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9/10
Bogart's Best Work, A Fantastic Flick
19 December 2013
Humphrey Bogart's journey as a leading man started with The Maltese Falcon and reached its pinnacle in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. That's not just because his performance was so terrific. What's impressive is that Bogie goes from an ultra-cool detective in Falcon and a noble Nazi-killer in Casablanca to a crazy loser in Sierra Madre. He didn't coast by playing lovable heroes. He was willing to look terrible and to play a despicable human being in a character-actor kind of way.

Fred C. Dobbs (Bogart) is a jobless American in Tampico, Mexico, begging for food money. He pools what money he has with that of a friend (Tim Holt as Bob Curtin) and they head out with Howard (Walter Huston) for the titular mountain to find gold. Howard has been on many such journeys and knows this isn't going to turn out well. It doesn't take more than few months for Dobbs' paranoia to cloud his vision. Before long, he's hiding his gold and proving he'll do anything to protect his burgeoning fortune.

Don't worry, "Badges? I don't have to show you any steenking badges", I haven't forgotten about you! Yup, this is the movie with that quote. People love (mis)quoting the line, but they shouldn't overlook the subtext: there's no law up in the wild Mexican mountains. Then again, the real villain is not a gang of baddies. It's Bogie. Dobbs' alienation of his friends not only proves how paranoid he is, but in doing so, he puts his gold and his life in serious danger from steenking bandits.

The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre was highly ranked on both the 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists released by the American Film Institute...and rightly so. It's nearly 66 years old and it holds up remarkably well. Writer/director John Huston made several fine films, but this was his peak. It's one of the best pictures of the 1940s and its dirty influence continues to this day, with Paul Thomas Anderson and Breaking Bad's exec producer Vince Gilligan citing it as highly influential of their recent projects. This one is rough, but for all the right reasons. Great, great movie.

If you found some gold in this quick take of the flick, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 38-minute Treasure Of The Sierra Madre 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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10/10
Bailey Battles The Bully Banker
19 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
George Bailey shouldn't complain. Yes, he desperately wants to get out of his one-horse town and see the world, but he's got a gorgeous wife, a herd of rambunctious kids, a big house, runs his own business, his brother is a war hero, and he even scrounges up enough time to build a model bridge in his living room. The life! It's wonderful!

Okay, it's not all sunshine and lollipops. George (played so memorably by Jimmy Stewart) must go head-to-head with bully banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) on a daily basis. Potter wants to own the town of Bedford Falls and it seems like he's one man away from achieving that goal. It's not like the family business (the Bailey Bros Building & Loan) would flourish---or even survive---without George. Absent-minded Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) would ruin the place within minutes if he was put in charge.

It's gotta wear on a guy to take on a money-grubbing banker when that banker's morals are at pre-redemption Ebezener Scrooge levels. After Uncle Billy stupidly puts a large sum of dollars into the hands of the enemy (on Christmas Eve, no less), George feels he'll be blamed and finds himself in a suicidal bout of depression. Along comes a simpleton angel (Uncle Billy's counterpart, perhaps?) to show him a glimpse of what the town would be like if George had never existed.

You know this story, obviously. Everybody does. Either you buy the cornpone or you don't. Some of director Frank Capra's projects lay it on too thick, but this movie balances quaint charm and epic darkness. The American Film Institute clearly loved it because it was in the Top 20 of both their 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists. I say this one belongs in the Top 5. I may not believe in angels, but I do believe in a movie that can still wring tears out of my eyes after so many Christmas viewings. It's a keeper!

If this briefly wonderful review made you say "more!", check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 52-minute It's A Wonderful Life 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Frankenstein (1931)
8/10
The Monster's Point Of View
19 December 2013
From the tattered pages of the monster's diary:

First of all, I didn't ask to be reborn, especially as some stitched-up freak who can't speak. That wimpy doctor just assumed I'd get right back in the swing of living and attending posh parties, perhaps puttin' on a little ritz. Bah! Little did he know, he hired a remarkably incompetent assistant who found a lame brain for my noggin. I'm so glad I killed that twerp.

As for that little girl, I swear I didn't drown her! That was an accident. I mean, geez, who would have thought she couldn't get out of water that was only a foot deep? Where were her survival instincts? Maybe this is what they call "thinning the herd". Somebody should bring HER back to life and make her throw plants in a pond all day long...although that would be torture. That flower game looks like it would get old awfully fast.

Okay, it's time to confess something, Dearest Diary. I'd really like to throw my maker off something high, maybe a castle or a mountain. I'd even settle for a windmill. What's he ever done for me? He did this for his own glory. I heard him bragging that night while I was lying flat on my back with a rag on my face. "Now I know what it's like to be God." Puny god. He's gonna get...

Hold on a minute. I see a big mob with lit torches coming this way. If there's any justice, they're going to help me find that villainous doctor and string him up. I'll let you know how it turns out. I'm cautiously optimistic...

If you like what you read here, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 28-minute Frankenstein 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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7/10
Tomfoolery On A Boat
18 December 2013
A Night At The Opera inspires memories of Kitty Carlisle and Alan Jones as 2 charismatic young lovers. Their, uh, operatic romance was a highlight of 1930s cinema, overshadowing everything else in this picture. Oh, but the movie was missing a key ingredient. The hilarious Zeppo Marx had retired from acting after his one-of-a-kind work in Duck Soup. A pity.

Okay, reverse everything in that first paragraph and you'll have the truth. Nobody cares about Carlisle or Jones, probably not even Carlisle or Jones. As for Zeppo, the day he gave up his career as a thespian, the film world's yawn was very loudly indifferent. No, this picture is all about the zaniness of the non-Zeppo Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico and Harpo). The former vaudevillians overshadowed everyone else who ever appeared in their films. Groucho's oft-naughty wordplay and Harpo's silent antics are legendary. Chico never got enough credit for playing off his 2 brothers as well as he did.

You can't talk about A Night At The Opera for even 2 minutes without bringing up the infamous stateroom sequence. The 3 Marxes, various workmen, maids and other hangers-on, all crowd into one small room on an ocean liner. Why they're all in there and how the situation resolves itself won't be revealed here. It's funny and it's been imitated by dozens of movies and TV shows in the years since A Night At The Opera came out. You probably recognize it even if you haven't seen this movie.

Was that scene and the Marx Brothers typical insanity enough to make this movie worthy of being on the American Film Institute's Top 100 list in 2007? It's a dubious choice, especially if your feeling is that a little of Groucho goes a long way. The piano/harp scene by Chico and Harpo is a great one, but it stops the, uh, story cold. So, no, A Night At The Opera is not one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's not without its charm...and it has Carlisle and Jones! Remember them? Oh. Right. No one does.

If you got anything at all out of this quickie review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 18-minute Night At The Opera 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Stagecoach (1939)
8/10
Ford, The Duke & The Coach
15 December 2013
Some actors find stardom right out of the chute. Some toil for years before making a name for themselves. John Wayne, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, falls into the toil category. He made dozens of pictures (many of them in the silent era) before finally breaking out with a star turn in director John Ford's influential western Stagecoach.

The story is rather simple. The Ringo Kid (Wayne) joins an eclectic group of people travelling from Arizona to New Mexico by horse and buggy through Monument Valley in 1880. In a racist shot at Native Americans, Apaches (including superstar Geronimo) are always on the warpath, even gunning for our stagecoach filled with these ordinary people. After the cavalry detachment pulls away its escort, the coach is ripe for Indian attack.

Claire Trevor has an important role as Dallas, the prostitute kicked out of the town in Arizona for *horrors* being immoral. Fortunately, she makes a friend in the Ringo Kid. She's also got just as much character as any other person on the stagecoach. Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his supporting role as an alcoholic doc. John Carradine also shows up as an enigmatic Southerner.

Ford's direction is outstanding as he shoots his first sound western and also sets the story in his beloved Monument Valley. The camera-work and camera placement are wonderful, especially considering how much of this picture was shot on location. Why the film would rank 63rd on the American Film Institute's 1998 Top List and then not make the 2007 version at all is a mystery. Maybe it isn't one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's awfully solid. Just go back in time and ask The Duke. He'd tell you it was one of the most important things to ever happen to him.

If this snapshot review tickled your interest, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 26-minute Stagecoach 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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6/10
D.J. Jazzy Blackface
15 December 2013
Take away The Jazz Singer's gimmick and it would be remembered as just another movie from the 1920's. This film, however, is widely acknowledged as the first talking picture. It stars Al Jolson. It's a universal story of dogged pursuit of career and Daddy Issues. Those are legit reasons (particularly the sound thing) to keep it somewhat relevant, but it's also pretty dumb. Had it been made a few years into the sound era, it certainly wouldn't have been recognized by the American Film Institute on their 1998 Top 100 list.

Even at that, the talking scenes are mostly just Jolson singing and doing his jazz act. When they give him and his mother (Eugenie Besserer) a scene that isn't about music, he's stiff and you can hardly hear what she's saying. Sure, this was all new to people who'd been making movies for years without having to worry about dialogue. They were infants in the land of audio. You gotta cut them a little slack.

Okay, slack cut. Back to beefing. This is one more in a long line of movies that rely on the "you perform tonight even though your father is on his death bed or you're through" crutch. Nothing like a good guilt trip dealt out by show biz types who've OFTEN put their career goals over the needs of their family. As for whether not Jack Robin (Jolson) puts his father's dreams of the son becoming a Jewish cantor over the son's jazz career...that shall not be spoiled here. There IS much hand-wringing over it though, often literal hand-wringing.

And then there's the blackface! Arguments could be made that this movie was just paying homage to the racist staple of vaudeville days of yore and weren't trying to make fun of black people. Still, we can't just forgive them in their ignorance. It's great that the movies finally got to speak in 1927 and The Jazz Singer was sound's godfather. They might have looked a little harder for a more worthy story. And they could've found a way to avoid that blackface.

If this snapshot review made you yearn for more, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 32-minute Jazz Singer 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Swing Time (1936)
5/10
Dancing Good, Rest Of The Movie Monumentally Stupid
7 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
An inexplicable addition to the American Film Institute's Top 100 list in 2007, Swing Time is a mystifyingly stupid movie. If you're compelled to see a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical, go watch Top Hat. Watch it twice. Then rent it. Buy the DVD. You should do all that before you endure the movie that's a terrible representation of George Stevens' talents. I mean, this is the guy who directed Shane!

At least the dancing scenes are beautiful choreographed and performed by Astaire & Rogers. You can find those on YouTube though. If you spend 103 minutes with Swing Time, you're going to have to figure out how gullible Lucky Garnett (Astaire) is that he lets his stage "friends" distract him from his wedding. You'll get to "enjoy" Astaire doing a racist number in blackface. You'll be "treated" to a woefully horrible performance by a dopey Victor Moore.

You'll also have to go through an entire movie's worth of "will they or won't they" with your "I don't care if they" goggles on. Many (most?) rom-coms put up roadblocks to 2 lovers from becoming lovers, but they've got to create a story worth suspending that disbelief. This movie doesn't make that work very well, although what's worse is how Astaire and Rogers' intendeds handle their respective break-ups. They take it waaaaay better than a real human being ever would.

In short, this movie is no good.

My wife and I do a podcast about the AFI's 1998 and 2007 Top lists. If you want a better account of our disdain, go to www.top100project.com and check out the "Podcasts" section for 29-minute tear-down of Swing Time. Bev's epic rant at the beginning of the podcast makes this review sound like a recommendation!
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9/10
A Personal Letter To The Wicked Witch Of The East
5 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Dear Wicked Witch Of The East,

So sorry you died. It seems like getting out of the way of a house falling out of the sky is not a tall order for someone with your noteworthy powers, but c'est la vie. It was those pesky Munchkins, wasn't it? They distracted you, what with their high-pitched singing and their Lollipop Guild. Who gave those shrimps the right to unionize? It was probably the Wizard. That guy is drunk with power...or perhaps with alcohol.

Rumour has it you intended to legacy those sparkling shoes of yours to your sister (along with your china hutch and photo albums), but that was not honoured. The Northern Witch stole your glittering footwear and gave them to---irony alert---the very jerk who crushed you. Perhaps a calculated violent response is in order. The young girl's trio of friends should not pose a credible threat. Their total combined IQ might not break double digits.

Oh, right, there's a juicy piece of news! The shoe-stealer has made some friends here in Oz, among them a jelly-legged straw man, a metal axe-man, and the biggest pussy of a lion…perhaps ever. All of them are remarkably inept at their jobs (scare-crowing, wood-cutting, and scare-peopling). Lest I forget, the shoe thief also has a small canine companion. Resourceful little pooch. He's great at busting phonies who hide behind curtains.

As for your sis, she's, uh, indisposed. She seems to have disappeared and her employees aren't talking. They're singing and chanting, but not talking. Perhaps she left Oz for somewhere vacationy, like Kansas. And why not? I hear there's no place like it.

Much love, Us

P.S. Glinda is still a jerk.

If you got a kick out of this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 40-minute Wizard Of Oz 'cast...and many others. Or find us on ITunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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8/10
A Sensitive Portrait Of Re-Acclimation
4 December 2013
When I think of World War II, my mental image is of veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress, with a bad case of the drinks, and with no hands. It's not about glory or feeling good about a hard-fought job well done. Winning the most-important military conflict of the 20th Century be damned. Now we had to deal with the, ugh, return of guys who fought for a just cause. Didn't they know they're supposed to go into some kind of isolation tank until we need them to fight again?

Okay, that was a series of cheap-shots and I dropped all those bombs for a reason. We don't want to deal with the hassle of doing right by the people who've shed blood and brain cells to keep us all safe from tyranny. Many movies have dealt with this topic, although not many of them have done it as well as The Best Years Of Our Lives. The 37th movie on both the 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists released by the American Film Institute hits hard, but doesn't hit you with a sledgehammer.

That's thanks to director William Wyler and writer Robert Sherwood (who was once a film critic). They make it clear that Fredric March (the drunk), Dana Andrews (the PTSD guy who has no place back home), and Harold Russell (the guy who actually lost his hands for real) are not necessarily better off back home in the American Midwest than they were during WWII. Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy play March's patient daughter and wife, respectively, who (unfortunately) are more saintly archetypes than they are real characters.

Who's to judge someone for struggling to accept their post-war life on its lousy terms or for turning to the bottle to cope? There aren't easy solutions and The Best Years Of Our Lives (classic Hollywood product that it is) doesn't revel in their pain or just gloss things up for the camera. It suffers from over-length---although the first 30 minutes is positively brilliant---and the women have no depth at all, but the men are handled sensitively and with a keen eye. This is absolutely a fine film, quiet and true.

If you liked this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 40-minute Best Years Of Our Lives 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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6/10
It's Kind Of Intolerable
4 December 2013
Have you ever been intolerant? Felt intolerance for the very notion of someone being intolerant? Wondered if tolerating the intolerance of another makes you intolerant (or tolerant)? Ever wondered why a reviewer would repeat one word (in different forms) so often? I'm just taking my cues from D.W. Griffith's ancient epic follow-up to the staggeringly racist Birth Of A Nation. You get only 1 guess at the film's title.

Four separate story lines connecting the theme of intolerance are threaded throughout the movie, from the Jesus story to a modern (in 1916) story about a young woman and her beloved man who is facing a harsh sentence at the hands of the authorities. Curiously, the Jesus story is the one that's glossed over. The oldest part of the film would be the sequences set in Babylon, which feature epic filmmaking at its silent best.

The American Film Institute had Birth Of A Nation on its 1998 Top 100 list, but they knocked it off the 2007 edition and essentially replaced it with Intolerance, which was not on the '98 list. It's a questionable move because, despite Intolerance's obvious theme of acceptance for all and Birth Of A Nation's blatant racism, Birth is a better movie.

That's not to say there aren't SOME treasures in Griffith's second-most celebrated work. He revolutionized the medium over the course of these 2 pictures. Too bad he had to beat the "intolerance" theme on the head so badly. You don't need 3 hours to tell people they should be more accepting of each other. It hurts your movie when you seem to be protesting too much. You can argue this is an important movie. That doesn't make it a good one.

If you got something out of this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 23-minute Intolerance 'cast...and many others. Or look for us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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The General (1926)
9/10
Comedy And Stunts And A Great Stone Face
2 December 2013
Your film journey will not be complete until you've seen a Buster Keaton comedy. The Great Stoneface was---along with Gene Kelly and Bruce Lee---one of the best athletes in the history of the movies. He was a daring stuntman who would perform his own stunts AND those of other cast members. In The General (as in so many of his great silent comedies), Keaton was the auteur who wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred as Johnnie Gray. He probably served lunch and pulled focus too.

The General is the story of a man and his train...and to a lesser extent, a man and his woman. When Annabelle (Marion Mack) rejects Johnnie for not being in the Confederate Army (which is only because they tell him he's too valuable as an engineer), he goes back to his first love. Along the way, he gets caught up the Civil War anyway and does what he can to thwart the North on a critical set of railroad tracks. Hilarity frequently ensues.

The movie does have some ethical problems. When Annabelle ends up on Johnnie's train, they DO make a good team, but that doesn't stop him from getting abusive with her. He practically throttles her. Plus, the movie asks us to side not only with the South during the Civil War, but with the losing side. I don't back losers! You're lucky your calm resourcefulness is so charming and likable, Buster.

The General is almost a Die Hard movie where one ordinary outnumbered man battles an irresistible force and he just keeps surviving. Better yet, Keaton comes up with some of the best physical comedy of all time, performing some of the greatest stunts you'll ever see on a moving train. Those must be at least 2 reasons the American Film Institute placed it 18th on their 2007 Top 100 list after not ranking it at all in 1998. They were onto something in '07. The General overcomes any criticisms. It's dynamite!

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 25-minute General 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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City Lights (1931)
9/10
City Lights: Or How To Make Famous Actors Weep
29 November 2013
Making Jack Lemmon cry is a delight reserved for demented people, but---when he was alive---there WAS a way to make the man weep. Just show him the last scene of City Lights. If you can get hold of the American Film Institute's Top 100 Laughs TV special, you can see for yourself. Lemmon cries while describing the end of this movie. Then I cried. My wife laughed. She's such a little trooper.

I won't give away what that last scene is, but it's easy to see how it could make a person bust up just thinking about it. Charlie Chaplin was certainly not afraid to hit those maudlin notes. His Tramp character was lovable enough and Chaplin the artist was talented enough to get away with milking you for every emotion you've got. Funny how some people can mix tones in the same movie and make it work so well while others can't even get one tone right.

The story: the Tramp makes friends with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) and works various jobs to help support her. She doesn't know he's broke, instead thinking he's a rich benefactor. Along the way he tries his hand at a few different vocations, including a hilarious attempt at being a boxer. He also parties a lot with an actual rich man (Harry Myers) who spends most of the movie drunk as a monkey. Whenever he sobers up, out goes the Tramp. No one can ever see our hero for who he truly is.

City Lights is a short and pithy movie, as were most of CC's works. He knew how to tell a compact story with oodles of hijinks, a little drama, a message and plenty of feeling. The AFI definitely had l'amour for this picture, ranking it 76th and then 11th on their 1998 and then 2007 Top 100 lists. That's a remarkable leap in the span of 10 years. Do you feel that strongly about City Lights too? I'm not quite as enamoured with it as the AFI, but it's a wonderful picture. Jack Lemmon's sloppy tears are proof.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 23-minute City Lights 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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10/10
Lust & Insurance Scams
28 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Billy Wilder gave away the climax to his movies more than most directors. All it took was 2 or 3 minutes of Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity to know where the movies were going. Double Indemnity starts off with scummy insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) racing to his office with a gunshot wound. Rather than leave town or get medical treatment, he is compelled to confess his crimes. Then we see why somebody would shoot this rather dull fellow. This framing device wasn't as common in 1944 as it is now, so kudos to Wilder for making it work so well.

Maybe Neff doesn't just blow town because he's in love with his semi-genius co-worker Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) and needs closure on that relationship. Okay, they're not in love sexually, but this is one of hundreds of great movies that---if you think about it---feature a bromance that overshadows any man/woman attachments. As outstanding as the outstanding Barbara Stanwyck is as the fatal femme fatale, the real story is the strong friendship betwixt Neff and Keyes.

Wilder's story (co-written with Raymond Chandler, adapted from James Cain's novella) is luridly delicious. Neff meets married Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck) on a visit to renew her husband's insurance policy. They decide to make sure her hubbie has an "accident" so they can make off with a big payday. Keyes, however, is smarter than the gullible cops and he won't let the case go. He doesn't KNOW that Mr. Dietrichson was murdered, but he's going to figure it out. Meanwhile, Walter and Phyllis don't trust each other.

The American Film Institute loves Double Indemnity almost as much as I do, proving that by ranking it 38th in 1998 and then 29th in 2007 on their Top 100 lists. Not bad for "The Insurance Movie"! The AFI appreciates it as a thriller and as a love story too, even if it's hard to believe that Walter and Phyllis ever had any real feelings for one another. She's rotten to the core and he's too horny to notice until it's too late. It's pulp and it certainly isn't the most uplifting movie made during WWII, but I smile just thinking about how bad these people are.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 36-minute Double Indemnity 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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King Kong (1933)
8/10
Monkey Love
27 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Your travel experiences aren't complete until you find a place that's home to a giant monkey who falls in love with you. That's my personal motto, sure, but Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) finds herself in exactly that boat. Eek, boats. I bet she'll never accept a ride from a strange movie producer ever again after her trip to Skull Island. Geez, even the name of the primitive place has to make a girl shudder. Couldn't they call it "Fabulous Island" or "Club Med (Now With Rampaging Apes!)" or something?

None of that sinks this excellent monster movie. King Kong was a technical marvel of 1933 special effects. The stop-motion, while incredibly dated, has a compelling charm. The camera tricks that blended F/X and live-action made it the T2 or Matrix of its day. Kong himself has such savage nobility at the end too. When he nosedives off the top of the Empire State Building (he never really thought his "let's go way high" plan through), it's bound to get to you a little bit.

Not that all the characters are memorable for the right reasons. Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot are awfully craptastic in this picture, although Cabot is given some lines that not even a motivated Robert De Niro could sell. Armstrong and Cabot stand in for the 2 guys who made the movie, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. Maybe Mer and Ernie are this hammy and/or wooden on their typical tropical adventures. Who can say? It's not like the original Scream Queen Fay Wray reminds anyone of Hepburn.

But watch it. Watch it often. It's worth your time. King Kong earned plenty of American Film Institute plaudits (making both the '98 and '07 Top 100 lists, not to mention the Top 100 Thrills, Top 25 Music Scores and even the Top 100 Passions). Ah, monkey love. Nothing beats it...unless you're a screaming blonde woman who just wants the big lug to leave her alone. As for Kong, add him to the long list of those who had a Broadway show open and close on the same night.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 31-minute King Kong 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "Top 100 Project".
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9/10
Bird Breeds Greed
27 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Ward Bond plays a cop in The Maltese Falcon. The actor with the most appearances in American Film Institute Top 100 movies (7 in all) is electric in this picture His charisma catches your eye and his final line "huh?" should've been on the AFI's list of Top 100 Quotes. Bond's performance is...

I'm just jerkin' your chain! Yeah, Ward Bond acts in the most AFI films and he does play a cop here, but Humphrey Bogart is the story. This was Bogie's big breakout (along with High Sierra that same year) and he lights it up. The man paid his dues for a while and played the heavy in 1930s films before they finally gave him the chance to be a leading man. Interesting that he often played shady "heroes"---including in The Maltese Falcon---rather than being straight-up nice-nice.

Bogie's Sam Spade sees his partner get killed and he gains (and then loses) a love interest all in what seems like a few days. He also comes one phony statue shy of being a rich man. They all want that bird. Crooks all. Each of the villains in this piece is memorable: Sydney Greenstreet (debutting as Kasper Gutman), Peter Lorre (slimy and fey), Elisha Cook (weird, as always) and Mary Astor (constantly on the verge of hysteria or passing out).

The last half-hour is tense, yet it's just 5 people waiting around in a room. Writer/director John Huston (in his own breakout) didn't change much from Dashiell Hammett's novel, making him a smart writer/director. Apparently, the AFI agreed. They had it at 23rd and then 31st on their 2 Top 100 lists. They're correct. This one is a honey. And Bogart is outstanding. He still had Casablanca and Treasure Of The Sierra Madre in his future, but his work in Falcon is...corny alert...the stuff that dreams are made of. And then Ward Bond follows with "huh?" See? Great follow-up line. Attaboy, Wardo!

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 38-minute Maltese Falcon 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "Top 100 Project".
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8/10
The One Where Jimmy Stewart Won't Shut Up
22 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
In Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Jimmy Stewart's character (Jeff Smith, natch) is a dangerously ignorant rube. For a short while, his awe of Washington D.C. is charming. After a few scenes of his ADHD "look at that" sight-seeing, you have to wonder if he's going to get mugged by somebody while he's staring up at the Lincoln Memorial. Even his associates lose patience with the enthusiastic hayseedery. Jeff is just lucky that Saunders (Jean Arthur) doesn't have the same amount of contempt for him that Arthur had for Stewart's performance.

Still, there's something special in the final 30 minutes of this picture as Jeff filibusters on the Senate floor. It's cornball and as unsubtle as punches to reporter's faces, but Jeff's fight for his political life represents all the little people out there who feel steamrolled by The Man. You know, 99% of us. And the movie has endured. The American Film Institute ranked it 29th and 26th, respectively, on their 1998 and 2007 Top 100 lists and they made it their 5th Most-Inspiring movie. Ol' Jeff Smith was their 11th best hero. Men who won't shut up and then faint at critical moments are cheer-worthy!

At least the excellent Claude Rains is around to give the flick gravitas, even if his change of heart at the end is staggeringly unbelievable. Thomas Mitchell's hard-drinking reporter is fine too and Harry Carey (as the Vice President) is a sneaky delight. As for Jimmy Stewart, something must be cleared up once and for all. It's not that he led a one-man filibuster. It's just that his slow-talking stammer made his speech take all night. Hi-yo! Thanks, you're a beautiful audience. I'll be here all week. Probably filibustering.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 42-minute Mr. Smith Goes To Washington 'cast…and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "Top 100 Project".
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8/10
Overrated With Lots Of "Isms", But An Opulent Epic
22 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Ah, the old days. Maybe not so good old. As much as people want to see Gone With The Wind as a story of a complicated romance between Rhett Butler & Scarlett O'Hara, we really can't brush aside the racism, sexism, elitism, classicism, and perhaps 1 or 2 other isms. For every powerful "as God is my witness" line, there's the fact that Scarlett is a selfish jerk who only ever wants what she can't have. For every bold declaration of "tomorrow is another day", there's the marital rape. And, hoo boy, we can't forget the glossed-over slavery.

Not that we should dwell on those isms. The movie is 4 hours long. You can be cheesed off about those controversies for a solid hour and still have 3 more to wallow in the opulence! And it would be some decadent wallowing. Producer/mogul David Selznick spent a lot of MGM's money to build massive pre- and post-Civil War sets, then burned some of those sets to the ground. Enough different dresses to clothe a small southern town found their way to Vivien Leigh's back, only to be discarded after that first and only wearing. You know, reality.

It probably sounds like I want to spit rail spikes at this movie. That's not entirely true. Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable are terrific as Scarlett and Rhett. Olivia De Havilland is fine too, although her character's halo occasionally gets in the way of anything resembling a real person. As good as the stars were, Hattie McDaniel (in a solid performance) was the only actor to win an Oscar. The film won 7 other trophies, including Best Picture of 1939. As for the American Film Institute, Gone With The Wind was on 7 different Top 100 (or Top 25) lists. The AFI likey. And so will you, if you can overlook that Scarlett is an ass and her last line is stupid.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 44-minute Gone With The Wind 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "Top 100 Project".
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9/10
Vanity Run Amok In The Land Of Weirdos
22 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The Queen should've just looked into her mirror---and stopped listening to her mirror---to see that she is indeed fairer than Snow White. I mean, judging 76-year-old cartoon characters on the basis of hotness is kinda creepy, but I'll risk creep accusations. The Queen is a babe. Too bad she's a murderous psycho who's obsessed with winning a beauty contest. It's like she's trying to one-up her mirror. "I'll show you who's more subjectively beautiful, you glass devil!" We're all a little vain sometimes, but don't you have a kingdom to run, lady?

Not that the dwarfs are above reproach either. They're sitting on a fortune in gems and they aren't even spending any of it to improve their lot in life...or the lot of those less fortunate than them. Plus, they tend to wallow in filth. Geez, what a motley cast of characters. Snow White is one of the shallowest movie characters in history, but she should have just bailed on ALL these weirdos. Take the hardworking woodland creatures and split for Oz or Neverland or Belize.

But I do love this movie. Irrationally, really. It's the dwarfs! Dopey is the cutest nitwit of all time and Grumpy is pretty much always right. Snow White DOES bring them misery and they would've been saved a lot of heartache if they'd just kicked her out. Still, it's sweet that even Grumpy relents. How can you not relent and fall for this gorgeous little trifle of a movie? The American Film Institute sure did, putting Snow & The 7 on five of its Best Of compilations, including both of the "100 Years, 100 Movies" lists.

So, yes, the Queen is evil and everyone else in this movie is absurdly pure at heart, but I still think I'd like to live under the Queen's reign. Apparently she spends most of her time gossiping with a mirror and not, you know, doing her job. You could get away with murder, maybe even step-daughtericide! The Queen herself almost does.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 31-minute Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs 'cast...and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "Top 100 Project".
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Sunrise (1927)
8/10
When all else fails, kill!
20 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Do you solve all your problems by threatening to kill just about everyone you meet? Then, by gar, you might just click with "The Man" in Sunrise! First he's ready to off his wife so he can run off with a floozy from the big city, then The Man lets that hair-trigger temper loose at the slightest hint of controversy. He even tries to kill the floozy! He would have made a great opponent for Mike Tyson. They might have hosted a horrible reality show together.

But this movie isn't famous for its near-violence. It's highly regarded for the style, the in-camera effects, the visual storytelling and the remarkable cinematography (by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss). German director F.W. Murnau (who also helmed Nosferatu) came to Hollywood and made what many have called the greatest silent film ever made. From an artistic standpoint, they (good ol' "they") have a point. The story, however, is too simplistic and the over-the-top acting might make you laugh.

Nevertheless, the American Film Institute added it to their 2nd Top 100 list in 2007 after ignoring it in 1998. Did 10 years make it better? Well, no. A better print on DVD than anyone had previously seen on videotape didn't hurt. Your eyes will obviously enjoy looking at this picture. Your brain might not feel as stimulated as your orbs will. If you don't think that's true, it's probably best that you just take me out a la The Man in Sunrise. Violence solves everything! It might even get your woman to come back to you.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 27-minute Sunrise 'cast…and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Citizen Kane (1941)
10/10
The Two-Time, Two-Time AFI Champion!
20 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The American Film Institute has twice named Citizen Kane the greatest movie of all time. Gawd, pressure movie-lovers much lately?! What do you tell people if you DON'T like Citizen Kane? You're gonna sound as lame as Susan Alexander singing opera. Lucky for me, I dig this movie much. It's definitely in my own Top 10 (not #1, but it's certainly in a place of honour) and part of the reason I enjoy it is because it ISN'T the hard work you might expect when it's the "best movie evarrr".

What this movie does best is tell a story of a rich man who wanted everything he didn't have. Since he had everything except bonafide love, he truly wasn't---unlike Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life--- the richest man in town. He filled his sled-less life with statues, newspapers, giant houses, and a marriage to an untalented dimwit. But we've all made those mistakes. Most of us just don't act like megalomaniacs of Rupert Murdochian proportions along the way. And we tend to avoid cryptic words like "Rosebud" with our dying breath. Most of us would just admit, "I miss my sled."

Orson Welles wrote, directed, produced and stars in Citizen Kane, making the single greatest debut in cinema history. His cast (comprised mostly of New York theatre buddies) matches him step for step and Welles' collaborators behind the camera are wonderful too. Was there a better cameraman in old Hollywood than Gregg Toland? None of that would matter, however, if the script by Welles and Herman Mankiewicz wasn't so fantabulous. In summary, as the pull quote on the original poster says, "it's terrific!"

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 78-minute 2-part Citizen Kane 'cast…and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Casablanca (1942)
9/10
This Classic Is Beloved (Especially By The AFI)
20 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Casablanca---the beloved classic of love, sacrifice and usual-suspect roundups---is 71 years old. The movie could've started earning a pension 6 years ago, yet it endures. Somehow this picture never gets old. I think one big reason is its sense of humour about an ultra-sensitive situation. For all the Nazis and the talk of concentration camps, there's Claude Rains cracking wise with Humphrey Bogart. People love Bogie and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, but the real romance is between Rick and Louis. Beautiful friendship? Get a room with Renault's casino winnings, you two!

We all know the great lines of dialogue, but did you know the American Film Institute honoured six (6!) of those classic lines on their Top 100 Quotes list in 2005? They had so many that the AFI couldn't even cram the "hill of beans" or "shocked, shocked to find illegal gambling" lines onto the Top 100. Even if you don't know much about Casablanca, you've heard 2 or 3 of the legendary quotes. That's not even taking into account how the AFI ranks "As Time Goes By" as the 2nd best movie song ever and the movie itself as the #1 romantic flick.

But this picture is so much more than high rankings on Top 100 lists and witty bon mots. You've got tension, drama, romance, witticisms, love songs, duelling national anthems, flashbacks, drinking, rigged gambling, and Nazi death. Good ol' Morocco. You know how to show a girl and a guy a good time...before they walk off with other people. Or, if you'll allow me to put this movie in a nutshell: bar owner and cop casually walk away from murder scene.

If you dug this snapshot review, check out the website I share with my wife (www.top100project.com) and go to the "Podcasts" section for our 46-minute Casablanca 'cast…and many others. Or find us on Itunes under "The Top 100 Project".
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Fred Claus (2007)
5/10
Fifteen Random Thoughts During Fred Claus
12 December 2007
1) Kathy Bates has been playing loving, clingy mothers for so long that I'm starting to forget she once smashed a guy's feet with a sledgehammer.

2) That scrumptious Elizabeth Banks is showing a lot of cleavage for a kid's movie.

3) Somebody call a doctor...Vince Vaughn seems to have been neutered by Warner Brothers!

4) Wait, should I be laughing yet? The movie has been playing for 40 minutes now and my gut is not even close to being busted.

5) Paul Giamatti should either play Santa as 100% Mister Nice Guy or as a hypocritical putz...not a weak mixture of both.

6) Will Ferrell in Elf got more laughs in 3 minutes than all of Fred Claus is getting.

7) Man, this theatre is small. I can hear the heater running. It's almost as loud as the dialogue. This isn't really a complaint, though.

8) Elizabeth Banks' looooooow neckline is saving this disaster from being a total disaster.

9) Kevin Spacey is one of those "one movie a year" guys...and as a discriminating movie-maker, he chooses to do THIS script?

10) Alright,now HERE'S a funny scene---Siblings Anonymous.

11) A Vince Vaughn riff without a few F bombs is basically a waste of F'ing time.

12) Yeah, Miss Banks, one day your body and beauty will be put to good use by a funnier director. Hey, she's in Kevin Smith's next movie. There ya go!

13) Oh, no, the climax of this "comedy" has cranked up the schmaltz meter. Brother, you've got to earn your schmaltz.

14) Santa Claus' jerky older brother is a great concept. Too bad they did squat with it.

15) Well, that sucked. I wonder if it's still snowing outside...
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Hustle & Flow (2005)
9/10
It's Hard Not To Love The Singing Pimp
16 August 2006
Hustle & Flow is the Baadasssss of 2005. It's a well-acted, low-budget flick about black culture and it seems to have been made with equal parts heart & talent. Both films are emotional, entertaining, and completely riveting. The more popular comparison is to Rocky, which is perfectly valid too...if the Italian Stallion had been a Memphis pimp instead of an illiterate club fighter in Philly. I won't continue comparing director Craig Brewer's 2nd picture to ones that came before, except to add that it's not only similar to Rocky and Baadasssss, it's almost as satisfying as both of those. And for a movie with some dark themes, it's a lot of fun to watch.

If you're a fan of music, you're bound to love the lengthy scene in which DJay (Terrence Howard, in a fabulous Oscar-nominated performance) is trying to lay down a track for his breakthrough hip-hop (and Oscar-winning) song, "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp." It's fascinating to watch the whole process. Maybe the speed and success with which the song gets put together isn't realistic, but that doesn't stop the scene from being fascinating. DJay had been a fairly horrible guy up until this point in the movie. Here's his turning point. When his natural talent for hip-hop shines through with ample support from his friends and hoes (yes, they have a role to play in this music venture), DJay becomes a new man. Howard is a good actor and it's hard not to be on the side of a good actor, even though DJay does and says some terrible things to his ladies.

His faith in Nola (scrappy Taryn Manning) and his apparently genuine love for Shug (a spectacular Taraji P. Henson, stealing scenes in the Adrian Balboa role) redeem his earlier thuggery. Those 2 actresses are terrific and so are Anthony Anderson and DJ Squalls, who play Howard's music gurus. Brewer, who also wrote the script, guides them all with a steady hand. He even manages to create some real tension in the climax because the end result isn't telegraphed from the start. Can the guy who sells women for a living sell himself to super-rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris)? The final scenes that follow are bittersweet, although more sweet than bitter. What's ENTIRELY sweet about Hustle & Flow is the music, the acting, and coolness factor. Definitely 2005's Baadasssss.
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Rent (2005)
4/10
Great, It's 2+ Hours Of Whiny Singing
15 August 2006
So this is Rent, huh? Yowzers, what a ridiculous snoozer. And here I thought Angels In America was an indulgent, dripping waste of time. Anything with the scrumptious and sassy Rosario Dawson in it has a fighting chance, but even Rosario gets steamrolled by the depressing subject matter. If they insisted on turning the infamous Broadway play into a movie, they should have done it sooner. AIDS and poverty are always worthy topics, of course. It just feels like this movie is about 15 years late for the prom.

I've wasted countless hours watching bad movies, but I never thought this one would be such an utter mess. And watching it seemed to take countless hours too. Then again, maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise. This IS a musical and musicals are a touchy subject, particularly when they're directed by a notable hamfister like Chris Columbus. The everybody-sings-at-the-drop-of-a-needle premise makes a story seem fake at the best of times, and Rent was in dire need of more authenticity. All this movie accomplished was make me reach for the laptop and start surfing anyway. Anything to provide a distraction from all the the melodramatic caterwauling and whining.

Besides, those South Park guys lampooned the Rent stage production so memorably with their "Everyone Has AIDS" song in Team America. It's hard to take this stuff seriously after puppets have mocked it.
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Prime (2005)
5/10
Uma Should Be Killing Bill, Not Serving Time In Prime
15 August 2006
Prime stars Uma Thurman, Meryl Streep, and some young wimp named...uh, what's his name? Bryan Greenberg or something? Whatever his name is, he can't act to save his shoes. It doesn't help that he's sharing major screen time with the intimidating likes of Uma & Meryl. Still, Greenberg Penelope Cruz's this role (meaning, like Cruz in Vanilly Sky, he's got some pretty good dialogue and he botches all of it).

Streep plays a Jewish psychiatrist & worrywart mother to stereotypical Method competence. Her character could have been written out of the movie and it wouldn't have mattered all that much, but they couldn't do that because then what about all of Meryl's hours & hours of studying all those psychiatrists in her exhaustive research? Sometimes I miss the days when actors just pretended. Anyway, Streep is Thurman's shrink and the older woman is floored when she finds out the younger woman is dating her son (ol' what's-his-name). And that's about it.

Uma just about saves the picture, which is the way it should be since she's the leading lady and has the most screen time. She gives a sensitive performance playing a 37-year-old who has to deal with being in love with an inadequate tyke who's a decade & a half younger than she is. And speaking of Younger, Ben Younger directs the movie without any flash or zing. He brought some sizzle to the overpraised Boiler Room, but he leaves that out this time and tries too hard to be Woody Allen. Hey, bub, if the Wood man himself can't remember what it was once like to be Woody Allen, then you shouldn't try it either.

I miss the days of Uma killing Bill. She's too strong and sexy to play a wounded city gal who puts up with crap like "he'd rather play video games than get naked with me." So somebody should try to put a bullet through the side of Uma's head again and maybe she'll go on another kill-crazy rampage with a samurai sword. We know she excels at that. This rom-com crapola co-starring with the Method actor and the gaping piece of tree bark is a waste of her talent.
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