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23 reviews in total 
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20 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A great guilty pleasure, 31 December 2002

Fans of Claude Rains and Kay Francis shouldn't miss this one. It has its weaknesses--the romantic lead (Ian Hunter) is simply not as interesting as the devilish Rains--but it's tremendous fun nonetheless. The opening sequences may be the strongest: independent model Kay Francis meets the dashing but underhanded Claude Rains under strange circumstances, and the two form an unlikely partnership. The scenes between these two are the highlight of the film.

In a great supporting role as Francis's best friend and Rains's severest critic, acid-tongued Alison Skipworth is hysterical. And I love the elegant and often eccentric fashions spotlighted by the movie in the fashion show sequences. For me, the interest only flags during the "stolen holiday" of the title--a forced romantic idyll between Francis and Hunter. When Rains starts scheming and Francis starts suffering, that's when the movie really cooks. You'll have your work cut out for you finding this movie, but it's worth seeking out.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly good!, 31 March 2002

Perhaps the key to enjoying this movie is to come to it with no expectations, as I did--or to be a fan of William Castle (as I am becoming!). If you know William Castle's work, you know to expect low-budget chills that don't take themselves very seriously. What's surprising about this film is that it's actually fairly sophisticated. The plot has some excellent twists; the chills are more psychological and less gore-dependent than in other Castle films I can think of; and it's just fun to see two great (albeit aging) stars get their teeth into a horror script. Barbara Stanwyck is excellent, and Robert Taylor comes a close second.

Why this little gem isn't available on DVD with (what I consider to be) lesser Castle works baffles me. It's definitely worth seeking out for your next cheesy horror fest.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Bram Stoker would approve, 19 May 2001

As someone who wrote her dissertation on vampires, I'm very picky about vampire films, especially those that try to retell Bram Stoker's phenomenal _Dracula_. But, even with all that baggage, I was thoroughly impressed with _Dracula 2000_, and I think Stoker himself would have approved. It may not be the letter of his novel--no film, least of all the overpraised Coppola version, has yet provided that--but it comes closer to capturing its spirit than any of the other versions I've seen.

First of all, it has few artistic pretensions: it's a good old-fashioned horror/adventure, with good guys (and gals) trying to save the world. That alone makes it refreshing, and closer to the modest aims of Stoker's novel. And it's glorious to finally see Stoker's villain come to the screen as just that--a villain--instead of the lovesick romantic underdog that's been palmed off on us for years.

But, more importantly, it delves into the deeper themes and ideas that have made Stoker's novel so timeless: the blood exchange in both book and film acts as a metaphor for heredity, for the inherited taint of evil that each human (but especially, here, Van Helsing and his daughter Mary) must fight against. The dangers of familial influence and blood inheritance, so significant to Stoker's portrayal of the battle of good vs. evil on an internal level, finally come to the screen. The intricacies of the family ties (which I won't spoil for those of you who haven't yet seen the film) create a powerful level of the story about the complex forces that make up human personality. The movie also delves into the provocative question of how people's choices can alter their character--and potentially that of their children. These themes elevates the movie, like the novel itself, above the level of sheer disposable entertainment.

Certainly the decision to set the film in the present day will jar some fans of the novel, who are looking for the Victorian setting we all associate with Dracula, but again, this decision works for the story, reminding us that for all our sophistication, we can't be sure that the old evil creatures of folklore won't sneak up on us out of a dark alley. This was exactly the sensation Stoker himself worked so hard to create. In order for his vampire to scare us, we have to believe that he can exist in our world--that he is something relevant to us.

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but thank heaven for Wes Craven!

22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Flawed, but enjoyable, 16 May 2001

Fortunately for me, I stumbled on this film with absolutely no expectations--didn't even know the title until I looked it up on the IMDb! But it kept me watching, fascinated, for two hours (including commercials), and at the end I felt like I wanted to spend more time with it. It has romance, elegant atmosphere, a surprising plot, intriguing themes, and good, while the pacing and direction sometimes seem a touch stilted, I'd definitely watch it again.

I'm a bit baffled that everyone who finds fault with this film picks on the story. For me, the story was the strong point: it had some truly surprising twists and grew from the complexities and relationships of a range of fully drawn characters--a luxury most films, with their flat cardboard characters, don't offer. And the references to Virginia Woolf, also singled out for criticism by many viewers, actually served to enrich and illuminate the ways the film dealt with the tragic inability of a woman to escape the double standard. In the world of the film, where even a seemingly perfect husband could with no warning transform into a tyrant, even a woman who thought she had it all could be trapped by a paucity of choices.

That makes it sound like a preachy feminist movie, which it isn't. In fact, those who enjoy good old-fashioned murder mysteries will get a kick out of it. Perfect it isn't, but I can think of far worse ways to spend a lazy evening.

17 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Charming, light-hearted fun, 19 April 2000

The fairy tale on which this colorful musical is based might not seem the most promising story for a light-hearted movie: as the story begins, a dying queen makes her husband promise that his next wife will be as beautiful as she, and his solution is to marry his own daughter. Fortunately, our heroine has a savvy confidante, the marcel-waved fairy godmother, whose worldly advice allows the girl to keep putting off the marriage. Finally, however, the princess has to flee her kingdom and, in a Cinderella twist, disguise herself as a lowly scullion. Fortunately, even covered in a donkey's skin, she manages to win the heart of a prince.

An enjoyably tongue-in-cheek combination of music, humor, and romance, this film features some of the most splendidly over-the-top costumes I've ever seen, and an adorable soft-focus, slow-motion duet between the two young lovers (with hilariously anachronistic lyrics). Actor Jean Marais, who distinguished himself in a very different fairy tale film --Cocteau's -La Belle et la Bete- --makes a distinguished if warped king, and Catherine Deneuve charms as she bakes a cake while singing the recipe--and daintily keeping her ruffled sleeves out of the batter. The fairy godmother is probably the most enjoyable character, a modish lady in high heels who has her own ideas about the king's proper romantic destiny. A plus for tourists is that much of the film takes place in actual French castles, including the one with the famous double-helix staircase.

Those who prefer a darker slant to fairy tales may enjoy reading Robin McKinley's novel -Deerskin-, based on the same story. But if -The Slipper and the Rose- is more your speed, or if you want something appropriate for all ages, track down -Donkey Skin-. Just be prepared if your daughter demands a dress the color of the moon next Halloween.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Excellent version of "Turn of the Screw", 22 December 1999

My friends have a difficult time stifling their giggles when I mention a quality film version of Henry James's classic "Turn of the Screw" starring Valerie Bertinelli, but she does quite a good job in the title role (a character altered just slightly from the novella to account for her American origins in a British cast and setting) of an altogether excellent film.

Those who have seen the earlier screen treatment of this story, _The Innocents_ (with Deborah Kerr in the Bertinelli role) will enjoy this version for similar reasons, foremost among them the excellent screenplay and eerie atmosphere. The 1995 film adds effective ghostly special effects (chilling but never overdone) to heighten the spookiness, a lush location setting, and increased emphasis on the disturbingly sexual nature of the hauntings. The children may not be as sympathetic as they should be--it's difficult to believe that their natural, unpossessed state is cherubic innocence--but the young actors are convincingly creepy and sly when under the spirits' influence. Altogether the cast is wonderful, with the incomparable Diana Rigg especially effective as the housekeeper who unwillingly comes to recognize that the new governess is _not_ just imagining things. Bertinelli's devotion, fear, and ultimate determination are completely believable, and the final showdown with the evil Peter Quint is haunting indeed--it will take your breath away. This film deserves a place in every ghost story lover's video collection.

Jackie's Back! (1999) (TV)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Sly, hilarious parody, 28 August 1999

I watched this for the ever-wonderful Tim Curry but was won over by the total package: this is a sly, deadly funny mockumentary that skewers diva ego, blaxploitation films, and the music industry, along with just about everything else that can be squeezed into the space of two hours. Jenifer Lewis is hilarious as the fiercely vain diva, and Tim Curry's dry pomposity is the perfect foil. The film's one flaw is the unlikely, unfunny ending in which all the deliciously evil humor succumbs to a saccharine feel-good production number and Curry, impossibly, grows to love the harpy he's been interviewing. In spite of the letdown of the ending, this is still a sharp, energetic send-up with lots of great surprises, including the priceless cameo by David Hyde Pierce (of Frasier fame). If this is ever aired again, set your VCR: it's a keeper.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Beware the hype, 5 August 1999

I hate to leave myself open to the charge of being a wet blanket, but I've waited in vain to see someone else point out that this movie may well disappoint those who, like myself, had their expectations raised out of all proportion by the tremendous hype. I'll say first off that BWP is well made, with convincing performances and a truly terrifying last 2-3 minutes. Otherwise, I found it a disappointment.

Because so many reviews have hailed this as a deeply terrifying movie, I was actually afraid to go see it, being something of a wimp. I need not have worried: the film is tense, yes, even unpleasantly so, but the characters were not likeable enough to inspire great concern on my part, and the incidents that should have been frightening merely inspired interest and mild curiosity.

The one judicious use of gore was genuinely creepy and well executed (as it were), and, as I've mentioned, the final sequence is deeply scary. I think, though, that the much-lauded absence of Hollywood fakery actually worked against this film's effectiveness with me. The hand-held cameras actually made the entire film seem more artificial instead of more realistic, so that I was constantly aware that this was, indeed, only a film. This is a shame, since the situation is so promising and truly ought to have given me the shivers.

I offer my experience not to put down the many who have found the film everything it's cracked up to be, but only to suggest that for some--not all--viewers, it may not live up to their expectations. I wish it had lived up to mine.

Hamlet (1996)
13 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Ambitious disappointment, 3 August 1999

Branagh's Hamlet--both character and film--suffers from the same tendency that destroyed his Frankenstein: he simply goes overboard. When he's reined in, Branagh can turn in a fine performance, but too often he overacts, overdirects, overdoes generally, as here. I eagerly anticipated this Hamlet both as a reader and as a teacher, but discovered an overblown spectacle full of Hollywood-style excess, souped-up sex and violence, overpowering (and distracting) music, and performances that substitute volume for emotion.

Branagh himself is the worst offender here, bellowing his "how all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy as if in competition with the soundtrack, hardly even pausing for breath, let alone for a glimpse of feeling. The most crushing disappointment is the crucial "to be or not to be" speech, again devoid of any sense of reflection or self-awareness, delivered in a hasty monotone for all the world as if Branagh was trying to spit it out quickly before he forgot it. This is not the world-class acting the text deserves; if not for the sheer spectacle and the impressive (i.e. famous) cast, this film would surely not be ranked as highly.

Even the purportedly authentic screenplay makes several crucial interpretive choices for the viewer and completely rewrites the nature of Fortinbras's final entrance into Elsinore. The only bright points are Derek Jacobi, who offers some emotional complexity as Claudius, and a Gertrude who finally seems to have a backbone. The absence of the Oedipal interpretation is welcome, but this alone cannot place this disastrous film above the Mel Gibson version, which remains its superior. The volume of laudatory reviews for this foolish film depresses me--but at least it may bring some new readers to the play itself, which _does_ deserve this kind of admiration.

The Woman in White (1997) (TV)
12 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Elegant, moody gothic, 1 August 1999

Although I still prefer the 1948 film version, which is more satisfyingly developed (in spite of an ending that comes out of nowhere), this newer version of Wilkie Collins's mystery has a lot to offer. Tara Fitzgerald and Justine Waddell are excellent as the two very different heroines, and Simon Callow is, as always, delightful (if not as deliciously repulsive as Sidney Greenstreet in this role). The mystery, romance and suspense begin to take a moody, even depressing turn in the second half, but this is still, overall, a satisfying film for fans of gothics, visually compelling and more than a little haunting.

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