69 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Five and Ten (1931)
More of a Five than a Ten
13 December 2016
Understandably, this 85 year old film is quite dated and stilted by now, but it nevertheless has an 8.2 rating on IMDb. Seemingly the entire Marion Davies fan club must have voted it a ten, because otherwise this vote makes no sense at all. Davies isn't even good in it, though she looks lovely. Leslie Howard is stiff, Richard Bennett has moments where he seems to be struggling to remember his dialogue, and Irene Rich and Douglass Montgomery are absent for long periods of time, their characters there simply to make plot points. Montgomery actually has some good scenes, but then at the end is involved in a climactic scene that really comes out of nowhere. Basically, this is just for Marion Davies fans, who apparently think anything she was in is gold.
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Fine Vehicle for Sylvia Sidney
14 March 2015
This Paramount adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel (whose "An American Tragedy" Sylvia Sidney had starred in two years previously) gives Sidney another juicy role in a well filmed melodrama, a classic "women's film". Donald Cook is also excellent as Jennie's life-long love and Edward Arnold too, in a smaller but key role. My only disappointment was that Mary Astor, who makes a vivid impression, has a relatively nothing part to play and her screen time is limited. Rarely seen, like many early Paramount films, try to catch this if you see it, especially if you are a fan of big, weepy 1930's female star vehicles, ala "Stella Dallas" or "Back Street".
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Evocative Weimar-era study of Prussian all-girl school, relations
17 July 2012
Although it would have been nice to see a well-restored and cleaned-up print of this, which was not the case, it still seems an exceptionally well made film for its era. The camera work was fluid and the sound was decent. It is a rich, provocative study with much to think about. While famously seen as a lesbian story, and that is part of it to be sure, it also concerns the rigid authoritarianism of its particular time and place, which soon led to so much sorrow and tragedy and sends out a strong feminist and tolerant message. The story is never boring and easily holds one's interest these many years later. It is strongly atmospheric and immerses one in the hothouse environs of the strictly disciplined, all-female world, where the girls develop close and intimate relationships and passionate crushes on their favorite teacher, Dorothea Wieck. She is fine here, and so is Hertha Thiele as Manuela, the primary focus of the story, but then the entire cast performs well, including Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann and wife of W.H. Auden, as a bespectacled, tattle-tale instructor always running to the head of the school. The ending sent out a strong message and worked well, though you are left on your own to wonder how things resolved themselves as per the two lead characters. Well worthwhile to see if you can find it!
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Ada (1961)
Rather disappointing
30 April 2012
Though entertaining enough, "Ada" does not belong in the top tier of Susan Hayward showcases. She's terrific as always, in a role that suits her, but too much in this stretches credibility and lacks proper transitioning. I blame the script, plus Susan and Dean Martin don't especially click together. The film is set in the South and, even though it says Ada comes from Alabama originally, its never made clear which state the action occurs in. The period is also not spelled out, though at the beginning, as Martin is campaigning, he passes a movie theater showing "Escapade", a 1935 William Powell vehicle. Yet, the clothing and hairstyles are definitely not 30's style. Two fine character actors, Martin Balsam and Ralph Meeker, are not given enough to do in support, while Wilfred Hyde-White never seems quite right as wily power-behind-the-scenes Sylvester Marin, his British accent out of place even with a layer of Southern drawl superimposed over it. All in all, you'll be entertained by this combination of "All the King's Men" and "A Face in the Crowd" with sudsy soap opera, but don't expect greatness.
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You Again (2010)
Lame Again
5 October 2010
Hollywood strikes out again with this flat,uninspired meant-to-be comedy. It wastes a stellar cast on lifeless "shenanigans" that we've all seen played to better effect elsewhere. Kristen Bell is cute, but that's about all I can say for her efforts: she's really not quite there when it comes to carrying a movie on her shoulders. Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis, pros that they are, fare much better. Sigourney still looks great for her age when made up well - in the pool scene, though, she looks much older. Betty White is, of course, very funny - but I'm starting to feel if she takes one or two more uninspired roles like this she's going to wear out her welcome. The ending scene with a certain former co-star of hers is the single funniest moment in the whole film. As for Kristen Chenowith - I guess she is best on stage, because she really doesn't seem to work well in any film I've ever seen her in - her character here is super-annoying and unbelievable.
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In Search of Meaning
21 February 2010
I can only echo what the other reviewers have said of this curious film. I watched it to see one of my favorite stars, Julie Christie, in one of her most obscure films. It is very much a product of its time, rather like a third-rate imitation of Antonioni, but more light and whimsical, or should I say pointless and inconsequential? Its very hard to see what drove Christie to make this, other than I think I remember reading that she owed producer Joseph Janni a last film under a contract...maybe he needed a tax write-off? Oh well, if you feel nostalgic for the sixties its a lulling time-waster, with the always lovely Julie. I enjoyed the last scenes at the Geneva airport, whose look reminded me of something out of Jacques Tati's "Playtime". Plus, you get a look at Michael Sarrazin's butt, but not, unfortunately, Julie's.
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Time hasn't been too kind
23 August 2009
"The French Line" was a Howard Hughes-produced opus in 3-D, designed to showcase star Jane Russell (you can make your own guesses what the purpose of putting this innocuous musical in 3-D was...I'll give you two!). To be kind, its no "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes", to which it has some similarities.

Jane plays a Texas girl who is a reluctant millionairess - she has inherited her late father's ranch, which happens to be sitting on copious oil fields. But poor Jane only wants a man who will love her for who she is, not her money. She bewails her lot to her friend and guardian, ranch hand Arthur Hunnicutt, when her latest beau, Craig Stevens, jilts her before heading to the altar because he, like all the others, can't handle having a rich wife. Hunnicutt talks her into not canceling her planned wedding cruise to Paris on the French line, the Liberte (as pronounced by Jane, the Li-burr-tay), only she decides to go incognito so she can catch a man who knows nothing about her money.

Well, first of all, do you really think a millionairess who happens to look like Jane Russell would have such problems? This is purely a confection of a film and not worth worrying about plot lines, but its all just pretty damn silly. And unfortunately, someone decided it should be a musical except all the blah numbers are staged very awkwardly. Jane is beautiful, but hasn't much to work with here and leading man Gilbert Roland seems both a bit too mature as a match for her and definitely too Spanish to play a Frenchman (they try to pawn it off by giving him a Spanish mother). It all ends with a fashion show which just may be the most ludicrous of many far-fetched Hollywood fashion shows. And by now, all the naughtiness which got this opus condemned by the League of Decency and denied a Production seal (Jane's skimpy costumes and bumps & grinds) seem fit for a toddler to watch.
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Colorful scenery, Poor film
20 August 2009
This is a meandering, rather oddball film which hopefully gave its stars a nice vacation in Italy (at a time when production was booming there), but did nothing for their careers. Esther plays a successful model working in Rome, but involved with a wealthy American tycoon back home. He sends word to her via his sleazy European partner and friend Carlos Thompson that his wife will not give him a divorce to marry her. Dejected Esther immediately agrees to go with Thompson on a yachting party thrown by another millionaire off Majorca. Thompson, however, crashes his private plane carrying them in a storm onto a tiny island near Sardinia.

This island is populated only by Eduardo de Filippo, his nubile and soon-to-be of age daughter Rosanna Podesta, and Jeff Chandler, a mysterious beachcomber who is betrothed to Podesta and helps out de Filippo. Rik Battaglia plays a date farmer from the mainland who is Chandler's rival for Podesta's affections. The rest of the film, which keeps a fairly light tone while throwing in bits of melodrama and a badly done attempt at action at the end, involves Williams' and Thompson's efforts to get off of the island while unraveling the mystery of who Chandler is and what he is doing there.

The only real interest the film has is the pretty Mediterranean scenery and the only teaming of Williams and Chandler, who were engaged for a time. Williams later did her best to posthumously trash Chandler's reputation in her autobiography by describing him as a cross-dresser! Not a very gallant thing for her to do, but whether or not it was true at least it might have livened things up a bit if Jeff had modeled some of Esther's frocks in this pointless exercise.
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You can't say it isn't entertaining
16 August 2009
While, by any legitimate standard of criticism, "Sincerely Yours" may be a terrible film, I have to say I had a good time watching it. That may have been for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless...

Maybe no other performer in the history of show business fit the description of "love him or hate him" as well as Liberace. He had a huge and devoted following from the 1950's till his death, while all the rest of humanity either laughed or groaned at the mere mention of his name. This was the one and only film ever built around him, though he made appearances in others. It is, not surprisingly, a campy schmalzfest which makes plenty of room for Liberace's piano playing. The look and decor of the film is really the epitome of 50's kitsch. I won't go into the plot and all the lines and situations which bring a raised eyebrow because it would turn this review into the length of "War and Peace". I must say a word about the hilarious hospital scene at the end, though, where our hero learns whether or not he can hear again after a delicate operation. While William Demerest (Uncle Charlie from "My Three Sons") smokes a cigar in the hospital room, the doctor, played by Edward Platt, the Chief from "Get Smart" (fitting to have these situation comedy stars in this opus) cuts Liberace's bandages off to test his hearing. The sight of his chubby-cheeked, smooth face against the pillow offset by his famous wavy silver hair in disarray brought to mind nothing less than the Bride of Frankenstein!

In all fairness, this is a professionally made film, with that stylized, glossy, sanitized look that most Hollywood films of the 50's had. The supporting cast does the best they can under the circumstances. You'll either gush tears if you typically fall under Liberace's spell or be laughing and groaning your way all through the film, but one way or the other you'll be entertained!
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Fluffy musical comedy
13 August 2009
"Romance in the Dark" is a rather suggestive title for such an innocuous bit of fluff like this musical comedy. It seems to have been one of many attempts in the 1930's to find another Jeanette MacDonald, when studios were placing in front of the cameras Lily Pons, Grace Moore, Miliza Korjus and seemingly every diva under 250 pounds whose face would not fracture the camera lens. In this case, it was Gladys Swarthout who made four or five films before she left Hollywood.

Here, she plays a young Hungarian music student who receives a prize for outstanding graduate from her conservatory from John Boles and John Barrymore, respectively the leading opera singer and leading impresario in Budapest. She follows Boles to the capital and when he doesn't remember her, takes a job as his maid to insinuate herself into a singing career. He eventually takes note of her talent and hits upon a scheme to pass her off as a mysterious Persian prodigy to lure Barrymore into signing her while leaving the coast clear for him to woo Claire Dodds as a snooty countess both men are pursuing. Complications ensue.

The plot is foolish piffle, not to be taken seriously. Swarthout sings admirably and is attractive enough, but merely gets by as an actress. Boles gets to sing here and is livelier than in his straight acting roles, while Barrymore coasts along in support, not hamming it up as much as in some of his other later roles, with a few amusing moments. Many of the more pleasurable moments come via veteran supporting actors Fritz Feld and Curt Bois (who late in life had a role in Wim Wenders classic "Wings of Desire"). I guess what this really could have used was an Ernst Lubitsch behind the camera instead of H.C. Potter!
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Probation (1932)
Pre-code relic
8 August 2009
"Probation" is a pre-Code B movie put out by the apparently Poverty Row Chesterfield Motion Picture Company. Its barely over an hour long and its only real claim to any attention nowadays is that it offers supporting roles to former silent-movie queen Clara Kimball Young and future pin-up girl and box-office queen Betty Grable.

Grable is hardly recognizable here as her future glammed-up persona. She plays the barely 17-year-old jailbait sister of John Darrow, who is out of work but doing his best to look after her. He comes home one day, hoping to surprise her on her birthday with a cake, but is told by Clara Kimball Young, his landlady, that she has had the little tramp sent to juvenile detention after watching her make a date with wealthy playboy Eddie Phillips. (By the way, even though she was only 42 and this only a decade after her biggest success, "Eyes of Youth", Kimball Young is middle-aged and positively matronly here). Darrow then stumbles on Wells, who has come by to pick up Grable for their date, and gives him a thrashing, for which he is arrested. It so happens that J. Farrell MacDonald is his judge and Sally Blane (Loretta Young's sister) is the judge's niece. The judge takes pity on Darrow and in lieu of jail, puts him on probation for three months, serving as Blane's chauffeur.

Its best not to even think about the plot: its all very silly and unrealistic and dated. Unless you are an admirer of Kimball Young's silents and curious what happened to her or wondering what the very young Betty Grable looked like or if Loretta Young's sister was as talented or pretty as she was (no), then there's really no reason to watch this programmer. Richard Thorpe, the director, went on to become one of MGM's house directors and later did such big budget hits as "Ivanhoe" and the Stewart Granger "Prisoner of Zenda", but he certainly brought no distinction to this dud. And just because this was pre-Code, don't think there's any real naughtiness on display, other than Grable being an overactive 17 year-old who is quickly and unrealistically reformed by film's end.
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Unconvincing, Dated Drama
5 August 2009
This story boasts some impressive credentials, being written and directed by Edmond Goulding, the well-known director of "Grand Hotel", "The Razor's Edge" and "Nightmare Alley" and with a musical score by Jerome Kern (unfortunately, not a distinguished one) and cinematography by the great James Wong Howe (again, not one of his premier efforts). It concerns two couples, Ann Harding and Herbert Marshall, a psychiatrist and a medical doctor who have been courting for quite some time, and Louis Hayward and Maureen O'Sullivan, two wealthy young people: he, an alcoholic wastrel and she, a pathologically needy woman obsessed with her relationship with Hayward. When O'Sullivan attempts suicide over Hayward's neglect, Marshall tends to her and calls in Harding to attempt to help her. Harding goes about this, rather strangely, by attempting to cure Hayward's alcoholism so that he will hopefully be a better partner to O'Sullivan (no matter that her obsession with him is not the mark of a well-balanced individual).

After his rehabilitation, Hayward does indeed attempt to be better to O'Sullivan and marries her, but finds that his attachment to Harding has developed into love. Harding finds that she reciprocates his feelings also and the dilemma must be resolved. Sounds like an interesting, even juicy movie could have been made of all this, but I'm afraid not. Ann Harding had a blonde, patrician beauty that is lovely and her acting could be subtle, thoughtful and surprisingly modern. However, the one thing I have not seen her capable of in what I admit is my limited knowledge of her acting (3 performances) is physical passion. She and Marshall strike no sparks and seem to have no more than a companionable friendship, but neither does she give any indication that she burns with passion for Hayward, so the viewer is left with no investment in either relationship. O'Sullivan has a good scene or two, but her character is awfully inconsistent, swinging from noble to nutsy, without enough exploration by Goulding of what could account for her feelings, just neediness. The now jaw-dropping sexism of some of the attitudes expressed, as well as the simplistic look at the mechanics of psychiatry also work against the drama and make it quite dated.
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Attitudes have certainly changed
4 August 2009
In this lurid early 60's melodrama, Gina Lollobrigida plays a high-class call girl who meets Anthony Franciosca, the son of millionaire construction magnate Ernest Borgnine, a self-made Greek immigrant whose forceful personality and wealth dominates everyone around him. Franciosca has just gotten out of the service and is "finding himself". Franciosca is at first ignorant of Lollobrigida's calling in life, but soon gets wise and also learns that his father and seemingly half the male population in town has used her services.

This is a fairly big budget, lushly made film, set in what looked like possibly San Francisco (?) with a side trip to Acapulco. I'm kind of a sucker for films from this era, their look and style, so it was enjoyable enough though certainly nothing great. Borgnine gives the best performance, though even his character showed a lot of inconsistency - at times, he was quite likable then you wanted to beat him over the head. Gina is voluptuous and sexy, but Franciosca, playing the weakest character, could not overcome the deficiencies of the writing. The biggest problem with the film is the inherent double standard of the time, making the sexually free woman the victim who must pay for her "sins". I'm certainly happy that things have changed in that regard.
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Thunder Below (1932)
Tallulah's worth watching, even in a dull film
1 August 2009
This is the first film I've seen of Tallulah Bankhead's. Her powerhouse personality is rather damped down here, but there's still plenty of allure on display. The hothouse melodrama she's stuck in revolves around a triangle between Charles Bickford, a rough and macho hunter for oil headquartered in a tiny South American village, his wife Tallulah, and Paul Lukas, a German who was Bickford's prisoner during WWI, then his friend and now his assistant. Bickford is the kind of guy who, as the film opens, comes home after a long trip on the river and then a long hike back through the jungle, only to embrace his wife passionately, ending with her face right in his armpit. You can kind of understand how she would, er,"sour" on the guy...especially since Bankhead is such a sultry, elegant presence. Lukas is attractive, but at times a bit difficult to understand with his heavy accent, due to the still not too advanced sound technology. This is also the only time I think you would be able to see rotund Eugene Palette, that staple of 30's screwball comedies, playing a bizarre spanking game (thankfully, fully clothed) in a tavern. I can't remember another female in the whole movie, other than a few in the tavern scene,so Bankhead had the field all to herself and, through it all, she's fabulous, with her "chola" eyebrows, throaty whiskey-and-cigarettes voice, soulful glances and slinky 30's high-fashion wardrobe. This film, and I would think all of her rare film appearances, is worthwhile just to catch her.
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Fascinating to see now
31 July 2009
"Song of Russia" is far from a great film, but it is really fascinating to look at nowadays, both as a historical time capsule and as an excellent specimen of MGM camp. The film was designed to drum up sympathy for our then-allies, the Soviet Union, and is sheer, unabashed propaganda. It is well-enough made, but, meaning no disrespect to the millions of Russians who suffered and died during the war, it is so cornball and manipulative seen now that its difficult to take seriously. In fact, its most famous now for the after-effects of its release at the end of the 40's in the HUAC meetings where Robert Taylor testified and "named names" and where it caused all sorts of problems for its makers. Robert Taylor rises to his usual heights of bland adequacy here, but Susan Peters, a tragic actress if ever there was one, does quite well as his Russian bride.

Some of the more hilarious scenes include a wedding dance where the entire village takes part and come across more like a Broadway troupe with decades of experience and the depiction of the "typical" Russian village,which looks like a Slavic version of Andy Hardy's small town. Miss Peters character is also quite the Russian Superwoman - a concert pianist who can cook a mean dinner when she's not riding tractors, shooting machine guns and teaching a class of schoolchildren how to make a Molotov Cocktail. Its amazing she was able to be convincing in the slightest degree in this role, but she does as well as anyone could.
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Very rare and very unusual
29 July 2009
This film is very difficult to see, but I managed to on TCM and was glad I did. Not that its all that good, but I found it worthwhile just because it was so very unusual for its director. Like others have commented, if you saw this with no knowledge who made it, I don't believe anyone would be able to guess Sidney Lumet was the director. This is a completely European film in style and content. Some beautiful cinematography and lovely Italian locations are the main recommendations, also a supporting performance by Lotte Lenya as a procuress. Her character is not all that evil, despite her admission that she was a fascist and supporter of Mussolini, but no other actress could so effortlessly bring a touch of the sinister than Lenya did just by showing up. The main problem with Sharif and Aimee is that, other than not being the most expressive of actors (though they sure look good), their characters just plain do not act like real people would - they both seem damaged and the screenplay makes them behave in ways that make one long to slap them both. Still, I enjoyed the leisurely pace and 60's fashions and ambiance enough to be glad of the opportunity to see this warped love story.
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Not perfect, but many things to admire in this John Ford film
26 February 2009
"The Prisoner of Shark Island" tells the story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg following his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The screenplay, as is to be expected from 1930's Hollywood (Hollywood period, I should say) is not wholly factual about Mudd's story. Also, unfortunately, it is quite racist, also to be expected from 1930's Hollywood. Still, the film features some strong performances and frequently very fine direction by the great John Ford. Warner Baxter plays Mudd and this is probably the finest performance he ever gave. His wife is played by Gloria (Old Rose) Stuart, and his daughter by a Shirley Temple lookalike named Joyce Kay, who doesn't age or grow one day in the whole length of the story. Ford found room for his favorites Harry Carey, Sr. and John Carradine in the portion of the film showing Mudd's imprisonment at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, near Key West, Florida. Carradine is especially memorable as a sadistic sergeant who makes the prisoner's life miserable, as is O.P. Heggie as the prison doctor. The prison is a fantastic set and cinematographer Bert Glennon does some very memorable, expressionistic work shooting it. Especially exciting is a tense attempted escape sequence. I also found fascinating the arrest and trial scenes of Mudd and the co-conspirators of Booth. The scenes of them shackled and hooded while being railroaded to justice by a panicked military are still shocking. All in all, this is one of Ford's best efforts from the 30's and it certainly made me want to know more about this interesting episode in history.
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Not underdeveloped as a Film!
19 October 2006
There is much that is wonderful about this film, the first Cuban film to be released in the U.S. after the Revolution. I found the ending rather abrupt and unsatisfying and some of the political discussions were long-winded (the fast disappearing subtitles on the video didn't help), but overall "Memories" was vibrant and surprising. The film is made with a lot of the spirit of the French New Wave, lots of flashy film techniques. It felt surprisingly open and honest to me, to have come out of Cuba at the time it did. It depicts an intellectual who has opted to remain in Cuba despite his well-off family and his wife having taken off for the U.S. He stays, wanting to see "how everything turns out". Afflicted with a rather massive case of both ennui and horniness, the film captures his musings on the state of Cuban society, at times satirical and sensual, but always cut through with a pervading sense of melancholy. It makes me want to hunt down more works by its late director, Tomas Gutierrez Alea.
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The Mother of all Hag Horror Films
17 October 2006
"Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" blends "Psycho" with "Sunset Boulevard" to compelling effect. The film's story and the behind-the-scenes story of the film have both become legendary. The early 60's setting has dated, but it is still a very entertaining movie even today. Don't expect any real chills or scares, but rather more of a dark comedy with some psychological insight. Robert Aldrich excelled at this kind of lurid melodrama when not doing macho action films. His was an interesting and rather schizophrenic career. But whether action film or melodrama, he always seemed to go b---ls out with everything he had, and this movie is no exception. Bette Davis is absolutely wonderful. Her career had been spotty since "All About Eve" twelve years earlier and you see her just tear into this role like a starving animal. Yes, she's over-the-top and campy, but always self-aware and giving the role everything it calls for. If she had toned it down, I don't think anyone would remember the film today. She has several great moments, but my favorite is when she sings "I'm Writing A Letter to Daddy" and that shattering moment at the end when she realizes what a wreck she has become. Its only a moment of self-awareness, though, and she goes right on with her maniacal, misguided "comeback" and creative culinary endeavors. Joan Crawford, surprisingly to me, is actually quite good also. Her looks are not as cringe-worthy as Miss Davis' in this film, but there's no effort to glamorize or beautify her. I always thought her hairstyle and dresses make her look like she's playing the Wicked Witch of the West. For the most part, though, she's quite restrained and effective. She really does give a convincing portrayal of someone who is starving and dying without overacting. There are also some fine supporting performances by Victor Buono as Bette's slimy accompanist, Maidie Norman as Crawford's loyal maid and Marjorie Bennett as Buono's smothering mother. Don't watch this movie expecting anything more than a well-made melodramatic Hollywood potboiler giving two great stars one of their last chances to really shine and you will be happy.
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Moody film for patient viewers
12 October 2006
"Les Rendez-vous d'Anna" is the only film of Chantal Akerman's which I've seen. It is seemingly a highly personal film about a few days in the life of a female Belgian filmmaker who is traveling around Europe showing her latest work. There are long shots of traveling, whether by train, car or taxi, during which...well,nothing really happens. Kind of like real life. The Europe which is observed all looks the same, pretty much - sterile and dispiriting, rather like the Anna's life. Hardly a tree is seen in the whole movie and Anna actually tells her German lover that she doesn't much care for flowers - nature seems to have been blotted out. She has encounters on her travels with a sensitive, handsome German whom she rejects, a long-time friend of her mother's who wants Anna to settle down and marry her son, a German man who has travelled the world and is now decided on living in France which he declares the land of freedom, her mother in Brussels and her Parisian lover. Through all the encounters, Anna remains detached and pretty much a blank slate. She doesn't really seem to know what she is looking for, but it doesn't seem to be commitment of any kind. Clement is purposefully reserved and detached in the lead role, but the people she meets offer opportunities for several sharp well-turned performances, namely from Magali Noel, Lea Massari and Hans Zischler who is great as the rootless traveler searching for "freedom". "Anna" is an interesting, moody film but definitely not for those looking for action or entertainment. If that is your thing, avoid this film like the plague - but if you are a patient viewer who likes to be immersed in a mood and read between the lines, so to speak, this film may appeal to you.
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Der müde Tod (1921)
Haunting and lovely silent fable
6 October 2006
I really was impressed by Fritz Lang's "Destiny". It seemed like the pictorialization of a timeless German fable rather than a figment of Lang's imagination. The story of a young woman in medieval times whose beloved fiancée is taken by death while they travel through a small village, it is timelessly haunting even now. It must have really hit people hard in 1921 Germany, three years after the death and destruction of WWI. The framing story is set around three mini-stories set in ancient Persia, Renaissance Venice and China. These stories are well done and diverting, but also a bit distracting from the poignant main story which was what I really responded to. Lang seemed totally assured and powerful as a filmmaker even in 1921. Lil Dagover was affecting as the heroine and Bernhard Goetzke gave a powerful and moving performance as Death. He was also great in Joe May's "The Indian Tomb" released in 1921 also. I highly recommend "Destiny" or "Der Mude Tod" to anyone at all interested in silent film or the career of Fritz Lang.
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Lavish, fun silent epic beautifully restored on DVD
6 October 2006
"The Indian Tomb" features a sprawling, epic story, eye-popping sets and costumes and a cast of hundreds if not thousands. If you're in the mood for an old-fashioned, exotic adventure of the type that would be impossible to produce nowadays its a good bet for you. This is a two-part film and the DVD with both parts is three-and-a-half hours long, so be prepared for a few nights viewing. Its also rather slow going at times, with some scenes being dragged out a bit too much for modern viewers, but overall I found it a treat to watch.

The most impressive actors to me were Conrad Veidt as the Rajah and Bernhard Goetzke as Ramigani the Yogi. Both have rather amazing and memorable faces. Goetzke's presence is remarkable and he was just as impressive in the same year playing Death in Fritz Lang's "Der Mude Tod". He is unknown today, possible because it looks as if he appeared in several Nazi productions in WWII so was perhaps blacklisted afterwards, but he was quite memorable in these two performances, the only two pieces of his work I have seen. I was not very impressed, however, by the nominal leads of the film, Olaf Fanss as the architect who travels to India to build a tomb for the Rajah and Mia May as his sweetheart. They both seem a bit too middle-aged and stodgy to be the center of all this intrigue, but perhaps that was the style of the times. The decidedly pudgy Ms. May, who was married to the film's director, Joe May, was reputedly 37 when the film was made, but could pass for 57 and in certain scenes has an unfortunate resemblance to George Washington in a dress. It was a big mistake in the "sacrifice" scene to put her in a bare-midriff outfit.

Still, this film is good nostalgic fun with man-eating tigers, leper colonies, globe-trotting action, all-powerful yogis and insanely jealous rajahs. Only Steven Spielberg could get away with it nowadays.
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The Hunter (1980)
Enjoyable, loose funky McQueen bow-out
2 October 2006
"The Hunter" is no masterpiece, certainly, and not on a par with Steve McQueen's classics from the 1960's. But it did showcase a looser, more easy going McQueen and showed a direction he might have gone further in during the 1980's had he lived. Certainly its no worse than a lot of the films Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were churning out in this time period. I enjoyed the movie, its certainly watchable, but it is hampered by what seems like a made-for-TV look and budget at times (Steve McQueen couldn't get a bigger budget??). The musical score sucks in the way many 70's and 80's films did, and there's one howlingly ludicrous classroom scene featuring Kathryn Harrold as McQueen's girlfriend. But its all about McQueen in his final performance really. Fortunately he looks pretty good in this film, at least better than he did in "Tom Horn" and "An Enemy of the People" and he also looks like he was having a pretty good time. It was also nice to see him in his final film go full-circle playing a modern equivalent to his break-through role as a bounty hunter in "Wanted:Dead or Alive", which was where I first became a fan of McQueen's. He was a true movie star and a man's man and I still miss him.
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Transporter 2 (2005)
Pure Cheese
14 September 2005
This has to be the cheesiest movie I've seen in ages. So cheesy it should have starred Jason Stilton and Amber Velveeta. Its loopy enough to make one of Sylvester Stallone's wretched 80's action films, say "Cobra" look like a masterpiece. I'm willing to suspend disbelief to a large extent on a movie like this, especially for the action sequences (its astounding that Audi still looks brand new and unscratched at the end), but this movie couldn't even get the basics right. For instance, was the kid in this adopted? He's supposed to be the child of Amber Valletta and Matthew Modine (who's slipped a long way, by the way)? Did they check out his ethnicity before hiring him, or think nobody would notice that he seems to be Latino? What the...? I went along with this for a while, in the spirit intended, but by the end this seemed funnier than most of the lame-brained comedies Hollywood has foisted on us this year. At least I laughed way more. In that sense, it is entertaining and there's cheesy action galore, but don't expect logic, coherence or good film-making.
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An inglorious beginning for McQueen
11 August 2005
"Never Love A Stranger" was taken from an early Harold Robbins book and gave Steve McQueen his first significant role in films. Unfortunately, it is sub-standard in all respects and I would only recommend it to fanatic McQueen fans intent on seeing any and all of his film appearances. The budget must have been minuscule, since the production looks like it would have been cheap even for 50's television. The lighting, sets, and sound are all inferior. The writing is laughably bad and the direction has no sense of pace and certainly no dramatic depth. The lead is John Drew Barrymore, son of the Great Profile and father of Drew. He's not awful, and does what he can with the role, but he and all the other actors are weighed down by the dreadful script and direction. McQueen does not do much better. He is miscast, playing a nice Jewish boy...yes, Steve McQueen plays a nice Jewish boy, you read that right. Not only that, but he begins the film having to be taught how to box and defend himself by Barrymore. Then he grows up to be the noble, honorable district attorney out to get his gangster childhood friend. More astute future casting directors would eventually discover that McQueen's true forte was as the tough rebel and loner, not the goody two-shoes. Moreover, he is given no chance to shine, no scenes to dominate. Its all Barrymore's picture and McQueen is strictly there in support. Lita Milan is also in the picture as Barrymore's girl, and she's awful too.
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