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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Straight On Till Morning (1972)

A homely girl (Rita Tushingham) leaves her home in Liverpool to go live in London where she hopes to meet a man who will get her pregnant. But the man (Shane Briant) she meets is a psychopath and a serial killer. He despises beauty and is attracted to her precisely because she is plain looking. Will she find out his secret in time? By the early 1970s, Hammer films had begun to move toward more diverse "horror" fare than the period horror films that had made its reputation. This film is pretty twisted. We know from the outset that the androgynous "pretty boy" is a murderer so the suspense comes from waiting for her to find out and how she will react and if she will be able to get away from him. The film's ending is ambiguous enough that we don't know her fate. Unfortunately, the effete Briant is a big zero and repulsive enough that you wonder why she doesn't go screaming in the other direction. But the film makes you squirm but not in a good way and the most truly horrifying moment in the film (there's a similar moment in KLUTE) is hard to take. Directed by Peter Collinson (THE ITALIAN JOB). With the jazz singer Annie Ross (who also sings the title song), Tom Bell, James Bolam and Katya Wyeth.

A Room With A View (1986)

A young English girl (Helena Bonham Carter) visits Italy along with her chaperoning cousin (Maggie Smith). It is there she meets an impetuous free spirit (Julian Sands) with whom she has an attraction. But upon returning to England, she gets engaged to a pompous stuffed shirt (Daniel Day Lewis) but not long after, the free spirit and his father (Denholm Elliott) move into her village. Based on the E.M. Forster novel, this is the crown jewel of the Merchant/Ivory catalog. Everything falls into place: the acting, the writing (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who won an Oscar for her screenplay), the cinematography (Tony Pierce Roberts), the music (Richard Robbins) and praise be to director James Ivory for piecing it all together. It's romantic without being all soppy about it and sophisticated without being pretentious. It's lost none of its charm in the almost thirty years since its release and is the kind of film that word "timeless" seems to be apt. With Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Rupert Graves, Fabia Drake and Rosemary Leach.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Behind Office Doors (1931)

A young secretary (Mary Astor) is in love with a rough around the edges salesman (Robert Ames) at the paper company she works for. She grooms him for success by changing the way he dresses, speaks and gives him advice on business deals. But as he rises to the top, he still sees her only as a secretary. Enter a wealthy married man (Ricardo Cortez) who would like nothing better than to have the secretary as his mistress. Based on the novel PRIVATE SECRETARY by Alan Brener Schultz, this pre-code film isn't as daring as some of its pre-code brethren. At heart, it's your basic unappreciated woman behind the man scenario and the inevitable conclusion is far from a mystery. What is a mystery is what Astor sees in Ames. He doesn't treat her well, can barely remember her name and lets her do most of the work while he takes the credit. The dialogue by Carey Wilson is fast and tart if amusingly dated ("Pipe it down, you flaming youth! This ain't no speakeasy!"). Astor is attractive and appealing and the reason to check this out. Directed by Melville Brown. With Kitty Kelly and Catherine Dale Owen. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

That Wonderful Urge (1948)

A sleazy tabloid reporter (Tyrone Power) has been writing a series of unflattering articles on a wealthy heiress (Gene Tierney) without even knowing her. Under an assumed name, he meets her and manages to worm his way into her confidence but when she finds out she's been duped, she plots her revenge. This is a rare case of an actor remaking one of his old movies. This is a remake of LOVE IS NEWS (1937) which starred Power and Loretta Young in Tierney's role. As directed by Robert B. Sinclair, this is a somewhat amusing piece of romcom fluff, the kind of stuff that would be perfected by Rock Hudson and Doris Day in the following years. Power and Tierney aren't exactly noted for their comedic skills but the screenplay allows them to play their characters straight and let the humor comes from the situations. It's a lightweight but the kind of product that the old Hollywood factory turned out with regularity in the 40s. With Reginald Gardiner, Arleen Whalen, Lucile Watson, Chill Wills and Gene Lockhart.

Mayerling (1968)

In 1880s Austria, the Crown Prince (Omar Sharif) is not only stuck in an unhappy marriage of state but he opposes his father's, the Emperor Franz Joseph (James Mason), repressive political nature. When he falls in love with a young Baroness (Catherine Deneuve), it becomes a scandal. This is not a remake of the 1936 Anatole Litvak film on the same subject but based on other source materials. As a film, it's a real piece of eye candy, gorgeously shot by Henri Alekan (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) making exquisite use of its Austrian and Italian locations. But for a film whose center is a story of forbidden love, it lacks passion. Sharif and Deneuve (has there ever been a more gorgeous movie couple?) moon over each other but there's no fire in their performances to indicate that this is a love worth dying for. The movie eventually collapses under the weight of its own pretensions. The underscore is credited to Francis Lai (A MAN AND A WOMAN), a composer certainly capable of writing a romantic underscore but instead we're given large doses of Aram Khachaturyan compositions that weigh the movie down. This is a movie to look at, not listen to. Directed by Terence Young (THUNDERBALL). With Ava Gardner (looking beautiful) as Empress Elizabeth, Genevieve Page, James Robertson Justice and Andrea Parisy. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Corrupt Ones (1967)

An American photographer (Robert Stack) working in China is given a package from a man (Maurizio Arena) who saved his life when he was on the run from the Red Chinese. Soon it seems everyone knows about the package and wants it ..... even if they have to kill for it. Despite being shot in English and Stack's presence, this isn't an American film but a West German/French and Italian co-production. Directed by James Hill (BORN FREE) but the version I saw which had German titles gives the directorial credit to one Frank Winterstein (a pseudonym?). It's a moderately entertaining Saturday matinee adventure with a touch of Indiana Jones and a smidgen of James Bond. It's not the kind of film that challenges your mind but it's fun in a nutty sort of way what with Macao gangsters, Chinese torture and treasure maps. There's a nifty title song sung by Dusty Springfield. With Elke Sommer, who's inexplicably dubbed when she spoke perfect English though the German language track has her voice. Also in the cast: Nancy Kwan, Werner Peters and Christian Marquand.

Spotlight (2015)

In 2001, The Boston Globe newspaper gets a new editor (Liev Schreiber), an outsider from Miami and Jewish unlike the most of the staff which are native to the city and Catholic. When he proposes that a special unit of reporters follow up on a story on sexual abuse on children by Catholic priests, he has no idea of the far reaching implications of and the effect it will have on the city. Based on actual events (The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer for their story), this is the best movie of its kind since ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). As the reporting team gather their evidence and meet resistance from both the perpetrators and their victims as well as the Catholic church itself, the film almost plays out like a thriller. The actor turned director Tom McCarthy (THE STATION AGENT), who co-wrote the screenplay, doesn't push. Rather than go the Stanley Kramer route and go for the obvious, he gives us little moments, real moments that when added up combine to make a potent film. The ensemble cast is perfect all the way down to the tiniest of parts. Michael Keaton as the head of the "spotlight" team follows up last year's BIRDMAN with another award worthy performance. Strong stuff and be prepared to be outraged. The excellent cast includes Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, Brian D'Arcy James, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan and Len Cariou. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Secret In Their Eyes (2015)

In 2002 Los Angeles and the aftermath of 9/11, a group of federal agents investigating terrorism are shocked when the daughter (Zoe Graham) of one of their agents (Julia Roberts) is found brutally raped and murdered. The head of the department (Alfred Molina) is reluctant to prosecute the suspect (Joe Cole) because he is an important informant so he is released and vanishes. Jump 13 years later and one of the former agents (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE) finds the suspect but will justice finally be done? I doubt it will matter to those who were so upset that the 2009 Argentinean Oscar winning film was being "remade" but in reality, it bears little resemblance to the first film. The director Billy Ray (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) has used the 2009 film as a blueprint for a grittier, less political film. By changing the race (Ejiofor) and gender (Roberts) of two of the characters, Ray has given the film some sexual tension (Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman) that the earlier film lacked and a vulnerability and determination (Roberts) that the male character was weak on. A totally deglamorized Roberts continues her roll after AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY and THE NORMAL HEART with one of her strongest performances. My one complaint is that they shouldn't have messed with the original's ending which was more horrifying than what we're given here. With Dean Norris and Michael Kelly.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Stunt Man (1980)

An ex-soldier (Steve Railsback) on the run from the police finds himself on the set of a movie taking place during WWI. The film's director (Peter O'Toole at his best) hides him from the police by giving him the job of a stunt man. Adapted from the novel by Paul Brodeur, Richard Rush's woozy black comedy keeps us off kilter right off the bat. In a bravura opening sequence, we're never quite sure what's going on or where we are and when we meet our "hero", he's every bit as unsure as the audience is. Once he becomes part of the movie's crew, we never know what to believe. What we see turns out to be false, what we hear turns out to be a lie to the point that we can no longer believe the "hero" any longer either. Some of it we can chalk up to the unreality or the phoniness inherent in film making but there's a thread of paranoia running through the film too. I don't mean to make it sound so heavy handed. After all, it's a rather exhilarating if dizzy cinematic exercise that keeps afloat and never touching ground. The driving underscore by Dominic Frontiere is an important element to the film, moving it forward. With Barbara Hershey, Allen Garfield, Sharon Farrell, Alex Rocco and Adam Roarke. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nachts, Wenn Der Teufel Kam (aka The Devil Strikes At Night) (1957)

In 1944 Nazi Germany, a serial killer (Mario Adorf) goes undetected for years. But when a man (Werner Peters) is convicted of the murders, an investigating officer (Claus Holm) has serious doubts about his guilt. When the missing purse of one of the victims is turned in to the police, it leads to the arrest of the real serial killer. But under the morally bankrupt Third Reich, can justice be done? Loosely based on the case of Bruno Ludke, an alleged serial killer who murdered over 50 people between 1928 and 1943. The director Robert Siodmak was one of many German emigres who fled Hitler's Germany to work in Hollywood and he is best known for such noir classics like THE KILLERS and CRISS CROSS. He returned to Germany in the mid fifties to work and this Oscar nominated (best foreign language) film is his most admired post Hollywood film. It's a superbly done film although the outrage one would normally feel at a miscarriage of justice is tempered by the fact that this is, after all, Nazi Germany. A government whose mass murder of innocent Jews and others dwarfs the 50 odd victims of a serial killer. Still, it's an intense and deeply disturbing film. With Annemarie Duringer,  Hannes Messemer and Carl Lange.