The Story: A schlubby inventor who’s traveling the country hawking his wares invites his mother along in an attempt to reunite her with a long lost love. The Lowdown: A painless, pointless attempt at a feel-good movie that's hardly memorable.
The Story: An ex-military investigator is called in to investigate a sniper killing. The Lowdown: Tom Cruise is certainly miscast, but he manages to mostly pull off the title role in this entertaining, but not very special action thriller with mystery elements.
In Brief: It's the exciting sequel to the first big Mexican horror hit, El Vampiro (The Vampire), and while it may not quite be up to its prequel, it's not anything to be dismissed lightly. Four of the stars from the first film are back and the story adheres fairly closely to the lines of the original. The biggest drawback is perhaps that the Mexico City settings haven't the atmosphere of the crumbling hacienda in El Vampiro, but it's still a lot of fun in its own naïve way.
In Brief: The Marx Brothers' fifth and final film for Paramount Pictures is far and away the best and most manic movie they ever made. It's a film that hits the ground running and never lets up for its entire length. A political comedy (with occasional elements of actual satire), Duck Soup finds Grouch being made the head of a mythical postage stamp country (that has certain aspects resembling America) for no discernible reason -- except that Margaret Dumont wants him to be. Before long, he and his brothers have reduced the place to insanity and plunged it into an incomprehensible war. All this and a giant production number about the delights of going to war gets packed into a wild 70 minutes.
The Story: A long-married couple attempts to cope with entering their 40s. The Lowdown: All of Judd Apatow’s worst attributes — an aimless story, an overlong run time — with the added bonus of obnoxious, infuriating upper-middle-class banality.
The Story: Unusual screwball romantic comedy about two very dysfunctional people. The Lowdown: Richly rewarding, funny, fresh and touching romantic comedy that both adheres to the genre while taking it to new places. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence make for a very appealing couple — and get great support from the rest of the A-list cast.
The Story: Stick-in-the-mud hobbit Bilbo Baggins allows himself to be coerced into joining a group of dwarves, along with the wizard Gandalf, to help the dwarves regain their homeland from the dragon Smaug. The Lowdown: It's longer than it needed to be and it's certainly not in the same league as the Lord of the Rings films, but The Hobbit is more entertaining than not.
The Story: Film version of the immensely popular stage-show musical adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. The Lowdown: Fans of the show will probably rejoice. The uninitiated may feel differently about this extremely long, over-emphatic and self-serious film version.
In Brief: Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965) is simply one of the damndest things you're ever likely to see. Godard took a popular noir-ish detective, Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine), and plopped him into a nightmarish sci-fi movie that seems to be part serious, part satire — or possibly one huge practical joke. Is Godard serious or not? Good luck reaching a conclusion on that, but it's kind of fun to try.
In Brief: Karloff and Lugosi star as rival scientists who join forces on an African expedititon where Karloff discovers a powerful new element — one that poisons him, makes him glow in the dark and gives him a touch that means instant death to others. Beautifully crafted horror classic — one of the first to incorporate sci-fi elements — with the two greatest horror stars of all time at their best.
In Brief: A meteorite crashes in the desert, breaks into pieces, which turn into skyscraper-sized protrusions when they get wet — which then fall over and break, growing more and more towering rocks. Worse, these rocks can turn any organism into solid stone. As concepts go, yes, this is pretty dumb even for 1950s sci-fi, but the idea is sufficiently novel to merit a look — and it's played surprisingly straight-faced, which possibly makes it just that much more absurd.
In Brief: Something a little — or even a lot — different from Ingmar Bergman. Smiles of a Summer Night finds the director in a playful and romantic mood — all the while flirting with his usual heavier concerns — and crafting a perfect sex farce that's really one of the most joyful films imaginable.
The Story: A washed up soccer player attempts to build a relationship with his semi-estranged son — and the boy’s mother — by coaching his youth soccer team. The Lowdown: An innocuous mess of a romantic comedy that’s occasionally confounding, wrongheaded and completely predictable.
In Brief: While aboard a train stopped outside Grand Central Station, Deanna Durbin — on her way to spend Christmas with her aunt — witnesses a murder in a building near the tracks. Of course, no one believes her — and thereby hangs the plot of this comedy mystery with songs and a Christmas setting. It's a lot of fun in that slick 1940s way.
The Story: The story of Alfred Hitchcock risking it all to make Psycho. The Lowdown: No, it's not a history lesson. It's not even quite a biopic. It's cheeky and quirky and fairly shallow, but it never pretends to be anything else — and it's very entertaining.
In Brief: A double dose of 1940s "poverty row" horrors from the fine folks at Monogram Pictures — without whom 1940s horror wouldn't be the same. (How you feel about that may be a personal matter too delicate to discuss in public.) The first gives you the great black comedian Mantan Moreland involved with a nut-case Nazi doctor (Henry Victor) using voodoo for the Axis powers. The second has Bela Lugosi as a kindly (well...) college profesor who moonlights as a homicidal maniac gangster by night. Throw in a cellar full of zombies (sort of) and you've got something.
The Story: A masked mass murderer wipes out an entire nightclub of people — except one girl. Her father sends some ill-prepared mercenaries to rescue her. There is much juicy carnage. The Lowdown: Well enough made, but largely uninteresting — and often unpleasant — sequel to an even less interesting movie that almost no one saw. This one seems destined to the same fate.
The Story: After two low rent hoods hold up a card game, a hit man is brought in by the mob to clean up the mess. The Lowdown: Strong performances and slick direction can’t make up for a heavy-handed message.
In Brief: Federico Fellini's most warm-hearted film is also possibly his most colorful and well-judged. It's basically a phantasmagoria of Fellini's childhood memories and the village he grew up in — memories presented in terms that can only be described as, yes, Felliniesque. If you don't know what that means, you definitely need to see this.
In Brief: This often overlooked gem from writer-director Preston Sturges is actually one of his best. It's certainly his most sweet-tempered and non-cynical work. It's all about a poor schnook (Dick Powell) whose life changes thanks to a practical joke that makes him — and everybody else — think he's won a $25,000 prize for a slogan for Maxford House Coffee. The problem, of course, comes when the truth comes out. Funny, sweet and completely captivating.
The Story: A young woman makes friends with an elderly school mistress on a train, but when she wakes from a nap, the old lady is gone — and everyone insists she was never there. The Lowdown: One of Alfred Hitchcock's best and most enjoyable movies. It's clever, witty, funny, exciting — and it's the film that set Hitch on his Hollywood career.