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Trail Street (1947)
***** Scott Tedium?
17 May 2018
No, it can't be. Randolph Scott in a dull western? I didn't believe it until I saw "Trail Street", a very talky talking picture with a good cast. Here, Scott is Bat Masterson who comes to Liberal, Kansas and becomes Marshal. He comes to the aid of newspaper editor Robert Ryan, one of Hollywood's better if underrated actors. Along for comic relief is old reliable Gabby Hayes, who never disappoints, and Anne Jeffreys as a glamorous dance hall girl.

It takes forever for them to get around to the bad guys, spearheaded by Steve Brodie, who 'owns' Liberal, via his saloon. No new ground is broken and the story is the usual good guys vs bad guys, but the script must have been enormous due to the great amount of dialogue. "Trail Street" is for hardcore Randolph Scott fans, who is his usual stalwart self.
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Kit Carson (1940)
******* Great 'B'
17 May 2018
It's really rewarding when you can find a gem where you weren't expecting to. I watched "Kit Carson" because it was raining and golf was cancelled, and I wanted to kill some time. What a surprise to see Jon Hall, of all people, in an action-packed story better than many with higher ratings. I figure it must have been the second feature paired with a more expensive picture, but this one held its own. It moves along at a good clip with some good second unit work on several fight scenes between the settlers and the Cavalry troop, led by Capt. Dana Andrews, chief scout Jon Hall and sidekick Ward Bond. One of the settlers wagons is driven by Clayton Moore - you can close your eyes when he talks and he becomes the Lone Ranger. Close your eyes again, and Jon Hall sounds like Randolph Scott, soft drawl and all.

See it when it's on again if you like surprises and action westerns, and overlook the plot holes. It's one of those pictures that is better the younger you are. I found it was nice to be young again.

Star rating is in the heading. The website no longer prints mine.
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The Seagull (2018)
****** Relationships
12 May 2018
I wish I could have taken a course on Russian Playwrights when I was in college, that way I could have some insight into Chekhov's psyche. Absent that, I will do my best with "The Seagull", one of Chekhov's most famous plays. As I said in the heading, it is about relationships, and peculiar in that everyone involved loves someone else. Without going into dizzying detail, this labyrinthine nature of the plot requires concentration, in the absence of a scorecard.

The overall mood of the play is gloom and despair, as though love casts a pall over the proceedings. It is 1904, at a Russian mountain resort. Without going into painful detail (just read the website's storyline), there are at least four unhappy couples with their hearts in pain, and the main star is Annette Bening, who gives a terrific performance as an aging actress trying to stay young. Elisabeth Moss is a name I am unfamiliar with but she was excellent as a woman desperately in love with Bening's son (Billy Howle, out of his element here), who is in love with Saoirse Ronan. I'll stop here before it becomes confusing.

All in all, the film is handsomely mounted and, as far as I can tell, faithful to the material. I wish I could have generated more feeling for the principals involved, but I grew restless waiting for an impactful scene.
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Ghost Stories (I) (2017)
******* Terror Trilogy
1 May 2018
The three British horror stories here are not like your father's British horror stories, schlocky stories starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. No fangs dripping blood - in fact, there's hardly any blood at all. These are stories of paranormal experiences, and are scary in their own right. A skeptical psychologist is hired to verify three unexplainable case studies , as we tag along to eavesdrop on his investigations. It's all fictitious and starts like a documentary, but it's not.

There's plenty here to scare even the most jaded horror fan, but I defy anyone to explain the last ten minutes of "Ghost Stories". Were the screenwriters hallucinating, or on some sort of drug? I was so annoyed I almost lowered my rating a notch. But by then the film had already proved its worth.

My star rating is in the heading. The website no longer prints them.
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**** "On To Stonehenge!"
29 April 2018
Someone actually said this, in an outburst of sophomoric exuberance during the Trial By Movie called "The Black Knight". This picture is shot through with banal dialogue and is typical of what you can purchase on the cheap in Hollywood. The alternative is to hire a screenwriter.

It is a comic book movie about coming of age to win a fair lady's heart, but suppose you are pretty old to start with? Alan Ladd, who was so handsome and vital in "Shane", looks lined and puffy here as a blacksmith trying to woo Patricia Medina, who is above his station. But he is undeterred, and sets out to 'prove himself'. The movie is riddled with two-dimensional characters and situations full of contrivances, and if you are older than 14 this picture is probably not for you.

The star rating is in the heading. The website no longer prints mine.
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Traffik (2018)
*** Bad Vacation
20 April 2018
When I left the theater I tried to think of something positive to say about "Traffik", a banal 'slasher' flick now in theaters. But I couldn't. The screenplay is hackneyed, the script is awful and the acting ranges from average (Omar Epps) to below (Paula Patton). "Traffik" just doesn't have much going for it, but I went to the first matinee which is low-priced where I go.

John and Brea are in love. He rents a mountain retreat hoping for a romantic getaway for the two, but, wouldn't you know it, a biker gang shows up to cause trouble (don't you hate it when that happens?). The story plods along without benefit of tension or suspense and the bikers are involved in an uninteresting sex trafficking ring - international, no less. But I had long since lost interest. If you go, see the early show - it's cheaper.
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The Search (1948)
***** Pleasant Enough
16 April 2018
An American soldier finds an orphan in the rubble of post-war Berlin, befriends him and educates him. Both of them want to find the boy's mother, but where to look? The story is told matter-of-fact and lacks a great deal of feeling and heart, and has the feel of a modified documentary. It also has an improvisational feel, as though the dialogue was made up on the spot. Our host on TCM said that Montgomery Clift wanted much of the sentimental dialogue removed and felt it lacked spontaneity. I feel it should have been left to the discretion of the screenwriter and the director, because what's left is a bloodless story, told one foot in front of the other. It is harmless and passes time, but could have been so much better.

My star rating is in the heading. The website no longer prints them.
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Beirut (2018)
******* Hostages
11 April 2018
That's the basis for this taut, fast-paced actioner set in the Middle East of the 70's. John Hamm is a State Dept. negotiator coaxed out of retirement to find an American operative held by (select one) the Palestinians, Israelis, Lebanese or maybe the PLO. Be sure to bring a pad and pencil to keep track of the cast and which side they are on, because you never know in "Beirut".

For some reason, this picture is getting bad ratings from IMDb contributors. I don't know if here is a Hollywood conspiracy against it, but the bad reviewers are way off. "Beirut" needs to be seen by fans of edge-of-your-seat thriller fans. Just pay close attention as some info goes by quickly, which is in keeping with the complex plot and brisk pace of the movie.

My star rating is in the heading. The website no longer prints mine.
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******* Hectic
9 April 2018
With pacing at breakneck speed, " The Death Of Stalin" marks the end of the murderous dictatorship of Josef Stalin and the scramble to name a successor. There is no shortage of candidates, and cabals and conspiracies abound in this hilarious black comedy starring Steve Buscemi - and I don't use the term 'starring' loosely. He makes the picture go, and when he's not in the shot you wait for him to come back onscreen for the film to regain momentum.

The film moves quickly and the picture is shot mainly in close-ups and frantic crowd shots, which will make it easier for TV audiences to absorb. Pay attention, since the pace and the numerous characters make for a somewhat garbled narrative, but just wait for Buscemi and you won't miss anything important. Or funny.

My star rating is in the heading as the website no longer prints them.
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******* Overlook Contrivances
3 April 2018
Watch this entertaining Anna May Wong vehicle and swallow hard; some of the plot devices may be tough to handle. Once you struggle to suspend your disbelief it is an easy going 70 minutes to watch the great Anna May follow in her father's (Warner Oland's) footsteps to uphold the family honor.

It is fast-paced and great fun, and at 70 minutes just long enough so that it doesn't overstay it's welcome. Those inscrutable Chinese baddies try to match wits with a Chinese detective (Sessue Hayakawa, who was Japanese) as he tries to foil their murderous plans, and are led by Anna May herself. Hollywood racism of the time prevented her from getting meatier parts, so you have to watch her and wonder what might have been. She was a beautiful and talented actress who was shortchanged. I put my star rating in the heading as the website no longer prints mine.
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Piccadilly (1929)
******** Anna May
31 March 2018
The nominal star of "Piccadilly" is Gilda Gray, but the real star of the film is Anna May Wong. She has the major part and shows her superior acting ability. In most of her film appearances she is cast as a villainess, a sinister two-dimensional oriental woman, but here she is given full rein and shows that she can carry a picture. She was given only one starring role with her name above the title, in "Daughter Of The Dragon" two years later. She, of course, played a two-dimensional oriental villainess.

She is beautiful as a British cabaret dancer who captivates the club's owner (Jameson Thomas). In one scene she lets her shoulder-length hair down, and she is gorgeous. He throws off his Caucasian girlfriend, which doesn't sit well with her. Strife and bitterness take hold as the story descends into melodrama. This is your best chance to see Anna May Wong at her best, and imagine what her career might have been.
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****** Flag Waver
29 March 2018
It must have gone over well with wartime audiences, those on the home front waiting and worrying about loved ones abroad. "This Is The Army" is a big, splashy musical with lots of familiar Hollywood stars and with almost constant music by Irving Berlin. Just the thing to boost the morale - uplifting, upbeat and very patriotic.

However. You might be tempted to say that the story gets in the way of the songs, but the story is not all that interesting to start with, and with some contrivance to boot. And the songs are loud but forgettable, the only one worth noting is "Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning", sung by Irving Berlin himself. But that's the last scene in a movie which seems interminable at times. The best one can say is that it made the folks on the home front feel much better.

My star rating is in the heading as the website no longer prints mine.
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Dillinger (1945)
******* Tierney Is Dillinger
29 March 2018
The part of John Dillinger must have been red meat for Lawrence Tierney, the baddest of Hollywood's bad boys. A notorious brawler and sociopath, Tierney seems the embodiment of the erstwhile Public Enemy #1 and plays it to the hilt. This was his first starring turn and is remarkably at his ease in the part. In all subsequent roles he was belligerent and humorless, and I can't recall ever seeing him crack a smile.

"The Lad In Red" is lovely Anne Jeffreys, and the gang members are all familiar faces; Elisha Cook, Jr., Eduardo Cianelli, Marc Lawrence, and in a change from his normally sophisticated roles, Edmund Lowe as the gang leader. The picture is very entertaining and was made by Monogram, a charter member of Poverty Row. Here they've pulled out all the stops and produced a top notch gangster flick. If you're a fan of 'cops and robbers' movies you won't be disappointed. I've put my star rating in the heading as the website no longer prints them.
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******Good-Natured Antique
26 March 2018
Not a lot of depth to "The Sport Parade". Truth be told, nowadays the theme would be called 'threadbare and hackneyed', nowadays being 85 years later. Two college athletes are bosom buddies bur take different paths after graduation. Johnny (William Gargan) has a reliable, steady job lined up and Joel McCrea plays Sandy, the grasshopper, who is pre-occupied with women and money. He signs up with a shady sports agent who indulges him and gets him into debt. Johnny comes to the rescue with a job, which Sandy takes, along with Johnny's girl friend.

But they are buddies, and the movie points up the camaraderie and good feeling between the two. If it begins to sound familiar, it is - you've seen something similar before. You can see a youthful Joel McCrea, long and lean, and lovely Marian Marsh who may be unfamiliar to modern audiences. You can also get a glimpse of life in grandpa's time, with spectators in raccoon coats and straw hats, as well as long-gone manners and mores of polite company.

My star rating is in the heading as the website no longer prints mine.
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****** 'Duke' Movie
21 March 2018
Not much to report here as it is a John Wayne movie with all the usual trimmings. But this one could be divided into two parts. First, it's a war picture with John Wayne, and he seldom disappoints. He is brave and fearless and leads his men , in this case a submarine crew. Second, it's a love story, as he tries to win back his ex-wife (Pat Neal) and, let's face it; love stories are not Duke's long suit. He is in the love scenes but she carries the ball, and he is along for the ride.

I felt the love angle dragged the picture down to an unacceptable level, as too much time was spent on it. Additionally, there was not much chemistry between the two and the heavy lifting was left to Ms. Neal. As a result, I divided my rating into two parts; war scenes a seven and the love scenes a five; my final rating is six. I include my star rating in the heading as the website no longer prints them.
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Journey's End (I) (2017)
********* Perfect
20 March 2018
Ever watch a movie that was so good, so well done that it ceases to be theater - it seems real? That's the feeling one gets watching director Saul Dibb's "Journey's End", a masterpiece on several different levels. The actors are superb, the sets unsettlingly authentic and with a spellbinding screenplay, despite taking place mainly in a wartime trench. The ominous background score heightens the film's feeling of impending tragedy.

It is WWI in 1918, somewhere on 'The Front'. The commanding officer is Capt. Stanhope (Sam Claflin), who apparently suffers from battle fatigue as he tries to keep his men, as well as himself, from feeling the effects of the growing despair that grips his company as they await the German's massive attack which has been foretold by a captured German soldier. Director Dibb captures the emotional tone in the claustrophobic officers dugout as we learn the motivations as well as the mental aspect of each. And there is no thought, of course, of a wise retreat.

"Journey's End" is more evidence of how european filmmaking has eclipsed that of the U.S. American studios are too timid to back a film considered too daring and that would break the mold of the cookie-cutter stories emanating from its assembly line. So, those of us interested in excellence in film must forage around. My star rating is in the heading as the website no longer prints mine.
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Skylark (1941)
****** Lite Comedy
13 March 2018
Or, if you prefer, Comedy Lite, because 'Skylark" is only semi-funny. I can only guess Director Mark Sandrich didn't have a good feel for comedy as several scenes which could have been funny seemed forced and heavy-handed. A Leo McCarey or Mitchell Leisen could have gotten more mileage out of them, but, as is, "Skylark" is unsatisfying and leaves you feeling unfulfilled, like Lite beer or diet soda.

Other reviews recount the plot, but just let me say that the main reason to watch this one is to watch several old pros give their all and try to make a mediocre picture better just by their presence. It belongs mainly to Claudette Colbert, who tries mightily and comes off the best of the principals. She is ably supported by Ray Milland and Brian Aherne, who also do their best. Walter Abel does not come off so well and is better in straight drama parts. And the old pop standard 'Skylark" is apparently not from this picture. I put my star rating in the heading as the website no longer includes them.
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The Party (I) (2017)
8******** Secrets Party
6 March 2018
Apparently, everyone of the partygoers has a secret. One is dying of cancer, one is a lesbian. Another is having an affair with another's wife, still another is a cocaine addict. What begins as an innocuous get-together among friends becomes a group confessional, as skeletons come tumbling out of closets and what starts as a tedious character study becomes an absorbing exercise in psychological combat.

Didn't think I would like it as much as I did but I appreciate good, solid acting such as is on display here and is the main reason for my rating. Timothy Spall was outstanding as a terminally ill ex-college professor and Cillian Murphy as an addict friend of the group. The story is told in only 71 minutes, which fly by as the tale takes root and arrests your attention. I put my star rating in the heading as IMDb no longer prints my stars.
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Death Wish (2018)
****** Pretty Good
2 March 2018
Not as good as I had hoped, and not as good as the original. I always like Bruce Willis and here he's pretty good, but he doesn't have the magnetism and aura about him that Charles Bronson had. Director Roth has Willis try to act too much, and this is an action flick - just get on with the, uh, action. And acting is not Willis' strong suit.

The original had a veracity to it that this remake lacks. There are some scenes of tension but the original had some tense scenes that were heightened and magnified By Director Winner, who was a veteran of action pictures. Speaking for myself, Roth has a way to go to match him. You might like this film better if you didn't see the original. I put my stars in the heading since IMDb doesn't print my stars anymore.
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The Misfit
24 February 2018
Peter Standish inherits an old town house on Berkeley Square and becomes taken with its history, and particularly, with its inhabitants 150 years in the past. He feels a part of the house and likens himself to one of them. Then, one day he time travels back and becomes part of the household. "Berkeley Square" then becomes a cautionary tale to Be Careful What You Wish For, as he is ill at ease among them. He tries to fit in but they don't seem to like him.

The great Leslie Howard labors mightily to give an even-handed performance, but the film can't seem to make up its mind - a drama, or a light comedy? It is too mean-spirited to be a comedy and too whimsical to be a straight drama. He goes from scene to scene which are peopled with uncomprehending or hostile figures - all except the sweet, perceptive Helen (Heather Angel), youngest daughter of the household, with whom he falls in love.

Despite its flaws, it is absorbing and holds your interest throughout as you try to predict the unpredictable outcome. Director Lloyd makes the change from the 20th century to the 18th imaginative and artful, but seemed unsure what genre film he should make. The final product is worth seeing and deciding for yourself.
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**** Slight Comedy
20 February 2018
The only reason to watch this film is Joe E. Brown, who is funny under most any circumstances. But here he is not given good material and relies on his outsized mouth to holler from time to time. The other reason is to see Joan Bennett as a blonde. She is forced to carry the picture as best she can, and at least she is lovely to look at. Also on hand is the 1930 All-America Football team playing themselves and not given much to do acting-wise.

Interesting to note how popular tastes have changed. In 1930 there was a lot more enthusiasm for football and for those football heroes they called Big Man On Campus. Now it seems societal values are different and football is bigger off-campus than on. Most of the crowd here wore suits and ties and in one scene Brown wore the traditional raccoon coat of yesteryears football fan. Not much fun or excitement here and the plot is threadbare by now. Wonder if it was more watchable a long time ago.
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******* Prophetic
19 February 2018
As another reviewer mentioned, I wonder if The Duke of Windsor ever saw this film and took his cue from George Arliss. The story revolves about a King who has lost his appetite for being one, and yearns for the woman he was forced to leave behind. It is 18 years later now and he tries to adjust to her lifestyle and to his daughter. He was forced to dissolve the marriage , leaving them both to become king.

The story is a lovely old antique of the kind no longer made, a gentle romantic comedy played to perfection by Arliss and his former wife, played by Marjorie Gateson. His wife as a king is played by his real life wife, Florence Arliss. It is very short at 61 minutes but gives the viewer a glimpse of the marvelous talent and magnificent stage presence that was George Arliss. His presence makes this pedestrian story a must for viewers who appreciate excellence in acting.
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Not So Dumb (1930)
**** Misfire
16 February 2018
This was an egregious misfire, considering the talent involved. I kept waiting for a belly laugh or even a chuckle, but I could barely force one throughout the picture. Marion Davies was a talented comedienne, but here her timing seemed off and she appeared ill at ease with the material. All I could think of was that this must have worked better onstage, as it was adapted from a play by George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly, two of the biggest names on Broadway at the time. To top that, the Director was King Vidor, one of Hollywood's best. I thought the website rating was overly generous by half, which is what I rated it; half of it.
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Non-Musical
15 February 2018
This was written by Edmund Goulding, prolific writer and director, and songwriter Irving Berlin. Most of Berlins' songs were omitted from the final production and what remains is a tribute to the fertile mind of Goulding. The story is clever and interesting, and is nearly forgotten nowadays. It deserves a better fate.

It stars two who were popular in the 20's and 30's and it is particularly interesting to witness the acting skills of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Here, he has a comic/dramatic role as a business tycoon who has no time for women - until he meets Bebe Daniels, a society celeb who decides to 'infatuate' the invulnerable Fairbanks. The stars play well off each other and you may be surprised by the depth of Fairbanks' acting range.

There are, alternately, scenes of comedy and romance, and all play very well with audiences of any era. The big surprise, as noted, is Fairbanks. This picture is not as bad as the website rating and may be the fact that it is dated and some aspects haven't aged well. Give it a try if it comes on old, reliable TCM again.
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Quirky Epic *******7 of 10
7 February 2018
Can't remember ever seeing a picture with as many twists and turns as "Anthony Adverse". In the 60's they would call such a story 'psychedelic', as though the author was influenced by drugs of some sort. So many detours, coincidences, haphazard occurrences, abrupt plot diversions and dead ends. Nevertheless the film is oddly arresting, like a book you can't put down, and here you keep watching and hoping for unification. In a word, it is fascinating without being engrossing.

The cast is formidable and uniformly competent - no bad performances in sight. Especially good are March, DeHavilland, Claude Rains (as always), Donald Woods, Edmund Gwenn and the underrated Akim Tamiroff. I was not going to rate it as highly as I did until the graceful and bittersweet ending which redeemed a bizarre novel, the only one Hervey Allen ever wrote.
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