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Reviews

Tôkyô monogatari
(1953)

The Cold Hard Truth
A special film with an important message, "Tokyo Story" should be seen by today's younger generations as a lesson in family dynamics and respect for elders. Unfortunately, it won't appeal to those who would benefit the most from it. However, thoughtful humans who take the time to seek out this film will be rewarded with fine performances, intelligent script, beautiful photography, and a reminder that movies can do more than just entertain.

Isadora
(1968)

The Dance of the Seven Veils
Vanessa Redgrave has a field day with this one. Captured at her peak, she prances and pontificates like a real diva, in a wild assortment of wigs and barely-there outfits. Her unconvincing American accent is the only fault in an otherwise joyous performance. Locations and costumes are outstanding. The new Kino Lorber Blu Ray DVD does justice to the lavish production. Though a bit overlong, the film is never dull and it helps to have a taste for this sort of thing. It's surprising this wasn't a hit in 1968, as it dovetails with that decade's nonconformist and free-spirited nature. Ken Russell's 1966 television version is still much better, but "Isadora" holds up well after more than half a century.

L'avventura
(1960)

It's All About Monica Vitti's Hair
Antonioni's first successful film, hailed as a breakthrough in Italian Neo-Realism, has been interpreted and analyzed ad nauseam by film scholars and students alike. Herewith is a new theory which has never been put forward, and which may be just as valid as any other. It has to do with Monica Vitti's hair. 1960 brought a transition in women's hairstyles, phasing out the lacquered helmet heads in favor of more naturalistic tresses (which nonetheless still required much processing and care). While Bardot was busy ushering in a long, tousled "do" that's imitated to this day, Antonioni presents Monica Vitti with a most flattering layered style that survives windblown islands and rolling around in the hay. Consider the oddly placed barrette she often wears in the back of her head, which either adds height or anchors a hairpiece (or symbolizes any number of other things). Sixty years later, it still looks good. Try watching this film from a standpoint of her hair for new meaning and understanding.

Caccia alla volpe
(1966)

There Must Be Some Mistake
This can't be the work of Vittorio De Sica, esteemed Italian director of artistic gems like "Bicycle Thieves," "Two Women" and "Umberto D." Or the work of eminent writer Neil Simon, author of timeless comedies like "The Odd Couple." We've seen De Sica stumble in trying to make a Hollywood-style film like "Indiscretion of an American Wife," but "After The Fox" is downright puzzling. Droll British comedy master Peter Sellers and Italian neorealist De Sica mix like oil and water. The result is a tedious, unfunny exercise in futility. Even Victor Mature's self-effacing performance isn't enough to warrant sitting through this mess.

Sisters
(1972)

Practice Run
Brian De Palma's first foray into writing and directing suspense films hints at good things to come but "Sisters" overall plays like the work of an amateur. After a decent start, the film progressively falls apart, so much so that by the end it devolves into an incomprehensible mess. Performances from real-life roommates Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt (plus Salt's real-life mother, Mary Davenport!) are mediocre at best. You can just picture them all sitting around their Malibu house with friend De Palma concocting the scenario from pieces of old Hitchcock movies. Worst of all is William Finley, whose madcap appearance and complete lack of acting skills sabotage the film's credibility. Even the score by the eminent composer Bernard Herrmann sounds overwrought.

Scarface
(1983)

Brian De Palma's Near Masterpiece
Overlooked among the cast of Brian DePalma's fevered 1983 film "Scarface" is an incredible five-minute appearance that should have won this actress the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Little-known character actress Miriam Colon played Mama Montana (mother of Al Pacino's flamboyantly amoral Tony Montana) with such startling force that she wiped everyone else off the screen. Her silence is as calculated and heartbreaking as her ultimate tirade. Pacino is superb throughout. Exposing the depravity that accompanied the Mariel Boatlift was a brave move and the presentation here is downright operatic.

Women in Love
(1969)

Ken Russell - Before He Went Totally Nuts
This cinematic gem shines just as brightly today as it did in 1969. Ken Russell's visual style reigns supreme in rich colors, costumes and flawless attention to period details. His directorial flourishes (Hermione's dance, Birkin's dissertation on a fig) add depth to the proceedings and elevate the film to the realm of art. The four main characters are expertly portrayed by charismatic actors. Alan Bates' resemblance to the real D.H. Lawrence adds a touch of verisimilitude for those familiar with the source material. Jennie Linden's contribution is frequently overlooked, probably because she's the least complicated person of the lot! Much of the dialog (taken verbatim from the novel) borders on the pretentious, but so what? It's all food for intelligent thought.

Inside Llewyn Davis
(2013)

The Cat Steals The Show
Coming on the heels of an earlier Coen Brothers' film, "A Serious Man," which had an offbeat, quirky logic to it, "Inside Llewyn Davis" is a disappointment. The biggest fault is the story, which goes nowhere (and literally ends up where it began). Unfortunate, because Oscar Isaac is a charismatic leading man, who manages to hold the whole thing together. The most interesting subplot was the cat, and I admired Llewyn's concern for it, but when he gave up on the second cat he lost my sympathy entirely. The folk music was supposed to be the major topic of the film, but quickly became irrelevant. Lots of wasted effort here.

Tristana
(1970)

Bells Are Ringing
"Tristana" could have benefited from more dreamlike touches from famed surrealist Luis Bunuel. As it stands, the film relies too heavily on the one visual device (you'll know immediately what it is) which, at first sight is startling but, on later inspection, looks rather cheesy. Very little happens and by halfway through the movie you start to ask yourself what's the point. It just doesn't add up to very much. Deneuve looks great and the restored version uncovers some very nice cinematography. "Tristana" is for Bunuel lovers only.

Juste avant la nuit
(1971)

Dreadful
Perhaps the reason Claude Chabrol was able to churn out so many films is because they're so superficial. This poor excuse for a morality tale has no depth to it. "Just Before Nightfall," a deceptive title, leads one to think it's a suspenseful thriller, but instead turns out to be dull, slow, full of banal dialog, poor acting, clumsy direction and zero charisma from its ever-present lead, Michel Bouquet. And that "modern" house is a real cheesefest - tacky in the extreme. If you're looking for a tale in the same vein as "Crime and Punishment," take a look at Woody Allen's masterpiece, "Match Point."

The Apartment
(1960)

Low Rent District
Billy Wilder made three great movies in his long career: "Double Indemnity," "Sunset Boulevard," and "Some Like It Hot." The rest range from very good ("Witness For The Prosecution") to terrible ("Kiss Me, Stupid"). "The Apartment" ranks pretty low on the totem pole. Its depiction of all women as bimbos is especially offensive. Even the Shirley MacLaine character, who is supposed to have our sympathy, has highly questionable morals. The male executives are worse; predators all. This corrupt universe is presented as fodder for merriment and hilarity. I'm not buying it. And this won the Oscar for Best Picture in a year when "Psycho" wasn't even nominated??!!??

Cat People
(1982)

Dark, Dull and Slow as Molasses
If it wasn't for the fact that Nastassja Kinski (looking like a young Isabella Rossellini) walks around naked half the time this film could easily put you to sleep. The ludicrous plot and hackneyed script lack suspense and coherence. The special effects are primitive and cheesy even by 1982 standards. Was disappointed by this film on its initial release and thought that after 38 years it might have aged well. Wrong. Avoid at all costs.

Wonder Wheel
(2017)

Kate Was Robbed
While Cate Blanchett deservedly won an Oscar for "Blue Jasmine," Kate Winslet gives an equally, if not more, compelling performance in "Wonder Wheel" which was totally ignored. The difference is timing. "Wonder Wheel" came out at the height of the MeToo furor and lots of sentiment turned against Woody Allen. Unfortunate for everyone, especially potential viewers who missed out on this extraordinary film. Rich in characterization and insight, beautifully designed and photographed, Allen should be appreciated for his artistry and not condemned for unproved allegations.

Stardust Memories
(1980)

Ozymandias Melancholia
"Stardust Memories" is jam-packed with witty one-liners, profound observations, startling sight gags, humor, pathos and everything else that's dear to Woody Allen and his fans. His first outing in years without Diane Keaton (but with a surprising cameo reappearance by ex-wife Louise Lasser) finds Charlotte Rampling in the headlights, giving a stunning performance as a manic depressive. The Fellini-esque style of the film suits the broad canvas Allen successfully covers. Though acclaimed for his writing and directing, Allen is rarely given credit for his acting ability, which, as the central character, is here on full display. As is often the case in Woody Allen films, the minor players and extras are perfectly cast. The mix of reality and fantasy makes for a dizzying, dazzling viewing experience.

Body Double
(1984)

Tongue-In-Cheek De Palma
Far-fetched murder mystery that's entertaining nonetheless. De Palma serves up his stylized take on "Vertigo" and "Rear Window" and reheats some leftover violence from "Scarface." Craig Wasson does a fine job as the lead and Melanie Griffith is a far better actress than Nancy Allen ("Dressed to Kill," "Blow Out") in the requisite role of hooker/porn star. Adding to the visual interest is John Lautner's Chemosphere house. Taken with a grain of salt, "Body Double" is a fun 114 minutes, especially for De Palma fans.

Blow Out
(1981)

Nobody does bratty teenaged girls better than De Palma!
The opening sequence, the "movie within a movie," is pure De Palma. The dormitory full of spoiled, horny coeds is hilarious. The rest of the movie starts out promisingly enough, full of De Palma's trademark stylized direction, but gradually disintegrates. Travolta's in fine form, but Nancy Allen cannot act. Her career went nowhere once she no longer had a husband to hand her plum parts. "Blow Out" has enough visual interest throughout, but ultimately disappoints.

Still of the Night
(1982)

Streep as Femme Fatale
"Still of the Night" is an engaging thriller despite leaving you with the feeling that it should have been better. Meryl Streep gives a rather low-key, benign performance. Aside from looking great, there is little indication she would go on to become the queen of Hollywood. Roy Scheider is good, as always. Josef Sommer is dreadfully miscast as the murder victim, Accepting that he has enough sex appeal to seduce two of his assistants stretches suspension of disbelief beyond its limits. This Hitchcock homage has two set pieces of pure cinema worthy of The Master: One in the basement laundry room and the other in Central Park. It's a classy looking production with great atmosphere. The killer is obvious from the start.

To Rome with Love
(2012)

Arrivederci Roma
"To Rome With Love" fails, but not for lack of trying. It has its moments, but they're few and far between. Most of the running time is spent belaboring ideas that Allen has previously handled a lot better. And unlike many of Allen's films, there are several glaring examples of miscasting (Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg). On the plus side, viewers are treated to great location photography, a beautifully staged opera sequence, a ravishing Penelope Cruz ostensibly spewing fluent Italian, and a recurrent use of "Amada mia, amore mio" on the soundtrack.

The Talented Mr. Ripley
(1999)

Paging Alain Delon
This film is entertaining despite being horribly miscast and way too long. Matt Damon shows no dark side or depth beneath the goofy grin. Gwyneth Paltrow lacks any alluring quality that would make the men go gaga. Jude Law, on the other hand, shows a full range of emotions as a spoiled playboy. Cate Blanchett inhabits any character she portrays. She probably should have played Marge. The scenery is gorgeous, and the 1950s sets and costumes are spot on. Great story, just not handled as well as it deserved to be.

An Unmarried Woman
(1978)

You Had To Be There
"An Unmarried Woman" expertly captures many aspects of New York life in 1978. Viewers unfamiliar with that time and place might rightfully feel indifferent to this film. But for millions of Baby Boomers, this film got it right. Great script, performances, locations. And that ending sums up the complexity, ambiguity and wit of the story to perfection!

Les diaboliques
(1955)

No Threat to Hitchcock
"Diabolique" and "Psycho" were groundbreaking sensations in their day. Time has only slightly chiseled away at "Psycho's" effectiveness, while "Diabolique's" flaws stand out more than ever before. Its leisurely pace allows viewers to ponder the inconsistencies and implausibilities of the plot. The scant musical score leaves some very dry passages. You have to wonder why any parent would send their son to such a seedy, poorly run boarding school. And that retired police inspector who insinuates himself into the action toward the end is a nuisance. The film would have been better had his character been cut entirely and the killers gotten away with their crime. And a note to today's women: You don't need long hair and short skirts to look sexy; Simone Signoret here is smoking hot!!!

Pasqualino Settebellezze
(1975)

An Important Film, But No Masterpiece
What fails to make "Seven Beauties" the masterpiece many reviewers are alleging is the uneven tone of the film. Important moral issues are juxtaposed in grotesque and vulgar sequence. Our "hero" is fatally flawed from the beginning; he learns very little from his tribulations. Attempts at comedy feel forced and out of place. The intriguing opening montage with its wry narration sets a mood that is quickly discarded. Despite all of this, "Seven Beauties" succeeds in hammering its message thanks to several well-observed scenes featuring Shirley Stoler and Fernando Rey. But it's Giancarlo Giannini's show all the way and his performance is fearless. Don't approach this film expecting to be entertained. Come hungry for food for thought.

Portnoy's Complaint
(1972)

A misguided attempt by some very talented people who should have known better.
Even the esteemed screenwriter Ernest Lehman could not write a script and direct a film of "Portnoy's Complaint." Philip Roth's internalized monologue of a book defies such a transition. After more than half a century, Roth's novel still sparkles, while this film was dead on arrival in 1972 and remains best forgotten.

So Fine
(1981)

So Fun!
A miscast Ryan O'Neal, doing his "What's Up, Doc?" befuddled professor shtick, inadvertently creates a sensation with his see-through jeans in this crazy mix of New York garment district denizens, stuffy academicians, gangsters, and opera singers. The gags are hit-and-miss but funny nonetheless. Great performances by Jack Warden, Fred Gwynne, Richard Kiel (doing his James Bond character, "Jaws"), and a very game Mariangela Melato. Enough laughs to make searching out this long forgotten film worthwhile.

The Nutcracker
(2009)

The Best
This is my favorite production of "Nutcracker" and I've seen many, both live and recorded. I admit that I no longer have patience to sit through most of Act One. I start at the Waltz of the Snowflakes and take it from there. What makes this performance so outstanding are the two principal dancers, Miyako Yoshida and Steven McRae. They're a great physical match and work so well together, neither one upstaging the other. They simply glide flawlessly on their toes and through the air, spinning on one leg, making it all look so easy. This video is nicely produced with sharp images and excellent editing, allowing the viewer to see full body dancing with occasional glimpses of closeups. Superb orchestration, costumes, scenery, corps de ballet, etc.

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