February 19, 2018

Black Panther.


Review #1050: Black Panther.

Cast: 
Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa / Black Panther), Michael B. Jordan (Erik Killmonger), Lupita Nyong'o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross), Daniel Kaluuya (W'Kabi), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M'Baku), Sterling K. Brown (N'Jobu), Angela Bassett (Ramonda), Forest Whitaker (Zuri), Andy Serkis (Ulysses Klaue), Florence Kasumba (Ayo), and John Kani (T'Chaka) Directed by Ryan Coogler (#760 - Creed)

Review: 
The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have had a scope and quality to them that make for a consistently entertaining series of movies, and it is hard to believe that it has been ten years since the release of the film that started it all, Iron Man (#135). While it can be argued that these comic book films do tend fall along traditional formulas, it is the tweaking of certain aspects that make for the successes that have occurred, whether with a tinge of humor or with a tinge of humanity to it. After all, this is the 18th film in the franchise, and while you could equate them to products in a line, at least they are fairly solid products. In the case of Black Panther, this is a good movie that pushes most of the right buttons to make for a solid winner. The best quote that can be said about the movie comes from itself: "Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved".

As mentioned in my review for Blade (1998), the film had originally been slated for development with Wesley Snipes in mind in the 1990s, although it languished in development for two decades, with Chadwick Boseman eventually being cast in the role in 2014. Black Panther (based off the comic book series of the same name that was originally created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) had already been showed on the big screen prior to his own film, as he was introduced in Captain America: Civil War (#796) two years ago, and I remember he had made a fine impression on me. Obviously this film gives Boseman more time to show his character off, and he excels, managing to be an interesting hero with enough gravitas that manages to holds his own in a cast with a good deal of variety. Jordan does a great job, managing to show a good deal of charisma along with fury that makes for an interesting villain that stands out, particularly for a film universe that has not had the best of villain portrayals. Nyong'o and Gurira manage to provide capable performances that are fairly strong along with interesting to watch on screen, each having their own respective moments to shine. Freeman doesn't have much time on screen, but he does provide a satisfactory enough performance. Kaluuya doesn't have a lot to do with his character, but he does the best of what he can. Wright does a fine performance, having some clever charm along with characteristics reminding me of "Q" from the James Bond series while also having some amusing scenes with Boseman. Serkis manages to have a good scenery chewing time, for the time that he gets on screen anyway. The rest of the cast do a fine job in their respective roles and functions, such as Duke and his adversarial but crucial role or Whitaker and his mystical nature.

The themes of the film work to the film's advantage, presenting its arguments without being ham-handed in approach. There are other things deserving praise, such as Rachel Morrison and her cinematography and Ruth E. Carter's costume design, both working fairly well to complement the film, making for a worthy atmosphere to watch. The action sequences are fairly hit and miss; while I do appreciate some of the fight sequences, there are times when it feels a bit too standardized, with the climax serving as mild entertainment when not utilizing too much effects, and the resolution to the film is fairly satisfactory, with its 134 minute run-time being acceptable enough for me. I do appreciate that the movie doesn't try to tie itself to other films of the comic franchise too much (aside from a flashback or so), being a film that is interesting in just showing itself off without lingering too much on little details. Ultimately, this is a film that is a pretty good success, achieving its goals well without betraying its principles.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

February 17, 2018

Blade.


Review #1049: Blade.

Cast: 
Wesley Snipes (Eric Brooks / Blade), N'Bushe Wright (Dr. Karen Jenson), Stephen Dorff (Deacon Frost), Kris Kristofferson (Abraham Whistler), Donal Logue (Quinn), Udo Kier (Gitano Dragonetti), Sanaa Lathan (Vanessa Brooks), and Arly Jover (Mercury) Directed by Stephen Norrington.

Review: 
Blade was the sixth film that was based off a product from Marvel Comics (although it was only the second to be released widely in America, besides Howard the Duck in 1986), adapted off the comic book series created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. The film began its development earlier in the decade, with LL Cool J expressing interest in playing the lead role before Snipes signed onto the role in 1996 (it is interesting to note that Snipes had plans to make a film about Black Panther, although that movie languished in development for over two decades until this year). In any case, this is an interesting take on the vampire film that generally hits more than it misses while notably being Marvel's first box office success.

There is just a certain level of excitement and style that makes the film ride consistently enough that comes in large part due to Snipes and his performance. He just manages to make the material feel believable and useful that might've sound silly with a lesser actor. Wright does a fine job, although I find that she doesn't particularly stand out too much. Dorff proves to be a quirky but fairly entertaining villain, having an unhinged manner to him that gels well on screen at times. Kristofferson manages to stand out pretty well with his rugged charm that clicks despite not having too much time on screen. The rest of the cast do their parts fairly well, not going too overboard nor too serious either. The action sequences are gripping and intense, managing to make for a quick tone that is fairly effective while not being disorientating. The plot isn't anything to be desired, but the film keeps itself entertaining enough to erase some of the nagging problems that would've become more noticeable for a film without as much enthusiasm or fun. The effects (with numerous sequences involving blood) look a bit wonky, but they don't distract too awfully as they probably could've been. The original cut (which lasted 140 minutes) had Dorff turn into a big mass of blood instead of the sword fight that does happen in the final cut, and upon seeing both versions of the fight, I can definitely say that they made the right decision in not using the big mass. At 120 minutes, the movie has a serviceable length that works without too much drag to it. On the whole, Blade is a strange mix of energy and slick filmmaking that works in the right places to make a solid piece of entertainment.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

February 14, 2018

Hostiles.


Review #1048: Hostiles.

Cast: 
Christian Bale (Captain Joseph J. Blocker), Rosamund Pike (Rosalie Quaid), Wes Studi (Yellow Hawk), Ben Foster (Sergeant Charles Wills), Stephen Lang (Colonel Abraham Biggs), Rory Cochrane (1st Sergeant Thomas Metz), Jesse Plemons (Lieutenant Rudy Kidder), Timothée Chalamet (Private Philippe DeJardin), Jonathan Majors (Corporal Henry Woodson), Adam Beach (Black Hawk), and Q'orianka Kilcher (Elk Woman) Directed by Scott Cooper.

Review: 
Admittedly, it is interesting watch a Western like this in our day and age, one that is brutal but fair in its approach that ultimately feels like a solid winner. The film (which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September of last year before going into limited release in December and general release on January 26th) is based off an manuscript from the late screenwriter Donald E. Stewart, who had written for numerous films such as Missing (1982) and The Hunt for Red October (1990 - #080), among others. Undeniably, the most appealing aspect of the film is Bale, who delivers a tremendous performance. There is just something about the way that he commands the movie and shows numerous layers within his character that makes for a hauntingly good role. That's not to say that the other actors don't go a great job, with Pike and Studi also standing out in their own ways. Pike manages to interact with the harrowing world that she is thrust into with the right sense of emotion and timing. Studi also provides a fine performance, managing to complement Bale and his character with his own actions that he conveys in a convincing manner. Notably, a good part of the film features the speaking of dialogue through the Cheyenne language, which comes off as satisfactory to the film's benefit. The other actors do their parts well enough, particularly Cochrane, who plays the weary solider in the film rather convincingly. Another highlight of the movie is its look, with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi doing a fine job in capturing the locations utilized in the movie that give a crisp but useful feel. This is a redemption story through and through, and it manages to capture a feel of the Old West without feeling too hollow. The narrative isn't always the most consistent, but the parts that are manage to ring true enough, with the 133 minute run-time being forgivable. I'd recommend it, particularly if you are a fan of the genre and want something that is harsh but also arguably beautiful as well.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

February 13, 2018

New Orleans.


Review #1047: New Orleans.

Cast: 
Arturo de Córdova (Nick Duquesne), Dorothy Patrick (Miralee Smith), Marjorie Lord (Grace Voiselle), Irene Rich (Mrs. Rutledge Smith), John Alexander (Col. McArdle), Billie Holiday (Endie), Louis Armstrong (Himself), Richard Hageman (Henry Ferber), Jack Lambert (Biff Lewis), Bert Conway (Tommy Lake), Joan Blair (Constance Vigil), with Woody Herman and His Orchestra, Zutty Singleton (Drums), Barney Bigard (Clarinet), Kid Ory (Trombone), Bud Scott (Guitar), Red Callender (Bass), Charlie Beal (Piano), Meade Lux Lewis (Piano), and Mutt Carey (Trumpet) Directed by Arthur Lubin (#1015 - Bardelys the Magnificent)

Review: 
A film with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday? Admittedly, that is a pretty good way to attract interest in a film, particularly one that titles itself after the city that help create jazz. However, if you are looking for a good musical showcase, you may find yourself a bit disappointed. The film is a love story - between a high society girl and a casino owner, while being a fictionalized version of the rise of blues. The biggest problem with the movie is that it falls prey to relying on its conventional story parts more than its musical talents. It's not so much that the main two leads (de Cordova and Patrick) are awful or anything, it's just that they aren't particularly inspiring people for the energy that the movie looks like it should have. Holiday (in her only film role) and Armstrong (who had appeared in numerous films prior to this one) prove to be more entertaining than the duo in part because they aren't bound down to the plot-line so heavily.

I'm reminded of Stormy Weather (1943, #841), which also featured African American performers. In that film, the plot wasn't anything too particularly inspiring, but it also never managed to find itself in the way of showing the musical talents. One could also cite other musicals that featured numerous talents with plots that weren't as flimsy as what New Orleans does. It could've been a love letter to jazz, but it instead feels like a half-hearted note. For a film that is as mediocre as it gets, the musical parts with Armstrong and Holiday are top-notch, being quite beautiful and engaging. The film runs at 90 minutes, which isn't a bad length. Would I recommend it? I suppose that if one can recommend watching awful movies in order to see it to believe it, I guess that recommending this for its musical bits and not much else is okay. It won't garner a positive review, but it will merit a honorable mention at least.

Happy Mardi Gras folks.

Overall, I give it 6 out of 10 stars.

February 12, 2018

Barry Lyndon.


Review #1046: Barry Lyndon.

Cast: 
Ryan O'Neal (Redmond Barry), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (Chevalier du Balibari), Hardy Krüger (Captain Potzdorf), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Wolf Kahler (Prince of Tubingen), Marie Kean (Belle), Murray Melvin (Reverend Samuel Runt), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Reginald Lyndon), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), and Michael Hordern (Narrator) Directed by Stanley Kubrick (#044 - Full Metal Jacket, #065 - The Shining, #093 - 2001: A Space Odyssey)

Review: 
The film was based off the 1844 novel The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray, with a few significant changes from the novel, such as utilizing a narrator over having Lyndon narrating. Barry Lyndon was Stanley Kubrick's tenth feature film, being released between A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980). It could be argued that this film isn't as well known as other films directed by Kubrick, with the film not being too much of a success on general release, although it has had a rise in reputation in recent years. When asked about his favorite Kubrick film, director Martin Scorsese said this about the film: "I'm not sure if I can have a favorite Kubrick picture, but somehow I keep coming back to Barry Lyndon." I can't say that this is my favorite film of his, but I will admit that this is a fairly neat gem that merits some respect. The best aspects of this film is its technical qualities and its finely constructed narrative, although it likely isn't the film for everyone. I can't say that O'Neal doesn't do a great job in the main role, but I also can't say that his performance isn't one of the weaker ones in the film, and it stems from his arc in the film. I think he does a fine job when it comes to trying (and failing) to fit in to the social ladder, but there are certain moments when he comes off a bit wooden, although he is never awful to watch on screen nor frustrating to see, capturing a nonredeemable man fairly well. Berenson does a fine job in her role, having a stillness and convincing nature to her that works to her advantage. Magee is a fair standout. The rest of the cast do their parts fairly satisfactory, fitting in with the look of the film without being distracting, like portraits in a museum. The narration by Michael Hordern is a key highlight, being quite fitting when he speaks that fits the moment quite well. This was a departure from the novel, which tells the events in first person through Barry. When asked about why he made the change, Kubrick stated that "[it] worked extremely well in the novel but, of course, in a film you have objective reality in front of you all of the time, so the effect of Thackeray's first-person story-teller could not be repeated on the screen." In any case, the narration works well for the mood and pace of the film.

The film won four Academy Awards, winning for Best Art Direction (given to Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon), Best Cinematography (done by John Alcott), Best Costume Design (Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Söderlund) and for Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score to Leonard Rosenman, for his arrangements of music of Franz Schubert and George Frideric Handel. Of note is that there are sequences in the film that were shot without resorting to simply using electric light, with special lenses being utilized for the film that had been developed for use in the Apollo moon landings, allowing scenes to be lit with actual candles, with other shots using certain lighting to try and mimic natural light. There are also numerous lengthy wide angle long shots that assist in the film having a static but fitting quality. The 187 minute run-time could be a bit of a deal breaker for someone looking for something a bit less slow, but others will find it to be a fine price to pay to appreciate the beauty in the film. On the whole, this is a magnificent film in its scope and its scale, having a certain quality to it that merits a watch.

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

February 10, 2018

Shaft's Big Score!


Review #1045: Shaft's Big Score!

Cast: 
Richard Roundtree (John Shaft), Moses Gunn (Bumpy Jonas), Drew Bundini Brown (Willy), Joseph Mascolo (Gus Mascola), Kathy Imrie (Rita), Wally Taylor (Johnny Kelly), Julius Harris (Capt. Bollin), Rosalind Miles (Arna Asby), and Joe Santos (Pascal) Directed by Gordon Parks (#610 - Shaft (1971))

Review: 
The original Shaft movie was described by me as one with an "epitome of cool", in part due to its title character, action sequences, and its music. It had a style to it that is hard to beat and even harder to replicate, although that doesn't mean the sequel isn't any good. Shaft's Big Score! is fairly entertaining fare, with a cast that does its job with flying colors and some interesting action sequences to push this over the top for the most. Admittedly, the story is a bit sketchy at times with its execution and the pacing isn't as rip-roaring, mostly because the film seems a bit muddy with its motivations (even the title seems to be a bit strange considering what occurs in the film), but it's not a terribly boring movie. Roundtree is the key standout, retaining the confident charisma from the original while also being fairly hip and fairly consistent, resembling James Bond but without the gadgets.

Gunn also returns, although he isn't given too much to do. Taylor also does a pretty fine job in an adversarial role that doesn't go too over the top. Mascolo is the main villain (with Taylor also serving as an adversary), but it takes probably a bit too much time to introduce him and thus his performance is merely just okay. The rest of the cast do their jobs fairly well. The film retains the same director from the original, Gordon Parks (who also provides the music due to Issac Hayes being unavailable) along with Ernest Tidman, writer (along with producer) who had written the book that Shaft was based off of and cinematographer Urs Furrer. The climax scene, which goes from land to sea to air, manages to stand out fairly well due to having a gritty but riveting feel that is executed pretty well. This is the kind of film that has a certain energy and click that is absorbing for a blockbuster like this. On the whole, the movie is a bit uneven at times, but it also is an entertaining kind of action flick that makes for a useful good time.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

February 8, 2018

The Kid Brother.


Review #1044: The Kid Brother.

Cast: 
Harold Lloyd (Harold Hickory), Jobyna Ralston (Mary Powers), Walter James (Jim Hickory), Leo Willis (Leo Hickory), Olin Francis (Olin Hickory), Constantine Romanoff (Sandoni), Eddie Boland ("Flash" Farrell), Frank Lanning (Sam Hooper), and Ralph Yearsley (Hank Hooper) Directed by Ted Wilde and J.A. Howe.

Review: 
The Kid Brother was the tenth feature film to star Harold Lloyd, released nearly nine months after For Heaven's Sake (#727). The film attempts to carry numerous elements together, such as comedy, romance, and drama, and it manages to do fairly decent while being consistent with its gags. The basic story isn't too particularly deep, but it is one that makes for good entertainment (much like the other Lloyd films) that is more than enough. The film credits two directors (Wilde and Howe, with the latter given a "co-director" credit), although apparently there was also uncredited work done by Lloyd and Lewis Milestone (previously reviewed on Movie Night for his direction of The Racket (1928) - #901). In any case, there is quite a good amount of gags and intertitles to go around, such as the laundry shuffling sequence, or the climax involving a massive ship and one mischievous monkey. The cast all do a fine job in the roles they are assigned to play. Lloyd plays his role with a bit of bashfulness as the youngest Hickory yet he also doesn't underplay his cleverness either, with Lloyd being adept at rolling with the situations that go on in the film. Ralston is charming as ever, doing an acceptable job in her final film with Lloyd. The rest of the Hickorys are brimming with confidence and stature, and each of the three (James, Willis, and Francis) do a good job in their scenes, especially with Lloyd. Romanoff, Boland and Yearsley prove to be fairly decent adversaries as well. This is a movie that comes and goes with amusement and a bit of sharpness that you'd expect from a film with Lloyd, but it is done in a way that it doesn't come off as standard fare or repetitive. There is a certain enjoyment to the situations and how it is executed that make this a fair winner. At 84 minutes long, the movie is just the right kind of length for reasonable enjoyment for most fans of silent films or ones looking for a good laugh.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

February 5, 2018

The Naked City.


Review #1043: The Naked City.

Cast: 
Barry Fitzgerald (Detective Lt. Dan Muldoon), Howard Duff (Frank Niles), Dorothy Hart (Ruth Morrison), Don Taylor (Detective Jimmy Halloran), Frank Conroy (Captain Donahue), Ted de Corsia (Willie Garzah), House Jameson (Dr. Lawrence Stoneman), Anne Sargent (Mrs. Halloran), Adelaide Klein (Mrs. Paula Batory), Grover Burgess (Mr. Batory), and Mark Hellinger (Narrator) Directed by Jules Dassin.

Review: 
It is interesting to see a film noir like this, one with a semi documentary kind of style that depicts an investigation of a murder case step by step. In an interesting coincidence, I had already reviewed a police procedural film that has the same kind of semi-documentary style that also happened to be released in 1948, He Walked by Night (#947). Both movies stand on their own when it comes to detailing crime investigation, so it's hard to say which is the better of the two. Admittedly, the film has aged a substantial bit due to time along with the countless amounts of crime dramas that have followed (and continue to follow) after the film's release 70 years ago, although that doesn't mean the film isn't fairly well packaged. The film was produced and narrated by Mark Hellinger, who served as a journalist prior to becoming a producer, and he certainly contributes to making the film feel particularly effective in the story it wants to weave. The film was filmed on location in New York City, and there is certainly an interesting atmosphere that the film makes interesting to watch. The cinematography was done by William H. Daniels and the editing was done by Paul Weatherwax, with both receiving Academy Awards for their respective work in the film, and they certainly have standout moments, with Daniels' shots looking particularly good with action sequences or nighttime shots. The acting is acceptable for the movie and what it's going for, particularly from Fitzgerald and Taylor, who work fairly well together as the police leads, clicking without much struggle. The other cast members are a bit subdued, but they do their parts well, such as de Corsia in his adversarial role that doesn't come off as too forced. The best quality the movie has is that the movie seems comfortable with what it wants to tell, being a capable thriller without adhering to going through all of the cliches for noirs, going straight-forward with a straight shot. This film has a good deal of entertainment value along with staying power even after all of these decades. I would check it out, particularly if you are interested in a good crime yarn.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

January 31, 2018

War of the Satellites.


Review #1042: War of the Satellites.

Cast: 
Dick Miller (Dave Boyer), Susan Cabot (Sybil Carrington), Richard Devon (Dr. Pol Van Ponder), Eric Sinclair (Dr. Howard Lazar), Michael Fox (Jason ibn Akad), Robert Shayne (Cole Hotchkiss), and Jered Barclay (John Compo) Directed by Roger Corman (#368 - The Little Shop of Horrors, #684 - It Conquered the World, #852 - The Terror, #931 - Not of This Earth, #1007 - Attack of the Crab Monsters, and #1039 - Five Guns West)

Review: 
Today happens to be the 60th Anniversary of the launch of Explorer 1, the first satellite launched by the United States. As such, I figured that it would make sense to a science fiction film involving space from that year, and thus this came up for viewing. Enjoy!

It is interesting to see how many space films one can encounter that attempted to benefit from the Space Age, with this one being an independent film (distributed by Allied Artist) from Roger Corman (who also has a small part in the film as a Ground Control member), who certainly makes films worth talking about, for better or worse. This was released on May 18, 1958, four months after the launch of Explorer 1 and seven months after the launch of Sputnik 1. This time around, the plot revolves around a mysterious group of aliens trying to stop humans from exploring space through exploding their satellites by some sort of space barrier. The title of the film is a bit strange considering that the film doesn't have any sort of war between satellites, but I digress. As a science fiction film, it isn't anything too special for the genre, but it isn't anything too patronizing nor anything too ridiculous, with a villain that has a few interesting moments. The characters aren't anything too developed, although the actors at least make them see fairly passable and useful to watch. Miller and Cabot make for a decent pairing, but a good part of the film utilizes Devon to a satisfactory effect. There isn't too much with the special effects, but they are fairly passable when on screen, such as the effect that is utilized for the healing of a hand wound that seems fairly clever. The sets (such as the ship's interior) are also fairly serviceable, making for something that doesn't come off as anything too cheap. The film doesn't go for anything too ridiculous or too schlocky, having a concentrated feel that is somewhat intriguing. It may have some of the cliches you might see in other sci-fi movies, but it at least makes an effort to gel those together to make something worth watching at least once. At 66 minutes, this is a fairly quick movie that will certainly satisfy anyone with tastes for some science fiction or something with a bit of entertainment to it, which this one does fairly well. If you're a fan of Roger Corman movies, or a fan of sci-fi in any kind of form (low budget or not), this one will fit fairly well for your standards.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

January 29, 2018

A Woman of Paris.


Review #1041: A Woman of Paris.

Cast: 
Edna Purviance (Marie St. Clair), Clarence Geldart (Marie's Father), Carl Miller (Jean Millet), Lydia Knott (Jean's Mother), Charles K. French (Jean's Father), Adolphe Menjou (Pierre Revel), Betty Morrissey (Fifi), and Malvina Polo (Paulette) Directed by Charlie Chaplin (#353 - Monsieur Verdoux#599 - The Kid#600 - City Lights#759 - The Gold Rush#775 - Shoulder Arms#820 - Modern Times#923 - The Pilgrim, and #1025 - The Circus)

Review: 
The film (sometimes referred to as A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate) begins with a preamble: "To The Public -- In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I wish to announce that I do not appear in this picture. It is the first serious drama written and directed by myself. Charles Chaplin." This was the first film that Chaplin distributed through United Artists, which he had founded with D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in 1919; the film was released seven months after the release of The Pilgrim (#923) through First National Pictures. The film was meant to help boost Purviance's career, although this did not happen. This was her last starring role prior to her retirement from acting in 1927. At the time, Chaplin was well known for his comedic works, and despite Chaplin's statements over how one should enjoy this film as a drama, it didn't prove too appealing for audience and thus it was not a success. The film was re-issued in 1976 by Chaplin with a new musical score along with having a shorter run-time due to cuts, which shortened the run-time from 82 minutes to 78.

With all of that history that I mentioned, how is the film? I think that the movie is fairly well-made, much like other Chaplin-directed films that preceded and followed this film, being constructed fine enough within its drama. I wouldn't consider it any too great, but I'd say that it would likely fit as a hidden gem. The film doesn't fall prey to too many cliches with regard to its characters, having a bit of originality along with some clever touches. Purviance does a fine job with what she's given, having a bit of alluring nature to her while not falling prey to being too obvious with her movements. Miller does an okay job, giving a performance that isn't anything too special, but it isn't anything that ruins the mood. Menjou is the one who stands out the best, having an air of sophistication that works to his advantage in making an entertaining performance. The other cast members do fine jobs for what they are meant to do, with the parents being interesting contrasts to their offspring. It's a bit of a morality play, but at least it isn't any too overblown or too out of the bend, for lack of a better phrase. It may take a bit of time for the film to really get itself going, but it manages to have some sort of impact by the time it gets to its climax.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

January 27, 2018

The Scarlet Claw.


Review #1040: The Scarlet Claw.

Cast: 
Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. John Watson), Gerald Hamer (Alistair Ramson), Paul Cavanagh (Lord William Penrose), Arthur Hohl (Emile Journet), Kay Harding (Marie Journet), Miles Mander (Judge Brisson), David Clyde (Sgt. Thompson), Ian Wolfe (Drake), and Victoria Horne (Nora) Directed by Roy William Neill (#846 - Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man#873 - Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon#925 - Sherlock Holmes in Washington#936 - Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, and #1021 - The Spider Woman)

Review: 
The Scarlet Claw was the eighth film in the Sherlock Holmes series (and sixth released by Universal) that featured Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Although the film is not an adaptation of any of the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the film has some similarities with The Hound of the Baskervilles, which had already been adapted into a film (#583) with Rathbone and Bruce five years prior. Qualities that the two share involve a terror that is painted with phosphorescent but also a terror of the supernatural that inspires fear, an escaped convict on the loose, and drawing the killer out through making the villain believe that Holmes has left. In any case, the earlier film (and novel) are both better than this film, although this movie is actually fairly entertaining in its own right. It is usually cited by some critics as the best of the twelve Sherlock Holmes films released by Universal, and I can't really doubt that assessment. John P. Fulton provides the "special photography" for the movie, and the effect used to show the glowing figure that menaces in the mist for the first half of the film is fairly clever. The sets (meant to evoke a Canadian village) for the film do a fine job in making for a somewhat moody feel that feels a bit different from other prior films to the film's advantage. It's hard not to like Rathbone and Bruce in their roles as they just blend in fairly seamlessly. Hamer proves to be a decent villain for the film, and Cavanagh and Hohl also provide fair performances. The plot seems to be constructed well, managing to not have anything too out of the bend. At 74 minutes, this is an easy one to recommend for people, particularly for people wanting more adventures with Sherlock Holmes. It isn't anything too groundbreaking or great, but it will prove satisfactory for viewers on the whole.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

January 24, 2018

Five Guns West.


Review #1039: Five Guns West.

Cast: 
John Lund (Govern Sturges), Dorothy Malone (Shalee Jethro), Mike Connors (Hale Clinton), Robert Wright Campbell (John Candy), Jonathan Haze (Billy Candy), Paul Birch (J.C. Haggard), James Stone (Uncle Mike), and Jack Ingram (Stephan Jethro) Directed by Roger Corman (#368 - The Little Shop of Horrors, #684 - It Conquered the World, #852 - The Terror, #931 - Not of This Earth, and #1007 - Attack of the Crab Monsters)

Review: 
Admittedly, Five Guns West does not stand out too particularly well from other Roger Corman productions, but it does have the distinction of being Roger Corman's first film as director. Prior to this film, he had been involved in the production of three other films: Highway Dragnet (1954), which he contributed the story to, Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954), which he served as producer, and The Fast and the Furious (1955), which he provided the story and served as producer. Corman served as producer and director for this film, with Robert Wright Campbell providing the story and also starring in the movie, which was filmed in nine days for a sum of $60,000. The plot shares some similarities with The Dirty Dozen (#1014), involving outlaws being pardoned in order to perform a dangerous mission set near the end of the American Civil War. There isn't anything too terrible in this Western, although it definitely doesn't stand out much. This is a B-movie through and through, although it is fairly well-made and fairly competent, despite not having much in terms of big entertainment. It feels a bit talkative at times with its dialogue, but at least the words that are used aren't too wooden. Lund and Malone prove to be fairly useful leads, having a bit of chemistry with each other, although it isn't anything too special. The rest of the main group (Connors, Campbell, Haze and Birch) are not too bad, with their own little conflicts that aren't too shabby, although I can't say they really are much in terms of villainy, but I digress. The action is fairly decent stuff, having some gun action that works alright for the intent of the film. The look of the movie isn't too bad, either. At 78 minutes, the movie doesn't feel too long, so in that way it helps the movie feel a bit worthy for watch. There isn't anything that is great about the movie, but there also isn't anything that is terrible about the movie either. It falls in the middle in terms of quality, for better or for worse. It won't win any kind of honor, but it is a fairly okay film for people wanting to see something from Roger Corman, even if it is formula entertainment such as this.

Overall, I give it 6 out of 10 stars.

January 18, 2018

Cloverfield.


Review #1038: Cloverfield.

Cast: 
Michael Stahl-David (Robert "Rob" Hawkins), T.J. Miller (Hudson "Hud" Platt), Jessica Lucas (Lily Ford), Odette Yustman (Elizabeth "Beth" McIntyre), Lizzy Caplan (Marlena Diamond), Mike Vogel (Jason Hawkins), Ben Feldman (Travis), Billy Brown (Staff Sergeant Pryce), and Chris Mulkey (Lieutenant General Graff) Directed by Matt Reeves.

Review: 
I suppose it makes sense to review this film today on January 18, since it is the 10th anniversary of the film's release in theaters, so it is a perfect time to get to it along with giving you fellow readers a new review after a week since the last one. 

When asked about the film prior to its release, J. J. Abrams (who served as producer for the film) stated that he was inspired to make an American monster after seeing Godzilla toys in stores in Japan with his son, one that would be "insane and intense", which is certainly interesting. I was eleven years old when the film came out, but I don't particularly remember the marketing for the film, although I imagine that it must've been interesting for people on the Internet to focus a bit of time on (take that statement as you may). In any case, how is the movie itself? I find the movie to be fairly decent, although I can't say I really thought it was that scary or all too special. It is an interesting idea to make a monster movie that doesn't intend to go for only big entertainment spectacle destruction and instead goes for something that plays on fears and anxiety that people would have if a situation like this actually did arise; one scene in particular stands out, involving people taking out their phones after seeing the head of the Statue of Liberty fall right near them. I wish I could say the plot or the characters are as intriguing as the concept for the film, but that it is not the case here. The performances aren't terrible, but they aren't too particularly interesting. I will state that Miller does a pretty decent job, however. I found him to be more interesting to follow than the plot around the other characters, even if most of the time he is just the guy filming the things happening. Caplan also comes off a bit interesting when she is on screen.

The film has a look intended to resemble hand-held camera filming, including jump cuts that make it feel a bit like a home movie, although I will admit that the effect can feel a bit disorientating at times. Apparently, some viewers of the film during its release experienced motion sickness due to the film's cinematography, to the point that some theaters posted warnings about the film that stated it may "experience side effects associated with motion sickness similar to riding a rollercoaster". Sometimes the shots (and the shakes) worked in my view, but other times it felt a bit tedious. I imagine seeing this in a theater would be a significantly different experience than seeing it on a normal TV set. The visual effects were incorporated after filming, so the cast had to react to an unseen creature during their scenes, which I suppose is an achievement on their part in imagination. The monster (of what we see, anyway) is not too terrible, and it generally is one that feels pretty creepy and menacing. It doesn't have much of an origin, but that doesn't really feel too surprising. The film runs at 84 minutes, which feels alright considering the plot matter and the shaky-cam stuff. Ultimately, Cloverfield has an interesting premise that it plays around with a bit to fine effect, but on the whole it is a fairly decent monster/horror flick that stands alone as a curiosity if one has the patience for it.

Oh yeah, I probably should refer 10 Cloverfield Lane (#784), released eight years after this film. That film, while not a direct sequel, was a fairly interesting thriller that certainly played itself as a thriller neatly enough. Cloverfield doesn't exactly pale too badly in comparison with 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I felt that this needed to be mentioned in any case.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

January 11, 2018

Go West (1925).


Review #1037: Go West.

Cast: 
Buster Keaton (Friendless), Howard Truesdale (Owner of the Diamond Bar Ranch), Kathleen Myers (His Daughter), Ray Thompson (The Foreman), and Brown Eyes (Herself) Directed by Buster Keaton (#757 - Seven Chances, #762 - College, #805 - The Navigator, #877 - Three Ages, #908 - The General, #926 - Our Hospitality, and #941 - Sherlock Jr)

Review: 
Go West was the seventh feature film starring Buster Keaton, who also served as director (doing so for all except the first feature film that he starred in). This one features Keaton working at a cattle ranch, where he does things such as bronco-busting, cattle wrangling, and dairy farming, which go about as well as you'd expect, with Keaton forming a friendship with a cow. Admittedly, it is easy to say I enjoyed the movie, in part because it is a warm experience that has enough orchestrations and humor to make a relatively useful movie. It isn't a classic like some of Keaton's other works (such as The General or Sherlock Jr), but I will say that it is a fine little gem that serves its purpose of entertainment. Oddly, it is the dynamic between Keaton and the cow that drives the film forward, with numerous sequences between them are fairly useful and sweet in some way. The highlight of the film is the cattle stampede at the end, mostly because of how well it is orchestrated, from the reactions of the other actors to the way that the cattle move about, particularly with some of the sight gags that occur. The rest of the cast isn't too developed, but they serve their purposes well for the movie's standards. Keaton makes for a bumbling but always endearing lead, with a face made for silent era comedies like these, even if it may not fit the usual formula for his films. There isn't any sort of stunt-work that stands out too much, but I will say that there is some fun to be had with the movie and its goofiness with the premise that works out alright, with nothing too ridiculous or overdone. It takes its time to get rolling, but it sure feels worth it in the end. It has a runtime of 69 minutes, which I'm sure is nice enough for people to get a quick enjoyment.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

January 9, 2018

Gymkata.


Review #1036: Gymkata.

Cast: 
Kurt Thomas (Jonathan Cabot), Tetchie Agbayani (Princess Rubali), Richard Norton (Zamir), Edward Bell (Paley), John Berrett (Gomez), Conan Lee (Hao), Bob Schott (Thorg), Buck Kartalian (The Kahn), and Eric Lawson (Colonel Cabot) Directed by Robert Clouse (#587 - Enter the Dragon)

Review: 
You may be wondering to yourself the following question: "What is Gymkata?" Well, it is a mix of the skill of gymnastics with the kill of karate, as stated in the poster for the film, which apparently was based off the novel The Terrible Game by Dan Tyler Moore. Knowing either of those facts doesn't make the movie any much better, considering that this is a by the numbers terrible flick. The plot of the film is as follows: A gymnast is approached by special forces to participate in some sort of ancient game (called "The Game", naturally) in a fictional country in order to see if he can win this athletic competition that no outsider has won in over 900 years. The winner is granted a wish, and they want him to wish...for a US satellite monitoring station to be installed in the country in order to monitor all satellites in space so the "other side" can't. Yes, that is the premise. If you were shaking in your boots in anticipation for the movie, then all power to you. Honestly, this is a movie made to show off action sequences, and it does so with the scenery of Yugoslavia and no sense of energy aside from a few laughs at the film and its plot. The film is essentially something you'd see from someone who wanted to showcase action and take a bunch of cliches together, such as the jealous rival, the monarchy that the hero familiarizes with, the long-lost father, and so on. Nothing dates this film better than mentioning the "Star Wars" program, but then again who's surprised by this?

It may interest you to note that Kurt Thomas (with a size of about 5-4.5, which is a bit shorter than my size) was a world champion in numerous categories in gymnastics in 1978-79, with two gymnastic moves (the Flair and the salto) being named for him. In the sense of his sequences on the mat and in action, he does a fine job in his first (and only) film appearance. He doesn't do too great performance-wise, but that can apply to pretty much everyone else in the film, who don't exactly seem to have too much enthusiasm for the story, although I will admit that Norton certainly fits the bill as a silly villain for the hero to defeat. If you don't really care too much for characters, story, or general competency, then this is probably the movie for you. I can't really say I was surprised that this turned out to be a stinker, so how can I be mad? How can I be mad that this is an absurd and goofy piece of film when I knew that it was coming? As dated as the film is, I will date this review further by stating that I watched this on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), who showed this film (and the film reviewed earlier yesterday) on Saturday night as part of their "Underground" series. I will say that they certainly fit the bill as an example of a terrible pairing that also works well for their series, along with Movie Night, obviously. Sometimes you just need some bad flicks to truly remember what makes for good and bad films, and Gymkata is one of those films.

Let's not forget the ending where (spoilers) the first satellite monitoring station was installed after our hero wins the game. Truly it was important enough to note on the epilogue. I tried to check if there were many quotes for the film on IMDb and it turns out that there was one that was more than a whole sentence: "There are many sounds around us, each is slightly different. So small as to go un-noticed by the person who is unaware. Do not hear the wood split. Hear the only sound of axe, cutting air. Read the air itself. It has much say to you." Basically, the movie stinks. But it is the kind of stinker that you may get a kick out of, particularly if you dig movies that aim for cheap pulp action without any sort of illusion about what it wants to be. For all that I said about the movie, it is up to you the viewer to see what your interests are for this odd little flick...if you dare.

Overall, I give it 3 out of 10 stars.

January 8, 2018

Never Too Young to Die.


Review #1035: Never Too Young to Die.

Cast: 
John Stamos (Lance Stargrove), Vanity (Danja Deering), Gene Simmons (Carruthers / Velvet Von Ragner), George Lazenby (Drew Stargrove), Peter Kwong (Cliff), Ed Brock (Pyramid), John Anderson (Arliss), and Robert Englund (Riley) Directed by Gil Bettman.

Review: 
The best way to describe this movie is to call it a tacky 80s cliché, complete with ridiculous villains and even more ridiculous situations. It's a b-movie through and through, so at least I can say it is consistent in being odd, although that isn't saying much. Is it worth it for me to write many words on why this movie isn't good? No, but I will try to make a meaningful review that expresses some of why this movie is pretty terrible. Stamos (in his film debut) isn't particularly impressive in this lead role, likely because he just doesn't look like the kind of person right for the action adventure comedy that the movie wants to go for, although the acting isn't too wacky. His scenes with Vanity don't go as badly, although I can't say that they are anything too special. Vanity (real name Denise Matthews) does a bit better, although she is best suited for the action sequences (doing a bit better with that than Stamos). Easily, the one who stands out is Simmons, most likely because of how odd this villainous role is. I suppose if you ever wanted to see Dr Frank N. Furter as the villain in a mish-mash of James Bond and action-adventure, this is the one for you (I haven't seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but then again that statement isn't exactly a truthful compliment either). The action sequences aren't too bad, although it isn't anything too noteworthy. The climax is ridiculous, but it is entirely unsurprising if you give in to the movie's game that it plays, for better or worse. It is nice to see Englund and Lazenby, even if neither has much to do in the movie. Kwong is in the film briefly as a sort of "Q" figure, although that isn't saying much. There is nothing particularly impressive about anything in this movie, but there also isn't anything too awful about it either. This is ultimately a film that is best watched as something to laugh at, with nothing that is good to highlight but also nothing that is horrifying to note either. It's junk, but it's junk that is digestible for most people. Take this film for what it's worth...pennies or not.

Overall, I give it 4 out of 10 stars.

January 6, 2018

Bright Lights, Big City.


Review #1034: Bright Lights, Big City.

Cast: 
Michael J. Fox (Jamie Conway), Kiefer Sutherland (Tad Allagash), Phoebe Cates (Amanda Conway), Swoosie Kurtz (Megan), Frances Sternhagen (Clara Tillinghast), Tracy Pollan (Vicky Allagash), John Houseman (Mr. Vogel), Charlie Schlatter (Michael), David Warrilow (Rittenhouse), Dianne Wiest (Mrs. Conway), and Jason Robards (Mr. Hardy) Directed by James Bridges.

Review: 
Based on the novel of the same name by Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City is a movie that seems to want to bask in going for the bottom with desperation and ambition mixed in with a film that can't exactly get itself all the way to the finish line. It's not a big disappointment, but it isn't anything too special, and part of that is likely due to the film's structure. It feel a bit aimless at times, and the fact that there isn't much energy in the cast doesn't help the movie grow. Fox is the main grab for the film, and its quality may very well depend on how you view his performance. For me, it's hard to not like Fox, but I don't think I can really say that he sells this performance as someone disillusioned enough with events in his life to turn to certain substances. At the very least, the movie isn't a Saturday school special kind of film with some sort of overbearing message, but it also isn't the kind of film that seems to show much passion for what it aims for.

The film seems to never really get itself down to some sort of rock bottom with its main character, nor does it ever become a movie with anything to tie itself together. It goes all over the place, from scenes with his job to scenes with his wife to scenes with his "party friends" to scenes with a potential love interest, and none of it ever really seems to click with enough energy. Sutherland does a decent job as the friend to all of this mania with substances with his own kind of responses, but I wonder if the film might've worked better if Fox and Sutherland had switched roles. Cates' role doesn't really seem to have much substance, minus the parts that exposits about her from dialogue, so it really isn't fair to say that she doesn't do a good job due to what it given to her. The rest of the cast isn't terrible, but they certainly don't give the movie much meat to work with. Robards stands out in his brief time on screen due to the way he towers over Fox in both mannerisms and demeanor. It isn't a boring movie, but I can't say it is a meaningful film, and that likely goes down to the dialogue, which seems to feel flaky at times, edging the lines between seriousness and cheese. There is some fine music in the movie (such as "Pump Up the Volume" by M|A|R|R|S), and I will say that the film does have a decent look to it, but that can't carry the movie to success. I can't imagine how the novel dealt with its subject matter, although it is interesting to note that the novel was written from the second person point of view (with the first line of the film being the first line of the book). On the whole, this is a movie with a fuzzy look on the dark side of nightlife in the fast lane of New York that is mildly entertaining to watch, but it just can't work itself to be a drama with much substance to be a clear winner.


Overall, I give it 6 out of 10 stars.

January 3, 2018

$ (Dollars).


Review #1033: $ (Dollars).

Cast: 
Warren Beatty (Joe Collins), Goldie Hawn (Dawn Divine), Gert Fröbe (Mr. Kessel), Robert Webber (Mr. North, Attorney), Scott Brady (Sarge), Arthur Brauss (Candy Man), Robert Stiles (Major), and Wolfgang Kieling (Granich) Directed by Richard Brooks (#871 - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof)

Review: 
Admittedly, the title sticks out pretty easily, because how many movies have a symbol as their title? In any case, $ (also known as Dollars and The Heist in the United Kingdom) is an interesting heist movie that certainly has its moments, along with having a fairly dynamic cast that makes for good entertainment, starting with Beatty and Hawn. Both of them do a fine job in the roles they have within the heist, rolling off each other with a kind of energy that is compelling in how they work off each other. Beatty does a fine job in selling this role with angles and cons throughout, being quite clever and quite charming to follow for the film. The same can be said for Hawn, who has a magnetic appeal that resonates with any scene that she is, whether when acting against any of the crooks or with Beatty. The film doesn't dwell much on how these two came together nor much on the specifics of the plan, but the way that it focuses on their approaches for getting this money and how much fun it is to see them do it is more than enough. Fröbe does a fine job as the bank president, showing some authority and class to the role that fits just neatly with the film. The adversary crooks also do a fine job, particularly Brauss, with a fine pair of shades and a voice to go along with his ruthlessness. Brady also does a fine job, showcasing some greed in his portrayal that has a fine payoff. The heist sequences and the climax are fairly satisfactory, having their respective high points, such as the chase sequence (filmed in Hamberg, Germany), quiet but effective. It is interesting to note that the Kunsthalle, the city's principal museum of art was utilized as the exterior for the bank. The film certainly has a good look to it, never coming off as anything too fake nor too unrealistic for the time. The soundtrack was composed by Quincy Jones, with performances by Little Richard, Roberta Flack and Doug Kershaw, featuring the Don Elliot Voices as well. It gives the movie a bit of a groovy kick that is certainly welcome for the movie. On the whole, this is a colorful kind of film that takes its time to get rolling, but it has a fine payoff that makes the two hour run-time worth it in the final result.

Welcome to 2018, the ninth year with at least one review by me, with this being the first review of what I term "Season 8". Hopefully there will be a fun amount of reviews throughout the year for all of you folks to enjoy. 

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

December 29, 2017

Superbad.


Review #1032: Superbad.

Cast: 
Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell/"McLovin"), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Emma Stone (Jules), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Aviva Baumann (Nicola), Joe Lo Truglio (Francis), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Dave Franco (Greg), and Laura Seay (Shirley) Directed by Greg Mottola.

Review: 
I will admit that this film had slipped under my radar for probably longer than it should have, probably because this didn't seem like something that had much priority to do. In retrospect, Superbad is a movie that is worth seeing, in part because of how amusing it proves itself to be. Loosely based on the high school experiences of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, this is a film that is pretty raunchy through and through, but it is also a film that is cleverly built to be an entertaining piece that utilizes its actors and situations to make an excellent experience. It's the performances by the cast (or more specifically the main duo) that carry the movie consistently. Hill and Cera do a good job together, having numerous exchanges and moments that are pretty amusing along with compelling. They feel like real people because they don't feel like a cliche blank slate for raunchy things to happen to them just for raunchy's sake, having a degree of practicality that seems welcome. Mintz-Plasse does a pretty good job as well, having some good scene-stealing moments along with being fairly interesting to watch. Hader and Rogen prove to be an entertaingly fine supporting duo that make for some good laughs, particularly with Mintz-Plasse in the second half. The rest of the cast isn't as prominent, but it is interesting to see Stone in her film debut, and she definitely has a fine screen presence. The movie goes fairly consistently, not feeling like a drag even at 113 minutes for a comedy. It never becomes a movie with too much posturing for improvisation nor just a movie that is disgusting just for the sake of disgusting. The heart of the movie is Hill and Cera and their friendship, and it's an interesting one to watch because of the two; a weaker film would've just focused on merely getting alcohol (or getting rid of teenage angst, one might say) for the party without any focus on character, and it wouldn't have as much entertainment value. From beginning to end, this is a film that goes for laughs and succeeds wholeheartedly. It's a movie that is confident in what it wants to be and what it wants to say with its words (many of them being the kind one can't use in print) without sacrificing a good solid core of depth and care.

On this note, I would like to say that this is the last review for 2017 for Movie Night. Obviously I'll be back in 2018 to do more reviews, but it is nice to say that there was some fine consistency with the reviewing slate. This is the 140th review for 2017, or "Season 7", which by my count is a significant improvement from the 116 reviews from the year before and the 90 from 2015. It has been a fun ride doing these reviews and having some fun highlights, such as reaching landmark numbers such as 900 and the big 1000th review. It has also been fun to have watch numerous films at the movie theater (18) for this year, because that usually proves to be an interesting experience. In any case, thank you for reading these reviews, and I hope to see you in the next year.

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

December 28, 2017

Meet Me in St. Louis.


Review #1031: Meet Me in St. Louis.

Cast: 
Judy Garland (Esther Smith), Margaret O'Brien ('Tootie' Smith), Mary Astor (Mrs. Anna Smith), Leon Ames (Mr. Alonzo Smith), Lucille Bremer (Rose Smith), Tom Drake (John Truett), Marjorie Main (Katie the maid), Harry Davenport (Grandpa), Henry H. Daniels Jr. (Alonzo "Lon" Smith Jr.), Joan Carroll (Agnes Smith), and June Lockhart (Lucille Ballard) Directed by Vincente Minnelli (#405 - The Reluctant Debutante, #510 - Father of the Bride, #620 - Lust for Life, #878 - The Long, Long Trailer, and #986 - An American in Paris)

Review: 
Admittedly, musical films can tend to feel a bit familiar, particularly if the setting or the characters aren't too interesting to go with the songs. Meet Me in St. Louis manages to be an interesting musical in part due to its charm along with its performances that make for a relatively engaging movie. The movie basks itself in nostalgia with its setting, but it definitely doesn't feel too off-putting, coming off as fairly welcome. Each member in the family of Smiths have their own moment to shine or make an impact, and no one does it better than Garland, who radiates charm and a wholesomeness that also extends to her songs, with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" being a particular standout, having a tone that is moving along with effective due to her way of singing it. She manages to have fine chemistry with the others, such as O'Brien and Drake as well. O'Brien also does a fine job as well, being a fine child actress; in fact, she won an Academy Juvenile Award for her work for her films of 1944 (this award was given eleven other times from 1935 to 1961, with Garland herself winning one for her work in 1939). Astor and Ames prove to be fairly useful parents for the household, with Main and Davenport also proving themselves well. It should be mentioned that the songs in the film are charming, from the opening song of "Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis" to "The Trolley Song", with the movie keeping itself with enough steam and energy to make for a riveting experience. The film runs finely enough at 113 minutes, with numerous story-lines that surround the movie revolving around the family that work alright, with the end featuring the St. Louis World's Fair (also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) that is a brief but fitting treat, with nothing in the film that comes off as condescending nor too ridiculous for the movie. Musicals may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm sure that this one will work wonders for people looking for a fun time.

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

December 27, 2017

Bad Santa.


Review #1030: Bad Santa.

Cast: 
Billy Bob Thornton (Willie T. Soke), Tony Cox (Marcus Skidmore), Lauren Graham (Sue), Brett Kelly (Thurman Merman), Lauren Tom (Lois Skidmore), John Ritter (Bob Chipeska), Bernie Mac (Gin Slagel), Cloris Leachman (Granny), and Octavia Spencer (Opal) Directed by Terry Zwigoff.

Review: 
Admittedly, this is a movie that is not for everyone, but then again how many Christmas films need to be cheerful? This is a movie that basks itself in being cheerful in its rudeness and cynicism, and it sure does a fine job at keeping itself together with laughs. Thornton does a pretty good job in the main role, having a crude kind of soul with this character that keeps itself consistent with the film while never springing towards any kind of force sentimentality. He reflects the movie pretty well in that if you like his performance (or get some sort of kick out of it), you'll probably find the movie pretty enjoyable as a black comedy. The film's tone may seem like a novelty for some, but it definitely has a good share of amusing moments along with some fairly amusing performances. Cox proves to be a fairly entertaining partner as well, being fairly sharp. Kelly proves to be a fairly amusing kid, with a degree of intensity that you don't really see in other movies with kids in films like these. There is just something about how he acts around Thornton that makes for some particularly good scenes. Graham and Tom each don't have too much time on screen, but they do decent jobs. Ritter (in his last live-action role) does a fine job with what it given, staid but useful. Mac is also pretty amusing in an adversarial role that serves for a few odd moments that work well. This is a film with a bunch of oddballs for characters, and it is a movie that takes the risks head on and has a ball with all of its rude but amusing moments. Naturally, there exist numerous versions of the film, with one called "Badder Santa", which has a few more scenes added to it (for a movie that was already only 91 minutes long), and a director's cut that is three minutes shorter than the original release. No matter which version one picks, I'm sure that the film will work for anybody in the mood for some dark but fairly entertaining fare, whether around the holidays or not.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

December 20, 2017

Charade (1963).


Review #1029: Charade.

Cast: 
Cary Grant (Peter Joshua), Audrey Hepburn (Regina Lampert), Walter Matthau (Hamilton Bartholomew), James Coburn (Tex Panthollow), George Kennedy (Herman Scobie), Dominique Minot (Sylvie Gaudet), Ned Glass (Leopold W. Gideon), Jacques Marin (Insp. Edouard Grandpierre), Paul Bonifas (Mr. Felix), and Thomas Chelimsky (Jean-Louis Gaudet) Directed by Stanley Donen (#137 - Bedazzled, #227 - Singin' in the Rain, and #346 - On the Town)

Review: 
Writers Peter Stone and Marc Behm had made a script called The Unsuspecting Wife across Hollywood, however nobody wanted the script. It was turned into a novel (with the title of Charade), along with being serialized in Redbook magazine, with attention soon focused on it, with the rights sold to director Stanley Donen. The final script was written by Stone to fit the main cast, while Behm got a co-credit for story. In any case, this is a movie that fits into three genres: suspense thriller, romance, and comedy, and the final result is a film that does well in all three genres, particularly due to the cast. The movie has been cited as one resembling an Alfred Hitchcock movie (Grant had starred in Hitchcock's North by Northwest (#223) four years prior), with a few plot twists, scenes to build tension, and innocent people thrust into strange/dangerous situations. It helps that the title sequence is done by Maurice Binder, who would become famous for doing the title sequence for the James Bond films for over 20 years, with Henry Mancini providing the music score.

The movie also happens to have an interesting relationship between Grant and Hepburn, resembling something out of a romantic comedy, although this is one that is quite interesting. Grant was nearly 60 by the time of the film's release in December of 1963, with the age difference between him and Hepburn being one of roughly 25 years. There are lines in the film where he comments on his age, and it is Hepburn who pursues him, which is certainly refreshing. In any case, they have good chemistry with each other, responding with a sense of wit and fanciful cleverness that always seems right. In terms of the suspense elements, they also do a good job handling the thrills and suspense just right. Hepburn is refreshing and compelling as usual, which one could apply to Grant as well. Matthau does a fine job, sticking out easily but being quite useful for the film. The trio of Coburn, Kennedy, and Glass are all fine adversaries for the movie, not merely just cardboard cut-outs for the film to throw away without giving them some sort of scene for them to stick out, such as when they first appear during a funeral. The rest of the cast is also fairly decent in their roles. In any case, this is a movie that keeps you on your toes, having a few turns that don't cheat the audience but keeps them guessing and keeps them excited as well. The violence that occurs in the film may feel a bit off in tone with the other parts of the movie, but it never comes off as too distracting with the entertainment that comes with the movie. The run-time of 113 minutes is pretty fair for the film, never really dragging at any one point.

One thing to note is that the movie is in the public domain, due to an error made by Universal Pictures (the studio that released the film) on the copyright notice. At the time, copyright notices needed to include "Copyright", "Copr." or its symbol on the notice, but since there was no such thing on there, the film (but not the music by Henry Mancini) was immediately in the public domain upon release. The film has been remade four times: Kokhono Megh (1968), Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978), The Truth About Charlie (2002), and Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne (2003). In any case, Charade is a fine gem that succeeds in what it wants to be, whether a thriller or a romantic comedy, whether due to Donen's execution of the script, or from the dynamic cast. This is an easy one to recommend, for all the charm and fun that it inspires.

Let me say a few words about the significance of today's day, December 20th. Seven years ago on this day, Movie Night was created. Over the years, I have done reviews on this certain day for previous anniversaries, from The Iron Giant (#083) for 2011, The Avengers (#312) for 2012, The Man Who Came to Dinner (#501) for 2013, Shock (#676) / Elf (#677) for 2014, Galaxina (#770) for 2015, and Billy Madison (#887) for 2016. Obviously the show has evolved quite a bit since then, and I like to think that Movie Night will continue to evolve and hopefully stay useful, no matter what happens. Thank you. 

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

December 19, 2017

Real Life (1979).


Review #1028: Real Life.

Cast: 
Albert Brooks (Albert Brooks), Charles Grodin (Warren Yeager), Frances Lee McCain (Jeannette Yeager), J.A. Preston (Dr. Ted Cleary), Matthew Tobin (Dr. Howard Hill), Jennings Lang (Martin Brand), David Spielberg (Dr. Jeremy Nolan), Norman Bartold (Dr. Isaac Steven Hayward), Julie Payne (Dr. Anne Kramer), Johnny Haymer (Dr. Maxwell Rennert), Leo McElroy (Jim Sanders), Lisa Urette (Lisa Yeager), and Robert Stirrat (Eric Yeager) Directed by Albert Brooks.

Review: 
The movie acts as a spoof of the 1973 reality television program An American Family (aired by PBS), being about the filming of a family in their day-to-day lives, with intrusion from the person filming their lives, naturally. Admittedly, this is an interesting idea that seems pretty relevant for the modern age, particularly with how reality television has changed in the past few decades, for better or worse. In any case, the movie can be considered ahead of its time, although its enjoyability will likely depend on how far you think the film goes with its ideas. For me, this is a decent movie, having a few interesting scenes that make for some amusement, although I can see why it may not be for everyone.

Brooks is interesting to watch in his display of narcissism and egocentric nature, but this can wear a bit thin at times, and it sometimes will make you wish you were viewing the family more than you do. At best, Brooks comes off as right for the part that he plays in the story, but at worst it can come off as a bit self-indulgent (it should be noted that he co-wrote the film along with Monica Johnson and Harry Shearer). Grodin is a bit low-key, but in a movie in which he is acting as a person that is trying not to look like an actor in this "documentary", I think he does a decent job. McCain also does okay, being adept at handling the things that occur in the film to her and her family pretty adequately. The rest of the cast do fine in their roles as well, with Lang (a producer in real-life) being amusing playing a producer through a speakerphone. The parts involving the filming is pretty interesting, and the parts with the executives is a bit amusing. The climax of the movie is pretty amusing for what its worth, being the odd cherry on top of a film that aspires for satire and accomplishes its goals in the most basic sense. It isn't anything too great, but Real Life is an odd standout that is worth at least one look, if one is curious enough.

Overall, I give it 7 out of 10 stars.

December 18, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi.


Review #1027: Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Cast: 
Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (General Leia Organa), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo), Frank Oz (Yoda), and Benicio del Toro (DJ) Directed by Rian Johnson.

Review: 
Yes, I know it's been a few days since The Last Jedi premiered in theaters. But in any case, this is the 49th film in the Theater Saga, in which I watched a movie while it was in theaters, so let me just say that it was nice to see this movie in theaters with a big crowd. Because I can't find a way to put a sentence about the Porgs in the review, I'll just say that they were okay. Obviously they were created to make for merchandise, but they are at least somewhat amusing without being too distracting. I apologize if this review feels a bit long, but I hope that it is worth it for you viewers, even if it is over the usual 300-500 word count that I try to hold to myself to.

It's hard to believe that it has been two years since The Force Awakens (#769), which I described as one "not bogged down by weight or its own characters...a movie that utilizes elements from the original trilogy with elements of its own to make a new mesh that works pretty well for itself." Obviously I still stand by those statements, although I can certainly find why some wouldn't find it as good as I thought it was. I have no doubt that I will be recapping what I thought of this film when it comes times for Episode IX two years down the line, but I don't know how I'll feel about this film after a matter of time passes by. In any case, The Last Jedi is a decent movie for my tastes, although I will say that it is a movie that inspires praise along with detractors, for better or for worse.

Whether it lives up to the hype of following up the previous film or not, I did enjoy myself enough, but I can't say that it was better than the last one, or even as good as any of the original trilogy. It definitely is a movie that doesn't try to play itself safe, but it is also a movie that can't always hold all of its plot threads together, despite a 152 minute run-time. I don't mean to be too shallow, but let me talk about the visuals for one moment. The movie does have a tremendous look when it comes to the action sequences and the landscapes and sets that it shows throughout the film, such as Ahch-To, the planet that Luke and Rey are on for most of the film, or the planet where the final climax takes place, with accompanying red hues. On a most basic level, this is good entertainment that will satisfying someone looking for some well-done space action. But in a franchise that now has eight primary movies (and a spin-off film, with another coming next year), the bar for satisfaction is not entirely too high. That doesn't mean that Star Wars movies need to just be big spectacles or heavy with plot-lines, it just means that the best ones are the movies that find a middle ground. I'm not so sure that this one finds that ground perfectly, but I do think that it makes itself work with what it has just enough.

The performances are fairly entertaining, with the biggest stand out being Hamill, Ridley, and Driver. They are the main group that drives the movie forward, and they certainly have their own respective qualities that make them easily watchable. Even after over 30 years, Hamill manages to leap right into his role without any sort of staleness or taking the role into anything too radical, for what the writing requires anyway. Driver does a fine job in making his role seem more full-fledged, showing vulnerability and conflict that resonates well with the film, especially when with others. Ridley does a good job in showing this character with a bit more depth and tension, and it is easy to go along with her character in her actions, for the most part. Fisher (in her final film role) does a fine graceful job in the time that she has on screen, although I wished that there would've been a bit more with her, but I digress. The drama that engages the main trio is pretty good, and it certainly feels more gripping than the other plot-lines, for better or for worse.

The rest of the cast do a fine job, but I think the script doesn't help them all too much. One subplot involves Boyega, Issac, Tran, and del Toro, and they all do decent in their performances, but as a whole that plot-line does feel a bit strange. Serkis proves to be somewhat decent as Snoke (this time in physical form), but it leaves you wishing for a bit more. Nyong'o has one scene appearance, and I guess it is satisfactory, although I suppose there could've been more from her role. Gleeson does fine in his role, with a bit of ruthlessness along with a bit of ambition. Christie is fine in the sequence that she is in, although I can't say she was any better than she was in the last film. Tran does okay with what she is given, but I didn't really find myself really caring about her part in the plotline. It is nice to see Dern and del Toro, and they do decently in the roles they are given, even if they don't have too much screen-time. It's hard to explain the story quibbles without spoiling it, but I will just say that the motivations of certain characters do seem to rely a bit on of an idiot plot. Sure, the movie does have a decent payoff, but the way that certain characters seem to do things out of nowhere does detract (and distract) a bit from the enjoyment.

Ultimately, this is a movie that can be a bit of a mess. It has a story that tries to cover numerous bases, whether about the Force, the plot-line with the First Order and the Resistance, or something deeper, and while I can't say that it works all the time, there is enough enjoyment and entertainment to make a movie that is worth watching at least once. For a Star Wars fan like me, I found it to be satisfying enough for my tastes. Is it perfect? Obviously not, but it doesn't need to be. Am I anticipating the next one? Sure, but I'll try not to keep my excitement to a reasonable level.

Lastly, may the force be with you.

Overall, I give it 8 out of 10 stars.

December 16, 2017

The Shop Around the Corner.


Review #1026: The Shop Around the Corner.

Cast: 
Margaret Sullavan (Klara Novak), James Stewart (Alfred Kralik), Frank Morgan (Hugo Matuschek), Joseph Schildkraut (Ferencz Vadas), Sara Haden (Flora Kaczek), Felix Bressart (Pirovitch), William Tracy (Pepi Katona), Inez Courtney (Ilona Novotny), and Charles Halton (Detective) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Review: 
Honestly, I did not expect to watch this film before I saw it, although I will admit that it has lingered on my mind for quite a while. I especially did not expect to do it after doing a film that took elements (along with the play I will mention later on in this review), which was You've Got Mail (#1020), reviewed by me just eleven days ago. That movie was okay, not being anything too special but also not too cynical. Viewers of both films will notice the scenes that share some (but not too much) similarity with each other, although the structure and characters both differ. As mentioned before, The Shop Around the Corner is based off the play Parfumerie by Miklós László, a Hungarian play that premiered at the Pest Theatre in Budapest in 1937. I had forgotten to mention that the film was later turned into a musical named In the Good Old Summertime (released in 1949), which featured Judy Garland and Van Johnson. In fact the play was adapted into a musical itself in 1963 with She Loves Me, so clearly there has been quite a bit of ground covered with this material.

In any case, this is a fine fun time, and it is the work of Sullavan and Stewart that make all of that possible, as they just have an interesting amount of scenes with each other that gives the movie charm. Stewart always seems to leave a fine impression of sincerity and no-nonsense that certainly resonates well even today, and that reflects especially well in a movie in which he bickers with Sullavan's character. She also does a fine job at making her character credible along with one that we can also root for without any doubt. The heart of the film is in the characters that are showcased to us, and the fact that they become people we care about in some way, such as Schildkraut and his kindly nature that zings well with Stewart and Morgan at times. Speaking of which, Morgan also does a tremendous job in the film as well, balancing the line between insecure and bossy in the best way possible, never becoming one that we can't find interesting to watch. The rest of the cast also do fine, with Schildkraut and Tracy standing out due to how they play their roles neatly. The film goes along the lines you might expect, but it's the way that it uses charm along with some enjoyable atmosphere that makes it a clear winner. It doesn't smother you with sentimentality, but it also doesn't skimp on being romantic along with amusing, being smart with what it wants in its 99 minute run-time. It's a movie that is inclusive in its fun, not sealing itself for only a select few. It's an easy pick to recommend, particularly if one is in the spirit for things such as this.

Overall, I give it 9 out of 10 stars.