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Pote tin Kyriaki

Wonderful Melina Mercouri Performance
I didn't intentionally set out to watch a hookers-with-a-heart-of-gold double feature, yet that's somehow exactly what I did when I watched "Never on Sunday" on the same day I watched "Nights of Cabiria."

As for comparing the two, there really isn't any comparison. "Nights of Cabiria" is sensational, while "Never on Sunday" hasn't aged particularly well. But both boast tremendous lead performances. Melina Mercouri gets a lighter weight character to play, but she carries the whole film and it really wouldn't be worth watching without her.

Jules Dassin, who wrote and directed the film, casts himself as the intolerable American "philosopher" who decides that this fun-loving Greek prostitute needs to be improved. The movie makes no case for why Mercouri's character submits to the experiment, because she seems perfectly happy with who she is throughout the entire movie. Dassin's character is insufferable, and comes close to being so irritating at times that he almost torpedoes the movie. But then we'll get a scene of Mercouri singing the film's ear worm of a title song, and all is right with the world again.

That song, by the way, won the Best Original Song Oscar in 1960. The film scored big at nomination time, earning two for Dassin (Best Director and Best Original Story and Screenplay), a Best Actress nomination for Mercouri, and Best Black and White Costume Design.

Weirdly, the version I saw on TCM didn't have any of the Greek dialogue (of which there is a lot) subtitled in English, so I had to turn on the closed captioning in order to follow the movie. At first I thought we weren't necessarily supposed to understand the Greek portions and just use context clues to follow them, but there are such long scenes in Greek that convey important information that I decided surely there had to have been subtitles when this film was released. Not sure how other versions handle the dual language component of the film.

Grade: A-

Le notti di Cabiria

Tremendous Giulietta Masina Performance
Giulietta Masina plays the Cabiria of this film's title, and she gives one of the most magnificent performances ever captured on screen. People might recognize this story from the American mainstream musical "Sweet Charity," in which Shirley MacLaine plays the lead. I love "Sweet Charity" and MacLaine in it, but while it's pretty faithful to Fellini's film, in some ways it's an entirely different animal. Masina's character isn't as sympathetic as the one created by MacLaine. I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that MacLaine's Charity is dripping in pathetic lovableness, while Masina's Cabiria has been around the block and knows the score. She's a broad who knows how to handle herself, but she's also prone to making decisions that keep her exactly where she is even while she wants to be somewhere else.

The ending of "Nights of Cabiria" is much darker than "Sweet Charity," and more heartbreaking for it. I was very moved by it and by the look on Masina's face in the film's last shot.

Winner of the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, in only the second year of that category's existence.

Grade: A.

American Ninja

A Bad Movie Lover's Delight
Who is that guy? He looks so familiar. Hmmmm. Michael Dudikoff. Let's look at his filmography. I know I've seen him before. Nope, nothing here looks familiar. Where have I seen him? Wait, who's she? I know I've seen her before somewhere. Hmmmm. Ah hah! I knew it. She was in "Friday the 13th Part IV." Wait, which one was she? Oh yeah, the one who's skewered in the inflatable raft.

They're an attractive couple. Are they gonna get it on in this? Bummer, guess not. Is it just me or does this movie kind of rock? Like, it's objectively bad. But it's also really good. I'm having more fun watching this than almost anything else I've watched in recent memory. My 11 year old is watching this with me and loving it. Should I be letting him? Probably ok. He's getting a kick out of the bad puns I keep coming up with during the action sequences that I keep saying in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. Like someone will get hit with a chair and I'll say, "Have a seat," but like Arnold Schwarzenegger would say it. My 11 year old is like, "Poppa, how do you keep coming up with these?" and then he'll continue to use my puns in casual conversation for the next three weeks. Being a dad can sometimes make you feel like a rock star.

Grade: A- (I had fun, so whatever)

The Humans

Unfairly Dismissed
Stephen Karam adapts his own stage play to the screen and delivers a film that I think was unfairly dismissed by critics and audiences alike. It's one of the more unsettling and memorable films from 2021.

A haunted house (or apartment) story of sorts set during the Thanksgiving holiday, it's no spoiler to reveal that the house (apartment) isn't really haunted, despite the frequent bumps in the night that deliver numerous jump scares throughout the movie. Or rather, it's not haunted in the traditional sense of the word, but it may be haunted by the many words and emotions simmering under the surface of this mostly loving but typically prickly family. Like most families, there's an awful lot of baggage that needs to be unpacked and probably never will, and the result is misplaced annoyance, tension, and animosity. There aren't any issues in this particular scenario that seem insurmountable -- well ok, there's one, but it's a fairly common and pedestrian one. I wasn't really worried about whether or not this family would stick together, because things between them don't seem that bad. Rather, the film is more about the wretched feeling of anxiety and loneliness that comes by default to pretty much all of us just by virtue of being a human being on the planet, and how those demons eat at us even as we're surrounded by people who love us and wish us well. If you're the kind of person that's struggling right now to keep it together in the face of looming global catastrophe, this movie is not going to make you feel better. But you might like it if you, like me, find yourself to be strangely comforted by films that make you feel like someone else has felt the same things you have, even if those things are negative.

Karam as a director probably overplays the tracking shots of water stains, leaky pipes, and other signs of building decay. But on the other hand, he does succeed in creating an amazing sense of space. The ratty, claustrophobic apartment becomes a character in itself, and it made me physically uncomfortable to be in it. I wanted to run outside and gulp breaths of fresh air, but the movie doesn't allow that relief.

Beanie Feldstein is incredibly annoying as the daughter who's throwing the party. I'm pretty sure she's supposed to be somewhat annoying, but probably not as annoying as I found her. I just think as an actress in general she's off putting. But Richard Jenkins, Jane Houdyshell, and Amy Schumer deliver great performances. Schumer especially is heartbreaking.

Grade: A.

Les Girls

Movies Like This Don't Age Well
"Les Girls" highlights the worst of 1950s gender politics.

I'm all for watching films in context of their time period, and I think it's unfair (or at least a waste of time) to hold movies made more than 50 years ago accountable to current standards of equality. Of course we've progressed since 1957 in our attitudes -- isn't that how the world should work?

But hoo boy, even in that frame of mind it's awfully hard to find much to enjoy in this movie. "Les Girls" is a musical "Rashomon," giving us the same series of events through the perspectives of three different characters. But unlike "Rashomon," the events are completely inconsequential no matter whose version is the accurate one. And the damn thing has the audacity to be two hours long!

But the worst offence are the film's aforementioned gender politics. If I have to see one more movie about a man who just wants things and gets them, no matter how he has to treat the other characters to make it happen. It would be one thing if the movie were critical of Gene Kelly's character. But no. Its Gene Kelly, so it's assumed we'll just root for him no matter what his character actually does on screen. The women in this movie have no volition. The men in their lives decide when they should have careers and when they should leave them to get married. And God forbid they don't get married at all. Ugh.

The movie does have two bright spots, and those are the performances of Kay Kendall, an absolute riot, and Mitzi Gaynor, the spunkiest thing in the film.

"Les Girls" brought Orry-Kelly the Oscar for Best Costume Design in 1957, and it was also nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Sound Recording.

Grade: D+

Le ballon rouge

Famous for Winning Best Original Screenplay
"The Red Balloon" is famous (ok, maybe only famous to movie nerds like me) for being the only short film to win a screenplay award at the Oscars. It took home the prize for Best Original Screenplay in 1956 over the likes of Federico Fellini for "La Strada" and William Rose for the Ealing Studios comedy "The Ladykillers."

It's a delightful little film about a boy and his balloon, and the crappy world he's surrounded by that wants to destroy his pleasure. The special effects are almost non existent by today's standards, yet a balloon on a string manages to convey a greater sense of wonder and whimsy than all the CGI in the world. The balloon becomes a character with a personality, and if you think I'm crazy, just watch it for yourself.

And that ending. Don't we all wish we could just fly away like that ourselves sometimes and take a break from the world?

Grade: A.

Interrupted Melody

Susan Hayward Already Made This Movie
20 minutes in to "Interrupted Melody" and I realized I'd already seen it. It was called "With a Song in My Heart," and it starred Susan Hayward. Seriously, this movie is almost a virtual retread of the 1952 film. The only thing it's missing is a feisty nurse played by Thelma Ritter.

"Interrupted Melody" is about 10% biopic and 90% opera. There is a lot of opera in this movie. Like, a lot a lot. I mean I've seen operas that didn't have this much opera in them. The polio that threatens to derail Marjorie Lawrence's career is treated as a minor annoyance. There's one scene of her being sad that she's paralyzed, and then, problem solved!!, she just decides that she's better. And the last scene is so melodramatically shameless it makes even "Downton Abbey" blush.

Eleanor Parker won her third and final Best Actress Oscar nomination for this movie, but she's strangely hyper and overwrought, and spends most of her time on screen lip syncing. She always looks like she's trying too hard. Mysteriously, the screenplay, that seems like it could have been written by an auto-field computer program, won an Oscar for writers William Ludwig and Sonya Levien. And Helen Rose completed the film's trio of Oscar nominations by being recognized for her color costume design. She won the black and white award that year, for a different biopic starring none other than who?.......Susan Hayward!!

Grade: C+


Beautiful Looking But Sluggishly Paced
I didn't know much about "Gate of Hell" before I watched it other than that it won an honorary foreign film Oscar in 1954 before there was a competitive international category and that it also won the award for color costume design at a time when it was rare for foreign films to be recognized in technical categories. It might have just been a matter of bad timing, therefore, that I wasn't in to it. I had just watched the Ridley Scott film "The Last Duel" earlier in the same weekend, and the two films share a lot of the same plot points and themes. I think I just wasn't in the mood for another story about aggressive and toxic men going after each other over a woman who's given very little say in what happens to her.

The film is rather famous for its stunning color, deservedly so. If the Academy was going to recognize it for its costume design, it should have done the same for the art direction. It's a slowly paced film. It felt sluggish to me, but again, in a different mood, maybe I would have found the pacing suspenseful rather than slow.

Grade: B.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Felt Like I Was Seeing the Inside of My Own Mind on Screen
I have trouble turning off my brain. Anxieties, worries, mundane to-dos, even positive things, sometimes feel like they're swirling around in a chaotic funnel cloud and I would like nothing more than to sit in physical and mental silence.

"Everything Everywhere All At Once" felt like the inside of my head. In a world of non-stop, 24/7 news, most of it bad, how is a person like me, who has trouble filtering out things that affect me directly from all of the other things that are just out there happening in general and over which I have no control, supposed to cope?

One answer is to decide that nothing matters anyway and give up caring. But that means deciding that my wife doesn't matter. And that my kids don't matter. And that art, and nature, and things that bring joy to my life, don't matter.

Another way is to decide that some things, ok maybe most things, don't matter, but that there are things that do, and those are the things that make it all worth it. I get to decide what those things are.

The first approach is nihilistic. The second approach is empowering. This film explores both approaches, and I was a sobbing mess at the end.

I will say there were times that I was a bit exhausted by this movie. It throws a lot on the screen and at the viewer, and occasionally it can't keep up with its ambitions. But this was mostly a home run.

Michell Yeoh does terrific work in this, but the MVP is Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from the "Indiana Jones" movies).

Grade: A.

Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc

Well I Can Say That This Movie Was Certainly Something
Well I can say with certainty that this movie was definitely something.

This movie sometimes (ok, maybe frequently) feels more like an experiment than a film that completely works, but it's got some cajones, both figuratively and literally. I'll give it that much.

I don't know that I needed 20 minutes of our protagonist walking around the streets of Romania while the camera wanders away from her to gaze at crumbling buildings, advertisements, bus stops, etc. The second part of the film, a collection of what are essentially Internet videos and memes, made me understand the first part more, but still. The last part, where the most "plot" happens, leans too heavily into on-the-nose satire, but if its objective was to enrage me with the denseness of humanity, then it succeeded. And that ending is priceless, and probably worth the price of admission.

I would rather sit through an audacious misfire any day than a solidly crafted but safe Ron Howard-type film. And "Bad Luck Banging" is by no means a misfire. Even with all of its flaws, it's still probably one of the better films I saw in 2021, and it's certainly one of the most memorable.

Grade: A.

The Last Duel

Welcome to the Age of Terrible Haircuts
You might think the duel of this film's title refers to a good old fashioned medieval face off, but you'd be wrong. It actually refers to the three-way battle between Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck to see which actor sports the worst hair cut. The winner by far is Damon, who sports perhaps the most tragic mullet ever seen on screen. Driver actually doesn't even belong in the race. His flowing locks are the envy of any hair-impaired person like myself, and he seems right at home in a period piece. Affleck and Damon, on the other hand, look like they raided a dusty old chest of wigs and costumes forgotten in someone's attic. And what is with the accents? I used to be annoyed that American actors in period pieces always speak with a vaguely British accent no matter what nationality they're actually supposed to be portraying, until I saw this film and realized how jarring it is to hear them just speak with American accents. Affleck and Damon don't even attempt British, let alone French, which is the country they're supposed to be from. I don't know what accent Driver is going for, but it will definitely keep you guessing.

The MVP of this film is Jodie Comer, who plays wife to Damon and whose rape kicks off a "Rashomon" style narrative in which we see the same series of events unfold through the perspectives of three different characters. It's Ridley Scott's attempt to dissect the rape culture and the extent to which men will either justify it or perceive it as something done to them rather than to the victim. The dark joke at the film's center is that the attitudes that existed in this medieval period aren't all that different from the attitudes of today.

Comer is sensational in this movie, despite the fact that, co-writer Nicole Holofcener's contributions aside, the whole thing still feels like a movie made from the point of view of men when it's supposed to be about the world as it exists for women. It's like Affleck and Damon, the other writers of the screenplay, read a pamphlet full of statistics about rape and then turned that into a movie. The last thing we need is a movie full of mansplaining about what it's like to be raped, yet this is perilously close to what Scott, Affleck, and Damon give us.

However, the film is pretty gripping and weirdly entertaining for something that on paper should be off putting. I chalk it up to Scott's skill as a director that he's able to overcome the faults of the screenplay and, yes, even the limitations of his cast. He's tried a feminist diatribe before, which resulted in "Thelma and Louise," a film I can't stand. This one is much better than that.

Grade: B+


Seminal Classic
I just re-watched "Rashomon" after not having seen it for years and years and was surprised to find I'd never left a review of it.

Revisiting it now, I was amazed at how plugged in this movie from 1950 is to the times we're living in now. It's about how much people are the main characters in their own little stories and the lies people will tell themselves in order to make sure they're the heroes. I recognized in this movie the world of social media, which has made it easier and easier to retreat into a bubble of one's choosing where one completely controls the narrative, and where one can cherry pick whatever they want, fact or fiction, to support the version of reality they want to believe in. I also totally dug this movie's pessimistic attitude about mankind, one which I acutely share right now, when it seems like humanity is basically unredeemable.

But then there is that ending, one that might seem abrupt in context of the movie, but which also rang true to me. The day before I re-watched this, I was driving down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago when there was a slow down in the far left lane. As I passed on the right, I saw that a motorcyclist had slowed down to escort a goose and her goslings down the street until there was a good spot to get them off the Drive. This tiny little bit of kindness and humanity hit me hard in the moment, and it actually made me feel like maybe humans aren't a total lost cause after all. So since I had just had that experience, the ending of "Rashomon" felt totally authentic to me, and almost like it was speaking directly to me.

Toshiro Mifune I think overdoes his performance a bit, but Machiko Kyo blows the roof off the joint.

"Rashomon" received an Honorary Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 1951 Academy Awards, before a competitive category existed. Unbelievably enough, Japan wouldn't win a competitive foreign language Oscar until 2008.

Grade: A.


Nice Change of Animation Style
The animation in "Wolfwalkers" is dazzling and a nice change of pace from that slick, computer-generated look of Pixar, but I have to admit that I just didn't click much with this movie. I think a lot of it was that I just wasn't in the mood for a kid-oriented animated film, but it was family movie night and this one got the vote.

Though I did like this better than "Soul," the film that competed against it and beat it for the Best Animated Feature Oscar at the 2020 Academy Awards.

Grade: B.

The Barefoot Contessa

None of the Magic of "All About Eve"
I started watching "The Barefoot Contessa," began to lose interest about 30 minutes in, and then began to fall asleep close to the 1 hour mark. I decided to bail and chalk it up to a loss. But I hate leaving movies unfinished, because I like to have a fully formed opinion about the whole thing, so I tried it again the next day. I was able to watch the full movie, and was mostly glad I gave it a second try. I think going in knowing what kind of movie it was was helpful.

What kind of movie is it? Well it's a lot like Joseph L. Mankiewicz's masterpiece "All About Eve" in that it has an incredibly dense screenplay and long long scenes of characters sitting and talking, or standing and talking, but not ever doing much of anything other than talking. This is a talky talky movie. The difference is that, despite Mankiewicz in a few instances almost lifting lines of dialogue wholesale from his other movie, the dialogue in "All About Eve," and the actors delivering it, are so much better than in this movie. Neither film has much in the way of directorial flair, and neither feels cinematic. Both feel like they could have been adaptations of stage plays. But "All About Eve" sizzles in the pan while "The Barefoot Contessa".......what?.....sits on the counter cooling?

There are a couple of moments that tease us with what might have been, but nothing ever comes fully enough to life to make this movie more than a moderately enjoyable drama. Humphrey Bogart looks absolutely bored to sobs to be in this movie, while Ava Gardner, lovely as she is, simply doesn't have the acting chops to make her character compelling. The premise just isn't very interesting. It's one of those "which man will she pick?" movies, so popular back in the 1950s when no one assumed women had any more pressing thought in their head. Seriously, who cares?

There is one cinematic thing about this movie, and that is the stunning cinematography by Jack Cardiff. It helps the movie avoid that flat, garish look that was also common to movies from the 50s.

Edmond O'Brien is sweaty, gross, and intolerable as a sleazy PR agent. His role was showy enough to win him the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award over three stellar performances from "On the Waterfront." Mankiewicz received a nomination as well for Best Story and Screenplay, but the Academy didn't make the mistake twice. That award went to the Elia Kazan classic.

Grade: B.

The Bad Guys

Just OK
So this movie is really just ok, but I have a soft spot for it because I read this book series to my kids when they were younger. I came up with voices for all the characters (Wolf was a Chicago mobster, Snake had kind of a fast-talking Martin Scorsese vibe), and my youngest paid me the ultimate compliment by telling me that my voices were better than the ones in the movie. Take that Sam Rockwell!

My work as a father is done.

Grade: B.

Adventures of Don Juan

Takes Advantage of Errol Flynn's Charisma
The creators of "Adventures of Don Juan" were smart to take a jaunty, silly tone with this sexy costume drama and avoid the wooden, stuffy pitfalls that make so many other historical pics from this time period such a slog to sit through now. They were also smart to recognize what they had in leading man Errol Flynn, and to play up his considerable sex appeal. There's no new ground being broken here, but what is on screen is fun and entertaining enough.

"Adventures of Don Juan" won the Academy Award for Best Color Costume Design in only the second year of that category's existence, and it was also nominated for Best Color Art Direction.

Grade: B.

The Seventh Veil

Terrible Movie
This movie came out when a new fascination with the science of psychology was all the rage, and this movie positions itself as a serious dissection of its female protagonist's mental state. What a crock!

That protagonist is played by Ann Todd, who is physically incapable of letting an emotion actually show on her face. She's abused, emotionally and physically, by friend of the family James Mason, who takes her in as his ward. A drippy plot has her deciding which of three men she's going to choose as the man to live her life with, or rather the movie decides for her since she seemingly has no volition of her own and no inner life. Then in the end she winds up with the abuser! Nice message to send there.

This movie is terrible. It's so funereally paced and so horribly acted by Todd that it's virtually unwatchable. Mason is fine, but he plays an utterly gross and despicable character who has no arc of his own. With this crackpot jackass and a boring cipher played by an actress who couldn't act if her life depended on it as our two principal characters, who cares what happens? Answer: we don't.

Grade: F.

Anchors Aweigh

Dull and Over Long
Not surprisingly, when you glance through user reviews of "Anchors Aweigh," nearly all of them mention the famous dance scene between Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse. That's because that may just literally be the only thing that makes this dull and ridiculously long musical worth watching. And it doesn't really make the movie worth watching. It just means there's a scene from it that's worth watching on YouTube.

I'm used to musicals having flimsy plots, but man does this one have one of the flimsiest plots ever. It wouldn't be as much of a problem if it didn't have the audacity to be nearly two and a half hours long.

I don't really like Gene Kelly all that much. He's an amazing dancer, but he comes across as cocky instead of charming, and I get tired of his constant mugging at the camera. But to give him the credit he's due, he is the only thing that keeps this movie afloat. It's still pretty dull even when he's on the screen, but it's really dull when he's not.

Kelly received his only career Oscar nomination for this movie in the year that saw him lose to Ray Milland for "The Lost Weekend." "Anchors Aweigh" also received unsuccessful nominations for Best Color Cinematography, Best Original Song ("I Fall in Love Too Easily"), and, most laughably, Best Picture(!). It did manage to win a single award, for Best Musical Scoring. Ok, I guess.....whatever.

Grade: D.

The French Dispatch

Nearly Hated This Movie
I came to nearly hate this movie by the time it was over.

I guess I've outgrown Wes Anderson. God knows he hasn't grown as a filmmaker. This is the same tired, overly formal, overly precious schtick he does in every single movie. I didn't make an emotional connection with anything happening, and it's made worse by the fact that this is an anthology film, so even if you manage to click with one storyline, it ends and Anderson moves on to something else. Great actors are completely wasted in miniscule roles -- people like Saoirse Ronan, Richard Jenkins, and Jason Schwartzman are there to almost literally fill a chair.

It's weird, because if you isolate any one single moment from a Wes Anderson movie, I'll think it's beautifully composed or that a sight gag is pretty funny. But somehow a movie that's just a whole bunch of those moments strung together ends up being so much less than the sum of its parts. This is one of those movies where, by the time it's over, it just feels like random things are happening that bear no relation to anything else happening, and who cares how good it looks?

Maybe my time of watching Wes Anderson movies is coming to and end.

Grade: D.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Propaganda Is Hard to Take
I know, I know, pretty much any movie made during the war years had an obligation to serve double duty as entertainment and propaganda. I understand that and am able to watch films in context, but it can still make some movies from this time period very difficult to enjoy now.

"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," a dramatization of the famous Dolittle raid that saw American flyers bomb Tokyo as payback for Pearl Harbor, goes to some darker places in its later half, after the soldiers have crashed and are convalescing in a Chinese village. But before it gets there, there's a good hour or so of nothing but patriotic posturing about how amazing the air force is, how amazing the navy is, how amazing America is. There's literally a brief scene of a soldier sketching on his off time, and what is he sketching?....a grandmotherly lady leaning out of a window holding an apple pie. Yes, it's that kind of movie.

Spencer Tracy has what amounts to a series of cameos. The acting from the rest of the cast is all over the place. The film won the 1944 Oscar for Best Special Effects, presumably for the bombing scene, but that really takes up a very tiny portion of the film's running time. Indeed, the movie is way too long. It could have been a tense no-nonsense combat movie, but instead it feels padded.

Also nominated for Best B&W Cinematography.

Grade: B.

Pu bu

Intriguing Pandemic Movie
One thing I very much liked about "The Falls" is that it's explicitly about COVID and the impact it's had on humanity's mental health. Here we are over two years into a pandemic that has changed the world forever, and yet I can barely think of any movie that has acknowledged its existence. It's a weird disconnect I've been having trouble getting past.

In "The Falls," a mother/daughter relationship takes an unpredictable turn when the two are forced to quarantine together. It's a movie about how terrifying mental illness is, both for the person experiencing it and the person taking care of the one who's ill. But more than that, it's also about the need for younger generations to get out of their own heads and try to see the point of view of those who are older. That's not a perspective I see explored in movies very often. Usually the burden is on the parents to understand the kids and grant them their autonomy. Maybe it's where I'm at in my life right now -- 47 years old, a child who's just become a teenager, manager of people who are a good 15 years younger than me, nursed my dad through a terminal illness and am now taking care of my mom -- but I clicked with this movie and its declaration to a younger generation that the world isn't all about them.

Grade: A-

The Westerner

Leisurely Yarn
This leisurely yarn of a western features Gary Cooper at his funny, charming best. For me, Cooper was always most suited for roles like this. He was somewhat limited as a dramatic actor, but he had charisma to spare. In "The Westerner," he's paired with Doris Davenport as a love interest, but instead it's his chemistry with war horse character actor Walter Brennan that's off the charts. Brennan is stunning in this movie as its complex villain, Judge Roy Bean. Brennan won three Best Supporting Actor Oscars in five years in the early days of that particular category, and general consensus is that they were primarily sentimental awards given by the extras branch of the Academy to recognize a beloved actor who ascended from their ranks. That might be true of his performance in "Come and Get It," which is nothing special, and maybe it's true of "Kentucky," which I've not seen, but his award for "The Westerner" is richly deserved. It might just be one of the best performances to win in that category ever.

The film also received Oscar nominations for Best Original Story and Best Black and White Art Direction.

Grade: A.


Not for Me
Oof, these Jeannette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy musicals are just not for me.

"Sweethearts" is dreadful, nearly unwatchable. It's actually the perfect movie to have on while you're sick (as I was when I saw it) because you can doze on and off and know you're not missing anything.

The only interest a movie like this has for me is from a historical perspective. In 1938, people wouldn't have had the Internet or T. V. to entertain them. You maybe could hear MacDonald and Eddy on the radio, but the only place to seem them was at the movies. So a whole film that's nothing but them performing musical numbers with a barely existent (and completely nonsensical when existent) plot would have been enough for audiences at the time. And its always mystified me that back then people just showed up at a movie whenever, and then watched the next screening until it got to the point where they came in. But then you see a movie like this and you get it. It wouldn't matter where you came in.

This movie gets a couple of points, barely, for featuring Frank Morgan doing his blustery, dithery bit which I always enjoy, but otherwise it's nearly inconceivable to me that someone could sit down and enjoy this.

"Sweethearts" received a special Academy Award in 1938 for its color cinematography, a year before the Academy would start giving separate competitive awards for black and white and color cinematography. It looks terrible, but Technicolor was new, so I'll give it a break. MacDonald especially looks hideous, like a freaky clown.

The film received regular Oscar nominations for Best Scoring and Best Sound Recording.

Grade: D.

The Dry

Slow Burn Thriller Is a Little Too Slow Burn for Its Own Good
This slow burn thriller set in the drought stricken Australian outback is a bit too slow burn for its own good.

There are enough good things about it -- like a solid central performance from Eric Bana, a fairly well paced screenplay, some attractive production values -- to make it a worthwhile watch, but it never generates much heat. It's a movie that wants to haunt your thoughts, but will instead likely evaporate from them not long after it's over.

It's mostly marred by an over reliance on flashbacks and a clunky, not to mention confusing, reveal (or should I say two reveals?) at the film's climax.

My favorite thing about the movie was the performance of Genevieve O'Reilly, who absolutely mesmerized me with her brief but fantastic performance as Mon Mothma in "Rogue One." "Star Wars" nerds unite!

Grade: B+

The Great Waltz

There Are Moments When This Movie Soars
A title card at the beginning of "The Great Waltz" claims that the movie is not meant to be a factual biopic about Johann Strauss, but is rather meant to capture the spirit of his music. Fine by me. This movie is better for not giving us a paint by numbers history lesson about the life of the famous composer.

And this movie makes mostly good on its promise, absolutely soaring at multiple times throughout, mostly when focusing on Strauss's music. The film looks gorgeous, justifying its Academy Award for Best Cinematography (which went to Joseph Ruttenberg, one of only two people -- the other being Leon Shamroy -- to win four career Oscars for cinematography).

But then the movie will pause to dwell on a dreary romantic triangle that features Luise Rainer, a good actress who's saddled with a lame role, and Miliza Korjus, an opera singer turned actress who managed to win an Oscar nomination for a not very good performance. Her singing might have been delightful by standards of the time, but it is almost literally unbearable to listen to now, and there was a moment during her incessant trilling during what otherwise was a beautiful Strauss waltz when I yelled at the television for her to shut up.

In addition to Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress, "The Great Waltz" garnered a nomination for Best Film Editing, one of two editing nominations that year that went to Tom Held (he was also nominated for "Test Pilot"). Poor guy didn't win either of them.

Grade: B+

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