Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (1922)

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Mabuse is a timeless character: irretrievably depraved, charismatic, over-the-top and sarcastic, the kind of evildoer who just really loves his job. Continue reading

Five Days One Summer (1982)

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Dr. Douglas Meredith (Sean Connery) is on a climbing holiday in the Alps with his young wife Kate (Betsy Brantley). They’re happy and in love, but complications arise when Johann (Lambert Wilson), a handsome young climbing instructor, falls for Kate, and she begins to have feelings for him as well. Douglas senses the competition as well as the unstoppable passage of time, and in a bid to prove his masculinity and woo Kate back, suggests a treacherous climb with only Johann as his guide. An avalanche intervenes and only one man returns to Kate… but is it the man she wants? Five Days One Summer (1982), director Fred Zinneman’s last film, was a strange entry in a year that also saw films like Victor/Victoria, Porky’s, Silent Rage, Tron and Blade Runner. A quiet, deliberate affair, Five Days is impressive for its locations and styling, for the practical effects, and the commitment to creating art, if only for art’s own sake. Cinematographer Guiseppe Rotunno does a fantastic job during the climbing scenes, though elsewhere the quality of the film ranges from too dark to see to so soft you almost can’t make out anything tangible.  Janet Maslin called Sean Connery “dependably sturdy” in this film.   Still, the general consensus, both then and now, is that Zinneman didn’t pull off the intimacy necessary to make the film work. Most find the film far too slow — Variety called it “Five Summers One Day” — but I find the complaints about pacing … Continue reading

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972)

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Christopher and Katy (played by Mark Lester and Chloe Franks, respectively) are troubled siblings who spend their days at the orphanage dodging the mean adults who work there and refusing to speak at all. They both hope to go to the lavish annual Christmas party held at the mansion of the nice Mrs. Forrest (Shelley Winters), but only 12 children are picked each year, and neither of them make the list. The two stow away in the trunk of a car headed to the party and sneak in anyway, which horrifies the orphanage staff, but which Mrs. Forrest has no problem with. It’s a nice sentiment, but if she doesn’t care that there are more than 12 children at her home, why can’t all of the kids in the orphanage go? As lovely as the rich Mrs. Forrest seems — “Call me Auntie Roo,” she tells the kids — in reality, she’s disturbed, having never gotten over the death of her young daughter Katherine years ago. In fact, as we learned in the opening scenes, she keeps her daughter’s decomposed corpse in a cradle upstairs, and no one, save a few people close to Mrs. Forrest, even know the girl is dead. Auntie Roo is not well.   After repeated séances with no result, Mrs. Forrest starts to believe that little Katy is the return of Katherine. She wants to adopt Katy, but her brother Christopher is against it. With narrowed eyes and a lot of hate in his heart, … Continue reading

Doc Hollywood (1991)

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Young jerk-slash-doctor Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox), tired of his thankless job in a chaotic D.C. emergency room, heads out to Los Angeles for a job interview in a cushy, swanky plastic surgery clinic. After a bit of reckless driving and an incident with some cows, he and his classic 1957 Speedster wind up underneath a fence in the tiny town of Grady, “The Squash Capital of the South.”  The court orders Ben to pay a small fine and work as a doctor in the local clinic for community service, mainly because the town’s current doctor (Barnard Hughes) is about to retire and they can’t find anyone to replace him. Ben has no intention of staying, until the quirky locals, especially Mayor Nicholson (David Ogden Stiers) and the beautiful ambulance driver Lou (Julie Warner), start to worm their way into his heart. Doc Hollywood (1991), despite its cynical opening scenes, is an old-fashioned, gentle romantic comedy, the kind of thing critics said Michael J. Fox should have been doing instead of Bright Lights, Big City (1988). But because we critics are fickle and flawed, reviewers weren’t keen on the kinder, gentler Fox, either, Roger Ebert being one of the few exceptions.   Doc Hollywood hearkens back to the days of older, inoffensive entertainment, including a scene with an outdoor late night showing of The General (1927), though there are a few moments that belie the film’s mild-mannered demeanor, mainly an early scene when Lou is introduced to us, completely and … Continue reading

It’s a Date (1940)

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It’s a Date is impressive in that it presages the post-war bobby soxer films by a few years, as well as the Hawaiian fashion trend; in fact, Peter Stackpole’s now-famous photo spread featuring Hawaiian and Polynesian fashions in Life Magazine didn’t go to print until after It’s a Date was released. This was clearly meant to be a trendy film, one to appeal to the younger crowd, particularly the ladies who were Durbin’s biggest fans. Continue reading

My Fellow Americans (1996)

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My Fellow Americans is exceedingly kind to its two leads, who are allowed to be charming and charismatic and fun, and whose sheer exuberance turns a strange tale about the attempted assassination of two former presidents into a delightful, lighthearted comedy. Continue reading

The Russian Woodpecker (2015)

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It’s that connection between the corrupt past and the corrupt neo-Soviet present that gives The Russian Woodpecker its heft. The film never unearths anything startling, and its attempts to fool you into thinking it has are done in bad faith, but the film remains a compelling reminder of just how quickly we humans tend to fall back into old habits, even old habits that are likely to kill us. Continue reading

Victor/Victoria (1982)

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Victor/Victoria happily embraces the been-there-done-that tone of a film that, fifty years after the original, knows its plot should no longer be scandalous. The genius of the film’s nonchalant sexuality is that gender-bending, drag and homosexuality were still salacious in 1982, and Victor/Victoria shows better than any other film before or since just how ridiculous that is.
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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is one goddamned entertaining film. Pelham is also exciting, especially for a film that consists largely of guys talking into radio mics at people they’ve never seen. Matthau is tough and confident — so confident, in fact, that he handily pulls off wearing the most beautiful, outrageous clothes, two yellow and red catastrophes duking it out with each other across his chest throughout the entire film. Continue reading

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969)

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Underneath that stereotypical late-60s conservative backlash veneer are some really interesting points being made, points that director Mel Stuart sadly seems to have not noticed. Continue reading