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889 reviews in total 
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Burlesque (2010/I)
LA Cabaret, 2 June 2016

At least it's got Cher, and the iconic "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend". There isn't much else to see or listen to. Annoyingly unoriginal story about an ambitious, small town Iowa girl named Ali (Christina Aguilera), who leaves the slow lane for the fast lights and glitter of L.A.

There, she too easily lands a job at a nightclub overseen by Tess (Cher). The club features small tables and a stage whereupon mini-clad young ladies dance, lip-sync to the music, and pose evocatively for mostly male patrons. Ali gets her chance to replace the lead performer. Along the way, various characters and incidents intersperse the club's stage numbers to keep the contrived plot moving along.

You get the feeling that the entire script was written for Aguilera. Yes, she can sing, if by singing you mean yelling out lyrics attached to modern rap beats, nominally called "music", devoid of melody or substantive meaning. Aguilera specializes in loudness. The stage numbers start out fine, before Aguilera horns in, but then deteriorate. The final stage number reeks of cringe inducing, vapid noise.

Further, Aguilera is miscast. She looks too little-girl innocent in the first half; in the second, with all that garish makeup and posing, she looks horribly fake. Cher is better cast and I like her backstage presence. Performances are okay. Indoor lighting looks convincing. But the stage seems to change size; in one scene, it looks small, in another, overwhelming.

I would have preferred a more unpredictable plot, more emphasis on Cher's character, a different actor for the Ali character, and stage numbers that didn't sound like they came from the portfolio of Justin Bieber. Still, the presence of Cher elevates "Burlesque" to borderline entertaining. It's worth a one-time watch.

Melodramatic Soap Opera, 2 June 2016

The story is based on the John Steinbeck novel, and is set in California. A small group of travelers gathers at a two-bit rural bus stop to prepare for a bus ride to a town fifty miles away. There's not a lot of action in this movie. It's mostly a character study of the passengers, the bus driver, and the bus driver's alcoholic wife, Alice (Joan Collins), who runs the bus stop restaurant.

The bus itself is old, ugly, and small. The restaurant, also, is small. Tight spaces encourage passengers to communicate with each other. There's a lot of small talk. Problems and fears of characters appear early in the plot and continue to the end. A general tone of angst and tension permeates the story.

The best segments occur during the bus ride. Obstacles make for rough going and some unintentional humor, as the bus bumps, careens, skids, and slogs along during inclement weather, and as it encounters a landslide and a rickety old bridge that must be traversed during a flood.

The film's biggest problem is a script that spends too much time at the restaurant, probably in an effort to give maximum screen time to Joan Collins. Even after the bus is miles away, the plot keeps returning to the restaurant and Joan Collins. Overall performances are acceptable, but nobody stands out in this ensemble cast, despite the presence of Jayne Mansfield and Joan Collins. Background music is downbeat, consistent with characters' moods.

Had someone other than Steinbeck been the author of the source material, I doubt that this film would even have been made. I would describe it as a minor story, a melodramatic soap opera with too much dialogue. As a 1950s film, "The Wayward Bus" isn't bad, but except for the bus ride, there isn't enough dramatic action to merit a lot of enthusiasm.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Lonely Genius, 24 May 2016

A cursory read of Alan Turing's biography proves that the basic points of this film are factual. That some details have been tinkered with for cinematic appeal is possible. Turing was historically significant because he built a computer that broke the Nazi code, which helped win WWII. The script blends these events with Turing's personal life.

Despite his genius brain, Turing nevertheless suffered as a gay man in a homophobic era, which brought loneliness and run-ins with the cops. With acquaintances he could be socially awkward, eccentric, arrogant, and humorously quirky.

The script's non-linear structure makes for difficult viewing at times. Constant flashbacks to, and returns from, three different eras in Turing's life render unnecessary confusion. The first half is a bit boring, but drama picks up in the second half. The script conveys a realistic view of Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Most of the supporting characters come across as a bit nebulous.

Appropriate for the historical era, the film uses 35mm format wherein grain structure is obvious. In Turing's later years, desaturated colors dominate, to convey a gray, sad tone; brighter colors and more contrast highlight his younger years. B&W archival clips show actual WWII scenes. Editing and production design compliment the cinematography. The nondescript piano score is okay but too loud in some scenes. Overall casting and acting are acceptable; Cumberbatch gives a credible performance.

Significant historical content and release dates suggest that the producers intended for "The Imitation Game" to be Oscar bait. The film is a recent addition to a list of culturally relevant films meant to confer on Hollywood a sense of legitimacy. Fine film aside, Hollywood's motives here reek of self-congratulatory prestige.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Good Ole Boys, 24 May 2016

In the 1970s there were a lot of these grade-B, drive-in type movies set in rural Southern locations. Typically, there was a sheriff, a youngish protagonist, lots of car chase action, and some kind of conflict involving the sheriff and protagonist. "A Small Town In Texas" clicks all these boxes. And so the underlying idea here isn't original.

Yet, the down-home rural atmosphere seems fairly realistic, as the movie was filmed in and around small towns near Austin. Male characters are generally good ole boys with minimal education; and the women are fairly inconspicuous. The main character is Poke (Timothy Bottoms), a local hick just out of prison who has a score to settle with Sheriff Duke (Bo Hopkins). The corn pone dialogue is about what you would expect for local yokels. There's some fairly good suspense in the second half. And part of the plot involves corruption surrounding a political event.

The script has several major problems, apart from being unoriginal. First, the inciting incident is postponed too long, so that the plot's first thirty minutes meanders. Second, the scriptwriter overuses the car chase cliché; here there are three, complete with inept cops and screeching tires. Third, the script leaves dangling the subplot involving character C.J. Crane.

Casting is less than ideal. Bo Hopkins seems to have become typecast. Timothy Bottoms looks too young to play a hardened criminal, though his performance here is acceptable. Secondary characters seem more like two-dimensional stick figures. I really like that mournful score, played at the beginning and at the end. Cinematography and production design are okay, but the film's color seems highly muted.

Life in a small, rural town in the American South, combined with some contrived drama sums up the premise of this film. "Macon County Line" is much better. But "A Small Town In Texas" is acceptable if other similar movies are unavailable.

Celebrity Distraction, 18 May 2016

The wealthy host of an English country estate named Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) presents his friend, Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott) with a list of ten people he wants investigated. Gethryn finds that the list consists of people who either have already died an accidental death or are still living and who may soon die. The assumption is that someone wants all these people dead. Gethryn and his sidekick Le Borg (Jacques Roux) plow through the clues, and eventually solve the mystery.

The script gives us an array of strange characters who may, or may not, be the murderer. And B&W lighting conveys an air of mystery. But the plot is contrived and contains too much filler in the form of repetitious and lengthy foxhunts.

Scott plays his role well. Dana Wynter, in her stylish 1960s clothes, is annoyingly aloof and her performance is consistent with the stuffy English atmosphere the film presents throughout. I have always liked Herbert Marshall, and his performance here is terrific in a minor role.

But then comes that final ten minutes. I don't mind gimmicks if they're not too intrusive or obnoxious. However, here the scriptwriter and director have so little confidence in their film project, they insert a huge gimmick, apparently hoping to distract viewers from what is clearly an inferior script.

Unlike some viewers, I do not watch films to see movie stars. I watch to see an interesting story. When you have to break the fourth wall and announce the presence of well-known Hollywood celebrities as the main point of your film, that blatant show of stardom screams distraction in a most condescendingly fraudulent way. And it ruins just about everything that went before.

Worth Watching For Its Historical Value, 18 May 2016

Well-known performers and film stars entertain, serve food and drink to, and socialize with, young WWII soldiers and sailors, before these guys go off to war. The fictional plot follows three or four young servicemen in particular, and their encounters with attractive young females whose work at the canteen involves being the guys' romantic dates for a couple of hours.

Most of the plot takes place at the canteen, a New York City nightclub with dance floor and stage. The atmosphere is intentionally lively and upbeat. For servicemen, it's a momentary escape both from the demands of military duty and the prospect of overseas battle. Yet there's an undercurrent of loneliness and separation, knowing that in war not everyone returns safely to friends and family. Owing to these melancholy and sad themes, I find the token plot more interesting than the appearance of celebrities.

Some of the entertainers do nothing more than chitchat for a minute or so with the servicemen. Other entertainers perform on stage. And it is the selection of performers and their musical numbers that I found quite disappointing. Almost all of the selected songs and comedy routines were downright boring. Of course it was a different era then, so judgment needs to be tempered with a sense of historical perspective.

B&W lighting is acceptable, but it would have been interesting to see this film in color. The sounds of the performing bands seemed tinny or thin to me; maybe it's just the era technology. Casting and acting are acceptable. The appearance of the celebrities could have been enhanced if they had been wearing name tags, or in some way could have been identified by name.

"Stage Door Canteen" is a lengthy film, which could have been rendered higher quality with less dialogue and far better stage entertainment. Yet, it's worth watching as a useful window into an era that is long gone, an era of some interesting performers, almost none of whom are with us anymore.

The Firm (1993)
Trapped, 13 May 2016

A hotshot young lawyer named Mitch (Tom Cruise ... who else would Hollywood cast as a hotshot?) accepts a job with a small law firm in Memphis, only to become trapped in a nightmarish maze of deceit and corruption. The plot has Mitch a little slow to catch on, but when he does he draws upon inner cleverness he previously lacked to set a trap himself.

The script has several problems, not the least of which is Mitch's naivete when accepting the job. He tells his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn): "These are nice people, Abby". Turns out that Abby is more perceptive about these "nice people" than her high-income, hotshot hubby. The plot's first half is pretty good, with fine editing; the second half trends labyrinthine with tangled and convoluted plot elements that make the film hard to follow.

Fast-paced, outdoor "action" towards the end is unrealistic and makes the film overly long. Most of the characters consist of annoying "beautiful people", hip, sophisticated, and rich; I was hoping most of them would die.

Production values are terrific. Great on-location filming in Memphis is enhanced by polished outdoor photography. Interior sets look detailed and realistic. Nice, jazzy score if perhaps a bit loud. Casting is credible, though someone other than Tom Cruise might have brought more plausibility to the lead role. Performances overall add to a sense of professionalism. Hal Holbrook is always fun to watch. And I really liked Holly Hunter's performance as a two-bit smoking secretary with a heavy Southern drawl.

Slick and sophisticated, "The Firm" was made during an era when audiences were still mesmerized with American wealth and corruption. It's a polished, perhaps too polished, production. Overall, the movie does have entertainment value despite an imperfect script.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
At Least It's Got Peter Ustinov, 12 May 2016

This is not one of Agatha Christie's better whodunits. Still, it's set in an interesting locale. And it's got Peter Ustinov. So for those two reasons the film is worth watching, once.

Apart from Ustinov, however, casting isn't very good. Secondary actors and their performances are rather bland and uninteresting. Younger females tend to have similar looks. Lauren Bacall looks too old for the role she plays. David Soul has got to be one of the most boring actors I have ever watched. And Piper Laurie, normally a fine actress, overacts here, possibly due to poor direction.

But the worst element of the casting is what made the old "Murder, She Wrote" television series so disappointing. In those shows, the murderer was almost always played by the actor who ... To say more would be to give away too much for this film.

Cinematography is acceptable, though nothing special. Period-piece costumes and production design are adequate. But the score is dreadful. It lacks style; it's nondescript, something seemingly put together quickly, or cheaply.

Set mostly in the Middle East near the Dead Sea in the 1930s, the story unites an archaeological expedition with murder. A wealthy but grumpy old woman takes her brood along and they predictably encounter Poirot. A murder occurs, and Poirot solves it. The formula is the same as for most other Christie whodunits. This one lacks artistic flair and eloquence. Though worth watching once, it's no match for earlier Agatha Christie films.

Copycat (1995)
Unique Psychological Thriller, 12 May 2016

An interesting idea here is that we have two professional women dealing with the issue of violence against women. Sigourney Weaver plays Helen Hudson, author and expert on serial killers who becomes agoraphobic after an encounter with a killer. Holly Hunter plays M.J. Monahan, slightly nasal lead detective who smiles a lot and looks just out of high school but who can be as steely and relentless as any male cop.

Most of the plot binds Helen and M.J. in their pursuit of an intelligent serial killer who terrorizes San Francisco. It's the chemistry between the two women that make "Copycat" somewhat unique among the list of psychological thrillers. There's plenty of suspense, with gloved hands, shadowy figures, and silence. Long camera takes enhance creepy tension as does odd camera angles.

As with most thrillers of this kind, the killer seems to know exactly where to be and when to be there, and that's a genre problem. There are also some story clichés, like dependence on television news and the use of computers to convey information to the audience. I did not like the bathroom segments, and Harry Connick Jr. needs to confine his efforts to his great music. The film's climax descends into unrealistic silliness.

Production design is fine. Of note is Helen's elaborate and modern apartment, wherein almost one-third of the film takes place. The score varies appropriately from melancholy to eerie to classical. But I dislike the song "Murder By Numbers", mercifully played just once. Casting is credible; acting is above average. Weaver gives a convincing performance, and Holly Hunter is good in every movie I have seen her.

A lot of research went into this film on serial killers. For example, we know that most organized serial killers hide behind a mask of normalcy; and in a couple of early scenes our killer shows up as just another average Joe, undetectable in his apparent sanity.

The story here is a bit contrived. But it draws viewers in with lots of tension and suspense. And with the performances of Weaver and Hunter, the film's imperfections seem less severe.

Murder Ordained (1987) (TV)
"Endureth All Things, Lorna", 26 April 2016

One of the best TV movies ever made, this riveting film tells the true-life story of the murder of a preacher's wife in rural Kansas in the early 1980s.

In one long flashback that covers the year before the wife's death in a presumed accidental traffic mishap, the script meticulously evolves the sordid relations leading up to the tragedy and the suspicion of one highway patrolman that this was no accident. In time, an ongoing tangle of lurid involvement between the preacher and his attractive church secretary leads others to the same conclusion.

As the truth of a conspiracy starts to emerge and with law enforcement closing in, the confidently smug pastor, Tom Bird (Terry Kinney) reassures his panicky co-conspirator, Lorna (JoBeth Williams) that everything will be okay. "Endureth all things, Lorna ... didn't God test Abraham in the same way?" Of course, his naïve parishioners stand by their man, no matter what.

On-location filming in Kansas adds to the realism, as does court transcripts of some dialogue. Cinematography, production design, casting, and acting are all high quality. Editing is especially impressive. Yes, it's a long film, but the complex story involves conspiracy, murder, hit men, adultery, and possible incompetence in public office.

The subject matter is unusual in that we don't normally think of a preacher as a murderer. That only happens in fictional stories. Yet the unbelievable is precisely what makes this film so mesmerizing. The events really happened. For that reason alone "Murder Ordained" is worth watching.

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