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Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
A Bore of a misfire from the usually dependable John Boorman!
I have all the respect in the world for John Boorman--his 'Point Blank' and 'Deliverance' are excellent--but this sequel to one of the greatest horror movies ever made simply falls listless and flat. Of course, the script is extremely talky and lifeless--as if it had been 'exorcised' of all the wonder and shock that William Friedkin's vision of the battle of good vs. evil would entail. Yes, Sir Richard Burton was a great actor--yet when shoehorned with a crappy script and with his more irritating peccadilloes left unrestrained, he can be such a chore and bore to watch. Though I have not seen the two more recent 'prequels' for the 'Exorcist' franchise, I can safely say that while 'Exorcist II' is not the worst horror movie ever made (that, by the way, never seemed its intention), it's certainly the worst of the original trilogy--and by a country mile. This is a work that would probably bore the demons so much, they would decide to get out of Regan MacNeil's body, and perhaps even leave Earth's plane altogether, never even wanting a return ticket.
Desperate Journey (1942)
Errol Flynn tries to get out of Germany in Round 1 vs. the Nazis!
Basically 'Errol Flynn vs. the Nazis, Round 1' Battleground: Germany
This experience was hampered for me by a freak situation in which either my flatscreen TV or my blu player, for the first time, didn't have any audio, so, nonplussed yet equally dauntless, I just said 'what the hell', put on the subtitles and watched the film with no audio. (Later, I discovered that I could have just unplugged both for ten minutes and everything would have been normal. You live, you learn. It taught me to pay more attention to what was happening on the screen, so it wasn't an entirely wasted endeavor.)
Here, the weakness, as always, was Ronald Reagan, who makes Keanu Reeves look like a great actor. Still, he wasn't bad (it was a war film, after all, with a role he was born to play), and he and Flynn were assisted by great supporting players, such as Raymond Massey and Alan Hale, who are always 'cash money' for me IMHO. As well, you have one of the greatest American directors of the period in Raoul Walsh, so it's basically win, win, win--except if you're a Nazi.
Northern Pursuit (1943)
Errol Flynn wins Round 3 vs. the Nazis, this time in Canada!
Basically 'Errol Flynn vs. the Nazis, Round 3' Battleground: Canada
Being myself a Canadian, I was thrilled to find in my 'TCM Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures' (five films made during WWII in which Errol Flynn battles the Nazis) a film helmed by one of my favourite American directors of the period, in Raoul Walsh, with Flynn starring as a RCMP officer (typically called 'Mountie') making sure the Nazis can't succeed in their quest to sneak into Canada and, there, create another front in their quest to bring hell on Earth. As a child, I loved his rendition of one of my very favourite heroes (Robin Hood), and lately I quite enjoyed seeing the ill-starred (dying at 50--again in Canada--from a heart attack brought on by chronic alcoholism) native Australian who was perhaps the second-most alluring male thespian of all-time, behind the equally ill-fated Rudolph Valentino, in an audacious TCM 4-pack of outstanding adventure movies, such as 'Captain Blood' and 'The Sea Hawk', and an equally intriguing 4-pack of Westerns he made as his star began to wane.
This doesn't disappoint, as Walsh directs, just like he always does, with an appealing eye and a talent for setting up suspense and excitement. Highly recommended to either fans of Flynn, war films or of cinema from the period.
An excellent masterpiece of classic Gothic horror and romance that fitfully deserves its legendary status!
Though not my very favourite movie about the infamous vampire, this is quite beautiful, well-told and gorgeously photographed (I really can't wait to see the blu!) and is most probably Bela Lugosi's finest hour (though I love his work; and it's also right up there with the greatest-ever vampiric depictions on celluloid), and it has genuine scares. Lugosi not only growls and snarls but also delivers the succulent seductive power of both evil itself and immortality--no matter what devastating consequences that immortal life may truly mean.
Essential for both horror fanatics and fans of early (up to and including the 30's) cinema to own on the highest-possible quality, and regular re-watches. It's simply THAT GOOD.
The fact that its American release date was Valentine's Day (its New York City premiere was two days earlier) only further hits home the fact that its immortality is due to the fact that it isn't simply a cornerstone of Gothic horror but with a vibrant love story at its very heart.
Downhill Racer (1969)
Contemplative and illuminating behind-the-scenes look at amateur skiing is an early Ritchie milestone!
If ANY film I have ever seen comes the closest to taking a sophisticated look at what most of the world would consider to be the spoiled-rotten, prima donna, mega-talented amateur athlete (I would add 'American', but I believe they would be like Redford's characterization even if they weren't), Michael Ritchie nails it. Way underrated. And it makes you wonder, especially with the poster pictured here, if the title's a double entendre (and not just slickly-marketed sex-advertising), not merely for various OTHER curves Redford's character wants to/succeeds in navigating, but also the possible crash-and-burn Chappellet may have, if he continues his wild, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle while participating in quite a dangerous sport. Sonny Bono-jokes aside, this kind of thing happens.
Simply marvelous work by Redford, Gene Hackman, Ritchie and cinematographer Brian Probyn. Essential purchase and rewatches for sports fans and the work of Redford, Hackman and Ritchie especially. Easily my favourite of Ritchie's work, next to, sentimentally, 'The Bad News Bears' (which is a whole different kettle of fish altogether).
Down by Law (1986)
An introspective, quiet, early classic from Jarmusch!
Jim Jarmusch's work can be either intimidating or off-putting, and in equal measure, to cinephiles because it feels so relaxed--almost as if it was a spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff precursor of reality-TV, an inside-joke with everyone involved slipping a nod and a wink, as if on a drunken dare, a mickey of JD passed back and forth along with a pack of Marlboros. This brought to mind many good memories of one of the oddest residents of The Criterion Collection: 'Fishing with John' (an exemplary and hilarious six-part mini-series in which John Lurie goes on fishing expeditions with five American cinematic greats, his partners-in-crime here, Jarmusch and Tom Waits amongst them; one that I'd love to see both get a blu upgrade as well as more episodes, now 25 years later). Also, clearly Jarmusch had a fine rapport with his actors, for this is by far the best and most restrained work I have ever seen from Roberto Benigni.
One of Jarmusch's more atypical films, 'Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai', is still my personal favourite, but this is right up there alongside. It would also make an intriguing double-bill with Jeff Nichols' stellar, though more serious in tone, recent film, 'Mud'.
One of America's great 21st-century films!
Knee-deep in the throes of my first love, I was quite surprised to hear that my lady's favourite movie was 'Joe Versus the Volcano'. (I still haven't seen the film). It dawned on me, when I wanted to check out an American film which, to my knowledge, had a plethora of fine acting, that this was written and directed by the same guy who made that film much earlier. Being raised Christian and hearing in the press over the past few years about misdeeds, especially involving leaders of the Catholic church (represented in films as diverse as 'The Boys of St. Vincent' (John N. Smith, 1992) and 'In Bruges' (Martin McDonagh, 2008), I was especially intrigued by this, his work of more recent vintage.
The ambiguity at the core of the film (and hence the 'doubt') really acts in the movie's favour. The script and direction are both tense and flawless, and the beautiful New York locations chosen to illustrate The Bronx in 1964 help air the play out, and give it more cinematic scope. It features some of the finest work I have seen from Philip Seymour Hoffman (though my favourites will always be 'Happiness' and 'The Master'), Meryl Streep (my most-esteemed works of hers are 'The Deer Hunter' and 'The Devil Wears Prada') and Amy Adams (this is her finest performance IMHO) as well as a breakthrough role for Viola Davis, who steals every scene she's in. This easily holds up well even with Shanley's Oscar-winning screenplay for 'Moonstruck', and, though dark and depressing, is thoroughly recommended for those who can stomach its subject matter, and peer into that abyss without flinching, as these fine exemplars of 21st-century American cinema so easily do here.
That it didn't win any of its five Oscar nominations is almost as ghastly, to the cinephile, as the misdeeds insinuated here are to the community at large. Must have been a strong year for film, methinks.
Shinjû: Ten no Amijima (1969)
Another can't-miss Shinoda film from a particularly purple patch of his career!
Even though I'm Christian and have always been brought up considering the act of suicide a 'taboo' subject, I have always held great respect for both the Japanese way of doing so to save face, and the thoroughly romantic notion, say, from the likes of 'Romeo and Juliet' (with Shakespeare's writings being probably the cornerstone of Western thought)--so from two completely different cultural perspectives--that a life without the one you love is not worth living.
I had previously only seen two of Masahiro Shinoda's other works for The Criterion Collection--the earlier works 'Pale Flower' and 'Samurai Spy', and I don't know if it was on purpose by the company in selecting the titles, but I marveled at the breathtaking variety of his scripts, all from such a short timespan (1964-69). Being a patron of the theatre (in many different modes) and as anthropologically cosmopolitan in my approach to life as is conceivable, I salute Shinoda with a profound respect, and look forward to investigating as many of his other works as possible.
Double or Nothing (1937)
The supporting players are the ones to watch!
I honestly liked the supporting players here--especially the hilarious antics of Martha Raye and Andy Devine--a lot more than the frontman, Bing, here. I get it that he's so immensely talented that everything is effortless and he appears to be coasting. Maybe it's the way he had always put up the front of being nice, and such a great guy, yet was a nightmare to his own children, but he simply comes across as fake and phony, non-genuine. But for a 30's musical comedy coming out of Hollywood, it's pretty good, especially considering its budget.
From my cheapo 5-film 'Screen Legends Collection'--you can get them for a few different actors and actresses from years gone by--pictured in the main page of this IMDb entry.
Double Indemnity (1944)
One of the finest noirs, Wilders, and, yes, films ever!
It's definitely hard to pin down a personal favourite Wilder film, though I tend towards his earlier masterworks such as 'The Lost Weekend', 'Sunset Boulevard'...and THIS. He was one of the finest at getting straight through the bullshit and to the heart of all things noir (as the immortal Jean-Luc Godard stated, 'All I need to make a film is a man, a girl and a gun').
Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favourite actresses of the period, and is a classic 'femme fatale'. I've never been a huge fan of Fred MacMurray, but his 'nice guy' persona is used to sheer advantage by Wilder, and he end up both doing his finest work for Wilder (here and in 'The Apartment') and being the ultimate noir male protagonist. Interestingly, one of my favourite actors, Edward G. Robinson, thought so much of the script that he opted out of his demand of never doing a supporting role. Many people admire Wilder the director, but as a writer (or co-writer) he's just as cinematically important and influential.
Like any other film of his, at least that I've had the pleasure to see, it's worth a purchase and re-watches. The dialogue, especially, is simply fantastic. I'd take just one of his early works over a hundred of the films Hollywood churns out nowadays. They're simply that better and intrinsically satisfying. Immortal cinema.
The Doors (1991)
A great time capsule of the 60's and one of Oliver Stone's finest works!
I KNOW I'm giving way too many stars for this, but I don't care; The Doors were one of my very first favourite groups. I fondly recall, when I was 11, and Elektra Records released 'The Doors' Greatest Hits', and the album-length version of 'Light My Fire' was played all the time on the radio, and I was mesmerized by the instrumental middle of the song, got the album from my parents for Christmas, and started a lifelong love affair with the band. Yes, Jim Morrison is highly overrated. Yes, the movie is an extremely self-indulgent mess and it can be quite incoherent and incohesive. But the Sixties, the L.A. rock scene back then, and especially Morrison's life, were just like that, so it is oh so fitting!
I adore the fact that it was Oliver Stone's labour of love (one of thankfully many) and that the surviving members of the band basically had full input. I would take this and 'Talk Radio' (my personal favourite Stone's throw) over a hundred of Stone's politically over-the-top movies any day!
When I was 17, I took my life savings and visited, on my own, nine European countries, including France and its capital, Paris. Did I go for the Eiffel Tower, wild romance on Richard Linklater-esque trains, or its outstanding magic and sidewalk cafes? No--train-wise I had to put up with a stupid labour strike, such that an overnight sleeper car from Berne, Switzerland to Paris had to be switched, in the middle of the night, FOUR times, just so they could prove a point. And it was just to see Morrison's grave. I met 20 fantastic people who had made the pilgrimage from all over the world, and it was my first time having red wine and smoking pot. The graffiti and the sculpture of him, in the Pere Lachaise cemetery, were fascinating, as was his life. Would I go through that again? Of course I would.
It's Val Kilmer's best work by a mile. The film just oozes charisma and breathes life--just as the band's work must have done back in the day. Worth a purchase and re-watches (I watch it each year on Jim's birthday and accidentally bought it twice), for any fan of 60's music or its culture. A bonafide classic when Stone was actually really something.
Dont Look Back (1967)
One of the best documentaries of a great musician at the apex of his career ever made!
I'm a huge fan of both Bob Dylan and D.A. Pennebaker's documentaries, so to me, this was a no-brainer to watch, especially this vintage. I was fortunate to catch Dylan live, after his life-threatening bout of pericarditis, in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the Hill Auditorium with the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band as support, but how amazing it would have been to have caught him live on this British tour, from a generation earlier.
I would have given it a perfect rating, but I docked a mark for him making fun of Donovan, for crying out loud. Yes, he is Bob Dylan and deserves to say what he wants to, but don't be such a jerk, man.
Don't Bother to Knock (1952)
Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe make an unmissable pair!
I really enjoyed this Roy Ward Baker film noir with Richard Widmark and early appearances by Anne Bancroft (singing, even!), Jim Backus and Marilyn Monroe. It's short and sweet, neither overstating its point nor overstaying its welcome. Monroe plays a suicidal fish-out-of-water, who has just moved to New York City from Oregon to overcome a troubled past and start again, falling quickly in love with a pilot who's clearly on the rebound, and the trials and tribulations that follow. Very rewarding both for fans of Monroe and the genre.
Just a couple of years back, I picked up this mammoth 17-film DVD collection of Marilyn Monroe's films for a really good price, only to find that the ridiculous way the discs were placed in the digipack basically ruined them, and after watching the movies the best that I could, I reluctantly had to part with it, hoping the set would soon be released at a decent price on the more resilient blu (as you can tell, I'm old-school and low-fi, but I'm hoping to quickly remedy this problem!).
As you can tell by any of my prior reviews of Richard Widmark's films, I'm a huge fan of his, and he's easily one of my favourite and most entertaining and watchable actors of the period. As well, Roy Ward Baker is one of the most underrated directors of the period--his entry in The Criterion Collection, 'A Night to Remember', is easily the best telling of the 'Titanic' tragedy. Thus simply on the basis of those three alone, I heartily recommend the film to any adventurous cinephiles of this era.
Point Break (2015)
Disappointing yet watchable remake of a cult-classic Bigelow!
I went into watching this expecting the worst, but it wasn't bad. (In comparison, I gave the Bigelow original a 9/10). To its advantage was an intriguing update of the original W. Peter Iliff screenplay to incorporate a) more extreme sports; and b) more aspects indicative of the present generation, great cinematography and both Delroy Lindo and Ray Winstone--who are both 'cash money' in terms of great supporting actors.
Disadvantages include awful soundtrack choices, a highly-unbelievable and lazily-written, underdeveloped script, the actors selected aren't nearly in the class of Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey and Lori Petty...and the director's no Kathryn Bigelow.
Good for a watch, out of curiosity, especially if you liked the original and are a fan of extreme sports. Otherwise, it's probably not worth your time.
A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)
A recommendable contemporary Liam Neeson-billed crime-thriller!
Though I haven't watched a lot of them yet (I've mainly devoted my time, of late, to catching up on 1920-1970s cinematic milestones), I have a profound respect for the new roles Liam Neeson has taken on in recent years. It makes me think of what would have been had my favourite actor ever, James Cagney, hadn't basically retired for the quiet life in the early 60's, when the perfect storm of 'great actors in B-movies' hit the fans.
My lady is more a horror aficionado, and of recent vintage films, so it was nice to throw this on for a spin and show her its neo-noir tendencies, almost as if going through a 'make your own movie' template, checking them off one-by-one. I don't mind that sort of rote predictability if it's done right, and, though heavily flawed, for the most part it does. By the climax, I basically only cared for four things: that the kidnapped girl, Matthew Scudder and TJ were alive, and that the two kidnappers/murderers got their just desserts, whether it be lengthy incarceration or murder, anything so their crime spree would be ended. The film was well-made and a very enjoyable experience, so considering the relatively minor flaws (especially the one-dimensional aspect of the antagonists), I would definitely recommend at least a watch for most cinephiles out there, especially those interested in 'true crime' type of contemporary American cinema.
Don Juan DeMarco (1994)
Brando's not that bad here, really!
I realize that I gave this too many marks, but if there's anything I have realized about cinema, it can best be said by a line that I watched, performed by Jean-Louis Trintignant, where he stated (and I paraphrase), something like, 'I can't remember the movie, but I can recall my feelings', and that sums up nicely why I feel the way I do about the movie. It's an interesting idea acted well by very good actors (a lot of people dismiss Marlon Brando's work here, but I don't think it's that bad, honestly). If anything, the problem here is the movie doesn't know where to go after it's decent start. That's why I think we haven't seen much more of writer/director Jeremy Leven since then.
Dolphin Tale (2011)
Decent family film for non-cinematic reasons--I would have preferred the documentary instead!
This was a decent watch, not for cinematic reasons per se but for making the world a better place. I watched this with my son, Julian, and I was pleased with how they took the true story, including the actual dolphin from it, and, especially for kids, promoted environmentalism, caring for animals, etc.--really solid and important aspects that need to be, more than ever, emphasized in the youth of today.
My only qualms is that I have very mixed emotions about the casting. I know that to get an important environmental message heard, and thus the film watched, you have to incorporate Hollywood megastars. I simply wish this didn't have to be the case. The story would have come across better with unknown actors--or simply as a sincere documentary without the Hollywood B.S.
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Great script, acting and direction make this an essential Stephen King movie to watch!
This one tends to get ignored when people consider the 'classic' Stephen King film adaptations (the first 20 years), but it's very subtle, nuanced, and is basically one of King's finest and more mature works. If it was even possible for Kathy Bates to out-do her Oscar-winning work in 'Misery', she still did so, and nailed it. I'm a huge fan of John C. Reilly, Eric Bogosian (why 'Talk Radio is my favourite Oliver Stone movie and 'Under Siege 2' my favourite Steven Seagal film), David Strathairn, Christopher Plummer and especially, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the Tony Gilroy script serves them beautifully.
Unfairly, I tend to joke about director Taylor HACKford, but it just may be that he's a more contemporary model of such versatile directors from the past as Norman Jewison and Robert Wise. That's fairly esteemed company--and here, he abides himself quite nicely in some of his best work.
Sexy Beast (2000)
Excellent debut film for director Glazer!
The other day, my lady Tammy and I watched director Glazer's recent 'Under the Skin' and loved its otherworldly wackiness and ambiance, and as I had his first two films on DVD, we decided that at the very least, this first one demanded immediate investigation. I've adored Ray Winstone's work since his early days working in the films of Sir Alan Clarke, and Ben Kingsley's always a treat. Watching the characters brought back such awesome memories of my teenage days, traveling throughout England and continental Europe in December, 1986, as well. We can't wait to hopefully check out 'Birth' later this week...This was definitely one of the best and most original British gangster movies since the likes of 'The Long Good Friday' and 'Mona Lisa' from that era...
The Hunger (1983)
Impressively beauty and sadness-tinged directorial debut for Tony Scott!
I have to admit that although I've had the DVD forever, simply based on the laurels of the beauty/acting accomplishments of David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve, and that nothing I had ever watched by Tony Scott, with the exception of 'Crimson Tide', really gripped me as being cinephilically exceptional. And no, this really isn't either. But I threw it on anyway, and especially considering it was Scott's debut, this wasn't so bad as to make Bram Stoker roll over in his grave. In fact, although perhaps a tad on the paper-thin plot side, it was quite enjoyable, an elegant and sad elegy of the pros and cons of immortality. Yes, it was more style than substance, yet that doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Here, at least, it wasn't, and I for one simply adored the ending.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Great work, on a true story, by both Lumet and Pacino!
Recently I have gotten on kicks for both watching and appreciating the works of director Sidney Lumet and the classic (i.e., 70's) performances of Al Pacino. Thus I came across this film, which I had on DVD forever. It'll interesting to watch the recent documentary on the character Pacino portrays, 'The Dog'--just found out about it earlier today. I loved Lumet's films he made before this that I've seen--'12 Angry Men', 'The Fugitive Kind', 'The Hill', 'The Anderson Tapes' and 'Murder on the Orient Express'--and he's superb at getting the gradual self-destruction of his characters that just seethes through the screen.
At this point, Pacino could do no wrong in his work--he had that firm grasp on his immense talent and just what he needed from it to do remarkable work, some of the finest characterizations in contemporary cinema. Do both he and yourself a favour and don't bother with anything he's made since 'Heat'.
Excellent one-of-a-kind work from Kubrick!
Kubrick is such a remarkable director that only he could make a movie so revolutionarily hilarious about the Cold War and yet it's so difficult to even place it in my Top 5 of his works (and yes, his next film, '2001: A Space Odyssey' would be my favourite movie ever made), though for Peter Sellers, a rare actor whom Kubrick would work with more than once, this would have to be up there with 'Being There' and 'The Party' in terms of my favourite works of his.
Slim Pickens often noted that this film established his career. Unfortunately, many so-called film aficionados of today won't bother either with black-and-white movies or films made before 1970, which is a shame, because this is clearly a wonderful work that more people today should see.
Do yourself a favour and watch it if you haven't already done so. Since 9/11 I always wonder if something of this ilk could, in this era of political correctedness, ever be made about the present state of things.
Dr. No (1962)
A fine first edition for Connery and Co.!
An extraordinary manifesto for not just the longest-running film series to date, but for an entire genre. People often forget just how important in the grand scheme of things a first film is, and how it was so requisite that Sean Connery had to be just right, the Bond girls, the action, music cues, opening scene, credits sequence, etc. Even though recently, Daniel Craig has at least captivated audiences to almost the same extent, he only reminded me of Connery's endearing qualities, and through completely lacking humour and charisma, simply showed by omission why Connery (who had already made five films as Bond before Craig was even born) was so essential in the first place.
Watching my blu from the complete Bond boxed set, it wasn't dated or a lesser experience for me in the slightest. Long may Sir Connery live--the enjoyment his work has given me over the years is inestimable! =)
An enjoyable venture for sexpot Jean Harlow!
Though this is incredibly dated, it's also a very sincere and bizarre cross between a rags-to-riches drama and social commentary on unfair work practices/rights of workers/unions. And just so fans could see sexpot starlet Jean Harlow (the film's from Warner Archives' 7-film boxed set put out for the recent 100th anniversary of her birth in 1911) in as many costumes and gowns as possible, they have her married and involved in romances not simply with strait-laced activist Spencer Tracy but also their rich, slimy boss, tuna cannery owner Joseph Galleia (most famous in 'Touch of Evil' and 'Gilda'). Women loved her because she was lippy, brazen, glamorous, loyal and had a heart of gold, and men loved her because...she was Jean Harlow. This also sports an early appearance by Mickey Rooney in comic relief as her 15-year-old punk nephew; hard to belief he had already spent 10 years by that time on the silver screen! Not the worst film you would ever see, and her charisma with both starring actors is extraordinary. If you're a fan of either Harlow or 30's drama, don't miss it for the world.
Doctor Faustus (1967)
A credible work, both in front of and behind the camera, for Richard Burton!
Though by its very nature it's quite stagey, the bizarre psychedelic effects downright intrinsic of the period add to the charm of this intriguing work. Even crap films such as 'Exorcist II: The Heretic' can't be dismissed because of Richard Burton's outstanding persona. Elizabeth Taylor's appearance can't be considered sheer waste because her beauty and je ne sais pas make this tale of someone willing to give up his very soul for the woman he loves completely believable. In the director's chair for once as well, even though he is helped, he does a resolutely credible job, nothing to be embarrassed about. Definitely worth one's time for the adventurous cinephiles out there.