Director: Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns)
Starring: Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis, Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Craig T. NelsonIn Brief: Playwright and sometimes filmmaker Herb Gardner brings his play I'm Not Rappaport to the screen with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in the leads. The first hour of its rather too expansive running time is very good indeed, if not especially great filmmaking. Matthau and Davis make an appealing pair of old men — not exactly friends, but who else is around? — whiling away their time in Central Park, each with his own problems. The dialogue — while sounding like dialogue — is good and penetrating. Then we get to what amounts to the second act and the film's desire to evolve into a more elaborate drama bogs things down pretty fast. It remains easily watchable, but it turns into less by trying to be more.
Genre: Drama with Music
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Starring: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Rosa Valetti, Hans AlbersIn Brief: The Blue Angel (1930) marked not only the first German sound film, but, more importantly, the meeting of filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich. It remains the most well-known of the seven films they made together, but it's hardly the best of the lot — which doesn't keep it from being iconic. (Is there anyone who doesn't know the image of Dietrich straddling the chair singing "Falling in Love Again?" It's one of cinema's indelible moments.) Its story of a stuffy school teacher becoming obsessed with Lola Lola, a crudely sexy cabaret performer, is more of a downer than the subsequent Sternberg-Dietrich pairings, making it less viewer-friendly. However, it's an important film — and without it, we would have never had those subsequent movies.
Genre: Comedy Drama
Director: George Cukor
Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Marjorie MainIn Brief: Clare Boothe Luce's famous 1936 hit play The Women gets the super-glossy MGM treatment in George Cukor's 1939 film version. The whole thing is overproduced, but most of the play's brittle wit and clever dialogue are retained. And whatever else can be said about MGM, it had the cast for this.
Genre: Fantasy Comedy Drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Christopher Lee, Jude LawIn Brief: Martin Scorsese's masterful and beautiful film about a young boy living within the walls of a Paris train station turns out to be a great deal more than a fantasy for children (though it is that, too). It's also a movie about the movies, their history and their sheer magic.
Director: Noel Langley
Starring: Hildegard Knef, Donald Wolfit, Terence Morgan, Derek Bond, Paul RogersIn Brief: Solid production values don't really make up for the fact that this is simply not a very good film version of George. L. Du Maurier's Trilby. The casting is often just plain wrong-headed, but it's impossible to deny that there's a certain amusement value to Donald Wolfit in the role of Svengali. It may not, however, be exactly the kind of amusement that was intended.
Director: Gabriel Axel
Starring: Stéphane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel, Jarl Kulle, Bibi AnderssonIn Brief: The big art house hit of 1988, Babette's Feast is an undeniably charming and strangely touching film that at least comes close to retaining its original lustre -- and possibly even its Oscar win. It is, however, a film I'm not at all sure would really hold up under repeat viewings.
Genre: Historical Disaster Drama
Director: Robert Wise (The Sound of Music)
Starring: George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, William Atherton, Roy Thinnes, Gig Young, Burgess MeredithIn Brief: A speculative drama (based on largely discredited theories) about what really caused the fiery crash of the Graf Zeppelin Hindenburg at Lakehurst, N.J., in 1937. It has more in common with the disaster movie boom of the 1970s than history, but it's passably entertaining nonsense with nice performances from George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft.
Genre: Historical Romance
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.)
Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas KretschmannIn Brief: Though it may sound pretty awful and like Masterpiece Theatre stuff on the big screen, The Young Victoria proves to be a cinematic, stylish and entertaining historical romance that shakes the dust off our images of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Genre: Historical Drama
Director: Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys)
Starring: Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, Ian Holm, Rupert Graves, Amanda Donohoe, Rupert EverettIn Brief: Beautifully crafted, wittily written and cleverly directed film version of the play detailing the descent of Britain's King George III (you know, the one who lost the colonies) into insanity -- the things done to treat him and the plots hatched against him. A splendid cast pulls it all off with great aplomb.
Genre: Historical Drama
Director: Trevor Nunn
Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Cary Elwes, John Wood, Michael Horden, Sara Kestelman, Patrick StewartIn Brief: A solidly produced, (mostly) impressively cast and very long historical drama in the Masterpiece Theatre mold about the nine-day rule of England by the ill-starred Lady Jane Grey -- with a very thick coating of balderdash romance to make it more palatable. It will appeal to those who like this sort of thing and it is very nice to look at, but as either drama or history, it's on the shallow side.
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