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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Fahrenheit 451; or, How Roeg saved Truffaut, 23 March 2010

Before any discussion of this film, there must be a line drawn between the politics of the film versus the way this film was created. Being a Truffaut fan, I didn't want to miss his idiosyncrasies within a scene merely because the politics of book burning were overwhelming. Yes, one understands that this is a film adaptation of "Fahrenheit 451", a beloved classic that gives booksellers inspiration every time it is read, but also this is a Truffaut film. Several reviews state that Truffaut did an excellent job with the direction, and then spend four paragraphs discussing our society and its apathetic ways toward literature. In this discussion of this film, there will be a solid line between Truffaut's direction and Bradbury's themes. Was one stronger than the other? Did Truffaut's adaptation muddy Bradbury's final thoughts? While you may agree or disagree with my discoveries, one needs to realize that this was a film watched, not a book read. Did Truffaut satisfy the main discourses of film enjoyment? Was it entertaining? Did it spark debate? Did it decorate strong characters? For this reviewer, Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451" was a mixed bag of cinematic delight. The characters, albeit well fit within the realm of Bradbury, just felt mediocre. Their direction seemed wooden, while the camera focus seemed misplaced for a majority of the film. Again, like most Truffaut, it was colorful, but he just didn't seem himself until the final act – where Bradbury's ideas and Truffaut's direction finally congealed together. "Fahrenheit 451" was an adaption, but not one that stands among the infamous.

Our troubles begin in this film with our lead, Guy Montag (played by "Jules and Jim" lead, Oskar Werner), who obviously hated working for Truffaut and this project. Despite the rumor that the two clashed at every opportunity, Werner gave one of the worst performances seen for a long time. When Truffaut couldn't get Terrance Stamp for his first choice, the lackluster Werner stepped in, and the downfall of this film began. Werner gave nothing for audiences to attach themselves to. There was no emotion, no big moment of empathy, no excitement. Werner went from one scene to the next, allowing his sleepy eyes to provide us with just enough to cope with the hour and a half running time. He was horrible as a "Fireman", and even less convincing as a man with a sudden passion for the written word. There were moments when laughter was more suitable than viable emotion. This is supposed to be a tense film, a confusing film, a film where the emotion surrounding books becomes a greater asset than the material objects that Montag possessed. Alas, this wasn't the case. With the supposed anger surrounding our lead and director, only the lessons of Styrofoam and cardboard were used. Thankfully, there was Julie Christie mixed within the story to heighten the side bits. Feeling a bit Brunel-ian, Christie was used as two characters in this film, providing an opportunity for Truffaut to demonstrate a particular emotion with books and without them. While Christie wasn't Oscar-worthy, she did allow for an appealing appetizer to the dismal main course (Werner). She and Cyril Cusack (The Captain), anointed with the task of keeping the film together, managed to save this film from utter disappointment to sheer mediocrity.

What makes "Fahrenheit 451" an interesting film to self-explode, is not only the odd direction by Truffaut, but the powerful camera work by one Nicolas Roeg (the man who later gave us "The Man Who Fell To Earth"). All of the colors, the shots as they were filmed, and the choices of camera placement were, possibly, the second only greatest moment of this film. I credit Roeg for giving us the unsettling feel of this film. The contrast from the bold colors of red in the community with the bland colors of inside Montag's home (and elsewhere) forced the setting upon us in a good way. As Truffaut and Werner were arguing with each other, Roeg was creating a film – and it is obvious as the visuals of this film looked creative, but everything else came nowhere close.

Finally, without giving away the ending, one has to admit that the ending to this film was Truffaut finally finding his way again. Suddenly, when Montag found his real "home", it became obvious that Truffaut found his comfort zone. He understood this film, and the ending wrapped up brilliantly. The direction, the voice, the visuals – they all seemed to come together in a way that shocked even myself. If only the rest of the film had been this way … what a surprising film this would have been.

Overall, I believe this film, if done correctly, could be the first science fiction film ever to win an Oscar for best film. The themes are universal and the looming future is closer than we think. Yet, Truffaut could not handle this. He and Werner's arguing created a difficult mess of mixed emotions and sub-par casting. Roeg's scenes were brilliant, but couldn't save this sinking ship. "Fahrenheit 451" had potential, but failed on nearly every level. If you choose to view this film, check out the final scene in which Truffaut finally understands Bradbury's work. Why did it take so long to discover the true meaning of the written page? Urg.

Grade: ** out of ***** (two stars for Roeg and Christie ONLY)

2 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
The Fabulous Baker Boys; or, the Art of the Cliché, 16 March 2010

In this tired tale, two brothers – semi-content with playing a lounge or two here or there – living in the past, consider the option of bringing a female singer into the act. One is the organizer, one is the chain-smoking wild-card that continually impresses the ladies, yet has a stronger passion for the keys. It won't take a rocket scientist to realize which is which based on mere talent alone. Throw into the mix a husky female singer, a mistaken love, and chaos between a seemingly stable piano act. As our film winds down, cliché over recycled cliché is used to tear these brothers apart, and slowly bring them back together – in an awkward way. While the film boasts collaboration between two of Hollywood's biggest brothers (one a recent Oscar winner), great piano music, and the quintessential red-dress-on-piano scene, what this film actually delivers is merely a tired script, an overused plot devise, and lines that could have been promoted by anyone with an Acting 101 degree. While the concept seems dramatic, the final result of this feature (despite the numerous awards) felt disappointing. Brotherly love destroyed by inevitable change?

There were a couple of small elements to this film that worked, ensuring that "The Fabulous Baker Boys" was more than just a one-star movie. Bridges, muscled down by the day-to-day life of being a piano player, is watchable. His apathy towards all situations coupled with his "Joe Cool" smoking-attitude, creates the correct amount of tension with unknown to keep the plot slowly moving in the right direction. Beau, the weaker big-screen actor (better able to manage the television roles), tries to keep up, but what tries to be anger ends up just being a man with big eyes and anger-spit. But, on with the positives…the Bridges' music was, for lack of a better word, fabulous. Without making the guess if it was them playing, the tone of each of the songs respectively worked in their scenes. Along with the music, the visions of LA worked to show that in a city that never sleeps, these two brothers will always have work. Keep the drinks flowing, and you are sure to be a crowd pleaser.

With some slight parts to make you enjoy the hour and a half of a band's destruction, the rest just crumbled quickly. To begin, while the pairing of Beau and Jeff seemed powerful on paper, the screen told otherwise. Absolutely, the two were able to play their respective roles well – Jeff the darkened, smoking, looming brother – while Beau played the optimist, looking to keep his dream (or business) alive. The issue with the Bridges' is that they are too far apart. There is never a scene to show their chemistry together as amazing pianists. Instead, we see through posters that at once they were happy, but those days are long gone. We begin our film on a downtrodden note, and it never quite picks itself up from that even when the brothers seem to be back on top again. Director Steve Kloves never gives us, the audience, an opportunity to cheer for Jeff and Beau's happiness. Instead, we are forced to suffer right along with them, picking ourselves up after each depressing hour. The same can be said for Pfeiffer, and while Oscar-nomination, Golden Globe-winning, still means something – her portrayal of Susie Diamond just wasn't breakthrough enough to be remembered after 1990. The prostitute-turned-singer routine has been done in Hollywood, over and over and over; and not to sound repetitive, better. Pfeiffer's husky voice (at times in tune, at times not), and butch demeanor, did create a sex-symbol, but instead another tragic character. While I agree, the story isn't conducive to happiness; somebody should have considered it as an opportunity to see these characters differently. It would have added a new layer to their characters, allowing for a stronger emotional punch at the end.

As our characters floundered through their roles, playing piano and off-beat singing, the story was another part that just fell short – forcing our characters to have mixed material to work with and missed character opportunity. "The Fabulous Baker Boys" as a film doesn't work, as a television mini-series perhaps it would have been better. There is too much left on the table from writer-director Kloves that nothing evolves. Scenes like upstairs neighbor of Jeff's that is like his mother, busting the dog out of the vet, smelling bathroom equipment, and destroying memorabilia, look good on paper, but without the correct backing just doesn't feel finished. That is the overall feel with "Baker Boys", a sense that scenes, moments, and plot-points went unfinished. Kloves isn't the best in handling the talent he has hired. From leaving cameramen in shots to overusing the piano music, Kloves believes in his work (there is no argument there), but his execution is fallible. Why would you use piano music as your theme music when the Bridges are playing piano music as well? This was horrible. With strong keys being played by the brothers, the cheesy background music just diluted the overall feel. It is the perfect example of having authentic reality and a cheap knock-off. With lacking characters, it would be up to Kloves to cover the differences, but he can't control what is happening. His camera direction, musical focus, and story have too many flawed plot holes that instead of a creative story, we are left with a sad overused cliché. I would agree that these boys are "Fabulous", but Kloves couldn't prove it. His scientific directional equation remains a hypothesis.

Overall, I wasn't a fan of this film. Our mood, music, and plot points were all misused and poorly developed. Our story, cliché after cliché, didn't feel original or exciting. There needed to be some brightness at the end of our tunnel, but nobody could demonstrate this. It was corrosive and disappointing.

Grade: * ½ out of *****

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A Face in the Crowd; or, Andy Griffith's Missed Oscar, 10 March 2010

Like the roar of a lion or the maniacal laugh of thousands, Andy Griffith burst on the screen with a performance unmatched in the past 53 years. Using the direction of the infamous Elia Kazan, and words by Budd Schulberg, "A Face in the Crowd" transformed from a personal struggle with fame into a political statement of power. Since the birth of radio and television, or even before, the concept of celebrity followed side by side. This select 1% of the population was used to sell ads, promote products, and lastly, entertain the populous. Not much has changed as Hollywood has evolved; the wealthy still control and the audience still depend on their favorite voice to tell them what to get at the grocery store. The interesting point about this, explored deeply in Schulberg's script, is how quickly the mass audiences can casual drop one figure and follow anew. As one reads this review, the teens may have forgotten the Jonas Brothers and found a new follower, our Late Night hosts may all have new faces, and our "Avatar" may not be barreling through the theaters. Even as I write this, it feels stale. Surprisingly, watching "A Face in the Crowd" for the first time, there was a lack of preparedness for these points. One doesn't expect such a modern film found in 1957 (much less lead by the sheriff of Mayberry), but within the first twenty minutes, the average viewer will be surprised by what the screen allows. With bold direction, amazing acting, and valid, detailed points about our entertainment industry, "A Face in the Crowd" makes its mark in 1957 and remains valuable today in 2010 – one could even argue MORE valuable today.

While watching this film, there is one person that steals the screen in the opening minutes and never releases for a solid two hours. His name is Andy Griffith, and while he will always be known as the quintessential small town hero, his film debut proved his range went further. With a diabolical laugh, a country-boy appeal, and a voice that could swoon anyone within an earshot, he takes what should have been a role for a seasoned veteran, and creates this iconic role that, after watching the film, could only be done by Mayberry himself. From his introduction in a cell recovering from a drunken disorderly charge, he finds his escape in the form of Patricial Neal, who in turn, introduces Griffith to the world of radio; aka mass audiences. Using a form of trickery, Neal demonstrates Griffith's power and the world welcomes him (unsuspectingly) with open arms. The small town of Arkansas does anything he wants, but he doesn't stop there. By becoming our very first Howard Stern, he does what he wants and says anything at all – and becomes the infamous "Demigod in Denim". The shift in Griffith's character is subtle, yet somewhat planned. He portrays Lonesome Rhodes as a man inheriting luck, but the calculated look on his face indicates otherwise. That is the perplexity of Griffith, one believes that it is just him being himself, but he peppers within his lines these moments of unknown – where perhaps this was Rhodes' plan all along. Bridled next to both Neal, who adds a strong level of support, sexuality, and madness, and a youthful Walter Matthau who brings the final worded-axe down at the finale; it doesn't surprised the ability and range that Griffith had to accomplish. The acting in this film will not only surprise, but also impress. This is the type of quality that Hollywood could produce, yet rarely do we see.

Having just finished "Cabin in the Cotton", a film that used politics as a miscalculation to cinema, it was impressive to see Elia Kazan handle this issue with artistic talent as well as solid direction. Despite his dismay in Hollywood, his talent behind the camera glimmered in this feature as colors (blacks and whites) were bold, the symbolism was apparent, and the emotions were captured perfectly. He guided Neal through her tragic turn, while keeping Matthau solid as a rock throughout. He controlled Griffith, while allowing him to run throughout the scenes with ease. "Face in the Crowd" is a difficult film to direct, as there is both emotion and intent running rampant, but Kazan proves the he can handle Schulberg's words. There are scenes that just feel, and look, more modern than 1957. The one that immediately pops into mind is the montage surrounding Rhodes' introduction into Vitajex. The blend of animation, perverse snippets, and that disturbing laugh didn't feel old – it felt like a moment taken from 2010 (just in black and white). There are others like that scene throughout. The baton competition was one of the most intensely awkward scenes, as we knew what was happening, but didn't want to believe it. Again, modern ideas strewn throughout 1957, where the average '57 film felt didn't push the envelope – Kazan didn't care about the envelope.

Finally, Schulberg's script has to be one of the best Hollywood stories to come out of that town. The images of Griffith laughing stapled behind several TV antennae, just barely scares the average viewer. Schulberg, like Kazan, isn't afraid of his idea. He pushes from radio to television, an audience of one to millions upon millions, and finally guiding politicians into office. Does this feel like an old idea? The modern implications are outstanding. The language as well, coming from Griffith (who had to ad-lib some) is wildly entertaining, but subtly symbolic, and those final thoughts by Matthau require another viewing just to hear again. Everyone, from writing to direction to acting, gave "Face in the Crowd" more than 100% of their talent, and this critic believes that Griffith may have fallen into the Mayberry sinkhole too soon. If this was his ability, he was surely wasted in Hollywood.

Bravo across the board, BRAVO!

Grade: ***** out of *****

3 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Cabin in the Cotton; or How Two Wrongs Still Make A Wrong, 3 March 2010

Described as a political film, coupled with love, betrayal, and valor "The Cabin in the Cotton" successfully touches on everything that it promises. There is no denying that fact. Bette Davis plays the sultry love interest. Richard Barthelmess plays the hokey, dumbfounded man caught in the middle. The stage is set, angry plantation owners, angry growers, but (…and here comes the first analogy…) it feels as if "The Cabin in the Cotton" is a house, and while our players and writer may be doing the best they can, the foundation of it all was rushed, crafted by items found at a refuse lot, not new material. This film represents the idea of quantity over quality. Warner, head of the studio at the time, knew that he could use these raw goods and create a political mafioso about the current American economic standard. The problem, which became apparent 15 minutes into the film, is that this film has no direction. The cloud of romance is in one corner, the air of politics is in another, and then we have this deep lacking history of the south that seems to loom all around like a fog - yet none blend together. None built together a strong enough foundation, or subsequent walls, to make "The Cabin in the Cotton" anything more than just an opportunity to see Bette Davis use good lines.

Watched within a group, this reviewer was the only one to question the "Cabin in the Cotton" point. What was the focus of this film? When did poor construction pass for great film-making? From the opening definition of the obscure family to the over-hyped courtroom scene in which the point that two wrongs obviously make a right – nothing is defined or developed. But, let's begin at the start. Our actors. Bette Davis, playing a New York Southerner was worth the 78-minutes alone. She was handed some of the greatest lines, some of the sauciest scenes, and completely went perpendicular to her co-star, Barthelmess, who – honestly, didn't feel comfortable going from silent to sound. He was a classic example of a star that may have been big during the silent era, but couldn't translate well beyond that. As he lurched around everything in this film, he successfully was able to demonstrate that no chemistry was needed to act with Bette Davis. Then, with no emotion for nearly ¾ of the film, he is asked to inspire at the end. He is asked to raise his voice, demonstrate his chops, and ultimately fail miserably. If we couldn't believe that he could "woo" Bette Davis, why would I believe that he could inspire a group of angry men? I couldn't. The remaining actors fell into two categories; either angry or angrier. There was little sympathy coming from anyone, much less our main actors. Again, I ask, why would I then feel emotion for this film?

With our actors causing problems over problems (the excuse, "It was made in 1932" doesn't cut it), you are left with the story. Does "Cabin in the Cotton" work with just the story, as our characters (again, outside of Bette Davis) flounder throughout – does this political film work? To me, it did not. The lacking construction of developing the poor characters makes this film fail, on every level. Director Michael Curtiz, obviously working for the Hollywood factory, didn't even bother finishing scenes. He provided us with Point-A (the boy), Point B (the crime), Point C (the courtroom) and nothing else. There was a random lynching which was used to heighten an already depressed emotion, but it failed. When our only reaction between Barthelmess and his crew was anger, why would he be upset by a lynching? The consistency just wasn't there. Rumor had it that Mr. Norwood provided an education for Barthelmess' character – but again, my argument, there wasn't any connection between anyone. No connection between Barthelmess and his ladies, none between Barthelmess and the cotton pickers, none between him and the plantation owners – nothing. The glue to the film isn't even strong enough to keep our central guys together, why would it care about the background? Questions plague this review, but they plagued me while watching this film. I understood the political nature of the film, I loved Bette Davis' line, but everything else was atrocious. There was no redeeming value to this film, perhaps political, perhaps love story – who knows!?

As this review wraps, I continue to think perhaps I have misjudged what this film represents. Maybe it was only supposed to be a political film, an allegory to the truth of what conditions were like in the south, or in the USA, but then I think about other films, like "My Man Godfrey" made four years later – and how well developed that film was. Why couldn't "Cabin in the Cotton" be more like that? Why did our lead actor have to be so horrid at his job? Questions that will remain unanswered through the cinematic time vault. For anyone new to "Cabin in the Cotton" beware, it is worthy of only seeing a young Bette Davis … nothing else.

Overall, in case it wasn't obvious, "Cabin in the Cotton" was a failure. Davis, and her lines, allow for one star, but that is it. Nothing worked, from the acting to the direction to the construction of the film, it just didn't work from one scene to the next. The value of this film was missing. What was this film? Political. Love story. Random family? Nothing made sense, and while I will remain in the minority, I ask you to revisit this film and see what makes it spark. In the end it was a wasted 78 minutes.

Grade: * out of *****

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Cabaret Balkan; or a dark night in Belgrade, 2 March 2010

Finding myself on a bit of a VHS watching spree, I settled down with my trusty Toshiba and allowed the tracking to take its course. The first film, a VHS rarity from 1998 (surprisingly no DVD option yet), gave the opportunity to tour the back roads of Belgrade without leaving the comfort of the couch. It was dark, it was disruptive, it was random; it was "Cabaret Balkan". Told in a storyline similar to that of recent films like "Babel" or "Amores Perros", "Cabaret Balkan" takes a socially dynamic state, gives the viewers a smorgasbord of one-dimensional characters, and allows the traveling to begin. As a tourist destination, one may consider booking another location, but as a cinematic endeavor, it packs light punches, interesting stories, and that seedy darkness that seems to follow Serbia wherever it goes. From one sad story to the next, we are forced to enter the lives of virtual unknown, to ask ourselves what would be our response in a similar situation, and to accept – willing or unwilling – that this film speaks the truth. That chaos is normal in Belgrade. To believe that a normal passenger, on a normal night, can easily become twisted in the evil that stirs in this cold city. "Cabaret Balkan" asks quite a bit from its viewers, in essence to extend belief and trust that these "endings" speak for an entire world, but if you allow your mind to watch, your belief to be suspended, "Balkan" proves to be spooky, entertaining, and vividly depressing all at once.

For those unwilling to experiment back with the VHS option, this is a film saturated in colorful characters. From fighting best friends, to a corrupt cop finding his comeuppance, to a bickering couple found in the worst situation possible, all the way to a man determined to win the heart of his sweetheart, "Cabaret Balkan" will take you on one wild ride. Despite our characters moving here and there, "Balkan" is one of those films that initially makes you think, "That was a depressing film", but after thinking further one can still say this was a depressing film, but it worked. It makes you think about the lifestyles of the less-fortunate in these areas, it makes you consider the place and the people – transforming what happens in Belgrade and putting into modern life, no matter where you live. That is why "Balkan" resonates. It takes over-hyper events and somehow settles them into reality. This is not an easy task as each "story" shows a different side of this city, or of the human relation, but as the stories continue to blend, adding layer upon layer – "Balkan" becomes a stronger and stronger film.

Alas, this isn't a film for everyone. Critics would argue that the inconsistent blend between the stories diminished the opportunity for authentic drama. Critics would argue that the disassociation between American audiences and what is political in Serbia would pull from the central focus. Critics would argue that not enough development of our characters hurt the overall effect of Dejan Dukovski's written word. In a small sense, they are right. "Cabaret Balkan" isn't without its faults, and casual film watchers would probably agree as initially this film just feels lackluster, but it is what remains in your mind long after the final credits rolled that makes this film applaud. It is a film that obviously tackled some difficult issues, in a place where difficult situations occur as the norm. The turning point for this film viewer was the story of the man trying to win his woman's heart. With orchestra and dog in hand, we follow him throughout his possible release until the climactic moment, but the eventual outcome of his sincere efforts is what shows the true horror that "Balkan" is trying to bring to light. My argument would be that perhaps it needed to end with this singular story, instead of the choice ending with the sadist and couple. To me, that story felt the least developed and utterly awkward. Realizing that it isn't Disney, it still felt choppy and misappropriated. As one small flaw for this film, in my eyes, would be this choppiness of getting from point A to point B. Perhaps it was the budget or just the lack of experience, but "Balkan" isn't subtle. The flow of scene to scene isn't there, and it demonstrates the struggles of our people (I get that), but a stronger frame to this film would have only heighted the experience.

This was a decent endeavour into a world I knew very little about. It is a film that resonates long after it is over. It continues to surprise that this little independent feature still hasn't seen a DVD light of day yet. A broader audience would appreciate what our director was trying to create here.

Overall, would I suggest this film to a friend or family member? I believe so. It had a strong enough messages, despite the lacking characters, and it felt fresh. It was dark, foreign, and sporadic – but it stayed consistent throughout. There were faults, many of which I mentioned earlier, but because of the final effort – it stood out. A DVD edition would be great, but this little VHS worked its magic well for a night where cinema reigned supreme.

Grade: **** out of *****

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; or the birth of the horror genre, 24 February 2010

To watch "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" will mean more than just sitting do with some popcorn, a beer, and relaxing on the comfy chair. It is an experience. For a film that is 90-years old, it will mentally challenge, visually stun, and grossly entertain you for the mere 70-ish minutes that it lasts. The version watched, the "Special Collector's Edition" streamed, also provided with comic-styled flash cards that gave us this silent film's voice. Yet, with all this strength, the film isn't without its flaws. The brevity means quick segments, underdeveloped plot, and a twist that seems to come from left field. Watched within the availability of a group, there was decidedly a mixed feel about this film. Many enjoyed, and applauded, the German Expressionism used to create the world, as it has been eerily used time and time again in modern cinema (i.e. Tim Burton's "Batman"), yet others seemed to mock the unknown. They followed the film throughout the course, confused as to when it was going to wrap up, and when it did – the ending seemed more rushed than surprising. While there were both applause and nays within the group, the one element that stood out – which demonstrates the cinematic power of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"" – is that they all wanted to see it again.

"Caligari" introduces a new viewer to the world of German Expressionism, and the creativity doesn't stop there. With bold, "Pee-Wee's Playhouse"-like doors, Burton-esquire buildings, and a dream-like town, director Robert Wiene (along with his set designer and cinematographer) was well beyond the 1900s. Their vision proved that dark can be fun, that the unknown will still scare, and the mind, well, it is a terrible thing to waste. Imagine watching this film in 1920, when the cinema was still an infant. The sheer horror that audiences would have felt ooze from the screen, it is dark, it is disturbing, and - even with standards today - it is scary. Audiences beware, this is no "Saw" or "Hostel", but the creativity behind this feature is stronger than these modern "classics". The argument could even be presented that if it weren't for this film, the horror genre wouldn't exist today. "Caligari" is that impressive. For those that haven't seen, be prepared.

This film worked because of what our group was considerably mixed on, the unknown. For me, the uniqueness of the story allowed for depth and the macabre to soak through. Couple this with the visuals, and "Caligari" transforms into more than just pioneering cinema - it becomes a grandiose story that requires several viewings in darkened rooms. The cerebral nature keeps conversation flowing and that "unknown" that I have spoken of, strong. Yet, there is a fault with this film. While I praise the story, cinematography, and the twist; the development was a bit slow at times. Perhaps it is the fast-paced nature of today's movies, but the center of this film seemed to drag and push nowhere. The pacing begins strong, with an introduction into two stranded unknowns, but as the reveal occurs, one can find themselves dozing off - questioning the reason for one scene over the other (i.e. the entire wrong murder suspect). Yes, the value of those scenes do semi-make sense, but for a 70-ish minute long film, there were moments that were difficult to enjoy. Also, perhaps it is just this special edition, but the flash-card dialogue seemed a bit too uplifting for this film. Yes, they were easy to read, yes, the first couple were fun to see, but overall, the choice of these over your typical ones created a missing sense of dread. The dark elements seemed lighter, while the light elements seemed more positive than they should have been. If there were a fault with this film, it would be these small issues. I believe that the KINO edition perhaps does a stronger job with the flash-card issues.

Due to the brevity of this film, I don't want to sound repetitive with the elements that I loved vs. those that I could have done without, so - to wrap this review up - here are two breathtaking, and innovative, scenes from this film that will go down in cinematic infamy. The use of "special effects" to show the insanity of the word "Caligari" thus into a surprising transformation. Unique for its time, it also showed that this film not only was bold visually, but also technically. The second scene that was favored was when our suspected murder walks away with our quintessential damsel in distress. The camera work, the artwork, the way the body looks real, but obviously isn't was planned precisely. These are two strong scenes from an already great film.

Overall, despite my minor setbacks when watching this, I loved "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". The visuals (again) were stunning, the story was breathtaking, and the originality of everyone involved far surpasses that of which is released today. The closest I could come to would be Terry Gilliam, old Tim Burton, or Fritz Lang (who was originally asked to direct this film). I suggest this to everyone, horror fanatics or not - this is just a great film and a strong piece of cinematic history.

Grade: ***** out of *****

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Cabin Fever; or a good reason to just drink beer in the woods, 21 February 2010

Watching "Cabin Fever" reminded me of the fun one could have while making a horror film. One could argue that modern horror is too detailed, over-produced, under talented, and quintessentially making the same mold over and over merely for cinema dollars. The argument is tired, but true. Made in 2002, and only grossing about 21 million, this was a small blip on everyone's radar. Found randomly on DVD one October at my local video store, "Cabin Fever" was a means to merely scare a gathering of friends, or perhaps just gather some laughs. Little did we realize that this was something stronger than just your average teen-horror flick. Director Eli Roth (speaking pre-"Hostel") knew his horror genre. Being an assistant with David Lynch for many years, he understands that spooky doesn't mean linear, that blood does come in gallon containers and the more obscure the better. "Cabin Fever" proved that with mediocre dialogue, great horror shots, and the fear of the unknown (which was left unknown throughout the film). He tells us the fears, but not his characters – giving us tension with the horror. While "Hostel" seems too mainstream and less Lynch-ian for my standards, "Cabin Fever" complete with "pancakes", "Denis", the box, and the fear of this backwoods community, is that diamond in the rough. This singular film demonstrated the power behind Roth, and his missed opportunity for films to come.

There is no arguing that this is an amateur film. The edits are rough, the story is haphazard, and the characters are bland, but what is impressive is the passion behind the camera. The flux of different genres blended together proves that Roth had done his homework, that he loves horror, and wasn't afraid of taking chances. He created a horror film without giving us a monster, the choice of a faceless virus wreaking havoc onto a group of unsuspecting teens was bold, but worked perfectly. Fear was created within the unknown, or more importantly, from what we knew but our characters did not. Cliché to the hilt, our leaders in this rag-tag group of C-actors (of which our leader is the boy from "Boy Meets World") try to break the mold, but nothing spectacular comes of it. This, oddly, works for "Cabin Fever" because the core of the film doesn't need popular faces, but instead a stark need for bleak realism. As horror watchers, we know that the outcome for those with cliché lines is not positive, so Roth plays with that. He builds non-existent characters to run around screaming, while we scream back. "Go out of the woods" – "Get in the cabin" – "Don't stare at the naked woman" – "Get help!" are all things not said within the film, but instead in the audience. Roth pulls you in. Instead of being a mere spectator, "Cabin Fever" asks you to be involved.

Two big scenes (amongst many) stand out as reasons to watch this film. Whether you are a horror fan or not, these two speak volumes of what Roth learned from Lynch when working together. The first is Dennis. The child at the store that has a fascination with biting people that sit next to him, who loves pancakes, and equally enjoys karate moves – was one of those moments that proved Roth's loyalty to the trade. The slow motion karate reminded me of "Twin Peaks" and the music that accompanied added to that feel. The entire station was pulled from a Lynch world, and I would have considered this theft if the two hadn't worked together. Instead, it felt more like a homage, a brief "thank you" to Roth's mentor. With that said, the second scene that speaks volumes of Roth's talent is something that he has carried with him throughout his "Hostel" years. The unknown. Without spoiling anything, when our group of gun-toting locals arrive to the cabin, two have guns while one merely carries a box. When two fall shy of their goals, the other merely attempts to open a box as his form of defense. What was in that box? What could have protected him? This is the unknown makes "Cabin Fever" stand out stronger than others of this genre released at the same time. Sure, it's small – but the effect and conversation that follows with your peers is sublime.

Again, "Cabin Fever" wasn't the bee's knees of horror films, but unlike Roth's future endeavors it demonstrated his ability to take a small idea and blossom it into true fear. Many will probably not enjoy this film, seeing "Hostel" as his penultimate work, this will seem lackluster – but for those nay-sayers against his torture-porn, this is a throwback to a stronger era of horror movie-making. One part David Lynch, one part "Wrong Turn", and one part "The Stand" (that's a lot of parts) – Roth proves that he can handle a camera, a story, and a crew whilst scaring us, grossing us out, and creating a world within a world.

Overall, I am not afraid to say that I like "Cabin Fever". When I first saw it I was impressed by what little I understood and what Roth spoon-fed me. I thought he was a director to watch, and I still think he has quite a bit of potential, but to be remembered merely for "Hostel" just doesn't cut it. "Cabin Fever" is a great entry into the world of horror, creating genuine scares and following a predesigned structure (not a bad thing for this film) – he uses his own techniques to tell his story. "Cabin Fever" remains a strong entry into the world of horror. If you are new to Roth, I say start here – if you are disappointed with his future work – go back and see this again. You will not be disappointed.

Grade: **** out of *****

Cabaret (1972)
14 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Cabaret; or how to wave goodbye at emotionless friends, 16 February 2010

"Cabaret" boasted big songs, big ideas, and big actors … yet it felt long, dull, and convoluted to say the least. Edging on the historical, but focusing mainly on a squabble of young love, the muddled themes of originality, independence, and sexual revolution seemed to take backstage for overacting, choppy editing, and a twisty story that begs for more but desires nothing. In the Oscar world of "The Godfather" vs. "Cabaret", the obvious winner is Coppola's film – but how did "Cabaret" even get in the running? As it took me nearly three viewings to conquer this behemoth, one has to question the 1972 value, and whether this musical stands up next to the others nearly 40 years later. In this reviewer's opinion, it is an obvious "no", but arguments will apparently follow.

If discussing this film around the cinematic water cooler, there would be no doubt Joel Grey would be discussed. His portrayal, as small as it was, as the infamous Master of Ceremonies has yet to be repeated in any film to date. In various moments "Cabaret" felt like it was directed by Terry Gilliam, complete with the flash and darkness subsequent in his features. Joel Grey brought it to the table, and will forever be a frightening, yet influential image in my mind. He made the nearly 2-hours redeemable. The excitement in his swagger coupled with his level of pizazz completely overshadowed his co-star Minnelli whenever the two shared the screen. His performance alone, the transformation itself, is what made "Cabaret" worth a view. It was he and Minnelli's duet of "Money Makes the World Go Round" that saved this film from utter obliteration. It was reminiscent of a modern day "Moulin Rouge", but it was the surrounding story – without surrounding characters – that caused the pain known as "Cabaret". One must also applaud Bob Fosse for his direction, for without him, these dark scene filmed with Grey would have just been as bland as the story. Fosse took this flimsy story of three characters that we are emotionally void for, and pulled in some great song and dance numbers to buffer the pain that was sure to follow. His work on "Lenny" was outstanding, and while this didn't speak as greatly, you could see his influences on the script and final edit.

To bookend the positive, one must also ask "Where did 'Cabaret' fail?" Without wasting pages of words, "Cabaret" failed because of the sloppy editing, the poorly developed historical slant, and due to the massive disappointment from the actors. This could have been a memorable song-and-dance rooted with historical symbolism-esquire film, but instead fell flat thanks mainly to the horrible nature of Liza Minnelli. Her flat voice matched well with her disassociated character, which carried no emotion, flaunted no values, yet tried to win our heart. She sang decently, but I just couldn't stand behind her as a central focus. Her entire relationship with Michael York is flippant. Does she love him? Does she love money? What is her true background? What does she want from life? Mix these unanswered questions with the uncomfortable hint of sexuality between York and Minnelli, and you have nearly 90% of this movie. From Minnelli's undefined character, to the passive aggressive York duel-jobbing as both language educator and African safari supporter, there just isn't a character you can stand behind. As we get close to the middle of the film, our writer seems to realize this and the extremely vague Maximilian is introduced as a man who enjoys the company of both Minnelli and York. For "Cabaret" to work, there needed stronger characters for us to follow – ones that were defined, yet complex, not just jumping from emotion to emotion. How did Minnelli win an Oscar for this mess?

Outside the of intermittent use of Grey, our writer - Jay Presson Allen – tried to incorporate what was happening in Germany at the time with the Nazi movement, with the chaos of a cabaret show. In theory, this would be a great idea – but it failed because of again, the lack of focus with our characters. In one scene we are troubled by York's disagreement with one of Minnelli's haphazard choices (a big decision that was diminished by choice) and in the next, we are dissecting the idea of a German Jew. It just didn't flow well together. In another scene, we are forced to listen to a young Nazi soldier sing a ballad that evokes singing from everyone – and our characters just drive away. For me, to best summarize this film would be one of the final scenes between York and Minnelli as she takes him to the train station. She leaves by merely waving her hand, demonstrating her care for the characters and ours as well. When this film was over, I took it out of my player, walked away waving unemotionally. "Cabaret" failed because there was nothing for the audience to hold onto. When the breakout actor was someone that didn't speak but merely sang that should speak about how the film as a whole turned out.

Overall, both with presentation and delivery, "Cabaret" failed. Minnelli's acting and eyes told a different story, and portrayed a character that just didn't fit for a feature film. What was attempted as original just felt stale after the first several scenes. Fosse's direction and Grey's performance are the only two saving qualities of this film, as the flakey York does his best as a love interest. The dual sexual roles are just too abashing for both the actors and the viewers. I was eager to witness this film, but nearly 40 years later, this film has not held up. Bravo to small part and big directors, "boo" to those that think Minnelli can carry her weight as an Oscar winning actress.

** Waves eagerly as you leave this review **

Grade: * ½ out of *****

2 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Lady and the Tramp; or the battle between freedom and family?, 7 February 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Disney factory (using the word factory is an accurate representation) has been creating childhood favorites since the early 30s – and continue to push the boundaries of animation for children today with partnering with the hugely popular PIXAR as well as their most recent outing, "The Princess and the Frog". There is no child growing up today that doesn't know the name Mickey Mouse in some form or another – and that is an impressive feat for any studio. With that said, Disney's normal focus is animating classic fairy tales like "Pinocchio" or "Cinderella" or "Snow White", but sometimes they take a classic tale and rework it using common household animals. That is the case with "Lady and the Tramp"; my first Disney animated film to review. It is the infamous tale of young rapscallion winning the heart of a wealthy woman, but now instead of people – we have dogs. Made in 1955, this was probably another groundbreaking work for Disney, but watching it now in 2010, it has the feeling of being rushed, underdeveloped, and weak on story. So, I ask again – could Disney have created a film that was merely "mediocre"?

We begin with Lady being given to Darling as a gift one Christmas. She is an obnoxious puppy who desires the attention of her owners. Through years of gift giving and love, she finds comfort in the normality of their life. This is all about to change as our nuclear family decides to add another bundle of joy to the mix. With skepticism abound, Lady learns to love the changes and the new family. It is about this time that Tramp enters the picture. Representing the care-free, baby-less, lifestyle of living without a collar, he demonstrates the power of a small community, but also shows us (the viewers) the darkness surrounding this town. On the run from both the Pound and a sordid past, he eventually runs into Lady and one could say, "…it was love at first sight…". As Darling and Jim Dear embark on a trip, an unknown relative comes to stay with two typecast Siamese cats. Songs, chases, and rats round out this story, that goes from light to bleak to dark again as Disney creates this seemingly dystopian world for the child audience.

I am aware that we all know the story, but the recap was needed to show a point about Disney's use of class and status in this film. As a casual viewer, many will argue that this is just a children's film – leave it be, but these are the images surrounding our children. Lady comes from an upper class family, with no worry of consequence; she and her friends go through the day oblivious to the world around them. Tramp, coming from the other side of the tracks (literally) represents the middle-to-lower class people. He finds friendship in the shop owners and transients of this town. What impressed me about this film was how dark and ill-created the lower part of town was, and Disney isn't afraid to show it. The dirt roads, the black (or darkened) buildings, the fact that a storm arrives just as they head to town; it is night whenever Lady is away from her house. Let's not forget as well, the rat comes out of a hole with a poster for the circus right above. This demonstrates another transient profession that is somehow darkened by this film. The stark use of light and dark in this film is used not only for tone, but also a world outside of the white picket fences and collars.

What is the impression handed to children with this imagery? If you want children or the house with the white picket fence, or safety – you need to be like Lady. While if you want to see the world, experience life without a collar, one would need to live like Tramp. What makes this reality odd is Tramp's choice? To see this point clearer, look at Tramp's "friends". Where are they at the end of the film? Nobody comes to visit, they could be dead (Disney handed us that bleak image near the middle of the film), while the entire time they are speaking of him as a saint and great friend. Nobody came to bail Pedro, Toughy, or Peg out. Was this the happy ending we all wanted?

With the undertones exposed, how was the remainder of the film? While it carried some iconic images, the overall pacing of the film was a bit sloppy. As this is a story with two sets of eyes, we are never quite given a full story on either. Lady's story is further developed, while Tramp just seems to be inserted for merely the "cause and effect" storyline. The voice work was decent in this film. The 76-minute run seemed nothing like a sprint. I think it was because I cared nothing for these dogs. They were beautifully drawn, but more development was needed. The "evil" rat was introduced twice, and represented the darkness creeping into suburbia, but it just wasn't enough to pull Lady and the Tramp together. What did Lady really want in life? My ending question – why was she denied it?

Overall, this wasn't a bad Disney movie; it just wasn't one of the greatest. I felt the symbolism was overbearing as well as the choices made to be a bit misleading for children. The characters of Lady and Tramp seemed one dimensional at times, lacking in the ability to pull me back into a second viewing. The songs were low-key and outside of the Siamese cats' duet, forgotten.

Grade: *** out of *****

4 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
The Ladykillers; or how to waste an actor's talent..., 2 February 2010

Sir Alec Guinness. Young Peter Sellers. An Oscar-nominated screenplay by William Rose. An old British woman who foils them all. With all of these factors racing towards the finish line, one could imagine the hilarity that was to follow. Alas, after the first twenty minutes, it seemed to all come to a screeching halt. Yes, there were comic moments, genius creativity, and excitement in the air, but as a whole, "The Ladykillers" was more a hodgepodge of could-be-great ideas mixed together with poor execution and a misuse of the actors' ability on-screen than a laugh-out-loud comedy. Yes, this was a "dark" comedy, and the ending solidifies that idea, but what was lacking within the story was the actual comedy itself. With such actors like Guinness, or Peter Sellers, or Danny Green; director Alexander MacKendrick had loads of opportunity to transform this film into a cult classic, to unleash the potential hidden within his players. Too bad he missed the opportunity. With a intriguing story, a fun old lady, and a misused cast, "The Ladykillers" may have been bold for the time, but today it just felt stale, slow, and misplaced. How could a film with so much potential fall so flat?

Our story begins promising; with a little old lady (Ms. Lopsided) talking to the police about how there weren't aliens in her friend's garden. As she travels home a looming figure follows her. MacKendrick does a great job of creating early tension, this unknown of who is going to arrive at the door or what the motives may be. As Guinness rings the bell, the shadow is revealed to have large fake teeth and a comb-over. This random act of costume design demonstrates the ability of comedy on both the part of the actor and the director. As Guinness swoops into his charming devilish self, the dynamic between him and the old lady becomes the crux of this film. MacKendrick must realize that the two have chemistry (or that the two were the obvious focus of the film) because he focuses his entire remainder of the film on these two alone, oddly leaving everyone else in the wake of unknown. As we are introduced to the rest of the string quartet, as audience members, we have hope that these actors will provide us with genuine laughs. Perhaps some comedic parody or defined character humor, but there is none. Sellers is left with a cardboard character worthy of mere facial expressions and overblown acting. He is wasted because MacKendrick is too focused on Guinness. The same can be said for everyone else in the background the focuses more on cliché than on actual substantial characters. Major Courtney, One Round, Harry, and Louis are lost within the scene, leaving the audience to care nothing for them, giving us a less-involved ending.

With our major actors in no position to lead, we are left with a story that remains the excitement of this film. The heist scene alone is worth watching this movie for 90ish minutes. To have early scenes (and scenes after) carry the same theme song throughout, but then have no music at all during the heist – only enhanced the experience. Again, MacKendrick had to have known that he had a great script, I just wish he could have managed his actors a bit more. The choreography for the heist, as well as the cinematography, was pure caper. It was executed as well as any Michael Mann film could have dreamed. Everything from the actual robbery all the way until Mrs. Lopsided's role in the scheme was introduced was finely tuned. Even the escape, which kept me on my toes, seemed well developed and enjoyable – but then again, we seemed to come to another hodgepodge thematic and tone downfall. The introduction of the other old ladies was fun, but after that – when the group begins to implode, it just doesn't feel right. I was ready for the dark comedy, but there are always two parts to this – both the darkness and the comedy – and "The Ladykillers" was lacking in the latter.

So, the mix of bad characters with substantial plot really made this should-have-been great film into just another decent 50s British film. If MacKendrick would have focused a bit more on the actors' abilities than I think he would have had a solid film, but without it – it just felt disjoined, poorly edited, and a splattering of good points with bad. Overall, just a mediocre film.

Overall, I just wasn't as impressed as I wanted to be. It began with quite a bit of excitement and creativity, but by the end I just wanted it to be over. I wanted to get to know the other characters more; I wanted to see them evolve like I did the story. I had high hopes for Sellers, whom is merely a background character – demonstrating none of his ability. Guinness does shine, but he cannot carry this entire film. The old lady made me laugh, and while the reimagine is no better, I can see why the Cohen's wanted to remake their version. That final scene with the old lady was phenomenal, but why couldn't the rest of the film follow suit. Decent – but nothing worth keeping or watching again or again.

Grade: *** out of *****

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