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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hurricane (1979)

In 1920s American Samoa, an American girl (Mia Farrow) comes to visit her father (Jason Robards) who is the appointed Governor of the island. The father is obsessive about his daughter, possibly harboring incestuous feelings toward her. When she becomes attracted to one of the young natives (Dayton Ka'ne) of the island, he becomes vindictive. A loose remake of the 1937 John Ford film, the film has some impressive people involved in the film: director Jan Troell (THE EMIGRANTS), cinematographer Sven Nykvist (FANNY AND ALEXANDER), composer Nino Rota (whose last film score this was), screenwriter Lorenzo Semple (PRETTY POISON), production designer Danilo Donati (AMARCORD), film editor Sam O'Steen (THE GRADUATE). So where did it all go wrong? There was an innocence to the 1937 film that wouldn't play well to contemporary audiences but the film makers haven't given us anything better other than a hackneyed tale of "forbidden" interracial love. Even the hurricane sequence using (then) state of the art special effects doesn't have the thrill of the stunning hurricane sequence in Ford's earlier film. Rota's theme music sounds like a rehash of his GODFATHER motif and the film is indicative of where Farrow's career was at before Woody Allen rescued her. With Max Von Sydow, Trevor Howard, Timothy Bottoms, James Keach and Manu Tupou (HAWAII).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Midnight (1939)

A penniless showgirl (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris looking for her fortune. A Hungarian taxi driver (Don Ameche) is smitten by her but he's too poor for her plans. But when a wealthy gentleman (John Barrymore) offers her a generous amount of money to seduce the gigolo (Francis Lederer) that his wife (Mary Astor) is infatuated with ... she sees her chance and grabs it. This delightful screwball comedy was written by Billy Wilder (not yet a director) and Charles Brackett and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Colbert was always at her best in comedies and this is one of her finest performances. The charmless Ameche isn't bad but his character is a rather obnoxious jerk and Ameche isn't able to overcome that in the way a Cary Grant or James Stewart, actors with a stronger persona might have. The supporting cast is perfect especially John Barrymore (reputedly doing the part off cue cards) who just about steals the film. Euphoric amusement! Also in the cast: Monty Woolley, Hedda Hopper and Rex O'Malley.

The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1956)

When the wife (Sheree North) of a TV writer (Tom Ewell) believes her husband is about to be recalled into the Air Force, she enlists in the Air Force too so they can be together. Unfortunately, her husband fails his physical but she is now a WAF! The director Frank Tashlin has a genuine knack for visual and physical comedy but the formulaic screenplay he has to work from doesn't give him much opportunity to do what he does best. The film is dated in its attitude of male and female relationships. The hook here is a gender reversal with North in the Air Force and Ewell as the househusband in the flower apron taking care of the home. It's 1956 and the idea of the man staying home while the wife works was still considered unnatural. The image of Ewell in an apron doing laundry must have been hilarious to 1956 audiences but it's more of a reality in 2014. The lovely and talented Sheree North was placed under contract at Fox as replacement for their top star Marilyn Monroe if she gave them a hard time. Ironically, the Monroe sexpot role here isn't played by North but by Rita Moreno as the "girl upstairs" referencing Monroe's role in SEVEN YEAR ITCH which also co-starred Ewell. Also in the cast: Rick Jason, Jean Willes, Les Tremayne, Edward Platt and Leslie Parrish.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mystery Of Marie Roget (1942)

In Paris, a famous musical comedy actress (Maria Montez) goes missing and a mutilated body recovered from a river is identified as hers. However, shortly after she reappears refusing to comment where she had been for 10 days. Several days later during a party where she performed, she goes missing again and shortly after another mutilated body is found in the river. But is it her or someone else? Very loosely based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story, the film is barely an hour long which is just as well. I enjoyed it because I'm a pushover for murder mysteries but after awhile it seemed to go round in circles. And I'm still not sure of the killer's motive for the second murder! Definitely a minor Universal programmer directed by Philip Rosen, director of such "classics" as SPOOKS RUN WILD and THE CISCO KID IN OLD NEW MEXICO with Montez seeming like a fish out of water without the exotic trappings of ARABIAN NIGHTS and COBRA WOMAN! With Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lloyd Corrigan and John Litel.

The Mummy (1959)

In 1895 Egypt, an archaeologist (Felix Aylmer) and his brother (Raymond Huntley) discover and enter the tomb of an ancient Egyptian princess. But the princess's tomb is protected by the mummy (Christopher Lee) of a high priest who will exact revenge on those who desecrated the tomb including the archaeologist's son (Peter Cushing). Hammer films had already dipped into the Universal waters of Frankenstein and Dracula and now it was The Mummy's turn at bat. As directed by Hammer's resident horror director Terence Fisher, it's a bit heavy on exposition (including flashbacks) but that's always been the curse of these Mummy movies. On the plus side, it's rich in atmosphere even if it is entirely shot on a sound stage Egypt and studio bound English countryside swamps. Cushing is in his element of course but poor Christopher Lee swathed in bandages and no dialogue doesn't have much to do but minimally act with his eyes. If you're a fan of Hammer horror, it won't disappoint you. With Yvonne Furneaux (LA DOLCE VITA) doing double duty as Cushing's wife and the high priestess Ananka in the flashbacks. Also in the cast: Eddie Byrne and George Pastell.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Witches (1966)

After recovering from a nervous breakdown she suffered in Africa, a schoolteacher (Joan Fontaine) looks forward to the quiet and idyllic life of the English countryside where she has a new position. It isn't long however that she senses that something is seriously wrong under the facade of the seemingly peaceful village. Based on the novel THE DEVIL'S OWN (which was its U.S. title) by Norah Lofts, this low key Hammer horror manages to resist sensationalism until the very end when it goes over the top and borders on silliness. But until then, it's a quietly effective piece of horror with an unsettling atmosphere and a nice central performance by Fontaine (in her last film role). Directed by Cyril Frankel with a persuasive underscore by Richard Rodney Bennett (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). With Alec McCowen (TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT), Kay Walsh, Ingrid Boulting and Martin Stephens.

The End Of Violence (1997)

Shortly after his wife (Andie MacDowell) announces she intends to leave him, a wealthy film producer (Bill Pullman) is kidnapped. Meanwhile, a computer scientist (Gabriel Byrne), who's working for a secret government agency, uses his surveillance equipment to randomly watch the city of Los Angeles. Wim Wenders' (WINGS OF DESIRE) film is a gross miscalculation. One can see what he's trying to do and it's rather ambitious in its scope but the execution is too vague and pretentious. The dialogue is virtually unplayable and one cringes for the poor actors as they struggle to make sense of it. Everything seems so arbitrary rather than organic and in the end, the film comes out looking like nothing more than an ill advised (and dull) conspiracy thriller with artistic trappings. On the plus side, it's a great looking film with Pascal Rabaud's wide screen cinematography capturing the Los Angeles landscape with a fresh eye. Still, it's a pity that the film itself is a jumbled mess. With the director Samuel Fuller as Byrne's father, Daniel Benzali, Frederic Forrest, Loren Dean, Rosalind Chao, Henry Silva, Traci Lind, Udo Kier, Peter Horton and in the film's worst performance, K. Todd Freeman.

St. Vincent (2014)

A recently divorced mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son (Jaeden Lieberher) move next door to an old misanthropic, alcoholic curmudgeon (Bill Murray). But soon the curmudgeon and the boy bond albeit reluctantly on the grouchy old man's part. One knows that any film focusing on an old curmudgeon and a kid bonding is eventually going the tearjerking route and ST. VINCENT is no exception. I tried to resist, I really did, but finally just caved in and went with it. The film seems tailor made for Murray's particular talents though while watching I couldn't shake the feeling it was a film written with Jack Nicholson in mind but turned down. It's easily Murray's best performance since LOST IN TRANSLATION and fortunately the young lad Lieberher is a decent actor who gives a real performance rather than one of those annoying "child actor" performances. McCarthy gets a chance to show she can do more than just be abrasive and vulgar and she's quite touching here. Naomi Watts is delightful as a pregnant Russian hooker, a role that showcases her more than the recent BIRDMAN. Written and directed by Theodore Melfi. With Chris O'Dowd, Terrence Howard, Ann Dowd and Donna Mitchell.

Travolti Da Un Insolito Destino Nell 'Azzurro Mare D'Agosto (aka Swept Away) (1974)

Vacationing on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean, a wealthy right wing blonde (Mariangela Melato) makes life hell for the crew. In particular, an avowed communist and male chauvinist (Giancarlo Giannini) who she belittles at every opportunity. But when they are shipwrecked on a small desert island, their roles are reversed as he gets his revenge. But fate has something more cruel in mind for the both of them. Lina Wertmuller's acclaimed film is a film of both social and sexual politics with a smidgen of romantic comedy. But it's also a divisive film in that many see the film as a misogynist attack. True, Melato's character is raped, beaten and humiliated and falls in love with her abuser but calling it misogynist is too simplistic. It's also a film about class distinction and warfare and Giannini's character abuses her as a representative of the repressive capitalist class. Eventually, Wertmuller (who also wrote the screenplay) shows how they move beyond labels, no longer worker and oppressor, rich and poor, but merely two human beings. Remade (badly) by Guy Ritchie in 2002.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

George Washington Slept Here (1942)

A city dweller (Jack Benny) moves to the country against his wishes when his wife (Ann Sheridan) impulsively buys a run down Colonial house with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. It quickly turns into a disaster as the house eats away into their savings and legal troubles may lose them the property. The "house that eats its owners" plot has been a popular subject for films and TV shows. In addition to this film, MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE and THE MONEY PIT are two other notable examples. This one is moderately amusing, mostly because of the gamesmanship of its cast. Jack Benny isn't an actor, he's a comedian with a very definable and recognizable persona which is well used here. But it limited him and his film career never took off the way Bob Hope's did. Benny and Sheridan do have a nice relaxed chemistry though. Throw in some reliable character actors like Charles Coburn, Hattie McDaniel, Franklin Pangborn, Percy Kilbride (from the original stage production), Lee Patrick and John Emery and you have a show! Based on the 1940 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and directed by William Keighley. With Joyce Reynolds and Charles Dingle.