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49th Parallel

Terrific movie made during WWII that stands up today
Many of the comments regarding this picture acknowledge that it's propaganda but, despite that, it's a picture worth seeing. What's lost by merely categorizing the British film as "propaganda" is recognizing that it's 1941 and the Battle of Britain has already been fought. England's taken a terrible beating and is all that stands against Hitler in Europe. America's not in the war yet. Consider that situation when you watch the movie, a thoughtful, expansive story that dares to humanize the German side despite the fact that it was a distinct possibility that Great Britain was in real danger of becoming New Reichsland. Of course it was propaganda. How could you make a meaningful film in 1941 that wasn't? What makes this movie unique is a combination of writing, good acting and photography (beautiful black and white) that makes Canada come alive with a focus on what human beings really mean to each other. The Powell-Pressburger partnership is legendary, of course, but their brilliance is best appreciated when you can watch a 1941 propaganda film in the 21st century and still find it riveting.

Daisy Kenyon

Joan Crawford: deal or no deal?
Preminger-directed B&W drama with tinges of noir but more than anything: interesting characters. Joan's too old for the role but who cares? She's got Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews after her and you just don't know who's going to win out here. Ruth Warrick, who you may remember as Phoebe in All My Children, has a great role here, too. But the highlight for me--like the Greenwich Village theater that Joan attended in the movie that was recalled fondly by an IMDb viewer --was seeing the brief scenes of Provincetown in the movie. There's a little scene where Fonda and Crawford pick up some lumber on the dock and there's the P-town tower in the background. You can also see the old pier, now a relic, in the background. It was a backdrop thing--they didn't go on location--but it was a cool moment, nonetheless. Check out the features that go with the DVD--interesting stuff.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Finally in a video store far, far away: an end in sight to the excessive space saga
An IMDb rating of 8? Please! As the grand finale of the most popular movie series of all time, there's a tendency to be sentimental but let's be cinematically honest--this is a piece of crap. Oh, there are the special effects and the wondrous images, There's Christopher Lee, still vibrant and menacing in his 80s, able to claim the honor of starring in both "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" sagas. There's that Shakespeare in space feel to some of it that producer/writer/director George Lucas might have been going for but with one huge deficiency--there's no story other than to grind along to the inevitable set-up for that first Star Wars film (may the power of the fourth be with you). Not only is the Sith film nothing more than a disjointed collection of scenes preceded by space ships sweeping into orbit or landing on some nifty space station but the dialog is wooden and hollow. With every line, there's a flashing light going off blaring, "Acting, acting." How can you have a successful sci-fi film without suspending reality? Jar Jar Binks might have been a real pick-me-up in this one but all who fall under the Lucas script are lost. Natalie Portman is a wonderful actress but you'd never know it from her Padme role. She's reduced to some the most insipid exchanges on film. Haydyn Christensen (Annikin), on the other hand, may be the worst actor this side of Tatooine. He summons up about as much feeling in his conversion to the dark side as Jerry Mathers might have if they'd ever made Beaver go evil. "Evil Beaver" might actually have been a more interesting movie. ("Wally, I don't know know what's happening to me!" "Gee, Beaver, you got dark circles under your eyes. You just stabbed Dad. Mom's gonna not going to like this.") One could go on and on citing the deficiencies of latest piece of Star Wars slop but it's really not necessary. If you're so entranced with the series and the technical accomplishments, you probably don't care about things like plot or direction. I actually liked the earlier Star Wars films. They were special effects masterpieces that managed to have some lighthearted and human qualities. But try as he might--despite reaping millions in receipts and promotional knickknacks--Lucas can't do it anymore. It just may be that he's caught up in his own formula. Ewan McGregor riding around on the lizard--please! It's just so contrived (there's no truth to the rumor that a sequel--Return of the Lizard--is in the works) The last three Star Wars films failed and this one completely. Thank God it's over. Now go back and watch Mark Hammill and the gang and have some fun.

Dial 1119

No big star--just a noir bar
What I liked about "Dial 1119" is that it's basically ignored as an example of film noir yet, for a film made in 1950, this thing was ahead of its time. First off, there's a big-screen TV in the bar, which plays an important part in advancing the plot. The folks who made this picture also foresaw the role that TV news would come to play in taking over a story. Good cast with William ("Cannon") Conrad as Chuckles the bartender, Leon ("Mr. Ed") Ames and Marshall ("Daktari") Thompson as the central character, our friendly neighborhood psycho. Finally, you've got a love a film noir selection that takes place in Terminal City.

Open Water

open plot line
Now I thought this had possibilities. It has a real feel to it but in this reality-TV age, that shouldn't be too surprising. The premise is scary enough--being left behind in the open sea--the problem is what to do with that cinematic ally. I remember thinking--before "Jaws" was released--what kind of movie could you make out of a shark attack? I mean--there it is--tragedy strikes--but how do you make a 90-minute movie out of it? Spielberg promptly showed us how. But it wasn't easy. It took a long time and a lot of work, not to mention the director's genius. "Open Water" has far less to offer in every way. But when the movie should be at its most grinding and creative, it falters and ultimately fails. It's fine to use a real story as the basis for the movie but that doesn't mean you grind it out with the same conclusion. God forbid there always be a happy ending but this one left me edgy and unfulfilled. At least there's one benefit--there's no chance of a sequel.

I, Robot

Will Smith to the rescue
The robots are a revelation--insect-like, fast-moving and believable. But the Will Smith role is strictly from comicsville. It's not that Smith is all that bad an actor. He plays the usual Will Smith part--kind of a cross between Eddie Murphy and Audie Murphy. His part is written as if Smith had the script in his back pocket while everyone else walks blindly around robot town.

All this flick needed was a little mystery--just a little but that ain't the way it goes. Oh, Smith rumbles around with a young lady looking for clues but it's weak.

The one thing you know--you can bank on--the message is the same from Frankenstein to 2001 to Westworld to Jurassic Park to I, Robot--technology as grand as it may be will always turn on us humans.

Since we know that, what's this story about, you ask? Won't tell you.

Just know that there are good special effects and little to no suspense. At some point, Hollywood may want to really consider if all the effects aren't harming movies in the long run. You can make all these amazing things crash and burn and it's all very believable. Trouble is--it's covering up a weak story.

I See a Dark Stranger

Post-war war film that casts a spell
Deborah Kerr (as in star) as the trailer says is usually thought of in almost matronly fashion since she's brought strength and dignity to so many roles as a veteran performer. Here you see her in younger days. She's a wild and bewitching Irish rose, marvelous as the brassy Bridey Kiltie, hater of all things English. Buoyed by Kerr, Trevor Howard and a wonderful British-Irish cast,this film makes you feel like you're right back there in UK during the war. Only you're not flying off to punish the Germans. It's a homefront thing. The movie is more drama than mystery but it's enthralling all the same with humor and style to burn. Among the great characters are a pair of British officers, Captain Goodhusband (Garry Marsh) and Lt. Spanswick(Tom Macaulay)who come along to steal the film in their portrayal as oh-so-very-English middle-aged officers.

Criss Cross

Don't cross this one off your noir list
Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo are great in the Robert Siodmak film that helps define film noir. Lancaster is riveting in the role of the guy who comes back home to try and pick up his life while DeCarlo reminds me of Catherine Zeta-Jones as the object of his affection. Dan Duryea, one of the great film noir players, is the bad guy and there's a wonderful cast of players who fill out this drama including Steve McNally as Burt's cop brother and Percy Helton as the bartender. Tom Pedi is great as Vincent, one of the gang, and let's not forget Alan Napier later to play Alfred on TV's "Batman. There's also a great musical interlude from flute player Esy Morales and his orchestra during a scene when Yvonne is dancing up a storm. I missed them but maybe you'll notice Raymond Burr and Tony Curtis in bit parts.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Dynamite documentary explodes on summer scene
Don't just look at this film as anti-Bush--which it certainly is. The point here is that someone has stepped up for humanity. Moore makes a number of points--in an entertaining fashion--that forces us to at least consider what's transpired in this country over the past four years. Moore's main points are: 1/ the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are joined at the hip because of money 2/ the Administration's post 9-11/anti-terrorist campaign plays on scaring the American public 3/ the war in Iraq was a put-up job 4/ It wasn't just the White House but also Congress and Big Media who got swept up in the "whee, we're going to war" excitement 5/ The decision to invade Iraq put our armed forces in harm's way--unnecessarily 6/ Less fortunate people in our society wind up suffering the most in wartime Enough of the term paper points. Moore handles all this with news clips--some pretty shocking, Dragnet bits, good music and a tone that carries a very simple theme--does any of this seem fair? If Bush comes off like a clown, then when addressing a dinner of fat cats, he might try avoiding statements like, "Some call you the elite. I call you my base." The spirit of the 60's lives and his name is Michael Moore.

Kelly's Heroes

Part war movie, part comedy, part classic
Not your average war movie. Fascinating cast includes Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Don Rickles and Carroll O'Connor. It's a shoot 'em up war film on one hand with Germans mowed down like the morning grass but it's also a heist picture. This movie is certainly a a product of its time with a showdown scene reminiscent of Eastwood's spaghetti western past. Sutherland plays the spaced-out tank jockey with a 60's flavor that's fun to watch. Savalas may be the toughest sarge on film and that's saying a lot. This film probably could have been a classic without much trouble. The pieces are all there. The ending needs work. But enjoy what we have which is plenty.


WWII Hitchcock sheds light on master's tendencies
You can't help but marvel at Hitchcock's early work. "Saboteur," for example, is so slick and quick that it's hard to believe he made this film over 60 years ago. There's some propaganda elements but they're woven into the mystery so well that the thing plays beautifully years later. You also get some previews of stuff that Hitchcock would do later--like using a national landmark as a backdrop. This time it's the Statue of Liberty. In "North by Northwest," of course, it's Mt. Rushmore. You'll also recognize things that pop up later in "Rear Window" and "Vertigo" in "Saboteur" but let's not give away the show. Robert Cummings is excellent as is the oh-so-charming Otto Kruger. Look for Hitchcock's mini-western in this one. It happens quickly so don't blink.


Lots of flash but you can bury this one
"Tombstone" is one of those stylized movies that has a lot of good qualities--some fine players, nice camerawork and a couple of tense scenes. But, overall, it's a mess. Nothing hangs together. It's really just a series of scenes strung together and called a movie. Kurt Russell, no stranger to action hero roles, is Wyatt Earp but you never get inside this guy. We start off with a sense of family with Wyatt and his brothers but nothing develops. We just have scenes. Hugh O'Brian may have provided a clearer characterization on the old TV show. But Val Kilmer is good, playing the sharp-witted, weak-lunged Bat Masterson. The whole thing starts off like a documentary with Robert Mitchum intoning something about the old west while some silent picture is shown. It might as well have been the one of "Beef--it's what's for dinner" spots. I don't know who this director is but he was obviously trying unsuccessfully to recreate the spaghetti westerns of the 1960's. The violence is layered in like a cake. I think there must be a UCLA film course out there that might talk about the need for subtlety when trying to establish a sinister characterization. Otherwise, it's just another shooting gallery. If there isn't there should be. This film is good for a couple of clips but it needs to be buried on Boot Hill otherwise.

Brewster's Millions

screwball comedy that's worth the money
Unfortunately, mention of the film title today always stops with Richard Pryor. While the Peoria comedian deserves mention, his 1985 film is not the definitive version. You have to go back to 1945 to pick up the Dennis O'Keefe rendition. It's wild and wacky, silly enough to amuse but also throws a spotlight on Hollywood's special ability to let one escape from the real world for an hour or two. Good luck finding it!

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

A brief bombing mission but a long story
One of those made-during-the-war war movies that comes with the customary Frank Capra-like homeland security flag-waving and all of that but this is a good flick that stands the test of time.

Oh, it's cornball and the soldiers make like scouts at jamboree but there's an edge here--perhaps because the outcome of the WWII encounter was still in doubt at the time.

As a movie, though, "30 Seconds" has a lot going for it: romance (Van Johnson-Phyllis Thaxter), buddies (Johnson and a young Robert Mitchum), strong Army-Navy relations, strong American-Chinese relations--and plenty of great character parts played by people like Robert Walker, Spencer Tracy and Don DeFore, later to become George Baxter in TV's "Hazel."

There's nothing dated about the cinematography employed here. When the Ruptured Duck flies over Tokyo, you feel like you're right there in the cockpit and the crew's low-altitude escape to China is nothing less than harrowing.

It may not be a 20-20 account of the Doolittle mission to ramp up U.S. spirits after Pearl Harbor but it's a entertaining film with a lot of heavy hitters along for the ride, people like Dalton Trumbo (screenplay)and director Mervyn LeRoy.

Yes, it's one-part propaganda, one part-chin uplifter but there's a lot more to it and it makes my all-time top 10 war movie list.

The Great Escape

Escapist entertainment
I'm a little surprised ar how highly this movie is rated by IMBD fans. It's a decent movie with a lot of stars but a lot of it reminds me of "Hogan's Heroes" without the laugh track. Characters played by Steve McQueen and James Garner act more like they're in summer camp instead of a German prison camp. Ohhh, big penalty--put him in the cooler (a little prison cell where McQueen plays handball) for trying to escape. "Stalag 17" was not only a more convincing POW film but it had a more satisfying ending.


All the ingredients for film noir success
"DOA" has it all. This film might be the ultimate example of film noir when you think about it. You've got the serious hero played by Edmund O'Brien, no Mr. Joy Boy at the best of times. You have rampant death and destruction. We have a definite mystery. There's the complement of bad guys including the maniacal Chester as played by the great Neville Brand. Women portrayals are all across the board--from solid to sneaky. There's a nightclub music segment which really swings, brother. By the way, look for young hepcat Hugh O'Brien (Wyatt Earp)in the crowd. And then we've got location footage in two of our favorite noir towns, San Francisco and Los Angeles (including LA's Bradbury Building which has been the backdrop in so many films). Mix it all together and you've got a classic noir.

Monkey Business

Give this one ape for effort
Thoroughly enjoyable comedy with Cary Grant as the absent-minded professor who's messing around looking for the fountain of youth. Ginger Rogers gets to dance a little without Fred Astaire plus demonstrate a wonderful comic style as she mixes it up with Marilyn Monroe. It's 1952 but you wouldn't know it (except for Marilyn's presence). Howard Hawks takes you back to the good old days when Hollywood demonstrated total mastery of time and space with the screwball comedy.

Along with monkeyshines and child actors, you really get a lot in this film: Grant and Rogers play off each other very nicely and the driving scene with Monroe and Grant is a classic. Adding to the hijinx is Charles Coburn, who always dominates the screen with his easy charm. I bet he loved chasing after Monroe with a spray bottle.

The movie holds up well over 50 years later which makes one wonder why Hollywood hasn't, cringe, chosen to ape the storyline for Jim Carrey or maybe Tom Hanks, who might be looking for a comic turn these days.

But then they remade Freaky Friday this summer, didn't they?


Low expectations/ high impact
For such an astute tycoon who digs manipulation, Brian Donlevy sure can't read women. That plot defect aside, this is an interesting film with some surprises. Now we categorize it as film noir and it probably qualifies although purists might dispute the classification. After all, Charles Coburn (that's Piggy from "A Girl's Best Friend")isn't exactly your hard-boiled flatfoot and the small-town scenes are indeed Capra-esque as other reviewers here point out. Some good shots of 1940's life in San Francisco along with an intriguing driving sequence. But let's not give the plot away. Brian Donlevy does alright for himself in this one. By the way, which sharp-eyed viewer can identify where Curly Jo Howard does a non-Stooge turn in this picture? Watch carefully or you'll miss it.


Lavish location effort that set tone for future westerns
Alan Ladd plays the humble hero befriending a pioneer family under attack by hostile forces. Where have we heard that before? So now you can see where everyone else got the idea.

Hollywood worked that plot long before "Shane" but director George Stevens carved out a niche for all time with this picture of conflict on the open west.

First of all, it's visually stunning, much of it shot on location in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Second, it's simple. Farmers want to farm; ranchers want open range. Result: problems.

Great cast helps capture viewer attention. Ben Johnson is a great bully while Van Heflin and Jean Arthur make for the perfect pioneer couple (although there's that little spark between Shane and Arthur). What sets "Shane" apart from previous westerns, of course, was the kid. Brandon DeWilde is the little guy who is just so darn earnest you've got to love him.

But let's not forget the other bad guys. Emile Meyer and John Dierkes play the rotten Ryker brothers with style--despite their low-down ways. Jack Palance is a grinning gunfighter you just want to slap. So it's all very clear--it's a great picture.

Random Hearts

Start of an idea is not enough
There's a believability factor in the middle of this film's premise. If your wife or husband died in their prime in a plane crash, would you go into an investigative mode after you suspected your partner was having an affair?

I suppose that would depend on the relationship preceding the accident. I think I'd be a little more upset about a spouse's death than the infidelity. It would bother me but my first thought would be that a person I had loved was gone.

So there's the starting point and we have a very dour Harrison Ford (who cracks half-a-smile through the whole film) and a very vital Kristin Scott Thomas as the surviving partners.

Another approach--rather than Ford's bullish investigative tactics into what happened--might have been the fact that a drug lord that Ford is seeking to put away was on the same plane. The drug guy was assassinated through a bomb placed on the plane. In my movie, the bomb explodes over the water so there are no bodies.

Meanwhile, Ford's wife just disappears--no one knows where she is.

Through that investigation of the accident, Ford finds some clue that his wife may have been aboard the ill-fated flight. Similarly, Thomas is trying to track down her husband and has gotten hooked up with Ford somehow. Some unusual similarities pop up on the two cases--Ford notices that both were in Florida on the same day twice before that year.

The two feel an attraction--while searching for their mates. At film's end, they uncover the affair but, by this time, are able to help each other handle the crisis. Ford, meanwhile, has been tracking down the drug-crazed bombers.

OK--my movie falls into the action grind but it still beats the "Random Hearts" script.

Spring Forward

Touching, compelling and simple--a marvelous film
This is a movie that touches you deeply. It also is a reminder we've only scratched the surface when it comes to telling positive stories on film. The blockbuster mentality buries so much good and meaningful material. I doubt if this film made money but may it run forever on video, DVD or whatever the next conveyance might be. Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber are both brilliant in this delightful story.

The Girl Hunters

Further proof that film noir formally died in the 50's
It isn't that Mickey Spillaine can't act that makes this movie so awful. It's everything--from the amateurish directing and Neanderthal script to the annoying trumpet blasts that rise out of the soundtrack.

There's absolutely nothing about this film that works. Everybody fawns over Mike hammer the whole time--with the exception of the mean cop who used to be his friend. There's your plot line.

Here's a long shot but it could be that the producers of Goldfinger saw this bomb and stole a couple of items from it (no one would know since about 16 people ever saw this film on its release). First Shirley Eaton--the only woman in this thing --went on to stardom as the golden girl. And there's a scene before the big fight where the bad guy fires his hat Oddjob-style at our hero.

What is about guys that can't act (and know it)? They seem to want to bring along others with the same deficiency. So Spillaine has several scenes with a real-life newspaper columnist that rank up there as some of the worst in the movie and, therefore, of all time.

If you want something to do while watching this turkey, count the number of times Hammer pulls on and off his trenchcoat. London Fog had to be involved in the production.

As for Mike Hammer movies, stay away from "Girl Hunters" and stick with Ralph Meeker and "Kiss me Deadly."

Wanted for Murder

Murderer loose in postwar London in the 40's
Erudite British effort where the strangler comes off as quite civilized. He's quite the gentleman, really, just has this problem with his hands.

Really enjoyed Stanley Holloway as the #2-cop on the case. Stanley doesn't break into song but he does provide some comedic relief--subtle stuff, no slapstick.

You can't help but be fascinated by the many views of London that are pictured (immediately after the war). The buses, street scenes, and various landmarks shown on film tell a story of their own. How times have changed--the record shop scene is a far cry from the rocking London that would follow 20 years later.

This is well-written (Emeric Pressburger had a hand in that) story with characters that are decidely human, albeit in the English stiff-upper-lip school.

Sudden Fear

San Francisco melodrama starring Joan Crawford
Jack Palance has always looked a little maniacal and he plays it here. Just imagine seeing this one in the theater when it arrived on the scene in '52--suspense aplenty!

San Francisco is the backdrop for a mystery that builds until the very end. Joan Crawford is a wanted woman and doesn't crack too many smiles over the last 40 minutes of the picture.

The beauty of this film is its simplicity. There could have been a dozen different endings but this one works.

We won't talk plot--you'll just have it see it for yourself--you won't be disappointed.

Galaxy Quest

Star Trek spoof that may rate as the feel-good movie of the decade
This movie could have failed so many ways. But a wonderful cast is buoyed by an excellent script fuels that rarity in any solar system--a movie that never quits. Instead of getting hung up on just spoofing the Enterprise gang, "Galaxy" goes on to make statements about the space genre in general, trekkies, nerds, typecast TV actors and a society's devotion to television. One of the most delightful and downright funny gimmicks is the collection of star-struck aliens, so goofy yet downright lovable. Outtakes included on the DVD version reveal that the film could have been even more entertaining had not producers opted for the "stripped down" version. Even if you were never a Star Trek fan, your mission should be to explore "Galaxy."

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