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  • Letter from an Unknown Woman

    Letter from an Unknown Woman

    ★★★★

    In my impression, this beautiful doomed romance is the movie other people see when they look at Brief Encounter that I always felt embarrassed for not locating in that film's staid dignity. Without fully giving in to any more than a suggestion of the raw sexuality that drives it, it puts the viewer's heart completely in sync with that of Joan Fontaine's Lisa, who's longed since adolescence for the promiscuous musician next door, a star-crossed passion that alters the course…

  • The Lady from Shanghai

    The Lady from Shanghai

    ★★★★½

    Slight upgrade; new fleshing out of my old (2006) review here, but the funny thing is that I'm kind of artificially tempering my enthusiasm in that piece; actually I was almost totally enchanted by my second viewing of the film, after being left both dazzled and befuddled when I first saw it. I do think that my original criticisms still make perfect sense, but that there's so much packed into this movie that I can hardly even be bothered to…

  • I Was a Male War Bride

    I Was a Male War Bride

    ★★★

    Coasting amicably on the charm of its two stars, Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan, this Fox comedy is disjointed, maybe on purpose, and doesn't feel that much like a Howard Hawks picture apart from a couple of bawdy punchlines, which land better than anything else here; it helps that Grant delivers those lines out the side of his mouth and instantly moves on, like he's completely above waiting for you to catch up to him. The transition from the film's…

  • White Heat

    White Heat

    ★★★★

    Cagney's big comeback to the gangster picture fold fits neatly in both Raoul Walsh's history with the genre and with what were becoming the tropes of film noir, but its greatest virtue is its lack of predictability -- Cagney's Cody Jarrett is approximately the nastiest protagonist one can imagine, to the degree that he isn't exactly fun to watch so much as addictive in a lurid, train-wreck sense. It's an outstanding performance, well supported by a revolving-door cast that changes…

  • Force of Evil

    Force of Evil

    ★★★½

    Initially intriguing characterizations and convincing sleaze in this noir from MGM, which lacks mystery even in its best moments, give way to rote organized crime programmer nonsense that puts me right to sleep. John Garfield stars as a corrupt lawyer lending phony legitimacy to a numbers racket and participating in a scam that's bound to put his paranoid, unhealthy brother (Thomas Gomez, quite good) out of business. It's bleak and violent all right, but its protagonist -- in the script…

  • Red River

    Red River

    ★★★★

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Messy and busy as it is, in typical Hawks fashion -- in all the ways Ford's westerns are ambiguous and spare -- this is one of the most lyrical westerns of all, overflowing with both pure beauty and the endless, tangential complications wrought by human frailty. It's simply the story of a cattle drive and a power struggle therein, but in the best way what it's truly about is people and their many misdirections and screwups, all of them riveting.…

  • Ex Libris: New York Public Library

    Ex Libris: New York Public Library

    ★★★½

    My first time with a Wiseman feature, and this is an instance in which I must wear two hats: as an amateur movie critic, and as a professional library technician. As the latter this verité examination of the workings and machinations of the NYPL is particularly engrossing, insofar as I find myself ticking off boxes of how many similarities and differences I see with this enormous urban system and the five-branch, understaffed rural one in which I work -- more…

  • They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

    They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

    ★★½

    Pretentious attempt to "contextualize" The Other Side of the Wind by sort-of telling the story of its lengthy genesis in the bombastic, fast-cut style of the film itself as well as F for Fake. When you're not Orson Welles, attempting to imitate Orson Welles is a rather foolish task to set for yourself (unless you're the fine voice artist Maurice LaMarche); everything here except the on-set footage and the actual interviews from Welles' family, friends and associates is extremely tiresome.…

  • Fatal Attraction

    Fatal Attraction

    ★★½

    Yuppie lunkhead (Michael Douglas) ruins everyone's life.

  • Cleopatra

    Cleopatra

    ★★★

    Ah, you found my mislabeled fetish porn tape, This Ain't "The Scarlet Empress".

    For real, DeMille's sense of scale and spectacle is astounding, but wardrobes aside, where's the fun to break up the incessant talking and self-importance? I guess there's camp, sure, but always with that same stoic distance you see in so many later Hollywood epics. Nothing dark or downright weird and threatening, of the Sternberg or Eisenstein variety, just sheer overwhelming thundering awe; that interior boat scene really…

  • Out of the Past

    Out of the Past

    ★★★★

    Slight upgrade. One of the classic films -- whose entire surface-level aesthetic and general audacity I find totally alluring -- for which I'm just a touch too squeamish; even as it serves as a textbook example of noir, in which all seemingly innocuous roads lead to death and doom, I find myself disproportionately bummed out by the story's cynicism and cavalier violence. If anything this eats at me more now than it used to -- even The Big Sleep and…

  • Meet Me in St. Louis

    Meet Me in St. Louis

    ★★★★

    Hollywood bullshit Americana rendered and commandeered for the good of the world by MGM's Freed unit: depicting an impossible universe -- 1903 St. Louis in which a privileged family experiences a year's worth of comings and goings in the run-up to the two eldest daughters being engaged -- without cynicism, but also with a real and surprising sense of who these people are. The kids have dark senses of humor, the dad has a temper and a self-righteous streak but…