secondtake

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Pillow to Post
(1945)

Deeply formulaic with a terrific Ida Lupino
Pillow to Post (1945)

A harmless but also frivolous war time movie that was good escapism at the time and a bit unnecessary eighty years later. But you're reading this and I watched the whole thing with my usual interest in everything in classic Hollywood, including Ida Lupino who carries this movie along start to finish.

This kind of movie has all the required polish of an A-list but not quite high priority release, and competent direction by Vincent Sherman. It depends most of all on a great script which it doesn't ahve, but there is an attempt here at a comedic hook-a dilemma, an unexpected fix, and the necessary complications. None of this is very convincing or even always so charming, but it works. The other thing that is naturally important is a few sparks of love, and that is something the audience really must have craved: a chance for some domestic happiness as the world was crumbling all around. And that sort of happens. Again, it's Lupino who holds up the rest.

Speaking of the rest, it has to be added that Sidney Greenstreet is a fabulous actor with truly limited talents-and he is miscast here badly as a somewhat kindly but a big boorish officer who sees and ignores what is going on around him. And Lupino's co-lead, the cute man in uniform that she is meant to be suddenly matched with, is William Prince, who is really a t.v. Kind of actor, and once t.v. Came along he fit into that world well. Here, not so much, though he's vaguely likable.

There is also a brief but revealing (characteristic) performance by Louis Armstrong (and singer Dorothy Dandridge). It might be worth it for that for some viewers (it was what drew me to it at first).

OK...if you do see this, enjoy it as a period piece, and for its setting (a motor court that's quite classic). And hang in there for the last 20 minutes where Lupino gets good and drunk. She's funny and touching. The zany aspects of the movie collide here and it's a naturally feelgood ending. Perfect...except maybe that the drunk leading lady is driving off with her boyfriend at the end.

The Unsuspected
(1947)

A Curtiz must-see...if you like Curtiz
The Unsuspected (1947)

Another Michael Curtiz gem (think of "Casablanca" and "Mildred Pierce") but with a story that is less compelling and, oddly, more complicated. The film is gorgeous, filmed with lush intelligence. And Claude Raines is terrific as the leading man throughout. Perhaps the rest of the cast is too routine to lift the film out of the ordinary in other ways. But I still found it striking and interesting all through, even the second time.

Anthropoid
(2016)

Powerful stuff
Anthropoid (2016)

Right from the start, this is a movie with a grim, gritty realism, but with beautiful understatement. The setting is Chechoslovakia in the depths of WWII, and some anti-Nazi patriots have parachuted back to their homeland to try to kill the Butcher of Prague, also known as the man who formulated the Final Solution. High stakes, low odds.

The valor, and almost certain death, for the leading men (and even some of the women at their sides) is part of what grips you, and so the realism makes you feel that valor as something true and rare. And maybe desperate, too, because they all leap into a dire situation and only gradually come to terms with its biggest proportions: dying.

Terrible wonderful stuff for a movie, and to see it visited in 2016 is really interesting.

It's a Wonderful World
(1939)

Interesting, a period screwball with a great cast
It's a Wonderful World (1939)

A comedy with the creds to guarantee a decent success-James Stewart and Claudette Colbert as leads, a script written and screenwritten by Ben Hecht, and direction by the solid W. S. Van Dyke. So it clicks quickly into play with a serious seeming plot (independent detectives and a crime) in a chipper entertaining tone (fast and easy). There is a clear lack of depth as you go-this isn't going to be a moving or hard hitting classic, but rather a fun and well crafted entertainment-and it's too bad. The basics are here to make a really fine movie.

And that's what keeps it going-the really fine movie part. There is first of all a sincere performance by Stewart, earnest and nuanced as the regular guy detective who knows good from bad (an important distinction here). He goes quickly out on a limb and he cuts through the sometimes corny side characters. Colbert, when she shows up, is no Myrna Loy (Van Dyke directed the first "Thin Man"), but I like her a lot (she was in "It Happened One Night") and she gives the comedy a zaniness that works.

But Stewart never cracks a smile, and it's a relief because he's the backbone of an improbable series of events. The murder itself is practically the McGuffin here-the screwball romance part of things is the main plot. What matters more is Stewart and Colbert-picking apples as enemies, for example. They both need the food, and both don't trust the other, but they are both nice people at heart and so it kind of happens to make sense in a funny way.

The Stratton Story
(1949)

Compelling in its melodrama
The Stratton Story (1949)

I expected to like but not love this movie, but Jimmy Stewart and June Allison are so likeable and natural together, it ends up being a really enjoyable movie.

It's a baseball movie, for what that's worth. I mean, there are usually a lot of clichés that go with the build up of a rising star in the sport. And a lot of that is here (coaxed by Frank Morgan, who is spry and quite good in this post-Wizard role). And if you like baseball movies this is good enough to keep it going.

But this isn't just a baseball movie, and that's a good thing. It's a romance, a drama, a tragedy. It layers up some deep and moving events without overdramatizing it. (I won't way what happens.) And the baseball part of the movie leads to this other drama really well, as a contrast and a kind of broken-dream tale.

It has to be said that it seems Stewart and Allison might make any story fly. But this one really works, especially as an MGM drama. Sam Wood is director and producer here-and if he's not famous as a director any more, he did have a key role as a Marx Brothers director early on. He certainly shows a deft touch for basic realism even as the extremes seem beyond normal life.

But then, it's Stewart and Allison who pull it off in the end. They made two more movies together (the "Glenn Miller Story" is really good, much better than I expected).

Look for Agnes Moorehead here, and for some decent but straight forward photography by Harold Rossen (of "Wizard of Oz" and "Singin' in the Rain" fame). Mostly, set yourself up for the second half, which is beautifully restrained and searching.

Dear Heart
(1964)

I really enjoyed it despite its painful artifice
Dear Heart (1964)

I started this movie almost by accident the first time, perhaps taken by the title. Then the sharp, clean set design from the early 60s and the bright modernis photography took me in. And yes, of course, there is the odd leading stars, and aging Glenn Ford and the impressive Geraldine Page. This is a totally contrived set-up movie, with a fun premise and not a lot of depth (not atypical of a lot of early 60s Hollywood fare). But it survives because of those very things, as a kind of movie we don't see much anymore, driven by some great acting and good writing, and a willingness (by the viewer) to sit back and get sucked in.

Slice of life? Not a chance. Deep social comment? Not really. But still significant? Oddly, yes, it works, and I've seen it twice. So there.

The Florida Project
(2017)

Good intentions, and a look into a bit of life, as is, sort of
The Florida Project (2017)

Filled with contradictions-it's meant to be a serious movie (film not digital, Panavision lenses, Technicolor post-production) and yet it's loosely filmed (and with amazing aweful distortion in many of the shots) and is a mess.

It attempts to be a slice of life of some imaginary but seemingly based on fact world of a welfare hotel in Florica. But why? What kinds of clichés are really going to make this meaningful? I think people like this movie because it shows them things they want to see-a kind of armchair voyeurism-but I don't think that's enough at all. Even if you identify with the problem or have empathy for it.

I know that the movie has gotten a lot of high praise, and that could be a welcome sign that there is a craving for movies that have substance, and that are not only about effects and pizazz. But I'm also for a higher kind of craft, or something with real cinematic force.

Scarecrow
(1973)

A steady process with an amazing Hackman
Scarecrow (1973)

A seemingly simple drama about a guy out of prison...but with Gene Hackman as the leading role expect something special. And then Al Pacino plays the sidekick, and an interesting, and little talked about, New Hollywood film is under way. The setting is a kind of revision of the American West, the big dry outdoors no longer the wild West, but still something unique in the visual lexicon.

The director is also little discussed-Jerry Schatzberg-and this might be his best film, aided by the elegant, searing cinematography of Vlimos Zsigmond (famous for "Days of Heaven"). Seeing how the film unfolds you might agree that it's Zsigmond's film, for it carries forward with a brilliant, quiet choreography. Elemental scenes where actors move through space, or through a diner, are made almost gripping by how the camera tracks them.

Of course, we eventually have to admit this is a two-man show. Hackman is his usual comfortable best, filled with loud nuance. I mean, he is a strong character, but his actions are loaded with little, natural details. And Pacino plays an unexpected sweetie with a cute smile. It's a compelling pair.

Things are slow, for sure. It's an easygoing flow with often little really plot. We get into their lives and their heads. This is no "Midnight Cowboy" by any means, but it comes from the same intention, it would seem. Two slightly mismatched outsiders find they need each other, and a bond deeper than mere friendship is formed.

When Trumpets Fade
(1998)

A brave and wonderful new point of view...
When Trumpets Fade (1998)

A raw, realistic look at a how a fictional soldier tries to get through an actual mismanaged battle against the Nazis. As the deaths mount, the leading man (played by Roy Eldard) has to take larger risks to try to not get killed. It's a depressing movie with scant heroism except for the main effort near the end, which has a kind of Hollywood bravado at odds with the tough psychology of the rest.

Saying all that, it's clear that this movie is bravely trying to understand an actual situation of war that might be typical. Forget the aura of other movies, or the storytelling of veterans around the fire (if that ever happens). This is about the mechanics of failure and the will of a single man.

Finding Neverland
(2004)

Remarkable, interesting, and sometimes magical...that's a lot
Finding Neverland (2004)

Fanciful, sometimes amazing, oddly touching even if outwardly contrived. And layered up with that archetypal gem of a story, Peter Pan, which this is directly related to.

The author of Peter Pan is J. M. Barrie, a name barely known compared to his creation. And that man is the character here in a period. It's all really really interesting.

Why it doesn't quite take off and be as transformative as the original might have to do with how amibitious it seems, layereing it up, creating something on top of something. I usually like that a lot, but this sometimes makes the real emotional impact less direct.

On the other hand, I want to see it again...it's that kind of movie, worth it, and demanding. I have to add that I've never quite liked Johnny Depp (I know, I'm in a minority) and I've always loved Julie Christie. Winslet is undeniable.

The Post
(2017)

Good stuff, but good not being great...read on
The Post

A very well made but also very straight forward movie about a moving moment in newspaper publishing history. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are both superb-and the few scenes where it is just the two of them (like an early restaurant conversation) they are really amazing. Worth seeing just for that, if you love good acting.

But what drives the movie is a sense of justice-and a certainly pro-democracy anti-Republican kind of justice (that's a given, these days). That is-Nixon was a crook and was trying to squash the free press, and the people behind the scenes, publisher and editor, were caught in a trap because they were in many ways part of the social and political world of their subjects.

This is where the movie has real potential, trying to remind us how even newspapers are caught up in the actual net they are reporting on. Which means lots of conflicts. The screenplay starts to deal with this (the writers would insist they dealt with it thoroughly) but in fact they miss a real opportunity to talk about a huge problem of boundaries and honesty in reporting. And publishing.

What the movie turns to more convincingly is a straight up drama about the courage of a relatively small newspaper (the Washington Post) in a quest to give facts and depth to our understanding of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon Papers would be a resounding encouragement to good investigative journalism. And the movie ends (with no spoiler here) with a quiet, and chilling, portrayal of the discovery of the Watergate break-in.

So, a great story, with some great acting. End of story. (Though you can find MORE of the real story in a recent New Yorker article about the connection between the Pentagon Papers and Watergate.)

The Little Giant
(1933)

Robinson is always a treat, and this is part of the early canon
The Little Giant (1933)

By 1933 the gangster genre was in full blown maturity, and Warner Bros. Along with Edward G. Robinson were key to that. This is a lesser known movie but still a good one, two years after his phenomenal "Little Caesar." This time, they thought the genre had room for comedy, and it doesn't always take off. Robinson is good, and Mary Astor is also good in a very different way, though not always on the same page as Robinson.

Mostly this is part of the larger picture-there are better Warner Bros gangster films, but this one holds its own.

7 cajas
(2012)

Fresh and real, especially viewing from New York
7 Cajas (7 Boxes ) 2012

An amazing film. It isn't just that you get a young person's glimpse into lower class Paraguay, and the markets and hustling going on. Or a charming (and sometimes overly simple) story of cops and robbers, ambition and innocence.

The movie is also brilliantly filmed.

The language is nominally Spanish, but my South American wife had trouble following some of it-not for the accent, it seems, but for a vocabulary that is... And for every improbable turn or slightly awkward motivation we have a slew of tender, sharp, and creative bits.

Soul
(2020)

inventive and fun and heartfelt...and the jazz, the jazz!
Well, I have a 4 year old going on 5, and I've already seen this film a dozen times. Okay, maybe 10 times. So I'm an expert of some sort.

And it's got so many great aspects-for kids at least-I have to only admire the construction, the acting (via voice and animation), and the music (which is not incidental).

I do like jazz, which helps, because I bemoan its continuing marginalization. The film makes it seem relevant on some basic level, a way to talk with layers and beauty. Yeah, the movie actually has qualities of adult loss that add to the very childlike wonder and the basic twisting plot.

I don't talk plot, so can only say that there is a key twist (on the hospital bed) that took me by surprise the first time and still thrills me on later watching. It's key to the willingly inventive qualities thoughout. For my taste, the recreation of heaven and souls and the apparent rules that govern that world are fun but just a shell for the rest of the movie (just as they are inside the head of the girl in "Inside Out."

But I have to return to the music, and to the dramatic stylizing of Jon Batiste, who is funny and talented in real life, too. The two or three times the movie turns its attention to complete absorbtion in the music I am swept away. I just hope other people are, too, since jazz is one of the great Black developments in world music, and world art.

Mank
(2020)

Sadly overwrought and underwhelmed
Mank (2020)

The movie that everyone wants to like. But why?

Oh, Gary Oldman as Mankewitz is rather terrific. And the subject matter should hold water, concerning William Randolf Hearst and that 1930s world of excess, not to mention Orson Welles and that obvious Citizen Kane connection.

But there are so many scenes where the writer is straining to make sure the audience is keeping up with things, for example giving us first names (and variations on first names) to clue us in on who is who. The strain of having to inform the audience chokes the intended authenticity. The scene early on where some screenwriters (including Ben Hecht) are chatting about screenplays and ideas is so forced it's embarrassing-especially since it's about screenwriting.

The movie has its beauty, for sure, filmed in greyish black and white that is a softened, more detailed version of classic Hollywood. Films from the time it is set, mid-1930s to 1940, are noticably "harder" in tonality, meaning deeper blacks and more overall contrast. Citizen Kane is a prime example. It's worth noting that the photography for "Mank" is generally very poised and luminous, lots of backlighting and delineated grey scales, not much like the photography in Kane.

Now you might expect the film to grow into its own vocabulary, to have a style of its own whatever the borrowings of its substance. But no, the script is stubbornly derivative and simplistic (almost as if the writers were in their 20s and just discovering Hollywood, and literature). And the reason for this is as old as the hills-the son David Fincher is adapting the screenplay of his beloved departed father, Jack Fincher. A natural mistake, but not one to put $50,000,000 on.

The plot, what little there actually is, blunders along, dull as pancakes in July. The cliches abound, the supporting cast spouts obvious quips, and the name-dropping is endless and revealing. I do love Citizen Kane, and admire Welles, and I also greatly admire many of Fincher's films on another level, so it all is a disappointment.

The saving grace is certainly Oldman, who acts his heart out, and sustains many scenes, even ones that don't offer much worth saving. True, he's a 62 year old playing the part of a man between 37 and 42, roughly, and that doesn't help. But he's committed and complex. A good job.

And the movie isn't a total wreck...but with all the hype, it really deflates and confounds. How and why, with all this talent, did it end up so underachieving? Or then again, who really cares?

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
(1943)

A week followup well suited to fans and not many others
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)

A film significant only to those who already love the Universal-era monster films going back to "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." It's not bad in any way, really, and has some dramatic lighting and archetypal moments. And it's actually really good for one thing (to me): Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolfman. His pathos convinces and wins every scene.

Bela Legosi is a surprisingly weak monster, stumbling around with his arms up in a parody of the truly ungainly vigor of the original Karloff versions (which include the first three "Frankenstein" movies). The meeting of the two legends, as both actors and characters, is the hook to the movie.

And so of course we keep waiting for them to meet, which they do, and it is clearly the monster who is bad and the Wolfman who is good, deep down. This avoids, unfortunately, the pathos once attributed to the Frankenstein monster, and the second half of the film turns into some simplified fighting and silliness that undermines the building up of the Wolfman story in the first half.

There are a few obvious borrowings (lets call them homages) from the earlier 1930s films (Chaney's original "Wolfman" was 1941, just before this one). One of them is the laboratory where Dr. Frankenstein once worked. And there is an also obvious low budget at work, limiting some of the effects needed to make things creepy-and it fails to update to a Casablanca-era production value the audience is now used to.

But it's fun, and Chaney is great.

Dragnet
(1954)

Just like the t.v. show but longer and in color
Dragnet (1954)

You can't watch this without knowing something about the t.v. series, which ran from 1951-1959. So this movie was a kind of spin-ff, but rather than creating a television show from a movie this goes the other way around.

The familiar voiceover is there, and the familiar voice: Jack Webb. He holds it all together with a clear factual style we expect and like. He is the creater of the t.v. show and he made this version come around (he directed). Why do it? Maybe just a different audience, and shooting in color, and maybe to create a longer story, over an hour.

Sadly, the Peacock TV (NBC) version streaming in 2020 was cropped to t.v. (4:3) proportions, and it feels cramped. I'm sure that Webb and the photographer, Edward Colman, wouldn't appreciate it. The color is restrained-the Kodak version called Warnercolor, not Technicolor-but it works well here.

I haven't seen the t.v. episodes in years, but I have a funny feeling you could find episodes that work with economy and power better than this one, which doesn't quite make use of the extra time well. There is a lot of clever, fast dialog, but to excess, making it strained and obvious. Fun, yes, but the movie isn't held up by these cheap quips.

Except sometimes. Early on, a cop says about the gun shots, "The first two cut him in half." Webb replies, "The second two turned him into a crowd." Classic Dragnet matter-of-fact style. It works. In fact, it might be this delivery, with fact after fact, that makes the show and the movie what it is, above all. The plot is routine as much as murder in the movies is routine, but the delivery is interesting.

But I have to just be blunt here...it's a huge bore on another level. Yes it has steady determination, but it's not a dramatic feature movie in any normal form.

Shanghai Express
(1932)

great in so many ways...read on!
Shanghai Express (1932)

First of all, this movie is astonishing and gorgeous, and there are a dozen great reasons to see it. One of them is not the plot, which is slow and contrived. There's a "Grand Hotel" kind of contrivance to the group dynamics which is fun but not so convincing, and the seeminlgy international clash of cultures is stilted.

But it's well acted, and it isn't so bad that you can appreciate the twelve other great things going on.

First, the photography. Lee Garmes is amazing. There are layers to the still scenes and an amazing amount of movement in everything else. Sometimes it's the camera tracking and moving in, sometimes it's the dramatic following of the action. Second, and related, is the light. There is so much beautiful, rich, and often very limited light that you can watch it just for that.

Third, rather obviously, is Marlene Dietrich, who is at her best here (she's at her best in a few of her films).)

The parallel to this is fourth, Anna May Wong, who holds her own in the scenes she shares with Dietrich. Great stuff, and always sad how her career was held back because, quite simply, she wasn't white.

Day for night (Garmes again) is great but even better is night for night-some genuine dark dark scenes. It's 1932, after all.

The mis-en-scene is terrific-very rich with detail, props, and a closed but full recreation of a world on the train, and at the many stations and stops along the way.

The Chinese cast, most without speaking lines. The movie is set in the civil war in China at the time. The guns, the soldiers, the worry, all good backdrop.

Related, there is at least a token acknowledgement that the main Chinese character is not Chinese-he admits to having mixed parents, and that he's not proud of his White blood.

It's also worth saying that the movie is just an hour and twenty minutes, and it's great to have so much happen in a compact way.

The dissolves-yes, I'm drawing attention to the editing technique, which is used a lot, and in a lingering, deliberate way, so one scene slowly dissolves into the next, and the long overlap creates a whole new kind of imagery. And there is a gentle complexity that builds.

And it builds on the layers already there. It's quite amazing how visually deep the movie is foreground to background.

The sound...train sounds and music of all kinds, including some period jazz.

Oh, and it's worth remembering who pulled this all together: director Josef von Sternberg. He needs no introduction, and this is one reason why.

I might not be up to twelve, but this is a great movie in enough ways to survive its plot. Give it a look, and I mean look...it's a feast for the eyes.

The Hill
(1965)

Stunning photography and acting, and great humanist intentions
The Hill (1965)

I watched this mostly because I was curious about movies made with Sean Connery in his early years. And I was surprised at how vigorous this movie was. It's a very male movie (the only woman who vaguely appears seems to be for the pleasure of one of the men's pleasure) and it has a lot of sweat and exhaustion and shouting. This isn't bad-rather, it's defining. The movie is about a very physical survival mode required in a military prison camp made for rehabilitation of "bad" soldiers.

And one of these soldiers is Connery, who comes with some kind of heroic history that makes the camp commanders determined to break him soon. Another is played by Ossie Davis, a Black actor with an acting lineage going back to Sidney Portier. This group of soldiers is made to climb "the hill," a fabricated mound in the middle of the camp where the heat and effort wear the men down.

So it becomes a battle of right and wrong (the soldiers being right, whatever their mistakes in the past). And a fight of personalities-not only between the camp officers and the prisoners, but between prisoners and even between the camp officers, who vary from malicious and sadistic to good hearted with a torn conscience.

The movie works. It partly succeeds from how its acted (with intensity) and filmed (with lots of gritty close-ups and hard lighting). The director, Sidney Lumet, has an interest in being "serious" and yet still attract a large audience. There were a few directors like him in this period (like John Frankenheimer) and their movies are always interesting. I think "The Hill" is far too much of a contrivance, however. It starts on its path of conflict and simply escalates and intensifies. There is a moral guidance all along that makes you get involved, emotionally, but you know that you're in a set up, a kind of modernist playright's trap.

I have to put a plug in for Oswald Morris in charge of cinematography. He has other great credits, like "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and "Sleuth" which are gorgeously filmed, and here he almost makes the film. Imagine (if you see it) that this was done in a more factual manner, with more distance from the faces, and maybe a sense of editing that made the facts clear but not emphatic. Morris makes it impossible to not feel the trauma.

Which brings us back to the acting-Morris again (with Lumet pointing) makes the intensity of the acting take on relevance and conviction. It's all affecting.

If only the whole arc of things wasn't quite so inevitable and unimaginative. I guess sometimes life is exactly as shown.

Nightcrawler
(2014)

Gyllenhaal lifts this indictment of local television into scathing art
This is a riveting look at a man who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. And by luck he discovers the power of live video coverage of breaking news. This leads to his fast rise into that world because he offers footage that goes farther than any one else's.

So this is a great look at a man who is obviously dangerously indifferent to consequences. He's smart, and probably on the spectrum, the character showing a cool calculation in the face of emotional excess (blood and gore, for one thing). But his lack of boundaries is what makes him successful.

But the movie ends up going farther, and this is what makes it start to seem like a "great" movie: it indicts the television studios who hunger for this kind of news, and who manipulate it to ratings advantage. And the indictment goes further, because it's the public eventually who craves to see it--that's what ratings measure.

And so there is a weird inevitability to it all that makes none of unreasonable. And the fact that it's reasonable is further chilling. Add that Gyllenhaal is brilliant in this role and you have something special happening.

This idea of a ruthless photojournalist clearly goes back to Weegee in late 1930s New York (there is a great video with him narrating his methods out there on Youtube). But the idea of arriving before the police, moving evidence, and filling the needs of the press and the public all start there, at least in someone who made himself famous doing so.

Watch it. Watch it twice.

The Old Guard
(2020)

Well done and familiar territory
The Old Guard (2020)

This starts beautifully, with a combination of intrigue and international espionage. You only learn after awhile that the main characters are superpower types-immortals. And this changes the mood, but only slowly and logically. Then the plot shifts a little too much to explaining who they are and how their gifts show up (and their limitations).

So it slows a little, because in fact this doesn't drive the narrative forward and is pretty standard stuff. But the acting is sharp and the whole mise-en-scene well done, very well done.

Mortality--and avoiding it--drives the movie, with a villain who wants the secret to it all, and some infighting. A lot of familiar tropes at work, so what propels the movie is just that it's done well. That won't be enough for many people.

Greyhound
(2020)

Superb in its simple intentions, but a very simple, linear telling
Greyhound (2020)

This is the easiest review I've ever written. Why? Because this WWII movie is so obviously good, well made, and linear. It goes from stating the problem quickly (merchant ships crossing the Atlantic with German subs in the waters out to get them) to illustrating the problem. The illustration, if you don't mind the word, is the movie. And Tom Hanks is the movie, too, as the commander of a ship which is in charge of protecting the dozens of merchants ships filled with goods and oil and such heading for England. The Germans are many, relentless, and evil (they tease their enemies of the radio). Hanks, an older man in his first mission of WWII, is thoughtful, religious (old-school Christian), and very smart. He generally succeeds. They get past the dark zone in the middle of the ocean to the other side and the safety of air support. That's the movie. There might be a spoiler in there, but you deserve to know that the movie will not succeed by surprising you, or pressing you to think, or by any manner of approaching the war in a new way. It's a war movie that does in fact succeed, I have to remind everyone, by simply being so well made. And by having the veritable Hanks at the center of every scene, every scene. It races through encounter after encounter, with small heroes in the crew and one large hero at the helm. There are lots of hard turns to the left or right (the rudder is sturdy) and some mishaps and despair, but the real thrust is action. Boats, submarines, depth charges, radar (which was just developed in 1939, so is brand new for this moment), sonar (well developed by now), and torpedos, of course. It's great, exciting, and it never lets up. You have a true understanding of what it might have been like. Kind of. Everyone writing about this movie wishes it had tried harder. And never mind the cheap insertion of sappy love interest Elizabeth Shue for ten seconds. Silly. But the rest of the movie, not silly. Good, easy movie.

Pride & Prejudice
(2005)

Gorgeously filmed, smartly compacted Austen
Pride and Prejudice (2005)

I began my Pride and Prejudice attempt with the well regarded 1995 five hour classic with Colin Firth, a BBC mini-series. And it is so poorly filmed (visually) and so utterly about recreating the text (the Austen original), it ends up being awkward and sort of awful. As a movie. I know that sacriledge to some. But I switched after an hour to this one, which I had seen before. And in two minutes I was sucked in. I think the biggest first point is this: to be true to Austen, you must find a way to put us there, to make us feel it. It's not about the text, the facts, the truth of the translation to film. It's about the effect and the final "truth" that this movie manages in a short two hours. So, yes, this is a filmic film. It's gorgeous and thoughtful for how it handles the scenes and the light, the movement of camera and the capturing of space. It's a wonderful film on a physical level. (There are particular scenes, in the middle especially at a party, where the camera follows the action from character to character through several rooms for a glorious long take that just fills the sensation of being there beautifully.) You might say this is Keira Knightly's movie, since she is Elizabeth. And she's kind of great (I've always had a reservation about her sincerity on screen). The cast around her is terrific-even the somewhat troublesome casting of Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy. I know that Mr Darcy is meant to be unpleasant, but he comes off as somewhat wooden for too long here...as he does in Colin Firth's hands, too, in fact. But I warm to him by the end, so maybe it's perfect. And the other cast, including stars like Sutherland and Dench, is great. The director, Joe Wright, is basically unknown to me, though I see he did the more excessive Knightley vehicle, Atonement. So the tendancy for dramatic ambiance is a given, not to mention Anna Karenina (also starring Knightley). It all works. It's a kind of dramatization that purists probably hate, but for me it makes an original take on a classic that has its own dignity and beauty. And I'll add that Knightly is just 18 for this filming, and shows amazing depth for a young actress. Recommended!

Uptight
(1968)

Extra appreciation for meaning...this is an important film straight from 1968
Set in Cleveland in the days after Martin Luther King's funeral, this gorgeous film interweaves several stories about what seems like typical Black urban America. There are people struggling to survive, there are revolutionaries (this is 1968), and there is the leading man, Tank, who is troubled by failure and drink, and by King's death. So crime in the name of racial justice collides with ordinary people who have their own kind of individual justice, or just decency, but strained and compromised. In a way, this is about life, ordinary life, except the times are not ordinary at all, and the drama of having a social cause elevates and distorts ordinary things. The director, Jules Dassin, is known for a couple or three great noirs, and maybe that suits the mood here, twenty years later. But the big credit is just him taking on a movie with this kind of topical meaning, and with sincerity. The political meeting in the center of movie is a bit clichéd no doubt, but it feels close enough to get the point across. The story has classic roots, in a weird way-it's based on a 1925 book, "The Informer," about the Irish resistance. It was made into a British (ironically) film in 1929, and then a more famous (and highly regarded) 1935 John Ford film. This tranferrance to the Black Revolution, with parallels to the Black Panthers in their insistence that guns are necessary to real revolution, is strong and interesting, and it comes straight from the period, without the filters and aesthetic distance that a later film would have not avoided. I have to say this is a beautiful film. Almost every scene is at night, and the stark interiors and dramatic exteriors, with layers of light and rain and sweat (and a notable early scene in the shower) make it really sizzle. Cinematographer Boris Kaufman really gets it. It's vivid just on visual terms (including a 720 degree camera spin after a shootout, another at the end). He shot "On the Waterfront" and "Baby Doll" and "Long Day's Journey into Night" for just three classics. However, it isn't uniformly thoughtful, and an attempt at some humorous surreal commentary at a funhouse is both fun and awkward. This is followed by a born-again street preacher who might seem believable to some but it seems more symbolic, and pushy. But then, this is followed a scene of family and friends in a big, quiet meeting where Tank arrives drunk, and the editing and filming seems to compare to the careful head shots in Dreyer's "Passion of Joan of Arc." Seriously. This is an almost entirely black cast, and set in squalid, cramped inner city situations. Look for fabulous performances by Ruby Dee (as a mother filled with dignity), and Rosco Lee Jones (as a homosexual), in addition to Tank, played by Julian Mayfield. For those who like blaxploitation films, this is more sincere and yet still filled with the exaggerations and details of urban Black America from that same era (or actually a few years before most of them).

Us
(2019)

A decent, but run of the mill scare movie with a couple of improbable twists..
Us (2019)

I think if I saw this movie without knowing the director and writer was Jordan Peele, I would have just dismissed it as ordinary stuff. It has all the elements of a kind of zombie twist, with the appealing semi-novelty of featuring a black cast in a normalizing way. That's all fine. But this is a movie built on clichés, and with an awful lot of chasing, hiding, being found, fighting, chasing, hiding, etc. It clicks along fine for awhile, and has an odd twist in the middle. The larger "twist" at the end is kind of the overall rationale to things and it's so improbable and silly it doesn't work. Sure, suspend your disbelief, but don't call this a great movie. The elephant in the room is "Get Out," which of course is Peele's previous movie, a fabulous bit of moviemaking. But that movie, to be clear, has originality, great acting, true suspense (as opposed to scary surprises), and some overlying meaning about race. And I think the main actor in that one was above and beyond and made the movie rise even higher. "Us" is none of those things. I almost didn't care to see the end it was so obvious as it went, and kind of playing with the audience's helplessness. Hopes are up for Peele's next round.

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