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Dressed to Kill

Glossy psychobabble
De Palma's direction has virtuoso flair, no doubt about that, but DRESSED TO KILL is such a disappointing pastiche. Its story is a series of imaginatively shot thriller sequences-- and that's really all. Unlike Hitchcock's PSYCHO (the film De Palma is most aping considering the story's twist and protagonist switch), the characters are all one-note caricatures. While Angie Dickinson and Keith Gordon lend credibility to their rather wan characters, Michael Caine is slumming it and Nancy Allen is actively irritating.

In the end, the movie is all surfaces. Judging from the amount of voyeuristic scenes and sadism, I'm assuming this movie is trying to comment on the concept of "the gaze" and whatnot, but when the story around this lip service is incoherent and superficial, what do I care?

Barry Lyndon

The Kubrick movie that made me a fan
I was introduced to the work of Stanley Kubrick at a college screening of 2001, a film I appreciated but did not love. Years later, a chance viewing of BARRY LYNDON on TCM, motivated by my interest in the 18th century, reintroduced me to Kubrick and got me totally obsessed with the man's films. I have seen all Kubrick's movies and out of all his features, I only love A CLOCKWORK ORANGE more than BARRY LYNDON, which, on an objective level, might be his most perfect movie.

That BARRY LYNDON is gorgeous, no one will contest, not even the film's fiercest detractors. However, for me, the film's story, with its sense of irony and dark humor, make it a classic. And despite the claims that Kubrick movies are all cold, there are a few moments that really hit you in the gut. I even confess that one scene in particular made me weep and continues to make me weep every time I revisit this masterpiece.

Pépé le Moko

Don't bother with the remake!
I saw ALGIERS before seeing this fine French original. Let me tell you, the remake does not even compare. Its best virtues-- such as the cinematography and scene composition-- are all ripped directly from PEPE LE MOKO. And ALGIERS also lacks Jean Gabin, who is a much more convincing criminal than the suave but toothless Charles Boyer in the remake.

Comparisons aside, PEPE LE MOKO is a great romantic tragedy, never overselling the melodrama. Absolutely riveting from the first frame to the last.

Lights of New York

There's a reason people thought talkies were a fad!
Compared to most silent films of this period, early talkies were clumsy affairs, both in the acting and the filmmaking. LIGHTS OF NEW YORK is a good example of this, being touted as the first all-talking picture (contrary to popular belief THE JAZZ SINGER is just a silent movie with musical numbers). The story is simplistic, the cinematography a collection of awkwardly framed establishing shots and uninspired two-shots or three-shots. However, the poor acting and clunky dialogue make it perfect MST3K material for classic cinema buffs.


Amazing adaptation
I read the book before seeing the movie and assumed there was no way you could translate the style of the book to film. I figured I would agree with the film's many detractors. Instead, I ended up loving this film very much! It definitely isn't a mere translation of the book to cinema-- but it GETS Heller's message and nails the almost cartoonish insanity of the novel's events and characterizations.

Beautifully shot. Perfect casting and performances. The editing is brilliant too. Just, I do not get the hate at all.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I forgot how good this movie is!
I watched this one relatively often as a kid and remembered enjoying it, but as an adult, it's much easier to appreciate how great a movie this is. It's very funny, yes, but also quite suspenseful. The "scratchy" animation style and the backgrounds are well-paired. The dogs and their owners are sympathetic characters, but it's Cruella who dominates the movie. She is pretty freaking scary and designed to perfection.

Experiment in Terror

Blake Edwards was the man!
Unlike others, I wouldn't call this movie a film noir, despite the emphasis on crime and Henry Mancini's very noir-inspired score. It's more a suspense-thriller that rolls over into horror at times.

With that out of the way, this is a delightful gem of a film. EXPERIMENT IN TERROR is a stylish thriller with a great cast and stark visuals. While it's a little bit overlong, it is never boring and the final half hour will keep you on the edge of your seat for sure!

Director Blake Edwards is mostly known for the PINK PANTHER movies and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, but he dabbled in dramatic work as well. This film is a shining example of his versatile talent.

The Heiress

Oh man, that ending!
Definitely an example of a movie that knocks its source material out of the park. Olivia de Havilland gives her best performance as the shy, awkward Catherine Sloper. She is absolutely believable and riveting, knocking all the other fine performers right off the screen. The ending scene remains one of my favorites in any movie ever, one for the ages. As always, William Wyler's direction is assured, never going overboard with style to the detriment of the story! A must see for classic movie geeks!

The Thomas Crown Affair

Why do I prefer the original? It's all in the ending
As far as needless remakes go, you can do much worse than the 1999 version of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, I guess. There's nothing in it that made me cringe. The performances are pretty good and the production values are nice, However, it feels like such a generic romantic crime thriller in comparison to the older one.

I think the single biggest reason I prefer the original movie to this one is the difference between the two endings. The original movie ends with Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway unable to get together in the end. He chooses the empty thrill over her. The last few shots, with Dunaway looking up to the sky relieved and broken-hearted all at once, and McQueen listlessly staring out the window of his getaway plane, have stayed with me.

The happy ending here just rings so hollow and is far less believable. The 1968 original is made the classic it is by its sad ending-- it's not the style, which is dated to the late 1960s, nor even the heists themselves. It's the fact that McQueen's character can never have what he's really looking for, despite all his power and money.

But here? Nope! You can have it all. And that's a far more predictable finish than the haunting original.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Should be considered one of the best movies of the 1960s
I deleted my former review of this movie, which was way more critical and nitpicky. A second viewing really left a much better impression on me when my disappointment regarding its leaving out the harsher satirical elements of the book gave way to appreciation of the film's strengths, which are definitely the acting, cinematography, and warm humanity. It's a quiet, deliberate movie, one of the best of its era and still relevant now in our socially turbulent times.

No one gives a bad performance here. No one. Sondra Locke is about the best I've ever seen a 20-something play a teenager. Her gangly looks make you believe she's still in high school. And she nails the awkward, selfish elements of being a teenager as well. Percy Rodrigues's Dr. Copeland nails the dignity and anger of his character, torn by love for his family and rage at the injustices he faces as a black man in a racist world. He is not always nice, but he remains sympathetic and real, and the scenes he shares with the equally powerful Cicely Tyson are some of the most heartwrenching in the whole movie. Stacey Keach is good with the far too few minutes he gets as the drunk, lost Jake Blount.

But Alan Arkin leaves the biggest impression as the lonely John Singer, a man who gives so much to others and receives so little in return. It's rare to see an able-bodied actor play a disabled character without going for cheap histrionics or Oscar-catnip gimmicks, but he excels, remembering this character is a human being above all else. It's a shame that after the early 1970s, his career as a leading man kinda just fizzled out. He really is one of the best.

The story is moved from the 1930s to the 1960s, but the emotional heart is still intact and indeed, many of the racial issues in the American South are unchanged between the two periods, so that's no big deal. The evocation of a southern small town is perfect, lacking corny tricks and accents.

Parts of this adaptation are still a little too sentimental. The treatment of Singer's mentally-challenged friend Spiros lacks the irony that makes it so significant in the book (ie Singer idolizes his friend as a serene, wise god-surrogate the way the other characters idolize him). My other big problem is it's a bit too rushed: Jake Blount barely exists as a character to the point where he may as well have not been there at all (I guess keeping him an overt communist like in the original book wouldn't fly so well in the 1960s?).

However, none of this kills the movie. It's gorgeously shot and directed, with its heart on its sleeve. Yes, a more faithful adaptation could be made, but it would be very hard to top this cast or the filmmaking craft on display.


Gorgeously filmed love story
I was blown away by this movie. I'm not often one for romantic movies, but this one is just exceptional. Despite the cold color palette and understated drama, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have excellent, warm chemistry between one another.

A lot of other viewers have complained about the deliberate pacing, but I thought it suited the movie's almost-dreamlike tone. The pacing, themes, and visuals reminded me a lot of Douglas Sirk movies. In fact, he movie is very similar to the director's earlier FAR FROM HEAVEN, a more direct homage to Sirk with its depiction of suffocating suburbia and forbidden love; however, I found CAROL much more involving and less on the nose with its social commentary. I have little doubt this will become a classic in the years to come.

Back to God's Country

Rousing adventure with a great heroine
The plot is pretty uneven in terms of structure and some of the supporting performances are a touch on the hammy side, but BACK TO GOD'S COUNTRY is too much fun to dismiss. Nell Shipman plays a nature-loving woman who is as far from the damsel-in-distress cliche as you can get. (Yes, there were strong female characters before the 21st century!) She's no fool, able to hold her own when pursued by villains. In fact, her husband's more of a distressed damsel (or in this case, distressed dude, I suppose) than she!

Neko no ongaeshi

Very charming
One of my favorite critics Tim Brayton once said that only among the Studio Ghibli catalog could one consider THE CAT RETURNS a disappointment, and I have to concur. The film lacks the lush visuals and ambition of most Ghibli films. It is undeniably more of a "kid's movie" And yet, it is silly, quick-paced fun. I can't help but like it a great deal.

The Love Light

In this case, Frances Marion was a better director than writer
Starring one of the greatest movie stars of all time and directed by a truly pioneering woman, I expected great things of THE LOVE LIGHT. Women directors were all but pushed out of the Hollywood system by the late 1920s (Dorothy Arzner being about the only woman director working in Hollywood during the 1930s), so THE LOVE LIGHT is an important film in this regard and for that, I am glad it still exists. Unfortunately, its artistic merits do not match up with its social ones.

No one will deny this is a good-looking movie. The lighting and cinematography are gorgeous, with fine craftsmanship that stands out. Certain shots are composed with great imagination and sensitivity. The early scenes, if a bit too slapstick-y to appeal to all tastes, are warm and a good way to get the audience cozy before tragedy strikes.

No, it's the story which sinks this one. I love me a good melodrama, but this is a melodrama and then some, stretching credibility with its bizarre twists. The story structure is also decidedly unsound. Events do not occur as a result of character drives and goals, but because they need to happen, making all the characters puppets of the story rather than drivers of the story. If you were to summarize the plot of THE LOVE LIGHT to someone, it might sound a lot like, "And then this happened and then this happened and then this happened," just total nonsense.

Mary Pickford was one of the first movie actors to bring a more natural approach to screen performance in the 1910s, which makes me wonder why she goes so overboard with the gesticulation and pop-eyed expressions in this movie. Is it because she's trying to be an "expressive" and "animated" Italian woman? I don't know, but it often kills the credibility of her performance. This is a shame, because in THE LOVE LIGHT, Pickford gets to play a woman her own age, an occasion which would become a rarity during her 1920s career. Unfortunately, her character often acts like a child anyway-- or at least, when it suits the plot for her to act like one.

The other actors aren't much better, with everyone but Fred Thomson overacting. Thomson comes off much more natural than the others-- probably because his character is a spy and therefore wants to be lowkey. As a result, he is the only character who feels like a person and therefore his character is sorely missed after getting killed.

Frances Marion is one of the greatest screenwriters to have ever lived, but this was not her best effort by a long shot. Nor was it Pickford's.

The Pink Panther

The most underappreciated Pink Panther movie!
It's sad that some Pink Panther fans dismiss the original as a mere "prototype" for the more slapstick-oriented films to come in the series. Not that I dislike those-- far from it-- but the 1963 THE PINK PANTHER is a sophisticated, funny ensemble piece, the kind of comedy that just doesn't get made anymore. At least not in Hollywood anyway.

Blake Edwards' direction steals the show for me. He keeps all these characters and plot threads under masterful control. This movie could have easily become a convoluted mess, but every story beat tracks. Some might not appreciate the more languid pace, but the movie is never ever dull.

Movie nerds will appreciate the little homages to Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers throughout.

I enjoyed this one a good deal. When it comes for sheer laughs, I prefer its immediate sequel A SHOT IN THE DARK, but this movie deserves more appreciation than it receives from fans.

The Half-Breed

Groundbreaking, heartbreaking, essential viewing for movie geeks
THE HALF-BREED is an incredibly underrated silent drama and I am so glad it recently got the gorgeous restoration it deserves. Photographed and acted beautifully, this is one of the best Hollywood productions of its time and still worth watching today.

That THE HALF-BREED came after the incredibly racist THE BIRTH OF A NATION is fascinating. The movie is not without its dated elements, but it is far more progressive in its call for tolerance and indictment of the white man's treatment of Native Americans than you would expect in a movie from 1916.

Doug Fairbanks is an actor more noted for his charisma and derring-do than his thespian chops. However, he does an admirable turn as Lo, the half-Native American, half-white outcast. This character is more somber than his usual roles, though no less active and principled. Sam De Grasse plays the villain as he often did for Fairbanks and he does well with his usual underplaying style.

However, the best performances come courtesy of Jewel Carmen and Alma Reubens. These two women get the meatiest roles in the movie: a flirtatious yet Machiavellian debutante flirting with scandal when she pursues Lo, and a world-weary con-woman on the run from the law and her own sordid past. Both bring great depth to these parts, neither fitting fully into the ingenue/vamp dichotomy you see in a lot of American films of the 1910s.

While THE BLACK PIRATE is my favorite Fairbanks movie, THE HALF-BREED is a close second. I absolutely enjoy watching this beautifully made movie and would recommend it to silent movie mavens.

Robin Hood

Unambitious but a lot of fun for children and the children at heart
The "dark age" of Disney animation is generally accepted as having stretched from Walt Disney's death in 1966 (or if you'd prefer, right after the release of THE JUNGLE BOOK in late 1967) until the release of THE LITTLE MERMAID in 1989. The films produced during this 22 year period continue to receive rather mixed reception from animation afficionados, though those who grew up with them tend to remember them more fondly. The 1973 ROBIN HOOD might be the most popular of these dark age Disney pictures: aside from the furries who love it for obvious reasons, plenty of folks born between the 1970s and 1990s are just crazy about this ROBIN HOOD.

I was born in the early 1990s and didn't see ROBIN HOOD in full until I was in my 20s, but I have to say, the film is charming in a lowkey way. The characters are likable and the comic episodes are entertaining. It's unashamedly a children's movie, but it isn't insulting about that. The animation isn't up to the high standard set by Disney in its earlier work and the music isn't always memorable, but the movie is at least fun. I get its cult appeal.

The Nun's Story

Hepburn's finest hour as an actress
THE NUN'S STORY boasts Audrey Hepburn's best screen performance and is one of the better individual vs the system movies of the 1950s. This is an intelligent, understated drama which deserves more attention than it generally gets. My only issues with it would be that the cinematography is a bit too stately and its rather colonialist politics during the later African scenes have dated.

Regardless, Hepburn really shows off her range here, giving one of her most internal, nuanced performances, a serious challenge to certain critics who claim all she could ever do was a thousand variations on classy gamines. Her character is torn between her desire to be a good, self-denying nun and her independent, principled personality that cannot sit back for the sake of humility when something seems wrong. Her values do not always align with the Church, and yet the Church is never portrayed as repressive and evil. No one's forced Hepburn's character to take her vows; she is not a prisoner and could leave the convent if she so wished. There are no easy villains to jeer at here and that makes the movie feel all the more authentic in its portrayal of human nature.

When movie fans talk about the greatest endings in cinema, THE NUN'S STORY is never mentioned and that should not be! I would put the last shot of this film alongside SANSHO THE BALIFF, CITY LIGHTS, and THE 400 BLOWS as one of the most haunting closing images in any movie ever. If movies about religious faith interest you (and by that, I mean movies that deal with faith honestly-- no propaganda, no sentimentality), then you'll like this,. And of course, if you're a fan of Audrey Hepburn, you won't want to miss out.

The In-Laws

"A ZEE???"
I enjoy comedies, but I admit I don't usually laugh out loud even when watching ones I like. THE IN-LAWS is an exception. This has got to be one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I've seen it around four times and every time, it absolutely kills me with laughter.

Now, depending on your individual taste, this might be a bit too "out there" for you. The story is a mash-up of 1930s screwball comedy, 1940s Looney Tunes shorts, and 1970s buddy action movies, and just about impossible to predict. I never knew where the heck it was going-- it starts out like it's going to be a normal meet the in-laws" story with a few crime caper elements to liven it up, but no. Things get downright nuts and in the best possible way. I don't dare spoil it!

However, any fan of THE IN-LAWS will tell you that the key ingredient to its cult appeal is the chemistry between Alan Arkin and Peter Falk. They are just magic together, with Arkin being neurotic and uptight, and Falk cool as a cucumber as they encounter dangerous situation after dangerous situation.

A must-see for the cult movie lover.

Blue Bottles

Silent era Elsa!
I think it was critic Walter Kerr who once claimed female actresses during the silent era were too concerned with being pretty to be funny-- that being said, he was very, very wrong and clearly never watched BLUE BOTTLES.

Elsa Lanchester makes a fine comic lead in this eccentric short comedy from the late silent period. She's highly animated and expressive without going overboard, and by the end of the movie, you wish you could have gotten to spend more time with this character. The situation itself is ripe with comedic possibilities and it all moves at a fast clip. I have to admit though, my favorite part is probably the scene in the police station, where the officers give Lanchester the most awkward thank you possible.

It makes me wish Lanchester could have been the lead in a silent comedy feature proper, but at least we have this little gem to enjoy. I only wish it existed in a less fuzzy print.


While not the modern slasher classic critics would have you believe, HUSH is still a well-paced home invasion thriller with some fun setpieces
If you want something scary but don't care for the torture porn and jump scare overload that gets passed as "true horror" these days, HUSH will serve you well. The scares are built upon desolate atmosphere, the heroine's isolation, and the close cat and mouse game between her and the killer out to get her.

The movie is essentially a two-person show, with Kate Siegel and John Gallagher Jr. engaging in a prolonged battle of resources and wits in a cabin in the woods. Siegel is sympathetic and smart as the deaf-mute heroine, though as a lead in this sort of thing, she isn't terribly distinctive as a personality. Same with Gallagher: he's creepy and sometimes even funny, but only barely above your usual run-of-the-mill slasher movie villain. They're credible though, which is more than can be said for the acting in most low-budget films of this sort.

I'm not gonna lie: I wish this movie had been silent as the filmmakers originally intended. That kind of stylistic choice would have been radical true, but it would have bonded the audience to the main character to a greater degree and would have made the movie stand out a bit more from its subgenre.

Regardless, this is a nice one to watch come the Halloween season. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a watch in the dark.

Patriot Games

The epitome of average
PATRIOT GAMES is perfectly fine. Aside from some minor plot glitches, there's really nothing wrong with it-- it's just not very exceptional as an action-thriller.

The good guys are good without much in the way of inner conflict. The bad guys are bad without the addition of complexity, camp, or charm to make them distinctive. The chases are okay and the soundtrack is atmospheric. But aside from a notable home invasion scene that's genuinely creepy, I can't think of anything that sticks in the memory. It's like the movie was designed to be as inoffensive and safe as possible.

But then again, you could do much worse than see this one. If you like Harrison Ford, it's worth seeing.

The Bride Came C.O.D.

Fluff? Yes. Bad fluff? Nope!
I quite liked THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. It's an obvious riff on the screwball structure established by the much superior IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, but Cagney and Davis really make it so much better than it could have been without their personas and chemistry there to liven things up. If you love the Warner Bros. acting stable of this period, then you're in for a good time.

The plot isn't clever or original, but I laughed quite a lot. Considering how hard it is to get me to laugh aloud when watching a movie, that alone makes this an achievement.

Midnight Lace

Doris Day elevates what would otherwise be a routine suspense-thriller
"Hitchcock without Hitchcock directing" seems to have been a subgenre throughout the 1940s-1970s. MIDNIGHT LACE isn't one of the better examples of this category, but it is at least on par with more minor Hitchcock efforts like DIAL M FOR MURDER.

As others have observed, the plot is preposterous, but that's the case for actual Hitchcock films too when you really think about them. Even GASLIGHT, this movie's most obvious influence, has a plot that borders on being ludicrous when looked at on paper, without taking into account the atmosphere, pacing, tension, and brilliant performances. It's all about how you tell the story and when you tell it well, the audience won't care too much if the plot seems silly.

While the filmmaking is mostly average here, Doris Day elevates the movie with her harrowing performance as the terrorized newlywed. Her fright and psychological isolation are visceral and feel all too real. It's such a shame this woman was often written off as no more than a cutesy song and dance, girl next door type. Her dramatic movies show her range was far greater than most could ever expect.

Father Goose

Much better than I expected!
I'm usually not much for "cute" movies, but FATHER GOOSE is very delightful. While you never really buy that Grant and Caron's characters are necessarily in love (unlike something like CHARADE, the older man/younger woman thing doesn't seem as credible here), they have great comedic chemistry. The child actors are never cloying.

This is the epitome of laid-back, even though it's set during WWII and with the threat of bombing or discovery by enemy soldiers imminent from nearly the beginning. But at heart, this is a comedy, the kind you can put on during a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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