Monday, April 25, 2011

BIG small screen catch-up

It's been quite awhile since I've reviewed anything I've seen on the small screen, so here are quite a few capsule reviews to swallow. I'll try to keep these pithy:

Missing: Sterling Costa-Gavras drama about a man searching for his missing son in Chile and has his ideology shaken in the process. Great work, as usual, by Jack Lemmon. GRADE:  A

Cyrus: Disappointing black comedy has a good cast (John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei), but needlessly gimmicky camerawork and an overly bitter tone undo it. GRADE: C

The Leopard Man: Underrated Val Lewton chiller about a wild leopard on the prowl. Castanets never sounded so scary. GRADE: A

Broken Blossoms: Lesser-known film by DW Griffith isn't as visually florid as his more famous works, but its dramatically powerful. Racist iconography toned down from Birth of a Nation, but still prevalent.  GRADE: B+

Marty: No, not a Scorsese picture, but the 50s film that won Ernest Borgnine a well-deserved Oscar. Pretty much deserves its reputation; only drawback is an abrupt ending. The girl, Betsy Blair, was Mrs. Gene Kelly at the time. GRADE: A-

The More the Merrier: Delightful comedy is superior to the other Jean Arthur/Charles Coburn pairing, The Devil and Miss Jones. Joel McCrea adds to the fun. GRADE: A-

Jane Eyre: The best-known film version of the Bronte classic benefits from terrific atmosphere created by director Robert Stevenson, who later went on to direct Mary Poppins. Leads Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles are great, but Mia Wasikowska bests Fontaine in current remake. GRADE: A-

Isle of the Dead: More Val Lewton fun, with Boris Karloff alternately chilling and sympathetic. GRADE: B+

Here Comes Mr. Jordan: The original Heaven Can Wait is nothing less than wonderful and actually very moving. Claude Rains is terrffic, as he always was, in the title role. GRADE: A

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer: Fascinating story of a powerful man undone by his own hubris, and, the documentary would have you believe, a few powerful enemies. That can't be proven, but what's beyond dispute is that Spitzer could have made  a difference - and he blew it. GRADE: A-

Red Dust: As expected, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow generate major heat in this tropical drama, and so does a surprising Mary Astor, the third point in their love triangle. Major debit: Ugly racist Oriental caricatures. Still better than the remake, Mogambo. GRADE: B+

Z: The film that made Costa-Gavras' name, and rightly so. Superior editing and camerawork make the drama crackle, even if it is a little too sprawling. GRADE: A-

Victor Victoria: Like so many post-50s musicals, this one is a bit flat-footed and strains too hard for effect, Tootsie was the better "drag" movie the same year. Even so, excellent work by Julie Andrews and Robert Preston make it well worth seeing. GRADE: B+

The Wolfman: It's a typical Hollywood story: Technically superior but dramatically wanting. The film is beautifully designed, but the script is half-baked, especially in the underwriting of the lead character. GRADE: C+

Running on Empty: There may not have been a better actors' director than Sidney Lumet; although the Judd Hirsch character is a tad overbearing, affecting work by River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton make the movie linger. GRADE: A-

These Amazing Shadows: A movie that covers the National Film Registry in 90 minutes is going to be a little superficial, but this documentary remains a great testamant to the power and importance of the moves.

The Actress: A minor George Cukor effort isn't nearly as effective as his best movies, but good performances from major players like Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy, Teresa Wright and Anthony Perkins (in his first film) make it stick. GRADE: B

Prince of the City: Underrated police/court procedural by Sidney Lumet is one of his best. Very nearly the equal of Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon. GRADE: A

Jesus Christ Superstar: A good musical soundtrack turns into a weird botch of a movie that suffers from a massive failure in tone. It doesn't know just how seriously too take itself. It's too gaudy to be reverent and too reverent to be guady. Show-offy visuals by director Norman Jewison are extremely distracting. GRADE: C

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