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Back to Bataan (1945)
"A Juvenile Dramatization of Significant History"
Plot in a Nutshell: Set during World War II - Allied resistance to the Japanese occupation of the Philippines is led by an American colonel (John Wayne) and a Filipino captain (Anthony Quinn).
Why I rated it a '5': Because, simply put, it's not that good. It's also not terrible. So 5/10 seems right. What's wrong with it, you may ask? There is a heck of a lot more dialogue and inaction than should be present for a war film. Some of the reviews I've read here talk about what great action this film has, and I'm not sure what they watched. There are a few battle scenes, yes, but much more time is spent on people having arguments or discussions. And for the most part, that dialogue is tedious and mundane. Although this is billed as a 'guerrilla war' film, about 85% of it is basically various characters talking about what they might do, as opposed to going ahead and actually doing it. And when I tell you that two of the major characters are a school teacher and a young boy, maybe you'll realize this isn't the war picture you hoped it would be....It seems I wasn't the only one who wasn't very impressed either. A contemporary newspaper review I found online provided the title of my review, and more analysis, so I'm going to include it here:
"This is a straight heroic fiction about guerrilla fighters in the Philippines, concocted according to the pattern for old-time gun-and-glory films, with the underdogs fighting upward fiercely against the usual insuperable odds and rushing forth at the finish to raise the Stars and Stripes to the mast. It is full of familiar clichés peculiar to such heroic fare. And for people who like that sort of picture, it will probably be gratifying, indeed. But, from a more realistic viewpoint, it seems a cheap and meretricious conception of the ordeal of the Philippine patriots and of the Americans who stayed behind to aid them.
Opening with a re-enacted version of the freeing of American prisoners from Cabanatuan, it goes into a flashback story of an American colonel's activities on Luzon in forming a guerrilla army, leading raids on the Japanese and rallying substantial assistance for the American landings on Leyte. Conjoined with the colonel's activities are the fates of several standard types: a middle-aged American school teacher, a native firebrand and his sweetheart, a clever spy. And a big slice of pathos and sentiment, involving a Philippine schoolboy, is cut in. Written and directed conventionally, the picture is played that way by John Wayne as the American colonel, Anthony Quinn and a sizable cast. And, unless you are easily susceptible to Hollywood make-believe, you will probably find it a juvenile dramatization of significant history."
That was penned by Bosley Crowther back in 1945 and I found it to be so spot-on, I decided that everyone else should see it, too. So I posted it here. Well said, Bosley.
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: I don't think so.
Not For the Squeamish
Plot In a Nutshell: A young woman (Najarra Townsend) begins to exhibit increasingly alarming signs of a deadly infection after she is sexually abused by a stranger.
Why I rated this a '7': For 2/3 of the film, this was actually pretty darn riveting. The signs and stages of the disease Samantha contracted were gross, and scary, and kept my interest. Bloody eyes, black teeth, rotting fingernails, internal bleeding.....ouch. Kept wondering what would happen next but had to keep watching! I've seen comments from other reviewers wanting to know what the specific disease was and rated the film low because it's not stated. And I say...who cares? It doesn't matter what the actual disease is, that's not the point. What is happening to her is the point. Others complained about not knowing if Samantha is a lesbian or is bisexual, and again....who cares? It doesn't matter what she is, it has nothing to do with the story being told. Really don't understand some of the reviewers here. If Samantha was gay, straight, bi, trans, whatever - has nothing to do with the development of the story.
This film does take a turn for the worse at about the hour mark. As mentioned by other reviewers, some of the character decisions seem far-fetched (like people wanting to hook up with the gross-looking afflicted girl) and even she herself, Samantha, does a few things I didn't quite understand. It left me wondering if the disease she had was affecting her not just physically, but mentally. If so that would explain some things better, but we are left to guess, as we can't see what is happening in her mind like we can see what is happening to her body. Even with these drawbacks, the first hour of the film was more than a little captivating, it deserves a better rating than it has. My vote is 7/10.
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N): Yes.
Today We Live (1933)
Today We Roll Our Eyes
Plot In a Nutshell: Set during WWI, an Englishwoman (Joan Crawford) is torn between her love for an American pilot (Gary Cooper) and her commitment to a childhood friend (Robert Young).
Why I rated it a '5': Several reasons. For one, the love affair between Crawford's character and Cooper's strikes one as highly implausible. They literally spend about 5, maybe 10 minutes of screen time together before they are declaring their undying love. The 1933 review of the film from The New York Times even noted that their romance "is set forth so abruptly that it is apt to seem absurd." The next major issue is the remarkable luck the characters seem to have, constantly running into each other in France despite them all belonging to different branches of the service: Cooper is an American pilot, Crawford is a nurse and Young is in the Royal Navy. Yet their paths continually cross in what can only be described as surprising frequency. The Times' review was not impressed by this, either, commenting it "scarcely adds to the credibility of the story."
The best parts of the film are the action sequences, both on the sea and in the air, although, here too, they don't pass the 'eye test.' In both cases situations are presented that seem highly unlikely to happen in reality (e.g., a 40-foot speedboat ramming into and sinking a battle cruiser). The acting from the leads is fine, as is the cinematography, and the battle scenes are at least exciting. Still, the multiple eye-rolling situations and developments make this a rather silly effort. If you are a fan of one or more of the lead actors you may enjoy it, but not otherwise recommended for the average viewer.
Times viewed: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Not Likely.
Ace of Aces (1933)
Plot in a Nutshell: Spurned by his lover for his pacifist views, a man (Richard Dix) enters the fray of WWI as a fighter pilot and becomes a one-man wrecking crew in the skies over France.
Why I rated it an '8': Several reasons. The anti-war sentiment of Rocky Thorne was an interesting centerpiece and serves to remind us that a fair percentage of the population wound up believing (in hindsight) that the U.S.'s involvement in WWI was perhaps not such a great idea after all (similar to Vietnam and the Iraq war). The pre-code hotel conversation between Rocky and Nancy certainly got my attention. In it, Rocky uses Nancy's words against her - "everyone should do their part" and "give what they can give" - in a successful seduction where Nancy gives in to his sexual demands, in essence as part of the 'war effort.' It does not endear one to Thorne, as he comes across as callous and manipulative, but it's something you wouldn't see in a film just a few years later I'm sure.
SFX were decent for the time period. The German character actually spoke German and/or broken English which was a realistic touch. My only real complaint is why Thorne swings from one extreme to the other without much prodding (pacifist to remorseless killer). The best one can say is perhaps 'kill or be killed' - perhaps - but of course he didn't need to enlist as a pilot in the first place. He could have been an ambulance driver like Ernest Hemingway and avoided the requirement to kill altogether. Even so, a pretty enjoyable pre-code WWI flick.
Best Line: Rocky Thorne (to Nancy): "Courage? At a time like this it takes courage to stick to one's principles."
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Talking really fast is NOT comedic genius
Plot in a Nutshell: A conniving newspaper editor (Cary Grant) tries to win back his ex-wife and former ace reporter (Rosalind Russell) while simultaneously chasing down hot leads for headlines on the possible wrongful execution of a convicted felon.
Why I rated it a '5': If that plot sounds busy, guess what, you're right. And that's not the half of it. Older films are notorious for the actors sometimes talking too fast, but this film raises the bar (or lowers it). And believe it or not, they did it on purpose! It turns out director Howard Hawks suffered from the tragically misguided notion that 'talking impossibly fast translates into superior comedy,' and so he purposely sped up the dialogue in this film to an incredible 240 words per minute! (Average speech is about half that.) He even held side-by-side comparisons of this film with the one on which it was based (1931's "The Front Page") so that he could prove his film was faster. And it is so fast, in fact, that the viewer can't possibly keep up with it. I had to turn on the closed-captioning AND hit rewind no less than 20 times, just to catch things that had been said by one character or another....because they are talking so ridiculously fast AND they are often talking over each other. How is this funny? Dude, it's not. It's really irritating and frankly, got very annoying after a while. The rapid-fire repartee makes this film an absolute chore to sit through. Another reviewer here recently stated the too-quick and overlapping dialogue gave him or her a headache, and I could absolutely see why. Talking really fast is NOT comedic genius.
And that's sad, because without that this would have been pretty decent. There is a fair amount of fun dialogue/exchanges between Grant and Russell - when you are able to understand them - making this a good but also rather typical comedy of the period. (Those claiming the dialogue here is superior haven't seen enough films of the '30s, like the Marx Bros. or "The Thin Man," or they'd know better.) The story is interesting, and the screenplay works, so that I would have probably given this an '8' had the actors spoken like normal people. As it is, 90 minutes of aggravation knock it down a few pegs, making it a '5.'
Best Line: Grant (to Russell): 'Let's see this paragon! Is he as good as you say?' Russell: 'Why, he's better!' Grant: 'Well then, what does he want with you?' Russell: 'Ah, now you got me!'
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: No way. I can't do irritating more than once.
The Great Toe Mystery (1914)
The big mystery is why this was considered funny!
Plot in a Nutshell: A store clerk makes a pass at a married woman and incurs the wrath of her jealous husband.
Why I rated this a '4': apparently back in 1914, it was considered the height of comedy to (A) have various characters run around shooting handguns in public places and (B) have people get knocked over - constantly - like bowling pins. Include these two elements and you've got a sure winner! Or so they thought back then. That's really all this film has in the way of 'comedy' and...yeah...it's as unfunny as it sounds. Further perplexing is the title...it's called a 'mystery' but there is no mystery at all. It's about a guy trying to avoid a jealous husband. That's it. What mystery, again? I give it a few points because it is so darn old, but I challenge anyone to honesty say this is very entertaining. Not so much.
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: No chance.
Plot in a Nutshell: An attorney (Warner Baxter) turns private investigator and enlists the help of a floozy (Myrna Loy) to solve a murder.
Why I rated it an '8': In some ways you can say this is an 'average' film, telling the usual 'detective solves the crime' story in a matter-of-fact way. He makes the rounds, gathers the evidence, figures it out and sets the trap for the bad guys. The End. And if that's all you got out of it, you'd pretty much be right. But the screenplay-writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (who would go on to pen much of the "Thin Man" series and "It's a Wonderful Life") elevates "Penthouse" to another level. And they were allowed to, of course, because it's pre-Code.
I've come to realize this era in film is likely my favorite because the dialogue is often filled with such wit and intelligence. I saved the best line for down below, but here are a few other examples: early on Warner Baxter's character says to his butler, upon learning that he (Baxter) passed out the prior evening, "Well, I hope you took over my duties as host, Layton." To which his butler replies "yes, sir. I took the big blonde home!" Baxter then chokes on his breakfast! But the best exchanges are reserved for Baxter's and Myrna Loy's interactions, like this one: Baxter - "I'm afraid you think I'm taking advantage of you." Loy - "I'm afraid you won't!"
A few reviewers complained that they thought Myrna Loy was miscast as a call girl, probably because it's a far cry from her upcoming role of Nora Charles. I didn't think so; I liked her very much here, along with the rest of the cast. "Penthouse" isn't platinum, but it is pre-Code gold. A pleasure to watch!
Best Line: Baxter - "Oh, I've been stupid. Very stupid." Loy - "Of course. You're a man!"
Times watched: 1. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes, definitely.
Drugstore Cowboy (1989)
The Examined Life
Plot in a Nutshell: The leader of a band of small-time crooks and junkies is forced to re-evaluate his life after tragedy strikes the group.
Why I rated it an '8': Seems realistic. Gritty. Does not glamorize 'the drug life' but instead gives a matter-of-fact look into the subjects' world. This film was based on James Fogle's autobiographical novel of the same title, so, even if the names have been changed, what you see is more or less what he experienced. And the picture it paints is that of a believable 'family' of addicts-thieves doing whatever it takes to keep their 'highs' coming. Matt Dillon gives a standout performance, I was impressed with his interpretation of the role. I disagree with other reviewers here who say there is no message or judgment in the film. I think there clearly is, and it's when Bob decides to make a break with his past. I don't take that as just 'part of the story;' it seems to me that Bob, perhaps for the first time, really took stock of his life, examined it, and realized he was on the road to nowhere. There is a message here, if you look for it.
Best line: "There's nothing more life-affirming than getting the **** kicked out of you."
Roger and me: Roger Ebert gave this film 4/4 stars and named it one of the best movies of the year. I agree with him, this is a very good film. 8/10.
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes, definitely.
El espíritu de la colmena (1973)
Pictures at an Exhibition
Plot in a Nutshell: A young girl in 1940s Spain is captivated by the idea that Frankenstein's Monster might be living at the edge of town.
Why I rated it a '7': It's a film almost unlike any other. I struggle to think of something comparable. If you approach it like you do 99% of films, that is to say, to be 'entertained'....you are going to be disappointed, as some reviewers here clearly are. After watching this film, and thinking about it afterwards, a better approach might be to view it like one would view paintings or portraits, like pictures at an exhibition. There are multiple scenes in this film which could very well be subjects you'd see on canvas. Think of the panoramic shot of the abandoned sheepshed...Ana's mother pretending to sleep....Isabel lying flat on the floor after her 'accident'....and Ana herself in front of the window, at the end of the film. All of these shots, and more, are held for long periods of time, almost as if the director is saying 'look at everything in the frame here'....like you would if you were in an art gallery. You don't walk by pictures when you're there; you stop and look, and often linger, taking in everything you see before you. I think that's really the best way to view "Spirit." Don't just watch the film, look at it and find the details that are in plain sight. In the question of 'art vs. entertainment,' there's really no mystery as to which side "Spirit" lands. I've not yet seen a more artistic film.
The story itself is thought-provoking. Much of it is seen from the perspective of the six-year-old protagonist, Ana. The sequence between Isabel and Ana, when Isabel has the 'accident,' was done exceptionally well, as viewed through the eyes of a child. Still, the dialogue is sparse and the pace is deliberate. The viewer must be prepared to accept this or it's going to be a long 100 minutes.
Roger and me: Roger Ebert gave this 4/4 stars and added it to his "Great Movies." I think I need to watch it again. It was interesting but this might be one of those films you need to watch multiple times to fully appreciate it. Right now I give 7/10.
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.
The Big Chill (1983)
Eight Characters In Search of an Exit
Plot in a Nutshell: An Oscar-nominated screenplay takes center-stage in this ensemble piece, focusing on a group of old college friends trying to come to terms with the suicide of one of their own.
Why I rated in an '8': Two things. Soundtrack and script. I won't add much to what's already been said about the music in the film. It's a great collection of '60s and '70s tunes which went platinum within six months of release and 6x platinum by 1998. My only question is, who doesn't own this soundtrack? As for the script, it was widely recognized by multiple organizations and won the Writers Guild of America's Award for Best Comedy. To me it's the star of this film. Roger Ebert noted "the dialogue sounds like a series of bittersweet captions from New Yorker cartoons." That's a pretty good observation. Here's an example, spoken by Jeff Goldblum's character at the funeral: "Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come."
Several reviewers complain here that this film doesn't seem to 'go anywhere.' Ebert himself felt that 'there's no payoff.' This is accurate. If you are looking for a grand finale, you won't find it here. This isn't a story where someone gets the girl or wins the Nobel Prize. Have you ever heard the phrase "it's not the destination, it's the journey?" That encapsulates this film. The story itself isn't very exciting, but the music and dialogue that are used to tell that story - that's what makes this film worthy of repeat viewings.
Best line: "In Hollywood, I don't know who to trust. I don't know who likes me or why they even do like me."/"Well you don't have that problem here." (Pause) "You know I don't like you."
Roger and me: Despite saying it was a good movie, Roger Ebert gave this 2.5/4 stars. I like it a little bit more - 8/10.
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes, definitely.
42nd Street (1933)
Plot in a Nutshell: A behind-the-scenes look at the staging of a new Broadway play, from the producers, managers and financial backers all the way down to the walk-on chorus girl.
Why I rated it an '8': Well, it's pre-Code for one. That's usually a plus and it does not fail to pay off here. The dialogue in this film is particularly rich and full of wit, I was very much taken with it. Several reviewers here commented on the excellent film-ending Busby Berkeley musical numbers, and rightly so, but the script is just as deserving of notice. It's full of one liners like Una Merkel's "Must have been tough on your mother, not having any children" or the exchange between two of the production staff: "How's the turnout, Mac?" "About 50-50. Half are dumb and the other half are dumber!" (Apparently the Farrelly Bros. did not create that phrase after all.)
Cinematography is also top-shelf, especially for Berkeley's choreography numbers at the end of the film. "42nd Street" must certainly be the inspiration for later productions that focused on backstage drama, from "Footlight Parade" to "Fame" to "Noises Off." I will admit I wasn't particularly looking forward to watching this, but by 20 minutes in I realized I had been wrong. This is a very good film and I can see why it received a Best Picture nomination.
Best line: "I still don't know what you're doing here?"/"Well, if I thought it was any of your business, I'd tell you!"
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes, definitely.
Rasputin and the Empress (1932)
Plot in a Nutshell: Russian Prince Chegodieff (John Barrymore) tries to stop the evil Rasputin (Lionel Barrymore) from exerting his influence over Czarina Alexandra (Ethel Barrymore).
Why I rated it a '7': That's a lot of Barrymore! Admittedly, that fact alone doesn't make it a 7, but seeing the three accomplished siblings together here (for the only time in celluloid history) IS worth a few extra points. This is an interesting tale, showing how an unknown/outsider was able to insert himself into the lives of the Russian royal family and influence them in ways one wouldn't think possible. I will say that the film goes out of its way to denigrate Rasputin. I don't think he needed any help, really, but in addition to his actual crimes, he is shown here to be a war-monger, royal rapist and freedom-hating enemy of the peasants. Lol that's quite a despicable guy! Some reviewers have complained that "Rasputin" is not always true to history (in some ways, it's not), but what this tells me is that Hollywood apparently has been making historically inaccurate films for perhaps longer than anyone thought. If you can forgive it that, it's otherwise pretty entertaining.
Best line: "You know, people with visions like yours, my dear father, are sometimes rather unlucky. There was a general, not long ago, who shot himself in the back. No one could understand quite how he did it!"
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.
The Hallow (2015)
"The Hallow" is a bit Shallow
Plot in a Nutshell: Set in Ireland, a young family is terrorized in their 'cabin in the woods' by an ancient malevolent force.
Why I rated it a '6': Film doesn't quite deliver on its promise. Started slow, picked up steam but then degenerated into bad character decisions and silliness by the end. Plenty of jump-scares and shadowy figures running in front of the camera. That's new. There was also something about a 'parasitic fungus' which unnecessarily complicated what might have been an interesting tale based solely on Irish folklore. Instead we got some weird combination of myths and science which, although it has its moments, in the end leaves you wondering what this could have been. SFX not bad for what appears to be a lower-budget film.
Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Probably not.
Private School (1983)
Typical '80s Teen Comedy
Plot in a Nutshell: Boys try various ways to infiltrate the local girls' school, purely for voyeuristic purposes, with mixed results. In the middle of this chaos, two teens in a relationship (Phoebe Cates, Matthew Modine) struggle with the idea of 'going all the way.'
Why I rated it a '6': There's not a lot of originality here. If you've seen "Animal House," "Fast Times @ Ridgemont High" and "Porky's," then for the most part, you've already seen "Private School." Having said that, there are a few funny moments which save this from being a total retread; there's just not enough of them for me to rate it any higher. Betsy Russell does spend more time scantily clad (or less) than anyone in any other film I can think of, so there's that, if that works for you. It would be an interesting debate to determine which was more memorable: her topless horseback-riding scene in this film or Phoebe Cates' pool scene in Fast Times?
Best line: Bambi Leigh-Jenson: "She's not gonna like me! I know it!" Mr. Leigh-Jenson (to Bambi, his new/8th wife): "Nonsense! Jordan loves all her new mommies, and you're no exception!"
Roger and me: Roger Ebert rated this film 2/4. I give it 6/10. Pretty close.
Would I watch it again (Y/N)?: Eh. Only in parts. There are some decent scenes I would re-watch, but probably not start-to-finish.
The Butcher's Wife (1991)
Plot in a Nutshell: Clairvoyant Marina (Demi Moore) impulsively marries Leo the butcher, moves with him to New York City and begins to change people's lives for the better with her 'homespun' but sage advice - much to the annoyance of their psychiatrist (Jeff Daniels).
Why I rated it a "7": It's charming and cute. Doesn't try to be something it's not. This is no Oscar contender, but then it was never intended to be. Falls squarely in the "Rom-Com" and "Chick Flick" genres, but does so comfortably. The supporting cast shines - especially Mary Steenburgen and George Dzundza. There is enough light comedy to keep the pace moving. Seeing Demi Moore with long, blonde, permed hair was a twist. I saw this years ago and remembered liking it. Seeing it again recently did not change my opinion, it's still harmless fun.
Best Line: Leo (to Dr. Tremor): "Stop (messing) with my life!" Dr. Tremor: "I never touched her!"
Would I watch again (Y/N)? Yes.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
1938 Review: "Breathless, senseless, and terribly, terribly fatiguing"
That was penned by Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times back in March 1938, who added "If you've never been to the movies, Bringing Up Baby will be new to you - a zany-ridden product of the goofy-farce school. But who hasn't been to the movies?" Well said, Frank.
Plot in a nutshell: Paleontologist Dr. Huxley (Cary Grant) is looking forward to two things: completing his reconstructed dinosaur skeleton and getting married to his fiancée. But then an incredibly clueless and irritating woman (Katharine Hepburn) forcibly inserts herself into his life and frustrates his plans at every turn, including using a leopard named Baby to accomplish it.
Another reviewer here said it well: 'irritating isn't funny.' And my goodness, Susan Vance (Hepburn) reaches the apex of irritability. Let's review: she plays Dr. Huxley's golf ball and refuses to listen to his attempts to point out her error. Come to think of it, that 'trait' (refusing to listen) appears over and over, to the film's detriment. She takes his car (and smashes it up). She rips his overcoat. She steals someone else's car and says 'oh we'll return it later.' She steals his clothes while he's showering. She lies to him about a leopard attack. And for a topper, she kidnaps him so that he can't get married to his fiancée later in the day. Is this humor? Or is this stupidity? Wow.
So many times I wanted to insert myself into the film and stop the insanity, for that's what it was. Screwball is one thing, but annoying to the point of maddening is quite another. And unfortunately, that's what this film has, in spades. Gladly I am able to say that it improves greatly once some other characters get involved with the story, especially Mrs. Random, Major Applegate and Constable Slocum. Their varied storylines help to detract and reduce the antics of Susan and they nearly save the film, almost. If I were to watch this again - unlikely, as I write this - I would skip the first hour and wait for the supporting players to get involved. They breathe life into what was a taxing chore to watch up to that point.
I was not surprised to learn that 'Bringing Up Baby' did not fare well at the box office or with the critics of the time. It had all been done less annoyingly before, and better, and would be done better again. For proof of this, check out 1941's "Love Crazy" with William Powell and Myrna Loy - a nearly forgotten 'screwball' comedy but way, way funnier than this film.
6/10 - Has it's moments but the aggravation factor weighs heavily against it. 2nd half better than the first. Would I watch again (Y/N): - only in parts.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Logic Takes a Holiday
Interesting re-telling of "Frankenstein" and "Beauty and the Beast" but comes up a bit short on logic, even for a fantasy film.
Plot in a nutshell: a creator's human-like invention (Johnny Depp) struggles to adapt to a world he's never known, including falling for the girl (Winona Ryder) he can't have.
There is some undeniable charm to this film. And it is noteworthy for being the first pairing of director Burton and actor Depp. Depp really nailed the character, despite his sparse dialogue (169 words in the entire film). But "Edward Scissorhands" is far from original (see 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein" for a misunderstood 'monster' hated by the townspeople); and while the sets are great (the castle, the pastel houses), this is hardly groundbreaking stuff. Sure it's nice to look at. But lay off the 10-star rating please.
The film is enjoyable overall and I didn't feel like it was a waste of my time. And yet, there are several plot points in the story which really, really do not make any sense. These plot points hurt the film and remove it from any sort of 'masterpiece' ranking. (Roger Ebert only gave it 2 stars out of 4, but I'll be a little more generous.) Spoilers follow!
* Why oh why does Edward have scissors for hands in the first place? We are shown that he was not intended to keep them, as the inventor gave him 'real hands' as a gift but died before they could be attached. But what is the point of giving him scissors for hands at all, even temporarily? It certainly was not necessary. Just leave it at nothing. The scissors were a threat not only to others but also to Edward himself (as we saw all of the self-inflicted scars on his face); there is no reason he should ever have had them. Would you give your creation something that in essence is actually a dangerous weapon? You wouldn't, of course, because it's illogical. But then...you wouldn't have a film I guess. This is a big negative.
*Edward apparently can't hold or handle eating utensils at the Boggs house. How then did he eat anything before he came to town?
*How does Edward go to the bathroom? Does he ever have to go? Yes he's artificial but he needs 'energy' of some sort right? We're meant to think he's human, but then think...he's not human? I don't know. Confusing.
*Who pays the bills for the old mansion to keep it going? Anyone? Or does Edward just somehow exist there without paying real estate taxes, etc.?
*Kim has multiple opportunities to explain away Edward's 'transgressions' to the authorities and neighbors but never does. If she really cared about him, this is inexplicable.
*At the end of the film, with the dangerous boyfriend Jim out of the way, Kim is now free to maintain a friendship or relationship with Edward. But no. Instead she never sees him again, despite the fact that he only lives down the street. Instead she grows old and tells stories to her grand-kids of how she let the love of her life get away....what? He lives RIGHT DOWN THE STREET! Heck, he's still there! Wow that's just dumb. She can explain that it was a misunderstanding. Or, if the people won't listen, then she can forsake the world and go live with him. But she does neither. Really? That's just poor story-telling.
6.5/10. "Edward Scissorhands" has its merits but also has its flaws. 7 stars (rounded up) is probably a little generous but the film is decent enough, if you are willing to suspend logic for two hours. Would I watch again? (Y/N): Definitely maybe.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Cagney was great
....but the film, not so much. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is one of those rare instances where a superlative individual performance does not automatically translate into an exceptional movie.
Plot in a nutshell: the show-business career of George M. Cohan, "the man who owned Broadway," is dramatized in this exorbitantly fictitious biography. James Cagney won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Cohan.
Quick quiz...and be honest with yourself...who reading this had ever heard of Cohan's musical "Little Johnny Jones" before seeing this film? How about "George Washington Jr.?" Anyone? I'm guessing 'no.' I certainly had not. Let that sink in for a moment.
Cohan is lauded in this film, and indeed portrayed as the man who owned Broadway...and maybe that was true 100 years ago. But fame can be fleeting, and that is very much the case here. Several reviewers revealingly stated they had never heard of Cohan before. Certainly the musicals he wrote (like the ones mentioned above) have not aged well and do not have staying power. Even many of his songs, so popular at the time, are extremely dated today. Think of "Over There," arguably Cohan's most famous tune. It's a song about Americans marching off to Europe to fight in World War I. What resonance does that have in today's world? Virtually none. To put it bluntly, Cohan is a dated figure who has been relegated to the dustbin of early 20th century history. He's just not a very compelling subject in this day and age. Likely no one under the age of 40, surely 30, has ever heard of him....and there's a good reason for that.
Cohan was still alive in 1942 when this film was produced AND the United States had just been drawn into World War II...making "Yankee" relevant for the time. Indeed, they even recycled Cohan's WWI hit "Over There" for this film's finale, having soldiers pass by FDR's White House singing the tune as they marched off to fight another war. Good luck finding a modern-day soldier who knows the words to "Over There" today.
As for Cagney, he puts his 'all' into this role and surely deserved winning for Best Actor. He sings, dances, and shuffles his way through the highs of Cohan's life (no lows are shown, like his first wife divorcing him for adultery). It's a virtuoso performance that certainly became one of the highlights of Cagney's career. Roger Ebert, in his 1998 review of "Yankee," wrote - 'the greatness of the film resides entirely in the Cagney performance.' He's right about that. Cagney was great. But that's also a telling comment which sort of alludes to what I mentioned earlier - 'the greatness of the film resides entirely....' In other words, CAGNEY was great, but the film isn't.
Why isn't it great? Here's why. It tells the story of a boy, then man, who grows up in a show business family; first performing in vaudeville-type shows, then writing, producing and starring in them. Eventually he gets his big break on Broadway and pens a few famous patriotic songs, like "Over There" and "You're a Grand Old Flag." Then he gets old and retires to his farm. Then he comes out of retirement to do another show and is given a Congressional Medal for his life's work. The end.
There's nothing great or amazing about this. It's a musical with several patriotic songs sprinkled throughout. That's nice. But why is that great? As I watch older films and read reviews, there is sometimes a robotic, non-thinking response from people. They are told by someone that a film is great and they just rubber-stamp their approval without thinking critically. The fact that "Yankee Doodle Dandy" has several flag-waving numbers decidedly adds to that feeling. It's almost like you're being unpatriotic if you don't love a film with those elements in it. Well, I'm not going to fall into that trap.
"Yankee Doodle" is a fine little fictionalized biography about a minor figure in Americana. And James Cagney gave the role his all for sure. But that's about as far as I can go on this one. It's certainly not essential viewing by any stretch. The fact that as of this writing, "Yankee Doodle" has about 12,000 votes and "Casablanca" (which came out just a few months later in 1942, and is a certifiable classic by almost anyone's standards) has over 450,000 votes on this website, speaks volumes. Only one of these should be regarded as essential.
6/10. Cagney's song-and-dance routine, while noteworthy, cannot save this from being anything more than a passable two hours. Would I watch again? (Y/N): Not likely.
La vita è bella (1997)
Count Me Out
I am in the minority on this one, given the current 8.6 rating and its ranking at #26 all-time (!), but I have two major issues with "Life is Beautiful" that hold me back from joining others and proclaiming it a classic.
Plot in a nutshell: A cartoonish man in WWII Italy wins the heart of a local beauty (after much effort). Years later he is sent to a 'death camp' where he tries to shield his young son from the horrors that surely await them both.
Issue #1: Maybe it's just me, but isn't Roberto Benigni's character Guido highly annoying? Let's recap - early in the film, we see him - uninvited - creepily and unnecessarily sucking on the leg of a woman he doesn't know (to extract 'wasp poison' he says); he is constantly trying to steal another man's hat (because it's better than his, apparently); he steals the school inspector's ribbon and then impersonates him at the local elementary school, where (because he doesn't know what to say when he's asked to give a speech) he strips down to his underwear in front of the children....need I go on? To put it bluntly, Guido is NOT an endearing character, at all. He is a bit of a creep and a petty thief and he talks too much, with nothing near the charm of Chaplin's "Tramp," to whom he's been compared here by some. I don't get it. I was immediately turned off by his antics and never was able to warm up to him as the film wore on.
Issue #2: The scenes in the death camp can only be described as fantasy. In fact, the entire film should be labeled as fantasy, because what we are shown is so far removed from reality it can't be categorized as anything else. Maybe I would have embraced it more had I known this going in, but I did not. Example: one of the early camp scenes, where Guido gets a hold of the camp loudspeaker and broadcasts a message to his wife, and somehow is not caught or punished for this? In reality he would have been shot ON THE SPOT and that would have been the end of this film. There are numerous similar instances of completely unrealistic and imaginary situations in the camp to move the plot along......yet we are supposed to become immersed in what is going on, knowing full well none of it could have possibly happened this way? Yeah I just can't do that.
Having said all of this, you CAN sense the connection father and son have, it's palpable, it's real. And you want to believe that the father would indeed try anything to save his family, up to and including sacrificing himself if he has to. The film does convey that quite effectively, and because of that, it has some merit. I just don't find it to be 'one of the greatest films ever' like many other people seemingly do. In essence it's a feel-good fantasy set in one of the worst imaginable nightmares of human history. In direct opposition to the feeling of this film, and a much more accurate representation of how the camps affected the people interned in them, I'll provide a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's book "Night": "Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends. Everyone lives and dies for himself alone."
6/10. Light-hearted tale of survival set in a place where hope for most people had long since disappeared. Would I watch again? (Y/N): Probably not.
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Kept Me Guessing
This is an excellent mystery/thriller that had me 'grasping at straws' for a solid hour or so, trying to figure out who was 'good' and who was 'bad.' And...it's punctuated with a "killer ending!" (Yes, pun intended ~)
Plot in a nutshell: An alcoholic loner subject to blackouts (Emily Blunt) immerses herself in a missing-persons case in which she becomes a prime suspect.
(First let me state I have not read the novel on which this film is based. So my review and impressions are formed solely from watching the movie, where they should be. It seems most of the negative reviews here are from people who read the novel, then apparently watched this film with a notepad in hand, already knowing the story and the outcome but eagerly marking down every area that doesn't match the book, and then coming here to write negative reviews to vent about it. No offense to them (or you, if you are one of them), but the point here is to review the FILM - not to compare and contrast the film to the novel (or to anything else, for that matter). If you want to write a review of the book, go to Goodreads.com and write it there! This site is for the film, and it's what I want to know about. All of these reviews on here telling me about the book, and then giving a poor rating because the film isn't exactly like the book, are irrelevant and out of place. Let's talk about the FILM....)
And yes, it's a very good one. Emily Blunt does such a masterful job of playing an alcoholic social outcast, I agree with some others on here wondering why she wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award. It's that good. She plays one of three women around whom the story largely revolves (Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett are the others). These three are all loosely connected in various ways that are not obvious at first but, through flashbacks and story shifts, we are gradually shown how they tie together. One of the three goes missing and the plot then shifts to solving that mystery.
Saying much more than this will ruin the story so I'll draw the line there. But I will say I found this to be highly entertaining and was constantly shifting my opinion as to who was the guilty one. At one point I guessed right (as it turned out) but I changed my opinion based on what was happening, only to find out I had been right 20 minutes ago! But that's the beauty of this film - just when you think you've got it figured out, you are given a new shred of information that makes you question everything you'd accepted before. That's good story-telling and worthy of acclaim. It's not a stretch to say "The Girl on the Train" comes from the same mold as the Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock classics. If you like those, you'll probably like this too.
8/10. Effective and intriguing mystery that deserves a much higher rating than it's current 6.5 here. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
First, any review with a 1/10 rating....ignore it. Very few films are so atrociously bad to deserve such a rating, and "Solo" is certainly not among them. The reviewers stooping to this level are clearly childish and juvenile and quite simply, are not being fair. And they are not worth your time. As much as I disliked "The Last Jedi," it still had a few decent parts that I couldn't rate it a '1' either; TLJ is probably about a '4.'
Second, any review stating "Solo" 'wasn't necessary' or 'no one asked for this' - ignore it. Here's a question...who 'asks' for any film? Who 'asked' for Rogue One, for example? For that matter, who 'asked' for the original Star Wars back in 1977? Anybody? Surely not the people making this idiotic comment. It's entertainment, people. If you think you might be interested, then go see it. If you don't, then don't go see it. That's not a hard concept to understand. The film - or any film, really - doesn't need to justify its existence for you, or prove its worth. BTW, "Solo" was in fact George Lucas's idea....he began working on it BEFORE he sold the franchise rights to Disney. So if you think this is a Disney 'cash grab' - guess what, you're wrong. Go tell George Lucas that "Solo" was unnecessary.
Now, on to the film...I will admit up-front that I would not have gone to see this if Rian Johnson was involved with it. "The Last Jedi" was disappointing on so many levels, I was ready to swear off any future SW films. I am still not sure if I will see Ep. IX....but when I heard Ron Howard was taking over, I decided to give this a chance. And am I glad I did!
Is this film perfect? No. I can do without Lando's droid, for one. There are a few plot twists at the end I am still trying to work out in my head. But overall, a really good, action-packed film. And guess what? None of the characters float though space. No eye-rolling "Poe" attempts at humor. No character-trashing moments that make you wonder what you're watching. So for those who were bitterly dejected by 2017's "The Last Jedi" - and I was chief among them - I am telling you, it is safe to go back in the theater again.
"Solo" does a great job introducing the 'origin' stories of the iconic characters Han Solo and Chewbacca. In a way, it's sort of like the Prequel Trilogy, which gave the origins for many SW characters, but not those two. So this film fills in the gaps for them, as the prequels did for Vader, Obi-Wan, C-3PO and many others. For any SW fan, that alone should be enough to entice you.
In addition, you get numerous new characters, worlds and adventures....what you'd expect of any SW film, really. And the special effects are very well done too. There is one sequence during the Kessel Run that is particularly memorable, I might go back for that one scene alone. Lastly, and even though this is a SW film, there is pretty much nothing here having to do with "The Force," which I think works to its advantage. So you're not asking yourself 'how can Rey do this?' or 'why didn't Snoke realize that?' etc. etc. Nothing like that to bog the film down. So, overall....a very good film. I am not yet sure where I would rank it among the (now) 10 SW films, but I think I can safely say it's in the upper-half. That would make it Top Five.
8/10. A breath of fresh of air, and highly recommended for SW fans - especially the recently-disappointed ones. Would I watch again? (Y/N): Yes, for certain. Maybe even this weekend.
The Sea Around Us (1953)
Horror Film for Nature Lovers
This is a shockingly awful 'documentary'....what the viewer sees is almost beyond belief.
Plot in a nutshell: Underwater photographers reveal various aspects of sea life, with a healthy dose of human interference.
Why is this shockingly awful? "The Sea Around Us" is not a documentary in any modern sense of the word. If by 'documentary', you imagine film-makers immersing themselves into nature and documenting what they see, you'll be very surprised by this film; because what you get here instead is mankind inserting himself into the sea, and more importantly the film, usually to the detriment of the sea life around him.
Rather than being called "The Sea Around Us," a more accurate title would be "Man's Clueless Exploitation of the Sea." I don't think you can really have 'spoilers' for a documentary, so I'm not going to check that box, and really, what I'm about to say here SHOULD be known by anyone who thinks s/he might be interested in this 'nature' film.
Imagine seeing a diver spearing a barracuda. Then the diver spearing a moray eel. Then the diver stabbing a small shark in its belly with a knife when it comes too close. This is in fact the film-maker's idea of a documentary, it seems - namely, 'Go deep-sea diving, and kill everything that crosses your path.' Anyone who enjoys nature and wants to learn more about it will likely be flabbergasted, horrified and stunned when watching this film, as I was.
The carnage doesn't stop there. The viewer also sees an example of deep-sea trawler fishing, where the fishermen scoop up everything they can in a huge net, and whatever they don't want - 'bycatch' - simply dies in the process. We witness sponges being collected by men off the sea floor, and see salmon on their way to their breeding grounds instead being caught by fishermen positioned in strategic places along a river (what a river scene is doing in a film about the sea, well, don't ask me). We also see sharks being captured for display in aquariums and hermit crabs being trapped and captured, I assume destined for pet shops everywhere. The film is capped off - believe it or not - by a whale hunt, as the viewer watches a whale get harpooned and then mercilessly stabbed to death by the hunters. The narrator then unbelievably labels the dying whale a 'monster' not once, not twice, but three times. Never mind that the whale shown here was of no threat to humans. This film - or more accurately, this utter piece of trash - is an absolute horror fest for anyone who loves nature and finds beauty within it. 'Abysmal' is a pretty fair description for this mess.
The fact that "The Sea Around Us" won an Academy Award for Best Documentary seems to be some sort of cruel joke. It speaks volumes about the stupidity of mankind and what it deemed as acceptable and good, just a few decades ago. Famous conservationist Rachel Carson's name was used to promote this film, but after seeing the finished product, she angrily distanced herself from it, and never sold the filming rights to any of her work again. Seeing this travesty of a film, that should come as no surprise.
1/10. This is valuable only in showing the viewer what was deemed normal in 1950s America. It should serve as Exhibit A for "What to avoid when making a documentary." Would I watch again (Y/N): Hell no!
A River Runs Through It (1992)
"Little Women" for Guys
I count this among my favorite films, one I can watch time and again without getting bored. Beautifully shot and acted, and with a memorable score, it's a perfect way to pass the time on a rainy afternoon (like today).
Plot in a nutshell: two brothers, Norman and Paul, take divergent paths on the way to manhood in early 1900s Montana.
Perhaps this film speaks so effectively to me because I, like Norman, grew up with one brother (although, unlike Norman, I am the younger of the two). And like them, my brother and I share some similarities, but we are more different than we are alike. No differences, though, are strong enough to overcome the fraternal bond that unites them. Both in their youth and young adulthood, you see Norman and Paul "being there for each other" when push comes to shove.
Some reviewers have stated the film is boring; I don't see that. Perhaps they were looking for an action/adventure film, I am not sure. This is drama, pure and simple, and done on an exemplary scale. It's like "Little Women," but for guys, and instead of four sisters, you have two brothers, Norman and Paul. We see their triumphs, their failures, their relationships....but most of all, we see that bond they share, shining through. I've always taken that as the theme of 'running through it'...their family bonds, and their fraternal bond with each other. It's a deep film, in that way. It can be uplifting, but also tragic; a sheer reflection of life itself.
I've loved the film since I first saw it in '92, and my opinion hasn't changed. Even the music is wonderful; I bought the CD for the soundtrack I liked it that much (CDs, I know, but c'mon, this was 1992 after all!). Watching "A River Runs Through It" is like catching up with an old friend; every few years I make sure to revisit it, because it's time well spent.
10/10. Poignant coming-of-age tale which also won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, and was nominated for Best Original Score. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Absolutely, yes.
The Bank Dick (1940)
...but not side-splitting hilarious. Beware the reviews labeling "The Bank Dick" one of the greatest comedies of all time. If you watch it with that idea in mind, you're likely going to be at least mildly disappointed.
Plot in a nutshell: A useless drunk bumbles his way into money and a job, mostly by pure dumb luck.
I will say that the film gets better as it moves along. But I was struck with the realization about 20 minutes into it that I really hadn't laughed yet. Needless to say, that is not good for any film purporting to be a comedy. Thankfully, it does pick up steam and there are some good moments from that point forward. One that comes to mind was when Fields' character makes front page headlines for being a hero. He hurries home to share the news with his family, and his mother-in-law, without saying a word, takes the newspaper from his hands and immediately whips it into the fire, so great is their contempt for him. They don't care what he has to say, they've heard it all before and frankly don't give a ****! I am smiling now just remembering that scene.
The story, such as it is, centers around Egbert Sousé (Fields) who seems to be as focused on drinking booze as Whimpy is on eating a hamburger. One wonders how he is able to support a family with such a singular purpose; but then again these films aren't known for their solid plots. Sousé soon finds himself entangled in all manner of situations, including foiling a bank robbery, standing in for a film director, embroiling his future son-in-law in an embezzlement/get-rich-quick scheme, and a car chase that reminded me of the climax of 1963's "The Pink Panther" (minus the gorilla suits).
I like W.C. Fields, but I've always liked The Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy more, and I think I know why. They were able to take their comedy/craziness to another level, where you literally are laughing out loud and rewinding the film to watch a skit over again. I don't get that feeling with Fields. He is funny, but he's like 'slow-burn' funny. He'll mumble things, or make odd, out-of-place statements like "yeah we have mustard at the house" and "I'll have a fountain pen by then." (You'll know them when you hear them in the film.) They make you smile, but they aren't gut-busters.
I think that sums up Fields in general, and "The Bank Dick" in particular. They are funny, and worth your time, but you aren't going to fall off your chair watching them. Good, sometimes very good, not necessarily great.
7/10. Would I watch again (Y/N)?: Yes.
The Steel Helmet (1951)
Important as a character study. Not so engaging as a war film.
Much has been written here, by those bothering to post a review, about "The Steel Helmet" being 'one of the best ever war films.' I always shudder when plaudits like these are used....how many films can really be 'the best ever?' I was curious to find out about this one.
Plot in a nutshell: In the early stages of the Korean War, a rag-tag band of American soldiers tries to get along with each other while searching for, and eventually taking positions in, a Buddhist temple.
Yes, that really is the plot. So if you are coming to this film thinking that it's going to be some sort of epic war adventure....think again. 2/3 of "The Steel Helmet" is set in one location, making this feel very much like it was taken from the stage; you will become keenly aware that this was a low-budget affair. From what I've read, it cost just over $100,000 to produce and it shows. Tanks made from plywood tend to have that effect.
What differentiates "The Steel Helmet" from most war films, especially war films of the era, is the social commentary director Samuel Fuller chooses to make. There are a few 'firsts' here....besides this being the first Korean War film, it is believed to also be the first film to mention the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. There is a frank discussion of the 2nd-class citizen status of African-Americans, with one character stating 'maybe in 50 years we'll be able to ride in the middle of the bus.' We also see an American soldier shooting an unarmed North Korean soldier, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. And the ending tagline "there is no end to this story" - as the soldiers move on to their next objective - is a powerful anti-war statement for sure.
All of the above was certainly thought-provoking but, unfortunately, was only a small part of the film as a whole. Excise the 5 minutes or so that are devoted to those elements, and what you are left with is a very pedestrian, low-budget run-of-the-mill war film that sometimes felt to me like it was a TV-movie. The lack of star power probably contributed to that. Many of the 'action' sequences are augmented with stock footage, some taken from WWII, and one in particular actually shows German cannons from Normandy. So the film loses some points/credibility there. Overall it's not bad, but be assured "The Steel Helmet" is more of a 'message film' than anything else. Epic war film it is not.
6/10. Interesting for the social commentary and for being the first Korean War film. Would I watch again (Y/N)? No.