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The Gallant Hours

Commander and Commanded
Robert Montgomery's The Gallant Hours is three movies in one, an overly reverent memoir of Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, maybe the most unusual war movie I've ever seen, and a somewhat-clumsy piece of historical fact/fiction.

And yet, it works, and works pretty darned well. The power of The Gallant Hours comes from the juxtaposition of James Cagney's intense portrayal of the mercurial naval commander in the Guadalcanal campaign of August, 1942 to February, 1943 with the documentarian interplay between Halsey and Japanese Fleet commander, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

In a crisp black and white, Montgomery tells the story of Halsey's assignment to take command of the failing effort to wrest control of Guadalcanal after two months of dithering and failure by Halsey's close friend, Admiral Robert Ghormley. He's faced with a titanic effort to drag victory out of the clenched fangs of almost-certain defeat.

Halsey reminds his staff that, quite simply, if the 'canal falls, Australia will follow, and the effort to defeat the Japanese will probably come to a ghastly end.

From the moment you meet Cagney's Halsey, all pugnacity, dancing on his pent up energy to, "Kill Japs, kill more Japs, and kill even more Japs," you can't help but love him. He's the coach who wins games, Vince Lombardi in khaki. He takes command, apologizes to Ghormley for the inevitability of getting all the credit-if things go right-and starts assessing just how awful the situation really is.

Halsey goes to Guadalcanal to see the mess at point blank range. His driver, played by an actor who is 40-if he's a day-is a 28 years old marine. You wouldn't realize it until the narrator informs you. It's a subtle, telling piece of storytelling using casting to make a point.

Then the narrator tells you the driver's future, and you understand why Guadalcanal was Hell on Earth.

They do it again when the admiral meets a squad of marines, and you're told half of the just-out-of-high-school-aged leathernecks won't survive. A youngster waves goofily at the admiral as they hoof it away, and, you guessed it, you're told he is one of the GIs who won't make it home.

I'm such an old fuddy-duddy, I'm writing this with clenched teeth. I don't want to tear up writing a movie review.

Time and again, the director bounces back and forth to show the commanders and the commanded.

"This is so-and-so, 19-years-old, who killed 38 Japanese soldiers this morning."

"Here lies a father of two little girls in Kobe, Japan, a schoolteacher by trade."

My teeth are clenching again. My jaws hurt.

God, this movie is hard to watch. Not because there is, literally, no action scenes, but that you can see what you're not seeing. "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Pacific" are right there, somewhere outside Halsey's porthole on his command ship. Every time bad news is delivered, Cagney's character grits his teeth, swallows his grief, and tells his staff to do something that will accomplish Halsey's wish that, "When this war is over, the only place the Japanese language will be spoken is in Hell."

That's not racism but a war-winning ferocity against a genocidal empire.

Yet, the movie often falters. There is a scene with two admirals who assure Halsey they won't back down no matter what happens in a coming night action (Dan Callaghan and Norm Scott didn't, and they died for their patriotism), but the casting is just weird, with one of the actors looking like he has a wire hanger in his mouth, his grin is so big. Repeatedly, you get a history lesson from some character about Yamamoto's personality or Japanese tactics. Types of aircraft are promised long before they really were, and the culmination of the desire to make Admiral Yamamoto pay for his attack on Pearl Harbor puts real events six months before they really happened. For an historian, it's the little things that make the movie get the hiccups.

And there's the night action that stopped the Japanese from destroying the marine air field, what Samuel Eliot Morison referred to as "a knife fight in an alley," the first of two back-to-back naval battles that sealed the Japanese' fate on Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942. When the shooting was over, five American ships had gone down, three Japanese (including a battleship), and you get Halsey pacing his office, climbing the walls, waiting for news. Up, down, shoes off, shoes on. It would have been a perfect scene if for the dreamy, echoing ship's orders that make you think Halsey has lost it completely.

But, by now, you're in a forgiving mood because, if you don't know the history of Guadalcanal, it's all news to you!

So, even though it gets too reverent, to history-ey, and you keep thinking Cagney is going to start light-footing it around his quarters, singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy," The Gallant Hours is a great never-heard-of-it movie that teaches you to respect Halsey, who could be aggressive to a fault, who almost lost the Battle of Leyte Gulf by being a bit too predictable (and then ignored those warnings about a typhoon that would hammer his fleet a month later).

When Admiral Halsey reads the dispatches coming in on the day of a huge battle between two carrier forces in October of 1942, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, a battle that would be called a tactical loss and a strategic win for us, he sees his carriers jockeying for position, dithering, and he sends a classically Halsey-esque order . . .

"Attack, repeat, attack!"

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

You mean the love interest played a Japanese girl in a Bond flick?
Such is the boredom level--looking up the performers--with Hammer's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, a handsomely produced episode of that Ol' Shuffling Ragface.

What is logged in as an 81-minute 1964 horror movie is more of a yawn-fest, with a mildly interesting story weighed down by leaden direction and indifferent performances, except for American TV actor, Fred Clark, who provides the only real showmanship.

Half way through, with my mind wandering, and the Samsung beckoning, I looked up some of the principals here. The girl--name forgotten, already--looked familiar, and, sure enough, she was a Bond girl in You Only Live Twice. I think she's Asian, so playing a Japanese wouldn't cause the Cancel Culturati to start burning her in effigy.

The movie is enough of a dud that I should have cancelled it long before the Mummy gets his just desserts.

I won't say how he gets it, because I don't have the energy to click Yes on the spoiler section of this page.

Gawd, I'm boring myself to death. I wonder if they're showing that Bond movie on Pluto.

Prince Valiant

The Equivalent of an Unsalted Saltine
On a Friday night, with wife and daughter on a girls-only vacation, I watched Henry Hathaway's Prince Valiant with my cat, Dave. I had recorded PV off FX some years ago, and I had some time to enjoy a bit of non-threatening and chivalrous derring-do.

If one goes into a movie with certain preconceptions, chances are that those preconceived notions will be validated. I thought the movie would be handsome, colorful, mildly violent, and filled with stilted Arthurian/Hollywoodian dialogue.

I nailed it.

Four takeaways from Prince Valiant:

1. Henry Hathaway knew how to tell a story 2. Robert Wagner was a ridiculously light-weight leading man (with an equally ridiculous wig) 3. James Mason could read the instructions on a box of unsalted soda crackers, and I would listen 4. Sterling Hayden, not so much

Oh, and one more thing--anyone who would get mad at this movie, a 66 year old Arthurian clang-and-banger, needs to just groove to the vanilla vibes of 1954.

And if you want to be creepy, just think of Janet Leigh in her bra and slip in Psycho, six years later.

The List of Adrian Messenger

The Gentle Gentry
I don't think there was a moment that my brain wasn't smiling as I watched John Huston's The List of Adrian Messenger. It is an almost perfect piece of mass-murder fluffery. That's a sentence that seems to not work, but if you watch the almost-60 year old story of skullduggery amongst the landed gentry--and occasional commoner--you'll see what I mean.

This is just a fun movie, with George C. Scott leading a wonderful cast who are often decked out in cutting-edge latex disguises through a maze of greed, homicide, and fox-hunting.

Dana Wynter is a secondary love interest, and the only truly false note in TLoAM is using such a ethereal beauty as window-dressing.

Since we're still stuck spending a lot of time trapped in our homes because of the Kung Flu, and you may be getting tired of streaming crappy TV series, try this little gem.

See what Hollyweird used to do for a living.

Between the Lines

I have a vague memory of . . .
Between the Lines, and it's pleasant. BtL is one of those ensemble, renegade, rage-against-the-machine flicks that have always been with us, but were completely at home in Post-Watergate Land.

All I remember is that I enjoyed the actors (and if you look at the cast, it's an A-Team of talent), that Lindsey Crouse was really cute, and Jeff Goldblum insults some corporate suit or sell-out or whatever with "You pernicious eel-sh**!"

You can tell that Between the Lines didn't make much of a splash because--not counting mine--there are 9 reviews.

I saw the movie, I think, on HBO in something like 1978 or 1979, right about the time FM came out. FM was another ensemble, renegade ratm flick, but with great music and it was really dumb.

I don't remember Between the Lines being stupid.

A Clockwork Orange

Killing a Show Tune
A Clockwork Orange (1971)

If you read the book, be patient. Learn Nadsat. After a third of the book, you'll forget there's a glossary in the back. Also, there are two versions of the book. The British and the American. As I remember, the American version has a prettified ending, or something akin to that.

As far as the movie is concerned, in many ways, ACO hasn't aged well. It looks like a 1971 universe masquerading as 2017. Yet there are elements that are surreal that they translate effortlessly to any time.

I remember watching it for the first time at The Magic Lantern in Spokane. I felt icky and exhilarated afterward. I saw it again in a film class at Spokane Falls Community College. A third time in the early 80s.

The last time was within the last ten years. I turned off the DVD player and thought, this is how I felt when I saw Pulp Fiction--amazed at the technical expertise and disgusted by the crimson pornography Pauline Kael wrote about in the New Yorker and mentioned in the Atlantic piece by Adam Chandler.

With all that said, my takeaway from ACO is never really liking Singin' in the Rain anymore. Also, Malcolm MacDowell was so effortlessly perfect as Alex, that when I watched him play a Scientology-style leader in The Mentalist, I started humming the show tune.

My wife gave me a look.

Girl Crazy

In Which Universe?
Except for the radiance of Judy Garland, all of about 20 years old, carrying herself as if she's 10 years older, I can't find anything good--or bad--about 1943's Girl Crazy.

Other than being cute and sweet and absurd, there's nothing really here to comment on. I spent a couple of hours watching Girl Crazy on the MoviesTV network, and it was a good day. If I hadn't watched it, it would have been a good day.

Oh, one good thing. I liked the desert scenery.

That's all I got!

The Ipcress File

I Have to See the Other Harry Palmers!
The Ipcress File is a good, solid, edgy spy story with an engaging--if mildly befuddled at times--hero. It also has more than enough twists and turns, Russian defectors, traitorous Englishmen, and a sexy Mossad operative who would make anyone want to go deep undercover.

Probably the best thing about The Ipcress File is that it feels authentic. How's that for an oxymoron, an authentic fiction? Michael Caine's Harry Palmer is way smarter and deeper than he--or the opposition--realize, but Palmer seems the perfect slacker here. He seems way more interested in sex than security. He lopes and mopes around in those dorky glasses, leering at "birds," and doing just enough to keep his boss infuriated and the Reds confounded.

It's been a couple of months since I watched this movie, and the most vivid thing I remember is the contrast between the two Berlins. The movie was shot in 1965, and the vibrancy of West Berlin is astounding.

If I hear one more idiotic Millennial (redundancy) telling me how great Socialism is, I may suggest to the idiot to watch The Ipcress File.

The moron will probably never get past "Hey, that's Batman's butler!"

Merry In-Laws

The Masochist
That should have been the title.

To commit to watching this lame TV movie about a young couple--perky scientist-girl and cutesy-poo teacher-boy having to bring their future in-laws together (blandly acted and unfunny science-dad and mom and perky Shelley Long and George Wendt as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, acting as if their career high-points ended when Cheers folded) means you've spun the digital dial and found nothing else on.

The trouble with mixing fantasy and comedy on TV is that keeping up a consistent stream of humor and wonder is dang-near impossible. A movie like this just has to go flat and flavorless sooner or later.

And when it did, what was a mildly entertaining bit of undigested cotton-candy becomes a wad of over-cooked, dried out cinematic oatmeal.

By the time the comedy of errors part and the betrayal part and the aw-shucks-it-weren't-nothin' part have taken place, I had lost interest.

The stale raisins that topped off the lump of oatmeal were the characters, for whom I had no interest--and they had no chemistry together, anyway.

Oh, well. Merry In-Laws, at best, might be filling for some viewers.

Just like a bowl of Quaker's, but without the maple syrup and brown sugar.

You'd have to be a masochist to eat that stuff.

Unlikely Angel

Made of the Same Goo in My Sinuses
Once again, when a virus invades my upper-respiratory tract, it also attacks my common sense, and I wind up watching a stupidly forgettable piece of fluff.

Here's the synopsis that will kill your synapses. Dolly Parton. Dead. Heavenly mission. Broken family. Heartwarming. Ridiculous outfits. Ridiculouser wigs. Cliches. Love. True meaning of Christmas. Resolution.

Except for a moderately pretty song at the end--and the late, great Roddy McDowell being wasted in his part--you enter into a transaction with Unlikey Angel, wherein you commit to losing 90 minutes of your life at the cost of not thinking about how the virus you've contracted is ruining a perfectly good Saturday afternoon.

It's so forgettable that I had to look up the synopsis to remember the movie I watch two days ago. It's very possible I sneezed out the short-term memory of Unlikely Angel.

Mrs. Worthington's Party

The Jury was Out . . .
Until the little girl whispers in David Wall's ear.

I was coming down with a cold last Saturday, and I didn't want to be bothered with anything other than streaming something to take my mind off my rapidly-filling sinuses.

On Prime Video, the ad for David Wall's indie film "Noelle" caught my attention because it didn't look anything like the 87 other Hallmark love-amongst-the-fake-snow wallows. My wife and I watched it, and we couldn't figure out if the movie was supposed to be in the Maritimes, Wales, or some alternate-reality state in our Union.

Noelle is a dry, somewhat humorous, and confusing joy. I sat there harumphing at the infuriating main characters' inability to seal the deal, to get me to buy totally into the story and suspend disbelief. Yet, I stuck with it, and as the story of a diocesan hatchet-man who is sent to close down a tiny-town parish church and finds out he really shouldn't be a priest unfolds, I began to appreciate the deeply-embraced Catholicism of the movie. The idea that a man can be a priest and despise the transactional humanity of his ministry is so foreign to me that I had to see how this movie, made for what appeared to be about a $143, resolved the large and small conflicts.

I wasn't sure if I could say I liked Noelle until the little girl whispered in the priest's ear. All of a sudden I had to grab a paper towel.

And it wasn't to mop up snot.

It Happened One Christmas

The Multiplex in Hell . . .
Shows only remakes.

Spinning the dial (I'm showing my age) on Prime Video for a Christmas movie resulted in our watching the 1977 not-quite-perfectly-awful remake of Frank Capra's dreary and depressing It's a Wonderful Life.

Yes, I said it. I have never liked IAWL. The humor is strained, the Americana is post-WWII over-the-top, and Jimmy Stewart looks miserable, even when things are good.

Why, you ask, did I watch a remake of a movie I don't really like? Maybe boredom.

What I got was a pretty good performance out of Orson Welles. The guy had a voice that I thought was more profound than Morgan Freeman's or James Earl Jones'. Everyone else was either annoying, phony, or cardboard.

Trying to pass off a 40-year-old Marlo Thomas as a high school graduate or trying to explain why Thomas' eldest child, born in 1935-ish, looks like a real high schooler in 1943 is a bit beyond logic.

What the folks behind this turkey were trying to accomplish by tweaking and bending the Capra classic to fit a 3-hour time slot on ABC 40+ years ago is not apparent no matter how hard one tries. If it was modernizing the story by switching the main character's sex, would it not have made more sense finding an actress who could present a female version of Jimmy Stewart's everyman appeal? Marlo Thomas, all stick-angles and squeaky voice, never appealed to me. Wayne Rogers was professionally bland. Orson Welles sat there rumbling evil business psychology. Cloris Leachman made a crappy guardian angel.

The only thing that I found worth noting, worth watching, was the sets and props. Universal must have raided its voluminous inventory of props and toys, and the set design, for the most part, is the only saving grace with It Happened One Christmas.

Everything else, everyone else was just phoning it in.

I should have blocked the call.

An American Christmas Carol

Jumping the Reindeer
This is the sort of lifeless holiday trash that has been turned into a fine art on the Hallmark Channel. There isn't a moment that I regretted agreeing to watch this with family a few days ago. I remember seeing this 1979 mess advertised, and I cringed at the thought of a hack actor like Henry Winkler, decked out in a ridiculous latex old-fart face, playing my favorite antagonist.

I love A Christmas Carol because I love Ebenezer Scrooge. He is an awful, mean, and vulgar man. Scrooge is one of my very favorite bad guys, a tragic character who hopes much of the "surplus population" plays in traffic. He's so nasty, sniveling, and believable that, when it's time for him to get some serious churchin' up, I feel sad. I know it's better that he gets his head straight, but the conversion to being a decent person is the only weak part of Dickens' story.

It's a quibble, but a few days--at least--of soul-searching by Eb, after seeing not one but four ghosts (and Marley is my fave), would have been easier to swallow.

Yes, I know. If he had become a human on December 28th, the whole point of the Christmas goose arriving at the Cratchit's would have been a smidgen weak.

Which brings us back to the cheap-jack movie-of-the-week feel from AACC. Everything screams 1979-trying-to-be-1933-and-not-making-it! Even the engine noises from Winkler's company truck are so overly looped that it's like the sound engineer wanted to scream at you, "Hey, that's an old truck there, for sure, you betcha!"

Even the timeline doesn't work. Winkler's Mr. Slade (I'm lazy enough not to bother looking up the first name) looks forty in 1917 and 80 in 1933. The folks at ABC(?) must have thunk this one up--The Fonz is so underused in Happy Days. Why not give him a movie where he can chew some scenery while encased in the sort of rubber face that Martin Landau used a million times in Mission Impossible?

You betcha, for sure!

It was 90 minutes of almost-perfect hell, and the only good that came out of it was my wife telling me that she enjoyed seeing a movie. We should watch more.


The Undefeated

There's crap that makes sense, and then there's just . . .

An apropos review for one of Andrew V. McLaglen's worst movies. There isn't a moment in The Undefeated that seems authentic or original or even coherent. It's just one of those why-can't-we-just-all-get-along bits of moral equivalency wherein the big ol' Union Kunnell and the better-dressed Confederate Kunnell join up to fend off the nasty ol' banditos, cuz, shoot, we gotta put that whole Wull unpleasantness 'hind us.

To make matters worse, the movie falls completely apart when John Wayne's character up and essentially surrenders to the Mexican government.

At least, I think that's what happened. By mid-way through the third reel, I was nodding off, and I was starting to dream about all that fried chicken on the Confederate chuck wagon.

Kin ah hayuv yo recipe, ma'am?

The Devil's Brigade

Germany, Canada, and Fort Harrison Should Have Sued for Slander
Is this Andrew V. McLaglen's worst film? God, I hope so. I'd hate to think there's another level of crap out there that's tempting me to waste my time.

I don't know where to begin criticizing this Grade Double-Z morass of cliches, lies, stereotypes, idiocies, and knife-wounds. So I won't try.

Suffice it to say that The Devil's Brigade is ugly, predictable, and insulting to anyone with a measurable IQ.

Flowers for Algernon

A Swing and a Miss!
Once again, Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon gets put on film, and once again, the book wins. It's not that this Hallmark Hall of Famer is really bad. It's not.


Keyes' book is hard to read. It has lots of levels of humanity. You have to go back and do a page here and a page there over again. When you're done, you feel as if you accomplished something.

At least, that's how I felt.

The TV flick tries mightily to condense the multi-layered and tragic book into 90 minutes. I don't think it can be done. So much of the intellect of the book is condensed or cut free.

Matthew Modine and Kelli Williams are very talented performers, and there is some good chemistry between the handicapped "Charly" and his teacher, but the movie, by it's very nature, is rushed.

Then the movie-makers decide to have Williams throw herself at Modine. Rushed becomes phony. The sex scene, chaste as it is on the little screen, seems so contrived, so unlike Miss Kinian, that sex ruins whatever good was going on.

Maybe I would feel differently if I hadn't seen Cliff Robertson in the 1968 Oscar-winner. There, Charly attacks Kinian, and the second half of the movie has the main character going off to find himself, getting angrier and sadder by the minute.

Charly has it's flaws and so does FFA. If you were able to splice the two together--without causing your audience to feel dosed with a hallucinogen--you might have something closer to the complexity of the book.

It's a little like Charles Portis' True Grit. The remake is closer to the book, but the John Wayne movie is so darned entertaining. It's fun to compare, but if you haven't read the book, you're really missing out.

It's the same here.

Walking Tall

Keepin' it in Your Shoe!
If ever there was a gory and exploitative serving of boilerplate watchability, it's 1973's Walking Tall. I won't get caught in the thicket of details of McNairy Tennesse Sheriff Buford Pusser's story--real or Hollywood--but I will tell you that Walking Tall is greater than the sum of the cliched parts.

Four things make this movie work. The first and foremost is the sheer intensity and physicality of Joe Don Baker's performance. It take almost no time to suspend disbelief because Baker is an unknown in this movie--had you ever heard of him before? He just radiates a sweaty righteousness that's infectious.

The second is the shock value of the violence, sometimes bordering on nauseating. The bashing, bludgeoning chaos is believable because of the slithering reptiles who run the criminal enterprises in the county. They're just so awful, but they aren't cartoons. You accept people like this as the sort of gangsters who would carve up a guy on a pool table to teach him a lesson or strap down a hooker to a bed to beat a confession out of her.

When Pusser saves her, you're looking at her shredded back and not her bare bottom. That is actually pretty darned effective movie-making.

Next, I thought it was brilliant to use so many familiar TV and film actors in character parts. They probably didn't get many dollars out of a movie that cost 500k to make. I've seen almost every actor and actress in a bunch of things, and the murderous madam, Callie, is the actress who played Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird. That was a shock.

They seem like old friends having a field day, but the good guys (Noah Beery, Jr. and Lurene Tuttle among others) seem a bit cardboard because they're there to support Baker's powerhouse performance. The baddies ooze a level of menace and hatred that makes their violence seem real. You just want them dead, don't you?

Finally, number four of the winning elements is the location-filming in Tennessee. It looks like a lovely place after the blood soaks into the ground.

Even though Walking Tall is a pulpy one-man-against-crime drive-in flick, it is compelling, well-made, and earnest. That's what makes mayhem acceptable.

The Highwaymen

Promises are Hard Things to Keep
Watching the trailer for The Highwaymen on Netflix was the high point of the movie. It looked so promising. The trailer showed a crisp, gutty "bug hunt" with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson paunching and grizzling their way across the Depression-flattened Texas landscape in search of a highway gang led by two people Costner's character later describes as "no longer human."

And when the film was done rolling for what seemed like 127 minute-and-a-half minutes, and the credits had crept, and my butt hurt, and my eyes stung from the toothpicks holding the lids up, I was mightily annoyed by John Lee Hancock's inability to do chest-compressions on his movie to keep it alive.

The Highwaymen is a very significant disappointment because, when you pack that much star-power with the splendid East Texan skies, and you re-tell the can't-help-but-be-compelling story of Bonnie and Clyde, you had better make sure that the viewers are compelled. Their eyeballs can't help being glued to the screen.

You had better keep your promise.


It's the Bilgiest Thing That's Ever Been Done to Me!
I saw Oliver! during my Christmas break in 1968. I was 10 years old, but I remember loving the energy, the baddies, and that gal's chest. It's funny, I remember thinking that I had been stupid, that cleavage was to be looked at, not looked away from.

Was I gone long?

Anyway, a couple years later I saw Scrooge! I knew the story because I had grown up with Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Scrooge! had some of the same depth and breadth as Oliver!, but it seemed forced, cheap.

Years later, I realized that Scrooge! was designed to capitalize on the good feelings from Oliver! It was big and fun, and "Thank ya very much!" is going through my head right now, but it was formulaic, a pumpkin pie in an 8" tin at WinCo.

I have never, ever liked Mary Poppins. It's a long, boring, overblown mess of a musical. Mary Poppins and Julie Andrews went hand-in-hand. No heart, no soul, just a big pile of special effects, dancing penguins, and the Mary and Bert (Burt?) oozing anti-chemistry.

Come to think of it, at just over nine hours of running time, I hate Mary Poppins.

And yet, it's a cinematic triumph compared to a cheap knock-off called "Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang." Not only is that movie a pale, bloodless, and cheap-looking follow-on to Mary Poppins, you get Dick Van Dyke again, a man who looks more like an angry drunk than a happy-go-lucky inventor.

I saw the first half of CCBB three times in my life. Each time I got so bored, I bailed on it. Finally, I watched it all the way through with wife and kinder-aged daughter, maybe 18 years ago, and the ladies fell asleep.

Two decades later, and I still remember being chained to the screen in our living room, grimly determined to ride out this crap to the end.

So, you ask, what's the point of this review. It's simple, really.

See a big, gassy, fluffnfeathers musical, and you walk out of the theatre--or you walk into your kitchen--feeling full. Wait a year or four, and suck up some more feathers and bilge gas, and leave the same outside or inside with a headache, a distended gut, and a feeling that the follow-up, exploitative nonsense you just watched will be farting its way into your life for years to come.

Because most people love these big ol' musical crapstorms, and they'll keep getting made until our Sun goes kerflooey.


Expiration Date
I honestly don't know if I like Harper. When I saw it as a teenager on CBS, it had a feel, a groove of modernity that was appealing. Even after the network grannies cut out a crudity here and a gay slur there, it felt the edgy mid-sixties anti-hero private dick flick it was supposed to.


50 plus years later, Paul Newman remains utterly watchable, and the movie just looks dated. The trouble is that Ross MacDonald's character, brought to vivid life by Newman, and his story (called The Moving Target) was a great restatement of why we like private detective stories. Harper was fresh, but now it's just a source of cliches.


If I want to see some great performances, dressed up in black suits and narrow ties, I can easily go back to Harper. That moment when Newman swings the metal file in the thug's face made me jump in 1973, and I did it again in 2018.

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel

When the Topic is More Interesting than the Movie
An infuriatingly uneven biopic, Henry Hathaway's The Desert Fox, is so poorly made that one might be tempted to ignore the topic of Erwin Rommel, a brilliant and chivalrous Wehrmacht commander who was more loyal to his men and patriotic toward Germany than a follower of Hitler.

The internal conflict is classic, cut from the same basic cloth as Brutus in Caesar.

You would think this film would be riveting. It's not. Even though James Mason is magnificently Prussian as Rommel, and there are several other great performances, we're left with a clunky and truncated story of the man George Patton called a "magnificent bastard."

That's a great name for Rommel. Born and bred to an ethic of an earlier time, Rommel became an anachronism to the new and improved concept of warfare in World War II.

Yet, if you don't know anything about Erwin Rommel--and you're willing to accept that he has been romanticized by history and Hollywood-- this film is something of a good start.

Escape from New York

I felt disappointed when I watched John Carpenter's Escape from New York some 36 years ago, and when I saw it again two weeks ago, getting over a viral menace that makes everything ache, except the muscles for the remote, I found EfNY just as disappointing and silly.

Now, mind you, this isn't supposed to be a big, thoughtful dystopian nightmare, just an adventure into the bowels of Manhattan-as- Supermax, wherein the President, Donald Pleasance, of all people, crashes, and it's up to our hero, Kurt Russell, to get him out.

Read that last sentence again. Yes, I know it's a ginormous run-on, but all you need to know is right above this paragraph.

It's that pretentious and dumb.

And it's not even very good. Carpenter lets the reins go in the third reel, and the movie meanders and muddles until its inevitable "big message" ending. The whole thing is only 80+ minutes long, and I got bored.

Never a good thing for dystopian nightmare action flicks.

I guess Escape from New York was the first true inkling that Carpenter was going to collapse as a major director. I think he had one more goodun' in him, The Thing.

Less Than Zero

Wow, I love a movie where . . .
I don't give a crap about any single character. It's so freeing.

Apparently, there's a message here in the film version of a book I didn't bother reading (and a movie I didn't bother seeing, that is, until I had a viral thingy a few days ago).

The movie came out 30 years ago when I was 29 and too old to connect with brat-pack angst. The story is about some spoiled little rich kidlets snorting and emoting and looking painfully happy when the darlins are a'sufferin' inside.

If the movie had any coherency or powerful performances, I may have almost cared about what happened. Since it didn't, I didn't either. About the only that even moved the giveacrapometer's needle was James Spader's drug dealer character.

But that needle just twitched.

Oh, well. Unlike the hopelessly emotey doper, Julian, my sickness went away.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of the Source Code of Tomorrow's Adjustment Bureau
I so dislike Tom Cruise that when I pay attention to a character he's playing, I feel as if I've gotten my time's worth out of a movie.

I so like Emily Blunt that she could spout some dreary anti-Trump twaddle on a late-night comedy show, and I would turn off the sound and just gaze.

Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow gets off to such a weak start, with Cruise looking as if he lost his confidence when he heard "action" and Brendan Gleeson looking bored to tears, that I almost gave up.

But I stuck around, deciding I would give the movie a chance.

And off she went!

Cruise's character is such a spineless feather-merchant that you actually start to enjoy his discomfort-fear-loathing-confusion-panic as he gets dropped onto a beach in France to fight some sort of spider/octopus thingies, of which there are about a zillion.

He sees Blunt get killed, then gets it himself, and . . .

Wakes up where he started, at a staging area for the invasion force in England.

With some dandy editing, forgivable lapses in logic, enough true humor, and the whole concept of reliving your death so that you don't get killed, eventually, the viewer gets hooked. Deep.

And then the last reel starts, and the whole thing falls apart. It's a murky mess, with a bunch of volunteers helping Cruise and Blunt fight their way to the queen spider thingamabob (which actually looks like a spongy, electrified golf ball) to kill it. It's all so dark and confusing that the viewer wonders what the hell happened to the crisp narrative in the first two thirds.

Oh, well.

All in all, it was a good use of time. I gauge "good" by how much I'm not getting done around the house. The chores don't get done, and the movie gets above a 5. My wife gets home and wonders if I did anything, the score goes up.

I told her that the movie had Emily Blunt, and she rolled her eyes and said something unpleasant.

She doesn't like Tom Cruise either.

Farewell, My Lovely

Cliché, My Lovely
If it weren't for the always watchable Robert Mitchum, the cool clothes, the lumbering Detroitmobiles, and the smoke and booze flowing like a river, Dick Richards' Farewell, My Lovely would collapse from the clichés, the incoherences, and the feeling that the movie is visually dark to add atmosphere while hiding the fact that the movie was made 30+ years after the book was published.

I tried to get mad at this mess, but I just couldn't. It felt cheap, but paying attention to that basset hound of a man, Robert Mitchum, make Charlotte Rampling's greedy whore laugh, a nice touch indeed.

I saw FML when it came out in the summer of 1975, and I lucked on it when a senior of mine said she had a couple boxes of VHS tapes that her mom wanted gone.

I took 'em, and there was Mitchum on the box cover, looking tough, with a curl of smoke pooling under the brim of his fedora.

Look at that! The movie--or Raymond Chandler--brings out the turn of phrase in the hacks among us.

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