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817 reviews in total 
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Talky British Drama, 18 July 2014

The final fifteen minutes are quite interesting. But getting there is something of a chore. "The Third Secret" is the story of a famous psychoanalyst who suffers a gunshot wound. His maid finds him and, as he lay dying, he mumbles something to her. The ensuing headline reads: "Is it suicide?" How could a renowned psychiatrist take his own life? His 14-year-old daughter, Catherine (Pamela Franklin), goes to a famous TV reporter named Alex (Stephen Boyd), claiming it was murder, and insists that the killer must have been one of his patients.

Sleepy elevator music at the film's beginning tips you off that what we have here is not a suspense film. It could be construed as a mystery. But mostly it is a drama. With a British setting and British actors, we can correctly describe this film as a British drama. A lot of the scenes take place indoors, on sets. There's a ton of dialogue. Actors recite pages of dramatic lines. I kept waiting for Katharine Hepburn to emerge, to render a ten-minute soliloquy.

Characters trend bland and boring. The dialogue for Catherine is way too precocious for a 14-year-old girl.

Still, the story's theme is deep. At one point, Alex asks an associate of the dead doctor: "Would it be possible for a (paranoid schizophrenic) to murder (the doctor) and make it look like a suicide?" Heavy stuff. The ending is fairly easy to predict.

B&W cinematography is adequate if unremarkable. The camera is mostly static. There are some shadowy scenes toward the end. But overall, the visuals do not lend themselves to suspense. Casting and acting are acceptable.

Stuffy and lacking humor, "The Third Secret" is an actor's film; all the players get to show off their dramatic skills. But as a viewer, I was mostly bored. I had hoped for more suspense. What I got was a slow-paced, old-fashioned British drama set mostly indoors, with a script that had too much dialogue. The film could easily have been set in the 1940s.

Decent Into Madness, 18 July 2014

A low-intelligence rural man named Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom) becomes attached, almost literally, to his dying mother. When she dies, Ezra's attachment turns psychotic. The story is based very loosely on the real-life story of Ed Gein, Wisconsin killer of the 1950s. But "Deranged" focuses too much on the ghoulish and morbid, and gives us minimal contrast to the normalcy of Ezra's outside world. As such, the film comes across as cloistered, as well as depressing and dreary.

And the plot is oh so slow. Most frames last several seconds and longer. I kept wanting to tell the director: "okay, we get the point, let's move along". You get the feeling the director is padding the plot by stretching out each scene and each sequence. The entire plot could be encapsulated into a 30-minute short film.

There's little to no suspense. We see every ghoulish action that Ezra takes. Nothing is left to the imagination. His actions trend repetitive, the only difference being a new victim. The narrator, who tells us Ezra's back-story, helps not at all. His presence is unnecessary, intrusive, and annoying.

The photography is fine. Colors are appropriately muted and subdued. So too is the background music, which consists of a simple piano rendition of the old gospel song "The Old Rugged Cross". That song, played in many scenes, in combo with a rural American setting, reinforces a cloistered, depressing tone, reminiscent of a bygone era.

Hitchcock's "Psycho" did a far better job of telling a similar story. Despite being low-budget, "Deranged", a character study of a man's descent into madness, would have been better with a higher quality script and a different director. I get the point of the film. But for me it was simply boring.

Impressive, 6 July 2014

One of the finest sci-fi films ever made, "Mysterious Island" combines an adventurous Jules Verne story with terrific visual effects. Several men escape from a Civil War battle in a balloon and drift away to a remote island, whereupon they encounter all kinds of adventures. Using miniatures, matte paintings, and stop-motion animation, the film's visuals alone make the film worth watching, especially on the island. Story themes include the romance of faraway places; the natural world as both benefactor of, and source of danger for, humans; and efforts to survive, a la Robinson Crusoe.

I like the geographic scale of the visuals, where humans are dwarfed by large island features and by an expansive physical environment. Island wildlife that includes a giant crab, among others, look realistic, and make for entertaining story elements. Unlike modern films wherein CGI effects become the story, the visual effects in "Mysterious Island" enhance an already interesting and coherent story. The segment with the bird is funny. And then we get the humorous line of dialogue: "I wonder how many minutes it would take to cook in a slow oven".

Sound effects are almost as impressive as the visuals. The ambient wildlife sounds seem realistic. And the narrative voice-over is spoken in an echo chamber, which amplifies the story's mystery. Bernard Herrmann's score is effective, if perhaps a bit overbearing in some scenes. At times the background music is soothing and calming; at other times it is appropriately ominous.

Cinematography projects images that are a tad grainy, but do not interfere with viewing. There are lots of long shots, which is good for visual perspective. Ray Harryhausen's special effects blend well into the overall photography. Ensemble casting is excellent. Acting is acceptable, given that this is an outdoor adventure film not requiring a lot of acting skills.

If the film has a weakness it might be the first ten minutes wherein the setting is a Civil War battle, somewhat arbitrary maybe, and a bit lengthy; also the lighting in this segment is a bit too dark.

"Mysterious Island" gives us a simple, easy-to-follow story packed with adventure and visual delights. It would almost certainly be in my top ten sci-fi films of all time.

Wretched Script, 27 June 2014

A struggling, claustrophobic actor named Jake (Craig Wasson) becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman. Thinking she's in danger, he follows her around, to try to warn her. This film lost me with a first-half plot that was numbingly flat and pedestrian. With telescope aimed at the young woman, Jake mimics James Stewart's odious behavior as a peeping tom in "Rear Window". Though there may have been some tension and suspense in Hitchcock's plot, there isn't here, as Director De Palma's rip-off lacks thematic substance.

The boring first half is aggravated by the casting of Craig Wasson, an actor who comes across as Hollywood's "every man": dull, weak, homely, and nondescript. In some scenes he so overacts that it's almost humorous to watch him stretch his facial expressions.

The second-half plot devolves into silliness, with a tawdry 1970s version of disco-porno that is out of sync with plot points that went before it. Later segments become increasingly outrageous. And the ending is almost comical in an unintended way. The villain is blatantly obvious from the get-go, owing to poor casting, first-half plot points, and to the film's opening credits.

Adequate cinematography and production design can't save this turkey. Even the background score is awful, because it is so dreadfully manipulative. It telegraphs how the viewer is supposed to feel, a function of cinematic music that mostly died out in the 1950s.

"Body Double" is intended to be an erotic thriller. But a stupid story premise, a script that is full of plot holes, an incoherent second half, an unlikable protagonist, together with bad casting combine to reposition this film into the vexation genre, but rescued from filmdom's dregs by fine cinematography. I can't imagine that this script would ever be approved for production, unless the writer was a powerful Hollywood insider with a famous name, an insider who could pull the studio's strings ... De Palma, for example.

Forced Runtime?, 27 June 2014

A reviewer needs to give really old movies a lot of latitude. That is particularly true regarding visuals and sound, but also to a lesser extent the story. Hitchcock was perhaps an exception. But a lot of latitude still allows one to critique on points that any filmmaker should have been aware of, even in those days.

The most significant problem here is a plot that is rushed. I can accept that 1930s Hollywood is responsible for the conspicuous absence of pauses between lines of dialogue. This is typical of films back then; it conveys the impression that the runtime is being clocked with a stopwatch.

But in this film some scenes don't connect well, and I'm left with the impression that connecting scenes may have been cut out. How else are we to explain Inspector Gunby's assumption that Larry is innocent? Then there's that scene where Larry appears at the window at Mary's home; how did he get there from his escape location? How did he manage to get from Mary's home to Monte Carlo? None of these actions are explained. Were connecting scenes edited out? If yes, why? If, on the other hand, this is the way the scriptwriter wanted the plot to play, then it's a poorly written script. Either way, the film, at barely sixty minutes, appears forced into a runtime straight-jacket.

Production values are acceptable for the era. B&W photography is about what one would expect, grainy, and with the use of static camera shots. Casting could have had more diverse looking females. Acting was a bit exaggerated at times, not unusual for early talkies.

I suppose one could say that "Monte Carlo Nights" is a suspense film; there's a little, not much. The ending contains a slight story twist, but one that is not satisfying. The overall whodunit resolution here is disappointing. Other whodunit films from the same era are better.

Boys At Sea, 20 June 2014

"White Squall" gives us a kind of coming of age story, wherein naïve boys encounter the real world of sailing on a schooner ship, run by a hardened sea captain, played by Jeff Bridges. Through the adventure, the boys make mistakes; they display fear; they face their fears; learn valuable life lessons; enjoy the perks of female company, etc., en route to manhood. It's all fairly predictable. Yet, we can't fault the film for being predictable, given that it is based on true events.

I liked the McCrea character, played by John Savage, an actor who has never given a bad performance in any film I have seen him in. But Chuck Gieg (Scott Wolf) is a bit too goody-goody for my preference; unlike the others, he never smokes or drinks alcohol, and only consumes orange juice and soft drinks. The casting of Scott Wolf helps not at all; if he were any more Disney-ish, he would have been out of place here. The other "boy" actors seem too old for their roles. And everyone is a bit too photogenic. They all look like they're straight out of central casting.

Some of the dialogue seems hokey. And the Chuck Gieg narrative voice-over, while evocative and philosophical, seems a bit contrived for someone that age. On the other hand, it does add emotional and thematic depth, so to speak. Indeed, the ending credits and song, "Valpariso", suggest an old man who is reflecting back to a long ago childhood; hauntingly nostalgic.

A physical adventure film like this does not require a lot of acting skills. And not a lot of acting skills is pretty much what we get. But it's a beautifully photographed film with interesting interior lighting and expansive outdoor camera shots. More pop songs from the 1960 era would have been nice. Sound effects are impressive.

The film looks good, visually. That's one of the two really good elements of the film, the other being a story premise based on real events, which makes the climax more meaningful and gripping. The weaknesses are the script and casting. "White Squall" is worth at least a one-time viewing, especially for those who enjoy outdoor adventure films.

How ... Cute, 20 June 2014

Personally, I would have preferred a biographical film about Julia Child (Meryl Streep). She was a unique personality with a distinctive voice and style. She gave the world the gift of artful French cooking, and in the process entertained audiences with her jovial optimism. Meryl Streep gives a really fine performance here, especially with that voice and her manner of speaking. Stanley Tucci also enhances the film, as Julia's quiet, low-key, devoted husband, Paul.

By contrast, the film's plot about Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an ordinary American young woman who sets about to cook all of Julia Child's first set of recipes, comes across as distracting and annoying. Julie's scenes take away screen time that could have expanded Julia's life story. Julie Powell seems to be a product of the modern age, wherein ordinary people try to become "stars" through the pursuit of some gimmick involving either television or the internet. Further, Julie uses Julia Child's success as a measuring stick of Julie's own sense of self-worth. As such, Julie seems to suffer from hero worship.

Though the inclusion of the Julie Powell story is unfortunate, the script's plot does blend the two stories well. Scene transitions are wonderful. The film's tone is generally lighthearted. And there are some funny moments. I liked the interaction between Julia and Madame Brassart, the haughty owner of the elite cooking school; Brassart does not think much of Julia, but Julia couldn't care less. There's also the amusing scene wherein Paul comes home to find Julia next to a big pile of chopped onions.

Production design and costumes are elaborate, detailed, and quite impressive. Cinematography trends generally conventional but competent. Intermittent background music is bland and nondescript. Casting and acting for the Julia Child segments are impressive, and overwhelm both casting and acting for the Julie Powell segments.

The writers probably thought that a Julie - Julia combo story would be ... cute. But the two stories are not equal in importance, so the main problem with the film is thus the original story premise. "Julie & Julia" is not a bad film. But a focused portrayal of legendary Julia Child, sans Julie, would have been better.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Connectivity To An Island, 14 June 2014

George Tweed (Jeffrey Hunter) is an American Navy man scheduled to leave the Pacific island of Guam and return to the U.S on December 7, 1941. But that's the day that Japanese planes bomb Pear Harbor. And Guam is now under surprise attack as well. Tweed and four of his Navy buddies have a choice. They can surrender to the enemy on Guam, or they can make a run for it. They decide to run. Not all of them survive.

The title "No Man Is An Island" refers to a poem by English poet John Donne. The idea is that each person is connected to his or her surroundings. In the case of Tweed and his buddies, this connectivity comes in the form of substantial help they receive from Guam natives, sympathetic to Americans. And not all helpers are adults; some are children. This assistance, which comes with great sacrifice, is basically the theme of the film.

Except for the Japanese enemy, most of the characters are likable, including Tweed. And his story on Guam is one of drama and adventure, as he draws on his own inner resourcefulness and courage to survive, to augment the help from others. I also like the Mrs. Nakamura character (Chichay), a native Asian woman, small in stature, but with a big heart. She is shrewd and spunky, as she endures the idiocy of those around her.

Cinematography is acceptable for the era in which the film was made, but suffers in comparison to modern films. The use of day for night camera filters is obvious. And stock war footage, especially near the beginning and at the end, convey a cheap look and feel. Background music is annoying as it is so nondescript. Casting and acting are acceptable.

The film is based on a true story. Whether all the plot points are historically accurate or some script liberties have been taken, I don't know. What I do know is that if it had not been for this film, I would have no idea that George Tweed ever existed. I'm glad that the film is available for viewing. "No Man Is An Island" is a fine WWII film that deserves to be seen by anyone interested in that historical era.

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An Annoying Movie, 10 June 2014

What makes this film almost unbearable for me is the script's dreadful protagonist, Det. Remy McSwain (Dennis Quaid). Through most of the plot, he's insulting, unprofessional, flippant, and has a juvenile obsession with sex. Basically, he's a jerk. If he had been any more overtly pawing over Anne (Ellen Barkin), we could have just deleted the thriller scenes altogether, and added more sex, to generate a light romantic comedy. The casting of Dennis Quaid helps not at all. He's too young here to be taken seriously as a detective; and that smirk just reeks of sophomoric impudence.

The script's dialogue is over-the-top flippant, with witty one-liners meant to charm the audience, which is inconsistent with a story that deals with a serious crime investigation. It's as if the writers couldn't decide if they wanted a thriller, a love story, or a comedy, so they settled for a mishmash of all of the above.

Further, no matter what a jerk Remy is, or what secrets he may be hiding, Anne is easily taken in by him, providing the romantic angle, but suggesting a weak-willed woman who lets her personal attraction to a man interfere with her professional work as a detective.

The film's plot clichés are typical for a 1980s film, including obligatory sex scenes, explosions, several plot points, and locale stereotypes with exaggerated Cajun accents. All this just screams ... a film produced by Hollywood insiders who will write a stale, unbelievable story if it's what they think the audience wants.

There's nothing wrong with the visuals. Cinematography is acceptable, and so too are production design and editing. I did indeed like the Cajun music.

The thriller component had fine potential. And I like the setting in New Orleans. But the script's annoying characters, plot clichés, and awful dialogue make the film hard to like. That, combined with some bad casting, renders "The Big Easy" well below average.

Flowery And Frilly, 9 June 2014

Sporting lush costumes and tons of flowers, and as a throwback to early twentieth century living, this film gushes frilly, Victorian styles and traditions including, of course, the Easter parade down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. In 1912 this was the time and place for women to show off their ornate, frilly hats, displayed here in probably the widest variety, in any movie ever.

Though Easter finery bookends the film's plot, very little of the story has to do with Easter. We get something of a romance-career mix, led by Don (Fred Astaire) as a professional dancer, and Hannah (Judy Garland), a two-bit chorus girl that Don tries to fashion into a replacement for stylish Nadine (Ann Miller) who dumps Don for a lucrative solo dancing career. But the plot, such as it is, is not well written, and the main characters are not entirely sympathetic.

There is at least some humor, especially when Hannah, as Juanita, tries too hard to be sophisticated when she "dances" on-stage with Don, in a gown that sheds feathers. Playing it straight, long-legged dancer Ann Miller dazzles in a couple of numbers.

The thin, choppy plot is one problem, but so too are the plethora of mediocre songs that intrude into the plot. And though the song "Easter Parade" is quite melodic, the film doesn't do much with it at the end, which seemed blatantly curt. In other musicals, the entire film builds up to some grand finale musical number, but not here. And that was a disappointment.

Stylish for its era and supremely colorful, "Easter Parade" revs up the nostalgia for a bygone era, but in so doing comes across as quaint and dated to a modern audience. Still, it's worth at least a one-time viewing as an example of a lush MGM movie musical.

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