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Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

In 1920, a team of archaeologists discover the lost tomb of a boy pharaoh (Toolsie Persaud) but by entering it, they bring a centuries old death curse on their heads. Directed by John Gilling, this was the third of the four Hammer mummy films they produced. It's a rather silly affair but no more silly than the mummy films Universal turned out in the 1940s. As with those films, this is an unpretentious effort whose hokey entertainment value is easy to digest. The acting is decent and the killings are well done. A little freshness would have been welcome but its recycled plot doesn't detract from the minimal diversion. There's a nice underscore by Don Banks. With Andre Morell, Elizabeth Sellars, David Buck, John Phillips, Maggie Kimberly and Catherine Lacey.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A young Russian physician (Omar Sharif) has his life irreversibly changed by the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War. This includes the two women in his life: his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) and his mistress (Julie Christie). Based on the acclaimed novel by Boris Pasternak and directed by David Lean. Critics were cool when the film originally opened in 1965 although audiences lined up and made the film one of the highest grossing movies of all time. In the ensuing years, its reputation has been critically evaluated for the better. One of the great movie romances, it is also one of the most visually beautiful films ever made. Almost every frame of Freddie Young's immaculate cinematography ready to be hung on a museum wall. Despite its almost 3 1/2 hours length, it is able to capture your attention to the very end. Sharif's performance is probably adequate, no more but his dreamy eyed countenance set many a heart aflutter during the picture's lengthy run. The acting honors go to Rod Steiger's opportunist and Tom Courtenay's Bolshevik revolutionary. There have been some criticisms of the film's "trivialization" of the events of the Russian revolution but the film is no more about the Russian revolution than GONE WITH THE WIND was about the U.S. Civil War. Maurice Jarre's underscore is marvelous although he goes overboard with Lara's Theme at times. With Ralph Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Klaus Kinski, Siobhan McKenna, Adrienne Corri and Geoffrey Keen. 

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

An economics professor (Constance Wu) at NYU is invited by her boyfriend (Henry Golding) to come with him to Singapore to meet his family. Once there however, she is stunned to discover that he comes from a filthy rich family whose matriarch (Michelle Yeoh, TOMORROW NEVER DIES) immediately disapproves of her. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and directed by John M. Chu (G.I. JOE: RETALIATION). This is easily the best romcom since MY FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997) (I don't consider THE BIG SICK a romcom though it certainly has elements). As a romantic comedy, it's not particularly original as it follows the usual romcom path (including a makeover of its heroine) but there's a vitality to it and the all Asian cast is more than just a novelty, it's about time we saw Asian actors in the forefront of mainstream Hollywood movies and their ethnicity is a factor in the narrative. There's enough of a bite to the film's often wry eye on Asian stereotypes and generational conflicts but first and foremost, it's an entertainment and it never forgets that. Big kudos to Nelson Coates' stunning production design and Leslie Ewe's art direction. The excellent cast includes Lisa Lu, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina (OCEAN'S EIGHT), Ken Jeong, Tan Kheng Hua, Nick Santos and Pierre Png.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Game For Vultures (1979)

Set during the Rhodesian Bush Wars in the late 1970s, the film focuses on two men: a white Rhodesian arms dealer (Richard Harris) and a black freedom fighter (Richard Roundtree) or terrorist depending on your point of view. The white arms dealer is trying to keep the Rhodesian status quo and the black freedom fighter to take back his country (which would eventually be renamed Zimbabwe). Based on the novel by Michael Hartmann and directed by James Fargo (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE). The film is a muddled affair and often hard to keep track of. One certainly can't cheer on the arms dealer who represents the racially oppressive Rhodesia but the freedom fighter represents a ruthless killing force that in the name of freedom kills and tortures innocent people. I suppose the point of the film is that in war nobody wins and there are no victors but that has been done before and in better films. With one exception, the acting is indifferent and curiously Roundtree's American accent is never explained. The one exception is Ray Milland who gives a solid performance as an international financier. With Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Sven Bertil Taube and Ken Gampu.

Darling Lili (1970)

Set during WWI, a popular singing star (Julie Andrews) is also a German spy. When she is assigned to seduce an American pilot (Rock Hudson) to obtain military secrets from him, the inevitable happens. She falls in love and is torn between her love and her allegiance to Germany. Directed by Blake Edwards (THE PINK PANTHER). This is a case of a film all over the place and never quite able to find its tone. It's a WWI war movie, it's a musical, it's a slapstick comedy, it's a spy movie, it's a romance etc. Add to that that Andrews and Hudson have absolutely zero chemistry with each other and it adds up to an unsatisfactory mash up. To be fair, Paramount constantly interfered and eventually edited the film without Edwards' input and the film was barely released in the U.S. What remains is some superb aerial photography and the songs are good especially the lovely Oscar nominated Whistling In The Dark. With Jeremy Kemp, Gloria Paul, Vernon Dobtcheff and in the film's two worst performances, Lance Percival and Michael Witney. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Seven Little Foys (1955)

A vaudeville comedy song and dance man (Bob Hope) falls in love with an Italian girl (Milly Vitale, WAR AND PEACE) and they promptly have seven children after they are married. But when his wife dies, he must cope with raising the kids on his own while his sister in law (Angela Clarke) protests the way he is raising them. Based on the story of vaudeville star Eddie Foy and directed by Melville Shavelson (YOURS MINE AND OURS). In the mid 1950s, Bob Hope attempted a few relatively serious roles in an attempt to stretch his acting chops beyond his one line quip persona. BEAU JAMES (1957) and this film were the fruit of that venture. This one is hopelessly sentimental (he fared better with BEAU JAMES) and any movie with this many kids is bound to score high on the treacle meter. The second half of the film after the wife dies is much better than its first half and Hope gets to do some serious acting. But it remains a pretty listless affair. The movie does come alive briefly when Hope and James Cagney as George M. Cohan exchange put downs and do some dancing and it's pure movie happiness watching these two pros go at it. With George Tobias, Billy Gray, Dabbs Greer and King Donovan.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Wicker Man (1973)

When a young girl is reported missing, a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate. As a devout conservative Christian, he is appalled by the pagan rituals practiced by the locals and the evasiveness of the island community suggests something sinister is going on. Written by Anthony Shaffer (SLEUTH) and directed by Robin Hardy. This is really one of the great horror films of the 1970s and it does so without excessive gore and blood. It's restrained and although the film's generous sensuality and sex and Christian mockery could never have been done in the 1940s, one can't help but think of those wonderful Val Lewton RKO horror classics. Smart and understated with a killer (literally) finale, its reputation (it's been referred to as the CITIZEN KANE of horror films) is well deserved. The use of music and songs in the film are liberal almost to the point of being a borderline musical! With Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt. 

Little Women (2017)

Set in Massachusetts during the Civil War, the March sisters: Jo (Maya Hawke, daughter of Ethan and Uma Thurman), Meg (Willa Fitzgerald), Amy (Kathryn Newton) and Beth (Annes Elwy) and their mother (Emily Watson) struggle in genteel poverty while Mr. March (Dylan Baker) serves as a pastor in the Civil War. Based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott and directed by Vanessa Caswill. Do we really need yet another version of LITLE WOMEN? There have been at least eight film versions that I know of done for both film and TV and Greta Gerwig is directing a new version due out in 2019. This one attempts to give it a contemporary feel and though I haven't read the novel in decades, it seems they've fiddled with it somewhat (I may be wrong but I don't remember Meg's near drowning in the book). Hawke's Jo seems out of time, too modern for the 19th century, not as a character but her performance. The rest of the cast all look and act like they could have lived in the 19th century. The film looks great (Piers McGrail did the cinematography) but the score by Stuart Earl often seems anachronistic. It's a decent presentation but it doesn't feel like Alcott, something's off. With Angela Lansbury, Michael Gambon, Mark Stanley and Jonah Hauer King, very good as Laurie.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A High Wind In Jamaica (1965)

In the year 1870, a British ship headed to England with a group of children traveling without their parents is attacked by a group of pirates. Unbeknownst to the pirates, the children climb aboard the pirate ship to play and are locked in. When they are found, the plan is to turn them over to a brothel owner (Lila Kedrova) until they can be returned to their parents. But fate has a way of screwing up best laid plans. Based on the novel by Richard Hughes and directed by Alexander Mackendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS). The film makes some changes from the novel including removing suggestions of child molestation, the character of Margaret (Viviane Ventura) is severely marginalized and makes the children made more sympathetic. The 1929 novel wasn't well regarded when published but is greatly admired today and similarly, the film's reputation has grown thru the years and now it's a cult film. Frankly, while I enjoyed many aspects of it I was underwhelmed. I'm not much on movies with children at its core and the children here are not only weak actors but as characters, they seem backward. I also had no sympathy for the child Emily (Deborah Baxter) whose addled mind causes innocent men to be hanged. Thumbs up to Douglas Slocombe's CinemaScope lensing and thumbs down to Larry Adler's dreadful score. With Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Nigel Davenport, Gert Frobe and Isabel Dean.    

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hay Fever (1984)

Set in 1920s England, an eccentric actress (Penelope Keith) and her novelist husband (Paul Eddington) and their spoiled grown up children (Phoebe Nicholls, Michael Siberry) each invite a guest down for the weekend. Chaos ensues. Based on the 1925 play by Noel Coward and directed by Cedric Messina. The family at the core of Coward's play are a collection of rather self absorbed shallow upper class "artistic" Brits. The humor in the play, if done correctly, comes in their obliviousness that they're quite obnoxious. If not done properly, they come across as charmless snobs. The problem here is not with Coward's play but the actors (save one) who seem to be content just twittering away "clever" dialog and bon mots and let the dialog do the work for them. Particularly egregious is Penelope Keith who babbles away with such artificiality (however intended) that what should be an amusing performance comes across as posing. It's the kind of role that Maggie Smith could slip in her pocket and walk away with. The one actress who gets it right is Patricia Hodge whose droll deliveries indicate the direction it should have gone. With Benjamin Whitrow, Joan Sims, Susan Woolridge and Michael Cochrane.