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Movie Review Journal: D

Director: Mike Newell. Cast: Miranda Richardson, Rupert Everett, Ian Holm.
The true story of Ruth Ellis (Richardson), the last woman executed in Britain. The tale is one of self-destructive love/obsession between Ellis and the wealthy race car driver who beats her and makes love to her, too (Everett). Atmospheric, stylish, affecting, especially in the performance of the solid British businessman who loves her but whom she merely uses (Holm). 7/23/01

Director: Roy Del Ruth. Cast: Bebe Daniels, Ricardo Cortez.
Sluggishly paced original version of The Maltese Falcon (1941), retitled for TV. Plot is the same but the acting and casting are subpar. Cortez is a smirking, gigolo version of Sam Spade, lacking Bogart's toughness and staccato delivery. 12/13/02

Director: George Sherman. Cast: Fess Parker, Ed Ames, Patrica Blair.
Entertaining although not very accurate retelling of how Dnaiel Boone (Parker) led settlers into Kentucky and helped settle it. With well-paced action and good characters, this movie (culled from a two-parter from the 1964-70 TV series) is entertaining family fare. Re-seen: 12/1/04

Director: Mark Steven Johnson. Cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner.
Dark, dreary, pretentious version of Marvel Comics superhero about blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who through a quirk of fate, becomes radar-sensing superhero, "the man without fear." As portrayed here, hornhead is a second-rate Batman, a dark avenger who keeps crime out of his turf, Hell's Kitchen. He faces three foes: Bullseye, The Kingpin, and Electra, the last of whom he loves as Murdock. Some fairly unbelieavable, Matrix-like stunts (kicking and jumping and flipping around), many ho-hum performances, and fairly unpleasant violence. As a franchise, this is a flop. 3/29/03

Director: Henry Hathaway. Cast: Mark Stevens, Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix.
Film noir about not-so-bright detective (Stevens) who gets framed for murder. The movie travels at a rapid clip, with some genre-typical dialogue. Ball, as the wisecracking secretary and love interest, is the best thing about it, Webb is okay in what is essentially a tepid rehash of his character from Laura. Bendix's exit is dramatic. 3/23/98.

DAS BOOT (1981)
Director: Wolfgang Peterson.
At times harrowing tale of German submarine crew in action during World War II. Eschewing politics for human drama, Das Boot is an effective portrait of men under stress, although the characters are little more than archetypes (the determined captain, the personally troubled young sailor). They survive some tough times, only to be mowed down in the end, in a fairly heavy-handed use of irony. 6/10/99

Director: Frank Perry. Cast: Keir Dullea, Janet Margolin, Howard Da Silva.
Shrink as friend – Howard da Silva plays the easy-going, fatherly therapist who runs a home for mentally disturbed teenagers. David (Dullea), an intelligent, angry young man who hates to be touched – "I'll die!" – is thrown into this mix, and his cure begins when he starts to reach out to Lisa, a pretty schizophrenic (Margolin) who talks in rhyme. The movie posits the idea that care and understanding – and respect for an individual's rights – is key to a cure, with the avuncular, unscientific Da Silva a pefect foil for that. David also has recurring dreams about killing his enemies in a vicious clock he has built, which the doctor (never seen in a white smock or with a pipe) claims is a metaphor for David's fear of death – time's running out – and desire to control life. A turning point comes when David doesn't behead Lisa in a clock dream, and when he runs away from home to seek sanctuary with Da Silva (being himself, finding a home for himself). The talking cure is briefly depicted ("Tell me about it," is Da Silva's most common response), but the cure comes more from love than anything else. The catharctic moment comes when Lisa runs away and David, who has allowed himself to be emotionally "touched" by her, feels responsible, finds her, and lets her take his hand. No talk of drugs or miracle cures in this sensitive, touching tale. A little on the idealistic side, however. The cast is first-rate. The phobias are things the ill people use to protect themselves from harm; whenthey drop them, that means they are coming to terms with life and their problems. Seen on tape, Tuesday, January 28, 1992.

Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan.
Unpleasant thriller, with lots of gore, few thrills, and an ugly message: a s ect of the Catholic Church runs its operations like the Mob (or at least Dick Cheney), murderously and in secret. Dumb. 7/15/07

Director: Edmund Goulding. Cast: Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, David Niven.
Engrossing anti-war film about the insaniity of sending young flyers to certain death in World War I France. Flynn and Niven are two veteran flyers, whose devil-may-care attitudes mask a disgust at what is happening. Rathbone (in a fine performance) is their commanding officer who is cracking up because he doesn't have the release of going into battle and instead must send young people to their deaths. It being a war film, it has its exciting moments, but the real emphasis is on the insanity and pointlessness of war (particularly touching scene: Rathbone and Flynn toasting Niven, and Flynn making nice with the German prisoner who killed his buddy). 11/4/06

Director: Marcel Carne. Cast: Jean Gabin, Jules Berry, Arletty.
Moody film noir, told in flashback, about doomed love life of tough factory worker and orphan. Dowbeat, moody, well done, and superior to the later, miscast Henry Fonda American version. 7/5/06

Director: Francois Truffaut. Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese, Jean-Pierre Leaud.
Affectionate, amusing look at the business of movie-making, with Truffaut himself playing a director coping with childish actors, death, sex, and budgetary woes as he tries to finish his movie. Oscar-winner as best foreign language film of 1973. Re-seen: 3/28/03

Director: Robert Wise. Cast: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe.
Sci-fi Christ parable with Rennie as alien visitor Klaatu, coming with a message of peace – only to be met with violence and fear from those on earth. Klaatu walks among men, disguised as Mr. Carpenter (get it?), and is killed by an angry mob, only to rise again. Thoughtful tract on peace and understanding, enhanced by excellent performances by Rennie and Neal, and also by atmospheric Bernard Herrmann score. Re-seen: 3/12/03

DEAD CALM (1989)
Director: Philip Noyce. Cast: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane
Haunting, gripping tale of woman (Kidman) trapped on a boat with madman (Zane) who has already murdered six other people. Sparse, moody, with effective performances by all, excellent photography, and score. Terrific, with amusing Hollywood-style finale. Re-seen: 4/4/03

DEAD END (1937)
Director: William Wyler. Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, Humphrey Bogart.
Wyler directs a Lillian Hellman adaptation of the Broadway play, which introduced the Dead End Kids (eventually to morph into The Bowery Boys). Stagy, full of actor-like speeches, the movie is full of socialist humanity but even Wyler's deft touch can't keep the movie from seeming contrived and stage bound. Bogart is fine as the evil gangster, who has returned to his "dead end" to die, and Sidney is quite a looker. 3/8/98 On reseeing it:I was perhaps a little harsh; the movie is stagy, but Wyler keeps the action moving, and the characters are interesting. But it is stagy and still a bit preachy. Reseen: 8/22/06

Director: Daniel Petrie Jr. Cast: James Garner, Marlee Matlin.
Well-made hostage thriller, with Garner as discredited FBI crisis negotiator who must prove his mettle in the face of skeptical authorities. The plot finds three escaped convicts holding a busload of deaf children hostage and the FBI's tense efforts over 25 hours to get them out alive. Tightly directed and well-paced, the movie is a engaging thriller, with just enough surprises and character to reinvigorate what has become a tired formula. Garner is solid, charming and charismaric as always. 6/26/98.

Director: Michael Cimino. Cast:Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep.
Dreadful. The "Best Picture" Oscar-winner of 1978 is a drawn-out, tedious mess: a rambling narrative about rambunctious Pennyslvania steel town buddies who are changed by the devastating experiences of the Vietnam War. The movie is incoherent and self-indulgent: the first hour is spent in establishing the camaraderie of the good ole boys and also sets up the metaphor of the Deer Hunter. You see, Michael (De Niro – named after the director, I guess, to make the POV even clearer) is an expert deer hunter, who takes his work very seriously (kill them precisely, with only one shot). After his war-time experiences, he goes hunting and – naturally – he can't kill anymore. He lets the deer go, even after he had it in his sights. Life is too precious, hunting seems trivial, you name it. Michael (perhaps also named for an archangel?) is also the superhuman savior of his pals: in the most famous sequence, the Russian Roulette game with the Vietcong, he saves the day by not losing his head and rescues his two pals. Later, he doesn't give up on either: retrieving one from the VA hospital where he sits in self-pity having lost his legs; and then goes back to Vietnam to track down Nick (Walken), a man who has gone over the edge, AWOL, and plays Russian Roulette for money. It is all wildly improbable, the stuff of Grand Opera, and the characters are all types who are hard to relate to; as such, the movie rambles on inteminably. The performances are all equally obtuse: all about inarticulate people doing their best to communicate. 11/24/01

Director: Tim Kirkman.
Set for a Gay Pride Month opening in New York City, Dear Jesse preaches to the converted. The documentary ostensibly is an “open letter” to right-right U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, an avowed homophobe, penned by filmmaker Tim Kirkman, a homosexual from Helms’ hometown of Monroe, North Carolina. Besides going to the same school and being raised as Southern Baptists, the two men, claims Kirkman, have “a more significant similarity: for most of your 24 years in the U.S. Senate, you’ve been obsessed with homosexual men; for most of my adult life, so have I.” The movie’s gimmick is to follow Kirkman home as he chats with his own family and friends, as well as supporters and detractors of Helms, all about politics and homosexuality. In voiceover, Kirkman talks a lot about his life, showing how ordinary and normal it is to be gay, and by implication, how bizarre and outlandish Helms’ positions against the homosexual life style are. The movie is preaching to the converted, however: gays and liberals will aplaud but the filmmaker doesn’t work very hard to make his case for others. Although there are some good speakers and some poignant moments, the story lacks bite, wit, or original insight. Helms, spewing bile thoughout the movie, is clearly a hateful man. Kirkman’s bizarre achievement is to make him seem dull. 4/6/98

Director: Budd Boetticher. Cast: Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, John Carroll.
Another revenge story from Boetticher and Scott, again involving the hero's late wife, who killed herself following an affair with the villain (Carroll). Scott is at his most obsessive, but the story isn't really about him -- it's about the corruppt town. It's also the most verbose of the Boetticher-Scott westerns – and the least interesting. (IIt's also the most bizarre: Scott announces he's going to kill Carroll at the man's wedding and then spends the rest of the movie pinned down by the sherriff's men in a staable.) Not bad, not top-grade. 7/5/07

Director: Stephen Sommers. Cast: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen.
A by-the-numbers B movie about a group of mercenaries caught on a luxury liner with a collection of computer-generated sea monsters that have eaten the passengers. Think Aliens crossed with any other action flick of recent vintage and you've got this movie's number. Not that it's not well-made and entertaining, it's just so obviously a cash-in, a predictable mish-mash of heroics and horror that will keep you entertained if your standards and/or expectations are fairly low. Williams is a good-looking, gone-to-seed kind of hero. There's a pounding Jerry Goldsmith score to keep you awake. 2/6/98

Director: Robert Butler. Cast: William Shatner, Steve McQueen, Martin Balsam.
Engaging live TV-broadcast about father-son legal defense team that disagrees on the defense strategy for their client, a young man who may or may not have strangled a woman to death. We never find out whether he did, and unlike other TV laswyer dramas, who did it isn't the point, a man's right to a fair trial is the issue, meaning the best defense he can get, whether's innocent or guilty. Good performances, good Reginald Rose script, if a little preachy. Pilot for The Defenders TV series. 8/19/00

Director: Stanley Kramer. Cast: Sidney Poitier. Tony Curtis, Claude Akins, Lon Chaney.
Two escaped convicts, one black, the other white, on the run from the law and the demons of hate that keep them apart: hatred of the white man, the black man, the system that keeps them down – you name it. Kramer's in-your-face style is more subdued, and the characters are compelling. Predictable (except for the ending) but still powerful. The pair learn to care about each other, and their hatred is only skin deep. Reseen: 7/25/02

DE-LOVELY (2004)
Director:Irwin Winkler. Cast: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce.
The Cole Porter story -- as seen through the eyes of Porter (Kline) as he prepares to die. Kline gives a marvelous performance as Porter at differnt stages of his life, and Judd is equally fine as his near-saintly wife, who puts up with his homosexual affairs and his irresponsible ways all for the sake of his talent. Brilliantly staged -- stylized, surreal dance numbers in the Pennies from Heaven tradition -- and, of course, great music, interpreted by, among others, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Cole, and Elivs Costello. 7/30/04

Director: John Boorman. Cast: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox.
Boorman's beautiful, disturbing essay on manhood, based on the James Dickey novel (Dickey appears in the end as a sheriff). The story is simple: four Atlanta businessmen ride the rapids in two canoes, trying to get a last taste of nature before a dam causes the area to be flooded forever. In the course of their adventure, one man dies, another is raped, one breaks his leg, and two strangers are killed – all presented in a nightmarishly beautiful manner. Voight is excellent as Ed, the tortured family man who both admires and fears his macho friend, Lewis (Reynolds), and who rises to the challenge of defending the group after Lewis is incapcitated. "Now you can pleay the game," Lewis says. It is a life-and-death game in which Ed can take no prisoners. But there is also doubt and fear: do they kill the right man? Was Drew shot or did he faint? One can never know. The last image is haunting, as is the remarkable "Duelling Banjos" sequence. 9/3/99

Director: George King. Cast: Tod Slaughter, Stella Rho, Johnny Singer.
This low–budget oddity tells the story of Sweeney Todd, without the music or the grand operatic flourishes of the Stephen Sondheim musical. Tod Slaughter (no kidding), England's B-film horror king of the '30s and '40s, overacts prodigiously as Sweeney, the barber who cut his clients' throats, robbed them, and then sold their bodies as meat pies. The killings and the pie-making are all done discreetly offstage, but there's enough silliness to satisfy even the most demanding bad movie fan. The Demon Barber of Fleet Street certainly ranks with Color Me Blood Red, Robot Monster, and Maniac as a camp curiosity. The transfer is okay; the film itself is scratched and dirty and the sound of variable quality.

Director: Jack Pearce (?). Cast: W.C. Fields.
Short comedy with Fields as a dentist who's rather play golf or go shooting. Gets a bit gruesome at times, but has some funny physical bits. 6/12/01.

Director: Robert Rodriguez. Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin.
Stylized violence, in the Sam Peckinpah mode, as a mysterious stranger (Rodriguez) comes into a small Mexican town seeking revenge. Style is about all the picture has going for it; the performances are tongue-in-cheek over-the-top, and the movie is sheer nonsense, with a dopey script. Rousing Los Lobos score. 12/18/02

Director: William Wyler. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Frederic March.
Tense drama, from a novel and stage play, with March as a father and family man who's house is taken over by three escaped convicts, led by the brutal but canny Bogart. Well-played, well-constructed, from beginning to end. A nail-biter. 6/20-6/21/98.

Director: George Marshall. Cast: Marlene Dietrich, James Stewart, Brian Donlevy.
Terrific comic western, with Stewart as Destry, the deputy sheriff who doesn't wear a gun yet uses his wits and his low-key manner to clean up a corrupt town. Dietrich plays the saloon hall gal who mocks him but comes to admire and love him. Their first encounter is classic. Seen many times, but still holds up. 1/3/02

DETOUR (1945)
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer. Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage.
Contrived film noir, about hitchhiker (Neal) caught in an accidental web of violence and murder. The plot and coincidences defy credulity and the movie has the quality of a bad dream as the hapless protagonist travels, relentless, to his doom. Classic noir characters, though Neal's hitchhiker is a fairly weak sister. 12/19/02

Director: Hal Roach, Charley Rogers. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Dennis King.
Pleasant comic opera set in the 16th or 17th century, with Laurel and Hardy excellent as the two bumbling associates (Ollio and Stanlio) of the notorious highwayman Fra Diovolo (Dennis King). Comic highlights include Laurel's attempts to hang Hardy, and the various games Stan plays which Babe can't master. As always, the pair's child-like innocence is indescribably appealing. They are like babes in the woods, who think they know how to get ahead, but really don't have a clue. 5/12/98

Director: Guy Hamilton. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier.
Amusing version of the Shaw play set during the Revolutionary War, with Lancaster as the minister who becomes a swashbuckler and Douglas as the man who turns him. Olivier has all the bon mots as Shaw's mouthpiece, a British general who looks at the revolution with all the cynicism of a true Shavian. Amusing but lightweight. 7/17/99

Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Bob Cummings, John Williams.
Ingenious drawing room murder, very clearly an inspiration in structure and villain (if not the detective) for TV's Columbo. Ray Milland is the suave husband plotting his wife's murder while offering cherry to the assassin; Grace Kelly and Bob Cummings are the innocent dupes; John Williams, the very proper English detective. It's all very staid and theatrical, although Hitchcock brings some nice film flourishes to the story. The characters are paper thin, but then, this isn't Henry James. Very entertaining, even after repeated viewings. Remade (very poorly) as A Perfect Murder. 6/13/98

Director: Lee Tamahori. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Samantha Bond.
Average Bond flick, no better or worse than the recent crop of 007 adventures. This one starts off with an unusual twist: following a terrific action sequence pre-credits teaser, Bond (Brosnan) is actually captured by the North Koreans and tortured for 14 months. When he is finally released in a prisoner exchange, he is stripped of his license to kill because he seems to have talked while a captive. This intriguing opening goes nowhere, however: Bond quickly escapes from his British captors and is soon jetting around the world in search of revenge (shades of Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill!) He hooks up with an American agent named Jinx (Berry) who is after the same killer he is stalking, and then it is pretty much non-stop, video game-like action. The only difference is the predominance of CGI effects in place of real stunts. The old Bonds were preposterous but the stunts were stunning because someone actually did them (and not just on a computer). This one feels like a cheat. There are a number of homages to the old Bonds (Berry apes Ursula Andress' bikini-clad entrance in Dr. No; Bond fools around with a Thunderball jet pack; Q [Cleese] quotes his predecessor's line about never joking about his work from Goldfinger, etc.) but the movie hasa been-there, done-that feel. The dialogue is banal, the title song (by Madonna) dreadful. Best sequences: Q's encounter with Bond and the fencing fight. Both have more juice than anything else in the rest of the movie, which I almost completely forgot a half hour after it was over. 11/22/02

DIE HARD (1988)
Director: John McTiernan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia.
Well-crafted action film with Willis as tough NYPD cop John McClane caught in a battle against nine supposed terrorists who take over the top floors of an L.A. hi-rise office building. Willis is a blue collar regular joe, who uses quips and his wits to thwart chief villain Rickman, a smooth Germanic type. The movie chugs along at a rapid clip, with lone wolf McClane not only fighting the villains, but the L.A. bureaucracy as well. It's the little guy versus the man. Well done. Reseen: 5/29/04

Director: John McTiernan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Samuel T. Jackson, Jeremy Irons.
Third and most humorless of the "Die Hard" movies. Willis plays his smart-ass tough detective again, with the odds stacked against him in a plot lifted, in part, from Goldfinger. Jackson is Willis' reluctant partner (why they didn't make him a cop is beyond me; it's hokey the way they hook the two guys up – and then keep them together at the villain's request). Irons is fine as the German villain, and the movie has its share of unbelievable thrills: explosions, shootings, knifings, car chases, helicopter shootings, etc. It's one big hardware show, not very realistic (most of the falls Willis takes would probably have killed lesser men) and fairy forgettable. A formula piece, lacking the mystery and suspense of the earlier installments. Seen: June 12, 1995.

DINER (1982)
Director: Barry Levinson. Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Timothy Daly, Ellen Barkin.
The first of Levinson's "Baltimore films" (Tin Men was the next), recalling people and times in the director's home town. The story is a formless tale of a group of high school buddies, now in their 20s, who are now embarking on life. The focus is on the events surrounding the wedding of one (Guttenberg). Finely onserved behavior film, with great dialogue, lovely moments. A testament to friendship. 4/5/01

Director: George Cukor. Cast: Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Billie Burke.
Ridiculous soap opera, with good cast wasted in tired soap opera-like script. John Barrymore is the washed-up actor who finds suicide is the way out; Harlow is a social-climbing tramp. Lionel B. is a doomed fianancier who doesn't want his family to know about his heart condition. And so on. Stick figures going through their stodgy, stage-trod paces. 9/6/04; 12/2/05

Director: Francis Veber. Cast: Jacques Villerey, Thierry Lhermitte.
Brilliant farce about a group of Parisian snobs who arrange weekly dinners in which each person is supposed to bring a dumb person, an idiot, of whom they'll all make fun. The plot gimmick is that one of these snobs (Lhermitte) gets stuck at home with his idiot (Villerey), a humble accountant who makes models of monuments out of matchsticks. The farce is ingeniously and smoothly constructed, building in tempo until the idiot (inadvertently) has his revenge on the snob, by – through his well-meaning but oafish help – destroying the snob's. In the end, there is a surprisingly sweet twist, which reveals people will surprise you (and there's another great comic twist that undoes it). Veber has a keen satirical eye and the setpieces are marvelous. It's like a more sophisticated Laurel & Hardy set-up. 9/10/99; 1/9/02

Director: Norman Jewison. Cast: Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Andie McDowell, Toni Collette.
TV-film version of Off-Broadway play about two couples (Quaid and McDowell, Kinnear and Collette) who deal with the question of divorce. Friends for 20 years, the foursome are torn apart and question their values when one (Kinnear) announces he is leaving his wife for another woman. Effective, touching, perceptive, the movie finally comes apart at the end with pat solutions and analyses. But for the first two-thirds, it is an insightful look at what makes couples tick. 8/27/01.

Director:: Peter Bogdanovich.
Laudatory documentary, narrated by Orson Weles, about the legendary, six-time Oscar winnner/ Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda are on hand to sing Ford's praises, and the old curmudgeon talks as well. Not as much a critical documentary as a hymn to him. Fairly dull. 10/7/06

Director: Emile Ardolino. Cast: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach, Cyntha Rhodes, Jane Brucker.
Enchanting coming-of-age drama, with Jennifer Grey well-cast as the aptly named "Baby," a young girl who learns about life in a Catskills resort in the early '60s. The story is nothing special – she learns about life but also teaches lessons about hope and perseverance to others – but the dancing and music is spectacular. As the dancer who inspires and is inspired by her, Patrick Swayze has the role of his career. Jane Brucker plays Grey's goofy sister. 7/10/98

Director: Luis Bunel. Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig.
Bunel's surreal sature follows the journeys of an upper-class trio of couples who keep getting interrupted at dinner. It is usually surreal: they find themselves on stage, as actors not knowing their lines (that's a dream), or interrupted by soldiers on maneuver (that's reality). People relate dreams of death, an archbishop works as a gardener and kills the murderer of his parents, whom he discovers accidentally when hearing a deathbed confession. It's an odd collection of vignettes, strung together by the idea that life is absurd, and no one more upsurd than the upper classes. 8/1/01

Director: Josef von Sternberg. Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Victor McLaglen, Warner Oland.
Spy romance, with Dietrich as a top spy who falls in love with her quarry and betrays her country in the end to save his life. Atmospheric but hokey. 6/1/02

Director: Randa Haines. Cast: William Hurt, Christine Lahti, Elizabeth Perkins, Nicole Orth-Pallavicini.
Well-made soap opera about arrogant doctor (Hurt) who contracts cancer and learns life lessons and humility from a dying, beautiful patient (Perkins). Engrossing, touching, and entirely predictable. Based on true story by doctor called A Taste of My Own Medicine. Nikki's role was cut down to almost nothing. 12/7/98

Director: Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens.
Dark comedy about the dangers of the nuclear arms race. Sellers is excellent in three very different roles, including the title character, and the message is as scary today as it was in the early '60s: beware of those who can destroy you because they will. Re-seen: 2/20/03

Director: James Neilson. Cast: Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony Britton, Michael Jordern, Geoffrey Keen.
Compilation of three-part Disney TV Scarecrow of Romney Marsh finds McGoohan as the vicar, Dr. Syn, who by night is the cackling rebel leader the Scarecrow, who robs from the rich to give to the poor in 18th century England. There are three separate tales, all well-told. Rousing adventure for kids; McGoohan is fine in both parts. 9/30, 10/1/00.

Director: David Lean. Cast: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger.
Overlong, meandering soap opera from the Boris Pasternak novel about love and death during the Russian revolution. Sharif is Zhivago, an idealistic doctor who writes poetry and falls in love with Lara (Christie). Unfortunately, both are married to others and have children and are constantly being separated by war and peace. The story has sweep and passion but Sharif is a listless Zhivago, lacking the charisma Peter O'Toole brought to a similarly enigmatic hero in Lean's previous epic Lawrence of Arabia. Christie is beautiful, and Part I has enough dramatic moments to satisfy even the most hardened soap opera fan. But let's face it, Zhivago is nothing more than an epic soap. What's it really about? The characters are such will 'o' the wisps: it's hard to understand or get involved much in them. Even Zhivago's wife (Chaplin) is so understanding when she finds out about his affair; no recriminarions; and Zhivago is such a stoic sort; he takes whatever is dished out to him and is buffetted mercilessly by events. Who can care about such a passive hero? And as a poet, well, everyone talks about how wonderful his poetry is, but we never actually see it...June 5 (Part I) & June 10, 1995 (Part II).

Director: Akira Kurosawa.
Episodic, colorful film, in which Kurosawa looks at the fantasy lives of slum dwellers. If they didn't have the fantasies, the implication is they wouldn't be able to survive their miserable existences. It's quite a collection: a crazy boy who spends his days imagining he is driving a trolley around a dump; a derelict and his small son, who discuss the fantastic designs of a mansion on a hill and a swimming pool they build in their minds; a girl who makes paper flowers for her aunt's husband and is raped by him –– and then stabs the only one who offered her kindness, a delivery boy; a husband who is driven to stony silence by his wife's one–time infidelity; a limping, loving worker whose wife tyrannizes over him; and two drunken workers who keep switching wives. Above it all is quiet, understanding Mr. Tamba, the most Kurosawa–like character, who reasons with the irrational, gives money to a thief, offers poison to a would-be-suicide and then confesses it was stomach medicine when the man regrets his choice, and understands that people need their fantasies to get through the horrors of life. The movie is heavy going at times since there is no story, per se, but it has some wonderful moments of comedy: the thief, breaking into Mr. Tamba's, is surprised by Tamba, who tells him not to take his tools and gives him money, adding, "It's all I have. I'll save some for you and next time use the window" (later, when the police apprehend the thief, Tamba denies it all); there are also the scenes with the rude wife and the husband's workers fighting with him over telling her off. Infuriating moments: the child dying of poisoning and the father not acknowledging it. Kurosawa says you can deny reality – but only up to a point; then it intrudes on you and can be dangerous. Reality vs illusion, one of Kurosawa's favorite themes.

Director: Fred Guiol. Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson.
Laurel and Hardy curiosity, in which the pair play a couple of dumb and dumber detectives. Silent. Amusing; said to be one of the first films in which the pair played the characters for which they became famous. 12/95. Interesting the way their characters were so developed (they do the hat routine) even at this early stage. Hardy bosses Laurel around; Laurel cries; there is a lot of slapstick. You can even picture their tone of voice. As for the genre: it mixes comedy and slapstick with the detective/murder genre, albeit in a silly fashion. Laurel and Hardy aren't really detecting anything; they're more like high-class bodyguards. But it shows how the genre was ripe for parody, taking characters who are supposed to know it all and actually know less than even a non-detective would (when they see a photo of the escaped killer in the newspaper, Ollie asks Stan, "Where have we seen that face before?" not recognizing the butler who just said goodnight to them moments before and who is actually the killer in disguise). Very clever. 1/29/00

Director: William Wyler. Cast: Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor.
Charming tale of industrialist (Huston) who retires to see the world but who must endure silly behavior of his fearful-of-growing-old wife (Chatterton). From the Sinclair Lewis novel. Re-seen: 7/20/06

Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson.
The classic film noir with MacMurray and Stanwyck as the lovers plotting to kill Stanwyck's husband. Great dialogue, terrific pacing, and a wonderful relationship between MacMurray and Robinson (who gives a bravura performance), showing the differnce between true love and true lust. 9/2/00

Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy.
One of the Powell-Loy non-Thin Man combos shows that the pair has chemistry, even when the script is at the programmer level. This one, by frequent Capra collaborator Jo Swerling, has Powell as a free-spirited bohemian type (a bit of miscasting there) and Loy as the woman who hates him, a hoity-toity control freak who thinks Powell wants to marry her sister (he's really using that as a ploy to get hooked up with Loy). The story is predictable, with more farcical elements than The Thin Man series, but Powell and Loy's comic timing is as impeccable as ever. She also gets to play an even more intelligent and capable character (shades of Emma Peel) than she does as Nora. Sidney Toler appears as a bumbling detective-butler in his pre-Charlie Chan days; and Mary Gordon is a housekeeper before she became Holmes' landlady. 1/13/00

DRACULA (1931)
Director: Todd Browning. Cast: Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye.
The old chestnut, newly scored by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet. The music helps in some sequences but is generally too omnipresent – you notice it much too much and it is often inappropriate for the scene. It's as though Glass wrote a score irrespective of the images and then matched them up. It's like an avante-garde exercise. As for the movie, it's still paced in a deadly dull fashion, with Lugosi as Dracula delivering his lines as though he were just learning or he was speaking for the hearing impaired. "I... am... Dracula... I... bid... you... welcome." Boring! The whole story is so ludicrous, too. Why did Dracula kill all those crewmen on a ship in a storm? Didn't he need someone to steer it? And how did his coffins get to the abbey in England? Why didn't anyone open them to see what was in them? Wouldn't you open coffins in a shipful of deadmen? It's riddled with plot holes you could drive a truck through. Give me Frankenstein any day. 9/11/99

Director: Terence Fisher. Cast: Chris-topher Lee, Barbara Shelley.
Lame sequel to Dracula (1958), the first Hammer installment in the venerable vampire series. There had been a number of Hammer vampire flicks in between, but nothing with Lee. In this one, an unwitting quartet of tourists come upon the late count's castle, where his faithful servant still tends shop, waiting for the day when he can revive his master. He does, using the blood of one of the four. The most nervous woman of the group (Shelley) becomes the first victim of the revived count (Lee) becoming one of the undead. The story is short on ideas, and Lee has nary a word of dialogue (apparently if he spoke, he got paid more). There are a number of plot holes – Why does the revived count let the other couple survive the night? How come the crosses in the coffins didn't stop the count from returning to his coffin? - and nary a connection to The Avengers that I can see. Fairly lame, though it is moody and atmospheric at times. 6/8/00

DREAMS (1990)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Martin Scorcese.
This could also be called Kurosawa's Nightmares – a colorful, disturbing collection of short tales about death, disobedience, stupidity, nuclear destruction, mutation, and obsession. Scorcese appears in a pretty pastoral section as the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Kurosawa probably chose him because of his intense, manic manner in delivering lines. He says things like, "The sun drives me like a locomotive" as he paints furiously to capture a moment before the sun is gone. Scorcese's Van Gogh is a Kurosawa (and perhaps Scorcese) self–portrait: the portrait of an artist as an obsessive perfectionist who cuts off his own ear because he doesn't like the way it looks in a painting. It is no coincidence that he was chosen as the driven artist; he is Kuroswawa's stand–in. He is fine with a smoldering intensity perfect for the part. In colors and tone, however, it is unlike anything Kurosawa has done before.

Director: Akira Kurosawa. Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune.
Excellent story about alcoholic doctor (Shimura) who tries to save the life – and the soul – of a brutal young gangster (Mifune) in the post-war slums of Tokyo. The story is slight – but the characterizations and attemtion to human detail, are vivid. Mifune's performance is gripping: intense, dynamic, complex. Shimura is equally fine as the doctor. What's great about Kurosawa's technique is his focus on the contradictions and the humanity of the characters. They make speeches, sure; but they tell a lot more through their behavior. 7/4, 7/5/00

DRIVEN (2001)
Director: Renny Harlin. Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds.
Dreadful. Rocky on the race track, with Stallone as ex-champion racing car driver acting as mentor to young turks on the world racing scene and Reynolds as wheelchair-bound boss. Dialogue, directing, special effects all hackneyed, as is the romance between young driver and beautiful blonde who is torn between attractions for competing world champ drivers. Terrible score, too. 8/25/01

DUCK SOUP (1933)
Director: Leo McCarey. Cast: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern.
The height of zaniness, as the Marx Brothers wreak havoc on mythical kingdom of Freedonia. There are songs, silliness, wordplay, pratfalls, and non-sequitors that obviously influed Monty Python's Flying Circus and a host of other later comedians. Groucho is Rufus T. Firefly, ruler of Freedonia; Chico and Harpo are two spies trying to bring him down. Zeppo sings. It's insane – as the brothers do what they do best: poke fun at everything and everyone (Groucho would have a blast with George W. Bush, who seems to have the same carefree abandon toward government as Frefly does). 12/31/01

DUEL (1971/1973).
Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Dennis Weaver.
Before the imposing dinosaurs of Jurassic Park or the cute alien in E.T., there was Duel, director Steven Spielberg's first feature-length movie. Shot in 16 days in California's Soledad Canyon, the $450,000 TV-movie shows Spielberg at his stripped-down best: 90 minutes of well-crafted suspense as an everyman hero confronts a deadly killer. The novelty is that the villain is an unseen truck driver, who for reasons unknown is trying to kill suburban commuter David Mann (Dennis Weaver) on an isolated desert highway. An existential B-movie, with the car culture man coming up against a nightmare foe, the unstoppable truck, the tale shows Spielberg's influences – Hitchcock by way of The Twilight Zone (Zone scripter Richard Matheson even penned the screenplay for Duel). But the director handles the camera like an old pro, milking the thin plotline brilliantly with skewed angles, warped lenses, quick cutting, and just enough characterization to make the whole thing believable. The movie was Spielberg's ticket to the big screen, too: rave reviews, a 1973 European theatrical release (adding 15 minutes of footage, included here), and a couple of awards led to the director's first feature, The Sugarland Express. Duel may be pulp stuff, but it works remarkably well. January 23, 1994.

Director: King Vidor. Cast: Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, Joseph Cotten, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Walter Huston, Herbert Marshall.
Dubbed "Lust in the Dust," this soap opera-ish western from Gone With the Wind producer David O. Selznick finds Peck in an atypical bad guy role as Loot, one of two sons (the other is Cotten) of a rancher (Barrymore) whose wife (Gish) has taken in a half-breed girl, Pearl, (Jones). Good and evil are rather obviously represented by the Cain and Abel brothers, with both men vying for the heart of Pearl. Loot gets her body but his brother gets her soul, as Pearl struggles between being proper and being promiscuous ("I want to be a good girl" vs "Am I your girl, Loot?") In the end, Pearl is so passionate about Loot that she shoots him to save the good brother, he shoots her in return, and the two die in each other's arms in a perverse Wuthering Heights-style coda, as though rewritten by Sam Peckinpah. Barrymore is overblown as the father, Gish is sentimental, and Huston has a cameo as a hell-and-brimstone preacher. The photography is lovely. The movie is a hoot; a big soap opera with grand pretensions. 6/22/00

Director: Maurice Elvey. Cast: Eille Norwood.
Faithful silent version of the Sherlock Holmes story. Not much interest outside of curiosity value. The acting is fairly over-the-top. 6/13/98