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gridoon2017

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1985 reviews in total 
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A remarkable, if at times exhausting, achievement by Tornatore, 22 April 2017
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Considering that about 90% of a "A Pure Formality" takes place inside a decrepit police station, the writer-director, Giuseppe Tornatore, does a good job of preventing it from feeling too static (with the help of some brilliantly edited fractured flashbacks). What starts as a typical police procedural turns into something more philosophical, symbolic, powerful. It wouldn't be far off the mark to call this a two-hour episode of "The Twilight Zone", and as such it is as exhausting at times as the night of interrogation is for Gerard Depardieu. But it pays off, and the two stars (well, one star and one famous director in a rare starring role) are well-matched. *** out of 4.

Acceptable but uninspired, 20 April 2017
5/10

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Roland Winters makes an unenthusiastic debut as the inscrutable Chinese detective in this acceptable but uninspired Charlie Chan outing. It begins fairly well, with the murder happening almost immediately and inside Chan's apartment no less, and has a good if typically out-of-the-blue twist at the end, but the rest is business as usual. Number Two Son's role is significantly reduced in this, in favor of a Torchy Blane-like female reporter and her detective boyfriend (who, in true 1947 fashion, even cuffs her to a chair at one point to keep her out of his way). ** out of 4.

Wonder Bar (1934)
Remarkably frank, adult and cynical, with at least two wonderful musical numbers and a great cast, 18 April 2017
7/10

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This is the kind of movie that could only have been made pre-censorship. You'd never hear lines like "Boys will be boys!" or "I'm tired too, and I'll feel worse in the morning - I hope" in a post-code film for two more decades at least. The title setting is a hotbed of unrequited love, and the resolution of the main plot is so cynical, and at the same time so logical, that you want to applaud; other characters are simply looking for some hanky-panky (the two married couples, largely comedy relief, but also a refreshingly equal-treatment tale of extra-marital infidelity.) And then there are the Busby Berkeley production numbers: "Don't Say Good Night" is so wondrous you may feel like crying; the "whip tango" with Ricardo Cortez and Dolores Del Rio brilliantly mirrors their ongoing story; "Going To Heaven On A Mule" is embarrassingly racist by today's standards, but also a triumph of production design (does it really matter that the 1st and the 3rd number could never be conceivably executed inside any nightclub? No!). This movie comes from a period in Hollywood when films were aimed at adults and treated them as such: able to make up their own minds about what is right and what is wrong, without having to teach them moral lessons. Not just a must-see; a must-own. *** out of 4.

Dated, to be sure, but there are scattered pleasures, 17 April 2017
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can almost guarantee that 9 out of 10 "modern" viewers will have little to no patience with "The Cuckoos". This is definitely a movie made to appeal to a different generation of moviegoers. But if they shut it off quickly it's their loss, because this archaic musical comedy has its pleasures too: a terrific, carefree tap dance duet with Wheeler and Woolsey, Woolsey courting the wonderfully large Jobyna Howland in a sequence that is strongly reminiscent of Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont ("Will you love me until I die?" - "Well, that depends on how long you'll live!"), and three segments unexpectedly done in color (most uncommon for 1930!). One of those segments is the bizarre "Dancing The Devil Away" production number. It's a shame, though, that the comic premise of the two fake fortune tellers is exploited in only one scene. It was funnier than seeing Wheeler in drag. **1/2 out of 4.

Atypical early Verhoeven is interesting but unfocused, 16 April 2017
6/10

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Paul Verhoeven is not nearly as assured as he would later become in this early film; he was still finding his feet. Other than a lot of nudity, it is quite different from most of his later work: it's a socially conscious, politically charged period drama. Not without interest, but the script is far too episodic and unfocused. Monique Van De Ven offers a sympathetic, spirited portrayal of the title figure, but let's be honest: if this movie didn't carry the name "Verhoeven", it would probably never have become commercially available outside of his own country. **1/2 out of 4.

Provocative, perverse, and piquant, 15 April 2017
7/10

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In other words: pure Paul Verhoeven. This sophisticated black comedy is not for the easily offended, but it made me laugh out loud on several spots ("if she gets a fourth one, they can play bridge!"). Verhoeven is one of the few directors who can mix horror and comedy so effortlessly (this was the main virtue of his otherwise disappointing latest feature, "Elle"). This is the movie that got him the ticket to Hollywood, and it's very easy to see why; it's probably the most entertaining erotic thriller of the 1980s (along with Brian De Palma's "Body Double"), just like the thematically similar "Basic Instinct" is probably the most entertaining erotic thriller of the 1990s. *** out of 4.

Svengali (1931)
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"Don't point that beard at me! It might go off!", 10 April 2017
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

That's what Groucho Marx said in "A Day At The Races", and I wonder if John Barrymore's Svengali was one of his inspirations for that line. Seriously, with that thing, it took me about half an hour to realize that this wasn't intended as a comedy. There is one traveling shot, where the camera circles around Svengali and then flies outside his house and into the house of Trilby, which is genuinely impressive, and the "hypnotizing eyes" effects are successful, but the story is slow-as-molasses, and Barrymore's performance doesn't date well; it constantly calls attention to itself, as if it's the performance that matters and not the film that it serves. ** out of 4.

Routine programmer with a few nice moments, 9 April 2017
5/10

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Marjorie Reyolds has one pleasing song ("By The Look Of Things"), and Mantan Moreland has one delightful scene where he dances - surprisingly well! Other than that, "Up In The Air" comes straight off the mystery-comedy assembly line (the cut-rate production department). The lead, Frankie Darro, is a non-entity, and at the end the killer seems to be chosen at random (no clues are given to the viewer). ** out of 4.

For star-gazers only - but most of the stars are wasted, 8 April 2017
5/10

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Not much stands out from this patriotic revue, either musically or comedically; the high spot is probably "The Flight Of The Bumblebee" on the violin! (the low spot is a slightly sickening song about shooting down Jap planes!) Most, if not all, of the famous actors who appear (as themselves) are wasted; Harpo Marx's blink-and-you-will-miss-him participation is especially disappointing (as is Gypsy Rose Lee's non-stripteasing "striptease"). The whole production is mostly airless and claustrophobic, but when (near the end) the two leads spend the night on a roof talking about each other's likes, it's a beautiful scene. My public domain copy runs neither 132 minutes nor 93, but 111. ** out of 4.

"You don't look much like an art editor. More like a work of art", 6 April 2017
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Dishnonored Lady" was clearly designed as a star vehicle for Hedy Lamarr, not in terms of budget (which must have been pretty limited), but in terms of surrounding her with lesser-known male leads who had no chance of stealing her spotlight. The story is predictable, and the character of the psychiatrist is self-righteously preachy, but the film moves right along, and Lammar's star power shines through, especially in some screen-filling closeups of her gorgeous face. For her fans, it's a worthwhile investment of 85 minutes. **1/2 out of 4.


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