79 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Gut-Wrenching and Brilliant Must-See Adaptation of Orwell's Masterwork
9 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Filmed in London during the Spring of 1984, and released later that year. An enormously powerful and chilling adaptation of Orwell's novel. The best translation of a book to screen that I have ever seen.

Written in 1948, the novel depicts a society where all but the Inner Party scratch out a meager existence. War is constant, and all goods are rationed harshly. Big Brother is the face of the omnipresent State, which monitors its subjects with large telescreens (two-way TVs). Political orthodoxy is brutally enforced, and no dissent is tolerated.

The film stars John Hurt, who is understated and spectacular at the same time. His Winston Smith is a man who has learned to mask his feelings, but he has not succeeded in numbing them. He is a bit too old for the part as written, but it works for the film, with his haggard look suggesting a life of toil and deprivation.

>>>SPOILER<<< In his last role, Sir Richard Burton plays O'Brien, the Inner Party member who takes an interest in Winston. He is soft-spoken, polite, and utterly matter-of-fact as he tortures Winston in the final third of the film. These scenes in the Ministry of Love are so brutally realistic that I have great difficulty watching the last part of the movie. >>>SPOILER<<<

The original theatrical release (when I first saw it) incorporated songs by the Eurhythmics written just for the film. If you can locate that version, I highly recommend it. I believe their stuff was removed from more recent DVD/Blu-Ray releases, but I am not sure why or which versions.

I read the novel in junior high, and was very taken with it. I am a lifelong science fiction fan. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is Must-See.
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Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Hail Tilda!
11 April 2016
I just finished watching "Hail, Caesar". This is a new Coen Brothers film which pays homage to the film studios in their waning days of 1950s Biblical spectacle and Western singing cowboy flicks. It follows a classic one-day pattern of starting in the morning of one day and ending about 24 hours later in the morning of the next day. Tilda Swinton steals the movie despite only appearing on-screen for about four or five minutes. She plays feuding twin sister columnists, based on the rivalry between Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. TS is phenomenal, creating two completely individual characters using voice inflection, facial tics, posture, attitude, and costumes (including fabulous HATS, natch!). George Clooney does a sort-of reprise of his befuddled goofball from "O Brother Where Art Thou?", but he is not as successful this time, IMO. Josh Brolin plays the main character, a grizzled studio 'fixer' who must deal with the disappearance of a big star in the midst of shooting the climax to the titular epic tale of Jesus Christ and a Roman soldier's conversion at The Crucifixion. Josh does a great job, capturing the rhythms of the Coens' zany dialogue and satirical tone, without going completely over-the-top. Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, and Alden Ehrenreich also do outstanding work in this loaded ensemble piece. Other notable actors appearing briefly include Clancy Brown, Fisher Stevens, Frances McDormand, Christopher Lambert, Ralph Fiennes, and Jonah Hill. I loved it, and I look forward to re-watches just for the pleasure of Tilda's acting.

"Hah! Would that it were so simple!"
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Housekeeping (1987)
Housekeeping: A Ghost Story
9 March 2016
Bill Forsyth is a Scottish-born director and writer of great insight with a whimsical view of the world. His movies tend to focus on low-key characters and obscure places rarely seen in filmdom. "Local Hero" is one of my all-time favorites. I now add "Housekeeping" to the list.

The movie is adapted from a novel by Marilynne Robinson. It takes place in the tiny town of Fingerbone, located in the Cascade Mountains of what I assume is Eastern Washington or Idaho, given many references to Spokane and Portland. I have lived in Seattle for many years, and I adore the scenery featured in this movie. One can almost smell the pungent, bracing aroma of decaying logs, fir trees, and smoldering campfires in the outdoor scenes.

Christine Lahti is an actress of rare gifts. Her basic decency and warmth comes through in every film I have seen her in. She plays rootless Sylvie, who comes to be the guardian of two adolescent orphaned nieces, Ruthie and Lucille. The story takes place in the 1950s, and the fashions, cars, and social mores are all dead-on. She and the girls live in a large house on the outskirts of Fingerbone, the same home Sylvie and her deceased sister Helen grew up in. The story explores the relationships of these three women, and the shifting dynamics of those relationships. There is an implied parallel of Ruthie and Lucille with Sylvie and Helen. "Housekeeping" supplies a rich family history for these off-beat characters, and provides a context for their behavior and development.

There are very few men in this film. It is resolutely about the lives of women among other women. The story unfolds over several years, and we see how Lucille (the younger sister) comes to be the responsible one, who yearns to live 'like other people'. Sylvie exists in a dream world, and Ruthie is gradually drawn into that land of longing and detachment. Eccentric is how most people would describe the behavior of Sylvie, but I prefer haunted. Haunted by the lingering presence of dead siblings and parents, haunted by the inability to fit in to modern society, haunted by the endless possibilities of other places and times. To me, "Housekeeping" is a ghost story, but these ghosts yet live.

"She IS sad. I mean, she should be sad."
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Epic Roman Turkey
14 January 2016
Movies like "Southland Tales" are so irredeemably bad that re-watching them could lead directly to insanity and loss of life. Movies like "The Fall of the Roman Empire" can be very enjoyable if one gets properly blazed and mocks them endlessly during a second (or third) viewing, MST3K style.

Wow, does this film suck. The cast is the most bizarre collection of mismatched acting styles and accents ever assembled. Techniques like filming Alec Guinness talking to Death in voice-over while wandering around his chambers alone, grimacing, fall flat and become downright painful to watch. By contrast, Ingmar Bergman turned a chess match between Death and Max von Sydow into one of the most brilliant films ever made. Sophia Loren gets the same treatment near the end, but her scene actually becomes so surreal that it borders on hallucination, as she pines for Stephen Boyd in voice-over as she wanders through a giant set crammed with extras from the "Matrix II" Rave in Zion.

The plot of "Fall" is rooted solidly in historical fact. It is more or less the same as the plot of Ridley Scott's far superior "Gladiator". Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (Guinness, doing what he can and gracefully making an early exit from this disaster) decides to bequeath the Title of Emperor to General Livius (Boyd), instead of his son, Commodus (Christopher Plummer, giving one of the two performances that I thoroughly enjoyed). Commodus and Livius are best buds, as evidenced by the early scene of the pair simultaneously quaffing wine from upraised wine-skins. This scene is the highlight of the entire movie, and qualifies as Gayest Scene Ever in a mainstream movie made before 1965.

Boyd is Boyd, and that ain't good. His individual line readings seem adequate, but the sum total is a hollow, good-looking, thoroughly rehearsed nothing. Sophia Loren as Commodus' sister Lucilla gets tossed into the same pit by the script, and John Ireland is reduced to playing the role of barbarian leader Ballomar as a grunting stereotype wearing a series of hilarious wigs.

James Mason as adviser to Aurelius and Greek former slave Timonides acquits himself the best of anyone. His natural acting style of stage-bound histrionics fits the film perfectly, and he is given a few showcase scenes. Like Guinness, he ignores the fact that the script of "Fall" is a cliché-ridden joke, and dutifully builds a character of noble grace and moral strength.

The script: UGH. The material is inherently dramatic, as Emperor Aurelius attempts to unite the disparate kingdoms of the Roman Empire into a peaceful confederation. Perhaps the screenwriters were too concerned with the history, and not enough with the dialogue. There is little or no subtext, and very few memorable lines. Plummer plays with the words and makes them his own. Boyd rents them and then abandons them.

On paper, this should have been a great flick. It features a cast to rival "Spartacus", and a director who has done very good work elsewhere. I blame the script and the cinematography. The battle scenes are terrible, and the general level of the entire enterprise is about the same as the Steve Reeves/Reg Park Hercules sword and sandal epics of this same period. Indeed, I would rate Mario Bava's "Hercules in the Haunted World" as a much better movie. It is cheese also, but cheese delightfully elevated by being served on a platter of bravura cinematic style, with a main course of beefcake.
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Ride the 19 at your Peril
11 January 2016
The essence of drama is conflict. Conflict arises from actions or intentions that are at cross purposes. These actions may be classified as 'good' or 'evil' , but these labels depend on the observer identifying with one side or the other. Taoism does not adhere to these classifications; in its pure form, it is amoral.

The roles of antagonist and protagonist are similarly dependent on a moral judgment. In "Emperor of the North", Lee Marvin's character A No. 1 is clearly meant to be the protagonist; Ernest Borgnine's Shack is portrayed as the antagonist. Shack is obsessed with keeping (ho)'boes from hitching free rides on his train. A No. 1 takes on the challenge of doing so, in defiance of Shack (and railway regulations). The two men play out their duel on a train that is moving through forests and mountains on its way north to Portland, Oregon. If Marvin is the 'hero', it is a hollow triumph he seeks. There is no promise of a job waiting for him in Portland - he simply wants to 'beat' Shack and remain the widely acknowledged greatest boe there is. His peers are other rootless men who have been driven by circumstance to find work and food wherever they can. Their loyalties are to their empty bellies and, usually, their fellow boes. Some work in the railroad yards for whatever pay they can scrounge. One fascinating aspect of Emperor is the gambling that is shown as widespread: will A No. 1 succeed, or will Shack remain the unconquered, feared, and despised 'champion' of the rails?

The time is late October, 1933. There is no welfare state, no food stamp program, no Social Security yet for everyone. These things are a part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which is in its infancy during this movie. FDR's voice is heard on the radio early on. He urges the citizenry to be scrupulous about the programs he has pushed through Congress; to "cooperate with me, in making this the most efficient, and the cleanest, public enterprise that the world has ever seen". To the men who ride the rails, the prize is their next meal.

Marvin is his usual laconic self. He does not attempt to turn A No. 1 into a heroic or noble figure. He is just a guy who is self-assured and fiercely protective of his independence. His underplaying is a thing of wonder. He conveys the decency and humanity of A No. 1 with the slightest of head shaking and almost imperceptible nods and winks.

Borgnine is simply awesome as Shack. His sadistic glee at casually maiming and bullying hapless vagabonds is palpable. He keeps his eyes wide open like a giant piranha the whole time. His kind can also be found in other movies, guarding prisons housing felons and herding Jews into the ovens of Auschwitz. Shack gets off on power over others. He is doing his job - maintaining security on the train - but perhaps a little too well. An early incident shows how things can get out of control if the boes are allowed free rein. In a country paralyzed by economic disaster, he protects the interests of the Establishment. If cattle do not arrive at their markets, people, innocent people, may suffer. Again, the morality of the various characters is relative to one's point of view. Is Order Good? Is Chaos Evil? In terms of the physical universe, good and evil are essentially meaningless concepts. A hawk killing a rodent is not evil: it is feeding.

Keith Carradine plays Cigaret, a young drifter who follows A No. 1 around, while boasting of his own boe prowess. The relationship between the two reminded me greatly of "The Film Flam Man", where grizzled grifter George C. Scott mentors Army deserter Michael Sarrazin. The dynamic between the two men is much different in "Emperor", but there is an echo of one to be found in the other. The locations and down-home soundtracks of both movies are also similar.

The supporting cast is overflowing with familiar character actors. Elisha Cook Jr appears briefly, nearly unrecognizable in an eye patch. Other notables are Malcolm Atterbury as Hogger the engineer, Harry Caesar as Coaly the coal stoker, Charles Tyner as Cracker, the boe assistant to Shack, Matt Clark as railyard boe Yardlet , Liam Dunn as hobo jungle resident Smile, Robert Foulk as a passenger train conductor, and Simon Oakland playing a policeman (again!). The ensemble meshes wonderfully, dutifully providing texture and a backdrop to the central conflict.

Robert Aldrich directs the film without gimmicks while creating an immersive experience. The shots of 56-year-old Borgnine and 48-year-old Tyner nimbly running along the top of an obviously real moving train are incredible. As the train continues north, the lush scenery of Northern California and Oregon displays the inherent beauty of indifferent Nature, and provides contrast to the personal drama played out in the foreground. This film is all about survival. If Shack allows boes to ride his train, the company will replace him with someone who will not. And he knows it, which makes him just as desperate as the men he brutalizes. There can be no quarter given in this world, where every loose chicken represents another day of Life.

I highly recommend this film. It is not grim, but it is not a comedy, either, although there are numerous humorous moments. It is the stuff that great dramas are made of.
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Atlantic City (1980)
Malle, Sarandon, and Lancaster Create Movie Magic
5 November 2015
"Atlantic City" is the movie wherein my crush on Susan Sarandon (and her figure) reached full flower. She is klutzy, strong-willed, and hopeful as an aspiring casino dealer at the dawn of Las Vegas East. Burt Lancaster gives a heart-rending performance as a two-bit crook who has simply outlived all the real thugs. It was like watching a mighty oak refuse to shed its last few tender leaves before succumbing to the frigid indifference of Winter. Louis Malle keeps the movie moving along amiably, and the few weak points (the ex-husband, occasional overacting by SS, some viewers may also find BL a bit hammy for their tastes) are not particularly dire. The film evokes the spirit of the great film noirs of the 1940s and 1950s. Think Coen Bros. served with a thick glaze of sentimentality. Comic yet poignant, "Atlantic City" is one of the Best Films of the Eighties (says I).

"Tutti-frutti ice cream and craps don't mix."
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The Hunger (1983)
Masquerade of Empty Souls Preserved in Amber
5 November 2015
"The Hunger" is a fairly empty exercise in Style, but, ooh-la-la, what style! Tony Scott's transition piece from shooting commercials to directing features, it feels like a 97-mnute Chanel ad. Nowhere in evidence are the grotesque framing, cutting, editing, and color-filtering choices that mar so much of Scott's later work. "The Hunger" boasts three gorgeous leads, and incredibly rich photography and of-the-moment music, combined with the lazy, narcotic pacing of an afternoon spent lounging in an opium den. It was cutting-edge culture in 1983, and has influenced countless film-makers ever since. A much, much better movie than "Only Lovers Left Alive", IMO.
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Bull Durham (1988)
The Champ of All Baseball Movies
5 November 2015
A freewheeling, bawdy humor enlivens this love letter to the quintessential American sport. Susan Sarandon met her love Tim Robbins on this film-set, and their chemistry is entertaining and funny. Kevin Costner literally inhabits the role of Crash Davis, a lifetime minor-leaguer in pursuit of a dubious record. Robert Wuhl steals all the bases as the hilarious assistant manager/coach. If you like comedy with a bit of adult frankness and a lot of heart, run, don't walk to watch Bull Durham. It is a safe bet for an enjoyable evening. A double-header with Pastime (1990) would make a clean sweep of good times.

"Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club."
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The Warehouse of Broken Dreams Stands on the Edge of the City
4 September 2015
"Edge of the City" casts Sidney Poitier as a warehouse worker who befriends John Cassavetes' troubled loner. His ready laugh and casual manner belie a character of depth and fortitude. As Tommy Tyler, Poitier exudes kindness and grace, even as Jack Warden's Charlie tries to bully and intimidate him. Cassavetes was skeptical of Lee Strasberg's Method by 1957, and he plays it fast and loose as Axel, an Army deserter who cannot find his place in the world. "Edge" spends a considerable amount of time showing these two characters at work in a warehouse, and the incidents of harassment and horseplay ring equally true to anyone who has done time in the world of unskilled blue-collar labor. This is the first feature film directed by Martin Ritt, and the themes of male bonding (Hud) and workplace injustice (Norma Rae) are ones he would revisit during his illustrious career. Exemplary cinematography by Joseph C. Brun, and observant writing by Robert Alan Aurthur add to the verisimilitude of this examination of the everyday existence of men who toil anonymously in the background of urban life.

"You go with the lower forms, and you are down in the slime."
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You gotta know 'bout somethin' before you can dream about it
4 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"The Defiant Ones" gave me a whole lot more than I had expected. I always had thought this was a semi-sensational action film that exploited racism to attract notoriety. It actually is a poignant story of two men on the run who must cooperate in spite of their mutual animosity. The original screenplay by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith won the Oscar for 1958, and I am hard-pressed to think of a script more deserving of every accolade possible. Joker Jackson (Tony Curtis, a revelation) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier, fierce and fatalistic) are chained together and are in flight from a posse of local deputies led by Sheriff Max Muller (Theodore Bikel) and State Trooper Capt. Frank Gibbons (Charles McGraw). The ongoing quarrels between the two pairs of mismatched partners throughout the film paints a vivid picture of life in the rural South of the 1950s. Bikel is simply stunning in his offhand performance as the humanitarian leader of the manhunt, and McGraw is unyielding in his determination to bring in the escapees swiftly and by any means necessary. Claude Akins is intimidating in a small role as the inhabitant of a work camp the prisoners stumble across. Lon Chaney Jr. dominates the screen during this passage, as we learn that he has good reason to empathize with Joker and Cullen (as Curtis calls Poitier). The duo ultimately seek refuge at the modest farm of an unnamed and abandoned single mother and her child. This portion of the film becomes a vignette straight out of a Tennessee Williams play, and the heat radiating from Cara Williams could warm an entire Arctic outpost.

I cannot stress enough how fine the acting is by the entire cast. I have never seen Tony Curtis do such good work, and Poitier is excellent as always, with a a haunting mix of melancholy and mirth that is best displayed by his boisterous rendition of William C. Handy folk song "Long Gone" at key points in the movie. Cara Williams is riveting every second she is on screen, and Lon Chaney Jr. acts as a counterbalance to the casual prejudice of the other Caucasian characters. The various Southern accents are underplayed but lend authenticity to the dialogue, as do sundry colloquialisms they use. Stanley Kramer, a well-known social activist, directs the film without judgement, as the actions of the players speak for themselves. I cannot find a single flaw in "The Defiant Ones", and I have no choice but to give it the Highest Recommendation possible.

"I fill it up wit' dreams."
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Maleficent (2014)
Maleficent is Magic
1 September 2015
I was thoroughly impressed with this movie. The magical worlds of the Moor and the Castle were stunning, and the effects were seamless. The rich colors and fantastic creatures made the entire viewing a joy to experience. I was knocked silly by Maleficent's character design, and I was entranced by Elle Fanning's smile. The quiet power of this film builds slowly, as the various events unfold at a regal pace. The filmmakers eschew the usual bombast and frenetic overkill so common in effects-driven blockbusters. The music plays softly in the background, nudging rather than bludgeoning. Children of any age can embrace this wonderful tale of betrayal, vengeance, and redemption. I look forward to watching it again and again in years to come. Magnifique!
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Heartbreakers (1984)
Memorable and Funny Portrait of Best Friends Bumbling into Adulthood
25 August 2015
Heartbreakers (1984) Bobby Roth wrote and directed this humorous yet poignant depiction of a male friendship that is tested by a femme fatale art dealer. Peter Coyote is Blue, talented LA painter who has been scraping by with the help of best buddy Eli (Nick Mancuso), heir to a struggling garment business. Carol Wayne, Kathryn Harrold, Jamie Rose, and Carole Laure are the women they spar and sometimes sleep with. The friendship between the two men is one of the most authentic and affecting I have seen on film. They complement each other well, and their loyalty to each other is expressed in quiet ways. Look for the scene about 38 minutes in, when Eli comes over and finds Blue sleeping on his layout table. Cinematography by Michael Ballhaus, with a score by Tangerine Dream. A perceptive observation of young singles resisting the demands of full adulthood, and my choice as the best movie out there about modern day painters. Highly Recommended.

"Well, Syd told me, that you think abstractionists should be executed."
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The Haunting (1963)
The Haunting Lingers in Memory Eternally
25 August 2015
The Haunting (1963). Adapted from "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson. Hollywood legend Robert Wise directs this disturbing tale of a fragile spinster who joins a paranormal researcher's on-site investigation of a notoriously haunted house. Julie Harris radiates naivete and terror in equal measure. 60s stalwarts Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, and Claire Bloom are her de facto family in a harrowing weekend of closing doors and phantom noises. This film is extremely unsettling and brilliantly filmed.

The relationship between Eleanor (Harris) and Theo (Bloom) in The Haunting provides an opportunity for camp to leak in, but Wise keeps everything strictly business. There is not a single frame in The Haunting that does not somehow either enhance the atmosphere or advance the plot. If you watch closely, you will see that they inverted some of the exterior shots from B&W to W&B just to create a more alien feel. The movie is rife with innuendo, but never crosses the line to self-parody.

Eleanor is a very tragic figure. Her lone attempt to control her own destiny results in unexpected acceptance and kinship that slowly gives way to fear. Julie Harris plays her as if she stopped maturing at age 10, when the poltergeist experience occurred. Her celibate status is due more to her childish attitude that sex is 'icky' (inferred from her relationships with Theo and Luke), than any lack of sex appeal.

The Haunting is set in the early 1960s, but the picture is timeless. The cinematography by Davis Boulton, editing by Ernest Walter, production design by Elliot Scott, and especially the music by Humphrey Searle are all top-quality. Its treatment of ghostly goings-on may not be to everyone's liking, but the synergy of technical elements with casting and script creates a thrilling, memorable experience for the audience.

"Whose hand was I holding?"
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A Trip to the Moon put me into a Delightful Swoon
25 August 2015
French silent classic. Produced, written, and directed by Georges Méliès, who took inspiration from Jules Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon" (1865) and H. G. Wells' "First Men in the Moon" (1901). The first science fiction film ever made was very expensive to produce for films of its time, and it was a huge success worldwide.

The fully restored 14-minute silent is posted to YouTube. The hand-painted cels have been restored and re-assembled digitally. There are no interstitial titles or dialogue. Everything is communicated via pantomime and music cues. The music recorded with this release is a great asset to the visuals, and is not a conventional silent film score. The joy I experienced while watching this I usually associate with The Wizard of Oz (1939) and such films. The movie is a continuous 14 minutes of sheer visual delight. Note especially the way women are featured.

One truly amazing aspect is the actual capsule that travels to the Moon. Just compare the ship featured in "Le voyage dans la lune" with the Service & Command Modules which actually orbited the Moon during the Apollo missions.
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Frankenstein (1910)
First Experiment bringing Shelley's Materials to Cinematic Life succeeds admirably
25 August 2015
I recently found the Restored version of this silent homage to the Mary Shelley classic tale on YouTube. All quoted passages are taken verbatim from the novel.

The animating of the Creature sequence (3:00 - 6:45) in this short film is unique, I believe. Note the human skeleton prominently displayed therein. I never understood how Frankenstein could make a vigorous eight-foot-tall humanoid from the rotting corpses of normal-sized 19th Century men.

"When I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands, I hesitated a long time concerning the manner in which I should employ it. Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organisation; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man. The materials at present within my command hardly appeared adequate to so arduous an undertaking; but I doubted not that I should ultimately succeed....It was with these feelings that I began the creation of a human being. As the minuteness of the parts formed a great hindrance to my speed, I resolved, contrary to my first intention, to make the being of a gigantic stature; that is to say, about eight feet in height, and proportionably large. After having formed this determination, and having spent some months in successfully collecting and arranging my materials, I began....These thoughts supported my spirits, while I pursued my undertaking with unremitting ardour. My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement. Sometimes, on the very brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or the next hour might realise. One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured the living animal, to animate the lifeless clay? My limbs now tremble and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic, impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit. It was indeed but a passing trance that only made me feel with renewed acuteness so soon as, the unnatural stimulus ceasing to operate, I had returned to my old habits. I collected bones from charnel-houses; and disturbed, with profane fingers, the tremendous secrets of the human frame. In a solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase, I kept my workshop of filthy creation: my eye-balls were starting from their sockets in attending to the details of my employment. The dissecting room and the slaughter-house furnished many of my materials; and often did my human nature turn with loathing from my occupation, whilst, still urged on by an eagerness which perpetually increased, I brought my work near to a conclusion."

Shelley specifically states that intact re-animation of the already-dead would be the second phase of the experiments.

"Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption."

This 14-minute piece is a grand early work, and the accompanying music sets the tone brilliantly. The way J. Searle Dawley ends the story is unique and surprisingly poetic.
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Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein Will Live Forever
22 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The Creature is arguably the single most recognized horror icon of the 20th Century, and I am referring specifically to the Karloff/James Whale/Jack Pierce Creature. Various actors of both great and obscure repute have assayed the role, but it belongs to Boris Karloff. This is incontestable. Karloff's iconic and definitive performance as the Creature is inextricably linked to the character itself throughout popular culture.

My deal is that I really really like the Shelley novel, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein actually improves the closing chapters in a way that is unique, to my knowledge. It is remarkably faithful to the book most of the time. Frank Darabont shared a Saturn Award nomination for Best Writing with Steph Lady, who has only one other credit on IMDb. Patrick Doyle contributed a score that is by turns heroic, lighthearted, romantic, and chilling. It emphasizes the story with an amiable insistence that recalls the original music composed for the great silent films.

People rip on Kenneth Branagh for his apparent egotism. Victor Frankenstein is an huge egotist. How else to explain his obstinate belief that he alone can defeat Death? Victor sacrifices everything he once held dear at the altar of vainglorious willfulness. I feel that Branagh's feverish direction gives epic material an operatic flair.

The love story between Victor and Elizabeth is truly moving. Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter famously began a five-year romance during production that ended Branagh's marriage to Emma Thompson. Their infatuation is evident in the way Carter teases him playfully, and when Branagh gazes upon her rapturously. <<<<<<<<<< Start "SPOILER" >>>>>>>>>> IMO, the choice to have him revive Elizabeth and her to then take her own life is brilliant, and makes Darabont/Branagh's ending a complete inversion of Bride of Frankenstein's ending. Helena Bonham Carter's acting in these scenes is absolutely gut-wrenching. The ending so fried my circuits in the theater that I thought I was literally having an hallucination. It knocked me to the ground, kicked me, and then stuck a hot poker in my ear. I was scared and fascinated by what I was seeing THAT much. The film left me dazed, like after an excellent concert. <<<<<<<<<< End "SPOILER" >>>>>>>>>> That departure from the 1818 novel is what cinches Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as my favorite all-time adaptation, in spite of the flaws that I describe below.

Downers are the head-scratching miscasting of De Niro (who does a fine job, nonetheless), and the decision to make the makeup realistic and understated as opposed to grotesque and terrifying. Branagh literally made everything in the movie larger than life except the Creature itself, which is the opposite of Shelley. I still adore the film regardless, and the scene where the Creature lures William with the flute is etched in my memory.

"Elizabeth...say my name."
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Miraculous Synergy of Script, Acting, and Music
12 August 2015
The true story of Helen Keller, born deaf and blind. She was a vigorous advocate for social justice, and an inspiration to countless people around the globe.

I remember as a young boy that "The Miracle Worker" was something of a sensation in 1962. It depicts the early life of Helen Keller and her relationship with teacher Anne Sullivan. It is that rare case where the lead roles were cast with the same actors as the Broadway play. The dinner table scrap is firmly embedded in Cinema lexicon. Oscars went to both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, with 3 other nominations. The film was universally praised by critics. Directed by Arthur Penn, with ethereal, haunting cinematography by Ernesto Caparros.

"The room's a wreck, but her napkin is folded"
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The Swimmer (1968)
Burt Lancaster is Compelling and Tragic as The Swimmer
12 August 2015
Burt Lancaster as the world's most buff 55-year-old. He spends the entire movie in a pair of swimming trunks. A cross-section of 60s supporting players populate his odyssey through the swimming pools of the upper crust of Connecticut. The episodic structure leads to some relatively weak passages, but the music and Burt's dynamic, charismatic Candide-like ad executive keep things moving at a jaunty pace. Janice Rule is inhumanly sexy in a small, but pivotal role. Adapted from a John Cheever New Yorker short story, and a case study in delusion and denial.

"This is my hot dog wagon."
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This Movie Will Tear You Up
12 August 2015
Mentally impaired Dominick (Tom Hulce, Oscar-winner for Amadeus) is putting his intern brother, Eugene (Ray Liotta at his best), through medical school by collecting garbage. Eugene is torn between his nascent career and his responsibility for his brother. Todd Graff as Nicky's partner on the garbage truck, Larry, brings humor and sympathy to what could have been a throw-away role. I collected garbage for two Summers in my Hometown, and the scenes of Nicky and Larry chatting with the folks on their route are completely authentic. Powerful and exhilarating, with Jamie Lee Curtis as the sympathetic student who inadvertently comes between the brothers.

"...and you have to believe in your strength, Nicky"
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The Horse's Mouth is a work of Genius
12 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Rollicking, bittersweet portrayal of an indigent artist in postwar London. Alec Guinness is Gulley Jimson, curmudgeon and would-be lothario who curses his vocation with the same passion he pours into his paintings. The film follows Guinness on a madcap quest to regain some lost artwork, leading to antics worthy of the Marx Brothers. He is joined in his adventures by Kay Walsh as Dee Coker, Gulley's caustic barkeep gadfly who helps him look for the artwork in order to collect a debt. Mike Morgan is Nosey, the starstruck youth who follows Gulley everywhere to learn his painting secrets. Ernest Thesinger (Dr. Pretorius in Bride of Frankenstein) is the long-time benefactor of Gulley who is harassed by crank phone calls from the artist. Renee Houston steals the movie right out from under Guinness' nose in the role of Sara Monday, Gulley's ex-wife who still is sweet on him.

Screenplay adapted by Guinness from a book by Joyce Cary, directed by Ronald Neame.

"Why doesn't it fit...like it does in the mind?"
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A Lothario's Odyssey
12 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Room at the Top (1959) is an engrossing story of ambition and deceit set in postwar England. Laurence Harvey is the very definition of a cad as Joe, WWII vet and former POW, who arrives at a new town to take a job in the Treasurer's Department of Warnley, a fictitious, bustling manufacturing center. He is from the poor town of Dufton. Joe uses his good looks to get what he wants, whether it be sex or the attentions of the pretty, innocent daughter (Heather Sears as Susan) of the town's leading citizen and employer (Donald Wolfit - serious yet upbeat).

In the first five minutes of Top, we see that this is a different kind of movie. Sexual attraction and frank admiration of the object of one's desires are the stuff that gives Top life. As Joe enters the office where he will be working, every woman there is shown to be checking him out silently, in a wonderful panning shot. He moves into a flat with his chum and co-worker, Charles (Donald Huston). Charles recruits Joe into a local drama repertory club, and we meet all sorts of lively young people, as well as Simone Signoret playing a libidinous older woman. Room at the Top is not explicit in any way, but the players and their casual remarks and gossip are very revealing and engagingly authentic.

Room at the Top was nominated for 6 Academy Awards and won two, one for Signoret and one for Best Adapted Screenplay, going to Neil Paterson's work in translating John Braine's novel to the big screen. It is vastly more entertaining and thought-provoking than any Romantic Comedy* today, and it is more adult than any explicit sex romp film ever released. Absolutely Smashing!!!

* Room at the Top is a drama through and through, but most of the plot could work in a Romantic comedy also.

"How about salary?"
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A true masterpiece, made with obvious love and respect for the Spider-Man mythos
30 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I am an old Spider-Man fan, who has fond memories of watching the very first cartoon series in the late 1960's. In my opinion, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" blows away that version, and every other Spidey cartoon since. I just discovered "The Spectacular Spider-Man" online (I do not own a television), and I have been watching the episodes in order for the past few days. It took me a bit to get past the animation style at first, but now I love it. Spidey's movements are very fluid, and all the characters are distinctive from one another (I assume Liz Allen is no longer a blonde to avoid confusion with Gwen).

The series takes a few liberties with the original stories, but it is done with the intent of creating the best possible show. For instance, Harry and Gwen did not meet Peter until he attended ESU. And Gwen was never mousy as she is shown in SSM, although she was always brainy. The origins of some of the villains have been changed somewhat. But none of this really matters, because the characters are consistent in the SSM universe, and the creators keep the stories moving briskly. In one episode alone (S1E10, "Persona"), we meet Alien Symbiote (Black Suit Spidey), Black Cat, The Chameleon, Quentin Beck (Mysterio), and Phineas Mason (Terrible Tinkerer)! All the elements are there from the comics: the incredible array of villains, a deep supporting cast, Spidey's trademark quips, and Peter Parker's money troubles. The show even works in scenes from the Raimi Spider-Man movies.

What really makes me love "Spectacular Spider-Man" are subtle little touches that hearken back to the earliest days of the comics. Spidey's mask will briefly appear on half of Peter's face, or his eyepieces and red webbing will become the backdrop for a conclusion to a scene. These are bits taken directly from the very early days of the Lee/Ditko comics and really make SSM special. Heck, S2E4 "Shear Strength" recreates what is probably the most iconic moment from the Ditko run, where Spidey lifts the machinery off himself in the Master Planner's lab. All the stories reveal a sincere respect and affection for these characters, even as they are updated for a 21st century audience.

It is a real pity that real-world corporate politics brought the series to a premature end. But I will always treasure these 26 episodes. I doubt they will ever be surpassed. This is not only the finest Spider-Man cartoon series ever, but the finest superhero cartoon series ever, IMO.
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Terrible movie that tries way too hard
19 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I am rating "Dan in Real Life" a 3/10, only because Emily Blunt shows up halfway through and does a sexy dance in a bar. Otherwise, this movie is boring, schmaltzy tripe that completely wastes a cast of pretty good actors. It is very poorly written, and directed with a sledgehammer to the forehead of the audience. There is no subtext or subtlety anywhere. Every scene is played in the most obvious way possible, with zero complexity to any of the characters.

I must admit I gave up halfway through the movie, it is SO BAD. The plot is recounted elsewhere, so I will pick two examples of why I hated it.

When Dan (Steve Carrell) arrives at his family reunion, he finds that the "hottie" he spent the morning talking to at a deserted coffee stand is in fact his brother's new girlfriend, Anne-Marie (Juliette Binoche). They stare at each other in disbelief for what seems like an eternity. It would be impossible for everyone else in the room not to pick up on their previous acquaintance, but no one notices. So much for "real life".

Later, after an interminable sequence of uncomfortable scenes of the Stepford family, Dan ends up at a bar with Anne-Marie, his brother Dane Cook (Anne-Marie's boyfriend), and Emily Blunt at her hottest as an old acquaintance of Dan's, despite about a 20-year age difference. She (Emily's character) makes a play for Dan, and Anne-Marie becomes visibly jealous, although the entire relationship between A-M and Dan consists of one conversation, dominated by Dan. No subtlety, the director gives us several shots of Juliette's character shooting daggers from her eyes. Just like that, she appears to have no interest at all in Dane Cook, although they are in an ongoing relationship. Not at all how people behave in "real life".

I could not watch any more after this. I will say, to the movie's credit, that it does not stoop to crude toilet humor, which has become the norm in American "comedy" nowadays (I am looking at you, Judd Apatow). It tries to develop warm, relationship-based situations, but the script and directing are so incredibly trite and in-your-face, the movie becomes downright painful to watch.
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Iron Man (2008)
"Iron Man" raises the bar for superhero movies
10 May 2008
"Iron Man" is every bit as good as "Spider-Man (1)". The character is lesser known to the public, but he is a central figure in the Marvel universe. No prior knowledge is necessary to thoroughly enjoy this movie, but it is packed full of references to the source material, a real joy for a lifelong Marvel Comics reader and fan like me. One can just feel Marvel Studios flooring the accelerator on future adaptations ("Thor", Captain America", and "The Avengers" are all listed in IMDb as being in pre-production). Do NOT miss this movie: it is loads of fun, crisply paced, and well-acted. It is not just a great superhero movie, but a great movie, period.
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WOW that was Bad!
29 November 2007
This movie is way beyond bad, it is thoroughly incompetent. I would expect better acting in a 3rd grade Nativity play. I can not imagine a worse cast for ANY movie, mostly just a bunch of Mad TV and SNL alumni cashing paychecks. Even Miranda Richardson is made to look ridiculous - her performance consists entirely of arching her eyebrows. "The Rock" walks around wide-eyed and compulsively taps his fingers and is bloody awful. Wallace Shawn...what the hell? It seems like Kelly was trying for a sort of sci-fi cross between "Total Recall" and "Magnolia", with characters' lives randomly intersecting, but there is nothing here to focus on, it ends up just being random. Appallingly bad, I see no value even as a cult item. A major disappointment, because I love "Donnie Darko".
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