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1935 reviews in total 
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Would the Baby's True Mother Please Step Forward, 16 August 2014

Ginger Rogers is adorable, and she has a ton of chemistry with David Niven in this comedy about a woman who's mistaken for the mother of an abandoned baby and for various reasons plays along with the ruse.

The film is pretty racy stuff for its time, frankly acknowledging illegitimate children, not to mention the fact that Niven's character falls in love with Rogers and willingly begins a relationship with her all the while believing that she is the true mother of the child. There's little in the film that's outright hilarious but much that induces humorous chuckles, and much worse could be said for many a movie.

One of my favorite character actors, Charles Coburn, is on hand to play the child's "grandfather" who goes on a crusade to take custody of it.

Grade: A-

Boyhood (2014/I)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Unassuming Masterpiece, 15 August 2014

A truly special movie of the kind that doesn't come around very often.

"Boyhood" has a groundbreaking gimmick (Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years so that we watch the characters in the film age in real time), but it doesn't feel like a gimmick movie. In fact, I could very easily see someone who doesn't know anything about it not even wondering how the young actor so convincingly ages throughout, so seamless is the film.

It's three hours long but could have been three hours longer as far as I was concerned. There aren't BIG moments in the film -- it's instead a quiet masterpiece that follows the lives of a handful of characters as they navigate relationships, school, friends, insecurities, basically all of the things that bring all of us joy, heartache, worry, fear and happiness. The film's conclusion is that all lives are made up of small, even insignificant moments, that when pieced together and looked back on through the lens of experience, are, in their own way, little works of art. As is this movie.

Grade: A+

10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
I've Played Video Games That Make Better Movies Than This Stinker, 15 August 2014

I was absolutely amazed by "Guardians of the Galaxy"....amazed at how bad it was after hearing how wonderful it was.

People in all seriousness are discussing whether or not this film is the new generation's "Star Wars." Have the people who are discussing this even seen "Star Wars?" They must be thirteen years old.

Indeed, thirteen year olds and younger are the only demographic I can possibly imagine liking this film. It struggles to achieve the same sense of whimsy and humor that infused the original "Star Wars" trilogy, the Indiana Jones movies and even more recent super hero films (see "Hellboy II" for a film that perfects it). But it fails miserably, mostly because the cast doesn't have the talent or the chemistry to pull it off. Chris Pratt creates a vacuum at the film's center -- he doesn't have the screen presence or charisma to carry it. And he's surrounded by a film that just starts in the middle of a dumb story, as if everyone coming to see it is already an expert on this particular series, even though it's one of the most totally obscure of any of the superhero stories. And the action sequences are a frenetic muddle made worse by the 3D. When the biggest asset in your live action film is a CGI talking raccoon, you know you're in trouble.

Seriously, I am a big fan of the Ratchet and Clank video game series, which this movie put me in mind of, but R&C (a video game!!) has more humor and narrative cohesion than this film.

Grade: D+

This Is Not a Film Noir, No Matter What the Advertising Would Have You Believe, 13 August 2014

Though "Border Incident" is billed as a film noir and was a collaboration between the famous duo of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton (who did make several noirs together), it doesn't really have a noir sensibility. Part of that is due to the fact that it is set not in a claustrophobic urban environment but in the wide open spaces of the southern U.S. It's also partly due to a lack of many of the thematic elements that are so predominant in true noirs. It's really just a crime thriller, starring Ricardo Montalban as an undercover detective who is trying to stop a criminal set up that exploits illegal immigrants from Mexico. It's an o.k. film but not a great one -- it's got a satisfyingly gritty and sweaty atmosphere, but there's something just missing that prevents it from being one of those really good "B" movies. There is a gruesome and shocking scene late in the film that adds a surprising twist to the proceedings, and that's what I most remember about the movie in general.

Grade: B-

T-Men (1947)
High Quality Noir from the Team of Anthony Mann and John Alton, 13 August 2014

I didn't realize that director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton were considered to be a famous film noir team until very recently, and when I did it just happened that I had two of their partnerships in my house at the same time: "T-Men" and "Border Incident."

"T-Men" came out in 1947, right about the time a docu-drama sub-genre of film noir emerged. These films were always fictional recreations of true stories and had an element of the newsreel about them -- stentorian voice-over narration giving us little history lessons about some social problem or other and prologues featuring montages of real locations that gave the films the patina of a social service. But once this obligatory beginning to "T-Men" is disposed with, the film settles into a tight and suspenseful story about two treasury department agents who infiltrate a counterfeit money operation. It's obvious why Mann and Alton were such a great combination -- the compositions and chiaroscuro cinematography in this film are its greatest assets. There are some real surprises (like the death of a major character) and some memorable set pieces (like a murder in a Turkish steam bath). I don't know that it joins the ranks of my favorite noirs, but it certainly earns its place as a more than respectable addition to the genre.

"T-Men" was rather inexplicably nominated for a Best Sound Recording Oscar in 1947, even more notable because there were only three entries in that category that year (the winner was "The Bishop's Wife").

Grade: A-

Alcohol-Soaked Pre-Code Film Is a Very Good One, 12 August 2014

A wonderful and unsettling pre-Code film about an alcoholic playboy (Fredric March) who marries a sweet young thing (Sylvia Sidney) and proceeds to drag her down his path of dissolution. The depiction of their marriage is quite shocking, even by today's standards -- not only do they have an "open" marriage, they openly practice that freedom in front of their friends, suggesting a swinging lifestyle that wouldn't become approachable as subject matter in films for another 30+ years. March and Sidney give fantastic performances, and Dorothy Arzner, one of the rare women directors of the time, takes a matter of fact approach that leaves behind the melodrama and sentimentality that might have blunted this same story's impact in the hands of someone else.

One of the most refreshing aspects of "Merrily We Go to Hell," and one of the most shocking, is that Sidney's character does not suffer nobly while we wait for March to see the error of his ways and come back to her a chastened man. Instead, Sidney starts to behave just like him, coming within a stone's throw of alcoholism herself, and doing her own share of philandering. In that way, the film is even a little progressive in its equal treatment of the genders, even if that equality is the equality of debauchery.

Grade: A

Dust Devil (1992)
Strong Style Overwhelms Story in an Obtuse Horror Movie, 12 August 2014

A bizarre horror movie about a devil in human form who hunts the Australian outback for victims on which to feed.

I give the movie credit for its compelling sense of style -- the filmmakers did not want this to be a run-of-the-mill slasher, and the material is treated far more seriously (and as a result effectively) than it might have been in any number of other versions. But that style is also part of the film's problem. It's so preoccupied with its artsy trappings that it never gets around to telling a compelling story. The narrative moves forward in confusing fits and starts, never grounding the audience thoroughly enough or for long enough at any one time to allow it to care much about what's going on. It does have a satisfyingly creepy ending, I'll give it that much, if you still care about it by the time it comes around.

Grade: B-

The Cheat (1931)
Even Sexy Talullah Doesn't Do Much for This One, 12 August 2014

"The Cheat" is a forgettable pre-Code film starring Talullah Bankhead as a woman who makes a "deal" with a rich rascal after her gambling problem lands her in serious money trouble (and potentially even bigger trouble with her husband), kills him in ambiguous circumstances and gets away with it. From a pre-Code aspect, her getting away with her crime is probably the most notable thing about the movie; the rest is maybe a little racy but fairly tame even compared to other pre-Code films of its time.

Actually, the most notable thing about the film is that it appears on DVD as a double feature with "Merrily We Go to Hell," an excellent movie and one that is anything but forgettable. If you're going to get that film (and you should), you might as well watch this one while you're at it. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother seeking this one out on its own merits.

Grade: C

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Good Comedy That Makes You Want to Believe in Its Happy Ending, 12 August 2014

It would appear that filmmakers think movie audiences have an inexhaustible appetite for sophomoric films about dumb ass dudes and their "hilarious" inability to get their sh*t together. How refreshing it is, then, to come across a film like "Obvious Child," about a young woman unable to get her act together, but told from a female point of view and containing something those other films always severely lack -- a heart.

Jenny Slate gives a love her or hate her performance as a foul-mouthed stand-up comedian who gets pregnant after a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion. This isn't a "will she or won't she?" movie. We're never in doubt, or at least not much, about whether or not she will go through with her plan. Instead, the movie is about her feelings as she goes through the process, trying to face something scary and overwhelming with only a smart ass sense of humor for defense. The guy who knocked her up (Jake Lacy) is more supportive than she wants to give him credit for, and we feel bad for him, a nice guy who wants to do the right thing and isn't given much chance to.

The film doesn't entirely shake a sitcom vibe, everything wrapping up far more patly than a situation like this probably would in real life. Lacy's character stretches the bounds of credibility and reads more as a female fantasy brought to life than a believable person -- even decent guys (and I imagine women) would be fairly soured on a relationship that unfolds the way the one in the movie does, not leaving much promise for a happy ending. But if a comedy is good enough, it makes you want to accept the happy ending even when logic tells you you shouldn't, and "Obvious Child" lands squarely in that category.

Only 25 comments on IMDb at the time of this writing suggests to me that this movie is being criminally overlooked in a summer of big, dumb spectacles. But, on the positive side, this is a film that will lose nothing on the small screen, and I hope people find it there.

Grade: A

One of the Most Formally Striking Movies I've Ever Seen, 10 August 2014

Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is a film that feels light years ahead of its time. Lean and mean, focusing its entire narrative on the interrogation of Joan that inevitably lead to her execution by burning at the stake, the film is kinetic in ways that most films even now aren't. Composed almost completely of tight close ups, Dreyer and crew cut rapidly between disconcerting, asymmetrical shots, giving the film a breathless, anxious, nearly frenzied pace.

Maria Falconetti gives an almost unbelievably intense performance as the title heroine. Her performance, and the film in general, does get a bit monotonous -- it exists primarily of impassioned gazes into the middle distance, giant, tearing eyes opened wide, an expression of passionate, nearly demented religious fervor on her face. It's not a film that concerns itself with characters and plot, so we don't get to know Joan as a person. It's difficult to care for her particular plight and we instead feel compassion for her as one human being feeling compassion for another. For that reason, the film left me remembering its striking images and formal style more than any emotions I might have felt while watching it. But it's no less of a remarkable cinematic achievement for that.

Grade: A

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