Alfonso Arau

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El Topo Review


Excellent
"If you're enlightened, El Topo is a great picture. If you don't understand it, you're a limited asshole." - Alejandro Jodorowsky

Pauline Kael called it a "horror circus," Newsweek "unique," and The Village Voice a "comedy that becomes a cult of salvation." Spanish for "The Mole," El Topo is an extraordinary film by Alejandro Jodorowsky, a Chilean mime-cum-actor-cum-filmmaker. The film has the honor of being the very first "midnight movie." People crowded midnight screenings in New York City in 1971 for months on end -- the pot smoke in the theatres being so thick you'd have to wade into it. The film was a smash hit. Everyone was dropping out and tuning onto El Topo. Jodorowsky appeared on a talk show, an unforgettably spastic and delirious performance spoken in riddles (something of a precursor to Roberto Benigni's Academy Awards freak-out). There was a book version and the film became part of the cultural cache of the New York underground, if you hadn't seen or heard about El Topo you were very uncool.

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Romancing the Stone Review


Excellent
1984 was hardly an Orwellian year when it came to the movies. What was tops at the box office? Big, gaudy, genre-blending Hollywood stuff like Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop, and Gremlins. #7 on that list, with $75 million in the bank, was Romancing the Stone, a movie that inspired dozens of imitators as it launched a genre of films about reluctant heroines who get caught up in grand adventures: A romance novel come to life (and in fact, Kathleen Turner's character, Joan Wilder, is actually a romance novelist in the film). Everything from Bridget Jones's Diary to Pretty Woman owes a debt to Stone.

On the surface this film doesn't look like it should have been the massive hit that it was: Michael Douglas was best known as a producer and bit player, Turner had starred in only one film of note (Body Heat), and screenwriter Diane Thomas was just a wannabe working in a diner. Douglas hired Robert Zemeckis, a guy who hadn't worked in four years and had never had a hit, to direct the film. This thing wasn't going to be a success.

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Like Water for Chocolate Review


Good
Remember the furor in 1993 when Like Water for Chocolate hit American screens? It went on to be, at the time, one of the biggest foreign films ever, and nary a woman would be seen in public without a copy of Laura Esquivel's novel/cookbook under her arm.

Today, Chocolate seems virtually forgotten. Once-rising star Lumi Cavazos? Now faded into near-oblivion. Still, remembering the subtle power of the film and its, ahem, magic chef makes you realize this was a truly good flick for its time. On pure heart, Chocolate had a little bit for everybody. But what was it really all about? Damned if I can remember.

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Angel Eyes Review


Grim
He's an emotionless, lost soul wandering the streets and helping out strangers while looking for a clean razor and dry cleaner for his dirty overcoat. She's a pissed-off and lonely police chick who sleeps with her bulletproof vest on and enjoys beating up suspects, drinking Budweiser, and despising her abusive father. Together, these two misfits meet through some psychic mumbo-jumbo, learn to face down their inner demons, discover that true love does exist in this cruel world, and blah blah blah.

Jennifer Lopez and James Caviezel trudge with heavy hearts through the muck of suspense/drama/romantic comedy/love story Angel Eyes -- a film with an identity crisis that rivals Plato from Rebel with a Cause.

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Picking Up the Pieces Review


Terrible
Normally, I'd say any movie that features Woody Allen as a homocidal maniac is okay in my book, if only Picking Up the Pieces didn't bore you to tears en route to the funny stuff, which consists solely of Allen's spare one-liners. The plot, involving a New Mexico community that rallies around Allen's dead wife's severed hand thanks to its miracle-granting powers, shows a ton of promise, but never delivers. Note to Alfonso Arau: more boobs.

Committed Review


OK
I walked into the screening of Committed with low expectations, having acquired some taste for Heather Graham though her appearances in Drugstore Cowboy, Swingers, Boogie Nights, and, perhaps most notably, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, but bearing little hope for a good story. After all, even Miramax's promotional synopses gave this picture about an over-zealous love junkie a lackluster pitch. The lesson here: Sometimes bad salesmen pitch good widgets.

As Forrest Gump might put it, Heather Graham is as Heather Graham does. In this flick, she does pretty good. Backed by the furrowed brow malaise of Luke Wilson (Home Fries, Dog Park and one of the best episodes of The X Files) and the way-cooler-than-his-brother Casey Affleck (200 Cigarettes), Graham's wide-eyed charm is disarming and convincing. You'll also find some great supporting performances from Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy--Don't worry; she's much wittier here.) and Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate, A Walk in the Clouds and--my favorite--El Guapo from The Three Amigos). The premise of the story is lame at best, but the combination of on-screen talent and resourceful writing and directing manage to pull off a better-than-mediocre movie. Committed is a perfect date movie, and I suspect it'll also be a winner among women whose men are too dumb to stay put.

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