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The Art of the Steal (2009)
I enjoyed this -- knowing nothing at all about the subject before I watched the film. I don't think there's any doubt that the big-money came in and purchased the result it wanted, in conjunction with the affable Ed Rendell, who could make about anything seem reasonable. But -- the inaccessibility of the collection does seem to be an issue that the film did not really address. What about transportation? Parking? The impact of a density of visitors on a residential neighborhood? The film did not resolve these issues. A highhanded 'theft' may actually be in the interests of the greater number of people. One flaw in the design of the film is that -- having presented early on the vigorous objections of the neighbors in Merion to the crowds and buses coming down the residential roads to the Barnes -- Argott did not go back to them for their reaction to the move to the city. What did they think of that? We never know.
Claudine's Return (1998)
Understanding her character
I agree with the negative reviews. The film drifted aimlessly -- an unfortunate effort to simulate the aimlessness of the lives depicted. And, come on, no state would permit anyone to drive a windshield-less car after it has rolled over. That is, even assuming the car were drivable. The cops would not have released it. The last few minutes strained credulity in other ways as well. The little blonde girl! But so say more would be to utter a spoiler. The only reason I respond is to suggest that so far the reviewers have missed the subtext for Applegate's character. She was in love with a boy once. "We were just kids." Obviously, that was her brother, who committed suicide once their incestuous relationship was (apparently) found out. She fled. Her return to Charleston was motivated by that memory, as was her screwed-up persona. To be fair to the film, it did sketch in that background -- including her holding on to her brother's photo. It wasn't clear, of course, and, indeed, the film muddied things up in all kinds of ways. But -- the back story does answer some questions.
Terrific -- with one major flaw
This film is a joy to watch -- as not many films these days are. The settings are superbly created -- the green, grotto-like woodland where Irons and Streep meet in the Victorian world of the film, the murky streets of Lyme, Exeter, and London, and the interior of the lawyer's office, for example. The Victorian part of the film emerges from the dawning of the concept of abnormal psychology (just before Freud) and is really convincing. Streep shows us that her character cannot move on emotionally until she has worked out her own madness. That constitutes a remarkable and complex performance of insanity and self-awareness inhabiting a single psyche. She earns the gentle movement out of the tunnel and onto the calm lake. The turbulence of the unconscious -- that threatening sea of which Irons has warned her -- has been subdued. Seems to me the flaw lies in the 'modern story' (as some here have pointed out). It may be that the Streep character is trying to find a subtext for her fictional heroine, but it looks like the old ennui, so that, while her lack of concern for the relationship is understandable, his obsession with it is not. Though the garden party at the end almost gets it there. Were we shown her decision there? If so, I missed it. I like the concept of the 'two endings' and their contrast, but the ending in the 20th century was a so what? The one in the 19th century was complex and included much of the pain that the relationship had caused both characters. A little more attention to the contemporary love affair -- to suggest that it was more than just a romp on location -- would have helped that dimension of the film per se and also suggested what the Victorian lovers had earned within their Hardyesque world.
This one needed tightening and focus. It drifts aimlessly in imitation of the non-sexual affair between Carrington and Strachey, but the art form is an imitation of an action, not a replication of mere aimlessness. That the characters are inherited from history and from a book about the Bloomsbury circle does not absolve the film, a separate work, from establishing the characters and their motives. Yet here we have the Rufus Sewell character charging around madly for no established reason, other than that he can't get into Dora's knickers. And his brief reappearance almost at the end is inexplicable. Carrington's lovers come and go -- obviously surrogates for her inability to consummate anything with Strachey. But those lovers have no frame or context or reason for being taken on by Carrington other than that old ennui. Her own character, then -- in spite of wonderful Emma -- gets lost in the slow motion meaninglessness of her life. She does depict the layering of the Bohemian that took the place of the stiff corseting of the rest of the ladies of the time. The beautiful moorlands of Yorkshire are just that -- a travelogue. They are not integral as, say, the world of Tess or Eustacia in Hardy. In spite of what other posters say, direction here is a major flaw.
The Crush (1993)
Silverstone is superb
I agree that Silverstone is superb as a combination of 'Lolita' and 'Bad Seed.' Her ability to play the innocent is brought off very well because she conveys a sense of really caring for Nick, within one field of her ambivalence. I do have some problems with the film. Perhaps foremost is Nick's inability to just get the hell out of there. He should have done that much sooner. Or -- was the film suggesting that his fascination with the Silverstone character is keeping him around? That the girl could rewrite Nick's story and improve it strained credulity. The film dropped Nick's professional issues almost completely about a third of the way through. We got no sense of the huge interview he pulled off. That the girl could convince doctors of the event she claimed even having planted evidence struck me as completely impossible. The ending involved a transition to surrealism that the film had not prepared for. It was as if the film were figuring out its stylistic and generic premises as it went along. Why can't filmmakers produce coherent finished products anymore? Is it in response to the post-modernist attack on 'thematic unity' or just plain sloppiness. This could have been a great film.
Bright Lights, Big City (1988)
I was fooled by comments here into watching this one. It is, in a sense, all flashback without an establishing context. We don't learn until the end that much of Fox's problem results from his mother's death. The other reason -- the 'divorce' -- is made much of but no context for that is established. So -- he drinks, snorts, and fails in his job as a fact-checker for a Vanity Fair type of magazine. And -- so what? The motivation seems just to be self-destruction, and that is not particularly interesting. I suppose the Robards character (like the coma baby) is a 'reflector' of the main character. But the Robards character seems actually to have had a life at some point in the distant past. What is he doing now? Is he still holding down a job? Why was Fox's character broke at some points yet affluent at others? Can anyone drink vodka all day, snort, and still function? His treatment of his brother was not only nasty, but unmotivated. What was the point of the ferret episode? The main character's equation of his friend and ex-wife at the end was incomprehensible. This is an incoherent ramble. No story. Tedious and radically un-involving.
Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009)
This is an incoherent piece of junk. My mistake in believing the blurbs -- looked like an attractive premise. But -- it had no sense of how magazines actually work. It did not show the young woman contributing a damned thing as "Green Scarf." The distinction between worth and value was Luke's insight. It was not extended thematically into the film. No chemistry at all between the two "young lovers." That made it incomprehensible that he would fall for a bubble-head. The qualities he claimed for her at the 'editorial meeting' had not been discernible.
The film was incomprehensible, with characters often serving no defined function. Who/What was Kristen Scott Thomas supposed to be? Screenwriters should be summarily shot for inflicting this on us. Awful. A waste.
Some good songs ruined
This is better than the Grant/Alexis Smith pic, in which "In the Still of the Night" is sung as a Christmas carol while Porter is still living in Indiana, but some great songs are undercut by their treatment. Why must we watch "Night and Day" sung while the singer touches Cole's heart? That's excruciating, particularly when the straight rendition, of which we get half a chorus, is brilliant. Of the many songs left out, Porter's greatest -- "I Concentrate on You" -- is the one most egregiously omitted. If the music is good, let it be. Natalie Cole's "Love for Sale" is superb, sung, it seems, in a male brothel. Crow's minor "Beguine" is somewhat beguiling, undercutting as it does the song's movement to a triumphant validation: "Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, let the stars that were there before return above you." But I wish we had had the contrasting version. The homosexual stuff and Mrs. Porter's sentimental longing for a little girl of her own is overdone and unnecessary. That's all irrelevant now. It is the music that still counts and this film does not do it justice. That's a disservice to a generation that might really perk up if it heard what this greatest of our songwriters had written, even if in some of the original settings. The verse of "I Love You," for example, is one of the best things Porter ever did ("If a love song I could only write..."). Here we only got the refrain, which is banal, as Porter knew it was. As a disc jockey, I learned that you never voice-over a singing voice. Here, it happens all the time. As someone said, get Ella. She doesn't have the ironic touch for some of the songs, as she was humbly aware, but you hear the lyrics.
The Fleet's In (1942)
This is an awful film. Usually, the thin thread of a musical comedy plot links up with an Astaire, a Ginger, an Eleanor Powell, an Alice Faye. This one, with a plot even more gossamer than most, leads to some excruciating exhibitions of non-talent. The harmonica sequence and the parody ballroom dance performance are radically unfunny. Holden has nothing to do but be yanked like a puppet on the strings of Dorothy's sudden changes of mind. She plays a profoundly self-interested performer who, of course, falls in love with the puppet. The other women -- the raucous Hutton and the over the top Dailey play insulting stereotypes. As, of course, the rest of the sailors are. But some good sailor flicks do exist -- 'Follow the Fleet' and 'On the Town' for example. We do get to see Helen O'Connell, who towers over Dorsey and Eberly, and do, too briefly, hear Jimmy on the clarinet. He was one of the best clarinet players in an era that featured Goodman, Shaw, and Barney Bigard. At one point, Jimmy's band appears in a sudden pavilion on the street below Dorothy's aerie. How'd they get there? At the end, the four couples are all in a taxi getting married. How'd they get there? The film, made before Pearl Harbor, was already an anachronism when it was released (with Holden believing that his enlistment was just about up just as his battle wagon heads for Pearl). Robert Osborne on TCM said that he'd been trying for years to get the film on TCM. Never would have been too soon.
I tuned into this one while trolling for a film and became immediately absorbed. The film interlocks several plots, as 'The Waltons' used to do -- the problem of keeping the night spot out of the hands of the criminal creditors, the issue of the unfulfilled wife (nicely mirrored by the alcoholic white woman for whom she is a servant), young love developing between the guitar player and lovely China Doll, a dispute between two cotton pickers (one a city slicker, the other a local field hand), the sheriff who, of course, is a racist but who loves un-spiced fried chicken, the inevitable tug of fundamentalist religion on the underclass of a rural town, and two waifs who end the film with a mime of the musicians they hope to be. I confess that I was stationed in southern Georgia a little after the time of this film and found my own experiences coming back vividly. It is a warm film, drawing on an ominous set of possibilities lurking behind the action, and it doesn't cheat with its interlocking happy endings. What a surprise!
Danger Lights (1930)
This one would have been better as a silent with a few title cards. The film's strength -- as noted by many posters -- is in its shots of railways and steam engines. The situation -- that Jean Arthur is really going to marry Louis Wolheim -- is ludicrous. The dialogue is cringe-making. Then Armstrong comes along and, immediately, he and Jean are inconveniently in love. "This" --presumably their love -- she says "is bigger than the railroad." Pause. "I suppose it is," he says. And off they run into the rain. Interesting that no thought is given to flying the wounded Wolheim to Chicago. Also interesting that no one thinks of having a brain surgeon meet the train half way or having the brain surgeon meet the train. With time running out, they waste a lot of it. As a silent melodrama that asked us (as silent films could do) to suspend our disbelief, this might have worked. It does demonstrate the awkwardness of the transition from silents to talkies. Here, the capability of sound and dialogue is not an improvement.
This film is replete with sentimentality, unprofessional flying that makes a pilot like me cringe, and irrelevant material. Why introduce Rachel, for instance? She has absolutely nothing to do with the film except to permit her "Follow Me" truck to run wild and crash into Dorinda's fence. That has got to be one of the stupider sequences among many in the film. Another is at the end when the aircraft (was it a B-26 or an A-26? --both designations are used in the film) is left with props whirling and no chocks in place. That serves the plot, of course, but to reveal it would be to commit a dreaded spoiler. As it is, the aircraft would have begun to taxi sans control. The ending (again, avoiding spoilers) involves much too much talk -- as at the beginning of sound films in the 30s with all those final speeches. Here, Dreyfuss just babbles on and on. The ending also incorporates other radical violations of aircraft protocol and a couple of improbabilities/impossibilities that I won't describe. What a dull and disjointed effort!
Three Little Words (1950)
This film didn't try to do much more than bring us the songs. And that was good. It was wildly anachronistic -- the early number with Astaire and Vera Ella was danced to jazz that had to be some 15 or 20 years later than the date of the film, which at that point would be early 1920s, the age of the Turkey Trot, when bands were still coming out from their military origins. But the later sequence in the capacious ballroom of the ocean liner to "Thinking of You" was lovely. And the shot of the liner was the Normandie, wasn't it? Queen Mary was a four stacker. Vera Ella was a wonderfully acrobatic dancer. Al Schacht WAS a pitcher -- for 3 years (1919-21) for the Senators. The poster who said he was a catcher may have been thinking of Ray Schalk, a hall of fame catcher for the White Sox (including the 1919 nine, though not implicated in the throwing of the Series). And Barris, Rinker, and Bing sang with Paul Whiteman, not Duke Ellington. The MGM color in the 40s and 50s was magnificent -- and this film shows it off superbly. This one is a very enjoyable musical, one of the best of a period that produced some great ones.
Far from Heaven (2002)
Gets the moment right
One thing that hasn't been said is how perfect the setting is. It is, I assume, the affluent suburb of West Hartford. There, in the 50s, upward mobility and the appearance of "service" fits perfectly. A slightly more affluent suburb -- say, Greenwich, or Short Hills -- would not have worked. The people in those places in the 50s did not strive to show that they had it made. They just did. So the setting of this film nicely reinforces the shallowness of the attitudes depicted in this cozy suburb. What it shows, heartbreakingly, is that no place exists for Kathy and her Negro lover. Society cancels valid emotion. And that the film depicts superbly. I wasn't as convinced by Frank's homosexual love -- was that the guy from Miami? If so, how? And the daughter's ostracism by her fellow ballerinas was a one-time moment. It seemed to have only an isolated consequence. But, as others have noted, the meticulous attention to detail -- like those awful sunbursts above the fireplace -- was splendid. Usually, a film that goes back in time betrays itself via language not available at the historical moment or by attitudes that have not yet come into play. That was the point here, of course -- even in the 50s, things didn't work out they way they did in the movies. And it was the 50s that were at fault.
Lonely Hearts (2006)
What was done here was pretty well done, though some jumps were confusing. And why Fernandez went at the end on a killing spree that was bound to get him nailed was unexplained, perhaps because inexplicable. The film did show convincingly the mindlessness of the late 40s and early 50s here in our dear land. But we were asked to witness a level of violence and sadism that may have been "based on actual events" but that had no redeeming frame. Does justice triumph? Only if one believes in the old testament "eye for an eye" premise that one cop enunciates to get himself over his queasiness after being a witness in the Sing Sing death house. That sequence is well done, but the other cop -- the prime mover in the chase and capture -- disagrees. The film does not even come out as an anti-death penalty tract, since the absolutely odious creatures who are executed make as good a case for capital punishment as any two could. Hayek's character vividly depicts obsessive jealousy and domination -- that is well done. But to what purpose? We are given no stance from which to observe, no chance to detach. The effect, then, is merely disturbing. If one is looking for what art can do, even with the worst of people, do not watch this film. I am not saying that a work of art must have a moral -- "He prayeth best who loveth best, all things both great and small" -- but that it create a distinction between what it depicts and our ability to be at even a slight remove from that depiction. This was gratuitous violence. Why was the film made? It serves only nihilism.
Why I was persuaded to watch this I will never know. First, it presents an absolutely degraded adolescent culture. When we have responsible adults in this world -- the father and the cop -- some of that ethic should have rubbed off. But none of it did. Furthermore, the motivations are baffling. Why --spoiler -- does the father decide that he must somehow dispose of his daughter's boyfriend's body (one of the boyfriends) on the highway? He mouths a reason, but it does not add up. Why -- spoiler -- is the girl who has just taken a .38 slug through the arm suddenly handcuffed as a suspect in the convenience store robber? Come on -- she should be in shock and the cops yank her arms back to cuff her. How on earth -- spoiler -- does the one kid regain an object the other kid has lost and outrun the pursuit? Because the script calls for it. Why -- spoiler -- does the one little floosie inform on (one of) her boyfriends just as he getting her her $500? Basic problems with motivation and just as deep issues with our accepting the coincidences that weave this worthless concatenation into a film. How can it be -- spoiler -- that the only car on the highway for miles happens to be underneath the bridge as Dad drops the body? Come on! Those of you who have praised this film have lost any sense of what it takes to make a good film and, obviously, what it takes to critique a film. This one stinks.
Year of the Dog (2007)
Persuaded by the positive comments here, I watched this one, thinking that it would be pleasantly escapist. Wrong! Does the film attempt to alert us to the plight of abandoned animals? If so, why does it select a radically unbalanced spokesperson to represent this view? She undercuts her message. Or, is the story the unbalanced woman herself? It can't be both. Anyone who has had dogs knows that you don't disturb them when they are eating dinner. Yet the dog-experienced character does precisely that and gets the expected result. So, even on smaller points, the movie undermines itself. Furthermore, is it only California that permits toxic materials to be used for rodent control? We can't do that where I live precisely because that stuff kills other animals too. So the film seemed ignorant on that point too, though I would accept correction on that point. An incoherent waste of time.
When Will I Be Loved (2004)
How could Ebert have liked this film? He tricked me into watching it. Shame on your bad joke, Ebert! This one isn't even episodic -- in that episodes have some meaning, even if they are unconnected to a coherent narrative. Instead, we get random scenes that do not in any way anticipate the ending. In one scene, an unidentified young man is given a large yacht -- why? The ending itself, which I won't reveal, seems to be motivated by the young woman, but since it is an accident, even that won't work. And her diabolical plan just as well could have backfired. Compare the play and counter-play of "Sleuth". That a wealthy Italian count could somehow have developed a passion for this plain and badly dressed young woman -- and even compare it to Dante's glimpse of Beatrice -- is incomprehensible. This is not even a valid study of a psychopathic personality. And the one love scene between the girl and her boy friend is -- literally -- impossible. The director does not seem to realize that certain basic adjustments must be made prior to starting. Awful. To give it a number at all is to insult the numerical system.
La section Anderson (1967)
It so happened that in 1968 I was asked to escort Major and Mrs Anderson around prior to the showing of the film that evening. I hated the war (and still do) but I liked Anderson a lot and found that his college-educated wife (UKansas) was opposed to the war. One fact came out in the discussion after the film. One of the U.S. soldiers killed was killed by a grenade tossed by one of his own men. The narrator began the film by saying "The Vietnam War is a tragedy." It remains so. The audience that evening was entirely male college students, with the exception of an occasional veteran like me. The film gave its audience a better sense of what it was like to fight and die in that faroff jungle than any experience other than being there. I recall being very sad that we were doing this to our young men and to a country that posed only a fictional threat to our well-being. But I also recall having great respect and even love for the kids we'd sent there. I've often wondered what happened to Major Anderson and his lovely wife. Anyone know?
Point of View?
The film might have worked had it been conceived as a kind of chess match -- between the British Commodore and Capt. Langsdorff, and incorporating the diplomatic shuffling. But the German point of view was dropped as soon as the first shell was fired. We got scenes aboard Graf Spee only in the prisoners' hold. We needed a parallel scene from Langsdorff's perspective to the one Quayle held with his commanders. The final decision -- to scuttle -- came out of the blue. Hitler's role was not mentioned. Langsdorff's concern for his crew was only implied in the funeral scene. Check me if I'm wrong, but the actual funerals occurred on land, did they not? Langsdorff's suicide was not included -- shocking to someone who knows the history. His motive was complicated, but included, apparently, his wish to silence anyone who would claim that he was a coward for not re-engaging the British flotilla. The film did dramatize the really rudimentary communications available in 1939 -- bugles, shouted commands, signal flags, binoculars. Had Langsdorff had an observation aircraft, as the British are shown to have had, things might have been very different.
An American Crime (2007)
Sorry I watched it
As respondents have said, this is hard not to watch. But I wish I had not. That it is based on a real event or that it does not accurately reflect a real event is irrelevant. It depicts sadism without any artistic redemption. As Sylvia asks -- "I wonder what God's plan was for me?" The answer, I suppose, is either that God does not exist or that God is a sadist. The film, like newsreels of the Final Solution, gives the viewer no place from which to observe, no detached point-of-view from which to assess the aesthetic result of the art, and therefore no adequate means of framing a response. That such things do happen does not make them art. They become subjects for art only if re-created into formal cause. Think Goya. Picasso.
Middle of the Night (1959)
I had not heard of this film but caught it on TCM, primarily because I've always admired March. And did any Hollywood male star appear with more leading women of several eras (Clara Bow, Norma Shearer, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Janet Gaynor, Kay Francis, Ann Harding, Miriam Hopkins, Evelyn Veneble, Jeanne Eagles, Olivia de Havilland, Carole Lombard, and Grace Kelly -- I'm sure I missed a few!). And March is superb here in moving from infatuation, to jealousy, to recognition of what love is all about. The contrast with his bragging buddy is well drawn. Novak is much better here than I ever thought she would be -- her own somewhat tentative approach is right for the character. The city (NY) is superbly used as a slushy background for the narrative. Also well done in Chevefsky's script is the amateur psychological game being played by people in the 50s -- when everyone was neurotic. In fact, Chevefsky, chronicler of lost hope and the yearning for love, is at his best here. A lot of talk -- but it is an eminently actable script, as the actors demonstrate. Balsam is superb, as noted. And look for the splendid cameo by Betty Walker as the insufferable (but very human) widow who throws herself at March's Jerry. The happy ending is earned. The two have been hammered by their relatives, but instead of ending up merely bitter and alienated... The ending was a surprise, but a pleasant one! It was the conclusion of "The Lady or the Tiger."
The usual clichés
One could relax during this one and enjoy the impossible aerobatics performed by the Nieuports. As has been pointed out, their wings would have torn loose during most of these maneuvers. In addition to the many historical inaccuracies already pointed out in detail, no one used "hopefully" in 1916-17 as it is constantly used today and as we hear it in this script. And no one in 1917 carried a wounded person and shouted "Medic!" as we see and hear here. Otherwise, this was "Dawn Patrol" with special effects and color. I, too, objected to the radical proliferation of Richthofens into the atmosphere above France. Good shots, though, of the chaser pilots getting their first view of No-Man's Land. Spoiler -- the final title card for the lead character was impossible to credit. It was a way, perhaps, of making up for what had not happened in the film itself. And we were not told, as we should have been told, about what happened to the other half of the love equation.
Ship Ahoy (1942)
Powell + Lahr + Rich
As with most of Eleanor Powell's films, this one plays out along the flimsiest of plots. For some reason -- oh it is explained! -- she's selected to transport a magnetic mine to Cuba. Good guys and bad guys compete for the mine and who is who gets confusing. But, as always, Powell's dancing is superb and worth the price of admission. And in this one Lahr plays his cowardly lion, evoking warm memories of that Technicolor film of 1939. A fringe benefit is hearing a young Frank, with that wonderful voice and skinny vulnerability that he abandoned for his wise-guy persona later on. In addition, the great drummer, Buddy Rich, has a wonderful time displaying his virtuosity. Watch particularly for his unique duet with Dorsey's trumpet man, Ziggy Elman. I say "unique" perhaps in ignorance, but I know of no other drum/trumpet sequence like this one on film or records. This film is fun. Even Skelton's goofy persona is relatively restrained. Powell shows again that she is the greatest film dancer ever.
My Foolish Heart (1949)
This one falls apart when Susan Hayward must completely change her character to fulfill the dictates of the script. Sorry, that's not who she's been, but to be specific would be to utter a "spoiler." One can understand certain kinds of destructive behavior after a personal disaster, but not what happens here. Interestingly, at college the girls are studying 'Romeo and Juliet' and the line 'Romeo, banished!' emerges. The film is not a 'Romeo and Juliet' variation, except in that wartime exigencies separate the lovers. They are victims of forces over which they have no control. The song is one of the great ones and was a huge hit for Billy Eckstein. It is sung in the film by Martha Meers, who had done the vocals for the likes of Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, Sonja Heine, and Veronica Lake. Unfortunately, the final phase of this film, seemingly tacked on for the sake of lengthening it, erases the credibility of what has gone before.