dkncd's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

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"Sherlock Jr." is Buster Keaton's film about a movie theater employee who aspires to be a detective. Keaton handles his role well and the supporting cast is solid as well. The film has impressive cinematography, but a generic score.

The film has amusing moments: the very close shadowing of the villain by Keaton as a detective, Keaton walking through the safe door and Keaton taking cues from a film to guide his romantic actions. Some of the stunts were entertaining, particularly Keaton's escapes through a window and a stomach. The famous scene where Keaton enters a movie scene was cleverly made, but I found it only moderately entertaining.

However, I found most of the film's jokes basic and not very amusing. A lot of the stunt sequences, while well-shot, were overlong. While "Sherlock Jr." had some funny moments and is a meticulously constructed film, I was disappointed by how few times I was amused by it.

Anna Karenina

"Anna Karenina" is based on a novel by Leo Tolstoy. I have not read Tolstoy's novel, but it is apparent from the thickness of the novel and the length of this film that this adaptation is heavily abridged. The story is simple; Anna Karenina is married to Karenin but has an affair with Vronsky.

The film features impressive sets and costumes. There are depictions of upper-class Russian rituals such as drinking games, dancing and a stage production. These are for the most part well-done, although the stage production seemed drawn out.

Greta Garbo as Anna, Fredric March as Vronsky and Basil Rathbone as Karenin lead the cast. It is an impressive roster, and all of them give solid performances, especially Rathbone and Garbo, but the characters they played were not exceptionally interesting. Freddie Bartholomew is notable as Sergei, Anna's astute young scientist of a child that has some touching scenes with Garbo.

This film is watchable and has a number of decent scenes, but never gains much momentum beyond a basic love story. Sadly I didn't form any strong attachments to the characters such that I was even indifferent to Anna's final fate at the end of the story. I'm not sure how other adaptations of the novel compare, but this one is somewhat flat despite having three accomplished performers in the lead parts.

Les Miserables

The first point that bears emphasis about the 1998 film adaptation of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" is that it is highly abridged. Even more abridged than abridged versions of the novel and even more abridged than the story used for the popular musical. Characters such as Éponine and Gavroche are absent from this adaptation. This will offend those looking for a closer adaptation of Hugo's novel, but it does not bother me that this film focuses on the story of Valjean, Javert, Fantine, Cosette and Marius. The basic story for those unfamiliar with it, takes place in 19th century France and follows a poor thief, Jean Valjean, who is relentlessly pursued by Inspector Javert, even after reforming his ways.

Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush are excellent as the reformed and generous ex-convict and his relentless pursuer. The rest of the performances are commendable as well, particularly from Uma Thurman as Fantine, Claire Danes as Cosette and Hans Matheson as Marius. Claire Danes, in addition to giving a solid performance, seems to fit well with the iconic image of Cosette that has come to represent musical productions of the story.

Visually this film is impressive as well with sweeping representations of Paris, Vigo and other locations and appropriate costumes. Basil Poledouris' score was also fitting for the story. The story, though abridged, still effectively gives us the touching tale of the plight of the poor in France, a reformed and ceaselessly generous convict, an overzealous inspector and those around them. I always enjoyed the clash of ideals and cat and mouse game between a reformed criminal and a man who clings to the ideal that no criminal can ever be reformed. This version of "Les Misérables" is recommended for those that are not uncomfortable with heavy abridgements to Hugo's classic novel.

Inherit the Wind
½

"Inherit the Wind" is the story of a teacher put on trial in a small American town for teaching a lesson based Darwin's "Origin of Species", which is against local law and thought to deny God's role as creator. The film is loosely based on the "Scopes Trial" of 1925. It is important to emphasize the phrase "loosely based", because numerous details of the film, including character names and histories, do not coincide with the details of the Scopes Trial.

Spencer Tracy excels at speechmaking as Henry Drummond, the lawyer defending the teacher. Fredric March has a more difficult role as the over-the-top fundamentalist folk hero against teaching evolution, Matthew Harrison Brady. March generally handles it well and delivers a number of memorable lines, but at times went too far for my liking in being crass and a buffoon. The rest of the cast is notable, particularly Gene Kelly as the derisive E. K. Hornbeck delivering sharp lines.

The story is set in the fictitious small town of "Heavenly" Hillsboro in Tennessee. Marches of the villagers through the town, their meeting were effective ways to emphasize the town as being fundamentalist, although the suggestion that they would hang the teacher seems unrealistic. I thought the side story of the the firebrand preacher that shuns his own daughter was well-made and not out of place. The best scenes of the film were those in the court room, especially the dialogue between Drummond and Brady concerning the Bible. There is only one part of this that seemed strange, where Brady suggests that sex is the "original sin". It seems doubtful that a character like Brady's would consider sex a sin, only non-marital sex. The issues raised by the film remain pertinent today considering that many still challenge the validity of teaching evolution despite consensus among scientists.

Cyrano de Bergerac

"Cyrano de Bergerac" is based on the play by Edmond Rostand about a swordsman and poet with a long nose who helps another man to win the woman he loves. The film's story is an abridged version of the play based on the famous English translation from Brian Hooker.

José Ferrer is excellent in the title role as Cyrano de Bergerac. He handles all aspects of the character well, from the sharp poetic dialogue to the reluctance in conveying his feelings to Roxane. The rest of the performances were respectable as well, though clearly the title role requires the most acting ability.

This film is criticized for its minimalist sets. Admittedly they never bothered me, but at times the film was excessively dark, especially during the combat scenes toward the end of the film.

The story is abridged, but for me the essential components of the story were there with clever verse of Hooker's translation and the tragedy and humor of Rostand's story. The swordplay scenes are believable, though not exceptional other than for Cyrano's ability to fight and compose poetry simultaneously. "Cyrano de Bergerac" is a solid adaptation of Rostand's play best known for a striking performance from José Ferrer.

Schindler's List

"Schindler's List" is Steven Spielberg's acclaimed film that explores the life of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved almost 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust through his actions. Spielberg appropriately decided to make the film in black and white, which gives the film a documentary-like quality. It also allowed him to make effective use of occasional glimpses of color. John Williams again proves his ability to come up with an appropriate soundtrack for any type of film. Spielberg also shows in a time of overwrought special effects that effects can be used subtlety to great effect, such as the zoomed out shot of a building on which windows light up to indicate Nazi gunfire and killings.

Liam Neeson is perfect as Oskar Schindler. Schindler is initially a war profiteer who is eventually moved to use his fortune and influence to shield Jews from the Holocaust. Interestingly the character was given an enigmatic quality and generally isn't explicit about his perceptions for a lot of the film. To the film's credit, it doesn't suppress the womanizing aspect of Schindler's character. Ben Kingsley is also excellent in a subtle performance as Schindler's invaluable accountant and assistant, Itzhak Stern. Ralph Fiennes also gives a great and frightening performance as the unstable and insecure megalomaniac Amon Goeth.

This film is long and sad, but absorbing at the same time such that it is never tedious during its length of over three hours. The film gains intensity from the graphic depictions of Nazi violence and the lingering sense that Jews can be killed at any time. It also shows us how the courage of one individual can have an important impact. Schindler laments not having saved more people, but the film effectively makes it clear that almost 1,200 people is an important number.

Murder, My Sweet

"Murder, My Sweet" is based on the novel "Farewell, My Lovely" by Raymond Chandler. It follows hardboiled detective Philip Marlowe as he becomes embroiled in a tangled plot involving a missing girlfriend, a stolen jade necklace and more than enough shifty characters.

Dick Powell is excellent as Marlowe and lends the character an appropriate toughness balanced with cynicism and sardonic remarks. The rest of the enigmatic cast was excellent as well, especially Anne Shirley, Claire Trevor and Mike Mazurki.

The story generally closely follows that of "Farewell, My Lovely". Some elements of the story were considered controversial when the film was made and were left out, but the essential Chandler mystery is there. That means we get a nicely convoluted plot with intrigue and twists. Notably also the film retains some of Chandler's clever first-person commentary and features some commendable effects to illustrate some of the sequences from the story. "Murder, My Sweet" is a must-see for Chandler readers and those that enjoy detective stories.

The Miracle Worker

"The Miracle Worker" is based on the play by William Gibson, which portrays the efforts of Anne Sullivan to teach the deaf and blind child Helen Keller discipline and a method of communication. Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke refined their roles as Anne and Helen on Broadway before making this film, and it shows, with both delivering first-rate performances. The supporting roles were well-cast as well, especially the rest of the members of the Keller family.

The efforts of Anne are thoroughly engrossing as she tries to strengthen her tumultuous relationship with Helen and teach her simultaneously. Anne adopts a stringent approach, and it is apparent that it is necessary for Helen's benefit. There is a remarkable intense and deliberately protracted scene that shows the frustrating effort involved in getting Helen to fold a napkin and eat dinner with a spoon. The ending is simply amazing and practically guaranteed to be touching for any viewer.

The Falcon and the Snowman
½

"The Falcon and the Snowman" is the story of two young men, a CIA employee and a drug dealer, who become disenchanted with United States foreign policy and sell state secrets to the Soviet Union. The events of the film are based on a true story.

Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn are convincing in the lead parts and develop interesting characterizations. The supporting cast also performs well, notably with a performance from David Suchet of Hercule Poirot fame as a seasoned Soviet agent.

The film is generally effective at setting out its premise and developing it and giving a sense of two boys caught in something they did not properly understand going in. However, it does seem overlong and cumbersome at points in the middle. The ending, however, is tense, stunning and effective. There are some catchy rock songs included in the soundtrack, but also unfortunately a repeated mellow synthesizer track that doesn't fit with a spy story. There are other spy films more worth seeking out than "The Falcon and the Snowman", but it is a decent film none the less.

The Ipcress File

"The Ipcress File" follows British agent Harry Palmer, who is sent to contact a man suspected to be involved in the kidnapping of a prominent scientist. During the investigation the word "Ipcress" is found on a tape.

Michael Caine is adept at being sarcastic and insubordinate as usual as bespectacled agent Harry Palmer. The supporting cast is also solid, and especially notable is Nigel Green, who was an apt choice for the role of stuffy spy supervisor Major Dalby.

The story generally positions the film as a realistic spy film as opposed to the more glamorized Bond model, but some aspects of the film are more contrived toward the end. The film is effective at conveying a sense of bureaucracy without being tedious with its office procedures and specially named forms. There is a decent, though not especially complex, level of intrigue throughout the film and one especially good twist. Another notable aspect is an excellent score from composer John Barry. "The Ipcress File" is overall a satisfactory though not quite great spy film.

Smiley's People
½

"Smiley's People" is the sequel miniseries to "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and is also based on a novel by John le Carré. In this series, George Smiley investigates the murder of a Russian general formerly passing information to the Circus which puts him on the trail of his old rival, Soviet spy master "Karla".

As with "Tinker, Tailor", Alec Guinness is perfect in a subtle performance as George Smiley. The returning performers and new performances are solid as well.

"Smiley's People" is at least up to the high standard of "Tinker, Tailor" and perhaps better. Whereas in "Tinker, Tailor" Smiley investigated within a limited circle of people and limited area, in this series the locations and characters are more varied. In this way the plot of "Smiley's People" requires more focus to understand the connections between characters, which I enjoyed.

As with "Tinker, Tailor", the style consisted mostly of Smiley conversing with people for information, so this series is also not appropriate for those looking for a fast-paced James Bond type spy thriller, but enjoyable for those looking for a deliberately paced spy film. It is worth noting the final scene, which is impressively tense and provides an interesting and appropriate conclusion.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
½

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is a miniseries based on the novel by John le Carré. British Intelligence, nicknamed the "Circus", has been compromised. One of its four top officials is passing information to the Soviets and it rests upon retired spy George Smiley to investigate the Circus and find the traitor.

Alec Guinness skillfully leads the cast as the subtle and methodical George Smiley. All of the supporting players are excellent as well. Even brief appearances such as those of Susan Kodicek, Joss Ackland and Patrick Stewart made an impression and left me wishing I could see more of their characters.

The story explores the shifty and bureaucratic spy community through dialogue and by developing the relationships between characters over time. This miniseries maintains a slow and thoughtful pace throughout and will most certainly bore those looking for a quick James Bond type thriller. Smiley slowly discovers what is happening by tracking down people and sifting through files. Eventually Smiley and the audience are rewarded for their patience with the identity of the mole toward the superb end of the series. Thankfully there is a sequel series, "Smiley's People", for those of us left wanting more.

Serpico
Serpico(1973)

"Serpico" is the story of Frank Serpico, a policeman who reports the rampant corruption evident in the New York police. The film is based on a true story and explores the career and personal life of Frank Serpico.

Al Pacino delivers a skilled and forceful performance as Frank Serpico. Serpico's character is interestingly shown as multi-faced and not simply as completely heroic. The less sympathetic side of his character is seen in his abusive behavior in a relationship due to the strain from fighting corruption. The rest of the cast is also notable, particularly John Randolph as the hard-edged veteran Chief Green, who is also interested in fighting corruption.

The film's story is generally quite engaging, especially in the second half, though less so at points. The sense of overwhelming corruption is staggering and effective. Serpico's honesty shines through and is inspiring to witness.

Doctor Who - The Caves of Androzani

"The Caves of Androzani" is a "Doctor Who" serial featuring Peter Davison as the Doctor. The story concerns two neighboring planets, Androzani Minor and Androzani Major. Major is a center of governmental operations, but Minor contains a valuable resource. On Minor there is a war between government and resistance resources that is at a lingering stalemate. The situation is altered when the Doctor and companion Peri land in the TARDIS on Minor.

Peter Davison is in top form as the Doctor, playing the character as knowledgeable with occasional touches of sarcasm. Admittedly I always thought Peri was never an especially good companion for the Doctor. She gets better as the serial progresses, but too often whines, screams or squeals. I would say that her character is the only major detractor of the serial. John Normington is memorable as the cold, brooding capitalist that pulls the strings on Androzani Major. Christopher Gable is also notable as the enigmatic resistance leader Sharaz Jek, a masked character surely inspired by the Phantom of the Opera.

The sets for the dark caves of Androzani are well-made and the effects for space travel are amazingly seamless. The serial has many elements that make it an excellent one: political machinations, gunrunners, androids, minor military conflicts, duplicity, ambiguity and plot twists. Even the brief appearances by a rubber monster that terrorizes random British actors are decent. This is definitely a serial worth seeing for those that enjoy serials from the Peter Davison years.

Army of Shadows (L'Armée des ombres)

"Army in the Shadows" or "Army of Shadows" is Jean-Pierre Melville's film about the French resistance during World War II. The film is concerned with organizers of the resistance and their efforts to evade the Germans.

The casting is great all-around and shows us seemingly average people making extraordinary but unembellished sacrifices. A prime example is Lino Ventura's excellent performance as Philippe Gerbier, who is quiet and reserved but proves capable of heroic deeds and occasionally allows the audience to penetrate into his inner thoughts.

This film is not a fast paced thriller, but a well-considered and touching portrait of the resistance. Four scenes in the film that struck me in particular were the gloomy and touching scene where it is necessary to dispose of a traitor quietly, the scene with the clever improvisation needed to pass a cluster of Germans near a train, the tense scene where a group prisoners run from a German machine gun and the ending that shows a bitter sacrifice made for the common good. German brutality often takes place between scenes, but viewers see the troubling consequences of it. The film's tense score was more than ample at highlighting key moments in the film. I strongly recommend this film to those interested in a compelling World War II story.

The Philadelphia Story

"The Philadelphia Story" is about a woman, Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn), who has an ex-husband, C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), and a tabloid reporter Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) complicate her upcoming marriage. The film is set in "high society" at the home of the aptly named Lords.

Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart are all excellent in the lead roles. Ruth Hussey is also notable as often sardonic Elizabeth Imbrie and as is Virginia Weidler as the savvy youngster with sharp lines, Dinah Lord.

The film's story is clever, charming and amusing though not often laugh-out-loud funny. It seemed apparent what the ultimate result of the story would be, but none the less there were a number of interesting turns and the story was never boring. The ending was a fitting way to top off this upper-class comedy.

The Kremlin Letter

"The Kremlin Letter" is a Cold War spy film from director John Huston. It focuses on the story of a young American agent and a team of spies that infiltrate the Soviet Union in an attempt to recover a letter compromising to the United States.

Patrick O'Neal is effective as Charles Rone, who is accepted as a spy due to his photographic memory. Also notable are Richard Boone as the genial mentor to Rone, Bibi Andersson as the desperate wife of a Soviet spy chief Kosnov and Barbara Parkins as an enchanting fellow agent. Orson Welles is solid in a minor role as a Soviet official. Veteran actor Max von Sydow has a good turn as Colonel Kosnov, a determined man with a brutal record, who organizes a "third section" of Soviet agents.

This is the seediest spy story I have seen to date. Harsh tactics are used by both the Americans and Soviets and agents are expected to compromise themselves to the fullest extent in the service of their country. The story remains interesting throughout with intrigue, duplicity and twists. The pace is slow, so this film is not recommend for those looking for a James Bond style spy thriller, but rather those looking for a John le Carré type spy story in the vein of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold".

Singin' in the Rain
½

"Singin' in the Rain" is a musical that explores the transition from silent to sound films. It also features the story of actor Don Lockwood, who is famous for his on-screen romantic pairing with Lina Lamont. Lina expects Don to marry her, but Don is more interested in Kathy Selden.

Gene Kelly, Jean Hagen and Debbie Reynolds are all excellent in the lead roles. Hagen is especially amusing and her screechy voice functions perfectly as an impediment in the transition to sound films.

There are not surprisingly a lot of musical numbers, which are generally well-made. Especially good is the title number as sung by Gene Kelly while meandering through a street. The only number that seemed out of place was the extended "Broadway Melody" number toward the end of the film, which looks nice, but is disruptive to the flow of the story.

The storyline exploring the tumultuous transition from silent to sound films and the relationships between characters were clever and amusing. It helped that I watched "The Jazz Singer" (1927) shortly before watching this one, as the film makes reference to its role as the film that ushered in the sound era. It is not essential to view it before seeing this, but it may help to learn of the song "Mammy" from that film since some of the jokes in this film make reference to it. "Singin' in the Rain" is not my favorite musical, but it is certainly one of the better ones I have seen.

The Long Goodbye

As an avid Raymond Chandler reader, I am always interested in films that adapt his works. When I first heard of "The Long Goodbye" I assumed that it was a faithful adaptation of Chandler's novel. When I learned that it was not, it dampened my enthusiasm for it and I avoided it for awhile. However, finally I did see it and in the amusingly repeated words of Elliott Gould's iteration of Philip Marlowe, "It's okay with me."

The setting has been changed from the 1950s to the 1970s. However, the film does have an appropriate look that is often dark and would fit with a more conventional noir style detective film. Added to this is John Williams' excellent score, which makes the most of variations on one song.

Elliott Gould leads the cast as the iconic detective Philip Marlowe. Gould's Marlowe is in a number of respects the polar opposite of Bogart's famous portrayal of the detective in "The Big Sleep" (1946). He is exceedingly casual, sometimes mutters lines that Bogart would deliver with force and is often meek or clumsy. It was interesting to see this unorthodox version of Marlowe, and Gould handled the role well. The film even parodies the frequent smoking of Hollywood classics by highlighting the fact that Marlowe smokes in each scene and lights a match on any surface available. Amusingly one of the characters even calls him "Marlboro". Marlowe's frequent smoking appears excessive and unrefined, which is a fitting given contemporary negative perceptions of smoking.

The rest of the cast is solid as well. Especially notable from the supporting is from Mark Rydell, who is convincing and shocking as the gangster Marty Augustine. Nina Van Pallandt is also effective as the classy, suffering Eileen Wade and as is Sterling Hayden as the belligerent alcoholic Roger Wade. Henry Gibson was an apt choice as the small yet imposing Dr. Verringer. I also enjoyed Ken Sansom as the guard who excels at impressions of famous Hollywood actors and actresses.

There is still a mystery story in this film as in the novel. It is less intense than the original and liable to displease those looking for a more precise Chandler adaptation, but for me it was satisfactory. This film does effectively give a sense of the seediness surrounding Marlowe through the characters as in Chandler's novels. The combination of the novelty of Gould's Marlowe, the mystery story and the character interactions was enough to keep this film interesting despite the deviations from the novel.

The only part of the film that didn't strike me favorably was the ending. I realize that the Marlowe of this film is not the same as that of the books, but for me his decision near the film's end was too far beyond anything Philip Marlowe would do. No doubt those that favor the ending will argue it fits with the tone of the film, but ultimately my complaint about the ending is a minor one against this overall great film. However, I was amused by the crackly "Hooray for Hollywood" at the film's end. Those willing to see a revisionist approach to Chandler should give "The Long Goodbye" a chance.

To Be or Not to Be
½

"To Be or Not to Be" is about a troupe of Polish actors who become entangled in a plot involving a Nazi spy during the German occupation of Poland. The film's title is a reference to the fact that the troupe frequently performs "Hamlet".

The egocentric ham actor and leader of the troupe, Joseph Tura, is played by that great, great comedic actor, Jack Benny. Benny plays is oft-played role of a man who overrates his own abilities with relish. Carole Lombard is also excellent as Joseph's smooth wife Maria and the rest of the cast is solid.

This film features sharp humor that parodies the Nazis and criticizes them. The film is funny all-around, but especially so during the second half. My favorite scene is the one where Joseph Tura is told improvise in order to keep a professor working for the Nazis in his office, but he can't improvise effectively despite being an actor. The way Benny botches the improvisation by repeating the "Concentration Camp" Ehrhardt line and following it with strained laughter is perfect. "To Be or Not to Be" is another excellent comedy film from director Ernst Lubitsch.

The Long Good Friday

"The Long Good Friday" is about an English crime mogul on the cusp of sealing a deal with the American Mafia whose organization becomes the target of assassins and bombs. The film is distinctly British not only with its London setting, but in that it features strong accents and British slang which viewers outside the U.K. may grapple with. It features an excellent and addictive synthesizer and jazz score from Francis Monkman.

Bob Hoskins leads the cast with an energetic and gripping performance as crime mogul Harold Shand. Hoskins' Shand is relentless and ruthless, but shows genuine lament at the loss of friends. Helen Mirren also deserves note as the classy but tough companion of Harold's, Victoria, and the supporting performances are all solid. Look for Paul Freeman, who would later play French archaeologist Rene Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and a young Pierce Brosnan in brief appearances. Brosnan has little time in the film and no lines, but still makes a strong impression.

The film's story has Harold desperately trying to discover the source of the attacks against his organization. There is an effective mystery with a number of twists that keeps the story strong throughout the film. Harold and his associates use strongarm and violent tactics while trying to solve the mystery. Sometimes the violence is very graphic, especially during two scenes, but it doesn't seem out of place. The film's ending is semi-ambiguous yet a perfect way to end this great film.

Metropolis
Metropolis(1927)

"Metropolis" is Fritz Lang's early entry into the science-fiction genre. For me the premise recalls H.G. Wells' novel "The Time Machine", where the division between managers and laborers has become so strong that the laborers are sent to live underground. The dystopian city setting is a forerunner to similar settings in films such as "Blade Runner" (1982). The visuals are certainly impressive and an amazing achievement for a 1927 film.

The actors wear far too much makeup and the acting is especially blunt at points, but overall the performances are decent and the characterizations interesting. Particularly of note is Brigitte Helm in her dual role as Maria and the "Robot". She is a convincing advocate for peace and it was effective how she used facial expressions to make the distinction between her two characters.

The distinctions between managers and laborers are well-developed. Depictions of downtrodden workers marching in unison were becoming to show the sharp distinctions between the classes of Metropolis. In the first half of the movie the story and characterizations are well-developed and interesting, but the second half was not as consistent. The latter half has a solid story and notable scenes, but a number of the scenes linger too long, such as the catacomb chase. Many write that restoring more footage to this film would make it better, but for me judicious editing in the later portions of the film would be more beneficial. None the less, "Metropolis" is a notable early entry into the science-fiction film genre.

American Gangster
½

"American Gangster" is Ridley Scott's latest film that centers on the leader of a drug cartel and a detective dedicated to curtailing drug dealing. Though the story is based on true events, no doubt viewers will find parallels with other better crime films. The parallel that strikes me the most is with "Heat" (1995), which also portrays a crime story from the perspective of a detective and a criminal leader, but much more engagingly. "American Gangster" isn't an awful film per se, but it could have been better considering the talent involved.

The film does feature solid performances. Russell Crowe is effective as a relentless and incorruptible yet womanizing and sometimes quick to anger detective. Denzel Washington is also effective in his role as a self-assured and tough criminal leader. Both actors are acting in familiar territory and I wasn't surprised by the characterizations, but they were effective none the less. The supporting performances were also notable, especially Josh Brolin as a despicable crooked police detective.

The film's story is where this film could have been improved. The film's premise is a good one and it is well-developed initially. The ending sequence starting with an investigation of a plane is tense and effective. There is a memorable scene where Crowe and Washington sit down and discuss their situation which recalls "Heat", though the scene in "Heat" is superior. The way they incorporated reports of Vietnam into the film was effective and as were the scenes featuring the troubled family life of Crowe's character. It is the middle of the story that could have been improved. While there are some notable scenes in that portion, it seemed overlong overall and more tedious than it should be. Due to this, for me "American Gangster" did not realize its full potential.

Dial M for Murder

"Dial M for Murder" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about a man that organizes a "perfect murder" for his wife with an accomplice. An important distinction between this and other Hitchcock films is that mystery and suspense come not from attempting to ascertain what is happening, but rather if any of the characters can discover the details of a crime the audience has witnessed.

Ray Milland is Tony Wendice, the man organizing the crime. Milland is well-suited to his role as a man calculating and resourceful. Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings and Anthony Dawson are solid in their roles as well. However, my favorite performance comes from John Williams as Inspector Hubbard. Williams skillfully presents a subtle characterization that gradually makes a transition from easily dismissed to commanding.

Though I generally prefer films with mysteries to be solved to those where the crime is known to the audience but not the characters, this film's story is tense and engaging. There are a number of interesting twists in the story that keep it interesting. "Dial M for Murder" is an excellent mystery and suspense film from Hitchcock.

Dog Day Afternoon

"Dog Day Afternoon" is about an inept bank robbery that leads to a hostage situation. It sounds like a humorless premise, but humor is the prominent element in the film with moments of drama and tension mixed in.

Al Pacino is Sonny, the leader of the heist turned hostage situation. Pacino is perfect in his role as a nervous improviser. His character is multi-faceted and interesting, proving sometimes knowledgeable despite being engaged in an inept operation and sympathetic. John Cazale is also notable as the accomplice of few words, Sal. Cazale is at his best with his expressions during the tense final sequence. The hostages and police forces are well-played as well. It was interesting to contrast the styles of Moretti, initially representing the police side and trying to cobble a solution together and Sheldon, the organized chess-master FBI agent.

On paper the hostage situation story sounds typical, but this film rises far above any clichés. The film gains strength from its humoristic approach to the situation, which uses irony and absurdity to great effect. However, there are a number of great dramatic moments as well and an interesting consideration of Vietnam, trans-sexuality and other social issues. I found that after the initial hold-up gone wrong I slowly calmed to the hostage situation before the effective and tense end sequence. I didn't find the film's second half aside from the ending to be as consistently engaging as the first, but overall this film has a novel and interesting approach to portraying a hostage situation.

A Tale of Two Cities

"A Tale of Two Cities" is based on the novel by Charles Dickens. The story is not focused on the plight of the poor in Victorian England as with many of Dickens' novels, but rather an exploration of France prior to and in the wake of the French Revolution.

The nice thing about this film is that it has a sense of the scope of the history it portrays but also tells a personal story with connected people from England and France. The essential story concerns a hunted French aristocrat, an English barrister and a French woman whom they both love. These characters are not only linked to each other but to the French Revolution via the French aristocrat. The film shows the indiscretions by the aristocrats, the desperation of the beggars in Paris prior to the Revolution and but the arbitrary actions of Committee of Public Safety after the Revolution equally well. The transition with the storming of the Bastille was handled well. Importantly this film is in the end a very touching tale of self-sacrifice.

Dirk Bogarde is Sydney Carton, the English barrister of the story. Bogarde is effective at portraying Carton's transition from a comical though shrewd drunkard to a man that achieves a degree of nobility (pardon the pun). Dorothy Tutin and Paul Guers were also solid leads Lucie Manette as Charles Darnay. Donald Pleasence has a relatively small but memorable role as the profiteering spy Barsad. Christopher Lee is well-suited to his oft-played role as a villain, who in this case is a haughty and despicable French aristocrat. Rosalie Crutchley's performance as Madame Defarge also deserves note. Defarge is a truly chilling woman, and Crutchley brings out the transition from quiet glaring knitter to overwrought Reign of Terror fanatic very well. "A Tale of Two Cities" tells a personal story of a group of characters and self-sacrifice but also how France replaced its former repressors with new ones.

The Lord of the Rings

[font=Arial]With the release of Peter Jackson's famed "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, it is even easier to dismiss Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated Lord of the Rings film as inferior. I agree with the majority that Jackson's trilogy is the essential film adaptation of Tolkien's work, but that does not prevent me from enjoying Bakshi's ambitious pioneering effort. Jackson has admitted that he received at least some inspiration from seeing Bakshi's film and there are some clear similarities between their adaptations.

The film's colorful picturesque backdrops are excellent and the score is memorable. I was for the most part satisfied by the drawings of the characters. The pairs of Pippin and Merry and Eowyn and Galadriel are mostly indistinguishable from each other visually, the Balrog and Treebeard were unimpressive, but these points didn't bother me very much. However, the Nazgul are aptly drawn and made sufficiently eerie. The only character representation I was bothered by was Sam's; he was made to look unbecomingly silly.

This film is novel for its animation techniques. In addition to hand-drawn characters, live actors are incorporated into the animation through rotoscoping. It is quite apparent which characters are hand-drawn and which are rotoscoped, but none the less I found that the film's style was a novelty. The use of rotoscoped live actors for the battle scenes was a good decision and helped these scenes turn out well.

The voice acting was generally of high quality. Particularly good was John Hurt, who provided an authoritative voice for Aragorn. Aragorn isn't a favorite character of mine from the stories, but backed by John Hurt's voice he was my favorite character in this adaptation. My other favorite was William Squire, whose voice is appropriately strong for Gandalf. The only actor who seemed inappropriate was Michael Scholes as Sam, whose voice acting was irritating and added to Sam's unfortunately silly image. The only other bothersome part of the voice acting is the mispronunciation of character and place names. Particularly strange was the decision to frequently have Saruman referred to as "Aruman".

In producing this film, Ralph Bakshi expected to have the ability to produce two films. Hence, this film contains about half the story, from the start of "The Fellowship of the Ring" to the end of the battle at Helm's Deep in "The Two Towers". The obvious implication of this is that the film's story is a highly condensed version of the story from the books. I enjoy the original stories and more thorough adaptations, but the liberties taken to compress the story didn't bother me, even the choice to leave Arwen out of the story. Enough of the key elements of the story were in this film to keep me engaged for the duration and there was even a novelty in being able to breeze through half the Lord of the Rings story in 132 minutes. The battle scenes were impressive and in particular the orc march to and battle at Helm's Deep were tremendous.

Ralph Bakshi's version of "The Lord of the Rings" isn't perfect and no doubt a number of Lord of the Rings readers lament the cuts to the story. However, for me the drawbacks of this film were minor compared to the thrill of seeing an effective adaptation of half of a great trilogy. My only strong lament is that I am unable to see the second part of this "first great tale" of The Lord of the Rings since Bakshi was not given the budget to create a sequel.[/font]

Strangers on a Train

Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" is about, not surprisingly, two strangers that meet on a train. One of the strangers proposes that they each murder someone that the other person would like to see gone.

Robert Walker is perfect as Bruno Anthony, the stranger who suggests the murder plan. He manages to make his character thoroughly unnerving throughout the film. Farley Granger is also effective as the "normal" Guy Haines and the supporting cast is also solid.

This film never wants for tension. Walker's character is anxiety invoking for Haines and the audience. The story is well-developed and there are a number of turns that keep it interesting throughout. At the end, the tennis scene and follow-up are excellent, even in terms of the tennis rallies themselves. The technique of showing competing characters in different locations in a tight race was tense and highly effective.

To Catch a Thief

"To Catch a Thief" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about a former thief who, after being suspected of a series of burglaries, sets to clear his name by catching the actual thief. Along the way he meets a woman very taken with him.

Cary Grant and Grace Kelly have great chemistry as the suave thief John Robie and quirky, rich Frances Stevens respectively. There are excellent supporting performances all-around as well, particularly from Jessie Royce Landis as Frances' worldly mother and John Williams, who seamlessly plays an insurance agent with a vested interest in protecting Lloyd's of London.

The story does not have a lot of intrigue per se, but remains engaging due to developments between the characters through memorable scenes and dialogue. However, the film does benefit from having an underlying mystery, which is not surprisingly the identity of the actual thief. The question of the identity is mostly looming in the background of the film, but is eventually used effectively in the film's clever ending sequence. The atmosphere is lighter and less tense than in other Hitchcock films, but this isn't a detriment to this enjoyable film.

The Jazz Singer

"The Jazz Singer" is widely cited as the first full-length sound film and the film that led to the decline of the silent film era. The story focuses on a Jewish man, Jakie Rabinowitz, who wants to pursue a career as a jazz singer despite his father's wish that he become a Cantor following family tradition.

This film has value beyond its significance as a historical piece. Tension and a touching story are effectively developed around an inner-conflict between honoring family tradition related to his faith and his career aspirations. However, some well-placed humor is injected into the story as well, particularly involving a number of people purchasing someone the same birthday gift. There are also three interesting effects in the film that enhance it involving editing footage into a shot, an example being the editing of footage onto a mirror.

It should be noted that despite this film's role as the first full-length sound film, most of the dialogue is presented in the conventional silent film format of showing the characters mouthing the dialogue without sound and then showing the dialogue text. The dialogue itself is well-written and the characters are all expressive and believable though we don't hear them most of the time. The film's sound comes in the form of several songs and some spoken lines prior to and following the songs. Al Jolson has a strong singing voice and the songs he has to work with are for the most part quite good, especially "Mammy". "The Jazz Singer" is known for its historical role in film, but it is a solid film in its own right.

Notorious
Notorious(1946)

"Notorious" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about a woman, whose father was involved with the Nazis, who meets a government agent at a party. She is asked to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South American on behalf of the United States.

This film is primarily notable for excellent performances from three great talents. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman fill the lead roles as government agent and recruited spy with their usual charm and create a shining romance. Claude Rains is skilled as usual as a Nazi leader, which he makes dangerous yet refined and even warm for the most part, creating an interesting character.

This film's story is methodically paced, and overall not as engaging as other Hitchcock efforts, but for the most part is well-written. As far as a spy plot, ultimate secrets obtained and intrigue seem unimportant relative to the tension associated with infiltration, which wasn't a great detriment to the film. The tension is well-developed after the story is introduced. There are a number of excellent scenes, and in particular I liked the intriguing wine cellar sequence and the sharp ending.

Alexander the Great

"Alexander the Great" not surprisingly attempts to portray the life of Alexander the Great. On the surface it seems as though it should be excellent considering that the cast is led by two prolific actors, Richard Burton and Fredric March as Alexander and his father Philip respectively. The film also features elegant costumes and lavish sets laden with depictions of ancient art and architecture. However, all of these attributes disappointingly don't prevent the film from being extremely tedious.

The film starts with Alexander's earlier life in Macedon and is mostly focused on portraying antagonisms between Alexander and Philip and the relationship of Alexander's mother to both. Richard Burton and Fredric March have some fine moments, but for the most part their dialogue is uninteresting, which makes the film mostly dull since most of the scenes in the film show lengthy discourses. There are jokes added as well that are often followed by a number laughing, but the humor is mostly stale. There is one amusing point where Philip suggests that Alexander should wait until he is dead before naming a city after himself, but this represents an exception rather than the norm. Barry Jones did give an enjoyable performance as Aristotle, although he is only a marginal element in the film.

During this first phase of the film the Battle of Chaeronea of is also portrayed, where forces led by Philip and Alexander defeated a combined Athenian and Theban force in order to unite Greece under Macedonian rule. The battle, despite having an array of extras in it, is handled clumsily. It starts with brief shots of infantry and cavalry crossing a stream and then fighting out of formation. Then the focused is placed on Philip fighting one-on-one and Alexander charging in after him. This portrayal seems to bear little to no resemblance to the actual battle of history, is short in duration and not particularly exciting.

Shortly after half way through the film, Philip dies and the film moves to a portrayal of Alexander's military exploits in Persia. It is in this stage we are introduced to Memnon, a Greek fighting with the Persians. Peter Cushing gives a strong performance as Memnon armed with sharp lines, making his the top performance of the film though the character is seen in relatively few scenes. Harry Andrews is also notable as the Persian emperor Darius, though Darius is never made particularly interesting in the context of an opponent to Alexander. However, the scene representing the correspondence between Darius and Alexander showing the "clash of egos" was well-done.

Most of this phase of the film is a rotation between short battle scenes and more mostly dull dialogue with some rare decent scenes. The Battle of the Granicus is shown basically as a brief cavalry charge. The treatment of Granicus is better than the treatment of Chaeronea, but not much better. There is another final battle between Alexander and Darius, presumably intended to represent the Battle of Gaugamela. The battle starts with a Perisan chariot charge and seems as though it will be interesting, but it quickly culminates in a brief uninteresting cavalry charge as well. The main problem with these battle scenes is that they fail to give a sense of Alexander's military genius. It seems as though he just accumulated territory through a series of brief heroic cavalry charges and the film never represents the tactics used in any of the battles. These are also a series of brief and unnecessary battle clips overlapped by a map of Persia to represent the conquests not shown in "fuller" battles. After Alexander's conquests, the film ends poorly with an uninteresting "harmony and unity" speech from Alexander for Greeks and Persians. "Alexander the Great" is a colossal bore, and I strongly recommend avoiding it.

V for Vendetta

"V for Vendetta" recalls elements of George Orwell's novel "1984". This film likewise shows a dystopian Britain under a stringent totalitarian government and shares some other themes such as a concern for past events. However, there is one key difference between "1984" and this film, "V". In "1984" there was no force to challenge the primacy of the totalitarian government, but in this film V is a mysterious anti-government terrorist figure that inspires resistance.

The story follows Evey, played by Natalie Portman, as she slowly makes the acquaintance of V. I have never been overly impressed by Natalie Portman's acting, but she gives a decent though not outstanding performance in this film. However, the rest of the cast is excellent. V's mask wearing character is one part action hero and one part over-the-top stagy actor, sometimes delivering rapid-fire dialogue. It makes for an effective combination and Hugo Weaving handles it well. John Hurt is well-cast as the leader of the totalitarian government in a reversal of his role as the repressed Winston Smith in the 1984 film of "1984". There are also excellent performances from Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry.

This film's primary strength is its intriguing story developed around exploring repression and propaganda from the totalitarian government, opposition to the government and the mysteries concerning the enigmatic V. Like in many films showing dystopia, the setting is appropriately mostly dingy and gloomy. Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" was used great effect to accompany some of V's anti-government activities. Some will be averse to the way the film mixes overtly dramatic elements such as V's acting and the displays accompanied by the "1812 Overture" with dystopia, but for me the film managed to make the combination effective and interesting.

The 39 Steps
The 39 Steps(1935)

"The 39 Steps" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about a man who unexpectedly becomes involved in a plot involving foreign agents. The man, Richard Hannay, quickly finds that the only way to stay safe is to remain on the run.

Robert Donat convincingly plays the man on the run, Richard Hannay, and is along the way joined Pamela, charmingly played by Madeleine Carroll. Another performance of note is that of Peggy Ashcroft, who is enchanting as a stranger that aids Richard.

Even though the film's overarching premise is a spy story, ultimately the spy story is of secondary importance to showing a man on the run. I didn't mind that the spy story was ultimately even treated comically, but for me the film could have been more interesting by including more twists during Richard's almost constant fleeing. Hitchcock's more polished "North by Northwest" (1959) follows similar lines to this film, but benefited from having more intrigue interspersed into the "man on the run" story. However, the end scene concluded the spy story nicely and was very clever and surprising.

However, that is not to suggest that this film's "man on the run" story is ineffective. On the contrary, this film successfully mixes suspense, humor and romance to remain engaging. There are no dull moments in the chase, even if there could be more intrigue, and a number of exceedingly amusing moments such as Robert's ad hoc political speech. "The 39 Steps" is an absorbing thriller film from earlier in Hitchcock's career.

Rebecca
Rebecca(1940)

"Rebecca" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about a woman that marries a wealthy widower and settles in his considerable estate, only to find that the lingering memory of the man's first wife, Rebecca, hampers the couple's happiness. Stories about English country estates with a legion of servants can easily be bogged down and boring, but "Rebecca" proves exceptionally tense and interesting.

Joan Fontaine is the "second Mrs. de Winter", who is attempting to overcome the resentment associated with filling a place of high social standing in the stead of the seemingly perfect "Rebecca". Fontaine makes the character enchanting and extremely sympathetic. Every slight to her character and moment of self-doubt is disconcerting to see. Laurence Olivier is as skilled as ever as the distressed "Maxim" de Winter and effectively creates an ambivalent character. Judith Anderson is very unnerving in every scene she is in as Mrs. Danvers.

The story has an underlying mystery and various twists that make it interesting. The film's tension is built up masterfully with the help of its sharp dialogue. It is impressive the way the tension returns near the end just as it seems to vanish. "Rebecca" shows us life at an English country estate with tension and not tedium.

Psycho
Psycho(1960)

"Psycho" is undoubtedly among the tensest films ever created, if not the tensest. The film's story first introduces Marion Crane, but eventually leads to the Bates Motel, which acts as a vortex that sucks a host of characters in.

Anthony Perkins gives an unforgettable nuanced performance as Norman Bates, and develops the character expertly with stutters and expressions as well as dialogue. Janet Leigh is equal to giving a critical performance as the anxious Marion Crane, who carries the first part of the film. The performances of Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and the supporting cast are also solid.

Other than some brief pauses, this film consistently has heart-throbbing tension. Bernard Herrmann's famous score is an important contributing factor in the near constant tension. However, importantly this film also has an underlying mystery which ensures that the film is fascinating as well as tense.

Edge of Darkness
½

"Edge of Darkness" is set in a small Norwegian village during the time of the Nazi occupation of Norway. The film examines the lives of the villagers and their resistance to the Nazis.

Errol Flynn plays Gunnar Brogge, the accepted leader of the villagers. Gunnar isn't as overt as Flynn's Robin Hood or Captain Blood, but this is not surprising considering that he act secretly due to a ubiquitous Nazi presence in the village. Flynn is however, still effective in another of his heroic roles. Two other important villagers are well-played by veterans Ann Sheridan and Walter Huston. Helmut Dantine is notable as the zealous Nazi commander and as is Charles Dingle as an opportunistic village business leader that labels himself as a "man of facts" and collaborates with the Nazis.

While there are some interesting themes, characterizations and scenes like the church scene in the film's first half, the first half as a whole is somewhat plodding. The film's second half is stronger as the Nazis tighten their grip on the village and the villagers mount their opposition. There is a touching sequence in this part of the film where Morris Carnovsky, as an older villager, confronts the Nazi commander on principle and is treated maliciously. In all parts of the film the blaring and marshal score helps to develop the tension the Nazis create. The film's expected final conflict was well-shot and an exciting way to end the film. "Edge of Darkness" is a decent war-time film about opposition to Nazi repression.

Rear Window
Rear Window(1954)

Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" starts with a shot of its setting, a small apartment square compromised of bright Technicolor yet ageing brick buildings. It seems as though it could be the setting for an adaptation of a Broadway musical, but as this is a Hitchcock film it's not too surprising that no one starts singing and that darker designs lie beneath the benign surface. The people that live in the confined apartment setting have a captive audience, L. B. Jefferies, who is confined to his room in a wheelchair with a cast on his leg. Jeff occupies his time by scrutinizing the lives of those around him by peering through their windows. Eventually he sees what he deems to be suspicious conduct from one of his neighbors and conjectures that something sinister is afoot.

James Stewart lends his usual charm to the role of Jefferies, but is appropriately also somewhat unnerving as well. We are frequently left with a sense that he crosses moral boundaries, yet we can't help being equally fascinated with what he observes. Grace Kelly is dazzling in her role as Liza and creates an admirably persistent character. Wendell Corey is well-cast as a cynical detective and Thelma Ritter also as the vocal Stella. Raymond Burr manages to make an impression despite performing largely at a distance from the principal characters.

The mystery story developed draws in viewers as the main characters are drawn in, which is the film's main appeal. Various subplots are developed and are interesting without detracting from the film's overall story. The film also develops suitable tension, in particular near the ending. Impressively, "Rear Window" manages to be consistently engaging though confined to a small setting.

The Crying Game

The challenge facing any reviewer of "The Crying Game" is to review it without revealing too much information about the film's ever-changing story. The best way to see this film is with as little information as possible going in. With that in mind, the film's story begins with an I.R.A. kidnapping of a British soldier and eventually focuses on one of the I.R.A. volunteer's journey to London to follow-up on a lead given to him.

Stephen Rea gives a skilled performance as Fergus, the I.R.A. volunteer of principal interest. He manages to elicit sympathy and effectively convey the awkwardness of his position at all times. Forest Whitaker is likewise excellent as Jody, the British soldier who manages to remain touchingly high-spirited while suffering captivity. Miranda Richardson is memorable as the sassy and dangerous Jude. Jaye Davidson handles the demanding role of Dil very well.

This film has a great story which is full of new developments and surprises that keep it interesting. There is one major plot twist in the story in particular which has become famous. Unfortunately I was able to deduce this twist based on information read prior to seeing the film, but it still proved very interesting and ultimately I wasn't hindered from enjoying the film. There are a number of discomforting moments in the story and an impressive amount of tension, which is built with the aid of the film's excellent score. "The Crying Game" remains engaging from start to finish due to superb performances and a well-developed story.

The Petrified Forest

"The Petrified Forest" is set in a diner in the Arizona desert, and focuses on the characters there prior to and during the take-over of the diner by a notorious killer and his gang. The film is based on a play, and it is not surprising given that all but one scene is set at the diner.

Bette Davis gives a fine performance as an idealist young waitress that is enchanted by a vagabond that happens upon the diner, Alan Squier. My favorite performance of the film was from Leslie Howard as Alan Squier, the directionless, weary and philosophizing intellectual. All of the dialogue in this film was well-written, but Squier's lines are particularly eloquent and his references to books and historical figures are interesting. Humphrey Bogart is also great in his breakthrough role as Duke Mantee, the notorious killer. Mantee is gruff, controlling and at times sarcastic, but he has a slow, piercing voice and a methodical manner. The supporting performances are also of note too, particularly that of the excited grandfather often ready with invented tales.

The film's premise is simple, so this film relies on its characterizations and dialogue to retain viewer interest. Both are equal to the task, the dialogue remains engaging as the characters share their innermost thoughts and the film considers American society of the time, and especially love and self-sacrifice.

Vertigo
Vertigo(1958)
½

Perhaps the best word to describe Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" is "bizarre". The film even gives this impression with the twisting imagery and hypnotic music of its title sequence. Next, John Ferguson is introduced as a detective that retires due to his inexorable fear of heights. An old friend of John's contacts him and asks him to investigate his wife's strange behavior, which he explains is a result of supernatural forces. John is skeptical and reluctant, but quickly takes the case and begins to observe a bizarre chain of events.

James Stewart plays the role John Ferguson and is effective at portraying the transition from impartial investigator to an increasingly involved and even unnerving one. Kim Novak is also excellent as the enigmatic and sporadic Madeleine Elster. Barbara Bel Geddes is also memorable as Midge, particularly in the "painting" scene.

Most of the story doesn't rely on direct plot twists, but rather a methodical investigation of the mystery presented near the film's beginning and the interesting and peculiar behavior of the subject under investigation. The film is well-made such that it doesn't tip its hand early as to the solution to the mystery, but when the film's major twist does come it is brilliant. This methodical approach is effective, although personally I preferred other Hitchcock films that featured more twists over this one. The film's bizarre quality is developed with the help of eerie music and unorthodox effects sequences, including an interesting effect to represent John's fear of heights.

The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet)

"The Seventh Seal" is Ingmar Bergman's film depicting Sweden during the 14th century in the time of the bubonic plague. The film starts with Antonius Block, a knight and his squire returning from the Crusades to Sweden. Antonius is pursued by Death in corporeal form, and challenges him to a high stakes game of chess. From there the film explores the lives of a number of characters within Sweden with the chess game as a recurring element in the film.

My favorite of the characters was Antonius Block, the pensive knight in a crisis of faith played skillfully by Max von Sydow. Also particularly memorable were Gunnar Björnstrand as the snappy and cynical squire and Bengt Ekerot as Death himself. All of the performances in this film were first-rate.

This film is very effective as a snapshot of the Middle Ages and includes a mix of humorous and somber scenes to chronicle the age. This film covers a range of topics pertinent to the Middle Ages including the effects of the bubonic plague and Crusades, crises of faith, self-punishment as atonement, love, stage performance, the arbitrary punishment of a "witch" and naturally, death. One of the film's notable scenes was when a soothsayer from the church bombards a public audience with a message of doom. All of these themes are considered with striking characterizations and sharp dialogue.

The idea of having a lingering Death figure to represent the uncertainty of the time was an excellent one. The dialogues between Block and Death proved among the most interesting moments of the film, even though they only represent a fraction of the film. My only regret of this film is that Bergman didn't include more interplay between Block and Death, but overall "The Seventh Seal" is very engaging and interesting.

To Sir, With Love
½

James Clavell's "To Sir, with Love" has a premise that has become somewhat of a cliché. That is, of an innovative instructor reforming an initially difficult batch of students, but "To Sir, with Love" rises far above being an average iteration of the premise. The setting is London's East End, and the teacher Mark Thackeray, played by Sidney Poitier.

Sidney Poitier is perfect as Mark Thackeray, who tries to be even-handed and cool-headed despite the conditions, but sometimes loses his temper. Poitier plays the role authoritatively, but also tempers his authority with genuine concern and at times even a touch of shyness. The students and the fellow instructors are also well-cast. In particular I enjoyed Geoffrey Bayldon's performance as the seemingly perpetually cynical Mr. Weston.

This film succeeds in its primary goal to be an inspiring story and the obstacles "Sir" faces ensure that this film doesn't become boring. This film is firmly planted in the time in it was made, the 1960s. This dates it in some respects, but the time and setting are overall highly appropriate for the film and interesting to consider. The film's exploration of the friction between teachers and students and racism remain particularly pertinent. Additional and effective tension is added to the film when one of the students takes a "fancy" to Mr. Thackeray. The film also showcases a decent original song from a young "Lulu", who is one of the students, based on the film's title and repeats the song several times for maximum impact.

Fanny & Alexander

I should note that this review is strictly for the 188 minute version, as I have not seen the 312 minute version. With that in mind, "Fanny and Alexander" is Ingmar Bergman's acclaimed chronicle of a well-to-do Swedish family in the early 1900s, seen often from the perspective of two children, Fanny and Alexander.

The early 1900s are brought to life with opulent, colorful sets and scenes and appropriate costumes. Stylistically this film blended two major streams. Firstly, it followed a style reminiscent of realist Ibsen-like play where we are presented with an attractive surface situation only to slowly learn of the deep problems and complex relationships of the characters beneath the surface. However, there is also a strong supernatural element to the story. From this angle, it was interesting how Bergman wove "Hamlet" into the film both with direct references to the play and with the motif of a recurring ghost.

A chief adjective used to describe this film is "accessible". I agree with this description in the sense that the film touches profoundly on themes including death, sex, hardship, child punishment, imagination, infidelity, the role of women in marriages and ghosts for a lengthy duration without becoming boring or overwhelming.

The first third of the story focuses on developing the adults and their relationships surrounding Fanny and Alexander. At first the film takes its time exploring the film's setting and then becomes increasingly engrossing as it focuses on characterizations and the film's interminably clever dialogue. The last two thirds of the film focus on the title characters, Fanny and Alexander and their touching story. All of the characters are well-developed and the performances are superb all-around from Fanny and Alexander to the adult roles. "Fanny and Alexander" is a meticulously constructed and engaging story of a Swedish family in the early 1900s.

A Man for All Seasons

"A Man for All Seasons" is Fred Zinnemann's film about Sir Thomas More. Specifically, how More is unable to back King Henry VIII's break with the Pope aimed at securing a divorce and the attempts to obtain a definitive statement from More as to his reasons for not backing the king. With vivid color, sweeping scenes, well-constructed sets, elegant costumes and a score that befits the era, this film is certainly an excellent example of a period film.

Paul Scofield is perfect as Sir Thomas; a thoughtful man of conviction who, as a former lawyer, can rationalize his way out of verbal traps with pristine dialogue. Robert Shaw was an apt choice to play the bombastic King Henry VIII, and makes a strong impression despite having a relatively brief role. Orson Welles likewise makes a strong impression with an even briefer role as Cardinal Woolsey. Leo McKern also deserves note as the conniving Thomas Cromwell and John Hurt is excellent in an earlier role as the brash Richard Rich.

The story is deliberately paced, but never boring. The characterization of Sir Thomas is well-developed and the film's dialogue is clever from all quarters. More's determination and the malicious methods of his opponents to break it make for a touching story.

Queen Christina

"Queen Christina" is loosely based on the life of Queen Christina of Sweden, daughter of the famous monarch Gustavus Adolphus. The story focuses on her trials as a monarch and her eventual romance.

Greta Garbo gives the principal performance of interest as Queen Christina herself. Garbo gives another great performance and is authoritative yet charming in the role. Christina is periodically reminded of her father's greatness and has to contend with his legacy. She shows a love for her people despite feeling constrained as a monarch, but her greatest love is for Antonio of Spain, played convincingly by John Gilbert. The supporting cast is also memorable, particularly Ian Keith and C. Aubrey Smith.

The story developed is a fine one, and the film is filled with memorable scenes. The chemistry between Garbo and Gilbert is never lacking. Christina's final speech is sincere and touching and the film's end proves to be sad but effective.

Ninotchka
Ninotchka(1939)

"Ninotchka" starts with three Russian men in Paris that have been sent to sell jewels confiscated in the Russian Revolution on behalf of the Soviet Union. They quickly fail in their duties because they become enamored with Paris life and encounter difficulties due to original owner of the jewels.

The Soviet response is to send Nina Ivanovna Yakushova or "Ninotchka" to rescue the bungled mission. Ninotchka is, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern Soviet envoy. She is an ardent communist and constrains herself to her duties. That is, until she herself becomes slowly enamored with Paris life and the Count Leon d'Algout.

From the moment she appears, this film belongs to Greta Garbo as Ninotchka. She is dazzling and has perfect comic delivery both in her stern and rigid and romantic stages. However, Melvyn Douglas is also notable as the Count Leon d'Algout, and the chemistry developed between the two is perfect. The supporting performances are also memorable, particularly from the three Russian men that are initially in the film's spotlight.

The humor in this film is consistently excellent and has two dimensions to it. First, it is funny as a romantic comedy. However, secondly it is also funny as a critique of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, a prime example being when Ninotchka comments that there will be "fewer but better Russians" after "mass trials". Lastly, one other part that deserves note is an amusing effect in the film to show a change in a picture of Lenin. I was drawn into "Ninotchka" from start to finish, particularly due to Greta Garbo's performance.

Escape from New York

John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" begins with a statement that in 1988 crime in the United States increased 400 percent. It is never explained why crime increased so drastically, but the importance of the statement is only to establish that Manhattan Island has been converted to a maximum security prison.

The film's story takes place in a hypothetical 1997 and concerns the efforts of one Snake Plissken, a former war hero and convicted bank robber coerced into rescuing the President of the United States after Airforce One crashes on Manhattan Island. Not surprisingly, conditions within the prison are harsh and the film excellently creates a dingy, run-down setting with decaying buildings, dark lighting and even some rats. The score is unmistakably a product of the 1980s and is mostly effective but sometimes over-the-top. The theme from the start and end credits is strangely catchy. The costumes are also memorable, with the outlandish costumes of the prisoners contrasting nicely with the imposing costumes of the police force guarding the prison.

This film strongly benefits from its cast. Kurt Russell leads the cast as Snake Plissken, the anti-social, anti-establishment, semi-celebrity anti-hero that is made memorable despite speaking in short lines in low tones. Lee Van Cleef, known as a villain from Westerns, is a perfect choice to play the police commissioner that oversees Snake's efforts. Ernest Borgnine is likewise memorable as the affable, energetic cab driver that allies with Snake. Donald Pleasence is well-cast as the President of the United States and Isaac Hayes is too as the self-styled "Duke of New York".

The film's story remains interesting with the different turns Snake has to take to seek the President. This is in part because the script is focused and doesn't meander. Carpenter does indulge in one very horror-like scene, but it does not detract from the film's dystopian storyline.

Voltaire
Voltaire(1933)

"Voltaire" is set in Paris in 1762, as an aged Voltaire rallies the people and warns King Louis XV that the excesses of the French nobility will lead to revolution. This story provides another historical fiction vehicle for Arliss to serve as a great interpreter of historical figures.

George Arliss once again shows his talents in the lead role as Voltaire. He develops the character well through his careful mannerisms, dialogue and appearance. I enjoyed the supporting performances as well, especially Reginald Owen as the leisurely but proud King Louis XV.

The story is a decent one, and it is interesting to see the ways Voltaire manipulates his surroundings to his benefit. There is also a lot of well-placed humor in the film and great irony, particularly when Louis XV decries the traits which he possesses. Overall this film is worth seeing, in particular for another notable performance from George Arliss.

The Lady Vanishes

"The Lady Vanishes" starts by introducing an eccentric group of characters and is at this point very benign though charming. Given that this is a Hitchcock film and the film's title, it is apparent, though, that sooner or later a lady will vanish in a mysterious circumstance.

It is upon Iris Henderson and Gilbert Redman and to solve the mystery, and Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave are superb at portraying an initially frosty relationship that improves as the mystery develops. An excellent cast of suspicious characters is developed, and most of them deny that there is a mystery.

This film incorporates a lot humor, but the humor is never out of place and does not detract from the development of the mystery. Even the dry humor, particularly in the two Englishmen that are unfazed by any developments and constantly concerned with attending a cricket match, benefited the film. The mystery itself is intriguing and remains so with its various twists. There are a limited amount of action scenes, but the film's principal focus is its mystery, which is to its advantage.

A Passage to India

"A Passage to India" is David Lean's final film which chronicles the journey of Adela Quested to India during the time of British colonial rule. David Lean is best known for "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957) and "Doctor Zhivago" (1965). Given that Lean directed this film, it is not surprising that this film features sweeping scenes and an apt score that highlights the tense moments in the film.

All of the lead performers in this film are effective. Judy Davis gives an interesting performance as Adela Quested, who starts out wanting to see the "real India" but becomes increasingly enigmatic. Victor Banerjee is notable as the energetic yet at times awkwardly crass Dr. Aziz. Peggy Ashcroft delivers a fine performance as the genial but stubborn Mrs. Moore. Nigel Havers was effective at playing a snobbish man that had a personal disdain for Indian culture yet treasured the impartiality of English courts. My favorite performance was from James Fox as Henry Fielding, a man that remains level-headed throughout the film and follows his convictions despite social pressures.

The supporting performances were also notable. Michael Culver, Richard Wilson, Antonia Pemberton, Clive Swift and Anne Firbank represent the stuffy British authority well. Saeed Jaffrey and Roshan Seth were memorable as the animated Indian advocates in court. Alec Guinness has a semi-interesting but ultimately minor role as Professor Godbole.

This film starts with a deliberately paced but interesting development of the characters. It is interesting seeing Ms. Quested and Mrs. Moore attempt to interact with Indians despite the disdain for Indian culture harbored by the majority of the British characters. Just as this film started to seem overlong, the climax led to the stronger second half of the film which features a legal battle. The film was effective at showing a state of confusion after the climax and then tensions due to the extreme biases against Indians by the British. Ultimately this film is not as impressive as some of David Lean's other efforts and "Gandhi" (1982) remains a more engaging examination of the British Raj, but none the less, this is an interesting film.

The War of the Worlds

I decided to watch this version of "The War of the Worlds" after being unimpressed by Steven Spielberg's recent remake. It follows the same basic storyline of Martians attacking the Earth, but is amazingly even more boring than the recent remake.

This film does have two commendable points, the sharp narration of Cedric Hardwicke and the special effects, which are impressive for their time. Unfortunately special effects aren't a great benefit because the film has little story beyond the fact that aliens attack the Earth and no tension, which even the Spielberg remake had at points. The acting in this film is fine, but the characters are superficial and don't help make this film interesting. However, I did learn a valuable lesson from one of the lead characters: scientists tend to have handy Geiger counters ready in their car.

The scene where the preacher walked into the field was decent, but for the most part this film is consistently boring. The religious overtones near the end of the film are laughably over-the-top as the people of America seek to survive the Martians by clustering in churches and praying. This film does have one key advantage over the more recent version: it is only 85 minutes, so it comes to its abrupt ending much sooner. However, this film resulted in George Pal having free reign to adapt other H.G. Wells novels to film. Luckily this led to the production of "The Time Machine" (1960), which is an infinitely more interesting adaptation than this film.

A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari)

"A Fistful of Dollars" is the first of Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy of westerns. This film introduced the elements that would be used successfully throughout the trilogy: the sweeping scenes, well-constructed Western sets and costumes and a perfect score from Ennio Morricone.

This film introduces Clint Eastwood in a role well-suited to him as the "Man with No Name", an enigmatic, stoic and perpetually smoking gunslinger. Eastwood's performance is the principal performance of the film, but the supporting performances are commendable too, particularly Gian Maria Volontè as the dastardly Ramón. All of the villains in this film are well-presented and made loathsome. Even supporting characters such as the barkeep or coffin-maker are memorable.

The story starts with the "Man with No Name" riding into the Mexican town of San Miguel, which is in turmoil due to two rival families. This film capitalizes on the ambiguity of the intentions of the mysterious stranger and I liked how he was ultimately made a "chessmaster" figure that manipulates the situation. Interestingly, there is also a mysterious woman kept ambiguous for a lot of the film. An engaging story is developed with enough turns to keep it interesting for its relatively short duration. The gunfights in the film are also well-developed and tense, and the final conflict with an interesting twist is unforgettable.

Love and Death

"Love and Death" is Woody Allen's film that parodies epic Russian novels set in the time of the Tsars. Specifically, this film is set prior to and during Napoleon's invasion of Russia. The sweeping cinematography and score are well-done and consistent with the epics that this film seeks to parody.

Woody Allen is clever as usual as Boris Grushenko, a man not at all swept up in the fervor of defending Russia and quite ready to not fight at all. Diane Keaton is again the perfect complement for Allen as Sonja, a woman of infinite amusing facial expressions that Boris wishes to marry.

The film has a lot of clever dialogue and amusing send-ups of the long-winded narrative style of epic Russian novels. The humor of this film touches on such topics as pacifism, warfare and mock highbrow philosophical debates. Battle scenes in the film are shot with the finesse of more serious war films of the 1970s, but are cast in a comical fashion. There is also Allen's final monologue, which is utterly hilarious, particularly his comment about God. "Love and Death" isn't as funny as some of Woody Allen's other efforts, but it is worth seeing are highly amusing none the less.

Barry Lyndon
Barry Lyndon(1975)

"Barry Lyndon" is Stanley Kubrick's film about a fictitious Irishman, Redmond Barry, who lived during the reign of King George III. This film manages to impeccably capture a sense of period with wide shots of lavish and colorful sets, scenes and greenery as well as impressive works of art and architecture. The film also includes an effective combination of classical pieces and marching music that comprise the score.

This film's story is developed with a slow-pace intended to make the film more thoughtful than entertaining. This is reinforced by the inclusion of a narrative and the division of the story into two parts. Sometimes narratives are unnecessary for a film or even a hindrance, but in this case the thoughtful and clever prose was beneficial to the film. The first part of the story chronicles some scenes from Barry's early life and his military career. The military displays and battle scenes proved captivating even though the battles were brief and highlighted the inept tactics used in the Seven Years' War.

The second part shows the troubled married life of Redmond and his interactions with the English nobility. Personally I found the first part to be the more interesting of the two, but ultimately both parts told an interesting story. Both parts show duels, whether with pistols or swords, that are engaging without being embellished.

Ryan O'Neal leads the cast as Redmond Barry. O'Neal's acting regimen largely consists of speaking in low tones, casting lingering gazes and occasional bursts of emotion. None the less, he creates an interesting character that is despicable in many ways but sympathetic in others. The film also has excellent supporting performances. Marisa Berenson gives a fine performance as Barry's careworn wife, Lady Lyndon. Leon Vitali is also excellent as Lord Bullingdon, a bitter son from Lady Lyndon's prior marriage. The animosity between Barry and Bullingdon is well-developed and striking. Frank Middlemass was effective at showing palpable and perceptive disdain for Barry as Sir Charles Lyndon. I also enjoyed Leonard Rossiter's performance as the proud man of airs, Captain John Quin. Overall "Barry Lyndon" is interesting as a slowly paced but well-developed period film.

The Wind and the Lion

"The Wind and the Lion" takes place in Morocco in 1904, where a group of Berbers kidnaps an American woman and her children, starting a diplomatic incident. The story draws some facts from the Perdicaris incident of 1904, but is mostly a highly embellished adventure story. The film features sweeping scenes and sets and a memorable score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Sean Connery has a memorable role as the Raisuli, the leader of the group of brigand Berbers that takes Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) hostage. The Raisuli is a thoughtful man with a vicious streak towards those that oppose his agenda. Bergen is appropriately fiery and stubborn as Eden Pedecaris. The interplay between hostage and captor forms part of the story. This part of the story suffers some slow points, but proves interesting overall. It is interesting how there is naturally friction between the two, but that they are also able to have thoughtful conversations and even chess matches.

The other aspect of the story examines President Theodore Roosevelt's hypothetical response to the situation. Brian Keith has the most memorable performance of the film as the energetic, popular and iron-willed leader. Roosevelt insists that a grizzly bear best represents America's image rather than a "dandified" eagle.

The political responses in the story prove interesting. The film is effective at giving a sense of the international forces at work in Morocco in 1904. There is a sense of European encroachment and the imminence of World War I. On the other hand, the film also gives a sense of the growing power of America and its "big stick". How American officials decide to act in Morocco and their rationalization for doing so is both audacious and humorous at the same time. All of the various forces in the film blow up in one, impressive final conflict that satisfactorily ends the film.

The Great Train Robbery

"The Great Train Robbery" is based on a novel by Michael Crichton. It features the efforts of a band of three to rob gold kept in elaborate safes on a train leaving England to support the Crimean War. The film's costumes, elaborate sets and a score from Jerry Goldsmith are impeccable at creating a sense of Victorian England.

Sean Connery is charming as Edward Pierce, who leads the robbers. Donald Sutherland has a memorable role as Robert Agar, a top-rate thief and accomplice to Pierce. Lesley-Anne Down plays Miriam, Pierce's enchanting female companion who has no scruples about using her womanly charms.

The film follows the elaborate and interesting lengths that the gang must go to before they can even board the train. The elements of a great caper film are there: split-second decisions, tension and improvisations when plans go awry. The film also benefits from a lot of well-placed humor. "The Great Train Robbery" proves to remain interesting throughout the build up to and during the robbery.

The Prince and the Pauper
½

"The Prince and the Pauper" is based on Mark Twain's novel of the same name. The story is a hypothetical situation where Edward VI exchanges places with a beggar that resembles him as he is about to become King of England.

The Mauch twins, Bobby and Billy, skillfully play the roles of Edward VI and the beggar Tom Canty. Errol Flynn is well-cast as the dashing hero Miles Hendon, who comes to protect Edward when he's taken for a beggar. Claude Rains was a perfect choice to play his oft-reprised role of a conniving man grasping for power which he plays so well. Also notable are Alan Hale as the captain of the guard, Barton MacLane as Tom Canty's despicable father and Montagu Love as the counseling Henry VIII.

The story is not meant as history, but rather an examination of social disparities. Twain's social commentary is, as usual, mixed with his clever humor. The story moves along well with this mix as well as the machinations at court. The only part that seemed somewhat drawn out was the coronation ceremony.

The Silence of the Lambs

"The Silence of the Lambs" follows young FBI agent Clarice Starling as she attempts to track a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill". During her investigation, she solicits assistance from a psychotic yet intelligent cannibal named Hannibal Lecter.

Jodie Foster provides a strong performance as the neophyte agent Clarice Starling, who is eager to prove herself yet haunted by her past. Anothony Hopkins gives a nuanced, refined and haunting performance as the unforgettable cannibal Hannibal Lecter. Anthony Heald proves the perfect person to play an imperious minor official as Dr. Frederick Chilton. Scott Glenn is also notable as Starling's superior in the FBI.

The crime story developed is excellent and remains interesting through its various turns as it chronicles the investigative process of agent Starling. One of the keys to this film's success is the well-written dialogue between Starling and Lecter, which is like a game of chess because of Leceter's manipulative tactics. The film is also effective as a thriller, as it builds up a lot of tension throughout its duration.

The Man in the Iron Mask
½

"The Man in the Iron Mask" is adapted from the volume by Alexander Dumas. The premise of the film is that King Louis XIV of France had an identical twin brother, who eventually becomes "the man in the iron mask". Also involved in the story are D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers carried over from Dumas' novel "The Three Musketeers".

Louis Hayward is equally excellent as the ineffectual King Louis XIV and his twin, the kindhearted Philippe. Joan Bennett is charming as Maria Theresa, slated to be Queen of France. Joseph Schildkraut is notable as the Machiavellian adviser Fouquet and Walter Kingsford also gives a commendable performance as rival adviser Colbert. Warren William gives the best performance of the Musketeers as the noble D'Artagnan, but the other Musketeers are well-portrayed.

This film features superb sets, scenes, costumes and a score to match. Some of the special effects work is noticeably dated, but is overall fine. The story is interesting and well-paced and doesn't suffer the slow patches that some other adventure films of the era do. It should be noted that this film features some action scenes, but viewers looking for a number of swordfights would probably do better with another film. The action scenes that were included were certainly well-made. Overall, "The Man in the Iron Mask" proves to be an interesting hypothetical story set in the time of Louis XIV.

Marty
Marty(1955)

"Marty" is the story of a lonely butcher, Marty, who is continually told he needs to get married. He meets an also lonely teacher, Clara, and their relationship develops.

Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair are convincing as two trepid lovers that slowly become excited about their relationship after long thinking that they were destined to be lonely. There are a number of interesting characters and subplots developed around the main relationship.

The relationship between Marty and Clara always seemed genuine and never contrived. The film developed a number of interesting themes like the social pressures to get married, the problems of low self-esteem, the dependence of mothers on their children for social support and the efforts of some people to marginalize what they deem an improper relationship with petty insults. "Marty" proves to be a touching and sincere film about love found when not expected.

All Through the Night

"All Through the Night" is the story of Alfred "Gloves" Donahue, a man with underworld connections who follows the trail of a murder to Nazi spies operating in America. Though made prior to "Casablanca" (1942), this film features Humphrey Bogart, Conrad Veidt and Peter Lorre, who would all have major roles in that film.

Humphrey Bogart leads the cast with an excellent performance as Alfred "Gloves" Donahue, indifferent to World War II until drawn into a world of subterfuge. Conrad Veidt plays a refined yet dangerous Nazi leader in a role similar to the role he would play as Major Strasser in "Casablanca". Kaaren Verne is effective as Leda Hamilton, a woman caught in the tangled plot. Peter Lorre does a fine job lurking in the shadows and trying to thwart Donahue's efforts. Jane Darwell was amusing as Donahue's interfering mother.

The film has an interesting story with enough turns to keep it engaging. There was a lot of humor injected into the story and the dialogue was good for the most part. Some of the humor was off-beat, particularly that of Frank McHugh's character, Barney, whose muddled relationship with his wife and other concerns distracted from the more interesting main story. However, there were a lot of amusing moments as well, particularly when Donahue fakes a report to the Nazi underground. This film is clearly a propaganda piece, which is fine for the most part, but at times the propaganda is too blunt. Overall, though, "All Through the Night" is a satisfactory World War II film featuring performances from famous actors that would soon appear in "Casablanca".

They Drive by Night

"They Drive by Night" can be divided into two phases. Firstly, it documents the rough life in the trucking business. Later it focuses on the relationship between Lana Carlsen, her husband Ed Carlsen and her attempts to seduce trucker Joe Fabrini.

George Raft effectively plays Joe Fabrini, an honest truck driver determined to improve his station. His brother and partner in trucking, Paul Fabrini, a man bogged down with problems, is played by Humphrey Bogart with his usual skill. Ed Carlsen is amusing as the genial and joking working-class trucker that now runs his own trucking company. Ida Lupino creates an interesting character in Lana Carlsen, the snobbish woman trying to refine her husband and seduce Joe Fabrini. Ann Sheridan gives a clever performance as Joe Fabrini's love interest, Cassie Hartley.

I was skeptical whether or not a story about the trucking business would prove interesting. The tough life of the truckers dominated by a racket proved compelling. Problems like not being able to see their wife and kids, potentially dying by falling asleep at the wheel due to long hours and a lingering loan shark are made interesting and tense. The second part of the story, which focused on Lana Carlsen's disdain for her husband and her attempts to seduce Joe Fabrini proved no less interesting. The film's story takes a number of interesting and surprising turns that keeps it engaging. "They Drive by Night" is a surprisingly absorbing story about the trucking business and the people affected by it.

The Desperate Hours

"The Desperate Hours" first introduces a typical 1950s nuclear family before their home is invaded by three gangsters hiding from the police. From there the film chronicles the tensions in the invaded home and the police search to find the gangsters.

Humphrey Bogart reprises his role as "tough guy" with his usual skill as the leader of the gangsters. Federic March's talents aren't on display as often as the father of the family, but his performance near the end talking to the sheriff and entering the house was excellent. Robert Middleton developed an interesting character in the feebleminded and boorish Sam Kobish and the supporting performances are fine as well.

This film does have some moments of tension and it is effective in developing a sense of paranoia amongst the gangsters near the end. The story on the whole is nothing profound, though, and makes this a less than interesting crime thriller. However, the ending is very well-developed with tension and the final moments with Bogart and March were gripping. Personally I found "The Petrified Forest" (1936) to be a much more interesting iteration of the "hostage situation" style of film with Bogart as a gangster.

Annie Hall
Annie Hall(1977)

"Annie Hall" is Woody Allen's acclaimed comedy about the troubled relationship between Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Intelligent humor and great performances secure the place of "Annie Hall" among the top comedy films of all time.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton play there oft-repeated but never tiresome roles as an insecure couple. Both of them give perfect performances and create one of the best comedy couples on screen. There are also a wide range of memorable supporting performances from such people as Tony Roberts, Christopher Walken, musician Paul Simon and Jeff Goldblum.

The humor of "Annie Hall" touches on such diverse subjects as a troubled childhood, analysts, perceived anti-Semitism, driving habits, sex and 70s American politics, all with intelligently written and consistently funny dialogue. It's impossible for me to remember all of the great moments in "Annie Hall" simply because every moment is amusing and clever. Even though this film takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to relationships, it manages to portray issues that are all too real, making the film not only funny but incisive as well.

Casino Royale

"Casino Royale" represents a fundamental shift in the James Bond series. After the mediocrity of "Die Another Day" (2002) the producers of this film decided that the series needed an overhaul. I've enjoyed other Bond films, and I liked Pierce Brosnan's portrayal of Bond, but after "Die Another Day" I welcome the changes to the series.

Daniel Craig is the new James Bond. He still injects some of the conventional Bond humor into the role, but overall plays him with a harder edge. Craig gives a solid performance and successfully reinvents the character. The film tends to linger a little too long on Craig's shirtless body at points, but that's a minor complaint. Eva Green plays Bond's female companion Vesper Lynd. She creates an interesting, sassy and intelligent character. I only wish she would take off some of that eye makeup. Admittedly I was always ambivalent about Judi Dench's semi-antagonistic style as M, but she gets better as the film progresses. Unfortunately Mads Mikkelsen is not compelling as Bond's rival Le Chiffre. His acting is fine, but the character never amounts to more than a generic villain.

At first I was disconcerted by the fact that this film blatantly contradicts the timeline established by other Bond films, but I accepted that this film has a new timeline for a new Bond. Many of the conventions of Bond films are missing: there is no Moneypenny, no special gadgets and no cars with missiles. While these elements were effective in Bond films of the past, I didn't miss them here.

There are still plenty of action sequences, and they were well-done even if the first one is overlong. The film's poker scenes were staged with enough tension that they didn't become boring. A welcome change in this film is that the plot is more rigorous. The series' answer to the tedious story of "Die Another Day" is more ambiguity and plot twists than the usual Bond fare. There have been more interesting Bond stories, but it's a good answer none the less, and I look forward to seeing future installments in this new Bond timeline.

The Great Dictator

"The Great Dictator" is Charlie Chaplin's film set in the fictional country of Tomania, which is analogous to Germany prior to and during the rise of the Nazi party. Chaplin successfully blended humor with anti-fascist social commentary to produce a great film.

Chaplin himself has a double role in the film. First, he is Adenoid Hynkel, who represents Adolf Hitler. Chaplin manages to make his representation of the nefarious dictator highly amusing. He also plays another role as a Jewish barber subjected to the repressive policies of Hynkel. The other performances in the film were excellent as well, and Jack Oakie deserves particular note as the showy and blunt Benzini Napaloni, representing Benito Mussolini.

The film starts by showing Tomania in World War I, and there are some amusing scenes here before the end of the war and the rise of Hynkel. Hynkel is shown in a scene that mocks the platform speeches of Hitler. Admittedly I didn't find the speech shouted in mock German particularly amusing, although it was amusing how the Goebbels and Goering equivalents were named "Garbitsch" and "Herring".

After the platform speech, this film gains a lot of momentum. There is a variety of humor, including funny physical comedy scenes like the "globe" scene and the portrayal of Hynkel's routine. There was a lot of great comedic dialogue too, some of which is darkly humorous given the full historical context. When this film isn't funny, it remains interesting with its anti-fascist message through depictions of repressions of Jewish people by Storm Troopers. The film's score is appropriate in both the comedic and political scenes. Chaplin's final plea against fascism at the film's end remains deeply moving and has lost none of its potency. The Great Dictator" remains strong as a comedy film and a political message.

The Red Badge of Courage

"The Red Badge of Courage" is John Huston's film based on Stephen Crane's novel. It follows the story of Henry Fleming, a soldier in the Union army during the American Civil War. The film features impressive scenes and sweeping shots along with an excellent score that is somber or tense as needed.

This film's characterizations are its main strength. The film carefully and convincingly portrays the fear, courage and camaraderie of men at war. Audie Murphy is perfect as Henry Fleming, a soldier who tries to show a brave face before his first battle, but privately harbors doubts about his courage. Henry's fellow soldiers are all well-developed, distinct and interesting characters as well. Andy Devine's cameo as a genial soldier was memorable and he had a number of clever lines. Tim Durant also memorably played the energetic general overseeing the soldiers.

The film is short at 69 minutes and has enough story content to keep it interesting. The battle scenes in the film are well-shot, although not among the best in Civil War films. However, the final battle scene makes a strong impression. "The Red Badge of Courage" is a short but notable Civil War film that depicts the trials soldiers face in war.

Murder by Death

"Murder by Death" is a parody of murder mysteries written by Neil Simon. Lionel Twain, a strange millionaire, invites five characters based on famous detectives to his home for dinner and a murder mystery.

This film has a prestigious cast that delivers great performances. Truman Capote is amusing the mysterious and eccentric host at the mansion. Peter Sellers delivers a number of hilarious one-liners as Inspector Wang with a clichéd Chinese manner of speaking that mocks detective Charlie Chan. James Coco plays Milo Perrier, a comical send-up of Agatha Christie's famous overweight detective Hercule Poirot. David Niven and Maggie Smith are amusing as the socialite Charlestons, based on the Charles couple from "The Thin Man" (1934). Peter Falk effectively covers the hardboiled detective angle as Sam Diamond, a reference to detective Sam Spade. Alec Guinness also has an entertaining role as a blind butler and the rest of the performances are solid as well.

The story effectively parodies the Agatha Christie mold of murder mysteries set in mansions. There are a number of eccentric turns that support the film's performances and keep the story amusing. Ultimately the mystery itself proves interesting even though its primary function is to facilitate the cast's enjoyable performances. "Murder by Death" is an excellent comedy for those that want to see the mystery genre portrayed in a humorous light.

The Cheap Detective

"The Cheap Detective" is a hardboiled detective comedy film written by Neil Simon. Specifically, it borrows a lot of its plot from "Casablanca" (1942) and "The Maltese Falcon" (1941). There are a few references to "Chinatown" (1974) as well and most importantly a lot of humor injected in.

Peter Falk effectively plays Lou Peckinpaugh as a humorous send-up of Sam Spade and Rick Blaine. I enjoyed the other performances as well, particularly Nicol Williamson as a character parodying Major Strasser from "Casablanca" and John Houseman playing a character very similar to Kasper Gutman from "The Maltese Falcon". The only character that could have been better was Pepe Damascus, in a Peter Lorre type role, played by Dom DeLuise.

This film is funny in several respects. The dialogue is amusing and often emulates and parodies the snappy dialogue of "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon". Since the plot is cobbled together largely from those movies, there are a number of scenes like a humorous modification of the "La Marseillaise" scene from "Casablanca". Simon added a number of amusing complexities, sometimes nonsensical, into the script as a parody of the complexities in "The Maltese Falcon". Overall this film was consistently funny from start to finish. I recommend "The Cheap Detective" as a satire for people that enjoyed "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon".

Jurassic Park

"Jurassic Park" is Steven Spielberg's immensely popular movie about a theme park with live dinosaurs made possible by replicating preserved dinosaur DNA. Through a calamity the dinosaurs escape their fenced confinements and run amok in the park. The park was created with impressive sets and scenes. John Williams' score is of the highest quality and greatly adds to the majesty and intensity of the film.

On paper it sounds as though "Jurassic Park" could be just another "monsters attack" movie, but there are several factors that make this film far better than just another monster movie. There is some character development and importantly each part is perfectly cast, which means that each character makes a distinct impression and has memorable lines. Richard Attenborough is the perfect man to play the genial park owner John Hammond. The way Hammond mused about his dream of creating Jurassic Park even when the park was in shambles was great. Sam Neill and Laura Dern were apt choices to play the respectable paleontologists Drs. Grant and Sattler. Jeff Goldblum creates a memorable character in the eccentric Dr. Malcolm. I enjoyed seeing all of the characters in this film.

Of course there are the film's famous dinosaurs, which are amazingly realistic. There is enough variation in the types of dinosaur encounters and the context in which they are encountered such that they don't become boring. The situations with the dinosaurs are created such that tension is created. "Jurassic Park" manages to rise far above being simply another monster movie.

Witness
Witness(1985)

"Witness" is the story of policeman John Book, who becomes involved in a murder case where an Amish boy is the sole witness. The film features striking scenes and a score that I found enjoyable even though it frequently had synthesizers in it.

Harrison Ford is well-suited to the role of John Book, a tough policeman foreign to Amish ways. Kelly McGillis is likewise memorable as Rachel Lapp, the mother of Samuel Lapp, who is well-played by a young Lukas Haas. Danny Glover gives a fine performance as James McFee even though he has few scenes and Josef Sommer was excellent as Paul Schaeffer.

There are three elements to the story of "Witness". The first is the crime story developed after the murder takes place. The crime story itself is nothing particularly novel, but it is well-developed with tension and propelled by an interesting early twist. After the conflict is developed, the film shelves the crime story in order to develop its two other elements. Specifically, the crime story is put on hold when John Book must hide in the Amish community to avoid the murderers.

A love story is developed between Ford and McGillis which is effective and convincing and leads to great moments like the dance scene. The last element of the story is the integration of John Book, a city dweller, into Amish life while he hides. While this leads to some interesting moments like the confrontation in town and also some amusing ones, it also drags the story down at points, especially the "barn-raising" scene. Toward the end the crime story is phased back in with an inevitable showdown. This portion of the film was well-done and the film's ending was satisfactory.

Ultimately, though, the crime story and thriller elements could have been better developed to make the film more interesting. Viewers looking for an out-and-out crime thriller will doubtless find "Witness" boring. This movie isn't a mystery film and has a long stretch with no thrills. However, the film has other elements that help keep the film mostly interesting despite the lack of developments in the crime story.

Brick
Brick(2006)

"Brick" is the story of Brendan Frye, a teenager who investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. The film's format recalls great detective films like "The Big Sleep" (1946), "The Maltese Falcon" (1941) or "Chinatown" (1974), but adapts the genre to be set in a modern teenage (drug) culture.

As with classic detective films, there is a tangled web of characters developed that all have some role in the larger mystery. All of the characters are convincingly portrayed and well-characterized. Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads the cast effectively as Brendan Frye, who is sharp, relentless and hardboiled. All of the other stock characters from classic detective films are there too, including Nora Zehetner as the resident femme fatal and Lukas Haas in a Sydney Greenstreet type role. Also added on top of the typical characters were Matt O'Leary in a sidekick role and Richard Roundtree, who is perfect as a stern vice-principal.

The story also fits the classic detective mold, starting off with a number of ambiguous threads that slowly come together with gradual revelations about the characters. The dialogue is intelligently written, and interestingly we slowly learn the meaning of the slang terms used by the teenagers. The story was aided by interesting cinematography and an appropriate score which incorporates piano, trumpet and violin music. "Brick" successfully mimics and modernizes the best traditions of detective films.

A Doll's House
½

"A Doll's House" is a film based on the play by Henrik Ibsen. The story focuses on the lives of Nora and Torvald Helmer and those around them and challenges the norms of marriage in the Victorian era.

This adaptation features a notable cast. Jane Fonda effectively captured the fluttery yet ultimately strong character of Nora. David Warner was appropriate to play the villain role as he often does. Trevor Howard is excellent as Dr. Rank and likewise Edward Fox and Delphine Seyrig were solid as Krogstad and Kristine.

As an adaptation of a great play, though, this film leaves something to be desired. Many unnecessary scenes were added that were not in the play, which led to problems. In added scenes, information is revealed at the start of the film which is not normally learned until later in the play. Ibsen wrote the play in such a way that the history of the characters is ambiguous and slowly revealed. Providing background information on the characters before the main events of the play dampened the element of surprise that adds a lot of interest to the play.

Another problem was that adding scenes or drawing out sequences lowered the tension compared to Ibsen's play, particularly toward the end. Also unfortunate was the fact that they unnecessarily added a handful of extra locations not seen in the play and modified a lot of the dialogue. The original structure and dialogue of the play is already perfect, so any changes only made this film worse. It would have been nice to see the cast of this film with a script that closely followed Ibsen's original work. Despite these flaws the main ideas of the story were intact and this is a watchable adaptation, but disappointing given its deviations from the original play.

The Prime Minister
½

"The Prime Minister" is loosely based on the life and career of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The film first portrays his earlier life and career and then rapidly transitions to his time as Prime Minister.

The performances in this film were respectable. John Gielgud delivers a fine performance as Disraeli himself. Diana Wynyard is convincing as Disraeli's wife and Fay Compton was also notable as Queen Victoria.

This film is watchable and has a decent storyline. It is apparent that the story emphasizes certain points because this film was made as British propaganda for World War II, but that didn't bother me. Overall the film somewhat touched on the wit and energy of Disraeli, though not as much as it could have. I found "Disraeli" (1929) to be a much more engaging portrayal of Disraeli, and Arliss' performance as Disraeli is more charismatic and makes more of an impression.

John Carpenter's Vampires

"Vampires" is John Carpenter's film about, not surprisingly, vampires. Specifically, it is about a squadron of men led by vampire hunter Jack Crow that attempts to combat vampire infestations.

James Woods gives a decent performance of the cast as Jack Crow, but the script doesn't give him much to work with. Tim Guinee and Maximilian Schell were also decent as Father Adam Guiteau and Cardinal Alba. The supporting cast is decent, but Daniel Baldwin's performance as Anthony Montoya is uninteresting and forgettable.

The worst part of this movie is its story. It is exceedingly generic and devoid of the wit and charm of John Carpenter's better films. There are a lot of action sequences mixed in, but even those are sub-par and tedious. The lack of a decent story makes "Vampires" unrelentingly dull from start to finish.

1984
1984(1984)

"1984" is an adaptation of George Orwell's well-regarded novel of the same name. The film is set in a hypothetical future Britain (called Oceania) where the ultimate totalitarian regime, led by the "Party", is in control. The story follows Winston Smith, who is a lackey within the Party's Ministry of Truth and alters records to support official doctrine. The Party expects no less than perfect loyalty to the mystical leader of Oceania, Big Brother.

The world of Oceania is appropriately dingy, taking its cue from Orwell, who wrote that the world of Oceania had improved technologies for surveillance and communication but regressed otherwise. All of the technical details of Oceania were well-developed from the view screens with faded color to the tubes used to pass messages in the Ministry of Truth. Even music is used effectively to create the atmosphere of Oceania.

This film is perfectly cast. John Hurt was an apt choice to play the downtrodden yet curious and creative Winston Smith. Suzanna Hamilton is refined and sensual as Julia and the relationship between her and Winston is made realistic. Richard Burton is likewise well-cast to portray the two faces of O'Brien, who can be genial or disturbingly and zealously methodical. Another notable performance comes from Gregor Fisher as the overwrought man Parsons.

Having read "1984" before seeing this, I appreciated how closely this film followed the story. The grimness and tension of Orwell's novel is captured vividly in this film. Some people may find this film too bleak, but I appreciated that no compromises were made to make this a more cheerful story. Like Orwell's novel, this film is depressing but always compelling.

The Scarlet Pimpernel
½

"The Scarlet Pimpernel" takes place during the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution. It is the story of Sir Percy Blakeney, an English aristocrat that rescues condemned French aristocrats from the guillotine under the secret identity of "The Scarlet Pimpernel". The film features nice sets, scenes and costumes that fit the period.

Leslie Howard leads the cast as Sir Percy Blakeney. Howard definitely delivers the outstanding performance of the film. He is equally good as playing the two sides of his character, public fop and secret hero. It is quite enjoyable to see Howard in the various disguises of the Pimpernel. Merle Oberon also gives a fine performance as Lady Blakeney and the relationship between her and Sir Percy is well-developed. Raymond Massey is decent, but not outstanding villain as Citizen Chauvelin.

This film develops an interesting story with intrigue and memorable dialogue. However, I found that the film was unevenly paced and somewhat tedious or bogged down in ceremony at times. This version is decent overall, but I preferred the 1982 version in all aspects: the casting (even though Howard is excellent, I prefer Andrews as Sir Percy), the pacing, the development of the rivalry between Percy and Chauvelin and the ending.

Captain Blood

"Captain Blood" follows the story of Peter Blood, an English physician wrongly deemed a traitor to the crown that eventually becomes a pirate captain. This film features well-developed costumes, sets and models of ships and towns and an excellent score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Errol Flynn plays the role of Peter Blood and plays the role of a dashing adventurer of conviction to perfection. Olivia de Havilland is likewise effective as a woman of conflicted feelings that comes to love Blood. Basil Rathbone has a notable appearance as the brazen rapscallion Captain Levasseur. Lionel Atwill gives a fine performance as Blood's chief rival, Colonel Bishop, and the rest of the cast is great too.

This film nicely balances a mix of ship battles and sword duels with an interesting storyline. There were enough developments in the storyline to keep this film consistently well-paced with the right mix of action, drama, humor and romance. "Captain Blood" holds up as a notable adventure and pirate film.

The Sea Hawk
The Sea Hawk(1940)
½

"The Sea Hawk" follows the story of Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, and English privateer during the Elizabethan era. Tensions are developed between Thorpe and the Spanish, who have secret machinations to conquer England. This film features impressive costumes and sets and an excellent score from Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The performances in this film are first-rate. Errol Flynn plays his oft-repeated role of virtuous adventurer with his usual charm. Brenda Marshall is appropriate for the role of Doña Maria, the conflicted woman who would come to love Thorpe. Flora Robson gave a well-refined and commanding performance as Queen Elizabeth I. Veteran actor Claude Rains is up to his usual high standard as the Don de Cordoba.

The sea battles and sword fights in this film are well-crafted and staged. This film took a more action-oriented approach compared to "Captain Blood" (1935). Admittedly I preferred the better developed plot of "Captain Blood" (1935) to that of this film and thought this film would have been more engaging with more story development. However, there were a number of great dramatic moments in this film and I did like the galley sequence and enjoyed Elizabeth's speech at the end of the film.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

"The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" is the third and final installment of Peter Jackson's adaptations of Tolkien's famous fantasy novels. Once again the makers of the film have taken care with the costumes, sets, scenery, models, CGI effects and Howard Shore's epic score to create a convincing depiction of Middle Earth.

Once again the cast delivers expert performances. John Noble joins the cast as Denethor and effectively makes him into a despicable and repugnant character. Three of the performances in the film were particularly memorable for me. Bernard Hill once again brings authority to the role of King Theoden and his inspiring presence on the battlefield left me in awe. Miranda Otto brings strength to the role of Eowyn and makes the character's best moments unforgettable. Ian McKellen once again brought his commanding presence as Gandalf to bear as he tried desperately to hold everything together.

This film follows the familiar format of the first two films in taking Tolkien's work and streamlining it to create a well-paced film. The famous battle at Minas Tirith is on an unprecedented scale and the best fantasy battle ever filmed. As with the first two films, I found the added scenes for the extended addition interesting, but they didn't add much above and beyond the already great theatre cut.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" is the second installment in Peter Jackson's fabled adaptations of Tolkien's novels. Once again the costumes, scenes, sets, models, effects and epic score of Howard Shore work together to create a great atmosphere.

The core cast from the first film is back and once again proves adept. Several new characters appear in this film and are once again well-cast. Bernard Hill is authoritative and inspiring as King Theoden of Rohan. Miranda Otto is notable as Eowyn, though her best moments would come in the third film. Brad Dourif was a perfect choice for the conniving Grima Wormtongue. David Wenham and Karl Urban are effective as the warriors Faramir and Eomer. John Rhys-Davies, in addition to playing Gimli, is memorable for providing the voice for Treebeard.

Like with the first film, this film streamlines Tolkien's work but largely remains faithful to it to create a well-paced film. The conflict at Helm's Deep is spectacular and the second best fantasy battle ever filmed next to the battle in "Return of the King" (2003). My only complaint with this film is the alterations to Faramir's character. The "Two Towers" book made a clear distinction between Faramir and Boromir's personalities, but in this film they are homogenized. However, this is a minor blemish in what is otherwise an outstanding film. As with the last film, I found that the added scenes for the extended edition were interesting but didn't add much above and beyond the theatre cut.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

"The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings" is the first of Peter Jackson's trilogy of films that adapted Tolkien's famous fantasy novels to film. The film features impressive costumes, sets and majestic New Zealand scenes that bring Middle Earth to life. To create the film's setting, the makers of the film used seamless models and CGI effects along with an appropriately epic score from Howard Shore.

The casting in this film is outstanding. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan all are convincing as the carefree Hobbits drawn into a larger world. Ian Holm is memorable as an aged Bilbo Baggins, the main character of the novel "The Hobbit". Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies and Viggo Mortensen are all well-cast as members of the Fellowship. Hugo Weaving has a matter-of-fact manner as Elrond that recalls his success as Agent Smith in "The Matrix" (1999). Christopher Lee proves adept again in a villain role as Saruman. Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler make memorable elves. Andy Serkis is appropriate and believable as Gollum. My favorite of the great performances, though, is Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf. He brings the right mix of geniality, authority and humor to the role and looks the part with the help of his cloak, beard and staff.

The film follows a streamlined version of Tolkien's narrative and remains faithful to the original work. The result is an epic and exciting adaptation of one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time that remains well-paced despite its length. The extended edition of this film has some interesting scenes, but personally I didn't find that it added a lot above and beyond the theatre cut.

Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3(2007)
½

"Spider-Man 3" is the latest installment of the "Spider-Man" superhero series. For me, this film represents the worst of the trilogy.

The main problem in this film is its script. It has many threads, but never develops any of them strongly, so that the film becomes muddled and tedious. Rather than focusing on a jumbled array of side plots and three villains, this film should have focused on developing some side plots and one or maybe two of its villains instead. As it was, the plot developments that were put forth were mostly lax. The development of the "dark Peter Parker" subplot was actually laughable as Peter suddenly decided on a more conspicuous and blackened hair style and makeup. Even the film's final conflict wasn't particularly exciting.

Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst's roles in this film aren't on par with what they had to work with in previous films. James Franco is proficient as Harry and did have some notable scenes. Thomas Haden Church is effective as Flint Marko, but the character was very underdeveloped by the script. Invariably the best performance of the film was from J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. Topher Grace's character was developed as a trite "office rival" and was unnecessary. However, Bruce Campbell's cameo as the Maître d' was amusing. Overall, though, "Spider-Man 3" was a disappointing entry into the superhero genre.

Top Gun
Top Gun(1986)
½

"Top Gun" is about a group of United States pilots that attend a school for top pilots, remarkably called the "Top Gun" school. The pilots engage in various training exercises and occasionally engage in combat with "commie" MiGs.

Tom Cruise leads the cast as the pilot codenamed "Maverick". Cruise is suited to playing a pilot that's brash and arrogant. Maverick's rival for top honors at the flight school, "Ice", is played by Val Kilmer, who is appropriate to play a character that is, well, brash and arrogant. Kelly McGillis also gives a fine performance as "Charlie", an instructor at the school and a love interest for Maverick. However, Anthony Edwards' and Meg Ryan's performances as "Goose" and Carole weren't notable.

The officers of the film, however, are perfectly cast. The first officer we see is played by James Tolkan, who practically reprises his role as Mr. Strickland from "Back to the Future" (1985). The role suits him well, and I half expected him to say, "Slackers!" or "You've got a real attitude problem!" Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt are also cast as officers and bring the right air of authority to their roles.

This film appropriately features captivating aerial training and combat. The flight sequences were consistently well-paced and backed up by an appropriate rock soundtrack. Where this film isn't as consistent is when the pilots are on the ground. The film maintains a consistent pace and is never boring. There are some decent dramatic moments and the relationship between Maverick and Charlie was reasonably developed. However, quite a lot of the dialogue and situations created in this film are juvenile. I suppose this film wanted to portray immature yet driven pilots, but it becomes tiresome quickly. Scenes like the volleyball scene really weren't necessary. Overall "Top Gun" is primarily notable for its impressive fighter sequences.

The Da Vinci Code

"The Da Vinci Code" is a film based on Dan Brown's famous and controversial novel. The book and the film have been criticized by Christians due to its plot which portrays elements of the Roman Catholic Church as being involved in a conspiracy. However, this never bothered me and it is clear enough that this is a work of fiction. The story follows Robert Langdon, a professor at Harvard, who becomes entangled in the aforementioned conspiracy. The film features an impressive array of locations, architecture, art and a notable score by Hans Zimmer as Langdon unravels the conspiracy.

A number of people were dissatisfied with Tom Hanks' portrayal of Robert Langdon. Tom Hanks certainly isn't as well-suited to the role of adventurous professor as Harrison Ford, but I found his performance to be respectable. Audrey Tautou is also notable as Sophie Neveu. My favorite performance of the film was Ian McKellen in his over-the-top and charismatic performance as Sir Leigh Teabing. Every scene with Sir Leigh in it is a delight to see. The supporting cast is great too, particularly Jean Reno as Captain Fache, Paul Bettany as Silas and Alfred Molina as Bishop Aringarosa.

This film has been criticized for not meeting expectations based on the book and generally being dull. I have never read the book and hence can't compare the book and film, but I can say that I didn't find this film to be dull. Quite the contrary, to me this film's main strength is that it sets up an interesting mystery and pursues it vigorously with a lot of interesting twists. Any film that manages that will always get high praise from me.

Where Eagles Dare

"Where Eagles Dare" is the story of a group of Allied agents that are sent to infiltrate a Nazi castle during World War II. The scenes and sets in and around the castle are impressive and Ron Goodwin's score is a great addition to the film's atmosphere.

Richard Burton leads the cast with a notable performance as the dapper Major Smith, the leader of the agent team. Clint Eastwood also delivers a fine performance as Lieutenant Schaffer, a young lieutenant assigned to assist the team. All of the supporting performances were solid as well.

For me the best part of this film was the threads of intrigue it developed, which put it shades above typical action films. I particularly enjoyed the "dining table" scene, which was a brilliant explosion of intrigue. The action scenes in this film were well-made and generally well paced, although admittedly at times I found myself yearning for more great moments of intrigue in the style of the "dining table" scene. The film's end was very interesting and highly appropriate. "Where Eagles Dare" combines elements of intrigue and action to make an entertaining war film.

Clear and Present Danger

"Clear and Present Danger" is the second adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel to feature Harrison Ford as CIA agent Jack Ryan. This film involves a murder which is linked to drug cartels in Colombia and the subsequent efforts to take action against the cartels.

Harrison Ford proves again that he is well-suited to the role of Jack Ryan and more appropriate than Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck for the role. There are some great supporting performances as well, particularly from James Earl Jones, Willem Dafoe and Henry Czerny. Henry Czerny developed an interesting character and the rivalry between him and Jack Ryan was excellent.

The story of this film is better developed than that of "Patriot Games" (1992), which is why I prefer this film. It goes beyond a simple "Jack Ryan combats criminals" story. There is not a lot of intrigue per se, but some interesting turns and friction between Ryan and officials within the United States government. There are also some well-made action sequences in the film to supplement the story. The film's ending was interesting and appropriate. "Clear and Present Danger" proved to be more interesting than its predecessor film, "Patriot Games" (1992).

Amadeus
Amadeus(1984)

"Amadeus" is based on the play of the same name by Peter Shaffer. It portrays a fictionalized account of the life of famous classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, emphasizing an intense rivalry between him and composer Antonio Salieri. The film creates a great sense of period with lavish sets and elegant costumes.

Tom Hulce leads the cast as Mozart with great energy and he creates a memorable character. Mozart is portrayed as a man whose vices and juvenile conduct are only exceeded by his genius in creating music. My favorite performance of the film, however, is F. Murray Abraham's skillful performance as Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri. He convincingly creates a Salieri that narrates the story as a conniving and bitter man, but manages to elicit sympathy when he laments that he can never be as prolific or well-known as Mozart. There are excellent supporting performances in the film, too, including Elizabeth Berridge as Mozart's patient wife Constanze and Jeffrey Jones as Emperor Joseph II with a matter-of-fact manner.

The rivalry between Mozart and Salieri is well-developed and the film never becomes tiresome despite its length. In addition to the characterizations, the film appropriately includes dazzling segments of classical music and representations of staged operas. The end narration of Salieri is very well-written and touching. Truly F. Murray Abraham's Salieri is a champion for mediocrity.

Cat Ballou
Cat Ballou(1965)

"Cat Ballou" follows the story of Catherine "Cat" Ballou in the old west as she turns from her training as a school teacher to become an outlaw. The film incorporates many of the clichés of westerns including a corrupt sheriff that fails to prevent illegal activities and typical revenge story, but succeeds by taking a humorous approach to the material.

Jane Fonda leads the cast with a solid performance as Cat Ballou. Lee Marvin is famous for playing two roles in this movie, that of Kid Shelleen, a hired gunslinger, and Tim Strawn, the film's chief villain. His performance as Kid Shelleen is the more notable of the two since it gets a lot more screen time. Lee Marvin gives a skilled and hilarious performance in the role. The supporting cast was notable, particularly Tom Nardini, who had some memorable lines as Jackson (particularly when he corrects Cat's grammar), John Marley as Cat's father Frank and Michael Callan as Clay Boone.

The film's story is well-placed with consistent humor punctuated with some dramatic moments. Also notable is the inclusion of intermittent segments of catchy banjo music and songs performed by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kale. The best of these performances was the song "The Ballad of Cat Ballou" that introduces the film. "Cat Ballou" is an amusing version of the typical western story.

A Clockwork Orange

"A Clockwork Orange" is Stanley Kubrick's film based on Anthony Burgess' novel. The story follows the life of Alex de Large, the leader of a gang in a dystopian Britain where gang violence has become an overwhelming problem, leading the government to use radical measures to placate gangs. The film raises questions of what measures are appropriate to deal with the surge in gang activity.

The technical qualities of this film are superb. Bizarre imagery and sets are used to great effect. The score is a mix of synthesizer music and classical pieces and suits the film very well. Classical music is also incorporated into the script in an intelligent way because one of Alex's chief interests is Beethoven's music. The idea to set a sex scene to the "William Tell Overture" was also an inspired choice.

Malcolm McDowell gives a perfect performance as Alex de Large and creates an unforgettable character. All of the film's supporting performances were effective as well. This film's script is engaging and never failed to keep me interested in what turn Alex's life would take next. At times violence and rape are depicted in a deeply disturbing manner, yet this film never fails to be compelling and thought-provoking. Another interesting dimension of the film was that it had its own vernacular of slang terms used by Alex and his gang members. "A Clockwork Orange" creates a world that is shocking yet provocative and enthralling.

Time Bandits
Time Bandits(1981)
½

"Time Bandits" is the story of a young boy named Kevin who becomes entangled with a group of dwarfs that travels through time to loot treasure. This film is directed by Terry Gilliam and co-written by him and Michael Palin, both of Monty Python fame. Given that, it's not surprising that the film takes a humorous approach to history and fantasy.

Craig Warnock gives a fine performance as Kevin and the dwarfs are all well-portrayed. This film certainly derives a lot of strength from its casting, and my favorite performances come from John Cleese as a patronizing foppish Robin Hood, David Warner as an evil genius who revels in being malicious and Ralph Richardson as a pretentious "Supreme Being". Also notable are Ian Holm as an exceedingly insecure Napoleon and Sean Connery as King Agamemnon.

While this didn't seem as funny as some of Terry Gilliam's other efforts, the laughs were quite consistent throughout the film. There are also some great moments of tension developed, particularly toward the end. Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin have succeeded here in creating a humorous look at different historical figures and fantasy settings.

War of the Worlds

"War of the Worlds" is an adaptation of the H.G. Wells' science fiction novel of the same name. Pairing director Steven Spielberg with material from a well-known science fiction author seems like a perfect match, but this film disappointingly falls flat. The film's premise is simple: aliens invade Earth to the terror of all. Its sets and effects are well-developed and John Williams' score is certainly notable, but these factors can't help this film much.

I never found myself becoming attached to the characters, a rarity in a Spielberg film. The performances in the film aren't especially bad, particularly that of Tim Robbins, but the characters themselves simply aren't memorable.

No doubt this film was supposed to gain depth from the consideration of society in chaos and the strain of the alien invasion on individuals and families, but I found these developments largely trite and uninteresting. Any developments that are interesting are eclipsed by the film's lingering focus on dull "run terrified and hide from the aliens" scenes. The aliens themselves were none too inspiring despite being created with the best of CGI. This film bows out with an abrupt ending that tries to be clever but to me seemed contrived and an example of "deus ex machina" gone awry.

AVP - Alien Vs. Predator

"Alien vs Predator" begins with a contrived plot with one purpose: to bring humans, aliens and predators so that inevitable conflict may ensue. The filmmakers must have thought that the synergy of having aliens and predators in one tremendous battle would be overwhelmingly entertaining. However, "Alien vs Predator" is an exercise in mediocrity and worse than "Alien" (1979) and "Predator" (1987).

This film's main weakness is its story, or more appropriately lack thereof. Most of the story is limited to the confines of repetitive action sequences. There are some marginal story developments that occur beyond this, but they failed evoke my interest.

Add to this formula cliché characters and performances and dialogue that is easily forgettable and it becomes clear why "Alien vs Predator" drags throughout its duration. Even the film's final conflict and the subsequent story development are flat. If you have not already seen "Alien vs Predator", avoid it in earnest.

Ran
Ran(1985)

"Ran" is Akira Kurosawa's film which takes the story of Shakespeare's "King Lear" and adapts it to be set in feudal Japan. The story begins with Lord Hidetora Ichimonji proposing to leave his kingdom to his three sons. The film appears in superb vivid colors and has majestic shots of fields and castles. Tôru Takemitsu's score also adds to the grandeur of this film.

The performances of the film are also memorable. Tatsuya Nakadai is effective at showing the decline of Hidetora Ichimonji and making him a sympathetic figure despite his checkered past. The three Ichimonji sons are also well-portrayed and seeing the rivalries of these three strong characters is impressive. Also of note is Mieko Harada's performance as Lady Kaede, who is unnerving to the last. Shinnosuke Ikehata also plays the role of Shakespearean fool well and the supporting performances are commendable.

The film is effective at developing its characters and story without seeming slow-paced. To punctuate the character and story development, the film has some battle scenes. These are well-staged and shot on an epic scale. In particular there is a siege and a major battle which are unforgettable. "Ran" momentously recreates the tragedy of "King Lear" with adept characterizations, exquisite color and grand scale conflict.

Brazil
Brazil(1985)

?Brazil? is set in a dystopian future, where society is closely monitored and its freedoms infringed upon by the Ministry of Information. The film opts for a humorous approach to the dystopia genre, which isn?t surprising given that the film is directed and co-written by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame. The film is the story of Sam Lowry, who has a dull life working for the Ministry of Information until it changes through a strange chain of events. The Ministry of Information is no doubt inspired by the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell?s book ?1984?, but this film goes to extra lengths to show its ministry as an unwieldy bureaucratic nightmare.

The sets, costumes and props in ?Brazil? create a dazzling and interesting world to see. The film features colourful and fantastic dream sequences which provide an escape from Sam?s dull life. Michael Kamen?s score is also an effective addition to the atmosphere of this film.

Jonathan Pryce leads the cast as Sam Lowry and creates a memorable comical lackey. Kim Greist also delivers an excellent performance as Jill Layton, the woman literally of Sam?s dreams. The supporting cast includes notable performances from Robert De Niro as an ever resourceful heroic repairman, Ian Holm as a trepid bureaucrat, Bob Hoskins as a vindictive serviceman and Michael Palin as Sam?s old friend Jack.

The story develops a number of interesting threads and moves with eccentric humor. The film?s ending seemed bizarre at first, but in the end proved brilliant. ?Brazil? manages to make a bleak and bureaucratic future highly amusing.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is an adaptation of Douglas Adams' radio series and book of the same name. Notably there was also a television version of the radio series and book released in 1981 by the BBC. Not surprisingly, the special effects here are more developed than those in the BBC version and look great. This film also features an excellent score, with songs like "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" and "Journey of a Sorcerer", the latter of which was also in the BBC version.

The casting of this film is appropriate, although not on par with the casting of the BBC version. Martin Freeman bumbles around well as Arthur Dent. Mos Def makes a fine Ford Perfect and Zooey Deschanel was well-cast as Trillian. Alan Rickman was a perfect choice to voice Marvin since he can always effectively express disappointment and unimpressed sarcasm. Sam Rockwell captures the arrogance of Zaphod Beeblebrox well and I was impressed by Bill Nighy's performance as Slartibartfast. John Malkovich has a good turn Humma Kavula, a character not in the original story. The portrayal of the Vogons in this film was highly amusing, even if their role was exaggerated from the original story. Lastly, Stephen Fry was an apt choice as the narrator for this film.

The script is a reasonable adaptation of the radio series and book, but is also the most disappointing aspect of this production. The original work of Douglas Adams was altered here to make the plot more cohesive and develop a romance story. The original plot was loose and prone to humorous digressions, but I found that style more effective than the style here. A number of notable jokes from the original work are omitted and a lot of the jokes from the original were disappointingly diluted. This film also added a number of scenes not from the original that were amusing, but not as much as amusing as what was left out. I did enjoy the references in this film to the BBC version, which included a role for Simon Jones and a cameo for the Marvin from that version. Those that enjoy Adams' original work will find the BBC version, which to me isn't diminished by its older special effects, indispensable and likely better than this version. None the less, a diluted "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" still makes for an amusing film.

GoodFellas
GoodFellas(1990)

"Goodfellas" is Martin Scorsese's movie about Henry Hill, who aspires to be a gangster from an early age and becomes involved with an Italian-American crime family over three decades. The film features interesting and effective cinematography and it was notable how the shots were filmed in the "drugs" portion of the film. The soundtrack featured a number of notable songs like the end of "Layla" and "Jump Into the Fire".

The performances in this film are top-notch. Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill effectively as he lives with the perks and dangers of mob life. Robert De Niro delivers an interesting and refined performance as Jimmy Conway. Joe Pesci is memorable as the erratic and disturbing Tommy DeVito. Lorraine Bracco is also commendable as Henry's wife and Paul Sorvino makes a convincing mob boss.

This film develops an interesting story with surprising and interesting developments that keep the film well-paced. It explores the tightly contained lives of the members of the mob family. In addition, it has an interesting examination of the privileges afforded to the mob and the consequences of the mob's power. Also explored are the implications of mob life for Henry's relationship with his wife. "Goodfellas" is an exceptional entry into the crime film genre.

Dick Tracy
Dick Tracy(1990)

"Dick Tracy" is a film about the exploits of detective Dick Tracy, based on a comic series. While Dick Tracy is a detective, this film cannot be properly called a mystery film. There is only one major mystery in the film and that mystery is only a minor element of the story. "Dick Tracy" is better classified as a constant battle between Dick Tracy and a local mob, headed by Big Boy Caprice.

The fictional city that is the setting of the film incorporates the technology and mob activities of 1930s Chicago and has scenes that are very colorful and an interesting mix of realistic and unrealistic backgrounds. Even the costumes and 1930s style cars are colorful, with Dick Tracy himself wearing yellow detective attire. This film features a great soundtrack by Danny Elfman and equally great original songs from Steven Sondheim, my favorite being "Back in Business".

Warren Beatty delivers an interesting performance as Dick Tracy. Tracy is self-assured and even excessive in fighting crime, yet awkward when interacting with women. Glenne Headly is effective as Tracy's girlfriend, Tess Trueheart, and Madonna is appropriate as Breathless Mahoney. Charlie Korsmo should also be commended for a solid performance as "The Kid". The villains of this film only come in one shade: over-the-top, whether in appearance, performance or both. Al Pacino is in command of the mob as Big Boy Caprice, who cannot be taken seriously at any time for the film's duration. I greatly enjoyed his performance with his strange look and mannerisms, gruff voice and hilarious historical misquotations. The supporting villains are also notable, with Dustin Hoffman giving an amusing performance as Mumbles.

The story has enough developments to keep the film interesting. Essentially the bulk of the film is like a game of chess where Tracy and Caprice make their moves to try and topple the other. The film also explores Tracy's relationship with Tess and his interactions with Breathless. Overall "Dick Tracy" is a successful adaptation of the popular comic series.

Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai)

"Seven Samurai" is Akira Kurosawa's film about a village in feudal Japan that hires samurai in order to fend off bandit incursions. It has garnered pretty much unanimous critical praise. Featured in the film are impressive scenes and sets, but the score, while it has its moments, is nothing special.

"Seven Samurai" can be divided into two distinct phases. The first phase is where the villagers seek to hire the samurai, which emphasizes characterization. The seven samurai (though not all of them are samurai in the strict sense) are all developed with distinct and interesting personalities, as are members of the supporting cast. There are too many great character moments in this film to count. I particularly liked Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada, the rational and calculating "ronin" (samurai with no master) that becomes the leader of the seven, Toshirô Mifune as Kikuchiyo, the bombastic samurai, always ready with insults and mocking facial expressions, Daisuke Katô as Shichiroji, a young warrior eager to earn glory in battle and a supporting performance from Kokuten Kodo as Gisaku, the sagely village patriarch.

The second phase puts the characters developed into the inevitable conflict against the bandits. The battle scenes are nicely shot and well-staged. It was nice how the film took the time to develop the battlefield before the battle with scenes of key strategic points and even a map of the village and immediate surrounding area. The ending of the film was well-written and very interesting. Admittedly, though, that despite its characterization and well-staged battle scenes, I found "Seven Samurai" to be slow at points and generally the film seemed long. None the less, "Seven Samurai" is in essence a good film with an impressive critical reputation and is worth a look.

Eastern Promises

"Eastern Promises" is David Cronenberg's crime thriller that explores a Russian crime family in London and the story of a hospital midwife that comes into contact with that family after the discovery of a dead, pregnant woman and her diary. The film is developed with a dark and rainy London that is appropriate for exploring the dark undercurrents of the Russian crime family. There is violence within the film that is very pronounced and will no doubt leave at least some people squirming in their seats.

The film has great performances from all quarters. Naomi Watts is convincing as the London midwife that pursues her convictions to the last. Vincent Cassel is appropriate as the boorish and erratic Kirill. Armin Mueller-Stahl is a perfect choice for the role of the head of the Russian family, Seymon, who can switch between being warm and dangerous. Viggo Mortensen, equipped with a Russian accent, creates an interesting character in the cool-headed yet enigmatic Nikolai.

The film takes time to build its effective characters and story, even if the story has some slow spots at times in the beginning. The story gains momentum as the film progresses and has some turns that help keep the film interesting. There is one turn in particular toward the end that is excellent, but the film unfortunately doesn't capitalize on it as much as it could have due to an abrupt ending.

Heat
Heat(1995)

"Heat" is Michael Mann's crime movie set in Los Angeles. It pits Al Pacino as Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and the L.A. police against Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley and his loyal accomplices. The film captures both sides of the story exquisitely and features excellent cinematography and a well-made score.

From the start, "Heat" is a character-driven film. This is the film's main strength: it develops characters which are easy to become attached to and I became very interested in what fate the script had in store for each of the characters. My favorite of these characters is Al Pacino as Lieutenant Vincent Hanna. Hanna is the tough detective of old and Pacino has the gruff voice to match, but the character also gains depth from his relationship with his family. There is also well-placed humor injected into Hanna's character that was welcome. On the other side is Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley, who is also effective and develops a character of depth. There are also notable supporting performances from Val Kimer, Amy Brenneman, Dennis Haysbert and a number of others.

In addition to developing its characters, "Heat" benefits from showing carefully planned and executed crimes and careful and methodical investigative work. There is also high quality action scenes mixed in, which are given extra meaning due to the film's rigorous characterizations. There is also the famous scene where rivals Pacino and De Niro sit down for coffee and reflect on their lives which is simply brilliant. Overall "Heat" is a well-developed film which considers the consequences of crime on a public and personal scale.

Fargo
Fargo(1996)
½

"Fargo" is the Coen brother's film of a salesman in Fargo, North Dakota that hires two men to kidnap his wife for financial gain and a subsequent police investigation. The story is said to be based on true events with the stipulation that the characterizations are exaggerated for comical effect. The film has an eclectic mix of drama, crime, humor and black humor. The film is well-shot and has an effective score.

The film has solid performances. William H. Macy creates a compelling character as the desperate salesman Jerry Lundegaard. Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud are interesting as the quirky yet dangerous as the kidnappers. Frances McDormand also has a notable turn as the no-nonsense and practical yet simple Marge Gunderson.

The story starts off well and the crime story generally retained my interest. However, I found that the script got diverted at a number of points and was less effective than it could have been. A prime example of this was the scenes related to the character of "Mike", which were unnecessary and distracted from the main story. The film's satire of how trite people can be is clever at points, but becomes tedious with repetition. However, Chief Gunderson's speech toward the end of the film was well-written. Unfortunately I didn't find the quality of "Fargo" to be up to its reputation despite its positive points.

The Prisoner of Zenda

In "The Prisoner of Zenda", a British major impersonates a foreign king to save his station. The film starts as more of a drama film and makes a transition to action film near the end. It also features nice sets in the old Hollywood style and an appropriate score.

The film's cast delivers great performances. Ronald Colman is charming as Major Rudolf Rassendyll. Madeleine Carroll plays Princess Flavia, who is slated to marry the king. Colman and Carroll have chemistry together and nicely develop a relationship. C. Aubrey Smith is well-cast to play the part of Colonel Zapt, the king's loyal helper, and David Niven has a small role, also on the king's support staff. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. creates a memorable villain as the brazen and obnoxious but somewhat clever Rupert of Hentzau. Raymond Massey is decent as the other main villain, Michael, but not on par with Fairbanks.

The start of the movie develops the film's premise and then the characters. The mostly has an interesting story and clever dialogue, but it does have some slower spots in the middle. However, the film makes a transition to an action-oriented approach near the end. This was appropriate and in particular there was one duel with some amusing banter that was a highlight of the action. The film culminates in a satisfactory conclusion and is overall worth seeing for its premise, characters, dialogue and action toward the end.

North by Northwest

"North by Northwest" is Alfred Hitchcock's film about Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who is mistaken for a secret agent and becomes entangled in a web of intrigue. The film shows the world of espionage as dangerous yet glamorous, making this in some ways a precursor to the James Bond films which would come soon after. However, "North by Northwest" has a stronger degree of intrigue and characterization than is seen in any Bond film.

Cary Grant plays Roger O. Thornhill with all the necessary charm and Eva Marie Saint is likewise perfect as the enigmatic Eve Kendall and the chemistry between the two is extraordinary. The supporting performances are also strong: James Mason as the forceful Vandamm, Martin Landau and Vandamm's other lackeys and even Jessie Royce Landis as Thornhill's generally unimpressed mother. Leo G. Carroll also deserves note as his look and demeanor fit very well with his role as "The Professor".

The story is effective at being enticing early with its tantalizing premise and developing with enough intrigue and characterization to keep it engaging. The action scenes, in particular two famous ones, are well-staged, tense and unorthodox to a degree that keeps them interesting. There is also a lot of well-placed humor injected into the film in between the moments of intrigue and action. "North by Northwest" should satisfy those looking for those seeking a spy film with a strong amount intrigue and characterization and those seeking a spy film well-paced with notable action scenes.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is the long-awaited modern adaptation of C.S. Lewis' fantasy novel. Rumors of the film floated around for awhile, and no doubt the success of the "Lord of the Rings" movies encouraged this film's production. The BBC produced three Narnia films in the late 1980s and 1990 that captured the stories nicely, but were lacking in quality special effects. This adaptation captures the story nicely and has the special effects to match. With modern CGI effects the filmmakers are able to render the creatures of Narnia to be more believable than the people in suits of the BBC movies. The film captures the land of Narnia beautifully and has a great score to complement the scenery.

The casting choices for the film were appropriate. All of the child actors were believable, and so were the actors and actresses that played or voiced the creatures of Narnia. Liam Neeson is an apt choice to voice Aslan and brings the needed authority to the character. Tilda Swinton was also an excellent choice as the White Witch and is appropriately menacing in the role. I enjoyed Jim Broadbent's performance in his minor role as Professor Kirke.

The film is faithful to Lewis' novel and develops the material well. The film's battle scenes were well-staged and paced. The story developed here is not an epic of the same scale of the "Lord of the Rings" films, but is an exceptional fantasy story none the less. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" nicely captures C.S. Lewis' novel and I await the next film in the chronicles, "Prince Caspian", with great anticipation.

The Untouchables

"The Untouchables" focuses on the efforts of investigator Eliot Ness to topple crime syndicate leader Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago. The film exaggerates the role of Eliot Ness and his loyal sidekicks, "The Untouchables" in disrupting Capone's activities and takes other liberties with history. The film nicely captures the look of Prohibition-era Chicago and Ennio Morricone's score is memorable and appropriate.

Kevin Costner is decent as Eliot Ness, the man leading the efforts against Capone. Robert De Niro is seen relatively little as Al Capone, but makes an impression in the scenes he is in. My favorite performance in the film was that of Sean Connery as the street-smart policeman who tutors Ness on the "right" way to fight Capone. The supporting performances were notable as well, particularly Charles Martin Smith and Andy Garcia as members of "The Untouchables" and Richard Bradford as the chief of Chicago police.

The story has enough turns to prevent it from becoming generic and is generally engaging. The action scenes are well-shot, although the scenes in the last half hour of the film were somewhat overlong. The film's famous action scene involving Ness and a stroller was well-done. Overall "The Untouchables" is a worthwhile film about combating organized crime during Prohibition.

Peter Pan
Peter Pan(2003)

"Peter Pan" is an adaptation of the popular play by J.M. Barrie. Its goal isn't to reinvent the story as was the case with "Hook" (1991), but rather to present a story close to the original work of Barrie. "Peter Pan" boasts great sets and effects complemented by an appropriate score.

The casting choices for this movie were appropriate. All of the children actors give excellent performances, from Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan and Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy Darling to the Lost Boys and Wendy's brothers. Olivia Williams and Lynn Redgrave perform well as Wendy's mother and aunt respectively. Ludivine Sagnier gives an interesting performance as Tinker Bell. Jason Isaacs has a double role as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook and does well in both. Isaacs has proved adept at villain roles, including as Lucius Malfoy in the recent "Harry Potter" films. He is appropriately menacing as Captain James Hook, but also gives Hook a welcome depth. The pirate supporting cast is solid as well, led by Richard Briers, who is an appropriate choice to play Smee.

The film's story is well-developed and engaging from start to finish. I was impressed by the degree of characterization in the film. The action scenes were also well-paced and not overdone. "Peter Pan" is superb as an adaptation of J.M. Barrie's material and as a fantasy film.

Superman Returns
½

"Superman Returns" is intended as a successor to the Superman films of Richard Donner. The film has nice costumes and effects and wisely takes the Superman theme of the older movies created by John Williams. The premise is quite simple: Superman returns after a long absence to find that the people of the Earth once again need him.

Brandon Routh looks the part of Superman, but ultimately never matches Christoper Reeve's performance from the original Superman films and doesn't develop a memorable character. The same can be said of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Irritating performances come from Parker Posey as Lex Luthor's cliché feebleminded sidekick Kitty and Sam Huntington as an equally trite newsman of the "Daily Planet" newspaper. However, Frank Langella was an appropriate choice for the newspaper manager demanding results. The top performance of the film was Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, who is effective at playing him in a comical yet still sinister fashion and has memorable lines.

Where "Superman Returns" really falters is in its story, which is quite generic and lacks the exciting turns it needed. At times the story even delves into tangents such as the bank robbery involving a machine gun which are pointless. The best scenes in the film are those with Lex Luthor, even if his sidekick is hopelessly annoying, but overall the film is mostly tedious.

300
300(2007)
½

"300" follows a format that resembles the Mel Gibson formula for historical films: Take historical events, adapt them so that one character that represents the fight for freedom against tyranny and hence is compelled to fight in large scale battles. Unfortunately, "300" is not as engaging as "Braveheart" (1995) or even "The Patriot" (2000).

The film's casting was fine, and Gerard Butler stood out as King Leonidas. The film's cinematography was of high quality and the soundtrack was appropriate other than the segments of rock music. The film starts off well with some details about Sparta and King Leonidas' personal history before the conflict between Spartans and Persians. However, before the conflict can proceed, the film delves into unnecessarily long sex scene.

As the Spartans march to conflict with the Persians, it seems that "300" will launch to great heights. It still seems that way as the first engagement proceeds, which introduces the well-staged battle sequences of the film. However, the film doesn't really ever soar from there.

The film has a tendency overuse slow motion effects and sometimes linger overly long on shots or scenes. There weren't any great story developments to retain my interest for the film's duration. There are some semi-interesting plot developments back in Sparta during the conflict and some great speeches and moments on the battlefield, but overall not much. This would be more tolerable if the developments in the battles were interesting, but the battles become ridiculous after the first few engagements. I didn't expect perfect historical accuracy from this film, but it seemed like the Spartans were fighting Sauron's forces from the "Lord of the Rings" movies rather than the Persians. This is because of the fantastic creatures that the Persian army manages to field. I half expected an Orc regiment to attack the Spartans as a final blow. Another odd point about the battles is that the film takes its time to iterate the importance of the phalanx, only to have a number of shots of Spartans out of formation.

There are films such as "Gettysburg" (1993) and "Waterloo" (1970) that effectively capture a particular historical conflict. There are films such as "Braveheart" (1995) or "The Patriot" (2000) that embellish history to create an engaging film. "300" disappointingly falls into neither of these categories.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

"Star Wars" is not only in the upper echelon of Science Fiction films, but of all films. This original installment of the "Star Wars" films and the rest of the original trilogy created a magic unmatched by the prequel trilogy. It is well known that "Star Wars" has had a profound impact on moviegoers and has spawned an unprecedented amount of merchandise in the form of books, toys, computer games, etc.

"Star Wars" has sets and special effects that are seamless and compare well to other Science Fiction movies and television shows of the time as well as the prequel trilogy. In fact, I found the models in this film were more seamless than the CGI effects used for the prequels. The special effects were used well to create fantastic space battles, aided by John Williams' unforgettable score. Many people know the premise behind the film: a young farm boy becomes untangled in a galactic civil war between a desperate rebellion and an oppressive empire. With this premise, the film's story develops engagingly from start to finish.

Every character in the film is appropriately cast. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford give great performances in the lead roles. Alec Guinness brings his experience to bear in his performance which makes "the Force", which might otherwise seem silly, a legitimate concept. James Earl Jones was the perfect choice to provide the booming voice of Darth Vader to aid David Prowse's physical performance. Peter Cushing creates a memorable character in the arrogant Grand Moff Tarkin with aristocratic airs. In short, every performance in this film is memorable and the dialogue is high quality and quotable.

Several editions of "Star Wars" have been released since the film's initial release in 1977. A "Special Edition" was released in 1997 with added and altered scenes and a special DVD edition in 2004 with more changed. Personally I found that the added and altered scenes never improved on the original film and some of them were even detrimental (see at: Greedo shoots first). For me, the best version remains the original, available now on limited edition DVDs.

The Two Jakes

"The Two Jakes" is the sequel to the famous mystery film "Chinatown". It is true that "The Two Jakes" isn't a classic of the caliber of its prequel, but then few films are. None the less, it is an excellent film in its own right.

Rather than the 1930s setting of "Chinatown", this film moves to the 1940s with a similar splendor. Jack Nicholson aptly reprises his role as Jake Gittes and the supporting cast is solid as well. The important point about "The Two Jakes" is that it succeeds in developing a thoughtful and convoluted mystery in the same spirit as its prequel. Also important is that it successfully integrates material from "Chinatown" into its story. Jack Nicholson's monologues to accompany the story were hit or miss. Some of them were clever, others seemed quite trite. Overall I found "The Two Jakes" to be a satisfactory sequel to "Chinatown", which is saying a lot.

Hook
Hook(1991)
½

"Hook" brings together director Steven Spielberg with material from J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" stories. The combination sounds perfect and "Hook" is generally a good film, but unfortunately it doesn't realize its full potential. However, that's not to say that the film's premise isn't sound. In fact, it's an interesting twist on the Peter Pan stories: Peter Pan has grown up into a work-obsessed father that neglects his kids and has forgotten ever being Peter Pan. Along comes Captain Hook to rekindle the old rivalry between himself and Peter and Peter has to relearn his old ways to combat Hook.

I'm not sure why a film about Peter Pan was titled "Hook", though, as catchy the title is. The film seems to try to justify this titling by inserting numerous references to hooks early in the film. Putting aside the title, the film has decent though few sets and a great score from John Williams.

The film does have a good cast. Robin Williams is appropriate to play a Peter Pan that has grown up but needs to rediscover his past. Julia Roberts proves a fine choice for the role of Tinker Bell. Charlie Korsmo does well as the more focused on of Peter's two children and the rest of the supporting cast is suitable as well. Maggie Smith has a notable appearance as Wendy. The outstanding performance in the film, however, is Dustin Hoffman as Captain James Hook. Hook is portrayed as flamboyant and foppish with a haughty laugh, yet also sinister and at times sarcastic. It was quite amusing how he denoted acts as being either "good form" or "bad form". Bob Hoskins is also amusing as Hook's sidekick, Smee.

Where "Hook" isn't as consistent is in the story. Initially a good story is developed, but from there the execution of the premise is mixed. Most of the film is solid and the film has some great moments, particularly where Captain Hook is involved. However, it tends to get bogged down at times by lingering on scenes such as the insult battle and subsequent food fight. More of the film's time should have been spent on the conflict between Peter Pan and Hook. The final conflict left something to be desired as it relied too much on random contraptions and one child's girth as weapons. The ending is satisfactory even though it is very much expected. Despite its flaws, "Hook" is a fun Peter Pan film.

Field of Dreams

Absent from "Field of Dreams" are the clichés seen in other baseball films. There's no player or team that faces difficulties only to overcome adversity in order to win in the final game of the season. Instead, the film follows Ray Kinsella as he is told by a mysterious voice to a number of tasks beginning with building a baseball field on his farm. It sounds very contrived, but the eccentric storyline's turns managed to remain interesting, engaging and inspiring for the film's duration. That's from someone that isn't even a fan of baseball.

Kevin Costner handles the lead well as Ray Kinsella and James Earl Jones is excellent as the reclusive writer Terence Mann. All of the supporting performances were also notable, including the various baseball players and Amy Madigan as Ray's supportive and crusading wife. The story and performances lead up to the film's touching conclusion after the various turns. "Field of Dreams" outstrips conventional baseball films and proves interesting and inspiring.

The Russia House

"The Russia House" is a Cold War espionage story based on the novel by John le Carré. The film features impressive shots of Moscow and Leningrad matched by a great score from Jerry Goldsmith. Since the film was shot in 1990, it depicts the Soviet Union in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and on the verge of collapse.

Leading the cast is Sean Connery, who shows an interesting character in "Barley" Blair, a British publisher that is reluctantly dragged into the world of espionage. Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as Katya, a Russian woman involved in the intrigue. Pfeiffer's Russian accent and her nuances in speaking English were a great part of her character. The relationship between Barley and Katya is well-developed and makes the romance in the film welcome. The supporting cast is also superb, with Klaus Maria Brandauer as "Dante", James Fox as a warm yet tempered British Intelligence bureaucrat and Roy Scheider as a crass CIA bureaucrat.

The story of "The Russia House" develops slowly and thoughtfully. Those looking for a spy movie with a lot of action scenes should definitely avoid this film. I enjoyed the interesting story progression and the film's focus on character development. The film's end was a very satisfactory end to the intrigue.

The General
The General(1927)

"The General" is set during the Civil War and features Buster Keaton as a Confederate chain engineer chasing after Union soldiers that steal his train. Keaton handled the lead role well and the supporting cast was also solid. The film has impressive cinematography and a score that is good at first, but becomes repetitive.

The enlistment scene near the beginning was amusing. As was the "under the table" scene and the point were a group of Union soldiers desperately try to fix a part in the train tracks near the end. The film's battle scene was well-shot and amusing and the ending of the film was well-done.

Where this film languishes is in the overly long stretch of scenes on the trains, which, while well-shot, become repetitive. I didn't find a lot of humor in the train scenes, which makes the train scenes seem mostly like a precursor to modern action films rather than comedy. Since a lot of the film is consumed by the repetitive train chases, I was left disappointed.

Top Secret!
Top Secret!(1984)
½

"Top Secret!" is a comedy that parodies spy films from the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team that created "Airplane!" (1980) and later the "Naked Gun" films. The story follows the exploits of Nick Rivers, played by Val Kilmer, as he gets tangled in a plot in East Germany. Strangely and amusingly enough, though, East Germany's officials deliberately resemble Nazis.

Val Kilmer does well with the humor and musical numbers in the lead. Lucy Gutteridge is also appropriate as Nick's love interest. The resistance members and East German/Nazi officers were all well-cast as well. There are some brief but nice appearances from Omar Sharif and Peter Cushing.

The film has a number of funny moments, such as the singing of the East German anthem or Nick's air duct escape. I also enjoyed the musical numbers, particularly "How silly can you get?" However, I didn't find this film to be as consistently funny as "Airplane!" or the "Naked Gun". "Top Secret!" effectively mocks spy films, but isn't as amusing as other films from the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team.

The Patriot
The Patriot(2000)
½

"The Patriot" allows Mel Gibson to portray a character very similar to his fictitious version of William Wallace from "Braveheart" (1995). Rather than the medieval Scottish highlands, the action this time takes place in America during the American Revolution. Mel Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, is similar to Wallace in being motivated to fight the English after a personal loss and lead a ragtag group of soldiers.

"The Patriot" boasts great sets, shots and costumes supported by an impeccable score from John Williams. The only point against the film's cinematography is an exaggerated use of slow motion shots. As with "Braveheart" (1995), the story of this film cannot by any means be taken as history. The film exaggerates the virtues of the continental army and the atrocities committed by the British. If you can get past that, it's possible to enjoy this film. The story follows a good pace and the action scenes are excellent and well-staged, even if some of them are over-the-top. "Braveheart" (1995) exceeds "The Patriot" for interesting story developments and characterization, but "The Patriot" is still solid.

Mel Gibson essentially reprises his role with William Wallace and does it with the same energy for another good performance. The members of Benjamin Martin's family are all well-played and as is Charlotte, the sister of Benjamin's dead wife. Jason Isaacs plays Colonel Tavington with smugness and audacity that would later be seen again in Lucius Malfoy of the "Harry Potter" films and creates a great villain. Also on the British side was Tom Wilkinson, who was enjoyable to see as the gentlemanly and proud General Cornwallis. On the revolutionary side, the supporting cast was decent. Particularly notable was Tchéky Karyo as France's representative and Rene Auberjonois of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" fame as the preacher. With this cast and its story, "The Patriot" is an entertaining, though not historically accurate film in the spirit of "Braveheart" (1995).

Dave
Dave(1993)

"Dave" is a modern version of the pauper taking the role of prince, except in this case it is a man filling in for a President of the United States in critical condition. The film recalls Frank Capra films with the idea of an idealistic outsider entering a semi-corrupt American political system. Kevin Kline does well doubling as the ailing president and the man who takes his place, Dave. Sigourney Weaver is excellent as the First Lady and Frank Langella also has a good turn as the Machiavellian White House Chief of Staff. The supporting cast was also solid and especially notable was Ben Kingsley's performance as the Vice President.

Dave's story is for the most part consistent and aptly blends comedy with touching moments. Also welcome was the inclusion of United States media personalities and politicians in mock television appearances to discuss their reaction to Dave's actions while masquerading as president. My favorite of these was Larry King's interview of Oliver Stone, which was very amusing. Overall, "Dave" is a comedy film worth seeing.

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

At a time when Sean Connery was popular as James Bond, Richard Burton was a different kind of spy as Alec Leamas in "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", based on John le Carré's novel. The film has a darker atmosphere in contrast to Bond films, aided by Sol Kaplan's appropriate score. Richard Burton is perfect and memorable as the jaded spy Alec Leamas. Claire Bloom also has a good turn as Nan Perry and Oskar Werner is notable as Fiedler. The supporting cast is equally as solid.

Those looking for a spy thriller with a high amount of action scenes will be sorely disappointed. This film builds up a thoughtful Cold War spy story over time and opts for characterization and intrigue over action scenes, which may lead some viewers to find it slow-paced. However, I was very satisfied with the plot developments and clever resolution of the film's intrigue. Some people may find the film's final moments unwelcome, but I thought it fit with the tone of the film.

Braveheart
Braveheart(1995)

The makers of the film took their history books and carefully tossed them aside so that Mel Gibson could have a free hand to portray a completely virtuous William Wallace and his struggle against the English. Despite this "black and white" approach to history, it is still a highly enjoyable film.

The film has great scenes, with majestic shots of the Scottish highlands and sweeping battlefields, castles and towns and an appropriate score to match. The film is well-cast, led by Mel Gibson, who is energetic as William Wallace and handles the action, speeches and drama well. My favorite performance is from Patrick McGoohan, who revels in being despicable to the Scottish and his meek son as King Edward Longshanks. Angus Macfadyen brings out an interesting character in Robert the Bruce. The rest of the cast is solid as well from both the Scottish and English camps.

The story is paced nicely, first focusing on developments in character and then proceeding quickly into action. There are a number of interesting turns in the story along the way. This film is also notable for its large scale epic battle scenes, which are well-staged. "Braveheart" is not history, but it is still an engaging film about a struggle for independence in the Middle Ages.

Clue
Clue(1985)

"Clue" is based on the popular board game and is perfect for people who like mansion murder mysteries. To set the atmosphere, the film features attractive sets and an excellent score. Tim Curry is energetic as Wadswsorth the butler and the rest of the cast are enjoyable to see as well with names like Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean and Madeline Kahn.

The film's story is a mystery with a lot of humor injected in. The mystery aspect is fast-paced and engaging. The jokes complement the mystery very well and are highly amusing. Some mockery of McCarthy era Cold War hysteria is included in the film's jokes to great effect. A nice touch is that there are three alternative endings to the film, all of which are fun to see, but the best for me was the last one.

Hot Shots!
Hot Shots!(1991)

"Hot Shots!" is a comedy that parodies a number of films, particularly "Top Gun" (1986). The cast is led by Charlie Sheen, who is an appropriate choice for the role of Lieutenant Topper Harley. Also notable is Cary Elwes as Topper's dashing flight school rival, Valeria Golino as Topper's love interest and Lloyd Bridges as the flight school's commander Lloyd Bridges' performance is not as funny as his role in "Airplaine!" (1980), but he has funny lines and scenes in this film.

The film's comedy is a mix of slapstick humor, quips and satires of other movies. The film has great scenes, such as "Dead Meat's" pre-flight musings and quotes such as "Bogie at 12:00". I enjoyed how this film parodied the juvenile pilot rivalry and the legacy of the main character's father haunting him from "Top Gun" (1986). I also found most of the jokes based on "Dances with Wolves" (1990) amusing. However, a number of the movie parodies are extremely random and seem out of place and make the film feel disjointed at times, such as the reference to "Marathon Man" (1976). The film has a number of amusing moments, but the film's comedy is generally not on the level of the "Naked Gun" movies or "Airplane!" (1980) which are more focused comedy films in a similar vein and both also contain writing from Jim Abrahams.

Knocked Up
Knocked Up(2007)

"Knocked Up" follows a painfully simple premise as its title suggests. A respectable woman and an irresponsible man meet at a bar and after alcohol consumption there is an unexpected pregnancy. Apparently there's supposed to be humor in the fact that he didn't bother to use a condom and she didn't bother to check whether or not he used a condom.

The "hilarity" is supposed to ensue from there. However, it does not and the jokes are mostly inane with a lot of low-brow humor, profanity and random unfunny movie references mixed in. I found the characters in the movie to be simply irritating rather than amusing as was intended. The only exception was Harold Ramis' character, who has a decent cameo appearance.

I was unfortunate enough to be subjected to "Knocked Up". Hopefully you will be more fortunate and avoid seeing this movie.

Robin and Marian
½

"Robin and Marian" is an unorthodox version of the Robin Hood legend. The usual Robin Hood story of King Richard being captured in Austria and Robin Hood fighting on behalf of the people of England has already come and gone. The film starts with Robin Hood fighting with King Richard in France. Already "Robin and Marian" shows that it is different from other Robin Hood stories, as King Richard is no longer the "good king" as per usual, but rather a "bloody bastard" as Robin calls him. Richard Harris is energetic in the role of Richard, and it is interesting to see a darker portrayal of the character.

Sean Connery plays Robin Hood, now past his prime and trying to return to his old life. He is an appropriate choice for that role, and Audrey Hepburn is a good complement as a defiant and independent Marian. They are joined by a solid supporting cast of Merry Men: Nicol Williamson (later Merlin in "Excalibur" (1981)) as Little John, Ronnie Barker as Friar Tuck and Denholm Elliott (later Marcus Brody in the Indiana Jones series) as Will Scarlett. The villain roster is also impressive, led by Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Shaw is a seasoned sheriff made clever by years of battling Robin Hood in the past. He even criticizes the ineptitude of his guards, something any usual sheriff would never do. As a contrast to the sheriff, Kenneth Haigh plays Sir Ranulf, who represents the brash villain role usually played by the sheriff in other Robin Hood adaptations. Much humor comes from the clash between the sheriff's experience and Sir Ranulf's naivety. Ian Holm also has a brief but memorable cameo as King John.

The film is also supported by excellent scenery, with some nice castles and a fitting score from John Barry. The story itself is mostly strong and develops the new relationship between Robin and Marian while drawing humor from the fact that Robin Hood is still trying to be an action hero in his older years. The only fatal part of the film is the lead up to the ending and especially the ending itself. The final conflict between Robin and the sheriff was decent and well-staged, but could have been better. The film writer opted for a Shakespearean ending to the film that I found inappropriate. The ending did not necessarily have to be a typical Robin Hood ending, but pretty much anything other than what they chose would have been better. "Robin and Marian" is a novel and interesting Robin Hood story, but watch out for the ending, it's a doozy.

Wing Commander
½

"Wing Commander" is based on a popular computer game series from Origin Systems. Unfortunately, this film does not match the quality of the games. The problem is simple: the film did not include the elements that made the games successful. Rather than hiring the cast featured in the games led by Mark Hamill and featuring names such as John Rhys-Davies and Malcolm McDowell, the makers of the film opted to hire a completely separate cast. Freddie Prinze Jr. was sub-par in contrast to Mark Hamill's performance as Christopher Blair in the games. The character of Todd Marshall was brash in the game series, but Matthew Lillard's performance makes the character unbearably annoying and obtuse. However, Saffron Burrows actually gives a decent performance and is the best of the three leads. The best talent was in the supporting cast, with Jürgen Prochnow as Commander Gerard, David Suchet as Captain Sansky and David Warner as Admiral Tolwyn. Tchéky Karyo also does a decent job as James Taggart. Seeing the performances of the supporting cast was often more enjoyable than seeing the leads.

The plot of the film was extremely simplistic compared to the plots in the game series. The Kilrathi (who look no where near as majestic in the game series) are underdeveloped compared to the game series and no Kilrathi characters are featured in the film. The Kilrathi don't even engage in any sort of intrigue, the extent of their activity is to move toward Earth and attack human ships.

The main characters are developed, but most of their interactions seem juvenile. Another poor plot decision was the introduction of the "Pilgrim" subplot, where the lead character is a "Pilgrim", meaning he has special abilities in space navigation. It seems that the makers of the film thought that they needed to add this dimension because it would lead to drama in the film not in the game. Unfortunately, the "Pilgrim" subplot always seems contrived and the film would have been better simply focusing on what made the game series interesting: tactics and intrigues in the war between humans and Kilrathi.

Where this film is better is in its action scenes. These are actually well-shot and some nice space combat battles were developed as would be expected from a "Wing Commander" film. The battles around the "Tiger Claw" and the Kilrathi pursuit of Blair in his fighter were actually the best parts of the film. Overall, though, this film does not match the game series it purports to emulate.

Disraeli
Disraeli(1929)

"Disraeli" is a fictional story about Benjamin Disraeli's efforts to have the Suez Canal (called "a ditch covered in sand" by a skeptic) purchased for Britain. The story has a number of interesting turns as Disraeli's aspirations are antagonized by people around him, including Russian spies. There are great moments of tension when it seems Disraeli's aspirations have become impossible or other times such as when he receives a telegram near the end of the film regarding his wife's health. Whether or not you agree with Disraeli's imperialist aspirations, you will find yourself engrossed in Disraeli's struggle and hoping for his success.

The film features a solid cast, but the focal point of the film is George Arliss' portrayal of Disraeli. Arliss gives an excellent performance in all aspects: the speech, mannerisms and even the look of Disraeli. Today Disraeli is well known for is witty repartee, and this film includes that with a number of humorous lines from Disraeli. It also shows Disraeli as a forceful man of conviction that relentlessly pursues his design to purchase the Suez Canal despite skepticism and even prejudice against him for being Jewish. "Disraeli" is worth seeing for George Arliss' strong performance as Benjamin Disraeli and its engaging story.

Die Hard
Die Hard(1988)
½

"Die Hard" features Bruce Willis as John McClane, a police officer combatting a group of terrorists holding hostages in an LA office building. Willis makes a decent action hero as John McClane and injected a welcome humor into the role. Inevitably McClane gets into a number of conflicts with the terrorists. There are some notable action scenes and special effects, but a lot of the action is repetitive shoot-outs. This would be fine if there were more story developments, but the developments are few and far between.

The most interesting developments in the film revolved around the twists Hans Gruber engineers to thwart the inept efforts of the police when they attempt to enter the office building. Alan Rickman's performance as the refined and calculating yet sarcastic Hans Gruber is the highlight of the film. Most of the supporting characters were either unremarkable or unnecessary, particularly the incompetent deputy chief of police. However, having "Al", the one savvy policeman who showed some character depth and genuine concern was touching. Overall I found "Die Hard" to be mostly tedious, contrary to the popular opinion of the film as a fast-paced thriller. The one strongly redeeming feature of the film was Alan Rickman's memorable performance as Hans Gruber.

Spartacus
Spartacus(1960)
½

"Spartacus" has many scenes of note, but it unevenly paced. The first segment of the film shows Sparatcus' life as a slave. This part is engaging as we see the animosities that develop between Spartacus and the slave-masters and the camaraderie that develops between the slaves. The second part of the film, showing the aftermath of slave revolt, starts with a number of tedious scenes as the slaves slowly formulate their plans. Occasionally Herbert Lom's character breaks up the tedium in the slave camp with his dealings with Spartacus, but usually seeing the politics and machinations on the Roman side was more interesting. All of this culminates in a well-paced and well-shot final conflict followed by a strong ending.

Kirk Douglas is solid as Spartacus, who turns from difficult slave to revolt leader with conviction. Jean Simmons is also excellent and strong as the female lead, Varinia. Peter Ustinov is notable as the somewhat timid yet resourceful slave trader. Charles Laughton is perfect as the devious Gracchus and Laurence Olivier gives an intricate and compelling performance as Crassus.

"Spartacus" has a number of memorable scenes as performances, but is inconsistently paced and contains a number of tedious scenes.

Alien
Alien(1979)

"Alien" is Ridley Scott's acclaimed horror science-fiction film about a killer alien on a spaceship. It features excellent special effects and scenes and a clever use of lighting techniques. Sigourney Weaver is strong as the film's lead and Ian Holm is memorable as the ship's science officer. John Hurt is also in the film as the ship's executive officer, but is underutilized in the role.

Where "Alien" suffers is in its story or more appropriately its lack of. Characterization in the film is limited and there is only one interesting twist in the plot, which was enjoyable, but represented only a small part in the film. The story is quite run-of-the-mill and barely developed beyond the fact that there is an alien bent on indiscriminately killing members of the ship's crew. The lack of story development made "Alien" seem long and mostly tedious.

Patriot Games

"Patriot Games" is the story of a terrorist seeking revenge for his brother's death based on the novel by Tom Clancy. Harrison Ford is Jack Ryan, the CIA analyst sought by terrorist Sean Miller, played by Sean Bean. Harrison Ford is the definitive Jack Ryan and brings more force to the role than Alec Baldwin or Ben Affleck. Sean Bean is also solid as Ryan's terrorist nemesis. The film had a notable supporting cast including James Earl Jones, Richard Harris, James Fox, Hugh Fraser and Samuel L. Jackson.

The film is generally fast-paced and has some decent action sequences. It is interesting to see the technology used behind the scenes at the CIA. However, the film's primary weakness it its story. There is little story development beyond the "terrorist seeking revenge" premise and the characters are less interesting and developed than they could be. This makes "Patriot Games" is overall an average thriller, albeit with an outstanding cast. I'd recommend "Clear and Present Danger" (1994) instead of this for a Tom Clancy adaptation featuring Harrison Ford as Ryan because its story and characters are better developed.

The Three Musketeers
½

"The Three Musketeers" is an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel of the same name. The film features sweeping scenes, bright costumes and classical themes. Gene Kelly does well in an energetic performance as D'Artagnan. The rest of the cast is solid as well, particularly Lana Turner and Vincent Price as the scheming villains.

The film features a number of sword fights which are well staged, but become repetitive. The filmmakers tried to balance the action scenes with the intrigue of Dumas' novel. This was welcome, but I found the film had tedious stretches and didn't completely capture the excitement of the novel.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
½

"Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is different than other adaptations of the Robin Hood legend. It includes a lot of gloomier scenes and content inappropriate for children. I found this suitable for the film and an interesting change from other Robin Hood adaptations. The costumes matched this setting and were becoming and realistic.

The filmmakers deviate a lot from the history and traditional elements of other Robin Hood stories. The story is a mix of cliché elements of Robin Hood tales and deviations from the formula. The traditional archery contest of many Robin Hood stories left out. There is no Prince John attempting to usurp King Richard's throne, only the Sheriff of Nottingham. The film delves into fantasy with the inclusion of a sorceress to aid the sheriff. Robin has a Moorish companion with a penchant for inventing items well ahead of their time. Overall these additions make for an interesting story, although I don't think the inclusion of the sorceress was necessary. The film keeps a solid pace and has a number of notable scenes, such as the sequence with the Celts and the aftermath.

Much criticism has been levelled at Kevin Costner's portrayal of Robin of Locksley. He is low key, particularly when compared to Errol Flynn, but I was satisfied with his performance. It did not bother me that he didn't attempt an English accent for the role. Morgan Freeman is a welcome addition to the film as Robin's Moorish companion Azeem. Freeman injects an appropriate balance of thoughtfulness and humor into the character. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gave a spirited and intelligent performance as Maid Marian. Christian Slater plays a bitter version of Will Scarlett to good effect. Nick Brimble was a perfect Little John and Michael McShane was amusing as Friar Tuck. Sean Connery has a memorable cameo as King Richard.

The villains are led by the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Alan Rickman. Rickman gives a great over-the-top performance as a bitterly humorous sheriff. Some people say the fact that Costner played a serious Robin Hood while Rickman played a humorous sheriff gave the film a disjointed feel, but I enjoyed the contrast. Michael Wincott is appropriately conniving as the sheriff's cousin, Sir Guy of Gisborne. With these characters and the film's story, I found "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" to be an interesting adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood and worth seeing.

12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men)

"12 Angry Men" is about a jury of 12 men voting on a death sentence case. Eleven of the men see it as an open and shut case with a clear verdict of guilty. However, one of the men thinks there is reasonable doubt.

The majority of the film takes place in the deliberation room with the 12 men discussing the case. Even though the film takes place mostly in this single room and is singularly focused on the 12 men discussing the case, the film is never tedious. On the contrary, while a lot of films have slower moments, this one is gripping from start to finish.

Each of the 12 performances is strong and each of the 12 jurors' characters is well-developed and adds to the film. Henry Fonda is inspiring as the one man who believes there is cause for reasonable doubt. "12 Angry Men" is a triumph of minimalist filming and highly recommended.

Duck Soup
Duck Soup(1933)

"Duck Soup" is the Marx Brothers' best movie and among the funniest movies of all time. The main source of humor in the film is Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly. He never fails with his rapid insults and anecdotes. Sometimes his jokes don't even relate directly to the situation at hand, but they are always funny.

Chico and Harpo are amusing too with their usual routine of slapstick and interspersed with quips, although not as consistently amusing as Groucho. The musical numbers in this film are better than most in Marx Brothers films. The songs about Firefly's administration and Freedonia going to war are well-done and highly amusing.

There are too many memorable scenes in the movie to relate them all, among them the meeting with Trentino, the meeting with the representatives, the mirror scene or even Firefly's "car". I recommend "Duck Soup" for those familiar with the Marx Brothers and those not.

Gods and Generals
½

"Gods and Generals" is the prequel to "Gettysburg" (1993), an American Civil War film with exquisite focus on the tactics and personalities at the Battle of Gettysburg. Unfortunately, "Gods and Generals" fails to come even near to the same quality as its sequel.

This film has the same kind of meticulously constructed battle sequences that made "Gettysburg" endearing and they are this film's greatest strength. Stephen Lang turns in a good performance as the film's principle character, "Stonewall Jackson", but the amount of emphasis they place on his faith quickly becomes tedious. The filmmakers could have gotten the point across that he is dedicatedly religious without delving into so many repetitive scenes where Jackson is praying or reading the bible.

Another reason that this film lacks the focus of "Gettysburg" is that is explores too many subplots as opposed to the focus on officer banter of "Gettysburg". The officer banter is still there, but none of it matched "Gettysburg". Robert Duvall was decent as General Lee, but in this film we did not see the same charisma as Martin Sheen's portrayal in "Gettysburg". Jeff Daniels was back as Joshua Chamberlain, but again his performance was not as memorable as that of "Gettysburg". As for the subplots, they monotonously and superficially attempt to show us the lives of families impacted by the Civil War. This film tries to be "Gone with the Wind" (1939) and "Gettysburg" at the same time, but it would have been better if it had retained the focus of "Gettysburg".

The French Connection
½

"The French Connection" presents a gritty New York with a relentless police officer and his partner determined to break up a French drug ring. The cinematography and score set up the appropriate seedy atmosphere nicely. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider are effective as the two policemen. Particularly notable Hackman is as Detective Doyle, who presents a brutal and bigoted officer perfect at making us feel ambivalent about him. Fernando Rey had a cynical charm appropriate to his role as Alain Charnier.

"The French Connection" has some notable scenes, including the ubiquitously praised car chase. My own favorite scene was the subway scene with Doyle and Charnier. The plot is the film's weakest point. There is no significant element of intrigue, and instead a lot of scenes where the leads follow the criminals for block after block were put in. "The French Connection" has the story of an average police movie, but adds a superior atmosphere and performances. Overall, this film was disappointing because it did not meet my expectations based on the critical reputation it has.

Waterloo
Waterloo(1970)
½

"Waterloo" is an ambitious production that, as its title suggests, seeks to recreate Napoleon's final battle at Waterloo. The start of the film has a nice introduction to some of Napoleon's career before the battle. Less welcome is a drawn out ballroom scene in the British camp before the battle which introduces the audiences to some of the soldiers and their sweethearts as part of an anti-war theme that seemed somewhat contrived.

However, once this part is past, the film gets into its element, the actual depiction of the battle. It is nice to see the immense scale of the production with the battlefield, soldiers and tactics depicted in detail. Rod Steiger is excellent as the forceful and arrogant Napoleon and Christopher Plummer as the stuffy yet clever Wellington. The supporting performances are likewise memorable. The dialogue delivered during the battle is classic, with lines such as Wellington's "wet hen" comment.

Apparently a lot of battle footage was cut for the available version of the film, which is unfortunate. None the less, for fans of war films, "Waterloo" is worth seeing for its detailed depiction of the soldiers and tactics of the Battle of Waterloo.

Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke(1985)

"Ladyhawke" starts with an exciting prison escape by a thief, played by Matthew Broderick. Soon he finds himself adventuring with a knight and a lady, played by Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer respectively. Hauer and Pfeiffer were appropriate choices for the leads and Matthew Broderick is memorable as the partly amusing and partly courageous thief.

The film's premise is interesting, but the script quickly loses steam and after its initial burst the story is average. The villains in this film, particularly the Bishop, could have been better developed. Much criticism has been leveled against the film's soundtrack. It wasn't as appropriate as the symphonic scores of other fantasy films and sometimes was awkward, but overall I didn't mind it and even enjoyed it at times. Overall, though, as far as fantasy films, I'd recommend watching the "Lord of the Rings" movies, "The Princess Bride" (1987) or "Willow" (1988) before this one.

Glory
Glory(1989)
½

"Glory" is certainly among the best American Civil War films. It tells the inspiring story of the first all-black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. The script and cinematography are solid and James Horner's score was eerily appropriate for the film.

Matthew Broderick and Cary Elwes, who people may not initially think of as being appropriate for the serious roles they play, are strong as the leaders of the regiment. Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and Andre Braugher represent the soldier side with equal strength. I also enjoyed John Finn's colorful performance as the brutal sergeant-major in charge of training and Bob Gunton and Cliff De Young's performances as the two corrupt Union officers.

The only improvement that could have been made to the film is in the battle scenes, particularly the first. A better sense of tactics could have been incorporated into them. However, overall, Glory is an excellent American Civil War film worth seeing.

Silverado
Silverado(1985)
½

"Silverado" is Lawrence Kasdan's rendition of a classic western. The film's scenery and score are excellent. A number of recognizable names appear in the cast. Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover are memorable as the defenders of justice. Kevin Costner plays his character with a sort of child-like enthusiasm, an interesting contrast to his later roles. Brian Dennehy is appropriate as the corrupt Sheriff Cobb and Linda Hunt was touching as Stella. Jeff Goldblum and John Cleese have small parts in the film. The scene with John Cleese was top-notch and I only wish he had a larger role in the film.

The last half hour "Silverado" was fast-paced and enjoyable, but most of the scenes leading up to it were mostly average. "Silverado" featured a great cast, but its script could have been better.

The Godfather, Part III

I was skeptical whether the third installment of the "Godfather" trilogy, shot 16 years after the second installment, could be on par with the first two. While it is not as good as the first two films, it is still a good film in itself and remains faithful to the look and spirit of the first two films. I had no complaints with the cinematography or score.

The script is well-written and the ending was a very memorable and appropriate way to end the trilogy. I enjoyed all of the performances, particularly Al Pacino reprising his role as Michael Corleone, save one. The one is Sofia Coppola, who is awkward as Mary Corleone. Overall, this film is a satisfactory conclusion to the much-praised "Godfather" trilogy.

Bringing Up Baby

"Bringing Up Baby" was not well-received in its time but is now considered a "rediscovered classic". Unfortunately I never found this movie to be very amusing. The humor is supposed to come from one debacle after another: Susan driving off with David's car, the dog taking the all-important clavicle or the characters tearing their clothing or falling into a stream, but I rarely laughed at these incidents or the dialogue. One part that did have amusing moments was Susan's interplay with Constable Slocum and the subsequent fallout, but this is only a short part of the film.

Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn give energetic performances and both have had memorable roles outside this film. The supporting cast is decent too, but the story itself just isn't funny. I was interested in this film because of its recent critical reputation, but found the humor in it flat and the 102 minutes of the film mostly tedious.

Dances With Wolves
½

"Dances with Wolves" is marked as a western, but it is far from a typical entry into the genre. The film's focus isn't on gunslingers, but rather Lieutenant Dunbar, an officer in the Union army during the American Civil War and his relationship with the Sioux tribe. The film has a superb Civil War scene to introduce the disillusioned officer. Following this is a memorable performance from Maury Chaykin, who sends the lieutenant on his mission to the frontier.

Slowly Lieutenant Dunbar learns about the Sioux tribe and integrates himself into it. This leads to several episodes that include such things as breaking the language barrier and making war on the Pawnee. I liked the fact that the Sioux spoke in Lakota, albeit a simplified version. These episodes are portrayed with high caliber cinematography and the aid of an excellent score by John Barry. The film can be slow-paced at times, but is interesting overall. Kevin Costner is decent as Lieutenant Dunbar and the supporting cast gives excellent performances.

The theatrical cut is a good one, but I enjoyed the additions in the extended cut. The additions are appropriate and aid in characterization. "Dance with Wolves" is a key film dealing with Native American culture.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner(1982)

"Blade Runner" is among the best and most influential science fiction movies of all time. It has influenced countless stories set in "dystopian" futures with its depiction. It is not of the same stripe of science fiction as Star Wars or Star Trek, as its story is grounded in a grim Los Angeles of 2019. Some people may the film's brand of science fiction slow-paced due to its emphasis on slowly developing a story over action sequences, although the film does have a few well-placed action scenes. However, for those that can enjoy the unfolding of a science fiction detective story, "Blade Runner" is great.

The dim, smoky vision of Los Angeles in 2019 is mesmerizing and one you are unlikely to forget. Vangelis' score is very appropriate to match the setting and extremely memorable, and I particularly enjoyed the main title track and "Blade Runner Blues". Every performance in the film is excellent from Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard to the supporting cast. The engaging plot and characterization and the questions the film raises make the film suitable for repeat viewings.

There is considerable debate between which is better between the two cuts of the film currently available, the original theatrical cut and the director's cut. Both are worth seeing if possible. Harrison Ford's narration in the theatrical cut fills provides interesting details and is worth hearing at least once, but is not strictly necessary. I prefer the director's cut because I welcomed the scenes not in the theatrical cut and found the ending more appropriate.

Beat the Devil
½

"Beat the Devil" has a number of memorable characters. The best performances come from Jennifer Jones, excellent as the bright-eyed and eccentric Mrs. Chelm, Humphrey Bogart as the practical Billy Dannreuther and Robert Morley in an unscrupulous Sydney Greenstreet type role. My favorite among these was Jennifer Jones' energetic and amusing portrayal of Mrs. Chelm.

The movie has a number of funny scenes and brilliant lines. However, the overall storyline was only average could have been stronger to bring out more humor. Humphrey Bogart said this film could only be enjoyed by "phonies". I wouldn't go that far, but this is certainly not Bogart's best film.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End
½

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" has notable performances, particularly from Chow Yun-Fat, Geoffrey Rush and of most notably Johnny Depp, back as the infamous Jack Sparrow. The film has excellent special effects, a great score, great moments of humor and memorable scenes and dialogue. The film has a number of notable battle sequences. The ending is interesting and satisfying given the direction the film took.

However, this "At World's End" has the same problem as "Dead Man's Chest"; it has a long and dragging plot line that is contrary to the focused and engaging first film. The story of this film was more engaging than that of "Dead Man's Chest", but it is still a far cry from the quality of "The Curse of the Black Pearl". It is safe to say that if you found "Dead Man's Chest" disappointing, you will also be disappointed by "At World's End" because it similarly deviates from the style of "The Curse of the Black Pearl".

Damn the Defiant!

"H.M.S. Defiant" or "Damn the Defiant!" starts by going through the usual motions of a portrayal of the Napoleonic era British Navy, a press gang conscripts men from a port town and supplies are loaded onto the H.M.S. Defiant.

However, from there, an interesting rivalry between Captain Crawford, played by Alec Guinness and Lieutenant Scott-Padget, played by Dirk Bograde, develops. Both of these actors gave excellent performances and were supported well by the performances of the ship's crew. The story is supported by a number of battle sequences, which are of high quality.

Although this is not the best film portrayal of the British Navy in the Napoleonic era, "H.M.S. Defiant" is solid and worth seeing for the performances of Alec Guinness and Dirk Bograde, as well as its battle sequences.

Zorba the Greek

The drawing card of "Zorba the Greek", as the title suggests, is Anthony Quinn's performance as the charismatic Alexis Zorba. While the supporting cast is commendable, it is Quinn that dominates the film. He plays the eccentric personality of Zorba to perfection and has a number of memorable lines.

The examination of the character of Zorba and his effect on Basil leads to great moments in the film, such as the outstanding ending, but ultimately the story drags a lot. Also worth mentioning are the film's setting and cinematography, which are impressive and the notable score, particularly for the theme "Sirtaki". However, overall the film's positive points are overshadowed by its slow pace.

The Adventures of Mark Twain

The first thing to note about "The Adventures of Mark Twain" is that it is by no stretch an accurate biography of Mark Twain. In that sense the film is unfortunate, because no doubt they could have still had an interesting film without the need for blatant inaccuracies.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Fredric March is memorable as a witty and principled Twain. March dominates the movie, but the supporting cast gives notable performances as well. The film has a number of great humorous moments as befits a film about Twain. The problems and conflicts developed in the film, although often fictitious, are engaging.

If you are looking for an accurate biography of Mark Twain, avoid this film. However, if you can tolerate the historical liberties, see "The Adventures of Mark Twain" for Fredric March's stellar performance as Twain.

Sleuth
Sleuth(1972)

"Sleuth" is a film adaptation of Anthony Shaffer's play. The film retains a theatrical quality with a small setting and two main characters. This is not a detriment to the film, which is a delight from start to finish. The film's sets are excellent, and the little trinkets and games scattered in the sets in the English country home add to the film.

This film does not follow the traditional mystery mold of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle, but rather the rivalry and "battle of wits" between Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Olivier plays Andrew Wyke, an eccentric detective fiction author who does wonderfully amusing impressions of stock characters from mystery novels. Caine is excellent as the "young upstart" Milo Tindle, who seeks the hand of Wyke's wife.

Ultimately the fun of "Sleuth" is in trying to anticipate where the story will turn and how far Wyke and Tindle will go. If you are a fan of mysteries, "Sleuth" is essential viewing because of its engaging plot and performances.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver(1976)

[font=Arial][/font]"Taxi Driver" chronicles the life of Travis Bickle, a misanthropic Vietnam veteran who takes to driving a taxi at nights to combat his insomnia. This film is not for those looking for a ray of sunshine; it depicts Travis' descent further into mental illness as he becomes disgusted by the night life in the city seen from his taxi.

The film is engaging and thought-provoking from beginning to end. Even seeing Travis simply observing the streets in his taxi is immersive with the help of Bernard Herrmann's perfect score. The film's performances are all top-notch from Robert De Niro to the supporting cast. Robert De Niro expertly creates a subtle and memorable characterization in Travis Bickle.

This film has many classic moments, particularly the famous "Are you talking to me?" scene. It builds up slowly with nice touches such as the scrawled diary of Travis to an unexpected but satisfying conclusion. I recommend "Taxi Driver" to anyone willing to see the film's grim atmosphere.

Gosford Park
Gosford Park(2001)
½

Gosford Park's marketing implied that it was a mystery in the style of Agatha Christie mysteries. At the beginning it seems to fit with this profile as an array of guests make their way to a large house in the English countryside. However, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that this is not a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense, rather it is primarily focused on showing the lives of the characters in great depth and highlighting class distinctions in Britain as they were in the 1930s.

The film has a number of good points. Sets and costumes were very well-crafted and impressive. The film was well-scored and particularly notable was the ditties sung by Ivor Novello while he played the piano. Notable performances come from a great cast and the film has its brilliant moments, particularly when we learn key details about the shrouded characters.

However, observing the rituals of the house in between the film's top moments became tedious. The film seemed to be picking up steam when the promised murder took place. However, the last part of the film ultimately did not gain significant momentum after the murder. Stephen Fry's character was amusing initially when he could not seem to speak his full name without being interrupted, but his bumbling approach to investigating the murder was unfortunate. However, the movie does provide an interesting conclusion as the final details of key characters are revealed.

Gosford Park is well-filmed, but the fact that the mystery aspect is deemphasized relative to exploring the conventions of the house left me disappointed. If you are looking for an Agatha Christie type mystery, look elsewhere. But if a thorough exploration of English society and class distinctions in 1930s Britain appeals to you, see Gosford Park.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" is an adaptation of Tennesse Williams' Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. Williams focused his play on attitudes toward homosexuality and cynical depiction of a dysfunctional southern American family. The film nicely depicted the home of the family, a vast Mississippi plantation, from outside and in.

The head of the family, the imposing Big Daddy, stands out in the film because of the engaging performance of Burl Ives. Ives portrays a confrontational and crass yet uneasy Big Daddy to perfection. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor were an appropriate pair to portray the friction between Brick and Maggie. The supporting cast also does well in providing the annoyances surrounding the three main characters.

The censorship imposed on this film keeps it from reaching its full potential. While the confrontations between Big Daddy and Brick are memorable, with Brick speaking of the "mendacity" surrounding him and Big Daddy lamenting his plight, a lot was lost from the original play. The potentially homosexual Brick of Williams' play was replaced by a Brick that needs to grow up, causing the film to lose the full of the potency of the play.

Despite the censorship, the film is still worth seeing for the memorable performances. However, the censorship keeps this film from being a classic on par with "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951).