December 5, 2010

The Hearst and Davies Affair (1985)

The Hearst and Davies Affair is a decent enough TV movie about the relationship between William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies. Virginia Madsen is spot-on as the actress/mistress of Robert Mitchum's millionaire newspaperman - who seems to be sleep walking through his role. The script plays a little with some of the truth but Madsen's youth and artistry is very involving and worth the watch.

November 29, 2010

Love Me Or Leave Me (1955)

Doris Day and James Cagney as torch singer Ruth Etting and her gangster husband are nothing short of electric in Love Me Or Leave Me, the artistically and commercially successful biography film from 1955. Cagney is pathetically empathetic in a role he's played before but it is Day who leaps out of her ingenue comfort zone and slinks her way to the heart of the woman. The musical numbers - covers of Etting's hits of the 20s along with the Oscar-nominated original I'll Never Stop Loving You - are bright and vivacious in a film that's fascinating from Day's first appearance accepting 10 cents for a dance to her final performance of the title tune.

November 27, 2010

It's Complicated (2009)

In It's Complicated, Meryl Streep plays a divorcee who runs an extremely successful pastry business, raises three wonderful children (one of whom is enfianced to an adorable John Krasinski), buys her own beautiful 2000 square foot home to which she is now adding 1000 square feet of kitchen and living space and begins an affair with the (now) re-married husband that had left her for a younger woman. On top of the incredulity of her life, the story tries too hard and the script is so hackneyed and mundane that I wonder why seemingly intelligent actors like Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin would agree to make this clinker. It must be complicated.

September 5, 2010

Stephen King's Pet Sematary (1989)

Over the years, I thought Stephen King's Pet Sematary (directed by Mary Lambert of American Psycho fame) might have been a good movie that fell through my movie-going crack so I bought the DVD and sat down to enjoy. After about ten minutes, I noticed Fred Gwynne (Of The Munsters fame) was the only star (unless you count the bland Denise Crosby of granddad Bing Crosby fame), it had some similarities in story to Pumpkinhead, and the pet cemetery is not the film's MacGuffin - the Indian burial ground over the ridge from the pet cemetery is the MacGuffin. I guess it would've been a mouthful to call it Stephen King's Indian Burial Ground Over the Ridge from the Pet Sematary; at least with that title I wouldn't have wondered all these years if the film was any good.

September 2, 2010

Huge (2010)

Huge just completed its first season and I was completely enthralled with the stories created around Camp Victory, a summer camp for fat teens. Intelligent writing, multi-layered characters and excellent performances (Nikki Blonsky, Hayley Hasselhoff, Raven Goodwin, Ari Stidham, Ashley Holliday, Harvey Guillen, Paul Dooley, and Gina Torres to name a few of the actors) make this series more of a microcosm for anyone with issues of self-confidence than the one trick pony it could've been. It is a bit strange that the season ended mid-summer and now fans have to wait all winter for the second season end of summer but that's a small price to pay for quality.

September 1, 2010

For Me And My Gal (1942)

Gene Kelly took a risk playing an unsympathetic, draft-dodging song and dance man for his screen debut but he pulls it off in For Me And My Gal, a dramatic musical vaudeville set during World War I but made during World War II. Judy Garland is heart-breaking and endearing as the distaff half of the team; on stage and off she exudes the stuff that dreams are made of. Black and white photography and an adult script make this grittier than the usual 40s musical but the many classic songs and dances with direction by Busby Berkeley are fun and involving and it all works together.

August 28, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009)

Fifteen minutes into The Girl Who Played With Fire I knew I was in trouble: the plot was obvious, the action moved slowly, and everything was so simplistic - do you really get the location of a villain by mailing to a post office box a you win $100,000 letter to which the villain will respond with their address to collect the money? Is it that easy? An hour into this more than two hour movie I had already opened my phone to check the time twice, and I was screaming (internally) to leave the theatre but, I had history with these characters (having enjoyed the first film) so I stayed until the bitter end none the worse for...ahhh who are we kidding, it sucked.

August 27, 2010

Claudine (1974)

Claudine is still as delightful a romantic comedy as they come. The story of a mother of six (played with subtlety and nuance by Academy Award nominee Diahann Carroll) being romanced by a garbage man (a smoking James Earl Jones showing off his hiney!) has aged amazingly well: the look of the film is not dated, the issues it confronts are relevant, and the script's heart stands front and center. Add an incredible score by Curtis Mayfield with Gladys Knight and the Pips and you get a real classic with heart and soul - can you dig it?

August 19, 2010

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Raquel Welch (looking breathtaking and showing some real acting chops as a transsexualvestite) and Mae West (hootworthy, singing songs and vamping with Tom Selleck) are the reasons to see Myra Breckinridge. A lot of other names show up as actors (John Huston, Farrah Fawcett, Rex Reed, John Carradine) and icons in black and white film clips (Judy Garland, Laurel & Hardy) and there's male rape, lesbian seduction, dirty medicine and a whole bunch more that, though interesting to see in a historical context, just doesn't add up to a good movie. What made the thing watchable is knowing that no major Hollywod studio would ever make a film like this again; it's a moment in time.

August 18, 2010

Escape from Sobibor (1987)

Escape from Sobibor is a triumphant mini-series that tells the story of the only prisoners (both Jewish and non) to escape from a Nazi death camp during WW2. Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer are excellent as the conspirators and the film itself, though undoubtedly too pretty to be a real document of a concentration camp, still manages to create a horrific picture of the situation. Even in its violence, the denouement is uplifting and well-documented by this British television production.

August 15, 2010

This Property is Condemned (1966)

Natalie Wood and Robert Redford steam up the screen (as they say) in This Property is Condemned, the story of a small Depression-era town that is losing its sole source of revenue - the railroad. The film is based on a Tennessee Williams one act (and reportedly dissed by him upon its release) but is elevated by the star performances and cinematographer James Wong Howe. Kate Reid, Charles Bronson, Robert Blake and Mary Badham (she of To Kill A Mockingbird/Scout fame) offer excellent support but it's the star romance that makes this one so involving.

August 14, 2010

The Box (2009)

Richard Kelly directed Donnie Darko, a four star piece of esoterica as well as The Box, a little less successful but still an interesting watch. After a shaky start with a weird accent, Cameron Diaz settles in as a woman who, with James Marsden as her husband, pushes a button on Frank Langella's box for one million dollars. It takes some interesting turns and can be a bit confusing but it kept me until the end...twice.

August 13, 2010

All About Steve (2009)

I enjoy watching Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper but I did not enjoy watching their comedy, All About Steve. It wasn't funny or involving, the leads had no chemistry, and the script is ridiculous. The movie poster is better than this movie - and look how horrible the poster is.

August 11, 2010

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Raisin in the Sun is one of the best films of the 60s based on one of the best plays of the 50s that is still as relevant today as it was almost fifty years ago. The emotional resonance in the story of an African-American family that comes into a large sum of money also offers incredible and indelible performances by Sidney Poitier, Claudia MacNeil, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands and Louis Gosset, Jr. (in his film debut). Don't let the black and white cinematography steer you away from this magnificent film that looks and feels as if it was released yesterday.

August 3, 2010

With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)

A surprisingly robust drama is molded to fit the fabric of a Doris Day comedy in With Six You Get Eggroll. Set in the real swinging sixties (with an appearance from The Grass Roots), it tells a relatively honest tale of two people who marry quickly and must then merge their respective families (including a teenaged Barbara Hershey in her film debut). The story moves along despite the circumstances that always stop short of an onscreen shtup between Ms. Day and her co-star, Brian Keith but it's a sweet film that is a fitting cap to Ms. Day's illustrious career (to date, this is her last film).

April 4, 2010

Pinky (1949)

Jeanne Crain, Ethel Waters and Ethel Barrymore were rightfully nominated for Academy Awards (Actress, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively) for Pinky, a predictable but sincere look at racism in the United States. Considering the time it was made, the story of a light-skinned black woman returning to her southern home town does not shy away from controversial issues but, the film does have some controversial issues of its own (casting a white actress to play the central black character, stereotypical characterizations on both sides of the color spectrum, pat situations, and a predictable Hollywood ending, for example). Still, director Elia Kazan's use of light, shadows and the camera (in general) and good supporting performances (including but not limited to Evelyn Varden and Nina Mae McKinney) still make the film a worthwhile experience.

April 3, 2010

Eaten Alive (1977)

Even the good people act batshit crazy before being Eaten Alive in this faux Psycho thriller which adds a huge crocodile to the dilapidated hotel mix. Tobe Hooper's second film (starting a downward spiral that continued with The Funhouse) is dark, weird and just not scary. Most inexplicably (in a film of inexplicable wigs and alternate titles) is why this hotel, run by the monologue spouting Neville Brand and seemingly located deep within some Okeefenokee swamp, has so many patrons - Marilyn Burns, Mel Ferrer, Robert Englund, Janus Blythe, Kyle Richards and William Finley all stop by for a rest while Stuart Whitman and Carolyn Jones stay on the outskirts.

April 2, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

Made almost twenty years ago, The Handmaid's Tale is prescient in its depiction of religious extremism and its takeover of a nation. Ultimately though its a barren film adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel about barren women and the handmaids who procreate for them. Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and Aidan Quinn all do a fine job and the film holds interest but it is emotionless.

April 1, 2010

Return to Horror High (1987)

A cornucopia of B-listers (Vince Edward, Scott Jacoby, Philip McKeon, Alex Rocco and Maureen McCormick) and one pre A-list A-lister (George Clooney) Return to Horror High for this confusing spoof of slasher movies which has no real violence but sheds loads of blood. In a way (a long way) it reminded me of Robert Altman's The Player but this one is a really bad movie. Clooney comes and goes very quickly (probably had a call for The Facts of Life) and McCormick is actually pretty funny but even she can't save this piece of trash.

March 20, 2010

Roswell (1994)

Roswell takes an interesting theory about the government coverup of a flying saucer crash and makes it a bore without shedding any light on the actual incident one way or the other. Kyle MacLachlan, Martin Sheen, Dwight Yoakum and a host of well-known faces (if not names) do their best but the film just has no drama. If this story is, in fact, true a documentary would have been a better outlet.

March 18, 2010

Chapter Two (1979)

Chapter Two has not aged well despite the poster's proclamation of it being a very special movie from Neil Simon. James Caan is miscast as a Neil Simon type writer getting over the death of his first wife with shrill Marsha Mason as a Neil Simon type second wife (a role she played in real life before their divorce) and Valerie Harper as a Neil Simon type anorexic looking best friend. It's overlong and underwritten (by Neil Simon) but ends with a nice surprise as Marilyn McCoo sings the trite theme I'm On Your Side over the credits - not a good place for an audience to start taking notice of a film.

March 16, 2010

The Player (1992)

Only Robert Altman could make The Player, a film that has all the elements needed to market a film successfully (suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy ending and no reality) but is quirkily unmarketable because it has none of the elements needed to market a film successfully - except big stars in cameos (Cher, Julia Roberts, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Pollack, Joel Grey, Bruce Willis, Sally Kellerman and Susan Sarandon to name a few). Tim Robbins, Greta Scaachi and Whoopi Goldberg are the real actors that spearhead the plot which contains a mystery (that is solved only if you pay real close attention) within a comedy that is not meant to be laugh out loud funny. Reality is so entwined with fantasy though that you can't help getting caught up in Altman's love affair with Hollywood.

March 15, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The problem with Alice in Wonderland is that its interest lies primarily in the computer generated images and not the story (which apes other films like The Golden Compass or the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Helena Bonham Carter is quite good (although her head is most distracting), Anne Hathaway seems a bit lost, Johnny Depp has a lisp that disappears and reappears and Mia Wasikowska is fine although someone might've mentioned to Tim Burton that aging the main character ten years in a beloved children's tale doesn't endear itself to those who know the original (see Diana Ross in The Wiz). It wasn't horrible but it certainly wasn't worth the price of admission either.

March 12, 2010

Oliver (1968)

More than forty years after winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (Carol Reed) Oliver is still tuneful, colorful, and frightful. Anchored by commanding performances from Ron Moody and Jack Wild (Oscar nominees), Shani Wallis, Mark Lester (whose singing was dubbed by a girl) and especially Oliver Reed (hired to play the dark, villainous Bill Sykes by his director uncle), it's a wonderful journey to a lost time. It is rather long so turn off all the lights, shut off the phone and put a sign on the door that you are not to be disturbed and lose yourself in Charles Dickens' story of Oliver Twist enhanced with an excellent cachet of songs by Lionel Bart (including It's A Fine Life, As Long As He Needs Me, Who Will Buy, Oom Pah Pah, Consider Yourself, Food Glorious Food, Reviewing The Situation and Pick a Pocket Or Two).

March 11, 2010

Cabin Fever (2002)

I'm not sure if Cabin Fever is a metaphor for the AIDS epidemic, a treatise on society's transformation into selfishness or a horror film about a latent skin virus with no ulterior motive but it's interesting nonetheless. It offers the usual inbred redneck hicks, unethical mountain cops and partying college students so is not very original but an appealing cast (including Cheryl Ladd's daughter Jordan) does manage to bring it to life. Eli Roth should be proud of his directorial debut and it does imply one important point we should all remember for the coming viral apocalypse: keep a bottle of Listerine on hand.

March 9, 2010

The Kid Stays In The Picture (2002)

In his own words and with clips from the films he produced, Robert Evans tells his own story in The Kid Stays In The Picture. It's a fascinating story with many juicy Hollywood stories and, despite a seemingly huge ego, Evans endears himself. Based on his autobiography, it's one of the few movies I've seen that makes me want to go back and read the book.

March 7, 2010

The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse is a mundane horror film directed by Tobe Hooper - he of the much less mundane (and much more original) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974 version). Seven years after the classic Hooper has remained static in his filmmaking knowledge; in fact, he might have lost some precious abilities because this clinker about four kids trapped in a carnival funhouse has no thrills or blood. It's also badly acted except of course for the always-the-same-but-always entertaining Sylvia Miles playing, what else, a prostitute.

March 6, 2010

Definitely Maybe (2008)

Definitely Maybe is definitely a wonderfully romantic movie; maybe even one of the best I've seen. Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin have great chemistry as the father (the former) telling his daughter (the latter) the story of how he met her mother (either Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher or Rachel Weisz). The story, though not that suspenseful, is endearing and the characters are fleshed out by some nice comic performances especially a small yet pivotal role played by Kevin Kline.

March 3, 2010

Call Me Madam (1953)

Ethel Merman pulls out the stops as a pastiche of Groucho Marx and Mae West (while keeping it all Ethel) in Call Me Madam. Ethel, Donald O'Connor, George Sanders [quelle surprise!] and Vera-Ellen sing and dance the hell out of the Irving Berlin songs [What Chance Have I With Love, The International Rag, It's A Lovely Day Today, The Hostess With The Mostes' On The Ball, The Best Thing For You and the phenomenal Merman/O'Connor duet (I Wonder Why) You're Just In Love] which together with the art direction, costumes and exuberance make this film intoxicating. The story line is somewhat slight but it has an emotional core that resonates and, of course, it has the Merm.

March 2, 2010

The Ice Storm (1997)

I thought The Ice Storm was going to be a first-rate drama but it all seems very calculated. Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, et al. turn up the heat on the acting skills like it's an important film but aye, there's the rub - everyone is acting. Too much of that heat definitely melted this ice.

February 28, 2010

Foxes (1980)

Foxes is an honest (if nothing else) story of how four teenage girls (Jodie Foster, Cherie Currie, Marilyn Kagan, Kandice Stroh) survive against all odds, including drugs, alcohol, boys, abusive or absent fathers and, neglectful or cold mothers (one of the latter played by Sally Kellerman). This was director Adrian Lyne's first film about surviving against all odds (before Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct) and because of its almost documentarian feel works as a time capsule (if nothing else). Music from the film actually took in bigger consumer dollars in 1980 with Donna Summer's huge hit On The Radio, and semi-hits from producer Giorgio Moroder, Cher and Grammy-nominated Janis Ian, played a lot - um - on the radio.

February 22, 2010

The Snake Pit (1948)

Olivia De Havilland is still remarkable as a mentally ill woman in The Snake Pit despite the fact that mentally ill as it is depicted here is akin to my mother going food shopping today. Yes, the film is dated but that is not the fault of our lead actress who was deservingly nominated for an Academy Award. Watch it with a grain of salt or maybe a Prozac.

February 20, 2010

Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968)

Gina Lollobridgida and the extremely colorful art direction are the only reasons to see Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, a none-too-funny comedy about an Italian woman who doesn't know which of the three American soldiers that she shtupped during World War Two is the father of her now sixteen year old daughter (Janet Margolin). The supporting cast (including Shelley Winters, Telly Savalas, Peter Lawford, Lee Grant and Phil Silvers) play the non-existent jokes much too broadly - both of which (cast and jokes) can be blamed only on director and co-writer Melvin Frank. Fortunately, Frank also hired Lollobridgida who is stunning and likable despite the sour script (which was used thirty years later as the basis for the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia.)

February 18, 2010

Aparecidos (2007)

Engrossing and surprising, Aparecidos (The Appeared) is a political ghost story from Argentina based on historical fact. Writer/director Paco Cabezas has fashioned a film with a strong message that is applicable to many different countries during many different eras and cast the excellent Ruth Diaz as an attorney who finds out a little too much about her father's past on the way to pull his plug. There's not too much blood in this offbeat gem so don't let that keep you from searching it out.

February 17, 2010

Resurrection (1999)

Bad casting choices might spoil the outcome of Resurrection for some but it's still a creepy watch (helmed by 80s music video director - yes, Duran Duran - Russell Mulcahy) about a serial killer who is rebuilding the body of Christ for the titular event. Kudos are deserved by executive producer, co-writer and star Christopher Lambert despite his somewhat distracting Schwarzenegger-esque accent. Add a star if you've never seen Leland Orser or Robert Joy in a movie.

February 16, 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Sassy Jane Russell and sweet Marilyn Monroe bring their many charms to this wonderful film of the Broadway musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Howard Hawks directs the lively, colorful, entertaining and tuneful tale about two showgirls looking for love (and money) into a frothy and uncomplicated soiree. Monroe's iconic Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend, Russell's so-hot-they-needed-a-pool Ain't There Anyone Here For Love and the duet Two Little Girls From Little Rock show how neither woman has ever been better - and not many films have either.

February 15, 2010

Ghost Ship (2002)

The first five minutes of Ghost Ship is an extraordinarily creepy exercise in horror and the story that follows, though not as consistent, offers a goodly share of twists and scares. Gabriel Byrne, Julianna Margulies and Ron Eldard play the crew of a salvage ship that finds the titular vessel floating in the Bering Strait. Add some good effects (both traditional and computer generated) and decent acting (including Australian horror teen queen Emily Browning) and this ship does a good job of staying afloat.

February 14, 2010

Valentine (2001)

Valentine is a red (pun intended) herring horror film in which we are diverted from the real killer's identity until the movie's end - or in my case, about 15 minutes before it. Since most horror films play out in the same way, it isn't the most original premise but the acting by Denise Richards (!), David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton and the rest keeps the momentum. If you're alone on this day of love, it beats Romeo and Juliet.

February 13, 2010

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996)

It's not the anachronism that spoils Baz Luhrman's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet but the casting of actors that don't understand the cadence of Elizabethan English - and this includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. Miriam Margolyes as the nurse, Pete Postlethwaite as the priest, and Brian Dennehy as Ted Montague fair best (with a nod to whipper-snapper John Leguizamo as Tybalt) but the film might have been more palletable had Luhrman used modern English or cast actors that have experience speaking Shakespeare's words. It's not a tragedy but it is not a very engrossing watch.

February 9, 2010

Only When I Laugh (1981)

Neil Simon should have done more research about alcoholism before writing Only When I Laugh because Marsha Mason does not live (or in this case, act) like any alcoholic that I've known (and I've known a few). The script is dated, full of stagey one-liners in place of characterization and ends sappily with a metaphoric Hollywood hug between Mason and her chip-off-the-old-block daughter, Kristy McNichol. The saving graces are the supporting performances from James Coco and Joan Hackett who bring truth to their contrived lines.

February 8, 2010

Fallen (1998)

Fallen is somewhat interesting but lacks the realism a story about demons needs to be successful (as in The Exorcist). The acting is fine but I couldn't help but wondering how Denzel Washington could say the demon's name - Azazel - with a straight face. Perhaps the story's creators are atheist or agnostic because this movie about religion's discarded plays like a movie.

February 7, 2010

Gin gwai - The Eye (2002)

Atmospheric and surprisingly tender, Gin gwai (The Eye) is one hell of a ghost story. The Pang Brothers have fashioned a fascinating and scary script (much of it straight out of the headlines) and hired some excellent actors (including Lee Sin-Je, Lawrence Chou, Sue Yuen Wang and Chutcha Rujinanon) to tell this creepy story of supernatural sight. Watch it with the lights out.

February 6, 2010

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967)

Forty years on, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is still relevant and not in the least dated. Katherine Hepburn won an Academy Award for her performance but Spencer Tracy and Beah Richards match her word for word - with able support from Sidney Poitier, Katherine Houghton (Hepburn's niece) and Isabel Sanford in a small yet pivotal role. The San Francisco location (with an opening nod to San Jose), the excellence of Stanley Kramer's direction and the intelligence of William Rose's script make this one never to be missed.

February 1, 2010

Darkness Falls (2003)

Thrills, good effects and a fascinating back story greet you in Darkness Falls. Although the script has a few of the plot holes usually found in horror movies, they pale compared to this fast-paced story about the Tooth Fairy; I'm telling you it's fascinating. Chaney Bley (RIP) and Emma Caulfield lead the appealing cast in this fight to stay in the light (which does it all with a PG-13 rating).

January 30, 2010

The Garden (2006)

The Garden is a somewhat interesting flick about Satan, the Garden of Eden and the four horsemen of the apocalypse getting into it with a very special young boy (Brian Wimmer). Lance Henrikson is his usual involving self and Sean Young also redeems nicely but the story is muddled and the ending downright confusing. Maybe someone who is not a Jew would understand it better - or maybe not.

January 29, 2010

The Dentist (1996)

The Dentist is squirm-inducing and creepy. Corbin Bernson as the titular lunatic hits just the right notes and the drill used throughout the movie made me close my ears more than once in shivers. It's not the best horror film but it is effective.

January 22, 2010

Set It Off (1996)

Set It Off is interesting because it is about four females that rob banks; had the producers hired four males, the script's shortcomings would have been too pronounced. Instead we get good acting from Queen Latifah, Viveca A. Fox, Jada Pinkett and Kimberly Elise in something that starts as a buddy flick and as a buddy flick. Ultimately, it's convoluted and unbelievable.