You are hereMovie Review Journal / Movie Review Journal: C

Movie Review Journal: C

Director: Robert Weine. Cast: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veit, Lil Dagover.
What goes on inside the mind of a crazy man? One of the earliest shrink-wrapped films, this one tells the story of Dr. Caligari and his Circus Act – a somnabulist named Cesare, who has slept for 25 years, can predict your future ("At dawn you die!"), and even makes the prediction true by murdering his clients. But there's more to Caligari than a straightforward horror story. Told in flashback by "the student" protagonist, Francis, there is no explanation given for the weirdly expressionist sets – bizarre, theatrical, two-dimensional streets, stark light and shadow, and houses – nor for the wild turns in the plot. Tracking the murders to Caligari's tent, it turns out the somnabulist is a dummy and Caligari, after fleeing to a sanitarium, is revealed not to be a patient but the head of the insane asylum! Further revelations: the mad Caligari is actually carrying out his "theories" – seeing if a somnabulist can be forced to commit murder. Once the truth is out, the doctor is put in a straightjacket, raving wildly – "and he is there still," says the student concluding his story. But – surprise, surprise, it turns out the student is really the mad one, an inmate of an asylum and that he has cast his fellow patients in his narrative as Cesare, as his fiance Jane, even the asylum director as Caligari. The movie is fascinating for its stylized decor, actually trying to show what it is like to get inside the mind of a lunatic, and it also embodies both sides of the popular beliefs about psychiatrists – that they are crazier than the patients (the Dr. Caligari of the flashback) and that they are miracle workers (at the conclusion, the real Caligari claims he now understands the young man's psychosis and can cure him). No talking cure here – in fact, we are never told what the problemis, just that knowledge is power and once the doc knows, he can fix you. Kino Video: German expressionism, movement developing in all arts since turn of century; advent of Demoniac film, The Golem, Dr, Mabuse, Nosferatu, Metropolis. Producer: Erich Pommer. Script: Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer. Sets: Hermann Warm, Walter Rohrig, Walter Reimann. Bosley Crowther, NY Times: "The most original and exciting film to come from any country after World War I." Seen again on TV (tape), Sunday, January 19, 1992.

Director: Michael Haneke. Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche.
Engrossing French thriller which on the face of it seems to be about a family of three -- father, mother, and teenage son -- being vaguely threatened by a voyeur: someone is videotaping the front of the family's Parisian home and sending them the tapes wrapped in papers containing disturbing, child-like drawings.But this is anything but a conventional thriller.. To begin with, from the opening shot, the viewer is disoriented -- it is a static shot of the front of an apartment building, with little going on; then voices are heard talking about it; and soon we are shown that we are watching a videotape sent to, Georges (Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Binoche). Georges is a talk show host who is not always straightforward with his wife and, as we discover, has doneome unpleasant things in his past. He also has a temper. The movie is about the nature of truth -- making us all voyeuurs, wondering about what we see, what can be believed, and that reality is often open to subjective interpretations. There are no concrete answers given in Cache, the filmmaker is as slippery as Georges is in responding to his wife, but there is a lot to digest. Seen 1/7/06

Director: Malcolm St. Clair. Cast: William Powell, Louise Brooks, Jean Arthur, Eugene Pallette.
Dull, soporific talkie, originally shot as a silent, noteworthy for Powell's debut as urbane sleuth Philo Vance and for early appearances of Brooks (before her G.W. Pabst period) and Arthur (before her Capra hits). Talk, talk, talk, with the murderer obvious from the moment of the killing. Some obvious dubbing, especially in the Brooks part (she plays a singing vamp called "The Canary" who is going to sing a blackmail tune for her former, high-society lover); Brooks was dubbed by Margaret Livingston. 9/30, 10/3, 10/4/02.

Director: Anthony Kimmins. Cast: Alec Guinness, Yvonne De Carlo, Celia Johnson, Charles Goldner, Miles Malleson.
Cynical comedy, done in the Ealing style, about Henry St. James (Guinness), the captain of The Golden Fleece, a ferryboat that shuttles between Gibraltor and Tangier. The premise: he has found the perfect solution to the problems of relationships. He has a different wife in each port: one to satisfy each set of needs. In Gibraltor, he has a proper British wife (Johnson), who sows, cooks, and cares for his domestic needs. In Tangier, he has a Spanish spitfire (DeCarlo) whom he nightclubs the night away, dancing and drinking with abandon. The situation, naturally, gets complicated. Contrived, amusing, but not quite as clever as it thinks it is. 10/4/02

CARRIE (1952)
Director: William Wyler.. Cast: Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones, Miriam Hopkins, Eddie Albert.
Compelling if dreary tale of wealthy man (Olivier) brought down by obsessive love for much-younger woman (Jones). Performances are fine (Albert is especially good as the charming first lover of Jones) but the movie is relentlessly grim. Well-directed. 10/20/06

Director: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Warren William, Margaret Lindsay.
One of the four Perry Mason programmers starring William as the defense attorney. But this version is a far cry from Raymond Burr's straight-arrow interpretation. Williams' Mason is a gourmet chef, a smart-aleck sophisticate a la William Powell in The Thin Man movies. Della Street is here, so is the client in distress – a young woman whose husband seems to have returned from the grave – but in place of Paul Drake, we have the semi-comic antics of "Spudsy" Drake, a partner/gumshoe to the swashbuckling attorney. No courtroom antics, just a big gathering of suspects – like The Thin Man – where Mason lays it all on the line. Errol Flynn appears as a corpse. 6/20/02

Director: Archie Mayo. Cast: Warren William, Lyle Talbot
One of the four Perry Mason programmers starring William as the defense attorney. A far cry from Raymond Burr's straight-arrow television interpretation. Williams' Mason is a smart-aleck hard-drinking sophisticate a la William Powell in The Thin Man movies. In this one, mason investigates the murder of a phony beauty contest promoter. Tthe plot is pure Gardner, but the characters – especially the zany Mason – are pure hokum. ESG was reportedly not pleased. The murderer is obvious. 9/24/06

Director: Willliam Clemons. Cast: Warren William, Claire Dodd, Winifred Shaw.
The last of the Warren William Perry Masons takes the plot of the first Mason book (so the first does come last), with Mason fighting off a cold as he tries to go on a honeymoon with Della Street (Dodd) while slolving the murder of a gossip magazine piublisher. This is the closest the series came to aping The Thin Man series: Mason and Mrs. Mason are heavy drinkers and have a quip-heavy marriage; he;s trying to quit the business (difference: she wants him to) but the business won't quit him. It's not ES Gardner's character, but it's an enttertaining picture nonetheless. (silliest element in the series: turning gumshoe Paul Drake into comic foil Spudsy Drake, who apparently -- and inexplicably -- lives qith Mason!) 10/7/06.

Director: Rodney Gibbons. Cast: Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh.
Fourth in a series of Frewer-Welsh Holmes-Watson TV films. This pastiche echoes The Scarlet Claw in its focus on the supernatural and its murder weapon, with Holmes and Watson investigating what appears to be a murderous vampire. It is atmospheric and engaging, with Frewer making a surprisingly effective Holmes. 10/22-10/23/04

CASH McCALL (1959)
Director: Joseph Pevney. Cast: James Garner, Natalie Wood.
Thirty-three years after this movie, Garner returned to the subject of business and buyouts with Barbarians at the Gate, although by then the subject had turned sour and the subject was ripe for parody. In Cash McCall, the takeover king is a charming, straightforward fellow who gets the girl, the businesses, and morality by the last reel. Garner is engaging but the movie is a stolid affair, worhshipful of business and businessmen and simple-minded (in a soap opera way) about love and marriage. Natalie Wood is the object of Garner's affection, but the two have little chemistry. 2/7/98.

Director: Martin Campbell. Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench.
Introducing new Bond Daniel Craig as the new/old 007 in his first case as a "double 0." The producers want to have it both ways -- making 007 gritty and "realistic" -- prick him and doesn't he bleed? -- but also jujst as indestructible as ever. Fairly faithful to the Ian Fleming original, though much more action has been added. Craig is more like the Bond of the books (sans the smoking) a d"blunt-edged" hilling machine, but he is fairly unsympathetic and boring, lacking original Bond Sean Connery's panache and sense of humor. Engrossing, exciting, and gruesome, and it even includes the book's original torture scene. The stunts are, as usual, quite breathtaking. 11/22/06.

CAST AWAY (2000)
Director: Robert Zemekis. Cast: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt.
An updated version of Robinson Crusoe, with Hanks as a Fed Ex supervisor who lives by time schedules and then – after his plane crashes near a South Sea island – has nothing but time on his hands as he attempts to survive. The crash is brilliantly handled – subjective and very vivid – and the early attempts at survival – mostly silent without so much as a note of underscore – are equally engaging. It is the surrounding "civilization" sections – in which Hanks is first shown to be a workaholic and then, when he returns, found to be a man who has lost his one true love – that border on the cliche. Hanks is superb, however, a personable actor who is belieavable in everything he does. (The title has a couple of means – he is both literally and emotionally "cast away" from life.) 12/26/00

Director: Steve Spielberg. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken.
Entertaining chase story with DiCaprio as real-life con man Frank Abagnale Jr., who while still a teenager, successfully forged checks that netted him millions of dollars. Impersonating a pilot, a doctor, and, finally, a lawyer, the flamboyant Abagnale stays one step ahead of the dogged FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks) for years. Abagnale's capture and the denouement provide a fittingly strange finale to a tale so unbelievable it has to be true. Spielberg keeps things moving at a light-hearted, fast clip, so you don't have time to think much about the goings-on. The two leads are excellent, as is Walken in the poignant role of Frank's defeated dreamer of a father. 12/27/02

Director: Richard Brooks. Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Burl Ives, Judith Anderson.
Involving, even over-theatrical drama, from the Tennessee Williams play. The story takes place in one evening, but covers a multitude of lies, sins, and secrets. The central question is why won't Brick (Newman) sleep with his lucious wife Maggie (Taylor)? And what happened that fateful night hwhen Brick's best friend killed himself? The story is about love, trust, and latent homsexuality, as well as the constraining bonds of family. Everyone makes speeches, everyone explains things, and the movie is a wonderful exercise in dramatic construction. Ives, as Big Daddy, gives the most moving performance, as a man who faces death, but the film is too pat. I didn't believe these people for an instant. They were all caricatures in a drama, not flesh and blood people. TV/June 24, 1995.

Director: Jacques Tournier. Simone Simon, Tom Conway
Creepy thriller with Simon as woman who thinks she is a cat. The movie is a personification of the terrors of the ID, as jealousy and hate turn Simon into a panther that destroys her enemies. Scary, effective, with Conway as a shrink who hypnotizes her, offers her sage advice, and then is killed when he disbelieves her and tries to seduce her. To kiss her is to die – that's why she never makes love to her husband. So much for rationality. The shrink in this one is depicted, in the end, as a fool who pays for his beliefs with his life. Great use of shadow and suggestion; terrifically scary scene in swimming pool and the first stalking sequence, where the blowing wind suggests more terror than you'd think possible. Seen on television (AMC), Friday, January 17, 1992. Also: 7/2/00 (laserdisc)

Director Tay Garnet. Cast: Loretta Young,, Barry Sullivan.
Well-done if implausible and slightly dopet suspense film about woman (Young) whose invalid husband (Sullivan) suspects her of plotting to kill him. Hhe writes the authorities about it and when he dies trying to kill her she makes frantic attempts to retrieve the incriminating letter. Silly but engrossing, and Young is lovely to look at. 12/31/06

Director: Woody Allen. Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Famke Janssen, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Story of celebrity-driven culture and the things people do to be famous. The focus is on a nebbishy writer (Branagh, doing a dead-on Woody imitation), who desperately tries to make it with women, stars, etc. and who buys into the whole15minutes of fame idea. The twist is he was a promising novelist but is intoxicated by fame into giving it all up. His ex-wife, ironically, becomes a huge success, simply by not looking for it. Dark, engrossing, but facile. 2/25/00

Director: Walter Salles Jr. Cast: Fernanda Montenegro, Vincinius de Oliveira.
Central Station is a wonderfully acted Brazilian fairy tale about how an orphaned boy, Jose (Vincinius de Oliveira), touches and then transforms a nasty old woman (Fernanda Montenegro) into a near-saint. Set in Rio and the surrounding countryside, the movie charts as unlikely a partnership as you’re ever going to see. Dora is a bitter woman who writes letters for illiterates. Although she promises to mail the finished work immediately, she instead keeps the postage money and destroys the letters. Jose is a sharp-tongued boy whose mother hires Dora to write a note to her reclaim her estranged husband. When the woman is killed by a bus, however, a series of believable plot contrivances find Dora and Jose setting off on a bittersweet, funny, and heartfelt quest for the boy's father. Avoiding cliches and emphasizing realistic characters, Central Station is a brilliantly depicted journey of spiritual awakening as Dora realizes that she needs Jose as much he needs a father – and that the old woman and child are more alike than either realized. Not to be missed. 12/5/98

Director: Don Siegel. Cast: Walter Matthew, Joe Don Baker.
An Eastwood movie without Eastwood. It has all the ingredients: a bank heist that goes wrong, a motley crew of bank robbers, Don Siegel directing, a Lalo Schifrin score, a hero who is a loner, "the last of the independents." The only catch is it's Walter Matthau as the lead, not Eastwood. Matthau is fine, bringing a wily hang-dog quality to the part (though seeing him called "handsome" and acting like a stud is a bit much). The movie is well-paced, ingenious, but lacks a heart: it seems much more calculated than other Siegel/Eastwood flicks. Great score. Seen (again after 20 years): 1/21-1/22/98

Director: Warner Oland, Keye Luke, J. Carrol Naish, Drue Leyton.
Vastly entertaining Chan entry, with a rare appearance by the entire Chan clan (including the Mrs.) An invitation to the Big Top spells trouble when the tough circus owner is found murdered, apparently killed by a runaway ape. Enter Chan (Oland), who is persuaded by his kids to find the killer and save the circus. The mystery is clever if contrived, but the real pleasure in the film comes from the interactions between Chan and his family members, especially the over-eager No. 1 son (Luke). Oland, who is terrific as the Oriental detective, and Luke have a lovely rapport. For a Chan entry, the pacing is very fast. Reseen: 5/3/03

Director: Phil Rosen. Cast: Sidney Toler, Frances Chan, Mantan Moreland.
Fairly fast-paced programmer, Toler's third as Chan for Monogram. It's cheap but the plot is intricate enough to keep you awake for the 67-minute running time. Not many wise and witty aphorisms in this one, and Frances Chan plays Chan's daughter Frances. Thankfully, Moreland's Birmingham Brown is downplayed. Re-issued as Meeting at Midnight. 6/22/98.

Director: Phil Rosen. Cast: Sidney Toler, Benson Fong.
Fairly fast-paced (for Chan) mystery entry, with enough twists and turns to almost hold your interest until the last reel. Toler's Chan is particularly mean to his No. 3 son (Fong) and the rapport between them lacks the Warner Oland-Keye Luke warmth. A passable programmer, second of Toler's Monogram cheapies. 4/4/98.

Director: Herbert I. Leeds. Cast: Sidney Toler, Harold Huber, Leo G. Carroll, Lon Chaney Jr.
Dull Chan entry that features one too many scenes of hysterical "Frenchman" Harold Huber trying to solve a murder case set in WWII-darkened Paris. Chan (Toler) makes a number of deductions, but he is generally at sea, thanks to the meandering, weak script. Toler is adequate, but lacks the charm of his predecessor, Warner Oland, and doesn't have a No. 2 son to play off, which hurts. The big surprise is seeing Leo G. Carroll as a Frenchman. He's pretty good! 1/20/98

Director: Luis King. Cast: Warner Oland, Pat Paterson, Thomas Beck, Rita Cansino (Hayworth), Stepin Fetchit.
Chan (Oland) in Egypt, on a mission for the French Archaelogical Society (!) – a contrived reason to get the Honolulu-based detective in the land of mummies and murder. There are some ingenious plot devices (a violin that murders the person who plays it) and some nice atmosphere (marred only by the offensive comic behavior of Stepin Fetchit), but the pacing is fairly leaden. Oland is excellent, once again, as Chan, his eyes twinkling at the discovery of new clues – he obviously delights in the role of his lifetime. Reseen: 2/9-2/10/02

Director: Eugene Forde. Cast: Warner Oland, Drue Leyton, Ray Milland.
Chan (Oland) races against time to prove the innocence of a convicted killer sitting on death row. Chan is more physically active than he would be in later entries, but otherwise it is business as usual for the Oriental detective. Okay, but not top-grade. Reseen: 4/23-4/24/03

Director: Norman Foster. Cast: Sidney Toler, Jean Rogers, Lionel Atwill.
Entertaining Chan entry with the detective (Toler) making like a secret agent as he seeks out spies and saboteurs in the Panama Canal zone. "Bad alibi like dead fish, cannot stand test of time" makes an appearance here, and Toler, who is more acerbic than Warner Oland, is fine as Chan, with Sen Yung as No. 2 son Jimmy Chan. The usual suspicious characters turn up and the least obvious one was my choice for murderer and saboteur – and I was right! Moves at a nice pace. (Seen: 1/29/98)

Director: Lewis Seiler. Cast: Warner Oland, Keye Luke, Erik Rhodes.
Long considered a lost film, this entry is seminal since it introducs Keye Luke as Lee Chan, Charlie's eager, Americanized No.1 son, who doubles as man of action and comic relief. Chan's bond with Lee is warm and genuine-seeming; it is the highlight of a film that has many highs, including a nice mystery, clever aphorisms, and a suitably mysterious atmosphere as Chan tangles with murderous counterfeiters. Seen again: 1/26, 1/27/08

Director: Norman Foster. Cast: Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung.
Diverting Chan entry (Toler's second) with a complicated plot and no shortgage of suspects. Toler lacks Warner Oland's charm, but he is a servicable Chan. I wish I could say the same about Slim Summerville as the comic relief sheriff. His schtick gets pretty tiring after a while. This one involves murder among would-be-divorcees staying at a hotel in Reno, Nevada. Fast-paced, for a Chan movie. 4/25/98

Director: Phil Rosen. Cast: Sidney Toler, Manton Moreland.
First of the Monogram Studios entries in the Charlie Chan series. Dull, plodding, and uninteresting, even by Chan standards. There is a ludicrous sequence of Chan walking from a building to a car, from the car to a gate, and to a mansion – all done without sound except for a ludicrously overdone musical accompaniment. Introduces the black chauffeur Birmingham Brown (Moreland), who helped lower the level of the series with his racist antics. 3/6-3/7/99.

Director: James Tinling. Cast: Warner Oland, Irene Hervey, Keye Luke.
Chan (Oland) returns to the land of his ancestors in a charming, well-plotted entry. In this one, he's after drug-smugglers who have murdered an old friend, but the real interest lies in Oland's delightfully low-key, mannered performance, and the interplay between Oland and Luke, both affectionate and bantering. Reseen: 3/29/03, 1/17/08

Director: Eugene Forde. Cast: Sidney Toler, Lionel Atwill, Leo G. Carroll, Charles Middleton, Sen Yung.
Engaging remake of Warner Oland's first Chan, Charlie Chan Carries On, itself a "remake" of Earl Derr Biggers' novel. With such good pedigree, how could it not be entertaining? Toler is fine as Chan, with some charming family scenes. The murderer is almost undetactable, and there are enough twists and turns to keep the pace up. This time, Chan takes over for his old friend Inspector Duff, murdered by the man he is hunting down. The personal stake is a good touch, humanizing Chan even more. 2/9/98.

Director: Gordon Wiles. Cast: Warner Oland, Rosina Lawrence.
Atmospheric Chan mystery, with the detective in San Francisco investigating the death of a long-missing heir. Secret panels, seances, and a complicated plot make this an enjoyable entry in the long-running series. Oland is wonderful to watch. Re-seen: 4/5/03

Director: Phil Karlson. Cast: Sidney Tolder, Benson Fong.
Fast-paced Chan entry, marred only by the silly antics of No. 3 son (Fong), and Manton Moreland as the cowardly black assistant of Chan. Why he keeps them around is the biggest mystery of the series. This one involves murder by cigarette, certainly a prescient idea. 10/24-10/25/98.

Director: Phil Karlson. Cast: Sidney Toler, Benson Fong.
Atmospheric Chan entry, well-directed by Karlson. In this one, Toler an acerbic and affable Chan, who uses an ingenious (and improbable) method to communicate with the police; he is also assisted by No. 3 son (Fong) and the black chauffeur – though they are both awkwardly worked into the story, since they do very little but sit around and wait for instructions. (At least in the other Chans, there was an excuse made for their presence.) Entertaining programmer. 7/30-7/31/98.

Director: Richard Schickel. Cast: Charlie Chaplin.
By-the-numbers documentary of cinema great Chaplin, which looks at the highs and lows of the silent movie star with a fairly uncritical eye. Schickel is obviously a fan of Chaplin, but fans don't often make the best bographers. Okay, of its type. 3/3/04

Director: Robert Milton. Cast: Clive Brook, Ruth Chatterton, William Powell.
Stiff adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham play The Constant Wife, with Powell in supporting role as a would-be-lover of Chatterton. Brook is as stiff as a board as philandering husband. 3/19, 3/21/08

Director: Cast: Juliette Lewis, Layla Alizada.
Excellent, fact-inspired story about a young Afghan woman (Alizada) who escapes persecution in her country, only to find herself in troube here. Without papers and without an identity, she finds herself at the mercy of a cruel bureacracy, which imprisons her in a holding area which might as well be an Afghan prison. Lewis plays her initially reluctant pro bono attorney who slowly becomes committed to her client's cause after hearing her story and seeing films of public executions, Engrossing and educational, though not in a pedantic way. 1/15/04

CHICAGO (2002)
Director: Rob Marshall. Cast: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere.
Impressive version of Bob Fosse stage musical, with fantasy numbers seamlessly blended into realistically shot tale. Film recounts the media circus and surrounding 1930s Chicago cabaret singer (Zeta-Jones) and cabaret singer wannabe (Zellweger), and the slick lawyer (Gere) who manipulates the media to get them off. Simple story, elaborately told, with a great deal of acting and musical pyrotechnics. Gere can actually sing, and everyone is terrific. 1/18/03

Director: Majid Majidi. Cast: Mohammad Amir Naji, Mir Farrokh Hashemian, Bahare Seddiqui.
Winner of the Montreal World Film Festival Grand Prix of the Americas Award, The Children of Heaven is a lovely, sensitive film about childhood joys and sorrows. Set in director Ajid Majiidi’s native Tehran, the movie depicts the relationship between an impoverished brother and sister, Ali (Mohammad Amir Naji) and Zahra (Mir Farrokh Hashemian) as they attempt to cope with a crisis of Ali’s making. Ali has lost his sister’s shoes. Scared of telling his father since they are so poor that everyone has only one pair of shoes, Ali spends the movie circumventing childhood disasters that stem from the incident. How the movie goes from a quiet conversation in a courtyard to a Rocky-style, sit-up-and-cheer sports climax is only one of the many pleasures of this remarkable movie. The tale – which has echoes of such great Italian neo-realist classics as The Bicycle Thief – is both moving and charming, with enchanting performances by Naji and Hashemian. 10/15/98

Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Cast: Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd, Michael Caine.
Affecting adaptation of John Irving novel about orphan coming of age in 1943 New England. Raised to be a doctor by the eccentric Dr. Larch (Caine), Homer Wells (Macguire) searches for meaning in the world outside of Dr. Larch's enclave. The movie is about responsibility, about Homer's responsibility to his "family" -- Dr. Larch and the orphans they care for at St. Cloud's Orphanage -- and about his responsibility to the world as a doctor. Dr. Larch performs abortions, giving women a choice at a time when none was available. Homer is against abortions as morally wrong, but, by the end, he comes to see Dr. Larch's view: life is a gift and an unwanted life can be a tragedy. It is more complex than that, however, for, as Homer argues, the unwanted orphans have developed into a family of their own, leading a sheltered, loving life, watching one movie (King Kong, about an unrequited love) over and over again. It is the safety of predictability, a kind of innocence Kong represents the same kind of innocence Homer has when he goes out into the world seeking experience. Only by experiencing life fully can you make choices and take responsibility for life. Maquire -- whose Homer finds love with Candy (Theron), only to lose it -- is excellent, capturing the matter-of-fact, wide-eyed innocence perfectly, and Caine is perfect as the cynical idealist. Touching. 9/20/02

Director: Norman Jewison. Cast: Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Tuesday Weld, Ann-Margaret, Joan Blondell, Rip Torn.
The Hustler with poker. McQueen is the confident upstart, Robinson is the veteran, and the story, set in 1930s New Orleans, details the pre-game intrigues that surround the characters involved in the game. Some romance, a lot of deceit, a lot of style. McQueen and Robinson are excellent, smooth and confident. Good supporting cast, excellent Lalo Schifrin score. Enjoyable, if a tad predictable. 6/15/02

Director: Charles Chaplin. Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers.
Touching story about a tramp (Chaplin) and two people he helps: a suicidal drunken millionaire (Myers) and a blind flower girl (Cherrill). The movie has a great opening -- the tramp asleep on a statue as it is unveiled for the first time -- and a truly poignant finish. Charlie has sacrificed much so that the blind girl he loves can see; when she finally realizes that her benefactor is a tramp and not a millionaire, the scene is so wonderfully underplayed taht tears came to my eyes. Great comic bits, too: the boxing match is a whole film of wonderful invention itself. 3/20/04

Director: Steven Zaillian. Cast: John Travolta, Robert Duvall.
Dull version of thrilling best-selling true story about long lawsuit over toxic waste. Perhaps it's expecting too much to hope that a movie could capture the nuances and complexities of this epic tale. But what a bunch of cliches. The greedy lawyer who finds redemption in the case. The grieving parents. The unscrupulous adversaries. It hits all the cliches except for the boffo happy ending. By trying to stay true to the facts of the case the movie betrayed itself (if you're going to simplify, why not go all the way). Probably, this should only have been attempted as a mini-series on TV. Law & Order handles complexities like this all the time, with a lot more fire. 6/30/99, 7/13/99.

Director: Fritz Lang. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Marilyn Monroe.
Clifford Odets play about bitter woman with a past (Stanwyck) who marries nice guy sailor (Douglas) but is drawn like moth to flame to bad guy friend of her husband (Ryan). Gritty, good dialogue and performances, but nothing new. Ends happily: it's all about not running away from commitments. A bit stagy. Monroe has a supporting role as a young good girl. 5/19/01.

Director: Francis Veber. Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu.
Entertaining, although slight, French farce about a boring dedicated nobody named Francois Pignon (Auteuil) who becomes somebody by declaring – falsely – that he is gay. Pignon is about to lose his job – just as he has lost his wife (divorced) and teenage son (estranged). But then his neighbor gives him the idea to declare he is gay. His employers, condom manufacturers, refuse to fire him for fear of offending their chief clientele, gay men. Amusing complications ensue, involving reversals of stereotypes, with Pignon becoming more assertive as he sees how perception affects reality. Depardieu, looking old, contributes an amusing portrait of a dense bigot who falls in love with Pignon. 7/13/01.

Director: Michael Mann Cast: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx.
Cruise in fine form as a charming hitman, who commandeers a taxi driven by Foxx to take him to his five victims. Atmospheric, good action sequences, nice performances, but a letdown of an ending. 8/15/06

COLLEGE (1927)
Director: James Horne. Cast: Buster Keaton.
Keaton goes to college. The stone face plays an intellectual who scorns athletic activities, until a pretty co-ed scorns him for not being a real man. The movie is a series of bits, some very well done, in which Keaton demonstrates his lack of prowess and/or understanding of baseball, football, and other collegiate sports. The movie has some great routines (the best may be the sequence in which Keaton tries to be a soda jerk, trying to live up to the rep of a great soda jerk he's replaced), but it goes over the line into nastiness at times. Keaton's character doesn't deserve such abuse -- unless it's because he's an intellectual snob. Seen on March 4, 1995.

Director: BuddBoeticcher. Cast: Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Nancy Gates.
Well-written western, once again with Scott as laconic cowpoke out to find/avenge his wife (see Seven Men from Now, Decision at Sundown). Nice characters, with friendly villain Akins foolishly taking reluctant-to-kill-him Scott in the end. Vigorous, well done, taut. 7/7/07

Director: Michael Curtiz. Cast: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin.
Entertaining western, Curtiz's last film. Wayne plays a Texas Ranger and Whitman is his quarry. The episodic, good-natured film features a jaunty Elmer Bernstein score, his first for Wayne, who delivers a winning, relaxed performance. Marvin is on hand, briefly, as a lunatic gun-runner. 8/31/00

Director: Howard Hawks and William Wyler. Cast: Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, Frances Farmer, Walter Brennan.
Intergenerational roamce about ambitious lumber jack (Arnold) who gives up his first true love (Farmer) and triesto recapture the past years later with her daughter (Farmer again). Well done story of compulsion, terrifically played by Arnold and Farmer. 8/24/06

Director: Richard Fleischer. Cast: Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall.
Not-very-compelling version of the Leopold and Loeb murder case, fictionalized here as an indictment against capital punishment. Stockwell and Dillman are the two young geniuses who murder for the scientific challenge of it; they are vaguely homosexual and fairly two-dimensional. Welles turns up an hour into the movie as a defender of civil liberties and wins his case through an impassioned, windy speech. The movie is a curiosity; not bad but not very good, either. The earlier Rope, on the same subject, is better. 3/20/98.

Director: Lew Landers. Cast: Sally Eilers, Louis Hayward.
Ho-hum women-in-prison drama in which prison psychoanalyst-doctor (he handles both chores) falls in love with one of the prisoners. Louis Hayward is the suave analyst, and outside of administering a few intelligence tests, he does very little analyzing. Seen on AMC, January 24/26, 1992.

Director: Francois Truffaut. Cast: Fanny Ardant, Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Truffaut's last film, a murder mystery involving a female amateur detective, Barbara (Ardant), who investigates the deaths of the wife and the lover of her boss (Trintignant). The killer becomes fairly obvious about halfway through the story, but it is entertaining for is technique and the novelty of a female detective. Atmospheric B&W photography and effective Georges Delerue score. Ardant is charming. 6/28/01

Director: Rod Lurie. Cast: Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges.
Superficial tale of political machinations over a vice presidential appointment, a kind of remake of The Best Man. Purporting to show politics in all its ugly glory, the movie paints a satirical picture of how principles can get lost in pettiness, morality lost in self-righteousness. The good guys are the liberals, the bad guys the conservatives, and there is very little middle ground. Everyone uses the same tactics, except the liberals are shown to be out for principle, the conservatives for sleaze. The movie means well, but it's a little too pat for my tastes. 10/16/00

CONVICT 13 (1920)
Directed by and with Buster Keaton.
Clever formula piece involving mistaken identity. Many nice sight gags as Keaton is mistaken for an escaped convict and unjustly imprisoned (and also hanged – unsuccessfully). Seen: February 13, 1995.

Director: Robert Altman Cast: Glen Close, Charles Dutton, Ned Beatty, Liv Tyler, Patrica Neal.
Entertaining character drama about eccentrics in a Mississippi town who get mixed up in the supposed murder of the elderly widow, Cookie (Neal). Dutton and Tyler play relatives of Cookie, among the only ones who really care for the old woman; Close is Cookie's scheming, over-the-top daughter. Entertaining because of the characters, more than the plot. Altman handles the action deftly and seems to have a belief in divine justice. Or at least an ironic twist of fate. 4/19/02

Director: Wayne Kramer. Cast: William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin.
Contemporary film noir, with Macy as Bernie Lootz, a sad sack loser who magically brings bad luck to whomever he comes into contact with. As such, he is employed by Shelly Kaplow (Baldwin), a ruthless Las Vegas casino owner, to work as a "cooler," i.e., a person who cools down a person's winning streak. Complications ensue when Bernie falls in love with Natalie (Bello), and a happy cooler is a contradiction in terms; instead, he turns bad luck good. The movie is about the transforming power of love and the nature of friendship (Bernie considers Shelly his friend, even though he hobbled him by breaking his knee cap once; he contiues to work for him out of debt; Shelly ultimately gives up all out of friendship for Bernie). It is intriguing, well-crafted, if a bit heavy-handed. Good performances, smooth direction. 9/5/04

Director: . Cast: John Candy.
Delightful – a by-the-numbers (formulaic) kids' film that is entertaining nonetheless. It's based on a true story about the first Jamaican bobsled team, and although it's predictable – reluctant coach with a problem past who comes around in the end, team faces early dissension, skepticism and own stumbles, one member against own father who forbids him, heavy odds, etc. etc. – the enthusiasm of the cast and the easy humor (plus the inspiring message) make it a winner. Seen on 11/28/93.

Director: Cast: Ellie Norwood.
Bizarre silent Sherlock Holmes film in which the mystery is unveiled in the opening minutes. By telling the story chronologically, there is very little surprise or mystery for the audience. Norwood's Holmes is over-the-top. 3/31/98.

COPS (1922)
Directed by and with Buster Keaton.
A bizarre and almost plotless free association adventure, in which Keaton gets into all sorts of adventures, simply through miscommunication. Like a live action cartoon, and although it's clever, it seem more silent film formulaic than other Keatons. Seen: February 13, 1995.

Director: Michael Ritchie. Cast: Dan Ackroyd, Walter Matthau, Charles Grodin.
Another in the therapists are crazier than the patients school of comic farce. Ackroyd is the smart ass escapee from a mental institution, a malcontent from the fringes of society who stays one step ahead of it by his wit and his sarcastic honesty. Most of the therapists in the film are shown as dumb or greedy or neurotic – or all three – and Ackroyd comes out ahead because he is smart and he cares. In the end, he gives up his freedom andhis escape plans because he feels responsible for mental case Matthau, who is going to kill himself because he feels Ackroyd betrayed him. The big scene demonstrates a key therapeutic principle: trust. Ackroyd reveals who he is, gives it all up, to gain Matthau's trust. And Matthau rescues him in the last moments – while the therapists are locked up in the looney bin. Really little more than an extended Saturday Night Live sketch, the movie has it in for asylums, showing that they are little more than prisons; for shrinks, saying they are greedy; and for L.A. patients, parodying them as egotists and fools, ready to be taken advantage of for the newest fad – "There's nothing that can be cured in a short time that can't be cured just as well in a long time," says Ackroyd, whose glib pop psychology advice on a radio call–in show makes him a four–day wonder, a sensation, offered a TV contract, a chance to sing the National Anthem, and fans, fans, fans. A broad, fast–paced parody of the cult of confession. Seen again on TV/tape, Saturday, December 28, 1991.

Director: William Wyler. Cast: John Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas,
Episodic, well-done version of stage play showing the fast-paced world of hard-hitting, unscrupulous lawyer. Barrymore is fine as tough lawyer who has come up from the slums and has one weakness: an over-fondnness for his uper-crust wife. Good performances. 8/23/06

Director: Otto Preminger. Cast: Gary Cooper, Ralph Bellamy, Rod Steiger.
Well-made, informative, and respectful film version oof real-life court-martial of Air Force colonel Mitchell (Cooper), who in 1922 dared to criticie the Army in publicc. Cooper is virtuous, Steiger is nasty as a prosecutor, and Bellamy is wily as Mitchell's attorney. It is so well-meaning you want to like it, but the story is ho-hum, a far cry from Preminger's great film noirs of the '40s. 11/11/06

Director: Tim Robbins Cast: Susan Sarandon, Bill Murray, John Cussack, Joan Cussack, John Turturro.
Message-heavy story about the ill-fated production of Orson Welles' 1937 WPA play The Cradle Will Rock, and all the posturing that surrounded it by politicians and the wealthy. The characters are not real people but points in a didactic essay about how capitalism works. The scenes are kept short and the pace is kept up, but everyone is playing cariacatures of real people. It supposedly is about a heady time, but the movie is overwhelmed by its own sense of pomposity and irony, especially in a final montage in which the WPA production's words are contrasted with capitalism's heavy hand (the destruction of a socialist mural; a modern view of Times Square with all its capitalist advertising = hey, the capitalists one!) Well shot, but it's a movie preaching to the converted, the naive, or the simple-minded. 1/28/00

Director: Robert Siodmak. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea.
Film noir about a man torn apart/destroyed by love. Lancaster is fine as the sucker and the movie is a well–paced B picture, with some fine voice over bits, and two great sequences: the armored car robbery and Lancaster in the hospital room, when he may or may not be menaced by a shy visitor. TV, October 14, 1991.

Director: Ang Lee. Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Cheng Pei Pei.
Arty martial arts film from acclaimed director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility) features an involved plot and some terrific action sequences. The fighting is balletic. But the story and performances between the battles are by-the-numbers comic book stuff and boringly complex to boot. But who comes to one of these types of films for the story, anyway? 10/9/00

Director: Mike Hodges.
Story of a down-on-his-luck writer who lands a job as a croupier at a posh London casino and hits it big. The movie is narrated, like a novel, in the third person, and it is a very effective technique; it allows us to get inside the head of the chilly, impassive protagonist, Jack, and also allows exposition and explanations about the game to be offered with ease. The story itself shows how Jack, who never gambles, essentially becomes the character "Jake" of his novel, the dispassionate observer of human life who controls the game, in effect, controls his life, by never getting involved emotionally with the customers. The movie is engaging because of its technique and the unusual world of the croupier; Jack himself remains a cipher, unknown and unknowable, keeping to himself, rarely opening up, rarely taking the conventional course. 8/18/00

Director: Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise. Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph.
Gentle sequel to The Cat People, more a psychological drama than horror film, featuring the lonely child of the the cat woman's husband, Amy. Amy leads a life of imaginative fantasies, which concerns her father (Smith) because Irena (Simon) had "fantasies" about being a cat. The movie finallly says that having a healthy fantasy life is good for a child – and it is her fantasy life which saves Amy int he end.. Unusual sequel, lacking the hauting power of the original – although the ethereal Simon, as the ghostly Irena, is lovely. 1/30/06

Director: Terence Fisher. Cast: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urqhart, Christopher Lee.
First of the Hammer horror flicks, offers another portrait of the obsessed scientist as he attempts to defy the law of God and create a man. Cushing is good as the suave man of science who is slowly corrupted by his obsession, and Urqhart is one-note as his moralistic friend. When compared with the Universal monster, Lee's is a pale thing; he doesn't do much but shuffle around and try to strangle people. The focus is more on the corrupt Frankenstein, who is a fairly low specimen of humanity himself: he murders an elderly scientist to get a brain, impregnates his maid and then lets the monster kill her when she threatens to reveal all, and finally sets his own creation on fire when he himself is threatened by it. In the end, he is reduced to a sniveling madman, begging for his life. Not a pretty picture of a scientist; he is corrupted and becomes evil – everything for his goal. 7/19/00