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The Score (2001)
One of my favorite caper flicks
My favorite De Niro role is some kind of wise guy or crook. He has that predatory squint. Here he's paired with Edward Norton, another favorite. They have a great inter-generational confrontation.
Unlike some others, I have no problem with the "old heist story". ALL heist stories are old! It's how they're pulled off that's fun. And this one is pulled off exquisitely. The plot is tight, the pacing is perfect, the photography is great, and there's a nice payoff in the end. Same applies to Ronin, another De Niro fave.
The only problem here is Brando. Yes, he was always a draw, but I agree with another reviewer who says his character could have been demoted or omitted and not be missed. All he does is waddle around and be Brando. I find myself looking for that little in-ear receiver they say he used for his lines. And I guess they had to get their money's worth having apparently paid by the pound.
Anyway, it's delicious to see De Niro and Norton doing their stuff.
Manos with gore
It's pretty discouraging to see so many idiots in one place, giving this thing 10 stars and calling it a masterpiece. There is NOTHING redeeming about it. Someone asked if it's a slasher film or a zombie film. It's a garbage film. It reminds me of the little stunt they did for the Halloween party in third grade, playing a recorded horror story in a darkened room while passing around raw chicken parts.
The storyline is inane, the editing is crummy, of course the voices are dubbed. The gore is gore for its own sake unconnected to whatever it's emerging from.
The candidate for worst movie ever made is Manos, the Hands of Fate. This one is just as bad, but without the unintended humor. The continuous and gratuitous gore makes this mess impossible to watch except to those like the infants at the Halloween party, a kind of cult following for spaghetti slasher movies. Getting off on stuff like this isn't so sick as it is mediocre.
Night Into Morning (1951)
An underrated gem
The fifties were pretty alcohol-soaked. World War II had both scarred the collective psyche and ended the Great Depression. The Korea had turned the Cold War hot. Alcohol was the self-medication of choice. It was also just fun, and fun was what filled the leisure that American prosperity had brought the masses.
Yet, this was no longer the era of Nick and Nora Charles or Robert Benchley, when being drunk was cute or comic. So, when imbibing America needed a cautionary tale, Ray Milland was the right protagonist, as he proved in The Lost Weekend. Night into Morning isn't about alcoholism per se but about the response to a horrible tragedy. Lost Weekend was about alcoholism as a lifestyle. Night into Morning is about a binge that is carrying Milland over a precipice.
The casting is flawless. Milland, like Holden, has this seemingly easy way of acting. By being himself, he is the part. I like Nancy Davis better with every new viewing. What I used to regard as wooden, I now see as measured, kind of like the great Anne Revere. Here she's quite believable as a voice of reason, a voice on our behalf, responding to Milland's woes as we should.
And then there's John Hodiak. What can I say? He died so young that everything he was in becomes precious. And this may be one of his best performances, as Milland's best friend and colleague. Hodiak may have been pushed aside when the big stars returned from WWII, but for me he still chews up the scenery. The looks, the voice. It just occurred to me that had Hodiak survived he might well have settled into a Lloyd Nolan career. Dawn Adams gets good screen time as the girlfriend of the lug whom Professor Milland is going to flunk. The bit parts are not neglected. Whit Bissel has a great little turn as a headstone salesman. The cocktail waitress/student appealed to me a lot, and it turns out that Mary Lawrence playing her was 32 at the time!
Aside for the casting, the production is first-rate. There was a trend in the era for location shooting. In this case, Berkeley gets to play the college town, with a long sequence with Davis and Hodiak on campus, and a scene from the Tower. There's also a bang-up crash scene, though by necessity back at the studio.
There are a couple of problems that preclude perfection. There's a a connection with elderly neighbors that doesn't go anywhere. It was great to see Jean Hagan, but her part should have been developed more, in place of the useless footage of the elderly neighbors.
Night into Morning ends with what, to today's ears, seems a corny send-off, "Go with God". As a product of its time, it's not so corny. War hangover, the Holocaust, The Bomb, atheist Communism ginned up by McCarthyism, and the rat race. Plus ordinary misfortune that's always hitting someone, somewhere -- sooner or later you or me. Or just plain ennui. It seems that movies like Lost Weekend, Night into Morning, The Man in the Grey flannel Suit, are appealing to contemporary audiences to use faith and friendship instead of fixes. It's no coincidence that at the same time AA was getting noticed for sending this message.
Crime and Punishment (1935)
Disappointing Hollywood Treatment
Along with "M" and "The Face Behind the Mask," this Raskolnikov is Peter Lorre's finest rôle. Unfortunately, it's not supported by the rest of the production. The stylized von Sternberg lighting and the Madonna look he gives Marian Marsh (Dietrich stand-in?) don't really suit the grim narrative.
Edward Arnold is woefully miscast as Inspector Porfiry. He's ponderous and bombastic, in his usual manner. Aside from Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the rest of the cast play their stock Hollywood characters. The only Russian about them is "the long-winded names by which they address each other." (Kael)
Coincidentally, a great French "Crime and Punishment" was made the same year. Harry Baur as Porfiry is sensational, and if he had been cast as Porfiry in the von Sternberg version, then it would have caught fire.
I give it a 7 for Lorre.
Grand Slam (1933)
Outrageous low score! For bridge fans AND lovers of satire!
The current score for grand slam is astounding for a little movie so well-directed, well-acted and so truly funny.
For those who know bridge and satire, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly the vignettes of husbands and wives fighting across the tables. In fact, Stanislavsky's bridge "system" is all about keeping couples together by doing away with the rules entirely. Of course, this is a goof on the other Stanislavsky's "method" acting, which is not to act at all.
The scenes where the stuffed-shirt bridge establishment meets Stanislavsky are priceless. They just can't imagine how anybody, much less a common waiter, can make an opening bid of 7 spades, much less win. And there's the cleft between bridge players and pinochle players, who consider bridge players sissies.
A younger Paul Lukas is charming as Stanislavsky, a Russian emigré who is not an aristocrat, not a general, but rather "a genius". His wife, the key to his fame, is Loretta Young at her loveliest. They and a great supporting cast are handled, and the scenes expertly paced, by A-list director William Dieterle.
The crucial match is fought as if it were a heavyweight title fight, complete with breathless play-by-play, complete with climactic moment where the whole world stops -- literally! Of course, all of this is over-the-top, and all of it works, if you get the bridge craze that had swept America for the first half of the 20th century to ridiculous extremes.
In fact, it's still going on. Did you know that the 2008 financial meltdown and recession we're still feeling can arguably be put to bridge? One of the key players in the meltdown was investment bank Bear Stearns. There was a run on this bank, while its CEO was out of the loop...playing bridge.
Grand Slam is a good-natured dig at pop fame and enthusiasms. As Stanislavsky said to the microphone as he was being carried of the field of play, "Hello, Ma!"
In fact, the more I think of how delightful this comedy of manners is, the more frustrated I am by the score. This movie deserves at least a 7. I give it an 8.
An Ideal Husband (1947)
Woefully underrated gem
There's nothing to fault with this film adaptation of Oscar Wilde and much to delight. Someone else says it's long on style but short on substance. I disagree: it's long on both.
Like The Importance of Being Earnest, released five years later, An Ideal Husband involves a sticky situation that somehow must be resolved. In some Wilde works, such as Picture of Dorian Gray, the resolution is tragic, but not in Earnest or Husband; both epigrammatize delightfully to the end. But while Earnest's situation is the stuff of farce, Husband's is serious indeed. However, surrounding the afflicted Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, there is a bevy of comic characters and their priceless Wildian witticisms to maintain a humorous tone even through a serious plot line.
The cast is perfect, with Michael Wilding providing the key Wildian insouciance. Even Paulette Goddard's snake-in-the-garden isn't oppressive but determinedly cheerful. And we have C. Aubrey Smith playing C. Aubrey: "Quite right! Quite right!" Finally, the lovely Diana Wynyard's Lady Chiltern learns that we love each other for our imperfection rather than some impossible perfection. Glynis Johns' part is only needed at the end, but it's a delight to see her popping up in the meantime.
The look of this color production is lush, in the Korda way. The exteriors are wonderful London prospects. The costumes, as they would be in Earnest, are wonders of polychrome and texture.
This movie deserves a far higher average score than it's given. I give it a 10 to raise the average but also because I think An Ideal Husband deserves a 10.
A Man to Remember (1938)
A gloss of sentimentality over deeper stuff
This movie is so good that it transcends the sentimentality of the era and the distraction of Dutch subtitles and substitute graphics (you can figure them out) on the only extant print.
Three things struck me:
First, we know Edward Ellis as the title character (Winant) from The Thin Man. He was compelling, but of course got bumped off early. It was a pleasure to see Ellis in almost every scene of this movie.
Second, Anne Shirley was just as sweet and lovely as an ingénue here as she'd been, playing a little girl, in Anne of Green Gables.
Third, the movie did not succumb to Hollywood's conventional insistence on redemption. Most characters were greedy, parsimonious ingrates, from beginning to end. I think the social conscience of Garson Kanin and Dalton Trumbo had something to do with it.
Here is a forgotten gem, whose preservation fans of American cinema should be grateful for.
Hotel Berlin (1945)
Sorry directing makes for a mediocre movie
Supposedly this movie was popular at the box office. I guess people were eager to see a timely dramatization, such as it was, of the defeat of Germany played as an ersatz Grand Hotel. But the story is so sloppily put together, with so many gaffs, so much broken continuity, and scenes that lead to nowhere, that I wonder wonder what so many reviewers giving good scores are smoking.
Here are just a few examples: In one scene Fay Emerson introduces Helmut Dantine, in an SS major's uniform, as Major, then she and others call him, still with his major's pips, Captain. The bombers practically wreck the air raid shelter, but leave the hotel above it untouched. Alan Hale, as a Nazi official, is disposed of, as a suspect in an SS officer's killing -- completely out of the blue (he's innocent and not connected in any way) -- because, well, his character needs disposing of. Emerson and Dantine are strangers one moment and intimate lovers the next, with no exposition. Peter Lorre does his stock "drunk and dissolute" scene and then is suddenly neat, spiffy and sober. Andrea King's Lisa Dorn gives up Dantine to the SS, for coffee, but it's Emerson who gets shot. (Well, this is a Faye Emerson vehicle.) There's also a lame reprise of Lewis Stone's "doctor waiting for a message" in Grand Hotel.
Raymond Massey has a great part, as a doomed general, and the other actors do their stuff well, but none are allowed to develop their characters. It's really too bad their efforts, and a potentially interesting story, are wasted on incompetent direction and slapdash editing.
I tried but couldn't.
I tried, I really did, to watch this thing, but writing this review is a better use of my time on earth than the movie. I admit, that's pretty pitiful.
People here have ventured that they did it for the paycheck. Of course it's true. All the stars had already made their names and their fortunes. It was an easy paycheck. Atlanta is a nice town and easy to get in and out of.
This was what prompted the likes of John Huston and Glenn Ford and Mel Ferrer to have their names on the credits. Nobody would take it seriously. But being pros they earned their pay -- they found their marks and did their lines. The producer/director/editor did the rest.
By the way, Huston had done this kind of nonsense before, in Beat the Devil. He and Truman Capote made it up from one day to the next. The great cast would party, while Capote, also partying, would slap together tomorrow's script, which Huston wouldn't see until that morning. Despite this, the brilliance across-the-board turned out a pretty good flick.
Alas, in the case of The Visitor, think Manos: the Hands of Fate, with an all-star cast.
Way Out West (1937)
The perfect scores here are astounding. The reviewers must be oblivious to what made Laurel and Hardy great, or else they are so besotted with L&H that they give them a 10 just for showing up, like opera fans do for divas past their prime.
This may be the best "feature length" L&H, but that's not saying much. As other reviewers have pointed out -- and been voted down for their perception -- feature-length -- even short feature-length like this -- is too long for L&H. L&H did short subjects, extended jokes, not the overproduced shaggy-dog stories of the feature- length era. MGM had done the distribution from the 20s, but I think they had a hand in replacing the shorts with the feature-length in the mid-30s.
We get a hint of trouble already at the start of the opening credits. Instead of L&H's trademark Cuckoo Song, with screechy clarinets -- primitive notes in keeping with the antics of the shorts -- we get boilerplate orchestration, which continues relentlessly and intrusively throughout the movie, smothering the charm of the interplay between Laurel and Hardy.
We don't see L&H for the first 6 minutes, instead we get a stock dance-hall scene with hoochy-koochy girls and carousing cowboys, serving only as padding. This kind of waste goes on and on. As for the songs, etc. L&H are not a song & dance act, as MGM made them in many of the feature-lengths. Which is to say, more padding.
I was looking forward to seeing a feature-length L&H. After all, if 20 minutes is great, then imagine over an hour! Alas, I discovered that comedy wasn't added, just the runtime. Film historians, critics and Hal Roach himself agree that L&H's decline began when the MGM-labeled feature-lengths replaced the shorts. They're right.