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Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Lost City Of Z (2017)

In 1905, the Royal Geological Society assigns a British military man (Charlie Hunnam) to survey the borders of Bolivia and Brazil. But when he discovers evidence of a long lost civilization that might pre-date modern man, it turns into an obsession that will consume him. Based on the non fiction book by David Grann and directed by James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT). Although based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, Gann's book has been attacked for gross exaggerations and inaccuracies. Since I don't go to the movies for history lessons, I took Gray's film, which covers 25 years, on face value. The first 2/3rds of the film are very good. More than very good, in fact excellent. It seemed to be evolving into something very special. Alas, when the film reaches WWI, it stops dead in its tracks and never recovers. Worse still, it meanders into a mystic and sentimental ending that seems to drag on forever! I started to feel angry that it began to ruin the good will that the first 2/3 had built up. The acting is first rate especially Hunnam in his best film role to date. High marks to Christopher Spelman's wonderful Oscar worthy score. With Sienna Miller (who does wonders with the dreaded "wife" role), Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Franco Nero and Angus Macfadyen, so good in his whimpering selfishness that you want to rip his face off!   

Insomnia (1997)

A Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgard) and his partner (Sverre Anker Ousdal) travel to Norway to assist a murder case, that of a 17 year old girl brutally beaten to death. A plan to trap the suspected killer (Bjorn Floberg) goes horribly wrong and the detective kills his partner instead. But was it an accident? The directorial feature film debut of Erik Skjoldbjaerg is a compelling thriller with a complex ambiguous protagonist at its core. Not only is he unlikable, he's downright disgusting! But Skjoldbjaerg isn't interested in a sympathetic portrait but rather the opaque moral culpability of a guilt consumed man. As Skarsgard impeccably plays him, we're never able to break through his glass wall while ironically, we're able to understand Floberg's equally vile murderer which renders his character more human. Unsettling on several levels, nonetheless a gripping suspense film that challenges you as it entertains you. An English language remake directed by Christopher Nolan came out in 2002. With Gisken Armand and Bjorn Moan.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gosford Park (2001)

In 1932, a group of British aristocrats gather for a weekend in the country at an estate owned by a wealthy factory owner (Michael Gambon) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). But what should have been an ordinary weekend is interrupted by a murder. Robert Altman would be the last director one would think of for this both witty and incisive look at the British class system which suddenly turns into an Agatha Christie mystery in its last hour. This is Merchant/Ivory territory and the film is a hybrid of REMAINS OF THE DAY and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. But since this is Altman and not Merchant/Ivory, the film is fluid rather than stiff, open rather than stuffy. Julian Fellowes' Oscar winning screenplay glides between the downstairs servants and the upstairs aristocrats giving us a peek at their private lives and if the servants seem to be more interesting than the aristocrats, it's probably because they're more relatable to us. The murder mystery aspect is only interesting because of the motive. The victim is extremely unlikable so we don't really care who killed him and the incompetence of the police detective (Stephen Fry) investigating the case insures the murder will never be solved. The impeccable ensemble cast includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Alan Bates, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Ryan Phillippe, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Northam, Richard E. Grant and Kelly Macdonald.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation (1939)

An American archaeologist (John Dusty King) discovers the crown of the Queen of Sheba during a dig. The famed Japanese detective Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) takes it upon himself to guard the crown on its sea journey to a San Francisco museum. But a criminal mastermind has already set a plan in motion to steal the priceless crown. Directed by Norman Foster (WOMAN ON THE RUN), this was the seventh film in the Mr. Moto franchise. If you're a fan of the series (as I am) and mysteries in general, it's quite fun. At barely over an hour long, it gets its business done without dawdling though I could easily have done without the comic relief provided by G.P. Huntley as a bumbling British twit who is more annoying than amusing. It's not very difficult to figure out the villain. When you cast a younger actor and then cover him up with old age make up, it's practically a dead giveaway. All in all, one of the more enjoyable entries in the series. With Joseph Schildkraut, Virginia Field, Lionel Atwill, Victor Wong and Willie Best.   

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stazione Termini (1953)

An American woman (Jennifer Jones) on vacation in Italy begins an affair with an Italian teacher (Montgomery Clift). But she can't bring herself to leave her husband and child and decides to return home. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, the film had a troubled history. The producer of the film, David O. Selznick (Jones's husband at the time), saw a more traditional romance but De Sica saw a more complex end of the affair. Selznick edited De Sica's version and cut almost 24 minutes out of the film and retitled it INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE. The version I watched was De Sica's original 90 minute cut. Films about American women traveling to Europe and having brief encounters with foreign men have been done several times for the screen. Perhaps the most notable is David Lean's SUMMERTIME but there's also Douglas Sirk's INTERLUDE. De Sica sets his film in what feels like real time and the entire film plays out at a train station. Unlike the romanticized Technicolor SUMMERTIME, De Sica's film is a bleak B&W look at at a romance falling apart. Clift brings a great empathy to his Italian (he's no gigolo) while Jones uses her talent for suppressed neuroticism to great advantage. If you're looking for a glossy movie romance, this isn't it but it's still an involving film. With Richard Beymer (WEST SIDE STORY).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bluebeard (1972)

A young American (Joey Heatherton) touring as a showgirl in 1930s Europe is courted by a Hungarian aristocrat (Richard Burton), who has had multiple wives. They marry and he gives her a set of keys to the castle and tells her she must never use the gold one. Of course, her curiosity gets the better of her and what that key unlocks could be the death of her. Directed by Edward Dmytryk (CROSSFIRE) and based on the classic French folk tale which has "inspired" several previous films including the 1944 Edgar G. Ulmer film. This version is presented as a black comedy though it takes awhile before one realizes it is a comedy. Burton's last line in the film is, "This is ridiculous! This is absurd!" and that about sums up the movie. A bevy of international beauties are cast as his lovers and mistresses and the more amusing segments include Virna Lisi as the wife who drives him crazy because she won't stop singing pop songs all the time and Raquel Welch as an ex-nun who feels the need to confess her entire sexual history which is prolific! I could have done without the hunting montage with hunters shooting various animals which I found distasteful, however. The Ennio Morricone underscore is aces! With Nathalie Delon, Sybil Danning, Marilu Tolo, Agostina Belli and Karin Schubert.

Outpost In Morocco (1949)

Set in Morocco, a womanizing officer (George Raft) in the French army is assigned to lead a patrol escorting a local Emir's daughter (Marie Windsor), newly arrived from France, back to her father (Eduard Franz). Her father, however, is anti-colonial and wants the French out of his country. Directed by Robert Florey (THE COCOANUTS), this is a typical desert programmer with its French colonial heroes and the Arabs as the bad guys. An aging Raft is the "dashing" hero and it's rather amusing to see his sudden athleticism in the action scenes courtesy of a stunt double! The Foreign Legion actually cooperated with the film makers in this effort (no hyperbole, there's literally a cast of thousands) and Richard Rosson did the second unit location work which was reused in several 50s desert adventure movies. There is a rather touching moment in the film when the cavalry soldiers must abandon their horses to the desert after their water supply has been cut off, one of the few touches that elevate it out of the "B" movie territory plus an unusually downbeat ending. With Akim Tamiroff, John Litel, John Doucette and Erno Verebes whose comic relief wears out very quickly.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wall Of Noise (1963)

An ambitious horse trainer (Ty Hardin) disregards the loyalty of his loving girlfriend (Dorothy Provine) in his pursuit to enter the winner's circle in the high stakes world of professional horse racing. When he's hired by a self made millionaire (Ralph Meeker) to manage his stables, the millionaire's wife (Suzanne Pleshette) sees him as a way out of an unhappy marriage. Based on the novel by Daniel Michael Stein and directed by Richard Wilson. The film never gets out of the gate due to the casting of Hardin in the male lead. The character is an arrogant and rather unlikable chap so you need a charismatic actor to make the film work, someone like Paul Newman who can play unlikable characters (think HUD) yet still draw you to him. Not only is Hardin not charismatic, he's not a good actor and the role is beyond his meager abilities. Not to mention that Pleshette and Provine are too good for him, both as actresses and their characters. Pleshette is comfortable as the femme fatale but Hardin's blandness renders Provine's loyal girlfriend as nothing more than a doormat. The racing sequences are done very well although the insider's look at horse racing doesn't flatter it.  With Simon Oakland, Murray Matheson and Jimmy Murphy.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Far And Away (1992)

In the Ireland of 1892, a poverty stricken Irishman (Tom Cruise) sets off to America with the headstrong runaway daughter (Nicole Kidman) of a wealthy Irish landowner (Robert Prosky). They  both have their dreams but everything seems against them. Directed by Ron Howard, this is an old fashioned movie but old fashioned in the good sense. It starts off weakly with Howard overdoing the movie Irish bit and one suspects he watched too many John Ford movies while preparing for this. I kept waiting for Victor McLaglen to show up! But once they get to America, things pick up nicely. Tom Cruise isn't remotely believable as an Irishman (his Irish accent is the pits), he's Tom Cruise, Movie Star. And that's just fine because that's what this kind of movie needs, a charismatic star at its center. The film's high point is a stunning recreation of the 1893 Oklahoma land rush, strikingly shot by Mikael Salomon (THE ABYSS) in 70 millimeter (12 cameras were used to film it) although few theaters actually showed it in the format and edited by Daniel Hanley and Mike Hill. With Thomas Gibson, Barbara Babcock, Colm Meaney, Jared Harris, Cyril Cusack and Brendan Gleeson.   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

While the evil Galactic Empire continues to suppress any resistance to its rule, the rebel alliance headed by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) continues to fight against the tyranny. But the Empire has the upper hand and the resistance is met with a furious might. But the "hope" of the rebels, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trains with the Jedi master Yoda (Frank Oz). Directed by Irvin Kershner (EYES OF LAURA MARS), this is considered the jewel of the original STAR WARS trilogy and justifiably so. This is a great epic in which everything falls perfectly into place. From the intelligent script by Leigh Brackett (RIO BRAVO) and Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT) which allows for some detailed characterization to Kershner's concise direction (helped by Paul Hirsch's editing, of course). Of course, the trilogy's creator George Lucas' hand is all over this though uncredited for the most part. The film is the most operatic in scope of the trilogy and unlike the other two, it ends so many ends hanging (intentionally) unresolved. One of the genuinely great films of the 1980s decade. With Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker.