, the gang pulls off a nearly perfect heist of 60,000 pounds with the unwitting help of the lady herself. Nearly perfect. Except for dotty Mrs. Wilberforce. After her discovery of their activities, they conclude they must dispatch her. Easier said than done. As his gang is taken out one by one, Guinness laments that the plan was perfect except for the human element. He just didn't have enough men. Perhaps with 20, 40 or 50 he might have pulled it off. The gang members are superb. Lom was Louie the hard case. Lom later became famous as Clouseau's boss in the Pink Panther series and had already begun to show his famous excitability. A youthful and all but unrecognizable Sellers is a young good natured punk and is yet to show his comedic genius. Green is hulking, good hearted One Round probably named after the many fights that gave him his current intellect. Parker is a Major (maybe) who is more concerned with appearances than action. Guinness is superb as he tries to keep the lid on the rapidly deteriorating situation. However, the true heart of the movie is Johnson (British Academy Award for the part) who manages the perfect balance between an eccentric loose cannon and a take-charge person. (10-24-94) Beginning

La Femme Nikita (1990) (***, action, drama) (D.-Luc Besson; Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tcheky Karyo, Jeanne Moreau, Jean Reno, Jean Bouise) An intriguing French thriller about a street druggie who, after killing a policeman and being sent to jail for life, is recruited by the government as a "hit man". Not always a believable plot or character development, but Ann Parillaud does a fine job, especially before her "rehabilitation". The movie is letterboxed (good), but subtitled in the way that gives subtitles a bad name--trying to read white print on a white background, just doesn't do anything for me. Beginning

Land That Time Forgot, The (1975) (*1/2, sci fi, fantasy, action) (4-2-01) (D.-Kevin Connor; Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley) Like time, best forgotten. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1918 novel about Germans and English in WW1 submarine discovering a new land in the south Atlantic complete with accelerated evolution, volcanoes and dinosaurs. While on vacation, we watched it in a motel; there was nothing else on the tube. The interactions between the one American and the German captain could have been interesting, but hackneyed dialog, wooden acting (with McClure being a standout), poor plotting and laughable special effects sink the film faster than the U-boats torpedo sank the passenger ship. It is truly amazing what 50 years of special effects didn’t do. As my wife said, "When I watch the extraordinary dinosaurs in the 1925 Lost World, I think about how poorly more modern films stand up against it. This is exactly the type of film I was thinking of." So unless you are in the mood for a few laughs, pass on Land, but do give the original and now restored DVD Lost World a look. Amazingly, Land was popular enough to generate a sequel, The People That Time Forgot. Beginning

Lair of the White Worm, The (1988) (**1/2, horror) (D.-Ken Russell; Amanda Donohoe, Hugh Grant, Catherine Oxenberg, Peter Capaldi, Sammi Davis, Stratford Johns, Paul Brooke, Christopher Gable) High spirited, tongue-in-cheek romp. A delightful throwback to the 50-60s style horror, but modernized and sexier. Archaeologist Angus Flint (Capaldi) unearths a giant worm skull in Scotland, which leads to the resurgence of an ancient local cult with the worm's minion being able to assume the shape of a very large venomous snake. Of course we have the beautiful Trent sisters in distress (Oxenberg and Davis), the handsome Lord James D'Ampton (Grant) descended from a long line of giant dragon (worm?) slayers, and svelte Lady Sylvia Marsh (Donohoe) who lives in a decaying Gothic mansion. Grant shows his charming flair for light nonsense long before Americans became familiar with him through Four Weddings and a Funeral. Not for all tastes, but a light diversion that never takes itself very seriously and has a lot of fun with the standard horror elements. Much more mainstream than the usual overheated, baroque Ken Russell film. Russell even manages to skewer the poor Boy Scouts. Amazingly, based on the little known novel by Bram Stoker of Dracula fame. (6-23-97) Beginning

Langoliers, The (1995) (**, horror, sci fi) (12-31-04) (DW. Tom Holland; W: Stephen King (Novella); Patricia Wettig, Dean Stockwell, David Morse, Mark Lindsay Chapman, Frankie Faison, Baxter Harris) Some of King’s stories translate better in longer running miniseries than when condensed into films. Unfortunately, while a faithful adaptation of the novella, the 180 minute made for TV Langoliers doesn’t pull it off. A group of assorted people, many with secrets, take a plane in route from Los Angeles to New York. During the flight, a catastrophic event happens of which the survivors are unaware. The world in which they awake and find themselves is both strange and potentially lethal. The film is built on the aftermath and how they recognize what happened, come to grips with their situation, and react to it and to each other. I felt the film worked well for about the first hour, but once the situation was established, the plot didn’t hold together, lacked real tension, and was drawn out too long. So except for die hard King fans, I cannot recommend it. Review based on the DVD from Charlottesville Video (formerly Beyond Video) with no extras.

Lantana(2001) (****, drama, thriller) (9-16-02) (D.-Ray Lawrence; W.- Andrew Bovell; Anthony LaPaglia,  Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Rachael Blake, Kerry Armstrong, Vince Colosimo, Russell Dykstra, Daniella Farinacci, Peter Phelps, Leah Purcell) A stellar, thought provoking Australian import. The first thing you see in the film is a lantana, a twisted, intertwined, convoluted plant whose surface beauty enshrouds a body deep within. As with many facets of human nature, you think you know what the film is about from the beginning, and all you have to do is sort out the details. You are only peripherally right. Ultimately the story involves several sets of couples whose behaviors and destinies are as convoluted and as intertwined as the lantana, only they don’t know it or in some cases will ultimately never even suspect the interrelationships. What is love? Trust? What holds relationships together? What destroys them? Why do people act the way they do?

Lantana is complex, intelligently, beautifully acted across the board. It requires your undivided attention as it evolves. The post mortem as you go over what you have seen and assess the survivors, the losers, and how it will play out from here makes for fascinating discussion. A pleasant respite from much of the mindless entertainment we now get.

This is one of those films where the less you know about it beforehand the better. So I won’t tell you any more. As a warning absolutely do not watch the trailer before you see the movie; it gives way too much away.

The DVD has an interesting commentary by the director. It quickly becomes clear that the film was successful at exactly what he was trying to do. His commentary also covers a lot of details about the actors and sets. The film was based on Bovell’s play Speaking in Tongues. The director so successfully opened it up that I never suspected it had a stage origin. LaPaglia is an Australian who frequently plays a New York heavy. Interestingly, in the supplementary conversations, he drifts between his American and his Australian accents. There was no moon on the night they needed one, so what you see is a single source illuminated balloon.

I will warn you that our daughter, who normally agrees with me on films of this type was much less moved. Obviously, it said something to us, but not her. Perhaps age. Perhaps something else. Beginning

Lara Croft Tomb Raider (**1/2, fantasy) ((7-23-01) DW.- Simon West; W.- Patrick Massett and John Zinman; Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Leslie Phillips, Mark Collie) First a qualifier.   I am not a video game fan. What did I expect after all? Croft, based on the Tomb Raider video games is a video game on film without the interactive elements. The film is pretty, has a little droll humor, some neat action sequences, and some marvelously scenic locations (Greenland and Cambodia). In particular, the planetary system was quite impressive. Jolie is a credibly physical action figure for Lara Croft, although as she has stated her superstructure is augmented. It follows the video game plot line well; but my wife, who is an avid strategist gamer, said there just wasn’t enough information presented for you to work out the puzzles. We cannot say anything about acting since they had so little to work with, although the scene between Jolie and Voight has a special poignancy since he is her real life father. My recommendation is Croft would make a reasonable rental on a cold winter night when I had nothing better to watch. Beginning

Last Castle, The (2001) (***, drama) (6-10-02) (D.- Rod Lurie; W.-David Scarpa; Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Burton, Delroy Lindo, Paul Calderon, Clifton Collins Jr) Highly decorated and enormously respected General Eugene Irwin (Redford) is court martialed and sent to a prison run by Colonel Winter (Gandolfini), a student of warfare and a collector of classic war memorabilia. Irwin wants only to serve his time and go home, but a conflict between the two men precipitates a conflict of wills, psychological warfare, and ultimately open warfare. Winter is in his castle, literally. He controls everything and is a master of psychological warfare. He once states to his aide “You see how easy it is to manipulate men?” Irwin, while resigned to his position, is ultimately not one to be exploited. He is a master tactician, a fine chess player, and had survived years in the Hanoi Hilton without breaking. Of Winters, he says “He may be prepared, but he isn’t ready.” How will this play out and how many must be sacrificed on the altar to satisfy these two men’s sense of honor and duty?

I give the film a guarded ***. The story line gets ridiculously too Hollywoodish. A much better film would have involved ongoing gamesmanship between these two masters. Compensating for this is the superb acting and chemistry between Gandolfini and Redford. Here are two men with very strong senses of their own rightness and a willingness to sacrifice much to maintain it. The cinematography, supporting acting, and sets are also good. I loved many of the scenes in Winter’s office. As an aside, I must confess that the action sequences have a certain elemental satisfaction in spite of their implausibility. Beginning

Last Man on Earth (1964) (***, Sci Fi, horror) (D.-Sidney Salkow, Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Tony Cerevi) A touching black and white adaptation of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend. Much more faithful to the original than the remake The Omega Man with Charlton Heston. The grade B horror master Vincent Price does far and away his best role as the sole human survivor beset by bands of marauding vampires. His days are spent on seek and destroy missions and fortifying his house (not home); his nights are spent hiding with his record player turned up to cover the sounds of their assault and tauntings. Also, he dreams of life before the Apocalyptic end. It is interesting to compare the coping mechanisms of Price with Heston. Price is driven and sustained by his desire to destroy his prime taunter, an ex-friend who personifies all that he has lost. Of course, Price fully recognizes the insignificance of this action, but only his hatred is sustaining his life, and he knows it. By contrast, Heston is more polished, even sophisticated. Last Man is very low budget, but don't let that detract from a raw, gripping presentation. My only complaint is that after following the book to the very end, the director ruins the message by negating the book's major premise. Nevertheless, lean back and be disturbed.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

T. S. Eliott, The Hollow Men [1925]

See Vampires. (7-12-93) Beginning

Last of the Mohicans (1920) (***1/2, adventure) (D.-Maurice Tourneur, Clarence Brown; Barbara Bedford, Lilian Hall, Wallace Beery, Albert Roscoe) A silent gem. Based on Fennimore Cooper's novel. More closely follows the book than Mann's recent remake and is dramatically very effective. One can develop some real empathy with the characters, although in the first third or so, it does suffer from the stereotypical style of many silents. However, after the action really gets going, it grabs you by the throat and drags you along. Some of the battle scenes are on a par with Mann's film and were the best part of his movie. Filled with some absolutely stunning cinematography and images that will stick with you long after fade to black. For easterners who have never had the pleasures of the west, it is clear from the terrain and flora that the film was shot in the Sierras (or possibly Rockies) rather than the alleged hardwooded midwest. But I quibble over an insignificant point. (10-11-93) Beginning

Last of the Mohicans, The (1992) (**1/2, action) (D.-Michael Mann, Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe) At the Movie Palace. For the plot, I give **, but other members of my family, especially my wife and daughter, rate it much higher. Also, as is typical of Mann's movie it is a visual-aural feast. This movie is a retelling of James Fenimore Cooper's novel. Hawkeye (Day-Lewis), raised by the Mohicans, rescues and escorts a British officer's two daughters to Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. With more love interest between Cora (Stowe) and Lewis than the original, this is a tale of revenge, treachery, and war. We are treated to spectacular battle scenes, gorgeous cinematography, and haunting music and images. Unfortunately, I felt that the emotional and human element of the movie was lost in the window dressing, although Moghwa, the Indian war leader siding with the French, is viciously, but humanly believable. One subtly crafted scene with Moghwa and the French commander reminds you of "It would be nice if the Archbishop were dead." Mann, with his usual attention to details, appears to have made an historically very accurate period piece. The weaponry for example is correct. Notice the heavy cloths draped over the rear of the muzzle loading cannon. Cannon of that period were prone to severe flashback through the fuse hole that could maim or kill the gun crew. The cloth protected them. The use of silk wadding rather than regular cloth to increase the musket range is also correct; the tighter weave reduced the blow by on the ball. I marvel at the extraordinarily good physical shape some of the principles had to be in for this movie. Hawkeye's ability to get a repeat rate from a muzzle loader approaching that of a machine gun is a bit ludicrous at times. A violent, emotionally unsatisfying but interesting period piece. ??Because of the panoramic shots, Mohican is only being released in the letterboxed video format even on tape. Mann felt that too much would be lost. However, because letterboxed shows more poorly on smaller TVs, the full width of the original image is still not used, but a somewhat smaller piece. Mann himself supervised the letterboxing. (1-17-93) Beginning

Last Orders (2001) (***1/2, comedy, drama) (4-15-02) (DW.- Fred Schepisi; Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone) The film opens as three long standing friends Lenny (Hemmings), Vic (Courtenay), Ray (Hoskins), and Vince (Winstone) the son of Jack Arthur Dodds (Caine), set off to fulfill Jack’s last wish, which was to scatter his ashes in the ocean.  The story unfolds in two threads; in the present as the men journey to the coast and Jack’s wife Amy (Mirren) goes on a pilgrimage of her own, and in the past as seen in flashbacks. You cannot live as long together as these men have without building up emotional baggage, and their odyssey brings these thoughts to the forefront. These are not one dimensional characters; they are real people. Our characters are well-seasoned adults who have made good and bad decisions in their lives. We can empathize with them, be outraged by their actions, pity them, and just plain laugh with them for their basic humanity. The film answers, in part, how they got there, what dreams they have fulfilled or missed, and where does life lead them from here. The young, in spite of considering our characters over the hill, will be left with a feeling that these people are survivors and despite their age have many years of life with a capital L to live.

I think that one of the things the film succeeds in doing beautifully is establishing the connection between the young and the old. As we mature we age ever so slowly and the transformation goes by almost unnoticed. A film like this reminds me of how much I really have changed from my youth. For the young, it establishes a firm connection between where they now stand and where they are going, and presents the elders in a very life-affirming form.

This is an actor’s film. Not a lot really happens, although there is some suspense. What really matters here is how the characters perceive themselves and their relationships to each other and to the world. A more stellar collection of actors would be difficult to imagine. Even the young versions of the characters do outstanding jobs and are amazing look-alikes for the older main characters. However, that is Helen Mirren playing both the youthful bombshell and the aging mother. Beginning

Last Man Standing (1996) (***, crime, drama) (D.-Walter Hill; Alexandra Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, David Patrick Kelly, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Karina Lombard) Last Man has a venerable heritage. Based on the screen play by Ryuzo Kikushima and Akira Kurosawa for Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961), which is based on Dashiell Hammett's prohibition gangster novel set in a Western mining town in Red Harvest (1929). Yojimbo was remade as the first and extraordinarily influential "spaghetti Western" A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964). Last Man actually comes closest to Hammett's original setting. A drifter with no name (Willis) wanders into Jericho, Texas whose population is down from 3 figures to 57. Actually, the population counter should be like a gas pump where the digits can be rolled easily. Two rival boot leg gangs, one Irish and one Italian, are vying for control, and another body or two on display in the undertaker's window is just good business. Willis, as the best killer around, skillfully plays the rival gangs against each other. Those familiar with either of the earlier films will recognize the plot.

In spite of being badly panned by critics, I like Last Man. But you do have to forget the earlier films and judge it on its own merits. In spite of similarities, it is a different film. Last Man is bleak without much of the black humor of the earlier films. The cast of characters is just not as totally offbeat and weird as the earlier films. It also uses Willis as a film noir style voice over.

Willis works as the man with no name, and his motivation remains as murky as the samurai or the gunslinger in spite of his talk. "No matter how low you sink, there is always a right and a wrong." But right and wrong are pretty slippery in Jericho. The supporting cast is good (you will recognize two actors from Blade Runner). Walken, in particular, is a standout as a psychotic killer whose face was so rearranged with a blade that he cannot move any muscles, but his voice is enough to instill terror. The interplay between Willis and Walken was superb, and Walken has the best line in the film: "I don't want to die in Texas."

The action sequences are put together skillfully, the plot works, and the cinematography is austere, beautiful, and appropriate. Some people don't like the washed out color and almost colorless daylight scenes. As a New Mexican, it was dead on for me. A hot blazing day just sears your retina, and eveything is overexposed and dull. The sand storms, the blowing tumble weeds, and the dusty two-rut roads are still as real as today. The film is violent, but the violence is more stylized than many modern films. For those who have seen the earlier films, it is interesting to discuss the motivation and the story lines. So, if you are in the mood for a polished, bleak, noirish evening, check out Last Man. Yojimbo is available at Block Buster Video. Beginning

Last Seduction, The (1993) (***, crime, drama) (D.-John Dahl; Linda Forentino,Peter Berg, Bill Pullman, Walter Addison, J. T. Walsh) Video. Nasty little film noir. Originally shown on cable, then released to the theaters with reviews so good an attempt was made last year to enter it into the Academy Awards. This was denied as to be eligible for the Academy Awards, a movie must not first be shown on TV. Again proof that "Made For Cable" is no longer necessarily a perjorative. As with much film noir, I cannot spoil your pleasure by giving many details. Bridget (Forentino) is a scheming barracuda (actually I do barracuda an injustice) who wears her amorality and ruthlessness like a badge of honor. She and husband Clay (Pullman) are into a big time deal in New York City. Double crosses ensue, and small town Mike (Berg) blunders in and is swept into the action. But enough about plot. The story by Steve Barrancik actually holds together even at the end, a place where many noirs fail. The atmosphere is classic noir aided by haunting musical accompaniment by Joseph Vitarelli. There are so many plot and stylistic similarities that comparison with Body Heat is automatic. In my opinion, Heat is still unrivaled but don't let that stop your enjoyment of Seduction, which stands on its own. I think the biggest weakness of Seduction is the naivety and stupidity of Mike coupled with the up frontness of Bridget; the resulting behaviors strain my credulity. Nevertheless, enjoy. (7-31-95) Beginning

Last Starfighter, The (1984) (**1/2, sci fi, action) (D-Nick Castle; Lance Guest, Robert Preston, Dan O'Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Barbara Bosson, Norman Snow, Cameron Dye, Wil Wheaton) Basically, a children's sci-fi movie where the hero is a video game freak who saves the universe with his skills. Why you ask, am I reviewing it at all, and why do I rate it so highly? I am fascinated by special effects, visual imagery, and their impact on the viewer. This is the first movie that I am aware of where complete, realistic scenes were generated by computer graphics using the then just evolving super computer technology. They didn't do a bad job! As long as the space ships were moving, it was very hard to tell them from real objects or the traditional models. The give away was in the highlights. Real objects, even flat uniform surfaces, reflect their environment and give very distinctive, but not easily described, highlights. Without them the surfaces look dull and lifeless. When the object is moving, it is much harder to notice their absence, but once you know what to look for, the absence of shifting highlights is detectable. In '84 they just didn't have the money, time, and computing horsepower to add these. Nevertheless, an A for pioneering effort. The recent overwhelming T2 where computer bits BECOME REALITY on the screen owes homage to the pioneers of Starfigher days. Check it out. (12-12-92) Beginning

Last Wave, The (1978) (***1/2, drama) (12-31-01) (3-7-93) (D.-Peter Weir; Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnet, David Gulpilil, Frederick Parslow, Vivean Gray, Nanjiwarra Amagula) Having brought up Wave in Cane Toad, I thought that I would rerun my review. Also, Wave is now available in a Criterion DVD at Sneak Reviews. Unbalancing, disturbing, eerie, surrealistic. This description fits an amazing number of Australian films; it must be something in the climate. Stunning visual imagery combined with haunting aural effects, mostly from aboriginal instruments. A ritual "murder" leads to charges against the aborigines. Chamberlain, as the court appointed attorney, finds the accused strangely reluctant to use his help. His attempts to assist them by digging deeper into their past are juxtaposed with increasingly bizzare Sydney weather and truly disturbing and frightening visions and events in his own life. Weir's extraordinary skills at film making are clearly evident in this well off-of-center movie. While not for all tastes, Wave is a visual and auditory feast for those who enjoy the provocative and offbeat or just a sensory-mental roller coaster and overload. You may not like it, but you will not soon forget it. However, if you start it, do stick around for the finale. (3-7-93)

The new DVD contains an insightful short commentary by the director. It includes information on the film making, the actors, and anecdotes about the filming. The wide screen presentation and sound are excellent. So turn out the lights and be disturbed. Beginning

Laura (1944) (***1/2, drama, noir, mystery, murder, classic) (1-26-09) (D.-Otto Preminger; W.-Vera Caspary (novel); Jay Dratler (screenplay); Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson) “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.” From the understated opening voice-over line by the older Waldo Lydecker to the final revelation, this is a fascinating tail of human psychopathology. The background is told in flashback by the brilliantly savage columnist and power broke Lydecker, who could make or break a person or business by one of his columns. “I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” The murder is brutal. A shotgun blast to the face as she opened her apartment door. As told by Lydecker, Laura (Tierney) was a beautiful, very talented young woman who came to the big city to make her fortune. She crossed paths with Waldo and due to her articulate, brutally frank manner managed to not only survive her first encounter with him, but became his ward as he proceeded to orchestrate her career. As he says about how much she softened his character “I should be sincerely sorry to see my neighbor's children devoured by wolves.”

The murder is investigated by earthy, lower class Det. Lt. Mark McPherson (Andrews). The list of possible suspects include Waldo; Clifton Web (Price) as her handsome, charming, gold-digger fiancée, who may have been on the verge of being dumped; and older friend Mrs. Ann Treadwell who had more than a platonic relationship with Clifton.

The center of the story is McPherson and his growing infatuation with Laura. Waldo’s characterization of her coupled with her magnificent portrait that dominates her apartment turns him into a brooding hulk, obsessed with finding the killer. But enough of plot. See the film for the now overused plot twists.

The film is filled with brilliant word play, savage characterization, stellar acting, and an academy award winning theme song, “Laura”. Waldo and Clifton are priceless as two men who are extremely good at what they do and revel in it. The beautiful Tierney is completely believable. Andrews does a good job as McPherson, but here lies the weak point of the film. The script fails to develop his growing feelings so that when we arrive at his total infatuation, it lacks proper build up and believability. Nevertheless, a fascinating walk on the dark sides of human nature. Review based on the DVD from Sneak Reviews with good extras. Oh, the portrait isn’t a portrait. It is actually a photograph. Beginning

Laurel and Hardy and the Laughing Twenties (1965) (****, humor) (Compiled by Robert Youngson; Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase, Edgar Kennedy, James Finlayson, Anita Garvin) The pratfall is the earliest (and arguably the lowest) form of humor to develop in humans. Most of us never lose our appreciation of this time honored art form. It dates back at least to the clowns of the Greeks, and given the obvious depth of the genetic imprinting, cavemen probably enjoyed watching their neighbor trip over a log. Laurel and Hardy and other greats from the golden age of silent slapstick comedy treat us to some of the finest belly laughs to ever grace the silver screen. Many of the skits are every bit as funny today as they were sixty plus years ago. Many of these comedians and comediennes were clearly extremely athletic. Indeed, even the portly Oliver Hardy was a powerful athlete. This is delightfully demonstrated by their skit on the top of the high rise construction with the two of them "apparently" blundering around on the beams with their lives continually hanging by a thread. Another great skit that demonstrates their physical prowess was the house construction project where the only question is what sequence of events will lead to its ultimate destruction. For pure belly laughs, it doesn't get any better than this. If you like slapstick, you will love these vintage and rarely seen footage. (3-29-93) Beginning

Lawnmower Man, The (1992) (**, Sci-Fi) (D:-Brett Leonard, Jeff Fahey, Pierce Brosnan, Jenny Wright, Geoffrey Lewis, Jeremy Slate) Experiments in virtual reality and intelligent enhancement of apes for military purposes go awry when applied to a mentally retarded handyman. The plot is predictable and the character development minimal. The computer generated virtual reality, which should be the high point of the film, is interesting but only occasionally rises above that of a good modern video arcade game. Lawnmower Man does generate a wide range of opinions from those who like it a lot to my own. See at your own risk. Review based on the Director's Cut laser video disk. (3-3-94) Beginning

League of Their Own, A (1992) (***1/2, humor, docudrama) (D.-Penny Marshall; Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, Megan Cavanaugh.) The Second World War. All the able-bodied men, including the baseball players, are off to war. What is to become of the nation's pastime, baseball? Businessmen decide, why not have attractive women in sexy little outfits replace the men and, incidentally, pick attractive women who can actually play good baseball? And, thus, was formed the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League in 1943. It persisted until 1954. League is a high-spirited, delightful, fictionalized account of the forming of one of these teams. Two sisters (Davis and Petty), along with a cross section of American society, are coached into the World Series by Hanks. Acceptance of the league was neither universal nor instantaneous as the film makes clear, but a place was earned in the hearts of the public because the women could, in fact, play ball.

First let me say that I am not a sports fan and certainly not a baseball fan. However, League is not a baseball film. It is about people, aspirations, determinations, victories, and defeats. By 1943, women were basically running the war machine. They didn't feel that there was anything they couldn't do, and this included the ultimate male bastion of baseball. A nice view of the attitude of women at the end of the war comes across in The Big Sleep. League is poignant, funny, superbly acted. Sure we have seen many of the situations and characters before, but it is the style, the humanism, and the irreverence with which it is delivered that makes League such a delight. Besides, let's not complain about stereotypes, because they all really do exist, although generally not in this high a concentration.

Hanks is a gem as the drunken, disabled ex-baseball champion who is burdened with--the horror--coaching a women's team. Davis and Petty are perfect as the competitive sisters. And like the magnificent Bull Durham, the remainder of this ensemble cast work together like a well oiled baseball team. Marshall handles the material deftly with the right blend of humor, drama, and action. Only the slightly slow beginning and the extended end sequence seem to me a little off.

Trust me on this one. League is not a baseball film. It is not a woman's film. It is a delight to watch, and it is even PG-13 rated. (9-7-98) Beginning

Leap of Faith (1992) (**1/2, drama) (D.-Richard Pearce; Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas, Meat Loaf) Martin is an evangelical huckster travelling with his bus load of con artists on a tour of the South. Martin has the suave persuasive pitch down perfectly. The movie beautfully captures the atmosphere and style of their show. Winger is his second-in-command. When they have a breakdown, he sets up his tent and begins scalping the locals in this small, depressed, drought-stricken town. Neeson is the local sheriff, who knows exactly what is happening but cannot do a thing. Throw in a young cripple (Haas) and a love interest between Winger and Neeson, and you have the remainder of the alleged plot. In spite of the poor showing on the drama meter, some nice performances and a fine mood piece. (2-28-95) Beginning

Legally Blonde (2001) (**1/2, comedy) (8-13-01) (D.-Robert Luketic; Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber, Ali Larter) Clueless meets Harvard Law School. Fluff, but amusing fluff. Featherweight Elle (Witherspoon) leads a California, rich kid drone-like existence. Her days as president of Delta Nu sorority are filled with perms, parties, shopping and dressing in the latest styles. Then, her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Davis) of the prestigious New England Huntingtons, dumps her to go to Harvard Law school. She just isn’t of the intellectual horsepower or class for an important family lawyer to sport on his arm. After a brief bout of moping, she decides the best way to get him back is to get into Harvard herself. How she does is a hoot and in keeping with her major. Not surprisingly she brings her attitudes and dress to Harvard, which meets with open hostility from the somewhat more serious and focused students, especially Warner’s new fiancee (Blair). The plot follows her evolution to a mature woman.

Contrary to what you might think, this is not a film about a dumb blond. Elle was perfectly adapted for her California existence; but, to put it mildly, is somewhat out of her league at Harvard. However, she was intelligent, adaptable, and driven. I loved the way she managed to adjust to the new situation while maintaining some of her roots. I liked the maturation and recognition of her own worth. I have seen students coming in who felt almost as outclassed at UVA as Elle did at Harvard and watched them mature into confident able young people.

Blonde is not riotously funny, but I smiled much of the way through and got a few good laughs. Witherspoon is a very talented young actress with a gift for light comedy. It will be interesting to watch her career.

There is at least one very inside joke. During her depressed stage, Elle locked herself in her room and watched the soap “General Hospital”. In the film, one of her sorority sisters was actually a young actress who had grown up on General Hospital—and quit the show to go to school at Harvard. Beginning

Legend Of Drunken Master AKA Jui kuen II (1994) (7-16-01) (***, comedy, martial arts) (7-16-01) (D.- Chia-Liang Liu; Jackie Chan, Lung Ti, Anita Mui, Felix Wong, Chia-Liang Liu Ken Lo, Lok Chin) This was re-released recently in dubbed format in the theaters. It is actually a much earlier Chan film that did well in Asia. We watched the subtitled version on DVD that has both dubbing and subtitles.  In my opinion, Chan has assumed the mantle of the silent screen greats Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Much of his comedy is so physical, and so visual that words and sound are irrelevant. Plot is really irrelevant, but I’ll give you a little anyway. Due to an accidental exchange of luggage (well maybe not so accidental), Chan and his brother inadvertently get into a massive government swindle during the English colonial occupation of China. To save himself and his family requires his considerable martial arts skills. Only there is a problem. He is master of the Drunken style of fighting, and to fully practice this style requires that you be totally sloshed. You may fight well drunk, but you are likely to get into lots of other trouble, which he does. The exchange also leads to delightful complications in his own family. Fortunately for Chan, his young and indulgent stepmother (Mui) is always covering for him with his father (Ti).

As with other Chan movies, the fights are both operatically amazing and delightful slapstick. If you aren’t into such humor, don’t bother with Master. The gambling, manipulative stepmother is a trip, and the father is believably put upon. Also, in Chan’s normal style, the end has bloopers from the film.

The DVD has an entertaining “making of”. To get his face an appropriate “drunken” red, he would bend over to allow the blood to rush to his face. Make up and paint wouldn’t work because the heavy sweating from the physical action washed it off. However, this presents the problem of making him dizzy—think about it. All the stunts are real, no FX. That really is him sliding across the hot coals. And that is his foot burning as he makes the magnificent flying kick through the thrown water. When he and the villain run into each other, they both managed to bloody their noses. Beginning

Le Jour Se Leve (US Title Daybreak) (1939) (***, drama) (D.-Marcel Carne, Jean Gabin, Jacqueline Laurent, Jules Berry, Arletty, Mady Berry) Considered a classic French film, but now dated. Nevertheless, an exceptional setup and a knock-you-dead visual finale where the final image is seared into your mind. The movie begins with a man being shot, staggering out of an apartment, falling down the stairs, and dying. The movie revolves around the apparant killer (Gabin), a normally personable mild mannered worker, trapped in his apartment by the police and spending the night going over the events leading to the death. The director keeps you unbalanced and guessing to the very end. Unfortunately, the explanation is unsatisfying and unbelievable. The real problem is the cast, especially Gabin, who show virtually no emotion. Yet in the final analysis, the killing must hinge on a deep visceral rage, which is never justified nor believable in the laconic Gabin. While artistically attractive, note the error of the bullet holes in the window and mirror--the windows would certainly shatter. Especially, notice the absence of bullet holes behind the mirror. The sound in the final scene is easy to miss and is the fateful alarm clock. Later remade here as the The Long Night which Maltin savages. (11-22-93) Beginning

Leopard Man, The (1943) (**1/2, horror, mystery) (D.- Jacques Tourneur; Dennis O'Keefe, Margo, Isabel Jewell) Another film from that master of the dark shadows, Jacques Tourneur. This is a B movie. For those unfamiliar with the term, B movies were designed for the second feature of a double feature (at one time virtually all shows were double features). The B's were shorter, generally got lower budgets, and typically the less well known writers and actors. The B origins show here especially in the plot and acting. However, Tourneur's direction and the cinematography are stellar. Dark, brooding, unnerving. Film noir lighting and sparse use of music adds to the tension. Even now some scenes set my nerves ajangle and shivers down my spine. An escaped black leopard may be responsible for grisly killings in a small New Mexico town. The plot doesn't hold together, but you won't forget the dark streets at night and the castanets. Tourneur is responsible for the classic Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie , which are both masterpieces of lighting and imagery. Review based on the AMC cable version. It was billed at 60 minutes in the paper, or about the 59 minutes given in Maltin. However, it ran noticeably over 60 minutes and may actually have been the original 66 min theatrical release. Even then, however, one critical scene was clearly cut near the end. (3-28-94) Beginning

Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) (*** action) (D.-Richard Donner; Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Stuart Wilson, Steve Kahan, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe) This delivers good basic escapism. Action, humor, and thrills begin with the opening scene (the cat gets away) and do not let up until the final credits. No sex, but plenty of violence. Ruthless urban gun sellers are the object of Gibson and Glover's pursuit. The interplay between Gibson and Glover is becoming a well polished gem. Pesci supplies more comic relief, but I personally find his style abrasive and offensive--fortunately, he is not on the screen too much. If you want a solid action piece with thrills, chills, and humor, but no great style or claim to fame, check it out. Beginning

Let the Right One In (2008) (***1/2, vampire, drama) (5-29-09)(D.- Tomas Alfredson; W.- John Ajvide Lindqvist based on his novel; Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl) One of the best vampire films in years, and not like any other you have probably seen. Oskar is 12 and alienated. While his parents, especially his mother, love him, they are separated and are distant (at least as far as he is concerned). He is small, bright, and bullied mercilessly at school. The adults are probably aware of what is going on, but remain aloof. The adults also are estranged from the establishment. Oskar would like nothing more than to take revenge on the bullies. One snowy night an elderly man Hakan (Ragnar) and 12 year old Eli (Leandersoon) move in. Thus begins a waltz, or perhaps a courtship, as these two estranged and lonely youths banter back and forth. Without giving anything away, she is a vampire, but Oskar is young, inexperienced, and doesn't pick up quickly on the clues. This is understandable; the adults with more knowledge don't do very well either. When Oskar asks if she will be his girlfriend she declines with "I'm not a girl." Which brings his almost casual response, "Oh." as he sorts it out. For those who cannot understand Morse code in Swedish, the final message is "small kiss".

Eli may be 12 physically and emotionally stunted at that age, but she is old. "I have been 12 a very long time." I will give nothing more on plot other than to say it is really a character study on the anguish of youth and relationships. Certainly for Oskar, life is hard enough without having a vampire for a girl friend. The film is sad, poignant, and thought provoking. The two young leads are outstanding. There is plenty of room for discussion afterwards as to just how sophisticated Eli is.

The film is in Swedish. Herein lays a tale. We accidently had both subtitles and English dubbing on when we started it. There were significant distracting differences, and we went with our usual subtitles since we like to hear the original actors. On Internet Movie Data Base it turns out the distributors was too cheap to pay for the original theatrical subtitles and did their own which are apparently vastly inferior. They will release a new copy with the original subtitles at some point, but will not replace the "defective" DVDs. Reviewers on IMDB claimed the dubbing, which followed the original dialogue, was far superior and are furious. I thought the film was excellent with the subtitles, but now I am going to have to go back and watch it again with the dubbing.

One last point, the role of Hakan puzzled me. For me, the final scene made everything crystal clear. Beginning

Liar Liar (1997) (***, humor) (D.-Tom Shadyac; Jim Carrey, Maura Tierney, Swoosie Kurtz, Jennifer Tilly, Amanda Donohue, Anne Haney, Justin Cooper) A return to what Carrey does best--outrageous physical slapstick comedy. Liar is not as belly-laugh funny, in my opinion, as Ace Ventura Pet Detective, but it is not so ribald either and might have a wider audience. Carrey is a lawyer on the rise in his firm who seems incapable of opening his mouth without lying, and he is very good at it and makes great professional use of it. His personal life is in disarray. He is divorced and loves his 5 year old son. However, between his ambition and lying, this relationship is not going well. His son makes a birthday wish that his father cannot tell a lie for one day. This sets up the film's running gag.

Carrey is a stellar physical comedian with a protean face. He uses this to mirror exquisitely the internal conflict between what he wants to say and what he has to say. Two fabulous pieces are the blue pen lie and the traffic stop. His physical comedy is a throwback to the best silent comedians with the restroom scene being the most extended. Shadyac, a former Charlottesville resident, was the director of Pet Detective and clearly knows how to exploit Carrey's style. The emotional set up and conclusion work adequately, but it is the middle two thirds that make the film. Tilley, as an unfaithful wife trying to get a favorable divorce settlement, is a delight. Do stick around for the bloopers during the closing credits.

As Carrey said about physical comedy, he and the director just set up the scene and then saw where it went. The restroom is a classic example, and Carrey got a lot of bruises. When Tilley was asked whether they were allowed to impro with Carrey, her response was yes, but that was very dangerous and she didn't. You never knew where an odd cue would send him, especially with his very physical style. The "claw" was adapted from his father and was one of the great memories of his youth. Until Pet Detective Carrey's career was not going well. He wrote himself a check for $10 million, and told himself that if he didn't make it in three years, he would change careers. He made it. The check was buried with his father. Carrey is married, but his multiple personalities scare his wife, so he is not allowed to slip into any of them around her. (3-17-97) Beginning

Libeled Lady (1936) (***1/2, comedy) (12-30-03) (D.-Jack Conway; Cast Includes, Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Walter Connolly, Charley Grapewin, Cora Witherspoon) Screwball comedy involving ruthless newspaper editor Tracy who wants to get the goods on spoiled heiress (Loy) who is suing his paper. Throw in Tracy’s hard suffering, frequently left at the alter fiancé (Harlow), and slimy lady’s man and reporter Powell. To tell you too much about the plot would be to spoil some of the fun. Let’s just say that nothing goes as planned. High-powered cast plays off of each other like a well-oiled machine. The film ends at exactly the right moment with more unresolved issues than it settles. In the final analysis the principals probably deserve each other. Review based on excellent Turner Classic Movies print. Beginning

The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (2008) (**1/2, action ) (7-29-09) (D.-Jonathan Frakes; W.-Marco Schnabel; Noah Wyle, Bruce Davison, Stana Katic, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Dikran Tulaine) I read the dust cover on this at the video store and picked it up on a lark. It looked like a low rent Indiana Jones, and it delivered exactly what I expected. Nothing special but a mindless amusing romp. It turns out The Librarian series is a popular TV series of movies with this being the latest. The Librarian is actually a locator, keeper, and protector of powerful occult secrets. As he grouses, he has no social life. Be careful what you ask for. After rescuing the Philosopher's Stone, his latest adventure involves ex-KGB, a recovered ancient body, Vlad the Impaler, a life restoring chalice, and vampires. We have miscommunications, slapstick, sword fights, gun fights, fist fights, klutzy behavior, and romance. What more do you want in a throwaway?

Wyle as Carson, The Librarian, and Katic as Simone Renoir with a very mysterious past make a pleasant pair. The search is aided by curmudgeon Professor Lazlo (Davison). The film could have done with a few less travelogue sequences, but it has more than enough to compensate for these slow parts. Stana Katic is the police detective in TV's Castle which like Vlad was resurrected after the first season net work cancellation. Available at Charlottesville Video on 5th St.

Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The (1972) (**1/2, comedy, western) (D.-John Huston; Paul Newman, Victoria Principal, Anthony Perkins, Roddy McDowall, Ava Gardner, John Huston, Stacy Keach, Jacqueline Bisset, Tab Hunter, Ned Beatty) At Film Festival at Home (Los Alamos). Amiable, somewhat surrealistic western that never takes itself very seriously. Newman is a mythical adaptation of Judge Roy Bean who dispatches his own brand of justice west of the Pecos at the end of the last century. His court is overseen by a picture of his idol, singer Lily Langtry (a cameo by Ava Gardner), after whom his town is named. A delightful assortment of malcontents, misfits, and oddball situations. Not consistent enough in tone to be ***, but an entertaining diversion. Keach's portrayal as Bad Bob and Newman's dispatching of him are classics. I'm not absolutely sure, but I think a young Bruce Dern is a drunken cowboy who had the misfortune of shooting Bean's picture of Lily Langtry--only to look like a swiss cheese as Bean and his deputies put an end to such sacrilege. (6-5-95) Beginning

Life as a House(2001) (***, drama, comedy) (11-5-01) (D.- Irwin Winkler; Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen, Jena Malone, Mary Steenburgen, Mike Weinberg, Scotty Leavenworth, Sam Robards) George (Kline) is an aging curmudgeon. His ramshackle house, perched on the cliffs above the Pacific in a high rent district, and his antisocial attitudes enrage his neighbors. Without giving anything away, he discovers he is dying and hopes to make amends for the last ten years of his life, especially with his estranged ex-wife and son. He convinces his ex that it would be good for the boy to help him build a house. The 16 year old son has gone totally over the edge and is into every antisocial behavior imaginable; the last thing he wants is to be under his father’s thumb building a house. Throw in a host of quirky characters including George’s ex-flame and neighbor Coleen (Steenburgen) and her uninhibited neighborhood daughter Alyssa (Malone), as well as a nasty neighbor (Robards). The acting is stellar, the humor droll to slapstick, and the dialogue and personalities sharp. This comedic tearjerker is contrived and transparent in its audience manipulation, but I enjoyed it. In spite of the downbeat subject, this is basically an upbeat life-affirming film. Beginning

Lifeboat (1944) (**, drama, war) (D.- Alfred Hitchcock; Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee) As an anti-Nazi film, not too bad and rather popular when released. However, since the cast spent 35 days in a water tank being soaked, blown, covered with oil mist (the fog), and suffering from hacking coughs (from the oil) and even pneumonia, it is too bad their efforts didn't yield better drama. The film is too stylized, although it has some very effective vignettes such as the young mother with her baby. A ship is torpedoed by a German U-boat, and the survivors (including a U-boat officer) spend the rest of the film adrift.

Stylistically, Hitchcock films always have something to offer. Lifeboat is no exception, but given the limited canvas, even Hitchcock has trouble doing much very striking. Lifeboat will mainly be of interest to hard core Hitchcock fans. Tallulah Bankhead is quite entertaining as a very liberated famous mink-coated journalist who gets what she wants, even if it happens to be the ship's oiler, Hodiak.

Normally, Hitchcock appears once in each of his movies. In Lifeboat he appears twice. The first is one of the bodies floating in the water. Since he is virtually unrecognizable, Hitchcock decided to put himself in a second time. Since the entire film takes place on a lifeboat with a known but steadily decreasing group, this requires some sleight of hand. You have to look closely, but will be impressed with the way in which he solves this problem. If you cannot find him, let me know. (5-7-96) Beginning

Lifeforce (1985) (**, sci fi, horror) (D.-Tobe Hooper, Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Michael Gothard) An exploratory mission to Halley's Comet discovers three stunningly good looking nude humans in suspended animation in a giant space craft. Too bad they are actually life-force sucking vampires who begin to pick off the crew one by one as in Alien. Railsback, the sole human survivor of the mission, escapes after thinking he has destroyed them. But you know how pesky vampires are to get rid of--worse than cockroaches. Once they get to earth, it's goodbye humanity. If you like excess, Lifeforce abounds with it. Stunning visuals, a mercurial plot that includes everything from vampires, to plague ravaging London with panic in the streets, to a love story of sorts. The plot suffers from lack of a clear focus, but one rarely watches Hooper movies for plot. You turn off the brain and let the movie wash over you like an incoming riptide. Under these conditions the movies offers an entertaining evening. See Vampires. (2-8-94) Beginning

Light Sleeper (1992) (***, drama) (D.-Paul Schrader; Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Travis Bickle, Julian Kay, Dana Delany) The plot synopsis in the movie guide basically said that an aging drug courier decides he wants to do something more with his life. This sounded pretty dull and it kept me from watching the movie for quite awhile. When I finally saw it, the synopsis actually is pretty accurate. However, Sleeper is anything but dull. DeFoe is a courier who delivers drugs to mainly respectable, upper-class whites. He has been in it for years with his friends (the business is run by Sarandon who wants to start a cosmetics line) and has gained and kicked a very bad habit along the way. He is comfortable with the stable secure routine, but does hate to see others actively trying to destroy themselves. He dreams of something different, but doesn't really know what it isjust that getting out of the business is probably part of it. He is a light sleeper and spends hours keeping a diary of his life and then destroying each volume as he completes it. I normally find DeFoe's rather spacey, largely unemotional performances leaden and uninteresting. However, in Sleeper it not only works, it is perfect.

Actually, Sleeper is not about sleeping too lightly, but about not being able to awaken. DeFoe is a somnambulist, drifting through life, never quite able to rise out of his dreams long enough to do what needs to be done. The crisis comes when he runs into his ex-wife (Delany) who is now also clean, but gainfully employed. Recovered addicts are probably not your most stable people, and her intense feeling that getting together with DeFoe is a bad move is highly prophetic. The ending seemed unnecessarily violent to me and the dead, while not without sin, probably didn't deserve it. However, it certainly got my attention. Given their long standing friendship, the final scene between DeFoe and Sarandon is certainly plausible, but whether it can survive the impending stresses remains to be seen.

The acting is top rate and the cinematography haunting and appropriately beautiful. The whole movie has a dream-like air. The music and soft warm high lights in otherwise high contrast scenes adds to the dreaminess. Probably not for everyone, but I certainly enjoyed it. (11-7-94) Beginning

Like Water for Chocolate (1993) (***1/2, drama) An absolutely intriguing and visually stunning Mexican film, which is mainly in Spanish with subtitles. Definitely an art film, and not for all tastes. To prevent spoiling many of the surprises, I won't give too much away. This is a love story but with as many twists as a film noir. The main thrust is that there are three sisters, a domineering mother who expects the youngest (Tita) to serve her as long as she lives, and the youngest daughter's two admirers. Throw in a multigenerational story line, and culinary skills on the part of Tita that magically transfer her emotional state to others through her cooking. If this isn't enough, how about a smoldering sister and the Mexican revolution? The plot line alternates between light and airy and occasional pathos, but consistently remains high spirited and a real celebration of life even when we mess things up. (11-29-93) Beginning

Lilo & Stitch (2002) (***1/2, animation, comedy) (12-23-02) (D.- Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders; W.- Chris Sanders; Voices by: Daveigh Chase, Chris Sanders, Jason Scott Lee, Tia Carrere, Amy Hill, Ving Rhames, David Ogden Stiers) In one word, Lilo & Stitch is a stitch. It isn’t quite as good as Shrek and Aladdin, but it was good enough to purchase for multiple viewing and has something for all ages. It has a plot that will appeal to children, but it always leavens it with issues and humor that will appeal to adults. It has fun with a number of movies including Jaws, Men in Black, and Godzilla. The humor ranges from droll to roadrunner slapstick. The animation is visually appealing.

Stitch (Sanders) is a blue, four armed, spined genetically engineered creature. Its basic programming is destruction. It is also fearsome in its abilities and survival skills: intellect, strength, and adaptability. It is downright despicable. It escapes from the galactic federation and crash lands on one of the Hawaiian Islands, a location that totally disrupts its program. Here is where its adaptability may prove its salvation. This now dysfunctional creature ends up in the stressed family of the little girl Lilo (Chase) and her guardian sister Nani (Carrere). Stitch ends up as a pet dog, albeit a very strange looking one (you’ll have to watch it to find out how). Nani and Lilo are being investigated by a hulking social worker, Cobra Bubbles (Rhames); he handles the real problem cases and lives up to his name. The basic plot revolves around how the Hawaiian concept of ohano (family) can overcome all. And as it turns out there are multiple families here. The film even manages to integrate Elvis numbers into the plot.

I will mention that I first “watched” this film on an airliner. Sometimes I had the earphones on, sometimes not. It didn’t seem to make much difference in my laughter since much of the humor is visual, but I don’t recommend doing this at home.

One of my friends said that they rented Lilo to keep the kids happy during  a Thanksgiving get together. After a while, as adults started wandering through, there was as much or more laughter from the adults as the children. Even if you don’t have children, treat yourself. Check out Lilo. Beginning

Limey, The (1999) (***, crime) (2-07-00) (D.- Steven Soderbergh; Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Barry Newman, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Joe Dallesandro) Black humored story of revenge. Dave Wilson is a hardened English criminal just released. He comes to Los Angeles after his daughter's death in an accident. To him an accident is unthinkable and he wants an accounting. When he get to LA he joins with Ed (Guzman) and his daughter's acting coach (Warren). High on his suspect list are the daughter's boy friend, an aging recording mogul Terry Valentine (Fonda), and his equally aging but ruthless bodyguard Avery (Newman). Without giving too much away, let's just say that when there is money, egos, fleeting fame, and drugs readily available, the stew can be lethal. Wilson is gray and lean, almost scrawny, but he earned it. Anyone judging him by his shell does so at their own risk.

Limey has great fun with the LA culture of youth, sun and fun. There are plenty of inside jokes. Fonda's big early hit was Easy Rider, and this is played to the hilt including the sound track. In the flash back footage to Wilson's youth, you will be stunned by the likeness of the actor playing the part. There should be a resemblance. It is the same actor in his 1967 film Poor Cow, which Soderbergh skillfully adapts to the current story. Look closely and you will also see Malcolm MacDowell in his first film.

The story is unpredictable and entertaining. The characters quirky and memorable. The acting good. Stamp is ruthless and droll. Fonda and Newman are self-deprecating. Even the nonlinear editing works for the story. So for an off-the-wall evening, you might give Limey a look. Beginning

Lion in Winter, The (1968) (10-8-02) (****, drama, historical customer) (D.- Anthony Harvey; W. P. James Goldman (also his play); Peter O'Toole, Katharine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, Nigel Terry, Timothy Dalton, Jane Merrow) A must see. Wit, sophistication, style, venom, and intrigue on a Christmas “vacation” in 1183 of Henry II (O’Toole), his mistress (Jane Merrow), his imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), their three sons Geoffrey (Castle), Richard (Hopkins), and John (Terry) along with the King of France, Philip II (Dalton). At stake is who will succeed the aging Henry, whether his wife will be let out of her 10 year imprisonment, and whether the shifting alliances will destroy the kingdom. While these issues of state are important, it is the interaction between Henry and Eleanor that forms the backbone of the film. They are intelligent, articulate, enormously strong willed people. Both have great respect for each other even as they try to manipulate, control, or even destroy the other. As the barbs flow, the castle intrigue percolates every which way, the schemes unfold and unravel, the personalities reveal themselves, and you are in for one of the most articulate, draining film experiences in a long time.

In the hands of any two lesser actors than O’Toole and Hepburn, this could easily have been a disaster. However, both have such enormous screen presences and project such power and intelligence, that you can easily believe the plot and that there are no underdogs.

To these people intrigue and manipulation is a way of life. The Borgias could easily have used them as models. What is first on the table is merely a subterfuge and everyone recognizes that. The true underlying next level is merely bait for the following level of deceit, which hides yet another layer, which may actually be the true game plan. Maybe.

The verbal exchanges are witty and cut like knives. Henry’s comment to his mistress to assure her that he is not temporarily releasing Eleanor because of love: “Eleanor, my new Medusa! I haven’t kept the great bitch in the dungeon for 10 years out of passion.” He says this with reason. Their one son died in the second of an Eleanor-inspired rebellion to overthrow Henry, and he can trust her no further with the other sons. Her pleasantly spoken greeting to him at the beach “How dear of you to let me out of jail.”

To call the family dysfunctional is to do it an injustice. All three sons want the throne. Henry and Eleanor each have a favorite they wish to manipulate into king. As Henry says, “They snap at me and plot. That is the way I want them.” The French king wants his sister gainfully married to a king and wouldn’t mind having England along the way, or he wants the return of the marriageable princess and the valuable piece of French territory that was her dowry.

One of the great elements of the film is the realism of the settings. The living, the clothing are all rustic to primitive. The setting is grubby, dirty, and down right unpleasant even for the royalty. The chickens underfoot. The straw in the great hall to simplify cleaning. The wake up call. All demonstrate that 12th century England and France was not one of the most advanced points of human existence.

Henry is a man who truly revels in his life. “Oh God. I do love being king.” Hepburn is a stellar foil. In a position of physical weakness, but still as dangerous as when she wielded an army. The sons are all perfect. Strong to weak, but no match alone or as group for the cunning, age, wiliness, and intelligence of either parent. The almost unrecognizable, Dalton, holds his own against the wile of O’Toole.

If you want action, forget Lion. If you want a spectacularly acted, marvelously written, intelligent, stunning piece of cinematography run do not walk to the video store and rent the DVD.

How does this all play out? As Eleanor says near the end “How from where we started did we reach this Christmas?” You will be mesmerized getting there and seeing how the finale plays out. You will also learn that in this tapestry of deceit there are only relative weaklings.

A few additional historical facts. Eleanor must surely have been as high spirited, intelligent, and able as shown in the movie. From the tower, Eleanor continued to plot and implement rebellions on Richard’s behalf against Henry and was only freed after his death. Then, she helped Richard, who preferred crusading and soldiering, to rule until his death. At 80 she led troops into battle to protect John’s back. Henry was certainly her equal. Their initial passion appears to be every bit as incendiary as described in the film. Contrary to the film, John was no idiot, but a bright and able ruler. The same could be said of Richard, although both did have major weaknesses.

The DVD has a director’s voice over commentary, and he makes it clear that the squalid  life they lived was one of the things that he wished to portray. O’Toole was 36 at the time and Hepburn was 61, the actual age of Eleanor in the film. Review based on the DVD from Sneak Reviews. Beginning

Little Murders (1971) (***, black humor) (D.-Alan Arkin, Elliott Gould, Marcia Rodd, Vincent Gardenia) A black, black comedy about life in the big city, which, twenty years later, has proved to be depressingly prophetic. It is based on Jules Feiffer's play about a man who marries a woman who saves him from a mugger. Everyone is barely functional in the battle zone of the city, and the murder of the wife sends the entire family over the edge. When first produced Murders epitomized a small towner's view of the Big City with the continual crack of gunfire in the background. Much of the humor has been eroded as reality has replaced whimsy. Savage and unfortunately now realistic pictures of some big cities are portrayed pitilessly in monologues. For example, at one point Gardenia describes the pleasures that can be derived from the simple act of going to and from work without being mugged or murdered and returning home to find everyone alive and unharmed. Arkin delivers a stunning cameo as a stressed-out homicide officer confronted with hundreds of murders, all unsolved. He comes to the family's apartment to give his condolences, gradually and convincingly becomes unhinged as he explains his plight, and finally storms out convinced that they are involved in the killings with the shouted "And don't leave town." The ending has a bizarre mass psychosis believability to it. Not a pretty movie, but an interesting, disturbing, well acted one. (8-16-93) Beginning

Little Shop of Horror, The (1960) (***, comedy-horror) (D.-Roger Corman, Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller,Myrtle Vail, Jack Nicholson) Possibly schlockmeister Corman's best movie. Made in two day and one night--a tour de force even for the budget minded Corman. Savaged when it first appeared, but now a cult classic. Done completely tongue in cheek with many delightful touches. Young nerd develops "unusual" new plant to win coveted plant award and affection of girl, Audrey. The plant is great, absolutely unique in appearance, a sure winner, but it does have one unfortunate nutritional need--blood--as the young man accidentally discovers. Things go from bad to worse as the plant develops speech,and with each feeding, greater size and rapacious hunger. A barely recognizable Jack Nicolson does a delicious bit as a masochistic dental patient. The amusing screen play was by Charles Griffith who also played the hold-up man and provided the voice of the ravenous "Audrey, Jr." The screen play was the basis for a stage musical which, in turn, was remade as the relatively popular 1986 movie. A must see for fans of grade Z horror and Roger Corman. (11-15-93) Beginning

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) (**1/2, comedy-horror-musical) (D.- Frank Oz, Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, James Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, voice of Levi Stubbs) Entertaining, but overdone remake of 1960 Corman classic. Audrey II is amazingly good and Stubbs' voice is terrific ("Feed me Seymour. Feed me!") Martin is riotous as a macho motorcycle-driving sadistic dentist (got all that?). The American Dental Association probably took out a contract on everyone associated with this movie because painless dentistry was certainly set back a generation, but it is funny. Greene, as the love sick girl friend, replays her stage role, but I found her performance obnoxious; she gives blondes in the current wave of "dumb blonde" jokes superiority complexes. I saw a version of the stage play and enjoyed it much more than the movie. (11-15-93) Beginning

Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1999) (****, humor, crime) (3-29-99) (D.-Guy Ritchie; Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, P.H. Moriarity, Lenny McLean, Vinnie Jones, Sting) Written by Guy Ritchie. The British have long had a masterful touch at combining larceny and murder with comedy (e.g., Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers). The language may be more profane, the violence more graphic, but Smoking Barrels is a clear descendent of this lineage. Superbly acted, Smoking Barrels is a Tarantinoesque view of London low lives. Losers virtually to the man. You think you have seen the bottom of the heap until you encounter the next group of misfits. Tom (Flemyng) and his buddies get on the short end of the stick with Hatchet Harry (Moriarity), whose name says it all. Produce what is Harry's in short order or learn what the Hatchet in his name means at the hands of his enormous enforcer Barry the Baptist (McLean). As the magnitude of their disaster begins to sink in, one of the boys makes the superb understatement of the film "This doesn't look good." Their solution to the problem could only come from the minds of the criminal underclass. As with noir, every action no matter how logical, merely digs the pit deeper and compounds exponentially the disasters. Intended to be, and is in fact, much funnier than Pulp Fiction, Smoking Barrels does have very nonlinear interwoven plot lines (e.g., porn lord, antique shotguns, and drug dealers), but not the discontinuous time of Pulp Fiction. And if Barry isn't bad enough, Harry's very able collector Big Chris (played by a soccer star Vinnie Jones) will get your attention while he is keeping his young son from swearing and making him wear his seat belt.

The dialogue is beautiful. While not necessarily very bright, these guys are glib with words since their livelihood frequently depends on their patter. Most of the "English" is comprehensible and on a second viewing I am sure that I will be able to understand virtually all of it. Ritchie and his cast have superb senses of comic timing. In the labyrinthic plot, much of the humor springs from the shadows; but we have just enough time to analyze the situations, realize the consequences, and a second or two to savor the punch line as it is delivered.

The film style is unusual and grabs your attention--not surprising since Ritchie comes from TV ads. The colors, in particular, are washed out like a badly degraded old color film, which is very appropriate for the low environment. The ending is PERFECT.

Smoking Barrels is violent and profane, but not as violent as Pulp Fiction. Nevertheless, I found it riotously funny and can hardly wait to see it again. Do remember: "It's been emotional." Beginning

Lone Star (1996) (****, drama) (D.-John Sayles; Ron Canada, Chris Cooper, Clfton James, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Pena, Frances McDormand, Joe Morton) In a season dominated by flash and boom (and some great ones), Lone Star stands out as a quiet, intelligent story with top drawer cast. A complex multigenerational, multifamily, multiracial story built around a murder and told skillfully through flashbacks. It begins outside Frontera, Texas, a small border town made up predominantly of Hispanics with minorities of Anglos and Blacks. A skeleton is found, murder is declared, and the body is identified as the town's sheriff, who disappeared many years earlier. The current sheriff, Sam Deeds (Cooper), begins his investigation with the most likely suspect being his deceased and enormously respected father. Throw in Sam's Hispanic high school crush (Pena) and many other characters of all races and ages and, as Sam begins to discover, the skeleton in the desert is perhaps not the only one that should have stayed buried. In tight, claustrophobic small town Frontera there are numerous interconnecting threads between the races and the generations. As a consummate story teller, Sayles allows us to follow the unraveling and view the consequences in his own slow measured pace. The story telling is somewhat clinical as required by the number of people involved and the director's desire not to let us become too emotionally entangled with any of the principals, but I don't think that detracts.

However, enough about plot. I won't spoil your first time enjoyment. We plan to see it again so as to finish connecting all of the threads--we are still picking up details and nuances as we discuss it. The young actors playing the kids are extraordinary look alikes for their older counterparts. Excellent musical accompaniment. Also, if you like Mexican food, be prepared to go out and eat afterwards. (8-19-96) Beginning

Longest Day, The (1962) (****, docudrama, war, action) (9-25-00) (D.-Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki; John Wayne, Rod Steiger, Robert Ryan, Peter Lawford, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Richard Beymer, Jeffrey Hunter, Sal Mineo, Roddy McDowall, Eddie Albert, Curt Jurgens, Gert Fröbe, Sean Connery, Robert Wagner, Red Buttons, Mel Ferrer) A docudrama on the Normandy invasion based on Cornelius Ryan’s book. Epic story telling. Great acting. Superb effects. A great film and a must see. Not as graphically explicit and horrific as Saving Private Ryan, but you are left with no doubt of the human toll and are certain that these are places where you never want to be. Don’t let this being a docudrama turn you away. It is as tense, as suspenseful, as exciting, and as riveting as any film coming out now. This aspect is helped by the all star cast and the personal moments that allow you to empathize with the principals.

A quote from one of the participants accurately summarized the events. "The first 24 hours of the invasion. For the allies and the Germans, this will be the longest day."

Day describes the prelude and the unfolding of D-Day, the Normandy invasion, as seen by all the principals, the Americans, the English, the Germans, and the French. As with much of war, who wins, who loses, who lives, who dies hangs by a thread. Slight differences in the weather forecasts by the German and British let the invasion proceed and caught the Germans with many of their key officers out of position; Rommel was back in Germany. A missed drop zone, a landing in an armed town, and whether your parachute hung on a church steeple or not determined whether you survived or were slaughtered by machine gun fire.

Day was an enormous gamble on producer Darryl Zanuck’s part. Bucking the trend of the time, it is in black and white. There were four directors, American, English, German, and French. They directed their portion of the film using native actors speaking in their own language with subtitles. The black and white and subtitles truly imparts a documentary "you are there" feeling to the film. In addition, his $8 M film was repeatedly threatened as 20th Century Fox fell into a sea of red ink from the $40M debacle, Cleopatra. Ultimately, the enormous success of Day both saved Fox and allowed Zanuck to take control of Fox.

"Sometimes I wonder whose side God is on." Even for the survivors and the victors, I am sure this question arises.

Review based on the recent showing on AMC. Amazingly, after their half hour introduction to the film showing truly awesome wide screen letterboxed images, the film was shown in full screen pan and scan format. I want to get a letterboxed version so that I can watch it as it was intended. Beginning

Long Goodbye, The (1973) (**1/2, crime drama) (D.- Robert Altman, Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, Mark Rydell, Jim Bouton) A revisionist, seventies remake of Chandler's book. The director's name "Altman" says it all. This is not going to be your typical Phillip Marlowe! Whether you like it depends on your love of Altman and the strength and immutability of your previsualization of Phillip Marlowe. Darkly humoured and off the wall. Gould's Marlowe is a shambling, Ichabod Crane of a Marloweoutstanding if you accept the interpretation. The first 10-minute monologue sets the stage for a man who gives the terms disorganized and ill kept a bad name. However, he is also loyal, dogged, resourceful, and deeply ethical in his own way. In short, an anachronistic throwback where even his car is a forty-something Lincoln. The plot, such as it is, includes a money running friend (Bouton) and his murdered wife, abused Van Pallandt and her alcoholic husband Hayden, a missing $350,000, a vicious gangster (Rydellnormally behind the camera), an unscrupulous shrink Gibson, a bevy of half-clad neighbors who allegedly make candles but who spend so much time floating you wonder whether they could even find their shop, and a finicky cat. For those unfamiliar, the "brownies" reference is to the sixties treat Alice B. Toklas brownies (a roughly equal mix of brownie and marijuana). More style than substance. More vignettes than character study. More fine details than plot; note where Marlowe shuts the hood's fingers in the gate. More spoof than drama. Some stunning visuals by Vilmos Zsigmond. I especially enjoyed his marvelous overlays and use of reflections. Other reviewers found the jokey John Williams' sound track a real pleasure, but I found it intrusive. If you start it, do stay for the ending. Ebert found the ending bizzareI thought it was the best part of the movie. If the end doesn't catch you on the chin like a prize fighter's upper cut, then you have had the misfortune to see the butchered TV version, which omitted the ending! Note Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to hide his muscles behind a tiny mustache.

Continuity Error: There is one delightful extended continuity error where Gould is being hassled by the gangsters and his cigarette marvelously shifts between his right hand, his mouth, and disappears completely (courtesy of S. E. Demas). (5-2-94) Beginning

Longitude (2000) (****, docudrama) (10-16-00) (D.-Charles Sturridge; W.- Dava Sobel, Charles Sturridge; Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Jonathan Coy, Christopher Hodsol, Peter Cartwright, John Nettleton, Gemma Jones, Nigel Davenport, Liam Jennings, Frank Finlay, Anna Chancellor, Andrew Scott, Geoffrey Hutchings, John Wood, John Standing) Stellar four-hour miniseries (with ads) made for A&E cable. A clear demonstration once again that "made for TV" is not an artistic death sentence. Longitude is a stunning adaptation of Dava Sobel’s book on the development of a chronometer accurate enough to be used for world navigation. I know this sounds deadly dry; humor me and read a few more sentences. The problem of determining longitude was so critical (the film shows graphically why in the opening moments) that Parliament offered a 20,000 pound prize for its solution. This is in early 1700s where 20,000 pounds wasn’t chicken feed. John Harrison, a master carpenter with a consummate skill in clock building, set out to claim the prize. It took him nearly 50 years to wrestle his reward from the committee. The film time jumps back and forth between Harrison’s travails with machines, ships, and politics to the struggles of Rupert Gould, a shell shocked WWI naval officer who became fixated on restoring Harrison’s clock, which had fallen into neglect and decay. We then follow the quests of both men; as it turned out both had many overlapping features.

The story is riveting as both men struggle with their lives, their machines, and the people around them. Harrison battled the committee made up of astronomers who were sure they could solve the problem and ultimately could not bring themselves to give the prize to a "carpenter". Gould fought the society and his own personal demons. Indeed we learn a great deal about Harrison from Gould’s battles with the clocks. Both men are fixated, driven, relentless. Both are willing to destroy their lives for their interests. In short, the chronometers actually function as the basis for a pair of character studies.

However, the science is also fascinating. How do you build a clock that is accurate to a few seconds a week and can withstand a ship swaying with waves or bouncing during battle? Longitude answers many of these questions in a clear, understandable fashion.

The acting is outstanding throughout with Gambon and Irons being simply stellar. The plot development is fascinating and gripping. The cinematography stunning. And the clocks! Oh the clocks! These are truly works of art that could be in display at the National Art Gallery. Magnificent and beautiful in their functionality. It is almost inconceivable that with the primitive tools available at that time, they could fabricate machines of such awesome beauty and precision.

So when you get a chance, sit back and watch a piece of art worthy of the subject. The book is apparently outstanding also. Beginning

Long Kiss Goodnight, The (1996) (**1/2, action) (D.-Renny Harlin; Geena Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Malahyde, Craig Bierko, Brian Cox, David Morse) Intriguing Bondsian premise, which is adequately handled with some satisfactory action sequences, a fine mercurial performance by Davis, and another stellar riotous job by Jackson. If actioners are your cup of tea, Goodnight will keep your adrenaline up until a good one comes along. Davis is a school teacher with an 8 year old daughter and a solid significant other--the perfect middle class mom. However, her life began 8 years ago when she woke up on a beach two months pregnant, wounded, with no memories earlier than that moment. Her search for her past identity has finally reduced her to using a VERY low life private detective Jackson. Due to an accident and a bit of TV exposure, she finds out in nasty bits and pieces that teaching kids is one of her lesser skills. Add knife throwing, lethal hand-to-hand, and marksmanship. Her attempt to unravel her past puts her in the middle of a major conspiracy with all the encumbent violence. The film uses humor throughout, but not always effectively.

Davis at six feet and clearly in excellent shape makes a credible action heroine. Her transformation from mom perfect to a hard-as-nails killer is a pleasure to watch as her warring personalities gain control. Jackson's detective survives by being so low that he has to reach up to touch the bottom; but he has a crystal clear view of his status and values and aspires to more. The action sequences and explosions are spectacular, but we have seen it all before.

Davis is the director's wife and this is their second film; Cut Throat Island was the first. As Davis commented, the down side to the arrangement is that he can expect her to do more than a regular actor or actress. On the morning she was expected to walk barefooted through a frozen stream, someone yelled in the door that Renny had tried it and it wasn't so bad. The spectacular plunge into the frozen lake used the real actors (cabled and with a cage under the ice to protect them). However, the shock was so great that they were blinded by the cold when they came up--look closely and you can see it. Davis commented that she is now ready for an Emma part. R for raw language and the current level of violence.Beginning

Long Voyage Home, The (1940) (***, war, drama) (D.-John Ford; John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Ward Bond, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfrid Lawson, Mildred Natwick, John Qualen) Voyage is about a slice of life collection of sailors. WWII has started but the United States has not yet entered the war. The film opens with their tramp steamer entering a West Indies port, and the crew living it up with some help from the captain who knows that their next assignment is to run ammunition through the German blockade of England. The plot is about their interactions with each other, their reactions to their situations, the information brought out about the different crew members, and the ultimate fates of the ship and crew. The characters are entertaining and the plot development sufficiently convoluted and interesting to hold ones interest. However, for those interested in cinematography, Voyage is fascinating, especially since the cinematography helps drive the plot. The cinematogapher was Greg Toland, the master who, along with Orson Welles, created Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is a cinematography wonder and is credited with being the first for a number of cinematographic innovations. One in particular is low angle shots where a room ceiling shows. This was highly innovative at the time since the ceilings had the microphones and their booms. This bit of magic was achieved by using cloth ceilings painted to look like real ones. Sounds passed effortlessly through the cloth even though it appeared solid. In fact, well before Kane, Toland was a master of low-angle shots as shown by Voyage where a great deal of the shots were from low angles that revealed the ceilings. Also, Toland was superbly adept at close claustrophobic environments. His elegantly photographed pieces in the tight confines of the tramp steamer make you almost want to scream after a while since there is just no breathing room. Toland was also a master of lighting and shadows as demonstrated by the beautiful film noir feel that permeates the entire movie (long before film noir became fashionable and harsh single point lighting became a necessity of low budgets). The storm scene carries real terror and immediacy, and images of the deck seen from the low angle with wide angle lens still hang in my memory. Another little touch I really liked was in the wheel room where the sun was streaming through the glass in the door. The sun cuts bright slashes through the air in the darkened room, and these slashes moved up and down as the ship rocked on the waves. Either a very carefully contrived effect or a beautiful example of opportunism when noticed on a real ship. (8-8-95) Beginning

Lord of Illusion (1995) (**, horror) (D.-Clive Barker; Scott Bakula, Famke Janssen, Kevin J. O'Connor, Vincent Schiavelli, Daneil von Bargen) There are illusions and there is magic. One is fun and the other lethal as a detective (Bakula) finds when he accidentally stumbles onto a ritualistic homocide in progress. Although there are some nice effects, some imaginative imagery, and some delightfully malevolent villains, the plot just doesn't gel for me. It has been done too many times before and better. One would like to see Barker rise to the quality of his writing, which can be superbly disturbing. As an amusing aside, it is difficult to reconcile Famke's portrayal of the magician's dainty, demure wife with her blood lust-driven female psychopath in Goldeneye. As you would expect from Barker, for gore hounds it delivers. (4-29-96) Beginning

Lord of the Flies (1963) (***1/2, drama) (D.-Peter Brook, James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards, Roger Elwin, Tom Gaman) A faithful, savagely effective black and white adaptation of William Golding's classic book. A morality play on the thin line separating civilization and savagery. Following a war in the near future, English school boys are the sole survivors of a plane crash on a deserted tropical island paradise. They make a valiant attempt to create a well ordered existence. However, when confronted by the threatening unknown, the veneer of civilization peels away to reveal a dark animalistic core. Their degeneration is swift, brutal, inexorable, and believable. Any voice of rationality is drowned out as fear screams through their minds like a force 5 hurricane. The movie is built on a haunting juxtaposition of images. Rationality versus hate and fear. Civilization versus barbarism. Order versus fire and destruction. Irony. The ultimate instrument of their destruction is a flier's survival gear, which should be as civilized and humane a symbol as can be imagined. At the beginning, the boys chorus wrapped in their regal robes come marching down the beach singing, while the ending is as sharp edged as the creases in the war ship officer's pressed whites as he looks down at what they have become. The cast is largely amateurs, although you wouldn't know it from the taut, realistic performances. Disturbing, insightful, unpleasant, and believable. The book is a must read. (4-19-93) Beginning

Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) (****, fantasy) (12-24-01) (D.- Peter Jackson; Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Ian Holm, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee) A film such as Lord comes with enormous baggage. It is one of the most beloved books, and everyone who has read it has their own perception of its reality. I went into it without having read any of the series. My wife had recently read Lord. So you are getting two viewpoints. Someone who knows virtually none of the story and another recently familiar with the book. Nevertheless, we agree completely. The film is excellent. There is enough background and information provided that I was able to follow the plot easily. For my wife the omissions from the film did not damage the story even though they could not get everything in its 178 minutes.

A classic tale of good and evil. Quests. Monsters. Betrayal. Loyalty. Romance. Magic. It’s all here in a grand epic myth. Many raised on Starwars will be stunned to notice the striking similarities. However, J.R.R. Tolkien was both a linguist and a student of myth from which his trilogy draws shamelessly. Lucas freely admits that Starwars was modeled after mythology. Human nature has always needed heroes to overcome the horrors and evils that have frequently tried to overwhelm us through history and legends to give us hope of a brighter future. Lord supplies these in the grand heroic (Aragorn (Mortensen)), the heroism of a normal, timid person forced to rise to heroic level (Frodo Baggins (Wood)), and the brilliance of Gandalf (McKellen). Counterbalancing these is the Ring that twists minds to its own needs, the monstrous orcs, the evil Saruman (Lee), and the hunting kings with their steeds as black and alive as the pits of hell.

In my opinion Lord of the Rings is the Starwars  of the current generation. It is populated with a wealth of worlds and an array of species that boggles the mind. Everything is conveyed with stunning realism. Both the beautiful and the nightmarish. The characters, the plot, the worlds capture your imagination. You can relate to the characters, cheer and fear for them or hate them. There is suspense, excitement, humor, dread, hope, exhilaration, and depression. In short, everything a myth needs to be.

The film is just stunning. The acting is excellent throughout. The action sequences are magnificent, although some do go on too long. The combination of matte paintings, cgi, animatronics, and superb editing makes you believe. As an aside, the tiny Hobbits were generally made small relative to the humans by forced perspective (placing the “smaller” person further away) and distorted sets rather than fancy computer techniques. It works.  

The elf language is a complete synthetic language constructed by Tolkien, although it does have deep roots in the Welsh language.

In summary, my wife and I were captivated. We can hardly wait for it to come out on DVD. Or better yet to see it again in the theater. We can also hardly wait for the next two installments. This is almost as good as the old Saturday matinee cliffhanger, although my wife knows how it ends.

Oh yes. One final point. As the film ended a father next to us was telling his children that films just could not live up to the imagination of the written word. Later, both my wife and I agreed that special effects and the imagination of the artist are such that there probably is no concept that a writer can put on paper that cannot be realized on the screen, and certainly as stunningly as anything we could imagine. That is not to say that there aren’t situations where less is actually more. In suspense and horror, well used anticipation and dread can be far more powerful that actually seeing the feared object. However, in general, film can now produce a reality more vivid and imaginative than most of us can visualize.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)(****, action, fantasy) (1-13-03) (D.- Peter Jackson; W.- Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair and Peter Jackson; Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Christoppher Lee, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Brad Dourif, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Andy Serkis, Dominic Monaghan) I do not come with the baggage of those who have read the Trilogy. Therefore, my comments are based solely on the film. While the second part lacks the dramatic arc of the first, this is natural. The first sets up the situation, develops the characters, fills in the background, and ultimately leaves our heroes divided into three groups struggling for survival. The second part follows the travails of the three groups and ends with the battles of Helm’s Deep and of the forest. We are presented with Machiavellian politics, betrayal, escapes, near death, love, success by brains, magic, and epic battles. All this is set against the unworldly sweeping beauty of New Zealand, so integral to the story line that it should be listed as one of the actors.

The story follows the epic proportions of the first. Middle Earth is under siege by the forces of evil lead by Lord Sauron and supported by the wizard Saruman (Lee) who have combined forces into the apparently unbeatable juggernaut of the Two Towers. The Hobbit Frodo carries the ultimate weapon of Evil, the Ring, that he must destroy in the fires of Mt. Doom in order to save Middle Earth. Regardless of how heroic the behavior of all the others, these are merely holding actions buying time; success or failure hinges on the destruction of the Ring.

Another character of striking complexity reenters the film, Gollum. Gollum was totally computer generated yet we see a character of such complexity in physical mannerisms and expressions that I found it impossible to believe that he did not exist. Yes, he is complex. A being driven by his lust for the Ring (“My precious”, he coos lovingly) coupled with his underlying submerged but basic humanity; he was once a hobbit. We watch as the two struggle for control. All of the physical motions that you see were actually played by the real actor, Andy Serkis, who was used as the model for what you see. Also, as many of Gollum’s activities involve physical interactions with other actors, this gave the other actors something besides air to play against, making it completely realistic, especially in physical struggles.

As before, the characters have strengths, weaknesses, make right and wrong decisions, and show petty emotions. In short, they are human (I use human here since they are human like). Aragorn, in spite of his strength as a warrior, would have made the fatal mistake of taking on the army of evil in the open plains rather than retire to the allegedly impenetrable Helm’s Deep, but is overruled by King Theoden (Hill). Had there been any doubt as to the folly, the short pitched battle fought in the open against the warg mounted Uruk-Hai settles that point. Even Saruman makes a major tactical blunder. Aragorn also makes a critical error in his dealing with the oily aptly named Grima Wormtongue (Dourif). Eowyn (Otto), a warrior princess worthy of him. She commented “Here is a character I don’t have to pretend to be in love with.” [Premiere, Jan 2002]

The set piece battle for Helm’s Deep takes place virtually all at night and, like the assault on the Death Star in Starwars, goes on longer than necessary. But it is epic, throat grabbing, suspenseful, and truly terrifying as the 10,000 Uruk-Hai warriors (an Orc modified so that it can live in sunlight) attempt to storm the castle. The defenders are relatively small in number and include every boy and man, who can lift a sword. Retreat is not an option. “The defenses must hold. … They will hold.” We see the reactions of the terrified woman and children cowering in the caves as the sounds of battle rage overhead. Such terror is an integral part of our heritage as they await the outcome of the battle with extermination and worse being the price of failure on the surface. Those in bomb shelters listening to the exploding bombs drawing nearer have waited with equal fear and uncertainty. The filming sequence took 4 miserable months of cold, wet, and dark. This led to the T shirt, “I survived the battle of Helm’s Deep”. While much of what you see is superb computer animation, there was more than enough physical action to lead to countless injuries including the actors. Mortensen does most of his own stunts and was badly banged up. Many of the extras were martial artists.

The terror is leavened with black humor. The most notable is the incident where the fleeing Uruk-Hai debate what to do with their prisoners Merry (Monaghan) and Pippin (Boyd).  These Hobbits also show considerable cunning in their dealing with the Trees (led by Treebeard-voice by Rhys-Davies). The trees are very old and slow moving and are equally so in their decisions. There is no rush. However, under the circumstances, no rush is not an attractive option for the Hobbits.

An interesting tidbit is that in the filming of one of the scenes, Mortensen nearly drowned. I was surprised to find that the sequence that this was to be used for was cut completely from the film, probably for dramatic and timing purposes.

And now for a few extra details from the TV Lord of the Ring: The Two Tower Special Return to Middle Earth. Bloom was also very physical and did his own stunts; there is one scene in which he mounts a horse, that is just breathtaking. Arwen’s elvish ears took 3 hours to apply. They were made of gelatin, were single use, and had to be kept dry or they dissolved. The town of Edoras was actually built on the hill. The director concluded that a digital representation just would not have the physical presence. It had to be built during the winter when the winds reached 180 kmph. Helm’s Deep was built into the side of a rock quarry and took 8 months. Where Gollum was chasing the fish in the water, there was a small problem. The scene was supposed to be in the summer, but was actually shot in the winter. Since the movements were actually based on Andy Serkis, he had to chase the fish in the near freezing water. Even with a wet suit, he claimed going in was like being punched in the chest.

In my wife’s and my opinion, The Two Towers maintains the impetus of the first. It delivers. As with the first one, the film is about 3 hours. It doesn’t seem like it. The only shortcoming is that we have to wait until next Christmas for the last installment. However, there are other showings in the regular theater, in the Jefferson, and the DVD in the fall. So I guess we can survive. Beginning

Lord of War (2005) (****, action, crime, war, drama) (10-10-05) (DW.-Andrew Niccol; Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Ian Holm, Shake Tukhmanyan, Jeremy Crutchley, Eamonn Walker, Sammi Rotibi, Andre Baptiste Jr.) Intelligent, insightful film on the weapons trade and the people who do it. If you haven’t already heard about the opening sequence, don’t let anyone tell you. It is one of the most viscerally memorable in recent film. A bleakly black humorous view of the anything-but-humorous weapons dealing business. Yuri Orlov (Cage) grew up in Little Odessa. Personable, but going nowhere, he has an epiphany when he witnesses a local gangland hit. This puts him on the track to ultimately becoming one of the top weapons dealers in the world. Lord is a fascinating character study of a man who can calmly deal in transactions that will result in the deaths of thousands without so much as a twinge of conscious. Yuri has everything. Everything that is except for his soul. He can convincingly rationalize every action in his life. He is very good at what he does, and can even manage escaping any guilt when he is confronted directly with the flowers of his own merchandising.

His nemesis is an Interpol agent (Hawke) who wants to put him away for a very long time, but is not about to bend any rules himself. Where we draw our lines! Countless dead men, women, and children, and he can still not bring himself to plant evidence. Yuri is intelligent, articulate, knows exactly what he wants and goes about getting it with great ingenuity. Those around him are either involved or would rather not know the details of how he makes his money, and willingly accept his thin explanations of his wealth.

As the film unfolds we get a noir style voice over of how he arrived at his current situation and what he felt about it as he got there. A devastating character study. Yuri is not a sociopath; he doesn’t kill or destroy for pleasure. He is just totally amoral with no conscience for the results of his actions. The film is also a scathing indictment of the arms trade and the recipients of these gems of death. I have read that the story is based on five actual dealers, and I suspect that we are getting a very accurate view of the world of the gun runner and dealers. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t optimistic in the view of what, if anything, can be done to improve the situation. Too many important sources have too much invested in the outcome. If you doubt this, consider the fact that the film was made with the help of many arms dealers who the director found more cooperative than the cast and Hollywood. The tanks used in the big arms exhibit were already sold and rushed off to the buyer after the filming. The AK-47s, which Yuri refers to as the real Weapon of Mass Destruction, that you see on the screen are the real thing. Real AK-47s were cheaper than props and the director had 3000 of the real thing. I can hardly wait for the DVD with an insightful director’s commentary.

The acting is good, but this is basically a one-man show with Cage’s performance being off the scale. I think he should be nominated for an Oscar. If you want quotable lines, Lord is nonstop. Special notice also goes to Walker and Rotibi as the father and son Andre Baptiste Sr. and Jr. This is a chilling portrayal of pure, distilled evil, and, from what we see in the news, a depressingly realistic portrayal of many of the thug warlords. Ian Holm, as an arms dealer with “morals”, has a small but crucial role as a Greek chorus.

Lost Boys, The (1987) (**1/2, horror) (D.-Joel Schumacher, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Barnard Hughes, Dianne Wiest) After infestations of surf Nazis and great white sharks, you finally thought it was safe to go back to the beach. Unfortunately, a gang of teenage vampires makes being out at night a bit more risky than if there were just mosquitoes. Lost Boys succeeds by not taking itself too seriously. Humor, chills, and adequate special effects make for an amusing evening, especially for the teenagers at heart. See Vampires. (2-8-93) Beginning

Lost in Space (1999) (bomb, sci fi) (3-13-00) (D.-Stephen Hopkins; W.- Akiva Goldsman; Matt LeBlanc, Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson) This review was based on the DVD, which was provided free with my DVD player. You get what you pay for. I guess if you cannot sell it, you can write it off as a promotion. This is based on the TV series, but I cannot imagine the original being this bad. The only thing I can say in its favor is that there were a few decent F/X. The basic plot: As earth hangs on the precipice of an environmental disaster, the Robinson family sets off to another planet for colonization. A fringe group uses the despicable Dr. Smith (Oldman) to sabotage the ship and it ends up lost in space. Unfortunately for all concerned, Dr. Smith ends up with them. They are then confronted with every imaginable disaster including falling into the sun, a rampaging robot, an army of really moth-eaten computer generated spiders, repeated double crosses by Smith, family disunity, a budding love relationship between a macho pilot (LeBlanc) and one of the family daughters (Graham), etc. It has all been done before, and a film like this lives or dies on the basis of style and acting. Lost goes down big time on both counts. You don't develop any empathy for the characters. There is no tension. The cast, containing some real talent, just doesn't have anything to work with. Although, Oldman, who is a master of the perverted mind, does go over the top with Dr. Smith and has a few moments. The film was so bad that I didn't even bother to watch the F/X revelation tracks on the DVD! However, I do not have teenagers for a test reaction; it may be that it is enjoyable at that age. Beginning

 Lost in Translation (2003) (**1/2, romance, comedy) (4-19-05) (DW.-Sofia Coppola; Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Akiko Takeshita, Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe) My review here is to help others calibrate their taste against ours. I am definitely in the minority. Bob Harris (Murray) is an actor on the downside of his sell date. He does, however, have a strong Japanese following and he is brought in to make a whisky ad for $2 M. In a bar one night he meets a young newlywed, Charlotte (Johansson), whose husband is in Japan on a photo shoot and is more interested in his budding career and young actresses than his wife. So we get a meeting of two depressed, lonely people. How it plays out is the film. The film was well received by critics, but for me Lost in Translation was just that: lost in translation. I found the characters, their situation, and the resolution ultimately uninteresting. The film is well acted. The cinematography good. The editing solid. It is just the characters and their situation that leaves me cold. The one thing that I really did enjoy about the film was the first 15-30 minutes. I have been in Japan. For me the totally alien atmosphere and the inability to connect with and operate in these surroundings were dead on. I found it an absolute hoot. Incidentally, I found the Japanese all exceedingly gracious and helpful to the extent that our language barrier permitted. It was just the alieness of the situation.

Lost Patrol, The (1934) (**1/2, war) (D.-John Ford; Victor McLaglen, Boris Karloff, Wallace Ford, Reginald Denny, Alan Hale, J.M. Kerrigan, Billy Bevan) Stylistically dated, but entertaining and visually impressive. Well done format which has been frequently copied. McLaglen's small British military unit is lost in the Mesopotamian desert (the reason is entertainingly recognizable). Filled with your slice-of-life types including an almost unrecognizable Karloff as a religious fanatic. Under relentless siege by unseen Arabs, the band battles desperately to survive. The ending wraps everything up tidily but, given the cunning of their foe, is totally unreasonable. (2-28-95) Beginning

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001) (****, sci fi, horror, spoof, comedy) (2-7-05) (DW.-Larry Blamire; Fay Masterson, Andrew Parks, Susan McConnell, Brian Howe, Jennifer Blaire, Larry Blamire, Dan Conroy, Robert Deveau) I know that I am going to take some heat on my rating. This will become a cult favorite and I laughed out loud for days after I watched it as I replayed scenes and dialogue in my mind. An absolutely delightful send-off of the 50’s sci fi, horror films by people who clearly loved the genre. Done in black and white with editing, special effects, and wooden dialogue that would make Ed Wood proud. For those who don’t know Wood, he is credited with the worst film ever made, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which came complete with cemetery tombstones waving in the breeze. Cadavara is a zero budget film that for me is a gem that has more laughs in seconds than the obscenely bad, overpriced Mars Attacks which had the same intent. Skeleton’s portrayal of science and scientists is a hoot. Where else can one get such lines played absolutely straight as the one by the scientist (Blaimire) to his wife (Masterson) “As a scientist I just wish I could appreciate more things. Cabins. Bicycles.” Or the mad scientist’s (Howe) “I am a scientist and I don’t believe in anything.”

Oh did I mention the good scientist in search of the new meteor to better the lot of mankind, the mad scientist in search of the skeleton to rule mankind, the newly crashed aliens in search of a power source? Guess where they all are and what they all need? Oh, let’s not forget the escaped mutant.  

The movie pretty much defies description. Making a really bad movie deliberately takes lots of work and real talent. For real actors to degrade their performances to this level is no small feat. The story about the actor playing the ranger neatly sums it up. Don’t miss the Cast Commentary and especially the Director and Crew Commentary. Or the trailer. I laughed as hard through these as through the movie. A real study in guerilla movie making as well as hoot.

The first half is the best and ends with the nearly lethally funny dinner party. Don’t eat anything here unless there is someone in the room proficient with the Heimlich Maneuver. The rest isn’t bad, but never rises to the lunacy of the first half.

As the director points out, many people thought the trailer was a total spoof and completely ridiculous. In fact it is very closely tailored to the trailers of the 50s and, with a few minor changes, could have been authentic.

For “authenticity”, some of the film was shot in Bronson Canyon outside Griffith Park in Los Angeles. This was a popular area for early movies including the notorious Robot Monster; a good robot outfit was too expensive, but the director got a good deal on a gorilla suit and a diving helmet, which is what you see for the robot. The inter space communication device also bears a marked resemblance to a Lawrence Welk bubble machine. So as you can see Cadavara comes with great credentials.

Review based on the DVD available at Sneak Review or Charlottesville Video on 5th Street.

Lost World, The (1925) (***1/2, classic, sci fi, fantasy) (D.-Harry Hoyt, Bessie Love , Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes) Clemons Library. Silent, black and white, a monster movie. What could be worse? Wrong! Jurassic Park 1925! CHECK IT OUT. A classic in special effects. Although people rarely hear the name now, Willis O'Brien was the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas of early movies. He is best known for the masterpiece King Kong. The plot here really isn't relevant or very good. Lost World is based on a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The daughter of a missing scientist convinces Professor Challenger (Beery) to lead an expedition to rescue her father who is trapped on a remote Amazon plateau populated by dinosaurs. As with Jurassic Park, Lost World's special effects make it. The animation is amazingly good even by modern standards. The way in which the dinosaurs move, breathe, salivate, fight, eat, and twitch their tails is outstanding. The overlays with people and dinosaurs in the same scene are exceptionally well done. The models do, of course, reveal their clay animation origins, but even now it is easy to suspend disbelief. Indeed, Maltin claims that the animation is much better than the 1960 remake. After seeing it, I believed that it must have really knocked their socks off in 1925. In fact, it was only average or below at the box office. Why? I don't know. It was released at 108 minutes, while it now shows at 60 minutes. Perhaps, the 60 minutes had the meat and the remainder was too dull and boring. Based on the 1991 restored 60 minute version from Lumivision Corp. in cooperation with the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. Complete with an excellent musical score. The acting and plot is 20's, and one discordant note is that one actor is in black face. The usually accurate Maltin got it wrong about the dinosaurs being on an island. (10-11-93) Beginning

Lost World (****) (Restored version 2000) (11-27-00)Along with David Shepard’s introduction, Shepard and master monster creator Stan Winston talked about the film afterwards. Lost World is one of my top movies, and the restoration has only added to my admiration. The film was actually in disastrous state when they set about restoring it. The original domestic negatives had been destroyed in the 40s, but fragments survived and Kodak had a 55-minute version. The US Education Department had a 10-minute short that used some different footage. O’Brien had a demo reel that contained some of the missing footage. The real breakthrough came when they discovered a complete film in Prague, although it did differ from the US release. The current print is assembled from eight different sources and was digitally remastered to video. As best the restorers can tell this is as close to the original as can be done with available films. Also, the original titles are unclear as they were changed repeatedly for different versions. Again, the restorers have used the best sources available to synthesize the best possible reproductions. The current film is about 90% the length of the original, but it does fit together well and tells an entertaining story. Some of the apparent gaps such as the broken arm with no explanation were, however, in the original.

The dinosaurs were built using rubber puppets that were revolutionary at that time. The models incorporated the best information available at that time on dinosaur anatomy and behavior. The technology was so speculative at that time that the studio hedged its bets and wrote a script to replace the dinosaurs if they failed. Ray Harryhausen, the masterful successor to O’Brien, was 5 when he first watched the film and it greatly influenced him. Stan Winston was a child when he first saw Harryhausen’s Twenty Million Miles to Earth and was enormously influenced by that.

So if you want a real treat, check out The Lost World on DVD when it becomes available. You will not believe how good the special effects were in 1925. Beginning

Lost World: Jurassic Park, The (1997) (***, sci fi) (D.-Steven Spielberg; Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Lee Chester, Vanessa Lee Chester, Richard Attenborough) Jurassic Park revisited, and a suitable tribute to the original classic Lost World (1925), which was also an effects-driven film. Voice-of-doom Malcolm (Goldblum) gets roped yet again by the dethroned but now environmentally aware John Hammond (Attenborough) into going to another dinosaur-infested island to rescue his girlfriend (Moore). The film is pretty much summed up when Malcolm says when the first sight of the dinosaurs is met with oohing and aahing and Malcolm says: "That's how it starts. Later there is running and screaming." There is certainly plenty of running and screaming. With a bigger cast Spielberg has plenty of Purina Dino Chow. However, if you go into Lost World expecting anything else, you haven't been paying attention to the current rage of effects-driven films. So to enjoy Lost World, forget character development. Don't worry about plot logic. Just lean back and be immersed in one of the greatest visual experiences that modern computer-generated images (CGI) and Stan Winston's marvelous puppets (if a multiton T-Rex can be considered a puppet) can provide. Awesome. The animals interact much more strongly with the humans than in the original, and the effects are seamless. By the way, the rule of thumb is that if you can see the whole beast, it is CGI, but if only part of it, it is a puppet.

I must confess, I went into Lost World not expecting, nor even particularly wanting, to like it. However, once the adrenaline got going, I was hooked and little problems like plot, character, and continuity went out the window. Even though some of the setups were done earlier in Jurassic Park, Spielberg still managed some masterful cliff hangers and images that were seared into my brain. The window pane scene was almost as good as the kitchen scene in the original. The field of tall grass was incredibly simple, probably easy, inexpensive to implement, and a real mind blower for me. The film avoided some of the nauseating sweetness of the original and of the book. However, the destruction of San Diego went on too long.

As far as errors, little on film beats the ship and T-Rex. How does a caged T-Rex escape, snack on the entire crew, and then manage to accidentally lock itself in again? Impressive. The director should have asked as much of his talented actors.

I have the distinct feeling that the theater poster for the original Lost World was used as a model for part of the San Diego sequence. This wouldn't be surprising given the revered place of the original for FX people. Also, I heard that in the destruction of the theater, there is a lobby poster for King Lear--bearing a remarkable likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger! However, I haven't confirmed this.

In conclusion, if you are in the mood for an entertaining visual extravagant no-brainer, Lost World meets the bill. I got my money's worth at Good Neighbor Hour. However, we still await a film that has the plot, the actors, and style to make decent use of our modern technology. (7-7-97) Beginning

Love at First Bite (1979) (12-29-09) (***, horror, comedy, vampire) (D.-Stan Dragoti; W.- Robert Kaufman; George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Arte Johnson) Let's put this one under guilty pleasures. A charming, cheesy little vampire comedy. Dated and very much a time window into the 60s and 70s. Dracula (Hamilton) and Rensfield (Johnson) are evicted from their castle by the communists who plan to turn it into a collective. But that's OK. Dracula has been eying NY super model Cindy Sondheim (St. James) in fashion magazines, recognizing her as his long lost love. So it is off to NY, although not without a few mishaps such as a misshipped coffin. However, making connections with Cindy proves even more challenging. First, the count is stuck in a time-location warp that has ill-prepared him for modern day New York City. Plus, super models are well insulated from the adoring public. Finally a connection. But let's just say that reality doesn't quite live up to the glamour magazine image. Not even close. She is into excesses of every kind, is commitment phobic, and is heavily exploiting her nearly full time psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffery Rosenberg (Benjamin). Although love may be blind, Rosenberg , a descendent of Van Helsing, isn't. Now begins the battle for Cindy's soul. Will the charming Count manage the three mandatory bites before Rosenberg buries the proverbial wooden stake?

The humor ranges from the droll to broad slapstick. Many of the jokes don't work, but they come so fast that a fresh one bowls you over before you can lament the failure. Johnson's Rensfield is over the top-in short only a slight exaggeration of the original. Benjamin's bumbling attempts to dispatch the count are a hoot; he should have paid more attention to the history of his ancestor. A gem is the interplay between Rosenberg and the count in the restaurant where they go mano a mano. Sonheim is played delightfully self centered, and totally oblivious to what is going on around her. A true failure of Darwinian evolutionary programming for survival. Hamilton is in top form. Handsome, cultured, urbane and in the wrong era. Nevertheless, a Dracula you can root for.

So if you want a mindless amusing throwaway, check out Love. Available at Clemons. Beginning

Love Happy (1949) (unrated, comedy) (D.-David Miller; Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Groucho Marx) A low point for the Marx Brothers. Written and led by Harpo. I gave up after about 10 minutes. A few entertaining moments in what I saw, but not enough. Groucho, who might have saved it, only gets used briefly as a narrator. Check out some of their other movies (e.g, Duck Soup or Day at the Races) if you want real Marx Brothers. Apparently, a brief appearance by Marylin Monroe, but I didn't get to it. (12-4-95) Beginning