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10/10
Exceptionally tense and claustrophobic
16 February 2008
A top-notch adaptation of Tennessee Williams' classic play, the first screen version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is a wrenching and intense character study that brings out the best of nearly every individual involved. Williams' source material is arguably his greatest play (rivaled primarily by A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) and it is expertly adapted to screen by screenwriter/director Richard Brooks. Although the racier elements of Williams' dialogue is either toned down or eliminated, Brooks remains remarkably faithful to structure of Williams' story and its characters. Brooks wisely regulates his screenplay to the basics of the play, which allows plenty of time for him to reach into his lead character's minds.

The film is remarkably gripping and intense for such a leisurely-paced, dialogue-heavy film. As a director, Brooks manages to wring every bit of tension out of the source material without attempting to expand the narrative, which surely would have placed the film in danger of losing focus. Although the MGM production values are typically lavish, Brooks maintains a marvelously claustrophobic aura throughout the entire film that somehow manages to remain faithful to its theatrical origins without actually feeling static or stagy. In fact, although the film reaches such pseudo-operatic heights in its drama, it's somewhat shocking that proceedings remain as relatively grounded as they do.

The film is blessed with a top-notch cast, lead by the breathtakingly beautiful Paul Newman in a complex and thoroughly convincing portrayal of wounded masculinity. In a deeply internalized portrayal, Newman clearly conveys volumes of information with one glance of his steel-blue eyes. Taylor is unarguably at her sultriest as the frustrated Maggie, a definitive Williams' heroine, and her old-school Hollywood glamour contrasts perfectly with Newman's refined method acting. The supporting cast is flawless, lead by an outstanding, scene-stealing portrayal Burt Ives and featuring terrific turns by Jack Carson, Judith Anderson, and Madeleine Sherwood completing the impossibly tight ensemble.

Although Tennessee Williams himself panned the film for censoring the more salacious elements of his original play, the film received largely positive reviews from most major critics and was later nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Audiences also responded, as the film grossed more that five times it's budget. It is crucial for a film adaptation of source material from any media to stand on its own, and the 1958 film version of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is an absolute classic by any measure.
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10/10
Unsung, surreal masterpiece
16 February 2008
Long-fabled as one of the most bizarre films to come out Hollywood during the years of the Production Code's strict enforcement, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is a riveting psychological drama that remains absolutely gut-wrenching even after nearly fifty years since it's original release. Screenwriter Gore Vidal takes Tennessee Williams' one-act play and runs with it, fleshing out the central characters and expanding the story's central arc. Vidal had the seemingly impossibly task of taking a tale involving homosexuality, incest, pedophilia, and even cannibalism and presenting it all in a manner that would be acceptable to the rigid Production Code, yet still coherent to the average film audience. Not only did Vidal succeed victoriously, but the slightly ambiguous nature of the film's climax and denouncement actually makes the twice as unsettling and disturbing.

With relatively few characters to populate the story the performances are absolutely crucial, and the tight-knit cast delivers the goods in spades. Long after many of her acting contemporaries of the thirties and forties had been forgotten, Katharine Hepburn continued to reign supreme on the silver screen and her sublime performance as the manipulative and cunning Mrs. Venable ranks among Hepburn's best work of the decade. The wounded vulnerability of a post-car accident Montgomery Clift serves him well in a difficult role as the middle man between the film's leading ladies, and the still-handsome actor provides a humane, completely genuine performance that supplies viewers with level-headed window into the off-kilter story. Albert Dekker, Mercedes McCambridge and Gary Raymond also excel in minor roles.

The film's biggest surprise, however, is the exceptional portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor in the film's central performance. Although usually somewhat of an uneven actress, Taylor completely nails a dauntingly difficult role in a complex, multilayered performance that deservedly won her a Golden Globe Award as well as her third consecutive Oscar nomination. During the film's climatic revelation, Taylor lets out a series of bone-chilling screams that I could never imagine coming out of any other actress. Not only does it remain Taylor's finest performance (which is a considerable achievement when one considers that WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is also on her resume), but it is also a performance that simply could not be bettered.

Although perhaps he could never surpass 1949's A LETTER TO THREE WIVES or 1950's ALL ABOUT EVE in the eyes of most viewers, SUMMER contains some of the finest work of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz' legendary career. Brilliantly combining southern Gothicism with straight-faced psychodrama and even grandiose horror, Mankiewicz stitches the various seemingly disparate threads together in a harrowing, yet perversely satisfying whole. Even the lengthy, sometimes criticized flashback sequence is an absolute tour de force of film-making that leaves viewers emotionally exhausted as one experiences the on screen turmoil more than simply watching it. An often unheralded classic, the film remains of the most sorely underrated films of its era.
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7/10
Flawed, but fun Elmore Leonard adaptation with Ryan O'Neal is at his sexiest
6 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The works of author Elmore Leonard are not known to make the transfer from the page to the screen very successfully. Sure, 1995's GET SHORTY was a big success, but HOMBRE (1967), THE 52 PICK-UP (1986), and CAT CHASER (1989) were all considered unqualified disasters (although HOMBRE is certainly underrated in retrospect). Unfortunately, 1969's THE BIG BOUNCE is also considered among those disasters, which is a totally undeserved fate for such an efficiently effective little film. In fact, I dare say I enjoyed THE BIG BOUNCE even more than GET SHORTY.

The film opened to scathing bad reviews upon its release in spring of 1969, and audiences stayed away in droves (the film was never even released on home video until 35 years after its theatrical release in 2004). I haven't read Leonard's original novel, so I have no idea how faithful the film is when compared to the source material. I can say, however, that director Alex March and screenwriter Robert Dozier do a fine job keeping the momentum going, as the film moves along at a pleasing pace. And while the picture may not exactly have Oscar-worthy cinematography, the film is certainly good to look at, especially in its original Panavision widescreen format.

The film's major ace-in-the-hole, however, is the always-terrific Ryan O'Neal in the lead. Although O'Neal was a major star in the seventies, starring in the smash hits LOVE STORY (1970), WHAT'S UP, DOC? (1972), and PAPER MOON (1973), he has never really seemed to receive his deserved props for being the truly topnotch actor that he is. Even in the absolute worst films (and he has made more than a few), I have yet to see him give a lackluster performance. And this film is no exception.

After five years of starring on the popular primetime soap opera "Peyton Place," O'Neal made his starring debut in this film, and it is clear he had already begun mastering a respectable craft. From beginning to end, he is completely believable as our hapless hero. You never doubt his genuineness. It is yet another performance that makes you set up and ask yourself, "Why didn't this man get any more respect back in the day?"

Of course, even if he never received much critical kudos, Ryan was certainly one of the top male pinups of his era. The reason is clear: in addition to being drop-dead-gorgeous, Ryan also was not the least bit shy about sharing his beautiful body with the rest of the free world. He always gave us exactly what we were wanting to see, and it all began here in THE BIG BOUNCE. Appearing in various stages of undress throughout the entire film, if watching Ryan in this film doesn't get you hotter than hell, then you better run out and get some Viagra.

As for the rest of the cast, Leigh Taylor-Young, who was married to Ryan at the time of the film's release, is amusing as the wild and crazy hellion. Although Taylor-Young is far from my favorite actress, she really gives the part her all and is an absolute hoot to watch. The chemistry between her and O'Neal is magnetic, and some of their scenes together are pretty steamy. Leigh also looks terrific here, and does a somewhat surprising amount of nudity (isn't it odd that films from the late-sixties and early-seventies often have more causal nudity than films today).

The camp honors for the film must go to future Oscar-winner Lee Grant, who probably likes to forget she appeared in this film. Grant turns in a hysterically unsubtle performance as the hot-to-trot single mom who lusts after Ryan throughout the picture (can't say I blame her). Grant literally trembles with unrestrained horniness anytime she is around O'Neal, and some of their scenes together are marvelously entertaining kitsch. She's basically all over the place at once, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find her entertaining.

The young Lisa Eilbacher is surprisingly credible, and displays of refreshing minimum of kiddie star cuteness as the young daughter of Grant's character. In particular, Eilbacher flawlessly handles one very difficult scene with such accuracy and truth that she provides the film with its one true heart-wrenching moment. Not surprisingly, Eilbacher continued acting and raked up numerous credits throughout the seventies and eighties, although she had not been seen in anything new for nearly 20 years now. I'd certainly like to know what she's been up to.

The rest of the cast is filled out by a good assortment of character actors, a better lot than I would have expected, including James Daly and Robert Webber. The best of the group is easily Van Heflin, in a touchingly unsentimental performance as O'Neal's boss/father figure. It's very nice little portrait of tough love that feels refreshingly unforced, and it's a fitting bookend to the career of Heflin, who died a few short years later in 1971. All of the other minor roles are acceptably cast as well.

Although the film is definitely underrated, it still is not perfect. Although it's enjoyable while it's playing, the film never really adds up to much in the end. It is further marred by an abrupt ending that ties things up too quickly and an absolutely atrocious music score (seriously, it's one of the worst original film scores that I've ever heard). Still, I guarantee that THE BIG BOUNCE will give you a couple hours of grooving, sexy fun. And the young Ryan O'Neal is very much worth checking out, especially here at the peak of his physical beauty.
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Dreamgirls (2006)
6/10
Superficial, but entertaining
6 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Possibly the most anticipated (or at least the most hyped) film of 2006, DREAMGIRLS is a fictional account of the rise and fall of a Supremes-like singing group. The original play, as staged by Michael Bennett, opened on Broadway in 1981 and was an immediate success. Not only did the play run for many performances, but it won six Tony awards and a Grammy, and also made actress/singer Jennifer Holiday a star. Plans for a film adaptation languished in development hell for 25 years until respected director/screenwriter Bill Condon pushed the long-awaited film into production.

As with any film that is so eager anticipated, expectations were very high for DREAMGIRLS, which ended up receiving relatively strong reviews and won nearly every conceivable "supporting actress" award for Jennifer Hudson. I personally found the film to be enjoyable, but not the great masterpiece that Paramount seemed to believe it is. Basically, the film is slick and extremely well-made on the surface, but offers no real insight or uniqueness to its routine plot line. The film relies far too often on the mechanisms of the predictable plot rather than allowing us to experience the joy and pain of its characters, which would have led to a truly rewarding experience.

That's not to say that the film isn't entertaining while it's playing, because it certainly is. As paint-by-the-numbers as the film may be, it makes up for what it lacks in character and genuineness with style and flare. The film is a splashy musical of the type that is rarely seen, and it zips along at a breakneck speed that equates to a surprisingly brisk pace for a movie that runs 131 minutes long. The audience is always two steps ahead of the picture, but it is so buoyant with energy that no one will mind.

The performers all do a capable job with the familiar material. I thought that Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles were good in their respective roles – even though I found their characters unconvincing in the end (Foxx's Berry Gordy-like mogul becomes a one-dimensional villain in the film's final third, while Beyonce's Deena never once displays any Diana Ross-like arrogance and is unconvincingly portrayed as a virtual saint). The film really draws its strength from terrific supporting performances from Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover, Keith Robinson, and especially the stunning Jennifer Hudson. Miracle of miracles, newcomer Hudson is every bit as sensational as the buzz indicated, and she truly is a knockout!

I never saw the play in any of its incarnations, so this film was my first true exposure to material. Overall, I found the much-praised songs by Henry Krieger and the late Tom Eyen to be only average (there are also four newly-written songs by Krieger and various other writers). I enjoyed the several Motown sound-a-likes (especially "Move" and the instantly memorable title song), but I found many of the more dramatic pieces to be fairly tuneless and rambling. The highpoints are easily Hudson two big solos ("And I'm Telling You I am not Going," and "I am Changing"), both of which are sold by the conviction and intensity of Hudson's performance.

In summary, I found DREAMGIRLS to be appealing and entertaining, yet I could help but wish that director Condone had infused the film with just a fraction of the depth he gave his own 1998 James Whale biopic GODS AND MONSTERS. With just a little more insight or more detailed characterizations, the film could have been a truly great picture. As is, the film solidly enjoyable, and certainly as well produced as any film recent memory. DREAMGIRLS may ultimately be empty inside, but it sure is a pretty package!
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The Comedians (1967)
6/10
A good effort that succeeds in many areas, but still falls short of greatness
6 February 2008
After delighting audiences in director Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 hit adaptation of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, the Burtons' popularity with audiences seemed to be on the wane as their next film, Peter Glenville's THE COMEDIANS (1967) became their first full-fledged box office disappointment. There was much publicity surrounding the political thriller as it shot in Africa (masquerading as Haiti) and the fact that Taylor accepted half her usual salary and took second billing behind Burton kept gossips wagging for months (she reportedly only took the part out of fear of being replaced with Sophia Loren). But when the film opened, critics found it slow and talky and audiences simply seemed uninterested. Although the film is never quite as interesting or as suspenseful as it could have been, I dare say that THE COMEDIANS probably plays a great deal better today without the heavy expectations of the time surrounding it.

Graham Greene does a respectable job of paring down his complex novel for the screen, and director Glenville keeps the film moving at a reasonable pace in spite of its lengthy runtime of 150 minutes. The film is always interesting and occasionally gripping, although Greene and Glenville keep the audience at a relative distance which prevents the picture from striking as hard as it could have. Burton is in good form, and Alec Guinness, Paul Ford, and Lillian Gish all turn in top notch support (only Peter Ustinov feels under utilized). Unfortunately, Taylor is dreadfully miscast as a German military wife – complete with a woefully unconvincing accent – and her ill-fitting presence creates several lulls in the film as the number of scenes between her character and Burton's character are increased (in order to give the diva her proper screen time) which hampers a few long stretches of the film and slightly undermines what could have been a first-rate effort.
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9/10
Luminous drama; vastly underrated
6 February 2008
It has commonly been said that full-fledged soap opera can never be a real work of art, but this excellent film proves to be a glorious exception to that rule. Director Vincent Sherman's luminous film adaptation of author Richard Powell's best-seller THE PHILADELPHIANS manages to tell the story of at least two generations in a single picture without ever feeling cramped, forced, or haphazard. The film's story line that begins as a romance, evolves into an underdog business story, and ends as a courtroom drama, and Sherman impressively manages to take all of these various story threads and create a completely coherent motion picture that never feels disjointed or episodic. Sherman also keeps things movie at a remarkably brisk pace – the film never feels even half as long as it's 136-minute runtime.

The entire cast turns in superlative work, with Newman being particular well-suited to his role as a good-natured-but-flawed lawyer (he would return to this type of role with even better results in the 1982 classic THE VERDICT). Barbara Rush, Brian Keith, Dianne Brewster, Billie Burke, and Robert Vaughn are all excellent, and Alexis Smith is particularly memorable as sexy socialite. Speaking of sex, the film retains a surprisingly sensual aura throughout, which helps to keep it from aging for modern audiences. Inexplicably forgotten by many classic film fans, THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS is a moving, compelling motion picture that holds up remarkably well nearly fifty years after it's original release.
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7/10
Interesting revolutionist vision of Billy the Kid
6 February 2008
Based on Gore Vidal's play (which had already been filmed once for television with Newman), THE LEFT HANDED GUN is an unusual addition to the western genre, with several considerable attempts at psychoanalysis that were slightly ahead of the time for this type of picture. The film is more or less a bio of infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, with the novelty that Billy (played by Newman) is sympathetically portrayed more as a misunderstood youth rather than an outright criminal. Director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Leslie Stevens (working from Vidal's original play) have done a commendable job at presenting Vidal's revolutionist vision of Billy, even though the film sometimes rambles and lacks the streamlined momentum that made Penn's similar BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) an American film masterpiece. The entire story was filmed much more effectively in Sam Peckinpah's cult classic PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (1973), but THE LEFT HANDED GUN stands as an interesting curio and a film that (aside from some overwrought acting) has aged very well. This was yet another role that was originally intended to be played by James Dean that Newman stepped into after that young actor's tragic death. Unlike 1956's SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (which Newman played to perfection), I actually think that Dean might have actually been better suited to play Billy the Kid, as his nervy stance and cocksure demeanor have yet to be match by anyone and possibly could have enhanced the role even further. Newman is still quite good, however, playing the role as closely to Vidal's original concept as possible, and there is a particularly lovely scene with Newman's reaction as Billy to a Biblical verse remaining one of my favorite pieces of reactive acting ever. The sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid also gave Newman his first real shot at playing an anti-hero, a task that he would later perfect in the 24-Karat film masterpieces THE HUSTLER (1961) and HUD (1963).
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8/10
Excellent character study
6 February 2008
After appearing in the disastrous film THE SILVER CHALICE (1954) and the average MGM loan-out THE RACK (1956), Paul Newman finally landed his breakout role in this fast-paced biopic of boxer Rocky Graziano. The part was originally to be played by James Dean as his follow-up to 1956's GIANT, but that icon's untimely death paved the way for Newman to step into the role and become a star. Newman tackles the role with such an intense aura of vitality that can only come from an artist who hungrily wants to prove his own mettle. With his muscular little body and totally method approach, Newman is completely convincing as Graziano (arguably more so than Dean would have been), and impressively does not shy away from the grittier and less likable aspects of Graziano's character.

Director Robert Wise perfectly captures the essence of New York in the first half of the century, which makes it seem even more inevitable that he would go on to helm WEST SIDE STORY (1961) a few years later. The film chases the sometimes hot-headed Graziano's rise from street thug, criminal, army misfit, boxing champion, and family man, and Wise keeps things moving along at a steady and coherent rate. The Oscar-winning set design and cinematography are both superb, and (in addition to Newman) there are also memorable performances from Pier Angeli, Everett Sloane, and Sal Mineo. Forgive me for the lame summary line, but SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME still packs a punch!
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Reds (1981)
10/10
The thinking-person's epic romance
6 February 2008
Warren Beatty used the clout he achieved with the box office smash HEAVEN CAN WAIT as a means of finally mounting his dream project, the ambitious Jack Reed biopic Reds (1981). With tight ensemble, large-scale location photography, and an over three-hour runtime, REDS was certainly intended to be a grand epic that would rake in tons of accolades and awards for director/producer/co-writer/star Beatty. This is the exact type of high risk project that can often result in disaster, but REDS defied such danger and opened to uniformly excellent reviews, became a solid hit at the box office, and received a jaw-dropping 12 Oscar nominations. Beatty finally received the kudos he long sought winning an Oscar, Golden Globe, the Director's Guild of America award, and numerous other national and international awards for his direction.

Any film that achieves that level of success among critics and within the industry is in danger being over praised, but REDS actually lives up to the hype and remains a highly moving, fully bodied movie experience. Typically romantic epics leave me a bit cold - despite their haughty pedigree, I personally find films like GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) to be technically well-made, but detached and mechanical in emotion. Like those films, REDS emphasizes the romance between Reed and feminist writer/artist Louise Brooks (Diane Keaton) over the historical arc that follows Reeds involvement with socialist/communist political scene in 1910's. But unlike most historical/romantic epics, REDS treats it's characters as real people rather than generalized caricatures and isn't afraid to venture into some difficult territory (which is usually sidestepped by most films of this type in order not to alienate mainstream audiences).

Beatty and Keaton both deliver very impressive performances. Beatty is so utterly convincing as a determined Reed that you completely believe that his faith in such inevitably flawed ideologies is very reasonable and genuine. In many ways, Keaton is even more surprising as Brooks - she displays absolutely none of the bumbling neurosis in which she is so commonly associated and brings a devoted, plucky, and indeed stubborn quality to Brooks that immediately humanizes the woman and her plight. The entire supporting cast rises to the level of Beatty and Keaton, with superstars like Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton (who won an Oscar for her performance), and Gene Hackman abandoning their typical star mannerisms and turning in some of the best work of their careers in bit parts.

The film also benefits form the then-progressive technique utilized by Beatty where he includes filmed interviews with "witness," real-life individuals who knew either Reed or Brooks and were active members of the sociopolitical scene that the picture recreates. Showing amazing foresight, Beatty actually began conducting these interviews in the early-seventies. Many of these individuals are no longer with us and having their accounts on film is priceless in and of it's self. This also gives the film the absorbing feel of a docudrama, presenting multiple accounts of the same story.

The film has the grand, lush look and feel that all epic films aim for, but never sacrifices its intelligence or intimacy in order to achieve it. This is evidenced even in Stephen Sondheim's marvelous musical score, which manages to incorporate period music and original material in a manner that is both appropriate to the on screen action and true to its historical setting. The film is also remarkably subtle, making outstanding use of silence and body language, without resorting to the overboard hysterics of many similar films. Beatty obviously set out to create a masterpiece with REDS, and he succeeded.
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8/10
Thoroughly charming afterlife comedy
6 February 2008
After appearing the rare Mike Nichols misstep THE FORTUNE (1975), it took Beatty three long years to return to the screen with the genteel comedy/fantasy HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). In addition to essaying the lead role, Beatty also made his debut in the director's chair, with the assistance of legendary comedy writer Buck Henry (who also plays a supporting role in the film). A remake of 1941 semi-classic HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, HEAVEN CAN WAIT may not surpass the delightful whimsy of the original classic, but it emerges as somewhat of a modern classic in it's own right. The film was an instant hit with both critics and audiences, was nominated for an astounding 9 Oscars including "Best Picture," and remains a magical film that is almost impossible not to love.

Beatty not only proves himself to be a perfectly competent film director, and the picture also provides the star with one of his best roles as an actor. Beatty's good-natured football player Joe is the exact type of lovable stud that you cannot help but fall for. The film's screenplay takes Joe from earth to heaven and to back to earth again through an assortment of various bodies, and Beatty's easygoing charisma holds it all together and keeps viewers involved in the story and fixated on the screen. This is a star performance if there ever was one, and Beatty has rarely been more likable.

The rest of the cast is particularly winning. The still silver-tongued James Mason (in a part originally offered to the retired Cary Grant) as the heavenly Mr. Jordan and the endearing gruff Jack Warden are perfect as father figure-types for Beatty's Joe, and Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon are absolutely terrific as the film's pair of villains. The only performer missing the boat is a blah Julie Christie, who is pleasant but unconvincing in the sadly underwritten role of the ecologist love interest of the body Beatty has temporarily inherited. It seems as though the creators thought dressing Christie in frumpy wardrobe and frizzy hairstyle was enough to give the character depth, but all they succeeded in was making a natural beauty look rather hideous.

The film is a joyous, comedic piece of whimsy that manages to incorporate slapstick comedy, romance, fantasy, and even an underdog sports story without ever feeling bloated or disjointed. The true emotional highpoint comes with Mr. Jordan's farewell to Joe, as well as Max failing to recognize him in his new body. The rather shallow development of Christie's character leaves the film's THE WAY WE WERE-like finale ringing a bit hollow, but it's still an effectively bittersweet coda nonetheless. This film launched a major revival of whimsical comedies that remained popular until the late-eighties, and it easily remains the best effort of this revival.
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Shampoo (1975)
9/10
Possibly the greatest sex comedy of all-time
6 February 2008
After scaling the amazing highs of 1967's BONNIE AND CLYDE, Beatty also turned in some great work in the solid films like Robert Altman's MCCABE & MRS. MILLER (1971), Richard Brooks' sadly underrated heist caper $ (1971), and Alan J. Pakula's terrific political thriller THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974). Yet it was a kitsch-heavy sex comedy that provided Beatty with his next signature role with the somberly hilarious SHAMPOO (1975). Reportedly based on either Jay Sebring or Jon Peters (who later became an uber-film producer), SHAMPOO allows us to spend 24 hours in the life of a refreshingly macho hairdresser (shattering many queer stereotypes in the process) as he unsuccessfully attempts to juggle three women simultaneously. The whole thing is set against the eve of President Nixon's 1968 inauguration, which provides some interesting counterpoints for a film made immediately post-Watergate.

While this may sound like an obvious set-up for a Hollywood sex comedy (and, truth be told, it actually is), but the screenplay by Beatty and Robert Towne is devilishly satirical with fully-realized characters and real motivations. Director Hal Ashby (best-known for 1971's HAROLD AND MAUDE and 1978's COMING HOME) keeps all the various story threads moving along at a swift rate, and even allows several moments of disarming perceptiveness to creep in without ever throwing the picture's balance off. The cast is wholly excellent: Beatty is perfect for his Casanova-with-depth role, Julie Christie is very funny and sexy, Goldie Hawn is subtle and affecting, Jack Warden is strangely endearing in an Oscar-nominated turn as a man who can't seem to accept his age, and the always-terrific Lee Grant finally won an Oscar for her hilariously tight-lipped performance as Beatty most demanding "customer." Also, a very young Carrie Fisher (in her film debut) makes an immediate impression in a scene-stealing turn as Grant's not-so-innocent daughter.

The reviews from film critics at the time of the film's release were decidedly mixed. For example, Roger Ebert felt the movie was disappointing whereas it was one of the usually-vicious Pauline Kael's favorite films of the seventies. However, audiences loved it and the film became one of the Top 5 grossers of the year and received four Oscar nominations. While some may claim that the film is dated, but I completely disagree - the film was already something of a period piece (which helps conceal any such complaints), and such sharply-written characters and dialogue never go out of style anyway. In fact, I argue that SHAMPOO is not only one of the best comedies of the seventies, but is also possibly the greatest sex comedy of all-time!
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10/10
One of the films that revolutionized Hollywood
6 February 2008
There are tons of good films and there are also numerous great films, but there are relatively few motion pictures that are truly brilliant from start to finish. 1967's BONNIE AND CLYDE is so enriched into the collective conscious of American films that it is easy to take it for granted. An absolutely pitch-perfect combination of thrills, violence, and social commentary, the film is also surprisingly heartfelt and full of unexpected humor. Extremely daring for the time, not only for it's unrelenting nature of it's graphic violence, but also for it's progressively unbiased slant - Penn and Beatty ignore the dichotomous nature of most Hollywood films - they never judge nor condone the behavior of their subjects, but simply examine them as three-dimensional human beings.

The casting is flawless. This will sound like a silly statement from a publicist, but Beatty and Faye Dunaway are so much more than just beautiful individuals - they are true artists whom throw themselves into their work with reckless abandon. The Oscar-nominated star duo portrays the titular characters with such genuineness and authority that they have actually become Bonnie and Clyde to many film-goers around the world. And the supporting cast is equally top-notch, including first-rate work from Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons (who won an Oscar for her hilariously shrill performance), and even a young Gene Wilder in a brief comedic bit.

The film was nominated for 10 Oscars in categories across the board, and won two. Although critical reaction was initially mixed upon the film's original release, the film is now highly regarded as a bonafide American film classic. Audiences responded immediately to the film, and the picture became the fourth highest-grosser of 1967. This film almost single-handedly (along with THE GRADUATE) revolutionized Hollywood and ushered in a whole new era of film-making. Its importance and influence cannot be underestimated.
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Harper (1966)
7/10
Swinging mid-sixties detective yarn; good fun
6 February 2008
A highly successful film in it's own right, HARPER is no less considered to be controversial by fans of Ross Macdonald's mystery series (from which this film is based). Not only was Macdonald's detective hero's name changed from "Lew Archer" to "Lew Harper" (long-rumored to be because Newman felt that "H" was his lucky letter after 1961's THE HUSTLER and 1963's HUD), but many fans also felt the film simply did not capture the true feeling of the series of detective books that they had come to love. This is a shame because, when taken on its own terms, HARPER is a whole lot of fun. Either way, the film was a major hit at the box office, so this remains the major exposure of Macdonald's universe for the majority of the public.

I have never read Macdonald's Archer books so I cannot compare them to this picture, but I can say that this film's intelligent, quick-witted take on the detective makes this perfect vehicle for Paul Newman's screen personae. The supporting cast is absolutely star-studded, with Shelley Winters, Arthur Hill, Lauren Bacall, and Robert Webber all perfectly type-cast, and Janet Leigh turning a potentially thankless role into a small little gem. Only Julie Harris (who is woefully miscast) and Pamela Tiffin (who seems inexperienced) really miss the boat here. The script by William Goldman has plenty of good twists and turns, and director Jack Smight indulges just enough in the light kitsch tone without undermining the film's tension.
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10/10
Harrowing film masterpiece
6 February 2008
After basically making fools of themselves in the hilariously bad SANDPIPER (which nonetheless popular with audiences at the time), the Burtons made what is arguably the comeback of the decade with the blistering masterpiece WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966). In his first film, director Mike Nichols immediately announced himself as a major force to be reckoned with and as one of the most promising directors of the decade (and he would continue to make good on that promise throughout the decades). The film should be remembered not only as the taboo-shattering masterwork that it is, but also as one of the most taunt, biting, and intense dramas ever produced. Even forty years after its premiere, this film is certainly not light entertainment.

Although her weight gain and garish make-up is not enough to disguise her natural beauty, Taylor is frighteningly effective in a career-best performance. Burton is even better in a disturbing portrayal of the emasculated male bent on revenge. The fit and gorgeous George Segal and loopy Sandy Dennis are perfectly cast as the mismatched couple who subject themselves to the reign of psychological terror unleashed by George and Martha. Both Taylor and Dennis deservedly won Oscars, and Burton and Segal were absolutely robbed of the awards for their sensational work.

The film pushed the limits of the production code at the time, and (along with 1966's BLOW-UP) paved the way for the "new" rating system of "G," "PG," "R," and "X." The film deservedly won raves from critics, and was nominated for 13 Oscars (winning 5). The film was smash hit at the box office, coming in as the third-highest grosser of the year. This film has lost none of its gut-wrenching power over the years.
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The Sandpiper (1965)
3/10
Hilariously misguided tripe; a must for bad movie-lovers
6 February 2008
For their third film together (and their first as a newly-married couple), the Burtons chose one of the most infamous bad movies of all-time, the hilariously misguided effort THE SANDPIPER (1965). The film had a great pedigree starting with director Vincent Minnelli (who helmed such classics as 1944's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, 1958's GIGI, and even 1970's criminally underrated ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER), and great supporting cast featuring Eva Marie Saint, Charles Bronson, Robert Webber, and James Edwards. Unfortunately, the film misses the mark on almost every occasion, undermining a potentially interesting love story with poorly-developed characters and cornball dialogue. I won't spend the time discussing the film's clumsy attempts as addressing such complex issues as theology, which are handled even worse than the central love triangle.

In all fairness, Burton has the right degree of sullenness to play the conflicted reverend, but the script gives him little else to do other than appear solemn. Burton is unarguably one of the greatest acting talents of his time, but this character is so one-note that even he cannot save it. Unfortunately, Taylor fares even worse – although she does display a believable rebelliousness that is necessary for her role of the free-spirited, agnostic artist, she is simply out of her element amongst the mid-sixties beatnik scene. No matter how hard she tries, it simply impossible believe a glamour queen like Taylor as a shack-living, bra-burning hippie, and the characterization only becomes less convincing and more ridiculous as the movie goes on.

In the supporting cast, only Robert Webber's villainous Ward makes much of an impression, as Eva Marie Saint is completely wasted as Burton's wronged wife and Charles Bronson is as miscast as Taylor as a sexually ambiguous sculptor. Even with its terrible dialogue, leaden plotting, and unconvincing performances, The Sandpiper is still certainly watchable. The location footage of the Big Sur is sometimes breathtaking and the Oscar-winning theme song "The Shadow of Your Smile" is memorable, but these attributes alone cannot lift the movie out the realm of being a "bad movie classic." Despite it's dubious quality and unanimously bad reviews from critics (or maybe because of them), THE SANDPIPER was yet another significant hit at the box office for the Burtons.
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The V.I.P.s (1963)
7/10
Extremely entertaining soaper
6 February 2008
After the torturous, three-year-long CLEOPATRA shoot, Hollywood was eager to capitalize on the media coverage of the Taylor/Burton affair, and the duo was immediately cast in as the leads in MGM's ensemble aviation drama THE V.I.P.S (1963). Amazingly, given CLEOPATRA'S equally torturous post-production period, THE V.I.P.S managed to be shot, edited, and even released before the mammoth CLEOPATRA hit the screens. So, while CLEOPATRA was actually filmed first, it was the THE V.I.P.S that offered audiences their first glimpse of the couple on screen together. I'm sure that this must have sent executives at 20th Century Fox (the studio that financed the ridiculously expensive CLEOPATRA) through the roof!

When judged on its own terms, THE V.I.P.S is a good soap opera that becomes quite engrossing while it's playing, yet doesn't embed itself in the memory too deeply. It basically focuses on an assortment of wealthy individuals as they suffer and come to terms with their own various personal crises as they are stranded in an airport due to a heavy fog bank. Yes, it relies on the old "watch the rich people suffer" cliché, but the whole enterprise is generally well handled by veteran director Anthony Asquith, and the airport setting provides a luxurious-but-still-claustrophobic arena for these individuals to sort things out. In other words, the film hardly strays from the usual formula, but it does that formula very well.

The players in the drama are the usual assortment of wealthy film characters (businessman, filmmaker, royalty, etc.), but they are well cast. Orson Wells and Margret Rutherford (who won an Oscar for her performance here) are amusing in the more comedic subplots, while the almost unspeakably handsome Rod Taylor is terrific as a financial-strapped businessman and a young Maggie Smith nearly steals the whole film in a heartbreaking turn as his lovesick secretary. As for Taylor and Burton, they are cast in the central love triangle as a married couple is threatened by the suave Lois Jourdan. Both Burton and Jourdan give madly passionate performances that sent many hearts aflutter in the theaters, but the top-billed Taylor is unfortunately given nothing to do aside from look beautiful (which, naturally, she does very well).
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9/10
Exceptional entertainment; Newman and Page are outstanding
6 February 2008
There are numerous qualities that make SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH a stellar film, starting with the tremendous source material. Williams' tale of fading film actress and princess-by-marriage Alexandra Del Largo escaping Hollywood after a failed comeback attempt and being taken advantage of by aspiring actor/gigolo Chance Wayne is full of ripe drama, all of which is fully exploited by the 1962 film. Williams' typical subplots of southern hypocrisy are also well incorporated into central story by director/screenwriter Richard Brooks (who also helmed 1958's sensational CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF), and actually heighten the tension of the piece. Even with the censorship of early-sixties cinema (including an unnecessarily re-written ending), Brook's SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH still packs a mean punch.

Also crucial to the film's success is casting. No matter what film you're watching, you can always depend on Paul Newman to deliver the goods (which is precisely why he remained a top box office drawl up through the mid-eighties), and he gives one of his absolute best performances SWEET BIRD. Newman had originated the role of Chance in the original stage production, and his immortal screen performance of the role has clearly benefited from the hundreds times that he had previously played the role on stage. Arrogant, masculine, and painfully gorgeous, Newman nearly incinerates the colloid! Also returning from the original stage play is Geraldine Page as Alexandra, the ultimate boozing, wash-up actress. Page is nothing short of sensational – a true thinking, feeling, conflicted woman who is desperate to run away from her problems, but completely uncertain of her next move. Alexandra is vain, insecure, and even comedic at times, and Page finds the perfect balance in her portrayal, as she understands that the very qualities that make Alexandra so strong is also what causes her to be weak. Page won a well-deserved Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, but lost the Oscar to Anne Bancroft for her tour de force performance in THE MIRACLE WORKER - seeing that both performances are so phenomenal, I would venture to say that the votes for both awards were probably mighty close.

The rest of the cast is no less impressive. Ed Begley won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as 'Boss' Finely, and it is refreshing to see the actor let loose in a vile performance without any obvious apprehension. Rip Torn and Mildred Dunnock are great in supporting bits, and Oscar-nominated Shirley Knight is hauntingly lovely as the appropriately named "Heavenly." Director Brooks also makes excellent use of the widescreen frame, composing many exceptional shots that are all but destroyed when the film is altered from its original Panavision format.

Certainly some viewers will carp about the re-written ending (the studio demanded that things end "happily") as well as the removal of such hot-button topics as abortion and castration to appease the censors, yet none of these omissions dramatically affect the film. Even though he caved in to the studio in terms of the finale, director Brooks must be given credit for focusing on the characters and dialogue and avoiding the temptation to "dress" the play up for movie audiences. The film is firmly planted in its central relationships, and this is what carries the day. No matter how censorious the Production Code may have been, no one could mask the white-hot dynamic between Newman and Page.
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8/10
Excellent mid-seventies noir
6 February 2008
Newman reprises his role as Lew Harper for the second and final time in the long-awaited sequel to 1966's HARPER, another twisting mystery; this time set in Louisiana. Unfortunately, THE DROWNING POOL was tepidly received by both critics and audiences, most of whom seemed to think the film paled in comparison to the original. I am one viewer who disagrees strongly with the general consensus in this case. Not only is THE DROWNING POOL a first-rate mystery thriller, but it is also one of the most sorely underrated films in Newman's filmography.

The film has a completely different look and feel than the previous film, which may have been the reason that so many critics and audiences unfairly rejected it. Gone is the sixties-era go-go mania, which has been replaced with the moody elements of modern film noir which perfectly suits the intricate story of murder and blackmail. The film may not have the starpower of the previous film, but it nonetheless offers solid work from Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, and a particularly affecting turn from Linda Haynes. Best of all is the then-18 year old Melanie Griffith, who owns her role as the scheming bit of jail bait, unsubtly lusting after Newman's Harper.

Yet nothing can even come close to upstaging Newman, who is as commanding here as anywhere else in his career. In many ways this is a transitional effort for Newman, paving the way from early brutish roles (1958's THE LONG HOT SUMMER, 1963's HUD) to his latter day, more cerebral heroes (1982's THE VERDICT, 1994' NOBODY'S FOOL). Also, even at age 50, the man has rarely been sexier. To top things off, we also have one of the greatest, most original escape scenes in movie history - although I'm not giving it away; you'll have to check out this underrated thriller and see for yourself.
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5/10
Decent spy thriller
6 February 2008
A well-made espionage thriller, THE MACKINTOSH MAN has all the necessary elements for a real knockout spy yarn – only it's never quite as involving as it should be. The screenplay by highly-respected writer Walter Hill features a solid premise and plenty of interesting twists and turns, and the various UK locations are used to great effect, bringing a character of their own to the film. The cast is also well-chosen, and portray their roles with respectable conviction, yet something still seems off about the picture. It's almost as if the whole enterprise lack that special "oomph" that is necessary to really sell a spy picture.

Perhaps the problem is that, after years of James Bond movies and various Cold War thrillers, too many of the film's elements have simply been done before and done better, and the ominous feeling of déjà vu is too immense for the film to survive. Or maybe the problem is that we expect a lot more from a director with clout of John Huston, who seems to take a strangely apathetic approach to the material which makes the film's recycled elements feel even more trying. For whatever reason, the film never seems to grip us in the way a good thriller is supposed to. As a whole, THE MACKINTOSH MAN is a fine film for a rainy evening, but it stands as not only a wasted opportunity, but also as possibly the least distinctive film of director Huston.
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Pocket Money (1972)
5/10
Modestly entertaining, but a wasted opportunity
6 February 2008
This is one that had to sound smashing on paper. Paul Newman and Lee Marvin… two superstars… on screen together, at last! With a pairing like that, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the resulting film couldn't miss. And while the film is certainly entertaining in stretches, it ultimately falls short of the mark.

Although the premise of Newman and Marvin bonding while participating in a Mexican cattle drive (among other things) had plenty of potential, Terrence Malick's (the soon-to-be director of such esteemed films as 1973's BADLANDS and1978's DAYS OF HEAVEN) screenplay ends up feeling aimless and Stuart Rosenberg's merely competent (though pedestrian) direction fails to maintain any consistent tone nor even much coherency. The innate charisma of Newman and Martin will keep one entertained, however, and they are well assisted by the likable secondary performances of Wayne Rogers and Christine Belford, in amusing bit. The film is quite likable at times due to its cast and unassuming nature, but it undeniably bland and characterless – not to mention a disappointing waste of its superstar pairing.
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6/10
Surprisingly good
13 December 2007
The silly story of a down on his luck Broadway producer and his obsession for a dancing caterpillar is greatly enhanced by the approach of director Alexander Hall and screenwriter Irving Fineman. Hall and Fineman helm the fantasy in a surprisingly straightforward, realistic manner that manages to avoid camp with just the right touch of fantastical whimsy. Further credibility is given by the strong performances of Cary Grant and James Gleason, although Janet Blair and William Demarest are forgettable in one-dimensional roles. Best of all is 11 year old child actor Ted Donaldson, who easily transcends the film's far-fetched premise and almost single-handedly makes one believe a caterpillar can dance!
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5/10
A sometimes fascinating misfire
13 December 2007
Unusual World War II comedy-drama is well-intentioned and occasionally gripping, but ultimately never gels into a coherent whole. Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers both deliver typically fine performances and the duo provide the film with several memorable scenes, particularly a lovely moment where Rogers is visibly moved by Grant's recitation of several Irvin Berlin lyrics. Unfortunately, the usually terrific director Leo McCarey gives Sheridan Gibney's pleasantly unorthodox script a rather routine feel, lacking much of the tension and pathos that could have made the film a first-rate picture. The film is certainly watchable, however, and contains some surprisingly effective moments - yet it remains a film that is more interesting than it is entertaining.
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6/10
An entertaining romantic farce that runs out of steam before the finale; Cary Grant's debut is very memorable
27 December 2006
A slight-but-enjoyable romantic farce, THIS IS THE NIGHT is an entertaining little film that should earn a place in cinematic history simply because it contains the feature film debut of Cary Grant, who soon become arguably the most famous movie star of all time. Although he is regulated to playing a largely secondary character, Grant's incomparable screen presence makes him a standout from the very start. Playing an Olympic athlete, Grant makes his entrance into the world of cinema with a light step and a sharp wit - singing about apartment keys, no less! It's a memorable debut, and there are numerous other moments throughout the picture in which Grant demonstrates much of the early promise that would soon flower into full-throttle, megawatt star power in just a few short years.

As for the rest of the film, it is a reasonably solid comedy of adulterous affairs, with some surprisingly risqué elements that were permitted in the days before the Production Code was heavily enforced due to pressure from the National Legion of Decency in l933. The film begins delightfully as a light comedic ballet, with director Frank Turtle providing some truly madcap slapstick and even recitative singing that sets the viewer up for a knockabout farce. Unfortunately, this progressively free-wheeling atmosphere is largely abandoned in the film's last half, which plays out in a more or less predictable manner. The film still holds up perfectly well, however, until the too-conservative ending, which is a big disappointment after over 70 minutes of uninhibited fun.

On the plus side, the film is very well cast, and the actors manage to keep the picture engaging even after the initial momentum of the exhilarating first-half is long gone. Although she makes somewhat of an delayed entrance, Lili Damita brings both pluck and intelligence to the female lead, Roland Young makes the transformation of his somewhat unsympathetic character highly believable, and both Grant and Charles Ruggles offer top-notch support. The lovely Thelma Todd also makes the most of a rather bland role, and her talent for making a relatively thankless character seem genuinely inspired serves as a bittersweet reminder of yet another comedic great that was taken from us way too soon. In the end, THIS IS THE NIGHT is far too inconsistent to ever be considered a great movie, but it sure is a lot of fun!
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6/10
Loy, Grant, and director Flood turn a preposterous script into a solid picture
27 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
A rather preposterous melodrama on the surface, WINGS IN THE DARK manages to retain a surprising amount of credibility due to solid direction and convincing performances. The far-fetched storyline of a recently blinded pilot Ken Gordon (Cary Grant) relying on newly-created aviation software to guide fellow pilot and girlfriend Sheila Mason (Myrna Loy) through deadly fog is brimming full with gaping plot holes and ham-fisted dialogue, which typically spell serious trouble for most productions. However, the film is salvaged, and even made thoroughly enjoyable, by the compelling, believable performances of Loy and Grant and director James Flood's brisk direction, which moves the picture along at a steady rate and helps to minimize much of the script's potential schmaltz. The combined efforts of Loy, Grant, and Flood make an entertaining and sometimes compelling little aviation drama out of what could have been a total disaster, which is quite an amazing feat on each individual's part!
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5/10
Watchable, but unmemorable
27 December 2006
An adequate comedy/mystery, one that is serviceable while playing but will scarcely be remembered long after it concludes. In all fairness, the jumbled screenplay by Bert Hanlon and director Raoul Walsh has a reasonable degree of intriguing ideas spread throughout the picture's scant runtime, but the various story threads never gel into a completely coherent picture and the film is further hindered by some woefully leaden dialogue among it's lead characters. The film is still wholly watchable, and even enjoyable during certain stretches due to it's lead performers. The chemistry between Cary Grant and Joan Bennett (as a bickering couple thrown into a case involving stolen jewels and murder) is breezy and natural, and the duo significantly better the film with their thoroughly winning performances.
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