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What Happened Was...

Get me outta here!
I've been in some pretty uncomfortable situations. There was one time I wanted to escape my present company so desperately that I pretended my water broke (amazing they bought it, as I was only five months pregnant). But nothing compares to the painful evening the couple in this film endure. It's almost voyeuristic as we observe, in real time, the lulls in conversation, forced laughter, and embarrassing confessions of these two losers.

Two things that are praiseworthy: (1) Tom Noonan, who plays Michael (and is also the writer/director) is completely believable in his role, and (2) the movie's pretty short.

One more thing - I've seen, read, and dreamt a whole lotta of scary things in my life, but apparently I'm a nightmare lightweight compared to the stuff going on in Noonan's mind. The segment where Jackie reads her "children's story" aloud is, quite possibly, the most disturbing sequence on film.

Duel in the Sun

Lots of talent, hidden well
Well, it's obvious that Selznick was trying his best to recapture that GWTW magic...but this is an unbelievably inept failure. Here's what you can expect from this overblown sex-western:

--Jennifer Jones (in pancake make-up so orange that she put me more in mind of an Oompa-Loompa than the half-breed we're supposed to see) apparently directed to act as though she's Scarlett O'Hara with a lobotomy and bad grammar.

--Gregory Peck as rogue murdering rapist and the apple of his daddy's eye. At one point even doing a pretty decent vocal imitation of Clark Gable -- too bad it's just the voice.

--Lionel Barrymore lazily repeating his "It's a Wonderful Life" role from the same year -- wheelchair & grumpiness standing in for effort.

--Butterfly McQueen as kerchiefed ditzy maid. Hmmm, wonder where they got that idea?

All in all, a miserable movie experience. You'd think that since they cribbed from the best it'd have turned out better! Go figure.

Becky Sharp

Becky Dull
This is "Gone With the Wind" for people who don't care too much about quality. Miriam Hopkins is cast in the Scarlett role - selfish, social-climbing, with no compunctions about using people at whim. The difference is that Scarlett eventually learns her lesson and we have hope, at the end of the story, that she'll live according to the knowledge she's acquired. At the end of THIS story - we're positive that Becky's going to eventually end up in hell, and good riddance. Becky's a manipulative brat who rises to the top, comes crashing down and is eager to start the cycle again.

Although it's historically important as the first feature length movie shot in three colors, that's not nearly enough to recommend it. Hopkins, usually an emotional involving actress, comes off overwrought and broad - like she's acting in a silent movie and someone hit the sound switch without telling her.

Flirtation Walk

It's just not worth the hour and a half you have to give up to see this movie. The two leads fall predictably in love within the first 15 minutes and, for reasons unclear, decide to pretend not to love each other until the last 10 minutes.

Not excruciatingly bad, but nowhere near good. Just kinda ambles across the screen and bores everyone in its path. I'm pretty sure it's a comedy, but don't hold me to that.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Entirely enjoyable
I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I popped this film into the VCR. I knew little about it -- just that it starred Gary Cooper (not a favorite of mine) and followed a British regiment stationed in India (Oh no! Just like "Gunga Din" -- overrated, over-acted, over-not-nearly-soon-enough movie I fidgeted through just a few months ago).

What a pleasant surprise. The dialog was quite clever, the relationships complex, and the battle scenes rousing. You know, I bet even "Gunga Din" fans would like it!

Working Girls

Realistic and insightful
What we see is a day in the life of a brothel working girl. This is no cartoonish whorehouse with supermodels in garter belts sucking poutily on their fingers while lounging suggestively on chaise lounges in a gaudy parlor. These are real-looking women at the workplace.

Nothing unusual happens today. Someone calls in sick, someone has to pick up an extra shift, someone new starts work, lunch is ordered, jokes are shared, co-workers talk about how much they hate their boss, just a normal day, just a normal job.

Only it's not a normal job. This is such an honest film, it blew me away. Prostitution isn't glamorized, nor is its depiction harsh enough to scare you straight. Good script, well worth seeing.

The drawback? Obvious amateurs in most of the roles. Sometimes the acting is wooden -- but it can be forgiven because everything else is anything but.

The Turning Point

Turning the Channel Point
MacLaine and Bancroft are fine; the dancing is lovely; but it's all in vain as they're trapped in a thoroughly uninvolving story. There's no one to root for (with the possible exception of Tom Skerritt - who logs about 10 minutes of screen time) and our promising ballerina "heroine" has about as much acting ability as Andie MacDowell (no, that ain't a compliment).

Do yourself a favor, fast forward to any Mikhail Baryshnikov dance piece and forget the rest.


Quiet and Compelling
There isn't a whole lot going on in this story -- just two men employing very different ways of handling memories of Vietnam. But what it lacks in premise, it more than makes up for in acting and realism. It's a quiet film about the bonds of friendship and shared experience. We even get romance (not gratuitous -- just another very real piece of this story). It's well worth seeing.

Another Woman

Powerful character study
This has got to be one of Woody Allen's very best.

Rowlands is perfect as a mature woman who has lived a lonely life without even realizing it. She has worked it out so that there is very little danger of being embarrassed or uncomfortable -- and is surprised each time one of these situations threatens to encroach upon her. What a wonderful job Rowlands does! Each self-discovery is intimate and genuinely conveyed. See it tonight...go know you want to.

The War Room

Nothing new here
I don't profess to know anything about the inner workings of a political machine, so I was really interested in seeing a behind the scenes look at what goes on. As ignorant as I am, The War Room didn't tell me anything new. There seemed to be a consciousness (either on the part of the "war room" staff or the filmmakers) that this movie was in no way to smudge Clinton's image. So, we see a whole lotta Clinton supporters with no cracks showing in their dedication. The Clinton campaign machine comes off as the good guys while choosing to show Bush at his most offensive. These scenes were, I'm sure, included to make me appalled at the tactics employed by Bush, but instead it just made me realize that I'd probably learn more about campaigning if I were allowed 90 minutes in the REPUBLICAN war room.

James Carville was quite impressive in all of his tic-riddled glory. If I were running for anything, I would certainly want him in my corner. But the most clear-headed person to hit the screen was the enemy, Mary Matalin. She may not be charismatic, but she seemed to be the only who truly believed in her candidate instead of the hype.

I Confess

Even Hitchcock can't be on ALL the time
This movie isn't bad -- it's just not really anything. It suffers badly as it is now completely outdated with its blackmail and adultery premise. Even Montgomery Clift as a stoic priest is outdated. In our age of "Law and Order" and "Matlock," we all know that priests can't talk. It seems that this fact escaped this films' detectives and it doesn't occur to the priest to explain this to them: "I'd like to help, but I am constrained by my vows." But no, he'd rather look as though he's hiding something (trust me -- I'm not giving anything away, here).

Like I said, it ain't bad, but it's not good...and that it's Hitchcock makes it all the more sad.

Paper Moon

Pure pleasure
It's unbelievable that Tatum O'Neal's film career didn't amount to much. In 1973, I would have been willing to bet she'd shine brighter than Jodie Foster could ever hope to. But, alas, she grew...she made "Little Darlings"....she married McEnroe.

Paper Moon is a winner. Ryan and Tatum work this charmer so well and interact with a naturalness that can only be due to their real-life bond. And, as if that weren't enough, Madeline Kahn is tossed in for fun. Nearly flawless entertainment.

David and Bathsheba

God-Awful (pun intended)
Long, boring, blasphemous. Never have I been so glad to see ending credits roll.

The Pallbearer

Can't think of a single good thing to say
Let's see...I'm trying to practice finding the positive in everything, so what kind thing can I say about the Pallbearer?

I know! The performances were -- no, that won't work as they succeeded in draining all personality from Gwyneth Paltrow, usually so vibrant, and ended up creating caricatures out of Carol Kane and Barbara Hershey...

Oh - how 'bout the story -- nope. That isn't gonna fly either, as it was doze-inducing. What was the genre anyway? It wasn't funny, that rules out comedy. It wasn't interesting enough to be dramatic. Was that a romance between Schwimmer and Paltrow? I have to ask, as I can't be sure - let's just call it "losers in like." I'm sure those behind this film started with a vision, I mean, they must have had one to pitch to the studio suits, but I need help finding it.

Even if I were a patient person who could forgive the pure stupidity of the story, I couldn't in good conscience recommend a film that allows a guy to go into a professional job interview in a windbreaker and messy, fluffy, stupid hair. Speaking of hair -- are we supposed to be amused by the deliberate black roots and platinum locks worn by Hershey?

What am I doing? I already lost 97 irretrievable minutes in the actual watching of the movie -- I cannot devote any more time to this loser.

Mr. & Mrs. Bridge

Curiously Unaffecting Little Movie
This is, perhaps, one of the most lonely films I've ever seen. India Bridge (Joanne Woodward) is just going through the motions as a well-to-do housewife who has lived for her husband and children. Her children obviously despise her weakness and her husband views her more as the furniture of his life than as a person. Woodward, in my opinion, should have taken home the Oscar for her performance. As a matter of fact, I couldn't find a single fault with any of the actors - but my whole feeling was "so what". I was bored and by the second half I was beginning to feel that not only had India Bridge wasted her entire life, but I was compounding that tragedy by squandering precious time watching her!

Drugstore Cowboy

Slice of Junkie Life
This is the story of a leader of losers. We follow a "crew" of junkies as they score, argue, deal with the police on their tail, and confront the reality of their empty lives. Drugstore Cowboy deserves a special prize for refusing to plug formulaic humor or redemption into the mix -- it simply wouldn't fit and the lyricism of the scenes would be compromised.

I always like watching Matt Dillon and James LeGros - but my hat is, once again, off to Max Perlich as David, small-time dealer who's more dangerous than you'd suppose. If you think he's good here, you have to check out "Georgia."

Love Jones

Love without blinders
Love Jones gives a clear-eyed look at modern romance: the excitement, confusion, depression, and game playing. The couple at the center of the story, Nina (Nia Long) and Darius (Larenz Tate) play it frustratingly "safe", often guessing incorrectly what the other is feeling. While my reaction was that I wanted to reach in and bonk their heads together, I recognized the story as real and the acting as top-notch.

That said, the real reason to see this film is for the secondary cast. Nina and Darius are the stars, but it's the witty dialogue of Savon, Sheila, Ed, and Wood that makes me recommend this film.


Powerful and horrible
There's nothing technically wrong with Testament. It's a story of nuclear fallout, the result of which is terror, loneliness, fear, and death. The acting was impressive – I usually have to give children a little leeway, as I often catch them mouthing the lines of the person speaking or committing any number of acting crimes, which can only be blamed on immaturity. But the acting here was not a problem; it was first-rate all the way around. And the story seemed real. With the threat of Y2K looming near, this didn't seem like a fairy tale.

So what IS the problem with Testament? Relentlessness. I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained by the time the credits were finally rolling. Pretty impressive for a movie only 89 minutes long! It is a powerful, horrible film. I am still haunted by the dull-eyed image of Jane Alexander going through the motions of yet another death in the house – too spent to break down. It's a good movie but depressing as hell. See it, just don't expect to be entertained.

Shall we dansu?

Near the end of the film, the aloof instructor says of our hero's dance practice, "It warmed my heart." That about sums it up. There isn't a misstep in the script or acting, though there are plenty of them during the dance lessons! It struck me, while watching, how sad it is that any culture robs its people of such innocent pleasure and renewed my appreciation that I live in a place where the pursuit of joy is applauded. The entire cast is marvelous, but Mr. Aoki (Naoto Takenaka) steals the show whenever he's onscreen.

Peyton Place

"Soaper" defined
I had heard so much about this film for so long and was aware of its multiple acting nominations - so my hopes were high when I pushed it in the VCR. What a letdown. It's apparent that everyone involved thought they were making an important film - and maybe they were at the time. But it's impossibly dated now and has value only as a Hollywood time capsule. It astounds me, after seeing the cast at work, how they pulled off all of the Oscar nods! Diane Varsi and Lana Turner as mother and daughter duel for most boring performance in a motion picture; they both look uncomfortable in their own bodies. The film comes up a couple of notches, though, just for the work of Hope Lange (Selena) and Russ Tamblyn (Norman).

Separate Tables

Beautifully acted drama of hotel residents
This film was not at all what I expected. When I saw that it starred David Niven, Deborah Kerr, and Rita Hayworth -- I thought cute & sweet. I was caught off-guard and loved every minute of it.

This is a deep film with deep emotions. Every single actor on the screen so inhabits their character that it's hard to see the seams. You gotta wonder about Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Railton-Bell, though. She did that same overbearing mother destroying her daughter thing in Now Voyager with Bette Davis. But make no mistake, she does it damn well. Watch Niven's performance, especially near the end in the hotel office. He's extraordinary and pitiful. Great film.

Problems? Yeah, just one. The bouncy score gets almost distracting.

The Bishop's Wife

What a Christmas movie ought to be
I'm a sucker for all things Christmas, especially Christmas movies. I love 'em all -- "It's a Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street," "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "A Christmas Story," etc. But this is the film that makes all the others seem like runners-up.

Dudley (Cary Grant - playing an angel) is an inspiration to me each time I see this movie. Goofy, I know, but true. It's filled with humor, not the punch line kind, but the conversational kind. This is a movie of magic - and that's the best kind of movie for Christmas.

By the way...don't settle for the Whitney Houston remake "The Preacher's Wife," it's a shadow of the original. Why did they bother?

The Killers

Murder, Heist, Double-cross -- what's not to like?
This was a pure treat from start (menace and sarcasm in a normally non -threatening setting) to the final surprise end. The story starts with a murder, then follows the subsequent life insurance investigation. This investigation turns up information from unwilling informants, spinning out the facts in flashback. "A Soldier's Story" copied its structure entirely from this earlier film.

One complaint -- after all is said and done, there's what I like to call a "Scooby-Doo wrap-up." You know, where Fred and Velma explain the mystery to the 3 and 4-year-olds who might not be able to put it together by themselves. Well, as I am an adult, I found this device unnecessary and vaguely insulting. Anyway, even if I had got lost in the plot twists, there's always the rewind button.

Good Burger

Not so Good Burger
Let me first say that I have never been one to put kids' films in the same boat with films for more mature viewers. My grades are much more lenient when applied to movies which intend their major audience to be aged 12 and under. But, even when compared to only those movies with the same audience in mind, Good Burger just doesn't cut the mustard.

Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell are gifted young television actors - and Kel is also a master at physical comedy. But something went wrong in the translation from the living room to the cineplex. The major flaw may well be that they chose "Good Burger," an always lame recurring sketch on Nickelodeon's "All That" as their subject.

I don't demand that all live-action kids' films have a moral (Harriet the Spy) or that they be educational (Fly Away Home). But this film misses on so many levels - it's impossible to see past them! I was appalled at the disrespect that Dexter (Kenan) showed his teacher (Sinbad) in several scenes and I stared in disbelief at the mental institution scenes - look at the schizos! Aren't they crazy - eating cards and shuffling around with vacant looks??

Do yourself a favor. Rent "George of the Jungle." Check out "Babe" or "First Kid." Laugh at movies that understand what funny is.

Midnight Run

Sharp, Laugh-out-Loud Road Movie
Any time someone asks me for a comedy recommendation - I blurt "MIDNIGHT RUN " without hesitation. Well, that's not totally true. If the requester is elderly or young or cringes at profanity I sometimes substitute "Raising Arizona" or "Princess Bride" but that's really beside the point as "Midnight Run" is my true pick. This is the type of film you'll quote and watch again and will make you laugh aloud just by thinking about it. I mentioned profanity - truckloads of it - but it's better to watch it after the kiddies are tucked in bed than to view an edited version. We've caught a couple of "edited for content" network showings, and it is my advice to turn the channel, especially if it would be your first time to see it. As weird as it sounds, the dialogue works because it's so profane.

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