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Les invasions barbares

The actors are great
First, about Denys Arcand. I see that I have seen almost all of his feature films, from La maudite galette to this one, and have enjoyed them for the most part. It's true that his approach is somewhat too political for my taste (but a good deal less political than Godard's), but he has always known how to get the best from his actors. Carole Laure became a star after making Gina in the 70's. He loves satire, perhaps more than I do, and his digs at capitalism and technological illiteracy have made him famous in Canada.

I said that the actors are great. Isabelle Blais contributes two wonderful cameos, sent in from a sailboat somewhere in the Pacific, the second brought tears to my eyes. Johanne-Marie Tremblay, well known in Quebec theatre, plays the nun who helps Remy in his final days to come to grips with his struggle. Remy's childhood Catholic faith disappeared with the 60's and the rise of consumerism. His left wing radicalism was no more than skin-deep; now he's left with the bitter dregs of all that activity. Remy Girard plays so well with Stephane Rideau; they bring out all the father-son conflicts boiling beneath the surface. Finally Marie-Josee Croze as Diane's junkie daughter gives a very fine performance: you hope for her recovery but the chances of relapse are too great.

Some reviewers were led to believe that the health care system in Canada is failing; it's suffering the usual stresses of rapid population growth aggravated by vaccine reluctance, but people are finding beds in hospitals--certainly I've been able to have four operations in the last five years.

Park Row

Rock 'em Sock 'em newspaper tale
Now that print journalism is all but dead, it's wonderful to see this evocation of a vanished world. Imagine the base of the Statue of Liberty being financed by nickels and dimes from working people. Sam Fuller financed this film out of his own savings, and it was a labour of love. Gene Evans plays Phineas Mitchell with a rapid fire delivery that suggests he studied Clark Gable's early films attentively. Mary Welch as the rival paper owner has an almost dreamy air that is in complete contrast to Evans. The clash of styles works well. I'd give it a higher rating if there had not been so much technical talk, and more characterization.

The Lusty Men

Why are they doing this?
Watching The Lusty Men makes me think of The Misfits, it's the same setup. Gable, Clift and Wallach seem a little lost, as though they don't quite know why they are doing the things they do. The cattle drives of the nineteenth century, so well brought to life in Red River, are long over, and only the mystique of the West remains. Mitchum, Kennedy and Hayward are all superb--Hayward's angry party scene is as good as Bette Davis's in Sunset Boulevard--but what is the tremendous appeal of rodeo riding? Broken ribs, legs, collarbones--even death--it doesn't seem worth it. Nicholas Ray's direction is assured, Lee Garmes's camerawork is lovely. I give it 8, wishing there had been more to the story.

Witness to Murder

To see Barbara Stanwyck being gaslit is a bit of a switch; she had always played very strong women who were smart and sensual. Here George Sanders seems to be able to manipulate her like a marionette, and Stanwyck's bag of tricks prove insufficient to save her from being sent to a psychiatric hospital. What disappointed me the most was the use of gauze for her closeups. I thought only Doris Day had to suffer this fate.

The acting is very good, particularly from Sanders, and the cinematography from John Alton is absolutely stunning in some scenes. Shame about the script.


Carmen, anyone?
This is no masterpiece, as I've noted with a rating of 4. Exarchopoulos is a limited actress, and she's in practically every scene. Gallienne is a more than capable actor, but his part falls into blandness most of the time. The supporting cast do their best with a limited script. It was nice to see Marie Riviere, star of several Rohmer films, as the girl's mother. The story of a decent man falling for a trashy girl is hardly new; it's the plot of one of the greatest operas, Carmen. At least in that work, the audience is not required to guess at the motivations of the two leads.

Maigret: Maigret se trompe
Episode 4, Season 4

A cynical surgeon
This episode has some very effective acting from some stalwarts. Daniele Lebrun is very touching as the neglected wife of the great surgeon, Bernadette Lafont, a legend for Truffaut, Chabrol and others, plays a would-be blackmailer, Brigitte Catillon is another victim of the great man's callousness. Bruno Cremer plays Maigret with his usual smoothness.

Peppermint Frappé

The extraordinary JL Lopez Vasquez
I enjoyed the film, although I never took Saura to be a great director (as the film's dedicatee Bunuel was sometimes). Geraldine Chaplin is an actress I haven't noticed much in the past: she's very fluent here in her two roles, one staid and one swinging. The real revelation for me is Lopez Vasquez in a stunning performance as the obsessed doctor. I thought of other sad, obsessed characters: Trintignant as the fascist in The Conformist, and Bogart as the scriptwriter in In A Lonely Place. Just to watch him as Chaplin dances around the room with her husband, so free and easy, and he cannot respond to the gaiety in any way, it's awful.

Cutter's Way

Two hours of misery
Cutter is one of the most misanthropic characters in American film. He makes Ratso Rizzo look like a nice guy. Bone is an empty hedonist with a degree from an Ivy League college. Together they wreak havoc on my sensibilities, on my patience, on my good will. The presence of Lisa Eichhorn, always graceful and moving, does not make this movie really bearable. I gave up after an hour. Nice cinematography though.

Update: I went back to watch it til the end. My opinion hasn't changed. Some excellent acting from Bridges and Eichhorn doesn't make up for Passer's clumsy direction and lack of attention to dramatic values. One glaring flaw: Swanson's disclosure scene, in which he is supposed to discover the missing pieces to his life is so badly handled that it hardly makes sense at all. Watch Chinatown instead for an analysis of corruption in Los Angeles, and Night Moves for exciting action and vicious humour.

Autostop rosso sangue

Total, cynical fun
There is Festa Campanile the screen writer, and Festa Campanile the director. The former is universally respected for having written The Leopard and Rocco and His Brothers, among other modern classics, while the latter seems to be almost forgotten today. I found only two of his films mentioned in any film guide I have.

Franco Nero does a great job playing the tough talking but somewhat cowardly journalist, trying to stay alive as the prisoner of a homicidal freak, while Corinne Clery as his wife shows more acting ability than I saw in The Story of O. Yes, we see her naked too. David Hess, for pure viciousness doesn't take a back seat to Joe Pesci in GoodFellas. I gave this 8 solely on the basis of the crazy, vicious fun on display here.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Radiant Lombard, excellent Montgomery
Before Criterion Channel put on their 10-film Lombard festival this month, I'd seen only My Man Godfrey and Nothing Sacred. This has been a great time for me, because I can get to better appreciate the tremendous talent she had. Beautiful looks, lovely soft voice, superb timing: she had it all. Her partners were up to the standard she set: Grant, March, MacMurray and here Robert Montgomery who goes head to head with Lombard in wonderfully funny scenes. Gene Raymond as Montgomery's law partner does very well too. Maybe Hitchcock was not the best choice for direction; Leisen, La Cava, Hawks or Cromwell might have been better choices, but Hitch did have a sense of humour and he moves things along briskly enough.

El verdugo

My first Berlanga
My first Berlanga, and what a terrific picture it is. The satire is wonderful, the acting superb, especially from Manfredi and Isbert, who are as fine a pair as any Hollywood ever produced, and the direction is top notch. I must admit the idea of making an executioner the hero of a movie is pretty unusual, but Berlanga brings it off superbly.

Le bon plaisir

Routine political film
For once, Francis Girod directed a film in which no one dies horribly (Lacenaire, and the unforgettable Trio infernal). It's a fairly sedate story of a French president with really chilly mien who tries to bury the fact of fathering a child from an adulterous affair with Catherine Deneuve. To help him do this, he has the very capable and sinister Interior minister, played by Michel Serrault, spare no efforts. Capable, with good performances from Serrault and Auclair as a gay publisher, but not really gripping.

Le Redoutable

Captivating in most places
First, I can't think of any other film that treats the life of a director, except for Greenaway's Eisenstein In Guanajuato, and the far better known Chaplin. To have his life immortalized this way, a director would have to be a really fascinating person, and I doubt Godard is.

Second, we see how terribly self-absorbed he is throughout. He seems not to care for any of the people around him. The scene in the restaurant when he insults the old man and his wife should have ended in a fist fight, but cooler heads prevailed. Anne wants to make a film with Marco Ferreri--it will be her eleventh--but Godard objects violently: there's too much nudity. This is his wife who will be seen naked, and he forces Ferreri to shoot her with clothes on. Louis Garrel is especially fine in this scene, while Stacy Martin turns in a performance of some skill which makes me forget about the awful film she did with von Trier.

The best for last: about one hour into the story, we get Godard, Anne, the Bambans, Michel Cournot and the driver packed into a car headed to Paris (they'd have gone by train, but for the general strike). Cournot is down because his first and only film hasn't been shown at Cannes, Godard throws some gratuitous insults at him, and the Bambans join in. It's the ultimate bad car trip.


Documentary that's fascinating in places
Shakedown was a club that had to close for financial reasons--and being raided by the cops must have played a part too. The interviews are often informative, the dancing can be very raunchy (a bit surprising for the high-minded Criterion Channel). The spirit of fun in the place is infectious. Beware of the murky lighting in some scenes, and strobe lights too.


Not worth watching
It seems the French had a real passion for aviation, starting with the aces of WWI, continuing through the 20's with Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing, and into the 30's with Saint Exupery's novels into film. I think Le ciel est a vous, a 1943 film by Jean Gremillon is the best of the lot. Anne-Marie has so many tiresome characters you wish would disappear, and the story is terribly sentimental: she has four self-appointed stepfathers who are given names like The Thinker, etc and they try the viewer's patience enormously. You have to wait for the final 20 minutes to get some real excitement.

Thankfully, there is Annabella to watch, with her elegant striding through rooms, her soft, sweet voice, so musical to hear. I gave 4/10, and it's all for her.

Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki

Long study of Ginza life
My rating is sort of a compromise between a 10 for the superb acting from the whole cast, especially the three principals Takamine, Nakadai and Mori, and 2 for the subject matter, which I never found involved me greatly. The film just plods along, one little misfortune after another for the heroine, who must display immense quantities of patience and forbearance. The viewer gets tired of seeing a plucky woman getting out of one scrape or embarrassment after another.

I see Naruse as a minor figure in the Japanese cinema, well below Ozu and Mizoguchi, two great artists who knew how to depict human suffering and give it meaning for all of us.


What a life
Through the good offices of Criterion Channel, I've been able to see this doc. I'd say Fancher's life was one of the more remarkable ones in Hollywood history: imagine starting out as a flamenco dancer, studying in Spain, then relocating to Hollywood where he carved out a precarious life as a bit player, then as if his natural laziness could find no other outlet, writing scripts. He is clear about his desire to shirk work; taking parts if they will only involve a day's work, and doing the least amount of writing possible. I doubt if very much of the Blade Runner script is by him--it would be interesting to compare his work with the finished film.

Fancher is digressive, endlessly so. The story of how he tried to collect a debt for Teri Garr seems to go on forever, with no punchline. He is entertaining sometimes, and the film clips, especially those from Parrish, are fun to watch.

Le retour du héros

Enjoyable romp through Napoleonic France
It's a nice amalgam of influences: the returned-from-the-dead officer is taken from Le colonel Chabert, the two sisters with contrasting personalities from Sense and Sensibility, and the domestic setup from any French historical film. Jean Dujardin is splendid as the fraudulent hero, Melanie Laurent is very adept as the conniving older sister Elisabeth, and Noemie Merlant is the fiery younger sister who first falls for Dujardin. I admit I was led to watch by Merlant's performance in Portrait of a Woman On Fire, an amazing turn.

Laurent Tirard is a capable director of comedy; he'd already done Moliere with Romain Duris, and the very funny Mensonges et trahisons et plus si affinites... I look forward to his next film.

To Each His Own

Olivia de Havilland really shines
Leonard Maltin calls it a 'soaper', for Pauline Kael it's an 'illegitimacy tearjerker' while Le guide des films dismisses it with these words: 'frightful wartime melodrama as only the Americans can make'. The disdain in the last comment is only too evident. I call it a very well crafted study of what a woman may go through as she has to deal with small-town morality/hypocrisy around having a child out of wedlock. Olivia de Havilland does a great job bringing Jody to life, and well deserved the award, beating out Rosalind Russell and Jennifer Jones that year.

My hat's off to the technicians who had to make her younger than she was for the 1918 scenes, and then considerably older for WWII scenes. That's some artistry in itself. Thanks to Criterion Channel for reviving these Mitchell Leisen classics.


Baker and Moreau make the film
A fake coal miner and fake novelist meets a fake French sophisticate in Venice, filmed by a fake expatriate director, using real locales (the canal, hotel rooms, casino tables). I did get a fair amount of pleasure from this, all coming from the two leads: Stanley Baker breaking into Welsh folksongs at the oddest moments, and showing his obsessive love for Eva all the way through, and Jeanne Moreau, more composed and more interesting than she had been for Truffaut in Jules et Jim. Gianni di Venanzo's camera work is superb; it's almost another actor in the story. I don't go all the way with Joseph Losey; I've found his style of story telling is just too contrived, whether he's in Hollywood, or England or here in Venice.

The Man in Grey

Can't blame anybody here
Lord Rohan isn't to be blamed for wanting to marry a healthy young woman who will produce a male heir for him, nor is Clarissa to blame for so quickly accepting his proposal, after all her prospects weren't all that great. Nor can I blame Hester for wanting all the things she could never have growing up. No, this is just how it was in those days. I enjoyed Margaret Lockwood's performance the most; it's hard to show remorse in a cold, calculating character and she brings it off well. Calvert, Mason and Granger give her excellent support.

Cast a Dark Shadow

Nice little noir
Criterion Channel has given me the chance to see this British thriller from the 50's, with Dirk Bogarde as a slimy rat and Margaret Lockwood as a hard-as-nails yet sympathetic widow whom he marries for her money. Robert Flemyng and Kay Walsh round out the cast. Lewis Gilbert provides less than inspired direction (he made three James Bond films; Bond is the graveyard of directors, I've always felt). The story has weaknesses: Lockwood tells Bogarde at least three times that she's a very independent and capable woman, yet Bogarde can't seem to take this in. His actions in the last act are pretty illogical. Still, the actors are a pleasure to watch.

La tête d'un homme

Mediocre Simenon adaptation
I am a passionate Maigret enthusiast, and it was a disappointment to see the weak and charmless film that Duvivier made of one of Simenon's better novels. Harry Baur acts as though he couldn't care less about the story or his part, while Gina Manes as the cheap gold-digging mistress of a homicidal wastrel gives a very bland performance. The only spirit in the whole show comes from Valery Inkijinoff as the terminally ill killer Radek, a man who has plenty of reasons to live it up, since he's living on borrowed time. Some fine camerawork from Armand Thirard does not make this film worth seeing.

Resident Alien: Sexy Beast
Episode 6, Season 1

Elvy is divine
Am I the only one who thought Ruth Negga had walked on the set when Harry's wife appeared? But no, it was Elvy, an actress new to me who did several scenes with Alan Tudyk. The surprise of the episode--my first--was how alien several characters seemed. That weird sheriff, his strange deputy, where do they come from? It was nice seeing Linda Hamilton again, without an assault rifle in her hands. I give it 7.

Escape from Alcatraz

Too much about process
It's too much about process, not enough about the craziness of life, even life in prison--where you would expect people's choices of self expression to be limited anyway. There's little of what makes people want to go on; a man has a pet mouse but little is made of that, Wolf wants Morris for his punk but this isn't worked out well by Don Siegel or the script. No, the escape attempt is the only thing we have to go on; did they make it or not, rather than how will they deal with life outside if they do. Escape From Alcatraz compares unfavourably with Becker's Le trou, another escape film.

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