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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.

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.

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.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Stop singing those damn Mormon songs!", 26 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sydney Pollack's "The Scalphunters" is a briskly-paced, revisionist Western with an entertaining script and equally entertaining performances by a strong cast. Given the title, some viewers may expect a serious and gritty drama about the depraved scalp hunters who plagued the American West. However, in actuality, this well-written light-hearted film is a clever blend of both comedic and dramatic elements.

The story is complicated, yet easy to follow: Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) is a grizzled, Bible-reciting fur trapper with a monomaniacal attachment to his beaver pelts. Held up by Indians, Bass is forced to exchange his pelts for the tethered Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis), an escaped slave who formerly served an educated family in Louisiana. Bass and a reluctant Lee pursue the Indians but, through a twist of fate, Bass' furs fall into the hands of scalp hunters led by Jim Howie (the always engaging Telly Savalas), a burly ruffian henpecked by his prostitute-girlfriend Kate (a fussy, cigar-chewing Shelley Winters).

It is the latter performances which is the key to the film's success. Lancaster, Davis, Savalas and Winters effortlessly spin out humorous performances. And the best scenes are the humorous ones, such as when Savalas yells at Winters' to stop singing those damn Mormon songs or when Savalas defiantly tells Lancaster that he will kill him then steps on a cactus while returning to the wagon.

Yet for all its amusing tomfoolery, the film has a message: The axis of that message revolves around the dyadic relationship between trapper Joe Bass and the slave Joseph Lee; their hopes and their prejudices. Bass desires only to reacquire his pelts and Lee desires only to escape to Mexico. Both are reluctant to help the other. Each holds the other in contempt: Bass views Lee as a meek slave, and Lee views Bass as an uneducated hick. But, in the final scene, both characters are covered in mud; the color of their skin obscured. It is in this scene they find their equality, and one grasps the subtly of the film's psychology.

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.

6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
T-U-R-T-L-E... Power, 10 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Like it or not, the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (1990) created a cultural phenomenon that defined the early 1990s. The four characters gained eminence in a receptive era when rap music, backward baseball caps, sticker-laden skateboards, Pizza Huts and video arcades were considered "as cool as Vanilla Ice." If you did not own a turtle figurine or comic book, you were typecast in elementary school as a guilt-ridden "loser" who listened to the ABC Kids. In retrospect, a critic is hard-pressed to separate that cultural phenomenon from the film itself.

The film, incidentally, is pretty good. Yes, the characters and plot were outlandish even for the comic book universe from which they spawned: Four pet-store turtles and a rat named Splinter come in contact with nuclear ooze that transforms them into human-sized beings. Splinter is their martial arts teacher and the turtles his obedient students: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael. Along the way, we meet peppy news reporter April O'Neil (Judith Hoag), a hockey-masked vigilante named Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) and a memorably-named villain: the Shredder (James Saito).

The soundtrack of film soundtrack was an instant classic. It featured John Du Prez, Spunkadelic ("9.95"), Hi Tek 3 ("Spin That Wheel") and the ever-boisterous M.C. Hammer -- a famous rapper who went bankrupt and became a born-again preacher.

Although numerous parent groups attacked the green foursome, they neglected the positive influence the bizarre characters had on suburban communities. The ninja turtle phenomenon compelled inner city kids with troubled backgrounds to join martial arts schools. Sappily put, the turtles helped kids channel their youthful energies into less destructive pastimes: ... like... beating up other kids after leaving martial arts class.

Yes, overly-serious news commentators argued that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the pinnacle of societal absurdity and perhaps not the best role model for kids; however, these individuals overlook the fundamental principle of childhood: To be enraptured with the most bizarre things and attain enjoyment no matter what the cost. In the end, who should begrudge children their bliss?

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.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"Today Ain't White Boy Day Is It...?", 10 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tony Scott's "True Romance" (1994) is a cocktail mixture of action, drugs, sex and violence rollicking with the heedless enthusiasm of a newborn puppy in a Christmas box. The plot is a miasma of over-the-top situations centering on a comic store clerk and a call girl who fall in love and set about making their mark in the world. The murder of the call girl's pimp and the re-appropriation of his drug stash allow this dynamic duo to attain their dreams, but not without some bumps along the way.

Scripted by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, the film exists in a high-octane and bullet-riddled universe where paper-thin characters thrive with no sense of nagging morality or long term purpose. The viewer never knows what Clarence (Slater) or Alabama (Arquette) want to be, other than a mad dog killer and a gorgeous hooker, or even what they want to do, other than have sex in phone booths and watch Kung Fu movies. In fact, their long-term goal of "getting far, far away" throughout the film is revealed as spending money, making love and lying around on tropical beaches. Does this make the film not worth seeing? No: Quite the opposite.

Once the viewer realizes he is not watching a realistic film but instead a film written for twenty-something college dorm inhabitants, the film can be enjoyed for what it is: an entertaining action movie with lots of crazy dialog, fast-paced antics and bloody situations.

The two stars, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, are ideally cast for their roles. Slater effortlessly conveys the bored-out-of-his-mind young man who hasn't grown up and spends his time clerking at a comic book store. As the peppy hooker, Arquette's performance encapsulates the Playboy nymph of a male teendom's dreams: the breezy gal you hope would crash at your pad for a week in Daisy Duke Shorts and halter tops.

The best performances in the film are by Val Kilmer, unrecognizable as the imaginary Elvis, and Brad Pitt, who bumbles along as the stoned-beyond-all-reason roommate that is all too eager to give directions. Dennis Hopper gives a mostly by-the-numbers performance with the exception of a tense yet hilarious speech delivery on Sicilian genetics. Christopher Walken instantly tops the speech and calmly egresses with his usual cool. The icing on the cake is the talented Gary Oldman as a psychotic drug-dealing wacko-path who rants about White Boy Day and is the epitome of urban mayhem.

If you are bored on a Saturday night then I suggest you rent "True Romance" and let the chaotic genius of Tarantino Land wash over you.

**** (Four) out of ***** (Five) stars

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.

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).

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