**/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras B+ starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, James Woods screenplay by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman, based on the novel by Nelson DeMille directed by Simon West
by Bill ChambersThe General's Daughter is prettified trash, a sulphur-coloured pulp movie of dubious ambitions. Undeniably effective in fits and starts, this adaptation of Nelson DeMille's popular novel dies when it succumbs to the lurid urges of a too-visceral director. The nude body of Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) has been discovered strangled to death on an army base in Georgia. Elisabeth's father, vice-presidential hopeful General Joseph Campbell (!) (James Cromwell), summons beefy army cop Paul Brennan (John Travolta), an acquaintance of the deceased, to close the case before the FBI moves in--and before the media gets wind of the situation. Working with ex-girlfriend Sarah "Sun" Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), Paul quickly uncovers the secrets of the late captain's double-life as a dominatrix.
ALONG CAME JONES (1945) **½/**** Image B+ Sound C+ starring Gary Cooper, Loretta Young, William Demarest, Dan Duryea screenplay by Nunnally Johnson directed by Stuart Heisler MAN OF THE WEST (1958) ****/**** Image A- Sound B- starring Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O'Connell screenplay by Reginald Rose directed by Anthony Mann
THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942) **/**** Image B Sound C+ Extras C starring Gary Cooper, Teresa Wright, Walter Brennan, Dan Duryea screenplay by Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz directed by Sam Wood
THE WESTERNER (1940) **½/**** Image B Sound C+ starring Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Doris Davenport, Fred Stone screenplay by Jo Swerling and Niven Busch directed by William Wyler
by Jefferson Robbins I thought Gary Cooper was broader. The way he carried Hollywood on his shoulders from the silents through the talkies to the threshold of the New Wave, you'd expect him to be broader. Instead, he was the definition of lanky. Where his centre of gravity lay was in his Rushmore of a face: in close-up, he's an impossible granite monument, like that ever-unfinished Crazy Horse memorial in South Dakota; in full shot, in his prime years, he's a broomstick supporting a boulder.
Please note that all framegrabs are from the 1080p version
****/**** DVD - Image A Sound A+ Extras A+ 4K UHD - Image A Sound A- Commentary A- starring Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker written and directed by Sam Raimi
by Walter ChawThe Evil Dead defies wisdom: It's an ultraviolent horror film made on a nothing budget (rumoured to have been in the neighbourhood of three-thousand dollars) that still manages to produce an enduring and brilliant performance and demonstrate (like a Dario Argento shocker) that gore, if it's perverse enough, can be the beginning and the end of horror. The product of Bruce Campbell's hilariously physical turn, of Sam Raimi's genius in fashioning dazzling camera moves, and of an uncredited Joel Coen's flair at the editing table, The Evil Dead bristles with life and joy. It is a testament to how bliss and the spark of inspiration can elevate a film of any budget in any genre from routine to sublime.
FUTURAMA: BENDER'S BIG SCORE (2007) ***½/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras B screenplay by Ken Keeler directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill
FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS (2008) **/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B- screenplay by Eric Kaplan directed by Peter Avanzino
FUTURAMA: BENDER'S GAME (2008) *½/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B+ screenplay by Eric Horsted (parts one and two), Michael Rowe & Eric Kaplan (part three), David X. Cohen & Patric M. Verrone (part four) directed by Dwayne Carey-Hill
FUTURAMA: INTO THE WILD GREEN YONDER (2009) */**** Image A+ Sound A Extras C screenplay by Ken Keeler directed by Peter Avanzino
by Ian Pugh While Matt Groening with "The Simpsons" had an incalculable effect on how I perceived movies, television, and just about everything else in life, truth be told I probably love his "Futurama" more. What can I say other than that it came at the right time in my life--it was my "Star Trek", my "Buffy", my "Doctor Who": the first sci-fi property to capture my heart, and the avatar into which I poured all my nerdy obsessions. I appreciated its ability to strike a perfect balance of comedy and characterization that legitimized its silliest scenarios. Who would have guessed that the search for a long-lost seven-leaf clover could turn into a touching tribute to brotherly love? Subplots often wore thin and jokes fell flat, but looking back, there isn't a single half-hour in its initial 72-episode run that can be considered an outright failure. Unfortunately, the show never got a chance to shine, placed at a ridiculous timeslot on Fox--Sunday at 7PM, where it was certain to be either pre-empted or overshadowed by Sunday Night Football (jocks vs. nerds!)--and thus doomed to an inevitably short life. The final episode of the fourth season promised that "Futurama" would "see you on some other channel," but the initial salvation came from Fox's home-entertainment division: The producers were offered the chance to do a direct-to-video movie, which was eventually negotiated up to four movies, made and released over a span of three years. Of course, the success of these paved the way for a sixth season due to air on Comedy Central beginning this week, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
ON THE TOWN (1949) **/**** Image C Sound B- starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Betty Garrett, Ann Miller screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, based on the play directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949) **/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras C starring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Betty Garrett screenplay by Harry Tugeno and George Wells directed by Busby Berkeley
ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945) **/**** Image C+ Sound B- Extras D starring Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Dean Stockwell screenplay by Isobel Lennart directed by George Sidney
by Alex Jackson One of the cinema's most startling moments in recent years was a close-up of Paul Dano early on in There Will Be Blood. Dano was never meant to get that friendly with the camera. I'm not sure I can properly convey this notion, but his close-up created a dissonant effect. It felt as though director Paul Thomas Anderson had broken some unstated rule of filmmaking. I think the reason it's so jarring is that the Close-Up wasn't designed for actors like Paul Dano. It was designed for somebody like his co-star, Daniel Day-Lewis. To put it as delicately as possible, Dano wasn't blessed with a "movie star" face. He's a bit strange-looking. In contrast, Daniel Day-Lewis is traditionally handsome and truly "belongs" on the silver screen. In and of himself, he's as cinematic as anything you're ever going to find in the movies.
***½/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matthew O'Leary screenplay by Brent Hanley directed by Bill Paxton
by Walter Chaw Dad (Bill Paxton) gets lists of demons from God. He has also provided Dad with three weapons with which to dispatch said demons: a pair of work gloves, a length of pipe, and an axe named "Otis." Oldest boy Fenton (Matthew O'Leary) and his little brother Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) are left to decide whether Dad is indeed touched by divine hand or just another redneck serial killer in a white van.
**/**** Image B Sound A Extras D+ starring Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers directed by Gregory Hoblit
by Ian Pugh SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Although the term "cat-and-mouse" has already become synonymous with Gregory Hoblit's Fracture, it's something of a misnomer in that it implies a clever battle of wits. The film actually hinges on precisely two turnarounds of one-upsmanship between the designated cat and mouse: the revelation of the convoluted, coincidence-dependent plan to commit the perfect murder, and the fatal flaw in said plan (the "fracture," get it?) that eventually brings its perpetrator to justice--and as both are telegraphed far in advance, it's impossible to play along with the expectation for surprise. So inevitable are these conclusions, in fact, that I just gave up and accepted the ending, which sidesteps a first-glance case of double jeopardy with such vague dialogue, recited in such a bland tone of sotto voce, that I only got the basic gist of how we got from Point A to Point B. With Point B such a shrug-worthy certainty, I wasn't nearly confused enough to care besides.
**/**** Image C+ Sound B starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judi West screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond directed by Billy Wilder
by Bill ChambersThe Fortune Cookie was an attempt on Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's part to recapture the glory days of six years previous, when their one-two punch of Some Like It Hot and The Apartment hit pay dirt. (Imagine Steven Spielberg's 1993, with its back-to-back releases of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, and you'll have some idea of the position that Wilder and Diamond were in following The Apartment's Oscar glory.) More to the point, it was an act of redemption for the roundly lambasted Kiss Me, Stupid, and like most movie art seeking atonement from the masses, it so slavishly recapitulates a past success that audiences still aren't getting what they want, only what they've had. A homoerotic redux of The Apartment, with Jack Lemmon reassuming the role of the weak-willed schlub and a black man filling in for Shirley MacLaine (although these character ascriptions prove interchangeable), The Fortune Cookie does nothing so well as make you wish you were watching The Apartment instead.
**/**** Image B Sound B- Commentary B+ starring Joseph Fiennes, Ray Liotta, Gretchen Mol written and directed by Paul Schrader
by Bill Chambers Paul Schrader's fragmented, risqué melodrama Forever Mine tells the tale of an exceptionally well-read Miami Beach cabana boy named Alan (Joseph Fiennes) who steals the heart of Ella (Gretchen Mol, an old-fashioned bombshell), the wife of councilman Mark Brice (Ray Liotta), and pays for it: first by being sent to jail an innocent, then with a bullet in the head. (The jealous husband does the deed.) But Alan survives and, unbeknownst to Brice and Ella, steals a new identity for himself, that of a Miami druglord called upon fourteen years later to act as the politico's criminal liaison in New York. Haunted Ella finds herself compelled by this scarred stranger and his thoughtful glances.
**½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras C starring Charlie Sheen, Christopher McDonald, David Sherrill, Jeff Cesario screenplay by David Sherrill & David Michael O'Neill directed by David Michael O'Neill
by Walter Chaw Men's coming-of-age pictures fall into the categories of finding a dead body by the side of the train tracks, making a bet during a personal summer of '69 concerning getting laid, or going away with the buddies on the eve of marriage (or the aftermath of a suicide, though some might say, "Same difference"). (Trouble at home, Walter? -Ed.) They are films, in other words, about courage, about a journey, and about sex and rituals of mortality. Hyphenate David Michael O'Neill's Five Aces is another in that long-standing tradition of pseudo-nostalgic man-sensitive buddy flicks, this one free of the stultifying voice-over narration but not of the contracted timeframe and forced epiphanies. On these masculine journeys of self-discovery, you see, the spotlight shines on each pilgrim in his turn like a twisted middle-class milk dud version of The Canterbury Tales.
**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras D+ starring Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes screenplay by Mike Rich directed by Gus Van Sant
by Walter Chaw Not content to play Salieri on film just once, F. Murray Abraham, after years of toiling away in decidedly lowbrow productions subsequent to Amadeus, has returned to the role that made him fitfully famous. It's interesting to me that an actor who found fleeting celebrity (as a composer who borrowed fame very briefly) would choose to make a 'comeback' portraying a once almost-famous writer/now frustrated teacher of English at a snotty prep school. Still, given the level of relative originality in Finding Forrester, it's not entirely unexpected that a secondary character played by a rather limited character actor is transplanted whole cloth from another film. On the other hand, something of a surprise is that Sean Connery would reprise his performance as an antisocial genius (who opens his heart to a creature of the Bronx) from Medicine Man, and that Gus Van Sant would try to resuscitate the flyblown carcass of Good Will Hunting by cleverly splicing it together with The Paper Chase.
*½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras C+ starring Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, James B. Sikking, JoBeth Williams screenplay by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel, based on the novel by Nick Hornby directed by Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly
by Walter Chaw Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a Red Sox fanatic and middle-school math teacher, falls in love with corporate minx Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), who, as is often the case in Farrelly Brothers films, is perfect. She's beautiful, bug-eyes and all, and when she simpers in her mealy-mouthed way that she loves Ben as much as Ben loves baseball, all the men folk are supposed to melt--but I have serious doubts as to whether Barrymore is romantic lead material. Though she's fine getting hit in the face with a hard foul (her best roles are as the benighted bimbos in Adam Sandler trainwrecks), much of Barrymore's sultriness has to do with the idea of her as a naughty schoolgirl (Poison Ivy), not as a savvy woman of the world. She's no Mary, in other words, and her lack as one-half of Fever Pitch's romantic pairing is distracting--if not actually crippling, since leading man Fallon is himself a stammering vanilla doormat.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS ½*/**** Image B Sound B- Extras D starring Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones, Vittorio De Sica, Mercedes McCambridge screenplay by Ben Hecht, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway directed by Charles Vidor
FRANCIS OF ASSISI */**** Image B Sound B- Extras D starring Bradford Dillman, Dolores Hart, Stuart Whitman, Pedro Armendariz screenplay by Eugene Vale, James Forsyth and Jack Thomas directed by Michael Curtiz
by Walter Chaw One of David O. Selznick's many attempts to shape the largely immutable mug of lady-love Jennifer Jones into the face that launched a thousand cinematic ships, the badly-fumbled Hemingway adaptation A Farewell to Arms finds Jones, about two decades past the age of her Red Cross nightingale Catherine, paired opposite the not-quite-long-in-the-tooth-but-almost Rock Hudson as her doomed love Lt. Henry. The setting is Italy during The Great War; playboy Lt. Henry falls for mad "Cat," who, as written by the legendary Ben Hecht (himself a decade removed from his best work and well on his way to becoming king of cheese epics), comes off as an entirely inappropriate nod to Blanche Dubois. Selznick served John Huston--the right man for this picture--his walking papers early on for correctly identifying the love story in Hemingway's novel as just a metaphor for the tragedy and irony of WWI's carnage, subbing Huston with second-stringer Charles Vidor, who meekly agreed to amplify the alleged love between Lt. Henry and Cat while pushing all manner of hysterical spectacle to the wings of the proscenium.
FAME (1980) **/**** Image B Sound B Extras B starring Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi screenplay by Christopher Gore directed by Alan Parker
FAME (2009) */**** Image N/A Sound C Extras D starring Debbie Allen, Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullaly screenplay by Allison Burnett, based on the screenplay by Christopher Gore directed by Kevin Tancharoen
by Walter Chaw Alan Parker seems to fancy himself a bit of a sociologist--a chronicler of Truth surveying man's inhumanity to man and the injustices perpetrated especially in the United States, offering up pictures that seek to expose just exactly what's wrong with his non-native land. When he makes a good movie, like Angel Heart, it's good because he's not proselytizing about corruption so much as he's indulging in his suspicions about the Home of the Brave. (Filthy with evil, right?) The matinee of appreciation for Parker is not surprisingly around fifteen, when stuff like Mississippi Burning and Midnight Express has the weight of sagacity rather than the reek of puerile outrage and unbecoming grandstanding. He's Stanley Kramer with a drug and counterculture fixation that marks him as a product less of Mod than of Free Love. Fame is the perfect Parker vehicle because it's an anthology of Parker's perception of inner-city woes, and as it appears at the end of the Seventies, the decade that was America's crucible of self-reflection, the sort of prison-wallet Passion Play of which Parker's most fond finds a more tolerable climate. It's perfect, too, because Parker's background in commercials often leads him to make films that are told in images impossible to misconstrue with concepts that aren't necessarily substantial enough for a feature. (See: his big-screen adaptations of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and Webber's awful Evita.) Fame's structure is a sequence of vignettes and its characters a collection of types, so that the demand to sustain itself over the course of two hours is ameliorated by the fact that it's basically an anthology piece.