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7 reviews in total 
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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
See Casablanca instead. . ., 28 December 2011

for Bogart, Lorre, and Greenstreet, with Ingrid Bergman instead of Mary Astor.

Many other reviews remark upon the historic significance of The Maltese Falcon, and I acknowledge the movie deserves props for Bogie's turn as Sam Spade and for snappy dialog. But I have issues with TMF as a true classic rather than a relic of the early days of film noir.

First, there's the femme fatale and alleged bombshell, Bridget O'Shaughnessy played by Mary Astor, whose performance has makeup an inch thick on it. Totally brittle from beginning to end. No chemistry that I can see between Bogie and Astor, or between Astor and anybody for that matter. Yes, Miles Archer goes gaga over her, because the script calls for him to. I haven't seen Astor in anything else, but surely she's been better elsewhere.

Similarly, Mrs. Archer doesn't come off as worthy of Spade's attentions. She's mostly there to tip us off to Spade's being morally compromised.

Second, I see many references to the menace exuded by Lorre and Greenstreet, but again I don't see it. Casablanca has Nazis in it, so L & G can do what they do well as supporting characters without having to affect stagy menace. These guys ain't exactly Robert Mitchum or Jack Palance or even Edward G Robinson; I actually got the impression that L & G are camping it up.

Third, the quest for the Maltese Falcon just doesn't seem that compelling, even as people are being killed along the way. A great treasure like the "dingus" surely should have more interesting villains than this chasing it. Instead we get cartoonish characters, none more so than the pipsqueak Elisha Cook as Greenstreet's muscle. whom he allegedly regards as like his own son or so he says.

In my opinion a movie about the stuff dreams are made of and the obsessions of those chasing those dreams shouldn't be pausing every so often for a chuckle or two. I don't think TMF ever made up its mind whether the characters should be taken seriously and tried too often to have it both ways.

In sum, I feel like TMF is being graded on the curve. It's good compared to what came before it, but it's nowhere close to being in the same league as Chinatown, where John Huston, TMF's director, conveys the menace that Lorre and Greenstreet don't.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Of course they're humans?, 19 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've rated this movie an 8 in spite of some pretty serious problems, which I"ll get to shortly.

As the story of the characters Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, destined to be organ donors in a society where organ failure is apparently the only medical issue "real" people have to deal with, Never Let Me Go succeeds. The acting is top notch; the settings and the mood are admirably conveyed. We care deeply about these kids/young people, and their fate weighs upon us well after the movie is done.

For the most part, though, the ethical issues arising from the treatment of organ donors gets pretty short shrift; the movie works, at least for me, because I'm induced to overlook some head scratching aspects of this story. I suspect the book accounts much better than the movie does for why the all important art gallery of the donors was created in the first place and how the characters understand its significance. What we get from Miss Emily at the end suggest that somebody thought they could tell from artwork what they couldn't tell from simple observation of the young donors. Really?

Somehow it's been arranged that the donors don't interact much with "real people," although they get close enough to speculate about who might have been the originals from which they were cloned. The notable exception to this is the adults who work at Hailsham, one of whom steps out of bounds in revealing the real story about the child donors' eventual fate. Because these adults are significant characters in the story, it's a problem that what they say and do doesn't make much sense. Moreover, we have to accept that something has happened at Hailsham to make these kids feel special, because the movie doesn't give us much in this regard.

But the movie isn't the story of Hailsham or of the people who created it. The movie is about Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who are doomed, but then, aren't we all? There's never really any doubt about their humanity, and we connect to them out of the sense of our own humanity.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Grown up romance in Iowa, 11 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is good enough that even with multiple viewings, knowing what's going to happen, I'm choked up at the off-mentioned scene in the rain near the end.

As noted elsewhere, the framing device of the adult children finding and reading Francesca's memoir doesn't work; their scenes are pedestrian at best. Even with this significant flaw, I consider BoMC a great movie. Think of coming across a Vermeer with a U-frame-it. The more you look at the actual painting, the less the frame matters. BoMC is almost that good.

Robert and Francesca chance to meet in front of her farmhouse, as Robert has gotten lost looking for Roseman Bridge. Both are long settled into lives that make this meeting stupendously unlikely; he's a globe-trotting photographer and she's been in this house tending her family for nearly 20 years, although she hails from Baro, Italy, making her being there that way at all unlikely to begin with. She's been listening to opera beating dust out of a rug while husband and kids are off showing a prize steer at the Illinois state fair, where they'll be for four days.

The two of them are in for a life changing relationship, although it seems at first like nothing more than a small detour for him and a break in the routine for her. They gradually awaken in each other dormant longings for a different kind of life than what they have. At the end of the four days, they are torn, and the movie works because we're torn with them.

They have quite a lot to say to each other, but there's more than enough room for the dialog within the farmhouse kitchen, the exteriors around the bridge and the honky tonk joint they venture to on Wednesday, within the score and the Johnny Hartman love songs. (Who knew that old style radio with tubes in it could sound so good?!)

Susan Sarandon (in Dead Man Walking) is the answer to who got the Oscar Streep should have won for her performance here, but she needed Eastwood to play against for that performance to have had the resonance it has. When Robert says he's not really an artist, I feel like he's speaking for Eastwood, telling us what he really would like to be but doubts he has the stuff for, although there's artistry there that Francesca connects with. In any event, without Eastwood's physicality, Francesca/Streep's transformation wouldn't make sense. Eastwood's acting is sometimes harshly judged, but I see him here fully inhabiting the character of Robert, perhaps because it's similar to his own.

Forty years ago or more everything was "poignant," to the point where the word was a cliché, but the word fits BoMC and the relationship between Robert and Francesca like none that I've ever seen in any other movie. The screenplay, the actors, the cinematography, and the score all work together.

Many reviewers have objected to the movie's portrayal of infidelity, some so upset that it seems they've overlooked that this is a work of fiction. I could better understand the objections if Robert and Francesca's affair had a happy ending or was seen to have no consequences. Neither of these is the case here; both Robert and Francesca, having tasted the forbidden fruit, will never recover their previously settled lives, will forever experience a sense of loss. Meanwhile, Francesca's family will never know that anything happened, except that Richard expresses regret on his deathbed that he couldn't fulfill Francesca's dream, a scene that didn't ring true for me.

Look at it this way: the book upon which this movie is based was wildly popular in spite of its prose being almost universally reviled by everyone with any pretension at all of literary taste. Were these many readers attracted by the opportunity to be offended by a tawdry affair? Isn't it more likely that there's much appeal from a story of unexamined lives, unrealized potential, the road not taken, of an exploration of what love is really about, even when the story is poorly written?

In the end, I think the portrayal of what imperfect people might do seemed real enough to be upsetting to viewers who would prefer to see good people doing good things and being rewarded and bad people doing bad things and being punished. There are movies for these people, and to be sure, Bridges of Madison County isn't one of them, which makes it more interesting for the rest of us.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Why it's an icon, 10 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

IAWL has inspired a number of imitations lately--one I would recommend is The Family Man with Nick Cage and Tea Leoni. But The Family Man didn't really stand up all that well on second viewing. IAWL has stood up under dozens.

First and foremost, there's Jimmy Stewart. His performance in IAWL is the performance of his or anybody else's lifetime. The role of George Bailey is as demanding as any could be--everyman's life, with the highest highs and the lowest lows. I really don't think anyone else could have done it. Do you really think anyone else could have done the bit as Mary's reluctant suitor after Harry comes back to town? (Spoiler) Is there a better reaction shot than when George enters their new home/wedding suite, showing its signs of having to be prepared at the last minute and yet almost outrageously ingenious, itself a little bit (of which there are many others) of classic filmdom? There are at least a dozen others like these and contrasting with them.

Second, there's the high concept (spoiler alert)--what if you could see how life would have been if you hadn't been born? Usually, this sort of thing falls flat, but when it works it's magic, and all the required setup is here to make it work.

Third, the portrayal of Bedford Falls, achingly nostalgic for us to experience in the 21st century. So many characters in such variety who nevertheless seem to belong together, and share an experience that is more than their individual selves. I think it's here that the Christmas motif plays in.

And one more, the message, which admittedly doesn't resonate with everyone, but should, dammit! "We have to stick together." I see some have complained about too much altruism, but I think they're missing the point. In the long run, George himself is better off for having been point man in the struggle to build community.

Because in the end, although it's "friends" that George is seen to have in abundance, it's really more than that. It's all of Bedford Falls, whose existence depends on people like George, who are the difference between its community values and the values of Pottersville.

In the end, the film is perhaps an argument for a life that never really was, but the dream or nostalgia of which we should never lose.

Titanic (1997)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
You wouldn't hate it so much if you didn't like it in spite of yourself, 9 September 2006

My son was born the year this was made, and he's had a life-long interest in the Titanic; as a result, I've seen the '53 and '58 movies as well as this one several times.

Yes, all the supporting characters are one-dimensional, the screenplay has holes you could drive a truck through, and the dialogue is poor to god-awful. "I really like the way he uses color," says Jack of a Monet on board.

Rose and Jack's second scene will make you cringe on so many levels the more times you see it. The 17-year-old Rose, spoiled, depressed, and well-schooled in Freud, takes a gratuitous interest in Jack's sketchbook, then unexpectedly decides in the course of a few seconds that he's really some artist. You'd think in a 200+ minute move they could take a little more time with this bit, which is a turning point in their relationship. It's too bad that Cameron doesn't seem to think it matters whether anything that happens with the characters makes sense.

But in the end, the characters aren't really what matters in terms of whether the movie works, at least for me. Silly as Jack and Rose's story is, it does move the action along. Neither DiCaprio nor Winslett look right for their parts (no getting around her looking at least 5 years older than him), but the actors provide enough spark to distract you from the movie's many flaws, at least for the first viewing or two.

And the fact is, I didn't mind the the 200+ minutes at all when I saw it in the theater. (Contrast this with the vastly overpraised Return of the Kings, the last 20-30 minutes of which might have been the most excruciating experience of my movie-going life.) I'm sure there are flaws in the cinematography I didn't notice, but that combined with the score drew me into the experience and feel of being on the great ship at that point in history. I generally don't care for special effects, but there's no denying that those in Titanic '97 are integral to the action.

As a three-year-old my son sat through the whole thing. Could be that makes the point for the people who hate Cameron's Titanic, but I sat through it too. I think Gloria Stewart deserved her Oscar. In the end, I think Cameron is over-criticized for not trying to make the movie many people wanted.

Probably many of the "haters" had already seen the '53 and '58 movies. The former has the acting, screenplay, and dialogue that Cameron lacks, even though it obviously provided much of Cameron's inspiration, while the latter is serious in ways that Cameron apparently didn't appreciate.

Still, Cameron's movie triggered a massive revival of interest in the Titanic, which it could only have done if it effectively communicated the awesome scale of the event in history. There's no getting around that even with his limitations, Cameron does care about the story of the Titanic, and the story, if not the characters, is well served by Cameron's strengths.

Titanic (1953)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Misses on history, but captures the essence of Titanic, 9 September 2006

All the comments I looked at thus far favored this version over Cameron's 1997, and I don't blame them. While Negulesco is nearly the equal of Cameron for silliness on the history, he's less pretentious than Cameron on that front. The acting, dialogue, and screenplay are strengths here where they're flaws there. I liked Cameron's movie (see review if you're interested at this late date in time), but most viewers while find Negulesco's 97 minutes much more agreeable than Cameron's 200+.

The story within a story is crafted as an allegory in hubris (a word not in general use then but that certainly seems to fit now) and tragedy, much as is the story of the Titanic itself. Clifton Webb's Sturgis is the character Billy Zane's Hockley should have been: born to aristocracy, wily, ruthless, and apparently heartless. He expects always to come out on top, and for good reason as the plot develops. But his kids do love him as any that Hockley might ever have had surely would not.

The heart of the movie is Stanwyck's Julia, who wants to return to something like basic American values and is effectively kidnapping the children to escape Sturgis. She has a secret that was probably much more shocking in 1953 than it is now, the revealing of which is the climax (speaking in terms of drama as an art form) of the movie. The effect on Sturgis is something like that of the Titanic hitting the iceberg, which comes later.

All the supporting players are quite good, but Stanwyck and Webb are the movie. Julia and Sturgis as played here emote in whatever good senses there are of that word, overcoming the potential schmaltziness piled on at the end and communicating the agony, pathos, and heroism that attended the sinking of the unsinkable ship, were indeed the essence of that event. No small feat for Stanwyck and Webb.

The overall consensus seems to be that Night to Remember in '58 is the best Titanic movie, but I have to say that I found it rather on the (pun intended) dry side.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Jack does dull!!, 26 November 2004

(NOTE: used caps where I wanted to do italics--sorry if it's offputtting)

ABOUT SCHMIDT is nothing if not a tragedy, and no less so for its farcical elements. Alexander Payne's style works when his characters' tragedies could maybe be ours if we were them, but thank God we're not. ELECTION works wonderfully that way. ABOUT SCHMIDT crashes because it doesn't work at all that way.

After several shots of skyscrapers with slums at their feet, Arthur Schmidt (Jack) is introduced staring at a clock ticking towards 5PM in an office where we see nothing except for boxes and his desk and chair, looking like Randall McMurphy if he'd survived the lobotomy and gone on into a career as an actuary. Plainly the pooch is long since screwed in this man's life, done deal, let's move on.

There's nowhere for the movie to go after this except for balls-to-the-wall farce, ELECTION style, which seems a possibility given that it's Jack Nicholson. Maybe there's a Randall McMurphy type back story, indeed seems like there'd have to be. After the lobotomy, though, do you really expect anything interesting to happen? You shouldn't and it doesn't.

Next is the retirement party, where it looks like Schmidt didn't just miss the train, but the railroad long since went into bankruptcy and the station collapsed around his ears. Similar idea although a decidedly different feel from the office scene. Events have been passing this man by for a long long time. How did Schmidt/Jack get HERE?

Subsequently, we see that Schmidt must have been in the midst of things at the office somewhere in the not-too-distant past. He visits his whippersnapper successor in his office and we see it's top-of-the-line in the office hierarchy. (By the way (NOT), how excruciatingly pathetic is it that Schmidt submits himself to the totally inevitable humiliation that everybody but him sees coming from this visit? Payne is demanding you get something out of this scene that was totally not there for me.) And the letters to Ndugu tell a story of a man really not much interested in anything outside the office but plainly a player in the office's confines. Schmidt's is a 1950's story glaringly out of place in the 21st century.

From all this it seems we are to understand that Schmidt's life is unspeakably bleak and Schmidt himself has been rendered dull to the max by some kind of repression the essence (and possible resolution?) of which is the story of the rest of the movie. And by the way, he's from Omaha and one significant recollection he has is of an event (I've forgotten what) attended by folks all the way from Des Moines and Wichita. Don't think for one second that THAT isn't as significant as it gets.

I frankly don't see how you can think there's a story here unless you buy the proposition the director seems determined to advance that you really can't distinguish between repressed and dull, at least amongst typical Midwestern folks. And much as you might want to try to read depth into this character from subtleties of Nicholson's performance and nuances in the screenplay, there's no denying that the major effort at work for Jack is to dull it down some way you never thought Jack Nicholson could.

I won't deny he succeeds, but even if he does, so what? How Jack got that damned dull would be a story, given that it's Jack. What he does having gotten that way, though, isn't, even if it is Jack. I don't think you really want to see this performance unless you'd like to see how Michael Jordan will look on the hardwood after he's in the throes of acute arthritis.

I won't deny also there are bits and pieces of a very good movie here. One I haven't seen mentioned is the scene with the Eau Claire RV folks--we can buy that these are real people because we don't have to see too much of them. The actors do yeoman like work. There's real pathos and humor in the letters to Ndugu. But as a plot device, the Ndugu angle is, well, a plot device--a plain acknowledgment in the screenplay that there would never be enough of a story in the day-to-day doings of this man to make a movie out of.

I saw a review recently of SIDEWAYS complaining that Alexander Payne seems as a director as though his characters are beneath him. I didn't mind this or even see it in ELECTION, maybe because that movie makes a good argument for life as farce even while it's characters seem to be taking it seriously, which I can hope SIDEWAYS does as well.

ABOUT SCHMIDT, though, is about something else entirely. Maybe Jack Nicholson can do dull, but Alexander Payne plainly can't do tragedy.