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The Pagemaster (1994)
Predictable 90s part-animated film that has not stood the test of time
The main argument that I have against this film is that it seems to try, and subsequently fails, to be Disneyesque. As a result, it does not come across as an original or innovative idea. However, this is definitely not the only thing wrong with this disappointing feel-good extravaganza.
First of all, there are some definite cast issues: Macaulay Culkin is quite unbearably irritating as the cowardly Richard Tyler, a role that, in my opinion, would have benefited a lot from a more comic portrayal that would have made the audience relate to him more easily. Another annoying feature is Whoopi Goldberg as Tyler's animated literary companion, Fantasy. She is the wise-cracking character that you find very often in animated feature films, like the Genie from "Aladdin" (portrayed engagingly by Robin Williams), except that Goldberg, for all her talent, does not really have the extreme pathos that Williams had, and that the role requires. Patrick Stewart, the man with one of the greatest voices to ever grace the big screen, is somewhat wasted as the obligatory coward-who-thinks-he's-so-brave, Adventure, and although Frank Welker's Horror (the hunchbook) is amiable, the character still comes across as boringly formulaic, like the film. The cast's only real saving grace is the live-action Christopher Lloyd as Mr Dewey the librarian, not to mention the latter's animated alter-ego, the Pagemaster. As he so often is, Lloyd is brilliantly over the top. Otherwise, the only other interesting vocal contribution is that of Leonard Nimoy as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, although his appearance is limited to a small cameo.
Furthermore, the animation, for a modern day viewer, is not impressive enough to distract the audience from the dull plot, and neither is the dialogue, which falls flat (especially with Culkin's unenthusiastic delivery) and the gags are mostly grindingly facetious and unfunny ("Would you like to crawl into a corner with a good book?"). There is also a song in the middle of the film, "Whatever You Imagine", written by Barry Mann, James Horner and Cynthia Weil, and performed by Wendy Moten. The song seems to be an attempt at capturing the Disney feel of incorporating Pop songs into the story-line. However, whether you like Disney's songs or not, you have to admire their talent for incorporating them into the plot, as can be seen in "The Lion King" (a film of which I, personally, am not tremendously fond) with Elton John and Tim Rices' Oscar-winning "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", not to mention the other songs that they wrote for that film, all of which fit seamlessly into the plot. In "The Pagemaster", no such cohesion between plot and music is achieved even minimally.
However, although this film is mostly disappointing, not all is lost. The story, for all its flaws, wastes no time in getting started, and there is a certain nostalgia surrounding the film for the endless stream of, mostly mediocre, but still harmless, cartoons of the 90s, when computer-generated animation was yet to be exploited. The film does make a respectable attempt at being educational on the literary world, but some of the references are too fleeting (more Sherlock Holmes would not have gone amiss) while others were given too much emphasis, especially the "Treasure Island" segment, although Long John Silver is quite endearingly modeled on Robert Newton's classic portrayal of the character from the 1950 motion picture. Pixote Hunt, Maurice Hunt and Joe Johnston handle the direction skillfully, and, had the script and the story been polished up, this film just might have been passable. Having said that, I can't deny that, when I first saw the film, as a young boy, around ten odd years ago, I was sufficiently entertained, so it is definitely a good, innocent film to plant your children in front of if it's on television, but definitely not worth buying.
The Magic Christian (1969)
Bizarre and somewhat dated, but still worth watching once
I saw this film recently and didn't find it particularly entertaining. It is very dated in my opinion, and in many instances, it isn't funny at all. So why have I given it a respectable six? Well, there are many details about this film which keep it interesting to the viewer, even if he doesn't find the film funny. First and foremost there is the cast which includes uncountable guest stars from both Britain (John Cleese, Clive Dunn, John Le Mesurier, Richard Attenborough and Spike Milligan just to give you an idea) and America (Yul Brynner, Christopher Lee and Roman Polanski) and spotting them is great fun. The two main actors, Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, play their roles very well too. There is also the occasional funny moment (for example, the bird-hunting scene) and also it must be said that with its theme of greed, the film makes a valid point: some people will go to immeasurable lengths to get money. Quite fun, but I assure you that I will certainly not watch it again. Maybe you have to be into the sixties...
Depressing and truly watchable
"I feel so insignificant I can't even kill myself" says the depressed Miles, played to perfection by Paul Giamatti. This excellent film has every ingredient which the (in my opinion) highly overrated "Lost In Translation" lacked. Like in the equally great film by the same director Alexander Payne, "About Schmidt", we feel the relentless pain that the principle character is subjected to. In "Sideways", we feel Miles' miserable feeling of general uselessness as he attempts in vain to get a book published. Yet this film is very funny in all of its insane depression, which is what makes it so watchable and enjoyable. An excellent cast makes the film even more fantastic, with Thomas Haden Church perfect in the roll of the playboy Jack, Virginia Madsen very suitable in the roll of the wine fanatic beloved of Miles, and also Sandra Oh is good as Jack's girlfriend. Credit has to be given too to Marylouise Burke who is great in the role of Miles' ecstatic mother. Moving, funny and to a certain extent pretty true, "Sideways" is a rare example of truly excellent film-making. Not to be missed.
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
As good as any Western could possibly get
Little did John Sturges know when he made "The Magnificent Seven", that he had made a classic. Eli Wallach is great as the villain, but it is the Magnificent Seven who steal the show here. Yul Brynner is the tough Chris Adams, Steve McQueen is on top form as Vin, in his own unique sophisticated style, Charles Bronson is very good as Bernardo O'Reilly, the man who the children take an enormous shine to, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and James Coburn all keep the film zooming along wonderfully, and the late Horst Buchholz is good too as the ambitious Chico. Everything that a western should have can be found in this film: a good cast, fantastic and exciting fight scenes and great scenery. A great game to play with your friends is to see if they can name all of the Magnificent Seven. This film is also recommendable for its marvelous score by Elmer Bernstein. Well worth seeing, especially if you like westerns. 8/10
Monkey Business (1931)
One of the best Marx Brothers films
It starts off fantastically, with the four brothers playing stowaways on a ship who are hiding in barrels and singing "Sweet Adeleide". Harpo is fantastic as he goofs in his own unique silent way, and there is a hilarious scene involving him and a Punch And Judy show. Chico is as usual on top form as the Italian who has sent for his grandfather's beard by "hair mail". And Groucho gives his classic wisecracks. Zeppo has more to do in this film than he did in other films and he isn't too bad considering that he didn't want to be in the films but had to due to his contract. Two historically funny Marx Brothers scenes in this film are one where they each in turn pretend to be Maurice Chevalier, and one where Chico and Harpo are cutting a man's mustache ("That sides-a-too short"). You must see this film; it's the Marx Brothers at their best. 10/10
The Intelligence Men (1965)
An enjoyable spy spoof from the great comic duo
I love Morecambe and Wise so I enjoyed this film. They are on top form as bumbling British agents who are trying to stop the bad guys who are "on their side" from doing their bad deeds. There are some really funny scenes and some great lines ("waiter there's a dead man in this soup") and a reasonable cast. Yet though this film is very much enjoyable, it is not as good as their next film "That Riviera Touch", because it begins to get a bit unfunny at times. Nevertheless it's worth watching just for the fantastic opera scene at the end of the film which recalls Danny Kaye's equally hilarious opera performance at the end of his film "Wonder Man". It is also interesting to see how young Morecambe and Wise were when they made the film. Enjoy! 8/10
A little-known classic
I saw this fabulous tear-jerker purely by accident but I don't regret it one bit. In my opinion it's one of the best romantic war films ever made. This is mainly because the fabulous director Douglas Sirk doesn't allow it to become a soppy schmaltz. Also, the film is incredibly moving, especially in a scene at the beginning where a young man, unable to live with the guilt of having shot a woman, shoots himself. John Gavin is good as Ernst Graeber and his beloved is adequately played by Liselotte Pulver, but the most outstanding performance, I think, is by Charles Régnier as Joseph. If more war films were made like this then they would be much, much more watchable. The credit sequence at the beginning of the film is also very well done. Why don't more people know this masterpiece? Enjoy! (and don't forget the Kleenex) 10/10
North by Northwest (1959)
Truly, truly great
I saw this film for the first time quite a while ago, and ever since it remains one of my favorite films. Everything is perfect about it, from Saul Bass's expertly designed credit sequence to the spectacular ending which always has me on the edge of my seat. It is, without a doubt, one of the best spy films ever made along with "The Thirty-Nine Steps". This film has the best possible cast that it could have had. Cary Grant is excellent as Roger and James Mason is a great villain. Martin Landau is equally good as Mason's sleazy assistant. There are some wonderful lines too ("I am not going to let them all down by getting myself slightly killed"). The bi-plane scene is just classic and it is filmed fantastically. What more is there to say? "North by Northwest" is a true classic from a great director; you've done it again Alfie. Enjoy! 10/10
The Jolson Story (1946)
A bizarre yet interesting account of Jolson's life
Hardly any of this film is true; for one thing they missed out a couple of wives, and, like most biographical films of back then it is highly over-romanticised. Larry Parks was a strange choice for the part, since he was not very famous, and he doesn't really look like Jolson. Yet this film manages to stay relatively interesting for two hours, with some great music from the master performer, who appears himself briefly, in a long-shot down an isle singing "Swannee" (though it's quite obvious because Al Jolson was much smaller than Parks). Most biographical films were helped by guest appearances by stars playing themselves, but this film has none, and you can hardly say that it has an all star cast. But if you can't enjoy the story, then just sit back and listen to the stream of Jolson hits nicely mimed by Parks. Enjoy it! 7/10
The Fabulous Dorseys (1947)
Bad Acting, but what do you expect?
The Dorsey Brothers were great musicians, and I admire their work greatly, but they weren't actors. They could carry off reasonable performances in cameo roles in films, like Tommy Dorsey did in the film "a star is born" but other than that, they were not worthy of a main role.
However, I am not here to dump this film; it has some fantastic music in it, including a great jam session with Art Tatum. We are treated to a fabulous amount of Dorsey hits like Tommy Dorsey's soulful rendition of "I'm Getting Sentimental over you" and Jimmy Dorsey's swingey rendition of "Tangerine".
Also, there are some enjoyable cameo appearances (apart from Tatum) that include the famous bandleader Paul Whiteman and the singer Bob Eberle.
The worst thing about this film is a romantic relationship that occurs between the DB band's pianist and the singer. This relationship has virtually nothing to do with the film, and amounts to an unbearable schmaltz.
"The fabulous Dorseys" isn't a bad film but you probably have to be a massive fan of the talented brothers to truly like this film. Enjoy the music! 7/10