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La strada

Disappointingly Unconvincing
"La Strada" is a simple tale that attempts to pack an emotional wallop at its climax, which is nice, except that what we're shown as character development for the main antagonist is never earned, and is frankly somewhat incomprehensible.

Plot In a Nutshell: A young woman (Giulietta Masina) is sold into bondage by her mother to a cruel and abusive two-bit circus sideshow performer (Anthony Quinn).

Imagine for a minute that you have a dog. You treat this dog very poorly. You yell at it, hit it, order it around, demand total loyalty from it. But then when other dogs come around you give them plenty of attention and affection. But not this dog. You kick it some more. And yell at it some more. You clearly have nothing but contempt for this dog.

You've had other dogs before. The last one you had mysteriously died. We don't know how, but given your brutal nature, it would surprise no one if it was revealed that you had something to do with its death. That's how awful you are. But anyway, back to your current dog. It's become kind of useless and it barks a lot now. So you decide to abandon it on the side of the road and get on with your life.

Years later you are living your same miserable existence. You've never given that dog a second thought and have since found other dogs with which to play. Life goes on. You are not looking for that dog, because frankly, you never ever liked it. It was annoying, right? So who cares.

Then one day you hear something that reminds you of that dog. You pursue it, likely out of curiosity, and ask someone what you heard. You are then told that, yes, that dog was here for a while, but it's dead now. And now...NOW...suddenly, you have this instant revelation that hey, even though you treated this dog like garbage, couldn't treat it much worse, really, think you LOVED this dog! Yes, despite your horrible treatment of this dog, you really needed this dog all along. So you run to the ocean to wash away your feelings of guilt for how you mistreated this loyal dog all those years ago. The End.

Umm...that doesn't work. I've known people like Zampanò. They are miserable, worthless, abusive, borderline evil people. And they don't care who they hurt. They only care about themselves. Imagining someone like that have a "come to Jesus" moment in the ocean surf is pretty laughable, really. It is certainly unconvincing. And given the reputation of this film (fourth in the 1992 British Film Institute directors' list of cinema's top 10 films), disappointingly unconvincing. Not for a second do I accept that Zampanò would be in any way changed, simply by learning that someone he treated like garbage years ago is now dead. No way.

6/10. Unrealistic drama that fails to connect. If you want to see an early 1950s Italian film that packs a legitimate emotional punch, check out Vittorio De Sica's "Umberto D." You'll be glad you did.

Beau travail

The end of the film, explained
I've seen questions on this site and indeed essays written elsewhere (you can Google it) seeking to explain the last few minutes of 'Beau Travail.' Its meaning hit me instantly when I watched it. And I will share it with you.

Plot in a Nutshell (for those who don't know): A career man in the French Foreign Legion (Denis Lavant) feels threatened by the arrival of a popular newcomer to his unit (Grégoire Colin).

That story, and what happens to these two characters, takes up about 20 minutes of this 90-minute film. The other 70 minutes? A bunch of random, seemingly pointless vignettes of camp life in the Legion. We see the men exercise. We see the men drill. We see them go to a nightclub. We see them shower. And eat lunch. And swim. And iron their clothes. Mostly all of this, we see, but do not hear. There is little dialogue to go along with these scenes.

Here's an example. At one point the viewer is shown two soldiers swimming underwater. They have goggles on their eyes and knives in their hands. They swim in a circular motion, almost chasing each other, almost in rhythm. Then the scene ends. We never see them exit the water. We never saw them enter, for that matter. We have no idea who they were because of the goggles. We have no idea why we were just shown this scene. It does not seem to be connected to anything else. And that can be said for about 70% of this film. All of these aforementioned episodes, including the swimming one, do absolutely ZERO to advance the plot. You can discard all of them and still have the basic story of the career man and the new recruit.

And therein lies your answer. Why are you looking for meaning at the end of a film that is littered with meaningless scenes? The sad truth is, there is no meaning in that final dance sequence. Just like there was no meaning in the swimming sequence. Or the bizarre hugging sequence of the men in the desert. There is no point to any of this. Basically, the director ended the film with a big "F U" to the audience, so you can sit there and scratch your head and ask "what did I just watch?"

(Answer: Pointless drivel)

The Bishop's Wife

What a Great Christmas Film!....If You Like Horny, Manipulative Angels Who Try To Break Up Families, That Is!
The reviews here are effusive in their praise for this film, and for the life of me, I have no idea what they watched, because it couldn't be what I just watched.

Plot In A Nutshell: An angel (Cary Grant), under the guise of coming to earth to help a struggling bishop (David Niven), instead focuses the majority of his time on wooing the bishop's wife (Loretta Young), with the eventual intention of stealing her away and breaking up the bishop's family.

I'm not making this up. Look at the poster for the film. The angel is holding the bishop's wife in his arms, while the bishop looks on with concern. This is indeed the plot of this so-called "Christmas classic." Because nothing says "Christmas" like 'adultery' and 'divorce!' What is wrong with you people?

Niven's character is a new Episcopal bishop who is struggling with the demands of his position. He prays for heavenly guidance. Dudley the angel (Grant) promptly appears and tells the bishop that he is the answer to his prayers. OK, I'm following so far. And guess what happens next? Dudley spends time with the bishop's wife. And the bishop's daughter. And the bishop's wife again. And the bishop's friends. And the bishop's wife again. And the bishop's parishioners. And the bishop's wife. AGAIN. Now remember, Dudley the angel is here to 'provide guidance' to the bishop, right? That's what he said. But all we see is Dudley spend the majority of his time with pretty much anyone EXCEPT the bishop, but mostly with the wife. Mission accomplished? No. Mission Failed.

And as if that's not bad enough, Dudley uses angelic parlor tricks to win people's affection, not the least of whom is, again, the bishop's wife. The film is titled that for a reason, and it is an appropriate title. It all comes down to this fact: a supposed angel from heaven, a messenger of God, mind you, has come to earth and in the course of his duties, has realized that he covets a man's wife. And not just a man, a bishop's wife! But it gets worse. Dudley fully intends to pursue his interest in the wife. This is not a harmless flirtation. Need I remind you that coveting someone's wife is...uh...a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? What in the world is an angel of God doing willfully violating this? You got me. And while the idea in itself could make for an interesting film, what it DOES NOT make for is a good Christmas film, in any way, shape or form. My goodness.

Several reviewers here have commented on the similarity of "The Bishop's Wife" to "It's A Wonderful Life." OK. So imagine for a moment: in the latter film, Clarence the angel comes to Bedford Falls to help George Bailey. But while he's there, he begins spending more and more time with George's wife, Mary. He even uses his powers to keep George away from them so he can get in more quality time snuggling up to Mary. Imagine Clarence and Mary going out to dinner and going ice skating, while George toils away in the Building & Loan. What in the world kind of garbage movie would that be? What a joke! Well, that's what you have here with The Bishop's Wife. A joke. This film is a T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E Christmas film. Absolutely terrible. Anyone who tells you this is heartwarming family entertainment is either seriously misguided or lying to your face. There can be no debate.

And just when you think you've hit rock bottom, it gets worse. Dudley the angel actually threatens the bishop with bodily harm! Oh yes. When the bishop confronts Dudley and tells him he's ready to fight for his wife, that he won't let the angel steal her away, Dudley pretty much laughs him off and casually tells the bishop he can zap him with a bolt of lightening at any time. OK. This Dudley sure is one wonderful angel, huh? How about "no." Dudley is in fact a manipulative creep of the highest order. In the end, he only leaves because the wife tells him to leave, not because he ever sees the error of his ways. Dudley the angel is a major jackass and not at all representative of what an angel should be. Imagine if the angel Gabriel, appearing to Mary, mother of Jesus, decided 'hey this Mary is kinda cute!" and blows off his mission from God and instead tries to seduce Mary for himself! What the heck? Yeah well, again, that's what you have with this train wreck of a film. Yeesh.

5/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)? You can forget that. "The Bishop's Wife" is competently made, and the acting is good, but the message is atrocious, and be wary of anyone who tells you this is a 'great Christmas film.' It is most certainly not.

Rio Bravo

What Makes a Great Western?
So if you were going to make a western, you'd perhaps compile a list of ingredients, or components, that you think will help to make your film a classic.

Your thoughts might go like this: "First we need to have a boring, unrealistic romance between a 50-something year-old guy and a 20-something year-old girl. And we need to make sure that it takes up a lot of time in the bloated 140 minute production. Because nothing screams 'great western' like an unnecessary, unconvincing romance! Heck yeah we need that!"

"Let's see, what else....we should get some young musician who can't act very well and stick him in the film. And have him sing a song or two, songs that don't sound very vintage to the 19th century old west. This is a MUST to make a great western!"

"Hmm...and let's have some comic relief. Let's have this old guy walk around and complain and gripe about everything under the sun, because that's funny, right? And let's make his voice so annoying that it grates on your nerves, to the point where you're hoping somebody, anybody, kills this character off. Gotta have that or it's not a great western."

"The plot has to be inanely stupid. The bad guys are all around town but they don't do very much. They just watch you. They are willing to kill the good guys sometimes, but other times they just stand around and watch. Until the end of the film, then they are willing to kill the good guys again. We need to drag this out for a long time because our film is going to be really long and really slow and have as little action as possible until the last 20 minutes. This will make a great western."

I could go on, but the point is made. A film with this many negatives simply cannot be great, despite what others might say. Rio Bravo is pretty weak all things considered. When I am in the mood for a western, I will never, EVER think of watching this again.

6/10. Extremely slow-burn of an 'action' film that is little more than mediocre or average. Multiple negatives that cannot be ignored saddle it with -4 stars off the top.

Would I watch again (Y/N)?: As I mentioned above, not very likely. I would watch 'The Magnificent Seven' 100 times straight before I watched Rio Bravo again.

Another Fine Mess

The Last Five Minutes are Hilarious
...but the previous 25 are only mildly amusing by comparison. So this is a tough one to rate.

Plot In a Nutshell: Two drifters (Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy) avoid a determined beat cop by taking refuge in an empty mansion, where they assume the identities of the owner and servants.

Why I rated it a '7': as mentioned, the film really picks up steam as it comes to a conclusion, and it includes a scene where Stan and Ollie are bicycling down a street while disguised as an African wildebeest. I can't help but compare this to the ending of the original "Pink Panther" with David Niven and Robert Wagner driving around Paris in gorilla costumes. You have to think Blake Edwards drew some inspiration from Laurel and Hardy here!

There are some laughs sprinkled throughout the 30 minute film but it is not non-stop hilarity until the last few minutes. No one remembering Lord Plumtree's name and Stan's comment about needing a nursery room "in case of an accident" were highlights, but Lord Plumtree's strange laugh was annoying and is an example of one bit that didn't work.

Overall, an enjoyable 30 minutes. Not their best and not their worst. B+.

7/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes


There Are Two Main Problems Here
...which most positive reviewers seem to overlook. Or worse, choose to ignore.

Plot In a Nutshell: A priest/scientist (Gabriel Byrne) is sent to Pittsburgh to investigate strange events involving a young atheist (Patricia Arquette).

Why I rated it a '6': Although the idea of building a film around an ancient Gnostic gospel is intriguing, the story falls apart because of two glaring issues. The first one involves the possession of Arquette's character, Frankie. If we are to believe that Frankie is possessed by the spirit of an old noble priest who wanted to reveal the real teachings of Jesus, why then, do her eyes turn red as if she's a demon, and why does she try to seduce and then physically abuse Byrne's character, Father Kiernan? This doesn't make any sense. From the beginning Father Kiernan was trying to help Frankie and the spirit of the dead priest should have understood that. Frankie acts here as if she's very much possessed by something evil, and not by the spirit of a dead priest with good intentions. The entire scene just defies logic. Sure it was cool to see Arquette toss Byrne around like a rag doll, but thematically it was totally incongruous to the film's mission.

Problem #2 - If the idea of the film was that Arquette's character was being used by the spirit of the dead priest to 'get the word out' about this hidden gospel, it's doing a very poor job of it. For one, because of Frankie's odd behavior, and because of the afflictions she suffers from the stigmata she receives, almost everyone avoids her. Her friends become more distant and she loses her clients at the salon. What kind of messenger is this? One that everyone avoids? That's not very effective. To make matters worse, when possessed, Frankie speaks or writes in an ancient language (Aramaic) that no one understands. Even the priest investigating her case (Byrne) has to phone back to Rome to find someone to interpret what Frankie says and writes. Again, how does this help getting the message out? No one can understand what she is saying, if they actually stick around to hear it. Add to this, the bouts of stigmata Frankie receives become more and more vicious, to the point that it appears she is on the verge of death. So...if she is supposed to be a messenger bringing some important, vital knowledge to the world...making her a pariah, having her speak in a language that no one can comprehend, and beating up her body to its limits, such that she's on death's is this in any way helpful in spreading the news of the hidden gospel? Short answer: it's not helpful. The film falls apart once you realize this. I know it, and now you know it. I really wanted to like this film. But a film has to make sense for me to like it, and this one just doesn't.

6/10. Good general concept but poor execution in the details. Would I watch again (Y/N)? Having seen it twice now, no. Twice is enough.

BTW - I have a copy of the Gospel of Thomas, the 'lost book' that is central to the film. It's a bunch of random quotes, supposedly said by Jesus, but a lot of it is hard to decipher and it's in no way the 'explosive' secret the film would have you believe. Some of the quotes appear in the New Testament but many do not. It's interesting but hardly earth-shattering.

Bull Durham

Rom-Com Masquerading as a Sports Film
Beware the reviewers labeling Bull Durham "the best sports movie ever" or even "the best baseball movie." Real sports fans know this really isn't a sports movie. It's a romantic comedy that happens to use minor league baseball as the setting. Even Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, wrote that Bull Durham "is a completely unrealistic romantic fantasy." Does that sound like "the best sports movie ever" to you? Yeah, it's not. The people saying this must not be sports fans, I can draw no other conclusion.

Plot in a Nutshell: An aging catcher (Kevin Costner) and a young pitcher (Tim Robbins) vie for the affections of a local harlot/groupie (Susan Sarandon).

That's the basic story of this film. It focuses on a love triangle between these three characters and uses the Durham Bulls baseball club as the backdrop. Oh sure, there are some baseball scenes thrown in, and some baseball terminology that might confuse anyone who's not a fan. But make no mistake: this is a rom-com all the way, and as such, can't be seriously considered in the top echelon of 'sports films.'

And on top of that, it's not nearly as good as some would have you believe. As Ebert noted, it's unrealistic for one. What makes anyone accept that the two ballplayers would even WANT to hook up with the Sarandon character? She is already in her 40s and freely admits her extremely loose morals as it pertains to sexual partners. She's basically a walking STD at this point in her life! No thanks, pal. It also seems odd that the Bulls trust Costner's character to mentor their million-dollar investment, then suddenly have no use for him by the film's end. Don't they have anyone else that could use some mentoring? Why did they trust him in the first place if they think so little of him now? Yeah that doesn't work.

Having said that, it's not a bad film. It has its moments and I would say it's worth one watch. But I wouldn't go beyond that. There is a much-talked-about speech ("I believe in wet kisses" etc.) given by Costner's character in the film, apparently intended to be romantic, as it gets the attention of Annie Savoy (Sarandon). But watching this film now, I was more than a little surprised to hear that part of this famous discourse included the lines "I believe in the c_ck. I believe in the p_ssy." Um, what? Yeah I'm not making this up, that's part of the dialogue. And far from being profound, it sounded laughable, not laudable. Socrates-like wisdom, this was not.

There are SO many 'sports films' better than this. To name a few...Rocky and Rocky II, The Natural, A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out, the original The Longest Yard, the original Brian's Song, Hoosiers, Raging Bull, Slap Shot, Hoop Dreams...there's a lot. A LOT. To name Bull Durham better than those, as Sports Illustrated did back in 2003, is beyond puzzling. It's a sometimes-amusing look at minor league baseball life, and that's really about it.

6/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)? Having watched it for the second time now, no. There's no title fight, there's no championship game. It's just an unconvincing romantic comedy set during a minor league baseball season. And that's just not good enough to warrant any more viewings.

A Visit to Santa

That's the first thing that comes to mind after watching this 'film.' From now on, if someone says the word 'pathetic' to me, I will think of "A Visit to Santa."

Plot In a Nutshell: Two children are brought to the North Pole to visit Santa on Christmas Eve.

Why I rated it a '1': Imagine if your neighbor shot a 12-min film starring himself as Santa and his kids as elves. That's pretty much what this is. As amateurish as can be imagined. Acting is terrible, dialogue is terrible, narration is terrible, story is terrible. We are told the children are transported to the North Pole via Santa's 'magic helicopter!' We never see this, of course, because remember, your neighbor made this film and he had no budget for it. But 'magic helicopter?' LOL OK.

I have rated over 1350 films to this point on IMDb, and this is only the 4th or 5th that I have deemed SO BAD that I had to give it a 1. I usually can find something redeeming in almost everything I see to throw it a bone and give it at least a few stars. Usually. "A Visit to Santa" offers virtually nothing. It's that poor.

1/10. Easily one of the worst, most shoddy pieces of drivel I've seen. You (and a few friends) can probably do better with one day of preparation and that's not an exaggeration. Would I watch again (Y/N): Take a guess!

The Great Outdoors

Solid 7
Plot in a Nutshell: Regular guy Chet (John Candy) sees his family getaway ruined by the unwelcome intrusion of his obnoxious and conceited in-laws, led by Roman (Dan Aykroyd).

Why I rated it a '7': Listen this film is no classic but it's not bad. There are several '10' reviews here and that's just laughable, it's far from perfect. Not all of the jokes land and there is a teen romance sub-plot that is just tedious and lame. So really, no, it's not a '10' by any stretch.

Having said that, there is still enough in the tank to make it better than average. Thankfully the teen romance doesn't take up too much space in the film, leaving John Candy and Dan Aykroyd plenty of time to do their stuff. And they largely deliver. Fans of one or both shouldn't be disappointed by what they see here. There are also several quotable lines that are instantly recognizable. Who seeing this won't always remember what hot dogs are made of?? Overall this is pretty harmless fun that mostly works and doesn't overstay its welcome at a 90-minute run-time.

7/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes it was just good enough to warrant an occasional re-watch.

Keep 'Em Rolling

The Original 'Warhorse'
Plot in a Nutshell: A strong bond forms between a career Army man (Walter Huston) and his horse, seeing them through good times and bad.

Why I rated it a '7': While no masterpiece, the film is enjoyable enough for what it is. And it's augmented by the fact that it's loosely based on the story of a real Army horse, albeit from a previous war. The real horse, "Rodney," served in the Spanish American War of 1898 while this film is set during the Great War. Some dramatic license is taken in the film (specifically the cemetery scene towards the end) but overall it remains true to the spirit of the story - namely, that Rodney served his men with such grit, determination and fortitude, and for so long, that when the time came for him to retire, they were not ready to see him go. It's a nice testament to the idea that loyalty and gratitude are not always forgotten, even though war can be hell. Well done, Rodney, and RIP.

7/10 - Would I watch again? (Y/N) - Yes.

The General

It's Basically a Prolonged Chase Scene With Some Very Impressive Stunt Work
Despite "The General" being lightly regarded at the time of its release, it has since enjoyed a renaissance of renewed interest in the last 30 years or so, to the extent that it now appears on multiple 'best' lists. Does it deserve the acclamation?

Plot In a Nutshell: Set during the American Civil War, a Southern train engineer (Buster Keaton) pursues his stolen locomotive behind enemy lines.

I've read several reviews on here, especially the ones rating the film a '10' and willingly anointing it as 'the best silent film ever,' and rather amusingly, more than a few of the reviewers then reveal that they don't like silent films and/or they've seen very few of them. How then can you say "The General" (or any film) is the best, when you don't like them or don't know many of them? Rather silly isn't it. On the other hand, there are others who have seen thousands of films (e.g. Roger Ebert) and they, too, have similar praise.

I'm somewhere in the middle. I've seen about 50-60 silent films to this point so I have a decent frame of reference, and what I can tell you is this - "The General" is not making my 'top' list, not even close. Why not? Because it's basically a prolonged chase scene with some very impressive stunt work. And while that can be entertaining, and at times it certainly is, that hardly qualifies it for 'the greatest' anything. It's not all that funny, either, despite some reviewers here inexplicably calling it 'the greatest comedy ever.' It's really more of an action film than a comedy. One contemporary newspaper reviewer from 1927 got that right. In reference to the film, Mordaunt Hall wrote "the production itself is singularly well mounted, but the fun is not exactly plentiful." Lastly, the plot of "The General" is paper thin: Johnnie Gray has his train stolen, Johnnie gives chase and steals it back, and now he's being chased. That's it. Really.

I have the feeling that many people, especially ones who've seen few silent films, see this one, realize that it's actually good, and then fall in lock-stop with the prevailing opinion that it's "the best." I have some suggestions for you. Go watch "Sunrise" or "The Gold Rush" or "The Big Parade" or "The Phantom of the Opera" or "City Lights" or "The Passion of Joan of Arc" or "Nosferatu" or "The Kid" or even "Flesh and the Devil" or "Broken Blossoms" or "The Kid Brother" or Keaton's own "The Navigator" - all excellent silent films, most with deep emotional resonance, most with intricate plots and all better than "The General" - then come back and tell me again how "The General" is the greatest. Not happening, bro.

Roger and Me: Roger Ebert rated "The General" 4/4 and placed it on his "Great Movies" list. I'm not going that far. It's good, sometimes very good, hard to say it's great. Some of Keaton's earlier work actually surpasses this.

7/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes I would watch again. But it's probably best to view "The General" without lofty expectations and you might like it better. See Keaton's "The Navigator" and compare for yourself.


Like a Jackson Pollock Painting
"Persona" is one of those films that just about everyone will tell you is a masterpiece. Yet for some, this conclusion is neither apparent nor obvious.

Plot in a Nutshell: A nurse (Bibi Andersson) is assigned to care for a seemingly healthy woman (Liv Ullmann), apart from her sudden - and stubborn - reticent behavior.

I've read many reviews of this film, and I don't know if any two of them agree on what it is actually about, or what it's trying to say. That is not a good sign. Everyone, or almost everyone, must be confused, then, on its message and purpose, if no one can agree. And rest assured, this film is confusing. Unlike most others, it does not tell its story in a conventional way. Most films you watch, you can follow the plot and dialogue, and you understand what is happening on the screen. That is not the case with "Persona." You don't know if the two main characters are actually one character, if they are in fact separate, is it about duality, or schizophrenia, or something else again? "Persona" has rightly been called the "Mt. Everest for film analysis" because it feels like an insurmountable task to accurately decipher and understand it.

It's like a Jackson Pollock painting, when he threw buckets of paint on a canvas and called it 'art.' Who knows what all of those splotches meant? Do they have meaning? Or is this just random artistic expression? That was up to the individual. And so it is with "Persona." Some people will view it and see genius; others will look at it and see a mishmash of images and shapes that don't amount to anything of interest or substance. I never cared for Pollock; give me Monet or Van Gogh any day.

Roger and me: Roger Ebert reviewed this film twice, in 1967 and again in 2001, and both times he rated it 4/4. However he also wrote that he returns to it in the 'hope to understand its mysteries.' So he, too, still didn't understand it after multiple viewings. I've seen it once and don't care if I never see it again. Life is too short to waste on trying to figure out what Bergman wanted to say, if indeed he was actually saying anything at all; we'll never get the answer.

4/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Not very likely.

(Incidentally, Alma the nurse could have had a successful career writing for Penthouse Forum; her 'beach story' scene is easily the best part of the film!)

Respite at Christmas

Interesting But Too Brief
Plot In a Nutshell: This short film relates a tale of enemies peacefully coming together at Christmas, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. And while that might sound similar to "The Christmas Truce" story from The Great War, this one is different.

Unbeknownst to each other, American and German soldiers converge on a local farmhouse one night in deep winter, seeking shelter. Surprised to see each other, their natural reactions can be predicted but, cooler heads prevail and together they share a meal and actually exchange a gift or two.

There is a short battle sequence with a few explosions that don't look too bad, given the likely limited funds available for this film. The biggest drawback of it is that it is very very short (16 minutes), so before you know it, it's over. It felt like this story could have been developed into something much deeper than what we get. Also, given the extremely short running time, there is no character development to speak of. You don't know who these people are, their motivations, backstories or anything else. Basically, you witness a quick battle scene and then the encounter in the farmhouse and that's it. And while that makes for an interesting little story, that's really all it is - an interesting little story. I liked it, but it's difficult to give something of that caliber anything higher than a 6.

6/10. Not bad, feels like it could have been more.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Ignore the 10 and 1 ratings; it's neither that good, nor that bad
TROS is a decent enough entry in the SW franchise. But it is not the best by a wide margin. To the reviewers here giving this a '10'...besides making me shudder with disbelief...I would like to ask, if TROS is a 10 than what is ANH and ESB? 50?? Wake up please.

The film wraps up most of the 'big' questions and (supposedly) puts the Skywalker saga to bed. So that alone should satisfy the majority of fans. Most big-budget films these days are technically brilliant and this one is no exception, so it has that going for it, too, but it's hardly unique anymore. Those are the positives.

What I didn't like: the film is VERY fast-paced at the start and if you aren't taking notes you might miss why one character is going somewhere or what s/he is looking for. It's a bit of a mess and I wish they'd taken more time in the exposition. If you like characters that drip sarcasm and snark, Poe's your man. But dude every time you open your mouth? Shut up already. That got old fast. There are new "force" abilities exhibited in this film, never before seen, which only open new questions. If Rey can do this, why didn't Ben or Yoda or Luke ever do it? So that was troubling. There are a few moments that had me saying 'how can you possibly know that?" or "that was a lucky-as-hell guess" but this isn't the first SW film having me say that. There is a plot point here that is eerily similar to one in TFA (several characters visiting several planets trying to find something, like everyone was trying to find a map in TFA). Oh and the bad guys are planning more 'surprises' for the galaxy. Thankfully not another Death Star, but it might as well be. Not very innovative frankly.

Overall, not bad. But not great either. Were I to rank it among the SW films (11 to date), it would be middle-late, about 8th. The only ones I'd rank lower are Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and The Last Jedi.

Oh yeah. Stormtroopers still can't hit the side of a barn and the under-manned and ill-equipped Resistance win, against impossible odds, yet again (as if you couldn't guess, right?). Total shocker. Yay.

The Little Shop of Horrors

If you enjoy stupid, this is for you
Plot in a nutshell: A clumsy loser working at a flower shop experiments with cross-pollination and creates a man-eating plant with a voracious appetite.

Why I rated it a '3': First, the good. The story is somewhat original and deserves a little credit. OK that's about it for the good.

The bad: the film operates at SUCH a silly level that you really have to enjoy 'stupid' to enjoy this film. Some examples...a customer of the florist's has a taste for flowers. That's right, he eats them. He is shown early on munching down on some carnations and he mentions that his wife 'is making gardenias for dinner.' Now, that's hilarious, right? "Dude look he's eating flowers!! OMG that's funny!!" You might have that reaction. Or, you might roll your eyes and think "Boy that's pretty dumb."

There is a detective in the film named Joe Fink and in a bit of voice-over narration, he introduces himself and ends with saying "I'm a Fink." If you didn't know, that's supposed to be funny, too. Note I wrote 'supposed to be,' because the truth is, it's not. It's pretty painful and the 'hits' like this just keep on coming for 80 minutes. I probably laughed two, maybe three times over the entire film. A recent reviewer here wrote "Some people might find it void of laughs" and boy was that on the money, but inexplicably that reviewer still gave the film a 7. Here's a newsflash: a comedy is supposed to be funny. If it's not funny, it's not a 7.

Jack Nicholson has a small role as a masochistic dental patient and I suppose it's noteworthy for the simple fact that Jack went on to much bigger and better things. But the part he plays here is just as cringe-worthy as the rest of the film. "Dude he likes pain! He wants to get his teeth pulled without novocain! What a wacky guy!!" Wow another amazingly 'funny' moment. Or not. Yes, cue the eye-rolling yet again.

3/10. This is not good. A painfully unfunny 'comedy' that I will never watch again. Those rating this a '10' (and there are several) are just embarrassing themselves.

Lawrence of Arabia

Very Good Film, but...Perfect? That's Debatable
There are way too many reviews here labeling this film as "the greatest ever," "perfect" and/or containing similar such effusive praise. And while I can't argue with the cinematography (which truly is impressive), or the acting (++), there are a few issues I have with 'Lawrence of Arabia' that prevent me from joining others who want to put it on the highest shelf. Hear me out.

Plot In a Nutshell: British officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) aids the Arab cause in their struggle against the Turks during the Great War.

For starters, this is a flawed hero at best, and not an emotionally attractive one. It's easy to get behind the cause of Ben-Hur, for example, or Spartacus (which, by the way, are veritably epic films in their own right which preceded 'Lawrence of Arabia,' and which most reviewers here seem to have forgotten). Both Ben-Hur and Spartacus are wronged, we see it happen and we feel for the characters. Then they spend the rest of their films trying to right those wrongs, which they largely do. The same can be said for more recent epics like Braveheart and Maximus in 'Gladiator.' What exactly is so emotionally appealing about Lawrence? He hasn't been wronged in any way. He's just a soldier doing his job. OK. That's nice, but it lacks the powerful impact of Maximus getting revenge on Commodus or the slaves all standing up and saying "I am Spartacus" in a show of unity with that titular character. LOA just doesn't have this. There's no impetus to care about Lawrence as there is for the 'heroes' in those other epic films.

Secondly, the depiction here is wildly inaccurate. Lawrence's own brother said he couldn't recognize the character that was supposed to be his kinsman, and he actually went 'on tour' appearing on talk shows to denounce the film! That's not good. No one is around to tell us who Spartacus really was, or William Wallace, but we do know about Lawrence. And what we get in this film is, simply put, a very loose interpretation of reality. I was surprised to learn that several other British officers were already embedded with Arab tribes and were already carrying out commando raids prior to Lawrence's arrival. Watching this film you get the idea this was his brainchild and it absolutely was not. Anthony Quinn's character (Auda abu Tayi) does not abandon the cause as is shown here. It goes on and on. You can read all of the many inaccuracies in the Wikipedia article of this film.

Lastly, the film limps to a conclusion. The 2nd half, or specifically the last hour, is not very captivating. It portrays the political differences and difficulties between the various Arab tribes and the British Army as they all vie for control of Damascus. It's actually kind of tedious. And just ends. Lawrence decides to go home. Credits roll. That's uh....interesting. But one thing it's not is perfect. Anyone watching knows this.

"Lawrence of Arabia" was a highly influential film (for George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and others), and it certainly deserves a place in cinematic history, but beware of those stating that this film is 'unmatched' or that it's 'the greatest film ever.' That's extremely high praise and difficult to prove. In my book, having just watched it, it's neither.

8/10. Very good but has some baggage. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Because of its length and less-than-satisfying ending, not for a long time.

A Life in the Balance

Unrecognizable U.S.A.
Plot In a Nutshell: A landlord foils his tenants' bomb plot, so they attempt to take revenge by threatening the life of his infant (the 'life' in the title).

Yes, this is a comedy, despite that plot description. And what a strange piece of business it is. Planting a bomb in a baby's bed doesn't have the ring of comedy to it, at least not by today's standards. So you can safely label this one of those that 'doesn't age well.'

In addition to the above, the following were in this 1913 film and seem odd to 21st-century eyes:

* Working out/exercising fully dressed in a suit was apparently completely normal * Leaving an infant home alone, unattended, was also somehow accepted practice * Policemen walking the beat did not carry firearms, only billy clubs * You could enter your local police station waving a handgun and the police won't bat an eye. They won't ask for a carry permit, not ask why you're waving it around in public, not try to subdue you, nothing. Good luck trying that today!

6/10. More valuable for a view into early-20th century 'norms' than for the attempts at comedy. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.

Come Live with Me

Quite Ordinary
Having just watched this film, I was a bit shocked to find the glowing reviews here, with people stating "Come Live with Me" to be a 'gem' and a 'classic' - this, of course, despite it only having about 1500 votes to date (for a Jimmy Stewart film!) and never coming up on anyone's "Top" lists. It's actually a rather pedestrian affair with few genuinely funny moments, and way too many sappy ones.

Plot in a nutshell: A Viennese refugee (Hedy Lamarr) proposes a marriage of convenience to an unemployed, destitute writer (James Stewart).

The best part of the film finds Stewart's character visiting a book publisher to discuss his manuscript. Neither of them know....yet....that said manuscript actually details the film's plot and they are both players in it. Funny funny stuff. But sadly, the rest of the film doesn't come close to matching it. Hedy Lamarr's beauty is the only other item here deserving mention. Stewart's character was rather whiny and annoying, major disappointment.

I found a contemporary newspaper review from 1941, and the author of the piece (listed only as "T.S.") was similarly unimpressed with this film. Those comments are below:

"Director Clarence Brown is accenting the heart-throb again in a sentimental little lark called "Come Live With Me," now at the Capitol. The script has been neatly devised by Patterson McNutt; it has been directed with great camera skill by Mr. Brown; James Stewart is in it and he is an engaging actor; Hedy Lamarr is present too and she is darkly beautiful at least. Surely, these would seem sufficient enticements and yet, for all the superior craft in it, "Come Live With Me" lacks sparkle and spontaneity. It is too stiff in the joints for a madcap antic; its sentiment is oversoft. Perhaps the fault lies in the fact that both author and director have tried to weave some homely emotion and philosophy in a story which is adequate enough for farce but much too artificial for more pretentious treatment.

Briefly, it is the account of a lady refugee, much in love with an already married publisher, who evades deportation by marrying a foot-loose young man, who writes books. But even a business-like arrangement has its romantic pitfalls. The author falls in love with the lady, wafts her off to a bucolic retreat, and there amid the sampler-covered walls, the crickets and the fire-flies, the said lady finally succumbs. Those fire-flies! In them, Mr. Brown has found one of the neatest tricks of the year for evading and/or undermining the Hays office. The coquette of the insect species, it seems, winks a light every two seconds when in a romantic swoon. Miss Lamarr uses a flashlight. For the rest, the director is as consistently inventive in using the camera to carry the narrative, although he has failed to pace the film beyond a dogtrot. Even Mr. Stewart, for all his usual charm, seems listless and Miss Lamarr is more decorative than talented as a comedienne. Despite all the alluring promise of the invitation in "Come Live With Me" its pleasures prove to be quite ordinary after all."

Couldn't have said it better myself. 6/10. Times watched: 1. Watch again? No.


Someone Actually Wrote "Waist of Time"...
...and then rated the film a '1.' I'm sorry, but if you can't even spell a five letter word correctly, why am I listening to anything you have to say? For the record, it is 'w-a-s-t-e of time,' not 'waist.' Maybe when you learn to spell, I might actually listen to your opinion. But probably not. Because it's obviously uninformed and unintelligent.

Plot In A Nutshell: The crew of the International Space Station gets way more than expected when they examine soil samples taken from the planet Mars.

Why I rated it an '8': Many people have commented that this film borrows a lot from other films, most notably "Alien" and "The Thing." And they are right. However that doesn't mean a film can't be good if it has a similar story. Who says it can't? OK so it lacks originality. But is it still interesting, gripping, suspenseful, surprising? Yes, it can be. It owes a debt to those other, groundbreaking films, and that being the case, it should be acknowledged that it's not as good as them. However, to dismiss it as 'bad' because it's not original is just silly. Have you listened to any music lately? The amount of sampling that goes on is off the charts. Borrowing doesn't make something bad. Lighten up.

The truth is, "Life" is a pretty good film. The sfx are believable and the story never drags even if it feels somewhat familiar. But the film does have a different ending from those aforementioned ones, and that deserves to be recognized too. Some of the reviewers here have complained about the characters' actions or decisions, but it's easy to make judgments without walking the walk. Who's to say how someone will react in an intense, life-threatening situation? You cannot know. It's foolish to think otherwise. Bottom line: "Life" is pretty good and doesn't have the "Hollywood Ending." It deserves a few points for that alone.

8/10. Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.

Office Christmas Party

The Idiot Brigade Is At It Again
Sigh. Looking at the recent reviews here, so many people rate Office Christmas Party a '10' or a '1.' Uh, no. How about 'no?' It's not a '10' (which would be pretty much a masterpiece) nor is it a '1' (which would be pretty much the worst film ever made).

What it is, is this: a harmless comedy that knows what it's supposed to be and doesn't try to be more. The title basically gives it away, too. It's about some execs throwing an office holiday party, but with a twist: they are doing it to save their jobs. (You'll have to watch it to find out why.) There are some genuinely funny moments, but there are some jokes that don't really land, and that's fine. Overall it is fairly entertaining and you're not left checking the time to see how much longer it has to go. That's not a '10' but it's definitely not a '1' either. It was what I thought it would be: familiar comedic actors 'hitting the mark' often enough to keep it funny and move the film along. And that was good enough for me. 7/10.


That's funny....why can't Jigsaw practice forgiveness?
This third installment in the "Saw" series is full of pretentious, self-righteous nonsense that should have you begging for it to just end already. I certainly was.

Plot in a Nutshell: A dying serial killer forces a kidnapped doctor to keep him alive long enough to witness the outcome of his latest deadly 'game.'

Why I rated it a '3': Some reviews here made much of the idea that this film contains 'thought-provoking themes' and explores 'the philosophical aspect of forgiveness.' They are saying this, I suppose, because part of the plot revolves around Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), a man who has lost his son in a car accident and is unable to forgive the driver. He can't let go of his son and curses the fact that the driver 'got off light.' The serial killer "Jigsaw" has come to the conclusion that Jeff has not been grieving properly (yes this is as stupid as it sounds, and don't ask me how Jigsaw knows who Jeff is and how he is grieving) and so Jigsaw has determined that Jeff should endure a series of 'games' that perhaps will teach him how to forgive. As if Jigsaw has any moral standing when it comes to forgiveness! Here is a person who has sent countless people to their grisly deaths because of their perceived sins. Why couldn't Jigsaw forgive any of them, instead of setting them up to die? Hmm? Anyone? And now he's going to preach about forgiveness? Hey Jigsaw, how about practicing what you preach, buddy? Moron. Wow what a stupid plot line. Colossally stupid.

Coupled with this is a dreadfully uninteresting concurrent story about Jigsaw on the verge of dying (due to his terminal cancer). A doctor has been kidnapped and been forced to administer to Jigsaw with the challenge of keeping him alive at least until Jeff finishes his game. So the doctor must perform a crude operation with limited tools to get the job done and, if this sounds like it could have been part of a TV hospital drama, you're right. That's not a compliment.

As if all of the above isn't bad enough, it gets worse. How's that, you ask? How about if I told you that this film - which is supposed to be a horror film, right? - is in fact, a love story. I am not making this up. Here is a direct quote from the guy who wrote the screenplay, Leigh Wannell: "It is a love story. It's a love story between Jigsaw and Amanda. Essentially they're like father and daughter." Oh yeah? That's great. You know, when I'm in the mood for a scary horror film, there's nothing I like better than to have it centered on a good father/daughter love story! Gee, what should I watch tonight? "Saw III" or "Father of the Bride?" Wow.

"Saw III" has all the markings of a film that was thrown together as quickly as possible to take advantage of the series' popularity. In other words, it's not good. It's not even average. It's bad. There is a scene where one character shoots another and Jigsaw admonishes - in all seriousness - 'you just ruined four lives.' Uh, what? How about all of the people Jigsaw has sent to their deaths in the first three films? How many lives has he ruined as a result of his actions? Does this self-important idiot even listen to himself? This is laughable. The writing here is so poor it's mind-boggling.

3/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Never in a million years. Hell no.

Saw II

Logic? Who Needs Logic?
Oh wait a minute. If I am supposed to get interested in a story, it's got to make sense, right? I don't mean nit-picking a sci-fi, alternate-universe kind of sense. That is rightly called 'fantasy' and so you can let that slide. I'm talking about things that supposedly could happen to you tomorrow. What makes a film 'work' is if what you are shown has the aura of plausibility, that it could happen to you tomorrow. If it doesn't, then the thrill is gone and instead you're left shaking your head and saying, 'well that's a load of garbage right there.' Unless you are one of those people who doesn't care if things don't make sense, and you somehow convince yourself that illogical rubbish is really gripping theater. LOL more power to you.

Why I rated it a '5': "Saw II" follows the continuing adventures of the serial killer named "Jigsaw." As it's a sequel I'm going to assume anyone seeing this has already seen the original "Saw" and thus no real exposition is necessary here. Instead I will attempt to illustrate some of its major flaws and explain to those who want to give it a '10' that maybe they should reconsider. "Saw II" is one of those films that is very intense, and often moves at a breakneck pace so that you barely have time to process what you're seeing. But once you do take a breath and think back about it, some really annoying and nagging questions pop up. A lot of them actually. And you ask yourself "hmm would I do that if I had the choice? Or would no one do the things shown here?" And if your answers are "yeah no one would do that" guess what? The film sucks.

So let's see...if there was a number tattooed to the back of your head, would you (A) cut off the back of your head to read the number? Would you really? Or would you ask another person to read the number?

Similarly, in trying to obtain the numbers on other people's heads, would you (A) kill them? Or how about just asking for them to turn around briefly so you can read the tattoo?

If someone is going to unlock a door, would you (A) run up to the door and look through the peephole as the other person is unlocking it? Or would you just sort of stand there and wait for the person to open it?

If you are told a key is hidden in a massive pile of syringes, your best chance of finding the key is to..., uh, grab the nearest person to you and throw her into the pile and demand she find it in two minutes? Haha I could go on, you get the point.

Besides these awful character decisions to ponder, there's more. How about figuring out how 6 people were all successfully kidnapped on the same night? No problems, no issues, no one avoided capture. All caught and brought to a certain location in a few hours. One or maybe two people managed to swing that nifty piece of business without any complications, interference, and no one noticing them dragging people to their car. That's pretty darn amazing. And isn't it a bit curious that the mastermind behind this setup just happens to know the smallest and intimate details of all of these random people? When he's not going for cancer treatment that is. Heck he even knows what a cop said to his son when they were out walking around the city. Heck he even knows the cop is dirty but it seems Internal Affairs didn't get the memo. This guy is awesome! (Or, maybe the plot is mind-numbingly far-fetched...) And I guess he's rich or something to have all of his time to devote to his 'games' and pay for the materials. Speaking of, he must also have a degree in mechanical engineering. It's dumb. The more you think about it, the more stupid it gets.

But the best is for last. Now just think for a minute. If you were the victim of a serial killer, but managed to survive your ordeal, wouldn't your first reaction be....'you know, that was great? I enjoyed being traumatized and almost losing my life, and I actually had to kill someone else to preserve mine, this is wonderful. I would like to do this for a career! Now I would like to target random strangers and torture them!" Uh....what? In who's world does this make any sense? That's like saying a Jew who survived being tortured by the Nazis decides that he wants to now become a Nazi himself and torture Jews. Yeah that makes zero sense. Zero. And you know it.

5/10 - Decent production values but the plot is as ridiculous as they come. Would I watch again (Y/N)? Definitely not. "Saw III" is even worse and I stopped there.

Beachhead to Berlin

Typical Wartime Fare
"Beachhead to Berlin" is a short (20 minute) documentary detailing the U.S. Coast Guard's role in Operation Overlord.

It begins with D-Day already over, and then told in flashback as a framing device, via a chaplain writing a letter back home about the experience. And while the footage from D-Day is good (and for a bonus the whole film is in color), it takes a long time in getting there. A full half of the film is spent discussing the Coast Guard's preparations for D-Day, the practiced landings along England's coast, the seemingly endless waiting, etc. Finally at about the 10-minute mark the invasion is on and we get to see actual footage from the event, as taken by the Coast Guard.

Despite the potentially misleading title this film has nothing to do with Berlin. It was filmed in 1944 and is solely about the Coast Guard's role in the D-Day invasion. It's a hopeful title, suggesting that D-Day was the day the Allies established a 'beachhead' that will eventually lead to the end of the war. But at the time this was released, they were nowhere near Berlin. The title is purely for uplifting propaganda purposes, as is the ending. The conclusion of the film shows us that the aforementioned chaplain writing the letter is no milquetoast, as the camera zooms in on a purple heart medal on his desk before the screen fades to black. A little too corny and completely unnecessary, but that's wartime film-making for you.

6/10. Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Only the invasion scenes.

The Other Guys

Don't Waste Your Time With the Other Reviews That Say "Don't Waste Your Time"
Why not? Because this is one funny film. Seriously. I had no idea what "The Other Guys" was going to be like, just began watching it and within minutes I was rolling.

Plot In a Nutshell: Two New York City police detectives usually relegated to filling out paperwork (Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg) investigate a shady capitalist and discover something more nefarious than building code violations.

If you cannot laugh at the Derek Jeter scene, or the scene where Samuel Jackson and The Rock jump off the building, or when Wahlberg and Ferrell are bickering over which music to play in the car - you are lost. These are all very, very funny moments, and there's plenty more besides them. Not all of the film worked for me, there were a few 'misses,' and I felt like the first half was funnier than the second, but overall this was still packed with plenty of laughs. I'm not big on comparing films, but 'The Other Guys' felt just as funny as 'Stepbrothers,' maybe even a bit funnier. All of the cameos (including the narration by Ice-T) were an added bonus.

8/10. Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)? Absolutely.

Jeepers Creepers

Ancient Demons Are Great Mechanics
That's what I learned from this film. They can take an old 1940s-era jalopy and turn it into a souped-up, high-performance vehicle that will rival anything on the road it encounters. Lol awesome!

Plot in a Nutshell: Two siblings car-pooling home from college are terrorized by an aggressive driver, then see something suspicious on the side of the road, and make a fateful decision...

The premise sounds good, right? Two kids stop to investigate something shady and all hell breaks loose. But then when you discover that an ancient demon is the one who has been fixing up the jalopy that terrorized them, it does beg a few questions. Where did the demon get the parts to fix that truck? Even better, where did it get the knowledge? Or did it just happen to find this really old truck that performs like it's on steroids? How does the demon get the necessary gas, oil, transmission fluid, etc., to keep the jalopy in tip-top shape? And how did the demon get a personalized license plate? Is this beginning to sound stupid? You bet it is.

But wait it gets better! Eventually it's explained that this demon appears only once every 23 years, for 23 days. (Don't ask me what's so special about the number 23.) In that time the demon needs to gorge itself on as many tasty humans as it can. However, it seems it spent some of that limited time working on the jalopy so that it can out-perform any car on the road. That's kinda silly isn't it? If it only has 23 days, wouldn't it want to get busy feasting on humans? "Nah" the demon says to itself. "I think I'll fix up this old truck first, and cruise around town." LOL OK.

Oh yeah now the best part. Eventually we see that the demon actually has wings and can fly, and can attack people and cars without needing that souped-up jalopy in the first place. Which pretty much renders the entire first part of the film - the best and most suspenseful part, by far - utterly nonsensical. Why drive around in a jalopy when you can just fly and pick people off from the sky? Yeah I can't answer that either.

"Jeepers Creepers" has an intense and gripping start. Had me on the edge of my seat for a while. But the longer it went, the more you learn, the less intense it gets, and it switches to being silly. In sum, mixed results, which is why I can't rate it higher than 6/10.

Times watched: 2. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Only the first half.

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