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Queen of Outer Space (1958)
For $42.78 you expected maybe Hamlet?
Well, this film couldn't have cost much more than $42.78 to make. Some of the sets consist of, well, walls and floors. The main purpose of the film is to espouse a philosophy that is pure Zsa Zsa. Love is all and women are made to please men. (Nothing mentioned here about alimony.) Lots of very pretty young actresses in moderately skimpy costumes and very cheap hairstyles frolic with the astronauts out to protect the earth from the evil queen of Venus. Zsa gets to flounce around in gossamer gowns and high heels even while she is trying to escape raygun blasts. If you've never seen this film, I won't tell you what her job on Venus is. Suffice to say, someone had a very active imagination when they put that part of the plot together. It's a fun film with no pretensions of having anything to do with science fiction despite the title. If you remember it from when you were a kid, enjoy it again now. If you're too young to remember it from Saturday morning TV, then watch it, make sarcastic comments at the screen, and see a real icon of the 50's, Zsa Zsa, hamming it up to the hilt.
I Love Lucy (1951)
A piece of Americana
Everyone who has already commented has said just about all one can about this extraordinary accomplishment in TV entertainment. I would just like to add this. Some years ago, I saw a comic strip panel that showed the following. We see two gas pumps, one labeled Fred and the other Ethyl. That's it. Evokes a little chuckle. How many shows made the names of their characters so much part of our culture, that 50 years later, a pun like that would be immediately understood by young and old alike? You teenagers out there, do you remember Conklin and Boynton? Or Lily Ruskin and Hilda Crocker? How about Cosmo and Henrietta Topper? Seems to me it is just I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners that have stood the test of time and appealed to all generations. The Bach and Beethoven of TV. Real classics. I am so happy Lucy is finally available on DVD, with plenty of entertaining and fascinating extras.
The Incredibles (2004)
Simple to rate
It is pretty easy to rate The Incredibles. It is the best computer animated film ever made. The Pixar people are becoming ever more expert and convincing in their production of human (and incredible) figures. For the genre, this film is well-scripted and well-acted. Yes, some of the twists in the plot are predictable, but some are quite clever too. Besides, it is one of the best-paced and exciting films of any type. Plenty of appropriate humor. The animation is breathtaking; needs to be seen to be believed. See it on a big screen and then buy the video or DVD for home. This film is a tremendous accomplishment by all the creative people involved. PS It's worth hanging around for at least the first half of the closing titles too. It is very well conceived in the mode of the earlier James Bond films and is backed with excellent music.
Rates a big thank you
I have just watched the first segment of Broadway: The American Musical on DVD. I just received the DVD today and right now it is one a.m., so I won't be watching any more tonight. Here I am, a Broadway musical fan watching it on my DVD player some 8,000 miles away from the Great White Way on November 29, 2004. According to the notes and the PBS website, this series ran on American TV just a few weeks ago. Whether the series meets every one of my expectations or not (though watching an, as always, perfectly-coifed over-90 Kitty Carlisle Hart remind herself of how irked she was about following a wet and messy seal act in vaudeville 70 or 75 years ago was worth the price of the DVD set in itself), the fact that PBS has chosen not to make us wait five or ten years, but barely a couple of weeks to be able to own this series and watch all or part of it any time we want deserves all my plaudits. Bravo. I look forward to the rest of the marvelous history, the marvelous singing, dancing, sets, and costumes in the segments that remain for me to view.
Deserves to be on DVD
There have been tons of Ellery Queens over the years in the movies and on TV and Ralph Bellamy does an admirable job in this flick. There's a lot of humor in the film. Spring Byington as a dotty matron who thinks more of her pet monkey than her family is a lot of fun, though you're never quite sure if she is as dotty as she seems. Bellamy is unflappable, jaunty and confident in the title role. His relationship and repartee with his secretary are delightful. There's a very funny scene with Ellery at an auction of the contents of a country house. The mystery isn't a bad one, though there's a good chance you will eliminate enough suspects on your own to figure out whodunnit. That won't take away from the fun of viewing. If you like the Falcon series with George Sanders and Tom Conway, you'll probably enjoy this, if you can find it. I have a copy only because I caught it on TV once and taped it. Someone ought to restore the print and issue it on DVD so everyone can enjoy Bellamy in a fine comedy-mystery role.
Topper Returns (1941)
Not the bottom, but not the topper either
A sterling line-up of stars in a comedy cum whodunit that never seemed to fire on all cylinders for me. Billie Burke is brilliant as Topper's space cadet wife, and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson has one funny allusion to his other regular job to interrupt the horrible portrayal of a nervous, silly and superstitious African-American servant he is forced to create, a la Mantan Moreland and other black actors forced to play servants in this era. One scene in which he is repeatedly, and I mean repeatedly slapped down into a pool of water by a seal sitting on the edge of a pier is particularly repugnant. The rest of the cast don't come close to their best performances in other films. In particular, the two central characters, played by Roland Young and Joan Blondell, never seem to click comedically. Blondell and Carole Landis do a better job at the beginning of the film as two young girlfriends, but then Landis isn't given much of a chance to shine the rest of the way. She is wasted. You get George Zucco predictably playing a creepy doctor. Pretty much everything is predictable, including who the murderer must be, though you won't really care. That wouldn't make any difference if the film were full of yucks. But I hardly laughed. I found the film mildly diverting and perhaps historically significant for its parade of popular actors of the era. I didn't really need to buy the DVD though.
Solomon and Sheba (1959)
Pretty Gina, pretty scenery, pretty bad
Right this moment I am watching this movie on TV here in Tokyo. Beautiful scenery, beautiful sets of biblical proportions, beautiful costumes, beautiful color, beautiful Gina. Great climactic scene when God destroys the Sheban idol and a lot more with de Millean thunderbolts at the moment when Yul and Gina are about to consummate their love. Yul does a halfway decent job of delivering his lines, though he sounds a lot like Yul delivering his lines as Ramses or Taras Bulba. George Sanders sounds like George Sanders playing George Sanders. Given the limited range of acting she is asked to display in this role, Gina does a good job, though by the time the movie ends, she is completely converted into a demure remorseful lass and looks likes she might be playing in a biography of Mother Teresa. I guess thunderbolts will do that to you, but it is almost breathtaking how quickly she jettisons her own beliefs for her new religion. The supporting players are mostly awful, lacking credible emotion and timing. The usual big battle scenes, what passed for lascivious dances in 1959, and an orchestra blasting out plenty of trumpet calls behind a huge chorus singing lots of "Ah's", but none of it quite of topnotch Hollywood quality. The final swordfight between Brynner and Sanders is at the laughingly low skill level of a junior high school play. The film is one big piece of eye candy but not much more.
The Wiz (1978)
One or two exhilarating scenes
In 1939, they took a story and they made a movie about it. The story was about a child. The movie evoked the childhood feelings of loneliness, fear and wonder in all of us. In 1978 they took a musical and made a movie of it. It's less of a story and more a performance. I can still watch Judy Garland and the rest of the original cast and care about them. Here I care about the music and the production values, both of which are fine. There are a couple of really inspiring scenes: "A Brand New Day", when the Wicked Witch is destroyed, and Lena Horne's rendition of "Believe in Yourself", that I could watch again and again, and I find myself fast-forwarding to them instead of watching the whole film.
Join this Circus
Barnum's life turned into the greatest show on earth in a live musical performance with the extraordinary Michael Crawford. I saw this show live with Jim Dale and Glenn Close in NY. The show was breath-taking and your jaw will drop watching the video too. The performance is so fast-paced and so complex. I watch in wonder and ask myself how they could perform circus acts on a theater stage and sing wonderfully at the same time. The part of Barnum is so taxing, both physically (a variety of circus acts he takes part in) and mentally (there are several patter songs, a la Gilbert and Sullivan) that one wonders how Crawford or Dale could have performed it live eight times a week. The story is exciting, exuberant, suspenseful, hilarious and bittersweet and every performer is a consummate pro. The staging is masterful. (How do you present Tom Thumb and Jumbo the Elephant together realistically on the modern stage? Watch and find out.) This video would be great to watch with the whole family. Turn off the electric dishwasher and turn "One Brick at a Time" into a "One Dish at a Time" family dishwashing routine, though it may result in some smashed dinnerware unless you are a very coordinated family. Great music, great performances, lots of fun.
OK, so Joan Fontaine overemotes a bit. But Olivier is excellent in his effort to act the carefree playboy haunted by his first wife, as is the spectacular supporting cast, the cream of British character acting of the 30's and 40's. George Sanders plays the part George Sanders always plays (and it is irrelevant whether he is the good guy, as in the Falcon series, or the bad guy, as in most of his other films) and does it better than anyone else can. Judith Anderson makes your blood curdle while she is being ever so proper and polite. And then there is the first Mrs. De Winter -- ah, she is the scariest of all to poor, suffering Joan. A simple but brilliant story by du Maurier directed masterfully by Hitchcock. A horror movie where all the horror is in your mind, but then, aren't those the best kind?