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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Curse Of The Crimson Altar (1968)

When his brother (Denys Peek) disappears, an antiques dealer (Mark Eden) visits the remote country house where the brother was last heard from. While the mansion's owner (Christopher Lee) is welcoming, the dealer senses something very wrong in the household. Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE, this is a rather predictable and sluggish horror effort. This was also one of the last films of horror legend Boris Karloff, who retains his dignity and powerful screen presence throughout. But despite their top billing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele (horror icons all) have supporting roles which leaves the dull Eden to carry the picture. The film was cut by about 6 minutes for its U.S. release but I watched the European cut which restores the gratuitous nudity, sex scenes and some of the kinkier S&M atmosphere. For fans of the genre only and even then, don't expect anything special. Directed by Vernon Sewell. With Michael Gough and Virginia Wetherell. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Nicholas And Alexandra (1971)

In 1904 Russia, the Tsar (Michael Jayston) celebrates the birth of a son after four daughters. But he and the Tsarina (Janet Suzman) lead an insulated life and are oblivious to the poverty and suffering of their people. Or the brewing revolution that will soon topple the Romanov dynasty. Based on Robert K. Massie's biography of Russia's last Tsar, Franklin J. Schaffner's three hour epic is an intelligent piece of film making. Though not without its flaws (and some are major), the film takes an unsentimental view of Nicholas and Alexandra. Whether out of a misguided sense of their place in history or perhaps merely out of sheer stupidity, the film acknowledges that they were clearly complicit in the tragic fate that befell them. Schaffner and his screenwriter James Goldman (LION IN WINTER) effectively contrast the elegance of the Royals' lifestyle and the horrifying poverty of a downtrodden people who have no choice but to fight back. In the title roles, both Jayston and Suzman are pefectly cast but among the huge supporting cast, there are several standouts. Notably Tom Baker as Rasputin, Irene Worth as the Queen Mother and Alan Webb as a weary revolutionary. The beautiful Oscar nominated score is by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Jack Hawkins, Ian Holm, Brian Cox, John Wood, Fiona Fullerton, Timothy West, Lynne Frederick and John McEnery.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Torrid Zone (1940)

In an unnamed Central American country, the manager (Pat O'Brien) of a banana exporting company lures his ex-foreman (James Cagney) back to run the failing business. Meanwhile, there are some serious distractions like a sultry redhead (Ann Sheridan) and a revolutionary (George Tobias) intent on taking back the land! The old Hollywood studio system at its very best! Take a trio of likable contract players, back them up with ace character actors and give them rapid fire clever dialogue and you've got a winner! This expert farce whizzes along tossing barbs and quips so quickly that you're practically hanging on every word lest you miss a laugh. It plays out a little differently today perhaps in that we're much more sympathetic to the Latin revolutionaries rather than the American exploiters and capitalists but it's all good fun. Directed by William Keighley. With Andy Devine, Helen Vinson, Jerome Cowan and George Reeves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Storm Fear (1955)

A wounded bank robber (Cornel Wilde) and his two accomplices (Lee Grant, Steven Hill) hold his brother's (Dan Duryea) family hostage in a remote farmhouse until a raging snowstorm passes. Based on the novel by Clinton Seeley from a screenplay by Horton Foote (TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) and directed by Wilde, this is a tight economical little thriller. Wilde does a taut job of constructing the claustrophobic tension of people at odds with each other trapped in a confined space with nowhere to run. The scene stealers are Hill as a creepy loose cannon (in the kind of part Duryea would normally play) and Grant as a brassy blonde moll. Favorite moment: Grant pours whiskey into her milk and Hill yells "What are you doing?" to which she snaps "You know I can't drink my milk straight". Ah, a girl after my own heart. On the downside, there's David Stollery who gives one of those fake performances too often given by child actors of the era. The film features an early Elmer Bernstein score. With Jean Wallace and Dennis Weaver.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

American Ultra (2015)

A 20 something stoner (Jesse Eisenberg) is what is commonly referred to as a "loser". He has a dead end job at a convenience store and spends his nights smoking weed. He doesn't appear to have any ambition and seems content to just survive. But his loving girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) adores him anyway. But when we are suddenly taken to CIA headquarters and an agent (Connie Britton, TV's NASHVILLE) picks up the phone we're suddenly aware nothing is what it seems to be. Nima Nourizadeh's live action cartoon comedy is one of the more inventive films I've seen this year. An orgy of violence laced with wit, it feeds into our (justified) paranoia of the government. The film may be a cartoon but the violence isn't so beware. Eisenberg and Stewart are two of my least favorite actors but I don't think I've ever enjoyed Eisenberg more, not even in THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Eisenberg and Stewart's characters provide the movie's soul, otherwise it would be just another mindless violent thriller. If it's a film you might be interested in seeing, avoid reviews because many contain spoilers that compromise the film's surprise factor. With John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins and Tony Hale.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

F/X (1986)

A movie special effects wizard (Bryan Brown) is hired by the Justice Department to stage a fake assassination of a mobster (Jerry Orbach) before he goes into the witness protection program. But he soon finds himself a wanted man when the "fake" assassination turns out to be very real. This smooth fast moving thriller is quite agreeable if one is willing to suspend belief for its running time. Its complicated plot is far fetched and at times too obvious. One wonders how a sophisticated F/X specialist doesn't get at all suspicious when he's first approached by a federal agent (Cliff De Young) especially since De Young's oily performance practically screams out, "Don't trust me!". But its script problems aside, the film is so well crafted as an action piece that one can easily forget its weaknesses when caught up in the action. Directed by Robert Mandel. With Diane Venora, Mason Adams, Martha Gehman, Joe Grifasi and Trey Wilson.   

Friday, August 21, 2015

La Sirene Du Mississippi (aka Mississippi Mermaid) (1969)

A wealthy tobacco plantation owner (Jean Paul Belmondo) residing on a small island in the Indian Ocean sends away for a mail order bride. But when she (Catherine Deneuve) arrives, she looks nothing like the photograph she has sent him. They marry but it isn't long before he discovers her true motives. Based on the Cornell Woolrich (writing under William Irish) novel WALTZ INTO DARKNESS, Francois Truffaut dedicates the film to Jean Renoir. But the film is more successfully Hitchcockian than his previous homage THE BRIDE WORE BLACK. In fact, VERTIGO comes to mind more than once. This was the European cut which is some 15 minutes longer than the version that was released in the U.S. What was cut adds nothing to the narrative but it fleshes out the characters more. Though it's hard to get beyond Deneuve's stunning beauty (gorgeously dressed by Yves St. Laurent), this is really one of her better performances that allows her to move beyond the glacial beauty. Not only a fine film noir but a darkly intricate romance. With Michel Bouquet, Nelly Borgeaud and Marcel Berbert. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Like Mother Like Son (2001)

An amoral sociopath (Mary Tyler Moore) has devoted her adult life to crime from forgery to murder. She has even trained her son (Gabriel Olds) to follow in her footsteps. Now she plans to commit perhaps their biggest crime of all. To usurp the identity of a wealthy woman (Jean Stapleton) in order to obtain her properties but, of course, that means they have to kill her first. The most shocking thing about this horrific tale of twisted mother love is that it's all true. Based on the story of Sante and Kenneth Kimes who were convicted in 1998 of the murder of Irene Silverman along with 117 (sic) other crimes. Perhaps Mary Tyler Moore would be the last actress one would think of for a role like this but as she proved in ORDINARY PEOPLE, she can play dark characters very well. She goes all the way here and boy does she make your skin crawl. The movie fudges a bit in making the father (Robert Forster) more innocent than he actually was. If you're partial to true crime dramas, this will be to your liking. In 2006, another telefilm was made, this time with Judy Davis as the mother. Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman. 

Mrs. Dalloway (1997)

In 1923 London, an aristocratic society matron (Vanessa Redgrave) goes about with preparations for a party she is giving that evening. While doing so she reflects on her younger self (Natascha McElhone). Unrelated to her story, a young shell shocked WWI veteran (Rupert Graves) is dealing with the trauma of his war experience. But before the day is over, what happens to him will have an effect on her. Based on Virginia Woolf's celebrated novel (TIME magazine listed it as one of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century), the film has a feminist bent. Directed by a woman (Marleen Gorris), written by women (screenplay by the actress Eileen Atkins from Woolf's novel), filmed by a woman (Sue Gibson), scored by a woman (Ilona Sekacz), set direction and costumes too. Woolf's novel is one of those books that are difficult to transition to film since most of its style is stream of consciousness, interior monologue etc. That being said, Atkins has done as good a job of adapting it to film as could be expected. Woolf's art may be lost but this is a movie, isn't it and what we get works well enough as cinema. And what Redgrave does with the part is thrilling! She so often (unfairly) gets accused of overacting but her quiet nuanced performance here should shut those naysayers up. A superb supporting cast including Michael Kitchen, John Standing, Margaret Tyzack, Sarah Badel, Alan Cox, Lena Headey and Amelia  Bullmore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ski Party (1965)

Two college students (Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman) aren't having any luck with the two girls (Deborah Walley, lovely Yvonne Craig who passed away this week) they want to make their girlfriends. So they follow the girls to a ski lodge and go undercover as two English girls in order to find out what it is they want from boys. A wan variation of SOME LIKE IT HOT and Avalon and Hickman are no Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon! This installment of the Beach Party franchise moves to the snow but it's the same old hijinks. Annette Funicello passes the baton to Walley but makes a cameo appearance as a college professor. The jokes are lame, the dialog flat and the music with one exception, inconsequential. The movie comes alive when James Brown heats things up with I Got You (I Feel Good) and suddenly the blandness of the film is even more apparent. Somehow it works better on the beach rather than in the snow. Directed by Alan Rifkin. With Robert Q. Lewis, Bobbi Shaw and Aron Kincaid.