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A DATE WITH JUDY was the filmed version of a popular radio show. FIlmed in 1948, it must have looked somewhat dated even when it first came out, considering the world was was well past World War II and much more adult fare was being filmed by then. But it is all in good, clean, innocent fun, as a 16 year old school girl has trouble with her date for the prom and imagined problems with her old man. Jane Powell is in magnificent voice as the spunky 16 year old, and a radiant Liz Tayor plays her closest friend and sometimes rival. Wallace Berry plays her rather aged dad and is in fine form, while Xavier Cugat and Carmen Miranda drop in for the fun. Lots of familiar character actor populate the sunny California town in which Powell and family reside.
STAGE DOOR CANTEEN tells the story of a bunch of servicemen spending their final evenings in a USO-type canteen in Manhattan, a mirror image of one out on the West Coast, called the Hollywood Canteen. Amazingly, the director manages to paint a fairly intimate portrait of what it's like to be waiting to be shipped off to an uncertain fate, during the darkest days of World War II (1942-1943). At the same time, he whips up a pleasant quasi-musical, with appearances by many of the leading big bands of the era, including those of Kay Kyser, Freddie Martin, Xavier Cugat, Benny Goodman and Count Basie, and lots of individual performers, including rubbery Ray Bolger, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, a slender, pre-BEAULAH Ethel Waters and a very young and blindingly beautiful Peggy Lee. Among the crowd, serving as busmen and servers, are dozens of stage and screen stars of the day, including Katharine Cornell, Ed Wynn, George Jessel, Ethel Merman, Harpo Marx, Hugh Herbert, Aline McMahon, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine, Merle Oberon, Helen Hayes and a radiant Katherine Hepburn, who steals the show with a brief patriotic speech at the close of this 132-minute classic film. The movie is timeless in its appeal, and you easily could substitute our ongoing war against Islamic terrorism for the Nazis and Nips cited here, and never know the difference. Other than a little corniness here and there, but a corniness that is oddly affecting, this is a movie to savor time and again.
ARTWORKS offers an interesting premise: a failed artist (Madsen) and a gallery owner (Rossovich) team up to steal paintings from the homes of the wealthy, all of whom are clients of the failed artist, who is currently employed as a home security specialist. Unfortunately, nothing particularly exciting or unusual emerges from this interesting plot line, and the all-too predictable ending rushes up on us, as if the filmmakers had run out of ideas or money, or both. Madsen is watchable, although considering she has several boudoir scenes, this gorgeous woman never completely disrobes, leaving this viewer greatly dissatisfied. Rossovich, who is miscast as a sensitive art lover, unfortunately does disrobe -- and shows no evidence of owning any underwear, which has to be a turnoff for anyone hygienically oriented, male or female. Daniel von Bargen, a great villain from many a past movie, here is miscast as Madsen's soft-spoken daddy, who just happens to be the chief of police. This has to have been made for cable. As such, one could have at least hoped for some steamy sex. If so, one will be greatly disappointed. It ain't here. Just some kissing and semi-clothed clinching that can be seen in any prime time TV show of the last 20 years. Hell, current late-evening, adult-oriented shows like RESCUE ME and NIP TUCK offer far better sex scenes.
11:14 is a smartly written and perfectly paced indie that owes much to Quentin T. and even MEMENTO. A fateful night is told from five different perspectives, all of which turn out badly. A lovemaking couple is interrupted by something in the graveyard, a cheating trollop becomes instant road kill, a stoner loses his penis the hard way, a convenience store clerk learns not to play with a loaded gun -- and they all come together in the end. The young writer-director of this farce deftly handles a first-rate cast that includes P. Swayze, R. Cook, H. Swank, H. Thomas, B. Hershey and S. Hatosi. Special mention should be given to Ms. Cook., who so convincingly plays a manipulative tramp with larceny on her mind. Her machiavellian plan sets off a chain of events that ends with two people dead and everyone else headed for hell or the hoosegow.
SNOW WALKER tells the tale of a downed pilot (Barry Pepper from "Saving Private Ryan") trying to survive in the Canadian wilderness. This modestly budgeted flick, based on a true story, was made by the guy who starred in NEVER CRY WOLF, Charles Smith, although it never quite achieves the level of that classic film. Pepper is very good as a self-absorbed young man who must come to grips with reality in order to survive. A real cutie and first-time actress, Annabella P., plays his Inuit companion who is dieing of TB. Their return to civilization, therefore, becomes a race against time in more ways than one. The film was shot on location on a tiny budget, but you would never know it. The cinematography and the music are absolutely breathtaking.
SMILE is an unimaginatively titled and terribly slow-moving but true account of a clueless California teenager who goes to China with a volunteer medical program, and comes face to face with the realities of the big bad world. The gal playing the airhead, Mika Boorem, is not bad but the movie really drags. I suspect it was shot for cable or TV. Very little happens in the first half. The finale, however, is cleverly done, employing still photos to tell the rest of the gal's story. SMILE will appeal most to young teens, but they probably will not have the patience to sit through the seemingly interminable first half. Beau Bridges has the thankless role of Boorem's long-suffering dad, and a "restored" Linda Hamilton (film fans will know whereof I speak) is her edgy, troubled mother.
The problem with HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN is while it is a polished production, it lacks true scares. Michael Myers is probably the least frightening slayer in cinematic history, even with frequent closeups of horribly scarred skin on the back of his hands caused by the fire in HALLOWEEN 2. In H-4, Michael is back and simply trudges about, knifing, throttling and impaling anyone or anything -- including a dog -- in his path. He has returned to Haddonfield to do in his 7-year-old niece, played by a fetching young thing, Danielle H., who unfortunately screams way too much (and which was solved in the followup, apparently filmed back to back with this, by having her play mute, presumably from shock). Donald Pleasance returns to good effect as the good doctor, with facial scars and a pronounced limp caused by the same conflagration at the end of H-2. Everyone else acts like wooden Indians. Just like Michael, come to think of it!
This modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes casts Rupert Everett as a Holmes who is clearly out of his element, much like Basil Rathbone in those cheapie Holmes flicks from the mid 40s that are set during WWII. Modern times (or 1902, in this case) foist upon the still-Victorian Holmes, and us, such unwanted contrivances as routine fingerprinting, telephones, cigarettes and crime "game" rooms. If you didn't know better, you might think you were watching an episode of LAW & ORDER. The plot is straight out of L&O as well: it's Holmes and Scotland Yard versus a fetishist serial killer. Holmes is so befuddled, he fails to see what we clearly see when it is discovered early on that the primary suspect's fingerprints do not match those taken from the crime scene. We then have to wait for Holmes to play catch up. How sad. I could have taken the change in era if the filmmakers had used an actual Conan Doyle plot. Everett is wasted, playing a chain-smoking, doped-up Holmes. We even get to watch him inject himself with cocaine in one scene, as if this was needed. We also get to watch Inspector Lestrade perform an L&O-style big whupping on the suspect.
PARANOID is a really bad British thriller that was offered at Blockbuster in a box that was for another movie bearing the same name, and which is why I picked it up in the first place. I thought I was getting Robert (TERMINATOR 2) Patrick in a crime flick and ended up with Iain Glen, perhaps the most wooden British actor to walk the earth, in a lame kidnap soap opera. And then there's Jessica Alba, who couldn't act if someone set her feet on fire -- which is what I was hoping Glen would do to her in this shambles of a movie. She becomes his captive, and spends the rest of the movie whining about it. The once-resplendent Jeanne (INDECENT EXPOSURE) Tripplehorn plays Glen's permanently inebriated and slovenly wife. The ending comes rather unexpectedly, I will admit, and adds a touch of humor (a very small touch) to the dreary proceedings. Watch this at your peril!
A French ghost movie, HOUSE OF VOICES is actually more of a mystery than horror film, about an abandoned orphanage apparently occupied by a little-seen group of "scary children." A caretaker tries to unravel their history and whereabouts in the cavernous building. In this regard, HOUSE is similar to THE OTHERS and even THE HAUNTING and THE SHINING. Unfortunately, their "mystery" is explained halfway through. From that point, we simply wait for the caretaker to discover the children's hiding place, and why they ended up there. A pretty young French actress of no discernible acting talent, Virginie Ledoyen, plays the inquisitive caretaker. The film is quite moody and atmospheric, but lacks scares. The ending is sad and melancholy, and may remind viewers of the Japanese ghost flick, DARK WATER, which was recently remade by Hollywood. It even bears faint echoes of the Spanish ghost classic, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE.
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