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|758 reviews in total|
Everything about this film is bold, clean, striking, vivid -- most
apparent in the magnificent visuals. The landscape might as well have
been Mars. Desert scenes convey a wonderful sense of sterile beauty,
pristine and natural: blowing sands, the sun, the sky, and not much
else, uncluttered by modern techno-jumble that renders cities ugly by
comparison. The presence of a few humans on camels magnifies the
grandeur of this spiritual place.
So spectacular are the desert scenes, they almost swallow up the story, about an eccentric, quirky Englishman named T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole), on a mission to help Arab tribes come together against the Turks in the early part of the twentieth century. Although not entirely factual, the film at least offers viewers a sense of real-life historical figures including not only Lawrence but also Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), among others. All of the major characters are interesting in their own ways. All convey a sense of intelligence and enlightened vision, even as their cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds clash.
The script's dialogue is rendered potent due to its sparseness. Visuals carry the story effectively; minimal dialogue needed. And when it is present, it's sharp, crisp, striking. At one point a character asks Lawrence: "What is it ... that attracts you personally to the desert?" To which Lawrence responds in two words: "It's clean." Yes indeed. And so is the film's plot: simple, straightforward, bold, uncluttered.
Costumes and prod design are detailed. The score is pleasantly haunting, though it does get repeated a bit too often. Casting and acting are acceptable. I especially liked the camels; they are fun to observe. Color cinematography is brilliant, especially outdoors. The use of day-for-night camera filters is obvious in some scenes, giving the production an antiquated look, at times.
My major complaint is the runtime. I could have wished for a shorter film by about one hour. Some scenes are not really necessary; other scenes could have been shortened, all without losing character development or status as epic. It's a serious problem for this film, in that the resulting impression is one of pretension. I have no doubt that Lawrence and his Arab adventures are film worthy. But his story is hardly so earth-shaking as to merit nearly four hours, complete with "Intermission."
"Lawrence Of Arabia" was much better than I had expected, owing mostly to the visual grandeur. It's a very well put-together film, runtime notwithstanding. The film gives us historical and cultural perspective, and does so in a way that makes the desert landscape as much a character as the film's protagonist.
Water assumes the role of villain, as a small group of passengers try
to move ever upward inside a capsized and sinking ship, in what is one
of the better 1970s disaster films. The film starts with a screen
notice that informs viewers "There were only a handful of survivors.
This is their story." Which of course keeps viewers wondering who will
survive and who will die. And so the first third of the film is
interesting in that we get some good character development, courtesy of
a well-developed, character-driven script and an all-star ensemble
cast. When a major character dies we feel a sense of loss.
A lot of the nail-biting tension derives from the tight, claustrophobic interiors through which characters must traverse. And I must say the props, literally upside-down, were terrifically designed. It's hard to imagine these interiors were all built sets. With appropriately placed echoes, plus the sound of steam and rushing water, the film's sound effects are almost as impressive as the visuals.
A couple of sequences are quite dramatic. One is the festive New Years eve ballroom segment. As the external wave hits the ship, everything begins to slide at an angle that becomes ever more steep. Here, film editing creates a sense of horrifying realism, with just the right quantity and quality of screen cuts. Ditto the Christmas tree panic sequence.
Cinematography is highly effective. In many scenes one source of light augmented by a bit of back-lighting makes for just the right visual effect. An unobtrusive score in the right places adds emotional depth.
In sync with the dialogue, acting trends heartfelt. Most performers give quite a good performance. I especially liked Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters.
Several minor complaints include dialogue that is a tad too sentimental in spots, some rather too obvious plot clichés, and thematic depth that trends a bit shallow, pardon the pun. None of these script issues are serious.
"The Poseidon Adventure" aims for a high level of entertainment value. With a good script, terrific cinematography and editing, and some fine acting, I think it succeeds.
The film focuses entirely on the final three months of the artist's
life, as he lived in Auvers, near Paris. What we get is a cinematic
study, not so much of Vincent himself, but of his relationship with
those around him in those final weeks: the doctor and his family, the
brother and his wife, the people at the hotel, his various love
interests. For a film about a painter, the plot has him painting very
little. The film is almost a soap opera of back-and-forth talk, mostly
serious but with some lighter moments mixed in. Too much dialogue is my
Vincent (Jacques Dutronc) comes across as introverted, shy, temperamental, intellectual, and unpredictable. He gets a lot of criticism of his painting from those around him. It's hardly a supportive environment, especially given how prosaic, trite, and banal these people are. Tensions arise over mundane issues like comparisons with contemporary painters, money, Vincent's recurring mental problems, romance, and so on.
The visuals look really good. Cinematography is competent and unobtrusive. Costumes and prod design seem authentic for the period and suggest strong tendencies toward a Victorian, prim, pretentious culture. Casting is acceptable. Acting is very good because it is so understated. Pace trends slow. There's very little music in this film, and no score; which conveys a sense of realism as people come and go amid the perfunctory activities of everyday life.
It's been said that legends don't look like legends when they are being made. I think that applies to Van Gogh, here. He's just another painter worrying about his art, suffering from mental and/or physical ailments, and surrounded by banal people. That would not be Hollywood's approach to this famous artist. But it's an approach that's far more realistic and believable. The legend stuff would come later.
In 1930s America, money was scarce; people had to find some way to make
a few bucks just to survive. "Paper Moon" offers a clever premise
derived from that difficult era. A youthful looking con artist named
Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) teams up with a doleful, nine-year-old girl,
Addie (Tatum O'Neal). Together, man and girl trek through
Depression-era Kansas and Missouri in an old car, selling bibles.
But though the story premise is clever, the plot and dialogue seem contrived. And the Addie character is not remotely believable. She is way too precocious for someone so young. Her hotel plan regarding Trixie (Madeline Kahn) is so intricate that even some bright adults would be hard-pressed to think of it. And her quick, off-the-cuff verbal responses don't jibe with her age or her background. Further, her annoyingly dour and manipulative attitude renders her unappealing.
Despite this, the film's ambiance is wonderful. Scratchy, emaciated sounding music of the 1930s, withered costumes and prod design, on-location filming in Kansas, and B&W deep focus cinematography from Laszlo Kovacs combine to exude a sense of realism both in place and time. The tone is one of underlying sadness.
Visual and music realism is the strength of this film. The script in general and the dialogue and Addie character in particular are the weaknesses. "Paper Moon" is a good film to watch for its nostalgic appeal. The era and the hardships it wrought give us a sense of perspective, especially compared to the excesses of our modern world.
The best that can be said for this film is that it got made. The
subject matter, about the life of a dreadfully dull and stodgy old
bureaucrat from a bygone era, is not in line with Hollywood's usual
mass-produced action films aimed at brash young boys. I credit Director
Eastwood and lead actor Leonardo Di Caprio with enough star power to
convince the money-men to fund this project. And it turned a profit.
But there are plenty of problems with "J. Edgar", not the least of which is a script that flips back and forth too much between the 1960s and earlier decades in Hoover's life. A lot of time is wasted on the gangster era of the 1920 and 30s, possibly because Di Caprio is so youthful looking, he fits a younger image of Hoover, in contrast to an aging old man in the 60s. Almost nothing is included about the JFK assassination and follow-up investigation despite the fact that Hoover played a central role in marketing the "lone-gunman" theory.
Throughout, Hoover comes across as bureaucratic, rigid, moralistic, self-righteous, incapable of changing with the times, dishonest, and a hypocrite. Absent from the film are any virtuous qualities he may have had.
As Hoover, Leonardo Di Caprio gives a better performance than I would have predicted. But the script does Di Caprio no favors. The dialogue for Hoover consists largely of platitudes and pronouncements. Hoover doesn't talk with people so much as make little speeches to them. And Di Caprio's monotone voice exaggerates this talking down to others effect.
Hoover demanded loyalty from his staff. As his private secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) is an interesting study in forced loyalty. Ditto Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), as Hoover's sidekick.
Cinematography is quite dark. Colors are heavily muted, almost monochromatic. Costumes and prod design are convincing across five decades. But makeup for an older Clyde Tolson is horrid; his face looks like a wax figure that's about to melt.
"J. Edgar" could have been much better, had the script focused more on the sixties and shown Hoover's working relationship to the Kennedy's and Lyndon Johnson. And though I appreciate Di Caprio's efforts to get the film made, a different actor might have been more convincing in the role of Hoover. Still, the film is a reasonably good effort. It's worth watching once, if for no other reason than because it's a true story about a real-life historical figure.
The film offers us Robert Ryan as Jim Wilson, a burnt-out city cop, in
search of his better self. The film starts off well, but then abruptly
changes locale, and gives us an entirely different character mix. The
result is that "On Dangerous Ground" comes across as two separate
films, held together only by the story's protagonist.
The first Act conveys a dark, gritty tone, and takes place in an urban setting. Here, much of the plot occurs at night, with terrific B&W noir visuals. Wet streets, seedy interiors, low-class "dames", and depressing soft background music create an interesting mood of urban alienation and decay. It's a hostile environment that grates on Wilson.
But the remaining two-thirds of the film shifts away from the big city to a pastoral setting, that includes an entirely new set of characters, one of which is Mary (Ida Lupino). Here the tone is totally different, and less interesting. This segment plays like a vigilante Western. I like Ida Lupino in the role she plays, but her dialogue is too sentimental, too mushy. And the ending is anticlimactic.
This film has a lot of problems, not the least of which is the casting of Ryan. In his role as Wilson, he is overly smug; he's also humorless and bland. I didn't buy his character arc, though that is more of a script problem. And some of the film's dialogue is not believable.
But, by far, the greatest problem is a divergent plot that unnecessarily changes locales and characters. The scriptwriter could have gotten his point across without resorting to such a radical change in Wilson's environment.
One of the first true horror films, the story features the sinister Dr.
Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his not-so-lovable sidekick, Cesare
(Conrad Veidt), who sleepwalks a lot. The general consensus among early
critics was that the film anticipated the rise of Hitler and fascism,
with Caligari as a stand-in for Hitler, and the German people as
sleepwalkers under his spell.
The plot is traditional in construct with its narrative continuity, to keep audiences engaged. Yet, characters are placed in a distorted world of angular shapes, tilted lines, and dagger-like forms that are anything but traditional. These jarring Expressionistic visuals are wonderfully exaggerated, suggesting that story characters live in a nightmarish world of insanity from which they cannot escape.
Though the cinematography is in B&W, the copy I watched had a slight reddish-brown tint. Shadows combine with the visual angularity to magnify a sense of terror. The film's director uses the iris camera shot, which opens like an eye into a scene, then closes, then opens again to the next scene.
Prod design and costumes are super drab and shabby, reflecting the extreme poverty of the era. Makeup is exaggerated. Casting is fine. Acting is what one would expect for the silent film era ... overly animated gestures and facial features; and Caligari walks around bug-eyed a lot, which to audiences, then, emphasized his evilness.
"The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari" is a complex silent film that pulls together story traditionalism with the distorted visual forms of avant-garde art. Consistent with this intellectual and artistic vision, the film reflects deep cultural themes and implicitly projects societal trends. Viewers may find the story a tad slow. I certainly could not identify with any of the strange characters. Yet it's a must-see film for anyone interested in film history. And those distorted visuals are mesmerizing.
The story centers on efforts to get to the moon. The film's intent
seems to be to explain space travel in a realistic, scientifically
accurate way that can be understood by ordinary people. That's
commendable. But the approach is dreadful. In the first few minutes a
group of potential financiers get treated, along with us viewers, to a
five minute cartoon ... literally ... with Woody Woodpecker learning
how a rocket ship could lift off of Earth, get to the moon, and return
safely. Do the film's producers really regard viewers as having no more
than a kindergarten mentality?
The rationale for the rocket project is just as curious. Deadly serious, a scientist explains to these same financiers the project's necessity. "(Among nations), the race is on and we'd better win it ... The first country that can use the moon for the launching of missiles (cue dramatic pause) will control the earth! That, gentlemen, is the most important military fact of this century!" Okay, whatever.
The rocket's crew consists of some scientists, and one idiot, brought in to replace an ailing pro. This idiot, named Joe, is the ultimate simpleton, reluctant to go along on the mission 'cause, like, he's got a hot date with a good-looking chick. And he has doubts about the rocket's success: "The thing won't work; it can't; it's crazy". Still, the captain coaxes him into going along, and Joe replies: "Okay, I'll set up there with you and twiddle the knobs ... hey, you guys are really serious, ain't cha."
Most of the film consists of indoor sets and tons of dialogue. There's precious little in the way of interesting visuals until we get into the second half. Here, a desolate moonscape propels the imagination, finally, with a dark background peppered with stars.
Background music is dreary. Costumes are consistent with the era's perception of space travel. Space helmets resemble old-fashioned ladies' hair dryers.
The film's educational intent is noble. But the script talks down to its audience. There's too much dialogue, most of which is stodgy and lacks subtext. Special effects look cheap. Casting is perfunctory; acting is below average. I find "Destination Moon" boring, time-bound, and less sci-fi than cultural melodrama.
The film begins in an ornate opera house, with a perched raven cackling
near an operatic superstar. Suddenly, the prima donna actress storms
off the stage in a huff. "I've never seen such lousy direction ...
birds on stage ... what is it, an opera or an amusement park," she
barks; "I have to sing; how can I do that with a raven on stage that
hates me ... It's deliberately destroying my performance." This opening
is one of the most clever and amusing intros to a film that I have
Soon, the prima donna gets sidelined. And a young woman named Betty (Cristina Marsillach) replaces her. But Betty is reluctant to take the role, as the opera is Macbeth which "brings bad luck". Plenty of bad luck ensues. A maniac, wearing a hood, unleashes terror among the performers.
In this typically good Argento directed Giallo, plot misdirection leads the viewer down the garden path; not everything is as it appears to be. On the other hand, characters generally are not very interesting. I could have wished for more suspects and a better plot resolution. And the back-story could have been handled a little better.
A few scenes are quite gory. Otherwise, given the genre, the gore is fairly restrained. The ravens are more than mere props. They play a crucial part in the overall plot.
Throughout, the camera takes the killer's POV. There are lots of close-ups, especially of the birds and their eyes. As we might guess, a lot of operatic music fills the plot, giving the film a highbrow tone; the music is pleasantly soft and unobtrusive. Editing, prod design, and costumes are fine.
"Opera" is a fairly good whodunit. But its tension and spine-tingling suspense are what really make it worth watching, far surpassing anything Hitchcock could construe. And those birds make a wonderfully naturalistic contrast to the cloistered culture we associate with the world of opera.
Entertainment careers, romance, and petty crime mix together to create
a reasonably good film, based on the real life story of Ziegfeld star
Fanny Brice and her attraction to gambler Nicky Arnstein. The script
changes the names, and the two leads become Rose (Alice Faye) and Bart
(Tyrone Power). "Rose Of Washington Square" is a thin story connected
by numerous musical numbers.
The film has the look and feel of a long-ago era, specifically Vaudeville, with its eclectic mix of self-contained acts: singing, dancing, magic, and comedy. One lengthy segment features Rose singing in Washington Square, but interrupted by an unrelated act called "Igor and Tanya", an acrobatic performance not connected to anything else in the film. And then there's the stage performance wherein Rose and various dancers perform a dance that includes a magic act. As the dancing proceeds, each person brings forth a lit cigarette out of thin air, smokes it, then fetches another cigarette from out of nowhere.
This tribute to Vaudeville goes into overdrive with the appearance of entertainer Al Jolson, as character Ted Cotter. This character has little or nothing to do with Fanny Brice. I think the reason he's in the script is that he represents Brice's historical era. Jolson's inclusion ignites the plot, generating real pizazz into an otherwise lazy, dreary story. All bug-eyed and in black-face, and wearing white gloves, Jolson electrifies at the plush Winter Garden Theater, with his standard songs: "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby", "My Mammy", and "California, Here I Come".
Casting is mixed. Tyrone Power is surprisingly good. And I enjoyed William Frawley as a talent agent. But glamorous Alice Faye is not convincing as a stand-in for Brice. Faye does sing quite well, but I didn't care for any of her songs, with the exception of "My Man", Brice's signature number.
Costumes, hairdos, and prod design all seem to reflect well the early twentieth century era. B&W cinematography, sound effects, and editing are all competent, and pleasantly unobtrusive.
Without Jolson, the film would be average at best. But Jolson alone ups the entertainment value several notches, and that Vaudeville atmosphere is wonderfully nostalgic.
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