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Although Martin Scorsese set out to make a homage to the great musical traditions of American cinema, the end result is an overlong uneven, and ultimately unrewarding viewing experience. Robert DeNiro plays a short fused, jealous, ill mannered saxophone player who hooks up with singer Liza Minnelli and enters into a destructive relationship that threatens their happiness and creativity. New York, New York' remains the least successful of the DeNiro-Scorsese collaborations, and its main problem is that it is lacking in direction. This is somewhat ironic considering one of America's finest filmmakers was at the helm. The acerbic coupling of DeNiro and Minnelli is often unpleasant to watch, and one often wonders what such a mismatched couple ever saw in each other to begin with. He is constantly jealous of her talents and her impending success, yet she tolerates his capricious controlling behaviour and forgives all his whims because she perceives him to be a struggling and tortured genius. While DeNiro is never unconvincing or uncommitted in his performance, he is simply too petty to be compelling. Minnelli scores big when she gets a chance to display her singing talents and she remains the more sympathetic character of the two, but even at that she doesn't give us much to relate too. Despite all its problems it is still a watchable film, but with the talent involved one would have hoped for a whole lot more.
Everybody knows Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the films title number,
but this is just one of the many magical musical numbers in this epic piece
of blissful entertainment. Set during the turbulent period when Hollywood
was converting from silent films to sound, Singin' in the Rain' is a
perfect example of everything that is good and right about movie-making.
Gene Kelly in his greatest role is an all singing, all dancing sensation and
his acting is pretty damn good too. Donald O'Connor excels as his exuberant
sidekick and almost steals the show with the unsurpassed Make em Laugh'.
Debbie Reynolds is feisty and sexy as Kelly's love interest, while Jean
Hagen gives one of the screen's greatest supporting performances as the
horrid Lena Lamont, a silent screen goddess whose voice will just not cut it
The musical numbers flow fast and furious as Gene and Donald perform amazing feats of choreography with Fit as a Fiddle' and Moses Supposes' while Good Mornin' will have you dancing in the aisles. If Singin' in the Rain' had no musical numbers it would still be a contender for the funniest film ever made. The problems with experiments with sound films are painfully funny, and Kelly's silent sparring with the demonic Hagen is hilarious. The accolade of sheer perfection can be conferred on few films, and such a title is perhaps even an understatement in this case. And never before did rain look like so much fun.
Although his ventures into sci-fi in recent years turned up interesting
results, Steven Spielberg has in this movie returned to more conventional
story telling and the end product is a mouth watering feast of cinematic
thrills. The film is based on the true life story of Frank Abignale Jr.
(Leonardo DiCaprio), a teenage con artist and fraudster who becomes the
youngest ever person to wind up on the FBIs most wanted list. Having seen
his parents seemingly perfect marriage crumble following his father's
troubles with the IRS, DiCaprio enters a self destructive fantasy world when
he turns his attention to forging cheques and impersonating airline pilots.
Soon the Feds become aware of his illegal activities and Agent Carl Hanratty
(Tom Hanks) picks up the scent.
In an effortless two hours and twenty minutes, Spielberg uses his considerable talents to weave an atmospheric and exciting tale of cat and mouse as DiCaprio always remains just one step ahead of the determined FBI agent pursuing him. Slowly the noose tightens around DiCaprio's neck, but not before he has a chance to defraud millions of dollars and successfully trick his way into a variety of jobs he was unqualified to do. As his increasingly sophisticated exploits land him in greater trouble, he finds himself further and further removed from reality and he is left with no one to trust and no where to go but to keep on running. With meaningful relationships destined to end in tears, he develops a deep rapport with the only person who has any understanding of him his pursuer Tom Hanks.
Catch Me if you Can' confirms yet again that Spielberg has no peer when it comes to making purposeful popcorn entertainment. He can thrill and audience without ever sacrificing the twin pillars of strong scripting and good acting. DiCaprio excels as the charming con man, while Hanks' measured performance as the dogged FBI agent is an effortless turn that once again reconfirms his status as one of Hollywood's most capable leading men. In the midst of the battle of the big names, special mention must go to the great Christopher Walken as DiCaprio's father who steals every scene from the big boys. An exuberant jazz score from John Williams and a sumptuous production design that captures all the design flair of the period adds icing to this most enticing of cinematic cakes.
Robert Benton's film of single parenting, divorce, and custody battles has
so much potential to become a mawkish TV Movie of the Week drama, but
manages to resist the urge at every turn. Instead he has made a film that is
as intelligent as it is moving and is worthy of a place on the big screen.
Dustin Hoffman plays Ted Kramer a successful advertising executive who is
abandoned by his wife (Streep) and is forced to look after his young son by
himself. This may sound like a tedious enough scenario, but we are saved
from the traumas of soap operatic drivel by Benton's sharp direction and
superlative acting from the entire cast. As with so many of his performances
in the seventies, Hoffman is entirely convincing and totally without flaw.
He successfully portrays the character of a man who is committed to his
working duties yet that has to consistently struggle in order to give his
son the kind of domestic life necessary. Meryl Streep performs a similarly
laudable turn as his neglected wife who walks out of the home in order to
rebuild her shattered confidence.
The film devotes the first hour to the depiction of Hoffman's efforts to build a better home for his son in the light of his wife's absence, and Benton's shrewd direction in this regard results in a film that is both entertaining and emotionally challenging. Hoffman bravely comes to terms with the challenges of single parenting and learns that there is more to life than making a lot of money. Justin Henry in the role of seven-year-old Billy Kramer delivers a towering performance as a child who is caught between two battling parents, and disproves the theory that child actors are both annoying and precocious. As the film progresses towards its conclusion the two warring partners take their case to court in order to decide on the custody of their child, and rather than presenting the courtroom showdown as a showpiece of crying, screaming and accusations, Benton instead delivers an intelligent commentary on the nature of responsible parenting.
For a film that tackles the plethora of domestic issues which it does, Kramer Vs Kramer manages at all times to be a compelling movie which never trivialises the topics it is dealing with, nor does it ever allow itself to take a convenient moral stance regarding the conflicting parents. Instead it presents a credible, moving story of a father and son trying to build and maintain a successful relationship, while at the same time presenting the story of a mother vying for the love of her son yet trying to create a life of her own in the process. An intelligent script couple with top rate performances and sharp direction make this movie the finest in its class and remains one of the quintessential characterisations of America's divorce ridden culture. Sadly, the same could not be said for the countless spin-offs it inspired.
The force returns with a bang in Episode II, and the traditional elements that made the Star Wars saga so popular are here to savour. The film features the usual battle of good and evil, although this time there is a more sinister subtext which lends the film greater depth and emotional resonance. Although acting has never been the saga's strong point, the performances here serve their purposes and the characterisations are well rounded. With breathtaking action set pieces and awe inspiring visual effects, Lucas has put the saga back on track after the blandness of Episode I and sets things up nicely for Episode III.
Crowe pre 'Jerry Maguire' gives us a charming look at the twisted lives and loves of Seattle's single scene. The traditional elements of a Cameron Crowe film are all here - complex yet amenable characters suffering from emotional insecurity and idealism, whose personal and professional lives take many twists and turns. Full of charm, humour and good performances, 'Singles' is an entertaining antecedent of Crowe's more mature films of recent times.
Peter Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry McMurty's novel is a beautifully
crafted look at life in a Texan backwater town in the 1950s. Featuring the
entangled lives and loves of a bunch of teenagers as they come of age, it
was one of the first American films to examine the complexity of life in a
small town without painting it in shades of a Norman Rockwell white picket
fence utopia. The town, once a part of the stable old west is slowly
slipping into a new age, and the last picture show of the title represents
the end of an era when the town's picture theatre closes down and its former
patrons venture off into a life of uncertainty.
The film is slow but evenly paced, featuring a strong cast of unknowns, fledglings and established veterans. Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges are Sonny and Dwayne, two boys who enjoy an elevated status in the town due to their positions on the high school football team. Cybil Shepherd plays a manipulative female who strives for amusement by playing all the boys in the town off each other. Cloris Leachman who won an Oscar gives a sterling performance as the neglected middle aged house wife of the basketball coach, who indulges in an affair with Sonny out of boredom and frustration. The character of Sam the Lion played by Ben Johnson (who also won an Oscar) represents the spirit of traditional western values. His death in the film symbolises the end of an era and the passing of a way of life.
In the true spirit of 70s film making, this film was mature, truthful and innovative, while at the same time it harboured a deep respect for the tradition of American cinema that preceded it. This film is a eulogy to the American Western that pays homage to John Ford's similarly styled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence'. It examines a world that is caught in turmoil, where the defining values that once guided the people are disappearing and a lost generation is emerging. Bogdanovich and many of the cast members struck career peaks in this film, but sadly many of them were never to recapture that form again.
I'm having an old friend for dinner.' It seems as if Dr. Lector should
eaten alone. Sometimes sequels are merited and sometimes classics should be
left intact. The Silence of the Lambs' was screaming out for a second
installment, but when Jonathan Demme and Jodie Foster turned their noses up
at Thomas Harris' novel alarm bells should have started
The film which takes place a decade after the original sees Hannibal running riot in Florence while Clarice licks her wounds as a disgraced FBI agent back in America. One thing leads to another, and before you know it Lector is once again being pursued by a bunch of crooked cops, and wide eyed Feds. Throw in a few subplots concerning victims bent on revenge, man eating pigs, and other absurd diversions and there lies the essence of this mess of a movie.
The problem with Hannibal' is that it had a hard act to follow. The fact that it didn't make the slightest effort to hold a torch to its predecessor makes matters far worse. Anthony Hopkins exudes none of the charm or terror that made his character in the first film into a cultural icon. Julianne Moore is cold and unsympathetic, lacking all the cunning and vulnerability of Foster's Clarice. For the screen's greatest bad guy to be reduced to the role of a clown in this freak show is a sad reflection on Ridley Scott's talents, but judging by what he had to work with it seems as if the blame doesn't rest solely with him. The original novel on which the script was based was just deplorably bad and after that everything was going to fall apart.
On its own terms Hannibal' is neither thrilling, funny, or dramatic, and it is riddled with flat performances. When viewed in the light of its predecessor it is an abysmal mess. Hopkins is just a shadow of his former self, and Moore simply doesn't have the presence of Jodie Foster. But at the end, one inescapable remains: Lector was infinitely more terrifying when he was behind bars. Let the cannibal out of the bag and the suspense goes with it.
The most expensive movie of all time and the most successful of all time is
a marvel of spectacle yet minimal on substance. Cameron's magnum opus has
every element you'd expect from a Hollywood epic romance, tragedy,
historical grandeur, lavish sets and costumes, eye popping set pieces, and
of course sexy actors but somehow manages to achieve great results with
the smallest amount of subtlety.
The film begins in modern day Nova Scotia where a marine archaeologist (Paxton) stumbles across some tattered drawings whilst exploring the wreck of the famous ship for a priceless diamond. The drawing is that of a naked young woman who appears to be wearing the proverbial diamond of great price, and when Paxton's find is broadcast on TV it sparks off some memories in 101 year old Rose Calvert (Stewart). It transpires that Rose Calvert was in fact the socialite Rose DeWitt-Bukater who was supposed to have gone down with the ship some 84 years earlier. Of course that was not the case, and Cameron's film gives her the opportunity to set the record straight. In 1912 she was going to America to wed her thuggish fiancé Caloden Hockley (Zane), when in mid Atlantic she decides to throw off the shackles of her upper class oppressors and jump ship in a manner of speaking. Then she meets her knight in shining armour Jack Dawson (DiCaprio), a down on his luck travelling artist who saves her in every way a person can be saved (cue nauseating plot line). So they meet, he shows her the ways of the world by taking her to a party in steerage class, she leaves her fiancé, he teaches her to fly, paints her in the nude, they have sex, the ship sinks, he dies and her heart goes on and on and on and on. So essentially it is just your classic tale of boy meets girl, ship meets iceberg.
Despite all the hype and hoopla, Titanic' is quite a mesmerising piece of work that delivers an endless series of thumps to the heart while provide little if any food for thought. Although the characters are essentially black and white morally unambiguous personages, and the actor's thespian talents are not really challenged by the roles, and the dialogue has patches is purely prosaic (note when DiCaprio overhears the that the ship will sink he comments `This is bad' very observant), the film has a great deal to compliment it. The opening underwater sequences are as eye catching as anything ever committed to celluloid, the vast shots of the ship in motion are breathtaking, and the attention to detail of the ship's interiors are flawless. However hackneyed the script may be, DiCaprio and Winslet inject their limited characters with endless charm, and the romantic romp is a shamelessly enjoyable roller coaster of fun and frolics. Yet it is only when the ship collides with the berg that the film kicks into first gear. The panic, terror and heartbreak of the sinking is viscerally recreated in all its gory horror, proving once and for all that James Cameron is the world's foremost director of action sequences. The aftermath is equally appalling, having to be seen to be believed.
With a running time in excess of three hours this film could do with being a little shorter, and some of the sequences featuring the two leads trapped in the bowels of the sinking ship are excessive. Against its predecessor the highly commendable A Night To Remember', Titanic' can hold its own, primarily for its brutal depiction of the ship's final hours, however it has neither the historical accuracy nor the emotional depth of the former. Criticisms aside, Titanic' is the movie that will reinvent blockbusters for the 21st century, and while it is about a subtle as a hole in the head or the hull if you must you will not be likely to see a bigger film for many years to come.
The third of Barry Levinson's Baltimore trilogy (following Diner' and Tin
Men') is a gentle and low key yet hugely impressive film that is a worthy
successor to his enormously prosperous and Oscar winning Rainman'. Although
adopting the box office disaster strategy no stars just talent', Levinson
manages to create a small yet thoroughly incisive look at the changing face
of America and its values during an eventful period in its cultural
Set in the mid 1950's at the height of the post war economic boom and on the eve of Television's dominance of domestic life, Avalon' looks closely and lovingly at the lives, loves and disasters of three generations of a Polish family in the New World. Opening with a magnificently shot flashback of Mueller-Stahl's arrival in America on July 4th some forty years earlier, the film develops a nostalgic yet never overtly sentimental approach to its subject matter and always keeps its story-line rooted firmly in reality.
Although the film has no specific plot or central character, the magnificent Mueller-Stahr emerges as the principal paternal figure trying to keep his increasingly disparate family of brothers, children, nephews, nieces and sundry together amidst the turning tides of cultural change. Joan Plowright plays his stubborn wife who has never learned to fully adapt to the lifestyles in the West, while his son Aidan Quinn is trying desperately to cash in on the American dream that brought his father to those shores in the first place.
A tale told with great colour, character and humour and populated with a huge assortment of human characters and memorable moments, 'Avalon' is a beautifully composed piece of American cinema.
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