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21 reviews in total 
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Blitz Wolf (1942)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Not just for the kids, 24 October 2003

I was amused by the way some of the humor was aimed clearly over the heads of the younger end of the audience - and maybe some of the not-so-young-anymore realized they understood some of the humor, but knew better than to spoil their younger friends' innocence. It was fun watching the two naive piggies taunting their more serious kin, "You're diggin' a ditch - " and then freezing for a couple of seconds as they let the audience fill in the rest of the ditty in their heads.

All in all, another excellent (and enjoyably over-the-top) Tex Avery creation. Though the wolf isn't as top-notch an incarnation of the enemy as some of the other war cartoons employed, it's well in keeping with the tone and background of this entry.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Well-made war allegory, 24 October 2003

Although not quite on a level with other war-related cartoons like Der Fuehrer's Face or Russian Rhapsody, etc., this is a very well-done short. It should be noted that it is not a wholly comic cartoon, but a somewhat more somber take on the same theme, with various woodland animals being beaten (offscreen) by the sinister dictator-creatures standing in for Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. All the violent aspects are shown in shadows, etc; the onscreen interaction is of a more inspirational nature in encouraging free peoples to join in overthrowing dictatorship. The three villains are shown being driven toward a cliff, though their demise is not depicted. I note that there is also, to my mind, a certain level of unspoken tribute to Churchill and Britain.

This was released at about the same time as Disney released Bambi, and the animals created by Screen Gems for this film (especially the rabbits and chipmunks) bear some similarities to the Disney work in style and characterization, though the Fleischer style is also clearly visible in the appearance of the vulture and other of the darker aspects of the short.

A solid 8 of 10

7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Most unsubtly homoerotic movie I've seen this year, 21 August 2003

I found it remarkable that (aside from some less-than-persuasive leering comments), there's virtually no romantic male-female interaction in this (At least on the part of the two leads). On the other hand, the interaction between the two of them resembled nothing so much as the reconciliation between a couple that had gone through a previous painful breakup. From their opening fight scene (and the long languorous look between them as they sit on the ground afterward), to their decision to open an auto shop together at the end (in South Beach, perhaps?), everything in their relationship smacks of two old flames circling each other carefully, considering getting back together. The scenes in the nightclub do nothing to persuade me otherwise.

Among other scenes: Walker complains that Tyrese can eat so much and not put on weight (in the middle of a reconciliation scene set at the beach); and then there's the moment they pull up to Varone's house, where a line of older guys is leaning against their cars (at first, it looked like a certain kind of highway rest stop); also, Walker's lying in bed in his houseboat, with his back to the door (and the other side of the bed), and is startled (and seemingly disappointed) when a good-looking woman comes in. (He was expecting someone else, perhaps?) And Varone's mission for the boys is to fetch him a fat cigar; sometimes, perhaps, a cigar is not just a cigar....

And that customs agent sucking on his fountain straw when he's proposed as a"partner" for Walker doesn't do much to defeat my argument....

I know many viewers will disagree on this point. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw something different than what I expected here. (Actually, it made the movie more watchable for me, because it was the only evidence the creators actually put any thought into it.)

23 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Variety fest enjoyable, though be aware the corn grows high, 14 January 2003

A pleasing enough entertainment, working primarily as a pageant of various MGM specialty acts - impressionists, contortionists, nightclub acts, tap-dancers, as well as the standard musical theatrical numbers. The film isn't a musical in the traditional sense, as all the musical numbers are in the contest of an actual performance (some done toward the camera). It's much more in the tradition of a 1960s-70s variety TV show.

There is a connecting plot, though only the slimmest possible. For me, the movie dragged whenever it stopped the music for a little story updating. George Murphy doesn't really dance much here - just briefly toward the beginning and end - and he does an OK piano medley in the middle. Ginny Simms isn't much of a screen presence, but has a great voice used to advantage. Close your eyes while she's singing and you won't miss much onscreen, other than the costumes.

The highlights are in the supporting cast; great numbers from Lena Horne, Tommy Dorsey, Hazel Scott, and Nancy Walker (though you really have to wait for hers; she's a bit underused here). Really nice work from Gloria DeHaven and Kenny Bowers in their couple of tunes, as well as Walter Long's tap-dancing. The singing-contortionist Ross Sisters are something to see, but the impressionist got on my nerves after a while. (Some of his subjects will not register with viewers unfamiliar with the era; there's a couple of topical jokes elsewhere in the film also.)

And Charles Winninger is a pleasure to watch in a diversion for him; I've rarely seen him in musical roles.

In short, worth seeing for most of the musical segments; the rest is unremarkable.

7 of 10

33 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
A movie that really sneaks up on you, 27 August 2002

It's an easily underrated movie, particularly because it flatly refuses to do most of the things that people expect movies to do today; there's a defiant unwillingness to slip into easy melodrama (though I often like melodrama), or to spend too much time on comedy, etc. The movie won't pigeonhole itself, and I think this leads to its secret - at heart, it really intends to be about what it's like to be a priest. You CAN'T pigeonhole yourself in that role, because you can't possibly know what's coming up, or really keep perfect track of all the different threads of a community at the same time. You have to take things as they come, and this movie really does that all the way through.

And there's also a sense of the wistfulness that comes from giving up that "plot-driven" style of living - in the scenes where Crosby visits his old girlfriend, there's a tangible awareness on both sides that they don't really know what happened to the "plot" of their relationship - they just took things as they came, and it really turned out OK for both of them. Most of the movie's separate narrative threads are left off, and returned to, almost at random - and the main focus on the relationships between the characters is what ends up shining through as intended.

A lot of the film is spent on scenes that seem kind of inconsequential at the time (like most of everyday life), but they invariably lead to a payoff later in the film. There's a shot of Gene Lockhart watching his son leave - a silent shot that just holds on a medium shot of the father, watching his expression for about 10 seconds - that I found absolutely sublime in its effectiveness. To me, that single shot justifies the half dozen scenes that led to it. Ultimately, the movie is almost happy to laugh at the audience for being so eager to expect more of a story. As one character aptly says,"Schmaltz is in this year"; the people behind this movie KNOW that a lot of people will want to dismiss it, but won't let them off the hook so easily. It's looks deceptively simple to make a film this easygoing and yet moving. (Capra tried it later in his career, sometimes with Crosby, and yet he couldn't pull it off.)

The Oscar win is OK, though I think Double Indemnity should have won, and I also like The Miracle of Morgan's Creek a lot more as well (THE SPOTS!!!); but Going My Way belonged in the top 5 that year, along with Laura and I'm-not-sure-what-else. (Gaslight, maybe?) And I'll note that I do like the "sequel," The Bells of St. Mary's (actually written first), a little better, too.

But as I wrote in the summary, this one really sneaks up on you; the last scenes prove much more moving than you expect, and the ending of the film - while initially seeming abrupt - leaves you suddenly saying, "Of course - it's perfect." Just moving on.......

9 of 10

P.S. Is it really set in New York? That's never said, and there's so much talk of St. Louis that I think that more accurate a guess. The "Metropolitan Opera House" is mentioned, but that's a generic-sounding name. Honestly, I think they went to great effort to make it as unrooted in a single locale as possible.

Hell House (2001)
3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Fascinating look at this church's unusual endeavor, 23 August 2002

Some people, no doubt, will think that the idea of a "show" like this is too offensive, wondering why they can't just go with the traditional ghosts-witches-and-goblins theme of most houses of horror. I think they miss the point somewhat; when "traditional" spook houses started several decades ago, the ghost/witch scenarios we now think so tame and fun came across as just about as frightening as what is presented here. Now that we've got more modern notions of horror, and are more regularly exposed to innumerable forms of violence and inhumanity, some updating of Halloween conventions was not only probable but perhaps necessary. After all, the basic purpose of events like this (and Halloween itself, for that matter) has always been to truly shock and horrify the audience, NOT to make them laugh and have a goofy time.

The film is generally even-handed, as many have said, though I think the somewhat garish use of white backgrounds for a few of the interviews betrays the filmmakers' actual opinions. It's true that the practice of speaking in tongues (which I'd never actually seen before) is unusual, but the way some reviews have referred to it (Freaky! Shocking! Bizarre! Loony!) is actually more disturbing to me; I doubt that viewers would feel comfortable using words like that to describe Jewish or Islamic religious practices, or would treat such faiths with such derision. There's a lot more people in the world that speak in tongues than celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, but few filmgoers - I'm glad to say - would react to a Bar Mitzvah or synagogue scene with the ridicule I saw in the theater.

I'll admit I was slightly bothered that the audience I was with found many of the cast members (not just their acting skills) so laughable; while their acting IS certainly laughably bad at times, I'm sure this is true of virtually any amateur theater production where there's a large open casting call. Yes, some kids do exult at finding out they'll get to be "abortion girl" or a suicidal teen (these ARE flashy and prominent roles in the production), but I don't believe - as many seem to - that this indicates some extraordinary acting out of fantasies. (Or do Shakespearean actors, who I'm sure exult just as much to find out they've won a prominent role, secretly wish to be living the life of their character? I think not.) Most of what is seen regarding the auditions, rehearsals, production, etc. is really an enjoyable look at a large-scale amateur production, and anyone who's been involved with such work will no doubt find a lot here with which they can identify.

Much has been made of the AIDS scenario in the Hell House production, though I couldn't help thinking that there seemed to be some difficulty with it even on the part of those producing the event. The scenario is certainly more sparsely written than most of the others (from what I could see in the film, anyway), and I suspect that the event staff kept it rather slight intentionally, as it's presented alongside another scenario which is far more visceral. Perhaps there was some difference or debate among the writers as to where the scene should go, or how they felt about the characters or issues involved; at any rate, there's little doubt that the AIDS scene could have been written far more disturbingly, and it's something of a relief that it wasn't. (I know many will disagree here, feeling the mere idea of the scene is offensive. I don't agree with the point of view presented either, but I'm not sure it's quite as bad as many will perceive.)

A couple of points regarding religious belief in this film probably need to be explained, as the audience when I saw the film seemed not to understand what was meant (and I suppose others might be perplexed too): When the girl near the end talks of Christ returning to earth for His bride, she is NOT talking about Him selecting a particular woman; rather, this refers to the belief (by ALL Christian churches, not just Pentecostals) that the universal Church of all believers - that is, the totality of all the faithful, not a specific denomination established by mankind - is figuratively the bride of Christ. The practice of "speaking in tongues" (depicted here), as well as beliefs regarding the Rapture, are generally specific to 20th-century evangelical denominations (Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, etc); while speaking in tongues does have some Scriptural basis, most liberal and moderate denominations treat the practice with a great deal of caution, and generally refrain from encouraging it. (There is also, I should point out, some difference in application of the term "evangelical"; pre-20th century application of that word, which pertains to many moderate faiths such as Lutheranism, Methodism, and Presbyterianism, simply means being open and vocal about one's faith and actively witnessing and ministering to non-believers. In the 20th century sense of the word, the term "evangelical" has tended to be heavily influenced by the revivalist movement started by Aimee Semple McPherson - which included various practices that led to the description "holy roller", and relates to Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, as well as various non-Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Many people don't really understand this difference in the way many self-described evangelicals differ in what they mean by the phrase.)

Do my beliefs coincide with those of the "Hell House" operators? No, not exactly - I do have problems with the way some of the scenarios are presented; I'd certainly take a different approach to some of the scenes. But I DO agree with their general idea in presenting the event. None of this, of course, relates to the quality of the film, but it's worth bringing up. As for the quality of the film itself, I think it does an excellent job in presenting the purposes of the organizers, in showing us some of their background, and in documenting the problems inherent in mounting a production of this nature and size. 8 of 10.

Scooby-Doo (2002)
The sum of all (cartoon) fears, 17 June 2002

In a movie that makes Casper look like Chinatown by comparison, there is very little I can think to say other than this might be the most horrifying (in a bad way) kids' movie ever made. The movie combines all the worst qualities of not only Casper, but also Inspector Gadget (the stunningly base commercialism) and, yes, Howard the Duck. Am I the only one who can't help seeing the similarities here? A human-like, talking animal hero helps his friends save the world from invading monsters.... I thought of old Howard instantly the first time I set eyes on these CGI beasties. There's even a stunningly misplaced rock concert scene - with Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath lip-synching horribly. (Though I suppose we should be grateful for small favors in that McGrath isn't singing with Scooby.)

This movie, stopping in theaters on its way from the cartoon screen to a Six Flags near you, is astonishingly crass in how every scene seems designed solely for the purpose of creating a theme-park attraction: the obligatory stunt show (with personal 4-wheel mini dune buggys), the theme restaurant, the beach resort area, the horror-themed amusement park rides (I stopped counting how many different rides were momentarily shown), the nightclub with demon-head disco ball, etc. In truth, the "sets" looked precisely like they were designed to be easily and perfectly (not to mention cheaply) replicated for live attractions. And I couldn't help thinking that the main reason the effects weren't better (they really are not very good) is that good effects would be harder to convert to live shows.

As for the "plot," anyone who can't identify the real villain (and I don't mean the filmmakers, thought that's true too) by the end of his first scene isn't trying very hard. And for a supposed kids' movie, it's hard to find a scene that doesn't seem to strain itself trying to add something that's decidedly NOT for kids under 10. I tried to think of the last movie rated under PG-13 that was this bad; it's EASILY sub-Grinch (that movie, for all its faults, had at least a much more substantial level of craftsmanship going for it); Inspector Gadget is probably the last PG movie I could think of that sunk to this level. Rowan Atkinson is in this movie for no particular reason; his abilities aren't remotely hinted at, and ten thousand actors could have each given an identical performance.

The theater where I saw this was populated mostly with kids under 8 and their parents; if the adults hadn't been restraining the kids from running around, I doubt that the movie could have held their attention very long. (And the occasional crying from smaller kids was hard to miss.)

I felt like I'd been trapped in a Chuck E. Cheese run by Stalin. For what it's worth, only the efforts of Lillard and, to a lesser extent, Cardellini keep this movie from being a rock-bottom 1 - which I reserve for only the worst movie or two of the year.

2 of 10

Wild Seed (1965)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Surprising and moving film, 3 June 2002

This was a better movie than I was expecting; Michael Parks is extremely good as the young drifter (I was astonished that this was his first film) - it makes it that much more disappointing that his career didn't take off at all. He's very effective in showing both the protectiveness and vulnerability of the character, and really shines when the camera holds on him for a long time. On the other hand, Celia Kaye's performance didn't really strike me as anything special. There were moments when it struck me as fairly amateurish (in an unintentional way). The film is well directed and the supporting performances were quite good, although this is essentially a 2-person film. It's also VERY beautifully photographed by Conrad Hall; it's no surprise that his career took off after this debut feature, leading to movies like The Professionals and Cool Hand Luke right afterward. He had an excellent eye for the sweeping outdoor locations, and a lovely, delicate touch in the more intimate scenes. The script and dialogue are very moving as well, and completely believable in all situations; the exchanges between the older and younger characters are very well-written. Although not particularly surprising or unusual in setup or plot, it's altogether a very moving and touching story - a strong 7 of 10, close to an 8.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Atmospheric trio of tales, 2 June 2002

First, I'll note that what I saw was a new print of the Italian version (this is a subject of debate here, it seems). These three stories are gorgeously atmospheric, with tremendous use of color and set design. The first story, "The Telephone," is not particularly strong. The minor twists in the story are no great surprise, and (given how horror films have proceeded since) the basic premise is not too earth-shattering. Oddly, even though the outcomes of the other two segments are easier to predict, this is the one least captivating. Still, it's well told and presented in as strong a manner as possible - this segment probably rates a 6.

The last two stories are MUCH better, however. Story two, "The Wurdulak," is beautifully photographed and very well performed. Karloff is excellent as the vampire-hunting father who returns home just minutes after his self-imposed deadline for being allowed to live; and yet his family loves him too well to kill him. The story is built very well as it proceeds, and there is an ever-increasing sense of inevitable doom. Story three, "The Drop of Water," is marvelously creepy in spite of some rather obvious flaws in the effects work. The color is so brilliant that it completely overcomes the limited setting (a single night in two small, fairly run-down apartments). Both these last two stories probably earn 8's. And Karloff has some joyously ghoulish fun in the gleeful epilogue. I'd give the film as a whole a solid 7 of 10.

Terrific script and performances, though a little overdone at times, 31 May 2002

This was really a pleasure to see; the dialogue was - for the most part - absolutely outstanding (I thought the women's roles were a little better written, which is a nice surprise). The performances were uniformly very good, too. Frank Gorshin overdoes it a little when he goes into his various cons, but this might be his overcompensating for what I see as weaknesses in how the character is written; he's VERY good otherwise. Harry Groener does similarly well with a slightly underwritten character (Tony), overdoing some of the character's angrier scenes slightly. Ursula Burton is excellent as Sister Theresa, really carrying the film through some of its weaknesses. Seymour Cassel and Louise Fletcher are a little underused here, though I liked their work as always. Shirley Jones, Wendie Malick, Jill Eikenberry and Faye Grant are very good also (I couldn't help thinking Grant reminded me a little of Catherine O'Hara here); Cloris Leachman rather tears into her role, with reasonably good results.

I wish there had been more of a sure hand behind the camera, though. Sometimes the framing or staging seemed a bit off, or awkward. The closeups seemed overused (or erratically used) to me. And we don't always go from scene to scene as smoothly as we'd like. Some of the "tough guy" approach to the federal agent (music, costuming) was too over the top for me as well. And the few fantasy sequences didn't really work. But there are things that were VERY well done; the opening sequence set in Buffalo around 1970, for example. And, frankly, all of the scenes regarding Theresa's church work (I suspect the writer and actress liked the character a lot, which helps). The scenes between Malick and Eikenberry are VERY good.

The plot is probably a bit overcontrived - there seem to be a few too many schemes going on at once to keep them all straight at times, and the coincidences got to be a little too much. And I was a little bothered by the ending (should we REALLY be rooting for their biggest con yet to succeed?), but the ride along the way is very enjoyable. It would be nice to see more independent movies like this one made.

7 of 10

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