53 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Black Swan (2010)
3/10
I keep thinking of Roman Polanski...
7 February 2012
I saw this film fairly recently, and was excited because the material is a real treasure trove that could be mined for quite a haul, particularly in the hands of someone like Darren Aranofsky.

However, for me, it's Aranofsky's worst film by far, and I've seen them all. As a technician and stylist, he's one of my favorite current directors, but the story and performances were hammered home with so many clichés that the venture was just laughable.

I mean, Darren's singular approach of blurring space and time worked well with "Requiem for a Dream" and "The Fountain" because of the inherent reality/unreality that is the central focus for the main character. Here, it's played out in the dichotomous relationship of TWO characters, and it's just plain silly - there is no granularity to it at all. The impresario and mother characters come off like crap - Anton Walbrook must have been turning in his grave. And of course, Mila Coon-Ass really kills it - a better actress with more allure, more subtlety, a better ability to convey passive-aggressiveness - now that might have helped a bit. Ultra-bad casting decision, but you have to give some credit to Natalie Portman, who turns in an agreeably flamboyant performance that, while probably not Oscar-worthy, is worth attending to.

But this thing is a turkey for me - it is ponderous and flat-footed rather than brooding and potent. This guy is a wonderfully talented director, but I hope Darren doesn't think that he's John Ford now after the Oscars of last year. Ford built his legacy through craft over time - so far, Darren has distinguished himself with techniques more akin to Roman Polanski. I'd love to see Aranofsky tackle something like "Othello" or "Macbeth"!

And frankly, I'd rather see Roman Polanski tackle THIS material - shades of "Repulsion"! Overall, I get more out of balletic conflicts like "The Red Shoes" and "The Turning Point" than this thing - I'd suggest that viewers at least see these as a source of comparison - heck, see "Repulsion" as well. I'm afraid that this isn't worth more than 3 out of 10.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Atonement (2007)
2/10
Fast-forward/laugh - fast-forward/laugh
19 July 2009
To put it bluntly, this film is a virulent mess. I mean, who would've thunk it? After Joe Wright's shimmering triumphs in "Pride and Prejudice" and "Charles II: The Power and the Passion"? And this cast? And this Ian McEwan storyline worthy of Graham Greene? And a Best Picture BAFTA?

It stinks, and here's how it apparently happened. Wright's florid cinematics worked well in his earlier two enterprises because of the strengths of the characters and the compelling story lines that held a great deal of interest via action and resulting character development. In this film, we find a context of greater introversion and subtlety, and the hope was that Wright would tone things down a little. Instead, he goes the opposite way, attempting to create a singular grafting of camera and musical themes (including typewriter key sounds) that defines rather than underpins the film.

Joe Wright is not Darren Aranovsky, however. And ultimately, the result is gratingly self-conscious and infuriatingly pretentious, consistently turning scenes into deflating "look-at-this" exercises. And if this isn't enough, Wright attempts to turn the story into an cinematic "epic", apparently wishing to rival "The English Patient" and "For Whom The Bell Tolls" in scope and detail. McEwan's story doesn't lend itself well to this treatment, so the film collapses under massively detailed expositions of WWII and other events that contribute nothing to the story. The expositions themselves don't even ring true, and the plot's final twist almost seems anticlimactic under all of that weight.

Ultimately, my distaste for the enterprise led me into the fast-forward/laugh mode - fast-forwarding through the endless yawning pits of the superfluous landscape while laughing at the overall lost motivation of the film. I haven't done this with a major motion picture since "Braveheart", but with "Braveheart", I was laughing at the film's unintentionally hilarious content, not at its overall motivations.

2 Stars, and hopefully the nadir of a very talented director's career.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Departed (2006)
4/10
No respect!
18 July 2009
This remake of "Internal Affairs", a great movie in its own right, adds a Whitey Bulger-John Connolly Boston twist that just BEGS for brilliance - it's a can't-miss story line with a powerhouse cast.

However, it's a huge disappointment. Despite such compelling material, Scorsese only skims the surface, opting for gloss instead of substance, adding confusing sub-plots that serve mainly to hook the audience. These sub-plots destroy the momentum of the film and pull the whole thing off the tracks. Without these (no spoilers), the film may have had a chance. Scorsese's trademark violence stingers are now overripe at best. Am I the only one who started to yawn when people were getting pounded over a loud soundtrack in "Casino"? I doubt it...

There is some pretty silly ensemble work here, too - we're not talking "Glenngary Glen Ross" or "The Usual Suspects" here by any stretch. Most of the bad highlights usually involve Wahlberg's profane fool of a character. Overall, the individual characterizations seem to be either shrill, as in the case of the annoying Wahlberg and chest-thumping Damon, or flat, like Sheen's police captain. Nicholson's Whitey Bulger take is completely lacking in menace - it's amusing, if nothing else. Only DiCaprio's brooding Billy Costigan stands out, but he's got nowhere to go, both literally and figuratively - the sub-plots basically turn his character to face the wall...

Much has been made of the ending here, but I would describe it with one word - "cowardly". I just couldn't respect this film much, particularly in light of "GoodFellas" and other Scorsese masterpieces. Overall, 4 stars and only because it's him - probably the worst best picture Oscar since "American Beauty".
6 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Duellists (1977)
5/10
Not Great Scott
20 January 2009
This is Ridley Scott's first film, based upon a particularly interesting Joseph Conrad story of two career soldiers who maintain a long feud over a singular incident.

Scott's dynamic media style is already more than in abundance here - striking widescreen shots, sumptuous overall cinematography, brilliant art direction, evocative score, and meticulous costume design make for a strong viewing experience.

However, this isn't anywhere close to Scott's classic films, and it's not just that Scott was getting his feet wet. In general, Ridley Scott is not a director who does much with character studies in isolation - his main characters are borne from the fruit of their dilemmas. This lends the expectation that the plot and associated physical action carry the weight of the story to create these dilemmas. This is the general thrust of most successful Scott efforts, including "Alien", "Blade Runner", and "Gladiator".

However, in "The Duellists", the dilemmas in the original story are reduced to basically a series of confrontations within differing physical environments. Since not much is happening within the story, the burden of proof, so to say, is thrown back on the characters to carry the film.

That doesn't happen here. Carradine and Keitel, both reasonably competent actors in certain mediums, are miscast, as is Diana Quick. The two male leads try hard, but Carradine lacks the physicality for the Jean Valjean-type main character and Keitel, while energetic enough, doesn't communicate enough sense of protocol to convince us that he is anything but a simpleton of a boor. In Keitel's favor, his last scene is definitely right on, but it's a bit late in the game. I found Keitel's muted Brooklyn accent to be unintentionally funny in some scenes.

The dueling scenes are surprisingly disappointing, particularly because one assumes that these career military dragoons are very skilled swordsman. The power and technical skill of the scenes pales in comparison to films such as "The Adventures of Robin Hood", "The Prisoner of Zenda", "Cyrano De Bergerac" (both versions), and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" with its brief sequences.

It's nice to see Meg Wynn-Owen from "Upstairs, Downstairs" in an extended bit. Overall, this is 5 out of 10, mainly of interest as a part of Scott's catalog and his signature stylistics.
16 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Love Liza (2002)
5/10
Love Liza? Didn't really...
12 January 2009
"Love Liza" is a film with a riveting premise - a man's life is turned upside down by the sudden suicide of his wife. The film focuses on the reverberations of the event in the man Wilson's life as he attempts to cope and understand - simultaneously.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's Wilson is the obvious centerpiece of the story, and Hoffman delivers a great performance, bringing the viewer into the convoluted world of this poor man. Director Louiso, in his feature-length picture debut, brings welcome shading and spacing to the story, highlighting Wilson's teetering sense of reality. The musical score by Jim O'Rourke (formerly of Sonic Youth) also deserves special mention for perfectly underlining the highs and lows of the story with shimmering and lilting instrumentation.

Unfortunately, the sum is not the positive cumulative of its parts. "Love Liza" is a bit of a confounding piece of work in this regard, because it truly succeeds in conveying its basic premise. Where the film misses is in how it draws Wilson, the supporting characters, and their relationships. Despite good performances, the supporting characters feel superficially presented, with a sense of artificiality in their connection to Wilson. Kathy Bates is really wasted here, and Jack Kehler's Denny seems to be best conveyed in a particularly stupid line about going to the bathroom. The evolving character flaws of Wilson in reaction to the event begin to feel tacked on over time as well, and ultimately, there is a feeling of being kept at arm's length.

The film does deserve kudos for not looking for pat answers to Wilson's dilemma and of course, for Hoffman's performance. Overall, though, I found the result to be less moving and more unsatisfying than I'd hoped. I'd give it 5 out of 10.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
2/10
Where the Sun Don't Shine
9 January 2009
"Little Miss Sunshine" attempts to tread on ground that has been firmly furrowed by such films as "Bottle Rocket", "Sideways", "Broken Flowers", "Rushmore", "Wonder Boys", and "Napoleon Dynamite" - a pointed black comedy that uses relationship in dichotomy within an evolving framework. In this case, it's a road trip to a pageant in which Olive Hoover will compete for the title of Little Miss Sunshine.

Unlike the other films mentioned earlier, this is a complete disappointment. Its message is blithe and unremarkable and is completely sublimated by its simplistic and crude bearings. Worse, I found the characters to be predictable and completely unlikeable - a presentation that inept writers/directors seem to mistake for the gist of good black comedy. The script is as devoid of depth as a wading pool.

While not having much with which to work, the cast mails in their performances. Alan Arkin has been the author of many great comedic and dramatic characterizations, including "The Russians are Coming..." and "Glengarry Glen Ross" to name a few. This Oscar-winning nod is a throwaway. Toni Collette, one of the most versatile of current actors, stoops not to conquer, but to rake in the cash - she has absolutely nothing to do here. I found her character to be innocuous at best. Steve Carell does his best to put a wet blanket over the one potentially complex character in the mix - his monolithic performance falls particularly flat, and serves as a poster child for lack of inspiration.

Overall, this film is a black comedy in the sense that it insults its audience by taking them for fools with a maudlin "message" and "quirky" characters. And based upon the number of awards and glowing accolades that this fraud has received, fools have been rushing in by the truckload.

This is one of the very few films that I've seen recently that I would call "repellent". And for that, I'll give it a 2.
3 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
3/10
Too politically correct to be truly memorable
8 January 2009
I was highly anticipating this film - after seeing an extended trailer, it seemed that for the first time in some years, a comedy with real intelligence and bite was being foisted upon us. I missed it in theaters, but grabbed it on DVD.

I was initially positive about it, but after a retake, I broke down. It's certainly well-mounted with great production values and good performances, but loses its way in the overt attempt to entertain and hand-hold the audience that dooms most foul-mouthed comedies to unmemorable mediocrity. Too many parody and satire sequences are played so broadly that one laughs at the spectacle rather than the subtle jabs that really could put it above most junk out there.

And that's really a shame, because I've seen it all before, and more importantly because Stiller and company just nail it in a few small truly memorable exchanges, most of which include Robert Downey, Jr. People describe the obvious "Heart of Darkness", "Platoon", and "Rambo" references, but the script quotes and alludes to so many films, producers, and actors that it's a virtual beehive of smack.

To put it succinctly, I think that Stiller and Company wanted to make a sharp, biting satire on the business, but felt the need to couch it in a typically raunchy, pedestrian framework in order to bring in the largest possible audience (and the largest cash flow).

And what's left? Just F-bomb country and small organ mentality, particularly from that hog of a Jack Black. All of this is a bit too politically correct for me, and therefore, in a sense, the film parodies itself. Upon reflection, I can only give it a 3 out of 10 simply for the exchanges between Downey and Stiller.

It's not too hard to imagine that Downey could receive an Oscar nomination for this because that's what the world of film has come down to - a world where subtlety and thought is drowned in frantic excess.
10 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Le Plaisir (1952)
10/10
Ophuls' brilliant pageant
14 November 2008
It is difficult to illuminate much more than has already been described in other comments. Aside from limited clips of "Letter from an Unknown Woman", this is the first Ophuls film that I've seen. Thankfully, all four of his 1950's masterpieces are now available on DVD, but I write with the appreciation of one who is just discovering this director.

This film is certainly a near if not complete masterpiece, and compares well to my favorite film of 1952, Becker's "Casque d'Or", particularly in how both films commence with indelible scenes that personify each director's method.

Here, I so thoroughly enjoyed seeing some of my favorite actors - Pierre Brasseur, Danielle Darrieux, Jean Servais, Simone Simon, and particularly Jean Gabin. It seems that the leitmotif of pleasure is communicated so resoundingly, so subtly by camera work that is astonishingly pulsating yet perceptive. The purity and clarity of emotion is brought forth through the movement and transition of the wonderful Guy De Maupassant stories, not through strict character development.

I give this film a 10, but I somehow feel that I will find other Ophuls films, such as "La Ronde" or "Madame De", to be its equal. I look forward to viewing them.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Orlando (1992)
3/10
"A masked ball and nothing more"
14 November 2008
Someone wrote in response to another confused, disappointed viewer: "I'm hoping you are a brand new film student...if you cannot analyze this easily interpreted film, you are going to go crazy with Fellini, Truffant, and most other works of greatness. Wait till you see The Battleship Potemkin!! Don't give up though...art is an incindiary form of annoyance for many...open discussions are the secon best part of art."

The writer was correct in stating that open discussions are the second best part of art. Great art arouses the soul and covers the spectrum of feelings, emotions, and the mind. However, for me, comparing this film with the great works of Fellini, Truffaut, and Eisenstein is annoying in itself.

I saw this as a double-bill with "Le Plaisir" by Max Ophuls. For me, the distinction between art and an incendiary form of annoyance is clear - "Le Plaisir" is a realized masterpiece with brilliant source material. And then there is this, the annoyance!

This film is not dreadful, but it is mediocrity teetering on the edge of the cliff. A very interesting proposition by Virgnia Woolf is just completely reduced to shallow banality. With so much worthy plumbing available with the source material's take on immortality, relationships, and androgyny, this (literally) skates on ice. This effort reminds me of Rand's "The Fountainhead" with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal - full of shimmering possibilities and strikingly photographed, but poorly realized and interpreted.

Tilda Swinton has the metamorphic wherewithal of Meryl Streep and Toni Collette required to pull off this role, but she doesn't ring true at all - there is none of the world-weary angst that this character, burdened by his/her past and fearful of the future, should embody. This character should oscillate between manhood and womanhood from a deep central core of wisdom, but I don't see this at all in Swinton's performance.

Billy Zane's striking good looks don't translate well to the intriguing dovetail of Shelmerdine - his performance is weak, he photographs poorly, and there is no chemistry between the two characters. Quentin Crisp's take on Queen Elizabeth is the interesting moment in the film, but it is at best a campy one.

This rates about a 3 for me. As such, I would love to see a remake of this up for the taking.
4 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Junebug (2005)
8/10
Much more than meets the eye - much, much more
15 July 2008
Phil Morrison has come up with an absolute winner in the understated, quirky "Junebug".

Viewed from level ground, it's quite easy to dismiss "Junebug" as a callous slice-of-life that serves only to illustrate that you can't go home again. However, "Junebug" reminds one of films such as "Sideways" and "Cinderella Liberty", films that have an underlying, cumulative power. While characters are placed in obvious situations that evoke obvious emotions, the not-so-obvious underlying fabric of interactions reveals much more.

And therein lies the satisfaction here. Morrison's facile touch combines with MacLachlan's incisive script to make this work - the excellent cast shines, headed by Amy Adam's particularly remarkable performance. 8/10.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Midnight (1939)
10/10
"Midnight" - just perfect
15 July 2008
"Midnight" may be the best of the great 30's screwball comedies, and we're talking about "Libeled Lady", "The Awful Truth", "Bringing Up Baby", "Nothing Sacred", "Ninotchka", and "Holiday", among others.

What makes it so extraordinarily great? The movie simply doesn't touch ground throughout the proceedings - a bit like a faster-paced Lubitsch concoction. This is much to talk about, but in particular, the Wilder-Brackett script is loaded with so many memorable jabs and rejoinders that one is grateful for the opportunity to rewind the action to relish them. The pacing is just exactly right, with its many high points, particularly at the point of introduction and re-introduction of characters in various states of array or disarray.

With Colbert, Ameche, Lederer, and Astor, it's hard to point to stand-outs, but Barrymore's performance is worth more for what he does not say than for his lines (which he supposedly had to read from cue cards) - his mute reactions of curiosity, skepticism, abashment, and astonishment are priceless. The appearance of Monty Woolley near the end of the film couldn't come at a better time, nor could the end of the film itself!

If you like films of this type from this period, this is a must - 10/10.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Braveheart (1995)
2/10
Edward Shawshanks
3 October 2007
Dang, it looks like all of them starry-eyed folks from "The Shawshank Redemption" fan club got on their horses and rode over here to watch (and fulsomely praise) this film!

However, this slop of revisionist history made by the Holocaust/Christian revisionist is much worse than the ridiculously overrated "Shawshank". I mean, I've seen more incisive character depth and subtlety in "Highlander: The Final Dimension". If this won "Best Picture", couldn't Mario Van Peebles at least win "Best Actor"?

I must admit - I didn't watch every scene. Instead, I fast-forwarded over the most obvious parts, and since the film was nothing but obvious, it made for a more coherent ride. Done in 1.5 hours, this film might have rated 4 stars (out of 10, mind you).

Instead, it is what it is, and it certainly is the worst film to win a Best Picture Oscar since that snorefest known as "Out of Africa". Every character is a bolt of evil or a bolt of good so that you can cheer or sneer without issue. Edward I Shawshanks (okay, Longshanks), played sneeringly by Patrick McGoohan, is really given the smear, and William Wallace, almost unanimously proclaimed by historians as a boor/rogue, is turned into legend by Obersturmbanfuhrer Gibson. His performance (in partnership with the wig) is laughably bad. His scenes with Marceau, who (G*d love her) tries her best, have that campy oil-and-water feel straight out of "Moment By Moment" or Streisand's "A Star is Born".

Let's get out, but I do have to say that the thing that I hated the most was the true WWF feel of the battle scenes and the camaraderie of Mel and his mates. I mean, I love The Undertaker and all, but do I need to see him in a Budweiser commercial masquerading as a historical film?

Me? I'm just waiting for a real good film about Edward II...now that guy was a piece of work! Meanwhile, I give this mess 2 out of 10.
3 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Easter Parade (1948)
9/10
Right Up There
24 August 2007
Any musical that combines the talents of Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, and Judy Garland could hardly be expected to disappoint. The great elements are certainly here, particularly the cadre of great Berlin songs orchestrated by John Green and Roger Edens and the magnificent choreography/direction of Charles Walters and Robert Alton. Judy's always riveting on-screen persona links perfectly with Fred's easy grace.

Despite the clever script, the plot construction _is_ a bit weak and occasionally lags. If taken at face value, this might have kept it from being in the echelon of the greatest screen musicals, such as "Love Me Tonight", "Top Hat", "Gigi", "Singin' in the Rain", and "Cabaret". However, the absolutely dynamite musical numbers, particularly Ann Miller's "Shakin' the Blues Away", Astaire's "Steppin' Out with My Baby", and Astaire/Garland's "We're A Couple of Swells", along with the uplifting finale, turn this into something along the lines of legend. It's a film to be seen and enjoyed multiple times.

I particularly enjoy hearing Astaire's voice with Berlin's music, because I think that Astaire was one of the greatest male singers of all time, if not one of the most underrated. Berlin was certainly the master of propulsive lyricism and melody - the happy copasetic quality of his work is timeless. Fred's musicality and incredible phrasing allows him to take that laconic voice of his and wrap it around a lyric like a cushion - a voice and style perfectly suited for Irving Berlin.

I give this classic 9 out of 10.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Very, very worthwhile
21 March 2007
This truly lavish melodrama really knocked me out. I simply did not find any significant weaknesses to this film, at least none of which others have alluded. Films of this type can easily become maudlin, insignificant, and flat. However, "Mr. Skeffington" is the result of a set of elements that are incorporated vibrantly. The film simply has a grand sweep to it, lifting it high above many others of this genre.

The staging and sets (in conjunction with Ory-Kelly's costumes) are as good as any movie that I've seen, along the lines of "Gone With the Wind", "Citizen Kane", "Gigi", or "Long Day's Journey into Night". The use of silence and spaciousness, along with noise and density, is brilliantly carried out and is extremely well-balanced by the characters' non-verbal responses to each other. It's hard to describe without providing details of given scenes - I would suggest that you watch it with this perspective and see what you think.

Speaking of scenes, length is the common enemy of films of this type, but not here - each scene plays out like a shining entity that still provides momentum and underpinning for the entire story. I counted at least 12 very memorable scenes. Humor is added strategically to most scenes to balance the starkness of the story and is nicely understated to avoid a sense of camp. Director Vincent Sherman has polished each scene like a diamond, and the effect is very powerful. The scenes really do stand on their own almost like a set of montages.

Bette Davis' performance is decidedly affected as she plays Fanny as a young girl, but the pure talent and visual power of this actress makes one believe that she is truly the beauty that she is supposed to be. Notice how her movements and responsiveness reinforce the sense of someone almost 15 years younger than herself. While others have complained about the makeup of the older Fanny in portraying her change in age, I found that the makeup perfectly embodied the older Fanny because Davis plays the character so consistently to her advanced age. I would place this performance in Bette Davis' top tier, along with "Now, Voyager", "The Little Foxes", and "All About Eve".

Claude Rains plays the title character with restraint, integrity, and great love for Fanny, but the sense of pathos that he communicates really helps to give the movie a lot of power. The other acting performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Walter Abel as Cousin George. Without the strength of Abel's characterization, this would have been a far weaker movie.

Franz Waxman's score has been criticized by some as being extravagant and overly dramatic to the point of being startling. I really enjoyed it - Waxman incorporates a lush late romantic style that has a stronger "classical-music" feel than other scores for movies of this type, which tend to emphasize strings as accompaniment. The result is a feeling of complexity which shades the story along with the other elements.

This is easily Vincent Sherman's best work, one of Ernest Haller's best, and one of the best melodramas that I have seen. 10 out of 10.
36 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Oscar-worthy performance by Charles Boyer
6 March 2007
"The First Legion" is an exceptionally obscure film that was made near the beginning of Douglas Sirk's long association with Universal International pictures. Sirk's insignia, a talent for walking a firm tightrope with high melodrama, was to be on display over the next 10 years with pictures such as "All That Heaven Allows", "Written on the Wind", and "Imitation of Life". His worthy reputation has been based upon that distinctive body of work, but here, he has created a film that deserves greater notice. "The First Legion" is my favorite Douglas Sirk movie.

This film doesn't match the overt intensity that characterized many of Sirk's more famous works, but it's none the less powerful. The story concerns a Jesuit seminary and a purported miracle involving a doctor and one of the priests. The seminary head, Father Arnoux, investigates the miracle and is forced to examine his own relationship with God in the process, as well as the charismatic effect of the miracle on his community, friends, and outsiders.

Blessed with a remarkable cast of well-known character actors, Sirk paces this film extremely well and handles the ensemble scenes masterfully. Charles Boyer delivers perhaps his best performance as Father Marc Arnoux - it's certainly worthy of an Oscar nomination. In general, all performances are uniformly excellent, with Lyle Bettger, best known for playing gangsters and low-lifes, in a standout role as the passionate but confused Dr. Peter Morrell. The compelling story finely illustrates the struggles of numerous well-meaning people as they grasp at the miracle's charisma for a sign of positive change in their own lives. With a particularly noteworthy ending that certainly provides an exclamation point to the proceedings, "The First Legion" is a well-above-average entry in a long list of 50's character examination dramas.

What makes "The First Legion" stand out as my favorite Douglas Sirk film? It's the movie's particularly esoteric nature, an approach seen far too infrequently in the plot lines that Sirk filled out and embellished so well over the next 10 years. With a transfer to DVD in the works, there will hopefully be a wider appreciation for this film as Sirk's complete body of work takes shape on DVD. As it is, it's 10 out of 10.
11 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Impact (1949)
6/10
Some flaws, but worthwhile
10 February 2007
"Impact" boasts a labyrinthine plot that will keep you near the edge of your chair. The fascinating cast is a real selling point - Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines, Helen Walker, Charles Coburn, Anna May Wong, and the great silent film actor Mae Marsh, all together in one film. Some truly interesting set pieces also contribute to the mix.

The cast is really something to see - a lot of familiar faces turn up here. Helen Walker doesn't quite have the complex femme fatale role of something like "Nightmare Alley", but she's very good here. Brian Donlevy turns in a very creditable performance, as does Charles Coburn. I would have liked to see a lot more of Anna May Wong and Mae Marsh, and I was disappointed that Ella Raines' beautiful face and angular features weren't given a better treatment. Raines had true star power, and her character in this film could have had more bite. But, the fact that she's in the film is a big plus. These distinctive names and faces give the film a huge boost.

However, "Impact" is a bit disappointing in two very important areas - direction and cinematography. Arthur Lubin and Ernest Lazslo were both effective, workman-like proponents of their craft, but their handling of this simmering she-done-him-wrong project is often routine and perplexedly uninvolved. The set ups for the character shots and interactions, the pacing of the story, and the use of shadow and light could have been much more compelling at junctures. To Lubin and Lazslo's credit, neither had much experience with the film-noir style, but I'm left wondering what someone like Raoul Walsh, Robert Siodmak, or Edward Dmytryk would have done with this thing.

This isn't quite on par with "D.O.A.", "White Heat", "The Asphalt Jungle", or "The Third Man" - other film-noir thrillers made around the same time - but, don't let these comparisons stop you. "Impact" is an effective, enjoyable film with lots of great faces. 6 out of 10.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
5/10
Doesn't ring true
24 January 2007
Overall, I enjoyed this documentary, but I would have to agree with some of the other comments. I felt that I learned more about the psyche of the director Briski than I learned about the children, their families, and their environment.

I wasn't particularly interested in Briski's opinions, her mission, and the trials and travails of pulling the children out of the "muck". I was interested in the sub-culture that she unearthed - it begs for much deeper investigation. I don't know why she didn't provide more information or background on the development of this sub-culture in Indian society, its effect on relationships, and how it compares with others in countries such as Burma, Vietnam, and Japan.

Teaching the children to use cameras was an excellent way to get an intro into their lives, but I wanted to learn much more about them, not a "save the children" story. Also, the children's stories were poorly delineated and I became confused about who was who on several occasions. One might argue that this lack of delineation was based upon having only glimpses into their situations, but I think that the editing was poorly done.

The film was expectedly well-photographed, but not particularly impressive on most other technical levels. Generally, I wouldn't pick about these deficiencies because the thrust of most documentaries is the subject matter and its presentation. However, since the subject matter was handled somewhat diffidently, I noticed the other elements more closely.

When I started to write these comments, I planned to give this documentary a 7. I guess that I would give it a 5.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Should Kim Stanley have won the Oscar?
16 January 2007
One of the best British films of the 1960's, "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" is now available on DVD through general distribution. This should help the film to gain the wider appeal that it deserves.

This succeeds on all levels - extraordinary direction with riveting tracking shots, evocative cinematography, great set pieces, a winding plot, and amazing acting from the two leads. The showy yet introspective role of Myra Savage might be one to elicit histrionics and stern looks in the wrong hands, but the character is immensely deepened and supplemented by Kim Stanley's superbly rich "Method" performance. Stanley is matched by Richard Attenborough's Bill Savage, attenuated and subordinated by his wife's unstable, grasping personality.

Much has been said about Stanley's performance as a deserving Academy Award winner. This is difficult to judge. Most of the awards presented in 1965 were for lighter films, and it is difficult to find fault with Julie Andrew's now legendary performance as "Mary Poppins". Deeper inspection of past Awards shows a predilection toward films of an escapist nature during certain times, such as "Going My Way" during the dark, uncertain days of World War II 1943/1944. Could the same be said of the tumultuous aftermath of Kennedy's assassination and other upheavals? Under any circumstance, this film is a masterpiece with no small debt to the acting of Stanley and Attenborough. Seek this out and you will be richly rewarded - 10 out of 10.
43 out of 47 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Quicksand (1950)
7/10
Lives up to its name
16 January 2007
I've been a fan of Mickey Rooney ever since I saw him touring in "Sugar Babies" back in the 1970's with Ann Miller and Carol Lawrence. I was pretty young back then, but I was amazed by his buoyancy, energy, and just plain magnetism as an entertainer. Since then, I've searched him out in numerous films and have been amazed at his ability to play a wide range of roles - dramatic, comedic, and musical - over the period of almost 80 years. He's absolutely amazing.

This film is indicative of post-War Mickey Rooney, a down period of his career that was soon to be followed by less-than-memorable roles in "The Atomic Kid" and "Francis in the Haunted House". However, it's interesting to see him in a prototype film noir, and one that has such a multitude of interesting elements. It's this set of elements that helps push "Quicksand" a good notch over average.

First of all, the story really lives up to its name. Dan Brady needs some bucks to impress the blonde waitress down the street - his decision to get the money from his employer's cash register takes him down into a seemingly never-ending maelstrom of trouble. As femme fatale Vera Novak, Jeanne Cagney looks and plays the part that you would expect to fuel Dan's demise. Veteran director Irving Pichel, probably best known as Gloria Holden's goon assistant in "Daughter of Dracula", keeps things hopping at a nice pace that doesn't let up, culminating in an exciting locale chase scene at the end. The locales are well-done and contribute greatly to the sense of seediness that pervades the whole affair.

Particular interest is derived from an oddball supporting cast that really works - Peter Lorre, Wally Cassell, Barbara Bates, David McMahon, Jimmie Dodd, and Jack Elam, among many others. It's hard to say enough about Lorre and his scenes with Rooney, though I would have liked to see more of him. It was a bit of a pleasant shock to see Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, a big name again with the New Orleans/Dixieland Jazz revival of the late 40's. In general, the film is loaded with a steady stream of intriguing bit characters popping up every step of the way.

"Quicksand" certainly isn't the best film noir that I've ever seen, but it's great entertainment on a number of levels. It's now available on DVD, so what are you waiting for? 7 out of 10.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
3/10
Hey, Cisco!
1 January 2007
After seeing Gael Garcia Bernal in "Y Tu Mama Tambien", I was excited about the possibilities here - a road-movie portrait of the early, influential life of Che Guevara with Bernal inhabiting this role.

Yikes! I couldn't be more disappointed. This film was dreadful and sophomoric, despite excellent cinematography and art direction. The acting was astonishingly bad, with a dead-in-the-water script buried by shallow, stereotypical characterizations.

But how did I REALLY feel about this film????

1. I felt like I was watching a BAD rerun of the Cisco Kid with his sidekick Pancho.

2. I felt like director Walter Salles lost control of the momentum of the film within two minutes of the opening - a record since "Bonfire of the Vanities"?

3. I felt like every young woman who appeared in the film was caricatured as a sexual animal, ready and available to be picked over by the lead characters.

4. I felt like if I heard the word "b*lls" one more time, I would scream - the Alberto Granado character was painted with a sledgehammer.

5. I felt like I could literally hear Paolo Freire groaning as he turned in his grave - the film was a contradiction to Che's manifesto.

En toto, I felt like I wasted a few precious life hours on this garbage. I hope that you do not. 2.977 out of 10.
8 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Inheritance (1997 TV Movie)
7/10
Quite enjoyable
1 January 2007
I enjoyed this presentation of Louisa May Alcott's "The Inheritance". The story is broad and interesting, with great propulsion and a particularly satisfying ending. The characters initially appear to be broad as well, but the additions of class and gender consciousness flesh things out in such a way as one might expect from authors such as Jane Austin or Charlotte Bronte.

The story is beautifully photographed with excellent ensemble acting performed by numerous old pros, such as Tom Conti, Meredith Baxter, Max Gail, and others. Look fast for an amusing cameo by Paul Bartel as a doctor - it made me wish that Mary Woronov would have been cast as Ida.

I'd wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone. 7 out of 10.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Under the Greenwood Tree (2005 TV Movie)
10/10
Ridiculously good
27 November 2006
This production is based upon the wonderful Thomas Hardy novel. Don't expect the novel, but expect to receive its inspiration in multitudes via Ashley Pharaoh's adaptation.

The acting is superb and the chemistry between Hawes and Murray is as good as it gets, selling their evolving relationship completely. As beautifully photographed, designed, and directed as "Under" is, I found the editing to be impressive in particular. It's quite a feat to pull off this entire story (or any Hardy work) in about 90 minutes without a hitch while maintaining the propulsion of the plot. In general, editing is an extremely underrated occupation, and without the work of Mr. Steven Singleton, this particular production would have been the sorrier.

We just saw this on "Masterpiece Theater" for the second time, and it has the makings of a classic. 10/10.
12 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Collateral (2004)
7/10
Flawed but memorable
14 October 2006
Despite the overall high rating, a lot of people here have relegated this movie to the killing floor. I must admit that I agree with most of their points. However, I came out on the other side of the equation.

Let's start with the bad points. The film's integrity is just plain killed by sheer disbelief and unfortunately, it takes "Collateral" out of the great movie category. Early on, we have Jada Pinkett's attorney hitting on the cab driver, which is absolutely silly, though the connection is tied together later. The premise of Cruise (doing hits of another kind) riding around in a cab with a cab driver hostage could have been great, but it's carried out in such an over-the-top manner that it strains the limits of credulity. In general, it's the film's attempt to integrate subtle character development with the over-the-top body count that weakens the overall structure and causes it to devolve at times into total dumbness.

But, these points aside, let's talk about the good aspects of the film. This is an interesting take on the old film noir style using indirect angle shots, shadows, and blurred lighting to create an effect similar to "Night and the City" by Jules Dassin. The soundtrack is a brilliant melange of grooves. Tom Cruise's performance is quite good, as is Javier Bardem in a brief spot. The interplay between Cruise and Foxx is arresting and accelerates to a compelling conclusion.

To me, the question is ultimately - "how did it play?" I found myself thinking about the movie for some time after its conclusion, and it's that indelible impression that's worth a 7/10.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
White Heat (1949)
10/10
Like a locomotive
8 September 2006
As so many others have said, they just don't make them like this any more! "Reservoir Dogs", "L.A. Confidential", "The Usual Suspects", "Goodfellas" - great movies, but for me, all seem to pale in comparison to this powerhouse of a gangster film. The tone is set from the first scene and the movie just hurtles along to its incredible ending.

For some reason, this film seems to be overlooked in comparison to others in the period, and it's possibly because it's done in a style that hearkens back to the 30's "crime doesn't pay" documentary style of crime movies rather than the then-contemporary film noir style. Overall, it's a real pastiche of elements that work. The screenplay is _ridiculously_ good - I've never heard of the scriptwriters aside from this. Incredible performances by Cagney, Wycherly, Mayo, and O'Brien. Taut, in-your-face direction by Walsh. The technology used by the cops to find Cody's gang is great and the prison scene at the table just kicks it. And then, finally, there's that ending...

And what an ending it is! One of the greatest in the history of film, right at the top of the world with "Lost Horizon", "Wizard of Oz", "Castaway", "La Dolce Vita", "Brokeback Mountain", "Runaway Train", "Get Carter", and others. So, if you haven't seen this amazing piece of work, grab it soon. 10/10.
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Limelight (1952)
10/10
The Tramp in retrospect
7 September 2006
I don't know if this was Chaplin's greatest film, but I found it to be his most unique.

More than any other Chaplin movie, "Limelight" integrates Chaplin's own astonishing physical expressiveness and sensitivity with the qualities of sound, dance, and movement. Indeed, this film is dominated by these - the hauntingly beautiful recurring musical motif, the melancholy sweetness of the street musicians, the plaintiveness of the violin and piano, the grace of the ballerinas, and the agreeable contention of Chaplin's and co-star Claire Bloom's warmly mellifluous voices. There is not a discordant voice among any of these.

With regard to the performances, there is certainly a lot to talk about - Claire Bloom's great characterization, Sydney Chaplin's performance as the young composer, Buster Keaton's only skit with Chaplin, and Nigel Bruce's benevolent impresario. The simple but elegant direction, evocative set pieces, choreography, and general period/theater detail are all memorable.

But, ultimately, one returns to Chaplin himself and his vision of a lifetime. We see the Tramp through recapitulation and re-examination for the human being that he is and always has been.

Some might call this self-indulgence, but I call it greatness. 10 of 10.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
loading
An error has occured. Please try again.