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Monday, January 26, 2015

Home At Seven (1952)

A banker (Ralph Richardson) returns home from work promptly at seven as usual to find his wife (Margaret Leighton) hysterical and demanding to know where he was. Mystified, he tells her he was at work as usual but she tells him he's been gone for 24 hours. He insists it was a usual Monday work day but she points out that, in fact, it's Tuesday. He can't remember the 24 hours after leaving work the day before and arriving home. So when an acquaintance of his turns up murdered, what's he going to do for an alibi? The only film directed by Sir Ralph Richardson is based on a 1950 play of the same title. It's a neat black and white mystery (whose ultimate solution is a wee bit disappointing) with a juicy lead role which is I assume is why Richardson was attracted to it, both as an actor and a director. Richardson's character begins to doubt himself until he eventually assumes the burden of guilt even though the evidence is purely circumstantial. Offering solid support are Leighton as his loyal wife and Jack Hawkins as the family doctor. If you're a fan of English mysteries, this should please you. With Campbell Singer, Michael Shepley and Meriel Forbes.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

La Regle Du Jeu (aka Rules Of The Game) (1939)

At a house party in the French countryside just before WWII, a group of aristocrats barely maintain the illusion of civility while passions and hypocrisy simmer below the surface. But soon it all boils over as their pretense can no longer be contained. A comedy of manners that ends in tragedy and its quaintly charming characters (including the servants) no longer seem appealing at all. Jean Renoir's masterpiece caused a storm of controversy in its country of origin, so shocking its audience (possibly because of the sting of recognition) and government that it got cut by its distributors and later banned by the Vichy government as "unpatriotic". It wasn't until the 1950s when it was restored and the acclaim started rolling in and today, it is justifiably considered one of the greatest films ever made. For a certified classic, it's great fun and you never get the feeling that you're supposed to like it as opposed to simply bathing in its pleasures. One sequence though is disturbing to contemporary sensibilities. The hunting sequence with its mass slaughter of birds and rabbits is downright unpleasant to watch. The superb cast includes Marcel Dalio, Nora Gregor, Paulette Dubost, Roland Toutain, Mila Parely, Gaston Modot and Renoir himself.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Contact (1997)

An astronomer (Jodie Foster) devotes her career to the possibility of extraterrestrial life in the universe. Receiving private funding, she and a small group of similarly inclined cohorts scan the universe for signs of life. One day, they receive an encrypted response and a giant leap for mankind begins. Based on the novel by Carl Sagan, this is an ambitious piece of science fiction cinema. The ideas are there but unfortunately, Robert Zemeckis' (the most prosaic of directors) direction lacks something. It doesn't have the sense of awe and wonder that Spielberg brought to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or Cuaron to GRAVITY. Its screenplay is intelligent but it never takes off, it remains earthbound which is not what seeks in a science fiction film dealing with the cosmos. Alas, a missed opportunity. The film is lucky to have Foster in the lead role. She's one of the few major actresses who project an innate sense of intelligence, she sounds like she knows what she's talking about when she spouts off that scientific jargon. With Matthew McConaughey (in an underwritten role), Tom Skerritt, James Woods, John Hurt, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, William Fichtner, Jena Malone and Jake Busey.

Auntie Mame (1958)

In 1928, a young orphan (Jan Handzlik) finds himself entrusted to the care of his unconventional high living Aunt (Rosalind Russell). Life is never dull as she takes him on a adventurous journey filled with all sorts of eclectic types of people. However, the boy's strait laced conservative trustee (Fred Clark) is determined to mold the child into a "normal" boy. Based on the faux autobiographical novel by Patrick Dennis by way of the smash Broadway hit, the film remains a bubbly paean to a liberal Bohemian lifestyle and one of the most enjoyable comedies of the 1950s. Due in no small part to Russell (recreating her stage role) as the Aunt every kid would love to have had and who creates a larger than life character that once seen you'll never forget. It's the role of a lifetime and Russell picks it up and runs with it. The director Morton DaCosta (THE MUSIC MAN) gives the film lush trappings, the film drips with glamour and Russell looks stunning in her Orry Kelly costumes (amazingly the costumes were not among the film's 6 Oscar nominations). The lovely melodic score is by Bronislau Kaper. Also in the cast: Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne (stealing scenes), Peggy Cass (Oscar nominated), Patric Knowles, Joanna Barnes, Pippa Scott, Lee Patrick, Connie Gilchrist, Yuki Shimoda and Henry Brandon.

Friday, January 23, 2015

El Coleccionista De Cadavres (aka Cauldron Of Blood) (1970)

A journalist (Jean Pierre Aumont) arrives in a small coastal village in Spain to do an article on a renowned but reclusive blind sculptor (Boris Karloff). However, the sculptor is under the firm control of his mercenary wife (Viveca Lindfors). This low budget Spanish horror flick was filmed in 1967 but not released until 1970 after Karloff's death. It's easy to see why it remained on the shelf for three years. The narrative isn't the most coherent and it looks like it was edited with a hatchet. Poor Karloff doesn't have much to do while Lindfors and Aumont do most of the work. The film's plot is a ripoff of the 1953 HOUSE OF WAX with some brief nudity and more violence tossed in. Lindfors' character (some synopsis refer to her as Karloff's daughter rather than his wife) has some sort of S&M fetish (she likes to whip little girls while dressed as Maria Von Trapp) that may have a basis in her past but the film is vague on this point. The film zigzags all over the place and the director Santos Alcocer (though the English language cut is credited to Edward Mann) can't seem to get a grasp on it. With Rosenda Monteros (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).

Hang 'Em High (1968)

After surviving a lynching in 1880's Oklahoma territory when a group of vigilantes mistake him for a killer, a man (Clint Eastwood) accepts a job as U.S. Marshal with the intent of finding the men who attempted to hang him and bring them to justice. However, he clashes with the federal judge (Pat Hingle in a terrible performance) who has his own ideas of black and white justice. Clint Eastwood had to go to Europe to become an international star which he accomplished by doing Sergio Leone's "man with no name" trilogy. Returning to the U.S., this was his first film as a leading man and he was smart enough not to stray from the formula that made him so popular. There are similarities in style and tone to the Leone films (even Dominic Frontiere's score mimics Ennio Morricone) but the unimaginative direction by Ted Post harms the film and never allows it to soar. Still, it's a tough little western with one marvelous set piece. A lengthy hanging day sequence which the townspeople treat as entertainment that ends with a violent conclusion. With Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, Ben Johnson, James MacArthur, Charles McGraw, Ruth White and Arlene Golonka.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Boyhood (2014)

Beginning in 2002 and ending in 2013, the narrative follows a single mother (Patricia Arquette) raising a daughter (Lorelei Linklater) and son (Ellar Coltrane) with the emphasis on the boy and his growth to young manhood. Richard Linklater's landmark film shot chronologically through a 12 year filming period allowing its actors to literally grow into their characters is probably the most highly praised film of 2014. Does it live up to the hype? Mostly. I loved how Linklater defied my expectations, every time I thought I knew what was coming next, it didn't happen. There are no profound revelations, no melodramatic incidents (well, perhaps the abusive second marriage), no set pieces. Rather Linklater is content to let the story quietly unfold in its own time yet his exact gaze draws us in and we're hooked and we've become invested in this family's tale and can't wait to see what happens next. The scope of the film is amazing and most likely will never be attempted again. But Linklater has shown what a visionary can do if he sets his mind to it. Is it a masterpiece? I'm not so sure but that's for posterity to decide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)

An English doctor (Fredric March) has a theory that good and evil is inherent in every man. He is working on a potion that will separate the good and evil in man and thereby allow man to rid himself of his evil impulses. That's the theory but when he attempts to put his theory to the test by using himself as a guinea pig for the drug, it releases a second personality whose evil will not be contained. There have been over 100 film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 book. This is considered one of the best if not the best though I'm personally partial to the 1941 Victor Fleming version. Rouben Mamoulian directed this pre-code adaptation and it's intensely imposing. Not many years into the sound era yet Mamoulian's camera is fluid and the film opens with some impressive tracking POV shots and he even makes use of split screen. This being a pre code film, the level of violence and sensuality is stronger than most films of the 1930s. Miriam Hopkins as a bar singer shows extreme decolletage and in one scene is obviously quite naked, barely covering herself up with a blanket. March, who won a best actor Oscar for his performance here, is very good. More so as Hyde where his simian appearance must have startled audiences of the day. With Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert and Halliwell Hobbes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Return Of The Soldier (1982)

During WWI, a shell shocked soldier (Alan Bates) loses the last 20 years of his memory and after a brief hospital stay returns home. Three women in his life will help procure a cure: his self centered wife (Julie Christie), his loving cousin (Ann-Margret) and his first love (Glenda Jackson). But the cure may be worse than the amnesia. Based on the novel by Rebecca West, this is a delicate and lovely period piece. Though set in an elegant English country home with exquisite detail to setting and costume, this is mercifully free of that BBC Masterpiece Theater mustiness (where the period detail takes precedence over the narrative) that too often kills off a potentially good film. The director Alan Bridges (THE HIRELING) keeps the focus on the characters and the four principals all bring nuance and specificity to their roles. Jackson, cast against type, brings an appropriate melancholy and gentleness to her country wife while Christie nicely brings an almost comical mean spiritedness to her spoiled aristocrat. The psychology put forth may be a bit creaky but it's a nicely etched study. The discreet score is by Richard Rodney Bennett. With Ian Holm, Frank Finlay and Jeremy Kemp.

Venere Imperiale (aka Imperial Venus) (1962)

The young sister (Gina Lollobrigida) of the rising soldier and statesman Napoleon Bonaparte (Raymond Pellegrin) is a flirtatious and headstrong woman which causes her brother much concern. When he forbids her to marry the man she loves and arranges a marriage of convenience with one of his generals (Massimo Girotti), she continues to defy and shock both him and society with her scandalous behavior and series of adulterous affairs. Directed by Jean Delannoy, this is an ambitious romantic epic which recalls the 1954 film DESIREE with Marlon Brando as Napoleon. Though she won the David Di Donatello (the Italian Oscar) award for best actress for her performance here, Lollobrigida was never much of an actress (though often an adept comedienne) and isn't quite able to make her Paulette Bonaparte very compelling. The central romance with Stephen Boyd (as a soldier) doesn't have any tactile passion to it and without that, much of the film is flat. On a technical level, the film is quite accomplished what with the gorgeous period costumes (courtesy of Giancarlo Bartolini Salimbeni), art direction and the superior score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino. I must confess that the print I saw was quite ragged and faded displaying none of the clarity it must have had during its 70 millimeter first run engagements. With Micheline Presle as Josephine and Gabrielle Ferzetti.