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19 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Classic "Men On A Mission" Film, 8 December 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Powell and Pressburger's "Black Narcissus" (1947) is a classic "men on a mission" film ala "Bridge on the River Kwai" or "The Guns of Navarone" except with the twist that the elite commando team is comprised of female nuns. At the beginning, the crack team is assembled by an elderly general -- err, a Reverend Mother -- and given an impossible mission. Their suicidal objective? To trek to a fortified citadel perched on a matte-painted cliff, create a nunnery, and convert the fearsome savages of Mopu.

The fiery-haired Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is the fearless yet stiff-necked team leader; Briony (Judith Furse) is "the strong man" who can theoretically bend an iron bar in her teeth and also functions as their field medic; Honey (Jenny Laird) is the affable second-in-command who can adroitly liaison with the locals; Philippa is "the old hand" whose expert knowledge of fieldcraft -- in this case, gardening -- enables their survival. Of course, Ruth (Kathleen Byron) is the unreliable one, the weakest link in the chain, whose personal failings may or may not threaten their well-being at a critical moment.

Along the way, our intrepid team of heroes encounters untrustworthy characters such as the womanizing Dean (David Farrar) whose allegiances and motives remain suspect. Much like the similar archetype of Anna in "The Guns of Navarone," Kanchi (Jean Simmons) is the exotic femme fatale whose unexpected appearance creates the usual complexities.

As the mission proceeds, flashbacks and conversational snippets gradually reveal the sordid or tragic pasts of the various team members. The team leader, Clodagh, is not a humble teacher like Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan," but has a slightly more colorful history. As in the latter film, doubts emerge as to the mission's usefulness. Morale falls. Quarreling ensues. Of course, as in every "men on a mission" film, one of the team must be outed as a traitor of sorts. An individual must defy specific orders and thus endanger everyone else, as well as the mission itself. In this case, the "mission" refers to more than their objective, but the convent as well.

Overall, this a highly entertaining film and tremendously benefits from the color photography by Jack Cardiff, as well as the adept directorial skills of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Without a doubt, one of the sparkling gems of British cinema.

14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
"They call him Captain Apache!", 10 November 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Captain Apache" is indeed a hidden cult classic of the 1970s. As other reviewers have written, the overall lasting impression of the film is that it is too hilariously amusing to deem irredeemably bad. It's like a ten cent roller-coaster ride: pointless, but fun.

This "unique" film begins with a summarizing montage of the entire story. As this montage is seen, we hear an utterly cheesy, yet incredibly addicting title song -- "They call him Captain Apache!" -- a wacky combination of Western rawhide chorusing and 1960s guitar mayhem. Upon watching this cinematic opening, the viewer instantly realizes two key things: 1. this movie is going to be very bad and 2. this movie is going to be a lot of fun.

The plot, what little there is, pertains to a U.S. cavalry scout called Captain Apache searching the American West for the meaning of the two words: "April Morning." This eventually, and let me re-emphasize that "eventually," leads him to discover -- spoiler warning -- a "plot" to assassinate the U.S. President.

Entire segments of this film seem unnecessary and are merely thrown in for increasing the on-screen action. On the upside, nearly everything unfolds at a break-neck speed in the subtle form of ten-minute long episodes. As a result, this fast-pace helps hide the non-existent storyline and the viewer need only remember that Captain Apache has... a "red ass." :)

And, yes, I will confess: I liked "Captain Apache." :P

47 out of 80 people found the following review useful:
A show with great potential that became progressively worse., 10 December 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Cameron's "Dark Angel," starring Jessica Marie Alba, debuted on television with the glitzy fanfare of a P.T. Barnum exhibit. It was intended to be Fox's answer to "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer," but unlike the latter show, "Dark Angel" never lived up to the potential which it displayed in the pilot episode.

The lead character, Max Guevera/X5-452 (Alba), with her enhanced feline abilities was interesting enough despite the all-too-familiar "I just wanna be normal" superhero formula lurking underneath. Gratuitous shots of Alba in a skin-tight leather outfit was undoubtedly a major selling point with the teenage male audience but cheapened the series to the level of a D.C. comic book.

The overarching plot involving super-soldiers whose DNA had been artificially engineered, inserted as fertilized eggs into the wombs of surrogate mothers, born under military supervision, and then escaped as children was cliché, but still interesting. This was tacked onto a futuristic setting in which a dystopian Seattle has been devastated by an electromagnetic pulse. These two premises were mildly compelling, and the show was at its best when exploring them, but the moment it would veer into bizarre subplots, it would fall from an average weekly thriller to a stinking pile of fungus.

The ensemble cast that populated the show was by far the worst failing of this short-lived series. The supporting characters were stereotypes painted in broad, one-dimensional strokes (i.e. Original Cindy) and sounded like imbeciles. The point of using slang is to make communication quicker, not to use it so much in a sing-song fashion that basic conversation becomes ridiculous. Apparently, middle-aged creators James Cameron and Charles Eglee were trying so hard to make a hip show that appealed to teenie boppers that they didn't realize being too trendy is just as detrimental as being too normal.

Coupled with the annoying overuse of rat-tat-tat-tat dialogue, a "battle of the sexes" theme existed throughout the series which could have been wickedly amusing if it hadn't usually lacked wit. Max saying lines such as, "Girls kick ass, it says so on a T-shirt" was humorous. Max saying lines such as, "Guys are the weaker sex" to a grieving widow who has just lost her beloved husband only makes the audience groan. Comedy is a difficult art. The Dark Angel writers should have remembered Mel Brooks' famous advice, "If I cut my finger, that's tragedy. If a man walks into an open sewer and dies, that's comedy."

For the action scenes in which Max displayed her "dizzying" superpowers, the Dark Angel crew often utilized a simple fast-forwarding technique. This is an effective trick if executed correctly, but instead it often came across as sped-up footage from a shaky hand-held video camera. In retrospect, far more interesting combat effects could have been created using wire stunts ala the choreography of Yuen W. Ping.

Ultimately, the corniness of "Dark Angel" became more and more insufferable; the weekly episode writing didn't improve; the characters became so posh they were snotty. Midway through the first season its Nielsen ratings began to slip. Seeing no quality improvement, viewers abandoned "Dark Angel" like rats from a sinking ship. By the second season, the once-promising series had degraded to having Max slaying Buffy-like monsters and encountering freakish mutants that seemed borrowed from X-Men comics. If only the series writers had aimed for a wider demographic audience other than teenagers and focused less on being devastatingly hip, "Dark Angel" might have lasted a few more seasons.

Tsk! Tsk!

11 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Want to see beautiful islands and native girls? Join the Marine Raiders!, 15 March 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ray Enright's "Gung Ho," starring the classically-handsome Randolph Scott, is a stilted propaganda flick, but it's still entertaining if you were once a Marine or come from a family of Marine Corps heritage. The film is loosely based on the first combat mission by the Marine Raiders and, before reviewing this film, some historical background must be addressed.

In the 1930s, Lieutenant Colonel Evans Carlson was a military attache to a U.S. embassy in China. He observed and reported on the field operations of the Chinese army. Upon assuming command of the 2nd Battalion Marine Raiders, Carlson attempted to instill the Chinese principles he had learned into his unit. Perhaps his only legacy today is in the form of the parodied yell: "Gung ho!" Obviously, over time, the phrase's meaning has become quite different.

Unfortunately, this film butchers Carlson's story and much of the historical background as well. "Gung Ho" poorly dramatizes the influence Carlson -- renamed Thorwald in this film -- had on the battalion and depicts the botched raid as a unparalled success. The film itself suffers from a weak screenplay, uninspired directing, terrible editing, poor sound design, and continuity errors. The overuse of stock footage doesn't help matters either. Perhaps most bothersome is the syrupy propaganda. Every American character, of course, dies a heroic death with overblown valor. The depiction of the Japanese, however, is quite low even for a hard-nosed, war-time film.

There is a marked difference between creating cinematic propaganda that defines the moral reasons why we should fight the Axis powers and creating cinematic propaganda that merely degrades a race of people. This film mostly promotes the latter propaganda in a systematic attempt to dehumanize the Japanese race via generalized bigotry. Given the war raging at the time, this dehumanization is understandable and must be studied to reveal the darker side of human nature; in particular, those of Hollywood screenwriters who never saw combat.

In closing, "Gung Ho" is an interesting film, but nothing spectacular. If you enjoy watching lesser-known war films, I recommend Robert Aldrich's "Too Late the Hero" (1970) or José Antonio de la Loma's "Surprise Attack" (1970).

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Gunsmoke at its best., 8 January 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Guitar" (1x35) is a truly unique episode of Gunsmoke and perhaps one of its most daring forays.

While Marshal Matt Dillon is absent from Dodge, a guitar player is relentlessly persecuted and harassed by two troublemakers from Texas. In an attempt to protect the guitar player, Chester and others intervene on his behalf. Undaunted, the troublemakers capture the guitar player during the night and, ostensibly, hang him.

What happens next occurs off-screen, but the outcome is both shocking and bizarre: The citizens of Dodge catch and lynch the two troublemakers. Confronted with their dangling corpses, Matt Dillon offers a rebuke of the lynching, but seems unperturbed by the heinous act committed by the town citizens.

More disturbing is the subtle yet unmistakable hints that Chester, Sam the bartender, and other leading citizens of Dodge have participated in the impromptu hanging.

This unvarnished depiction of frontier justice -- a lynch-mob justice which Dillon was too late to stop but grudgingly understands -- is a truly rare occurrence in television history. After viewing the episode, I was morally sickened, but I could not deny the gritty, undeniable realism of such a powerful ending.

This episode is yet another example why the early years of Gunsmoke are truly unique.

Indiscreet (1931)
10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Swanson's charming persona lights up the screen, 7 September 2005

Although not a cinematic masterpiece, "Indiscreet" is a pleasant film in the vein of a P.G. Wodehouse farce with many charming moments. The dialogue is consistently sharp, often amusing, and is similar to the comedic repartee of later films by Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, and Frank Capra. The plot revolves around a coquette, Geraldine Trent (Gloria Swanson), who finds the perfect man (Ben Lyon), only to be tempted by an old flame (Monroe Owsley). The choice she makes is easily predictable to connoisseurs of romantic comedy, but the plot of the film is of secondary importance due to the presence of Gloria Swanson.

Prior to viewing "Indiscreet," I had never seen Gloria Swanson in any other film aside from Billy Wilder's mesmerizing "Sunset Boulevard." To see Swanson in this film -- youthful, vivacious, and ravishing -- is to be in awe both of her beauty and her talent as an actress. A far cry from 'one-note' comediennes of the Silent Era, Swanson's range seems to be that of a modern performer: She imbues an otherwise shallow character with a layered, cheerful, and human personality. She is truly a forgotten and sparkling gem of early cinema.

The only downside of "Indiscreet" is Ben Lyon, cast as the love interest of Swanson's character. In contrast to Swanson's cinematic artistry, Ben Lyon is as flat, unromantic and devoid of charm as usual. Supposedly, Lyon was one of the most popular stars of Hollywood, but -- after seeing Lyon in several films -- I still fail to see justification for such laurels. Indeed, a cardinal sin of film is when the villain or rival beau is more charming and attractive than the so-called hero (Lyon). This film is guilty of that sin with Monroe Owsley, cast as the rival, being far more interesting than Lyon.

Despite the lackluster performance of Lyon and dated moments, "Indiscreet" is still a pleasant film and passes the time. Don't look for brilliance, but there is some entertainment to be gleaned. At the very least, watch "Indiscreet" to glimpse a young Gloria Swanson at the height of her feminine powers.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Insipid Coen Brothers' Film., 5 April 2004

"Intolerable Cruelty" (2003) is a mildly pleasing film which suffers from a lack of creative clarity. The Coen brothers do not know what they want their film to be: Is it a glossy romance in the inimitable style of the 1930s and 1950s? Is it yet another feather-weight film in that clichéd Battle of the Sexes genre or is it secretly a black comedy from the usual Coen formula? Unfortunately, the film fails in all of these categories and must be taken just as it is: a muddled final product often scant on humor.

The overall premise is intriguing: a skilled divorce lawyer, Miles Massey (George Clooney), falls in love for an out-and-out gold digger, Marylin Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who seems incapable of true love. The viewer spends most of his/her time waiting for hilarious moments which rarely materialize.

In terms of acting, George Clooney almost carries the film entirely with his excellent smarmy performance, but fails to do so because of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Clooney has a kinetic personal energy which radiates onscreen and requires an equally compelling member of the opposite sex to match it. Unfortunately, throughout the film Zeta-Jones, who gave excellent performances in "The Mask of Zorro" and "Traffic," literally seems to be on auto-pilot. She lacks her usual spark and, in the end, it utterly sinks the film. She needed to be more lively and engaging. On a side note, Cedric the Entertainer nearly steals the film out from under both stars as the enthusiastic Gus Petch, a smut-digging detective with a disturbing affinity for his work.

Now, it is clear that the Coen brothers planned that this film be in homage to the comedic classics of the golden years of studio cinema. The key problem is that the Coen brothers lack the world-weary, sardonic humor of an Ernst Lubitsch, a Preston Sturges or a Billy Wilder. As a result, we have instead what seems to be a Down syndrome clone of a 1950s Doris Day film. Realistically speaking, the Coen brothers aimed for an unattainable goal: it is well-nigh impossible to mimic the comedic studio gems of the 1930s. Those unique films were created in a bipartisan age when one half of society dwelled in abject poverty only to glimpse the sophisticated lifestyle of the upper-class through a camera lens: of elegance and wit; of style over substance: a forgotten era in which gentlemen and ladies were well-mannered, well-manicured, well-groomed, well-dressed and engaged in a bourgeois self-indulgence that bordered on fairytale decadence. Our own era of T-shirts, sweat pants and factory-made Nike sneakers is putrid in comparison. Nothing of that bygone era, including its legendary films, can ever be duplicated. It is a pity the Coen brothers even attempted to do so.

In summary, "Intolerable Cruelty" is an insipid disappointment. You walk away slightly amused, but not feeling that vague, hard-to-put-your-finger-on "soul cleansing" sensation which many top-notch comedies leave in their wake.

7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Stanwyck's legs receive top billing., 10 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

William Wellman's "Lady of Burlesque" is an entertaining film based upon Gypsy Rose Lee 's detective story "The G-String Murders." Known for her witty stripteases and eyes like strange sins, Lee was a notorious fallen angel of the Vaudeville circuits who became a novelist when her rouge brush could no longer conceal her wrinkles. The protagonist in her story, Dixie (Barbara Stanwyck), is a thinly-disguised portrait of Lee herself and she becomes ensnared in a murder-mystery amid the backstage melodrama of a grind-house. The unimpressive Michael O'Shea co-stars as Stanwyck's love interest: a wise-cracking Irish comic in an oversized coat and clown shoes who is determined to win Dixie's flitting affections. O'Shea lacks screen presence, but this doesn't detract from the film's highlights.

The highlights of the film are the musical acts, vaudeville routines, and snappy ripostes. The goal of director Wellman was to capture the quaint, nutty, crass, and ramshackle atmosphere of the Vaudville era and, in this respect, he succeeds. On the other hand, the pitfalls of the film are clichéd supporting characters, tedious expositions, and predictable elements.

Perhaps the most predictable element is the behavior of the police. Their investigative procedure is intended to evoke a dime novel and is adroitly parodied by Wellman. Thus, in a small room crowded with suspects, the police make startling accusations while onlookers exchange suspicious glances. This happens not once but twice during the film and comprises its least interesting segments. If you can view these scenes as merely set-pieces of the murder-mystery genre, you may focus instead on the main attraction of the film: Stanwyck's gorgeous legs.

During her hardscrabble youth, Stanwyck was a chorus girl in the Ziegfeld Follies and those dynamite legs earned her enough money to eat, to pay her rent, and to buy a coat. She was thirty-six years old when she appeared in Wellman's "Lady of Burlesque" and, as usual, she's a knockout. Her sparkling eyes, world-weary intonations, and exaggerated gestures define a signature acting style that showcases one of the most talented starlets of cinema.

In sum: If you can overlook the duller moments, you will find a charming lighthearted film with dry wit, war-time panache, and a truly gorgeous femme fatalé.

Monster (2003)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
In each of us there beats a heart of darkness..., 10 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In one of the most unexpected cinematic performances of the past decade, the naturally beautiful actress Charlize Theron has metamorphosed herself into a troubled and not particularly glamorous prostitute in director Patty Jenkin's "Monster" (2003).

"Monster" (2003) dramatizes the heinous acts committed by Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer. Aileen's story is both tragic and repulsive: a testament to our cruel world in which good and evil are often the same. The cruelty of this world and the effect it has upon Aileen would not have been conveyed so powerfully if not for the heartfelt performance of Charlize Theron.

Some critics may assert that Theron's changed external appearance for the character is the key to her depiction of Aileen. I would disagree. Much like the performances of Lon Chaney, the make-up itself -- shaved eyebrows, dark contacts, latex eyelids, an obtrusive mouthpiece and spray-on skin blemishes -- are merely the finishing touch on a powerful, haunting emotional performance that sears the viewer's memory.

And no more memorable is the performance of Christiana Ricci. Ricci has been typecast as the oddball character or the cutting ingénue in past films, but her performance here as a repressed suburbanite with no friends due to her overt homosexuality is downright inspired and is perhaps unfairly overshadowed by the gripping performance of Theron. However, no amount of great acting can overcome a poor screenplay or story. Thankfully, "Monster" is quite compelling in this department.

Based on actual events, the plot of the film is fairly straightforward: An emotionally and physically abused individual, Aileen (Charlize Theron), seeks companionship with Selby, a moonstruck lesbian. Although Aileen is not a homosexual, her lifelong loneliness and brutal experiences with males compel her to seek an emotional haven in Selby's arms as another female outcast. In return, Aileen unknowingly infuses Selby with the free will and raw authority Aileen wields in every situation. In need of money, Aileen begins sporadically murdering the clients she attracts while soliciting.

Now, I have conducted no research whatsoever as to whether this film is accurate to the actual story or historical personages it is based upon. However, as a piece of cinema, the film evocatively captures both the quaintness and bleakness of gas stations, the depressing loneliness of cheap motel rooms and the gloomy, never-ending stretches of interstate highways which project as a whole an oppressive sense of inescapable despair.

This disturbing film represents a newer, truer, darker and grittier strain of cinema that unflinchingly explores the mercilessness of our society and the nonreturnable, often miserable, lives we are given. It contains no heroic ending or fairy-tale fluff, but stark reality spoon-fed in large gulps.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
As lifeless as sushi., 17 June 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Stopover Tokyo" is a loose adaptation of John P. Marquand's famous novel, "Right You Are, Mr. Moto," the final entry in the Mr. Moto literary series. In the novel, two American intelligence agents, Jack Rhyce and Ruth Bogart, land in Tokyo on a secret CIA mission. Mr. Moto greets them at the airport and, together, the trio unmasks a dangerous international spy ring. Sadly, Marquand's briskly-paced novel has little in common with this lackluster film.

In true Hollywood fashion, the plot of the novel was largely discarded in its transition to the big screen. In the film, the intrepid American hero is renamed Mark Fannon and he is glibly portrayed by Robert Wagner with a wavy '50s pompadour. Fannon is a flippant code clerk in American counterintelligence who is sent to Tokyo on a routine courier mission. He soon uncovers an assassination plot hatched by crazed American communist George Underwood (Edmond O'Brien). Fannon races against time to stop the assassination, but the suspense quickly fizzles as the film's ending is boringly anti-climactic.

The ending of the original novel is far more poignant. In the novel, Communist agents kidnap the romance interest, Ruth Bogart, and throw her out of a high window. She plummets to her death, and the guilt-ridden hero resigns from the CIA. Yet, in this film, the skilled female operative of the novel has been downgraded to Welsh airport clerk Tina Llewellyn (Joan Collins). Collins imbues her character with a superficial triteness that oddly complements the film's dull script.

Overall, "Stopover Tokyo" is ploddingly slow and is similar to John Wayne's "Big Jim McLain" (1952) with the macho American agent thwarting evil Communists in the Pacific. Unsurprisingly, the Japanese characters are condescendingly stereotyped as child-like individuals who easily understand American slang, yet speak in Pidgin English. If you enjoy these types of movies, I suggest the vastly superior "Blood on the Sun" (1945) with James Cagney and Sylvia Sydney battling the Imperial secret police in prewar Japan.

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