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150 reviews in total 
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A great movie title and a Paul Muni showcase, 9 August 2014

Hi, Nellie is one of the most arch, hilarious movie titles I've ever encountered. At first it sounds banal, but as it's tossed around in different scenes by different characters, it gets funnier and funnier. There's a barroom scene that's a howler.

But rather than just a prop for the title's running gag, the story is quite interesting on its own. It involves a newspaper and corruption and a missing banker, and things aren't what they seem. We're taken through some amazing sets. it's impressive to see how many resources were plowed into them by the studio, from tracking shots of the cavernous newsroom, of teeming city streets, of the interior of an elaborate nightclub, all following Paul Muni, who, by the way, is a rough-and-tumble editor relegated to the lovelorn column by his publisher.

And this is a great showcase for Muni. Most of his scenes show him in closeup. Remember, Cagney had Public Enemy and Muni had Scarface, both intensely focused on their personas. I think Muni, because of his stage background, overdraws his character in movie closeups. (He may have won the Oscar for Louis Pasteur because he wore a beard that restrained his over-expressiveness.) But hey, it's Muni, and it's fun to see him do his stuff.

This is a comedy-crime flick, fast-paced, with rapid-fire dialog between great Warner players, so you have to pay attention. There's a scene where a dim young reporter tells Muni that the children's picnic he was assigned to cover didn't occur because the boat taking the kids to the venue ran aground on a sandbar and broke up, so he only had one paragraph to report. This is great stuff!

The Greatest Drummer of the Era is a Thoroughly Rotten Person, 2 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Considering what Ginger Baker is revealed to be, this is a very brave film. The braveness pays off by allowing Baker to show us first-hand what he is.

It's not hard to see how Baker was formed. He was a child in one of those horrible, dreary, violent British working-class neighborhoods. He started out life by losing his father (killed in war), then getting his face slashed with razors for not joining a local gang. Then, he gets a posthumous letter, the only input he every got from his "hero" father, advising him that "your fists are your best friend". So, partly out of survival, partly out of values, Baker became a young tough.

The watershed occurred when Baker was introduced, at the same time, to African drums and heroin. Drums fed into his violent nature, and heroin, he claims, gave him insight into "time," which Baker considers the key to drumming and which very few have.

Chronic Junkie. Deserted his wife and kids for a bimbo who left him. Child abuser -- he introduced his son to cocaine at 15 to do a gig, the proceeds of which the father kept, sending the son home on a bus. Chronically unpleasant to be around, except to the four drummers he worships. Calls dogs and horses the only creatures he can depend on, while at the same time being utterly undependable to his family. Complains about his poverty, after blowing millions on drugs and polo ponies.

The plus side of the ledger is that Ginger Baker is the greatest drummer -- rock or jazz -- in modern history. His long-suffering son, whom he finally kissed-off, says that Baker should never have had a family, that he is only about the drums.

It's not ironic that the only person in the film who seems to adulate Baker is Johnny Rotten. Even the colleagues who prize him as a talent can't stand him as a person, except perhaps, Jack Bruce, of Cream, who says he "loves" Ginger, which is puzzling, given that the two were always fighting. But then, Baker is no longer around him, so he can afford to be nostalgic.

Ginger Baker is a study of how artistic greatness can be fed by a nasty character. Jay Bulger has brilliantly crafted a film which documents how this can happen.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Horrible directing, manipulative, flat story, 1 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw someone else say, "Beautifully made." No, it wasn't!

I liked the authentic sets, and the casting was appealing. Brian Percival's directing is abominable. The accents are OK, but now and then comes a distracting ja or nein. Are they speaking English as a second language? Percival makes every knock on the door, no matter how innocent or routine, sound like the Gestapo, so he can gin up the tension. He completely mushes up the title character Liesel's love interest. The boy next door has a crush on her, and (maybe) she has a crush on her Jewish cellar-dweller, but nothing much happens. We never know what either are to her. Sophie Néllisse has a big, expressive mouth. She'd make a good Disney character.

The "book thief" part of the movie seems incidental, more like a prop than the title. The beautiful blond Rudy is the most interesting character, whose story could have been made into its own movie. But he remains, like the title, just a prop.

The voice of Death, the narrator, is almost identical to Goeffrey Rush's voice, which helps muddle the story line. So, Death is Leisel's foster dad? The ending was an unnecessary downer -- on a cheap, melodramatic note. It's as if the director had run out of things to say or do and just killed everybody off. Here sentimentality trumps substance. Maybe the book ends this way, too, but it could have ended with everybody surviving -- quite possible -- with the message intact. But it would have required more work by the author...and the director. As it is, the message seems to be, "Books are good, Nazis are bad". OK.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Very Underrated Classic, 11 July 2014

The critical reviews miss the mark on this one. The great Pauline Kael liked it, though she thought it was "too controlled". The "control" is Carol Reed's fidelity to Graham Greene's trademark atmospherics. Think, The Third Man set in Havana.

It's a miracle Our Man got made at all, filmed on location in Cuba not long after Castro took over, but with a pre-revolution setting that's thoroughly convincing and fascinating to observe, from the street scenes to Havana's fifties Vegas-style nightclubs. The running gag -- vacuum cleaners as secret weapons -- frames the comedy that turns black.

Noël Coward and Ralph Richardson, who plays "C" before there was an "M," are suitably farcical. Maureen O'Hara's part is mainly decorative, and Burl Ives has trouble with a German accent. But these quibbles pale before the treat of watching Alec Guinness and Ernie Kovacs play opposite each other. Kovacs almost walks away with the movie. Guinness has a classic scene at a country club. This is one of the few films I never tire of watching; it's one you can curl up with.

Rush (2013/I)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The Best Racing Movie Ever, 25 February 2014

I've been to the German Grand Prix and driven the Nürburgring. I've known drivers and racing directors. When Niki Lauda told the BRM guys the car was too heavy, it gave me a chill. When I hung around BRM, they were struggling to develop a new motor. They came up with a contraption called an H-15. It was massive, and it was heavy. The Nürburgring is not just dangerous, it wrecks cars with its dips and rolls. A heavy car bottoms out and destroys its undercarriage, and sure enough...well, so much for BRM. The H-15 was before this story. Obviously, BWM never learned their lesson.

Of course, there's the human element. I've often thought that bullfighters and race car drivers are the only successors to the gladiators. The personal and professional rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt reveals the mentality behind men who flirt with violent death. For one it's a means to an end, for the other it's the end in itself. And this is the hub of the story.

Rush is the real thing. It is simply the best racing movie ever made. It's a crime that it wasn't nominated for an Oscar.

White Mane (1953)
Deserved the prize at Cannes, 20 February 2014

Here is a child-and-horse story that goes beyond Hollywood clichés. It's idyllic and untamed, with an undertone of menace.

The somewhat artless execution is redeemed by the sublime theme and photography. And the ending blew me away.

Then, there's the wonderful acting of the principles. The boy is beautiful and earnest, his little family achingly sweet. Notice the little sister. At very young ages they tend to be undisciplined. But this tot is fully into her part, doubtless thanks to director Albert Lamorisse, who later directed his masterpiece, The Red Balloon. Of course the old grandpa is completely natural. The herders are less convincing as actors, though spectacular as horsemen.

The poignancy of the story reminds me of The Little Prince (book), also by a Frenchman. The French are very good at childhood themes. See Forbidden Games, War of the Buttons, the 400 Blows, the aforesaid Red Balloon, and Zero for Conduct, the masterpiece by Jean Vigo, whose eponymous prize White Mane won, as well as Cannes.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Moronic, delusional propaganda, 3 October 2013

Actually, you can believe how bad this is, when you consider that this piece of garbage was made to pander to self-pitying, paranoid, delusional, right-wing, fundamentalist fruitcakes.

Behold the producers, in their own words: "Robertson 6 Productions is an Christian owned and operated company in Kansas City, MO that is focused on the budgets of our clients instead of our own. We are a completely independent, which allows us to do such budget minded projects. We are very selective on the project we choose also."

Need I say more? Well, suffice it to say that this thing is no more about Christianity than Al Capone was about the olive oil business.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Benchmark of Great Science Fiction, 1 October 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Forbidden Planet is pure science-fiction. It is not the cliché cowboys-in-space or (despite the "monsters from the id" line in the film) gratuitous monster aliens. Star Wars? Alien? That's too easy, too trite, the same old same old in a future setting. Despite comparisons with Shakespeare's The Tempest, the story of Forbidden Planet stands on its own. And its soundtrack has never been equaled.

A machine that materializes thought "without instrumentalities". Instrumentalities -- when I heard that word I realized this movie is speaking to adults, not adolescents.

Pure science fiction is about the future itself. Forbidden Planet and Blade Runner come to mind. Some Star Trek episodes achieve this. For my money, though, Forbidden Planet is the benchmark against which all other science fiction movies should be measured.

Yes, there is a little dating. Earl Holliman's comic relief character isn't necessary (neither was R2-D2's prissiness). And there was a lapse in the otherwise cool f/x when the spaceship landed on Altair: The powder puffed though holes in the ground was pretty cheesy. But these are minor quibbles which don't detract from the overpowering story.

7.7 IMDb score Forbidden Planet gets is a travesty, a reflection of audiences too stupid to get it. 8.7, which the slicker but inferior Star Wars and the Matrix get, would be far more fitting.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
An Unappreciated Classic Documentary, 2 June 2013

It is a shame that one of the finest, most poignant and important film documents in history is not in video distribution. Thus, the sparse vote count. And it's shameful that, as of this writing, the average score is an absurd 6.6.

Finest, not only because it is narrated by one of our greatest actors and narrators, Jason Robards, Jr., but the source material comes largely from a home movie Robards' father made of their family visit to one of the most famous and important of all World's Fairs, the New York World's Fair of 1939. So, the history here is first-hand.

Famous, because it was a grand fair, perhaps the grandest of all, because it was the closest to how we think of fairs, not only as exhibitions but as entertainments; and being a *World's* fair, both were on a grand scale. And being in 1939, technology, the showcase of World's Fairs, was not just modern, it was beyond modern. In fact, the title of this film, The World of Tomorrow, was the title of the Fair.

Imagine yourself living in the late 1930s. You were weaned on science fiction; to live in the future -- in fact, to be a "space cadet" -- was to be cool. The old dynasties that gave us World War I were gone, and a brave new world of flight, electronics, robotics, high-speed travel -- of color! -- was out of the labs and into the grasp of ordinary people. The future was actually palpable. But just as present was the past, the folk traditions of the peoples represented at the Fair. To be there had to evoke the wonderment of being transported in time and space. And this sense of wonderment is transmitted to us by a child who was there as his father recorded it. I believe the 1939 New York Word's Fair was the template for Disneyland.

And then, there's the poignancy. This bright World of Tomorrow, as Churchill warned, was about to "sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more the lights of perverted science". It was an understatement. The 1939 of the happy, festive and confident New York World's fair brought the most horrible war in history. Some of the nations exhibited at the fair would no longer exist a year later. I'm reminded of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. By 2001 the human race had colonized the moon and was sending a mission to "Jupiter and Beyond". And in 1968, when the film came out, 2001 seemed like a perfectly plausible future, given that we were in the midst of the Apollo mission. But just like 1939, 2001 became a milestone of human depravity.

In the important ways, our civilization has usually fallen woefully short of optimistic prognostications. I say, "in the important ways" because who cares if the instrumentation of Flash Gordon's spacecraft was quaintly non-digital -- it got them to the planet Mongo, didn't it?

Finally, The World of Tomorrow poses the most important question for the human race: Will we ever measure up to our promise?

Phil Spector (2013) (TV)
17 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
A Minor Masterpiece, 25 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't know what the negative reviews were looking for, but this is neither biopic nor docudrama. It's pure Mamet, for those who know what that means.

Phil Specter is perhaps the most insightful and dramatic study of the Hollywood mind since Sunset Boulevard. Indeed, it's is a spot-on updating of the 1950 classic.

Phil Specter, the character, is Norma Desmond, the character: an archetype of what is called in Hollywood, "the talent". While "the talent" sow the profits, the packagers, promoters and distributors reap them. And when "the talent" no longer sow profits for the industry to reap, they become has-beens. Of course the talent also reap for themselves, but not always profits, for they can also reap the consequences of themselves as a career. The proof is in the converse, in the talent who have managed to separate themselves from the business of themselves. This is the talent that have stable marriages, long lives, stability and happiness, regardless of career arc.

"Hollywood" is a culture which, as you go east of Beverly Hills, becomes more sordid -- Laurel Canyon and then the Tenderloin of Hollywood proper. Specter, though he lived in suburban Alhambra, was of Laurel Canyon, a neighborhood favored by the rock music and porn crowd. Though Norma Desmond was of Beverly Hills, her taste and temperament were, like Specter's, luxurious yet tawdry, seemingly frozen in time, like Miss Haversham's wedding cake.

Like Norma Desmond, Phil Specter was "the talent" with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the egotistical and obnoxious temperament that often accompanies great talent persists after the talent fades. Al Pacino's twitching, bombastic delivery is a perfect rendition of an egomaniac, producing, directing and scripting his own reality, oblivious to the input from others.

Writer-director David Mamet specializes in one-on-one confrontation, and as the foil for Pacino's Specter, Helen Mirren, as Linda Baden, the lawyer who sticks, is also perfect. (The fact that her British slips through occasionally is quite trivial.) We see her disarmed, then despairing, as she is slowly worn down, first by Specter's mental bullying, then by pneumonia. She achieves our compassion but not pity. She is a strong, decent person whose legal fee amounts to combat pay.

Almost as entertaining as Specter and Baden is Baden and co-counsel Bruce Cutler, played flawlessly by Jeffrey Tambor. Most of their exchanges are like moot court, with Baden and Cutler trading devil's advocate.

I think the climactic scene is when, before a crucial trial appearance, Specter shows up having chosen, among his myriad toupees, an outrageous two-tone Afro. His response to the look of abject horror on his lawyer's face is, that everyone will understand it's a homage to Jimi Hendrix and not to worry, "I know about these things, they're my business," painfully unmindful of the fact that a trial court is NOT his business.

In the end, we are left with the realization, that the only one who knows for sure about Phil Specter's guilt is Phil Specter. The genius of this movie is that we are made to understand, almost completely outside the trial, that Phil Specter, innocent or guilty, was bound to be tried for being a malign freak on whom the public, without remorse -- after the frustration of seeing O.J., John Landis, Robert Blake and Michael Jackson beat the rap -- could finally hang the hat of guilt.

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