Rebekah Johnson and Ben Foster star in LIBERTY HEIGHTS, directed by Barry Levinson for Warner Bros.

Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).

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Luke Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, and Owen Wilson star in BOTTLE ROCKET, directed by Wes Anderson for Columbia Pictures.

Bottle Rocket (1996, Wes Anderson)

Bottle Rocket is such a masterpiece of narrative design, it eschews drawing any attention to that design. Somehow Anderson and Owen Wilson manage to tell a satisfactory long short film and affix an additional thirty minute postscript to the whole thing.

It’s like a movie and a sequel all in ninety minutes. Or maybe they’re just setting up the train set for the first hour and loosing the trains for the last thirty minutes. It’s hard to say–Anderson employs obvious but unspoken connections and complexities. Even though the film is never simple, he refuses to make anything obtuse. The viewer just has to pay attention.

Like a metaphor for protagonist Luke Wilson’s romance with Lumi Cavazos. He’s ostensibly on the run from a book store hold-up and she’s a housekeeper at the motel where he hides out. Cavazos doesn’t speak English, Luke Wilson doesn’t speak Spanish. The script never goes for easy jokes; their romance is the calm. Even though it involves crime and occasional violence, Bottle Rocket isn’t dangerous. But through the performances and script’s delicate, deliberate treatment of the romance, the importance of a calming factor for Luke Wilson’s peculiarly troubled soul becomes clear.

Offsetting that Wilson is Owen Wilson as his frantic best friend. He gets all the fun stuff, only his performance can’t be easy. Bottle Rocket wouldn’t work if it were too fun or too silly. It’s absurd, but every moment’s real.

Great support from Robert Musgrave, awesome editing from David Moritz.

Bottle Rocket’s magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Owen Wilson and Anderson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Polly Platt and Cynthia Hargrave; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Luke Wilson (Anthony Adams), Owen Wilson (Dignan), Robert Musgrave (Bob Mapplethorpe), Andrew Wilson (Future Man), Lumi Cavazos (Inez), Shea Fowler (Grace), Donny Caicedo (Rocky), Jim Ponds (Applejack) and James Caan (Abe Henry).

Charles S. Dutton and Sigourney Weaver star in ALIEN³, directed by David Fincher for 20th Century Fox.

Alien³ (1992, David Fincher)

Alien³ is a strange film. Some of its problems inevitably stem from its post-production issues, but there's also the question of intent. It's three films in one; first is a sequel to Aliens. That storyline takes about an hour. Then it's its own film for about forty-five minutes. Then it's the final film in a series for the last ten or so. Characters move between these phases, but not necessarily subplots and the filmmaking techniques even change.

Disjointed might be the politest description; incredibly messy also works. Gloriously messy might be the best, however, because Alien³ is glorious. Fincher does an outstanding job directing–and his composition techniques also signal changes in the film's phases–with wonderful Alex Thomson photography. But the Terry Rawlings editing really brings the whole thing together. It's a lush, dark, dank film.

All of the acting is great, especially Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Sigourney Weaver is fantastic (of course, it wouldn't work at all if she wasn't). She and Dutton occasionally get some terrible, trailer-ready lines and they push through them. It's in the quieter moments Weaver really shines; it's simultaneously too obviously on her shoulders and just right.

The special effects are fine. The practical ones are outstanding and the production design is phenomenal.

Additional good supporting turns from Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite. Paul McCann's good even if he inexplicably disappears (one of those post-production issues).

Great Elliot Goldenthal score.

In pieces, Alien³ is excellent. All together, it's still good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Vincent Ward and characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Terry Rawlings; music by Elliot Goldenthal; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gordon Carroll, Giler and Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Charles S. Dutton (Dillon), Charles Dance (Clemens), Paul McGann (Golic), Brian Glover (Andrews), Ralph Brown (Aaron), Danny Webb (Morse), Christopher John Fields (Rains), Holt McCallany (Junior), Pete Postlethwaite (David) and Lance Henriksen (Bishop).

Woody Allen stars in MEN OF CRISIS: THE HARVEY WALLINGER STORY, directed by Allen.

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story (1971, Woody Allen)

Men of Crisis: The Harvey Wallinger Story recounts the rise to power of one Harvey Wallinger, friend and aide to Richard M. Nixon. Wallinger is one part buffoon, one part creep, one part sex addict–Allen revels in the part. He opens the short with a recounting of the 1968 election with some creative editing before introducing his character. He is the subject after all.

Crisis balances absurd humor with intelligent–though not insightful–observation of Nixon and his cronies. Allen goes for some easy jokes at Spiro T. Agnew (though probably not so amusing at the time) but for the most part he lets Nixon speak for himself. There's a great bit with Allen–in character–describing everything so untrustworthy about Nixon's face with a subsequent speech clip proving him right.

Eric Albertson's editing is phenomenal. The bit players giving interviews are great.

It's assured and energetic and deserving of far more in-depth consideration.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; edited by Eric Albertson; produced by Jack Kuney.

Starring Woody Allen (Harvey Wallinger), Diane Keaton (Renata Wallinger), Louise Lasser (Harvey’s ex-girlfriend) and Richard M. Dixon as the President of the United States; narrated by Reed Hadley.

Noah Reid and Jordan Hayes star in LAY OVER, directed by Hayes.

Lay Over (2013, Jordan Hayes)

A lot of Lay Over is obnoxious. Loud and obnoxious. It's a Before Sunrise knock-off with Jordan Hayes's Canadian traveller in L.A. for just one night and she meets nice accordion player Noah Reid, who shows her the town. So there are all these montage shots of L.A. set to loud and obnoxious music.

The short does have its strengths, however, whenever Reid shows Hayes things from his childhood. There–thanks to Reid's fantastic performance and Hayes (who also directs) slowing down for a minute and allowing the viewer presence with the characters–Lay Over gets good.

As a director, Hayes is fine. It's a short shot at night on DV; there's only so much she can do. There are occasionally pretentious shots and they're annoying, but it's fine. Max Topplin's photography leaves a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, the end is predictable and insincere. It kills the short's accumulated good will.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Jordan Hayes; written by Hayes and Noah Reid; director of photography, Max Topplin; produced by Hayes and Topplin.

Starring Jordan Hayes (Sam) and Noah Reid (Owen).

DeForest Kelley and Paul Kelly (no relation) star in FEAR IN THE NIGHT, directed by Maxwell Shane for Paramount Pictures.

Fear in the Night (1947, Maxwell Shane)

Fear in the Night shows just how far something can get on the gimmick. Bank teller DeForest Kelley wakes up one morning from the dream he killed someone. He then discovers evidence of his crime and, as he suspects he’s going mad, starts going a little mad.

If not totally mad, he does make some poor choices.

Luckily–or unluckily–Kelley’s brother-in-law (Paul Kelly) is a homicide detective.

Night doesn’t have good narration–though director Shane’s script does use it consistently–and Shane isn’t much of a director, but the film intrigues. The plotting is fantastic, with Shane withholding clues for so long I was wondering if he was ever even going to explain the mystery.

Shane handles the mystery in two parts. First, whether it’s real or not and then what–if it does turn out to be real–the consequences will be for the characters. Kelley’s also got a faithful girlfriend in Kay Scott and a concerned sister in Ann Doran. Shane gives Kelly a lot to do in terms of negotiating being a good husband and a homicide cop.

As a director, Shane’s mediocre at best but does have some creative visual flourishes.

Kelly is really good, even with some questionable dialogue, and he’s able to carry the film. Sometimes he has to carry Kelley through rough scenes; Kelley isn’t very good. He has a tough role but he also isn’t very good. He’s likable, however.

The whole thing is likable… but not very good.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Maxwell Shane; screenplay by Shane, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Jack Greenhalgh; edited by Howard A. Smith; music by Rudy Schrager; produced by William H. Pine and William C. Thomas; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring DeForest Kelley (Vince Grayson), Paul Kelly (Cliff Herlihy), Ann Doran (Lil Herlihy), Kay Scott (Betty Winters), Charles Victor (Captain Warner), Jeff York (Deputy Torrence) and Robert Emmett Keane (Harry Byrd).

Mickey Rooney and Jeanne Cagney star in QUICKSAND, directed by Irving Pichel for United Arists.

Quicksand (1950, Irving Pichel)

Quicksand is a film noir with room for cream and about five sugars. The genre often has a morality element to it, but this entry goes way too far with it. Or it might just be how the film treats lead Mickey Rooney.

Most film noir male protagonists are overconfident simpletons taken in by devious women; Rooney is a complete moron, however. And his confidence is all obvious bravado. He isn't just not smart, he never shows any reason for anyone–himself included–to think he is smart.

The script even gives femme fatale Jeanne Cagney, presumably cast due to her height (very few cast members are taller than Rooney), lines about Rooney being a malleable simp. There isn't much tension when she's telling him she's going to take him for a ride and he's just too dumb to figure it out.

Rooney has a likable quality, even in Quicksand, and maybe if director Pichel were better able to use the location shooting–he's visibly desperate for a sound stage–or the script gave Rooney narration throughout instead of just during summary scenes, the film might go better.

As for the supporting cast… poor Peter Lorre looks embarrassed, like he's waiting for someone to hand him a check after each scene. Then there's Cagney; her enthusiasm doesn't translate to a good performance. In one of the stupider roles, Barbara Bates can't make the good girl hung up on Rooney believable. He's just too much of a tool.

Quicksand misfires on all levels, but inoffensively.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Pichel; written by Robert Smith; director of photography, Lionel Lindon; edited by Walter Thompson; music by Louis Gruenberg; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Mort Briskin; released by United Artists.

Starring Mickey Rooney (Dan), Jeanne Cagney (Vera), Barbara Bates (Helen), Peter Lorre (Nick), Taylor Holmes (Harvey), Art Smith (Mackey), Wally Cassell (Chuck), Richard Lane (Lt. Nelson), Patsy O’Connor (Millie), John Gallaudet (Moriarity) and Minerva Urecal (Landlady).

Josh Hopkins, Jenni Baird, Aimee Garcia, and Michelle Forbes star in GLOBAL FREQUENCY, directed by Nelson McCormick.

Global Frequency (2005, Nelson McCormick)

Maybe "Global Frequency" would work if it weren't so obvious in its attempts to be endearing. John Rogers's script tries to establish character chemistry in the pilot without giving it a chance to actually grow on its own.

For example, good-looking alpha male lead Josh Hopkins teases good-looking demure scientist female lead Jenni Baird and she says she doesn't like it but you can tell she really does. Except Baird's terrible and she and Hopkins have no chemistry. Director McCormick actually has her whip off her glasses when she's perturbed. It's asinine.

Hopkins is actually good. He can get out the goofy dialogue and ground the show in reality.

Unable to ground the show are co-stars Aimee Garcia and Michelle Forbes. McCormick apes Matrix fight scenes for Forbes, who clearly isn't a martial artist and she's also real bored acting in the show. Garcia's endearingly annoying.

It's an inept execution.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Nelson McCormick; teleplay by John Rogers, based on the comic book by Warren Ellis; director of photography, Checco Varese; edited by Michael Schultz; production designers, Linda Del Rosario and Richard Paris; produced by Mark Burnett and Charlie Goldstein.

Starring Josh Hopkins (Sean Flynn), Jenni Baird (Dr. Katrina Finch), Aimee Garcia (Aleph), Brian Jensen (Richard Jenkins), Bill Dow (Oscar Cergeyev) and Michelle Forbes (Miranda Zero).

Anastasia Higham and Alyssa Kay star in DARK DUNGEONS, directed by L. Gabriel Gonda.

Dark Dungeons (2014, L. Gabriel Gonda)

Dark Dungeons is the story of two college freshman, played by Alyssa Kay and Anastasia Higham, who find themselves trying to fit in. Through a combination of peer pressure and just plain wanting to have fun without thinking about the consequences, they discover a role playing game (the titular Dark Dungeons).

Soon, the game takes over their lives.

Dungeons is based on a short (anti-role playing game) comic and the filmmakers take it very seriously. Right down to Kay and Higham unintentionally awakening Cthulhu. They've been led astray by their game master, Tracy Hyland, who's also apparently seducing the girls away from their heterosexuality.

Dungeons has to be seen to be believed, with Kay and Higham turning in awesome, sincere performances. As for Hyland, she chomps through that scenery.

Director Gonda does well–he and Ben Dobyns' editing is a standout, as is JR Ralls's script.

Dungeons is an indescribable experience.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by L. Gabriel Gonda; screenplay by JR Ralls, based on a comic book by Jack T. Chick; director of photography, Sam Graydon; edited by Ben Dobyns and Gonda; music by Randy Torres; production designer, Leila Aram-Panahi; produced by Ben Rapson and Ralls.

Starring Alyssa Kay (Debbie), Anastasia Higham (Marcie), Tracy Hyland (Mistress Frost), Jonathan Crimeni (Nitro), Trevor Cushman (Mike), David Anthony Lewis (the professor) and Kaleb Hagen-Kerr (the preacher).

Fredric March and Carole Lombard star in NOTHING SACRED, directed by William A. Wellman for United Artists.

Nothing Sacred (1937, William A. Wellman)

Nothing Sacred is an idea in search of a script. It’s a little surprisingly they went forward with Ben Hecht’s script, which plays like he wrote it on a bunch of napkins and left director Wellman to piece together a narrative.

Fredric March–who has shockingly little to do in the film–is a newspaper reporter who may or may not have tried to defraud the wealthy of New York with a fake sultan and a donation project. Hecht’s script reveals so little about March, it doesn’t even make that determination. His editor, Walter Connolly, sends him off to investigate a dying girl, played by Carole Lombard.

Turns out Lombard’s not dying and deceives March for a trip to New York. She brings along Charles Winninger as her drunken doctor.

Hilarity does not ensue in New York City. Neither do big comic set pieces. A lot of Sacred feels like Wellman trying to justify the Technicolor expense and not knowing how to do so–he shoots the film almost entirely in medium long shot, with occasional closeups and then he blocks parts of shots for emphasis. It’s strange.

Lombard is wonderful in her role. The script doesn’t give her anything to do–the film runs less than eighty minutes, it might just be there isn’t enough time. March’s okay, but on the shallow end of it. Connolly is wonderful. Winninger is not.

The entire film feels truncated and too small for its concept. Instead of making it feel grandiose, the Technicolor instead makes it feel cramped.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on a story by James H. Street; director of photography, W. Howard Greene; edited by James E. Newcom; music by Oscar Levant; produced by David O. Selznick; released by United Artists.

Starring Carole Lombard (Hazel Flagg), Fredric March (Wally Cook), Charles Winninger (Dr. Enoch Downer), Walter Connolly (Oliver Stone), Sig Ruman (Dr. Emil Eggelhoffer) and Troy Brown Sr. (Ernest Walker).

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