Baby Face (1933 (**1/2, drama) (6-9-03)
Back to the Future (1985) (***1/2, humor, sci fi)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) (***1/2, drama) (4-3-00)
Bad Influence (1990) (***, thriller, crime)
Bad Sleep Well (1960) (**, drama)
The Bank Job (2008) (***1/2, crime, drama, thriller) (1-2-09)
Baraka (1992) (****, documentary, visual imagry) (10-2-99)
Barcelona (1994) (**1/2, comedy)
Basic Instincts (1992) (***, drama)
Barton Fink (1991) (**1/2, drama, black humor, crime)
Batman (1989) (**1/2 Comic book Adventure)
Batman Begins (2005) (***1/2, action, fantasy) (10-18-05)
Batman Returns (1992) (**1/2 Comic book Adventure)
Bats (1999) (**, horror, sci fi) (10-30-00)
Battlefield Earth (2000) (**, sci fi) (9-24-01)
Beat the Devil (1954) (***, comedy, drama, crime)
Bedazzled (1968) (***1/2, comedy)
Bedazzled (2000) (**, comedy) (4-2-01)
Beetlejuice (1988) (*** humor)
Bedford Incident, The (1965) (***, war, drama)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) (****, crime, drama, noir) (5-2-08)
Beginning of the End (1957) (turkey, horror, 50s)
Beguiled, The (1971) (***, drama)
Being John Malkovich (**1/2, fantasy, humor) (**1/2, 1999) (12-13-99)
Belle Epoque (1992) (***1/2, comedy, romance)
Benjamin Verdery's Concert
Benny Hill's Crazy World (See British Low Blows)
Better Off Dead (1985) (**1/2, comedy)
Big (1988) (***, comedy)
Big Carnival (1951) (***1/2 drama)
Big Clock, The (1948) (*** Suspense)
Big Combo, The (1955) (***, crime, film noir)
Big Deal on Madonna Street (1959) (**, humour)
Big Easy, The (1987) (***1/2, drama)
Big Hit, The (1998) (**, action, humor)
Big Lebowski, The (1998) (***, humor)
Big Night (1995) (***1/2, drama, comedy)
Big One, The (1997) (***1/2, documentary)
Big Sleep, The (1946) (***1/2, mystery, noir)
Big Sleep, The (Director's Cut) (1946) (***1/2, mystery, noir)
Birdcage, The (1996) (***1/2, comedy)
Birds, The (1963) (****, horror)
Black Dahlia, The (2006) (1 ½*, crime, drama) (8-13-07)
Black Dahlia (2006) (No rating, see review; crime) (8-13-07)
Blackmail (1929) (***, suspense)
Black Sabbath (1964) (**1/2, horror)
Black Scorpion, The (1957) (**, Sci fi, horror) (4-08-02)
Black Sunday (***) (1977, suspense)
Blacula (1972) (**1/2, horror)
Blade (1998) (**1/2, vampire, superhero) (3-29-99)
Blade Runner (1982) (****+, Sci Fi)
Blade Runner Director Cut (1982) (****+, Sci Fi)
Blaze (1989) (***, docudrama, humor) (1-4-99)
Blazing Saddles (1973) (***1/2, humor, western) (1-25-99)
Blood of Heroes, The (1990) (**1/2, Sci-fi)
Blood Simple. (1984) (****, crime)
Bloodsport (1988) (**, adventure)
Blue Dahlia, The (1946) (**1/2, crime, drama, film noir)
Blue Water, White Death (1971) (**1/2, documentary)
Bob Roberts (1992) (**1/2, satire, drama)
Body Double (1984) (**1/2, thriller, crime)
Body Heat (1981) (****, suspense, noir)
Body Snatcher, The (1945) (***, horror)
Body Snatchers (1993) (***, sci fi thriller)
Born To Kill (1947) (***, noir, crime, classic) (11-8-99)
BornToKill (1947) (***, noir) (4-24-00)
Bourne Identity, The (***1/2, thriller) (6-24-02)
Bourne Identity, The (***1/2, thriller) (6-24-02)
Bourne Identity (1988) (***, action) (8-24-04)
Bourne Supremacy, The (2004) (***1/2, Action) (8-24-04)
Bowfinger (1999) (****, humor) (8-30-99)
Boy and His Dog, A (1975) (***, sci fi)
Brain Donors (1992) (***, humor)
Brainstorm (1983) (**1/2, Sci-Fi)
Breach (2007) (****, docudrama, spy) (1-15-09)
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) (**1/2, horror)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (***, classic, horror) (12-20-99)
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) (****, drama)
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) (***, romantic comedy) (5-14-01)
Bringing Up Baby (1938) (****, comedy)
British Low Blows
Broken Arrow (1996) (***1/2, actioner)
Brotherhood of the
Wolf, The aka Pacte des loups, Le (2001)
(7-15-02) (****, fantasy, horror, drama,
Brotherhood of the Wolf, The aka Pacte des loups, Le (2001) (7-15-02) (****, fantasy, horror, drama, action)
Brute Force (1947) (****, crime, film noir, classic) (1-29-01)
Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, The (1979) (****, comedy, animation) (2-25-02) (9-28-99)
Bug's Life, A (1998) (**1/2 for adults and ***1/2 for children, animation, comedy) (12-28-98)
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) (***1/2, comedy, crime)
Bull Durham (1988) (****, humor)
Bullitt (1968) (***1/2, crime, action) (1-8-01)
Bunker, The (2001) (**, horror) (12-31-03)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) (***1/2, western)
Baby Face (1933 (**1/2, drama) (6-9-03) (D.-Alfred E. Green; Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Margaret Lindsay, Douglass Dumbrille, John Wayne) Pre-produciton Code (barely) film showing a very liberated and ruthless Stanwyck. This was part of Turner Classic Movies month of Complicated Women that focused on the portrayal of women in the precode era. A waitress and sleep around in a speakeasy, Stanwyck ends up going to the big city where she literally sleeps her way from the ground floor to the penthouse of a prestigious bank. The set up and her manipulation of the rather hapless males is the best part. She is not really that attractive a woman, but she does exude sexuality and make the successive falling of the males like dominoes almost believable. Of course, this was just a warm up for her classic role in Double Indemnity as the classic noir black widow. Even in Precode there were limits to what was acceptable in the triumph of bad over good. So the ending is moralistic and not at all believable. John Wayne in a brief suit-and-tie bit is a hoot. Beginning
Back to the Future (1985) (***1/2, humor, sci fi) (D.- Robert Zemeckis; Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Wendie Jo Sperber, Marc McClure, Claudia Wells, Thomas F. Wilson, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jason Hervey) In case you haven't seen it, I won't give too much away. High spirited romp involving 80's teenager (Fox) being hurled back into the 50s. Things get dicey when he discovers that he must make sure his parents meet and marry or he is history. Lloyd as a wild eyed, mad scientist with a time travelling DeLorean is a gem. Droll-to-slapstick humor, nice plot twists. Well acted. A lot of fun. Winner of the World SciFi Society Hugo Award. (9-22-970 Beginning
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) (***1/2, drama) (4-3-00) (D.- John Sturges; Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Walter Brennan, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Russell Collins, Walter Sande) WWII has just ended. The Super Chief Limited thunders through bleak, unforgiving desert--clearly destined for a fateful rendezvous. As it grinds to a stop in the nothing town of Black Rock, the stunned locals study it with inbred suspicion. The train hasnt stopped here without warning in years and anything out of the ordinary is to be feared, despised, destroyed. Black Rock is at the end of the earth and abandoned by civilization decades earlier. A half a dozen ramshackled buildings clinging to a piece of the earth that rattlesnakes would bypass as inhospitable. Off steps a one armed man (Tracy) who finds the locals even more hostile than the environment, and that is before he mentions the name Komoko, a local Japanese dirt farmer.
The town is run by Reno Smith (Ryan) with his band of thugs (Borgnine, Marvin). Other denizens include the cowed doctor/mortician (Brennan), a whipped sheriff, and a young brother (Ericson) and sister (Francis). Black Rock isnt much, but it is all they have ever had and have ever known. The plot evolves as Tracy tries to unravel their secret in the face of escalating hostility.
If revenge is best served cold, Bad Day is positively glacial in spite of the desert heat. The acting, the staging, and the dialogue are so brittle that at any moment you expect the screen to shatter like crystal on a concrete floor. Everything about the film is chilling. Stark, almost surrealistic. In spite of the absence of action through much of the film, the tension continues to ratchet up as you try to sort out what happened and what will happen. The plot development does not make it easy to see how this tragedy will play out.
The script and acting are first rate. Ryan is perfect as the baron whose fiefdom has been disturbed, but is also self-confident enough to not push too early. Borgnine and Marvin are ideal thugs. They are smug and arrogant in their physical prowess and being on their home ground, although the somewhat more intelligent Marvin is disturbed by Tracy's unexpected responses. Tracy is perfect. Distant. Puzzled. Then inquisitive. Then... Watch the film. Tracy's rather limited acting style is actually perfect here. Someone more emotional would spoil the tone. Brennan is fine as the Doctor. The other bit players all work flawlessly.
The cinematography and editing are magnificent. The film was shot in CinemaScope and makes perfect use of it. The town fits effortlessly into the barren, hostile terrain--a perfect metaphor for its occupants.
This review is based on an excellent letter boxed version shown recently on TMC. It is clear that the film will lose much of it visual and dramatic impact on a pan and scan format. Incidentally, this was apparently the first film to address the injustices to the Japanese Americans during WWII. Beginning
Bad Influence (1990) (***, thriller, crime) (D.-Curtis Hanson; Rob Lowe, James Spader, Lisa Zane, Christian Clemenson, Kathleen Wilhoite, Tony Maggio) Satisfactory thriller about milquetoast financial analyst (Spader) who is helped out of a barroom jam by stranger (Lowe). Lowe is everything that Spader isn't. Slick, confident, macho. A take charge doer. Lowe takes Spader under his wing and tutors him in how to take on the world. An attitude adjustment that Spader will never forget. Some deals are just too good to be true, and Lowe's offer has a hidden Mephistopholean interest rate that can kill. Spader's seduction and slide down the slope into the quagmire is quite believable. He is a willing participant until the extent of his fall begins to dawn on him. Tight and plausible for this genre even through the ending. Opportunities for discussion afterwards. (6-5-95) Beginning
Bad Sleep Well (1960) (**, drama) (D.-Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Takeshi Kato, Masayuki Mori) Stylish in places, but ultimately unsatisfying tale of corporate corruption, cover up Japanese style, and revenge. A young man attempts to extract revenge from corrupt businessmen who were responsible for his father's death. A throwback to the forties style American film noir. Unfortunately, the film suffers from the same problems as many of those films: too great a distance from the characters, which prevents you from ever making any emotional connection and caring about their plights or the end. The one dramatically effective performance is Shirai's disintegration. In addition, the plot is muddied and not very believable. There are some classic Kurosawa images, such as the long and very revealing opening wedding. The bride's brother's somewhat drunken toast to the couple is a masterpiece; it is like a complex German sentence where you have to wait for the end to tell what is really being said. Unfortunately, these images are not frequent or dramatic enough to make up for the other weakness. Bad will be of most interest to fans of Kurosawa and Mifune. Review based one the original 157 minute version (letterboxed). A shortened 135 minute version was later released and is apparently the video tape form; the shorter form may overcome some of the more ponderous development of the original. (8-16-93) Beginning
The Bank Job (2008) (***1/2, crime, drama, thriller) (1-2-09) (D.-Roger Donaldson; W.-Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais; Jason Statham, Saffron Burrows, Stephen Campbell Moore, Daniel Mays, Rupert Frazer, Gerard Horan, Peter De Jersey, James Faulkner) "Based on a true story." I'll come back to that. This is a lot like a Ritchie film; not as rich in dialogue, but with plenty of twists and turns. Low grade London criminal low lives end up carrying out potentially one of the biggest heists on record. Their goal is to clean out the safety deposit boxes in a large London bank. Sort of a weekend withdrawal. Terry's (Statham) current attempts at going straight are going poorly and the trajectory looks even worse. Terry's ex-flame Martine Love (Burrows from the unfortunately defunct My Own Worst Enemy) has a perfect plan and all she needs are the people. So he agrees and recruits a group of like-minded individuals, some not so swift. What isn't appreciated is that there is only one box Martine is interested in, and its contents isn't money or jewels and she isn't the one pulling the strings. By the end we have corrupt and incompetent London police, MI5 or MI6 ("I cannot remember which is which"), members of parliament, a truly nasty allegedly Black power criminal Michael X (De Jersey), and some very unpleasant underworld types all vying for the contents of different safety deposit boxes with our clueless boys in the middle. By the end, who will survive and in what state is very much up in the air. While this is a classic heist film, the plot and the characters keep one entertained to the end.
Statham who generally plays a mumbling heavy actually can act when given good material, although he does get a chance to do some head bashing. His interactions with his family are touching and believable. The rest of the cast is good.
How true is it? Well, there is a lot more truth than in Fargo where the Coen Brother just lied in the credits. The director gives a closely guarded account in
It looks like there are certainly elements of truth in his film. The gang allegedly was never caught.
Additional details are available at
The incident was known as the "walkie-talkie bank job", and tapes of their conversations were released to the public after the incident. The police told the ham who called them about the transmission to just record them. He did, so at least some of the dialogue is direct from real life. The government put a D Notice on the crime shortly thereafter. A D Notice clamps down totally on the media. The British have much tighter control of their media than we do.
I won't include any spoilers but after you have seen the film check out imdb.com under Trivia. They have an extremely revealing and fightening item SPOILER. It is a quote from the February 16, 2008 The Daily Mail newspaper, which gives considerable credence to elements of the film.
Also if you want an insightful take on Art vs. Reality, check out the article by the key Watergate player James Reston Jr. ("Frost, Nixon and Me", Smithsonian, January 2009, 86-92). To summarize, yes there are a lot of compromises, but good art can transcend the facts. Beginning
Baraka (1992) (****, documentary, visual imagry) (10-25-99) (D of Cinematography-Ron Fricke, Composer: Michael Stearns) Baraka is a Sufi word meaning "breath" or "essence of life". Baraka is a pure aural-visual feast. The visual images and musical accompaniment are mesmerizing, stunning, and ultimately overwhelming. We see juxtaposed awesome images of nature, both time lapse and accelerated and man's interaction with nature. Images of natural and human/cultural elements are from 26 countries and six continents. These range from the Himalayans, the Rain Forests, Australian (Ayers Rock), the US (Arches National Monument, Ship Rock) to modern and primitive cultures where it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. In spite of its initial apparently random association of images, the film has a well defined script. One possible interpretation concerns man and nature (somewhat cliched), but you will have to watch it yourself and draw your own conclusions about the message and how effective it is. However, in my view, the film maker succeeds in conveying a view that I am not sure was intended. To me the film is a magnificent celebration of humanity's innate, probably genetic, capacity to see beauty in the harshest surrounding and to create our own beauty no matter how brutal, marginal and impoverished the conditions. The body paint, the tattoos, and the music of even primitive societies can strike a deep resonance in "civilized" man.
Baraka was shot in 70 mm and is a BIG screen film. I am not sure how it will show on a TV, but it will suffer badly. Nevertheless, I think it would still be a rich and rewarding experience. If I can get the sound track, I will buy it in an instant. Incredible, even without the connection to the images.
I have not seen the earlier Koyaanisqatsi, which apparently covers some of the same ground. However, I now want to see Koyaanisqatsi. Fricke was the cinematographer for this earlier film. He built a custom camera for this film. You may not recognize what you are seeing, but at least one of the capabilities is flawless panned time lapse photography. Think about it. This creates a visual image flow unlike anything else that I have seen. Given that you must anticipate what nature is going to do on a long time scale, I suspect this necessitates an amazing previsualization--and probably a lot of luck. Beginning
Barcelona (1994) (**1/2, comedy) (D.-Whit Stillman; Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigenman, Tashka Berga, Mira Sorvino, Pep Mume, Helenna Schmed). Two misfit cousins end up together in cold war Spain. Ted is a successful, albeit insecure, salesman who is looking for Miss Right. Regrettably, he agonizes to the point of paralysis over his inability to separate lust and love. Fred is a naval officer who just cannot seem to get his job right, but is most successful with the local liberated Spanish young women. A comedy of errors where the normal assortment of cultural faux pas and misunderstandings are compounded by the long simmering feud between the cousins, and Fred's consummate skill at inadvertently bolixing things up. Low key, easy going film aided by a spectacular Barcelona backdrop and pleasant young cast. (4-10-95) Beginning
Basic Instincts (1992) (***, drama) (Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone) A nasty little thriller about a serial killer woman who kills her lovers during sex. Douglas plays an alienated police officer who hunts the killer. Stone is a mystery writer whose books uncomfortably resemble the crimes. Is she acting out her fiction or is someone setting her up? He becomes infatuated with Stone because of her intelligence, her arrogance, her amoral sexuality and because he believes that she is the killer and his code of honor demands her conviction. The plot revolves around the relationships of the bisexual Stone, a police psychologist who was Douglas' girl friend, Stone's jealous live in girl friend, and Douglas' obsessive pursuit of Stone and the killer. The action and pacing are taut, the plot intricate, and the finale explosive. The movie suffers from being somewhat predictable. The graphic sex, references to lesbianism, and violence may well offend. Contrary to the protests about this movie, it is not an anti anything movie. Nobody in it is nice. One problem I have with the movie is the 40 million dollar price tag. It was a well done little thriller, but where did they put the money. The ending should have been left more ambiguous; the scene should have faded 3 seconds earlier. Beginning
Barton Fink (1991) (**1/2, drama, black humor, crime) D- Joel Coen; Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi, David Warrilow, Richard Portnow) Very well made, stunningly photographed, well acted, and BIZARRE. Classic Cohen Brothers with odd, unbalancing camera angles, views, lighting, and scripting. If you want something to take your mind off of finals--and everything else for that matter, check it out. The term Kafkaesque comes to mind. If you haven't read much Kafka, try the short story "The Country Doctor", the novella "The Penal Colony", or the novel, "The Trial". Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" is, however, more weird, but then it is hard to top a man turning into a giant cockroach. Did I like the movie? Give me another week to think about it and discuss it, and probably another viewing when it comes out on video. A must for students of the bizarre. Beginning
Batman (1989) (**1/2 Comic book Adventure) (D-Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams) An imaginative retelling of Batman. Keaton plays a brooding introspective playboy who is ill at ease with his role as Batman. This is a heavy oppressive Gotham City thanks to the genius of Anton Furst (Academy Award for Art Direction - Set Direction). Jack Nicholson is the quintessential Joker; he was a gleeful psychopath before he was disfigured, but the facial in a vat of toxic chemicals really made him nasty. The scene where the Joker has a monologue with a corpse is classic chewing the scenery Nicholson. While this was a mega hit, I feel that it didn't really work. It is too brooding for a children's' movie, too sparse in action to keep the adrenaline up, and too slow and hazy in plot development to really excite. An imaginative effort that just doesn't gel. Beginning
Batman Begins (2005) (***1/2, action, fantasy) (10-18-05) (DW.-Christopher Nolan; W.- Bob Kane, David S. Goyer; Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Rutger Hauer, Cillian Murphy) The best of the Batman series. Dark, brooding, psychological. This shows that Nolan is no flash in the pan with continued deep, dark disturbing films after Memento and Insomnia. What path did Bruce Wayne follow from his brutally orphaned childhood to the dark violent champion of justice in
The acting is excellent. Bale is perfect as Batman. Neeson is Henri Ducard who takes this lost soul and trains him in the lethal arts (actually refines his already lethal talent would be more accurate) and in mind control. That is the power of fear. You must bask in the fear of others. Freeman is the weapon expert, and you may be surprised by some of the less traditional weaponry such as the Batmobile. Holmes is the believable love interest. Caine is the hard suffering manservant. Dr. Jonathan Crane (Murphy) is calmly chilling as a psychiatrist with an agenda that goes far beyond helping disturbed souls.
The cinematography is excellent. Deep. Shadowed. Foreboding. The iconic image of Batman standing on the building is perfect. The ending, of course, has to have a FX spectacular. In my opinion, this could have been shortened, but it doesnt distract from the film as a whole. Do check this one out.
Batman Returns (1992) (**1/2 Comic book Adventure) (D-Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken) Another dark brooding Batman installment. Imaginatively done, but still misses the mark and is marred by excessive violence and gratuitous grossness. Walken plays an unscrupulous businessman whose planned power plant will drain power from the city like a great vampire bat. DeVito plays the unspeakably ruthless Penguin whose lust runs to excess in all regards and who forms an unholy alliance with Walken to dispatch batman and control Gotham. Pfeiffer plays the homely love interest of Keaton while also happening to be the extraordinarily sexy Cat Woman--yes, she really does fit into that outfit and she became quite proficient with the bull whip during the filming. The doomed romance of this poor unhappy couple supplies a major emotional focus of the movie. It has more snappy action, better F/X (special effects, see reviews of F/X and F/X2, elsewhere), even more black humor, and a better plot than the original. Nevertheless, it still lacks a coherent focus and an appealing plot. While worth watching, don't go into it with too high expectations. As an aside, this is not a children's movie. The PG-13 rating is more than justified and anyone taking younger children should be examined for loose screws. An about 5 year old sat through the movie with his parents while I was there. If the child is not damaged for life, it is a tribute of the human animal to survive enormous mental assaults. The movie opens with the parents of the deformed Penguin throwing a baby carriage containing their, even then, psychopathic son into a river flowing into the sewer. At the end circus clowns rampage through the city stealing the first born sons of the city's elite in order to cart them off and drown them in the sewers. It isn't much better for little tikes in the middle. The complaint about MacDonalds capitalizing on the movies and hawking it to children certainly has some justification. Beginning
Bats (1999) (**, horror, sci fi) (10-30-00) (D.-Louis Morneau; Lou Diamond Phillips, Dina Meyer, Bob Gunton Carlos Jacott, David McConnell Marcia Dangerfield, Oscar Rowland, Juiliana Johnson, James Sie, Ned Bellamy) While not strictly a vampire film, large carnivorous bats do seem to fit smoothly into the genre. The best part of Bats is figuring out where they stole the ideas for each of their scenes and plot twists. I suppose there may actually be an original idea in there somewhere, but I missed it. The small town of Gallup, TX (not to be confused with the real Gallup, NM) suddenly becomes home to some unwelcome guests. As in any 50s horror, the towns people resist recognizing the nature of the threat. Ultimately, the government calls in a bat specialist (Meyer) to help the local sheriff (Phillips) and a less than totally well balanced government scientist.
Bats has respectable computer F/X, but the puppets look more like escapees from a second hand Halloween store. The acting is at the level you would expect. Bats does sport one of the best truly mad scientists that I have seen in a while. It is peppered with great schlock lines as: "Bats are special." "You can save your panic for later." In response to the question, "Why would you do that?", we get the real corker "Because I am a scientist." Do notice the film showing at their theater.
Bats does ask a few significant questions. Will the sheriff and the attractive lady scientist have their bones picked clean and their skeletons left to bleach under the Texas sun? Who is responsible for these monsters? Will there be a filling station fire and phone booth scene like in The Birds? Will the real town used ever recover from the damage from the film crew? If your taste runs to grade Z horror and you like to slum occasionally, like I do, check it out. Review based on the DVD that has some entertaining comments by the director. Oh yes, much of the plotting and scenes come from Hitchcocks excellent The Birds. If you want to see it done right, check out that film. Beginning
Battlefield Earth (2000) (**, sci fi) (9-24-01) (D.- Roger Christian; John Travolta, Barry Pepper, Forest Whitaker, Kim Coates, Richard Tyson) John Travoltas pet project based on L. Ron Hubbardss book of the same name. This has been rated by some as the worst film ever made. Give me a break. It is bad, but I must confess that after watching it and listening to the directors commentary I am more sympathetic. The set up is that the Psychlos have conquered Earth, humans have been reduced to savagery, and the Psychlos use them as slaves to mine gold. The occupation is led by security officer Terl (Travolta) and his lieutenant Ker (Whitaker). The eight foot tall Psychlos are the slobs of the universe. Unwashed and with a disposition and ethics even among themselves that would make Vlad the Impaler look like a nice guy. Terl is a master among master manipulators. His greed and underestimation of humans, however, causes him to give humans just a little bit too much knowledge and rope, which leads to the climactic final battle.
The film was clearly intended as a Star Wars-style space opera but just doesnt work. Travolta tries mightily to make himself both fearsome and a satirical parody of space villains; it would appear that Travolta and Whitaker are having a grand time hamming it up on the screen. Too bad it doesnt translate to the audience. In spite of everyones efforts, the acting, the story, and the film fail, although they do manage to create a superb impression of the size mismatch between the puny humans and the giant Psychlos.
What is actually quite enjoyable to watch is the film with the directors running commentary. The film looks a lot more expensive than it was and the director relates the countless ways they managed to keep costs down while making the screen look good.
Review based on the DVD, which has some supplementary shorts besides the directors commentary. As one aside, there is not a single scene in film that is shot level. All are tilted. So if you are in the mood for a really bad film and a lesson in inexpensive film making, check out Battlefield Earth. Beginning
Beat the Devil (1954) (***, comedy, drama, crime) (D.- John Huston; Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Marco Tulli, Ivor Barnard) Devil was a disaster when first released apparently because of the disorganized plot and the fact that the public didn't appreciate that it was comedy. The fact that the actors seemed totally befuddled by what is going on is probably not acting; the story was evidently being written and rewritten by the minute by Huston and co-writer, Truman Capote. Nevertheless, it has its own fractured logic and pleasures. Since much of the enjoyment comes from watching the unpredictable plot unfold, I won't give you much. Bogart is allied with four uranium swindlers who are so dysfunctional that they couldn't agree on the time of day while standing in front of the town clock. If this collection of distrustful rogues and malcontents isn't enough, they run into a young British couple (Jones, Underdown). Jones is delightful as a Romantic and pathological liar, who sees everyone and everything (including her husband and herself) as princes, knaves, gangsters, etc. Actually, in the case of the four bears, she comes pretty close. The swindlers' misinterpretation of what she is and knows is one of the pivotal errors of the film. (8-21-95) Beginning
Bedazzled (1968) (***1/2, comedy) (D.- Stanley Donen; Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welsh, Barry Humphries) Fractured Faustian Fable. Sacrilegious. Irreverent. And savagely funny. Humor ranging from droll to slapstick and most of it works. A milquetoast short order cook (Moore) has eyes for a waitress (Bron), but cannot bring himself to even ask her out. Enter Old Scratch himself (Cook) with a deal that Moore ought to have refused. Seven wishes for his soul. Moore might as well be wearing a sign around his neck saying "MARK". It is easier than taking candy from a baby as Cook has Moore eat through his wishes like a barracuda through a school of minnows. The chemistry between the two is fabulous with Cook lamenting his interactions with God and the quality of his help (the seven deadly sins) as he suckers Moore into yet another riotously bad decision. The film is apparently not in print and hard to catch--we caught it on a rare cable release. Devised by the two and written by Cook. (4-15-96) Beginning
Bedazzled (2000) (**, comedy) (4-2-01) (D.-Harold Ramis; Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Miriam Shor) Based loosely on the savagely satirical 1967 Bedazzled starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. It should have been renamed Bedazzled Light. Elliot Richards (Fraser) is a geek who longs after Alison (OConnor). He is one of those socially inept characters whose mere appearance sends his colleagues fleeing. He tries too hard to fit in and doesnt have a clue on how to do it. Along comes The Devil (Hurley) with an offer of seven wishes for his soul. Of course, the devil is in the details, and she suckers our poor schmuck into one bad wish after another. So as not to spoil it, I wont mention anything except that the same actors get reused in each of the different scenarios, and some of the scenarios definitely have their moments.
Hurley and Fraser are charming and do appear to be having a good time. The problem is the script. Too soft. It completely lacks the satirical bite and commentary on religion and human nature of the original. The directors voice over commentary on the DVD explain why. He considered the film a study in youthful angst and the inability to fit in. This coupled with the amount of exposure of the comely Ms. Hurley (PG13) probably does give it much more appeal to teenage boys than to adults.
Some of the supplementary material is more entertaining than the film. The torching of the car came up when they couldnt figure out what to do with the flaming glass; they didnt actually burn someones car .The mural of Hurley in the background was computer generated to fill the space. While Hurley with the snake featured prominently in the stills and theater poster, there is no snake in the film. In the "making of", you get a good idea of why. Not surprisingly, her car is a Lamborghini Diablo. The opening sequence with Fraser holding the door for everyone is actually 10 minutes of people streaming through. They explain how they got the enormous basketball Elliot effectand the sweat pouring off of him.
Review based on the recently released DVD, which has a good wide screen transfer, a directors voice over commentary, the trailer, and information on the making of the film. Recommendation: check out the original. Beginning
Beetlejuice (1988) (*** humor) (D-Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) Reviewing humor is always risky: Everyone has a different definition of it, but they know it when they see it. However, I really enjoyed this one. In a slick twist on Ghost Busters, a newly deceased couple hire a "human buster" Beetlejuice (Keaton) from the classified to get rid of some truly obnoxious living humans who have moved into their cherished house and are destroying their life's work. The only trouble is that no matter how bad the disease, Beetlejuice is far worse. Keaton brings new meaning to the term "low life", even by the standards of the underworld. He is exploitive, manipulative, horny, and aggressive; concepts of ethics, responsibility, and honor are as alien as the far side of the moon. Whenever he is on the screen, the pace is supersonic and the laughs nonstop. A riotous performance. Academy Award winning costumes. While the pace drags a bit without Keaton, the movie is still definitely worth seeing. Its show time! Beginning
Bedford Incident, The (1965) (***, war, drama) (D.-James B. Harris; Richard Widmark, Sidney Portier, Martin Balsam) Vicious, tightly drawn, cold-war thriller. A US destroyer, the Bedford, is dogging a Russian submarine in Greenland waters. If they can get it to surface for a positive identification, it will be a superb coup. Actually, Bedford's roots lie much closer to Moby Dick than to LeCarre. The tension builds inexorably and, given the conflicting personalities involved and the political environment, inevitably to the shattering climax. A superb study of men under stress. Also, Bedford is uncannily prophetic of the circumstances leading to the recent horror of the U.S.S. Vincennes shooting down a civilian Iranian AirBus in 1988. The black and white format is perfect for the subject matter. Crisper and more realistic than the source novel. (5-22-95) Beginning
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
(****, crime, drama, noir) (5-2-08) (D.-Sidney Lumet; W.- Kelly Masterson; Philip
Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris,
Amy Ryan) One of the best movies of the year. There are films that the less
you know about it before you see it, the better. This is one of them, so I won't
give you much about the movie. The mantra is "No one was supposed to get
hurt." Virtually at the beginning, you see a robbery go disastrously wrong.
The story unfolds nonlinearly as we learn the build up to the robbery and the
increasingly ugly consequences as the films rushes head long towards its shattering
climax. Andrew (Hoffman) is the successful, dominant one of two brothers. Hank
(Hawke) is the weak, easily manipulated loser who cannot seem to do anything
right. The dysfunctional family is rounded out by the father Charles (Finney)
and the mother Nanette (Hanson). The two men's wives Gina (Tomei) and Rosemary
(Ryan) play pivotal roles in this noir tragedy.
The acting is stellar, and the plot development gripping. You cannot look away from the screen as one noir bad decision follows another like an unfolding Shakespearean tragedy. The brilliant Lumet is 83 years old, still at the top of his game, and he uses technological props and new technology like a young director.
The cinematography is beautiful and, as we find in the "must view" DVD extras, the film was shot entirely on high def. And it is noticeable in Lumet's camera use. Many of the scenes were shot with two cameras rolling simultaneously. You get an intimacy from the actor in their live exchanges that are missing where the two sides of a conversation are shot separately or two larger cameras are used. I picked up on this, but didn't quite realize what was different. It is especially clear in the exchange in the front seat of the car where the two speakers separately fill the screen as they speak, but their back and forth is perfectly natural. If you look, you can see this in a number of other places.
As with the best films, you can discuss plot, character development and intent,
and noir moments for hours afterwards. Nor is everything tied up in a tidy little
Hollywood ball. What happens next is left to the audience's intelligence. Devil
is not to be missed, but be forewarned, the films is brutal, emotionally draining,
and has one rather graphic sex scene.
If you want to know about the title, it comes from the Irish toast "May you be in heaven a half an hour before the devil knows your dead." How it applies to the movie is much more cryptic, and there is confusion and some pretty bizarre interpretations to be found on the internet. My wife and I have worked out plausible, if not satisfying, interpretations. Regardless, it is not certain who if anyone will make it to heaven fast enough. Beginning
Beginning of the End (1957) (turkey, horror, 50s) (D-Bert I. Gordon; Peggie Castle, Peter Graves, Morris Ankrum, Thomas Brown Henry) Reviewing this movie compelled me to introduce a new rating, Turkey. So absolutely low budget and awful, it is unintentionally funny. It was actually very popular with teenagers. Apparently they had far better things to do at the drive-in theater and could avoid unnecessary distraction by going to Beginning.... Giant grasshoppers swarm across the Illinois countryside consuming everything and everyone in their path. Amazingly dainty eaters. The only remains of a couple in their smashed car is the young lady's intact sweater top. The thriving fast food counter of Chicago stands in their path with Joliet and Gary representing tasty hors d'oeuvres. Much of the military footage is obviously taken from WWII or military training films. You will be horrified to learn from the unfortunate botanist at the plant laboratory that being an otherwise symptomless deaf-mute is an unfortunate side effect of radiation poisoning. In one scene, after a massive burst of fire power with soldiers knee deep in grasshoppers, a radio operator reports "No action yet". A field artillary piece is camouflaged with bushes; we can only assume as garnish. The overlays are delightfully amateurish. Scenes of the grasshoppers climbing sky scrapers in Chicago are obviously done with photographs of the building, not even models. In one sequence, where they need to capture a live specimen, they come with a towtruck and use gas to knock out the first unfortunate hopper to cross their path. As Graves stands over this multiton beauty, he exclaims that it is fortunate that it was just a small one. Presumably, they dragged it back and up forty flights of stairs to their laboratory at the top of a high rise. I missed their explanation of why they just happened to have a cage big enough to hold it, but I'll bet it was a classic. The creature escapes and is machine gunned. Graves turns to the sole surviving soldier standing next to this immense carcass in the middle of their fortieth floor lab and exclaims distastefully, "Get that thing out of here!" And the piece de resistance of factual misrepresentation is a glimpse of the atom bomb loaded "B-52 bomber." It is a pity that it lacks swept back wings, but it does have pushing turbo props that establish it as the uniquely designed B-36. To add insult to injury, the poor director had personnel problems. The only suitable grasshopper for his creative masterpiece was a specific Texas locust. Unfortunately, the California inspectors wouldn't allow them into the state. After much wrangling a compromise was reached. He could bring in only male grasshoppers. So they all had to be sexed by an expert. Even then, the state insisted on counting them daily--a problem exacerbated by the grasshoppers tendency to kill and eat each other. It doesn't get any worse than this. See also Plan 9 and Robot Monster. (10-19-92) Beginning
Beguiled, The (1971) (***, drama) (D.-Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Pamelyn Ferdin) Not standard Eastwood fare. He is a wounded Union soldier behind Southern lines who is taken in at an all girls finishing school. A fine looking young man who has always gotten his way by charm and guile as well as being a born survivor, he charms and woos the women and the girls. However, the odds are steeper than he is used to playing, and the consequences of his actions are painfully believable. A fascinating study in human nature and the ability to read into situations what one wants rather than what is.
An interesting thing happened when we first watched it. Just as Eastwood stood up from the final meal, our tape ended. It was months before we could see the last few minutes. Since there are many plausible endings at this point, we spent considerable time arguing over how it would end and how it should end. You might try this exercise, athough a few minutes rather than a few months is a more appropriate delay. (3-7-94) Beginning
Being John Malkovich (**1/2, fantasy, humor) (**1/2, 1999) (12-13-99) (D.- Spike Jonze; John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John: Malkovich, Mary Kay Place, Orson Bean, Byrne Piven) A cross between Monty Python and Rosemary's Baby. This is an extraordinarily imaginative film. Its surrealistic plot would warm Salvador Dali's heart. About the first half was delightful but then the plot, at least for me, became incoherent. Craig Schwartz (Cusack) is an out-of-work puppeteer. The man is a dark genius, but there is no market for his work. His wife, Lotte (Diaz), runs a pet store and their home is a haven for maladjusted animals; watching her, we can suspect why they are maladjusted.
Under pressure Craig finally gets a job that can utilize some elements of his talents. However, it is on the 71/2 floor of an office building--there is a great reason for its existence and it makes for a long running and very successful joke. In this new environment, he also discovers the slinky Maxine (Keener), who stimulates his libido but is not about to deliver. Ultimately, he discovers a tunnel into the mind of John Malkovich (Malkovich). Pass through it and you experience Malkovich's life for 15 minutes. Surprisingly, this turns into a very lucrative business with Maxine. "Be someone else" takes on a completely different meaning. And it is here where the films starts to lose me. We get lust going in all directions, a very dark turn to the plot, and a deus ex machina to explain it all that seems as though the writer and director just couldn't figure out where to go from here. However, up to there, I found it an extraordinary ride.
There are others who disagree and think the whole film is beautifully crafted. So, like humor, Malkovich may be largely a matter of personal taste. The acting is exceptional. Cusack is seedy, scheming, and totally disreputable. Diaz, one of the most stunning woman in film, is so mousy and unpleasant that she is totally unrecognizable--even after you know who she is. Malkovich is Malkovich. Quirky and at home in a body no matter who happens to be the current resident.
One of the most extraordinary things about the film is the puppets, which form a very important metaphor for the plot. These are not your children's puppets. These are adult and so realistic in their actions and expressiveness that you keeping trying to see the human inside. At least most of the time, these are real puppets without digital enhancements. Simply extraordinary.
So if you are in the mood for an off-the-wall evening and want to risk the second half, which others have really enjoyed, do give Malkovich a look. Just remember, mainstream this isn't. Beginning
Belle Epoque (1992) (***1/2, comedy, romance) (D.-Fernando Trueba; Fernando Fernan Gomez, Jorge Sanz, Maribel Verdu, Ariadna Gil, Miriam Diaz-Aroca, Penelope Cruz, Mary Carmen Ramirez, Michel Galabru, Gabino Diego) Best Foreign Film Oscar. Subtitled. A delightfully bawdy (you were warned) comedy with political overtones. In spite of the title, the film is set in 1931 in Spain in the waning days of the monarchy. A handsome, shy, young army deserter finds sanctuary in the home of the atheistic, free thinking recluse Manolo (Gomez). The boy prepares (or perhaps is pushed) to leave on a train as Manolo's four daughters arrive. One can quibble over the precise set up, but the boy gets a very good look at the four nubile young women. Surprise, surprise. He "misses" his train and has to continue living with Manolo. He is young, full of hormones, and knows what he wants--in an honorable sort of way. He is also naive. The young women, however, live in Madrid, a big city. He stands as much chance as a cat in a pack of pit bulls. Even when he is getting what he wants, he has that nagging feeling that he is not in control of the situation--an understatement. The four daughters (Diaz-Aroca, Verdu, Gil, Cruz) all have very different personalities and all are charmingly well played. Much of the humor arises from the very believable sexual chemistry and the beautifully played body english and expressions on the principals.
The plot is compounded by a rich, young, mama's boy schoolteacher (Diego) who is courting one of the daughters, his iron-willed mother, and a radical priest who is an expert on arriving at meal time and is a friend and devoted follower of the writer Miguel de Unamuno. Late, but riotous, additions are Manolo's opera singer wife Amalia (Ramirez who does her own singing), and her petulant manager/lover Danglard (Galabru). The chemistry between the actors is superb. Everyone looks like they are having a ball, and their infectious good humor carries over.
The begining and end do have a dark edge. The beginning is metaphoric for the fratricidal nature of wars--no winner, at best survivors. The ending predicts the dark clouds of revolution that will shortly sweep aside the joys. (7-22-96) Beginning
Benjamin Verdery's Concert: Over the past week end, Benjamin Verdery's concert sponsored by The Charlottesville Classical Guitar Society was BREATHTAKING. He doesn't play the guitar, he makes love to it. It is a sensual experience.If you ever get a chance to see him, run, do not walk. In addition to being a virtuoso guitarist, he is charming and a superb showman. (10-24-94) Beginning
Better Off Dead (1985) (**1/2, comedy) (D.- Savage Steve Holland; John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Demian Slade, Scooter Stevens, Diane Franklin, Curtis Armstrong) Uneven, sophomoric and with genuinely good belly laughs. Not for all tastes, but I certainly enjoyed the steady flow of off the wall and unusual jokes. For claymation freaks, a pretty respectable hamburger section by Jimmy Picker. Cusack loses girl of his dreams. As with many teenagers, the loss actually is one of the best things that could happen as revealed by encounters with the class stud and an attractive foreign exchange student. Unlike many films of this type there is no nudity or sex and the language is pretty tame. (10-16-95) Beginning
Big (1988) (***, comedy) (D.-Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton, Jon Lovitz) A 13 year old wants to be "Big", an adult. Be careful what you wish for. A carnival wish machine grants his wish and turns him into a 30 year old. His terrified mother chases him out of the house thinking he has abducted her son. Then life really gets hectic until he becomes an extraordinarily successful business executive. What job? What else, but designing children's toys. Now, imagine a 13 year mind in an adult body trying to adjust to going to work every day and then include coping with the amorous advances of a beautiful colleague. Their courtship is a romp, literally, but not necessarily in the way you might think. Another great scene is where Loggia and Hanks play the giant keyboard by dancing across it--a flight of fancy rarely seen outside of animated cartoons. Overall, the humor is low key and the plot predictable; in short a typically see it and forget it throw away. Except for Hanks' performance, which is exceptionally perceptive. Just how would a 13 year old behave in such a situation? Watch Big to find out. I had thought his performance very good until I saw the movie on an airplane. Being too cheap to buy headsets for a movie I had already seen, I glanced up at it. Without the disruption of the plot and speech, Hanks' genius became glaringly obvious. The mannerisms, the body language, the cock of the head, the eyes, the smile. Hanks WAS a 13 year old trapped in a 30 year old body. It is clear that Tom Hanks would have also been a successful comedian if he had lived in the days of the silent screen. Big demonstrates an artistry and skill of character impersonation that is a delight to watch. See Big for his performance alone. (2-1-93) Beginning
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) (***, comedy) (2-5-01) (D.-Charles Barton; Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Glenn Strange, Frank Ferguson) Tooth, fang, and fur farce. For lovers of the humor of Abbott and Costello, a classic. Lou is about to find himself an unwilling brain donor; the choice of Lou makes perfect sense. We get an ensemble cast of monsters including Dracula (Lugosi), the Werewolf (Tabot), and Frankenstein (Strange) plus assorted gorgeous women who want Lou, but for very different reasons. Good sets and top of form for the two protagonists makes an entertaining evening. Lous phone conversation with Tabot is a gem. Vincent Price has an unbilled voice-only role.
Actually Frankenstein was played by two actors. When Strange was throwing the woman through the window, it proved more difficult than expected and he broke his ankle. Chaney replaced him for the rest of the film. Apparently, if you look closely you can distinguish the substitution. Review based on excellent AMC showing. Beginning
Big Carnival (1951) (***1/2, noir, drama) (Kirk Douglas) A black and white sleeper well worth plucking off late night commercial TV. A diamond hard look at a cynical, opportunistic newspaper reporter (Douglas) who, after a fall from grace, tries to make it back to big time news through a small Albuquerque paper. He ends up conjuring a minor mining accident into a nation wide spectacle with catastrophic consequences--a true Greek tragedy. The acting and plot are excellent. The cinematography is stunning. New Mexico really does look like that: vistas, skies, and clouds that make you gasp for breath. Route 66 and the little tourist traps actually existed then, and they probably used a real trap for the set. Trust me. I was growing up in New Mexico at about this time. If you have never seen Kirk Douglas, check out the chin. There is no doubt where Michael got his. (Reviewed pre July, 1992)
Now be amazed. Big Carnival is certainly loosely based on a real incident. In 1925 Floyd Collins of Onyx Cave was trying to find an even bigger cave in Kentucky to compete with other caves. He ended up trapped in a very narrow shaft that he was exploring. Miller, a reporter, went down, comforted him, and gave him coffee. Souvenirs, tents, snake oil salesmen, tourists, press out your ears, the whole nine yards resulted during the rescue attempt. The entire nation waited for his recovery. Due to the narrowness of the crevass, all attempts to dig him out resulted in yet more debris falling on him and wedging him in even more tightly. Finally, they had to dig a secondary shaft to get to him, but by then it was too late, and this story had an unfortunate ending. (10-25-93) Beginning
Big Clock, The (1948) (***1/2, noir, suspense) (D-John Farrow, Ray Milland, Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Sullivan, George Macready, Henry (Harry) Morgan) Clock shows its age in only a few small ways and easily holds its own against modern films. The model for No Way Out. Harry Morgan (Friday's side kick in the original Dragnet series and Colonel Potter in MASH) does a non-speaking role as a, probably, mute henchman. Laughton plays an absolutely delightfully slimy publishing magnate with morals that Vlad the Impaler would envy and a pathological sense of time. Milland is one of his top underlings who runs his crime magazine, which has the specialty of finding criminals or witnesses no one else can. A woman to whom Milland becomes temporarily attached for "business" reasons dies violently. Laughton assigns Milland to find the killer. In spite of Milland's evasive actions to delay the investigation, his underlings accumulate circumstantial evidence and the search steadily homes on him like a heat seeking Sidewinder missile on a jet. The climax takes place in a high rise business building. You just don't realize how claustrophobic those things can be until a good director gets you into one. Excellent cinematography and tension as the films rushes towards the finale. As an aside, someone challenged the director on Milland's method of jamming an elevator. Farrow, obviously a thwarted scientist, went to a high rise and experimentally checked it out. It worked, the elevator jammed, and everyone except the hapless passengers went away happy. (10-26-92) Beginning
Big Combo, The (1955) (***, crime, film noir) (D.-Joseph H. Lewis; Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Brian Donlevy, Richard Conte, Lee Van Cleef, Robert Middleton, Earl Holliman, Helen Walker) Dark, brooding, violent, beautifully photographed noir well worth watching. Driven detective (Wilde) hounds crime lord (Conte). A fine cast including many of the bit players with the notable exception of Wilde who is out of his league in a part that requires real depth and character development. Conte in particular is a knockout who, once again, shows why actors love evil--it's clearly so much fun to play. Conte is an utterly ruthless sociopath who has alway known what he wanted ("First is best. Second is nothing.") and has the will and skill to do what has to be done. Notice his handling of his slavishly faithful henchmen. Unfortunately, the plot is kludgy and one feels that we are looking at two different versions spliced together. From much of the early dialogue, it appears that Wilde knew Wallace before she took up with Conte, but this is then contradicted by the rest of the movie. Donlevy, a Conte crony, has one of the more memorable departures in film. The final scene is one of the beautiful shots in The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir by Foster Hirsch. (3-4-96) Beginning
Big Deal on Madonna Street (1959) (**1/2, humor) (D.-Mario Monicelli, Vittorio Gassman, Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Renato Salvatori, Carla Gravina) A light evening. No heavy message, low key, entertaining set up and conclusion. A group of wanna be master criminals end up showing their incompetence both in planning and morals (or lack thereof) for the task when they try to rob a pawn shop. (12-18-95) Beginning
Big Easy, The (1987) (***1/2, drama) (D-Jim McBride, Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman) An intriguingly different and well done crime movie about a New Orlean's detective (Quaid) and a new, rigid DA (Barkin). Quaid, who I feel is a much underrated actor (he reminds me a lot of Jack Nicolson in his early days), plays a cop who falls hook, line, and sinker for Barkin even though they are very much on opposite sides of some under the table minor corruption. Barkin plays an uncharacteristic personally naive (but still very sexy) role and makes a good foil for Quaid's romantic approach. They are brought together by some not so minor corruption in hard drugs and murder. Quaid's defense lawyer is priceless. The highs and lows of New Orleans (a.k.a. The Big Easy) are set to a high energy invigorating Zydeco sound track. Quaid can and does sing very well in the movie (not to worry, it belongs), and I suspect he also did some of the sound track. Pull up a chair, turn out the lights, and lean back for a roller coaster good time. Beginning
Big Hit, The (1998) (**, action, humor) (D.-Che-Kirk Wong; Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, Avery Brooks, Bokeem Woodbine, Lainie Kazan, Elliott Gould, China Chow) A Hong-Kong romantic, action comedy. Hit has it moments, although they tend to be far between. Particularly memorable is the dinner table scene. Melvin Smiley (Wahlberg) is a hit man. He also wants everyone to like him and is willing to do anything to achieve this end. The result is that his fiancee, his mistress, his prospective in-laws, and his friends, led by Cisco (Phillips), make a total patsy out of him. Cisco comments to the effect that the friends and relatives of the people that he has offed in the last 5 years will probably never like him. Things go seriously awry when Melvin and his buddies kidnap Keiko (Chow)--an error worse than walking a pit bull into a cat show.
The coolly malevolent gang leader Paris (Brooks) will be recognizable as Captain Cisco from Deep Space 9. Phillips is frenetically opportunistic. There is plenty of violence and explosions, some rather stylish, but the director tends to confuse motion with action. It does look like Phillips and, especially Wahlberg, are doing many of their own stunts. As I said, Hit does have its moments, but I'd wait until the price drops when it falls off the new release bin. (6-1-98) Beginning
Big Lebowski, The (1998) (***, humor) (D.-Joel Coen; Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Tara Reid, John Turturro) Yet another fractured fable of modern society as seen through the eyes of the Coen brothers. The Dude (AKA Lebowski) (Bridges) is an aging, overweight hippie who not only hasn't gotten his act together, he has absolutely no desire to get it together. His life is spent between his two pleasures--being zonked out and bowling. His two bowling buddies Donny (Buscemi) and the rabid, gun-toting Walter (Goodman) keep his life interesting. Walter has never found a problem that he cannot solve into a disaster.
Bridges is perfect as the man who has it all (at least in his mind) until he is mistaken for The Big Lebowski (Huddleston). The only similarity between the two is the last name. The Big Lebowski does have it all. He is rich and has a nubile wife, Bunny (Reid). Unfortunately, Bunny is into bookmakers big time. These facts cause The Dude to be sucked into a noirish intrigue of beatings, threats, black mail, German nihilists, a killer attack marmot, an erotic artist (Moore), and a Busby Berkeley dance sequence. All of this is initiated by a rug that "really tied the room together'', and fueled by good buddy Walter! If it sounds strange, it is. Remember this is a Coen brothers.
The Big Lebowski lacks a coherent structure. I don't think it was intended to be structured. The Dude has none. He drifts through life, surviving by pure reactive behavior, enjoying himself. The film is not about plot. It is about style, conversations, and CHARACTERS. And some truly off-the-wall film sequences. Our pleasure comes from the city full of odd balls, their oddly logical behavior, and The Dude's reactions. Bridges is perfect. While I found Goodman abrasive, my wife felt he, too, was perfect. Buscemi ("The little guy" from Fargo) has a very untypical role as possibly the only normal person in the entire film! Turturro is a trip as a competing bowler.
In summary, if you like the Coen's warped style and humor, you will probably enjoy the film. While Lebowski is closer in style to Raising Arizona than Fargo, it is completely different. If you liked either Arizona or Fargo, you might want to check out the Coen's at their most outrageous.
The humongous Bermuda shorts that Bridges wore were not his. However, he liked them so much that he wore them home. (3-16-98) Beginning
Big Movies: Today I'll review two BIG films that you may have missed just because "...No one can make an entertaining movie on that topic". The two movies below are outstanding and riveting. They are both long, but when they are done, you will wish they had not ended so soon. I rate them both as must sees. These films are The Right Stuff and All the President's Men . Beginning
Big Night (1995) (***1/2, drama, comedy) (D.-Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci; Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Isabella Rossellini, Ian Holm, Minnie Driver) Written by Joseph Tropiano and Stanley Tucci. This offbeat little film is clearly a labor of love. Fascinating character study of two immigrant brothers, Secondo (Tucci) and Primo (Shalhoub), trying to make a go of a gourmet Italian restaurant Paradise. Secondo is the pragmatist who ultimately knows that their survival depends on giving their less than upscale partrons what they want, while Primo, a culinary master, will not bend his standards one micro inch. Primo goes into a rage when a customer complains about not being able to see the seafood in a risotto that took all day to prepare and then compounds the insult by asking for spaghetti and meatballs--an unimaginatble horror to serve two starchs with one meal.
Across the street is an Italian restaurant run by Pascal (Holm) that caters to the taste of the customers, even if it isn't high class. The situation comes to a head as the bank threatens to foreclose, and Pascal will arrange to have his friend of the great Italian-American singer Louis Prima and band eat at Paradise. A food critic will be available and their fortune will be made. We then see the preparation and consumption of this elegant and mouth watering feast.
The story centers around the interactions of the two brothers, the eccentric genius and his enabler. Under the right circumstances, they could be wildly sucessful, but not at this time and at this location. This stress also brings an epiphany to the love lives of the two brothers.
The acting is first class, the story line intriguing, and the cinematography of the food mouth watering. The conclusion leaves considerable room for discussion as to the aftermath and consequences to the principles. (5-11-98) Beginning
Big One, The (1997) (***1/2, documentary) (D.-Michael Moore; Michael Moore) Review based on the showing last fall at the 10th Virginia Film Festival with Moore as a guest. Moore made his name with the shoestring, savagely funny indictment of the automotive industry in Roger & Me. Moore is no longer the underdog, but it has not dulled his wit. Big One is based on his tour to promote his book Downsize This! where he crosses the country interviewing folks on the street, getting his guide/watch dog picked up by security, trying to avoid being picked up by plant security himself, and trying to interview at least one CEO of a soulless US company.He also writes checks, frequently the oversized Publishers' Clearing House style, to various companies and politicians. You will be delighted by the amounts and the sources.
Moore is, to put it politely, well fed, dresses in a baseball cap, baggy work pants, flannel shirts, and a wind breaker vest. Anyone who judges him by his shambling walk, his appearance, and his down home speech is in for a serious attitude ajustment. He is savagely acid tongued, mentally extremely quick on his feet, and a master media manipulator who can turn his ejection from a corporate headquarters into mistreatment of the working class. He spins with the very best politicos.
While the economy may be booming now, there are always those suffering. Moore is able to seek them out (or with his fame just wait for them to arrive) and use them as centerpieces for his attacks on the establishment. Most CEOs carefully avoided him, but Moore did get his CEO-- Phil Knight of Nike. Nikes are manufactured in Indonesia by workers who are paid pennies a day, but you would never know it from their price. To his credit Knight is willing to talk, but given the situation and that its Moore's film, it doesn't end well for Knight. Knight is frank, articulate, and admits the low wages paid by his company. He also claims that Americans aren't willing to make shoes--a claim that Moore is not very successful in repudiating in one of his set piece scenes. It appears that Nike tried to buy off Moore and have him remove part of the interview for general theatrical release. Suprise, Surprise! It is still in the film.
Moore is very far left. A college audience is a perfect forum for him. I loved watching him work the crowd and the enthusiastic response to him and his film. It was also enjoyable to watch the virtuoso way he used his film to spin his views--propaganda at its best. I don't agree with many of his views, but I loved the presentation, the intelligence, and the wit. And certainly, a number of his points are well taken and need to be expressed. (4-27-98) Beginning
Big Sleep, The (1946) (***1/2, mystery, noir) (D-Howard Hawks, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Louis Jean Heydt, Regis Toomey) The second pairing of Bogart and Bacall after Hawks' unsatisfying To Have or Have Not. They were married shortly afterwards. A nasty little screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler's first book. Snappy dialogue and crisp action scripted by William Faulkner, Jules Futhman, and Leigh Brackett. Private eye Philip Marlowe gets a very big dose of blackmail and murder when a rich father hires him to shut off blackmail of his uncontrollable drug addicted, nymphomaniac daughter. Bacall plays the protective strong willed sister. Nothing is as it seems to be, and the plot suffers from too many twists and turns. But the getting there is fun. Even more than the modern, Basic Instincts, it is not completely clear who did what to whom by the end; apparently, even Chandler wasn't sure. Shows well even today. As an interesting aside, the women in this movie are very liberated even by the standards of the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies. This may reflect the women having just come through the war and running the stateside war machine; although most women surrendered their jobs to homecoming soldiers and returned to running the home, the confidence and freedom they had gained yielded stronger, more liberated women in many cases. Beginning (Reprinted on 9-15-97)
Big Sleep, The (Director's Cut) (1946) (***1/2, mystery, noir) (D-Howard Hawks, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Louis Jean Heydt, Regis Toomey) During their Birthday Celebration back in the spring, Turner Movie Classics treated us to the original version of The Big Sleep. This is the version that was actually shot, in the can, and ready to go. However, by this time Bogie and Bacall were a super hot item, and the film didn't play heavily on their interactions. So, the studio reshot parts of the film to maximize their chemistry. Until now what we have always seen is the second version.
So what's different? Actually about 18 minutes. Much of the added 18 minutes are devoted to Bogie and Bacall. However, this was an A picture and, as such, the length was already at the maximum; to accommodate the additions, they cut 18 minutes. The film is divided episodically into two parts. In the standard version, you are left without the connective tissue wrapping up the first part. In the Director's Cut, there is an extended session at the police station where many of the details are sorted out and explained to Bogie. This omission accounts for much of the confusion of the standard version. It isn't fatal to the story, but it makes it harder to follow, especially on the first viewing.
What are some of the additions? First, when Bogie takes the drugged sister back to her house, Bacall isn't there in the Director's Cut. There is a big interaction between Bogie and Bacall at this point. However, probably the most critical addition to the standard version was the bar scene between the two where they discuss horses and a horse race; the dialogue is an extended and very racy double entendre. Also, near the end in the gangster house, there is more interplay between the two. In this scene, the gangster's wife had to be changed between the two versions since the original actress was not available for the reshoot.
So which is best? You'll really have to decide for yourself. Personally, while the Director's Cut is easier to follow, I like the standard theatrical release much better. You can pretty much figure out the omitted part, and the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall is HOT. I think they did exactly the right thing by reshooting it.
I really love the film's beautiful Chandleresque dialogue. Tight. Fluid. Beautifully rhythmic. Almost poetic. The actors, and not just Bogart and Bacall, obviously practiced it until it was second nature. You could enjoy many of the scenes with your eyes closed. Beginning (9-15-97)
Birdcage, The (1996) (***1/2, comedy) (D.-Mike Nichols; Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Dan Futterman, Christine Baranski) A remake of the classic French farce La Cage aux Folles. Other than remembering that the original was very funny, I cannot compare the two. A gay couple (Williams, Lane) run an outrageous crossdressing club, The Birdcage, where Lane is the Diva with all the baggage and temperament of the type. This relatively tranquil life is shattered when William's son Val (Futterman) comes home with the news that he is getting married--to a woman. The couple's reaction is normal. They are not pleased. The boy is so young, only 20, and the girl is only 18. However, the really bad news dribbles in. The girl's father (Hackman) is a right wing senator and head of the Coalition of Moral Order. Hackman, whom the daughter has carefully kept in the dark about the boy's home life, has serious problems of his own, and the thought of a beautiful wedding to silence his detractors sounds great. So he and his wife (Weist) arrange to have a dinner with the boy's family. Obviously, the young couple would rather her family not learn too suddenly of the true situation and this leads to the masterful setpiece of the film: the dinner debacle.
While the first half has many funny elements, I found the dinner party riotous. Classic farce where everyone is misinterpreting what is happening or going to happen and trying to pick up the pieces and hide them as disaster heaps on disaster. The casting is superb. Robins, in an atypical role, is the perfect straight man for the over the top neurotic Lane. Hackman is a gifted dead pan comedian, which usually goes unnoticed because of his dramatic roles. Wiest is a perfect foil for her ambitious husband. Futterman is a charming young actor who precipitates the mess. I didn't get the name of the actress who played the daughter. She didn't have too much to say, but what amazing depth in her facial expressions and body English. At the beginning, when Hackman was drawing numerous--and generally incorrect--inferences about the boy and his family, I was in stitches as I watched her responses in the background. This may not translate well to video as she isn't the center of the frame and it is such a subtle piece of work.
Birdcage derives much of its pleasure by good naturedly japing human foibles without rancor, although the press does take some hard body shots. Ultimately Birdcage comes down firmly for family values--although not always the ones touted by Hackman. (3-18-96) Beginning
Birds, The (1963) (****, horror) (D.- Alfred Hitchcock; Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright, Ethel Griffies, Charles McGraw) Despite a dull performance by Hendren, The Birds ( is one of Hitchcock's nastiest thrillers. The world of a small California community is turned upside down when the birds suddenly turn on humans. Loosely based on Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name. You keep asking yourself, how could they possibly get the birds to behave in those extraordinary ways? Full of Hitchcock touches of humor, unbearable suspense (even for the Friday the 13th Part 50 generation), and unsettling camera angles and perspective. The final scene of them fleeing through the gloom with the setting sun and a thunderstorm over the bay in the background is one of the most prophetic unsettling scenes in film. Beginning
Black Dahlia, The
(2006) (1 ½*, crime, drama) (8-13-07) (D.-Brian De Palma; W.-Josh Friedman (screenplay),
James Ellroy (novel); Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson,
Hilary Swank) A first class suspense director, an excellent cast, and an awful
movie. Built loosely around the notorious and unsolved 40s Black Dahlia
Black Dahlia(2006) (No rating, see review; crime) (8-13-07) (D.-Ulli Lommel; W.-Jeff Frentzen; Ulli Lommel; for the sake of the actors I will refrain from giving their names) Note the striking similarity of this film title with the last. Note also the different director. If you are so unfortunate as to run across this film in the video store, the cover could be instantly mistaken for the DePalma film. It also showed up in the video stores before the DePalma film went to video—possibly even before it was out of the theaters. What you see is an example of a budding cottage industry in pumping out look alikes of studio films in video to snare the unwary into renting an ersatz copy. Another ploy is similar-but-different titles such as Snakes on a Train. I haven’t seen this film, but if you want to see some scathing reviews check it out on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). The movie gets an extraordinary low 1 ½ * with more than one reviewer complaining about the absence of a zero * rating. Rarely does one see such venom on IMDB; the reviewers (frequently not noted for good taste) feel this is the worst exploitation imaginable and by someone who doesn’t even make an effort to do anything remotely competent. Judging from the reviews of Lommel’s other films, Dahlia may rate as one of his masterpieces. Don’t expect me to review this. I’m not going waste $4. Caveat emptor. Beginning
Blackmail (1929) (***, suspense) (D.-Alfred Hitchcock, Anny Ondra, John Longden, Donald Caltrop, Cyril Ritchard, Sara Allgood) At Videos Etc. An attempted rape of a Scotland yard detective's girlfriend leads to murder, blackmail, and a Greek tragedy without winners--at best survivors. Oh, how subtly those apparently simple, frivolous, and safe little decisions that we make can lead inevitably to our physical or moral destruction. A nasty morality play that, while dated, still has vicious dramatic impact. In particular, the girlfriend (Ondra) and the blackmailer (Caltrop) are superb. England's and Hitchcock's first sound movie. Also released as a silent, which Maltin claims is better than the talkie. Ondra had such a severe accent that her voice was dubbed. Review based on the sound version, which unfortunately has awful sound quality. (6-28-93) Beginning
Black Sabbath (1964) (**1/2, horror) (D.-Mario Bava; Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Suzy Anderson, Jacqueline Pierreux) Very badly dated but influential horror film cut from the Hammer mold of blood and scantily clad, heaving women. Three stories hosted by Karloff with two based on Chekov and Tolstoy stories. Nice atmosphere, although the scenes tended to be too well lighted. The last is the best. Karloff plays a father who goes out to kill a vampire (a Russian Wurdalak), but returns as one to prey on his family. Karloff is really creepy as he cunningly exploits family loyalty to get past their defenses--his facial expressions and body English are beautiful. For an amazing bit of trivia: this is the only time Karloff played a vampire. (2-9-98) Beginning
Black Scorpion, The (1957) (**, Sci fi, horror) (4-08-02) (D.-Edward Ludwig; Richard Denning, Carlos Rivas, Mara Corday, Mario Navarro) A volcanic eruption in Mexico, and volcanologists go to study it. Surprise, surprise. A fissure has opened up and released giant scorpions that begin to prey on the local cattle and already shell-shocked locals. The film has no real suspense, but you are just waiting for the appearance of the scorpions. Thanks to Willis OBriens stop action magic, they dont disappoint. OBrien was the creator of the magnificent dinosaurs in Lost World and King Kong as well as mentor to the stellar Ray Harryhausen. This was OBriens last film. Scorpion will mainly be of interest to fans of 50s horror film, big bugs, and stop action animation. For these, it will be an enjoyable evening. However, if you want your big bugs with genuine suspense, horror and decent acting check out the earlier, but still arm chair ripping, Them.
Black Sunday (***) (1977, suspense) (D-John Frankenheimer; Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller) 143 minutes. Cliff hanging novel about terrorists trying to wipe out 80,000 people in one fell swoop, this movies has a lot of potential. Dern is at his unhinged, unpredictable best. Shaw is good as the hunter, and Keller makes a passable terrorist. Unfortunately, the director consistently misses the mark. Scenes that, had they been cut shorter and tighter, would have grabbed you by the throat, just turn out so-so. A 30 minute shorter version could have been a knock out. NOW I come to the climactic ending. It IS worth the wait! While it almost drags in places, who cares! When it moves, there just isn't enough air in the room. It has some of the most astonishing aerial stunts you will ever see, and there is one image that will burn itself into your brain like a cigarette through a silk shirt. I recently saw one still shot from the movie--this one. Clearly I am not the only one so impressed. The sound track by John Williams (pre-Star Wars) is outstanding accompaniment and shows off Williams' talent for epic battles and suspense. While I have mixed feelings on this one, the climactic finale pulls it off and makes it worth seeing, although if you cannot get through the body, do fast forward to about the last 15 minutes. Beginning
Blacula (1972) (**1/2, horror) (D.-William Crain; William Marshall, Denise Nicholas, Vonetta McGee, Thalmus Rasulala, Ketty Lester, Elisha Cook, Jr., Gordon Pinsent) Entertaining, low budget twist on Dracula genre. 200 years ago, Dracula bites and curses a Black African Prince. Snap to the present and a Black vampire stalks LA. Well put together with some droll humor and great music, although the shocks and the gore are pretty dated. Of course, any vampire film hinges on the quality of the vampire, and classically trained Marshall does not disappoint. He is one of the best modern versions. However, it doesn't seem to matter who made the film or who the Dracula is, the vampire hunters always seem to be playing with only a partial deck, and their ultimate success is almost a matter of luck. (1-19-98) Beginning
Blade (1998) (**1/2, vampire, superhero) (3-29-99) (D.-Stephen Norrington; Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, N'Bushe Wright, Donal Logue, Udo Kier) Blade (Snipes) is based on the comic book character who is half man-half vampire--his mother survived long enough after a vampire attack to give birth. His existence is dedicated to revenge and, with the help of Whistler (Kristoferson), finding the cure for his affliction before it turns him into a vampire. Actually, the world is run by vampires, who try to keep a low profile by getting most of their blood from other than human sources. They are ancient and with their experience very good businessmen. Too many killings would rock the financial boat. However, Deacon (Dorff) considers humans stupid and weak and good for only one thing: food. He wants to just seize world control, but is resisted by the grand council of vampires. Blade could care less what philosophical bent a vampire has as he slices and dices his way through their population.
Of course, as any good super hero, Blade has weaknesses, and Deacon plans to exploit them. This leads to a final confrontation between good and evil
If you go into Blade expecting logical plot development, memorable good dialogue, and good acting, you haven't been paying attention to the genre. This is intended as a visual-aural experience with beautifully choreographed fight scenes and F/X. Snipes is pumped up, oiled, and moves with the fluidity and lethality of a tiger. His fight scenes match what you would expect from the beautiful martial artist that he actually is. The F/X are excellent and imaginative. So if this is what floats your boat, Blade delivers a solid, satisfying evening. Beginning
Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) (1982) (****+, sci fi, documentary, etc.) (1-16-08) Released in December 2007. Want a post Christmas present for your avid fan of Blade Runner? Here it is. The 4 disc set includes previously unseen Blade Runner: The Final Cut. It also includes the 1982 theatrical version, the 1982 international version, and the 1992 director's cut. It also has a fabulous disk of features including the history of the film’s production, alternate and deleted scenes, interviews, comments by the people involved and a number of screen tests including some of the actors who didn’t get the parts. For example, many of the actors actually screen tested on the sets used for the film. For Pris’s part, the actresses designed their own dress. In the freezer scene, they used a real meat locker and it really is as cold as it looks. Further, the lights generated so many fumes that they had to stop periodically and air it out to keep from killing everyone. There is added critical and valuable comment by Batty to Sebastian at Tyrell’s apartment at the end of the scene. That really is Pris trying to rip Deckard’s nostrils out; the gentle touch just didn’t look good. Also, one gets to see how and why a number of artistic decisions were made. Fascinating. And much, much more. There is so much material that we still haven’t gotten to the fourth disk.
There is also a more expensive 5 disc version. In addition to the material of the 4 disc version, it comes in a replica of Deckard's briefcase and includes a work print version of the film, a miniature origami unicorn, a miniature replica "Spinner," photographs, and a signed letter from Ridley Scott. The four disc edition has everything that I want.
The big question is what are the differences between the new The Final Cut and the 1992 Director’s Cut. A lot of them are subtle, such as music and background noise. A major change is in the unicorn scene. You see more of the unicorn and less of Deckard’s actions. My wife and I feel that this change actually weakened the film, but you will have to decide for yourself. A nice cosmetic touch was at the end where in the original version the dove rises into a blue sky in spite of the fact that it is raining. This is now corrected.
This may be your first chance to see the original theatrical release and certainly your first chance to see a pristine DVD copy. It has a film noir style voice over and no unicorn dream as in the 1992 director’s cut. There is strong disagreement over the voice over removal. It works to a point. It creates a nice noirish ambiance and it helps explain some of the subtleties of the plot and of the world of 2019. My wife and I both liked it up to a point. It beautifully set the noirish mood. However, there is too much of it and it actually severely damages some scenes. We think some it should have been in, just not all of it. Let the audience fill in the blanks.
While I haven’t made a frame by frame comparison, I saw no discernible differences between the international and US 1982 releases. I am sure they are there, but they must generally be subtle.
In summary a MUST HAVE for any fan of Blade Runner or for anyone who wishes to become acquainted with what is arguably the best science fiction movie ever made. Beginning
Blade Runner (1982) (****+, Sci Fi) (D:-Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer Scott is a master of action and imagery. Blade Runner does not disappoint. This is one of the great atmosphere pieces of modern cinema. An absolutely riveting visual feast coupled with a seductive and haunting score by Vangelis. Set in 2018 Los Angeles, the earth is a real hell hole of crime, pollution, and drugs along with every malcontent and odd ball imaginable. Virtually every capable, healthy person has fled off world to the colonies. Androids are forbidden on earth because they are almost indistinguishable from humans, but are better. As a defense, humans program them with a premature death and don't tell them what it is. Five androids revolt and return to earth in an attempt to learn the secret of, and overcome, their genetic programming. Deckert (Ford) is sent to kill them before they are discovered and a scandal results. On first viewing, the plot seems illogical because the director does not spoon feed you. However, on subsequent viewing, it holds together. Also, the director and writers include a carefully drawn tease about Deckert--if you missed it before, check it out. Be forewarned, this eerie, unsettling, violent movie is not to everyone's tastes. A gorgeous 40's film noir in 2018. Based on the awful Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. How anyone saw a great movie in this book eludes me. I have heard that Hauer's monologue at the end was an ad lib. Scott was so impressed as it unraveled that he kept the cameras rolling and then used it. (9-19-92) (10-25-93) (10-26-97)
Note: If you want to see the original version of Blade Runner, as opposed to the director's cut, you might want to do that ASAP. The Virginia Festival had a hard time getting the original. The distributors appear to be phasing out all but the director's cut. Rutger Hauer's capstone monologue at the end was an ad lib by Hauer and was not in the script. (11-1-93) Beginning
Blade Runner (1982) (****+, Sci Fi) (D.- Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer). Director's cut. There are three major changes from the theater and video release. The main change is the elimination of Deckert's (Ford) voice narration of what is going on. For previous viewers of the movie, this is not a problem as you fill in the voice yourself. For newcomers, it may make the action harder to follow, and this is not an easy movie to follow. The other major change is that Scott now leaves absolutely no doubt about the tease on Deckert--if you are careful to read the signs. The ending is also stronger than the original, but it helps if you catch the tease. There also appear to be subtle changes in a few scenes, and I think the sound track has less music and more true background. I'll warn you; watch the eyes. While in this case they do not mirror men's souls, they do reveal a great deal. I issue my prior warning: this eerie, unsettling, violent movie is not to everyone's tastes. A must see for lovers of the original. (10-4-92) (10-25-93) (10-26-97) Beginning
Blaze (1989) (***, docudrama, humor) (1-4-99) (D.-Ron Shelton; Paul Newman, Lolita Davidovich, Jerry Hardin, Gailard Sartain, Jeffrey DeMunn, Garland Bunting, Richard Jenkins,Robert Wuhl) Blaze is based on the book by Blaze Starr. Aging Earl Long was the colorful, controversial governor of Louisiana in the 1950s. On top of the charges of graft and corruption in his administration, his very public affair with famous stripper Starr didn't exactly enhance his standing in the eyes of many conservative citizens. However, this really isn't a story about politics, it is a story about colorful, entertaining characters who march to their own drummer and don't care what the public thinks. Blaze is fluff, but it is endearing fluff with outstanding performances by Newman and Davidovich. Newman, in particular, exudes charisma and Southern charm, and one could easily see him elected three times in spite of his political baggage. The chemistry between the two is palpable. The film is played with a fine comedic edge and sweet respect for the humanity of the principals. Shelton had just finished Bull Durham and for those familiar with Bull, it will come as no surprise that Blaze is populated with off-the-wall characters and that plot is secondary to characterization. So if you go into Blaze in the right frame of mind, you will have an entertaining evening. The real Blaze Starr appears briefly as a stripper whom Newman kisses backstage (Cinemania '95). Beginning
Blazing Saddles (1973) (***1/2, humor, western) (1-25-99) (D.-Mel Brooks; Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, David Huddleston, Alex Karras, Burton Gilliam, Mel Brooks, John Hillerman, Liam Dunn, Carol Arthur, Dom De Luise) If Something About Mary was the politically incorrect poster child of the '90s and Animal House of the '80s, then Blazing Saddles stands as the pinnacle of politically incorrectness for the '70s. Don't even think about watching this on network TV or one of the cable channels that edits films--it wouldn't be recognizable except for the title sequence. Satirical, sophomoric, bawdy, uneven, and for me nearly lethally funny in places. In the mid 1800s, a conniving swindler Hedley Lamarr (Korman) and his adle brained puppet governor (Brooks) conspire to grab land in the path of the railroad. To insure the success of his plan, Lamarr assigns a black sheriff, Black Bart (Little), to the town, and assumes that prejudice will insure his prompt extermination. Bart is not so easily dispatched, especially given the less than high IQ of the town folks, plus he has attitude and acquires the fastest gun in the West (Wilder). Kahn does a Dietrich-like femme fatale sent by Lamarr to destroy Bart. Saddles was extraordinarily controversial then, and even now hits on hot button issues in such an abrasive fashion that it's not clear it could be made today. Warning: This is not a tasteful film. You were warned. Beginning
Blood of Heroes, The (1990) (**1/2, Sci-fi) (D. David Webb Peoples; Rutger Hauer, Joan Chen, Vincent Phillip D'Onofrio, Delroy Lindo, Anna Katarina, Max Fairchild) This is an interesting futuristic story. Post apocalypse gladiators make a living by going around and playing a game against the locals. The object is for the equivalent of a quarterback to carry a dog skull to a post. Only the teams have a nasty assortment of armament and fiendishly complex set of rules. Incidentally, Joan Chen moves like a trained martial artist. Beginning
Blood Simple. (1984) (****, crime) (D.- Joel Coen; John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams) The mercurial Coen brothers first film. Put together for peanuts in Texas and one of the best modern film noir movies. Clearly intended as a tribute to the genre, but done with superb style, acting, and plotting that puts it up there with its role models. In his cinematic introduction, ex-Coen classmate Barry Sonnenfeld's uniquely surrealistic cinematography is instantly recognizable by anyone who has seen Raising Arizona. In contrast to your usual film noir trio, Simple is a quartet. Getz is a bar employee who falls for the boss' wife (McDormand) who has had it with her husband (Hedaya). Walsh is that marvelous character actor who has single handedly redefined seedy in modern films. He plays a private detective who is so low that he occasionally rises to slimy. He is also the only one with brains. I won't spoil your first viewing by giving any plot, but I found it even better the second time when I knew what was happening. Getz and McDormand are excellent in their parts. Neither character is very bright, and both are the very taciturn stoic midwesterners who find it extremely difficult to express emotions and thoughts to others--a key point. Hedaya is completely believable as the pivotal highly suspicious husband.
Simple is built on IRONY. Everyone acts logically on the basis of what they KNOW to be true. However, as Walsh says in the opening voice over "...sometimes it all goes wrong". How and why it goes wrong is the story. Simple is put together like a Chinese puzzle box machined by Porche. Every piece fits together so perfectly and interlocks so tightly, it seems like a seamless whole. Ultimately, Walsh is the only one with enough brains and knowledge of what has happened to appreciate the irony of the conclusion, and even he is privy to only part of the story. An intriguing exercise is to try to figure out what everyone will think happened and how close they are likely to be after the fade to black.
Here, the Coens are lean and hungry like the emaciated warmup rock bands at concerts who know they have just minutes to sear their images into your mind. Simple uses excess, especially in the filmatic presentation, to sear. In my opinion it works--beautifully. Note the opening scene where we learn a great deal about the couple before we even see them. The only place I felt that they stumbled was with the dream sequence where, apparently, they thought the actors weren't good enough to convey their thoughts.
Good film noir should have several elements. Normal, regular people make decisions that irrevocably change their lives. A nasty view of the underbelly of human nature. Dark brooding atmosphere, typically with single point lighting and unusual cinematography. Labrynthic plots where every move at escaping is like thrashing around in quicksand: struggle harder, sink faster. Simple manages these in spades. Further, its extreme economy of action and dialogue belies the convoluted plot. As an aside, McDormand's opening sentence establishes one of the unifying threads.
In my opinion, pop Simple into the recorder. Turn out the lights. Be disturbed. (8-8-95) Beginning
Bloodsport (1988) (**, adventure) (D.-Newt Arnold, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker, Bolo Yeung) Based on the true story of Major Frank Dux who was the first Westerner to ever win the Hong Kong Kumite, or martial arts fighting contest. Truly an awful movie with every cliché imaginable and bad acting to boot. However, the fights are some of the most beautifully choreographed that you will ever see, plus you get a chance to see a variety of different styles in action. I had never seen Monkey Kung Fu before; it is so bizarre and different from any other style that I am familiar with, that I had a truly difficult time imagining how to fight it. Plan to make judicious use of the fast forward. Van Damme really is hanging in mid air in a straddle splits between two chairs, and he is a beautiful martial artist. For aficionados of martial arts. (9-12-93) Beginning
Blue Dahlia, The (1946) (**1/2, crime, drama, film noir) (D.-George Marshall; Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva, Hugh Beaumont, Doris Dowling) Dated but not without an intriguing plot and some nice photography. Ladd is a highly decorated Navy Air Force captain returning from the war with two of his crew including loose cannon Bendix, who carries a steel plate in his head and cannot always remember what he did. Dowling is Ladd's flagrantly unfaithful wife who is currently chasing Blue Dahlia night club owner Da Silva. He finds her too much of a liability, but she has something on him. Lake is Da Silva's divorced wife who still has some feeling for him. Dowling turns up dead with lots of possible suspects except the police can only see the very convictable Ladd. Lots of twist and turns, chance meetings, black mail, and other assorted bits of human ugliness. Dahlia is probably most successful at conveying the tone of the country at the end of the war, which was a mixture of pride as well as disgust in those who didn't serve. Another really interesting point is that the Navy would not accept the original ending, and Chandler was furiously trying to rewrite an acceptable one up to the last minute. So while you are watching, try to figure out what the original ending was. One nice touch is where one hood kills another while commenting on honor and professionalism. As an aside, Dowling was six inches taller than Ladd, but they do an amazing job of covering this up, although there are a few shots where it is clear she is somewhat taller. (11-21-95) Beginning
Blue Water, White Death (1971) (**1/2, documentary) (D.- Peter Gimbel, James Lipscomb) Gimbel's team sets out to get documentary footage of the legendary killer, the Great White shark. The movie is like a slow moving travelogue punctuated by a few truly electrifying segments, which is probably just like reality. Some of the scenes were obviously set up or reenacted for filming--a bad practice when your cast contains amateurs. In one scene they are trolling for Great Whites and pull in their large and obviously very intact bait fish. Gimble stands right there and asks if they are getting any hits. Nevertheless, the shark footage is stunning! In the Indian ocean they are swimming among dozens of large sharks (no Great Whites) feeding on a dead whale. Most sharks nudge a potential dinner, and if it whacks back they go on to something else. This behavior is demonstrated repeatedly. When they do find a Great White, however, all bets are off. Their reputation as being the ultimate killers of the deep is clearly justified. They just grab and rip, be it a fish, the flotation tanks on a shark cage, steel bars, or a man. The modest sized 16 footer they found snapped the cage and its hapless occupant around like a rat by a rat terrier. Spielberg may well have used Blue Water... footage as the inspiration for his climactic finale in Jaws. A Great White of the size in Jaws could clearly do what Spielberg portrayed. In short, ...White Death (you won't remember the Blue Water) will give you a frightenly different perspective on Jaws. This could be for real! (2-15-93) Beginning
Bob Roberts (1992) (**1/2, satire, drama) (D.-Tim Robbins; Tim Robbins, Giancarlo Esposito, Ray Wise, Rebecca Jenkins, Harry J. Lennix, Alan Rickman, John Ottavino) While others have considered this comedy, I don't agree. Robbins is a right wing, folksy senatorial candidate who uses Will Rogers' humor and folk singing to sway audiences. Would that he and those around him were as ingenuous as they indicate. Some of the satirical elements work with the manipulation of the press and public being fully believable. However, overall it is too heavy handed and dark to be truly effective. Nevertheless, a promising writing-directoral debut for talented actor Robbins. Robbins and his brother David composed the songs. (6-5-95) Beginning
Body Double (1984) (**1/2, thriller, crime) (D.-Brian De Palma; Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz) De Palma has made an occupation of films that are stylistic tributes to Hitchcock. Body Double draws heavily on Rear Window and Vertigo with its exploration of voyeurism, phobia, and obsession. Grade Z horror actor Jake (Wasson) gets a new apartment and a ring side view of a beautiful neighbor who does a nightly striptease. I won't say much more since the plot holds together reasonably well and has some fairly clever twists. Griffith does a charming bit as Holly Body (complete with holly tatoo on her posterior), a super star porn actress who recognizes that some of the worst perverts aren't on her sets.
Much of the interest of Body Double is in seeing how De Palma incorporates the Hitchcockian themes and images. Thus, it is probably best seen after Vertigo and Rear Window. Warning: Body Double has a lot of skin and sex. (2-12-96) Beginning
Born To Kill (1947) (***, noir, crime, classic) (11-8-99) (D.-Robert Wise; Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Jr., Philip Terry) Tierney is a handsome hair trigger psychopath. Even while he is exuding charm, he is simultaneously radiating incendiary warning signs saying "run, do not walk to the nearest exit". In spite of knowing much more about him than is healthy, divorcee Trevor is drawn to his animal charm and dangerous character. However, Tierney switches interest when he discovers the rich sister, Long. With the typical criminal mentality of "I want it all. I want it now. I don't care about the consequences", Tierney brings down this house of lust, deceit and murder. Born to Kill is a vicious, diamond hard look at what might crawl out if you turn over too many rocks. Tierney's performance is perfect. Unfortunately, for the plot to work you have to believe that Trevor is so overcome with lust and greed that she will sacrifice everything to get him. I think the combination of the censors and especially the script conspire to prevent her from delivering a believable performance. There were numerous places where the heat between the two could have been ratcheted up but wasn't. So, ultimately, you must just have to take her actions on faith. Nevertheless, a nasty roller coaster ride with a chilling performance by Tierney.
Cook does a good job as Tierney's sidekick with darker and more believable edges than his character initially projects. Tierney was reputed to be very hard to work with. When asked about this, Director Wise commented, that WAS Tierney on the screen. Based on the book More Deadly than the Male. See review below. Beginning
Born To Kill (1947) (***, noir) (4-24-00) [Note: I accidently reviewed the same film a second time. The two reviews make and interesting comparison--see above.] (D.-Robert Wise; Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Jr., Philip Terry) From the director who brought you the upbeat Sound of Music comes one of the blackest of noirs. Tierney is handsome, self confident, and exudes danger. A combination that attracts certain women. He reeks of menace with good reason. He is a hair trigger psychopath who kills with the ease and lack of remorse of a gardener crushing slugs. Although he has a certain animal cunning, his long term survival can be attributed to his more intelligent sidekick (Cook) who is ridden by his own demons. It is Tierney's evil that attracts divorcee Trevor, but Trevor's rich naïve sister ends up with this prize. However, Trevor and Tierney are kindred spirits, and this unstable combination ultimately races out of control towards disaster.
Born is terse, brutal. The violence is amazingly explicit for 1947 and creepily effective. The film does follow the rather stylized noir conventions and, thus, lacks a truly believable plot. Nevertheless, these are people who you know exist and hope never to cross their paths under the wrong circumstances. Tierney is the personification of evil. Trevor adapts ever so readily to his model. Cook carries his own surprises. You will not soon forget these performances and a number of disturbing scenes.
Born is a cult classic and is prominently featured in the audio CD Classic Film Noir Themes and Scenes (Rhino Entertainment Co. Copyright 1997 Turner Entertainment Co.). Tierney's and Trevor's conversation on this CD is as chilling as anything in film; it rings horrifically true.
Tierney had a reputation as being difficult to work with. When the director was asked about this, his comment was that that was Tierney on the screen. Beginning
Bourne Identity, The (***1/2, thriller) (6-24-02) (D.- Doug Liman; Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox) A very successful translation of Robert Ludlums book of the same name to the screen. This is nothing but entertainment, but it is very good at the genre. A man (Damon) is fished out of the Mediterranean with two bullets and the number for a secret Swiss bank account in him. He doesnt have any memory of who he is or how he got where he was. This uncertainty precipitates a search for his identity that, for want of a better name, becomes Bourne. A bank account is the least of his trappings, however, as he quickly discovers that he has enormous talents at a number of clandestine and lethal arts as well enormous language skills. These skills serve him well as there are those who know his identity and wish to permanently close it down. He is aided in the search for his identity by a gypsy, Maria (Potente from Run Lola, Run) whom he picks up. She plays the part well, and with her personality may indeed be his soul mate.
The film is action packed. Too action packed in some places. Some of the martial arts sequences remind you of a Hong Kong kung fu movie. However, this is made up for by a very unbalancing plot line made beautifully disturbing by visual editing and unusual use of sound. A real sense of paranoia. I especially like the apartment. The action sequences punctuate long stretches of inactivity building inexorably towards them. The acting is good, but I would have loved to have seen more of Cox, the original Hannibal Lector from Manhunter. Damon is perfect. Even though he doesnt know what he is or why he exists, he does everything with cool ruthless efficiency including trying to figure out who he is. His emotional level is perfectly modulated for his part. You see the same personality in some of the hunters. So if you want a well crafted white knuckle thriller with no claim to being anything other than entertainment, check ouf Bourne. Beginning
Bourne Identity (1988) (***, action) (8-24-04) (D.-Roger Young, W.-Robert Ludlum (novel), Carol Sobieski (screen play); Richard Chamberlain, Jaclyn Smith, Anthony Quayle, Donald Moffat, Yorgo Voyagis, Peter Vaughan, Denholm Elliott) While not particularly well known, there was a 1998 miniseries of the Bourne Identity. It much more faithfully follows the original book. As a two parter running over 180 minutes, they could much more leisurely develop the convoluted plot of the book and therein lies some of its pleasures. The basic plot revolves around Bourne being fished out of the sea with bullet holes in him and zero memory of who he is or how he got there. His search for his identity leads him into a vipers nest of people who had thought he was dead and plan to correct the oversight. Even if you have seen the remake, dont worry. You can still watch this version and never know where it is going next.
I think in terms of casting, Chamberlain was getting a little long in the tooth for the part and the action sequences show it. The woman who gets swept up in his problems is Marie St. Jacques (Smith), a Canadian economist. The interaction between the two is good, and Bourne shows a much nastier edge with her (realistic under the circumstances) than in the remake.
We really enjoyed the expanded interaction of Bourne with Dr. Geoffrey Washburn (Elliott) who nursed him back to health. The interplay here was perfect.
The film does have a few slow spots in it, but never long enough to reach for the off button. As with the remake, the stunning European locations are a delight to the eye.
So, if you enjoy Bourne and want
a long leisurely evening, do check out the original. It is available on VHS
at Charlottesville Video (formerly Beyond Video) in
Bourne Supremacy, The (2004) (***1/2, Action) (8-24-04) (D.- Paul Greengrass; Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Brian Cox, Tim Griffin, Gabriel Mann) After the Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne (Damon) thought he had managed to disappear with girl friend Marie (Potente). He is still plagued by nightmares and can not sort out the details of one persistent recurrent one. If only he can get the full dream, he thinks, he will know everything. As the film opens he is about to find out that you cannot stay hidden when enough power and money is available to the hunters. One thing about Bourne is that you kill him on the first attempt or your life insurance had better be up to date. Matt Damon is Jason Bourne. I cannot think of anyone who could have done a better job in this part. Young. Ruggedly handsome. Genuinely troubled by his incomplete past. Beautifully disturbed by some of his actions. However, Bourne has lost none of his lethality. Once activated, a well honed killing machine emerges. As with the first one, we are not just looking at some muscular idiot. A superb awareness of his surrounding and masterful flexibility to adapt to situations makes him one of the most formidable action figures on the screen. Again, as with the first one, he is brooding and introspective. He desperately wants to know what and who he really is. Perhaps, some questions are best left unanswered.
As with Identity, Supremacy is beautiful crafted. Taut, suspenseful. A thinking persons action film. The only real weakness in my opinion is the great chase near the end as it disrupted the finely crafted tension. Had it been shorter, like the other action sequences, you could have had your continuously building tension and your action too.
The pacing is generally perfect. The visuals and music edgy, unnerving. Some have complained about the editing being too quick and disjointed. However, for the story I think it helped convey both evolving action and his still unstable mind set.
Plot? OK, Ill give you a little. It is convoluted and supported by a superb array of actors. Some of his hunters are from the first movie including Abbot (Cox), but this time his primary nemesis is CIA Agent Landy (Allen) who wants him because he has truly messed up one of her carefully orchestrated operations. Dead would not cause her to lose any sleep. It is interesting to watch everything unravel. For everyone. However, as with the first film, the real interest is the psychology and behavior of the hunter and the hunted, although the division between the two is not always clear. Coxs performance as the end comes is excellent.
If you liked the Identity, dont miss Supremacy on the big screen. Both are lavish productions designed for the big screen. If you wait for the DVD youll lose much of the enjoyment. Beginning
Bowfinger (1999) (****, humor) (8-30-99) (D.-Frank Oz; Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Heather Graham, Christine Baranski, Adam Alexi-Malle, Jaime Kennedy) Written by Steve Martin. I am not a great Steve Martin fan; he is so wildly erratic, I only go to his films when I hear really good things. I heard and went, but still expected to find it the usual uneven Martin. Wrong! The only thing that kept my wife from moving away from me in the theater and disavowing any relationship is that many others in theater were also in a nearly continuous state of raucous laughter. Arguably one of the best comedies in years, and it is even PG13, which is proof that vulgar language, explicit sex, and bloody gore are not necessary for a good movie. Bowfinger (Martin) is, like many in Hollywood, seeking the Big Break. He is a down on his luck "Producer" with his entourage of misfits. One last gasp. His accountant (Alexi-Malle) writes THE SCRIPT that will make their fortune. It is a Body Snatchers style sci fi thriller about a unique alien invasion. All they need is film's hottest action star Kit Ramsey (Murphy) to play the lead and their fortunes are made. In spite of clever posturing, you can guess what the chances are. However, all is not lost. Bowfinger will make the film with Ramsey as an unwitting actor. His cast will confront him at various times and surreptitious cameras will record his reactions. The story builds around Bowfinger getting the shots he wants and the paranoid Ramsey's reaction as the plot develops. Throw in that they need a stand in for the shots they cannot get with Ramsey. Enter the absolutely clueless Jiff (Murphy) who is a dead ringer for Kit.
The film has exceptional timing. You reach a plateau and get a chance to catch your breath, certain that they cannot maintain the pace. Seconds later you are doubling over again in laughter. The parking garage scene was nearly lethal. Daisy (Graham) is a hoot as the aspiring starlet who is going to get into as many scenes as possible. Martin is perfect. He has just enough desperation and lust to make a film that he is believable, but he is never pathetic. "We're trying to make a movie here, not a film." Murphy is fabulous as both Kit and Jiff whose only similarity is looks. The rest of the ensemble cast works beautifully. You will also learn how much it costs to make every film.
I was very much reminded of Ed Wood, the legendarily bad filmmaker who is responsible for the worst film ever made, Plan Nine from Outer Space. Wood and entourage lusted to make films. They employed tricks similar to, or even more outrageous than, Bowfinger's. For a reasonably accurate view of Wood, see the great Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora. So there really are people like Bowfinger out there. The film is a riotous view of their personalities and travails. Beginning
Boy and His Dog, A (1975) (***, sci fi) (D.- L.Q. Jones; Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards, Alvy Moore, Helene Winston, Charles McGraw)Don Johnson's debut. NOT a kiddies film!!! Low budget, but faithful adaptation of the Harlan Ellison novella (I could stop here). In a post holocaust world, Johnson and his telepathic dog (the only brain between the two of them) struggle for survival and women. Johnson is lured into a bizarre surviving underground civilization (the budget really shows here). VERY black humor--probably much more so than the novella. Entertaining, but definitely not for the Bambi school. Beginning
Brain Donors (1992) (***, humor) (D.-Dennis Dugan; John Turturro, Bob Nelson, Mel Smith, Nancy Marchand, John Savident, George de la Pena, Juli Donald, Spike Alexander, Teri Copley) Available at Videos, Etc. It isn't what it sounds like. This is homage to the great Marx Brothers and their anarchistic sense of humor. To the extent that it has a plot, it is based on A Night at the Opera. Turturro is Groucho, Nelson is Harpo, Smith is Chico, and Marchand is Margaret Dumont. Generally panned or savaged by the critics--many who I suspect worship the Marx Brothers and may consider any attempt to duplicate their humor sacrilege. I think Dugan and cast do a credible job of capturing the insanity of the original. Fans of the Marx Brothers will recognize variants of the contract dispute, the musical bedrooms sequence, and the absolute and total disruption of the opera (ballet here). I was in stitches through several of these. The crowded state room take-off didn't work--it wasn't funny and there was no plot pay off. Turturro works hard, but never fully manages the rhythm of Groucho. Marchand is more like Dumont in her earlier films before she fully mastered the pompous socialite. Uneven, but we got some real belly laughs. I didn't particularly enjoy the claymation title sequence by Will Vinton's studio, but Cinebooks, which roasted the film, loved the claymation. So what can I say? Check out Brain yourself.
The title you ask? It has no bearing on the film. But then neither does the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup. Actually, not quite. The Duck Soup credits shows a pot full of ducks happily swimming around. The original title of Brain was Lame Ducks--probably a reference to Duck Soup. (6-9-97) Beginning
Brainstorm (1983) (**1/2, Sci-Fi) (D.-Douglas Trumbull, Christopher Walken, Louise Fletcher, Natalie Wood, Cliff Robertson, Georgianne Walken, Bill Morey) One of special effects master Trumball's few directoral efforts. Virtual reality well before its time: you could easily see the movie being made today. Visually interesting, and actually much better than the more recent Lawnmower Man, which should have benefited more by the the intervening 10 years of technological advance. I understand that Brainstorm loses a lot on TV and is most impressive on a big screen. Nevertheless, it is still better than Lawnmower Man. Scientists create total virtual reality by brain wave transfer; you experience EVERYTHING another person does and feels. Further, they can make tapes for later playback. Think about the implications. A true Pandora's box. Of course, the military has an unhealthy interest, and a conflict of wills develops with the scientists. The ending especially is too soft and cuddly to be believable or effective, but getting there in the second half is fairly entertaining. Natalie Wood died during the filming, which has some thought-provoking ironies given the plot. (3-3-94) Beginning
Breach (2007) (****, docudrama, spy) (1-15-09) (D.-Billy Ray; W.-Adam Mazer (screenplay), William Rotko (screenplay); Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe, Laura Linney, Caroline Dhavernas, Gary Cole, Dennis Haysbert, Kathleen Quinlan) The films opens with the TV announcement on February 20, 2001 by US attorney general John Ashcroft of the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen for a major breach of US security. Indeed, Hanssen is arguably one of most damaging cold war leaks of classified information to the Soviets. What follows is a mesmerizing docudrama of Hanssen's (Cooper) entrapment by young FBI operative Eric O'Neill (Phillipe). The FBI had become suspicious of Hanssen and assigned Eric to Hanssen in the hopes of flushing out proof. Hanssen was a socially challenged, super meticulous, hyper religious, type A paranoid personality who ends up taking the young Eric under his wing as a protégée. Thus, begins a cat and mouse between the young quick study Eric and the master spy Hanssen. Cooper is extraordinary as Hanssen, a man who is extremely good at what he does, both legal and illegal, understands the system and knows how to manipulate it for the benefit of all his activities. In fact, Hanssen ends up hunting himself. Eric is more than willing to learn from the pro, although the stress of the job and the overbearing Hanson plays havoc with his life.
The film has intrigue, white knuckle tension, fascinating looks at spy methods, and super characterizations and interactions by excellent actors. And all of it is basically true. How true? Judging from the supplementary material on the DVD, pretty accurate. The only major deviation from reality is the night scene in the park. It didn't happen. According to the real Eric O'Neill, Cooper's portrayal of Hanssen was accurate down to such little details as speech patterns and running him into the wall as they walked down the hall. In fact he found Cooper's performance chilling. In my opinion Cooper did Academy Award quality work. An exceptionally complex man, whom you cannot help respecting in spite of your dislike of him personally and abhorrence of his actions.
One of the things that comes out is that due to security issues, O'Neill's contribution to Hanssen's fall were suppressed at the time, and it was only years later that all his details were revealed; O'Neill was never able to broker a book which would have been fascinating. Review based on the DVD with an excellent set of must-see extras including a highly informative voice over commentary by the director and Eric O'Neill.
After watching the film and all the supplementary material, you are left with one burning question that Hanssen apparently never answered. Why did it he do it? Watch this and try to decide for yourself. Beginning
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) (**1/2, horror) (D.-Francis Ford Coppola; Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins) The most visually stunning Dracula. The power of the count is well presented, the period is set beautifully, but it fails at the emotional level. Oldman's count lacks the necessary passion, and the ultimate one on one confrontation between Van Helsing and the Count that should form the dramatic build up and finale is never realized. There are also some truly discordant elements such as the wild West chase at the end, which nearly elicited chuckles from us. Coppola's Dracula generates strong views, both negative and positive, and as such is one of those movies that everyone must judge personally. My own family is strongly divided. With the exception of the love interest between the Count and Mina, this is one of the more accurate renditions of Stoker's novel. For example, vampires can move around in daylight. However, even if you don't like the plot, it is worth a look just for the cinematography and mood. See Vampires. (2-8-93) Beginning
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (***, classic, horror) (12-20-99) (D.-James Whale; Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester, Una O'Connor, E.E. Clive,Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton, O.P. Heggie, Dwight Frye, John Carradine) Another black humored excursion by Whales. In my opinion it is not in the same league as The Old House, but with many entertaining elements that have become icons in our current film lore. The scene of Frankenstein with the blind man was corrupted in Young Frankenstein. THE LEVER ("Don't touch that or it will destroy everything!") was first introduced here and then used ever since as a way to destroy anything and everything that needed cleaning up at the end of a film. The bride created for the lovesick monster will be instantly recognizable and her reaction to her paramour is quite startling and appropriate.
We begin with a thunderstorm where Lord Byron (Gordon) and Shelley (Walton) convince Shelley's wife, Mary (Lanchester), to extend the story of her original Frankenstein monster. The remainder of the film is her story. The monster survives and then acquires a number of quite touching characteristics, which are consistent with his unformed mind and naïveté. The scene with the flowers on the water is a classic. Important elements are his acquisition of speech and need for a partner of similar character.
Karloff's monster is still a masterpiece, but Karloff was not pleased with the film feeling that the monster was made much too sympathetic. Indeed, the monster is the most sympathetic character in the film.
The film for me just doesn't have the impact of the first, but many love the campy off the wall style and consider it much better than the original. So you will have to judge this one yourself. Beginning
Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) (****, drama) (D-David Lean; William Holden, Alec Guiness, Sessue Hayakawa) Many older academy award winning movies just don't show well today. However, an exception is "Bridge", which is still a great view that no serious student of cinema should miss. The movie is based on Peter Boulle's excellent novel--available in translation. This movie was produced during the grim days of the notorious communist black list and the actual screen writers were black listed, so Boulle who spoke no English was credited with the screen play. The movie is based on English and American prison of war laborers trying to construct a rail bridge over the River Kwai for the Japanese during W.W.II. The conflict of wills between the British commander (Guiness) and the Japanese commander (Hayakawa), the power struggles, the concept and subtle prostitution of honor by all concerned makes the dramatic setting. Fascinating performances by Guiness and Hayakawa. On first viewing the movie, we felt that the plot elements involving Holden were incongruous and not well done. On reading the book, we found out why. Holden and his part were clearly added for his star drawing power even if it damaged the movie--and it did a bit. The ending also deviates from the book in the outcome of the climactic grand finale. As an historical aside there was a bridge over the River Kwai built by POW's. Repeated attempts during the war to bomb it were unsuccessful. The movie popularized the rousing W.W.I whistling Colonel Boggie March; if you haven't heard it before, you will not soon forget it after the movie. Beginning
Body Heat (1981) (****, suspense, noir) (D.-Lawrence Kasdan, William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J.A. Preston, Mickey Rourke) Viciously good film noir thriller. Dark, brooding, superb forties-style sound track. Sharp dialogue and neat plot twists with outstanding acting and personal interactions. Hurt, a basically nice guy, is a lawyer who defends low lives. He encounters, and begins a steamy affair with, attractive Turner who is married to a brutal, unscrupulous gang connected business man. Without giving anything away, lust leads to crime. Little else is predictable. Such movies rise or fall on the chemistry of the principals. Hurt and Turner are white gasoline on a bonfire. Instant conflagration! Turner's voice, which redefines sensuality, and her incineration of the screen instantly established her as one of film's sexiest women. Heat is beautifully textured with many nuances; every character justifies close scrutiny. Danson plays the prosecuting attorney, close friend of Hurt, and an amateur dancer who is continually practicing. In one scene, watch Danson dance over a car in the distant background. Rourke is an unreformable arsonist with his own code of ethics. There is one short, insightful interchange at the beginning. Hurt is in a motel room with a younger woman and is watching an old, deserted hotel burn on the beach. He is lamenting the loss of a symbol from his youth, and she, having no emotional connection to it, could care less. As people age and their past changes or is destroyed, tears are left in their mind's fabric. This is true even for desirable or irrelevant changes; the hole still creates a sense of something missing. Heat was Turner's first film, and she received only $25,000. Based on Double Indemnity. Don't let anyone tell you the plot beforehand. Hard R Rated. (Reviewed 3-7-93) (8-18-93) Beginning
Body Snatcher, The (1945) (***, horror) (D.-Robert Wise, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Henry Daniell, Edith Atwater, Russell Wade, Rita Corday) In 19th century England, physicians had to resort to buying cadavers from grave robbers for training and research. Karloff superbly plays a psychopathic coachman who loves horses and children and moonlights gathering the recently deceased. No fresh bodies? No problem. God and the man with the white horse will provide. Unfortunately for the doctor, the link between himself and Karloff is much stronger than a few bodies. Truly unnerving cinematography coupled with a viciously believable performance by Karloff as the very personification of smiling, jocular Evil makes for a most unsettling evening. (2-21-94) Beginning
Body Snatchers (1993) (***, sci fi thriller) (D.-Abel Ferrar; Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly, Gabrielle Anwar, Reilly Marjak, Forest Whitaker, Billy Wirth) Intriguing nasty remake of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As you would expect from the date, more blood and gory effects than the original, but really quite subdued for a modern horror movie. EPA investigator goes with his family to military base to check on contamination and hazardous materials disposal. Hazardous waste is the least of their problems as everyone is being replaced by soulless substitutes from alien pods that have drifted through space to earth. Unlike most horror films, which are shot in cold harsh tones, Invasion plays dirty with your mind's expectations. Most scenes are shot in very warm, soft colors (more characteristic of a romance) including many night scenes. In fact lighting is such that you are frequently unsure of whether it is night or day. I didn't appreciate how dependent I was on these cues until the director pulled this visual rug out from under me. Angled shots, pregnant silences, and musicless stretches all worked very effectively to unsettle me. As with the original, this version correctly spends most of its time on psychological build up. Everything about the base is just a little out of kilter, like a building where all the right angles are either a little too large or too small. You cannot quite put your finger on what is wrong, but nothing feels right. You should heed that needling little voice in the back of your mind "Get out of the house before its too late." We didn't survive on the earth as long as we have without refining those little survival instincts. Ferrar has a keen sense of how to set off those hair trigger alarms. The cast is respectable, although the part is a bust for Meg Tilly. Early in the film, Whitaker has one of the most chillingly effective monologues that I have seen in a long time. As the base doctor he is talking to the EPA inspector. He is so brittle he could explode from any sudden shock. He has been pushed to the psychological limits, but doesn't understand why. He just knows that his entire world is falling apart, but not why or what to do about it. I think the ending may be unnecessarily something of an upper, but the director threw in enough ambiguity to still leave you uncertain. Sweet dreams! (9-27-94) Beginning
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) (***, romantic comedy) (5-14-01) (D.- Sharon Maguire; W.- Richard Curtis, Andrew Davies, Helen Fielding; based on Fieldings novel; Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent) Charming little crowd pleaser. Thirty-two year old Londoner Bridget (Zellweger) eats too much, weighs too much, drinks too much, smokes too much, and pines too much about her nonexistent love life. Her worst nightmares are that she will die fat, drunk, lonely, and eaten by dogs. She is also an absolutely charming ditz. She decides one Christmas that she is going to take control of her life. Her decisions are not always very well thought out, appropriate, or lucky, which leads to many of the delightful scenes in Diary. Standing in the path of her plans are her roguish and charming boss, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), and a straight-laced and uptight childhood acquaintance, whom her mother (Jones) kindly reminds had Bridget running naked through his yard in her youth. Throw in an equally off-of-center mother and colorful friends whose well meaning support is not always very helpful and you have the supporting machinery for the triangle. I wont ruin any of the humor by telling more. Suffice it to say, the dialogue is sharp, the acting first class, the chemistry believable. Zellweger is perfect as the chunky Bridgetshe gained 35 pounds for the role and manages an accent that apparently passes most English muster. A person you could really like. So if you want an entertaining evening, check out Diary. Do stick around for the home movie in the credits.Beginning
Bringing Up Baby (1938) (****, comedy (D.-Howard Hawks; Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Ruggles, May Robson, Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Catlett, Fritz Feld, Ward Bond) It Happened One Night is the first, but Baby is the definitive screwball comedy. Sheer insanity. If you haven't seen it, zip right out and rent it. Hepburn is a rich heiress with a frenetic lifestyle, warped logic, and offbeat philosophy that would drive Robin Williams to the asylum for a rest. You can follow her spoor by the devastation and stunned survivors. Grant is an absentminded palentologist who has just received the bone that will complete his masterpiece, a giant dinosaur. Unfortunately, he accidentally (?) finds himself in the path of the dervish Hepburn. Throw in her dog (think about it) and her pet leopard "Baby", and you have the makings for one of the funniest evenings around. The cast is masterful, the script sharp, and the pace furious. Hepburn is inspired. Grant is the perfect foil for her madness as he tries, in his scientifically logical fashion, to make sense of the jumble she has made of his well-ordered life. Not to be missed. Incidentally, Grant did NOT like the leopard. It is clear in many of the scenes that they are using a double (for Grant, not the leopard). In the bathroom scene, you can catch its reflection off the glass used to separate the two. Beginning
British Low Blows: British comedy has long had a reputation of going for the funny bone--the lowest bone in the human body. Two low masters can now be seen on video tape or public TV. One is Fawlty Towers and the other is the late Benny Hill.
BBC's Fawlty Towers series has Basil Fawlty (Cleese) and his wife running a small inn. He is pompous, overbearing, hates the job and the customers. His hard suffering, but equally abrasive in her own right, wife manages to keep him in check--barely. Their Spanish cook speaks no English and Fawlty speaks no Spanish. Disaster! There is the classic show where the cook is sold a Siberian hamster for a pet. Don't recognize the animal? How about rat? Of course, the health inspector is coming. The humor is so low that it has to reach up to touch the bottom, but it is FUNNY. Notice that the inn's name changes on every opening credit. It took me about a show to get into the rhythm.
Sneak Reviews Video has Benny Hill's Crazy World (1988, tape #866). Hill has been referred to as the master of the single entendre. He was also one of the last practitioners of the art of silent comedy, although he also used words with devastating effect. He had a unique, frequently almost surrealistic, style. Many skits were edited film collages that could include accelerated action, visual editing, special effects, and stills--frequently where you got to savor the expressions on his plastic face that could range from the most incredulous simpleton, to angelic innocence (even with canary feathers hanging from his lips), to Machiavellian conniving. An entire skit could also consist of him playing half a dozen different parts. His show's signature ending was a chase where it seemed that half of London was in hot pursuit of Hill at double speed and accompanied by his foot stomping theme song. Judging from his appearance, this tape is a later show (55 minutes), but is better than many because of less non-comedic fill. For your first taste of Hill, start here. (4-12-93) Beginning
Broken Arrow (1996) (***1/2, actioner) (D.-John Woo; John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Luido, Frank Whaley, Bob Gaston, Howie Long, Jack Thompson) At the Carmike. Forget logic. The plot has more holes in it than some of the characters. However, this is a Woo film. It is slam bang entertainment and never pretends to be anything else. And slam bang it is. From the opening credits through one of the most impressive nuclear blasts on film to the explosion-packed finale, Arrow delivers. A continual adrenaline rush. A broken arrow is the code that refers to a missing nuclear weapon. Travolta, Slater and Mathis are all excellent. Travolta is a great villain. Cool. Articulate. Imperturbable, and as willing to die for what he wants as he is willing to kill anyone in his way. Slater and park ranger Mathis are the resourceful, very physical stumbling blocks to his little foray into theft. But enough about plot. Great action sequences, special effects, and fights. Highly recommended that you see it on the big screen for maximum impact. If actioners are your forte, Arrow will float your boat.
Woo's philosophy is that his actors should do as much of their own stunts as they are comfortable doing. For example, Mathis estimates that she did about 80% of her stunts including running along the top of the train. The geography is as integral a part of the film as the actors. At least some of the film was shot around Lake Powell. The terrain is the awesomely beautiful, stark, varied regions you see in northern Arizona and southern Utah. (3-4-96) Beginning
Brotherhood of the Wolf, The aka Pacte des loups, Le (2001) (7-15-02) (****, fantasy, horror, drama, action) (D.- Christophe Gans; W.- Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans; Mark Dacascos, Jean Yanne, Jean-François Stévenin, Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Émilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier) Just your basic pre-French revolution historical costumer, werewolf, romance, Kung Fu, Iroquois Indian, supernatural horror flik. I think there is a kitchen sink thrown in there somewhere. The story is loosely based on the actual Beast of Gevaudan Province in France that killed scores of people, largely women and children, around 1765. The nature of the creature was never determined. Brotherhood is the true story of what actually happened. Libertine, naturalist, and ex-soldier Chevalier de Fronsac (Le Bihan) and his Indian friend Mani (Dacascos) are sent by the King to destroy the creature. They are incredible fighters not only with weapons but with their hands. If you have seen a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee film, you will recognize the style. Many of the locals arent so bad themselves.
This is an isolated Province and the suspicious locals dont take kindly to strangers, especially Indians or anyone from the government. In addition there is a great deal of social, political, personal rivalry going on under the surface. The beast may not be the only way to very short life expectancy for those seeking fresh country air. Especially for the overly inquisitive. Their host is the very able one-armed Jean-François de Morangias (Cassel). Throw in a budding romance between Chevalier and their hosts sister Marianne (Dequenne), a very sexy courtesan Sylvia (Bellucci) who may have an agenda of her own, and more twists a mountain road, and you have the basic plot outline.
While the creature plays a pivotal role, Brotherhood is as much about the people, their interactions, and the life style. Indeed, the director wisely keeps the views of the creature to a minimum. While we are probably over half way through the movie before we get a visual glimpse, we are left with no doubt of its existence, its ferocity, and its nearly mythical powers. When you do get a better look at the creature it isnt up to the high standards of many films, but it is good enough and the director skillfully doesnt let you dwell on it.
The film is sumptuously filmed. The sets and the costumes are magnificent. Much of the story is told at night by candle or fire light which makes for exquisitely warm settings. Skin also looks good and there is a lot of skin in Brotherhood.
The acting is good, although because so many of the characters are offbeat, it is hard to classify them in a normal sense. The story line while it has the more languid style of many European films is not so slow moving as to be tiresome even at 140 minutes. And about the time you wonder where it is going next, another plot twist gets thrown in.
This has been one of the most popular films in France recently. It has also done well in the US. It is in French with subtitles that are easy to read, although I have heard complaints about the quality of the translations; they worked for me. The film is clearly not intended to be taken seriously. It is a magnificent high energy romp that is designed to work at an emotional, visceral level and bypass your analytical mind. So if you can you check your logic at the door, be prepared for a delightful evening.
As a warning, besides sex and nudity, the film is somewhat
brutal and bloody, but given the subject matter I would say not excessively
so. Incidentally the craggily handsome Cassel was the voice of Robin Hood in
Brute Force (1947) (****, crime, film noir, classic) (1-29-01) (D.-Jules Dassin; Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Art Smith, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, Howard Duff, Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, Sam Levene, Roman Bohnen, John Hoyt, Anita Colby) They call them film noir (black film) for a reason. Force is one of the great ones. Like a sucker punch to your kidney, you will not soon forget it. Terse. Brutal. Merciless. A prison run by a sadistic martinet, Captain Munsey (Cronyn). A group of cons, like caged animals, pushed to their breaking point. Collins (Lancaster) masterminds an escape with noirish catastrophic results. The story, the acting, the stunning noir cinematography all fit together. Although over 50 years old, Force only occasionally shows its age.
The prison reeks of sweat, fear, alienation, and despair. Relatively minor infractions against Munsey or the cons leads to violent and disproportionate retribution. Chaos and death reign. The cinematography continually disrupts your sense of balance and order. The light is sharp, high contrast. The shadows black. The images stark and foreboding. Space is fractured into disordered pieces. Images are slashed either by bars or shadows. No angle is square and the corners are suitable only to cower in. In short, classic noir imagery and conventions. Even the traditional flashing neon sign outside the hotel is replaced here by the regular sweep of the watchtower searchlights.
The characters include the milquetoast, the career criminal, the warden fearful of losing his job, and the drunken doctor at the last stop to oblivion. And, of course, there is Munsey. Soft spoken, intelligent, seemingly reasonable, yet a complete fascist and psychopath. An egotist and a sadist who will gleefully destroy anyone in the path of his quest for power and dominance. Note the contrasting pictures on his and the wardens walls. Cronyns performance is chilling. Some have called it absurdly over the top. I have no doubt that such people actually exist and that you should fervently hope to never cross one.
The acting is good, the cinematography stunning, the action sequences brutally efficient. In our opinion, the only weakness was some of the flashbacks to the mens past. All involved women and some were depressingly melodramatic and detracted from the story. In a prison like this, one did not need some maudlin past to want to get out. Even the director didnt feel they belonged but was apparently overruled by the studio. I did, however, enjoy the con mans story.
The only voice of reason in this pit is Dr. Walters (Smith). He speaks freely because he can fall no further and has nothing to lose. He plays the role of a Greek chorus. One of the many stunning images is the close up of the conversation between Munsey and Walters with their two canted heads. While the film does show the liberal, socially conscious views of the director and producer, this does not damage the film.
So if you want a thought-provoking noir evening check out Brute Force. Review based on the Kino VHS tape available at Sneak Reviews. Beginning
Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, The (1979) (****, comedy, animation) (2-25-02) (9-28-99) (D.- Chuck Jones, Phil Monroe; voices by Mel Blanc, Arthur Q. Bryan) Writing credits Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese. Not totally even, but the best on this tape more than makes this a **** for me. A walk down memory lane as Bugs Bunny relates his history, creators, and cartoon associates. You will be treated to such laugh riots as Daffy Duck and Marvin the Martian battling it out for a chunk of worthless stellar real estate, or Bugs vs. Marvin as Marvin plans to blow the earth away to give him an unrestricted view of the moon, the OPERA of Bugs vs Elmer Fudd, as well as Bugs and Daffy finding the loot of the forty thieves. However, one of my all time favorites is the complete Bugs vs. the bull in the bullring. Also, they have a collage of Wile E. Coyote vs. Bugs and the CLASSIC Roadrunner. In my opinion cartoons don't get any funnier than this. Available from Movies Unlimited and probably others for about $15--a great stocking stuffer. Beginning
Bug's Life, A (1998) (**1/2 for adults and ***1/2 for children, animation, comedy) (12-28-98) (D.-John Lasseter; with voices by Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Hayden Panettiere, David Hyde Pierce, Roddy McDowall) (D.-John Lasseter; with voices by Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Hayden Panettiere, David Hyde Pierce, Roddy McDowall) From Pixar, the people who brought you Toy Story. The animation is marvelous and shows the evolution since Toy Story. This probably comes closer to a children's movie than Antz. The basic story is that an ant hill is terrorized by marauding grasshoppers led by Spacey, who again demonstrates his mercurial talents. In an ant hill of followers, the protagonist Flik (Foley) is an inventor and an adventurer--things designed to get you into trouble in a socialistic society. After accidentally creating a crisis with the grasshoppers, he tries to figure out how to correct the situation by recruiting soldiers--through a double misunderstanding what he brings home does not quite fill the bill. The humor is distinctly less adult and I think that much of the subtlety of Antz has been omitted. In both cases the animation is outstanding. Personally, it seems to me that much of the subject matter is a little too terrifying for younger children. The hoppers and their demise seems like it should be nightmare inducing. However, I have it on good authority that one 8-9 year old girl loved it. Further, I got it directly from a 6 year old boy that he really enjoyed it. Indeed, the hopper models from the fast food restaurant were "cool" and his favorite. So I must be misjudging the tolerance of this generation.
From what I can tell the children love it, thus the ***1/2 for children. Adults may find the animation and some of the characters amusing, but they will not find much of the sophisticated humor of Antz. Beginning
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) (***1/2, comedy, crime) (D.-Woody Allen; John Cusack, Diane Wiest, Jim Broadbent, Harry Fierstein, Chazz Palminteri, Mary-Louise Parker, Rob Reiner, Jennifer Tilley, Tracey Ullman, Joe Viterelli, Jack Warden) Not since Noises Off has such a screwball and mismatched group graced a stage. One of the funniest things Allen has done in years. During Prohibition a struggling young playwright (Cusack) makes what turns out to be a deal with the devil for support of his new play. The devil is Viterelli, a mob lord, who supports the play if his talentless, demanding mistress Olive (Tilley) has a big part. Cusack does manage to handpick the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, while they are fine artists, they are truly temperamental flakes. To enforce the deal, one of Viterelli's hit men (Palminteri) sits through all the rehearsals and turns out to have other skills that complicate the plot and bring it to its black-edged conclusion. A fine ensemble cast with Ullman having some of the funniest lines. Numerous Academy Award Nominations and a Best Supporting Actress Award for Wiest. Not knock down funny, but delightfully understated throughout. Based on the screenplay by Allen and Douglas McGrath. (7-8-96) Beginning
Bull Durham (1988) (****, humor) (D-Ron Sheldon, Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, with guest appearances by Max Patkin as himself). I am not a baseball fan. Indeed, the only game more boring than baseball is cricket. Contrary to what you think you know about Bull Durham, it is NOT a baseball film.
It is about people--lovable, oddball, and very funny people. It is a perfectly assembled comedy where the plot, characters, and interactions fit together and run like a well oiled mechanical Rolex. Sarandon is a poetry spouting, baseball groupie who, at the beginning of the season, picks a member of the miserable Durham Bulls to nurture through the season. Robbins is a new, very promising, but completely undisciplined pitcher who is brought in. Costner is the jaded, battle scarred veteran who is supposed to bring discipline and success into Robin's erratic life. The plot revolves around the professional and personal mismatches of Sarandon, Robbins and Costner.
A few of many memorable scenes include the radio broadcast of a game, the lesson on how to give successful sports interviews (this has added a new dimension to sports interviews I watch), and Patkin's (about 70 at the time) clowning around. Also, candle and garter belt sales went through the roof after this movie came out. A delightful gem. Beginning
Bullitt (1968) (***1/2, crime, action) (1-8-01) (D.-Peter Yates; Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon, Robert Duvall, Simon Oakland, Norman Fell, Victor Tayback) Quintessential loose cannon San Francisco police detective story. Lieutenant Bullitt is given the simple task of keeping a Mafia squealer alive over the weekend so that government lawyer Walter Chamber, the sleekly oily Vaughn, can present him at a hearing. The setup makes Bullitt nervous, but he goes along with it. This leads to a series of plot twists where little is as it appears. The story is well told and the plot convoluted, entertaining and believable, but you do have to overlook the incompetence of the killers for plot development. Bullitt has one of the best car chases ever put on film. It is the first incredible high speed car chase through San Francisco. And every car chase in SF pays homage to this one, which has been equaled, but I dont think ever surpassed. So check out the real thing.
The film is very 60ish. The love interest (Bisset) is largely decorative, although they could have developed the moral issue presented here much better. The film received an Oscar for editing which is intensely effective. In my opinion, however, a number of the action scenes go on longer than necessary.
The director and McQueen were very much into realism. The doctors and nurses in the hospital are largely the real thing, and what you see in terms of behavior is correct. The car chase through SF was at speeds up to 115 mph, and that is McQueen doing all his own driving. He was an experienced race car and motorcycle racer. That really is McQueen on the runway, and if it looks like he is being blown around by the jet exhaust, it is because he is. Although not indicated on the DVD, the chase sequence was shot with multiple cameras. What you see as sequential action is frequently the same scene shot from different camera angles. I havent replayed it repeatedly, but I cannot catch the deception.
Review based on the excellent wide screen letter boxed DVD at Sneak Reviews, which has an interesting short documentary on the film. Beginning
Bunker, The (2001) (**, horror) (12-31-03) (D.- Rob Green; Charley Boorman, John Carlisle, Josh Cole, Simon D'Arcy, Jack Davenport, Christopher Fairbank, Jason Flemyng, Nicholas Hamnett, Simon Kunz, Eddie Marsan, Kevin O'Donohoe, Andrew Lee Potts, Andrew Tiernan) A low budget British chiller that promises more that it ultimately delivers. In 1944 as WWII is winding down, we see bits and pieces of something horrific happening in a German antitank bunker/command post. Four months later as the allies overwhelm the Germans, seven German soldiers manage to barely make it to the bunker while under relentless pursuit. The bunker is staffed by two men, neither suitable for anything else. Which is the most evil? The horror in the bunker or that arriving. As the film continues we learn more about the nature of the curse and why the particular men have arrived here.
The initial incident and the squads retreat to the bunker are truly edgy, unnerving and beautifully handled. The flashbacks are done in a suitably disturbing fashion. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is hampered by poor plotting and a revelation at the end that hardly justifies the build up. Another complication is that in the lighting and with the very similar appearance of many of the actors, it is extremely difficult to keep track of who they are.
The film is low budget and the directors first full length effort. He shows promise. As an aside, and even though the plot has significant differences, almost from the opening scene I kept thinking of Michael Manns The Keep, a truly visually impressive film. I suspect Bunker was strongly influenced by Keep. Review based on the VHS tape available at Sneak Reviews. Beginning
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) (***1/2, western) (D.-George Roy Hill; Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Cloris Leachman) Easy going, light spirited, highly acclaimed western. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are the famous title outlaws. I think that it is somewhat dated, but still entertaining. The pair terrorized the West until the increasingly efficient forces of law and order finally forced them to flee to South America where they believed the pickings would be easier. The Bolivian army proved their judgement flawed. Ross was Cassidy's girlfriend who was, ultimately, a better judge of the times and of the character of the two than they were themselves. I watched the video tape version, and it was clear that the cinematography was awesome from the fraction of the wide screen version that was visible. Watch the letter boxed version if possible. Newman and Redford are charming and the interplay between these two friends of very long standing forms the key element of the film. Ross is more the straight man who tries to provide a voice of sanity to the pair. An entertaining diversion.
Parts of Butch Cassidy were shot along the beautiful Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad which runs through the Animus River Gorge. This exceptional trip is worth going out of your way to do. For historical trivia, Butch Cassidy is credited with the first Bank Robbery ever in Telluride, Colorado in 1889. In addition to this first, Telluride is an extraordinarily beautiful Colorado ex-mining town that became an ultra-laid back hiking, fishing, hunting, skiing area and refuge for those not pleased with the pressures of modern society. It was so good at this, that it attracted the rich and famous who have succeeded in pretty much pricing out those who gave Telluride its distinct flavor and charm. [Footnote] Telluride ski area is home of The Plunge, a 3500 vertical foot black diamond slope that our son will never forget; in a single skier accident involving no skis, he managed a triple spiral fracture of the femur (a first for the overworked local orthopedic surgeons) and still carries a steel rod. But that is a story for another time; he still loves skiing and, as with so many irritating children, is better than his father.
A narrow gauge train of the type that Butch and the Sundance Kid were so fond of threading its way gingerly along the Animus River Gorge where much of the film was shot. (7-19-95) Beginning