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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Before I Go To Sleep (2014)

A 40 year old woman (Nicole Kidman) suffers from anterograde amnesia. She wakes up every morning with no memory and whatever memories she acquires thru the day evaporate once she goes to sleep. Her husband (Colin Firth) leaves a photographic history of their life together on the wall but he must remind her who he is each morning. A doctor (Mark Strong) is helping her in trying to recover her memory. But as the layers are peeled away, she must eventually come to a horrible and violent truth. Based on the award winning, best selling novel by S.J. Watson and adapted for the screen and directed by Rowan Joffe. I'm a sucker for damsel in distress mystery thrillers and for the first two thirds, it's an ingenious "who can you trust" mystery (what might seem as inconsistencies or loopholes are actually clues) until it takes a very dark and disturbing shift in the last third. The film is no more than a clever jazzed up puzzle but with yet another strong performance by Nicole Kidman anchoring the film, it's quite persuasive. With Anne Marie Duff and Adam Levy.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Spiral Road (1962)

Set in the Dutch West Indies in 1936, an arrogant and over confident young doctor (Rock Hudson) comes to Java to work alongside a doctor (Burl Ives) whose expertise in the field of leprosy is renowned. It's the younger doctor's intention to profit from this when he returns to Holland and publishes his experiences. But fate (or the hand of God?) will break him or at least humble him before his tenure is over. Based on the novel by Jan De Hartog, the film has high aspirations as it examines the existence of God and man's ability to exist without him. It's the kind of movie that would drive an atheist batty! It's hardly subtle in hammering away at the obvious but I suspect (I haven't read it) that might go back to the De Hartog source material. It's one of his least seen films but it contains one of Hudson's very best performances. You can see what attracted him to the part, an opportunity to show he could sink himself into a part as much as any Actors Studio alumnae. There's an exotic underscore by Jerry Goldsmith. Directed by Robert Mulligan (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD).  With Gena Rowlands (looking luscious), Geoffrey Keen, Neva Patterson, Philip Abbott, Larry Gates, Karl Swenson, Parley Baer, Edgar Stehli and Barbara Morrison.

Eraser (1996)

An executive (Vanessa Williams) with a defense contractor corporation cooperates with the FBI in exposing her boss (James Cromwell) who is selling weapons to terrorists. A U.S. Marshal (Arnold Schwarzenegger) working for the Witness Protection Program is assigned to protect her. But there's a mole in the organization working for the other side putting her at risk so the witness and the Marshal go undercover. Early in the film, in a quiet suburban neighborhood there's a noisy and aggressive attack on Vanessa Williams' house, loud explosions and a small of army of thugs with guns. Yet none of the neighbors peek out to see what's going or apparently think of calling the police! This sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It's a live action cartoon exempt from realism and if you're okay with that, there's a good chance you can enjoy the film. I did. If lack of logic or large plot loopholes bother you, this movie is not for you. Schwarzenegger gives one of his better performances here by not trying to act and James Caan as his superior gives one of his worst performances by overacting. Granted, he's in a violent cartoon movie but Schwarzenegger's underplaying makes his over the top performance look worse than it should. Directed by Chuck Russell (THE SCORPION KING). With James Coburn, Robert Pastorelli, John Slattery, Camryn Manheim and Danny Nucci.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Le Vice Et La Vertu (aka Vice And Virtue) (1963)

In the waning days of Nazi occupied France in WWII, two French sisters find themselves leading different lives. The older (Annie Girardot) is an amoral whore who sleeps with Germans, each more powerful than the last one, in an attempt to assure herself a life of comfort. Her younger sister (Catherine Deneuve) marries a member of the resistance and has contempt for the Germans. Directed by Roger Vadim (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN), the first half of the film is very good as it explores the moral rot of the Third Reich as well as surviving however one has to as one's world (literally) comes crashing all around them. However, the second half of the film is another story. It's a ludicrous, often silly, piece of softcore S&M titillation. Michel Magne's piano underscore thunders away as nubile lovelies are submitted to the brutal lust of Nazi leaders in a private castle brothel. Apparently based on De Sade's JUSTINE (which I've never read), it's as if Vadim switched boats in mid-river and going from a serious look at Paris under Nazi occupation to an erotic S&M fantasy with its heroines in diaphanous gowns! With Luciana Paluzzi, Robert Hossein, O.E. Hasse (Hitchcock's I CONFESS) and Georges Poujouly.

Mark Of The Hawk (1957)

Set in British colonial Africa, one of the few black leaders (Sidney Poitier) elected to the white legislative council attempts to pressure the British government into setting a date for turning the country over to its native population thus allowing them to rule themselves. The white supremacists resist while native terrorists attack white homes, killing the inhabitants and burning the homes. Into this volatile atmosphere comes an American missionary (John McIntire) who hopes faith will settle the hate on both sides. Today it's not at all unusual for Christian groups to fund films with a Christian agenda and marketed toward Christians and most of them do quite well with their intended audiences and even some studios court religious groups for their films (NOAH is a recent example). It was much more rare in the 1950s and this film was sponsored by the Presbyterian church's Board Of Foreign Missions. The film doesn't bother to hide its agenda and parts of the film's dialog have you feeling that you're listening to a sermon. The film's dubious premise that accepting Jesus will heal all wounds and bring Africa together would be offensive if it wasn't so unabashedly in your face. Somehow the film makers managed to get a strong cast of actors. In addition to Poitier and McIntire, Eartha Kitt (as Poitier's French wife) and Juano Hernandez have key roles in the film. Directed by Michael Audley. With Helen Horton and Marne Maitland.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Zandy's Bride (1974)

A cattle rancher (Gene Hackman) on the Monterey coast of California sends away for a mail order bride (Liv Ullmann). He's a crude, unfeeling brute who wants someone to help work the ranch and "comfort" his bed at night. She's looking for a home. But his brutality (he rapes her on the wedding night) places a wedge in their future ..... if there is one. After the success of THE EMIGRANTS and THE NEW LAND in the U.S., Hollywood made overtures to the director Jan Troell and this was his first American film. Its simplicity and directness is carried over from his two Swedish films but as cinema, it feels uneven. It seems to be searching for its tone but never quite finds it. Ullmann seems born to her role but Hackman seems uncomfortable, as if resisting the coarseness of his character instead of inhabiting it. The real "star" of the film however is the gorgeous Big Sur coast line so lovingly photographed by Jordan Cronenweth. I could have done without the insistent banjo underscore by Michael Franks. Based on the novel THE STRANGER by Lillian Bos Ross. With Eileen Heckart, Susan Tyrell, Harry Dean Stanton, Sam Bottoms and Frank Cady.

The Devil Is A Woman (1935)

It's carnival time in turn of the century Spain. A revolutionary (Cesar Romero) sees a beautiful woman (Marlene Dietrich) and becomes enthralled and plans on seeing her again. But when he meets an old friend (Lionel Atwill in a rare sympathetic role), the friend tells him of the true nature of the woman. She uses men and breaks their hearts without pity. Perhaps the most insane of the collaborations of director Josef von Sternberg and his muse, Marlene Dietrich. Based on the novel THE WOMAN AND THE PUPPET by Pierre Louys, it's hard to tell how much of this overheated melodrama we're supposed to take sincerely. I'm still not sure if it's another bad Dietrich performance or if she's not winking her eye at us as if to say, "Don't take all this too seriously, darlings". It's all rather silly but in a good way and the film is an art director's dream and it's a stunning looking film (von Sternberg was also the film's cinematographer). Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol is used as the underscore. With Edward Everett Horton and Alison Skipworth.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Shanghai Story (1954)

In communist China, a group of American expatriates are interned at a hotel while the authorities attempt to ferret out a spy in the group. Among them are a disillusioned doctor (Edmond O'Brien), a glamorous apolitical beauty (Ruth Roman) and a man (Richard Jaeckel) on the run from the law in several countries. This cold war potboiler from Republic studios is directed by Frank Lloyd (1935's MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY), one of only two films he made in the 1950s. It's got the usual Red paranoia and demonizing (the commies shoot a little dog in front of the child who owns it) and the screenplay is rather lax and illogical. Roman as the mystery woman who may or may not be a traitor comes off best as the script favors her character. However, if one is in a forgiving mood, it can be entertaining the way those modest "B" level Republic programmers often are. With Whit Bissell, Barry Kelley, Frances Rafferty, Paul Picerni, Yvette Duguay, Marvin Miller and what 1950s Far East setting movie would be complete without those Asian stalwarts, Philip Ahn and Richard Loo.

Dementia 13 (1963)

When her husband (Peter Read) dies suddenly of a heart attack, a scheming wife (Luana Anders) hides his body in a lake so she can coerce her mother in law (Eithne Dunn) to change her will. But there's an ax wielding killer on the family estate who might have plans of his own. Roger Corman gave many young directors, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme among them, their first break letting them cut their teeth on exploitation films before they moved on to the big time. Here, it's a young Francis Ford Coppola at the helm directing his first feature film. It was made for about $30,000, Corman was unhappy with the final product and shot additional scenes against Coppola's wishes. What remains is a rather silly but richly atmospheric PSYCHO rip-off. The dialog is mundane and the acting with the exception of Luana Anders and William Campbell (who plays her brother in law) is amateurish. No one is worse than Patrick Magee (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) because he overacts so terribly that he makes the amateurish performances look good! The score is by Ronald Stein. With Mary Mitchel and Bart Patton. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry (1945)

A middle aged bachelor (George Sanders) is saddled with taking care of his two sisters. One, a widow (Moyna MacGill) and the other (Geraldine Fitzgerald) an invalid but more likely a hypochondriac. When a beautiful woman (Ella Raines) comes to work at his place of employment, they fall in love and the woman becomes a threat to the "sick" sister who fears her brother will abandon her.  Based on the play by Thomas Job, this is an enjoyable psychological thriller (though some consider it noir) with a few twists and turns. Sadly, everything that's good about it gets done in in the film's final couple of minutes thanks to the Hays code. It's still a very good film but the nasty aftertaste that minute and a half leaves is hard to get rid of. Sanders, one of the gread cads of cinema, has one of his rare sympathetic roles and he's quite touching. Fitzgerald is also very good as she masks her true nature under a guise of delicate nicety. Solidly directed by Robert Siodmak. With Sara Allgood, Ethel Griffies, Barbara Pepper, Will Wright and Irene Tedrow.