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Hopscotch is a light-hearted, fun film that treats us to witty dialogue, gorgeous European locations, a sumptuous Mozart score and a battle of wits between ex-CIA man Matthau and his former boss Beatty.
It's hard to believe that Hopscotch received poor reviews when it came out. If you approach it with the right frame of mind--that is, looking for a clever, enjoyable film--then you'll have a ball. Maybe the reviewers wanted sex and violence? Sorry, none of that here. Maybe they wanted a movie that needed to make a deep point? Outside of satirizing the government and its feeble-minded minions, there is none. No, you'll have to settle for an elegant, sophisticated show filled with memorable characters that help you root for the good guys (or good guy). Can't imagine who would object to that.
Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971)
The first dud
I remember seeing this when it first aired and was sorely disappointed. After several years and seven wonderful specials, PIACB fell far short of the mark the previous shows had established.
The charm of Peanuts is seeing the real world through children's eyes. But in this special, some of the humor and plot points depend on things coming in spray cans; for example, PTA meetings. Huh? Not only is that not funny, it's supernatural, something that does not belong in Charlie Brown's world.
Also, this was the first time we hear actual adult voices, as opposed to the muted trombone sound effect. It's almost as if the 4th wall was being blown to bits. Suddenly we are no longer in the world of kids; the adults have invaded.
The other major thing wrong was the use of rock music in the soundtrack. Up to now, Vince Guaraldi's outstanding jazz scores gave Charlie Brown a dynamic, signature sound that everyone could quickly identify. To replace that with rock borders on sacrilege.
Maybe they wanted to try something new. Well, to me it didn't work. Why mess with success?
Eat Pray Love (2010)
Why Eat Pray Love is a Dud
In most movies, one or more characters experience an arc where they learn something by the end of the show. The audience goes along for the ride and feels satisfaction at having learned along with them.
But although Eat Pray Love's main premise is for Julia Roberts' character to learn something, it's obvious, by the end of the movie, that she hasn't learned a thing. She spends a year on a path of self exploration, but in the end, sees no problem in returning to her old life. And it's not until a last-minute intervention by a brown man (the brown people in this movie are all portrayed as wise sooth sayers) that something clicks and she seems to recant her former ways. But in reality, it's just an excuse for a Hollywood ending: a man who shows up quite late in the movie (a perfect example of deus ex machina abuse) gets the girl, loses the girl, and then gets her back. Indeed, the entire movie is just an excuse to set up this trite conclusion.
Whatever learning that was supposed to take place in the preceding two hours all gets washed away, and instead of a worthwhile experience, we and Julia Roberts sail off into the sunset, all the worse for wear.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Doesn't know what to do with itself
I felt this film was a mess. It starts out promising, with Bradley Cooper's slightly off-kilter gaze proving quite unsettling. You know he's been through a lot, and he knows it, too. We wonder what his next move will be--as does he. In the meantime, he's doing meaningful work with his shrink, who takes his job seriously.
But then he meets The Girl, and the movie slowly morphs into a madcap romantic farce. Goofy parents get involved, the shrink becomes a drinking buddy, and all sense of seriousness vanishes. The scene in Cooper's living room stretches on endlessly as subplot after subplot play out, and drama and comedy are mixed so you don't know how you're supposed to feel about any of it. Is this Rain Man or Abbott and Costello?
The old saw in movies used to be, Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back. Nowadays, it's Boy Gets Girl But Is Too Stupid to Realize It Until She Knocks Some Sense Into His Head. Of course, this rarely happens in real life. Silver Linings has The Girl for a while and then loses her, but neither the writers nor the director were able to get her back.
Hope Springs (2012)
Strange, very strange movie
I want to preface this review by saying that if you're an older couple experiencing intimacy problems, you might find this movie interesting and even helpful.
But if you don't belong to that demographic, you may not find this movie interesting at all. Helpful? Not. Creepy and uncomfortable? Hell yes!
I can't remember ever being so turned off by a movie before. It plays like a sex-ed flick for grown-ups. But, as a movie, it's supposed to be entertainment and not something from a clinician's notebook. But that's exactly the way it plays.
With Steve Carell as the couple's shrink, one might expect some light-hearted moments and bits of comic relief. But no-- Carell plays the part completely straight, and completely boring. The scenes in his office are tedious and sometimes don't make sense. One moment we find Tommy Lee Jones to be standoffish and irascible--the next, he's conversational and agreeable, and we don't know why or how he changed. But suffice to say, if you've ever been to a shrink, these scenes will have a certain familiarity to them--but since they don't involve us personally, they're completely uninteresting.
The show does contain sex scenes, as it were--really just the two lovers trying to experiment and get back the old fire (with their clothes on). To say that watching them is uncomfortable is an understatement. You just wonder how this film ever got past the preview audiences. The only comic relief is when Jones puts on a silly smile when he's trying to figure out if something feels good or not. We kind of force ourselves to laugh, if only to break the tension in the silent theater. In reality, it's more out of a desperate attempt to find something to enjoy.
I am so surprised by everything about this movie--the tedium, the three A-list actors, and the positive press it got. It reminds me of Marley and Me--where absolutely nothing happens. Well, I guess I just don't get it.
Cesta do praveku (1955)
Really good for a 10 year old!
I do remember seeing this as a little kid sometime in the 1960s. And a good thing, too, as I was in the middle of the dinosaur kick that most little kids go through. I really only remember two things. A great dinosaur fight, after which I asked my dad how they made the dinosaurs bleed so realistically, to which he replied that there were men inside the models with buckets of red paint. I also remember the end, where the boys wake up in the Museum of Natural History, and we're supposed to wonder with them whether it was all a dream.
I'm happy to know about this film again, and to know others remember it, too. And I just read an article in a fanzine called Prehistoric Times that rates the dino fight as one of the top 10 dino fights ever filmed!
The Three Stooges (2012)
A nice surprise for this Stooges fan!
I was unsure whether I wanted to see this movie or not. Like many Stooges fans, I was worried that the filmmakers were treading on hallowed ground. When I saw a preview that seemed to make Curly look like a little sissy, my fears only deepened.
But through a string of coincidences one day, I found myself sitting in the theater with about 30 other people. The flick had been out for a while and the audiences had begun to dwindle.
I was pleasantly surprised! I really enjoyed this movie. It had plenty of original material, as well as many gags that I (and I'm sure other inveterate stooges fans) could recognize from the old movies.
I was very happy with Moe and Curly's portrayals; Larry, less so, unfortunately. The actor really didn't get Larry's voice and mannerisms down that well. Curly was excellent, and Moe was uncanny! The movie was so enjoyable that I didn't even mind the Farrelly's descent into toilet humor a few times during the show. It's a shame that the final crises had to be solved this way, but this is the 21st century and the audience enjoyed it, so what the heck.
Speaking of the audience, that's what made it truly fun. People were laughing hysterically, and even though it was a small crowd, you couldn't help but join in.
The only real miscue I found in the movie was the under-use of the sound effects. In the old movies, they were so important to getting the laughs. The original crew knew this and would crank up the volume so they actually became part of the show. But in this movie, the sound effects are on the quiet and dainty side. Not good for a slapstick movie!
The Art of Getting By (2011)
This is one of those movies that starts out well but seems to disappoint in the end.
It's beautifully shot and edited, and we see many fine performances. I found Emma Roberts particularly appealing, as she has a dour, come-hither look in her dark eyes about 95% of the time. What Ingrid Bergman could achieve by looking down, Roberts does by looking almost right at us.
Freddie Highmore looks and feels authentic. His character has a lot of choices to make, many of which go against all common sense. But although he drives us crazy, he's intriguing and we want to know what's to happen to him.
Mid-movie, the characters are hit with several crises, and it gets interesting as we wonder how they'll resolve them. When resolution strikes, though, it's so conventional that it's disappointing. The expected is unexpected.
Yup, it has indie-feel and Sundance all over it. But I was hoping for a big surprise at the end from these flawed but good people; instead, they seemed to abandon what they had stood for. And what may have qualified as a surprise involving Roberts was simply unbelievable and too convenient to accept. Though I was happy for them, a simple, happy ending didn't feel right with these non-simple characters.
But then, maybe, that was the point.
Goof on the Roof (1953)
One of the best... but
This is truly one of my favorite stooge shorts. The premise is one of my favorites: the boys take on tools and other inanimate objects. You know when this happens that nothing will ever go right! The short is one stooge delight after another. The only problem with it is the ending. It's one of the dumbest endings in stooge history and has nothing to do with the rest of the film. It's a shame that such a great short is marred in this way, and that you can't leave it on a note of hilarity. You'd think they could have come up with something much better.
But, all things considered, it's an excellent stooge short and the laughs don't stop.
The Shining (1980)
Can't believe I didn't like it
This movie has two things going for it: style and eyebrows.
The visual style is quite handsome and well done. Intriguing sets, odd colors, and a sense of large, sinister space inside the hotel. This was the first movie to utilize the Steadicam camera, and it's put to good use.
The musical style is also effective. Bizarre 20th-century classical works (similar to the ones in Kubrick's 2001) enhance the spooky and creepy nature of the action.
And of course, we have Jack Nicholson's eyebrows. I don't believe they've been put to the test before or since. They're very effective in letting us know what's on his mind.
But if you take all this away, you're left with a very confusing story. Okay, so the hotel is haunted. Somehow along the way we find that one of the characters may be from the past, and then that seems to be confirmed at the end. But so what? What does that have to do with the story? Why is that important? What does that have to do with the hotel? Why do the scenes from the past matter and how do they fit in with the story in the present?
I saw the movie when it first came out, and just watched it tonight, 30 years later. I wanted to give it a second chance. But I felt exactly the same way both times. I found it boring, not scary, somewhat predictable, and ultimately unsatisfying. Style is grand, but it cannot make up for a story that doesn't make any sense.