LeonardKniffel

IMDb member since July 2012
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    500+
    IMDb Member
    8 years

Reviews

The Hundred-Foot Journey
(2014)

France, Food, & Helen Mirren--Delicious
This romantic, slightly comic film is about food, change, and foreigners. An Indian family opens a restaurant in a small town in France, and everyone gets a lesson in acceptance. Schmaltzy, optimistic, yes, but I sure needed something sugar-coated when I watched this in January 2021. The only thing that bothered me about the movie is that the major xenophobic villager is sent packing after he sets the competing restaurant on fire. As he speeds off on his motorcycle, I wondered where he was going. To join the National Front perhaps? Or some neo-Nazi group? Hate is not that easily eliminated.

Loving Vincent
(2017)

A Remarkable Cinematic Achievement
There has never been a film like this. A Polish/British collaboration involving the creation of 65,000 paintings in the style of Vincent Van Gogh, "Loving Vincent" has to be seen to be believed. Van Gogh's story is here told as the paintings are animated in dizzying splendor. The dream-come-true of directors of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it took 125 painting animators to create the 65,000 oil-painted frames incorporating 120 of Van Gogh's better-known works---a process that took ten years to complete. I am not really sure why the directors felt it was necessary to tell the story as a sort of murder mystery, but I can tell you that the use of Don McClean's beautiful song "Vincent" aka "Starry, Starry Night" to close the film was exactly right. A remarkable tribute to a glorious artist who sold a grand total of one painting in his lifetime.

The Prom
(2020)

Musical Delight Padded with Sanctimoniousness
This lavish adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name has much to recommend it, especially the more than 20 delightful songs that fill its 130 minutes. Watching a stellar cast that includes Meryl Streep and Keegan-Michael Key as an item is just fun. Although they are so watchable, it is Carrie Washington who steals the show as a homophobic mom. The song lyrics are wonderfully satirical and clever and take potshots at bigotry and egomania with equal delight, but what lessens the impact of the fun is the tendentious, sanctimonious, sentimental preaching that goes on between every song. At whom are these anti-homophobia sermons aimed, when the film is clearly preaching to the choir? It is also interesting to note that in this integrated Indiana town, where no racial prejudice appears to exist, there is no mention of how the town entered this state of perfect harmony while remaining virulently intolerant of gay people. It's all in good fun and does raise one's spirits, but from it I did take some life lessons, and I do have a few suggestions for teens struggling with their homosexuality: #1 Do not "come out," especially in high school. #2 Do not explain your sexuality to your parents. It's none of their business. Go live your life and never apologize, never explain. #3 Do not attend a high school prom. They are antiquated heterosexual courting rituals, no matter how many flashing lights and how much loud music. #4 No amount of razzmatazz can change the fact that, in addition to "who you love," your sexuality is about sex and sex is the business of consenting adults in private.

King in the Wilderness
(2018)

Must-See Documentary
After seeing this flawless documentary, I could only wish that every American would see it too. That is unlikely, given our general disinterest in history. I thought I knew a thing or two about the Civil Rights Movement, but this focus on the last two years of Martin Luther King's life was a revelation, told in his own words and those of people who stood with him--Harry Belafonte, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Joan Baez, and many many others.

The Professor and the Madman
(2019)

Dramatization of the Creation of the OED
Seemingly reviewed by professional critics similar to the intellectual snobs who surrounded James Murray at the dawn of the Oxford English Dictionary, "The Professor and the Madman" suffers the same blistering assessment from naysayers as did Murray. A pity, since the movie is eminently watchable, with compelling performances from Mel Gibson and Sean Penn and the cast all around. Once again some reviewers seem to mistake movies for documentaries. This movie gives us a fine and dramatic look at how the greatest work of scholarship in the English language found its way into being. That alone is worth a watch.

Let Them All Talk
(2020)

Brilliant but Boring
How could a movie with Meryl Streep, Dianne Wiest, and Candice Bergen be anything but wonderful? Judging by "Let Them All Talk," all that is required is too many minutes of pointless dialogue, young people having inane conversations, and old people dredging up their boring sexual histories. It is difficult to care about why Streep as a literary icon drags two friends from college that she hasn't seen in decades on an ocean voyage to collect an award and visit an obscure writer's grave in the U.K. Also in tow, for God knows what reason, is her impossibly unsophisticated nephew. Some things do eventually become clear, but by then all tension is gone and you still don't really know what is driving her. It's all very literary and snobbish and tedious.

The Debt
(2010)

A Tense, Brutal Thriller
The extent to which this movie is historically accurate is the purview of the persnickety. "The Debt" is a thriller, not a documentary, and a darn good one. The target of the espionage, the "Surgeon of Birkenau," represents evil, and the three agents who try to bring him to justice represent good. This is as basic and compelling a premise as any movie could offer. Helen Mirren delivers another remarkable performance.

Collateral Beauty
(2016)

Potter Would Call It "Sentimental Hogwash"
Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life" no doubt would call "Collateral Beauty" sentimental hogwash. But then Potter was the meanest man in town. Yes the director could have made a better movie and made better use of the incredibly talented cast, but he didn't. He made this movie, and critics who take movies to task for what they aren't are usually cynical beyond belief, able to ignore a genuine effort to make a film about what the death of a child means to parents whose lives are irreparably damaged. Will Smith delivers a remarkable performance that can make you cry by just looking at his grieving face. There are times that the allusions to Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" are obvious and may make you wish that this film had gone even farther with the fantastic elements. But a "Christmas Carol" has been made into a film several times, so this is more of a variation on a theme. Let's put it this way, if you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino, this film will nauseate you. If you love "It's a Wonderful Life," this one is for you.

Harriet
(2019)

Detractors Need to Wake Up
It is difficult to understand how anyone can watch this movie and dismiss it as historically inaccurate. This is not a documentary, and cynical viewers seem to know little about the art of drama. Would you dismiss Shakespeare's "Richard III" because it plays fast and loose with the record of this king's life? There are plenty of articles and reviews out there in which "Harriet" is "fact checked," and most of them find it solidly based in what is known about Harriet Tubman's life. The performance of Cynthia Erivo is reason enough to watch the film, the supporting players deliver as well, and the cinematography and production values are top-notch. This is movie making at its finest.

Pane, amore e.....
(1955)

Loved Every Minute
I came to this film 65 years after it was made. Sophia Loren is a phenomenon, and if you watch "The Life Ahead" before you watch this, her extraordinary contribution to world cinema is even more apparent. This is Italy less than a decade after the end of World War II, yet the film is apolitical and concentrates on the lives of real people trying to make their way in a nation that suffered enormously from war but also from its own delusions and acquiescence to the "charms" of fascism.

The Angel
(2018)

Excellent Espionage Nail-Biter
Why do some IMDB reviewers insist that "historical inaccuracies" can sink a movie? This is an excellent espionage spy thriller based on historical events in Egypt and Israel in 1973. The plot is nuances and complicated and fictionalized but these challenges make viewers watch carefully as events unfolds. A serious look at how one man can become a hero to two nations endlessly at each other's throats.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
(2003)

Interesting but disappointing
Missing in this 21st century update of the Tennessee Williams drama first filmed in 1961 is believable context and character development. Ostensibly set in Rome just after World War II, it is hopelessly lost in its own guilt-ridden version of the playwright's own repressed sexuality, which seems to have had little to do with women. As the plot thickens, so does Anne Bancroft's accent and Helen Mirren's head. The film's ending is so disappointing as to be unbelievable and leaves you to wonder why anyone felt it was necessary to film an update that portrays a weak-willed widow who feels washed up at the age of 50 and willing to humiliate herself to a baffling degree. Mirren is a brilliant and daring actress, but watching her writhe around in a car with a young gigolo and then ask him if he loves her was just embarrassing. You wanted her to tell him to get lost. If that isn't bad enough, we are then forced see her take up with a man whose odor alone would have been enough to sicken anyone.

Our Town
(1940)

Good Transition from Stage to Film---Except...
Other reviewers have remarked that the ending of this film differs from the ending of the play by Thornton Wilder upon which it is based. That is a shame. I saw the stage version as a teenager and found it so powerful that it helped make an adult out of me. The movie's marketing minds apparently felt the film needed a happier ending and they tampered with it much to their detriment. Nevertheless, William Holden, Martha Scott, and all the supporting players who make up the town of Grover's Corners are luminous as they unveil the ordinary lives of ordinary people with extraordinary insight into human existence.

An Affair to Remember
(1957)

Romantic Mid-century Mush and I Loved It
Yes, "An Affair to Remember" is sentimental hogwash from 1957, but I loved every minute of it then and I love it now. That said, it is the luminous screen presence of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr that makes the film so watchable. They were movie stars, that's for sure, but they bring a dignity and idealistic quality to this rather unbelievable tale. It is over the top. It is soap-opera-esque. And that is part of its charm. Sometimes an absence of realism is just the ticket.

Lolita
(1962)

Brilliantly Perverse
Director Stanley Kubrick has drawn a great film from an equally great novel, and such book-to-movie transformations are often not nearly so successful. James Mason, who is one of the best actors of the 20th century, is a marvel in the role of the perverse professor Humbert Humbert. Shelley Winters, whose cloying qualities often grate on the nerves, is perfect as the neurotic, delusional mother whose daughter is the object of Humbert's obsession. Sue Lyon, who was about 16 at the time she played Lolita, delivers an unforgettable performance as the sexy little nymph who turns into the most ordinary of women. "Lolita" is one of those stories (like "The War of the Roses") that takes obsessive irrational behavior to its logical conclusion in a surreal fashion. Although there are comical moments, this is a very sad film, and the movie's theme song is somehow as vapid yet unforgettable as Lolita's brain.

Little Man Tate
(1991)

Bittersweet Tale about Extraordinary Ordinary People
Jody Foster not only stars in "Little Man Tate," she also directed it and managed to create a brilliant film from a rather mundane premise: ordinary single mom trying to understand how to raise her brilliant, sensitive son. Foster is so good in the role that one imagines she must have drawn on her own memories of being a child actor thrown into an adult world. She wants her son to have a normal childhood but gradually realizes that he is a genius and begins to understand the special things life has to offer to such a gifted child. The film is as brilliant as the child it portrays.

Summertime
(1955)

Repressed Woman, Sexy Man, Romantic Venice
Katharine Hepburn shines in this unusual David Lean film about a sexually repressed spinster who meets a gorgeous Italian man during a lonely vacation-of-a-lifetime in Venice. Any viewer who finds this movie hopelessly dated clearly lacks the imagination required to understand just how taboo sex was for post World War II Americans, especially single working women who had somehow missed the love boat . No American man alive at the time could have come close to wooing Hepburn the way Rossano Brazzi does in "Summertime." The guy has class oozing from every pore, and he recognizes that he can give this "old maid" an affair she will remember. Hepburn is at her very best as she nears hysteria over her awakening. And Venice has never looked lovelier or more romantic.

Auntie Mame
(1958)

Rosalind Russell's Greatest Film
This is one witty, zany, rollicking romp for the great Rosaline Russell, truly the pinnacle of a marvelous acting career. "Auntie Mame" began life as a novel by Patrick Dennis. The incomparable writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green gave it a whole new life on screen, and the clever lines and preposterous pronouncements of Russell as Mame are fresh to this day: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."

Casablanca
(1942)

A Classic That Was Never Intended to Be One
Despite this film's faults--and there are many cringe-worthy reminders of just how racist American films once were---"Casablanca" remains watchable almost to an inexplicable degree. I think the reason lies in the performances of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and the supporting cast that includes Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre, all three of whom are going at full tilt. Despite being referred to as a "boy," 56-year-old Dooley Wilson singing "As Time Goes By" is one of the main elements in the film's longevity. Play it again Sam.

Babettes gæstebud
(1987)

Sumptuous and Sweet
Based on a story by celebrated writer Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa), this film is a cinematic feast that is impossible to equal. The plot is simple: A superb French chef living as a refugee in an obscure 19th century Danish village teaches the locals what it means to appreciate God's bounty. The story of how she manages the conversion is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, beautifully filmed and acted by Stéphane Audran and a cast of locals so authentic they transport you immediately to Denmark where their stories unfold with the sensuousness of a languid eight course meal.

I Remember Mama
(1948)

The Best There Is
Let me add my voice to the chorus of praise for this film. Its power is nearly magical, having to do with the quality of the play by John Van Druten upon which it is based, along with the screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen and the sensitive performances of the cast, especially Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes. This film manages to be powerful with sentimentality, conveying the fragility and brevity of life and the dignity and compassion with which many human beings have lived it. This is a tearjerker of the finest kind, a film that can restore a cynic's faith in integrity.

The Statement
(2003)

Michael Caine Delivers Yet Another Fine Performance
Michael Caine is at his best in this suspense drama based on a specific instance of French collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, but the point of the film is not to point fingers at France but rather to examine the very nature of collaboration and religious hypocrisy. Every character is perfectly cast, and Tilda Swinton,Jeremy Northam, Alan Bates, and Charlotte Rampling especially so, but it is Caine with his extraordinary ability to express tension and desperation with a grimace and a cold sweat who carries the film. The anti-Semitism of the Vichy government and the ways in which many French people eagerly handed over Jewish people to the Nazis is well documented; this film takes it to a very personal level and shows the depths to which human beings will sink in order to save themselves.

Anthropoid
(2016)

Heartbreaking, Gut Wrenching
It is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to reenact the horrifying scenes of Nazi brutality and resistance courage, but this is truly one of the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking accounts of World War II bravery ever filmed. Whatever way the historical record may differ from this dramatization serves only to validate and honor the spirit of those who resisted the evil that overtook Europe in the 20th century.

Red Joan
(2018)

Fascinating, Provocative Spy Tale
Judi Dench delivers as no one else can in this intriguing tale of espionage based on a true story. While the film leans sympathetically toward the motives of a British spy who passes atomic secrets to the Russians during World War II, it is beautifully filmed and provokes thought about what treason really is. Once again some reviewers fail to see that films like this are not documentaries and do not claim to be factual. Rather, the are inspired by true stories but bring the talents of writers, directors, and actors to the forefront, creating a top-notch lowkey thriller. Sophie Cookson is marvelous in the role of young Joan.

The Last Witness
(2018)

Truth Told at Last
Throughout the Cold War, one of the great untold truths of World War II was Russian responsibility for the massacre of some 20,000 Polish officers and other "prisoners of war" in the Katyn forest. If Britain and the United States had tried to bring the Russians to justice, they believed it would have jeopardized the peace and revealed the real nature of Stalin's regime. Instead, both countries did their best to suppress the truth, even to the extent of espionage that included murder. Although this is a fictionalized version of these events, "The Last Witness" is also a realistic view of what journalists can and have done to bring the truth to light. This is a beautifully produced film, and it is difficult to understand what motivates some IMDB reviewers to dismiss it as "sucha a bad film." It is a wonderful and welcome film that follows half a century during which such a film could not have been made. It is also incentive to watch an arguably better film released in 2007 called "Katyn" and directed by Anrzej Wajda.

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