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Movie Review Journal: A
ABIGAIL'S PARTY (1977) Director: Mike Leigh. Cast: Alison Steadman. An early Mike Leigh TV-movie. It's amazing how the characters drive the story in such a non-linear, subtextual way. It's all about lower-class people gathering together for a party. The ringleader (Steadman) is a horrendously pushy, tasteless character, woman without a clue who, at the party, pushes people to their extremes. Not a lot happens, plot-wise, but a hell of a lot happens under the surface. Excellent, involving character study of sad, angry, non-communicative people. 8/16/00
ABOUT A BOY (2002) Director: Chris Weitz. Cast: Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Nicholas Hoult, Victoria Smurfit, Rachel Weisz, Isabel Brook. Charming comedy with Grant as a cad who loves 'em and leaves 'em and refuses to get involved...until he meets a fatherless boy who teaches him the meaning of responsibility. Good cast, good script, well-done. 7/3/03; reseen: 8/9/04
ABOUT SCHMIDT (2002) Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis. Terrific movie about an unlikely subject: an insurance actuary named Walter Schmidt (Nicholson) who is suddenly castadrift when retirement and personal tragedy strike. Nicholson is superb as the middlewestern everyman, never mocking his character, playing him with beautiful reality. The movie is funny, sad, dramatic – in short, much like life, as Schmidt comes to terms with the meaning of life. 12/21/0
ABSOLUTE POWER (1996) Director: Clint Eastwood. Cast: Clint Eastwood, GeneHackman, Ed Harris. Improbable but entertaining thriller in which Eastwood plays master thief Luther Whitney who witnesses a murder committed by the president (Hackman). In the course of avoiding the police (Harris), who suspect him of the murder and the secret service agents who know he was a witness, Whitney finds a middle way to avoid punishment. Eastwood is fine as the thief, and he has some good exchanges with Harris as the honest cop. Better on television than on the big-screen; maybe it's subject matter is more TV, simplistically tapping into paranoid fears. 6/14/99
ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Kirk Douglas. Grim, relentless story about how a reporter (Douglas) exploits an accident for his own purposes. Douglas is excellent as the cynical, hard-bitten reporter and it's no wonder that the movie was a commercial flop: he is completely unlikable, nasty to the end, even when he is overcome by his conscience for what he's done. The story is amazingly presient: the callousness and exploitation that seem so shocking in Douglas (and the other characters, as well) is now commonplace among members of the media. (Also known as The Big Carnival. ) February 5, 1998.
ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942) Director: John Huston (and Vincent Sherman, uncredited). cast:: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet. Follow-up to The Maltese Falcon, using some of the same cast and keeping the original movie's fast pace. The story finds disgraced Armmy captain Rick Leyland (Bogart) getting involved with spies and saboteurs in pre-Pearl Harbor Panama and on shipboard. Fast-paced and highly enjoyable, with good repartee between Bogart and Astor and Bogart and Greenstreet.. 8/19/06
THE ACCUSED (1948) Director: William Dieterle. Cast: Loretta Young, Robert Cummings, Wendell Corey, Sam Jaffe. Columbo-style murder drama, in which how the murderer is caught becomes more important than who the murderer is. That's because we know from the outset that it's prim college psychology professor Loretta Young who, when trapped in the clutches of an amorous, off-kilter student, accidentally does him in. She's then cold-bloodedly conceals the crime, and the rest of the movie deals with how love interest Bob Cummings and cranky detective Wendell Corey examine the case from all the wrong angles – until the end. The movie goes on too long, and the ending is unsatisfactory, but Young and Corey are fine as the antagonists. 7/16/98
ADAPTATION (2002) Director: Spike Jonze. Cast: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper. Another weird headtrip from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, author of the bizarre take on identity, Being John Malkovich. This one also deals with the struggles of forging identity, as Kaufman paints himself, in the guise of Cage, as a writer's blocked screenwriter, stymied by his latest task: adapting the non-linear New Yorker piece, The Orchid Thief, into a screenplay. How the real Kaufman adapted it was by cheating and making himself, his insecurities, and the success of his shallow twin brother (also played by Cage) the centerpiece of the bizarre tale. Kaufman pokes fun at the movie industry, and its obsession with sex and violence (even including a parody of a screenwriter-help guru) but in the end relies on the same tricks to give his film a bangup finish: sex and violence. 12/26/02
ADDAMS FAMILY (1991) Director: Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Raul Julia, Angelica Huston. Terrible. I laughed once. One of the dumbest movies I've seen in a while – it makes the old TV series look like genius material. At least that didn't have pretensions to being something more. This is sitcom stuff drawn out to unwatachable lengths. Overcooked, underwritten. December 1991.
ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES (1993) Director: Barry Sonnefeld. Cast: Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd. Not as bad as the first one, with good performances holding together the thin script. There's more plot in this one – tied to the idea of family – as Uncle Fester marries a murderess. The gags are mostly on the sitcom level, but the story moves along at a rapid clip. The children are funny, the stunts well-executed, and Raul Julia's over-the-top, yet somehow affecting Gomez is endearing. December 29, 1993.
AFTER HOURS (1985) Director: Martin Scorcese. Cast: Griffin Dunn, Roseanne Arquette, John Heard. Dark comedy about a computer programmer, Paul (Dunn), who meets a girl (Aruette) in a diner and is lured into a wild adventure downtown. Like a perverse Wizard of Oz, all Paul wants to do is go home, but he keeps getting wayalid by the strange inhabitnats of Soho, who ultimately try to kill him. Bizarre, and compelling -- like a nightmare. Re-seen: 7/1, 7/8/04
AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936) Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart. Second of The Thin Man series, with Powell and Loy almost as sparkly as they were in the initial entry. Once again, Powell is the reluctant gumshoe, Nick Charles, egged into a case by his worldly wise yet innocent wife, Nora. This time, the case involves Nora's snooty family – her cousin's ne'r-do-well husband Robert has disappeared for days. A lot of comedy is made out of the contrast between Nick's low-brow but decent friends and Nora's high-brow but dull family, and the early portion of the movie operates on a full tank of gas. The plot and suspects get more tangled after the murder (naturally), but Nick unravels it all in his patented "I'm drinking and I can't be bothered now" style. Nora is flip and knowing, and Nick defers to her in everything except letting her get involved in the case (doesn't want her to get injured). The murderer is a surprise, although he is the only one whom no suspicion is cast upon, so that should be a giveaway. Some very funny dialogue exchanges. 10/7-8/99; 2/23/06
AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952) Director: George Sherman. Cast: Errol Flynn, Maureen O'Hara, Anthony Quinn. Pirate programmer, with a slightly long-in-the-tooth Flynn doing his best to swashbuckle as he did in his youth. That said, and accepted on its own terms, the movie is entertaining fluff, a boy's picture for a non-discriminating viewer. Flynn still has vestiges of the bon vivant, tongue-in-cheek qualities that made him a star and O'Hara is rightly named "Spitfire." Okay, not top-grade. Seven years later, Flynn would be dead. 8/10/99
AGNES OF GOD (1985) Director: Norman Jewison. Cast: Meg Tilley, Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft. Heavy-handed, didactic spiritualism vs intellectualism flick, with Jane Fonda as shrink Dr. Martha Livingstone, a lapsed Catholic, ignored by her own religious mother and bitter about the death of her own sister in a convent. What is she to make of spirtual Sister Agnes, the ultimate innocent who has apparently murdered her own baby? Agnes is an enigma: although she has a past – her alcoholic mother abused her – it is her spiritual present that Dr. Jane has trouble comprehending. Who was the father? Why do bleeding stigmata appear on her hands at odd times only to disappear again later? Will the doc destroy the nun's faith or become converted herself? Fonda plays Livingstone as a chain–smoking obsessive with no other patients or interest outside of Agnes. She is accused of seeking revenge, of destroying the faith on which innocence and religion is based, and the movie more or less sides with the spiritualism over the intellectuals. In the end, Fonda is shown to be impotent – that the rational solution she sought is illusory, that the truth was there from the beginning. Agnes was the recipient of a miracle. The movie is loaded with speeches, and essentially says shrinks no nothing, and are more destructive than constructive, with their own foibles and hangups that they load down on others. Physician, heal thyself, before you destroy the innocence of others. Livingstone is a mess, much less together than the pure Agnes. The movie is turgid, a lot of talking heads, and the message is obvious within 30 minutes. The acting is okay, but those speeches! Seen on tape, Thursday, 12/19 & Friday, 12/20/91.
A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001) Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Haley Joel Osmont, Jude Law, William Hurt. Spielberg does Stanley Kubrick doing Pinocchio. Well-made though the script is tediuous, veering between sentimentality and cynicism with the former winning out. As the robot boy who wants to be human, Osmont has the single-minded innocence of his puppet forbear, but the movie only comes to life when Law appears as a jaunty sex machine, Joe the Gigolo, who has all the personality Osmont lacks. The early portions, stark and dehumanized, are like a homage/parody of Kubrick's style in 2001; the second half is more like Mad Max meets Jaws, action and decadence combined. The movie ends twice: the more effective finale finds the robot boy vainly wishing on an undersea fairy (and why didn't Hurt and his buddies retrieve the robo-boy?); the second is the tedious, more prosaic happy ending. From a Brian Aldiss story. 11/30/02
ALIEN (1979) Director: Ridley Scott. Cast: Tom Skerritt, Signourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphett Kotto. Elaborate, expensively made pulp s.f. of the "we must get the alien before it gets us variety," Alien is essentially acreature in the cellar film; a lot of stalking, a bit of death, and a lot of unpleasantness. Unpleasant is actually too mild a word, for Alien can be a very disgusting movie: for the squeamish and the not so squeamish, the excellence of the special effects and the very nature of the alien can make for some very rough moments. The actors are all fine, there are a number of surprises, and the suspense is fairly well–handled. The movie leaves you numb, however: there is little sympathy for the characters (and it just becomes a "who's next?" game) and the movie, for all its grotesquery (or perhaps because of it) is cold. Not pleasant, or very entertaining, for that matter: it's more like a rollercoaster – an experience, and good if you like that sort of thing. Seen with Alan Saly at the Criterion on Tuesday, May 12, 1979. Seen again: It's slow-paced, except for the climax. The characters are not terribly sympathetic and the dialogue is bland. Alien is an old dark house movie that is topped by its first–rate and much more exciting sequel, Aliens, released seven years later. Good Jerry Goldsmith score. Reseen on tape, October 21, 1990. Seen again: This time, saw the director's cut. Not noticeably different, except for a scene in which Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett cocooned and alive. 4/14/04
ALIENS (1986) Director: James Cameron. Cast: Signourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser. Terrific sequel to Alien, just as creepy but more viewer friendly than the first one with terrific action sequences. Watchable again and again. Great dialogue, characters, effects, as Weaver's Ripley returns to the scene of the acidic slime from the first adventure. Simple story, sort of an Alamo/Old Dark House that never grows tired (I must have seen it at least a dozen times.) The special edition adds 17 minutes of footage that deepen the characters a bit. 6/28/99
ALIEN 3 (SPECIAL EDITION) (1992) Director: David Fincher. Cast: Signourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton. Ripley (Weaver) crash-lands on a prison planet and brings an alien with her. Dark and gloomy, but much more watchable and engrossing in this recut, earlier version of the film than it was in the dreadful original release version. It still suffers from the same problem, though: it is more graphic and grisly than scary. 6/15/04
ALIEN RESURRECTION (SPECIAL EDITION) (1997) Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Cast: Signourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif. Fourth in the Alien series, this one rehashes elements from the previous three movies without adding anything particularly original. This time, Ripley is a clone, 200 years further in the future than she was in No. 3. She is stronger (she's got alien blood in her veins) and more like the kick-ass sversion of No. 2 than the defeatist victim of No. 3. There is a motley crew of space travelers (shades of No. 1) and a lot of violenct gun play against pursuing aliens (shades of No. 2), and a final alien out the airock (Nos. 1 and 2!). Ryder plays a human-like robot who becomes a surrogate daughter to Ripley the clone. In the end, they return to a devastaed but recognizable by the decayed Eifel Tower earth (shades of Planet of the Apes!). Good for some cheap -- er expensive thrills, nonetheless. 7/22/04
ALICE (1990) Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Mia Farrow, William Hurt, Joe Mantega, Keye Luke. Woody Allen's slight fable is about a woman (Farrow) who gave up her hopes and dreams of helping others to become a "shopping/gossiping" wife of a wealthy man (Hurt). Through the help of a wise Oriental (Luke, in one of his last roles) and his magic herbs/insights, she becomes a self-fulfilled person and returns to her original dream. It's a diverting piece of fluff, lacking any great insight or clever gags (the funniest bit is when a love potion is inadvertantly given to a party-full of guests who all fall in love with Alice). Farrow is a fairly unappealing central character – an irritatingly innocent waif, while Luke's wise Chinese is almost offensive. 8/8/99
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999) Director: Pedro Almodovar. Cast: Celia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Penelope Cruz. The story of a mother, Manuela (Roth), who loses her 17-year-old son in a car accident and then heads to Barcelona to find the father of her son – a transexual – and tell him. The movie is rarely sentimental but is very moving, funny, and unorthodox as it follows the months-long experience of Manuela as she acquires a new family – and new loss – to supplant the old one. Writer/director Almodovar constantly confounds expectations: Manuela is never bitter, merely forgiving, but she is still full of passion and grief over the loss of her son. The characters are varied: transsexuals, an AIDS-infected pregnant nun, an Alzheimer's victim, an angry mother – yet none are caricatures, all come across as real people beneath the surface stereotype. Look beyond the appearance, says the movie, look for truth. 3/30/00 ALL OR NOTHING (2002) Director: Mike Leigh. Leigh's well-known improvised screenwriting techniques here serve him in good stead, creating portraits of three British working class families who are in various degrees of dysfunctionality. Two of tghe three are headed up by car service drivers while the third is a single mom. Almost all the offspring in these families -- teenagers -- are boiling over with anger, and one has a heart attack after sprouting off with rage. But the story is not plot-based as much as character-based, about the small efforts one makes to survive. "I can take it if you still love me," says one character. In a grim, post-Thatcher world of deprivation, love is all some people have, and when that goes... A grim, disturbing work. 2/5/05
ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949) Director: Robert Rossen. Cast: Broderick Crawford, Joanne Dru, John Ireland, Mercedes McCambridge, John Derek. Well-done, if dated, adaptation of Robert Penn Warren's Pulitizer Prize-winning novel about the rise and fall of Huey Long-like figure, the governor of a poor southern state. Crawford won an Oscar for his performance which gets less subtle as the movie moves into more predictable areas: the corruption of innocence as the politician becomes the thing that he hates. Engrossing, but it's been done so many times since this movie was made that the film lacks freshness. The cast is fine, the script a bit predictable. 6/27/02
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) Director: Cameron Crowe. Cast: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson. Delightful coming-of-age film, autobiographical, based on early career of writer-director Crowe who apparently cut his eyeteeth being seduced by rock stars as a youthful rock critic. The picaresque tale, set in 1973, focuses on 15-year-old William Miller (the excellent Fugit) who lucks into a dream assignment: going on the road for Rolling Stone covering a mid-level rock and roll band about to be famous. Along the way, Campbell becomes disillusioned with the band leader Russell Hammond (Crudup) and falls in love with Penny Lane (Hudson), a young groupie whom Hammond is sleeping with. The story is about the perils of success and the search for love and truth, and Crowe has a nice knack for light character insights delivered with commercial comic punch. The performances are excellent, topped by Crudup and Hudson, who is remarkable – and remarkably like her mom, Goldie Hawn. 10/5/00
ALONG CAME JONES (1945) Director: Stuart Heisler. Cast: Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest, Dan Duryea. Comic western with Cooper mistaken for notorious gunfighter (Duryea). The movie is a charming, predictable throwaway, made engaging by the performance of the ever-reliable Cooper as the none-too-bright but honorable Melody Jones, who falls into a series of problems because he's fallen for the real gunslinger's gal (Young). Demarest is dependable, as always, and Young is quite beautiful. TV, 6/7/95.
AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) Director: Sam Mendes. Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley. Engrossing drama about the hollowness of suburban life, with a brilliant performance by Spacey as a middle-aged man who has found the dreams and aspirations – his life – sucked out of him by the emptiness of things, the restriction of feelings, the dullness of everyday life. That is, until he is inspired by the cheerleader beauty of a teenage friend of his daughter's. The movie shows how Spacey, and others, find the truth behind the facades that hide feelings. It is a wonderfully layered and sympathetic look at people trapped in the dullness of existence, aching to find satisfaction. 9/23/99
ANALYZE THAT (2003) Director: Harold Ramis. Cast: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal. Dradfully unfunny comedy about mobster (De Niro) who goes to a shrink (Crystal) again, a sequel to slightly superior but equally commercial Analyze This. While the first one was hardly inspired, it looks like high art compared to this schloccky contirvance, a terribly writtn, overacted formula piece of the worst kind. I hope De Niro was well paid. 6/18/03
ANALYZE THIS (1998) Director: Harold Ramis. Cast: Robert De Niro, Billy Crystal. Goofy comedy about mobster (De Niro) who goes to a shrink (Crystal). It's not as clever as it hopes to be, but the movie is entertaining, carried mostly by the performers (especially De Niro and Crystal), who are all having fun with the premise. 5/7/99
ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) Director: Otto Premingrt. Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazarra, George C. Scott. Effective, engrossing, atmospheric story of a murder trial in a small town. Stewart plays Polly, a jazz-loving, grand-standing lawyer and former prosecutor who takes on an unsympathetic soldier (Gazarra) who has killed a man who reportedly raped his wife (Remick), a loose woman. Based on a best-selling novel, the film turns traditional courtroom cliches on their head: the client is guilty and his lawyer manipulates the system to get him off – even though he is a bad, manipulative man. But as Polly says to the dead man's daughter: not all people are black or white, all-good or all-bad and it is the role of the lawyer to give a man the benefit of the doubt and the best chance he can. The film shows the world as a dark place full of ungrateful people who do the best they can to muddle through. Great performances, script, and music by Duke Ellington. 9/14-9/15/01.
THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971) Director: Sidney Lumet. Cast: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Alan King. Caper movie, with a bald-headed, bitter, foul-mouthed Connery playing Duke Anderson, the anti-Bond undone by Bondian gadgetry. The movie is a convoluted mess, but it has pace and amusing dialogue and characters. The story finds Anderson, fresh out of a ten-year stretch in prison planning and executing the robbery of a posh East Side Manhattan apartment building. Like Kubrick's The Killing, things do not go smoothly, and the robbery – so cleverly executed – ends up a major fiasco. Anderson, a tough character who – as his sometime girlfriend (Cannon) puts it – is "always knocking on closed doors" is a smart-ass low-life who hates the hypocrisy of society and knows all the rationalizations. He believes it's a dog-eat-dog world – and only the biggest dog gets to eat. The New York locations and the Quincy Jones music give the movie great appeal, as do the actors, but it's really just a B-picture with pretensions. Haven't seen it in nearly 30 years; it's better than I remembered, but still not so great. 10/11/99
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945) Director: Rene Clair. Cast: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, June Duprez. Ten guests invited to a remote island mansion, each killed off by their mysterious host (Mr. U.N. Owen – "unknown") – that's the well-known plot of this low-budget version of the Agatha Christie whodunnit, Ten Litttle Indians. In the Christie original, no one gets away, but this one has a twist of its own, making the last two characters both sympathetic and innocent. The plot has the madman sentencing to death 12 people who were responsible for the wrongful deaths of innocent people, and whom the law can't touch. They are all killed in accordance with the nursery rhyme, "Ten Little Indians." Visually, the movie is fluid and interesting, thanks to the touches by French director Rene Clair. It moves at a fast pace, carried along by the Dudley Nichols script and good performances by a collection of great character actors. 6/1/01
ANGELA'S ASHES (1999) Director: Alan Parker. Dreary story of what it's like to grow up Catholic. Unleavened by humor, the story is relentlessly bleak, saved only by the good performances and the realistic locations. Much too long, episodic, and cliched. It's all been done before, and better. A more interesting take on similar material is The Butcher Boy. January 9, 2000
ANGEL FACE (1953) Director: Otto Preminger. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Hebert Marshall.. Film noir about girl (Simmons) obsessed with guy (Mitchum), who should know better but, this being a noir, doesn't. Predictable, but well worth watching, especially with the wild ending. 11/16/06
ANNIE HALL (1977) Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton. The pinacle of the Woody Allen oevre, the story of Alvy Singer ("a real Jew") and Annie Hall, a whitebread neurotic who learns, loves, and leaves Alvy. Allen's film is a meditation on the impermanence of life and love, how everything changes, but the memory lingers on. It is brilliantly constructed as a comic memory piece, starting off with Allen's to-the-camera statement, "I broke up with Annie this week," and leading, by degrees from the middle to the beginning (and before the beginning) of the relationship. Along the way, we learn about Alvy's obsseassions, about his kindness and his cruelty, his selfishness, and his sexuality. The difference between this and romantic comedies of another era is the obsession with me, myself, and I. Everything is reflected from the prism of Alvy's experience – which is appropriate – which gives the movie a point-of-view, which is at times romantic, at times comic, at times selfishly melancholy in the way people are. At all times, it is terribly insightful and entertaining. 2/28/00
ANOTHER DAWN (1937) Director: William Dieterle. Cast: Errol Flynn, Kay Francis, Ian Hunter. Francis is torn between love (for Flynn) and duty to husband (Hunter), two soldiers in a war-torn African desert base. Well-paced, entertaining sudser with good performances all around. Predictable, but well done. 3/2/02
ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939) Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, Sheldon Leonard. Third Thin Man entry is fast-paced and entertaining, with the Charleses entering the parenthood phase of their relationship. As in Another Thin Man, Nora's relations draw Nick into another case; similarly, the least suspected figure turns out to be the murderer. Formula is falling into place, although Powell and Loy's intelligent bantering and obvious affection for each other, more than make up for any holes in the story. This one involves a phony psychic (Leonard) who dreams of the deaths of his enemy (Smith). The sleuthing is fine. The Steed-Peel connection is most obvious in the duo's intelligent, witty exchanges – wherein they make more out of the lines than is already there. 10/22/99
ANTOINE AND COLETTE (1962) Director: Francois Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Marie-France Pisier. Truffaut's contribution to the anthology film, Love At Twenty, the 30-minute movie is the second in the Antoine Doinel series, showing how Doinel (Leaud) futilely pursues his first love, Colette (Pisier), a woman who enjoys his company but only sees him as a "pal." Warm and quirky, with a bittersweet edge. 5/27/00
ANTWONE FISHER (2002) Director: Denzel Washington. Cast: Derek Luke, Denzel Washington. Inspiring, fact-based story about sailor Fisher (Luke) who overcomes emotional scars of childhood with help of dedicated psychiatrist (Washington). Engrossing, if formulaic. Although true, Fisher's story could just as easily be fit into a "movie-of-the-week" slot about child abuse among black children. Upliftifting and sentimental, saved by believable performances from the leads. 2/8/03
ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980) Director: Buddy Van Horn. Cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Geoffrey Lewis, William Smith. Amusing sequel to Eastwood's surprise hit, Every Which Way But Loose, about the tongue-in-cheek adventures of Philo Beddoe, a bare-knucke boxer, and his pet orangutan Clyde. The territory's been covered before in the original, but the movie has a goofy chatm that carries you along. Beddoe is a no-nonsense, straight-speaking guy, who never gives up. In the end, both fighters are shown to be men of honor. Fluff with a message: good wins out. February 3, February 5, 1998.
THE APPALOOSA (1966) Director: Sidney J. Furie Cast: Marlon Brando, Anjanette Comer, John Saxon. Offbeat western with Brando as Matt, a drifter who wants to settle down, and Saxon as the Mexican bandit who forces him to put on his guns again. As always, an intriguing performance by Brando is more intriguing than the movie. Although it holds your attention with good performances, nice cinematography, and lovely locations, the total is not equal to the sum of the parts. It's a formula western gussied up for a '60s crowd. 11/26/99
THE APARTMENT (1960) Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray. Terrific, bittersweet comedy-drama about poor schnook, C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) and how he sacrifices self-respect, integrity, and – almost, love – to get to the top of the corporate world. He lets other married executives use his apartment as a tryst for their affairs. Things get complicated with his boss (MacMurray) wants to use it as a meeting place for the woman Baxter secretly loves (MacLaine). Maclaine is winner as an elevator operator in love with the wrong guy, while Lemmon and MacMurray are fine as the schnook and the operator. Delightful, bitter, sentimental, charming. 9/3/00
APOLLO 13 (1995) Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Ed Harris. The true story of the Apollo 13 mishap makes for exciting drama, even if it weren't as well done as this epic taltale. The story unfolds slowly, showing the meticulous preparation for another moon landing. It also shows how blase the public had become by that point (1970, one year after the first landing on the moon), and how they woke up when it looked like the three Apollo 13 astronauts were through. How NASA and the astronauts worked together to save themselves is an amazing story, touching, exciting, dramatic. The cast is strong (the use of Hanks' family, especially his kid, is very effective), with Ed Harris a standout as the NASA control director. Seen: Monday, July 17, 1995.
THE APOSTLE (1998) Director: Robert Duvall. Cast: Robert Duvall, Farrah Fawcett, Ruth Carter Cash, Billy Bob Thornton. Story of "The Apostle," aka Sonny (Duvall), a wildly successful Texas preacher who comes apart when his wife (Fawcett) leaves him and he loses his church. In a drunken rage, he kills his wife's lover and then, after fleeing, is reborn as The Apostle, a man seeking redemption (and partially finding it) for his sins. Duvall's script explores the duality of a preacher's life: seeking salvation through the forgiveness of God, but still being ruled by the violence and sexual passions of man (the preaching and call-and-response sessions illustrate this, becoming downright orgasmatic). Well done, with the two highlights being the Thornton scenes and the climactic sermon. Duvall gives a remarkable performance. 3/5/03
ARROWSMITH (1931) Director: John Ford. Cast: Ronald Coleman, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy. Fast-paced but fairly lifeless movie, from a Sinclair lewis novel, about a virtuous doctor who craves to be a researcher but ends up as a life-saver instead. Colman is fine as the crusader, but not great on the doubting aspects of his character. Loy has a small part as the also-ran. Some nice camera compositions. 2/23/06
ARTEMESIA (1998) Director: Agnes Merlet. Cast: Valentina Cervi, Michel Serrault. Italy, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi is a 17-year-old painter wannabe. The problem: in 17th Century Italy, women don’t become painters. Nor do they sketch naked male bodies. But Artemisia is like no other 17-year-old of the the period: she is the brilliant daughter of Orazio, a celebrated artist, and Agnes Merlet’s Artemesia tells the story of the young woman who is called the first female artist. It is a tale that should have been penned by Emily Bronte or Thomas Hardy. As depicted by Merlet, Artemesia is a young woman of passion and power who follows wherever her inspiration and imagination lead her. In this case, it is forbidden romance with an older artist, a rape trial, and torture in which she almost loses her hands. Merlet paints her own filmed portrait with a sure hand, using a constantly moving camera to capture the swirling senses of the young heroine. The movie itself is a fascinating look at a lesser known historical figure, and although its message and outcome are predictable, it is a passionate enterprise. (1/22/98)
AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1998) Director: James L. Brooks. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt. Engaging light comedy with Nicholson as curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Nice performances and funny dialogue enliven a predictablely agreeable comedy, in which Nicholson and Hunt go through an up-and-down courtship. Brooks' timing is excellent, honed from his years as a TV writer. 2/28/98 A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER (1938) Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Jane Bryan, Allen Jenkins. Broad farce, based on Damon Runyon-Howard Lindsay play, with Robinson as gangster/bootlegger who tries to go straight with the lifting of prohibition. Arch, with that distinctive Runyon dialogue. 9/11, 9/15/04
ATTILA: THE RAPE OF CYPRUS (1975) Director: Michael Cacoyannis. Meandering propaganda piece about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the aftermath. Countless tragic tales of people uprooted from their homes, of children killed, familes divided etc. lose their power to move you after a while. Cacoyannis hits you over the head constantly with the too-long footage, providing little context or perspective. The sad thing is that the tragedy ends up becoming dull. 4/6/01
AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997) Director: Jay Roach. Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Mimi Rogers, Michael York, Robert Wagner. Juvenile spoof of the James Bond movies and the swinging sixties, with Myers as both top spy Austin Powers and his nemesis, the bald-headed Dr. Evil. There are some funny takes on Bond conventions, but as Casino Royale found out in 1967, how do you spoof a spoof? As Powers, Myers is a cross between Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, a not-so-bright hipster whom women apparently find irresistable. The movie plays like a series of extended Saturday Night Live bits – Dr. Evil in therapy, trying to connect with his son, what happens to the family and friends of henchmen killed by the villain (those scenes were deleted) – and, storywise it holds together about as well as a typical Bond film. The first portion, set in 1967, actually parodies both The Avengers and Bond. 3/19/99
THE AVENGERS (1998) Director: Jeremiah Chechik. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery. An update of the British TV series. Not as bad as it could have been, but certainly not worth the effort. Fiennes replaces Patrick Macnee (who has a cameo as an invisible spy) and Thurman imitates Diana Rigg, and both actors fall far short of their predecessors. Fiennes fares better as the dry Brit, but Thurman doesn't register as either brainy or very beautiful (though she's got a great body). The plot is nonsensical, as though someone took all the elements they remembered from the series and mashed them in a blender. The roving ministry HQ on a double-decker bus; double-entendres; a male boss called Mother who is crippled and a female superior called Father who is blind, silly acronyms (BROLLY for a weather organization), dry understatement following violence, and a mad genius (Connery) with a plan to rule the world. The premise is primarily lifted from the episode "A Surfeit of H20," by way of any number of Bond movies. The madman controls the weather, which leads to some ho-hum special effects. The movie was apparently severely edited, since it's very short (only 90 minutes) and seems to be missing a middle section. We jump into climax mode awfully fast. The music is okay, but Laurie Johnson's "Avengers Theme" is used only sparfingly (and is greatly missed). The whole affair is arch, capturing the sense of the show, but none of its spirit. Why bother? Let The Avengers alone. 8/14/98
THE AVIATOR'S WIFE (1981) Director: Eric Rohmer. Cast: Philippe Marlaud, Marie Riviere, Anne-Laure Meury, Mathieu Carriere. Slight comedy about young man (Carriere) in a tempestuous relationship with slightly older woman (Riviere). She, in turn, is involved with an older, married man (Marlaud), an aviator who has decided to remain faithful to his wife. The movie deals with the up-and-down nature of relationships, and the idea of trust (or lack therof) that unerlies them (there is a lot of spying going on in the story; a good portion of the story finds the young man spying on his lover's ex, who, after telling his ex he is leaving town that day stays in town with a woman who is not his wife). Proverb? Trust no one. 9/3/04