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49th Parallel (1941)
Terrific movie made during WWII that stands up today
Many of the comments regarding this picture acknowledge that it's propaganda but, despite that, it's a picture worth seeing. What's lost by merely categorizing the British film as "propaganda" is recognizing that it's 1941 and the Battle of Britain has already been fought. England's taken a terrible beating and is all that stands against Hitler in Europe. America's not in the war yet. Consider that situation when you watch the movie, a thoughtful, expansive story that dares to humanize the German side despite the fact that it was a distinct possibility that Great Britain was in real danger of becoming New Reichsland. Of course it was propaganda. How could you make a meaningful film in 1941 that wasn't? What makes this movie unique is a combination of writing, good acting and photography (beautiful black and white) that makes Canada come alive with a focus on what human beings really mean to each other. The Powell-Pressburger partnership is legendary, of course, but their brilliance is best appreciated when you can watch a 1941 propaganda film in the 21st century and still find it riveting.
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Joan Crawford: deal or no deal?
Preminger-directed B&W drama with tinges of noir but more than anything: interesting characters. Joan's too old for the role but who cares? She's got Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews after her and you just don't know who's going to win out here. Ruth Warrick, who you may remember as Phoebe in All My Children, has a great role here, too. But the highlight for me--like the Greenwich Village theater that Joan attended in the movie that was recalled fondly by an IMDb viewer --was seeing the brief scenes of Provincetown in the movie. There's a little scene where Fonda and Crawford pick up some lumber on the dock and there's the P-town tower in the background. You can also see the old pier, now a relic, in the background. It was a backdrop thing--they didn't go on location--but it was a cool moment, nonetheless. Check out the features that go with the DVD--interesting stuff.
Finally in a video store far, far away: an end in sight to the excessive space saga
An IMDb rating of 8? Please! As the grand finale of the most popular movie series of all time, there's a tendency to be sentimental but let's be cinematically honest--this is a piece of crap. Oh, there are the special effects and the wondrous images, There's Christopher Lee, still vibrant and menacing in his 80s, able to claim the honor of starring in both "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" sagas. There's that Shakespeare in space feel to some of it that producer/writer/director George Lucas might have been going for but with one huge deficiency--there's no story other than to grind along to the inevitable set-up for that first Star Wars film (may the power of the fourth be with you). Not only is the Sith film nothing more than a disjointed collection of scenes preceded by space ships sweeping into orbit or landing on some nifty space station but the dialog is wooden and hollow. With every line, there's a flashing light going off blaring, "Acting, acting." How can you have a successful sci-fi film without suspending reality? Jar Jar Binks might have been a real pick-me-up in this one but all who fall under the Lucas script are lost. Natalie Portman is a wonderful actress but you'd never know it from her Padme role. She's reduced to some the most insipid exchanges on film. Haydyn Christensen (Annikin), on the other hand, may be the worst actor this side of Tatooine. He summons up about as much feeling in his conversion to the dark side as Jerry Mathers might have if they'd ever made Beaver go evil. "Evil Beaver" might actually have been a more interesting movie. ("Wally, I don't know know what's happening to me!" "Gee, Beaver, you got dark circles under your eyes. You just stabbed Dad. Mom's gonna not going to like this.") One could go on and on citing the deficiencies of latest piece of Star Wars slop but it's really not necessary. If you're so entranced with the series and the technical accomplishments, you probably don't care about things like plot or direction. I actually liked the earlier Star Wars films. They were special effects masterpieces that managed to have some lighthearted and human qualities. But try as he might--despite reaping millions in receipts and promotional knickknacks--Lucas can't do it anymore. It just may be that he's caught up in his own formula. Ewan McGregor riding around on the lizard--please! It's just so contrived (there's no truth to the rumor that a sequel--Return of the Lizard--is in the works) The last three Star Wars films failed and this one completely. Thank God it's over. Now go back and watch Mark Hammill and the gang and have some fun.
Dial 1119 (1950)
No big star--just a noir bar
What I liked about "Dial 1119" is that it's basically ignored as an example of film noir yet, for a film made in 1950, this thing was ahead of its time. First off, there's a big-screen TV in the bar, which plays an important part in advancing the plot. The folks who made this picture also foresaw the role that TV news would come to play in taking over a story. Good cast with William ("Cannon") Conrad as Chuckles the bartender, Leon ("Mr. Ed") Ames and Marshall ("Daktari") Thompson as the central character, our friendly neighborhood psycho. Finally, you've got a love a film noir selection that takes place in Terminal City.
Open Water (2003)
open plot line
Now I thought this had possibilities. It has a real feel to it but in this reality-TV age, that shouldn't be too surprising. The premise is scary enough--being left behind in the open sea--the problem is what to do with that cinematic ally. I remember thinking--before "Jaws" was released--what kind of movie could you make out of a shark attack? I mean--there it is--tragedy strikes--but how do you make a 90-minute movie out of it? Spielberg promptly showed us how. But it wasn't easy. It took a long time and a lot of work, not to mention the director's genius. "Open Water" has far less to offer in every way. But when the movie should be at its most grinding and creative, it falters and ultimately fails. It's fine to use a real story as the basis for the movie but that doesn't mean you grind it out with the same conclusion. God forbid there always be a happy ending but this one left me edgy and unfulfilled. At least there's one benefit--there's no chance of a sequel.
I, Robot (2004)
Will Smith to the rescue
The robots are a revelation--insect-like, fast-moving and believable. But the Will Smith role is strictly from comicsville. It's not that Smith is all that bad an actor. He plays the usual Will Smith part--kind of a cross between Eddie Murphy and Audie Murphy. His part is written as if Smith had the script in his back pocket while everyone else walks blindly around robot town.
All this flick needed was a little mystery--just a little but that ain't the way it goes. Oh, Smith rumbles around with a young lady looking for clues but it's weak.
The one thing you know--you can bank on--the message is the same from Frankenstein to 2001 to Westworld to Jurassic Park to I, Robot--technology as grand as it may be will always turn on us humans.
Since we know that, what's this story about, you ask? Won't tell you.
Just know that there are good special effects and little to no suspense. At some point, Hollywood may want to really consider if all the effects aren't harming movies in the long run. You can make all these amazing things crash and burn and it's all very believable. Trouble is--it's covering up a weak story.
I See a Dark Stranger (1946)
Post-war war film that casts a spell
Deborah Kerr (as in star) as the trailer says is usually thought of in almost matronly fashion since she's brought strength and dignity to so many roles as a veteran performer. Here you see her in younger days. She's a wild and bewitching Irish rose, marvelous as the brassy Bridey Kiltie, hater of all things English. Buoyed by Kerr, Trevor Howard and a wonderful British-Irish cast,this film makes you feel like you're right back there in UK during the war. Only you're not flying off to punish the Germans. It's a homefront thing. The movie is more drama than mystery but it's enthralling all the same with humor and style to burn. Among the great characters are a pair of British officers, Captain Goodhusband (Garry Marsh) and Lt. Spanswick(Tom Macaulay)who come along to steal the film in their portrayal as oh-so-very-English middle-aged officers.
Criss Cross (1949)
Don't cross this one off your noir list
Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo are great in the Robert Siodmak film that helps define film noir. Lancaster is riveting in the role of the guy who comes back home to try and pick up his life while DeCarlo reminds me of Catherine Zeta-Jones as the object of his affection. Dan Duryea, one of the great film noir players, is the bad guy and there's a wonderful cast of players who fill out this drama including Steve McNally as Burt's cop brother and Percy Helton as the bartender. Tom Pedi is great as Vincent, one of the gang, and let's not forget Alan Napier later to play Alfred on TV's "Batman. There's also a great musical interlude from flute player Esy Morales and his orchestra during a scene when Yvonne is dancing up a storm. I missed them but maybe you'll notice Raymond Burr and Tony Curtis in bit parts.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Dynamite documentary explodes on summer scene
Don't just look at this film as anti-Bush--which it certainly is. The point here is that someone has stepped up for humanity. Moore makes a number of points--in an entertaining fashion--that forces us to at least consider what's transpired in this country over the past four years. Moore's main points are: 1/ the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are joined at the hip because of money 2/ the Administration's post 9-11/anti-terrorist campaign plays on scaring the American public 3/ the war in Iraq was a put-up job 4/ It wasn't just the White House but also Congress and Big Media who got swept up in the "whee, we're going to war" excitement 5/ The decision to invade Iraq put our armed forces in harm's way--unnecessarily 6/ Less fortunate people in our society wind up suffering the most in wartime Enough of the term paper points. Moore handles all this with news clips--some pretty shocking, Dragnet bits, good music and a tone that carries a very simple theme--does any of this seem fair? If Bush comes off like a clown, then when addressing a dinner of fat cats, he might try avoiding statements like, "Some call you the elite. I call you my base." The spirit of the 60's lives and his name is Michael Moore.
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
Part war movie, part comedy, part classic
Not your average war movie. Fascinating cast includes Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles and Carroll O'Connor. It's a shoot 'em up war film on one hand with Germans mowed down like the morning grass but it's also a heist picture. This movie is certainly a a product of its time with a showdown scene reminiscent of Eastwood's spaghetti western past. Sutherland plays the spaced-out tank jockey with a 60's flavor that's fun to watch. Savalas may be the toughest sarge on film and that's saying a lot. This film probably could have been a classic without much trouble. The pieces are all there. The ending needs work. But enjoy what we have which is plenty.