She-Devil (1989)

The poster for this movie is a great representation of the final product. A cartoonish Roseanne Barr makes a bizarre face (that isn't even in the movie) while one of the greatest actresses of our time does what she does: presents her character flawlessly. These two images do not go together. In the movie, the two performances don't go together either.

She-Devil is based on Faye Weldon's biting novel about a woman who is dumped by her husband for a thin, beautiful, wealthy novelist. She completely remakes herself, including having her legs lengthened and severe liposuction, so that she can wreck havoc on his life, revenge herself on his mistress and re-woo her husband so she can break his heart. The movie waters down the premise so that it's not about sexist attitudes regarding what makes women attractive, how men use practical wives to further their careers economically when times are tough, then dump them for attractive partners when times are flush.


Excalibur (1981)

John Boorman's vision for the look of a movie can have breathtaking results. If he could successfully pair his visions with a narrative that made sense he might be one of the most lauded directors in film today. Unlike Zardoz, which suffers from wasted plot in favor of bizarre visuals, Excalibur shows Boorman's best when plot and vision marry. However, his tendency to lose the plot in the layers of vision is still unfortunately present, making this film hit and miss.

The subject of the film is one of the oldest and most re-told myths of all time, focusing on the sword Excalibur that conveyed power to the legendary King Arthur.


Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

This may be the kind of movie that only appeals to one type of audience. In this case, that type would be homeowners. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy turn in comic performances and the script sings with wit and is full of swipes at modern life that are just as apropos 60+ years later. Cary Grant really can make his eyes bug out at will, when he's not being suave and debonair. But all of that might not be enough for those people who just don't like black and white films. If you're a homeowner, though, this is a movie that will make you shake your head, laugh, and say (many times), "Oh, that is so true."

Jim Blandings (Cary Grant) is an ad man Manhattanite with an apartment that his family of four, plus maid, has outgrown. Their carefully choreographed mornings work through sharing one bathroom, and moving the birdcage so that the coat closet can be opened. Muriel Blandings (Myrna Loy) has decided it's time to move the country. Carried away with the idea of a gentrified life, they embark on finding the right house and then having it made habitable. In this pursuit they call on old family friend Bill Cole (Melvyn Douglas), a lawyer.


Rango (2011)

One thing is for sure. My life was incomplete until I heard The Ride of the Valkyries played on the banjo. And that's not the only musical joke that is threaded throughout Rango. Homages to scores from any number of John Ford movies, Blazing Saddles, Elmer Bernstein scores and even a flourish from the "House of the Rising Sun" make just listening to this movie great fun. I say all that and thought it all before I checked the credits: Score by Hans Zimmer, one of my favorite film composers.

Visual nods abound as well, to many of the same movies. Striking direction that creates the vast vistas that John Ford used as a signature--notably Monument Valley and Betatakin ruins--makes this animated feature a genuine homage to the genre of the western. Add a quirky, well-told story that is aimed more at adults than kids, and an even quirkier hero (voiced by Johnny Depp) with the gift of gab and this is a comedy to take seriously.


Good Will Hunting (1997)

Why would anyone want to watch a movie about a borderline hoodlum with a gift for mathematics? Maybe because it's excellent? Maybe because the story is about the double-edged gifts from the gods? About the hardships that make it impossible to believe in love, to ante up for the game of life, and understand what loyalty means? Maybe because it's the performance of a lifetime from Robin Williams? Maybe even because it showcases the powerhouse-to-be Matt Damon in both the lead role and the co-writing of the script with Ben Affleck? Whatever the reason, spend two hours with this movie.


Get Shorty (1995)

Part comedy, part mob movie, part homage to Hollywood, Get Shorty is complicated, funny and full of smart wit that highlights an Elmore Leonard novel brought to the screen by Scott Frank. As the movie's tagline explains, "The mob is tough. But it's nothing like show business." The stars are notably able to deliver exactly what's required, but the real star for me is the script that pulls together an ensemble of a shylock bitten by the movie bug, a B-movie actress, an A-list a$$hole and a cheesy director who possesses Hollyword gold: a good script.


Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

There is absolutely nothing I can say about this movie that hasn't been said. Like many, I can quote entire scenes verbatim, and approximate the various voices and timbres of the cast. Ive seen it so many times that I hardly crack a smile, but the joy is still deep and real.

This is a profoundly silly movie, and timeless. Much of its humor is that it is set in a realistic presentation of the Middle Ages in Britain. Some of the scenes are such good representations that I hold serious movies about the same time period to the standards of this comedy.

The only purpose a review can serve is to join in the fun of picking favorite moments from a script that is almost entirely qualified as "memorable quotes" so that other lovers of this movie can nod and think, "Oh yeah, that's a good one."


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

A drunken sot. That's what Jack Sparrow is. He's out for himself, will lie, cheat, steal to get it, all the while staggering in and out of scenes as if he's dropped his bottle of rum somewhere and without it there is no hope of walking fully upright. All in all, he's a caricature of drunken incoherence.  And one so ably portrayed by Johnny Depp that his coherent sentences in this fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are almost always howlers. With the lift of an eyebrow his sly intelligence flashes to the surface with a roguish, beguiling charm. Fortunately, unlike some of its predecessors, the rest of the movie lives up to the wonderfulness of Jack Sparrow. Captain Jack Sparrow, that is. Ah...you have heard of him, haven't you?


Jackie Brown (1997)

There is nothing negative to say about Jackie Brown, only superlatives that might seem to oversell it so that no viewing could possibly ever live up. The fact is that you won't believe me when I say it has stellar performances, stunning dialogue and a sharp-edged story that assumes we're smart enough to keep up. There's a plucky heroine trying to outwit a gritty bad guy, a bail bondsman who falls hard for the girl, an incompetent henchman and a scheming femme fatale. These unforgettable characters are played by the likes of Robert DeNiro, Samuel L. Jackson and Pam Grier with a script written by Quentino Tarentino based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. Really, you should be salivating.


Big Lebowski, The (1998)

There is definitely one word that would never be applied to it or any other Coen Brothers effort: forgettable. Scenes from The Big Lebowski, words, passages of dialogue, images, ideas--they stick with me, for better or worse.

It's clear from their body of work that the Coen Brothers love color and imagery, evocative landscapes and unusual faces. They also love telling quirky imaginative stories. Sometimes I see a Coen Brothers movie and am left not quite sure what I just witnessed and if it worked. The Big Lebowski is one such film.


The Man from Snowy River (1982)

A first viewing of The Man from Snowy River is sure to impress most viewers with eye-popping visuals of rugged Australian high country. Fresh to my eyes as a video rental in 1982, the visuals remain as fresh as ever almost 30 years later. Against that setting a timeless story unfolds of a young man wanting to make good, falling for the boss's daughter and struggling against prejudice and the elements.

Any fan of westerns has already seen this movie, but since I'm not usually fond of them, my review is for those people like me, who find the machismo tedious and the stories not always that fresh. While the elements of the plot in Snowy River are all familiar, the treatment is not, which breathes a more interesting life into the characters. Most westerns I've seen pit heroes against villains with panoramas of the western American plains as a backdrop. In Snowy River, the backdrop--treacherous Australian mountains, with extreme and rapidly varying weather--is the greatest barrier to our young hero's success. All the try in the world won't warm a person if caught without shelter in a freak, icing storm. The vast, crannied landscape makes finding a fallen rider almost impossible. One's life savings can disappear in the flick of an eye.


Finding Nemo (2003)

Parents are often forced to sit through stories so sticky and sweet that it feels as if insulin ought to come with the price of the ticket. There's no story beyond "if we all work together we can be great!" A lot of kids' entertainment is afraid to work with any other themes, but thank all that's powerful and good for Pixar. Films like Finding Nemo are not only entertaining for adults, but the messages provide a way to talk about other topics, like loneliness, separation, faith, tenacity and acceptance of difference. There are a number of movies for adults that don't achieve as much and of those that do many aren't nearly so entertaining.


Captain America (2011)

I wanted to like this movie more than I did. The period piece setting is well done and it feels right for a movie about fighting Nazi cultists in 1940-something. This is an Ugly Duckling story, the grist of much superhero canon, and I tend to like those. But therein lies my problem with the movie. The Ugly Duckling turns into a Swan and then acts just like all the other Swans. Which means that the interesting Steve Rogers gets deadly boring dull dumb when he turns into the Captain America who finally gets to go into battle.


Zardoz (1974)

There are a lot of sci-fi cult classics and I suppose Zardoz is one of them. But not for me. It's not so much that it's really deeply weird, because that weirdness has some plot basis that generates some thought. After the apocalypse some people take on immortality and get really really bored with peace and tranquility and lose their will to, well, do much of anything except hum in unison and vote about things following Zardoz's Rules of Order. Part of the mind-f*ck is that the characters are getting mind-f*cked.

Yet I've seen Star Trek episodes tackle the themes of haves versus have nots, technology/cerebral pursuits robbing people of their passion, etc.,  and in less time with more clarity. I think most well-versed students of sci-fi won't find much to quote here. Hat's off to the art direction people, because it was 1974 and they went for the entire Austin Powers meets Cabaret look with some 2001: A Space Odyssey thrown in, and they did with originality that others have tried since to copy. Though I don't get why the bread is green.