Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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A shame you didn't like Three Days of the Condor that much, I love the era and feel of the American films of that period, as you mention, and I think it's a very good film of its kind.

Your feelings for this is how I felt about the first. Even down to mentioning how poor the writing is and excusing yourself because you know that's not the strong point of virtually any action movie, but still being annoyed by it and thinking it should be better.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

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For reference's sake, I currently have the original at
, so it's not that much of a drop.
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.
Iro's Top 100 Movies v3.0

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#301 - Secrets & Lies
Mike Leigh, 1996

After her adopted mother dies, a woman decides to search for her biological mother.

What could have been some mawkish working-class English melodrama becomes much better in the hands of a capable director such as Mike Leigh, especially when he gets to work with such a solid ensemble of actors. The film's A-plot concerns a black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) whose black adoptive parents have both died, prompting her to go searching for her biological mother. It turns out that her biological mother is a white woman (Brenda Blethyn) who is now a single mother with a white daughter (Claire Rushbrook) and is very reluctant to confront this particular reminder of her past. The B-plot concerns Blethyn's brother (Timothy Spall), the owner-operator of a small-time photography business who also has his own troubles; while this plot isn't especially compelling in and of itself, it complements the much more dramatic A-plot reasonably well thanks to Spall's presence. Considering the running time, it doesn't quite feel consequential enough to have as much time dedicated to it as it does.

Of course, the main strength of the film is the slow progression of the connection between Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste, which unfolds slowly but believably and works very well thanks to Leigh's extremely collaborative improvisation-heavy style of directing actors. They make for great foils for one another - Jean-Baptiste manages to stay calm and collected in the face of considerable emotional turmoil, while Blethyn ends up being the much more obviously fragile and histrionic one of the pair - though she could be considered annoying, the sheer amount of effort she puts into conveying a mixture of emotions, often at the same time, is rather remarkable. The film is matter-of-fact and competent on a technical scale without any ostentatious style to distract from the unfolding narrative, though there are exceptions that are notable in good ways such as some incredibly long takes and a relative lack of music. It's debatable as to whether or not it really needs to be as long as it is, but for the most part it's a solid low-key drama.

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Leigh is 2 for 2 for me with Naked and Happy-Go-Lucky, and I really want to see Secrets and Lies. Finding it a bit hard to obtain though.

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#302 - Born on the Fourth of July
Oliver Stone, 1989

Based on the true story of Ron Kovic, a Marine who gets paralysed below the waist while serving in the Vietnam War.

On the surface, Born on the Fourth of July feels an awful lot like Oscar-bait, but it's a testament to Stone's rather erratic style of filmmaking that it ends up being more solid than its premise might suggest and still manages to win Oscars while it does so. It's not like it doesn't try to come across as a standard life-during-wartime kind of film - it predictably starts off with an extended prologue showing Kovic (played as an adult by Tom Cruise) attending a 4th of July parade full of veterans and embedding in him the sort of patriotic pride that convinces him to join the Marines straight out of high school. Then there's a relatively condensed Vietnam sequence that plays like an orange-tinged highlight reel of Platoon before Kovic ends up being wounded and hospitalised. What follows after that is a long and arduous journey as Kovic goes from a grimy veterans' hospital to his hometown and all sorts of places beyond that, all while slowly coming to terms with the fact that he can never walk again.

Cruise can do good work when he's got good material to work with, and he manages to play Kovic with believable levels of optimism and despair at all the right points in the film, bringing the right sort of energy to what could otherwise be laughably melodramatic scenes (one scene where he delivers a miserable, drunken tirade to his family has him display the kind of powerful acting that you'd think might have actually won him an Oscar, but considering who actually did win that year, it's not like he lost for lack of trying). Stone surrounds Cruise with a collection of solid performers that float in and out of the film and make for good foils against which Kovic must cope, no matter how much they may or may not understand or sympathise with his frustrations.

The episodic nature of the film, combined with its relatively lengthy running time, do make the whole film feel a little dragged-out regardless of the quality of individual scenes and sequences, especially the extended vignette where Kovic spends his time hanging around in Mexico with a group of other wheelchair-using veterans. There are also a lot of the usual cloying biopic clichés and instances of foreshadowing, which does clash against the otherwise harsh depiction of meaningless Vietnam bloodshed, disturbingly run-down hospitals, and the reality of a lot of veterans who have come home to a country that no longer wants them. Frequent Stone collaborator Robert Richardson also pulls off some brilliant cinematography and makes for some striking images that prop up a film that, while not perfect, is still pretty good at showcasing not just the damaging visceral horrors of war but also the emotional toil that comes afterwards.

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#303 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves, 2014

Ten years after an uprising of intelligent apes coincides with a pandemic that wipes out most of the human population, the apes are forced into conflict with a group of human survivors.

Even before I watched Rise..., I was looking forward to Dawn... because it promised at least some measure of unpredictability compared to the feature-length set-up that was Rise... Unfortunately, this film trades one type of predictability for another. Dawn... focuses on the uneasy tension that develops when the society of apes that has developed in the absence of humans is confronted with the revelation that there is a small collection of humans living in the ruins of San Francisco. The humans want nothing more than to take over a hydroelectric dam in the apes' territory, which prompts a conflict between leader ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his second-in-command Koba (Toby Kebbell). They fill out a fairly standard violence-versus-nonviolence dichotomy, with Caesar trying to keep peace not just out of respect for humans but also to keep the apes alive and well, while Koba is embittered by years of torturous experimentation and wants to kill or imprison the humans before they can develop the strength to kill the apes themselves. There is a similar power struggle happening on the humans' side between Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman, who also represent peace and war respectively.

What follows is a feature film worth of misunderstandings and impulsive choices that do have a tendency to defy common sense and serve to undermine some rather decent technical work and performances. Not from the humans, mind you - they fill out a number of archetypes you haven't already seen in a bunch of other post-apocalyptic survivor movies (the reasonable hero, the affable extremist, the cruel bigot, the wife and kid, etc.). Serkis once again delivers a good performance as Caesar, conveying a great range of emotions behind some solid but not especially great CGI. Kebbell makes for a decent counterpart who isn't quite on Serkis' level but makes for a sufficiently complex villain. It can be a little hard to tell some of the other apes apart at times, though, even with the various scars and whatnot that are intended to distinguish them from one another. The film also takes a while to develop a sufficiently interesting conflict and only does so once the apes and humans inevitably escalate things into full-on battle (full of some rather decent visuals, especially an extended shot involving a tank). Though some of the action is improbable, it means that this otherwise passable sci-fi film at least goes out with something of a bang rather than something of a whimper. I would not be surprised if there ends up being a follow-up to this - maybe the third time will be the charm.

I was thinking maybe they should remake the original Planet of the Apes (again). I know that's probably not a popular opinion, but i think this series has done well enough in its own right for it to be distinguishable and unique, remember in the first one where on the news you see the rocket leaving Earth, they put little things like that in to kind of link it in with the Sixties original, so I'd like to see a reworking of the original with that rocket landing in the future when Apes control everything, perhaps. The only thing is, these films kill the twist.

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I was thinking maybe they should remake the original Planet of the Apes (again). I know that's probably not a popular opinion, but i think this series has done well enough in its own right for it to be distinguishable and unique, remember in the first one where on the news you see the rocket leaving Earth, they put little things like that in to kind of link it in with the Sixties original, so I'd like to see a reworking of the original with that rocket landing in the future when Apes control everything, perhaps. The only thing is, these films kill the twist.
The thing about trying to change up the original twist is that, in trying to one-up it, the 2001 remake made up its own twist ending that was hilariously bad in its execution (in addition to all the other things that film got wrong). A straightforward remake of the original would also prompt derision. I was thinking they could offer an interesting twist by having it so that the spaceship returns while ape culture is still developing and make it so that the returning humans are villains. I figure there's some potential there.

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#304 - Starship Troopers
Paul Verhoeven, 1997

In the future, a young man and his classmates join an intergalactic war that is unfolding between the human race and a race of giant insect-like aliens.

I like the idea of thematic trilogies, whether they are deliberate efforts on the part of their creators or not. I'm starting to think of this as the third part of a loose thematic trilogy of Verhoeven's along with RoboCop and Total Recall. All three are tied together by futuristic settings, B-movie plotting, gratuitous violence, and no small amount of satirical subtext. Starship Troopers ups the scale considerably by foregoing urban dystopia and Martian espionage by launching into an effects-heavy space adventure involving a bunch of photogenic young recruits and their grizzled mentors going up against some well-rendered arachnids, but I still can't help but feel like it's the fact that this loose trilogy's attempt to outdo its predecessors in every regard is ultimately what makes it the weakest.

It almost goes without saying that one of the reasons that Starship Troopers is elevated above regular sci-fi B-movies these days is that it supplements its fundamentally cheesy plot with satirical elements of both blatant and subtle varieties. That definitely bleeds into the main narrative that foregoes focusing on the space war in favour of a teenage love triangle straight out of a soap opera as Casper Van Dien's pretty-boy football hero protagonist (who looks an awful lot like the hero of Team America: World Police) is torn between his feminine upper-class girlfriend (Denise Richards) and his tomboyish best friend (Dina Meyer) who has unrequited feelings for him. They all end up signing up for the war because in this subtly fascist society, joining the war effort guarantees them basic human rights. From then on, the film turns into a play-by-play war movie as our heroes go through basic training and then get thrown into the fray again and again until the movie ends and enough of the cast have died gruesome deaths.

Considering the flatness of the plot and characterisation (even considering the presence of memorable B-movie actors such as Michael Ironside or Clancy Brown), the much-lauded satire seems to be the only thing that gives the film any kind of genuine personality, and even then just because it's there doesn't mean it's handled well. If anything, it just seems to exist as an excuse to get away with a film that combines worn-out war tropes with vapid teen drama and sci-fi horror. Details such as the military's uniforms being modeled off those of the Nazis or the RoboCop-style news program that functions as wartime propaganda are fairly amusing but there's hardly any depth to them and this becomes very clear on a repeat viewing. It's hard to get the balance right when it comes to telling a story about supposedly heroic characters who are actually oblivious pawns of a villainous regime - once you realise that, it becomes difficult to either cheer on their victories or mock their defeats. Throw in the fact that they are badly developed cookie-cutter characters (by design, no less) and you do have quite the substance-free mess on your hands.

Even considering these weaknesses, the film delivers reasonably well on the action front. I respect the ambition of the CGI as it holds up reasonably well for a film from 1997, whether it's rendering the bugs themselves or depicting outer space sequences. Of course, the poor characterisation means that the action holds very little weight beyond some ludicrous displays of gore and explosions that do wear off fairly once the grunts start fighting the bugs and get themselves killed off in quick succession. As a result, Starship Troopers is a rather middling example of a sci-fi blockbuster that may have some lurid thrills and sophomoric cleverness to back up its not-too-dated technical skill, but it definitely doesn't end up being enough to truly make the film work as a whole.

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#305 - High Society
Charles Walters, 1956

A divorced socialite is planning to remarry a wealthy man, but things are complicated by the appearance of her ex-husband and a journalist tasked with covering the upcoming wedding.

If that plot sounds familiar, it may be because High Society is a Technicolor musical remake of 1940's widely-acclaimed screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story. Those who read my review will know that I had enough problems with it that I didn't exactly show it much love but I still thought it was an alright enough film at the end of the day. At the very least, it had the kind of premise and characters that couldn't exactly be hurt too much by the inclusion of musical numbers. As a result, High Society isn't a grossly inferior remake but there's nothing so great about the numbers of performances that really made me think it ever needed to exist. There is considerable talent on board, of course - Bing Crosby replaces Cary Grant as the interfering ex-husband who manages to bring a whimsical charm to a character who was originally very hard to like, which may or may not serve the film better as a result. Frank Sinatra also brings some charm to the journalist role originally played by James Stewart, while Grace Kelly doesn't exactly make for the best replacement for Katharine Hepburn as the wealthy woman at the centre of the plot.

The fact that this feels like an attempt to sanitise a rather caustic comedy of errors through the introduction of light-hearted musical numbers seems to work and not work in equal measure. The numbers feature not just Crosby and Sinatra but also a jazz band fronted by Louis Armstrong and are passable enough but none of them really stick out in my memory. There's also the fact that they downplay the ex-husband's character flaws in order to make him a character worth rooting for as he tries to win back the woman he loves, which does make the film's ending more tolerable as a result. It looks flashy enough as well, but at the end of the day it is a very disposable musical.

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#306 - Pan's Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro, 2006

After moving to the remote home of her cruel military stepfather, a young girl discovers a fantastic underworld full of wonder and danger.

The main reason I felt like revisiting Pan's Labyrinth was to see how it beat out Children of Men for the Best Cinematography Oscar, but considering how good Pan's Labyrinth is, I didn't really need a reason to revisit it. It is an exercise in dark fantasy that doesn't shy away from depicting the horrific realities of a post-war fascist milieu that would make protagonist Ofelia retreat into fairytales. Such imagery combine with Ofelia's beloved fairytales to inform a vivid world of magic where a faun tasks her with completing a series of tasks in order to reclaim her rightful heritage as the heiress of a secret kingdom. Of course, she is countered at every turn by the restrictive nature of her home life, whether it is caring for her heavily pregnant mother or trying to avoid discipline from her incredibly strict and sadistic stepfather, Captain Vidal. Captain Vidal makes for one of the best villains in recent memory as his capacity for both violence and menace knows virtually no bounds. It's hard to know who provides the more horrifying antagonist, him or the fantasy world's "Pale Man".

I can definitely understand why this movie won Best Cinematography with its remarkable balancing of colours and fluid movements that tie in well with the extremely solid CGI work on display. The fantasy imagery is well-realised and combines with the real world in all the right ways to make the whole real-or-fake question especially difficult to answer. Performances are strong all throughout and the whole sub-plot involving a resistance movement planning their own subterfuge and uprising against the Captain is well-realised in a way that does not to detract from the fairytale plotline in the slightest. Pan's Labyrinth is definitely a film that holds up reasonably well, and while I may not love it the way a lot of people do, it is still excellent and recommended to anyone who like their fantasy to have just the right amount of edge.

Master of My Domain
You know it's a a good film when all sorts of strange places and creatures look beautiful.

Guillermero should stop working on chap like The Hobbit and go back to some serious sh*t like Pan's Labyrinth.

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#307 - Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

A retired detective with a severe fear of heights is employed by a businessman to carry out surveillance on his eccentric wife.

I really want to like Vertigo a lot more than I already do due to it being the weirdest of Hitchcock's most widely recognised masterpieces. It starts off simply enough with its protagonist, a nervy ex-detective played by James Stewart, trying to cope with his acrophobia right as he gets a new case that simply involves tailing a woman (Kim Novak). This woman has a bizarre obsession with a long-dead ancestor and has suicidal tendencies that are somewhat rooted in said ancestor's own history, which causes Stewart's character to become more than a little intrigued and involved than is professionally acceptable. Going into more detail than that would seem too reliant on spoilers, but it's interesting because the spoilers would come less from the revelation of plot details than from the film that develops around them. Vertigo differs from the other great Hitchcock films in how it seems virtually unconcerned with any actual development of its plot. Sure, it's got a very noir-like set-up that hits a lot of familiar beats - a damaged detective, his sarcastic secretary, a suspicious client, a supposed femme fatale, etc. - but its a credit to Hitchcock and his collaborators that all these clichés get subverted in service to the film's concern with something greater than delivering a rollicking mystery (which only really starts halfway through the film and then gets the truth revealed to the audience two-thirds of the way through the movie, but it's still up to us to watch Stewart figure it out for himself).

Aside from giving us the famous "vertigo" effects work, the film is also reasonably visually competent and reliant on powerful imagery to communicate its themes, such as Stewart's dream sequence in the second half of the film. He and Novak give good performances (especially the latter as she is made to play two very distinct characters over the course of the film, communicating icy disconnect and complicated ferocity). Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann also creates a solid score to go along with the visuals on display. What stops me really liking this one is that it's maybe a bit too long for its own good - it does space its most interesting scenes a bit too far apart and still builds itself off a rather basic detective narrative, plus it doesn't stick the ending as well as it could have. It's an interesting cinematic experiment and that does make it theoretically more compelling than Hitchcock's much more prosaic classic, but this particular experiment doesn't provide the best results.

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#308 - Planet of the Apes
Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968

A group of astronauts crash-land on an unfamiliar planet to discover a world where intelligent apes are the dominant species and treat humans as livestock.

Planet of the Apes managed to make it onto my first Top 100 but it didn't crack the list the second time around. Despite that, it's still a very solid piece of sci-fi that seems to benefit from being dated more so than be hindered by it. Of course, the twist ending has become such common knowledge to the point that not only do covers for the movie's DVDs feature the film's final image, but there have been not one but two modern-day prequels whose existence explicitly spoils said ending. The beauty of this particular film is that it is more than able to withstand its ultimate reveal. I don't even need to specify what it is in this particular review - no, this is more about the rest of the film. The plot is some pretty standard speculative fiction - what if humans weren't a dominant species on a planet? This results in a serious culture shock for the human protagonist (Charlton Heston) as circumstances conspire to make him no different to the mute, barely-sentient humans that are given next to no respect by the ape population or their quasi-medieval society save by certain budding scholars.

All the best sci-fi finds something interesting to say beyond telling a fascinating story, and that is part of why Planet of the Apes' dated nature actually makes it more of a classic rather than render it an embarrassing relic. There's an obvious anti-creationist tract at work here as various ape scholars dismiss the existence of intelligent humans on religious grounds, but it's interesting to see a civil rights allegory at work as the privileged sub-group unapologetically denigrates a supposedly inferior group (that is only inferior because of a long history of social manipulation - but of course, that is inferred by the ending). That also involves picking apart some of the more noticeable aspects of that metaphor such as the fact that the humans in this film are predominantly white, as well as the fact that Heston's character has no problem embarking on a relationship with a human woman that doesn't appear to have much in the way of sapience. In any case, the ape make-up is solid (in the wise words of Bernard Black, you really believe that monkeys can have meetings) and there are good performances underneath it all, especially from Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall as the apes most sympathetic to Heston's plight and also Maurice Evans as memorably crusty antagonist Dr. Zaius (Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius...). The film keeps rolling along at just the right pace to fill out its running time, though it does run out of steam a bit during the last twenty minutes. Despite all those flaws, they are minor problems with a piece of sci-fi that definitely earns its iconic status, no matter how much it spoils itself in the process.

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#309 - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin, 2012

As a storm approaches and devastates a remote Louisiana community, a young girl has to contend with her short-tempered father's dangerous behaviour and worsening illness.

Beats of the Southern Wild delivers pretty much what it sets out to deliver but one has to question whether or not it was really worth delivering. There are plenty of singular attributes that work in its favour - most memorably, the Oscar-nominated performance by 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. Her protagonist is the one that we follow through all the events of the film, which are clearly influenced by the real-world effects of Hurricane Katrina as a massive flood strikes a small area of Louisiana colloquially known as "the Bathtub". She also has to contend with a father (Dwight Henry) that is physically abusive but also has his fair share of complications in regards to his mental and physical health, with the latter implied to be tied to the destructive weather conditions surrounding the Bathtub. Watching this so closely after re-watching Pan's Labyrinth only helps to emphasise the whole real-or-fantastic nature of this film, especially since Wallis's character seems to be under the impression that her father's well-being is connected to the adverse effects of the weather (and also the inevitable approach of some prehistoric creatures making their way towards the Bathtub).

Of course, this does make for a very loose and episodic narrative as Wallis's character navigates the area both before and after the flood, interacting with all sorts of distinctive Cajun characters and trying to patch together some semblance of their past lives amidst the destruction. One could draw comparisons to Malick, especially with Wallis's complicated voice-over sounding like it's been thought of by someone beyond her years, and of course the emphasis on imagery over plot. In that regard, it's decent enough, but there's barely anything in the way of personality. Wallis and Henry only go so far in providing solid material for this film, especially considering how both of them are defined by outwardly tempestuous attitudes that disguise some serious vulnerabilities. Of course, it doesn't make for an especially compelling film despite some interesting images scattered throughout the film and as such it just ends up being a rather average example of independent American cinema.

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#310 - Torn Curtain
Alfred Hitchcock, 1966

An American scientist publicly defects to the Soviet Union during a trip to East Germany as part of a top-secret spy mission.

It seems like Psycho marked the point at which Hitchcock reached a high-water mark as far as the quality of his films went and everything he made afterwards (with the possible exception of The Birds) marked a massive downturn in quality from his classic works. Or maybe I just never liked his work that much in the first place. In any case, Torn Curtain is a pretty hard film to defend because it really is quite a slog by Hitchcock standards. The premise sounds interesting - an American scientist (Paul Newman) and his girlfriend (Julie Andrews) end up on the other side of the Iron Curtain because Newman is part of a mission to discover a formula that could turn the tide of the Cold War. Of course, Andrews is unaware of the implications and insists on following Newman every step of the way, which does get complicated as Newman himself gets drawn further into the espionage than he intends to.

The problem is that Torn Curtain just doesn't deliver much in the way of consistent thrills. Sure, there's a pair of pretty charisma machines in the form of Newman and Andrews, but they don't have much in the way of chemistry together and they don't really sell the kind of attraction to one another that might jeopardise such an important mission. There are some decent sequences, such as an East German agent tracking Newman to a remote farmhouse and getting into a prolonged fight to the death as a result, but they are spread too far apart over a lengthy running time and only serve to point out how the bulk of the film barely offers anything in the way of consistent suspense. As a result, Torn Curtain really does feel like the work of a director who is spinning his creative wheels and can only just back up the rest of the film with the occasional well-executed scene.

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#311 - My Fair Lady
George Cukor, 1964

In turn-of-the-century England, a wealthy linguistics specialist decides to take an uncouth lower-class woman and teach her how to look, sound, and act like a proper lady.

In my experience, musicals are always a bit of a gamble, but I have a high enough tolerance for them that I almost never think of them as truly bad pieces of work. Unfortunately for them, that also means I have trouble thinking of them as genuinely enjoyable pieces of work beyond their obviously painstaking production values. My Fair Lady is another film that falls into the latter category as something I can only appreciate at a distance. Its roots in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion guarantee a pretty serviceable plot around which to build a bunch of different musical numbers, but it's not like most of them are particularly memorable in and of themselves. They are carried by the dual lead performances of Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison as the titular lady and her cultured educator respectively. A variety of other characters populate the film to provide foils and conflicts, but it really is all about those two. Though Hepburn naturally makes quite an impression through both her rough Cockney accent and her eventual posh affectation, it is Harrison that comes across as the film's best performer as a character that does not evoke much sympathy from an audience but still makes for a fascinating character as his intentions to use Hepburn in order to prove a point are complicated by his genuine development of affection for her.

Otherwise, the production values are strong as the film creates a solid and striking depiction of Edwardian England against which the songs and characters can play out. Though most of the songs and characters don't leave much of an impression, it doesn't make much of a difference considering how Harrison and Hepburn carry the bulk of the film. It has an impressive if none-too-creative visual aesthetic that makes its lengthy running time pass by a little easier. As one of the musicals that became acclaimed enough to win Best Picture at the Oscars, it will either prove exceptionally appealing or exceptionally grating or exceptionally average, and I guess it's probably a good thing that my opinion of this ends up being somewhere between average and good.