Reviews

14 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
10/10
A precise and flowing work
21 May 2004
Mario Puzo's The Godfather is a landmark of cinema. The three-hour film is the result of an incredibly precise brand of filmmaking. Despite the fact that the story spans a number of years and thousands of miles, there is a clear, very natural progression throughout the film (with the exception of a subplot or two). The characters are complex and varied, each playing a specific role that contributes to the story. The film does admirably well in keeping the story relatively coherent, despite its complexity.

In the film, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the head of a powerful crime family in New York. He arranges killings and is involved in illegal gambling rings, among other things. Yet to those who love him, he is known as a man of reason and justice. He is the Godfather - a title of respect and endearment. Many seek him out for his blessing, his advice – or a favor. Despite the fact that he is, essentially, a murderer, the movie does an excellent job of making the audience respect him; the deaths he arranges are always justified in some manner to the audience. They men killed are either other criminals - usually involved in narcotics and other crimes somewhat worse than the Corleones' - or are corrupt in some way, a danger to "the family" and probably murderers themselves.

Vito's family has a hierarchical power structure. At the top is the first-born, Santino "Sonny" Corleone (James Caan), hot-headed and vengeful, with a lust for power - he is inverse of the collected and methodical Vito. Then there is Fredo (John Cazale), the ambitious but ultimately incompetent son who is more interested in women and booze than the family business. Finally there is Michael (Al Pacino) - the youngest son who is clearly the central character throughout the film.

Michael is a young World War II veteran who wants no part in his father's business. His signature line is "That's my family, Kay… it's not me." He respects his father more than any other man, but he wants to live a different line. He is a dynamic, fully-realized character that is absolutely convincing. He is also a very different character at the end of the film - but in a way that is completely consistent with his personality.

The film has an excellent pace. There is an ebb and flow - the film begins rather slowly, then picks up the pace, and rises to the climax of the first act - and then the pace slows once more, only to build up suspense again to a final climax, in which all loose ends are neatly tied. Never is the audience bored - the story keeps a tight grip on the viewer, ensuring that they wonder as to the fates of the characters even in the slowest parts - a remarkable accomplishment in of itself.

The Godfather is a excellent film in every sense of the word - technically, aesthetically, in terms of story and characters, themes and music. It immerses the audience in a completely different - yet perhaps altogether to familiar - world. It is a classic that is - and will be - rooted in film history.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
An engaging, albeit simplistic, film
8 May 2004
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is an engaging, albeit simplistic, film about the power of determination and the effect one man can have on society. While it is rife with Capra's signature sentimentality and less-than-subtle storytelling methods, it is also very effective. The story is one of a triumph of dogged persistence and idealism over "the political machine". It evokes the spirit of Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech".

Jeff Smith (Jimmy Stewart) is a young, idealistic leader of a boys' group similar to the Boy Scouts, who is chosen, much to his surprise, to be elected senator. He is filled with hope and aspirations of his country's future, seeing his surroundings with wonder and amazement. His only plan - aside from patriotic yet vague hopes - is to pass a bill in Congress allowing for the creation of a national boys' camp. This, of course, earns him favor with boys all across the country, idolizing him and sending him campaign contributions - a nickel at a time. He meets up with his new secretary, the lovely yet callous Clarissa Saunders (usually just "Saunders"), played by Jean Arthur, who helps to write and introduce his bill. However, conflicts arise when the proposed land for Smith's camp is the same site as the soon-to-be-proposed Willet Creek Dam. Soon, Smith discovers an aspect of America he never expected - the puppetry of Jim Taylor, an extraordinarily wealthy tycoon who works his way into the innermost workings of Congress.

In many ways, he represents an ambassador of sorts between the world of boys - filled with adventure, ambition and a certain irrefutable yet candidly simple logic, and the world of politics - filled with cynicism, bribery and self-interest. (in fact, aside from Jefferson Smith, just about every politician in the film is either corrupt or simply very stubborn and foolish). Jimmy Stewart's portrayal of the young senator is so incredibly naive, boyish and filled with blue-eyed wonder far past the point of realism (at one point, he punches several people in the face), yet he manages to retain a certain charm. Saunders notes that when he left for the Senate for, she felt as if she were a mother wishing him well on his first day of school. Without giving away any details, despite the implausibility of the character this is one of Jimmy Stewart's best and most entertaining performances.

However, the best performance in the film - beyond any doubt - would have to be Claude Rains's portrayal of Senator Joseph Paine. Paine is a more complex and interesting character than the others, most of whom have rather predictable personalities and story arcs. Paine, once Jefferson Smith's mentor and good friend, is forced to campaign against him. He has been justifying his allowance of the Taylors' influence for years, and despite his basic good nature, he has learned how to play the game of politics. He is a man who at times hates his job, but knows what must do and pursues it with everything he has - and Rains is utterly convincing in the role.

Still, the film is far from perfect. Many of the characters seem simple and hollow - as if they were merely the execution of the story's premise, rather than actual humans in a difficult situation. Much of the film seems incredibly exaggerated and unlikely - particularly what happens to Smith's fanboys toward the end of the film! Capra's basic filmmaking strategy is to bombard the viewer with emotion and inspiring, patriotic monologues.

Ultimately, despite its flaws, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is very entertaining. As long as the viewer doesn't take it as seriously as it seems to take itself, (and doesn't mind a barrage of stars and stripes) it is a very enjoyable and significant film.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
What more can be said?
29 April 2004
While not a perfect film, Casablanca achieves what few other films have. It completely immerses the viewer in the era and the atmosphere, offering a journey to the ever distant (yet all too close) world of Casablanca, Morocco during World War II. It is the hope of thousands (if not millions) of refugees, yet for so many who live there it is a prison - a last, impossibly difficult gate to freedom from the war-torn European countryside.

In Casablanca is a night club, Rick's. It's a self-indulgent gambling, music and drinking joint that's a parody of the American dream in a foreign land. The piano rings with Sam's melodious delivery of universal themes of love, pain, and cheer. Below the surface is a circle of intrigue - few tell of their allegiance to the Allied cause, and yet fewer live to spread the word. Rick Blaine, the owner of the club, walks the fine line of neutrality.

Humphrey Bogart, in his portrayal of Rick, is no longer a character but an American icon. Many of his lines can be quoted, verbatim, by people who have never even seen this film. His cynical, callous, chain-smoking personality is a mask to hide emotion and protect himself from pain – this is clearly an archetype for countless characters since. His key philosophy is "I stick my neck out for nobody." Thus, the ultimate struggle of the film is not a frenzied firefight with Nazis or a an elaborate chase scene, but one man's struggle to define himself.

Many of the other characters in the film are equally interesting - Casablanca is a film of choices. Ilsa is a French dame who must decide between the man who will never forgive her and the man who needs her more than anyone else. Victor Lazlo, the leader of an underground resistance movement in Czechoslovakia, must make a choice between his love, and his sense of honor. Captain Renault is a Vichy officer who must choose between serving the winning side or his own true loyalty.

Casablanca is deserving of its near-universal and prolific praise. It is a film of memorable characters and lines, filled with subtlety and complexity. Once it grips ahold of the viewer, it never lets go. Aside from a bit of over-acting and some characters somewhat lacking in depth, it is a triumph of cinema.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
One of the greatest, most insane screwball comedy ever to grace theaters.
18 April 2004
Some Like It Hot is not an incredibly artistic, graceful film with deeply significant themes of love and sacrifice - it's a screwball comedy. Yet it is remembered as one of the greatest screwball comedies ever to hit theaters. It is completely over-the-top, filled with unlikely situations, bizarre coincidences and quirky characters.

Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, playing Joe and Jerry, two down-and-out musicians looking for work in Chicago just before the stock market crash of 1929 that would shove America - and the world - into the Great Depression. The two witness a killing by Al Capone's goons - part of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre - and desperately try to escape to where they will never be found. Without giving away any details, they find themselves in the midst of a rather precarious situation (today, perhaps a comedy cliché - not so then), involving deception, unrequited love, and relationships with a startling number of combinations of genders.

There is a great dynamic between the characters of Lemmon and Curtis. They are in constant competition to win the heart of Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), a rebellious and decidedly naïve woman who has completely given up on men who are not rich enough to own a yacht. Lemmon and Curtis are constantly bickering and wanting revenge, yet they are forced to cooperate lest they give away their secret to the onlookers. Their story gets convoluted the point where it is difficult to remember which is which, with the story's extremely tight pace and the many twists along the way.

One cannot say enough about the about the brilliant comedic acting seen here. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are funny not merely because of their dialogue, but because of their wild energy. They slip in and out of roles before they even realize what they're doing, going from complacent to angry to scared witless without missing a beat. Joe E. Brown is sure to get under your skin as Osgood Fielding III. And Marilyn Monroe - well, she mostly shows a lot of cleavage.

Ultimately "Some Like it Hot" is a tightly compressed batch of hilarity. There is a reason why it is listed as the American Film Institute's #1 comedy (although this reviewer doesn't entirely agree with that claim). Modern movie-goers shouldn't be turned off by its black-and-white nature; it puts modern buddy comedies to shame.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
A complex and unique coming-of-age story.
8 April 2004
Rebel Without A Cause is a coming-of-age story. It manages to be both simple and complex, with interwoven themes of maturity, decisions, rebellion, friendship and love. Ultimately, though, Nicholas Ray's film asks the viewer: what makes a man?

James Dean stars as Jim Stark, whose name represents his character quite well. He is a confused yet passionate, questioning everything around him, wanting desperately to define himself in a complicated world. James Dean's portrayal is excellent - he is intense and intriguing, able to convey level-headedness and wild emotion and switch between the two without missing a beat.

Jim Stark begins the movie with a prolongued shot of him prone on the ground, completely drunk and playing with a toy of some sort. His tie and jacket tell us that he is from a good background, thus we can tell that he is a rebel - completely out of his environment, in a world he doesn't belong in. The toy represents the danger he flirts with - he continuously skirts the edge of real trouble - this can be seen from a prologue that was not included in the final film, which explains the story behind that toy.

We follow Jim through his first day at a new school, where he quickly meets up with and befriends "Plato", showcasing an impressive performance by Sal Mineo. Plato is a wiry and loyal ally who wants only to find friendship and stability in his life. His emotions are high-strung at all times. At first seeming like the typical tag-along stereotype, one eventually realizes his character is one of the most deep and significant in the film.

Going on a field trip to a local observatory, Jim almost immediately finds himself again in the midst of the adversity he had been trying to escape from. Without giving any details, a few mistakes here eventually build up to the plot that drives the story.

"Rebel Without A Cause" tells a unique and significant story. Aside from a few flaws - Natalie Wood's shallow and uninteresting character comes to mind - the film is extremely engaging and intriguing. It rings with complex ideas and fascinating characters. Its universal themes ensure that it will remain a classic with audiences of any age.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
A multi-layered black comedy
12 March 2004
Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove" is one of the most hilarious movies I have seen. Not only is it absolutely brilliant in terms of comedy alone, but it communicates something through its precise satire that most comedies wouldn't dare to contemplate. I am sure that many who saw the film in its first release completely missed its rather negative undertones regarding U.S. policy - and, in fact, it has enough pure entertainment value to be worth seeing anyway. Yet Kubrick's work is filled with innuendo and subtle insults that may bypass the viewer initally, but once they are noticed are undoubtable.

The movie's theme is the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) has ordered a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, without authorization. After hearing of the news, a prominent general has the unenviable task of explaining to the president in an emergency meeting why World War III is about to begin, and why there is little hope of stopping it. Eventually a Soviet Union representative informs the U.S. that the Soviet Union has created a Doomsday weapon, programmed to immediately launch a nuclear holocaust that would destroy the world if even one nuclear warhead touches Soviet soil. The idea is that the Doomsday weapon is completely irrational and irreversibly devoted to its task, thus eliminating any threat by the U.S., as any rational being would not engage in an attack that would destroy the world. Unfortunately, the attack was launched mere days before the USSR was planning to announce the Doomsday weapon.

The actors in this film do not so much play characters as they play characterizations - each character has little depth, as far as personality goes, but represents a satirical element. Here we see George C. Scott, extremely entertaining in his portrayal of General Turgidson, particularly with his lengthy conversation with the president. He maintains a distinct even-tempered boyishness throughout the film - ever-passionate about politics, but rather easygoing about everything else, leading to some brilliant comedic dialogue, which will not be revealed here. Peter Sellers is also amazingly funny, particularly in his role as President - his one-sided telephone conversation with the Soviet Premier is very clever, with perfect comedic timing. His performance as Dr. Strangelove, a German nuclear physicist, is amusing, although I found the character less interesting than the others, probably because of the more exaggerated personality.

The entire film is told in a rather laid-back manner, at least as far as the characters' reactions to the imminent apocalypse at hand. The characters are perhaps slightly indignant but not outwardly terrified, which contrasts excellently against the earth-shattering power of atomic weapons. However, they remain doggedly determined to outwit the communists, or at least have slightly more survivors. This anti-red fervor perpetuates itself throughout the film.

Ultimately Kubrick's film is striking and multi-layered - probably remembered as a simple comedy by some, and remembered as a sharp satire of U.S. foreign policy to others. Regardless, Dr. Strangelove is undoubtedly an excellent film.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
It's Hitchcock. What else do you need to know?
29 February 2004
Rear Window, one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous and revered pictures, along with others such as Psycho and Vertigo. Although the film starts out with a rather slow and meandering pace, it ultimately has the viewer intensely interested.

Its plot is simple - it's the kind of movie that could be explained to someone in a sentence or two, probably eliciting a "Hey, that does sound like a good idea for a movie…" response. Jimmy Stewart plays L B. Jeffries, a photographer with a broken leg. Normally a man of action, looking for adventure, Jeffries is now relegated to sitting in front of his window in his wheelchair for hours at a time. With little else to entertain him aside from the ever-beautiful Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) and his generously advice-giving nurse Stella(Thelma Ritter), Jeffries looks out the window. And watches. And watches…

The cast, while good, is not really the memorable part of this movie. Jimmy Stewart is, well, Jimmy Stewart. Grace Kelly is a great supporting actress that performs excellently with what could have been a bland role. And Thelma Ritter provides the comic relief, convincing as lovably quirky with a straightforward and gruesome sense of logic.

The film succeeds largely because of it's theme. It taps into the universal human fear of the unexpected return glance - we spend the entire film praying that it wasn't Jimmy Stewart any given stranger was looking at. This works because the entire film is centered on the lead character's point of view. For almost the entire movie, we never see a camera angle outside of a single apartment - a feat that gives the characters and the audience a feeling of safety that makes the climax all the more suspenseful. This could not have been accomplished without the film's brilliant cinematography. The movie effortlessly pulls off extremely complicated panoramas, letting us see the entire neighborhood, with all its quirky details, before revealing that this is all seen from the perspective of a single apartment.

The suspense that results is excellent. Hitchcock has the ability to make a silent phone call more terrifying than anyone else could make the deepest circle of Hell - he seems to possess a brilliant sense of timing and of the audience's reactions. While it is more of a mystery than a thriller or horror, Hitchcock still manages to manipulate the audience's breath.

While the movie was amazing technically and thematically, some might find it to be too slow-paced and unfocused. For example, I was not particularly interested in the romance that was seemingly inserted into the movie to fulfill some Hollywood checklist. And without going into specifics, there were a few places in the movie that seemed rather ridiculous. Still, Hitchcock's masterful control of suspense and its overall intelligence ultimately outweigh any complaints.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
A timeless Christmas film
22 December 2003
"A Christmas Story" is a rare film about children yet for adults. While kids will definitely enjoy this Christmas-themed saga, adults will find a deeper level of depth than they may remember from seeing the film at a younger age.

The movie strikes a sharp contrast between the exaggerated, polysyllabic narration of Ralphie, filled with nostalgia and lucid memories, and the soft, high-pitched childlike wonder of Ralphie's spoken word. The narrator is clearly not the same character as the one portrayed on film, but a character wholly outside the story, reliving his childhood emotions and anecdotes. Yet he is the heart of the film, the true center of gravity. This is because the movie is not about a scary Santa Clause and a BB gun - it's about childhood memories and the feelings they evoke. To that end, "A Christmas Story" is flawless.

"A Christmas Story" tells of the epically materialistic journey of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he searches for the golden, upheld idol of all red-blooded American boys: A Red Rider Air Rifle. Ralphie spins an intricate web of cunning and deceit as he plots to get his hands on it - including an essay, a trip to Santa Claus and more. The movie also shows us a glimpse of his family - his irritable, foul-mouthed father with a good heart, his whiny brother Randy, and his sweet, all-American mother. It is not so much a continuous story as a series of vignettes, but it ultimately serves the movie's purpose.

This is a funny film. The narration by Jean Shepherd is filled with love for this story. He absolutely captures the emotions and logic of childhood. In a subtle but amusing moment, Shepherd intones the incomparably eloquent pouring forth of thought into writing - only to have Billingsley note in his awe-filled, high-pitched voice that "I think everyone should have a Red Rider BB gun. It's very good for Christmas." (paraphrased). Most of the humor is similar - the natural exaggeration of a child as expressed by Shepherd's consistent string of hyperbole.

Also, there's a reason why it's played constantly on cable TV throughout the Christmas season - it's a movie everyone can relate to. There are moments of such pure truth here that few can deny their power. I'm sure that there is a scientific law left unwritten that determines that every kid must at some point fantasize about his parents feeling absolutely terrible and forever regretting some unutterable punishment they inflicted on their child - in this case, the immortal washing of a mouth out with soap.

Obviously, "A Christmas Story" is not a film that can be compared to Casablanca or Citizen Kane. It simply excels at its simple goals, and comes together as an extraordinarily entertaining piece of cinema.
108 out of 134 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Santa Clause spins a web of corruption and legal trickery.
11 December 2003
"Miracle on 34th street" is a rather typical Christmas film, with all of the themes (some might say clichés) that encompasses. However, I am willing to bet that it was not as formulaic at the time of its release (1947) - it a testament to this film's credit that it has been so often imitated. It is, naturally, one of the definitive Christmas films, along with such classics as "It's A Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story". But like most Christmas pageants, it is ultimately little more than a cute and entertaining diversion with a moral.

In this tale, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is a newly discovered talent for portraying Santa Claus in an annual Christmas parade, when he replaces their original Santa, who was, oddly enough, completely drunk on the morning of the parade. Kris also manages to become the Santa at the apparently famous toy chain-store, Macy's, and starts a revolution by continuously referring loving parents to other toy stores for certain items, generating customer loyalty and increasing profits (which, of course, is the true meaning of Christmas spirit). Meanwhile, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) and her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood) learn a valuable lesson about imagination and faith.

Edmund Gwenn does an excellent job portraying Chris, in all his jolly, plump goodness. Although his character veers little from the traditional Santa Claus personality, it is effective here - the viewer really gets the impression that one could ask Kris for advice in almost any situation and get a decent answer. One scene in particular stands out where a caring mother brings her adopted Dutch refugee to see Santa, despite her assumption that Santa wouldn't be able to communicate. Naturally, Kris begins conversing fluently in Dutch and the unnamed girl's face is subtitle enough. Although the personality is traditional, the details certainly aren't - for example, Kris doesn't live in the North Pole - he lives in a retirement home. He goes to work, he pays the bills, and he lives a rather normal life (he also sleeps with his beard outside of his covers - it makes it grow), except, of course, on Christmas Eve. I won't reveal whether or not Kris actually is Santa Claus, but that's not important anyway - the movie is more about retaining childhood and faith than encyclopedic fact.

Unfortunately, the other characters in the movie are all decidedly bland and predictable. Naturally, the single mother has to fall in love, and the little girl learn all about imagination and trust. They are all rather one-dimensional and uninteresting; Chris's attorney, Fred Gailey (John Payne) is more or less the same character as all men in their thirties as portrayed in the 1940's and 50's - as decent and handsome as, for example, Mr. Cleaver of "Leave it to Beaver" fame. The same applies to most other characters with their own set of clichés, give or take the necessary conflict for a story arc.

The film culminates in a surprisingly corrupt court room scene judging the sanity of Kris Kringle, where cheap lawyer trickery, corporate threats and theatrical antics win the day for the spirit of Christmas. However, the final master stroke for the defense is actually a rather clever (if implausible) solution.

"Miracle on 34th Street" is a simplistic, entertaining way to spend one and a half hours. Despite its limited depth and wooden characters, the film is still very enjoyable and energetic. Thus, I rate it as a C.
4 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A mostly entertaining comedy
30 November 2003
`Planes, Trains and Automobiles' is a movie with exactly two characters. Sure, there are various glimpses of others, including Steve Martin's Hallmark-commercial family, an amusingly pedantic supervisor, and a Kevin Bacon cameo, but the movie is intensely focused on Steve Martin's and John Candy's characters.

The basic premise is all too familiar: Neal Page (Steve Martin) is trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Yet of course, his cab is stolen at the last second and he misses his flight. Through various moments of incredibly bad luck, including flight delays, train breakdowns and more, Neal fights an uphill battle to get home. With him is Del Griffith (John Candy), an outgoing, quirky shower curtain ring salesman written purely to push Neal to his very limits of frustration. The movie less about turkey and relatives and focuses solely on the relationship between these two characters

Page is a rather dull, distant businessman. He is the kind of man reveals few of his thoughts, outwardly polite while hiding his pure contemptuousness. He's not really an uncaring person, but he's irritable and lacks tolerance. Meanwhile, Del is possesses big, cheerful laughs and equally immense body odor, with a persistently positive attitude who manages to be both endlessly irritating and endearing.

The movie is a rather typical buddy road-trip film, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It is very light-hearted, strolling happily from one misadventure to the next. It possesses very precise comedic timing, and definitely has a few moments sure to find big laughs, which I will not divulge here. The gags range from cringe-inducing slapstick to homophobic tension to insane freak accidents.

However, not all are funny - after a certain point, the jokes seem rather tiring and extraneous - especially when the movie veers from its main themes and indulges in rather random, pointless events. I am at a bit of a loss as to why the screenwriter(s) seems to think that the bigger the obstacle is, the funnier the gag. The best moments of pure comic style are the more reserved, realistic scenes toward the beginning. Later on, the movie goes all-out with unnecessary crazy stunts and oddball antics.

The movie's predictable ending is incredibly sappy - I almost expected Steve Martin to step out and address the audience with a `moral-of-the-story' voiceover. There is also a rather annoying scene where Neal reminds the audience of all the crazy things that have happened in the movie with quick shots of previous scenes matched to Steve Martin's `ah, good times' facial expressions. However, at least I must admit that it is a rather natural story arc for his character, not simply tacked-on as might be the case in a lesser movie.

`Planes, Trains and Automobiles' is a essentially an entertaining way to spend an hour or two. As long as the viewer doesn't expect a brilliantly hilarious or deeply moving movie, some great fun can be had. For that, this movie deserves a C+.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A skillfully made yet flawed film (spoilers below!)
23 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
"Hannah and Her Sisters" is, I admit, my first Woody Allen movie. How it compares to his other pictures I cannot say, but it is structured differently than any movie I have ever seen. Not only does it have a convoluted, branching plot with multiple, completely independent stories, but it is divided up into individual chapters, each preceded by a caption on a black screen with its title, ranging from a single word to an E. E. Cummings line of poetry. Had I not read another review of the film I would never have noticed its theme of our emotions and desires clouding our plans and decisions. In fact, it could easily be perceived as simply a sample of random vignettes to the unobservant.

The movie spans at least a couple years, primarily following the misadventures of two characters - Mickey (Woody Allen) and Elliot (Michael Caine). Mickey, portraying Allen's (apparently) familiar personality of an extremely neurotic, paranoid man, embarks on a quest for the meaning of life (I will try to refrain from any Hitchhiker's Guide references) after being tested for a brain tumor and coming face-to-face with death. In what is easily the most humorous moment in the film, Mickey tries out various religions as he might samples of sausage or cheese in a grocery store. His quest is the most engaging and charming part of the movie.

The other main story involves Elliot's affair and the relationship between him, his wife Hannah (Mia Farrow), and her sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey). Although Elliot's plight is understandable, I found myself more irritated with him than sympathetic - his character is emotional and irrational, and yet very cold and defensive at times as well. Although he was well-acted and deep as a character, my distaste for him rather hurt my liking for the movie's style and flow.

The characters are all related in one way or another. I could not entirely even keep up with all of the character and their relationship to each other. Essentially, Frederick is married to Lee, who has an affair with Eliot, whose wife is Hannah, Lee's sister, whose ex-husband is Mickey, who eventually marries Holly, Hannah's sister. I would not want to be the one who has to draw up a family tree for a special feature somewhere - although, ironically, there are no children mentioned in the film.

In the end, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a movie that leaves one with a feeling of respect more than enjoyment - although the skill at work here is obvious, with great dialogue and deep characters, but the movie is clouded by too many characters and subplots, and seemingly random events. The characters aside from a central four or so (Mickey, Elliot, Lee and Hannah) are shallow and thinly drawn, standing out like typical movie stereotypes in an otherwise very real world. Also, I must admit I have a bit of a bias against this particular genre. Thus, the film earns a B-.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Deserving of its praise.
17 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
"Citizen Kane" is a film I find truly graceful. The story is portrayed so elegantly, so subtle and yet simple at the same time. Its message is not earth-shattering or prophetic - instead, all elements of the film are focused on the small, yet significant story of one man's search for love.

The movie follows the life of Charles Foster Kane. It tells the story of his acquisition of his first newspaper and his rise to power, as well as his slow decay. But the film is not focused on events, or particular happenings. Each story aspect is a tool to develop and explore the character of Kane and his journey as a man locked into his own palace.

The film's main theme, around which all aspects of the film revolve, can be summed up by the character Leland, college friend of Kane, after Kane's death: "All here really wanted in life was love". Ever he needs and demands love, but ever he shoves it away in his search. Although he is, in the public eye, a bold and charming figure, he is in reality a broken and bitter man attempting to replace his loss with public adoration and material wealth.

The meaning of the word "rosebud" to which the many reporters are searching, I will not reveal here (despite its listing on IMDb as one of the most known movie spoilers of all time according to a recent poll), but I will say that its meaning is simple and yet explains further the theme of the film. The fact that it is explained to the audience but not to the cast is more tribute to the solitary nature of Kane.

"Citizen Kane" is not a movie you can watch passively. To get a full appreciation of the film you must take in each shot as an individual piece. There is a wealth of subtle symbolism pervading the film, portraying visually the emotions and conflicts of the characters that cannot always be read on their faces, while not detracting from the basic necessities of the story. Instead, its symbolism is focused in reality.

Consider, for example, a scene depicting Kane, campaigning for an election. Here Kane is seen alone at a podium, a small figure against he backdrop of yet another depiction of Kane - a larger-than-life, intense being, nearly omniscient in his realm. Yet it is simple to ignore this scene without watching it critically - the backdrop is simply a campaign marketing tool, masking its true purpose, which is to contrast Kane the man with Kane the world-famous tycoon. Yet this is one of the more obvious examples of symbolism in the film.

Yet the film is not perfect. I found the introductory and concluding scenes of the film rather self-indulgent and clumsy in its symbolism when compared the beautiful and subtle cinematography throughout the rest of the film. It is exaggerated and simple. Also, I am at a loss as to the meaning of a bird squawking extremely loudly in the middle of a conversation - it is extremely loud and disorienting, although I'm sure it has a purpose.

"Citizen Kane" is among the most critically acclaimed films of all time, and for good reason. The film tells a complex tale that does not cheat the audience through cheap characters or stale storytelling. It is easily one of the greatest films I have ever seen.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
The Searchers (1956)
8/10
A compelling but flawed film.
31 October 2003
"The Searchers" is, in itself, a paradox; the movie contains greatness, a compelling tale of persistence and obsession, the archetypal quest. John Wayne's character is deep and visceral, and the cinematography is stirring and effective. However, the movie is scarred by silly subplots that only detract from the theme and hold this movie safely from my pedestal of greatness.

The film tells the story of Ethan Edwards, a rough, rigid confederate veteran of the Civil War. All other characters are dwarfed next to him - even Martin Pauley (Geoffrey Hunter), his companion and co-star, seems shallow and simple by comparison. Despite my usual prejudice toward John Wayne characters, I found Ethan's story engaging and rewarding.

The Searchers opens with an indoor view of a door opening to a figure silhouetted against a majestic Texas landscape stretching out for miles, symbolizing one of the driving themes in Westerns - one man, poised against the elements. After a short exposition telling us the characters and setting through casual dialogue, the story launches as a group of Commanche Indians murder a family and burn there house. Ethan returns to find a burned house and the knowledge that two daughters have escaped and are now somewhere in the midst of the Texan desert, which drives the plot of the entire movie.

Early on in the film, we can absolutely feel the hopelessness of the search - Ford allows his characters appear tiny and insignificant amidst an incomprehensibly large wilderness, and this technique is very skillfully performed. The cinematography is consistently epic and effective, such as when John Wayne and several other men coming riding in to meet with Indians, and the camera flies out to show John Wayne and his men pathetically small in the foreground while the many Indians progressively come into view in the background. Ford's cameras are expressive but never forced, allowing the viewers to identify with the frame without shoving it in their face.

Throughout the film, Ethan proves himself to be primarily driven by a passionate hatred and a lust for vengeance. He does not attempt to hide his disgust with all things Indian - throughout the movie, he repeats this malevolent philosophy. In a surprisingly gruesome scene, Ethan shoots out the eyes of a dead Commanche off-camera, simply because of the Commanche belief that doing so will prevent them from eternal rest. Yet as if to counter the film's serious tone, screenwriter Frank Nugent adds in scenes of mild comedy, including a subplot involving Martin's fiancé and various other random antics. These are completely out of place with the tone of the rest of the movie. It isn't just "comic relief" - it's completely outside the main story and works against an otherwise excellent film. It is typical Western-style dreck in an otherwise atypical Western film.

The film announces the true meaning of its name in the end credits, where a song mentions the search for peace of mind. Ethan was searching for his niece Debby, but found his path in life in the process. However, he remains true to his character - never does his undergo a magical conversion to more politically ideals, but he finds in himself a sense of compassion and understanding.

"The Searchers" is a film I would recommend as a western; however, I cannot wholly commend it as being a truly great movie. While it is at times almost brilliant, it seems to be bogged down by the conventions of so many other westerns - the light comedy, the silly characters, the disgruntled woman - it's as if these were added in after the initial draft of the script was rejected because the publisher felt its audience could not accept a serious story. So I reluctantly must give "The Searchers" a mere B-.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
This movie is a tiring episodic adventure flick that makes a mockery of history.
15 October 2003
"They Died With Their Boots On" is a thoroughly optimistic mess of epic battles, romance and racial stereotypes, with an inspired lack of realism and an inordinate amount of onion humor. The movie grinds along, with high-budget battle scenes intermingled with lengthy dialogue about nothing at all. Certainly, if nothing else, I must say the movie is unique.

The movie is loosely based on the life of George Armstrong Custer, famed nineteenth-century general during the Civil War, best known for his final charge at the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer's Last Stand. The movie follows Custer from his initial enrollment at West Point until his death. Despite the movie's title, it is not particularly focused on that final battle - it simply skims over Custer's life in general, picking and choosing (or changing altogether) particular events - namely his time at West Point, his courtship of Elizabeth "Libby" Bacon (Olivia de Havilland), his military career during the Civil War, and of course his climactic demise.

Custer is played with an odd air of bumbling innocence by Errol Flynn, notable mostly for his portrayal of Robin Hood and similar swashbuckling heroes. Custer, is portrayed as a man with a lot of dedication who awkwardly succeeds in virtually every challenge. The movie opens with him riding into West Point in a ridiculous custom-tailored outfit, where he is immediately mistaken for someone of far higher rank, resulting in a rather embarrassing situation that sets the tone for the next half-hour or so of the movie. The bizarre non-humor continues at a steady pace as we see Custer doing terribly at all his classes, finding himself in class rivalries and spontaneous brawls ("I didn't know you could get fired from the army for fighting!" he complains indignantly), yet still managing to get by somehow (the movie doesn't entirely explain this) by his commitment and wit.

The movie skims over his military career, showing brief shots of various battles in the Civil War (all of which look exactly alike) after becoming a general. Following a typical Hollywood pattern of losses and triumphs, Custer is eventually famed for his daring charges and bravery. These battles, of course, are portrayed more as something of a sport than of a open slaughter of dirty, tired men - Custer seems more pleased with himself than mournful of his losses. At one point, General Sheridan casually comments "Oh, Custer, it's you! Good work!" in the midst of what should be carnage.

Finally, after a lengthy and tiring courtship plot in which Custer is married, the movie prepares itself for Custer's Last Stand. After earnestly giving his word to Chief Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn) to preserve the sacred land of the Sioux in the Black Hills, Custer somehow finds himself fighting to take that land back when a plot by his West Point rival Sharp (actually devised by Custer himself in reality) sends thousands of fortune-seeking prospectors into that land in a gold rush. The final battle itself is a farce; the movie depicts the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a small group of sitting U.S. riflemen warding off hundreds of Sioux horsemen for an astonishing length of time while Custer stands in the middle of them with his guns blazing, essentially a bit of target practice before finally being struck by an arrow and dying dramatically.

"They Died With Their Boots On" is a textbook example of how not to make a historical epic. The movie wildly inaccurate, but it completely mocks the actual events that inspired it; it sees war as a fun and exciting adventure. Even on a purely aesthetic level, it completely lacks any tension as the story trickles past silly characters and sub-plots that add nothing to the film whatsoever. The only real redeeming value is its wealth of unintended humor found in its mediocrity.
1 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink

Recently Viewed