20 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Psycho (1960)
Iconic film
27 May 2010
"Psycho" is unquestionably one of the finest films of all time, and probably the greatest thriller (although there are several other contenders, all directed by Hitchcock). The acting is first-rate; the cinematography is superb; and the musical score (by Bernard Herrmann) is iconic. (Incredibly, the score did not receive an Oscar nomination.) Hitchcock has been deservedly praised for his direction, but I feel it is time to give credit where credit is due. I recently read the book on which the movie was based, also titled "Psycho". It was written by Robert Bloch in 1959, a year before the movie was made. Except for two scenes that weren't in the book, and a couple of memorable lines (most notably, "Well, a boy's best friend is his mother"), the movie follows the book so closely that almost all of the credit should go to the author of the book, not the director of the movie. If you have seen and enjoyed the movie, pick up a copy of the book. Only then can you appreciate who the real genius was behind "Psycho".

There are quite a few, mostly minor, differences between the book and movie. As I read the book, I wondered why the changes had been made. Here are some examples. In the movie, Ms. Crane's name is Marion; in the book, it is Mary. In the movie, she lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona; in the book, she is from Ft. Worth, Texas. In the movie, Norman Bates is thin and young; in the book, he is fat and middle-aged. In the book, he wears glasses; in the movie, he doesn't. In the movie, there are twelve cabins at the motel; in the book, there are six. I found no fewer than thirty-five differences, but almost none of them made any sense to me.
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Blind Vision (1992)
Suspenseful and clever
19 May 2010
Despite being inspired by (you could even say 'ripped off from') "Rear Window", and having a lot in common with a number of other erotic thrillers, I found "Blind Vision" to be suspenseful, well-acted, and even clever. Unlike "Rear Window", the photographer in this case is truly a voyeur, and he isn't recovering from an injury. Nor does he witness a crime, as such, but he does observe abusive behavior which precedes a crime. We are left guessing as to whether the abuse and the crime are related. It is even possible that the photographer himself was involved, which could not have happened in "Rear Window".

"Blind Vision" is not quite the nail-biter that "Rear Window" is, but it is more complex than its famous predecessor and, in my opinion, more intriguing. There is an original plot twist that elevates the film above the standard fare in this genre. But it is subtle, and you have to think about it. (I do not refer to the ending, which is also surprising.)

There is an even stronger resemblance to a Brian de Palma film called "Body Double", which was made six years earlier, and also stars Deborah Shelton. If you liked that film, you will probably like "Blind Vision". I think "BV" is slightly inferior, but it is better than the low rating leads one to expect.
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Much more than meets the eye
16 May 2010
On one level, "Forces of Nature" falls squarely in what I will call the "Murphy's Law tradition" of cinema. In other words, whatever can go wrong, does go wrong. This tradition includes the likes of "The Out-of-Towners" and "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles". In these movies - usually comedies - the principal characters are bedeviled by a series of obstacles which threaten to derail their plans; the obstacles range from human malfeasance to natural disasters. As the title strongly suggests, the primary obstacles in this movie are courtesy of Mother Nature. The probability of just one of the unfortunate events is extremely low. The probability of all of them occurring within the space of two days is nonexistent. (The antecedents of this tradition predate cinema by several thousand years, of course. Remember the trials of Job, and the plagues of the Old Testament. Indeed, at one point Ben says something about waiting for the locusts to come.)

As "Forces of Nature" begins, Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck) and Bridget Cahill (Maury Tierney) are about to be married. Ben lives in New York; Sarah is from Savannah, Georgia, where the wedding is to take place. Everyone is on edge because a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic threatens to wreak havoc on the impending nuptials. Two days before the event, Ben boards a plane for the trip south. As luck would have it, a hapless seagull is sucked into one of the plane's engines, and it skids off the runway, resulting in minor injuries. One of the passengers is a young woman named Sarah Lewis (Sandra Bullock), who is en route to Florida to transact some business. Following the crash, she credits Ben with saving her life. Concerned about the possibility of another aviation mishap, they decide to share the cost of a rental car. There are no cars available, but they meet a man who already has one, and he agrees to drive them to their destinations. From this point on, the aforementioned Murphy's Law intervenes with a vengeance.

If "Forces of Nature" were nothing but a succession of calamities, it would be funny, but nothing to write home about. On another level, however, it is an exceptional movie with a great deal of heart. There is a tradition for this type of movie, as well, and it includes "It Happened One Night", which won an Oscar for Best Picture in 1934. The worst thing that can happen to anyone about to be married is to fall in love with someone else. Ben finds Sarah enchanting and unique, and soon he develops feelings for her. To make matters worse, nearly everyone he meets has a horror story about marriage. Before long, Ben's pre-wedding jitters turn into a panic, and he is in turmoil. The hurricane gaining strength off the coast of Georgia is nothing compared to the storm wreaking havoc on Ben's peace of mind. To paraphrase Hamlet, "To wed or not to wed, that is the question".

Ben Affleck is not an especially exciting actor (in my opinion), but in this movie he is very convincing as a man in the throes of indecision. Sandra Bullock is terrific as a free spirit who turns out to have more depth than you might expect. The supporting cast is entertaining, as well, and the dialogue is witty and intelligent. If you can forgive the director and writer for straining the limits of credulity with a preposterous plot, you should find this a very funny and poignant film.
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The Freshman (1990)
Marlon Brando makes Matthew Broderick an offer he can't refuse...
13 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not sure if this movie should be called a "masterpiece", but it is highly original, fiendishly clever, and very funny. It is full of great lines and intriguing plot twists. Though obviously a comedy, there is even an element of suspense to it. I have seen so-called thrillers that were less exciting.

It would be a crime worthy of Vito Corleone to divulge the plot in its entirety. Let us just say that nothing is quite as it seems. In this regard, two other great movies come to mind. The closest resemblance is to George Roy Hill's enduring classic, "The Sting". "The Freshman" isn't quite as good as that, but it displays much of the ingenuity of its esteemed predecessor. The tone is also very similar. I am reminded, as well, of "The Sixth Sense". Of course, that is not a comedy. But the endings of both movies compel the viewer to see everything that has happened in a different light, and that brings with it a feeling of satisfaction.

The actors are all fine, but I have to single out Brando. He is wonderful (even if unintelligible at times), and is clearly enjoying himself a great deal. I never would have thought that "charming" could describe him, but it does in this movie.

The scene at the Gourmet Club is sheer genius. All by itself, it is worth the price of admission. So is this quote, from a soliloquy by Clark (Broderick): "There is a kind of freedom in being completely screwed, because you know things can't get any worse."
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Billy Madison (1995)
12 May 2010
This movie is so bad that everyone connected with it should be criminally prosecuted, or simply shot...after they have been drawn and quartered, tarred and feathered. I used to think that "Nothing But Trouble" was the worst movie ever made, but compared to this stinker, that is a masterpiece. Mind you, I don't dislike low-brow humor, per se - I loved "Kingpin" and liked "Dumb and Dumber". But there isn't an iota of humor or creativity in this abomination.

Maybe it was intended as a movie for kids. If that is the case, there might be some justification for it. I'm sure most five-to-ten-year-olds would find it amusing.

"Billy Madison" should have a reverse MPAA rating: No one OVER the age of 10 (or with an IQ over 80) should be allowed to watch it. The only reason I gave it one star is that no stars isn't an option.
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Kingpin (1996)
Howlingly funny!
10 May 2010
"Kingpin" is either the grossest funny movie or the funniest gross movie I have ever seen. Few comedies, even good ones, can make me laugh so hard that I cry, but this one did. Half the time I was laughing; the other half, I was shaking my head at the raunchiness of it all. If you can watch this movie without laughing uncontrollably, you should consider replacement surgery for your funny bone.

As others have said, the cast is perfect. Vanessa Angel is so hot I was afraid my VHS tape would melt. Randy Quaid (looking a lot like a much larger version of the Little Dutch Boy) is dopey and lovable. Woody Harrelson is smooth and cocksure when he should be, and pitiable when the situation requires it. And the always amazing Bill Murray might be the most detestable (but hilarious) egomaniac on celluloid - it is no small feat to be both detestable and hilarious.

I have no idea how "Kingpin" qualified for a PG-13 rating. Even an R is a stretch, although there is no nudity or graphic violence.

The movie has a kick-ass soundtrack, but perhaps a few too many songs. Music should enhance a film, not overwhelm it, as it sometimes does in this case.

In the midst of all the vulgarity and chicanery, there is even a moral. After spending seventeen years drunk and in denial, Roy (Harrelson) comes to realize that, in the end, we have no one to blame for our problems but ourselves.
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A delightful movie
9 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Eat a Bowl of Tea" is a charming and often amusing story about the challenges of both marriage and living in an immigrant culture. Ben Loy, the son of a Chinese immigrant to New York, was recently discharged (honorably) from the army. Pressured by his father, he returns to China to find a bride, which he does. Back in New York, the couple rents an apartment, and he becomes the manager of a restaurant. The hours are long, and the job is stressful. When he gets home, he is too tired to "work" on the grandchild his father desperately wants. His wife feels neglected and grows lonely. You can probably guess the rest. Their troubles are exacerbated by gossip - the unfortunate downside of life in a closely-knit community.

There are no Caucasians in the cast, which lends authenticity to the film. The actors are all good, and the script is smart and believable. The soundtrack is very listen-able, with a mixture of jazz from the period (early 1950s) and Chinese-inspired music.
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Heartburn (1986)
Yuppies Behaving Badly
5 May 2010
"Heartburn" succeeds much better as an autobiography than as a comedy. Real life isn't terribly funny (unfortunately), so the level of hilarity we expect from a true story isn't very high. That is especially true when the subject matter is the break-up of a marriage. Because it was written by Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle") and directed by Mike Nichols ("The Graduate"), I assumed this was a comedy, but it isn't. There are some funny moments, but the funniest one - an homage to Soupy Sales, so to speak - comes nearly at the end of the movie.

The acting is top-notch, as one would expect from the only man ever to win three Oscars for Best Actor (Nicholson), and the only actress to be nominated for an Oscar sixteen times (Streep).

"Heartburn" is the quintessential "chick flick", so heterosexual men can expect to be bored. But anyone interested in the marriage and divorce of screenwriter Nora Ephron and Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, might want to take a look at it.
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Stage Fright (1950)
Very suspenseful
3 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Stage Fright" is seldom included in any short list of Hitchcock's best films. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is suspenseful enough, and the acting is good enough. The reason for its lack of popularity is most likely due to its cast. Except for Marlene Dietrich (who shines as a manipulative diva), the others do not possess the star power on display in such films as "Notorious" or "Rear Window" - at least in the United States.

It is possible to take away from this film a very cynical attitude toward love, and its effect on people. Eve (Jane Wyman) loves Jonathan (Richard Todd). He doesn't love her, but he uses her to escape from the police. Because she loves him, she believes everything he tells her about his innocence. Jonathan loves Charlotte (Dietrich). She doesn't love him, but she pretends to, in order to get the man she really wants, Freddie. A sad state of affairs (no pun intended), but it has the ingredients for a terrific suspense film.
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Beautiful film, but...
3 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"The Railway Station Man" is beautiful in many ways. The locations in Ireland are beautiful; Julie Christie is beautiful; and the acting is beautiful. But because of the ending, it is one of the most depressing films I have ever seen.

Helen Cuffe (Julie Christie) is a widow living alone in a quiet seaside village. She paints as a hobby, and is visited occasionally by her son, who is attending college in Dublin. Roger Hawthorne (Donald Sutherland) is a newcomer to the village. An injured war veteran, he dreams of restoring the defunct railway station, using money he inherited from his mother. Mrs. Cuffe and Mr. Hawthorne have both settled into lives of "quiet desperation" (as Thoreau put it), and are resigned to live them out alone. He is wary of her at first, but after a few false starts, they become lovers. Being in love awakens her creativity and his enthusiasm for life.

Unfortunately, this is Ireland and Mrs. Cuffe's son is involved with a terrorist group. He is only a messenger, but she worries greatly about his safety - with good reason, as it turns out. I won't go into detail about the ending, except to say that the happiness that seems imminent for Mrs. Cuffe and Mr. Hawthorne is suddenly and cruelly denied them. Realistic, perhaps, but undeniably tragic.
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