December 31, 2007

The Band Wagon (1953)

The Band Wagon is a lovely, and colorful backstage musical that, despite the simplicity of its story, manages to face head on some interesting themes (the May/December romance of the two leads, the gentrification of 42nd Street). The five stars are delightful, the songs (including That's Entertainment, By Myself, Shine On My Shoes, Triplets) classically tuneful, and the dances magnificently athletic. The surprise, which doesn't necessarily detract from Vincente Minnelli's charming film, is that Cyd Charisse was filmed lip-synching; she's quite a dancer but maybe her voice leaves something to be desired?

December 30, 2007

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Sleepy Hollow has elements of humor, horror, and who done it? that don't mesh easily. The humor especially doesn't feel sinuous to the story possibly because it is mostly at the expense of Johnny Depp's Ichabod Crane. But the film does have a compelling look and, despite some plot holes, director Tim Burton has made an arresting, folkloric ghost story.

December 29, 2007

...Arthur 2: On The Rocks (1988)

Arthur is a spoiled, alcoholic whose story was the focus of an exceptional film that made a lot of money; it was then decided to rehash that story for a sequel in the hopes of making a lot more money - albeit with a different writer/director and no originality. It's unfortunate that Dudley Moore remains drunk throughout most of Arthur 2: On The Rocks because the more interesting story would've been his attempts to stay sober and to make it in the working world. As it stands, the film has very little humor, very little humanity, and very little heart - all three of which appear for a cameo three-quarters of the way into the film when top-billed John Gielgud returns as an other-worldly Hobson, throwing in a crass attempt to turn this into a Frank Capra-less classic.

December 28, 2007

...Arthur (1981)

Writer/director Steve Gordon's only film before he died of heart failure is filled with more humor, humanity and, yes, heart than the film canons of a hundred lesser so-called auteurs. Arthur is reminiscent in style to the genuinely funny and intelligent comedies of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder. Add the superb performances and razor-sharp comedic timing of Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, and John Gielgud (in his Oscar-winning role) and you just have to ask yourself: don't you wish you were Arthur?

December 27, 2007

...Night After Night (1932)

Gangsters, gun molls, a society girl, and a prim and proper political science professor encompass the surprisingly sweet and Runyon-esque story of the speakeasy at 55 Ninth Avenue in Night After Night. Mae West, in her film debut, sets the screen ablaze in the type of performance not previously seen by the movie-going public. Interestingly, this is one of the few films where West interacts with other actresses as a pal rather than a rival so those scenes (professor Alison Skipworth sharing a bed with West, for example), the...ah hem...relationship between George Raft and Roscoe Karns, and the quick shot of two lesbians passing a joint are the ones to watch for in this pre-code sizzler.

December 26, 2007

...A Scanner Darkly (2006)

A Scanner Darkly is a gimmick movie whose gimmick (film it digitally and animate the footage) wears thin quickly. After the gimmick, there is faux film noir with our lead actors attempting to act using monotone voices, and proselytizing about drug use. It might have been more interesting without the animation but, unless a viewer's cut is released on DVD, we'll never know.

December 25, 2007

...It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

There's only one way to describe It's A Wonderful Life: it's a wonderful movie! Frank Capra has fashioned a sweet story, collected a group of excellent actors (including those not usually singled out - Gloria Grahame, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondhi, H.P. Warner, Lillian Rudolph), and directed this homage to friends and family (and suicide) with a light touch. And despite the fact that I bowed to internal pressure and posted this entry on December 25, It's A Wonderful Life is not just a story for the holiday season - it's a story for all time.

December 24, 2007

...The Bat (1959)

For a movie that runs a total of 80 minutes, The Bat flies awfully slow. Agnes Moorehead's performance as a mystery writer caught up in real-life murder is the only interesting aspect of this creaky tale based on the 1920 play by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. The original advertising campaign proclaimed that anyone who reveals the identity of the killer will answer to The Bat - ooooh, I'm scared.

December 23, 2007

...Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Saturday Night Fever is picture perfect - a film that captures the disco era of the late 70s so completely that the polyester shirts, gold chains and winged hair on screen don't even feel dated. John Travolta, stunningly memorable in his Oscar-nominated role as Tony Manero, the underrated Karen Lynn Gorney, matching him step for step (no pun intended), and the music of the BeeGees (as well as songs used in, but not written for, the film) flawlessly transport you back to a time when speaking pejoratively, driving while drinking, and White Castle hamburgers were still in vogue. And I should know because I was there.

December 22, 2007

...Darling Lili (1970)

Julie Andrews would not be my first choice to play a Nazi and, although she acquits herself nicely in Darling Lili, the movie itself is a hodge-podge of ridiculous situations and unmotivated characterizations with a central plot that is just plain unbelievable. A wooden Rock Hudson mumbles his way through the blazingly dull love scenes, laying claim to the oft-repeated rumor that the two actors did not get along. The only interesting thing, aside from the Henry Mancini music, is Andrews' strip tease (sic!) which called to mind Blake Edward's far better S.O.B, a film based in part on his experiences making Darling Lili.

December 21, 2007

...Boxing Helena (1993)

Though not as avant-garde as its reputation would have you believe, Boxing Helena is nonetheless a strange movie that ties up all its oddities in a been there, done that Hollywood-style ending. Julian Sands and Sherilyn Fenn aptly play the doctor and his Venus de Milo with nice support from Bill Paxton as Helena's suitor but ultimately the script's gimmick bogs down the action and I found myself more interested in how it would end - not in what was actually happening. And based on the critic's quote displayed on the DVD case I was most probably not alone; it reads "The film is art-directed like Architectural Digest come to life!" and not "One of the years 10 best!"

December 20, 2007

Pulse (2006)

It's always a pleasure to see the performing chops of Kristin Bell (from the excellent Veronica Mars) and Pulse is a neat little addition to the actress's resume. Based on the Japanese film Kairo, this world domination thriller, despite its lack of flesh-eating zombies, owes more than a wink and a nod to Night of the Living Dead. In this tense techno-take on George Romero's classic, zombies are replaced by ghosts (of a sort) and flesh is replaced by, well, if I told you there'd be no sense in you watching the movie then, would there?

December 19, 2007

...The Seat Filler (2004)

The Seat Filler is a dull movie that began its existence as an even more lame script. Only Melanie Brown (also known as Scary Spice) rises above the ennui with a surprisingly vibrant performance as Kelly Rowland's assistant. Usually, if a DVD stalls before the movie ends, I try every player I own in hopes of finishing the story; this time I just didn't care which is the worst mistake that can be made in, what is advertised as, a romantic comedy.

December 18, 2007

...Insomnia (2002)

You don't need to be Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery in a movie when one of three Academy Award winning actors shows up for the first time halfway through it. Fortunately the transparency of the plot (and its outcome) doesn't detract from the atmosphere established by director Christopher Nolan in Insomnia, an intriguing story of two Los Angeles cops who travel to Nightmute, Alaska, where darkness never falls. Hilary Swank, Al Pacino, Maura Tierney, and a somewhat subdued (but still annoying) Robin Williams do admirable jobs that, coupled with the breathtaking Alaskan landscape and the allure of the titular ailment itself, make this one a worthwhile journey up north.

December 16, 2007

...A Chorus Line (1985)

You know something's wrong when the best part of a movie (in this case, A Chorus Line) is a performance by Audrey Landers, the blonde pseudo-icon most infamous for roles in the late 70s/early 80s trash triad of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Dallas. For reasons known only to himself, director Richard Attenborough has selected a cast to play Broadway gypsies who can't carry a tune and, with the exception of Michelle Johnston, Charles MacGowan, and the late Gregg Burge, can't dance with any semblance of energy or panache. And every time non-actor/non-singer/non-dancer Michael Douglas and the screamingly bland Alyson Reed (in the woefully rewritten role of Cassie) appear on screen, I am reminded of just how ridiculously they have appropriated an honest, emotional, and raw piece of theatre and turned it into a treacly, hopelessly dated (parachute pants?) and sour piece of shitema.

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