Welcome

Welcome to my site. I am an informed and opinionated movie lover who has much to share with anyone who would like to learn more about film. Please read my articles–a mix of reviews, commentary, and topical essays. Also, please peruse my list of movie ratings and capsule reviews, which you can sort by year, ranking, and name. You may also want to read about my ratings system.

Please come back often and subscribe to my site, as I regularly add content. My rankings pages currently only include about a quarter of the movies I’ve seen, and only a few have reviews. I am always adding rankings and reviews.

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Halloween recommendation

Looking for something truly scary to spice up a movie night as Halloween approaches? Eyes Without A Face (1960) will do the trick. This French horror film is creepy, frightening, gruesome, and mysterious. At its heart is a family drama about a doctor seeking a treatment for his disfigured daughter, who is compelled to wear a mask due to her condition–thus the title. The mystery is how the daughter ended up that way and why her father is so obsessed with finding a “cure.” The horror is triggered by the father and daughter's means for making her presentable. The creepiness surrounds the whole movie, especially the later bits, when the truth is revealed and things get weird.

Few movies today achieve the superb atmosphere and suspense created by this impeccably directed, acted, and shot film. It has its share of shocks, but the gruesome bits are more about the threat of gore, in contrast to the ham-handed schlock thrown together today in the name of horror. Eyes Without A Face is a precursor of the relatively restrained Halloween (1978) and Carrie (1976), but not the bloodbaths put out more recently.

★★★★½

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The Five Lost Hitchcocks

I can't overemphasize the importance to my development as a film aficionado of the re-release of the Five Lost Hitchcocks in 1983. Even though I had been exposed to so many pictures before I was 17, including such great Hitchcock creations as Psycho and Strangers on A Train, these didn't include Rear Window or Vertigo. I've spent the past 25 years making up for lost time, watching all five movies. The flawed but highly-influential Rope, the gripping 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, and the fluffy comic The Trouble With Harry round out the quintet. I view Rear Window and Vertigo at least once a year. It's no wonder that these two appear high on critics lists now, since for a couple of generations it's as if they were only recently released.

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Vertigo (1958)

Not just one of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces, Vertigo (1958) is one of the best movies. This psychological thriller remains as controversial and unique as when it was first released, in part due to its themes of necrophilia and romantic obsession, unresolved plot discrepancies, off-putting plot twists, as well as Kim Novak's acting job–with some saying that it detracts from the film and others saying that it adds to its aura.

Adding to Vertigo's mystique was its unavailability for 25 years, after Hitchcock removed and four other films from circulation. I was fortunate to be present at a screening in 1984, just after Universal purchased the rights from the Hitchcock estate to the “Five Missing Hitchcocks.” In fact, I first saw Vertigo in an auditorium at American University, where I was earning my bachelor's degree. Having no idea about the plot in advance, on a large screen, with several hundred other people made for ideal viewing. It also helped that I was an 18-year-old burgeoning movie buff. I was mesmerized, manipulated, and truly shocked at the infamous plot twists, especially the biggie half way through. I'm sure I gasped.

I was definitely hooked. Over the past 25 years, I've seen Vertigo repeatedly, in theaters and dens. It's one of my favorite Hitchcocks (Rear Window being the other) and favorite movies overall. I cherish each scene and moment with each viewing, never tiring of the perfection crafted by all involved in making what is arguably one of the ten finest American films.

★★★★★

 

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Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

It's a week after Bastille Day and we're having a heatwave. What better reasons to watch Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953)? Jacques Tati's delightful satire of vacationing at the French seashore is nearly silent, making it ideal for those who don't like subtitles. The dearth of dialog is more than compensated for by the music, Tati's direction, and the actors, especially the peerless Tati. The physical comedy is universally hilarious and really is what this movie is about. The simple plot is basically how a varied group of middle-class French spend their mandatory August vacation at a small seaside hotel. Tati mines the constant motion for endless laughs–a la Three Stooges crossed with Benny Hill. (Remember, the French revere Jerry Lewis, as do I.)

Having watched the film with subtitles and dubbed, I don't think the dialog adds much to one's enjoyment. Tati did receive an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, but we know that scripts aren't just the words spoken. After all, another French movie won a screenplay Oscar without any words at all. (The Red Balloon in 1957)

★★★★★

 

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1776 (1972)

It's raining on this July 4th, so with the parade done, outdoor activity is off for the day. Fortunately, the Drexel Theater showed 1776 this afternoon (and tomorrow morning).

The only movie about what we celebrate on July 4th–the Declaration of Independence–is a musical. 1776 was a financially and critically successful Broadway show that had opened in 1969, so it was an easy decision for Jack Warner to put it on the screen. Coming at the height of the Vietnam era, the closing months of President Nixon's first term, and not long after the race riots and civil rights assassinations of the 1960s, it was also very relevant–even for a period piece. It has an anti-war ballad (“Momma, Look Sharp”) and a number about the slave trade (“Molasses to Rum”). President Nixon is reported to have asked Columbia Pictures to cut “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” which is critical of the greed and economic self-preservation of conservative politicians.

Surprisingly, a two-and-a-half-hour 1972 musical about events of a month in 1776 is still very effective and entertaining. Even more surprisingly, most of the Broadway cast was retained for the film. Blythe Danner replaced Betty Buckley, but it's not detrimental. The film is very talky and somewhat static, but opening it up beyond the few street scenes that were added would have only made the running time longer. Despite being a musical, it has virtually no choreography–Onna White was retained from the stage–unsurprising for a show with only two small female parts and essentially confined to a conference room.

For me, the truest test of 1776's relative merit today came as I was leaving the theater with my daughter and her friend, both eleven years old. They decreed the movie to be “great.” Of course, they're spending the rest of the rainy afternoon playing video games, but even the American Revolution took eight years.

★★★★☆

 

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Detour (1945)

You should be watching the Bruins and Blackhawks battle for the Stanley Cup or a baseball game, preferably the Red Sox. Or you should be biking, barbecuing, or swimming. However, if you really want to take in a movie, I recommend Detour (1945).

Edgar Ulmer's masterwork is barely over an hour, making it a nice bite-size entertainment that won't keep you indoors too long. Better yet, it will stop you from picking up hitchhikers, if you're planning a road trip.

The aptly named actress Ann Savage is sensational as a femme fatale who turns nice guy Tom Neal's world upside down. Any further description of the plot would spoil this tight, stylish film for viewers.

Suffice it to say, Ulmer's expressionist background, dirt-cheap budget, outstanding screenplay, and week-long shoot ensure that this noir classic is a fast-paced little gem of the genre that has become a must-see for noir aficianados and a treat for all. This is the movie that The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) wishes it could be.

★★★★½

 

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