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Dracula laughs (If Garbo could do it, why not the Prince of Darkness?)
"Sherlock" creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat's new mini-series riffs on Bram Stoker's "Dracula" like jazz musicians improvising on a classic theme. (Think Wynton Marsalis's "Jazz at Lincoln Center" Christmas specials, but with lots more flies, animated corpses, and buckets of blood.)

Previous film adaptations of the horror novel were often unsatisfying, limited by the novel's relative lack of character development, especially of the mysterious and somewhat opaque titular villain. Arguably the greatest (and sexiest) previous screen Dracula, Sir Christopher Lee, felt he was not well-served by most of the Hammer versions. In fact, in most Hammer "Dracula" films, Lee barely has any dialogue. In contrast, Gattis and Moffat have given their lead actors a lot to work with, in a script that is anything but thin, but is rather bursting with innovative ideas, witty dialogue and unexpected twists and turns.

"Dracula" contains many verbal and visual callbacks to previous versions. Claes Bang even looks a little bit like Lee, but in contrast to previous screen "Dracula's" whose filmmakers tried to convey the vampire's hypnotic power over his victims by focusing solely on his dark, blood-red eyes, or even inserting laughably on-the-nose lines like "Look into my eyes," Bang's performance as Dracula is riveting and magnetic. His character is voluble, seductive, and witty, and he almost never stops talking, like a spellbinding preacher or political cult leader.

Dracula's opposite number in the story, Sister Agatha Van Helsing, is played with equal wit and vigor by Dolly Wells. In each of the three chapters, it is their crackling scenes together that raise the stakes, and bind the disparate stories. Personally, I thought Chapter Two, "Blood Vessel" was the high point of the series, with great character development and acting and a touch of surrealism, including a tribute to Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal." (Special props to Jonathan Aris's Captain Sokolov, Catherine Schell's stunning Duchess Valeria, and Samuel Blenkin's hilarious Piotr/Marius.)

Without spoiling important elements of the story related to all three chapters, I also found the expansion of the definition of vampirism in the story to be logical and provocative. Count Dracula doesn't just drink his victim's blood, he also absorbs many of their personal characteristics, which gives rise to his discrimination in his choice of victims ("You are what you eat"). Finally, Sister Agatha's persistent skepticism about "the rules of the beast" pays off beautifully in the surprising season ending. Bring on Season Two!

Ansikte mot ansikte

You can't go home again...
The first time I saw "Face to Face," in the mid-1990's, it made a powerful impression on me. Of the ten or so Bergman films I've seen, this was the one that moved me the most, particularly because of Liv Ullmann's powerful, emotionally naked performance.

So, when I learned that the AFI Silver Theatre was showing this film in honor of Bergman's 100th Birthday, I was eager to see it once more. I sent out the word to my movie-going friends, and got absolutely no takers. Apparently, not many people want to watch a film about a psychiatrist's descent into madness. So, I took myself off to the AFI yesterday, and watched the theatrical version of "Face to Face" once more.

Although the film did not have the spiritual impact on me this time, I still found it to be a fascinating, and oddly, very hopeful film. It's no accident, I think, that Bergman followed up his previous film about madness, "Through a Glass Darkly," which had no hope, with a film that also takes its title from the same passage in Corinthians, perhaps the most beautiful passage in the Bible. I wondered about the title, and I believe that the most important relationship in this film was between Ullman's character, and the near stranger played by Erland Josephson.

Although he is almost a stranger, he quite literally saves her life, both by finding her after her suicide attempt, and by being with her in her spiritual crisis. The "unbeliever's prayer" he offers her at the end it seems to be a call to put human relationships at the center of her life.

Yet, in a way, I feel the closest relationship she will ever have in her life is with a man she will probably never see again, who is literally her savior. In the absence of God, only our relationships with other humans can save us. That's what I believe Bergman is trying to say in the film.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Pride and Prejudice and Magicians? Decidedly not!
My review contains mild spoilers: "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," Susannah Clarke's clever alternate history novel set in England during the Napoleonic wars, was no literary gimmick in the manner of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" or "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter." It was an impressive piece of fantasy literature which served as the basis for the outstanding 2015 BBC mini-series of the same name.

If anything, the 900+ page story, adapted into a 7-part mini-series, seems like the prologue to a larger tale. I am reviewing the mini-series, and am hoping with many other viewers, and readers, that there will soon be a sequel.

The central conflict in the story, from my perspective, concerns the pursuit of knowledge. Norrell and Strange have diametrically opposed attitudes to magical knowledge: While Norrell is inclined to keep secret, and hoard, magical knowledge, Strange thinks that knowledge should be dispensed freely to everyone who desires to use it, without sufficient awareness of the possibility that some might misuse it. The story's chief villain, the Gentleman, dispenses knowledge selectively, and, also controls how others employ it, magically manipulating them to prevent them from revealing what they know.

Eddie Marsan is brilliant as Gilbert Norrell, conveying the character's fearfulness, timidity, and selfishness, while revealing occasional glimpses of a more childlike, winsome personality that make it impossible for us to completely hate him even when he continually does the wrong thing.

Bertie Carvel exudes offbeat charm (and sex appeal) as Jonathan Strange, the more adventurous, impulsive, and generous of the two magicians, but also the one whose arrogance in the pursuit of magical knowledge recalls the story of Baron Frankenstein.

As for the supporting characters, I particularly liked Enzo Cilenti (also sexy) as Childermass, Paul Kaye as Vinculus (though I couldn't really distinguish his character from the one he plays on "Game of Thrones") and Alice Englert, as Lady Pole. (Is Englert really Jane Campion's daughter? Wow!)

Samuel West, as Sir Walter Pole was good, as he always seems to be, in yet another thankless role, and Ariyon Bakare, Charlotte Riley, and Vincent Franklin were all excellent as Stephen Black, Arabella Strange, and Drawlight.

I must confess I was not wild about Marc Warren, as the Gentleman (with the Thistledown Hair). Although he was good at conveying the character's malevolence, I never really believed he was from a different world, as he didn't seem in the least uncanny. One reviewer described him as "like Sting dressed as a Q-tip for Halloween" – he reminded me of a bad Malcolm McDowell imitation, dressed in a mix of glam and grunge.

Without giving away plot points, I think the story's conclusion left plenty of room for a sequel. Now that magic has returned to England, I can't wait to see what happens next!


Dystopian, surrealist mishmash, doesn't quite work
Caution: This review discusses plot points and contains spoilers, so don't read if you don't want to know about the film.

I missed "Snowpiercer" when it was being screened at the AFI Silver Theatre, though it was there for several weeks, but based on the evocative title and the 95% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, I was expecting something special, perhaps even beautiful in a cold, 'dystopian' and surreal sort of way.

Instead, I felt I was watching a derivative mishmash of films and directors that writer-director Joon-ho Bong admires, especially Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" as well as Richard Fleischer's "Soylent Green" and Peter Weir's "The Truman Show." While there is nothing wrong with being influenced, those other films worked because the actors in them played their characters straight, and the filmmakers themselves took their films (even cheesy ones like "Soylent Green") seriously.

"Brazil" may have blended "1984" with Gilliam's Monty Pythonesque surrealism, but characters such as Jonathan Pryce's 'everyman' hero confronted the strangeness of their world as if it were only to be expected. And, none of the actors in "Brazil" were as over-the-top as the weirdo villains in "Snowpiercer." Tilda Swinton's "Mason" is particularly awful. Swinton, usually a brilliant actress, appears to be playing Johnny Depp (at his silliest) playing Margaret Thatcher. Her every gesture and expression in the film made me cringe.

The film's premise was also ridiculous, as many audience reviewers have pointed out. What about track maintenance, for one thing? If it was so cold outside that a man's arm could freeze solid in 7 minutes, how could they ever keep the rail lines in repair? And, if barreling through walls of ice and snow didn't derail the Snowpiercer, why would setting off a bomb do so? And, perhaps the biggest one, why would those running the train even bother to allow 'have-nots' to board the train in the first place, and having done so, why would they first allow them to cannibalize each other as if they were in the Donner Party and then start feeding them "Soylent Green" or "Protein Bars" or whatever they were feeding them? (I was waiting, in the scene with the protein bar "chef," for Chris Evans' character to shout, "Protein bars are cockroaches!")

The "good guys" in the cast were pretty good, especially John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and the two Korean actors, Ah-sung Ko, and Kang-ho Song. But, I didn't even realize until the end of the film that Ah-sung Ko was playing Song's daughter, not his girlfriend. (If she was his daughter, why the heck was he giving her drugs?)

And speaking of the end of the film, didn't Ed Harris play essentially the identical character in "The Truman Show"?

(And, did my eyes deceive me, or did some of the people at the end of the movie appear to turn into zombies? Especially the chief villain, who appeared to keep rising from the dead after he had been killed at least twice.)

Harris certainly did seem to be trying to convince Chris Evans'("Babies taste the best") character that train must keep running, the show must go on, and to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain or the reality outside the train (or outside this silly film). As Toto said in "The Wizard of Oz," "Woof." And, as Jim Carrey said at the end of The Truman Show, "Good Morning, and in case I don't see ya, Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night!"

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Forget the sour grapes - "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is fun!
Spoiler alert: The original "Star Wars" made cinema history, and movie magic, but it was a clever, shallow mash-up of many other films. In fact, the movie it most resembled was "The Adventures of Robin Hood," a spirited Hollywood entertainment with relentless and irresistible pacing and a fabulous score, and no depth or resemblance to reality.

I loved the original "Star Wars" and saw it many times. But, to watch the new "Star Wars" film with impossibly high expectations and come away disappointed is to never have really seen or understood the original pop culture phenomenon. Alec Guinness, the best thing about the first "Star Wars," thought it was utter dreck. Perhaps the disappointed fans of the old film need to take a clue from him.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" does have many call-backs to the original movie. But, it is it's own, very fun, show, mostly because the new character are well written and well played by a charming cast. J.J. Abrams didn't even try to recreate the most compelling character of the original series, the great archetypal villain, Darth Vader, with Kylo Ren. Instead, they give us a Vader wannabe who has the occasional temper tantrum, making him seem quite human, unpredictable, and vulnerable. Instead of merely representing the dark side of the Force, Ren becomes one of the characters we care about in the story.

John Boyega, as Finn, is remarkably charming and low key, essentially filling the Han Solo role of the reluctant hero, and Daisy Ridley resembles Keira Knightley without the annoying mannerisms. Her heroic character no doubt has a back story that we will learn more about in the next installment. It is a pleasure to see a major motion picture with women and people of color in leading roles, and what makes it all the better is that it is taken utterly for granted in the world of the movie. It was also nice to see some of the original stars show up again, and I look forward to seeing some or all of them again in future movies.

One spoilery quibble with J.J. Abrams movies: Is it really necessary to include planetary genocide in nearly every film? Worlds are destroyed, billions or trillions of human (or alien) lives snuffed out in his movies, with nary a whisper of regret.

The Suspect

Perfect Film Noir set in Edwardian England
This review includes a plot synopsis that may spoil the film for those who don't want to know anything in advance.

Charles Laughton is simply wonderful in Robert Siodmak's morality tale, as a good man who is driven to crime by the wickedness of others. The ruthlessness with which he commits his crimes is only matched by the lengths to which he goes to in order to protect those he loves and to shield the innocent from harm.

I just saw "The Suspect" at a Film Noir festival. I loved the film, and found the conclusion heartbreaking and perfect.

There is something almost fairy tale-like about the story, and I was reminded, for some reason, of the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol." Unfortunately, "The Suspect" is not on DVD in the United States, and is hard to find, but I believe it would surely merit repeated viewings if it was.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari

A silent film classic that still impresses
This review briefly discusses the film's ending, so don't read on if you don't want to know anything about it.

I've been wanting to see "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" since I first read about it as a child (it may even have been in "Famous Monsters of Filmland").

This past Friday night, I finally got the opportunity to see it in a crowded movie theater, and 'Caligari' did not disappoint. The sets were amazing, and reminded me how lack of money can sometimes be a spur to creativity. While I found Werner Krauss' acting as Caligari very broad, Conrad Veidt was amazing as the somnambulist, Cesare. I had only ever seen Veidt as a mature actor in his villain roles, as Major Strasser in "Casablanca," and as the evil Grand Vizier in "Thief of Baghdad. He was quite a compelling and graceful performer as well as being a beautiful young man. Did he really die at only age 50? What an untimely death.

I heard that the studio powers-that-be had imposed 'Caligari's' ending (which was not that much of a surprise, given the film's beginning) but that got me thinking about other movies that had "studio-imposed" endings and sometimes those are better than the endings the filmmakers originally had in mind.

For instance, I don't think the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" would be as good of a film without Kevin McCarthy's high-tension narration, which was part of the studio-imposed framing story. Some people also think Hitchcock's "Suspicion" is a better film due to the (studio-imposed) ending, though it makes the story that comes before the climax less ironic, it also makes it far more ambiguous.

In the case of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," I don't think the ending in any way diminishes the power of the central story, which has the force of any nightmare. In some ways, the ending is brilliant because it shows how human beings incorporate real events and people from their lives into their dreams. It's like waking up from a dream and realizing that you have been dreaming. As for what the dream means, who can say? I believe it is a movie to be felt, not interpreted. See it, and let me know if you agree.

Kiss Me Deadly

The film that inspired "Chinatown"?
Note: This review contains significant SPOILERS.

As I was watching for "Kiss Me Deadly" today for the first time, I thought, this is the movie that inspired the look and feel of "Chinatown" more than any other. I even felt that Meeker's matter-of-fact performance as Mike Hammer may have inspired the creation of Jake Gittes, and influenced Nicholson's performance.

How about that scene with a very young Strother Martin? I had to go back and watch the film a couple of more times before I realized that's who was playing the truck driver who accidentally ran down one of the victims.

The film came out 60 years ago, but it does feel very modern. Some absurdities such as the fact that Christina was able to conceal the key while she was in the mental hospital, since she probably would have been unable to carry it in her stomach for that long without her body getting rid of it in the usual manner.

Also, when Mike Hammer went to the morgue to look at Christina's body, it had theoretically been weeks since her death (per Lt. Murphy, in the hospital room scene at the film's beginning) yet Christina's face still looked pretty much as it had when she was alive.

Not that it matters, but, did we ever find out how Christina got involved in the plot (the plot within the film, not the film's plot) to begin with? And, of course, what was the nature of what was "in the box" which was so unstable that it caused a nuclear explosion when opened, but could be hauled around in just a metal container and outer case which appeared to be leather, not lead?

Ralph Meeker looked like Pat Boone, a bit, but he sure didn't act like him. He was quite a compelling anti-hero, but he met his match in Maxine Cooper, as Velda. I couldn't take my eyes off her during her scenes, and loved her dialogue, especially her references to "the great Whatsit."

Cloris Leachman, 60 years ago, was feisty and charming in her brief role. Gaby Rogers, as Lily Carver, came across as a strange and campy presence in the film, but it was that very unreality that made her memorable. We didn't need to see Albert Dekker's face at all, because he did most of his acting with his detached and not-quite-human voice, like the great radio announcer in the sky.

An altogether weird, offbeat, and striking film noir, an obvious inspiration to other directors and to many other films, and a film that every noir buff should see. Regarding the film's meaning, I'll leave that for another time. These are just first impressions.

Viaggio in Italia

Just a few thoughts, not a proper review...with mild spoilers
This movie was playing during an Ingrid Bergman 100th birthday series. Since I had never seen any of her films with her then-husband, Roberto Rossellini, and since I also really like George Sanders, I decided to see "Journey to Italy."

My first thought, uncharitable as it may be, was that Bergman made a mistake when she became involved with Rossellini, and went into exile from Hollywood. "Journey to Italy" certainly wasn't lacking in realism, either in the conflicts between the couple whose story was featured, or in the footage of Pompei and Naples, but it felt unfinished and rough, lacking the polish of the, I believe, far superior films Bergman made in Hollywood, such as "Notorious," "Gaslight," "Casblanca," and the others.

There's a lot to be said for movies that have polish. I essentially adopt the Hitchcock view of film-making. He once said, "Some directors make films that are slices of life. Mine are slices of cake."

I believe art, and that includes cinema, shouldn't merely reflect reality, it should reflect on and heighten reality, otherwise it might as well be journalism or a documentary. While the conflict between the couple felt real and plausible, and their shared experience in the ruins of Pompei was insightful, I did not feel much moved as I watched those scenes. The insight gained was essentially abstract and intellectual.

However, I did think that the film resembled a couple of other noted "marriage" movies - "Two for the Road," and "The Awful Truth." I have to say I think both are superior to "Journey to Italy," in spite of the intriguing cast and premise.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Disappointing in view of Jackson's triumphant LOTR film trilogy
This review contains significant SPOILERS:

I finally saw the final installment of Jackson's take on Tolkien's children's book, "The Hobbit." While Jackson's beautiful LOTR film trilogy was a work of art on its own terms, bringing what was thought to be an impossible-to-film work to memorable life, "The Hobbit" trilogy seems curiously lifeless and half-hearted.

Tolkien's original work is a bit long for a children's book, and there are sections that I personally find tedious. But, the book comes to life when Bilbo finds the Ring, and begins to discover the hero within him (or the Took within the Baggins, as Tolkien would have it).

That leads to, what is, for me, the best chapter in the book, "Spiders and Flies." I literally want to stand up and cheer as Bilbo attacks the giant spiders, and rescues his dwarfish friends. This sequence, which I thought was the best section of the book, was given such short shrift the second installment of the Hobbit trilogy that it was practically non-existent.

And, as others have suggested, this is the basic flaw in Jackson's Hobbit films. Bilbo Baggins is reduced to practically a minor character in the story that bears his name. As Bilbo, Martin Freeman, a likable, if not compelling, actor, spends most of his screen time looking vaguely befuddled. In "The Battle of the Five Armies," the main characters appear to be Bard, then Thorin, then, Gandalf, and then, maybe, Bilbo.

And what is Orlando Bloom, as Legolas, doing in this film? Not only was he not in the original story, but Bloom has, if you will pardon the exact pun, lost his bloom. While he is as handsome as ever, he looks 12 years older than he did in "The Return of the King," and seems completely out-of-place in the film. Evangeline Lilly makes a great elf, and is a pleasure to look at, and I had no particular objections to the character of Tauriel, except that she wasn't in the book, and that Tolkien would probably rotate in his grave at the idea of a romance between an elf and a dwarf.

Without going into the multiple problems in the first 2 "Hobbit" films, my main complaint about the trilogy finale, is, that when a movie is called the "Battle of the Five Armies" we should see the good guys win the climactic battle.

Instead, Jackson and his co-writers chose to shift the story's focus to the deaths of Fili, Kili, and Thorin Oakenshield. This could have been wonderful as a means of showing the human (or dwarfish) cost of the war, but instead Jackson and company appear to have entirely forgotten to end the battle, except for the suspense-free announcement "The eagles are coming." The death of Thorin should have been moving, but coming at the hands of such a lifeless and unconvincing CGI villain, simply seemed to me like an inferior replay of the death of Boromir, in LOTR.

And, following the unsatisfying climax, "The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies" appears to trail off rather than having a proper denouement. Since the original subtitle of the book was "There and Back Again" we should have had some sense of closure at the end, and should leave Bilbo in peace to write about his adventures. Instead, we leave him on a sour note as the Ring is already beginning to tempt him and warp his winsome personality. I can't help but think that Bilbo Baggins deserves better.


Not a horror movie, Magic is a compelling psychological thriller
NB: This review contains one major spoiler.

Anthony Hopkins used to creep me out, which is why I never watched "Magic" when it was released in 1978. (Ironically, I started loving his acting after he played Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs.") It is worth noting that Hopkins' ascent to super-stardom more or less coincided with his decision to quit drinking, so perhaps the viewer senses that he now saves his personal darkness for his roles, and seems remarkably open, charming, and at peace as a man.

Hopkins' demons and his charm are fully on display in 1978's "Magic," a compelling thriller written by William Goldman. Richard Attenborough does a fine job directing "Magic," however there is one major plot hole that somewhat spoils a key scene in the film. Hopkins plays Corky, a talented magician whose performance anxiety disappears when he teams up with Fats, a wooden dummy. While Corky is shy and tongue-tied, Fats is confident, vulgar, and funny.

"Magic" is not a horror movie, but rather a psychological thriller. While the storyline about a ventriloquist and his all-too-human dummy has been compared to the famous Michael Redgrave vignette from the British horror classic, "Dead of Night," there is no real twist in "Magic." The filmmakers are clear from fairly early on in the film (except for one teasing moment) that Corky is an unstable schizophrenic who uses his dummy to express shadow parts of himself.

However there is one major plot contradiction, in that, on numerous occasions, Corky is able to function just fine without Fats, which is why a key scene between Corky and his agent, Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) didn't quite work for me.

Hopkins not only learned magic tricks for the film, he also mastered ventriloquism well enough to voice "Fats." His chilling and sympathetic performance (along with those of Ann-Margret and Burgess Meredith) is reason enough to add "Magic" to your must-watch list. If not quite on the level with "Psycho," at least Hopkins didn't get typecast for life for playing a violent schizophrenic, as Anthony Perkins did. Corky is not the role of a lifetime, but it is a real corker of a role.

Being There

Chance the Gardener, the New Adam for the Television Generation
When Katie Couric asked Sarah Palin what magazines and newspapers she read in their infamous television interview during the 2008 presidential election, Palin, nonplussed, replied, "All of them." Pundits and the public alike knew instantly what Palin's answer signified: She didn't read any of them.

I recalled this with amusement the other day while watching a scene from 1979's great political satire, "Being There." In the interview scene with TV journalists and in party scene that follows, Chauncey Gardiner aka Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers) confesses that he neither reads nor writes, but only watches TV.

The movie audience is in on the joke: Chance is telling the unvarnished truth. But, his hearers in the film believe he is simply confessing, with disarming honesty, to not having the time or inclination for more serious pursuits.

"Being There" was the product of three brilliant talents: Jerzy Kosinski, who wrote the original 1971 novella; Hal Ashby, political filmmaker par excellence; and, Peter Sellers, who wanted to play Chance from the time he first read Jerzy Kosinski's great story.

All three men are now sadly deceased. While they portrayed Chance's ignorance and simplicity as benign, it is a given that "Being There's" creators would not have been surprised by the ascension to political cult celebrity status of figures such as Palin, whose startling ignorance and vacuity are anything but.

Chance's television-attuned attention span and banal (or Zen-like?) pronouncements about gardening make him the man of the moment in "Being There." It is worth recalling that both book and film came out more than 35 years ago, and what was true then is even more so today.

Chance is the new Adam for the television generation, which is why the "Dawn" sequence from "Also Sprach Zarathustra" plays as Chance is sent out of his garden by the two emissaries (lawyers, not angels).

Chance's unlikely success appears to be a template for the political careers of today. He even gets his Eve, and gets the blessing of a dying, godlike older man, Benjamin Rand (played, to great acclaim, by the late Melvyn Douglas, who was also Sellers' longtime friend). Chance's tears when his second "father" dies (when he shed none for his first) may indicate that he is accepting the mantle of power that is being offered to him, and with it, greater knowledge of good and evil.

In "Being There," Chance the Gardener grows. Would that the same could be said for the politicians of today.

The Woman on the Beach

Unpredictable noir that doesn't quite work
Renoir does noir. (I couldn't resist.) This review contains minor spoilers.

In your average noir, the set-up of older man, young, beautiful wife, and younger lover would have gone in a predictable direction. In "The Woman on the Beach," the filmmakers are trying for something more symbolic, which unfortunately doesn't quite work. While the plot is intriguing, the dialogue is stilted and, at times, laughable.

Every time Joan Bennett appeared, I kept thinking of the matronly Mrs. Collins from "Dark Shadows." I didn't find her the least convincing as the female lead. To me, she's definitely femme, but not in the least fatale. (To her credit, she does have a very nice laugh.)

There are times in the story when the police would most certainly have been called in. And, at least part of the resolution of the story was predictable.

On the other hand, I thought the relationship between Robert Ryan and Charles Bickford showed the ridiculous lengths to which men fighting over a woman will go, and their interactions were the best part of the film. While it doesn't quite work, "The Woman on the Beach" is worth seeing if only because of Robert Ryan and Charles Bickford, and because it was Renoir's last American film.

Just a note that I have since seen Joan Bennett in "Scarlet Street" and "The Reckless Moment" and I take back everything I said about her above. She was awesome!

It Always Rains on Sunday

Stunning Film Noir - Mildly spoilerish review
Stunning film reminiscent of "Brief Encounter." Rain-drenched, with a brilliant panoply of well-observed characters drawn from working class London life, "It Always Rains on Sunday," tells the story of a woman whose marriage to a man she respects but doesn't love is severely tested when an escaped convict, and former lover, asks her to hide him from the police. Loved the noirish use of flashbacks, and the restless movement of the camera from scene to scene and character to character among a cross section of the London lower classes, including petty criminals, shopkeepers, Jewish mobsters and jazz musicians, each in some way interconnected.

What Film Noir does best, to me, is to portray the struggles and sufferings of ordinary people with as much dignity and compassion as those of the famous and important. "It Always Rains on Sunday" portrays the heroine's dilemma with enormous feeling, as she glimpses her life as it might have been. Googie Withers and John McCallum are excellent as the former lovers reunited for an all too brief time. The two actors married in real life, a much more felicitous ending than that of the lovers in the story. Not to be missed.


Best Godzilla movie I've seen, so-so movie
SPOILERY Review ahead: As a child in the 60's, I watched my share of Japanese monster movies, including the Americanized version of "Godzilla" with Raymond Burr, and sequels pitting "Godzilla" or his ilk (remember "Gammera" the flying, spinning, jet-propelled tortoise?) against other monsters. I must admit, I am not a fan of the genre except as mild amusement, as most "Godzilla" movies I've seen are in the "so bad they are funny" category.

Gareth Edwards' summer blockbuster shows his fondness for the "Godzilla" genre, and it also shows that he has learned a great deal from watching Spielberg films.

While not quite as entertaining as "Jurassic Park," or "Close Encounters," "Godzilla," is still a good deal less dumb than most Japanese monster movies I've seen, and the pacing is good.

But, the movie contains huge improbabilities, especially the fortuitous way that the hero, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor Johnson) manages to be everywhere that the monsters are throughout the movie, from Japan, to Hawaii, to somewhere in the American West between Las Vegas and San Francisco, to San Francisco itself.

And, because I belong to that demographic of middle-aged women who think Bryan Cranston is one of the best American actors working today, I was disappointed that he is only in the movie's first act, and then only for about 10 minutes, in spite of previews that make his role seem much larger.

Aaron Taylor Johnson, who plays Cranston's son, is the movie's hero, and he's a likable but bland presence. The monster showdown isn't bad, and it's much better that Godzilla is fighting other monsters instead of just stomping on buildings, cars, and people. But, I felt the filmmakers didn't get the correct mix between the human story and the blockbuster elements. The human story felt like it was about 10% of the movie when it should have been 25 or 30%. Godzilla is no monster movie classic, it's no "King Kong" or "Jurassic Park." But, for a "Godzilla" movie, you could do a lot worse.

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