Capsule Reviews: November

by J. Spurlin | created - 04 Nov 2010 | updated - 14 Nov 2010 | Public
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1. Midsomer Murders (1997– )
Episode: Market for Murder (2002)

TV-14 | 97 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

An investigation of a car fire and a bludgeon murder lead Barnaby and Troy to investigate the members of a local reading club which has an agenda that goes beyond books.

Director: Sarah Hellings | Stars: John Nettles, Daniel Casey, Jane Wymark, Jesse Birdsall

Votes: 361

November 1, 2010: A group of ladies making secret stock investments become involved in murder. A shady pool man and a hypochondriacal nobleman are among the suspects in this satisfying episode. I was especially happy to see Barbara Leigh-Hunt, whom I know well from Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972). Her character is as unlucky here as before. 7/10

2. Midsomer Murders (1997– )
Episode: A Worm in the Bud (2002)

TV-14 | 99 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A woman is found dead in Setwale Wood, an apparent suicide, except that her suicide note is emailed after her body has already been sighted.

Director: David Tucker | Stars: John Nettles, Daniel Casey, Jane Wymark, Gillian Barge

Votes: 339

November 1, 2010: The selling of a farm provides the backdrop for murder, while a little girl witness does some detecting for Barnaby. Entertaining episode with a not-especially-satisfying ending. The girl detective is a nice touch. 6/10

3. Spooky Swabs (1957)

Approved | 6 min | Animation, Short, Comedy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  

Popeye and Olive are shipwrecked; they think they are saved when they see a ship, but what they don't realize is that the crew of the Sea Witch is all ghosts, and soon they are under attack... See full summary »

Director: Izzy Sparber | Stars: Jack Mercer, Mae Questel

Votes: 103

November 1, 2010: Popeye and Olive attempt to sail a ghost ship to civilization, but the ghosts plays pranks on them to prevent it. Not enough is done with the premise, but there are a few laughs: Olive is happy over her impending rescue mainly so that she can get back home and watch television. 4/10

Ironically, this was the last theatrical "Popeye" cartoon: TV helped kill off the short subject. Popeye and Olive did not return to the screen until the 1960 TV series, Popeye the Sailor.

4. Baby Face (1933)

Approved | 71 min | Drama, Romance

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A young woman, sexually exploited all her life, decides to turn the tables and exploit the hapless men at a big city bank - by gleefully sleeping her way to the top.

Director: Alfred E. Green | Stars: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier

Votes: 4,785

November 3, 2010: The pre-release version of this tale—in which Barbara Stanwyck sleeps her way up the corporate ladder—watered it down with a phony ending. The theatrical version (which I just watched) waters it down even further with a silly post-script. And Mr. Cragg—a follower of Nietzsche who advises her to use men—now advises her, via post-dubbing, to get ahead by being clean! Nietzsche isn't mentioned at all. Before the pre-release version was discovered, this version still would have been well worth watching; but now the older edit is the one to see.

5. Death Wish (1974)

R | 93 min | Action, Crime, Drama

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51 Metascore

A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark.

Director: Michael Winner | Stars: Charles Bronson, Hope Lange, Vincent Gardenia, Steven Keats

Votes: 28,081 | Gross: $22.00M

November 4, 2010: Charles Bronson is a bleeding-heart liberal who becomes a vigilante after three thugs murder his wife and rape his daughter. Extremely effective crime thriller, although the implausibilities (especially involving the motivations and actions of the corrupt police) stack up too high in the last third. 8/10

6. The Glass Tomb (1955)

59 min | Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 5.6/10 X  

Crowds flock to a carnival sideshow to see "The Starving Man", a heavyset man who claims he can go 70 days without eating. However, a couple of murders occur at the carnival, resulting in the police becoming involved.

Director: Montgomery Tully | Stars: John Ireland, Honor Blackman, Geoffrey Keen, Eric Pohlmann

Votes: 115

November 4, 2010: The morose John Ireland is miscast as a freak show impresario promoting a "starving man" act. Why the public would be fascinated by a man fasting for seventy days in a sealed glass room is anyone's guess. The unconvincing carnival atmosphere adds too little to an uninteresting murder story. Yet another dull Hammer Noir. 3/10

7. Paid to Kill (1954)

Approved | 75 min | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6/10 X  

A failed business deal forces James Nevill to blackmail his weak-willed friend into murdering him so that his wife can collect his insurance, but circumstances suddenly change.

Director: Montgomery Tully | Stars: Dane Clark, Cecile Chevreau, Paul Carpenter, Thea Gregory

Votes: 173

November 4, 2010: Dane Clark stars as a risk-taking business who believes his latest risk has just ruined him. He pays a shady friend to kill him so that his wife can collect insurance. When his fortunes turn, he changes his mind—but it may be too late. Dull, tedious, implausible and predictable. Some well-lit shots are about the only virtues. 3/10

8. Burnt Offerings (1976)

PG | 116 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.5/10 X  

A family moves into an old, haunted house that regenerates itself by feeding off of the life forces of its injured occupants.

Director: Dan Curtis | Stars: Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckart

Votes: 7,604

November 5, 2010: A family—husband, wife, young son and aunt—move into a mansion that seems to be out to harm them. The plot wavers between admirably restrained and irritatingly elliptical and has a predictable ending; but the familiar haunted house stuff is made very engaging on the whole, thanks to good direction and a fine cast. Bette Davis (the aunt) gives her supporting role her considerable best. Karen Black (the wife) is the one exception—her acting is distractingly self-conscious. 7/10

9. Tarzan Triumphs (1943)

Passed | 76 min | Action, War, Adventure

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Zandra, white princess of a lost civilization, comes to Tarzan for help when Nazis invade the jungle with plans to conquer her people and take their wealth. Tarzan, the isolationist, ... See full summary »

Director: Wilhelm Thiele | Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Frances Gifford, Johnny Sheffield, Stanley Ridges

Votes: 1,796

November 7, 2010: Tarzan learns the follies of isolationism and pacifism when Nazis invade the jungle and kidnap Boy. Tasteless and silly—but entertainingly bad—series entry (the first for RKO, picking up from MGM). Jane, visiting her sick mother, doesn't appear; Zandra (Frances Gifford), a jungle princess, provides the female flesh. Tarzan is at his most bloodthirsty: he, Boy and even Cheeta are shown gleefully killing off Nazis. 4/10

10. Tarzan's Desert Mystery (1943)

Passed | 70 min | Adventure

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A letter from Jane, who is nursing British troops, asks Tarzan's help in obtaining a malaria serum extractable from jungle plants. Tarzan and Boy set out across the desert looking for the ... See full summary »

Director: Wilhelm Thiele | Stars: Johnny Weissmuller, Nancy Kelly, Johnny Sheffield, Otto Kruger

Votes: 1,741

November 7, 2010: Tarzan and Boy join an American vaudeville performer (Nancy Kelly) on a quest across the desert to find a cure for jungle fever and clash with a pair of duplicitous friends of a sheik. Silly, stupid fun, enlivened by incongruous fantasy elements (which include a weird man-eating plant, giant lizards and a giant spider) but weighed down by Kelly's tedious slangy patter. 4/10

11. The Miracle Worker (1979 TV Movie)

Unrated | 98 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

Devoted teacher Anne Sullivan leads deaf and blind Helen Keller into the light of learnedness.

Director: Paul Aaron | Stars: Patty Duke, Diana Muldaur, Charles Siebert, Anne Seymour

Votes: 422

November 7, 2010: A first-rate play gets its second of two first-rate screen adaptations. 8/10

12. Arch of Triumph (1948)

Approved | 120 min | Drama, Romance, War

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.4/10 X  

Illegal refugees lead dark lives in pre-World War II Paris.

Director: Lewis Milestone | Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Charles Laughton, Louis Calhern

Votes: 1,130 | Gross: $1.40M

November 7, 2010: Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer are star-crossed lovers in France just before Nazi occupation; Charles Laughton (who gets too little screen time) is the Nazi torturer Boyer is determined to kill. Starts off well, but the story eventually bogs down with a number of repetitive scenes and a lot of pseudo-profound dialogue. Moody black-and-white photography and Bergman's luminous beauty are the best things about it. 6/10

13. Monster (2003)

R | 109 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

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74 Metascore

Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer.

Director: Patty Jenkins | Stars: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen

Votes: 116,295 | Gross: $34.47M

November 9, 2010: Charlize Theron plays the real-life Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who murdered seven men. Theron, with the help of makeup by Toni G., disappears into her role the way Lon Chaney and Paul Muni used to disappear into theirs. It's a great performance; and Christina Ricci, as her teen-age lover, gives excellent support. The remarkable script and direction are from Patty Jenkins, who allows us to sympathize with Wuornos and at least one of her victims. Good use is made of popular songs. 8/10

14. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

R | 125 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A man robs a bank to pay for his lover's operation; it turns into a hostage situation and a media circus.

Director: Sidney Lumet | Stars: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen, Sully Boyar

Votes: 203,096 | Gross: $50.00M

November 10, 2010: Al Pacino, in one of the great movie performances, plays a desperate New Yorker heading a bank robbery that goes comically and poignantly awry. Eventually there's a stand-off between him and the police, which becomes a live-television news event. Based on a true story; directed by Sidney Lumet. 9/10

15. Burn After Reading (2008)

R | 96 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

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63 Metascore

A disk containing mysterious information from a CIA agent ends up in the hands of two unscrupulous and daft gym employees who attempt to sell it.

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen | Stars: Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, John Malkovich

Votes: 268,670 | Gross: $60.36M

November 11, 2010: 8/10

16. Morocco (1930)

Passed | 92 min | Drama, Romance

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A cabaret singer and a Legionnaire fall in love, but their relationship is complicated by the results of his womanizing and due to the appearance of a rich man who wants her for himself.

Director: Josef von Sternberg | Stars: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou, Ullrich Haupt

Votes: 4,211

November 11, 2010: 8/10

17. Blonde Venus (1932)

Passed | 93 min | Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A cabaret singer takes up with a millionaire to pay for her gravely ill husband's operation.

Director: Josef von Sternberg | Stars: Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Herbert Marshall, Dickie Moore

Votes: 3,361

November 12, 2010: 8/10

18. Gosford Park (2001)

R | 131 min | Comedy, Drama, Mystery

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
90 Metascore

The lives of upstairs guests and downstairs servants at a party in 1932 in a country house in England as they investigate a murder involving one of them.

Director: Robert Altman | Stars: Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas

Votes: 69,489 | Gross: $41.31M

November 12, 2010: 8/10

19. Niagara (1953)

Not Rated | 92 min | Film-Noir, Thriller

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  

As two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife and her husband reach the level of murder.

Director: Henry Hathaway | Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Max Showalter

Votes: 12,254

November 13, 2010: 6/10