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Tall in the Saddle (1944)
A middling John Wayne movie
For any other star of the era, this would be one of their better or best films, but this is John Wayne, who went on to star in dozens of masterpieces. So, it is a middling John Wayne movie. His performance hit all of the right notes, and Gabby Hayes was there, doing what he did best. Both Ella Raines and Audrey Long looked lovely as they played opposite types of frontier women. I realize the times, and audiences were much more willing to suspend disbelief, but the effects, such as they were, could have been better. For instance, the stagecoach traveling through the Arizona desert was going about 35 mph with not nearly the bumpiness of frontier tracks. The plot fit the formula of the times very well, but was a tiny bit fresh, as well. Worth checking out.
The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)
An OK film, no more
Not really what you'd consider a "John Wayne movie" inasmuch as his character is important, but not dominant. This film is set in, I suppose, the Ozarks, in a not completely specified time. There is mention of telephones in the cities, but no sighting or mention of automobiles and no electricity out there in the boonies. I suppose it could be anywhere from 1885 to 1910. Wayne plays a character other than "himself" which he is often accused of doing nothing but. Bettie Field plays a love interest for him. Her character is never seen wearing shoes. Harry Carey steals the show, as the stranger from the city. Every one used what they thought were hillbilly accents and verbiage, but notably without seeming very condescending about it. Overall, it is an OK film, no more.
Citizen Kane (1941)
Quality film, especially for its time
I don't know how I've lived so long without ever having seen "Citizen Kane". So, I have now rectified that situation. I won't disparage it, I enjoyed the film. It was fairly astonishing for a twenty-five year old first-time director to put out this quality of a movie. and Welles was able to do all these things in the direction without them becoming annoying, or looking like showing off. I'm not enough of a film geek to know about "deep focus" or when it was first used, or by whom. While still a good movie, I don't get the greatest-of-all-time meme about CK. It may have been at the time, but then again 1941 saw some of the all-time classics come out. But every cinephile should certainly see Citizen Kane. Rosebud.
Brother Orchid (1940)
Through and through boring
This film, which I had never heard of, stars Edward G. Robinson as a crime boss. I suppose that the syndicates of those days were not the ethnic affairs that they became later. Or maybe the filmmakers just skirted around that. He retires, giving control to Humphrey Bogart's character. When he loses all of his money in Europe, he returns to New York assuming that he will re-take command immediately. He is mistaken, and various gangland style events ensue. Ann Sothern plays a classic moll, beautiful, but with a horrible new Jersey accent, and dumber than a box of rocks. This is all in the first act. I had already lost interest before all of the Brother Orchid stuff began. This film is through and through boring. Don't waste your time.
Worth checking out
I enjoyed this movie, even though not much really happens in it. That is OK. There is definitely a place in cinema for character studies. You can call it a drama, but I'm not sure you could call it a psychological drama. Mara Rooney is a bit inscrutable as a mousy early Fifties single girl. You can say the same for Cate Blanchett, as the older (39-ish?) wealthy society lady. I doubt that it is giving much away to say that they fall for one another. Blanchett's character, Carol, has a lesbian relationship in her past, so it brings up the question "Is she preying on the 21 year old Therese?" (Rooney). It doesn't truly seem so from here. The performances seemed good to me, and the film has good photography, direction, and authentic-to-the-times costumes. If you don't require car chases and explosions in a movie, check it out.
Office Christmas Party (2016)
Fairly decent holiday comedy
OK, this movie was not as good as some commentators have said, and not nearly as bad as others have said. It was a fairly decent holiday comedy. The plot may have been a bit predictable, but it was executed very well. Jennifer Aniston is always charming, even when she plays a character in full-on bitch mode. Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn were adequate and competent, and T. J. Miller overplayed his part a little. Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer did nice work, and Jillian Bell was hilariously awesome. Yes, the tone was sarcastic and profane, but what do you expect from an R-rated comedy in this day and age? Overall, when it comes out, it will be more of a Netflix rental than a disc to buy.
Bad Moms (2016)
Light-hearted escapist comedy
A light-hearted escapist comedy. There were some laughs there, but I had hoped for some more. Mila Kunis is beautiful, as always, and is a superb actress. And Kathryn Hahn is occupying her usual niche. Kristen Bell was another good choice for her role. Also noting Christina Applegate playing against type as a very unlikeable character. There was some mildly annoying directing, and they did try to pass off New Orleans as Chicago. But it really is not a terrible film. It mines some overworked territory, but was fairly amusing, and did not bore me. But I guess it did not make too mush of an impression, as I cannot think of anything else to say about it.
The Commitments (1991)
A movie that does not come out with huge aspirations. Which is fine. It just wants to tell its little story. Set in and filmed in the working class (or lower) neighborhoods of Dublin, it tells the story of a young entrepreneur who starts a band. Instead of heavy metal or poisonous rap, he/they want to do Sixties soul music, despite their Irishness and whiteness. There is a fair amount of subtle humor. I had neither seen nor heard of any of the actors, but then again, I rarely saw much Irish cinema. I was especially impressed by Angeline Ball, one of the back-up singers. The movie was, well, charming is the word that most comes to mind. You probably have to like that sort of music to like the movie, but if you do, check it out.
How to Be Single (2016)
Better than average romantic comedy
This is a better than average romantic comedy. I gave this one an extra star, because, although it largely followed the rom-com formula, meaning happy endings for most of the characters, it wasn't obvious who was going to end up with who, or otherwise. Rare is the film in this genre that does not telegraph its exact ending at least forty minutes away. Rebel Wilson played to type and was quite amusing. Alison Brie was lovely, and played her neurotic role very well. Dakota Johnson was absolutely adorable. I hope to see more of her in the future. Kudos to Leslie Mann, as well. The New York sets and photography were impressive, and there were no obtrusive directing techniques.
Shadows and Fog (1991)
Woody Allen is annoying as usual
Woody Allen is annoying as usual, playing a Kafka-inspired role set in Germany or Central Europe in the early twentieth century. (Electric light is commonplace, but no automobile is ever seen) Allen's shtick was original and amusing in the early Seventies, but it palled many decades ago. The plot is fairly boring, and never really ties together very well. There is a sort of "all-star cast" that is largely wasted. And the film (and plot) had no real ending, it just kind of quit. However, there were some good things. The mood was set very well with the fog, the black-and-white photography, the music. Nice performances from some of the cast, especially Mia Farrow, John Cusack, John Malkovich, and even the much-maligned Madonna. Some of Allen's direction was effective, such as the 360 shot around the table at the brothel. But overall, the film was boring, and I cannot recommend it.