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Lord Byron of Broadway (1930)
"The Lady in the Shoe" Number
"The Lady in the Shoe" number, filmed in primitive color and sung charmingly by Ethelind Terry, is quite stunning for a 1930s film.
Matters of Life and Death (2007)
A Moving and Inspiring Directorial Debut
Joseph Mazzello has made an accomplished debut as a writer-director with this 30-minute short on the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. The film was made pretty much on a shoestring (with most of the financing coming from members of Mazzello's fan club), but the result is quite impressive. It was clearly a labor of heartfelt love, and resonates with emotion. The tale of how three siblings react to the sudden deaths of their parents could easily have made for a maudlin film. Yet, Mazzello's care with his actors and the understated tone he imparts to the production result in a moving, inspirational effort. The performances of Rachel Leigh Cook and Nick Heyman as two of the siblings and Gwen Van Dam as the grandmother are fine and brimming with honesty, and David Strathairn puts in a warm cameo in a flashback as the father. Most essential to the success of this film is the performance of Joseph Mazzello himself as the brother and son who holds the family together. He shows an impressive range in his reactions to his plight, running the gamut from weary resignation to rage to hopeful determination. In this, he confirms the talent he displayed as a child star, and surpasses his previous work. And he shows great promise as both a writer and director. Though focusing on the situation of one particular family, Mazzello presents observations and comfort to a nation that is still grieving over a shared catastrophe. It's quite an achievement for a 23-year-old, and hopefully the beginning of a storied career along the lines of his fellow red-headed ex-child star Ron Howard.
Living Dead Lock Up (2005)
Low Budget But High Voltage
"Living Dead Lock Up" is a triumph of creativity and technology over limited resources. The video is a spooky depiction of zombies inhabiting the basement of a jail, and the chills are real. "Living Dead Lock Up" may not contain the most original of plots, but it knows how to use the latest in digital filming techniques to elicit horror through creepy effects and imaginative cinematography. The acting by the film's creators and others is quite effective for this sort of film, and there is also effective use of old-time newsreels to provide just the right historic touch. What's amazing is that all this was put together on a budget of only a few hundred dollars, and the result is anything but cheesy-looking. Give it a try if you're interested in some creative, nightmarish jolts.
Kitty Foyle (1940)
Classic Woman's Film
"Kitty Foyle" is a lush, expertly done example of the "women's films" that were popular in the 1940's and are so rare today. The rather simplistic plot focuses on Kitty's choice of sharing her life with either a married scion of a mainline family or an impoverished doctor, both of whom love her. Pure soap opera, but lovingly done, especially those luminous closeups. The device of having Kitty talk to her own conscience is rather hokey, but does provide for an interesting touch. The spark in the production is the admirably natural but spirited performance of Ginger Rogers in the title role. She perfectly fits the role of a working girl surviving on her wits and gumption, and really shines when telling off her rich, patronizing in-laws. See it for her, and for a somewhat dated but still intriguing view of the travails of independent women during the first half of the 20th century.
Easter Parade (1948)
One of the Best
This is a superlative musical, made by the very best musical talents at the top of their game. Judy Garland and Fred Astaire were (along with Gene Kelly) the ultimate in musical comedy stars, and this was their only on-screen pairing. This film affords them the chance to shine both individually and as a duo, displaying Astaire's dazzling footwork and Garland's throbbing voice, as well as their comic abilities. Irving Berlin provides them with a potpourri of popular tunes, and there are several stunning show-stoppers, especially the "A Couple of Swells" number (with Astaire parodying his usual Top Hat and Tails persona). Garland's voice makes "I Love a Piano" ring out, and Astaire shows that at nearly age 50 he could still dance with aplomb in "Steppin' Out with my Baby" (though why they decided to run part of it in slow motion when this could never happen in the stage production they were presenting is a bit of a mystery). The opening number, "Drum Crazy" is also a little masterpiece, since it highlights not only Astaire's dancing, but also his drumming abilities, and also tells a little story and comments on his character as well, all without a word of dialogue. Mention should also be made of the sensational Ann Miller, in one of her best roles. The songs (some old, some new) fit very snugly into the fluffy but sturdy plot, and the entire package is a nifty delight and a reminder of what musical comedy was like when it reached the heights.