Reviews written by registered user
CWessonSpeaks

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11 reviews in total 
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4 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Occasionally clever, sporadically funny and TOTALLY OVER PRODUCED!, 25 October 2004
4/10

The Incredibles is one of those loud, brash, totally over-produced, lowest common denominator, "family films' that while not void of clever asides and mild charms, results in a desperately frantic, grating and ultimately tiresome event for those of us who are not 12 years old. While the computer animation is top notch and often remarkable, the premise full of possibilities, and the musical score delightfully manic, the narrative elements are just too predictable. The characters are curiously one dimensional, which seems odd as they all have secret identities which often seem to fill irritating clichés such as the "sassy" misunderstood daughter, the "groovy" jivin' black sidekick, the "freaky" decidedly gay fashionista/designer, and the "tough love" Mom to name a few. The narrative's nearly constant action screams along, raising the stakes and inflating its self assured importance with each passing minute.

This multi-million dollar, bombastic side show feels unpleasantly pre-packaged and ready to sell millions of Happy Meals, plush toys and other tie in merchandise. You can't help but wonder how many "power meetings" this thing generated for all the synergistic tie-in companies that cling to such shining gloss like leeches. One thing is for sure, it's designed to hit kiddie radar at dead center and this Christmas will be an Incredibles one!

Ultimately, The Incredibles isn't so much a movie experience but rather an endless commercial for Pixar and Disney as the film laboriously tries to top itself with each new sequence that usually ends with in flourish of animated bangs, if not an explosion. You can't help but feel you're being forced to submit to the film's brow-beating fury. Sadly, this will probably be the most popular box office hit of the year because a lot of commercial critics will pour accolades on it as a "feel good" movie of epic proportions.

30 years ago parents would have dutifully dropped the kids off at the kiddie matinée and save themselves the headache. Now, in the post Spielberg and Lucas filmscape that made select children's narratives high art and the national obsession with computer generated 'art', many adults will feel obliged to see and love the latest "wonder" from the Walt Disney company. Worse if you are not particularly interested in this kind of cinema, numerous people think you are being too hard on such films.

With the Incredibles or more fitting The Incredibles (TM) there's a distinct plasticity in what so many film goers refer to now as a 'fun movie'. Sure, junk food can be a welcome treat but ultimately it can make people sick.

"A Very Special Halloween Episode" of Little House on the Prairie, 30 July 2004

No SPOILERS (but truly, you'd have to be brain dead not to figure everything out while watching the movie)

Perhaps the most laughable, implausible, asinine film to grace screens this summer. This shamefully trashy and reactionary yarn about red cape wearing monsters threatening an idyllic Amish-like village is truly preposterous, interminably dull and its narrative `twists' can be seen a mile away. Imagine the silliest episode of Scooby Doo mixed with a `very special' Halloween episode of Little House on the Prairie. The outrageous promotion of this world class turkey from this country's most self promoting, arrogant hack M. Night Shyamalan (who inexplicably and egocentrically seems to fancy himself a modern day Hitchcock) is really unforgivable.

The hype for this thing is a surefire way to make it the big box office winner this weekend and I'm sure there will be plenty of groaning, bored and angry audience members tonight like in my screen who booed and hissed throughout the film's lengthy, incredibly dull duration. I feel embarrassed for all the actors in the film having to speak the ludicrous dialogue and keep a straight face. This is one of those incredible all star train wrecks that people will laugh about for years. I'm still in shock that some of the actors in this film didn't laugh out loud at the screenplay.

While I felt the 6th Sense was strong and well made I have not been much of a fan of M. Night's other films but THIS THING absolutely takes the cake. I feel battered and robbed of ten dollars. I can imagine the fat cat cackles of Scott Rudin and company as they howl it up this weekend in the Hamptons watching the box office receipts pile up before word really gets out. How they'll laugh knowing the joke is on the public. What a terrible, pointless, waste of time and money for us working stiffs.

THERE'S NO EXCUSE. ABSOLUTE GARBAGE.

Big Fish (2003)
16 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
BIG FISH IS CANNED IN ITS OWN SACCHARINE, 13 December 2003
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some Spoilers

Billy Crudup is estranged from his charming father Albert Finney because he resents being used as part of his father's habitual tall tales. Years later working in France, Crudup gets a call from his Mother, Jessica Lange, that Dad isn't going to make it. Crudup and his dutiful pregnant wife head back home so that he can try to understand the man his father really is. Earnest Crudup must sort out the real man from the tall tales he was told before his impending death. One can smell the life lessons a mile away and the 'heartfelt', golden lit redemption that will be trotted out on a gigantic scale long before it happens.

This being a Tim Burton (great believer in misenscene as the star of most of his directorial efforts) film we dutifully sit through over-produced, colorful flashbacks featuring a young Finney as played with nauseating earnestness and a wide-eyed can-do chutzpah by Ewan MacGregor. The flashbacks resemble skits from the Muppet Show with their overblown hyperbolic imagery and cutesy art direction. Each story within the main frame of the film reeks of obvious symbolism and tiresome morality lessons. So shallow is MacGregor's goody-two shoes character and the seemingly endless good deeds he chirpingly performs one wants to ask Mr. Burton to please stop begging for our approval and get on with the central narrative.

When the narrative finally emerges from its steady stream of narrative side trips to soft-focus fantasy lands and we deal with the pending reality of Finney's impending death - there is virtually nothing to care about. Crudup has a thankless task of being the doubting son of the tale teller. Frankly, there is no forward motion to Crudup's character and he learns nothing. Finney, a consumate professional, spends most of his time choking through illness or smiling, with benign crust, his all knowing grin. Lange is completely wasted doing a 'dutiful southern belle wife with no personality' turn and speaks about 8 lines which consist mostly of `did you get enough to eat honey' sentences. There's a large cast of celebrities who play colorful but unmemorable roles and run about as if lost in a Fellini film as Big Fish moves into its sudsy final act.

The deliberate tear-jerking and low brow attempts and humanism only result in laughable Hollywood schmaltz that is absolutely relentless in force. Clearly, in the final sequences of the film it is as if the swelling music, 'warm-hearted' characters, and gauzy cinemtography have been orchestrated with the sole intent of wringing tears from even the most jaded of brick walls. CRY DAMN YOU, CRY!!! The brow-beating self importance of Big Fish is pure 'high-concept' filmmaking at its most manipulative.

For a few of the audience members at my screening last week (kleenex wiping away their tears), maybe your aunt Gladys, her henpecked husband Phil and 'special' cousin Jimmy with the slow eye, Big Fish is what they might call a `goooooood moovie'. For the rest of us, bring a large barf bag and keep your seat belt fastened at all times. If anything, it will be so much fun to watch the sanctimonious Oscar chatter this stinkeroo will raise. Oh the humanity!

There's One Born Every Minute, 7 October 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SOME SPOILERS!!!

If self indulgence and confused ideologies were the key ingredients in concocting a memorable film, Paul Thomas Anderson (P.T. to those in the know) could be the Tony Robbins of filmmakers. His brash, excessive, color-drenched, Panavision canvases - usually backed with referential (and often revered) pop music, are ambitious morality plays that have a larger than life appeal and feature characters with salacious and/or expletive tendencies. In effect, his narratives tend to use a fundamental 'crime and punishment' flavored bathos. Among the gaudy, decadent pleasures of Boogie Nights, there seems an excessive amount of narrative punishment for the freewheeling Dionysian creatures at its center. In the wide, narrative expansive of Magnolia, biblical tones of abuse and redemption seem rampant, including an Old Testament flavored favorite - the rain of frogs.

Anderson's fourth outing, Punch Drunk Love, is a pugnacious and grating fumble about a preposterously square mal-content Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) who spends his days selling novelty bathroom plungers out of his suitably glum warehouse. (Predictably the plungers, unbreakable we are informed, smash in a glittery zing while Sandler mugs appropriately to demonstrate his eccentricity). The single brother of seven loud sisters (who run the gamut of cliches from nagging housewife to whiney vulgarian) Barry demonstrates his mal-content by throwing a trantrum when called 'gayboy' and smashing the living room windows of sis's suburban living room. Soon we are informed that Barry's problems stem from his lack of a suitable mate and that not unsurprisingly - he sometimes doesn't ` like himself too much'. Desperate for female companionship Barry dials a phone sex line and hooks up with a friendly operator - Georgia.

After his wild night with the $2.99 a minute phone date, Barry's sister sets him up with a friend, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson). Naturally, Barry is smitten with the virtually characterless Lena and hopes that she'll love him in the way he instantly wants to love her. Problems arise when phone slut Georgia starts extorting money from poor Barry and sending her goon squad to 'mess him up'. How will Barry explain his shameful phone sex liason to his new love?

From the first scenes in this film you become instantly aware that Punch Drunk Love is aiming hard to impress as offbeat and unusual. The canvas is packed with lots of quick rushes of enthusiastic exclamation points. The distinctive and blown out lighting schemes early in the film seem to signal an upstaging and pointless camera realism. There's a blaring sound mix of abrasive effects and directional audio shocks in addition to a musical score which seems a hybrid of 2nd grade coffee can drummers and a Gamelan orchestra. Periodically there are 'arty' shifts to digital color blurs that have no significance. There's a continuous parade of cliched props and actions that scream: symbolism. Also, we are treated to a Shelley Duvall song from the much maligned Robert Altman film Popeye to smugly demonstrate the film's need to be considered iconoclastic.

Rather than being interesting or remotely involving the film's self important tone and flimsy narrative spoil what might have been. In keeping with Anderson's previous bathos there's a constant thread of judgement for Barry's `indiscretion' of calling a phone sex line. He's pointlessly, and constantly punished for his action. The notion that Barry's one shot at happiness with Lena might be jeopordized by a juvenile telephone dalliance seems preposterous and needlessly condescending to the character. While much ink has been spilled on the 'risky' move of casting frat-house comedian Adam Sandler as Barry, he's hardly the revelation that has been noted in the hysterical publicity machine for the film. He's merely serviceable, walking through the paces of the poorly written character occasionally letting jolts of his former clown incarnations slip into Barry's poker face. Emily Watson flounders in another poorly drawn character, seeming lost in the side show, perhaps visiting from another film entirely. Anderson alums Luiz Guzman and Philip Seymour Hoffman have pointless and ridiculous roles respectively.

Unlike Anderson's earlier work, Punch Drunk Love is anemic and dull - in spite of the film's relentlessly aggressive and often irritating style. Hyped to the point of distortion, this is a frustrating mess of a film. It's difficult not to note the fitting coincidence once Punch Drunk Love has hurled yet ANOTHER 'symbolic' visual reference of the lone organ (calliope), left in the street for Barry to tap out a tune. Like another famous P.T., Anderson's latest film leaves us feeling huckstered and indeed, like there's a sucker born every minute.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Movie By Numbers equals sheer tedium, 25 May 2002
3/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

NO REAL SPOILERS

What is it about wealthy, stylish, educated, white males with superiority complexes? In the movies doesn't it always seem that they are either gay or homicidal or in many cases, both. What is it about a tough as nails, unsympathetic, pretty but plain, dressed down police woman who is desperately trying to be taken seriously in a frustratingly male dominated world? In the movies doesn't it always seem that these women are painfully unhappy and distant not being allowed to be traditionally feminine and forced to act butch? What is it about reserved, brilliant, handsome-in-a-nerd-sort-of-way, docile, Rookie cops who get paired with a tough as nails rogue cop and a tough as nails first case? In the movies doesn't it seem that these guys put up with WAY too much crap and remain WAY too wise - this being a new job, assignment, and partner? Clearly, this is 'by the numbers' filmmaking.

In Murder By Numbers two rich, white, privileged boys - the brooding 'goth' genius Justin (Michael Pitt - complete with Molly Ringwald's misunderstood dramatic over-bite and a Robert Smith influenced goth-flip hair-do) and his hip tough-guy teen buddy, Richard (Ryan Gossling - a glib, blonde highlighted, clothes horse with a bombastic streak that the audience is supposed to find scary and seductive) are so bored in rich San Diego UBER-SUBURBIA that they plan a murder in perfect detail - just for the hell of it. After several overwritten, dramatic meetings in a creepy abandoned lodge on the cliffs high above the Pacific, where they drink Absinthe to show their 'edginess', talk superior murder plans, and avoid each other's obvious homoerotic desires, the boys carry out the plan. Enter Homicide detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) a rigid, uptight 'lady cop with a past' who, in spite of all the genitalia jokes supplied by her colleagues, is a brilliant sleuth. Cassie's new partner, Sam (Ben Chaplin) fresh from detective school can't resist her charms nor her rogue mentality on the job. For the rookie detective - this tough girl who analyzes bloody photos for clues is his dream date. The two cops question our boys, even though the murder has been expertly pinned on high school janitor - the impossibly hoggish trailer trash, porno eyed, drug dealer, Ray (Chris Penn). Tensions brew, Cassie and Sam have a cheap affair, the boys get nervous, and all roads eventually lead to a final return to the creepy abandoned cliff-top lodge where bad dialogue, plot twists, and performers are thrown around as we reach a tiresome and obvious climax.

These cardboard cut-out characters and 'by the numbers' narrative inhabit the crime-television inspired world of Murder By Numbers which might be more aptly named MOVIE by Numbers. There's so little surprise in this overblown episode of CSI or more aptly Murder She Wrote, that it's a wonder respected director Barbet Schroeder was involved (although, I suppose everyone has bills to pay). Sandra Bullock continues to try to break the mold of the attractive ingenue but fails again. She's really not at home playing someone who has no real emotional life. She's committed to the work and tries hard to use it's cliches - meaning she spends a lot of time brooding with flashbacks to her tragic past and throwing back J&B shots when she feels she needs to be tough. It's a mannered, unbelievable performance from a likeable performer who is simply miscast. (I've heard that Ms. Bullock co-produced this mess, clearly her self awareness is as far out of control as Chris Penn's agent whom he should fire at once!)

The other characters don't fare much better. There's been a lot of pointless ink spilled over the casting of Gosling who I found rather tedious and smirky. It's a silly role and he's silly in it. Michael Pitt as the fey silent boy is a muddled mess of glassy eyes and self depreciating witticism. Ben Chaplin walks through the role of the eager rookie who is dutifully supportive of his 'rogue' partner when the crusty police chief tries to shut her investigation down. Yawn. Chaplin does have a few moments of awkward comedy as he demands to be taken seriously and won't be kept around by Bullock as a mere sex toy!!?

If you are in the mood for a slacker revamp of the Leopold and Loeb case you might enjoy this really routine, forgettable and often pointless yarn. Better yet, try renting Rope, Compulsion, or even Swoon which all base their narratives on the famous L&L kidnap and murder case. While Murder By Numbers isn't the worst film of its kind - IT IS slow, overwrought and obvious. There's very little new here and any thrills one might get have more to do with what could have been done with this idea than what is actually up there.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Kiss Me... Kill Me - DANG, she likes it ROUGH!, 23 May 2002
5/10

NO SPOILERS!

Reserved piano teacher, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Hubbert), pushing middle age by a thread and clearly at a breaking point, begins to obsess over sexuality or rather, the lack of sexuality in her life. Employed by a music school and after hours giving private piano lessons, the plain, china-doll faced Erika longs for anything other than what she's got. She lives with her foul and dominant mother whose vitriol only adds fuel to Erika's already incredible level of self hatred. Erika finds herself gawking at hardcore pornography with a virginal mix of revulsion and titillation. We watch Erika's confused and blank face try to make sense of the wild exhibitions on the video screens of a local porno booth. We watch her watch couples. We watch her observe sexual rituals- in particular a wild moment at a drive-in. We watch her fight with her mother. We watch her eyeball the young men that are students. FINALLY, Erika picks out a handsome young piano student, Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) who is clearly interested in her cool repose. Eventually the lines are crossed and Walter is passionately embracing Erika. Her response again is one of childish titillation and revulsion. She teases him mercilessly in what has already become a notorious sex scene in a public bathroom. There's a longing, appropriately desperate sense to their sexual exchanges but the scene - pun intended, doesn't climax. Walter, now clearly obsessed with the mixed signals that Erika flashes, is drawn closer to her. When Erika supplies a sexual ultimatum involving her erotic torture and degradation, Walter finds it difficult to understand and unable to commit. Erika starts to take a darker turn, cruelly lashing out at some of her pupils and her mother (much of the film's more controversial moments involve these aspects of the narrative) while she awaits the response of her unlikely suitor who may or may not perform the requested acts.

Isabelle Huppert gives a fearless performance as Erika, the teacher in question and she manages to fill the character with a brooding combination of fawn-like innocence and whorish defiance. It's a fine line and she walks it very well, even during the narrative's most incredible twists that don't seem especially motivated, she manages to pull it off with a dry, grim face. Director Michael Haneke probably best known for the controversial gratuity of his film Funny Games seems to have found the right tone for the story - but hasn't explored the terrain fully. In a sense it's as if not even he understands her motivations and merely allows her to move about the narrative ready to burst with madness at any point. Haneke seems an odd choice for this material but again, his controversial name probably assured financial backing for this film version of what is generally known as a powerful and politically infused novel by Elfriede Jelinek that has a loyal following.

This maudlin sexual drama of The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste) is consistently interesting and provocative at best but it's also frustrating and incomplete. You are left with the constant question: WHY? There's a blankness here, you can't really figure out what the film's point is other than to try and explore sexual self-loathing. Personally, I needed more to help me understand the depths of her depravity and the necessity of telling this particular tale.

If anything, The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste)'s frankness will provoke discussion and much like an entry in the new and questionable 'female-in-deep-punishing-transgression' genre developed by Lars Von Trier, it is memorable. Be Advised that the film is genuinely of an adult nature in terms of narrative and it also has what is best described as pornographic imagery (insertion, ejaculation etc.). Those who are easily offended by that sort of material may want to steer clear of The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste). Those of you interested in a film that attempts to offers a frank exploration of sexual obsession and madness through a truly terrific performance by Ms. Hubbert, might be interested in seeing this.

Notorious (1946)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Is the Lady Still a Tramp if She's Doing it for Uncle Sam?, 23 May 2002
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SLIGHT SPOILERS!

In one of Hitchcock's most romantically charged suspense tales, Notorious, sultry Miami socialite Alicia Huberman's (Ingrid Bergman) father is imprisoned for being a Nazi operative. Helpless and heart-broken over her father's crimes, the innocent Alicia takes to the fast lane - booze, men, and carousing. The shamed daughter is now considered a reckless and notorious tramp!

When approached by the CIA to act as a spy and infiltrate the hiding Nazi community her father knew in Rio de Janeiro, Alicia agrees. She is led to Rio by suave operative T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) who will act as her contact with the CIA. Of her father's former friends in Rio, Alexander Sebastian (dapper Claude Raines), is the most welcoming to Alicia. As Alicia pries information from Alexander and clandestinely feeds it to Devlin, the film takes an unexpected turn - Devlin and Alicia are falling in love. The budding, secret love affair between spies only complicates Alex's offer of marriage to Alicia. Can she, for the good of the US, credibly marry Alex (the very man she is spying on), be part of his inner circle - pumping plenty of information to the CIA, while she's desperately in love with another man?? Alas, a cloud forms on the plans for nuptials, while Alex is clearly smitten with the sultry Alicia, it is his sinister Mother (the fiendish Mdm. Konstantin) who smells a rat. In Hitchcock's world this mother-in-law isn't just a battleaxe - she's a vicious and entirely unsympathetic Nazi!

Notorious is the most beloved and successful of the Alfred Hitchcock/David O. Selznick partnership years. It remains a frequent topic of discussion as so much of it crystalizes what is known as 'quintessential Hitchcock'. Firstly, there's a simple situation that spirals out of control in ways that the audience might not expect. While certainly there's the standard drama and tensions of a 'love triangle', the sinister fourth party element of Alex's mother gives it a perverse and ultimately lethal edge. Secondly, there's the use of standard objects as signifiers of suspense: a key and a wine bottle. So important do these props become that the mere sighting of them within the frame generates attention.

In Notorious one also gets a sense that Hitchcock was honing and strengthening techniques he'd been developing for years. There are numerous shots that stand out as memorable and clever. He takes many risks that pay off and his technical sensibilities really begin to solidify. He's employed one of Hollywood's best screen writers Ben Hecht to pen the humorous and romantic script that seems very contemporary and free-wheeling. There's a distinctive, sexy flair in the dialogue between Devlin and Alicia and the conversations among Alex and his mother crackle with danger - more specifically, their scheming is frightening. Also, the musical score begins to emerge as a central character (something that later in his career Hitchcock would be well known and praised for). Roy Webb's lush romantic music for Notorious is now-a-days often heard floating through air-line easy listening stations and no one is the wiser that it's music from a Hitchcock film!

As the years go by, Notorious seems to get richer and more exceptional. What strikes me as most unique about the film is it's sophisticated mix of passion and suspense. When Devlin and Alicia first kiss it's electric - it's a moment and a kiss that the audience waits for. There's a wonderful sense of intoxication and danger when both of them are together. Also, these actors (true 'stars' in the classical Hollywood mold) are in the top of their form here - presenting career defining performances that light up the screen. I should also note that Notorious' climax - waiting to see how and when the cat will be let out of the bag is harrowing in the best sense of the genre! It's an excellent film - a sublime note in a brilliant career.

Spellbound (1945)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Headshrinkers in Love, 23 May 2002
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SLIGHT SPOILERS!!

Obviously, in 1945 the notion of seeing a psychiatrist was a far cry from how common it is today. Still under intense scrutiny in the states, this decidedly unamusing psychiatric practice serves as a backdrop to the suspense and romance of Spellbound. Having eagerly awaited the newest addition to the psychiatric staff of Vermont's Green Manors Sanitarium, veteran 'shrinks' Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) and in particular Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) are delighted with charming Dr. Edwards (Gregory Peck) who has arrived to become the chief of staff. Murchison and the other male doctors seem impressed with Edward's ability and Peterson seems impressed with Edward's handsome good looks. Soon the hard nosed and somewhat repressed Dr. Peterson (auburn haired siren Ingrid Bergman) is head over heels for her new boss, Edwards.

As Dr. Peterson lets her hair down and becomes romantically involved with Edwards, she begins to notice that all is not what it seems with him.. Seems that Edwards, her boss/beau, has lost bits of his memory, including the details of the murder he might have committed! When Edward's identity comes known to the authorities he flees, followed by the lovesick Dr. Peterson, devoted to helping him remember and hoping to prove her spellbound lover innocent. A wild chase ensues from city to mountain-top. Detectives and psychiatrists abound, hunting down Edwards and trying to find out who the mysterious 'JB' is.

In his late 1960's interview with Francios Truffaut, Hitchcock notes that there are problems with Spellbound and that parts of it do not work to his liking. To some degree he is right - the film feels a tad too long and there's perhaps too much 'psychobabble'. To a larger degree there's plenty to enjoy about this sordid romantic nightmare and Ingrid Bergman is terrific as the lonely woman in a 'male' profession. Gregory Peck, while suitably clean-cut isn't the best choice but he certainly makes Edward's sympathetic. Always solid Leo G. Carroll has a great time with the stuffy Dr. Murchison and Micheal Checkov as Peterson's former nutty professor nearly steals the show.

Spellbound seems to be best know for the beautiful dream sequence designed for Hitchcock by surrealist Salvador Dali. There's no mistaking the work of the master Dali and the sequence is totally unique. Hitchcock wanted to avoid the standard use of the out of focus shots and dissolves to obtain a 'dream-like' state for the dream scene. After studying Dali's work - full of light and a sense of the absurd Hitchcock was thrilled that Dali agreed to the project. In addition to the dream sequence, there's lots to be said for the unfolding of the intricate mystery involving JB and Edwards which we as the audience figure out before Dr. Peterson. It is precisely that knowledge that makes the last act so suspenseful. Will our heroine figure out the puzzle before she's put into grave danger? While it's a minor Hitchcock film, it's certainly pleasurable to watch with plenty of fun twists. Look for the wonderful (if not totally over the top) kiss sequence where 7 doors are thrown open as a LOUD form of symbolism!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
American Gothic: A Tale of Two Charlies, 23 May 2002
8/10

NO SPOILERS!!

One of Hitchcock's more gleefully mean-spirited and satisfying thrillers, Shadow of A Doubt, was also his personal favorite. This is the tale of two Charlies, one good the other, bad. There's Charlie Newton(Theresa Wright) the young woman, barely twenty who lives with her family in quaint, all-American Santa Rosa California and then there's her Uncle and namesake - Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotton). Charlie Oakley is the impossibly tall man who lives on the wrong side of the tracks back east. Young Charlie Newton pines away in her idyllic home, waiting for adventure and romance while Uncle Charlie Oakley seems to have some trouble with detectives asking questions about him. In the first of many telepathic coincidences, Young Charlie sets to send a telegram to her Uncle Charlie inviting him to visit while Uncle Charlie himself sends word that he will in fact be coming to Santa Rosa for a vacation.

At last, the two Charlies are reunited. Young Charlie and her entire family seem thrilled and charmed by Uncle Charlie. Most happy to see him is Emma Newton, Young Charlie's mother who dotes on her handsome 'baby brother'. Even lonely next-door neighbor and aspiring murder mystery writer (Hume Cronyn) enjoys the bits of fun and wisdom the 'city slicker' brings to the table. Just when Young Charlie is poised to 'show off' her favorite Uncle in town, she accidently stumbles upon some information and slowly realizes that Uncle Charlie might not be as nice as he seems. This being a Hitchcock film naturally Uncle Charlie isn't just 'not nice' , he's what we would now a days call - a serial killer. A tense game of cat and mouse begins as each Charlie realizes that the other is 'on to him'. Unfortunately for Young Charlie, Uncle Charlie is much better at these games.

There's a full, lushness to the Americana at work here that perhaps only script and story collaborator Thornton Wilder could create. The mixture of the penultimate writer of small town Americana - Our Town and the perverse sensibilities of Alfred Hitchcock is sublime. The subtle camerawork and design reveals the shadows in the impeccable Victorian-style house and the garrulous, sit-com style sensibility of the Newton family is perfectly realized. They seem instantly real and vulnerable to the unexpected violence brewing under their roof. Slick, and almost comically fiendish, Shadow of A Doubt remains immensely potent, suprisingly sadistic and extremely entertaining. Hitchcock is in top form as is fresh faced Theresa Wright as breezy Young Charlie and menacing, jaw clenching Joseph Cotton in one of his finest star turns here as her deadly Uncle.

Saboteur (1942)
56 out of 63 people found the following review useful:
A Caravan Full of Freaks - One of the master's forgotten Gems, 23 May 2002
7/10

NO SPOILERS!!

After Hitchcock's successful first American film, Rebecca based upon Daphne DuMarier's lush novel of gothic romance and intrigue, he returned to some of the more familiar themes of his early British period - mistaken identity and espionage. As the U.S. settled into World War II and the large scale 'war effort' of civilians building planes, weaponry and other necessary militia, the booming film entertainment business began turning out paranoid and often jingoistic thrillers with war time themes. These thrillers often involved networks of deceptive and skilled operators at work in the shadows among the good, law abiding citizens. Knowing the director was at home in this espionage genre, producer Jack Skirball approached Hitchcock about directing a property he owned that dealt with corruption, war-time sabotage and a helpless hero thrust into a vortex of coincidence and mistaken identity. The darker elements of the narrative and the sharp wit of literary maven Dorothy Parker (during her brief stint in Hollywood before returning to her bohemian roots in NYC) who co-authored the script were a perfect match for Hitchcock's sensibilities.

This often neglected film tells the story of the unfortunate 25 year old Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) who, while at work at a Los Angeles Airplane Factory, meets new employee Frank Frye (Norman Lloydd) and moments later is framed for committing sabotage. Fleeing the authorities who don't believe his far-fetched story he meets several characters on his way to Soda City Utah and finally New York City. These memorable characters include a circus caravan with a car full of helpful 'freaks' and a popular billboard model Patricia Martin (Priscilla Lane) who, during the worst crisis of his life as well as national security, he falls madly in love with! Of course in the land of Hitchcock, Patricia, kidnapped by the supposed saboteur Barry, falls for her captor thus adding romantic tension to the mix.

In good form for this outing, Hitchcock brews a national network of demure old ladies, average Joes, and respectable businessmen who double as secret agent terrorists that harbor criminals, pull guns and detonate bombs to keep things moving. It's a terrific plot that takes its time moving forward and once ignited, culminates in one of Hitchcock's more memorable finales. Look for incredibly life like NYC tourist attractions (all of which were recreated by art directors in Hollywood due to the war-time 'shooting ban' on public attractions). While Saboteur may not be one of Hitchcock's most well known films, it's a popular b-movie that is certainly solid and engaging with plenty of clever plot twists and as usual - terrific Hitchcock villains. Remember to look for Hitchcock's cameo appearance outside a drug store in the second half of the film. Hitchcock's original cameo idea that was shot (him fighting in sign language with his 'deaf' wife) was axed by the Bureau of Standards and Practices who were afraid of offending the deaf!


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