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The Robe Review


Weak
The Biblical epic is one of the most tired of Hollywood genres. Instead of taking the Good Book for all its fire and brimstone brazenness, concentrating on all the death, sex, and betrayal involved, Hollywood goes strictly for the houses of the holy. Within the vacuous walls of this sanctimonious, self-righteous abode are enough high-minded false prophecies to make even the most dedicated Messiah balk. A good example of this is 1953's The Robe. Based on a best-selling novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, this oversized spectacle is noted as being the first film ever released in the fledgling Cinemascope format. It's also a highly cheesy bit of faith-based falderal that still manages to manipulate the audience into appreciating its preaching.

When he angers Caligula (Jay Robinson) by buying Demetrius (Victor Mature), a slave he had wanted, military officer Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is exiled to Jerusalem. There, he encounters talk of a new 'messiah' named Jesus. When Pilate condemns this well-meaning man, Marcellus is placed in charge of the crucifixion. After the deed, he wins Christ's robe in a dice game. A strange event involving the garment shakes Marcellus to his core, causing Demetrius to steal it and disappear. Returning to Rome, Marcellus is charged by Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) to retrieve the shroud and destroy it. Starting his search in Galilee, our hero begins to learn the teachings of Jesus. After coming in contact with former disciple Peter (Michael Rennie), Marcellus repents and returns to Rome to spread the word and win back his former flame Diana (Jean Simmons). Naturally, he too is condemned.

Continue reading: The Robe Review

Angel Face Review


Excellent
There is a moment in Otto Preminger's film noir classic Angel Face, when you realize along with film's prize chump fall guy, ambulance driver turned chauffeur Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum), that the night has collapsed and that he is getting in too deep. Jessup is alone in his room and is trying to hook up with his true love Mary (Mona Freeman). Mary is out with another guy and Mitchum proceeds to loosen his tie, take a long drag on his cigarette and allows the coffin nail to hang from his lips as he gazes into the abyss with a stark, haunted, and hopeless expression. He then loosens his tie a bit more.

In Angel Face, Robert Mitchum, the poster boy of film noir, signs off on the genre with his last great portrait of doom. As Jessup, Mitchum is a hunk of a man and knows it but his laconic self-assurance belies that fact that all the women he meets in Angel Face, both good and safe (Mary) and evil and possessed (Jean Simmons' Diane, a cute and an attractive but not-so-innocent package of venality and psychosis), overpower him, and the evil one wins out.

Continue reading: Angel Face Review

Hamlet (1948) Review


Very Good
This Hamlet, a Best Picture winner, unfortunately stands as one of the stagier productions of the famous play. Gone are (among other scenes) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; in their stead we get more of Laurence Olivier, who also directed, as the put-upon prince of Denmark. Olivier chews scenery with the best of them, playing the tights-clad Hamlet as a sort of prissy boy who'd probably rather be eating grapes. Olivier's direction is problematic, too, jerky and obvious, drawing your attention to the constant camera pans and away from the action. Still, a solid rendition if the classic play, though not really deserving of its platitudes. (At least, not any more.)

Great Expectations (1946) Review


Very Good
The definitive adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic is this one from David Lean, featuring John Mills as the adult version of Pip, an orphan who inherits wealth and status from an unnamed benefactor, and woos the woman of his youthful dreams along the way. The film can be stilted in that 1940s way, most notably during a boxing exhibition in which one fighter has time to apologizing before taking a knockout punch, but Lean does wonders with setting and transforms Dickens' dialogue into something worthy of watching.

How To Make An American Quilt Review


Bad
I am dumbfounded about where to begin writing about this experiment-in-filmmaking-gone-terribly-wrong, How To Make an American Quilt. Some of the best actresses working in film (Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Winona Ryder, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Samantha Mathis, and Claire Danes, to name a few) appear in this movie. And I can't begin to imagine how such a wide array of talents agreed to appear in such a dreadful picture.

Ryder plays the cheeky Finn, a precocious grad student pondering a marriage proposal. Having second thoughts, she decides to spend the summer with a gaggle of quilting relatives and their friends, just to sort things out. Well, we see right off the bat that this probably wasn't such a great idea, because each and every one of these people is completely insane.

Continue reading: How To Make An American Quilt Review

Guys And Dolls Review


Very Good
Marlon Brando's musical debut. Really. And he isn't half-bad. Can you imagine Brando in the same role today? Do yourself a favor and check out Guys And Dolls -- an American classic including the tunes "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" and "I Got the Horse Right Here."

Black Narcissus Review


Very Good
Widely hailed as one of the most beautiful films ever shot, Black Narcissus is a strange tale of Anglican nuns who establish a convent in an extremely remote region of the Himalayas. Obviously not a great idea, but weird locals, altitude sickness, and sketchy personal pasts all conspire against the gals. To be sure, the cinematography of Narcissus -- notably an ending that must have stuck in Hitchcock's mind for decades -- is to die for, utterly pioneering for its time and deserving of its two Academy Awards (art direction and cinematography), but its story has never totally grabbed me. Sure, women of the cloth might have demons in their pasts. Doesn't everyone? The ending is chilling, but the subplots fall flat, including two about a local wild-woman and a studious boy who wants to learn everything there is to know. Should've stuck to those crazy nuns.

Hamlet (1948) Review


Very Good
This Hamlet, a Best Picture winner, unfortunately stands as one of the stagier productions of the famous play. Gone are (among other scenes) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern; in their stead we get more of Laurence Olivier, who also directed, as the put-upon prince of Denmark. Olivier chews scenery with the best of them, playing the tights-clad Hamlet as a sort of prissy boy who'd probably rather be eating grapes. Olivier's direction is problematic, too, jerky and obvious, drawing your attention to the constant camera pans and away from the action. Still, a solid rendition if the classic play, though not really deserving of its platitudes. (At least, not any more.)

Howl's Moving Castle Review


Very Good
Similar to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is a sumptuously illustrated fairy tale with a pro-environment and anti-war slant, though unlike those modern classics, the animé titan's latest suffers from a narrative confusion that bogs down its initially effervescent spirit. A gloriously animated fantasia blessed by familiar Miyazaki hallmarks - vibrant, ethereal artwork, whimsical creatures, a rural world in which mysticism and technology happily coexist - the film (being released in both subtitled and dubbed versions, the latter of which I saw) has a light aura of juvenile romanticism and a manic, tangible physicality that stands head and shoulders above anything previously crafted by the maestros at Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli (including Katsuhiro Otomo's recent Steamboy).

The story of a young girl who, after being changed into an elderly woman by an evil witch, joins forces with a petulant playboy wizard against a nefarious sorcerer, Howl's is akin to a cluttered, cacophonous childhood dream come to life. However, as with dreams, Miyazaki's film is also far-too-often a bewildering jumble of intriguing ideas and ingenious images that never fully coalesce into a moving or compelling whole.

Continue reading: Howl's Moving Castle Review

Final Fantasy Review


OK

Fifty percent groundbreaking, breathtaking computer-generated visuals, 30 percent New Age spiritual hokum, 15 percent generic post-apocalyptic science fiction and five percent lame action flick clichés, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" is such a eccentric amalgam of methods and moods that it's unlikely to leave anyone terribly impressed in the end. But absolutely everyone will be agog at the first 10 minutes.

Far and away the most mind-blowingly photo-realistic computer-animated movie to date, "Final Fantasy" wastes no time showing off what its huge staff of renderers can do, opening the picture with a fantastical dream sequence that includes a truly transporting alien landscape unequaled in the history of sci-fi cinema.

Its billowy red sky, gigantic looming moon, crystalline rock formations and sweeping vistas feel as real as another world could on screen. This was most definitely not shot through fancy filters in a quarry somewhere.

Continue reading: Final Fantasy Review

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Jean Simmons Movies

Guys and Dolls Trailer

Guys and Dolls Trailer

Guys and DollsTrailerOne of the greatest Broadway musicals, Guys and Dolls will be available to...

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

Similar to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle is a sumptuously...

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

Hayao Miyazaki's new film "Howl's Moving Castle"is so good that it shames virtually every animated...

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