Reviews

22 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
9/10
A classic in its own right
8 June 2017
As an unabashed fan of the 1991 film, I came to this version ready for a fight -- more than one! Who dares tamper with a classic? But bit by bit, and moment by moment, I was enchanted all over again: the human performances "fleshed out" the old animated ones; the coggier Cogsworth and more limited Lumiere charmed me afresh with their differences from memory. The new songs, though surprising, fit remarkably well, and I never felt that the score missed a beat. And when all was added up, the sum was far more than any of the new and varied parts: this is a fresh masterpiece, beginning as a riff but ending with something much much more than a "cover" -- if Disney can do this as well with its other planned live-action/CGI versions, then count me in. This is a brilliantly-crafted film that honors and yet moves beyond its beloved original.
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La La Land (I) (2016)
4/10
A sad echo of a great genre
5 January 2017
I see the universal adulation this film has had, and there's much to admire. To my ears, though, it's sadly lacking in the one key element every musical needs: great songs. With the possible exception of "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," there's not a memorable tune or soaring line to be found. It doesn't help that neither of the two leads has a strong singing voice, and as for dancing -- the steps are limited, and even within that scope, not particularly well-executed. Dancing, in a musical, has to be over-the-top good to carry the energy of the film.

But the worst thing, really, is the lack of structure. Musicals are selective in the parts of the story that they take to build the three-act structure; the characters have to be established before we can care about them, have to face an obstacle so that we care more, and have to overcome it or die trying, at which point the big numbers come out. Here, we start with a big number -- the dance on the LA freeway -- but there's no reason for dancing as of yet. The love- not-at-first-sight motif is a good old one, but here it's so choppily presented that we're not sure whether we should care or not. It could be a slow-motion screwball comedy, or a musical revue punctuated by little life-dramas -- but to be a musical it must soar. This one is leaden, forced, and was painful for me to watch, despite much admirable production work and cinematography.

After I got home, I watched "Singin' in the Rain" as an antidote, and felt much better. It's not impossible to revive the moribund musical genre -- it was done in 1981 with Pennies from Heaven, and several times over by Baz Luhrmann, who even managed to make some of his non- professional singing stars sound pretty darn good (see Moulin Rouge). But despite all the hype, this film, to me, felt like seeing an old friend imperfectly resurrected from the grave, with none of the old lively exuberance for which -- once upon a time -- he was known the world over.
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Chi-Raq (2015)
9/10
Satire, folks, satire ...
5 December 2015
The enormous number of low ratings here -- without a review -- is troubling. Who's afraid of Spike Lee? He's been a provocateur from day one, and when I see one of his films, I'm reminded of Faulkner's saying that all great novels are shipwrecks. All Spike Lee joints fail too, but they fail in a fabulous, provoking, brilliant manner that no other films by a living person seem to manage. Let's go back to Spike's equally brilliant and offending film Bamboozled, and the opening words, in a V/O:

"Satire. A literary work in which human vice or folly is ridiculed or attacked scornfully. B. The branch of literature that composes such work. 2. Irony, derision or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice or stupidity."

And that's what Spike does, at his best. And this is one of his very best: a scatter-shot, no-holds- barred, old school Greek comedy, with Jackson's "Dolmetes" as its one-man chorus -- in short, a provoking work for our times.
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Crimson Peak (2015)
2/10
A disappointed fan of Del Toro
4 November 2015
I've seen every single films Guillermo del Toro has ever made, even his first student film (hidden away in the special features of the Cronos DVD). All his films have been sophisticated, deeply creepy, and always original -- until this one. It's still visually stunning, with all kinds of gorgeous horror eye- candy, from the red snow to the smoky ghosts to the absinthe-green walls. But even Del Toro's genius can't overcome a leaden script, completely predictable plot, and pedestrian performances. Oh, the cast can act just fine -- but they've brought manners of Masterpiece Theatre to a scenario that makes TV's old Dark Shadows seem like highbrow television. It might have been better as a sort of horror comedy -- but it takes itself far too seriously throughout. Fortunately I got a free ticket, so I can't complain and ask for a refund -- but I don't think I'll automatically rush out to see Del Toro's next film
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10/10
An extraordinary film, neglected
14 July 2014
Since a version of this film was "leaked" - if that's the right term -- to YouTube a few days ago, it's had a second life worthy of the film's own protagonist, liberated from a job yelling at bad drivers in the Holland Tunnel to a bravura performance at Carnegie Hall. There have been many evocative or pastiche films of the classic era -- Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, or Gary Ross's Pleasantville -- but none has more vividly, sweetly, and yet ironically invoked the magic of the movies as has this film. Don't be distracted by the Dan Ackroyd or Bill Murray cameos (fun as they are): keep your eye on the veterans, who've been in more films than you can count, and who bring their considerable powers to bear here: Sam Jaffe (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Bedknobs and Broomsticks); Paul Rogers (Billy Budd, The Homecoming) and the incomparable Imogene Coca, all part of a secret underground league of New York artists who seek to aid any who will give their all, unreservedly, to the cause of art. This film deserves an immediate DVD/BluRay release -- one can only imagine how richly it will shine -- and shame on MGM, Turner, Warner, and all who have kept this gem in their dark, dim, Gollum-like cavern of oblivion.
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All Is Lost (2013)
9/10
A modern Crusoe
29 October 2013
Many have already offered their views on this craggy Redford sailfest -- so I'm not sure how much what I have to say will sway their judgment -- but here goes.

What was it that actors did before they could … speak? Did they, pace Hamlet, "saw the air too much with their hands"? Yes, but here, with fewer words than any "talkie" since 1927, Redford speaks with hands, eyes, and shoulders, and heart. Was there ever a man who did more with only one word of dialog, and that a word guaranteed to bump up the film's MPAA rating? We have looked upon, and loved Redford's face; now let us look upon his hands and works. Winching himself up the mast, patching a hole with resin and fiberglass, aiming a belated sextant at the sun -- here is a man, a human, in his inmost essence, striving to find his way on our planet of mostly water. There has been no better, no more economical, no more moving performance this year, or any other.
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49th Parallel (1941)
10/10
Extraordinary achievement
21 May 2010
Yes, it is (was) propaganda. But never has there been a more curiously right and true epitome of the sloppy yet resilient defense of transcontinental democracy than this. Canada wins because Canada is a mess; the Nazi neatness and demand for clear-cut lines falters, and in the end is clobbered with a roundhouse right. So long as I live, I will love this film; it's P&P at their best, and the Vaughan WIlliams score is second to none. What else can one say? I wish I were Canadian.

And since the IMDb, to which I contributed long before it became such a commercial concern, insists that I have at least 10 lines of text, I will keep on jabbering for a few more lines, in order to preserve the above comments for posteriority ...
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2/10
Unrelated to the detective of the same name
25 December 2009
I love Robert Downey Jr., and he's funny and engaging as always in the role he takes on in this film. Unfortunately, his character, though named after the "Sherlock Homes" invented by Arthur Conan Doyle, has almost nothing in common with his literary ancestor. This film's "Holmes" is a hyper-kinetic pugilist who excels at swinging numchuks, swan-diving into the Thames from second-story windows, and leaping about city buildings in a manner reminiscent of the Assassin's Creed video game franchise. For that matter, the hyper-real Victorian London of the film's exterior shots has a very similar computer-generated feel to it, one amplified when it vividly depicts the Tower of London on the wrong side of the Thames, among other gaffes.

There is none of the cerebral intensity, none of the subdued emotion, essential to Holmes as a character. A pipe appears precisely three times, and a cigar if proffered but unsmoked. Jude Law's Watson shows little affection for or understanding of this nouveau Holmes, and their little bits of stage business evoke nothing of the vital feeling between them.

That said, if a steam-punk action-adventure film that's built around three or four elaborate chase sequences appeals, this film may be a fun way to spent an afternoon -- it's certainly a decent "popcorn" flick. But anyone who knows anything about, or cares very much for, Conan Doyle's immortal character would be better off staying home and popping a few Jeremy Bretty DVD's into their player.
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1/10
Highly inaccurate film
24 August 2009
This film is not without its merits. The second unit shot some really quite beautiful location footage in the Arctic, and the cinematography throughout is impressive. Anthony Quinn brings tremendous verve to the role, and there are several memorable turns by the supporting cast, particularly Peter O'Toole.

But it's depressing to see how many people regard this as an accurate portrayal of Inuit culture. One hardly knows where to begin! The Inuit customs regarding "wife-sharing" are distorted (the idea that it would be a terrible insult not to accept such an offer is groundless), and the use of "laughter" as a euphemism for sex is merely an old Hollywood notion. Inuit mothers are not left until their mother's death to be told of common matters such as the importance of cutting a child's umbilical cord, and a grandmother, however infirm, would never be left out in the open to be eaten by a polar bear (a special igloo would instead be prepared, with important personal items, and then sealed up, after which the village would be moved). Most insulting of all is the notion that somehow Inuit would be unaware that babies are born without visible teeth!

The inaccuracies are not merely cultural, but historical as well. There is simply no period of time when the Inuit (or other Arctic groups such as the Inighuit, Inupiat, or Yupik) would have been unfamiliar with firearms and yet exposed to 1960s-style rock music -- these events are anywhere from 75 to 100 years apart, depending on the region. Inuit who went to trading posts would never be mocked by other Inuit, or by traders, at a trading post -- trading was serious business -- and would never be sold a gun with zero ammunition. This is not to say that traders were always totally fair; the guns were often of inferior quality, and the addiction to a source of powder and shot, along with the switch to fur-bearing animals as a sort of cash crop, were indeed problems.

The saddest thing of all is that, 27 years before "Savage Innocents," a far more accurate account of the disparities, tensions, and injustices between Inuit and traders and police was released by a major Hollywood studio -- this was 1933's "Eskimo," starring Ray Mala, a half- Inupiat Alaskan actor.

Having nearly no Inuit in the cast at all is, despite comments to the contrary, a problem as well. Hollywood had cast Inuit as Inuit as early as 1911, and "Eskimo" enjoyed an almost all- Inuit cast. The fact that all of the principal photography was done on a sound stage decorated by people with no knowledge whatever of either Inuit or northern homes is a further issue.

There's no question that "Savage Innocents" works hard to elicit sympathy with an "alien" culture -- the only problem is that this culture is almost entirely a fantasy.
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Moll Flanders (1996)
1/10
Moll who?
22 September 2008
The plot of this film has nearly nothing whatsoever to do with Daniel Defoe's novel; in place of Defoe's brilliant and compelling heroine it substitutes bushels full of ersatz-18th century drivel, pretentious neo-Irish music, and annoying children. Nunneries in England? An unexplained Afro-British man sent on a mission to read a book to an annoying child across the sea? A charitable organization which adopts adult women only if they are virgins? I am certain that if one made a film of "A Christmas Carol" with no Scrooge, no Tiny Tim, and Bob Cratchit as an alcoholic schoolmaster with an illegitimate one-legged daughter living in Sweden, viewers would complain that the story had gone missing -- why not here? It's a shame, as Morgan Freeman gives a memorable performance even in a role which seems dislocated from history, novelistic and actual.
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