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Bad Night (2015)
cute little time-waster
27 September 2015
This is a low-budget screwball comedy. It's very far from something like Bringing Up Baby, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it (except for the 'gag' involving bodily functions - why do so many movies insist on including this?).

The plot isn't nearly as involved as a classic screwball comedy, but it's still amusing. The leads are inexperienced but have a charming offhand manner and are clearly enjoying themselves: it may lack polish but enthusiasm can make up for a lot of rough edges.

Anyway, the plot is a bit of fluff about mistaken identities (and barf), and there is almost no tension, but there are some good lines, the supporting cast is at least competent, I imagine it will give you a few laughs.
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The Rocketeer (1991)
wonderful, old-fashioned movie
15 May 2005
I've always surprised when people don't like this movie. It was one of my favorites at the time, and it has aged very well. It's a real "retro 30's" picture, like "The Shadow", instead of being a modern reinterpretation of such movies like the Indiana Jones films (which I also like very much).

The reviews cover the plot enough, and there are no real surprises here, but it's great family fun. My kids really love this movie, and I end up watching it every year or two, and I have never tired of it. When it came out there were apparently sequels planned, but it got killed at the box office by T2, which ran over everything that summer, so Disney never did anything with the show. They have recycled the atmosphere and the music in the "Soaring over California" ride at DCA, and I have to say it always makes me wistful that the movie never got a sequel.

By the way, the movie doesn't follow the comics that closely, which I don't mind, but if you are a purist and a fan of the "graphic novels", you might keep that in mind.
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sweet, slightly raunchy, romantic comedy
3 July 2004
It has enough moments to make it passable as a rental that substitutes for bad TV. Not the strongest recommendation, but when I watched it I was in the mood for something not demanding, and it delivered. The leads are competent and the story is a nice variation on boy meets girl, and there aren't any scenes that stink the movie up for me. I wouldn't watch this movie with young kids, unless you are eager to explain to them about some recreational equipment for adults.
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sweet family film, exotic locations
30 June 2004
The leads and the supporting characters that get the most screen time are solid (a couple of them appeared in "Whale Rider", where they were outstanding, so you know that they were capable of more than they were given here) -- the shortcomings are primarily in the script, I think. Some of the supporting cast are a bit wooden, and the script is often a little cliched, but it's very sweet and the locations are beautiful.

It's a very gentle film with its heart in the right place, so I would recommend it for younger kids, and I think that most adults won't mind watching it with their kids. If you're a softie like my wife, you'll actually enjoy it...
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an excellent Miss Marple
4 May 2004
Hickson is by far the best Miss Marple onscreen. Her performances make these cozy mysteries really entertaining. The screen adaptations in the series are a bit uneven, but I enjoyed all of them. I especially liked this one, "A Murder is Announced", and "Sleeping Murder".

The production values for the series were quite good, the supporting actors always at least passable and sometimes far better than that, and they didn't take too many liberties with the stories. But Hickson's performances are uniformly excellent.
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sweet, mostly satisfying, winning performance by Garner
29 April 2004
Jennifer Garner is beautiful, of course, but she has another quality that shines here: she manages to appear consistently spontaneous throughout the movie. (Neve Campbell is the only other actress that I can think of who can manage to do this.) Garner's performance is so winning that the movie, which is otherwise mostly formulaic, still feels fresh. (She doesn't give a performance that is as masterful as Depp's in "Pirates...", but she shows that she has what it takes to be a movie star, and that's still something to see.)
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Time Changer (2002)
stilted acting, tedious story
11 November 2003
I rented this by mistake. I thought, after a cursory examination of the box, that this was a time-travel/sci-fi story. Instead, it's a "Christian" story, and I suppose is fairly typical example. If you are sold on the message you probably will overlook the awkwardness of the plot/acting/etc., but I found it rather painful.

I have to admit that I'm bothered by the rewriting of history in this story. It paints the 1890's as some sort of paradise of family values and morality (a character is aghast that 5% of marriages end in divorce!), but it overlooks very unsavory sides of this "highly moral" society (rigid racial, sexual, and social discrimination were widespread, for instance). And at one point the hero complains to a clothing store owner about things that sound not all that different than the complaints of some Iranian leaders about women's clothing styles (as reported in a recent WSJ).

Overall, thought, I suppose that it's the sort of thing you'll like if you like this sort of thing, and it's certainly wholesome...
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solid action movie
7 November 2003
This is a very respectable end to the trilogy. The second movie and this one aren't as much fun as the first one, which was both groundbreaking and full of interesting ideas, but the action sequences and quality of the special effects are even more impressive in the last 2 pictures. I think that I liked "Reloaded" more than "Revolutions", because I felt that "Revolutions" left a few too many threads dangling. Like most movie series, this one runs down, but it had so much gas to start with that this movie can only disappoint if compared with the first one.
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Emma (1996 TV Movie)
the best Emma
1 November 2003
This is a better adaptation of the book than the one with Paltrow (although I liked that one, too). It isn't so much that Beckinsale is better -- they are both very good -- but that the screenplay is better. Davies is a master at adapting Austen for filming, and the production values here are very good. It's not quite as glossy as the Hollywood treatment, but it's close, and I thought that the locations and the costumes actually worked better.
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explosive fun
12 July 2003
Lots of things blow up in this picture real good. The feel is different, since only Arnold is back (and the goofy psychiatrist in a cute cameo), and the ideas aren't quite as interesting as in the first 2 movies, but the storyline fits neatly with them. (I wasn't sure how this would happen without being a repeat of T2, but it works.) I actually like the TX character better than the evil robot in T2, and Claire Danes is always good.

The movie adds to the franchise in an interesting way (leaving open the possibility of a T4), and the action scenes are bigger and better than ever.
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Holiday (1938)
good movie, clearly from a play
6 July 2003
This movie is clearly a filmed version of a play (it was written by Philip Barry, the author of "The Philadelphia Story", and like that play, the movie version stars Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant). Like all of the other (film versions of) Barry's plays that I've seen, this is a slightly dated and mannered, but it has clever dialogue and some very funny moments. The story is that Grant is a poor but "everything else you could want in a son-in-law" young man, and is brought to meet the family of his fiancee (the sister is played by Hepburn). Grant does an excellent job humanizing a character that could easily be just a plot device, and Horton and Dixon are hoot as an academic couple that are friends of Grant.
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light as a feather
25 June 2003
This is a very slick movie. It has the same title as the Michael Caine movie, and it has some gold bars and some little cars, and otherwise it's entirely different. I liked both of these movies, but the first is a comedy with some action stunts, and this is a caper movie with a sense of humor. The cast is very good-looking (so much so that at one point when a new member of the gang is needed, you know it will be the best-looking person we've seen recently -- my wife and I had some laughs over that). It's completely escapist, but it's excellent at it.
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Hulk (2003)
lots of fun, more serious than most comic-book movies
25 June 2003
Excellent cast and direction. Special effects were a little weak, but they didn't distract me. The split-screen stuff was very "Marvel Comics", and really enhanced the experience. I liked this better than the first X-Men movie, but not as much as Spiderman.
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amusing parody of 60's movies
20 May 2003
I was hoping for more, but in the end, this worked. I'm a fan of the best of the 60's romantic farces (such as "Send Me No Flowers"), which were surprisingly biting and even a bit subversive under their relentlessly cheerful surfaces. I thought that this was going to be an updated version of such a movie, but instead it's a fairly straightforward parody with deliberately two-dimensional performances. The actors and the sets are very attractive, and the plots has some amusing twists and turns, but it's the dumb jokes along the way that made the movie work for me in the end.
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Another success for Kaufman
3 February 2003
It's not as good as "Adaptation", which is one of my favorite movies of the last couple of years, but this movie is still very good. I don't know what, if anything, in the movie was in the book. I always disliked Barris' shows and avoided them even as a kid, but perhaps it was the unsavory nature of the topic that attracted Kaufman. The acting is all first-rate, and Sam Rockwell is outstanding. (Clooney does a very nice job of directing, too, which surprised me a little.)

The movie is loopy and off-center and quite funny.
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Hot Millions (1968)
sweet, gentle, surprisingly funny
22 January 2003
It's very sly for all of the 60's look to the movie. The humor is quite gentle, but it grew on me much more than I expected. The cast is first-rate and they appear to be having a wonderful time. Ustinov wanders through the film muttering some quite funny things under his breath, and it's all very inconsequential; I'll buy the movie as soon as it comes out on DVD. The plot is that Ustinov as an embezzler released from prison posing as a computer whiz and embezzling money from an American company with an office in London. Maggie Smith is his secretary for a while, and watching her get fired from many different jobs is part of the fun. Bob Newhart is his usual deadpan self, and Karl Malden has fun as the dense and sleazy executive running the London office. The ending is funny and nicely cynical.
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The Power (1968)
goofy fun
23 November 2002
The movie is based on a book of the same name by Frank M. Robinson. Robinson is probably most famous for his movie script "The Towering Inferno", but he was (is?) a solid thriller writer (and apparently a very nice guy). The book on which this movie is based is quite good; however, he made it more up-to-date at one point, and I think it hurt the feel of the book -- I found the original version, which is apparently out of print, to have a more consistent tone. In any event, the book is interesting and rather creepy, and the ending is quite good, and none of those things can be said about the movie. The movie is just awful, especially the casting, and despite that I really enjoy it. But I like movies like "Where the Boys Are", and "A Summer Place" for their exquisite ickiness, and I think that I like this movie for some of the same reasons.

Perhaps it would have been even better with Troy Donahue as the lead?
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Possession (2002)
old-fashioned (in the best sense) romance
26 August 2002
This is a standard "modern romance mirrors historical one", but it's nicely done. The cast is attractive, the story is sweet, and it's beautifully shot. There isn't any tension, since you know almost everything from the first few minutes, but you don't go to a movie like this for chills and thrills. The dialogue is entertaining, and Paltrow gets to be English again, and the romance from the past is well done, too. So if you think you might like this movie, you will...
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two mismatched movies in one
8 August 2002
This is a glossy Lana Turner vehicle and a social commentary film in the same box. The social commentary is delivered by Susan Kohner's performance, which is quite affecting, but the rest of the cast are glamorous cardboard cutouts, so it's an odd combination. Since I like Sirk's silly movies, I liked both pieces, but they really make no sense together on the screen. And the scenes with Kohner and Sandra Dee are just pathetic. They should have gotten Olivier to play some scenes with Troy Donahue in this movie, too...

To get a straight Sirk-us picture, watch "All That Heaven Allows". It's mind-boggling.
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Union Pacific (1939)
well-mounted B movie
8 August 2002
This is a fairly routine oat-opera of the "manifest destiny" subgenre. It has a stellar cast that is underused, and even the supporting cast is first-rate (the excellent Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman play the wisecracking bodyguards, and Brian Donlevy has one of his crafty kingpin roles -- by way of comparison, recall Donlevy and Tamiroff in "The Great McGinty"). The special effects are surprisingly hokey and it appears that fairly little of the movie was actually shot outside. And the sensibilities of the time show through, when one of the bad guys casually and cold-bloodedly murders an Indian, and the good guy does nothing more than punch the murderer a few times. While this might be historically more accurate than modern portrayals, it's still appalling to watch.

All that said, the movie is still entertaining. The dialogue is often more sophisticated than you'd expect, and this cast makes the most of anything they've been given. And you do get to see a couple of scenes of people laying rails and some shots of cool old steam trains. However, if you don't like old movies, don't bother with this one (if you know anything about old movies you can guess the details of the plot within 10 minutes of the beginning of the movie, and you'll get almost everything right).
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Signs (2002)
entertaining, thoughtful, but not "The Sixth Sense"
5 August 2002
Shyamalan manages to stay with his franchise (mystical and optimistic) without repeating himself. It's not a great movie, or even as good as "The Sixth Sense" (which I think is close to, but not quite, a great movie), but it is solid entertainment. I've seen complaints about the ending, but I found it fair and consistent with the rest of the movie.

Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix give strong, understated performances, and the rest of the cast is good (I found Shyamalan's cameo the weakest, but he's adequate -- it's just that the rest of the cast is very good). The Culkin kid gives a "Culkin kid" performance, but he was well cast so it works fine. And the little girl is as cute as a bug.

I find it hard to write reviews of his movies since so much of the pleasure of the movie depends on figuring out what's going on. This movie has less of that than TSS or Unbreakable, but it's still part of the movie, so try not to learn too much before seeing it.
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Swing Kids (1993)
29 July 2002
It has a good cast, an interesting topic, and is set in a period in history that is fascinating and horrifying, and in spite of it when the the movie ended I burst out laughing. Also, either the actors can't dance that well and the editor stinks at handling dance sequences, or the actors can't dance at all and the editor managed to hide that.

The trailer (years ago) gave me the impression that there was a lot of dancing in the movie, and that it was a romance set in a time of crisis, etc. Well, we have less than 5 minutes of choppily edited dancing in the movie, and the relationship between the hero and his girl (played by lovely Tushka Bergen, who is great in "Barcelona", which is a comic gem of a movie) is more fully developed in the trailer than it is in the movie (and Bergen has more screen time in the trailer, too).

If you want to listen to some great music and see great dancing, watch the documentary "Jazz" instead.
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better than average for the series, not great
11 June 2002
The only really good movie in this series is "The Empire Strikes Back". The first movie was fun, but it didn't hold up for me when I saw it on video (this apparently doesn't apply to lots of people that saw it in the theater as kids). But the second movie was excellent (and did hold up). The teddy-bear movie was terrible, and episode 1 was really dull (although I kind of liked the character with the horns on his face). Anyway, I'd say this is not quite as good as the original Star Wars (episode 4, that is), although the acting is generally much better (and the production values incomparably so). It was good enough that I'll watch the last one, although it is a little depressing to think what this series could have been if they had maintained the quality of TESB...
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Easy Living (1937)
delightful piece of fluff
6 June 2002
This movie is a delight. The screenplay is by Preston Sturges, which means that it will be sophisticated fun, and it is certainly that. It's a Depression era romantic comedy about a girl that gets a coat dropped on her head by accident, and within a few days is leading a life of luxury. The old SNL had a skit called something like "Married in a Minute" that was a spoof of movies like "How to Marry a Millionaire", where working girls (before that meant prostitutes) find love and wealth instantly upon arriving in New York. (HtMaM was probably intended to be partly a parody of such stories too, but it is so heavy-handed it's hard to tell.) Anyway, "Easy Living" predates a lot of this genre, and that (and the Sturges touch) keep it fresh. It's silly of course, but it knows it and has fun with it.

The movie has a wonderful cast and the direction is solid. It doesn't have the incredible zaniness of the movies that Sturges directed, but it's a not to be missed classic in my opinion.
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Spider-Man (2002)
solid rendition of the comic books
6 May 2002
Maguire, Dunst, and Dafoe are all much better actors than the material requires, but their performances add to the fun of this movie. And it is a lot fun. (And you'll certainly get a chance to see them again, since this thing has SEQUEL written all over it.)

They take a few liberties with the comic book (no, I refuse to call it a graphic novel -- anything with 50 words per page that is less than 100 pages long is not a novel), but I thought that they were generally improvements. The special effects are not really astonishing (although I probably should have been astonished; perhaps I'm just jaded), but they were good enough to not detract from the story (I didn't feel the vertiginous rush during the movie that you get from "Soaring over California" at Disneyland, and the scenes of Spider-Man swinging down the street look like a really good cartoon to me).

The movie is good looking and so is the cast (and you get to see a lot of Dunst's cleavage, which I certainly enjoyed). It's a perfect summer movie, a little ahead of the summer. I think that it's too intense for most kids under 10, although there were some kids still in diapers in the theater when I saw it, along with a couple of louts behind me that talked during the movie and kicked my seat repeatedly. And we all liked the movie (although I could have done without the louts).
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