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The Conversation (1974)
Harry Caul even more unforgettable than Popeye Doyle
Harry Caul, the complex and paranoid security man who gets sucked into a devilishly clever web of intrigue, is THE best character Gene Hackman ever created -- better even than the French Connection's Popeye Doyle for which Hackman won the Best Actor Oscar. The plot of this movie will keep you on you toes. A few severed threads near the end may annoy some, but overall a terrific movie.
It Happens Every Thursday (1953)
It Happens Every Thursday seems to have all the elements in place for a classic comedy along the lines of "The Egg And I." Urbanites Forsythe and Young take over a newspaper in a small town, then get involved in a local scandal of sorts. Forsythe, the handsome urban sophisticate should be perfect for the part, but his lines come off forced. And, he has no chemistry with Loretta Young at all. A few of the gags work well, but most fall tediously flat. Given the presence of Frank McHugh, Edgar Buchanan, Gladys George and others in a marvelous supporting cast, the results are very disappointing.
The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947)
Lightweight romantic comedy, hick style, with airy songs
IMDB reader, please note: The genre is wrong -- this is a romantic musical comedy -- definitely NOT a drama.
Janet Leigh's first lead role, opposite Van Johnson, is a nice showcase for her beauty and musical talents. The Romance of Rosy Ridge is sweetly old-fashioned with some strong small-town type veterans on hand. These are adorable people to spend time with and enjoy their bumpkin mannerism, especially O. Z. Whitehead. Van is resplendent as ever in the male lead.
Johnny Come Lately (1943)
Cagney is a human dynamo as a drifter who helps save ailing Grace George from losing her newspaper. The pace is fast, and audiences of all ages will be pleased. The supporting cast, have all the small-town characterizations down pat -- with Margaret Hamilton a standout. Cagney himself, had genuine affection for this film, and listed it among his top five movie-making experiences at a retrospective the year before he died.
What's Cooking? (2000)
Four stereotyped families give me indigestion
I found this lame excuse for a slice-of-life comedy to be truly insulting and stereotyped. Only the Hispanic family is characterized with any dignity at all. Dennis Haysbert gives the worst performance of a distinguished career as the feckless husband of Alfre Woodard. Julianna Marguiles gets to smile winsomely and kiss Kyra Sedgwick, but has little else to do. Maury Chaikin is awful and Lanie Kazan trots out her Jewish mother yet again. As for, Joan Chen, she is so bad, it's embarrassing. The writing is puerile, and the situations pedestrian.
Give thanks if you've managed to avoid this Thanksgiving-Day-themed turkey!
Getting to Know You (1999)
Good, but not as good as it could have been
Martarazzo, Weston, and Braff are amazing in the three lead roles of this independently made slice-of-life film. Bebe Neuwirth plays the mother with her customary excellence. Terrific support is supplied by Bo Hopkins, Celia Weston, Mary McCormack, and Tristine Skyler as people hanging around the bus station. The intermingling of Joyce Carol Oates short stories as apocryphal tales told by Weston is brilliant. However, the film bogs down significantly when it comes time to reveal Martarazzo and Braff's family secrets. Nevertheless, a nice touch at the end brings is helpful in restoring the magic. Altogether, this is a nice independent effort for the promising Lisanne Skyler, but it could have been a tad tighter.
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
Beautiful but boring
To anyone who has seen the Horse Whisperer or A River Runs Through It or The Milagro Beanfield War, all I need to say is that Robert Redford directed this movie. Virtually, all of Redford's films seem to have this in common: a) they have magnificent performances; b) they have three or more unforgettable sequences; and c) they are exquisitely photographed; and d) they are dominated by long stretches of background settings that are about as exciting as watching grass grow.
Zeus and Roxanne (1997)
Lots of clean fun for the whole family
You are never too old or too young to be cheered up by Zeus and Roxanne. Steve Guttenberg and Kathleen Quinlan have surprisingly electric chemistry together. But Roxanne the dolphin and Zeus the dog light up the sky with their fireworks. The kids are great too. But, a movie like this needs a worthy villain. Although I never heard of Arnold Vosloo before, he does a marvelous job playing Oil Can Harry to Steve Guttenberg's Mighty Mouse.
Sure, it's far-fetched. It's supposed to be. Just relax and have fun.
The Best of Times (1986)
Uneven and bittersweet comedy
Robin Williams does his best to combine comedy and pathos, but comes off a bit shrill. Donald Moffat is too one-note as his father-in-law. Jeff Bridges is excellent though as the quarterback, and Holly Palance and Pamela Reed are marvelous, carrying the film through most of its rough spots. It fills time nicely, but is little more than that.
Flamenco at 5:15 (1983)
Beautiful in its simplicity
This is about a ballet troupe taking Flamenco lessons at 5:15 AM. This documentary purports to do anything else, and at no point is it intrusive or oblique. Nevertheless, when it is over we are left with unforgettable images of the dancers and unique insights into their souls. Highly recommended.
Best Friends (1982)
Abysmal excuse for a comedy
If this is based on the true-life relationship, as purported, between Ms. Curtin and Mr. Levinson, I'm thrilled I do not know them personally. This is painfully slow, and both characters take stupid pills liberally throughout the movie while the theme song gets played into the ground. Many stupid scenes with people acting stupid does not make for a comedy.
To Find a Man (1972)
Marvelous low-budget slice-of-life movie
Darren O'Conner is marvelous as a shy teenage boy who helps Pamela Sue Martin get an abortion. The film is always completely realistic, glamorizing nothing, but never harsh or brutal. Pamela Sue Martin is perfect as the self-absorbed young lady befriended by O'Connor. Tom Ewell is surprisingly effective as the abortionist.
This is a terrific little-known gem that you will think about months after you have seen it.
Me and the Colonel (1958)
Sentimental slant on a peculiar situation
A Polish Jew teams up with a German Colonel on a postwar expedition. To say that they make an odd couple is the understatement of the century. The actors are good enough that the sentimental approach never wears too thin. If your tolerance for pathos is low, you may wish to avoid this one. Otherwise, the performances are first-rate and it will make you feel good.
Strange Bargain (1949)
Taut and clever programmer
Don't mistake brevity and low budget for lack of quality. This movie is very well scripted and conceived. Harry Morgan gives a terrific performance as the policeman and Jeffrey Lynn is appropriately perplexed as the devoted husband who suddenly finds himself holding the bag when he is tricked by his boss into an ill-fated endeavor. Martha Scott is marvelous as his well-grounded wife. Strange Bargain is well-paced and well-acted throughout.
Interestingly, this later served as a basis for a Murder She Wrote episode with Jeffrey Lynn, Martha Scott, and Harry Morgan recreating their roles. It actually makes for a fascinating "sequel."
Penny Serenade (1941)
One of the all time great romances
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are ideally matched in a movie quite different from their screwball comedies. They have marvelous chemistry together. The dialogue is marvelous as the couple travels from young and carefree to bitter and cynical. Edgar Buchanan is marvelous as Applejack. If you want to see great acting and are in the mood for a good cry, watch Penny Serenade.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Long on hype, short on believable performances
I know this comment will be viewed as sacrilege from the vast majority of movie lovers. This is just one woman's opinion. I find Gone With The Wind to be one of the greatest pageants ever filmed. The opening scene at Twelve Trees is a dressmaker's dream. The breadth and depth of the cast is amazing. This is clearly a big-budget epic. There are many people who love grand-scale epics for, well, the sheer grandiosity of it. This is what makes movies such an individual experience. I am not one of those people.
I love believable characters, thoughtful premises, clever plot twists, terrific acting, and witty dialogue. Gone With The Wind has all of these things, but only a sampling of them. Clark Gable is tremendous as Rhett Butler and Ona Munson is unforgettable as Belle Watling. But (here comes more heresy) Vivian Leigh's over-the-top frenetic performance of Scarlet O'Hara is bad acting at its zenith. She is never anything but a cartoon. And, she is supposed to carry the film. Even worse is an insipid Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes. Hattie McDaniel is great as Mammy (It is a disgrace to realize that it was 62 more years before a Black woman could win another Oscar, also for Supporting Actress). But Thomas Mitchell is present in body only as Scarlet's father. The rest of the all-star cast fares much better in their bit parts.
This is one movie that has never lived up to its legend for me.
Dr. Socrates (1935)
Typical 1930's Crime Drama
With Paul Muni in the lead, I was expecting something out of the ordinary. However, Dr. Socrates is ordinary. It is a run-of-the-mill 1930's crime drama with Muni's range wasted in a part better suited to Chester Morris or Ricardo Cortez. Barton MacLane and Mayo Methot, on the other hand, are perfect playing parts similar to what they played throughout their entire careers. It's watchable, but not special.
Awful direction and writing ruin mawkish tribute
Edward James Olmos is one of the finest actors in Hollywood today. It takes a horrible script, hideous dialogue, and incompetent direction to make unwatchable a character he essays. Selena accomplishes this. It also undermines many other good efforts here. At least Selena's music is showcased nicely. But, the film is so laden with cliches and video-style direction that there is no room for any legitimate plot development. The result a tedious disappointment.
It Could Happen to You (1994)
Rosie Perez plays the shrewish wife well beyond reasonable boundaries. The movie trots out every nasty New York cliche in the book. Nicholas Cage stumbles through the movie like Jackie Gleason's "Poor Soul."
On the plus side, Bridget Fonda scores well as the waitress whenever she is given the opportunity. Seymour Cassel is marvelous, stealing every scene in which he appears.
But, it's too mean-spirited and trite for me to ever wish to see again.
Passed Away (1992)
Funny dark Comedy
Jack Warden is patriarch of an Irish clan. When he passes away, lives are turned upside down and the fun begins. The ensemble cast is up to the challenge of believing their cliches just enough to sell them effectively to their audiences. Pamela Reed and Nancy Travis are standouts. Bizarre situations abound. I've now seen it twice, and enjoyed it immensely each time.
The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)
Wry and whimsical modernizing of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
This one is unexpectedly terrific and clever.
Next to 48 hours, this is Eddie Murphy's best performance ever. Eddie Murphy is a small-time con man who uses congressman James Garner's sudden death to propel himself into the biggest con game of all -- Washington politics. As he learns along the way, his character grows, but so does his conscience.
Eddie Murphy handles the entire transformation remarkably well. Lane Smith, Kevin McCarty, Grant Shaud, and Sheryl Lee Ralph are all terrific in supporting roles. There is no profanity in this one, just a marvelous updating of a holiday classic.
High Time (1960)
Bing Crosby Meets Fabian
Bing Crosby plays a millionaire in his sunset days who decides to get his college degree. It is very reminiscent of the 1982 Dangerfield vehicle, Back To School, only this one has entertaining songs in addition to light screwball comedy. This is a very good movie to relax to when you're in a mode to laugh, smile, and avoid anything challenging.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Renee Zellweger's accent is uneven, but the rest of this enjoyable what's-a-gal-to-do comedy is spot on. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are both excellent in the two major male roles. The situations are mostly believable. The "Greek Chorus" of Bridget's friends is perfection itself, and Bridget's mum and dad are ideally portrayed. Sit back and enjoy.
Red Planet (2000)
Worst Movie Val Kilmer Ever Made
I love Val Kilmer, but this piece of garbage is easily the worst thing he has ever done. It is really rock bottom. His colleagues are total dweebs. Carrie-Anne Moss is abysmal in every scene she is in. None of the characters make any sense. None of their actions make any sense. The special effects are cheesy. But, just to show there are no absolutes, the sound dubbing was technically excellent. Unless you rent a video to hear terrific sound dubbing, avoid this catastrophe like the plague that it is.
Autumn in New York (2000)
I love love stories (emphasis on "story" -- there should be one) and tear-jerkers (but both leads shouldn't be total jerks). Winona Ryder falling for Richard Gere? Sound absurd? It is. And it is so utterly clicheed and boring, it receives my vote as worst movie thus far in the new millennium. Any other candidates?