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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Flashdance (1983)

For too many years, the cliche has been that movies no longer have plots. I think what that really means is that in the past four decades, movies have become more focused on visuals, special effects, and music than dialog and pure narrative. The results are loud pictures full of fast cuts and set pieces centered on action or punch lines, all in sharp contrast to classics like the Godfather, which balance the elements of good film making. The result has been an excess of effects-driven franchises, animated features, empty romcoms, and musicals.

No movie typifies this shift more than Flashdance (1983). It does have a plot, albeit one that’s very slim and leaves no mystery about how it will play out from the opening credits. It’s really just a series of music videos, surrounded by a fairy tale that’s a cross between Cinderella and Pygmalion–not that Shaw or the Brothers Grimm would recognize their influence.

★★★☆☆

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Happy Holidays

There is no more recommendable movie for the holiday season than It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). The film isn’t explicitly about Christmas or any other holiday, even though its final scenes take place on a day just before Christmas, perhaps even Christmas Eve and the cast sings “Auld Lang Syne” at the end. Themes of spirituality, end-of-the-year introspection, faith, and charity carry throughout what’s a clever retelling of the Scrooge story with an angel guiding the way instead of generic spirits. In this case, a more relatable protagonist and motivation make this a more timeless and seasonless tale. Who hasn’t considered what the world–family, friends, community–would be like without them? And what better time to consider this philosophical premise than December, as we contemplate the end of one year and the start of another and celebrate a variety of holidays with those very people we’re thinking about?

Even though the Frank Capra-directed Jimmy Stewart vehicle is not nearly as ubiquitous since NBC aquired exclusive broadcast rights, it can be found on a variety of streaming services, including iTunes and Amazon.

★★★★★

 

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TV Bonus: Brady Bunch trivia

Alice’s beau Sam had a surname other than “the Butcher.” In one of the last season episodes, Mike leaves on his home drafting table an envelope containing plans for an expansion of Sam’s butcher shop. “Sam Franklin” is written on the outside of the envelope. Of course, later in the episode Sam refers to himself as “Sam the Butcher,” as he is frequently called during the series’ run. Even he couldn’t remember his own name.

Show business veterans like Imogene Coca and Don Ho made guest appearances on the Brady Bunch, but it was especially interesting when Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer appeared separately in consecutive episodes near the end of the series’ run. To Gen-X and Baby Boom viewers, the two are best known for their roles on Gilligan’s Island as socialites Mr. And Mrs. Howell, even though they were Hollywood veterans with numerous movie and TV credits behind them (Anastasia, The Snake Pit for her; Rebel Without A Cause and the voice of the title character in the Mr. Magoo cartoons.)

On the Brady Bunch, Backus was Mr. Matthews, president of the architecture firm where Mike worked. He appeared in a single episode, in which he gave the Bradys a pool table as reward for Mike’s hard work. in the previous episode, Schafer played a wealthy client of Mike’s who ends up performing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” with Cindy. Don’t ask.    

More Brady Bunch trivia: Despite what IMDB and other authoritative sites would have us believe, Robert Reed did not appear in every episode of the series. The seventeenth episode of the fifth season is the first in which Robbie Rist appeared as Cousin Oliver. The highlight of that episode is the participation of the kids, Carol, Alice, and Oliver in a circa 1920 mock slapstick movie scene during a studio tour. Obviously, the classically trained Mr. Reed, known to make suggestions (demands?) to the writers and producers, had finally encountered a situation in this sitcom that was too far below his dignity and he skipped the episode entirely.

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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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