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Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996)

In 15th century Paris, the minister of justice (Tony Jay) kills a Gypsy woman (Mary Kay Bergman) on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral. He also attempts to kill the woman's deformed infant before he is stopped by the Notre Dame's Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers). To atone for his sin, he agrees to raise the child as his own but confined to the towers of Notre Dame. The child is given the name Quasimodo and grows up to be the Notre Dame's bell ringer (Tom Hulce). Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo and directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. This animated Disney musical doesn't get much love but I adore it. The songs are terrific and as good as anything you'll find on Broadway. The film is much darker than usual for a Disney animated film. Tony Jay's aria of repressed sexual longing sizzles with lust and horror. This being a Disney film however, there are singing and dancing stone gargoyles (Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes, Charles Kimbrough) and a cute goat for the kiddies. Also being Disney, we're given a more uplifting ending than the original novel (the 1939 adaptation did the same thing) but it's still a thrilling piece of animated musical cinema. With Demi Moore as Esmeralda (the only cast member whose singing voice is dubbed), Kevin Kline and Paul Kandel.

Witchcraft (1964)

A building developer (Jack Hedley) unknowingly overturns headstones and churns up hundreds of years old graves with a bulldozer. The graveyard belonged to a family whose matriarch (Yvette Rees) was buried alive as a witch and whose descendants still practice witchcraft. This desecration of the graves resurrects the ancient witch who seeks revenge on the family responsible for her death. Directed by Don Sharp (BRIDES OF FU MANCHU), this rather tame horror movie could have been written by a 12 year old based on the simplicity of its connecting the dots screenplay. It follows the path of almost every witchcraft movie ever made without any style or tension and definitely without any real sense of horror or dread. Even horror icon Lon Chaney Jr. as the head of a coven witches seems to be going through the motions. With Jill Dixon, Viola Keats, Marie Ney, David Weston, Diane Clare and Marianne Stone.  

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Luce (2019)

A young black student (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has been raised by white parents (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth) who adopted him when he was 7 years old from a war torn African country. Excelling in academics and athletics, he's the poster boy for the American dream. But when his teacher (Octavia Spencer) brings something to the attention of his parents, it appears that everything is not as smooth as it seems. Directed by Julius Onah, this is an unsettling film. The kind where you get a queasy feeling in your gut at the beginning of the movie that this isn't going to turn out well and it doesn't. The film addresses major issues head on: maintaining a black identity when raised in a well meaning Caucasian household, holding the family unit together whatever the sacrifice, the manipulation of the truth and the destruction of others to save yourself. It's not an easy film to sit through and kudos to Harrison who gives a fierce performance, presenting a smiling face to the world while waiting to explode underneath. He's matched by Octavia Spencer (in what may be her best performance yet) as a woman trying to do the right thing against impossible odds. The film addresses the issues but smartly realizes that they are too complex to present a solution. With Andrea Bang, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Norbert Leo Butz. 

Tonight At 8:30 (1991)

Eight plays by Noel Coward ranging from dramas (THE ASTONISHED HEART), comedies (HANDS ACROSS THE SEA) to musical (RED PEPPERS). In the theatre, the plays were presented in rotation with three of the original ten plays performed each evening. This production just uses eight of the ten plays. It's a vehicle that serves as a showcase for Joan Collins who is the only actor in every play while a repertory of actors fill out the various roles for the other playlets. The production allows Collins a variety of roles rather than the usual glamour parts she plays. She plays spinsters (FAMILY ALBUM), aging shop owners (STILL LIFE) and shrews (FUMED OAK) as well as glam parts (SHADOW PLAY). The quality of the plays vary. Some are quite witty while others don't hold up well with mores that go against the grain in contemporary society. Other cast members include Anthony Newley, Sian Phillips, Jane Asher, Miriam Margolyes, Denis Quilley, Tony Slattery, Moyra Fraser and John  Standing.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fragment Of Fear (1970)

A recovering ex-drug addict (David Hemmings) is in Italy with his Aunt (Flora Robson), a kind and charitable woman who is part of an organization to rehabilitate young criminals and give them a second chance in society. When she turns up strangled in the ruins of Pompeii, the Italian police don't seem overly concerned so he takes the matter into his own hands to find out who killed her. But someone or some people don't want him sticking his nose into her past. Based on the novel by John Bingham and directed by Richard C. Sarafian (THE MAN WHO LOVED CAT DANCING). This stylish thriller is all about technique rather than structure. It begins like a typical thriller but soon descends into a paranoid "is this real or is he bonkers" scenario. I didn't find the outcome satisfactory but I appreciated the journey to get there. I could have done without the jazzy underscore by Johnny Harris which doesn't give us any tension which the film could have used. With Gayle Hunnicutt, Daniel Massey, Mona Washbourne, Wilfrid Hyde White, Adolfo Celi, Roland Culver, Yootha Joyce and Patricia Hayes.   

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Silver Whip (1953)

An inexperienced youth (Robert Wagner) is hired to drive a stagecoach but he's accompanied by a more experienced driver (Dale Robertson) for his first trip. When a group of bandits hold up the stage for the gold it is carrying, the boy does everything wrong which results in the death of two passengers (Lola Albright, Burt Mustin) and the loss of the gold. Based on the novel FIRST BLOOD by Jack Scahefer and directed by Harmon Jones (GORILLA AT LARGE). This minor western programmer is a decent entry with solid performances and a tight script. In a sense, it's a coming of age western with Wagner's callow youth entering into manhood the hard way by redeeming himself after his disastrous first attempt at a grown man's job. The distinctive B&W lensing by Lloyd Ahern (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) takes full advantage of the scenic Sonora locations but while I can understand the decision to shoot in B&W to keep the focus on the drama, it would have looked glorious in Technicolor. Unfortunately, there's no original score, just stock music cues and the film could have benefited from a good underscore. With Rory Calhoun, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

After they break up, a man (Jim Carrey) discovers that his ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) has had a medical procedure that has erased the memory of their relationship from her mind. In desperation, he decides to undergo the same procedure but during the process, he changes his mind. But he's unconscious, so how can he prevent it. Directed by Michel Gondry, this unique blend of romance and science fiction is intelligent and complicated thanks to Charlie Kaufman's Oscar winning screenplay. There's never been anything quite like it. It's as romantic as any romcom but it skips over the cliches and never falls into the sentimental trap that is often inherent in the genre. The acting is very good with Carrey giving what might be a career best performance. The dream like cinematography by Ellen Kuras (SUMMER OF SAM) is amazing and there's a sensational underscore by Jon Brion (MAGNOLIA). With Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood and Jane Adams.  

The House Of The Seven Gables (1940)

The sudden death of the family patriarch (Gilbert Emery) provides the opportunity for a devious son (George Sanders) to accuse his brother (Vincent Price) of murdering his father in order to inherit the family fortune after his brother is sent to prison. Based on the 1851 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne and directed by Joe May (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS). While the screenplay is altered from Hawthorne's novel in many ways (the brother and sister of the novel are now lovers and a leftist political tone is added), it is faithful in spirit to Hawthorne's book. While purists may object, I found this version a solid Gothic revenge thriller. Although the intimidating presence of Sanders and Price add weight to the film, the stand out performance comes from Margaret Lindsay. A workhorse at Warners during the 1930s (usually cast as the other woman), her performance from young ingenue in love to a lonely aging woman is good enough to suggest that Warners didn't take full advantage of her talents. With Dick Foran, Nan Grey, Cecil Kellaway and Alan Napier.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Critical Care (1997)

An overworked intern (James Spader) thinks with his penis rather than his head when he is seduced by the daughter (Kyra Sedgwick) of a comatose patient. Soon, he finds himself caught in a lawsuit between her and her older sister (Margo Martindale) over keeping the patient alive and his medical career is on the line. Based on the novel by Richard Dooling and directed by Sidney Lumet. Lumet directed NETWORK and it's no coincidence that the movie tries to do with the medical system what it did to television in NETWORK. Fortunately, the film isn't as strident as NETWORK since Paddy Chayefsky didn't write this but Lumet's direction is still heavy handed. A film on the corruption of the medical system as it becomes more concerned with making substantial profits than helping the sick would be most welcome. Alas, this isn't it. The film's "satire" attempts to be biting but it just ends up hitting you over the head. We have fantasy sequences with Wallace Shawn as Satan and Anne Bancroft as an angel and worst of all, a 40ish Albert Brooks playing a senile old geezer (what they couldn't have hired a 70-ish actor?). A huge misfire. With Helen Mirren, Jeffrey Wright, Edward Herrmann, Philip Bosco and Colm Feore. 

Teresa (1951)

An immature mama's boy (John Ericson) goes away from home for the first time when he serves in WWII. While serving in Italy, he falls in love with an Italian girl (Pier Angeli) and marries her. But when the war is over and he's back home with his controlling mother (Patricia Collinge, THE LITTLE FOXES), he finds he's ill equipped to be a husband. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), I found it hard to empathize with Ericson's protagonist. The film places the blame for his problems squarely on his mother's shoulders but I think the screenplay is being unfair to her. Sure, she's every wife's nightmare for a mother in law but her wimpy son needs to get a pair of balls! In her American film debut, the lovely Pier Angeli positively blooms on the screen. You can see why she quickly became one of MGM's most popular young stars during the 1950s and if there's a reason to see this film, it's her! With Rod Steiger, Ralph Meeker, Peggy Ann Garner, Edward Binns, Edith Atwater and Franco Interlenghi (De Sica's SHOESHINE).