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Last Holiday (2006)
Formulaic but enjoyable comedy in which Queen Latifah is cast against type as an introverted department store sales clerk who quits her job, takes her retirement money out of the bank and goes on a lavish spree at a posh European spa after being informed that she has only three weeks to live, with hilarious and touching consequences.
I saw the original 1950 version starring Alec Guiness on TV many years ago and knowing the ending (which, admittedly, is pretty easy to guess) didn't diminish my enjoyment of the remake at all. Check out the original if you can find it--it's not on DVD, but the VHS version is still in print. Some mom-and-pop video stores may have it for rent.
Seven Days in May (1964)
Brilliant Filmmaking, Silly Story
"Seven Days In May" is a brilliant piece of filmmaking with a story that is dated and ultimately doesn't hold up under analysis. In addition to the gaps in logic already noted by others, if the nuclear disarmament treaty with the USSR is so deeply unpopular, how the hell did President Lyman manage to get it ratified by the Senate in the first place? Did something happen to change the mood of the country? The movie never tells us.
On the other hand, "Seven Days In May" is a political thriller that is also a film noir par excellence. Note that all of the "action" scenes take place at night. Particularly noteworthy is the scene that takes place outside and in the garage of Senator Prentice's apartment building; the lighting, the camera angles, the sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith's score all add to the sinister atmosphere.
Overall, a great movie stylistically, but enjoying "Seven Days In May" requires a major suspension of disbelief if you know anything at all about American politics.
Agnes Browne (1999)
Cinematic Comfort Food
What I want to know is, what's up with Arno Chevrier's hippie-length hair in this movie? It's extremely long for 1967, yet not a single character comments on it. And Tom Jones, by the time this movie was filmed, was way too old to play the 1967 version of himself. By coincidence, I saw an actual Tom Jones performance from 1967 on an Ed Sullivan rerun the night before I saw AGNES BROWNE, and it almost didn't look like the same guy.
Now that I've got that off my chest, how was AGNES BROWNE? A little raunchier than I expected, in a chick-flick sort of way, also very sentimental and predictable-not that that's necessarily a bad thing. AGNES BROWNE is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food; it's not a challenging or particularly unusual film, but if you buy into it, it'll leave you with a nice warm feeling inside. And Dublin has never looked more beautiful on film.
One other thing-if you've seen SEXY BEAST, watch for Ray Winstone (`Gal') as Mr. Billy, the loan shark who terrorizes Agnes and her family. His performance is electrifying.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
A Royal Mess
With The Royal Tenenbaums, critics' darling Wes Anderson turns in a movie that is a royal mess and a triumph of style over substance. Sepia-toned cinematography and literary-style chapter headings can't distract from the thin, unoriginal plot (I completely agree with the earlier post that described the story as second-rate John Irving), and the arch, deadpan performances are painful to watch. Gene Hackman as the patriarch tries his best to liven up the proceedings, but he's beating a dead horse. Not for a moment did I find any of the characters believable, sympathetic or interesting, and I couldn't wait for the movie to end. I've had dental appointments that were more fun than sitting through this pretentious piece of crap.
The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
A Pleasant Surprise
I went to see this movie in spite of the negative reviews and was pleasantly surprised--in fact, I left the theater wondering if the critics had seen the same film I did. The cast was outstanding, the cinematography was stunning and the story was intriguing. If you like costume dramas and you're looking for some escapist entertainment, "The Affair of the Necklace" is a good pick.
Not to give short shrift to the plot or the performances, but a year after seeing this film at the local art house (where it played for exactly one week), what I remember most is the gorgeous widescreen cinematography--particularly in the shore scenes, which I believe were filmed in Odessa. It's a shame that most people, if they see "Legend of 1900" at all, will watch it on a TV screen. If there were any justice in the world, at least one screen in each cineplex would be reserved for fine but overlooked films such as this.
Aldrich Ames: Traitor Within (1998)
Hutton is miscast
This is a straightforward retelling of the Ames saga that seldom rises above the level of a made-for-TV movie and contains a major anachronism in that the fall of the Soviet Union is shown as having come during the Clinton administration rather than the Bush administration. Timothy Hutton is seriously miscast as Ames--he's too young for the part by at least 15 years. Under the glasses and mustache that give him a superficial resemblance to Ames, his face is too fresh for a burned-out career civil servant in late middle age. Hutton was much more believable as the idealistic traitor Christopher Boyce in "The Falcon and the Snowman," a similar themed but much better film. But Elizabeth Pena is excellent as Ames' South American wife Rosario in a part that is terribly underwritten, and Joan Plowright is superb as the elderly spycatcher Jeanne Vertefeuil. Although entertaining, this is a movie that could have been much better if it had a more polished script and a bigger budget.
The April Fools (1969)
This romantic comedy is extremely dated, both technically (lots of zooms and whip pans) and thematically, with regard to the do-your-own-thing ethic of its protagonists. Deneuve and Lemmon are an odd match, and there's no real chemistry between them, although Deneuve is always a pleasure to look at. Every sixties cliche you can think of is in this film: the violent sports/violent society metaphor (borrowed from "Medium Cool"); the "beautiful people" party; the inscrutability of modern art; tacky safari-themed nightclubs and tacky cocktail music. Especially jarring to modern sensibilities is the film's light-hearted treatment of drinking to excess, including driving under the influence. "The April Fools" is a classic example of sixties kitsch and best appreciated by connoisseurs of the same.
Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
I was really looking forward to seeing "Next Stop Wonderland" because Hope Davis was so good in "Daytrippers". What a disappointment! Ms. Davis's character in "Next Stop" is whiny, self-obsessed and thoroughly unappealing. In addition, the story is burdened with too many silly, unnecessary sub-plots and the shaky hand-held camera work made me nauseous. The only good thing about the film is the bossa nova music on the soundtrack.
The In Crowd (1988)
A male version of "Dirty Dancing"
This coming-of-age movie is sort of a male version of "Dirty Dancing" with a young man from a wealthy suburb falling for a tough city girl. The best thing about it is the soundtrack, which is packed with undeservedly overlooked R & B from the '60s--great songs like the Marvelows' "I Do," Tina Britt's "The Real Thing," the Majors' "A Wonderful Dream" and the Marvelettes' "When You're Young And In Love." It's a refreshing change from the typical '60s movie with songs you've already heard a million times. The dancing is terrific, Donovan Leitch and Jennifer Runyon are appealing as the young lovers, and Joe Pantoliano is outstanding as DJ Perry Parker.