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Cabaret (1972) Review

14 10 2011

Copyright 1972 Allied Artists Pictures, ABC Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I have owned this movie on VHS for about 12 years, had it in my Netflix queue for about two, and had the DVD copy from Netflix sitting on my counter for over a month.  Because of how well-reviewed the film is, I have long known that someday I would watch it.  However, for some reason, I had in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea or that I wouldn’t find it as great as so many other people and critics.  Well, I was wrong; this a brilliant movie and I wish I would have seen it years ago.

Based off several different sources, the film takes place in Berlin in 1931.  Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is an aspiring film actress with an exuberant, though sometimes erratic, personality, currently working at the Kit-Cat Club, a risque cabaret.  English PhD. candidate and man of words, Brian Roberts, arrives in Berlin and becomes roommates with Bowles, occupying the room across from her.  To make rent, he teaches English lessons for three Marks an hour.  Over time, he and Bowles become friends and eventually lovers.  However, when Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) arrives on the scene, their relationship is truly tested.  Over the course of being showered with presents by the wealthy von Heune, Bowles and Roberts both find an attraction to him.  This attraction and the sexual escapades to follow lead to some difficult decisions for both their future together and for their individual aspirations in life.  As subtext, the film chronicles the early rise of the Nazi regime and some of the horrors seen in plain public view, that were overshadowed by the decadence and innocence of the time.  Wonderful musical numbers appear throughout, lead by Kit-Cat Club Master of Ceremonies (Joey Grey) as well.

How I judge a truly great musical is whether or not the story itself was a great story without the visual panache of the musical numbers.  This is one of those films; it’s an engrossing story, one where you truly care what happens to the characters, and the musical numbers are just icing on the cake.  Minnelli and Grey both won Oscars for their work on this film and, I think, deservedly so.  Oddly enough, Grey’s entire performance is in musical numbers, he has no scenes of actual dialog, but his physicality and comedic timing in the numbers is amazing to watch.  As for Minnelli, her performance as Bowles is not only a great acting performance, but her musical numbers accent her amazing voice and dexterity in dance as well.  I always scoffed at the fact that this film took Best Director away from Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather; however, after seeing the movie, I can see how it happened.  Director Bob Fosse, in addition to directing, choreographed all the musical numbers himself.  This is a huge undertaking, and when you see the complexity of the dance numbers and how seamlessly they interweave with the shot selection, it makes sense how he could win the award.  In addition to those three Oscars, Cabaret won five others, making it the biggest winner to date without taking home the Best Picture Oscar (that one did go to The Godfather).

My favorite musical of all-time is still Singin in the Rain, but after seeing this one, I will admit that it is probably up in the top five now.  It’s a great story with great performances and wonderful musical numbers.  What more can you ask for in a musical?

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Bridesmaids (2011) Review

11 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

After many pleads from my girlfriend, I finally relented and watched this movie with her.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be from the title and premise, but it definitely wasn’t that entertaining of a film either.

Directed by Paul Feig, the movie focuses on the misadventures of, guess what, a group of bridesmaids at friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  Annie, who is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, has been Lillian’s friend since childhood and the two are nearly inseparable.  Having owned a now defunct bakery and her life pretty much in the gutter, it is a bit difficult for her to hear her best friend is going to get married, but she is wildly excited when it is announced that she will be the maid of honor.  However, as the plot begins to unfurl, it shows that Annie’s ability to coordinate all the duties of being the maid of honor are far inferior to Lillian’s new friend and wife of her fiancee’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne).  The story continues through the feuding of Helen and Annie, as well as the continued downward spiral of Annie’s life, and a romance with a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) is even thrown into the mix as a subplot.

Where and when it has become acceptable to produce comedies over two hours long is beyond me.  It’s just too damn long; comedies are meant to amuse and travel at a pace that holds the comedic element.  When you drag gags and situations out too long, they quit being funny.  Furthermore, unless you have an extremely detailed plot beyond that of the mishaps of a group of bridesmaids, you just don’t have the  structure to entertain for that amount of time.  A large part of this trend, I believe, comes from the recent phenomena of comedies letting 90% of their film be improvisations.  Sure, letting actors improv in a comedy can produce some amusing elements in the film, but when you just roll cameras with an idea and let them carry on during every scene, you get some hits and a lot of misses.  When you look at the better comedies of all-time, you will notice certain elements that seemingly hold true: a tight, well conceived script that generally runs an hour and half or so, incredibly odd or amusing characters and a pacing that continuously moves forward.  This film didn’t have any of those elements.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t good.  But, again, better than I thought based on the title and synopsis.





The Informer (1935) Review

24 08 2011

Copyright 1935 RKO Radio Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

When you mention the name John Ford, most people are going to think of westerns.  However, this film, which gave the famed director his first of four subsequent Oscars for directing, was not a western at all.  Far from it in fact.

Victor McLaglen plays down on his luck Irishman Gypo Nolan.  A tall, strong fellow, he makes his way as a swindler and all around low-life for the most part.  However, he wants to get out of Ireland and find a better life in the United States with his girlfriend, prostitute Katie Madden (Margot Grahame).  The only problem is that tickets to a better life cost 10 pounds each, an astronomical sum for the broke Gypo.  When delinquent friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) arrives in town to visit his family, Gypo sees an opportunity in the 20 pound reward for his relinquishment to the authorities.  After deliberation, Gypo informs on Frankie, who is killed during the assault on his house.  The Sinn Fein realize that Frankie must have been pointed out by an informer and they quickly begin their pursuit for the culprit.  Meanwhile, Gypo spends the evening partying and drinking with his new found riches.  As the money dwindles on his escapades, Gypo becomes more and more caught up in something much worse than he originally expected.

The film won four Academy Awards; they were for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing and Best Score.  At first, I thought this movie wasn’t going to be very interesting.  It seemed like a fairly cliched story (at least by today’s standards) and seemed a bit heavy-handed and melodramatic during the first ten or so minutes.  However, as the narrative progressed, I realized how wonderful a film it was.  John Ford’s direction is precise and provides the right amount of suspense for the story.  In return, the script has many surprises and moments of true intrigue.  My favorite part of the film, however, was Victor McLaglen’s amazing turn as Gypo.  He really nails the part and definitely deserved his Oscar statuette for this performance.

Even though this picture is over 75 years old at this point, it still retains all of it’s entertainment value.  I would recommend this movie to classic and modern film lovers alike.





Doctor Who: The Movie (1996) Review

19 08 2011

The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann. Copyright 1996 BBC

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since starting the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who earlier this year, I have been a super fan boy to the series.  It’s great!  So great, in fact, that I may actually purchase cable through the devil (Time Warner) soon so that I can watch the rest of season six as it airs live.  That aside, after catching up and having this break in the series this summer, I have tried to go back and watch some of the classic series serials.  The classic series spans some 600+ episodes, so I am sure it will be many years to come, if ever, for me to finish it; however, I am on a quest to at least watch serials of all the eleven doctors, so that I can see how each respective actor handled the role.  So far, I have seen serials with first, third, fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh doctors.  Some of the episodes included regenerations, so I have actually briefly seen Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the role as well.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is about a Time Lord (alien) who travels through time and space in a machine that has stuck on the look of a 1960s police box called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).  The original series ran in serials from 1963-1989 and encompassed the first through seventh incarnations (he regenerates when he dies into a new form that retains some basic traits and memories, but wholly new personalities).  Following the end of the original series, there was a US/UK joint effort at rebooting the series in the form of a television movie; this is the movie in question, and it was released in 1996.  Due to many Americans being unfamiliar with the classic British show, it received abysmal reviews in the US and no further episodes were made.  In 2005, the series rebooted with the ninth doctor and continues to this day, currently with the eleventh incarnation portrayed by Matt Smith.

The television movie here up for review begins with the seventh incarnation of the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, transporting the remains of longtime enemy and fellow Time Lord, the Master, back to their home planet of Gallifrey.  The Master’s spirit, though locked and concealed, manages to escape the box causing the TARDIS to spin out of control and “crash land” in San Francisco in 1999.  When the Seventh Doctor exits the TARDIS, he is shot by a gang of hoodlums chasing down another Asian hoodlum, Chang Lee (Lee Jee Tso).  The Doctor is rushed to a local hospital and, while in the ambulance, the Master’s spirit begins the process of taking over a temporary body; this being the body of the EMS employee.  In the hospital, because of his alien anatomy, heart surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) accidentally kills his seventh form on the table.  This sets the regeneration process in motion until the Doctor regenerates into his eighth form, played by one of my favorite (and most underrated) British actors, Paul McGann.  A bit amnesiac from the regeneration, the Doctor has to remember exactly who he is and starts a friendship, and slight romance, with Dr. Holloway who becomes his companion for this movie.  The Doctor has to stop the Master from destroying the fabric of the universe and stop the Master from taking over the Doctor’s body, since the Master’s temporary human body can’t handle the soul of a Time Lord.

Compared to the lower budget effects of the original series, this television movie is extremely high tech.  The camera moves, direction and editing are all much better than many of the older serials, just because of larger budget.  Unfortunately, the story isn’t as good as it could be.  It is oddly almost like a Terminator meets Doctor Who, as the Master in human form (played by Eric Roberts) is very reminiscent of T-1000.  I also hated the acting of Eric Roberts in this role, it was just too over-the-top and campy for me.  Yet, the worst actor in the lot, I think is Lee Jee Tso; he is just awful.  However, I liked Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Holloway and actually really enjoyed Paul McGann as the doctor!  It’s a shame the script wasn’t better and that he didn’t have further chance to solidify himself in the role after this one televised appearance.  Furthermore, I have no idea why they allude to the fact that the Doctor is half human; it does nothing for the story and has never been alluded to before or after.  I just pretended that they didn’t say this about the Eighth Doctor, he is all Time Lord in my mind and that helps me enjoy the film more.

All complaints aside, I did enjoy the movie.  Yes, it could have been better, but it wasn’t a train wreck, especially for any true Doctor Who fan.  There are many nostalgic moments and lots of inside “jokes” for fans, and like I said, I really enjoyed Paul McGann as the Doctor.  Then again, Paul played in my all-time favorite British comedy, Withnail and I.  So, maybe I’m a bit biased.





Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) Review

17 08 2011

Copyright 2010 Modus Operandi Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since hearing about this film several years ago, I have been extremely anxious to see it.  Upon noticing it’s appearance on Netflix’s Instant Queue, I immediately added it.  Maddie has been gone this week for orientation for a new job, and I knew that this film would not appeal to her at all.  In fact, she made it pretty clear she had no interest in seeing this one.  So, since I had the house to myself this week (along with a couple of cats and a dog), I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful ode to one of cinema’s finest technical artists.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Cardiff was a leading British cameraman who began as a child actor in the industry in the late 1910s.  In his teens, he began moving up the ladder in the camera department from camera assistant to camera operator and, ultimately, to a full fledged cinematographer.  His work with the Archers, Pressburger and Powell, is renowned and his contributions to the field of cinematography, specifically color cinematography, are legendary.  My first personal encounter with Cardiff’s work was in my early teens.  One of the VHS movies I had recently purchased contained a preview for a re-release of the 1948 film Black Narcissus.  I was shocked at the imagery I saw during the preview!  The colors were so real, so palpable and brilliant that it made any of the current films that were in theaters at the time look dull in comparison.   I knew I had to see this film, but it would be many years later before I got my Blu-ray copy of Black Narcissus in hand.  Needless to say, the HD presentation of that film is amazing.

Cardiff would win an Oscar for Black Narcissus and go on to receive two more nominations for King Vidor’s War and Peace and Joshua Logan’s Fanny.  A further nomination would be for directing the film Sons and Lovers, making Cardiff one of the few cinematographers to achieve great success in directing.  In 2001, Cardiff was the first and, to my knowledge, only cinematographer to date to receive an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to motion pictures.

This film is an ode to his life and to his work.  It celebrates and recounts his vast history in the film industry, and includes many candid interviews with Cardiff that were filmed before he passed in 2009 at the age of 94.  I thought this was a wonderful documentary and a great tip-of-the-hat to a brilliant cinematographer.  I could understand how some people might not find this film appealing or entertaining, just out of lack of interest in the subject matter.  However, if you are a lover of motion pictures or a working filmmaker, I feel this is a must see.  Cardiff’s ability to manipulate light still brings wonder and delight to any viewer of his work.  If I can be half the artist and cameraman this gentleman was, I will feel like I achieved my goals in the field of cinematography.





The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Review

16 08 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

I had high expectations for this film when it came out earlier this year.  Honestly, it had been one of the few movies I was actually really excited to see once it came out on DVD.  Using a free credit through Vudu on my Playstation 3, Maddie and I rented this and watched it over the weekend.  My expectations were definitely not met, not in the least.

Matt Damon portrays junior congressman David Norris, who looses out on his bid for Senate.  On the night of his lose, he runs into free spirited dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  A connection is immediately felt between both Norris and Sellas, but their time is cut short by his losing speech and her being chased by guards for wedding crashing.  However, the next day, they coincidentally run into each other on the bus.  Following this second occurrence, and a slip up one of the “bureau’s” agent’s part, Norris sees some happenings at his office that he wasn’t supposed to see.  He finds out about an organization that works for a God-like entity known as the “Chairman,” who controls almost every facet of freewill on Earth.  They warn him to never let anyone know what he has seen; if he does, he will be reset.  Furthermore, they tell him it is not in the plan for him to be with Sellas and that he will never see her again.  They even go so far as to burn the paper she had given him that had her phone number on it.  As you can imagine, Norris becomes determined to get back with Sellas and there are repercussions with the “bureau” for such meddling and actions of free will.

That was kind of a quick written synopsis, wasn’t it?  Well, you know why?  Because the movie was abysmal.  That is a perfect word for this film and I wish I could alter my rating on this to just reflect that word.  It’s not a terrible film, it just isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.  In fact, we’ve probably even seen it before with Matt Damon!  In addition, the character of Sellas to me was just annoying, childish and two-dimensional.  I didn’t like the written character one bit, nor did I like the performance from Emily Blunt.

This is standard fare filmmaking; not one thing makes this movie unique or interesting.  I know I am being harsh, and probably wrongly so, but this is a movie I was excited to see and was utterly disappointed in the execution.  Don’t waste your time on this one, unless you have a low standard for films and don’t mind cliched science fiction rubbish.  I’m done ranting now.





Videodrome (1983) Review

9 08 2011

Copyright 1983 CFDC

★ ★ ★ ★

In looking over Netflix’s streaming selection, Maddie and I rather haphazardly happened upon this film.  The synopsis looked very intriguing and, knowing it was a David Cronenberg film, I had an idea as to the tone and mood the film would have.

A young James Woods plays a sleazy television programmer named Max Renn.  His television station, Channel 83, televises mod content, softcore pornography and the likes over the cable airwaves.  With the enlistment of “satellite pirate” Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), Renn scours the airwaves for edgy content to show on his station.  One day, Harlan shows him a fuzzy broadcast he receives that takes place in a small room and includes very realistic sadomasochism and even murder.  Intrigued, Renn wants to find out more and see about broadcasting this risky program entitled “Videodrome.”  Around this time, during an interview on a talk show, he strikes up a relationship with a fellow interviewee, radio personality Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry).  Being a sadomasochist herself, Nicki is excited about the idea of “Videodrome” airing on Channel 83.  However, Renn has problems locating the source content makers and is warned by his agent to not look any further into the matter.  With curiosity growing, Renn continues to search for the makers of “Videodrome” and winds up having some bizarre encounters with an odd personality known as Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley).  From this point on, the film becomes a very psychological and bizarre look at the strange effects that the “Videodrome” signal has upon an individual.

Woods does a great job in this role, and I was pleasantly surprised by Harry whom I had never seen act before.  For those of you who don’t know, her real claim to fame is as the lead singer of Blondie, who had hits with “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass,” among others during the punk/new wave revolution of the late 1970s.  Cronenberg’s shot selections were very inspired and dreamlike, which worked perfectly for the subject matter.  The contrasts between gritty, natural lighting and highly stylized mood lighting throughout by cinematographer Mark Irwin also fit the story very well.  Most impressively, however, were the incredible make-up effects by makeup effects designer Rick Baker.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, these amazingly well done makeup effects would probably have gone to a CGI department.

I will admit that I haven’t seen a large amount of Cronenberg’s work; however, this film has been the most bizarre entry of his repertoire that I have yet seen.  Maddie was at first interested, but then totally put off by the path the film took midway through.  I, on the other hand, was happily amused throughout.  So, in short, this film is not for everyone.  It is weird, hallucinatory and bizarre, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you will not be disappointed.








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