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Stars Shine
A teen-aged hippie and a middle-aged businessman become romantically involved. Focusing on the hippie culture, this film is very much a product of its time. However outdated its values may be, it still manages to be a worthwhile watch thanks to terrific performances by the leads. Holden was in his early 50s when this was filmed but looked much older, thanks to years of boozing, making the age difference between him and Lenz even more pronounced. Holden is solid as a real estate agent. Lenz, in her first big role after a bit part in "American Graffiti," is perfectly cast as the naive hippie. The two stars have great chemistry. This is probably the oddest entry in Eastwood's directorial ledger.

Love Before Breakfast

Breezy Comedy
A rich man pursues a young woman although her boyfriend works for him. This breezy film is an apt vehicle for the comedic talents of the incomparable Lombard, who plays the woman in a love triangle involving Foster and Romero. The role of the rich fellow seems tailor-made for Clark Gable, but Foster, who was better known for playing tough guys, does pretty well as a poor man's Gable. Beecher is a delight as Lombard's wise-cracking mother. Although only one is credited, apparently a number of writers were involved, including Preston Sturges. However, the film does not suffer from too many cooks in the kitchen, as the pacing is rapid and the dialog is witty. Lang provides the smooth direction.

Como agua para chocolate

Sensual and Atmospheric
The story of a Mexican family is recounted, spanning decades. This is an interesting fable that manages to turn cooking into a sensual experience. It is helped by beautiful cinematography and a fine score. The acting is generally good, with Cavazos giving a standout performance as a young woman who is controlled by a domineering mother. Unfortunately, the latter is portrayed as so one-dimensionally evil that she makes Cinderalla's stepmother seem like a candidate for Mother of the Year. The story moves in fits and starts, lingering too long on some scenes but then abruptly skipping ahead by a decade. Director Arau is known mainly as an actor, but he does a fine job of creating an evocative atmosphere.

The Hunger Games

Repulsively Ridiculous
In a dystopian future, the government picks youngsters to engage in a fight to death. The premise of the film and the source novel is repulsively ridiculous. Not only are kids forced to brutally fight each other, but the event is televised for the pleasure of the masses. Seriously? What kind of society gets its entertainment by watching children kill each other? What point is being made here? If one looks past the silly and disturbing premise, however, it is an entertaining action film for the most part. Lawrence is OK as the surly heroine, but all the characters are strictly one-dimensional. Tucci hams it up as the TV host of the games, unable to contain his glee over the violence, likely reflecting the view of the filmmakers.

Good Will Hunting

Pretentious and Manipulative
A math genius works as a janitor at MIT, unable to overcome his difficult upbringing. The premise of this film is ludicrous. It really requires suspension of belief to buy that Damon, who never attended college, has become a genius by reading books. The pretentious and manipulative script by Damon and Afleck really reaches: not only can he do complex math problems, but he can hold his own with anyone when discussing politics, philosophy, economics, literature, and history. We are supposed to root for Damon, but he's such an arrogant jerk that one roots for someone to punch him out. Williams is fine as a psychologist, but it's a role he has played a number of times. Driver does well as Damon's needy girlfriend.

Monsieur Verdoux

Autumnal Charlie
An unemployed man supports his family by marrying and murdering rich women for their money. Chaplin made only a handful of films after the silent era and this one followed "The Great Dictator" after a seven-year gap, a period over which the great comedian seems to have lost his gift for laughs. Perhaps this was just the result of Chaplin in his autumnal years wanting to do something more substantial, but he seems unsure of whether he's doing comedy or drama. This is the first film in which Chaplin speaks English, but he hardly says anything that is funny. After a slow start, this turns out to be a decent film but it seems the premise had potential for much more humor than is mined here.


Are We There Yet?
A man returns to his family after a 12-year absence and tries to connect with his two sons. It gets off to a somewhat intriguing start as the return is shrouded in mystery. Although the pacing is deliberate, the early scenes between the father and the sons are fairly well done, with tension mounting in their relationships. As the three make their way through the wilderness, one expects a journey of enlightenment and resolution of conflicts. Instead one has to keep asking, "Are we there yet?" The film starts to drag and becomes frustrating to watch, going on much too long. The acting is not bad, especially by the two youngsters, and the cinematography is nice. Unfortunately, it's a case of all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Strangers on a Train

Terrific Thriller
Upon meeting a tennis pro, a fan proposes to murder the former's pesky wife in exchange for the pro killing the fan's father. Walker, who died at 32 a couple of months after the film was released, is chilling as a charming psychopath. Although he is now best remembered for this role, the performance was unexpected at the time in light of the genial characters he had played previously. Like Walker, Granger also has the role of his career and he acquits himself quite well as the weak tennis pro. Hitchcock masterfully builds up the suspense, leading to a frenetic finale that unfortunately is marred somewhat by a ridiculous scene on a merry-go- round. However, such lapses can be overlooked in an otherwise terrific thriller.

The Lady from Shanghai

Muddled Drama
A man unwittingly becomes involved in a murder plan while employed by a rich man. It starts with a ridiculous scene where Welles saves Hayworth from thugs. It then bogs down into a dreary talk-fest, perking up only about a third of the way through when the murder plot comes into play. However, the script is so muddled and lacking in focus that it is hard to become invested in the story. Welles doesn't help matters with his terrible Irish brogue, which is difficult to understand. Furthermore, he delivers his lines in a monotone, as if he were comatose. Welles's direction is not as bad as his screenplay and acting, but it's nothing special. Hayworth, looking beautiful, divorced Welles shortly after the film was released. Can't blame her.


Not Realism
A couple of street kids become involved with some unsavory characters and end up in a prison for juvenile delinquents. De Sica was a leader of the Italian neo-realism movement, and this is celebrated as the earliest of his masterpieces. Unfortunately, it is not in the same class as "Bicycle Thieves" and "Umberto D." It is ironic that this is (or was) regarded as realistic because it has some embarrassingly melodramatic scenes. While the two kid actors are pretty good, the adults are all portrayed as ruthless, one-dimensional villains, showing little regard for the troubled youth. Perhaps De Sica did this on purpose to expose the conditions at such places in Italy, but it doesn't make for good drama.


Rambling and Pretentious
This rambling drama looks at the intertwined stories of a group of New Yorkers, centered around a cigar shop. While it has its moments, the script is ridiculously contrived, a lackluster mixture of forced sentimentality and pretentious dialog. It is billed as a comedy, but there are no laughs to be had here. The relationships among the characters are not at all believable. There are also subplots, such as the one involving Keitel's ex-wife (Channing in a thankless role) and daughter (Judd in an early role), that are pointless. The acting is uneven, ranging from good (Keitel) to bad (Whitaker) to awful (some of the actors in small roles). Keitel is particularly good in relating a Christmas story.

A Shock to the System

Not Shocking Enough
After failing to get an expected promotion, an ad executive takes revenge on those responsible. It is a decent premise for a black comedy, and filmmakers carry on as if they are being clever and witty. However, the script leaves a lot to be desired. It's too cartoonish to be taken seriously as a crime drama and not wicked enough to be taken as a black comedy. The murder plans are too easy. Caine is well cast as the man who feels he has been wronged by society. Oddly, he provides the narration in third person. Although their roles are limited, McGovern, Riegert, Kurtz, and Patton provide good support. Given their age difference of nearly thirty years, it's a little creepy seeing Caine romance McGovern.

Lo imposible

Impossibly Inept
This drama looks at the impact of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on a British family vacationing in Thailand. Although based on a true story, this is an unbelievably melodramatic film that feels contrived, with every plot point staged for maximum emotional impact. One of the problems is the singular focus on a tourist family. With all the devastation to the locals, it is hard to sympathize with the plight of an affluent white family. Poorly scripted and directed, it is shamefully manipulative, going for cheap emotions at every turn. Watts and McGregor are decent actors but can't overcome the material they have to work with here. The victims of the tragedy deserve something better than this inept homage.

September Affair

Picturesque Romance
An unhappily married industrialist and a pianist engage in a passionate romance after they are presumed dead in a plane crash. It gets off to a slow start, with the early scenes feeling more like a travelogue than a drama, as the lovers take a tour of Italy. However, things start to get interesting about half way through as the plot thickens. Fontaine and Cotten are charming as the lovers who find a second chance for happiness. A young and pretty Tandy plays Cotten's long-suffering wife. Given all that has transpired, the ending seems contrived and unsatisfying, perhaps restricted by the censorship in effect at the time. Rachmaninov's second piano concerto is effectively used as Fontaine's signature piece.

Cani arrabbiati

Robbers take three civilians hostage as they make their getaway via a long cross-country drive. Bava is regarded as one of the masters of Italian cinema, particularly when it comes to horror films. He supposedly is admired by Quentin Tarantino, and the influence can be seen in some of the latter's films. Unfortunately, it's these influential moments featuring repugnant violence that mar Tarantino's films. The problem with this film is not just the violence; it's inept in every way. The acting is dreadful. The camera work is annoying. The dialog is pedestrian. The characters are so one-dimensional that there are cartoon characters with more depth. The plot twist in the end is interesting, but not enough to save this turkey.

The Passionate Friends

Boring Encounter
Lovers meet again after they had gone separate ways years earlier when she married an older man. With the parallels to "Brief Encounter," there is little doubt that Lean was going for another success like the 1945 classic. He even has Howard again playing a man involved with a married woman, but the magic is not there. In fact, it's quite a dreary affair based on a novel by Wells of all people. Not only is the script meandering, but the story is poorly structured, with flashbacks within flashbacks. It's a shame because a good cast is wasted. Todd, whom Lean married shortly after making this film, is radiant as the woman at the center of the love triangle. Howard as the lover and Rains as the unromantic husband are both fine.

The Sundowners

Pretty but Plot less
A couple and their teen-aged son roam the Australian outback in the 1920s. Kerr and Mitchum, in the second of the three times the pair teamed up over a four-year period, work well together and provide the star power. Ustinov can deliver droll lines with the best of them. Add in location cinematography under the direction of veteran Zinnemann and everything is there for a sure-fire winner. A key ingredient missing, however, is a compelling story. It's all very pleasant watching the stars interact with the locals, including Johns, Merrill, koala bears, kangaroos, and sheep (lots of sheep), but there is little in the way of plot to sustain interest, especially at a running time exceeding two hours.

Double Jeopardy

Sloppy but Entertaining
After she is framed for killing her husband, who fakes his death, a woman seeks revenge once out of prison. The story is quite far-fetched and little attention is paid to detail. The writers are even clueless about the meaning of "double jeopardy," wrongly suggesting that it applies in the case presented here. Despite these shortcomings, however, this is a darn entertaining little thriller, swiftly-paced under the direction of Beresford, who's not known for this kind of film. Judd, on the other hand, has made a career out of this kind of film, and she is fine here. Jones plays a variation on his role in "The Fugitive," and there are parallels between the two films. Greenwood makes a good villain.

Anna Karenina

Idiots at Work
The classic Tolstoy novel is turned into...well, it's not clear what exactly this is meant to be. The filmmakers are apparently trying to be clever and unconventional, but sometimes it's better to follow convention. Director Wright had great success with "Pride and Prejudice" and "Atonement," both featuring Knightley, but he seems to be totally lost here, unable to overcome the inept screenplay by Stoppard. While much of the film is conventionally shot, at times the camera moves back to reveal that the action is not taking place in 19th century Russia but on a stage. Shakespeare did say, "All the world's a stage." He also said, "Life is a tale told by an idiot," and he was looking at the filmmakers of this travesty when he said it.

Life of Pi

Pretty but Pointless
After his ship is hit by a storm, a young Indian man finds himself adrift on a boat with a tiger. The cinematography is so dazzling that Lee won an Oscar for this, one of the few instances where a director has won without the film winning Best Picture. Unfortunately, Lee is better with the special effects than with the actors, whose performances are uneven at best. While the movie looks great, like pretty postcards, the script, based on a popular novel, is too weak to sustain interest. The story, disjointed and somewhat clumsily structured with flashbacks, is fantastic and nonsensical, and ultimately pointless. The characters are meant to be wise and worldly but come across as shallow caricatures.

Strategic Air Command

Unbelievably Dull
A professional baseball player is drafted by the Air Force to rejoin the title division, where he served during WWII. Stewart had a long and successful career during which he made many fine films, but this is without a double one of his worst clunkers. It is little more than a propaganda film for the Air Force. There are long, dull sequences showing men going on uneventful missions. It is so tedious that time seems to come to a standstill. Furthermore, Stewart was obviously too old for the role. Looking to be pushing 50, he is not at all believable as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. Allyson is rather annoying as his cloying wife, her third screen role as Stewart's wife.

Rosemary's Baby

Atmospheric Thriller
A young couple moves into a New York City apartment, where strange things start happening. Making his first American film, Polanski expertly creates a suspenseful atmosphere where tension builds slowly but surely in this influential supernatural thriller, helped by a haunting score. As with his earlier "Repulsion," the director conveys horror not so much by what is shown as what is suggested. As a young woman undergoing a difficult pregnancy, to put it mildly, Farrow is terrific in a star-making turn. Cassavetes may be miscast as her husband, but Gordon and Blackmer are quite effective as nosy neighbors. The cast features such familiar faces as Bellamy, Cook, Henry, and Grodin.

The Rocking Horse Winner

Peculiar but Interesting
A boy is able to pick winners at horse races after receiving a rocking horse as a gift. Based on a short story by Lawrence, this is a rather peculiar film that is interesting but not clear about the nature of the magical power the rocking horse possesses. It benefits from good acting. Hobson does well in the rather unsympathetic role of the mother who can never have enough money, which begins to wear on her young son, effectively played by Davies. The latter had played the title role the previous year in "Oliver Twist," but retired from acting before his teens and went on to have a long career as producer and director in British television. Mills is likable as a kindly stable hand who befriends the boy.

La vita è bella

Touching Comedy-Drama
During WWII, a Jewish couple and its young son are sent to a concentration camp. Benigni won an Oscar for his wonderful portrayal of an eternal optimist. The film effectively blends humor with the atrocities of war, eventually proving to be a touching story. It is not necessarily believable but the sheer force of Benigni's personality is enough to allow one to go along for the ride. Braschi, Benigni's real-life wife, plays his wife while little Cantarini does well as the five-year old son who Benigni tries to shield from the horrors of the concentration camp. Buchholz, best remembered as an impetuous young member of "The Magnificent Seven," has one of his final roles here as an eccentric German.


Enjoyable but Preachy
An unemployed actor goes drag and not only finds work but also becomes a hit on a soap opera. Hoffman is fairly convincing as a woman, but really comes off more as a caricature than a person. Also, given her homely looks, it's hard to believe that men are attracted to her. Although the cross-dressing premise is used to make points about feminism and becoming a better man after walking in a woman's shoes, the film tends to be a bit preachy in doing so. While the film is enjoyable, the humor is mostly understated and the drama never reaches the levels of poignancy that is intended. Lange, Garr, Murray, and Durning all turn in fine performances. Director Pollack is wonderful as Hoffman's agent.

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