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The Enchanted Cottage (1924)
"Who cares what other people think they see?"
I haven't seen the more famous remake, but the original silent movie is a delight.
Richard Barthelmess was quite the prolific actor during the 1910s and 1920s. He's often remembered as kind, heroic characters, but here he plays a thoughtless, bitter WWI veteran whose injuries have left him disabled. He is transformed (inside and out) by love from and for a lonely young woman whose plain looks belie her compassion. May Macavoy plays the woman and is tender in her role.
Both make a pair of moving screen lovers. The film is a little slow and sometimes a bit heavy on sentimentality, but charming and sweet regardless. I even teared up towards the end!
A King in New York (1957)
Not even near Chaplin's worst
Now, I've yet to see A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG, but out of Chaplin's full-length talkies, I didn't find A KING IN NEW YORK terrible by any stretch. In fact-- and I might lose cinephile points for admitting it-- I'd take this over the more prestigious LIMELIGHT any day! It's less self-indulgent and self-loving, and the satire of American media culture still mostly works.
Why does this get so much hate? Maybe it's the film's roughness. It's clearly set-bound and those sets do look cheap most of the time. But money can't buy inspiration, and I think this movie has more than enough inspiration to make up for its lesser production values. Many of the vignettes are delightful and the bittersweet edges (the subplot with Shadov's estranged queen, the character arc of the philosophical young boy) lend this film a great deal of memorability.
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
"Let's say a prayer..."
I saw the last few minutes of ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES when I was a kid and it's haunted me ever since.
The entire movie is a fine gangster film with a spiritual edge. It isn't just money or glory at stake, but souls. Cagney and O'Brien have great chemistry as the two friends who ended up at opposite ends of the spectrum so to speak. Director Curtiz endows the movie with an understated style and good pacing.
Much has been made of the last scene. While some think Rocky really did get "yellow," I think that destroys the sense of catharsis. From the look on Fr. Jerry's face, one gets the sense that he knows his friend has been redeemed. Only by giving up his own glamorous legacy does Rocky receive grace.
It improves on repeated viewings
The first time I saw A WOMAN OF PARIS, the hype killed it. I found the direction stylish but the plot creaky. Only in re-watching it years later have I come to better appreciate just what this film does differently from other movies of the period, particularly in the realm of character psychology.
Unlike your typical late 1910s/early 1920s Hollywood melodrama, A WOMAN OF PARIS shakes up its characters: the alleged romantic hero is a weakling, the saintly old mother has both bigotry and even blood-lust in her heart, the amoral rogue is charming and warm despite his cynicism, and the "fallen woman" protagonist has far more dimensions than one might expect. The underplaying used to bring these characters to life sells the naturalism and authenticity of these characters.
The film is often billed as a straight drama, but Chaplin inserts several humorous scenes throughout, mainly dealing with the wild parties of the Parisian elite or the catty behavior of Marie's friends. I particularly love the scene where Marie tries to make a point to her lover Pierre by throwing his gift of pearls to her out a window. When a wandering tramp picks them up, she rushes outside to retrieve them, breaking a heel on her shoe in the process. Pierre's reaction is hilarious, the comic high point of the movie before the tragedy hits with full force in the third act to come.
I still think parts of the story creak a little and some fleshing out could have helped, particularly in the first scenes. We never know why the young lovers' parents oppose their union-- they appear to be part of the same class and cultural background, and this is before Marie becomes "tainted goods," so it seems a bit strange that they should object. Also, Marie's leaving Jean during that fateful night seems unmotivated. Perhaps some scenes are missing, but I have not heard of this being the case.
Nevertheless, this is an exquisite movie. The direction is assured, the treatment of morality far more nuanced than most Hollywood movies would feature in the years to come.
The Frozen North (1922)
The darkest of Keaton's comedies
If you want to know how weird THE FROZEN NORTH is, just know Buster Keaton plays a villain in this who thieves, murders, bullies, and possibly even commits rape-- wow. A spoof on William S. Hart and Erich von Stroheim, THE FROZEN NORTH stands unique among Keaton's films. While he was no stranger to surreal flourishes and dark comedy, this one pushes it past his usual limits. While some knowledge of the films he's parodying would enrich one's enjoyment of this short, Keaton's dreamlike narrative and stark visuals more than make up for any confusion.
Freebie and the Bean (1974)
Arkin and Caan are the movie
The story is pretty weak and yeah, there are definitely some non-PC things in here that might bother most modern viewers, but the sole reason to watch FREEBIE AND THE BEAN is the chemistry between Alan Arkin and James Caan. The two play a mismatched, violent, incompetent pair of cops whose incessant arguing is nevertheless tempered by strong affection. They are so much fun to watch, even in scenes where they're doing nothing-- which isn't often in this borderline slapstick comedy of a film.
I think I have a new favorite Tarantino movie
As someone who likes but has never really loved Tarantino's style, I was blown away by this movie. It's more than a nostalgic trip back to 1960s Hollywood; it's a weird statement on movies and escapism themselves. It is every bit the fairy tale the title ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD implies, with its second chances and bizarre happy ending, though even these are tempered with little reminders of painful realities.
Those looking for hard plot will be disappointed. This is a very laid back movie, just following the daily lives of a handful of characters in 1969 LA. Cinephiles and those fond of the 1960s will likely get the most out of it-- if you walk in not having some familiarity with the Tate murders or the Manson family, you might get a bit lost.
The lack of plot hardly matters, as the characters are fun to watch. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both hilarious and touching in their roles. Margot Robbie was a fabulous Sharon Tate and I'm honestly a bit bummed her role wasn't larger. That scene with her in the movie theater was just classic.
The long run-time initially daunted me-- part of my problem with so many mainstream Hollywood movies these days is that they're often too long (especially superhero movies), but the three hours here flew right by. I was enjoying myself so much that I was loathe to leave these characters once the credits rolled at last.
Too long, but still a delight that never takes itself too seriously
My expectations weren't high for SHAZAM! but it turned out to be a cute, heartfelt, and funny movie. I've enjoyed it enough to see it three times and each time, I appreciate the performances more, as well as little touches (like the villain basically being an overgrown, over-educated bully, illustrated by that one scene where he slams Freddy against lockers; the difference between Billy's memories of the day he was separated by his mom and the mom's version of events; etc.).
My only problem is that the movie is WAY too long. They could have shaved off at least twenty minutes and the film would be all the tighter for it. Still, this was very enjoyable, enough to give me hope for future DC movies.
The Sitter (1977)
All it's missing is Carol Kane
No one would deny the first twenty minutes of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS is pure classic horror material: perfectly edited, shot, and acted, genuinely terrifying. Unfortunately, that film meanders after that, taking the viewer through dull, muddled material until we get to a good finale that still cannot top the opening. So, it's no shock to discover WHEN A STRANGER CALLS was an expansion of the director's earlier short film, THE SITTER.
THE SITTER is just about the same as the opening of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, right down to the dialogue and the weird use of freeze frame. It's a brilliant short, only flawed by a somewhat wooden lead actress who's no match for Carol Kane in the later version. But still, this is good stuff and worth seeking out.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
De Palma's direction has virtuoso flair, no doubt about that, but DRESSED TO KILL is such a disappointing pastiche. Its story is a series of imaginatively shot thriller sequences-- and that's really all. Unlike Hitchcock's PSYCHO (the film De Palma is most aping considering the story's twist and protagonist switch), the characters are all one-note caricatures. While Angie Dickinson and Keith Gordon lend credibility to their rather wan characters, Michael Caine is slumming it and Nancy Allen is actively irritating.
In the end, the movie is all surfaces. Judging from the amount of voyeuristic scenes and sadism, I'm assuming this movie is trying to comment on the concept of "the gaze" and whatnot, but when the story around this lip service is incoherent and superficial, what do I care?
Barry Lyndon (1975)
The Kubrick movie that made me a fan
I was introduced to the work of Stanley Kubrick at a college screening of 2001, a film I appreciated but did not love. Years later, a chance viewing of BARRY LYNDON on TCM, motivated by my interest in the 18th century, reintroduced me to Kubrick and got me totally obsessed with the man's films. I have seen all Kubrick's movies and out of all his features, I only love A CLOCKWORK ORANGE more than BARRY LYNDON, which, on an objective level, might be his most perfect movie.
That BARRY LYNDON is gorgeous, no one will contest, not even the film's fiercest detractors. However, for me, the film's story, with its sense of irony and dark humor, make it a classic. And despite the claims that Kubrick movies are all cold, there are a few moments that really hit you in the gut. I even confess that one scene in particular made me weep and continues to make me weep every time I revisit this masterpiece.
Pépé le Moko (1937)
Don't bother with the remake!
I saw ALGIERS before seeing this fine French original. Let me tell you, the remake does not even compare. Its best virtues-- such as the cinematography and scene composition-- are all ripped directly from PEPE LE MOKO. And ALGIERS also lacks Jean Gabin, who is a much more convincing criminal than the suave but toothless Charles Boyer in the remake.
Comparisons aside, PEPE LE MOKO is a great romantic tragedy, never overselling the melodrama. Absolutely riveting from the first frame to the last.
Lights of New York (1928)
There's a reason people thought talkies were a fad!
Compared to most silent films of this period, early talkies were clumsy affairs, both in the acting and the filmmaking. LIGHTS OF NEW YORK is a good example of this, being touted as the first all-talking picture (contrary to popular belief THE JAZZ SINGER is just a silent movie with musical numbers). The story is simplistic, the cinematography a collection of awkwardly framed establishing shots and uninspired two-shots or three-shots. However, the poor acting and clunky dialogue make it perfect MST3K material for classic cinema buffs.
I read the book before seeing the movie and assumed there was no way you could translate the style of the book to film. I figured I would agree with the film's many detractors. Instead, I ended up loving this film very much! It definitely isn't a mere translation of the book to cinema-- but it GETS Heller's message and nails the almost cartoonish insanity of the novel's events and characterizations.
Beautifully shot. Perfect casting and performances. The editing is brilliant too. Just, I do not get the hate at all.
I forgot how good this movie is!
I watched this one relatively often as a kid and remembered enjoying it, but as an adult, it's much easier to appreciate how great a movie this is. It's very funny, yes, but also quite suspenseful. The "scratchy" animation style and the backgrounds are well-paired. The dogs and their owners are sympathetic characters, but it's Cruella who dominates the movie. She is pretty freaking scary and designed to perfection.
Experiment in Terror (1962)
Blake Edwards was the man!
Unlike others, I wouldn't call this movie a film noir, despite the emphasis on crime and Henry Mancini's very noir-inspired score. It's more a suspense-thriller that rolls over into horror at times.
With that out of the way, this is a delightful gem of a film. EXPERIMENT IN TERROR is a stylish thriller with a great cast and stark visuals. While it's a little bit overlong, it is never boring and the final half hour will keep you on the edge of your seat for sure!
Director Blake Edwards is mostly known for the PINK PANTHER movies and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, but he dabbled in dramatic work as well. This film is a shining example of his versatile talent.
The Heiress (1949)
Oh man, that ending!
Definitely an example of a movie that knocks its source material out of the park. Olivia de Havilland gives her best performance as the shy, awkward Catherine Sloper. She is absolutely believable and riveting, knocking all the other fine performers right off the screen. The ending scene remains one of my favorites in any movie ever, one for the ages. As always, William Wyler's direction is assured, never going overboard with style to the detriment of the story! A must see for classic movie geeks!
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Why do I prefer the original? It's all in the ending
As far as needless remakes go, you can do much worse than the 1999 version of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, I guess. There's nothing in it that made me cringe. The performances are pretty good and the production values are nice, However, it feels like such a generic romantic crime thriller in comparison to the older one.
I think the single biggest reason I prefer the original movie to this one is the difference between the two endings. The original movie ends with Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway unable to get together in the end. He chooses the empty thrill over her. The last few shots, with Dunaway looking up to the sky relieved and broken-hearted all at once, and McQueen listlessly staring out the window of his getaway plane, have stayed with me.
The happy ending here just rings so hollow and is far less believable. The 1968 original is made the classic it is by its sad ending-- it's not the style, which is dated to the late 1960s, nor even the heists themselves. It's the fact that McQueen's character can never have what he's really looking for, despite all his power and money.
But here? Nope! You can have it all. And that's a far more predictable finish than the haunting original.
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
Should be considered one of the best movies of the 1960s
I deleted my former review of this movie, which was way more critical and nitpicky. A second viewing really left a much better impression on me when my disappointment regarding its leaving out the harsher satirical elements of the book gave way to appreciation of the film's strengths, which are definitely the acting, cinematography, and warm humanity. It's a quiet, deliberate movie, one of the best of its era and still relevant now in our socially turbulent times.
No one gives a bad performance here. No one. Sondra Locke is about the best I've ever seen a 20-something play a teenager. Her gangly looks make you believe she's still in high school. And she nails the awkward, selfish elements of being a teenager as well. Percy Rodrigues's Dr. Copeland nails the dignity and anger of his character, torn by love for his family and rage at the injustices he faces as a black man in a racist world. He is not always nice, but he remains sympathetic and real, and the scenes he shares with the equally powerful Cicely Tyson are some of the most heartwrenching in the whole movie. Stacey Keach is good with the far too few minutes he gets as the drunk, lost Jake Blount.
But Alan Arkin leaves the biggest impression as the lonely John Singer, a man who gives so much to others and receives so little in return. It's rare to see an able-bodied actor play a disabled character without going for cheap histrionics or Oscar-catnip gimmicks, but he excels, remembering this character is a human being above all else. It's a shame that after the early 1970s, his career as a leading man kinda just fizzled out. He really is one of the best.
The story is moved from the 1930s to the 1960s, but the emotional heart is still intact and indeed, many of the racial issues in the American South are unchanged between the two periods, so that's no big deal. The evocation of a southern small town is perfect, lacking corny tricks and accents.
Parts of this adaptation are still a little too sentimental. The treatment of Singer's mentally-challenged friend Spiros lacks the irony that makes it so significant in the book (ie Singer idolizes his friend as a serene, wise god-surrogate the way the other characters idolize him). My other big problem is it's a bit too rushed: Jake Blount barely exists as a character to the point where he may as well have not been there at all (I guess keeping him an overt communist like in the original book wouldn't fly so well in the 1960s?).
However, none of this kills the movie. It's gorgeously shot and directed, with its heart on its sleeve. Yes, a more faithful adaptation could be made, but it would be very hard to top this cast or the filmmaking craft on display.
Gorgeously filmed love story
I was blown away by this movie. I'm not often one for romantic movies, but this one is just exceptional. Despite the cold color palette and understated drama, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have excellent, warm chemistry between one another.
A lot of other viewers have complained about the deliberate pacing, but I thought it suited the movie's almost-dreamlike tone. The pacing, themes, and visuals reminded me a lot of Douglas Sirk movies. In fact, he movie is very similar to the director's earlier FAR FROM HEAVEN, a more direct homage to Sirk with its depiction of suffocating suburbia and forbidden love; however, I found CAROL much more involving and less on the nose with its social commentary. I have little doubt this will become a classic in the years to come.
Back to God's Country (1919)
Rousing adventure with a great heroine
The plot is pretty uneven in terms of structure and some of the supporting performances are a touch on the hammy side, but BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY is too much fun to dismiss. Nell Shipman plays a nature-loving woman who is as far from the damsel-in-distress cliche as you can get. (Yes, there were strong female characters before the 21st century!) She's no fool, able to hold her own when pursued by villains. In fact, her husband's more of a distressed damsel (or in this case, distressed dude, I suppose) than she!
Neko no ongaeshi (2002)
One of my favorite critics Tim Brayton once said that only among the Studio Ghibli catalog could one consider THE CAT RETURNS a disappointment, and I have to concur. The film lacks the lush visuals and ambition of most Ghibli films. It is undeniably more of a "kid's movie" And yet, it is silly, quick-paced fun. I can't help but like it a great deal.
The Love Light (1921)
In this case, Frances Marion was a better director than writer
Starring one of the greatest movie stars of all time and directed by a truly pioneering woman, I expected great things of THE LOVE LIGHT. Women directors were all but pushed out of the Hollywood system by the late 1920s (Dorothy Arzner being about the only woman director working in Hollywood during the 1930s), so THE LOVE LIGHT is an important film in this regard and for that, I am glad it still exists. Unfortunately, its artistic merits do not match up with its social ones.
No one will deny this is a good-looking movie. The lighting and cinematography are gorgeous, with fine craftsmanship that stands out. Certain shots are composed with great imagination and sensitivity. The early scenes, if a bit too slapstick-y to appeal to all tastes, are warm and a good way to get the audience cozy before tragedy strikes.
No, it's the story which sinks this one. I love me a good melodrama, but this is a melodrama and then some, stretching credibility with its bizarre twists. The story structure is also decidedly unsound. Events do not occur as a result of character drives and goals, but because they need to happen, making all the characters puppets of the story rather than drivers of the story. If you were to summarize the plot of THE LOVE LIGHT to someone, it might sound a lot like, "And then this happened and then this happened and then this happened," just total nonsense.
Mary Pickford was one of the first movie actors to bring a more natural approach to screen performance in the 1910s, which makes me wonder why she goes so overboard with the gesticulation and pop-eyed expressions in this movie. Is it because she's trying to be an "expressive" and "animated" Italian woman? I don't know, but it often kills the credibility of her performance. This is a shame, because in THE LOVE LIGHT, Pickford gets to play a woman her own age, an occasion which would become a rarity during her 1920s career. Unfortunately, her character often acts like a child anyway-- or at least, when it suits the plot for her to act like one.
The other actors aren't much better, with everyone but Fred Thomson overacting. Thomson comes off much more natural than the others-- probably because his character is a spy and therefore wants to be lowkey. As a result, he is the only character who feels like a person and therefore his character is sorely missed after getting killed.
Frances Marion is one of the greatest screenwriters to have ever lived, but this was not her best effort by a long shot. Nor was it Pickford's.
The Pink Panther (1963)
The most underappreciated Pink Panther movie!
It's sad that some Pink Panther fans dismiss the original as a mere "prototype" for the more slapstick-oriented films to come in the series. Not that I dislike those-- far from it-- but the 1963 THE PINK PANTHER is a sophisticated, funny ensemble piece, the kind of comedy that just doesn't get made anymore. At least not in Hollywood anyway.
Blake Edwards' direction steals the show for me. He keeps all these characters and plot threads under masterful control. This movie could have easily become a convoluted mess, but every story beat tracks. Some might not appreciate the more languid pace, but the movie is never ever dull.
Movie nerds will appreciate the little homages to Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers throughout.
I enjoyed this one a good deal. When it comes for sheer laughs, I prefer its immediate sequel A SHOT IN THE DARK, but this movie deserves more appreciation than it receives from fans.
The Half-Breed (1916)
Groundbreaking, heartbreaking, essential viewing for movie geeks
THE HALF-BREED is an incredibly underrated silent drama and I am so glad it recently got the gorgeous restoration it deserves. Photographed and acted beautifully, this is one of the best Hollywood productions of its time and still worth watching today.
That THE HALF-BREED came after the incredibly racist THE BIRTH OF A NATION is fascinating. The movie is not without its dated elements, but it is far more progressive in its call for tolerance and indictment of the white man's treatment of Native Americans than you would expect in a movie from 1916.
Doug Fairbanks is an actor more noted for his charisma and derring-do than his thespian chops. However, he does an admirable turn as Lo, the half-Native American, half-white outcast. This character is more somber than his usual roles, though no less active and principled. Sam De Grasse plays the villain as he often did for Fairbanks and he does well with his usual underplaying style.
However, the best performances come courtesy of Jewel Carmen and Alma Reubens. These two women get the meatiest roles in the movie: a flirtatious yet Machiavellian debutante flirting with scandal when she pursues Lo, and a world-weary con-woman on the run from the law and her own sordid past. Both bring great depth to these parts, neither fitting fully into the ingenue/vamp dichotomy you see in a lot of American films of the 1910s.
While THE BLACK PIRATE is my favorite Fairbanks movie, THE HALF-BREED is a close second. I absolutely enjoy watching this beautifully made movie and would recommend it to silent movie mavens.