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Movie Review Journal: B
MOVIE REVIEW JOURNAL: B
BABY FACE (1933)
Director: Alfred E. Green. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, John Wayne.
Stanwyck sleeps her way to the top in this amusing pre-Code sex romp, although she finds things are lonely up there. Brent is the man she finally realizes she loves, only after he's attempted to kill himself. Breezy, speedy, and I love the way they show her career-climbing by panning up the windows (from department to department) of the bank she works in. Seen on tape, Saturday, July 20, 1991.
BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND (1985)
Director: B.W.L. Norton. Cast: William Katt, Sean Young, Patrick McGoohan. Why McGoohan makes trash like this is beyond me. It's a disposable kids' flick about some lost dinosaurs. McGoohan is the evil professor who kills people right and left; Katt and Young are the hero and heroine who try to keep the dinosaurs out of his clutches. The F/X are okay, but the best effects couldn't turn this sow's ear into a you-know-what. I guess Pat needed the paycheck. Seen on tape, June 7, 1988.
THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952)
Director: Vincent Minelli. Cast: Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Walter Pidgeon.
Hollywood behind-the-scenes soap about obsessive, David O. Selznick or Irving Thalberg-style movie producer (Douglas) and the people he betrayed on the way to the top. There's the B-film director he nurtured along (Sullivan); the actress he created, by letting her fall in love with him (Turner); and the writer (Powell) whose wife died because of him. The premise finds the producer down on his luck and his old partner/boss (Pidgeon) calling together his former friends to help him out. We learn why they hate him through 30- to 35-minute flashbacks. It's all enjoyable melodrama, quite well-made and hokey. 1/10/02
BAD BEHAVIOR (1993)
Director: Les Blair. Cast: Stephen Rea, Sinead Cusack, Philip Jackson, Claire Higgins, Phil Daniels.
Wonderful comedy/drama which follows the believable characters over plot (characters are plot). Loose story follows the daily ups and downs of the 30-something marriage of Gerry and Ellie McAllister (Rea and Cusack), two transplanted Dubliners who are facing career crises. Their story overlaps with that of a recently divorced mom (Higgins), a sleazy landlord (Jackson), and two twins who do contracting work (Daniels). The story is all about making choices, making connections, and communicating – and it's marvelously done. The characters are low-key, believable, humorous, touching – I could watch them for hours. Life is like this move, not all good, or all bad. The movie is about choices people make, love they offer, and the lives they live. Like a Mike Leigh movie. Holds up well on re-viewing. 3/11/99
THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Toshiro Mifune.
Akira Kurosawa explores the contradictions of man and obsessions of revenge. Mifune is a good man who must be bad to destroy evil; yet even the evil industrialist is a good father to his children, loving and supportive. It is the tragedy of the good that they cannot be bad enough to destroy evil. The bad sleep well – the bad guys win – because they have no guilty consciences for what they do; they are bad through and through. Kurosawa's tale of corrupting power builds slowly – first as a Hamlet-like mystery: who is trying to destroy the evil empire from within, and then asa love triangle: Mifune married the bad guy's daughter to get revenge but ended up loving her instead. And it is her love that is his weakness, which ultimately destroys him. He doesn't run away when he has the chance – and although he is on the verge of destroying the evil, by trusting her, he destroys himself. And by trusting her father, and not trusting her lover enough, her love is destroyed. In this film, mercy is a weakness – "I cannot hate enough," says Mifune at one point; at another: "You can't catch evil men by lawful means." It is a dark, dark parable about the twisting, intimidating times we live in, in which to destroy the bad you must become even worse. Kurosawa holds out little hope for love, for goodness, for any of the charitable feelings to win out. Mifune's obsession for revenge makes him almost a monster – but not enough of one to win. Kurosawa looks at the corruption of tradition, the facade of gentility, manners, and respectability, and says that beneath it all is horror, decay, evil. Even the boss is controlled by someone else. No one controls his own destiny.
BALL OF FIRE (1941)
Director: Howard Hawks. Cast: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck.
Screwball comedy about singer who moves in with a house-load of dusty old professors and the havoc that ensues. Fairly predictable concoction, but Stanwyck is excellent and, although miscast as a Harvard-educated linguistics professor, Cooper handles his role with touching aplomb. The movie has pace and some nice touches. Reseen, 2006: A terrific concoction, Hawks directs from Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett script, and there are a lot of funny moments, especially with the slang used by most of the characters. Seen on TV, June 12, 1995. Reseen: February 4, 2006.
THE BALLOONATIC (1923)
Director: Buster Keaton. Cast: Buster Keaton, Phyllis Haver.
Keaton flies into the wilderness on the top of a balloon. He has various adventures in what is perhaps the most shapeless of all his comedies. He brains a bair with a gun and accidentally shoots another at the same time. In the city, there’s a nice visual gag: a woman is trying to get across a puddle (or so it seems) at the curb, and Keaton, ever the gentleman, places his coat down. A car pulls up and she gets into it! Buster is constantly trying to do good but is misunderstood – and unfazed by it all. Seen: March 29, 1995.
Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchard.
Engaging buddy caper comedy with Willis and Thornton as two escaped cons who become known as "The Sleepover Bandits" because of their m.o. of sleeping over at a bank manager's home the night before they rob his bank. The two become a trio when they get involved with an unhappily married woman (Blanchard) who falls in love with both men. Quirky, cute, not quite as clever as it imagines, but entertaining nonetheless. 10/16/02
THE BARBARIAN (1933)
Director: Sam Wood. Cast: Ramon Novarro, Myrna Loy.
Silly though engrossing story of Arab (Novarro) who courts a white woamn (Loy) while she is vacationing with her fiance in Egypt. Novarro's character is a stereotypical Arab:: exotic, deceitful, abusive of women – but Loy somehow finds this attractive. But compared with the stuffy English family she is about to marry into, Novarro's exotic Arabs are an oasis of sanity. Loy looks quite beautful and, in pre-code fashion, spends much of the movie scantily clothed (and even takes a revealinng bath). 9/22/06
BARBARIANS AT THE GATE (1993)
Director: Glenn Jordan. Cast: James Garner, Jonathan Pryce, Peter Riegert.
TV–movie about the leveraged buyout of RJ Nabisco. Although it is a financial story, screenwriter Larry Gelbert of M*A*S*H fame weaves a fascinating tale, using dollops of humor and satire mixed in with unexpected suspense (will the accountants reach Nabisco headquarters with their bid in time, or will they be stuck in traffic?). The whole exercise benefits from the winning performance by James Garner as Ross Johnson, the flamboyant yet charming head of Nabisco, who tries to save the company and his lifestyle by buying both. December 27, 1993.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (2003)
Director: Denys Arcand. Cast: Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau.
Touching story of successful son, Sebastian (Rousseau), called to the deathbed of his estranged father (Girard), and how both come to appreicate and learn to love the other. It's all about learning to live when you're on the verge of dying. 3/11/04
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1965)
Director: Gillo Pontecorvo. Cast: Brahim Haggiag, Jean Martin.
Documentary-style approach is a highlight to this gritty drama about the Algerian rebels' guerilla warfare against the occupying French army. The tale has echoes of later conflcits, like Vietnam and Iraq, where an entrenched larger, occupying powe is ultimately defeated by a smaller, dedicated group with a startegic plan to undermine the enemy. Terrorism works, but the danger is that the methods of the terrorists -- bombs, torture -- can corrupt the morality of both sides. War itself is corrupting and immoral, says the film, which should be an object lesson for the Bush administartion. 1/29/04
THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE (1996)
Director: Thomas Lennon, Michael Epstein. Narrated by Richard Ben Cramer.
Absorbing documentary about the lives and careers of William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles and how the two of them clashed over Citizen Kane, which used Hearst's life as a template for a scathing portrait of a newspaper tycoon. Using clips, still photos, and contemporary interviews, the filmmakers do an excellent job of getting to the roots of the conflict, examining how the battle damaged both men's careers. The only flaw in this film is the dreadfully read voiceover narration, monotonously read by one of the writers, Richard Ben Kramer. For God's sake, couldn't they have gotten someone better? Or did Kramer have the ego of Kane? 1/4-1/5/02
BEAU GESTE (1939)
Director: William Wellman. Cast: Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward.
Rousing boy's adventure story, with Cooper, Milland, and Preston as an improbable trio of brothers who join the Foreign Legion because of a scandal at home. The movie has a dynamite opening – mysterious and eye-catching – and never quite comes up to that level again. Nevertheless, the movie is an entertaining bit of hokum, with a nice message about family honor. Donlevy is excellent as the psycho fort commander who may be nuts but, as Cooper says, "is a great soldier." Tape, 5/30/95.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)
Director: Eugene Lourie. Cast: Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey.
A blueprint for Godzilla. A monster from the deep is awakened by nuclear testing and wreaks havoc on a major city (here, New York). Lacking the Hiroshima subtext of Godzilla, The Beast is just a big monster, well-animated by Ray Harryhausen in his first major effort. The love story-plot is pretty hokey. 9/24/99
A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)
Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer.
Engrossing story of genius mathematician John Nash (Crowe) who eventually discovers he has schizophrenia and has been talking to people who don't exist. The film is effective in depicting the reality of Nash's unreality by not cluing the viewer into the fantasies until an hour into the story. It is a shocking moment, and you are as disoriented and unbelieving as Nash when you discover that his best friend and his government contact are fantasies. The second half takes the story from the realm of a potboiler thriller to a moving story of one man's battle with illness. Excellent performances all around, especially by Crowe as the tormented genius who uses the power of his reason to cope with the madness. 11/30/02
BED AND BOARD (1970)
Director: Francois Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Claude Jade.
Light, breezy fourth entry in the Antoine Doinel series finds Antoine (Leaud) married with a child, still finding it hard to be responsible. He is like a perpetual adolescent, which is part of his charm, flitting from job to job, and – even with a child – becoming obsessed with a Japanese woman with whom he starts an affair. The movie seems to be a reflection of Truffaut's own philosophy about the difficulty of commitment. He falls into things, including his job, which he gets by a fluke, and his affairs, which seem to happen to him. Funny, entertaining, touching. 5/28/01
THE BEDROOM WINDOW (1988)
Director: Curtis Hanson. Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Elizabeth McGovern, Isabelle Huppert.
The movie is like a film student's version of Hitchcock – the plot is like one of his – an innocent man gets wrapped up in a crime and soon has the police after him – but it lacks his virtuoso technique. In this case, a man (Guttenberg) lies to the police about seeing an assault from his bedroom window; the idea is to protect his mistress, who is the actual witness. There are echoes of Rear Window in the end when the heroine volunteers to bait a trap for the killer and Guttenberg opposes it. The story is engrossing, but leaves you with a feeling of, "So what?" The loose ends – the murder of his boss's wife, his boss's threatening treatment of him (red herring) – are all left loose. Seen: TV, October 19, 1991.
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)
Director: Spike Jonze. Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich.
Odd, dark absurdist comedy about the perils of being a celebrity and how your life is ultimately not your own. You become the property of others. Cusack plays a darkly romantic, moody and unsuccessful puppeteer, Craig Schwartz, who gets an office job at the urging of Lotte (Diaz), his ditzy wife who takes care of monkeys, dogs, cats, and other wildlife and has turned their home into a menagerie. Both of them are liberated after Craig discovers secret passage in his new office that leads into the head of actor John Malkovich. Soon, Craig and his hard-as-nails partner, Maxine (Keener) – with whom he has fallen madly in love – are selling tickets for people to "become" Malkovich for 15 minutes. When Lotte does it, she and have sex through Malkovich in the strangest menage-a-tois ever filmed. Although the movie cannot sustain its level of invention throughout (there is a bizarre subplot about the office on the 7 1/2 floor where Craig works; since it's between floors, everyone has to stoop because of the low ceilings; there are equally bizarre characters: his boss and the boss's secretary, a woman who mishears everything). In the end, the film is so dark that you lose interest in the characters, who are much too vicious and selfish – inhuman – to hold your attention. It's a movie of concepts, not people, and the concepts are strikingly well done. 11/24/99
THE BEGUILED (1971)
Director: Don Siegel. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman.
Creepy, Gothic tale about the evil that lurks beneath the innocent exertiors of Civil War Southern belles. Eastwood plays a wounded Yankee, who falls in among some horny women in a girl's school. At first, the charming, amoral Yank seems to be in like flynn: a veritable Bond, he has made dates to bed down at least three of the girls (including the headmistress) and has also made playful sexual overtures to an eight-year-old. Things go horribly awry, however, when the incest-practicing headmistress (Page) wreaks her vengeance on Eastwood's hapless soldier. It's a horror story that gets under your skin: creepy, unpleasant, and quite unlike any other film Siegel and Eastwood have done. None of the characters are laudable or even likable, and the message it offers about the evil that lurks inside people is relentlessly downbeat. The Beguiled is hauntingly horrible. 5/26 and 5/30/98.
BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (1948)
Director Oscar "Budd" Boetticher.. Cast: Richard Carlson, Lucille Bremer.
Tightly paced noir drama about detective going undercover in mental asylum to find wanted man. Creepy, well-done, and taught, at 62 minutes. 1/6/07
BELLE DE JOUR (1967)
Director: Luis Bunel. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Sorel, Michel Piccoli.
Intriguing story of young bride, Severine (Deneuve), who refuses to have sex with her husband and instead becomes a prostitute by day, known as Belle de Jour. She feels closer to her husband when she comes from having sex with strangers all afternoon -- but he feels a distance. Communication and sexuality -- two of the greatest challenges of life. Deneuve's icy beauty works well for her tormented character. With some typically bizarre dream sequences. 4/7/04
Director: Fred Niblo. Cast: Ramon Novarro, Betty Bronson, Francis X. Bushman.
The original, silent version, with original tints and two-strip Technicolor sections. This could be called the unthinking man's epic – the story seems a lot hokier, and shows what it could have been without the literate treatment Wyler gave it. The story is essentially the same: Judah Ben-Hur (Novarro) is betrayed by arrogant Roman and former pal Messala (Novarro), who sends him to die in the galleys. Through a series of lucky accidents, Judah is requested and ends up – incredibly enough – as the finest charieteer in Rome. That leads to his bitterly fought chariot race in which Messala is killed (many of the camera angles are still impressive – and some were even copied in the 1959 version). Judah's life once again parallels and occasionally intersects Christ's, but the Christ/religious aspect is much more heavy-handed in this version, with whole sequences and title cards lifted right out of the Bible. As Judah, Novarro is frantic and more or less wimpish – unlike Heston, he does not make the character real or believable. Bushman is a stock villain, while the rest of the characters are unmemorable. This Ben-Hur is memorable only in its chariot race, battle scenes, and some of the beautifully composed shots of Christ at work. 1/2, 1/4, 1/5/98.
Director: William Wyler. Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd.
The thinking man's epic, with Heston as the pacificist Jew Judah Ben-Hur, who is framed for a crime he didn't commit by his boyhood friend Messala (Boyd). The story is about friendship betrayed and his driven by Judah's passion for revenge, counterbalanced by the healing power of love, as personified by Christ. The story says that Messala became a hateful person, an arrogant, vengeful person because of the corrupting power of Rome (although he also seems to be something of a born fanatic, a true believer). The story shows how Judah, driven by hate and a passion for revenge, is on the verge of becoming Massala, becoming the thing that you hate. He loses his family, his position, his freedom, but the hate keeps him alive. Until he learns that love is stronger, and more healing, and only then do miracles happen. The movie is a well-written soap opera with a message, and it keepsa you involved through its spectacle, its multi-layered lead characters, and Wyler's sense of pace. Wyler handles characters well: both The Big Country and The Best Years of Our Lives were equally sprawling – soap operas with a message – and both kept you involved through its driven characters who are tempted by the dark sides of their personalities. Tempted, but not persuaded. Heston is fine as Judah, and probably few others could have done him as well. He is big enough, hammy enough, for the part, and also good in the small touches. His Judah is more interesting than his priggish Moses; he is a flawed hero – the best kind. The supporting actors are well-cast, right down to the races for the astounding chariot race. It's breathtaking. First time I've seen it letterboxed; last time I saw this was 14 or 15 years ago. It's still engrossing. 12/29/98, 1/2/99.
BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2003)
Director: Gurinder Chadha. Cast: Parminder K. Nagra.
A more realistic (albeit just as sentimental) Indian take on My Big Fat Greek Wedding genre: the cross-cultural romance/success story. This time, it's the tale of Jess (Nagra), a London teenager who is a wiz at soccer but whose parents want her to follow the traditional Indian path of education (lawyer or doctor) and marriage (to an Indian, of course). Jess turns all these hopes upside down by aspiring to become a professional soccer player – and falling in love with her Caucasian coach! It follows a predictable path, but is enjoyable nonetheless, with winning performances by a cast of unknowns. 5/10/03
BEND OF THE RIVER (1952)
Director: Anthony Mann. Cast: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy,Julia Adams, Rock Hudson.
Terrific psychological western, one of the Arthur Mann noirish westerns starring James Stewart. Stewart plays a former gunslinger who is trying to go straight, herding homesteaders over the mountains. He saves Arthur Kennedy from a hanging and the two pal up -- until the last act, when Kennedy betrays him for the promise of cash. A curious footnote is the similarity between the plotline of this and the Daniel Boone two-parter, "The High Cumberland." In both film and TV episode these events occur: the hero (Jimmy Stewart in Bend of the River, Fess Parker in Daniel Boone) is leading a wagon train of settlers to a new land, across the mountains; he rescues a man who is about to be hanged/killed and the man -- a rougish character -- joins the hero on the trail. The rogue meets the pretty woman who has a playful love/hate relationship with the hero and is obviously attracted to her. The wagon train is attacked by Indians and the woman is injured. The wagon train reaches a settlement where they buy supplies for the winter, which the storekeeper promises to send on in a month. The wagon train leaves; the woman stays behind to recover; the rogue stays behind, too. A month or more goes by, and the settlers have reached their spot and settled in, but no supplies have arrived. The hero goes back with a friend to inquire. They find that their supplies are still there but have been sold to someone else for a h igher price. The hero also finds the rogue is engaged to the pretty woman. The hero takes his supplies by force, aided by the rogue. A chase follows. They get away (killing the trader in the process). On their journey back, they encounter other settlers who offer to buy their supplies for double the price. The hero turns them down. Along the way, one of the wagons breaks a wheel. While changing it, the men -- hired in town -- let the wagon drop on the hero's friend, injuring him. The hero punches them out, and is backed up by the rogue. The next day, however, the rogue backs up the men when they grab the hero and start beating him. He stops them from killing the hero. The hero says that was a mistake and that he'll get even. In the wagon, the friend and the beautiful woman have an exchange about what one man can do on foot. The hero even tually wins out, beating the odds -- and the rogue in the process. He also wins the hand of the pretty woman. Coincidence? Perhaps. But the producer of both the movie and the TV show was Aaron Rosenberg. 8/5/06
THE BENSON MURDER CASE (1930)
Director: Frank Tuttle. Cast: William Powell, Natalie Moorhead, Eugene Pallette, Paul Lukas.
A good cast in a terribly dated antique, with Powell as gifted amateur sleuth Philo Vance, who investigates murders as a hobby. Powell is about the only reason to watch this talky melodrama, staged and static, with everyone speaking oh-so-precisely for the microphones. The plot involves a murder at a country estate and the solution is ingenious – but that's about the only thing that is. Poor. 5/26/02
BERTH MARKS (1929)
Director: Lewis R. Foster. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy.
Stan andOllie's second talkie has some laughs – primarily in the opening sequence – but the main bit, the two getting undressed in a cramped berth, goes on too long and is fairly tedious. Not top-grade L & H. Reseen: 1/23/03
THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 (1938)
Director: Mitchell Leisen. Cast: W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye.
Dreadful picture, an all-star extraganza that is tedious but historically noteworthy for the first teaming of Hope and Lamour, and for Hope's introduction of the song, "Thanks for the Memories." Otherwise, it's a big vaudeville show, with some so-so bits by Fields, but otherwise nothing to hold your interest: a little dancing, some singing (opera, no less), a lot of nonsense, including the plot about a trans-Atlantic race between two ocean liners. Yawn. 3/4/02
THE BIG COUNTRY (1958)
Director: William Wyler. Cast: Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Charles Bickford.
Lengthy western about a dude from the east (Peck) who helps settle a bitter feud between two rival landowners (Ives and Bickford). What makes the story compelling is not the struggle, but the character of Peck, a man who needs to prove nothing to anyone but himself. The movie examines the bravado and violence of the western hero, saying that much of it is just a collection of fireworks that proves nothing; that real courage should be in the cause f something significant, like saving an innocent woman from the consequences of the feud. The cast is fine, especially Ives, who gives his grimy, unpleasant character a great of deal of integrity – in contrast to the smooth Bickford, who is all bile and deceit underneath. Seen TV, July 21, 1995. Seen again: 2/22/04
BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET (1958)
Director: Mario Monicelli. Cast: Vittorio Gassman, Renato Salvatori, Marcello Mastroianni.
Amusing, broadly done parody of caper pictures like Rififi, in which a group of low-life thieves attempt a major theft. The caper goes awry, naturally, with the thieves arguing among themselves. Their ineptitude is massive: they break into the apartment next to a vault, and then break through the wrong wall – into the bathroom of the apartment they're already in! Braggarts, romantics, idiots – that's the group. Very entertaining, if broadly done. 1/20/02
BIG FISH (2003)
Director: Tim Burton. Cast: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crud-up, Jessica Lange.
When fiction is more comforting than fact, take the fiction -- at least that's the message of this ode to tall tales, with Finney as Cruddup's dying father who has lived a life telling whoppers. The whoppers are enertaining if a bit heavy-handed (and McGregor is fine as the young Finney), but the father-son coming-to-terms through-line is tedious and tired. 11/10/04
THE BIG HEAT (1954)
Director: Fritz Lang. Cast: Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin.
Tough film noir, tight and fast-paced, with Ford as an incorruptible cop who nearly goes over the edge when he investigates corruption in the police force. He's happily married, but becomes a widower when he runs afoul of the local crime boss, a Mafia type who has the police commissioner in his pocket and employs a tough goon (Marvin) who enjoys torturing people. The most shocking moment comes when the goon's girlfriend (Grahame) gets a pot of hot coffee thrown in her face. With great dialogue, pacing, and performances, The Big Heat is a top-notch effort from Lang, perhaps his best American film. 9/20/02
THE BIG ONE (1998)
Director: Michael Moore
Satirical documentary filmmaker Michael Moore (Roger and Me) is at it again, once more confronting corporate types with their hypocrisy and greed. The Big One finds the director traveling to 47 cities on a promotional tour for his New York Times bestseller, Downsize This! Moore can’t just sign books and bask in celebrity, however; he uses the expenses paid trip as a vehicle for his crusade against corporate America. He turns up at business lobbies, offices, and bookstores with a camera that never sleeps. The results are both hilarious and heartbreaking, as stuffed shirt executives and lower-level employees try to explain why, with record profits, they are are setting other records by closing factories. But it’s not all politics; much of the movie can be simply bizarre, like the scenes of Moore, on guitar, trading Bob Dylan riffs with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen, followed by a restaurant meeting with an ex-con who worked for TWA Reservations while in prison. The movie’s climax comes when Moore confronts a nervously smiling Phil Knight, chairman of Nike (whom Moore had labeled a “corporate crook” in his book), with Nike’s use of child labor in Indonesia. Knight continues to insist “Americans don’t want to manufacture shoes” – even after the director brings him video evidence that they do. The crusading Moore, part angry stand-up comedian, part-satirist, and 100 percent missionary, may look like a clown but his smile has fangs. 2/10/98
THE BIG STREET (1942)
Director: Irving Reis. Cast: Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball.
Disturbing Damon Runyon story in which Fonda plays an obsesssed lover, a busboy named Pinks, of a self-centered showgirl (Ball, in an atypiical turn) who stands by her after she becomes crippled in an accident. Amusing in places, but dark and sentmental at the same time. ne weird flick. 11/15//06
BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967)
Director: Ken Russell. Cast: Michael Caine, Kar Malden..
Third and least (until the TV-movie sequels of the 1990s, which apparently used this film as a template) of the Harry Palmer movies. This one starts promisingly, with Palmer (Caine) retired from MI5 and working as a seedy private eye. But he is soon back in business in a job more suited to James Bond than the realistic anti-spy antics of Palmer's world. The confusing plot has something to do with viruses and a mad anti-communist Texas billionaire – and it ends with explosions and dying soldiers that seem a long way from the downbeat heroics of The Ipcress File, made only two years before. 9/8/06
BILLY ELLIOT (2000)
Director: Stephen Daldry. Cast: Jamie Bell, Gary Lewis, Julie Walters.
Charming story of working class boy who wants to be a ballet dancer. Set in 1984 against the backdrop of a British coal-miner's strike, the story contrasts the ephemeral, dream-like wishes of young Billy with the brutal reality of the strike. Bell is terrific as Billy, and the script gives him many moments to shine, especially when he is interacting with the teacher who believes in him (Walters) and the father who initially opposes him but then comes to support him (Lewis). Lewis is excellent as a man trying to keep his family together after the recent loss of his wife. A weeper with substance. 11/22/00
BILLY LIAR (1963)
Director: John Schesinger. Cast:Tom Courtney, Julie Christie.
The story of Billy Fisher (Courtney), known to his friends as Billy Liar because of the wild stories he constantly makes up as a way of escaping his dreary, small-town existence. The film actually shows us some of Billy's fantasies – as the popular leader of the mythical kingdom of Ambrosia, as a politician, as a soldier, as a sexual athlete – and also shows us the consequences of his avoidance of reality and responsibility. The only ray of hope in it all is the young woman (Christie) who loves him for who he is and urges him to go with her to London. That he can't do it, shows he's more comfortable with his fantasies than with the possibility of making them real. Courtney delivers a terrific performance and Christie is charming and quite believable as the woman who sees Billy for what he is, and appreciates him for who he is. 11/22/01
THE BIRDS (1963)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy.
Hitch's saga of what would happen if our feathered friends ran amuk. Hedren and Taylor are adequate as the leads (a bit wooden at times), but who cares? The cinematic scares – pure cinema – are what make this film memorable. The slow build-up is classic, as are the mise-en-scene that Hitch employs so brilliantly. Sound design by Bernard Herrmann. The last truly great Hitchcock film, seen here in nice widescreen version. 4/14/00
THE BISHOP MURDER CASE (1930)
Director: Nick Grindle, David Burton. Cast: Basil Rathbone, Leila Hyams, Roland Young.
Antique mystery, from the S.S. Van Dyne novel about dilettante detective Philo Vance (Rathbone), called in by the police to investigate the death by arrow of a man named Cock Robin. The death matches the nursery rhyme, and at the scene is a note signed, "The Bishop." A series of other nursery rhyme murders follow, and though the story is intriguing, the pacing is leaden and the acting wooden. Rathbone is humorless and uninteresting as Vance, inferior to his predecessor William Powell. Ironically, one character makes fun of him by calling him Sherlock Holmes, a role he made his own nine years later. 4/23/01
BLACK ANGEL (1946)
Director: Roy William Neill. Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford.
Stylish film noir about Catheriner Bennett (Vincent) and Martin Blair (Duryea) investigating the murder of Blair's ex-wife, who was blackmailing Bennett's husband. The duo try to uncover evidence that Bennett's husband didn't kill Mrs. Blair -- and in the process find themselves growing attracted to each other. Excellent, low-key performances by Lorre as a shady nightclub operator and Crawford as a tough cop highlight this well-made melodrama, the last from Holmes director Neill. 7/21/04
THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955)
Director: Richard Brooks. Cast: Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Vic Morrow, Sidney Poitier, Paul Mazursky.
Teacher Ford takes on rebellious youth in a troubled high school. Ford is fine as the teacher, and Morrow and Poitier make excellent rebels, although the movie seems a bit linear at times and also preachy. One of the problems is that we never get into the reason why the kids are rebellious; there's some talk of being beat up at home, but nothing is really clear. Why they finally take to Ford and turn against Morrow is also unclear; it's as though the movie is saying, most kids are good, it's usually a bad egg that spoils them. This is a parent's movie, not a kid's film, not trying to get into the kids' heads, but trying to make teenage rebellion understandable to parents. It's okay and the drama is watchable, if predictable, but I think it was done better 12 years later in To Sir With Love. TV, June 2-3, 1995.
THE BLACK BOOK (THE REIGN OF TERROR) (1949)
Director: Anthony Mann. Cast: Robert Cummings, Richard Basehart, Arlene Dahl..
Lw-budget, taught period piece about the search by counter-French Revolutionafries for Robespierre's "black book" of targeted men -- the key to unseating him. Cummings is the dashing (both literally and figuratively), and though he lacks the complexity of later Mann heroes, he is a noirish man on the run. Taut, well done, if a little pokey. Some nice visuals. Best sequence: the book on the bed. 8/14/06
THE BLACK CAMEL (1931)
Director: Hamilton MacFadden. Cast: Warner Oland, Bela Lugosi, Robert Young, Dwight Frye.
Oland's second Charlie Chan picture, with extensive location work in Honolulu. The movie establishes the pattern for Chan and other mystery movies of this type: the early portion introduces the characters (the suspects in the murder-to-come, all with shady pasts). It also introduces the detective (Chan) and his less-than-brilliant assistant (in this case, Japanese detective Kashimo). There is some humor from the assistant and some wit from the detective's sayings, but the movie is generally all-business: tracking clues, avoiding assassination attempts, turning up more bodies. It took The Thin Man to add real comedy – and character-based comedy at that – to the proceedings of the murder mystery. (Hitchcock also did it somewhat with The Man Who Knew Too Much and even more so with the post-Thin Man flicks 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes). Oland is fine, a little more acerbic than his later polite persona. 1/29/00
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
The first British talking picture and a tour-de-force for Hitchcock. The director experiments with sound by cleverly playing with how characters hear things. A woman who has stabbed a man repeatedly notices the word “knife” in a breakfast conversation, and to show her growing sense of guilt, that is the only intelligible word Hitchcock ultimately lets the viewer hear, as the dialogue gradually turns into gibberish.
The movie us remarkable fresh and innovative in its visual and sound effects. The story is about a girl who murders a would-be-rapist and the aftermath, when her detective boyfriend must confront the truth. The movie's morality is a little lax – in essence a blackmailer gets capital punishment and the murderer goes free – but the technical trickery makes up for it. Not an actor's movie, however. 10/2-10/4/98
BLACK ORPHEUS (1959)
Director: Marcel Camus. Cast: Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn, Lourdes De Oliveira.
The Orpheus-Eurydice Greek myth, retold in 1950s Rio. In this version, Orpheus (Mello) is a street car conductor and Eurydice (Dawn) is a poor girl just arrived in dawn, pursued by a man who wants to kill her. There isn't much to the story, but the film is magical: its colors, locations, dancing, and especially music (Jobim and Bossa Nova came to the public consciousness with this film) are quite unlike anything else I've seen. The story unfolds with the inevitability of the tragedy that is, with characters unable to escape their destinies. But it ends hopefully, focusing on the children who carry on the hope of the world, dancing to the rising sun. 9/22-9/23/01.
BLADERUNNER: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT (1982/1991)
Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah.
Ridley Scott's grim vision of a nasty future, a sci-fi noir. The story follows hard-boiled detective Deckard (Harrison Ford) as a searches for four runaway replicants – androids – in a kill or be killed scenario. The movie is moody, hi-tech grimy, and fascinating. Ford has just the right world-weariness, and there are some lovely touches of poetry in the movie – Hauer's death is obvious, but also his mourning Daryl Hannah – the point being that the androids love life as much as humans, and appreciate it more because their lifespan is shorter. Engrossing – though the one element missing is humor. The picture is so bleak, so depressing, and the view of humanity so grungy –– there is not much hope in this world, which is why Deckard seizes it when and where he can. He realizes that the androids have more humanity than the humans, and falls in love with one (Sean Young) – and runs off with her. December 27/28, 1993.
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)
Directors: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Cast: Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard.
A big bore, the triumph of hype over horror. Supposedly a documentary put together from the footage left by three teenagers who mysteriously disappeared, this low-budget flick has been grandly proclaimed as terrifyingly innovative. What's innovative is how little actually goes on to justify the talk and the crowds – the suckers – who have been drawn into it. The hand-held camerawork gets dizzying after a while, and the whole exercise seems ludicrous: when these lost kids, in search of information about the mysterious, murderous Blair Witch coven in Maryland, keep running across strange things – they keep filming. Even down to their last moments, when two of them are searching for their lost friend, they run into a house with cameras rolling! What defies belief, too, is how dumb and irritating these kids are; they may be typical teenagers, but the more you get to know them the less you care about them: obnoxious, inarticulate, irritating, the three are dopey, led by a bitch of a woman who, as Andrew Sarris points out, is a bitch on wheels and perhaps the reason for the movie's success: men love to see a pushy woman get hers. And to have them screaming, yelling, and shouting to cue us how terrified they are is more irritating than frightening (and still, they keep filming; what dedication; or is that a comment on the video generation?) The movie is a cynical, uninteresting, film students' game. I hated it. 8/14/99
BLEAK MOMENTS (1971)
Director: Mike Leigh.
First film from Britain's Leigh, who creates his scripts with improvised input from the cast. That technique leads to an eerie, documentary-style realism in the film, but can also make for some tedious moments, especially in this one. It's the story of young woman who works in a mundane job as a secretary who is trying to find love -- or at least make a connection -- with a man. There are two in her life: a repressed teacher whom she meets every day on her walk to work, and a young hippie who rents out her garage. Her life is complicated by her having to care for a mentally retarded, 29-year-old sister. The structure is unusual -- very unlike a Hollywood film -- and the repressedd characters, with their tormented, unexpressed inner lives seem very real. Leigh doesn't tell you about people; he shows them to you. Good, with some bleak humor, but at times hard to take. 2/19/05
THE BLOB (1958)
Director: Irvin Yeaworth. Cast: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corseaut.
Camp classic about teenagers (led by a 20-something McQueen) trying to convince the authorities that a slimy mass of alien protoplasm is devouring residents of a small California town. Dumb, and about as scary a plate of jello, but McQueen demonstrates the charisma that would make him world-famous less than a decade later. 6/15/02
Director: John G. Blystone. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Billy Gilbert.
Quintessential L & H movie about two WWI vets (Stan and Ollie) meeting again after 20 years. Really just a collection of very funny bits, the movie (which clocks in at only 57 minutes) is held together by the lovely chemistry and innate sweetness of the "boys." Re-seen: 11/25/04
THE BLOOD OF THE POET (1930)
Director: Jean Cocteau. Cast: Lee Miller, Enrique Rivero
Bizarre, avante-garde film about the struggles of an artist to realize his art. More like a dream than a film, it is interesting in a boring kind of way (or boring in an interesting kind of way). A lot of great images and intriguing special effects. 11/16/02
BLOOD SIMPLE (1983)
Director: Joel Cohen. Cast: John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh.
Film noir thriller from director Joel Cohen and producer Ethan Cohen about a murder and its consequences. The movie is artfully directed and cleverly constructed, painting a portrait of a husband (Hedaya) betrayed by his clueless wife (McDormand). Well done, and a bit gruesome. A good over-the-top performance by Walsh as a murdeous detective. Best scene: the bullet holes in the wall. 11/9/02
BLOOD WORK (2002)
Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels, Wanda De Jesus.
Eastwood as retired FBI profiler Terry McCaleb, a kind of mellow Dirty Harry. In this one, his life is saved by a heart transplant of a murdered woman; he is enlisted by the victim's sister (De Jesus) to track down the killer. Engaging, though Eastwood has been to this well before, with a predictable "surprise" killer. 1/2/03
Director Michelangelo Antonioni. Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles.
Did David, a posh Lond on photographer in swinging London, unknowingly photograph a murder? That becomes the central – but ultimately irrelevant – question-without-an-answer in Antonioni's dark tale of modern nihilism. Life, death, photogrpahs, reality – nothing really matters, nothing can make a difference in the cold, sterile world of modern times. Intriguing, but ultimately a little too full of itslef and its deep message of shallow profundity. 10/14, 10/15/06
THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953)
Director: Fritz Lang. Anne Baxter, Ann Southern, Richard Conte, Raymond Burr, George Reeves.
A "who's who" of TV actors is the highlight of this middling B-picture from former German great Lang (M, Metropolis). Like M, this film involves the hunt for a murderer, but that's where the similarities end. The story is as predictable as it is mundane. Baxter plays Norah, a girl jilted by her lover who goes out on a date with a noted lothario (Burr, at his most charmingly sinister). He gets her drunk; when he attempts to have his way with her at his apartment, she goes after him with a poker. Four years later, Burr would be defending her on Perry Mason; here, he's the reason for her dilemma. Did she kill him? It's hazy to her but not to the audience -- there's another suspect set up early on. Reeves (pre-Superman) plays a detective -- pretty badly, I might add (and he's joined by an unbilled Robert "Inspector Henderson" Shayne as a doctor), Southern plays a wise-cracking roomate, and Conte is a crusading muck-raker. As Norah, Baxter is over-the-top and fairly obvious. Burr delivers the most nuanced performance of the bunch. He is almost too nice to be a cad. Lang is concerned with tying guilt to sex and murder, even in a hokey melodrama like this. 6/29/02
BODY HEAT (1981)
Director: Lawrence Kasdan. Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna.
Lawrence Kasdan remakes Double Indemnity, without crediting it – and without its clever dialogue. Hurt is the dumb sap drawn into a murder plot by the sultry wife (Turner) of a wealthy husband (Crenna). The difference between his character's and Cain's is he's dumber than a post. But the movie hits all the Cain touchstones: the accidental meeting, the uncontrollable sexual attraction, the ambition, the greed, the plot, the self-destruction. The difference is very '80s: the girl gets away with it and the dumb sap goes to jail (in Cain, they both would have died). I liked the original better. Great John Barry score. 12/21/00.
THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
Director: Robert Wise. Cast: Boris Karloff, Henry Daniel, Bela Lugosi.
Daniell as a dedicated doctor haunted by a secret in his past. His chief tormenter is Karloff as a cabman who does double duty as a body snatcher -- from the graves and/or the streets (taking from the living when the graves can't provide). The story isn't much -- it's based on one by Robert Louis Stevenson -- but, as in most Val Lewton productions, the atmosphere is everything. Creepy, with wnderfully layered performancs by Karloff as conscious evil and Daniell as accidental evil. 8/27/06
BODY SNATCHERS (1993)
Director: Abel Ferrara. Cast: Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Billy Wirth, Forest Whitaker, Meg Tilley.
A second remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this atmospheric tale hits all the same hot buttons as the 1956 and 1978 versions, with pod people replacing their emotional brethren and social commentary about the dehumanization of society. This version has a teenager as the heroine, which adds an alienation/coming of age subtext to the story, but otherwise it's the same story. It's very effective, with haunting images and a slightly more upbeat (just barely) ending than the other two versions. 1/12/00
BOILER ROOM (2000)
Director: Ben Younger. Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Ben Affleck.
A jazzed-up reworking of Wall Street, about hot shot young brokers in the high-pressure world of selling stocks (the young turks are even seeing watching Wall Street and repeating dialogue from that film). The hero is Seth Davis (Ribisi), a young man who, like the character in Wall Street, has a tortured relationship with his father and does everything to seek his dad's approval. He gets into a jam when he realizes that the brokerage firm he's involved with is a scam. The characters are pretty much types, but the movie, stylized and pumped up, is curiously affecting. Terrible score. 1/25/01.
Director: Victor Fleming. Cast: Jean Harlow, Lee Tracy, Frank Morgan.
Fast-paced, if somewhat shrill screwball comedy about superstar Lola Barnes (Harlow) and the fast-talking studio PR man (Tracy) who is her nemesis and would-be lover (a part which Tracy is good at but lacks the subtlety a William Powell would have brought to the part). Barnes is apparently based on "it' girl Clara Bow, although she may have something in common with Harlow herself -- certainly she shares her roles. Barnes is seen doing retakes on Red Dust, a picture Harlow had actually made with Clark Gable. A few studio in-jokes, such as C. Aubrey Smith sniping that Lewis Stone gets all the good parts. Entertaining, with nice twist ending. (AKA Blonde Bombshell.) 10/19, 10/20/07
BON VOYAGE (2003)
Director: Jean-Paul Rappeneau. Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Gerard Depardieu, Gregori Derangere.
Well done farce with dramatic undertones (or drama with farcical elements, depending on your point of view). Derangere plays a would-be-novelist in WWII Paris who is drawn into intrigues becuase of his love of a manipulative movie starlet (Adjani). The movie speeds along at a rapid clip, with surprising twists and turns as the writer ties to avoid the police (she's framed him for murder), Nazis, and his own moth-tot-the-flame amorous leanings towards the starlet. Rem-iniscent of Truffaut, the movie has enjoyable supporting characters, good performances, and a well-constructed plot. 4/4/04
BORDER INCIDENT (1949)
Director: Antnhony Mann. Cast: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard da Silva.
Semi-documentary crime drama about illegal immigrants, the kind of format popular with director Anthony Mann, who used it in T-Men and He Walked By Night. This one follows the infiltration of a gang of people importers by Mexican agent Montalban, assisted by U.S. agent Murphy. It has the moody atmospherics of film noir, but lacks the dark characters of Mann's best work. Da Silva's smooth, naturalistic villain is the best thing in the picture. 8/20/06
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)
Director: Doug Liman. Cast: Matt Damon., Franka Potente.
First of the Jason Bourne films finds the killing machine super agent floating in the Mediterrrenean Seam with two bullets in his back and no memory of how he got that way. The movie is a fast-paced thriller that keeps the action pounding along as Bourne tries to uncover his identityw hile staying one step ahead of the CIA, which is trying to kill him. 1/21/08
BOWLING AT COLUMBINE (2002)
Director: Michael Moore. Cast: Moore, Marilyn Mason, Charlton Heston.
Moore brings his "smart ass" docu-mentary approach to the gun control issue, examining, in his irreverent way, why the shootings at Columbine, in Colorado, and Flint (his hometown) in Michigan, occurred. He uses history, anecdotal evidence, and comparisons with Canada (which has an equally large gun-carrying population) to come to a simple conclusion: Americans are conditioned by the media to live in fear. It is fear of crime, fear of black people, fear of war that motivates citizens to arm themselves and shoot first, ask questions later. There are funny moments (a gun nut saying, "There are a lot of crazy people out there"), touching moments (a security salesman, breaking down from his patter when he starts talking about the deaths at Columbine), upsetting moments (Moore's sandbagging of the NRA's Heston is both disturbing, for how inarticulate Heston is, and for how Moore tricks him into seeming foolish), and rewarding moments (Moore, with the help of two Columbine survivors, getting K-mart to give up bullet sales). Throughout, Moore uses his patented provocateur-with-a-camera approach to get some amusing, sometimes infuriating footage. Though he is a tad too smug sometimes, Moore should be applauded for getting people to talk about a subject that often is ignored: fear and the media, and how politicians exploit both. 10/11/02
THE BOXER (1998)
Director: Jim Sheridan. Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis.
The Boxer isn’t a movie about the old Simon and Garfunkel tune or even a boxing picture – it’s a story about standing up for yourself and your beliefs even when everyone seems to be against you. Set in Northern Ireland, it offers Danny Flynn (Daniel Day-Lewis), a former up-and-coming local boxer who has just finished 14 years in prison. His crime: not fingering people he knew were in an IRA action in which he was involved and caught. His punishment: his career, the woman he loves – but not his principles. Using the brutal sport as a metaphor for Flynn’s life and those of other innocent people in the civil war, writer-director Jim Sheridan paints an ever-more-engrossing story of the absurdity of the Catholic-Protestant dispute and the punishment it inflicts on everyone. Where the movie errs is in simplifying the story enough to create “good” IRA folk and a “bad” IRA leader, who causes most of the trouble for Flynn and those in the IRA who want peace. If only life were that straightforward. Nonetheless, Sheridan puts a human face on the suffering of the Irish – and creates a bittersweet romance, as well.1/16/98
BOYFRIENDS AND GIRLFRIENDS (1987)
Director: Eric Rohmer. Cast: Emmanuelle Chaulet, Sophie Renoir, Anne-Laure Meury, Eric Viellard, Francois-Eric Gendron.
Sweet character comedy, part of Rohmer's "Comedies and Proverbs" series. It follows the friendship of Blanche (Chaulet) and Lea (Renoir) who have boyfriend troubles. Blanche longs for an unattainable businessman; Lea is bored with her easy-going hunk. Inevitably, as they try to help each other, they begin to get emotionally attached to the other's love object (hence, the French title: "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend"). Charming, insightful, and very diverting, showing we sometimes don't get what we want, but what we need. 1/19/02
Director: Mel Gibson. Cast: Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan.
Exciting but completely predictable story of Scottish folk hero (Gibson) who led Scots rebels against the tyrannical English, repped by cruel, ammoral king (McGoohan). The battles and action scenes are well-played, as are the romance and occasional flashes of humor, but the ending and death of Gibson is drawn out to a ridiculous extreme (do we really have to see every step of his torture? ). The movie is a variation of Robin Hood as Gibson and his merry men (he even has a Little John figure) sally forth against impossible odds and oh-so-evil figures. "Robin" himself is a reluctant hero, but daring, dashing, and brave, who uses his brains over his brawn to defeat his foes. It is only betrayal by the greedy that ultimately trips him up. Beautiful scenery – but that's predictable, too. June 17, 1995.
Director: Jonathan Mostow. Cast: Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan.
Taut thriller, with Russell and Quinlan as eastern couple on trip west who get caught up in a Hitchcockian nightmare. Their car breaks down and the two split up, with wife going with helpful trucker (Walsh) for help. She disappears and the rest of the film chronicles hubby's attempts to get her back. Director/scenarist Mostow sets a creepy mood from the outset, going against convention with the Hitchcock sunlit terror approach. Movie has no fat, moving at rapid clip – quickly enough so you overlook any implausibilities. Good score, great action sequences, and satisfying climax. 8/24/01
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961)
Director: Blake Edwards. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Mickey Rooney, Martin Balsam.
Romantic comedy from the Truman Capote novel about Holly Golightly, the backwoods girl who becomes an urban sophisticate trapped in a cage of fear: fear of commitment, fear of being owned, fear of loss. Hepburn is charming as Holly – fragile and erotic, a sophisticated little girl playing at being a grown-up. Peppard is equally fine as "Fred," the novelist neighbor who meets, is charmed, and finally, falls in love with her. Although it starts off in an irritatingly affected manner, it becomes up heart and soul as it moves along, aided by its charming cast, the wonderful New York locations, and the evocative Henry Mancini score (which includes the Oscar winner, "Moon River," sung movingly on guitar by Hepburn – encompassing all the hopes and dreams of a lost soul). The only sour note is the terrible racial stereotype played by Mickey Rooney. 9/6/99
BREAKHEART PASS (1976)
Director: Tom Gries. Cast: Charles Bronson, Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Jill Ireland.
Intriguing western which combines murder mystery, western, and train genres into engaging plot. Bronson is fine as the mysterious stranger who gets involved in the odd doings on a military train. The solution doesn't quite hold up, but there's enough action to keep you involved almost to the climax. Seen on TV (cable) November 23, 1994. Reseen: 10/12/01
THE BREAKING POINT (1950)
Director: Michael Curtiz. Cast: John Garfield, Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter.
Second, inferior (but reportedly more faithful) version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. In this one, Garfield is in the Bogey role of the fishing boat captain drawn into illegal activities. Garfield is tortured, rebellious, a kind of anti-Bogart, drawn to bad girl Neal (miscast) but in love with dull wife Thaxter. The script is rambling, badly constructed, with a VO narration popping in and out at odd moments. Only 97 minutes, but it seems endless, driving one's patience to the breaking point. Stick with Bogey. 2/10/03
Director: Jean Luc-Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg.
Godard's seminal French new wave picture about a petty thief on the run for murdering a cop. Michel (Belmondo) is completely amoral, shooting a man, robbing another, then talking about a girl's dress. He hasn't a pang of guilt – and Goddard emphasizes the emptiness of his life by the speed at which everything happens. Michel flits from scene to scene, the camera jump-cuts, uses overlapping (Hawksian) dialogue, and keeps the audience breathless as Michel careens to his ultimate destiny. True love means commitment and when he thinks he finds it – commiting to a girl (Seberg, in a bad performance) – she can't commit to him and betrays him. Love is the ultimate betrayal? 12/10-12/11/01
THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968)
Director: Francois Truffaut. Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Michel Bouquet.
Truffaut's homage to Hitchcock is a bizarre, dark story, from a novel by William Irish, about a vegeneance-crazed widow whose husband was accidentally killed on their wedding day. Five men were responsible, and the bride (Moreau) methodically hunts them down, seduces them, and then kills them in bizarre ways. It's the ultimate misogynist fantasy, with woman as predator and man, helpless victim. Truffaut doesn't emulate Hitchcock's style; the French director is much more lyrical than the Master of Suspense. Bride is more like a fevered dream – or nightmare – than a plausible story. Intriguing, but not top-grade. Effective Bernard Herrmann score. 2/12/01
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY (1995)
Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep.
Sentimental but low-key romance about an Iowa housewife, c. 1965, and her four-day affair with a magazine photographer who happens by. It's a nothing story in outline, but it's rescued by the performances of Eastwood and Streep as the couple. She respects her husband, a dedicated farmer; he respects her marriage; nonetheless, they believably fall in love. The movie is made up of little moments, little details and effectively recounts the happenstance of early courtship: the awkward moments, the attraction, the minor misunderstandings, the fights – it's a relationship telescoped into four days. Eastwood is painted as an all-around nice guy; honest, caring, supportive of whatever anyone does; a free spirit. He's almost too good to be true. Streep is a woman who's given up her dreams – but still thinks, sometimes, that they were good dreams. She almost realizes them with Eastwood's character, but ends up staying behind because she feels the guilt would tear them apart. But it's the one true love of their lives. Most poignant moment: his hanging the medallion on his rear view mirror. Silliest dialogue: Everything said between Streep's grown children as they discover their mother's affair. Their dialogue is written with sledge-hammers. 5/16/98
BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY (2001)
Director: Susan McGuire. Cast: Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth.
Yank Zellweger does a flawless impersonation of Brit secretary Bridget Jones, whose hapless misadventures are the subject of this entertaining romantic comedy. Jones is a klutzy, slightly overweight 32-year-old in search of love in all the wrong places. The movie is about her romance with her suave boss (Grant) and a man who doesn' seem to like her (Firth). Well-done, sweet comedy of the old school. Predictable but entertaining nonetheless. Zellweger is adorable. 3/2/02; reseen: 9/1/06
BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON (2004)
Director: Beeban Kidron. Cast: Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth.
Entertaining sequel to Bridget Jones's Diary, which shows hw the rmance of Bridget and Marc does not run smoothly (does anything in Bridget's life?). The plot is servicable, if not as fresh as the original (which, after all, borrowed its pliot from Pride and Prejudice). But the cast is excellent, especially Zellweger, who is remarkable: charming and quite sexy in her fatness (she seems even more robust than in the first film). 9/2/06
BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (2002)
Director: Adam Shankman. Cast: Steve Martin, Queen Latifah, Joan Plowright.
Formulaic comedy with Martin as Peter, an uptight lawyer too obsessed with work to spend time with his kids or his estranged wife whom he secretly still loves. Into this scenario comes Queen Latifah as Charlene, an escaped convict who threatens his relationship with a wealthy but arch-conservative client (Plowright). Predictable, sitcom-like fare. Negligible Lalo Schifrin score. 7/3/03
BROTHER ORCHID (1940)
Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: Edward G.
Robinson, Ann Sothern, Humprey Bogart, Ralph Bellamy, Allen Jenkins.
Comedy-drama about gangster (Robinson) who tries to find "class" by traveling the world, only to find it in a monastery of self-effacing monks. Bogart appears as Robinson's nemesis; Sothern is the love interest; and Bellamy the comic relief. A strange, sentimental and touching film. 9/15/04
THE BROTHERS McMULLEN (1995)
Director: Edward Burns. Cast: Jack Mulcahy, Mike McGlone, Edward Burns.
First film from star-director Burns is semi-autobiographical tale of three Irish-American brothers and their adventures/feelings about the opposite sex, coming to terms with Catholicism, changing times, and relationship commitments. Engaging, low-key, with a quirky, low-budget charm. Good ensemble piece, marred only by the actress who plays Burns' girlfriend (was she his real-life GF, I wonder?) 5/20/02
THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (1999)
Director: Wim Wenders.
A remarkable story about forgotten Cuba singers rediscovered made into a less-than-remarkable movie. The power of the story and the singing carries it, but Wenders' touch is sleep-inducing (I still nod off thinking about Wings of Desire). His technique of cross-cutting chronology is intriguing but sometimes works against the material; some of the people are not that interesting; and some of the music is repetitive. There are many charming moments, however, especially when the Cuba singers encounter the wonders of New York City for the first time. 11/27/99
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992)
Director: Fran Rubel Kuzui. Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry.
Teen comedy meets horror movie with mixed results. Buffy (Swanson) is just typical California high school teenager: she wants to make out, get to cheerleader practice and – oh, yes – kill vampires. Swanson is initially iritating as the reluctant heroine, but you warm to her as the picture proceeds along its formulaic path – from hesistant heroine to commanding kung-fu expert – guided along the way by a wise sage (Sutherland) and a helpful boyfriend (Perry). Cute, if done before (see The Lost Boys, etc.). Basis for the popular TV series. 9/27-9/28/01.
BULLDOG DRUMMOND STRIKES BACK (1934)
Director: Roy del Ruth. Cast: Ronald Colman, Warner Oland, Loretta Young, Charles Butterworth.
Entertaining nonsense – the second of Colman's two Drummond movies – features the amateur sleuth set on retirement but drawn into the case of a missing corpse. The plot is convoluted but simple-minded – why would the villain let Drummond see the corpse at all? – yet the movie is carried by the fine cast (Colman is delightful, at his hammiest using mannerisms mocked years later by Don Adams), with Oland taking a break from Charlie Chan to practice some pretty nasty villainy. Young, at the start of her career, is beautiful. 8/10/02
BULLET TO BEIJING (1995)
Director: George Mihalka. Cast: Michael Caine, Jason Connery, Mia Sara.
The return of Len Deighton's spy Harry Palmer (Caine), nearly 30 years after his last appearance in Billion Dollar Brain (1967). In one respect, Harry hasn't changed: he's still insolent and cynical. But, otherwise, the character has changed a lot since he was introduced as the anti-Bond in The Ipcress File (1965). In that film, the approach was low-key, realistic spy work: more brains than brawn. But Bullet is brainless brawn. Through ridiculous plot contrivances, Harry is sacked from the British secret service and becomes a free agent. Miraculously, MI5 lets him leave the country and go work for a Russian financier, delivering some sort of Anthrax-style chemical weapon to the Chinese. It's all silly, full of car chases, machine guns, and the kind of mindless action that the first film studiously (and stylishly) avoided. Why revive Harry to make him into what he never was? Caine is fine but the script is dreadful. And what's Sean Connery's son doing here? 7/6, 7/12/02
Director: Peter Yates. Cast: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bissett.
Fabulous. I saw this on the big screen for the first time since I was 12 (when I first saw it) and the movie weas a revelation, like a new movie. (I had seen it as recently as six months ago on video, and it didn't have nearly the same impact). More than a thriller, Bullitt is driven by the deadpan McQueen who does more with a look or silence than most actors do with a page of dialogue. He plays Lt. Frank Bullitt, a man who believes that someone has to do the dirty jobs and who does his with an intense dedication that has no room for games-playing politicians like the self-agrandizing Walter Chalmers (Vaughn). The assignment he is on seems routine: guarding a witness against the mob. But when the witness lets in his own assassins (and seems to be expecting them) things get complicated. Like other, later cop heroes, Bullitt follows his own path, regardless of orders. He has a girlfriend (Bissett) who doesn't understand his job can't make him callous; what she doesn't understand is his very involvement in the dirty side of the job is what keeps him alive; he cares so much about justice that he pursues it wherever it leads. In this case, it's into a twisty plot and a justly famous chase up and down the hills and highway of San Francisco. Compared to the explosive, effects-driven movies that pass for action these days, Bullitt is a action flick with a head, a heart, and surprisingly low-key action. It's a terrific adult drama, with a wonderful score by Lalo Schifrin. 4/9/98.
Director: Warren Beatty. Cast: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry.
What if politicians spoke the truth? What if a politician stood up and said what everyone knows? That family values are a farce, that elected officials do what their corporate contributors dictate and not what the people want? That all the homilies about truth, justice, and the democratic way are so much blather? In Bulworth, a politician does just that. Depressed and worn out by the compromises he has had to make, once-liberal Senator Bulworth (Warren Beatty) takes out a life insurance policy on himself and then orders a hit man to assassinate him. Liberated by his upcoming demise, Bulworth begins speaking his mind and doing what he wants, shocking the fat cats who had been manipulating him – and gaining support from the common people whom he had been ignoring. Beatty, who both wrote and directed this fast-paced and daring farce, is amusing as the befuddled senator who learns about living in a whirlwind few days among the impoverished. The movie makes its points broadly but effectively, poking fun at itself along with its main targets: pontificating politicians, self-important media types, and greedy corporations. (When the senator discovers rap music, he begins delivering campaign speeches in awkwardly rhyming couplets, leading one black child to ask, “Is that how white people rap?”) Bulworth, which hearkens back to the farcical political comedies of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra, moves at a rapid clip towards its inevitable conclusion (hint: in message movies like this one, those who take on the power system are not likely to succeed for long). Beatty delivers a wonderfully off-kilter performance, and is to be applauded for bucking Hollywood’s current trend of offering viewers dumber and dumbest movies. 5/25/98
BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965)
Director: Otto Preminger. Cast: Laurence Olivier, Carl Lynley, Keir Dullea.
Engrossing mystery with Lynley as woman whse child goes missng on her first day at a new school. Lynley is fine as the hysterical, possibly crazy, mom, and Olivier is delightfully low key as the police detective who begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. A fine cast of British actors lends support, including two from Great Expectations: Finlay Currie and Marita Hunt. 8/23/06
BUSTER KEATON RIDES AGAIN (1965)
Director: John Spotton. Cast: Buster Keaton, Eleanor Keaton.
A documentary about the making of the Keaton short The Railrodder, demonstrating how Keaton works up and then executes gag. A fascinating look at a silent clown in old age, but hardly out to pasture. He's as sharp as ever. And delighting in the challenge of the work. 12/18/98
THE BUTCHER BOY (1998)
Director: Neil Jordan. Cast: Stephen Rea, Fiona Shaw, Eamonn Owens.
Wonderfully rich and unusual movie, a darkly comic examination of a troubled youth and how he copes. The Butcher Boy of the title is Francie Brady (Owens), and the story is told from his perspective, in voiceover. That's a marvelous choice because it allows director/screenwriter Jordan to capture the right tone: freewheeling exuberance and defiance of authority, in the tradition of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. But this Irish youth is a twisted character: a Huck Finn with deep emotional problems that he covers up by his jolly manner. Set in the early '60s, the movie shows the gradual disintegration of Francie's life – from childish pranks to a brutal murder – and how he copes by escaping into his own fantasy world. His father is an abusive drunk; his mother a manic-depressive. No one helps, no one understands, and the boy spirals out of control. Since the tale is told from Francie's perspective, however, that spiralling becomes more like a rollercoaster ride; amorality on parade – but what would you expect of a child whose main influence is gossipy neighbors and a spate of American TV programs? This could be a clinically dry movie, depressing or uplifting – it is neither. It is a disturbing joke about the way society copes with madness. Good score. 4/22/98.