Movie Reviews

Starring: Carole Lombard, Allan Dinehart, Vivienne Osborne, Randolph Scott, H.B. Warner, Beryl Mercer


In Brief: White Zombie (1932) prompted Paramount — still a tentative player in the horror genre at the time — to give Victor and Edward Halperin a one picture deal with the studio. Though lacking a major horror star like they'd had with Bela Lugosi in White Zombie, the arrangement gave them studio backing and…
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Donald Dillaway, Jackie Lyn Dufton, Mary Carr, James Finlayson

Pack Up Your Troubles

In Brief: Laurel and Hardy's second feature film, Pack Up Your Troubles, is much smoother than their first, Pardon Us (1931), though it is often considered inferior to it. I'm not sure why, since it follows a similar approach. Both films play like three interconnected shorts — and the best of their work was the short…
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Brie Larson, Jessica Lange, John Goodman, Michael Kenneth Williams

The Gambler

The Story: An English professor with a horrific gambling problem finds himself owing a lot of money to a lot of dangerous people. The Lowdown: While watching a man self-destruct for 100 minutes might not sound like the most fun time one could have at the movies, a smart script and game cast make it…
Starring: Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli, John Gielgud, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jill Eikenberry


In Brief: I object to Arthur on the basic principle that the cuddly, lovable alcoholic is a worn-out concept that puts a happy face on something that is neither cuddly, nor happy. It's a comedic notion that's older than the movies and had outlived its value long before this movie was made in 1981. That…
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Jon Polito, Terence Stamp

Big Eyes

The Story: The story of Margaret Keane, the painter of all those big-eyed children in the 1960s. The Lowdown: A rewarding, funny, moving, even slightly frightening look into the world of art and artists from Tim Burton that benefits from the talents of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong, Charles Dance

The Imitation Game

The Story: The story of Alan Turing, the math genius who headed up breaking the secret of the German Enigma machine. The Lowdown: Sure, it's Oscar-bait, but if only all Oscar-bait was this finely crafted and intelligent, awards season would be a much more pleasant experience. Terrific direction, writing and performances carry the day.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Rami Malek

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

The Story: With the magical tablet that allows museum exhibits to come to life slowly corroding and failing, the museum night watchman who oversees it heads to London to find out the tablet's secrets. The Lowdown: More of the same from this drab little franchise, a mish-mash of generally unfunny comedy and flat adventure.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje


The Story: Film version of the Broadway show. The Lowdown: By no means the disaster some have claimed, this new take on Annie is often clever and stylish and unfailingly good humored, but it's also uneven and a bit shy of greatness.
Starring: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Miyavi


The Story: The fact-based story of Louis Zamperini. The Lowdown: Safe, competent, well made, well acted, but far less involving than it ought to be given the story and subject.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Walter Abel, Virginia Dale, Louise Beavers

Holiday Inn

In Brief: Yeah, it's the film that gave us the song "White Christmas" (and inadvertently launched a hotel chain), but Mark Sanrich's richly entertaining Holiday Inn (1942) is the movie equivalent of a one-size-fits-all greeting card for just about every holiday to come down the pike. We get Christmas, New Year's Eve, Lincoln's birthday, Valentine's Day, Washington's birthday,…
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, James Corden, Lilla Crawford, Johnny Depp

Into the Woods

The Story: Musical revisionist take on classic fairy tales. The Lowdown: It ought to be more of an event than it is, but this film version of the Stephen Sondheim show is good and ought to please the fans.
Starring: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Allen, Jack Warden, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Marcel Dalio

Donovan’s Reef

In Brief: John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef (1963) is a bona fide Christmas movie if ever there was one — but with the unusual setting of a South Seas island (played by Kauai, Hawaii, with studio work at Paramount in Hollywood). The truth is that while this is housed in a John Wayne vehicle in the John Ford barroom brawling mode,…
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yôko Tsukasa, Isuzu Yamada


In Brief: Yojimbo (1961) is one of Akira Kurosawa’s most entertaining films — and it was his biggest hit in Japan. I suppose you could say that’s because it’s one of his most accessible, though how a dark-humored Japanese Western based on an American hard-boiled crime novel became accessible is something of a puzzlement. Nonetheless,…
Starring: Claude Rains, Douglass Montgomery, Heather Angel, David Manners, Francis L. Sullivan, Valerie Hobson

Mystery of Edwin Drood

In Brief: Somewhere between a really creepy mystery and a prestige picture, Stuart Walker’s Mystery of Edwin Drood was an attempt to match Walker’s film of Great Expectations (1934), and it is a part of the little known director’s best works that also included The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) and Werewolf of London (1935). Universal took Charles Dickens’ final — and unfinished…
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Gaby Hoffmann, Keene McRae, W. Earl Brown


The Story: Fact-based story of Cheryl Strayed, based on her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  The Lowdown: A strong performance from Reese Witherspoon, a solid screenplay by Nick Hornby and assuredly creative direction by Jean-Marc Vallée make Wild a very good movie indeed.
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, J.B. Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco

Top Five

The Story: A comedian and actor — who’s trying his best to be taken as a serious artist — spends the day with a New York Times reporter on the weekend of his wedding to a reality star and the opening of his new, big film. The Lowdown: While it takes its time to get…
Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul

Exodus: Gods and Kings

The Story: The story of Moses with CGI.  The Lowdown: Theologically dubious, dramatically inert and just plain boring even with all its state-of-the-art effects. And it goes on for two-and-a-half very long hours.
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Tim Purcell

The Babadook

The Story: A single mother and her son are plagued by a mysterious creature known as Mr. Babadook.  The Lowdown: An absolutely superb horror film that is actually a good bit more than a horror film. Done in a classical formal style, it may remind you of Kubrick's The Shining and the best of Polanski's…
Starring: Steve Cochran, Alida Valli, Betsy Blair, Gabriella Pallotta, Dorian Gray, Lynn Shaw

Il Grido

In Brief: As it turned out, Il Grido (1957) marked the end of Michelangelo Antonioni's neorealist period. When he returned in 1960 with L'Avventura, he had pretty completely transformed himself into the introspective, artier, more impenetrable filmmaker we think of as Antonioni. It is perhaps not surprising since that was the same year that Fellini…
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, Edward Arnold, Onslow Stevens, William Janney, Robert Barrat

Secret of the Blue Room

In Brief: Though Kurt Neumann's Secret of the Blue Room was a hardy — and well-loved — staple of the old Shock Theater TV package, it's really more of an old dark house mystery than an outright horror film. (That's only reasonable, I suppose, since it's partly made on redressed sets from James Whale's 1932 The Old Dark…