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The Others (2001)
One-note gothic tale
Kidman is overwrought and stiff as the mother in a locked-house mystery. The young actress playing her daughter is marvelous. She takes much of the film on her shoulders but alas, it's a bit much for her to handle. Kidman's character makes no sense from beginning to end, and her involvement in the "twist" ending comes as little surprise. Fionnulla Flanigan scores points as the omniscient maid. But, alas, the film needs Kidman to carry it, and she buries it instead.
Columbo: Murder, a Self Portrait (1989)
Patrick Bachau is wonderful as the tempermental artist who cannot accept the fact that his ex-wife has fallen in love with another man, a psychiatrist superbly played by George Coe. Falk's real-life wife, Shera Therese shines brilliantly as Bachau's current wife. And Vito Scotti and Isabella Garcia-Lorca are both superb in supporting roles. This is one of the 20 best Columbo movies ever made.
It Grows on Trees (1952)
Enjoyably light comedy
Irene Dunne is irrepressible as a housewife who grows a money tree in her yard. Dunne truly is the show but gets plenty of able support. Dean Jagger is appropriately befuddle as her stuffy husband who finds himself fighting a moral dilemma all by himself. Richard Crenna is marvelous in a key supporting role. Not much substance, but an engaging way to kill an hour and a half.
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
Plodding oater is paced too slowly
Three terrific scenes doesn't make up for the plodding pacing of this self-important almost-epic. Martin and Anderson give the best performances and provide the only real tension in the movie as the second oldest and youngest brothers. If you love John Wayne westerns, even when he's fifteen years too old for his role, you will enjoy this one too. If not, watch Tall In the Saddle or Angel And The Badman or Rio Bravo or True Grit or McClintock instead. All are better acted, better paced, less pretentious, and more involving.
The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Intriguing but confused and ultimately soulless (or is that soleless?)
Bogart lobbied hard for his role, and comes close to pulling it off. This movie seems to attempt to mix and match styles and plotlines from "A Letter To Three Wives", "Miracle of the Bells", "The Red Shoes", "Le Grand Illusion", and "Mrs. Skeffington." Huh??? Only Edmond O'Brien comes off perfectly in his Oscar-winning role. And he and Bogie as co-narrators are the only characters whose souls are not cordoned off from the audience as if by panes of glass.
Brazzi, in particular, is an aloof and distant aristocrat who walks through the film in an ugly trance. Whose idea was it to cast normally likable Warren Stevens as an arrogant bully of a business mogul? His curiously enigmatic performance works against Ava Gardner's necessarily enigmatic one. Were Adolphe Menjou, Edward G. Robinson, and Lee J. Cobb all simply not available?
Finally, the camerawork is monotonously film-noir-ish despite the fact that in many scenes, an opulent style would have been far more appropriate and would have given the dark scenes far more dramatic impact.
Altogether, this is interesting to study as a cinematic student but tedious and off-putting to someone tuning into TCM expecting to be entertained by a Bogey movie.
The Sex Monster (1999)
Hysterical 90's sex romp
Dr. Frankenstein, meet your monster! Mike Binder wrote, directed, and starred as a husband who gets to make his own bed only to find that he is no longer needed to lie in it! Mariel Hemmingway steals the film as the wife who takes charge after giving into hubby's desire to expand her sexual horizons. She looks fantastic too, and is incredibly sexy without ever actually revealing her breasts.
It is sweet justice watching the lesbian partners express the husband's insignificance by gently lowering their partner's head while ignoring his whines. Once he realizes how this has gotten out of hand, the results are surprisingly twisted and contorted to an hilarious extent. And the grand finale is priceless.
If it doesn't embarrass you to watch a movie about sex, this is a marvelous escape from grim realities.
My Geisha (1962)
Shirley MacLaine wastes her many talent in this throwaway movie. She has no chemistry at all with flat-as-a-pancake husband Yves Montand. The plot is ridiculous. Shirley plays a Lucille-Ball-type comedienne who wants her director-husband to take her seriously as an actress. So naturally, when he decides to go to Tokyo to film an authentic version of Madame Butterfly starring a real Geisha girl, she flies there and poses as one, and gets the job. Robert Cummings is too old to play Montand's "guy-type-guy" friend, but does what he can with a thankless role. Edward G. Robinson sleepwalks through his role which is okay because it's meaningless anyway. Unless you want a flavor for how Hollywood depicted Japan in 1962, this is one to avoid.
Beau James (1957)
A Valentine to New York City with surprisingly strong dramatic performance by Hope
I was a teenager when James J. Walker was the Mayor of New York. Bob Hope doesn't look anything like him but catches the essence of his exuberant spirits and lack of responsibility very well. The narration by Walter Winchell adds just the right touch.
Paul Douglas is perfect as the Tammany boss. Hope is especially terrific in the dramatic conflict and emotional scenes with both Alexis Smith and Vera Miles. It makes me wish Hope did more straight-up dramas. It is especially a shame in retrospect, because after Beau James, Hope really never had the opportunity to make a good movie again (unless you count Critic's Choice which I don't).
If you enjoy nostalgic sad-and-funny movies about New York, this is one for you.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
Brooklyn -- the way it was
What a magnificent motion picture! Dorothy McGuire and Peggy Ann Garner give the greatest mother-daughter performances of all time. Betty Smith's book is a classic, and this film somehow manages to do it perfect justice in the first movie ever directed by Elia Kazan.
In many ways I feel privileged to be able to comment here because I may be the only "reviewer" in these pages to have been in Brooklyn very close to the time of this film (I was born in 1909). The film recaptures the feel, the mores, the neighborhood so magnificently, it is incredible. Every time I watch this movie, I feel as if I am revisiting my youth, albeit an idealized version.
Everyone who watches this movie should share it with the next generation of moviegoers. It truly is timeless.
Tall in the Saddle (1944)
My favorite John Wayne western
Fast-moving, well-acted, and impeccably directed, this is my favorite John Wayne western of all-time although the Quiet Man is my favorite John Wayne movie. The plot is intelligent; the dialogue is crisp; the supporting characters are fascinating; and the chemistry between Wayne and Ella Raines is magnificent.
Well worth watching.