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292 reviews in total 
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a minor gem -- but a gem nonetheless, 17 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I suspect the bad reviews were written by people who know little about film making -- or human psychology. They wouldn't recognize a well-structured, well-written script if it sat in their faces.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. What ought to have been one of the all-time-great Westerns is significantly weakened by Spencer Gordon Bennet's slack direction that misses the story's quirky, off-kilter qualities. That it survives is due largely to the solid -- sometimes witty -- script, and decent-or-better performances.

The story has its share of twists, including a surprising-but-logical ending I won't reveal.

Another surprise is Duryea's reaction to Knight's murder -- he lays his head on Knight's chest and cries. (In an odd coincidence, the dying Richard Arlen was kissed by Buddy Rogers in "Wings".)

Dan Duryea's son plays an important role. That his voice is almost identical to his father's might have been the reason Peter Duryea was cast. And we also get to see a cameo from "Broncho Billy" Anderson, the first motion-picture cowboy star. *

It's dangerous to warmly praise a virtually unknown B film, as viewers often expect things the film doesn't deliver. But I don't think you're going to be disappointed. And you can see it for free on YouTube.

* Broncho Billy's sister, Leona, is remembered for her on-pitch-but-croaky voice. "Music to Suffer By" is available on CD. Get it.

Arthur Conan Doyle knew what he was doing..., 19 June 2016
6/10 when you ignore Doyle and create your own version of Sherlock Holmes, you invariably weaken the character (as the Robert Downey films show). Billy Wilder anticipated this error by four decades, and the result is a most-unsatisfying film.

Holmes is fundamentally asexual, so any attempt to present him as having any interest in women (or men) is -- well, stupid. His interest in Irene Adler stems from her being smarter than he. As this is presumably a once-in-a-lifetime experience, its duplication here is pointless and ineffective. (Note that the femme fatale's real name -- von Hoffmansthall -- is that of the librettist of several Strauss operas.)

In fact, the whole thing seems pointless and ineffective. The great mystery is not so much untangled as disembroiled, and worse -- there is no human drama at the center of it. Most Sherlock Holmes stories are mysteries second and dramas first, a point which those attempting to duplicate Doyle usually forget.

Perhaps the three-hour version had some wonderfully entertaining scenes -- but they wouldn't change the fact that what we have here IS NOT SHERLOCK HOLMES, in either style or substance.

The only remarkable thing about "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is Miklos Rozsa's score. I find him simply //the worst// film-music composer, ever. His music resembles Max RegeR's (you can't tell whether it's being played forward or backward), and he composed what is likely to forever remain the single worst cue in the history of film music (the star of Bethlehem hovering over the manger).

So I was flabbergasted by this scores. Whether it's the best-possible score for this film is debatable, but it's thoughtful, well-considered, and you can actually //follow// it. (Well, anyone's entitled to an "off" day, I suppose.)

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"The Lone Ranger" -- with dogs schlepping his sled, 1 June 2016

If there were ever a vote on "Worst TV Series", "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" would be an easy favorite. Its only distinction is that it was voted "Best TV Show of All Time" by the Flocking Institute of America.

Other than the handsome color (which looks great on studio sets, but rather washed-out in outdoor scenes), everything about SPOTY (pronounced as if there were two Ts) can summed up in one word -- cheap.

The indoor sets are crabbed, and unconvincingly dressed. Outdoors, the same generic cabin is used over and over and over and over. (It's not so much a cabin, as a longish wall with a door in it.)

Outdoor scenes jump between location shots and studio sets. (This was normal, especially with Westerns, as outdoor shooting was not only more expensive, but there was no control over weather or the lighting.) Unfortunately, there's only one or two indoor "outdoor" sets, which hardly ever match up with the location shots.

Not much can be said for Yukon King, the wonder dog who leads Sergeant Preston's team. He seems to have been cast for affability, rather than the edginess one would expect from a sled dog. He usually sits quietly, or sometimes wanders around the set, to no particular purpose, showing neither enthusiasm nor affection. (Another poster's suggestion, that YK is looking for Milk-Bone handout, seems reasonable.)

But the worst thing about SPOTY, the thing that consigns it to the bottom of the barrel, is poor writing. It appears the radio programs were simply re-written for the series. Not only are they aimed at the intelligence of a four-year-old, but the dialog is mostly tedious and often clumsy exposition. And, of course, there's a narrator explaining things for the radio audience. (You could turn off the picture and not miss anything.)

Given the low production values and poor scripts, it would be unkind to criticize the acting (though Richard Simmons, as the eponymous hero, brings to his role all the excitement of staring at wallpaper). At least everyone manages to hit their marks and speak clearly.

Unlike "The Cisco Kid" or "Adventures of Superman" (two other early syndicated color series), SPOTY is devoid of character or style. There's nothing memorable about it, other than its cheesy lameness.

For those not familiar with classical music, the theme is from the overture to Řezníček's "Diana Banana". As with "The Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet", George Trendle selected PD classical music so he wouldn't have to pay royalties.

PS: I've often wondered why Union Carbide never did TV commercials with "Sergeant Prestone of the Yukon". It would have been a perfect match of product, character, and environment.

How /not/ to adapt a book to the screen, 9 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

James Kirkwood wrote the kind of engaging novels you recommend to friends. (He's best-known for the book for "A Chorus Line".) "There Must Be a Pony" is a semi-autobiographical novel about his growing up as the son of a once-popular actress (Lila Lee). The TV movie is a disaster -- not only poorly written, but inappropriately cast.

I've never been a fan of Elizabeth Taylor, but there's no denying that, as a young actress, she was beautiful and talented. Somewhere along the line ("Cleopatra", perhaps) she turned into an edgy b****. Too much of this remains in her portrayal of Marguerite Sydney. She's supposedly a naïve, dependent woman who makes bad choices, especially in men. Little of this comes through in an unsympathetic and unconvincing performance.

Robert Wagner is similarly miscast as a man who genuinely loves Sydney. Kirkwood was likely thinking of Cary Grant, and Wagner doesn't come close to being the elegant gentleman Ben is supposed to be.

James Coco plays a close gay friend, who in the novel is skinny and birdlike. Kirkwood probably had Roddy McDowall in mind; the heavyset Coco just doesn't work.

Of the principals, only Chad Lowe escapes unscathed. His performance throughout is sincere and believable. He makes Taylor and Wagner look quite bad.

A lot of the problems have to be laid at Matt Crowley's door. Josh is the novel's narrator, but you know darn well Liz ain't gonna appear in a film where somebody else is the lead. Crowley therefore had the task of imagining scenes where Josh wasn't present. Unfortunately, his dialog is often boring and/or clichéd.

It doesn't help that Crowley discards the best sequence in the book. Josh is a klutz at just about everything, and his attempt to bake a cake ends in comic disaster. Then, a page later, he finds Ben's body. Kirkwood pulls this off perfectly: "I laughed and I cried". In the movie, Josh is awakened by noises, and finds Ben's body without any contrasting prior emotion.

If you haven't read the novel, you might like the movie. But the movie is poor, for no justifiable reason. Its problems could have been resolved long before the cameras rolled.

"Rain is good. It makes a man grow.", 30 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Man's Castle" is one of those films that ought to be better known.

Bill (Spencer Tracy) is a restless unemployed man who rides the rails whenever he feels the world closing in on him. He helps a homeless woman (Loretta Young) who says she's strong enough to accept his walking out at any time.

As he becomes increasingly attached, he shows his commitment by buying her a proper stove to cook on, and rejecting the advances of a wealthy singer. She submits to his (unseen) advances and becomes pregnant. ("Man's Castle" was made in 1933, a year before the Code began to be strictly enforced.)

The performances are uniformly good-to-excellent, especially Tracy's and Walter Connolly's (a once-minister working as a night watchman). Frank Borzage's direction is spot-on.

If nothing else, "Man's Castle" is a model of good storytelling -- moderately complex characters (the principals, anyway) of varying points of view; strong conflicts; "show us, don't tell us"; the characters in bad situations so we learn who they really are -- you know the rest.

Everything is solid until the last five minutes, when it all collapses in a flood of melodramatic sentimentality that wipes out the (sort-of) plausible story that came before. Instead of Bill taking his lumps, he and Trina hop a freight into an unknown future they're certain will turn out "happily ever after". Why? They have each other, and an unborn baby. As awful as this is, it cannot completely undo the good impression made by the rest of the film.

I watched "Man's Castle" the morning of 4/30/2016 on getTV. At 78 minutes, it appears to be the complete version, not the censored 66-minute version released in 1938.

Strongly recommended.

Sherpa (2015)
14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
British imperialism is alive and well., 24 April 2016

Isn't that grand?

Russell Brice, the New Zealand owner of Himalayan Experience, is the sort of person one would cross the street simply to kick in the shins (or worse).

His attitude towards the Sherpa is, at best, patronizing. He calls them "boys", and insists their unhappiness has been provoked by outside agitators. (One is surprised he doesn't say "Communists".)

His attempts to communicate comprise utterly disingenuous remarks ("Please tell me if I've done anything to anger you"), and empty platitudes ("We've got to keep moving forward"). Nowhere does he suggest that the Sherpa's concerns are more important than the continued success of his business, complaining at one point that he can't recoup the cost of rope if the climb is canceled.

"Sherpa" is nothing if not an attack on the way the gross materialism of Western "culture" corrupts almost everything it touches. No longer do you have to struggle to put together your own expedition. The Sherpa "boys" will do //all// the work for you. Just fork over a lot of money. One is reminded of films in which African bearers lug the accoutrements of the Western wealthy, so they can have a comfortable journey.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
a nauseating program about how sausage is made, 18 March 2016

I've seen only the first season. (DVDs of the second and third are waiting.) The negative reactions come from "the usual types" who object to strong language (grossly exaggerating how often it's used); expect a story to have at least a few "likeable" characters; * and protest good, decent actors playing degenerate characters. Hey, people, "House of Cards" is about politics, where the abuse of power is the raison d'etre and the sine qua non.

How you react will probably be influenced by how much of a misanthrope you are. Well, just as Frank Underwood detests children, I detest humanity, and "House of Cards" gives me no reason not to. Indeed, in invites an overwhelming desire to see Washington, DC, destroyed by nuclear weapons.

What makes "House of Cards" so remarkable is the writers' seeming knowledge of exactly what goes on behind closed doors. This, more than anything, keeps the story from degenerating into shallow melodrama.

I was surprised at the writers' willingness to address what remains a major no-no in television -- male/male sexual relations. One of the few "human" things about Frank Underwood is his lasting friendship with Phil Langdon, a fellow student at The Sentinel. They appear to genuinely care about each other, and neither is guilty or apologetic about a brief sexual relationship thirty years earlier. (Langdon is played by J C MacKenzie, an adorable li'l scudder, probably selected for his resemblance to Shelby Foote.)

Anyone who thinks "House of Cards" isn't a reasonably accurate depiction of what goes in the world should take a look at the current insanity in Washington. Swift would have loved it.

* I was taught in screen writing class that the viewer must have empathy for the characters. That is, //understand their motivations//, regardless of how repulsive they might be.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fascinating -- for the wrong reasons, 13 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"You Can't Be a Little Girl..." is among the worst "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" episodes I've seen. Though bearing an obvious resemblance to the very first episode (the classic "Revenge", 1.1), it is far inferior.

If you've seen a lot of suspense stories, you develop a feeling for how they're going to end, with the feeling often surfacing right at the start. In this case, your intuition is correct, and the finale is no surprise at all. The plotting is contrived, with the husband suffering a broken leg to keep him from acting when he needs to. And the ending is beyond stupid, with the attacker failing to dispose of (or at least hide) the incriminating evidence.

Norman Lloyd (one of the show's producers, and a respected actor/director still alive at almost 102!), does a fine job trying to make this poor story interesting. He isn't helped by the amateurish and clunky dialog. (You'd think he'd have edited on the spot.)

I've nevertheless given this episode eight stars, because it shows how little things have changed in 60 years. The police play the "blame the victim" game. ("Have you gone out at night?") They badger her relentlessly to identify the attacker, so they can look like they're doing their job. ("Why won't you identify the man?") And the attacker thinks it's okay to beat up a woman because he's frustrated at the way his life is going.

Worth seeing as a time capsule of still-commonplace attitudes.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
a unique and charming episode, 10 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After a bit of mulling, I decided to give "Aunt Thede" (pronounced as one syllable) a 10. It is arguably one of the series' best episodes.

Though leaning in the direction of intentional comedy (a genre "Gunsmoke" almost always botched), "Aunt Thede"'s treatment is quite different from any other comic episode. This is due to Sutton Roley's imaginative and understated direction.

Though Roley is best-known for directing "Combat", he moves this story along in a quiet, even gentle manner, refusing to dot the eyes and cross the tees. We know exactly how the story's going to end, so Roley doesn't bother to create any particular tension or suspense. Roley treats "Aunt Thede" as a //character piece//, and it works. It's perhaps the quietest of all 635 episodes, which is saying something for a series that (other than its violence) is decidedly low-key.

The scene with Festus and Howard (Howard McNear, Doc Adams of the radio series) shows McNear at his comic best, and is photographed in a way no other "Gunsmoke" director ever did (or ever would).

Jeannette Nolan gives an affectionate performance in her "rural elderly female" persona. (She played it many times, most notably as a muskrat in "The Rescuers", Dan Fieldng's mother on "Night Court", and, of course, Dirty Sally.) Roley gives her lots of close-ups and plenty of time to deliver her lines.

We learn a few things about the Haggens, such as why so many of Festus' aunts have male names. (Thede is short for Theodore, and aunt George had been previously mentioned.) We discover (not surprisingly) that Matt has no time for popular literature, as he's never heard of "Little Women". (He probably never heard of "Ben-Hur", either.)

Another reviewer complains about what he sees as a stereotyped presentation of rural (in this case, Appalachian) people. He has a point -- to a degree. If you watch "Moonshiners", you see that most of the 'shiners don't fit the image. (I say most, because Jim Tom definitely does, and the feckless Steven Ray Tickle isn't the brightest bulb on the tree.) They speak clearly, have good vocabularies, and are obviously intelligent (often more-so than the police, some of who appear to be downright stupid).

If you watch "Gunsmoke" chronologically from Festus' first appearance, you see a character who's a "hick" Matt Dillon, almost as sharp, even threatening. This begins to change a few episodes later when Matt saves his life. Festus starts looking and sounding less like Ken Curtis, and grows more comic, probably to separate his personality from Dillon's. He ultimately becomes one of the most-unusual sidekicks ever, providing comic relief while being as smart and capable as his "boss". I don't see this as demeaning.

If one wants to complain about something, why not the suggestion of incest? Incest was supposedly common in Appalachia, and aunt Thede -- who's looking for a husband -- tells Festus that he was on her list before meeting him.

A distinctively different episode, very much worth seeing.

"Joan Crawford is horrifying..., 9 March 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers *** bad" in what is almost certainly her worst performance. When she steps off the train, bracelets jangling, looking like a drop-out from a school for prostitutes, it's impossible not to start screaming -- with laughter. This continues throughout most of the film, with one scene of ludicrous emoting following another.

You have to be incredibly dense not to figure out right at the start who the ax murderer is going to be.

The script -- by Robert Bloch, of all people -- is 90% exposition, with little in the way of suspense or dramatic interaction. It alternates between risibility and tediousness. Van Alexander's score is atrocious. He has no idea how to write effective film music.

This is a "strictly for laughs" film, perfect for party viewing. I'd suggest it as MST3K fodder, but it's so awful that it's its own self-parody.

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