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Charming if unsubstantial
Charming leads, interesting location shoots, and a boppy soundtrack make for a pretty mini-series, but one lacking in much backbone or substance.

The production hinges on the two leads: Edie, the poor but lovable social-worker-record-store-worker, and Michael, the bad-boy-banker-with-a-heart-of-gold. Yes, they are types and stock characters. They meet by chance when Edie visits London and needs to borrow some money from a bloke in a pub. He gets her number, and the hijinks ensue.

They begin a tentative transatlantic romance, with complications of former lovers, jobs, friends and family, as well as their own cautious natures, standing in the way of True Love.

So should you spend 7 hours watching this series? I was utterly charmed, but recognize some drawbacks: wooden dialogue (and acting), silly situations worthy of a bedroom farce (mistaken identities and the like), and a lack of realism (how does poor Edie manage to buy those tickets to London? Guess she has good credit!)

I chalk up my enjoyment of the series to the leads, especially to Stephen Moyer, who brings an edge and a sly wit to Michael. Despite tragically misguided sideburns, he is a strong presence, and manages to overcome the limitations of the dialogue and trite situations.

Rashida Jones fares less well. She is certainly beautiful (Peggy Lipton + the "Q" = gorgeous), but is more shaky in her command of the character and dialogue. I haven't seen Ms. Jones in other roles, so no harm, no foul. I'm not sure how many actors could pull this character off. All I can say is I enjoyed watching her struggle, and she did OK with a tough assignment.

The last characters worth mentioning are the cities of London and New York. Nicely done exterior shots provide more realism than the story itself. Add in great soundtrack, and I was happily diverted.

The Quiller Memorandum

Solid spy thriller
A leisurely spy thriller both in terms of plot, dialogue and character development, this movie still adds up to greater than the sum of its parts.

Chief among the parts are the two opposing chiefs of Max von Sydow as Oktober (charming neo-Nazi bad guy) and Alec Guiness as Pol (cold-hearted English good guy). Both of these fine actors do excellent work with a few scenes. Oktober is the more flamboyant and clichéd part, but von Sydow puts his stamp on it. Pol is all business and a bit of a pedant, and Guiness brings his usual wit and intelligence.

George Segal does interesting, and quite good work, as the lead. Perhaps those who can only recall Segal's recent actor career in comedy/sitcom roles have not caught his work in earlier dramatic films. (I highly recommend Bye Bye Braverman, a black comedy, to see his subtle work.) I think he does a fine job here as Quiller, The Spy Who Seems Too Obvious, and the script, perhaps slightly underwritten, at least gives Segal room to play with this character. Quiller's blustering ways get him quickly noticed, allowing him to infiltrate the neo-Nazi group, without cover or backup. He does have the support of a beautiful school teacher Inge. Or does he?

As for the plot, we get no explanation of why it's important to find this group. It just is. The world's most leisurely chase scene in the last 30 minutes of the film is highly suspenseful, and the resolution is ambiguous in a way that I think today's audiences would think unacceptable. I like unsettling endings; so I found the ending strangely satisfying. Identities, love and other human relationships are never straightforward, and there's nothing like a good spy movie to remind me of that.

Someone above mentioned the Third Man. The last shot (or two) of the movie is highly reminiscent -- perhaps outright lifted. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

A Star Is Born

Silly, draggy, but has its moments
What to say about this movie? First the good: the live performance scenes are fun. The helicopter landing over the huge festival crowd, the "Indian benefit," the montage of Babs on the Road, all pack more energy and excitement than the heavy-handed dialogue and love story. And Babs has some pipes - no denying that - although her style of music is not my favorite.

Kris Kristofferson does as much as could be done with a thankless role. Why anyone would be attracted to this already-at-the-bottom drugged out loser is beyond me, much less someone who seems as "together" in a 70s-kind-of-way as Esther Hoffman. He seems to take the only possible acting choice, which is low-key to the extreme. Kristofferson's best scenes when he tries to "make up" with the obnoxious D.J., and when he goes back to find his old band mates moving on, shows the heartbreak and anger of someone who simply can't control his own life.

Opposite Babs, whose acting style is turned up to "11" in almost every moment, she and Kristofferson seem to be in different planes of existence. Babs has a few charming moments, but her self-regard throughout seems to limit her ability to play anything other than Strong Woman. The basis for the characters' love and respect for each other is not well established from the start, and never is on firm ground.

As for the music, I'm not crazy about the songs they gave KK to sing--I'm used to him more as a country singer, and the country "rock" style just doesn't work for me; however, the producers choose rock, I guess, to justify the huge fame and success the character has had. As for Babs, she has some great numbers. She has an amazing voice, Evergreen and several others are lovely songs, and if you're a fan of hers you will enjoy. The final song (as others have mentioned) take a long time and meanders about a bit much for me.

A final note on the hairstyles and clothing. What a time capsule into mid-70s style! The high- waisted bell-bottom jeans; the long sweaters; the central cleavage exposure with the burn- you-bra-look; not to mention the spiral perm! Go Babs!

Meet Me in St. Louis

Remarkable Achievement in Musical Comedies and Film
I'd seen this film several times as a child before studying it in earnest as part of a college film class. Now, nearly 20 years past, I look more at the nuances and subtleties of the performances and direction in a movie that seems easy to characterize as sentimental. Indeed, the vibrant color, the relatively simple plot contrivances, and the resolution of the big question of the movie all make for what seems superficially like a film for fans of Corny Musicals.

Let me argue against "sap" for the main reason that a deep undercurrent of real and heartfelt emotion underlies the entire enterprise. And the credit can be spread wide for that:

1. The rich and subtle performance of Judy Garland, who does not miss a step, a note, a glance or an inflection throughout the entire movie. For many la Judy can be an acquired taste, but she shows her "stuff" here. Watch her primping at the mirror with Rose, watching Tootie as she sings "Dear Mother," or in the scene where The Boy tells her he can't get his tuxedo out of the cleaners. She was a marvelous actor, and it shows in the small scenes as well as the grand singing ones. Her transition from worry and disappointment to exuberance in The Trolley Song is a wonder to behold.

2. Margaret O'Brien as Tootie (and also the writer's characterization of Tootie): here is a child who is not "nice" or "cute" the way TV/Movie kids are today. But she is compelling and wonderful in own right - a real flesh and blood kid. In particular the Halloween scene really shows the dark side of childhood where scary fantasies can become real, and the depths of her despair at leaving St. Louis capture the essence of leaving everything that is familiar and right.

3. The acting company is so wonderful from the smallest supporting actor to the largest role, there is a give and take (note the "passing" of the title song from person to person at the beginning of the film) and the easy banter, the dinner table interactions, the scene where everyone finds out about the Big Move, and you get a sense that this is a real family.

4. The integration and the transition from the emotion of the scene directly into the emotion of the song, and then back to the scene is repeated again and again. This is not an easy thing to do, and for all I can recall, Minnelli was the first to master it. Most musicals would stop dead in the their tracks to do a song, but the music here is so organic and truthful you hardly notice the strings moving in the background.

5. And don't get me started on the score, which is really wonderful, echoing the various themes at just the perfect moment. The Halloween bonfire music is especially good. I think credit goes to George Stoll for that.

6. And for putting the package together, a tip of the hat to Vincente Minnelli and Arthur Freed, who went on to do many wonderful musicals, but none perhaps as wonderful as this one. Minnelli works magic with staging (the "Skip to My Lou" and "Trolley Song" are wonderful group numbers), and it must have been true love that helped Judy Garland's wonderful performance.

Sin City

Nihilistic and grotesque
I concede that Sin City is a visually interesting (some might say amazing) movie. The framing of the shots, the animation integrated with the movie, and the black-and-white with splashes of color are admirable cinematic efforts.

Unfortunately, these efforts are in the service of a story that is so devoid of art that the movie soon becomes tedious and disgusting. Many here have written of the graphic violence. Some may defend it by calling it "cartoonish" or "stylized." I call "b.s." The violence is nihilistic. It rejects all moral decisions and behaviors, and everyone is equally empty and ultimately inconsequential. The violent acts are non-stop and monstrous.

The dialogue and story give the actors nothing to work with, so even good actors such as Benecio del Toro and Clive Owen are as one-note and amateurish as the wooden Josh Hartnett (in a pointless walk-on role) and the barely there Alexis Bleidel. The non-stop hard- boiled narration is grating and superfluous, corny and eye-rolling.

Sin City is supposed to be a film noir. A true film noir shows you characters that are difficult to watch: think Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or Double Indemnity. Yet something in those characters make you understand why they do what they do. You can relate to them, as they show their humanity and weakness, the heart of darkness we all have inside. Those plots have mystery and intrigue, as you're drawn into a dark world and have no idea how the characters will get out.

Sin City is NOT a film noir. I'm not sure what it is, other than a very violent and simplistic comic book faithfully brought to the screen. That faithfulness to the comic book aesthetic shows up in the art direction, but also in the one dimensional characters; lame, slow-moving plots; pointless "hard-boiled" narration and dialogue; and extreme gratuitous violence.

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