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Friday, July 29, 2016

Ship Of Fools (1965)

In 1933, a German ocean liner is sailing from Veracruz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany. The passengers are a cross section of humanity from worker peasants to rich Americans, artists, intellectuals and working class. But the specter of Nazi Germany hovers over the voyage as its passengers seem oblivious to what is to come. Based on Katherine Anne Porter's best selling 1962 novel, adapted for the screen by Abby Mann and directed by Stanley Kramer. I've not read Porter's novel but surely it wasn't as heavy handed and dripping with oppressive symbolism as Kramer's film. As usual with Kramer, he treats his audiences as dim witted children who have to be inundated with the self evident irony as if we were incapable of understanding without his assistance. Of course, critics and audiences at the time were all aflutter over its self important bloat. What makes the movie watchable today are the performances which with one exception are excellent across the board. The exception being Jose Ferrer's godawful Nazi lover who seems to have walked in from a Mel Brooks comedy. On the plus side, Simone Signoret as a woman being sent to prison and Oskar Werner (both Oscar nominated) as the ship's doctor transcend the material and bring genuine pathos and heart to their performances. Ernest Lazslo's handsome B&W cinematography and Robert Clatworthy's stunning production (the entire ship was recreated on a sound stage) give the film some life. The massive cast includes Vivien Leigh, Lee Marvin, George Segal, Elizabeth Ashley, Jose Greco, Lilia Skala, Charles Korvin, Barbara Luna, Alf Kjellin, Michael Dunn and Heinz Ruhmann.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Juninatten (aka June Night) (1940)

After she is shot by her lover (Gunnar Sjoberg) and a scandal evolves due to the trial and the tabloid press, a young woman (Ingrid Bergman) flees the small town and heads for Stockholm where she hopes she will be swallowed up in anonymity and start a new life. In her last Swedish film before relocating to Hollywood, Bergman is luminous and already gives the kind of assured performance and screen presence that would soon make her one of the most popular stars of the 1940s. As for the film itself, her character isn't very likable. She seems quite knowledgeable about her flaws and her ability to manipulate and she's not very sympathetic, even repaying a great kindness shown her by a woman (Marianne Lofgren) by stealing away her fiance (Olof Widgren) though frankly, he doesn't seem worth stealing. In fact, they deserve each other. Still, the movie's view of romanticism seems ambiguous. I'm not quite sure that we're supposed to take the lovers running off as a "happy ending". While Bergman is excellent, she's not the whole show and the supporting players are quite good. Directed by Per Lindberg. With Marianne Aminoff, Lill Tollie Zellman and Hasse Ekman. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Seventh Sin (1957)

In 1949 Hong Kong, when a doctor (Bill Travers, BORN FREE) discovers his wife (Eleanor Parker) is having an adulterous affair with a married man (Jean Pierre Aumont) he gives her an ultimatum. He'll give her a divorce if her lover leaves his wife for her or else she must accompany him to a remote Chinese village where a cholera epidemic is spreading or he'll cause a scandal. Her lover refuses to leave his wife which sets the stage for a story of redemption. Based on the 1925 novel THE PAINTED VEIL by W. Somerset Maugham, this is the second film version. It was previously filmed in 1934 with Greta Garbo and once again in 2006 with Naomi Watts. There's a good performance by Parker and the film stays with the unhappy ending unlike the 1934 film. The film's attitudes are a bit dated ("It's a woman's duty to please her husband") but it is set in 1949 and the film's final moments are beautifully handled. But the production never quite becomes more than a decent "woman's picture" as they were referred to back then. Directed by Ronald Neame (PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE) but reputedly finished by Vincente Minnelli after Neame left the project. Another good score by Miklos Rozsa. With George Sanders (wonderful as always), Francoise Rosay, Ellen Corby and James Hong. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Life Of Emile Zola (1937)

The writer Emile Zola (Paul Muni) struggles with his friend the artist Paul Cezanne (Vladimir Sokoloff) to attain some level of artistic success. A chance encounter with a prostitute (Erin O'Brien Moore) produces the best seller NANA and he is on his way as one of France's most renowned writers. But perhaps his greatest achievement is his involvement in "The Dreyfus Affair". Directed by William Dieterle, this is a forerunner of the films we refer to today as "Oscar bait". It's bloated, self conscious and dealing with an important issue so of course it won the 1937 Oscar for best film of the year! The focus of the film and it takes about half of the running time is the libel trial when Zola accuses the French Army of a cover up and the prosecution of an innocent man (Joseph Schildkraut in an Oscar winning performance). It's the most interesting aspect of the film. Muni's performance is just awful. Full of tics and mannerisms and acting with a capital A. Difficult to believe he was an example of an actor's actor back in the 1930s. The actual Dreyfus case is a fascinating example of injustice, anti-Semitism (which the film doesn't address) and military corruption but the film focuses too much on Zola. With Gale Sondergaard, Donald Crisp, Gloria Holden, Louis Calhern and Harry Davenport.

Gothic (1986)

In the summer of 1816, Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) invites fellow poet Percy Shelley (Julian Sands), his lover (Natasha Richardson) and her stepsister (Miriam Cyr) to join him at his villa in Switzerland. It is there on a dark and stormy night that they let their imaginations run wild and experience hallucinatory horrors. Ken Russell at his excessive worst though it's not nearly as bad as THE MUSIC LOVERS. Russell seems to confuse grossing us out with genuine horror. We're subjected to characters abusing themselves (a character repeatedly slams his hand through a nail then licks the blood), vomiting and spewing out food, maggots and leeches, dead fetuses, crawling on all fours in the mud with a dead rat in your mouth etc., you get the picture? One can't help but feel sorry for the actors humiliating themselves for something that's ultimately utterly silly. Timothy Spall as Dr. Polidor fares the worst though it seems a dummy was used for one of the more revolting acts. Still, you have to hand it to Russell, it's the kind of compelling bad movie you can't take your eyes off. The anachronistic unpleasant underscore is by Thomas Dolby.

Operetta Tanuki Goten (aka Princess Raccoon) (2005)

A young Prince (Joe Odagiri) is banished from his kingdom by his jealous father (Mikijiro Hira) after a sorceress (Hiroko Yakushimaru) declares that the son's beauty will eclipse that of his father. It is in a mysterious forest that he meets a Princess (Ziyi Zhang, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA) who is a raccoon spirit and a forbidden romance occurs. When one thinks of the director Seijun Suzuki, one thinks of his stylized Yakuza thrillers like YOUTH OF THE BEAST or BRANDED TO KILL or perhaps his dark dramas like GATE OF FLESH or STORY OF A PROSTITUTE. But you wouldn't connect him to a brightly colored fairy tale musical which is exactly what this is. Musically, it's all over the place: operetta, Broadway ballads, hip-hop, reggae, pop songs with stylized choreography by Mitsuko Tanizawa. The staging is intentionally theatrical combining animation and live action with artificial sound stage sets as well as real locations. The narrative is hard to follow at times with Japanese cultural references going right over Western heads but it's a dazzling display of cinematic magic. Well worth seeking out if you haven't seen it.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Caribbean Mystery (1983)

A spinster (Helen Hayes) from a small village in England is enjoying an island vacation in the Caribbean courtesy of her nephew. But the vacation soon turns deadly when an elderly and talkative Major (Maurice Evans) is murdered. When another murder occurs, the spinster takes an active interest in solving the crime. Based on the Agatha Christie novel with her spinster sleuth Miss Marple at the center. Hayes doesn't even bother with an English accent but her Miss Marple is acceptable if one isn't too demanding. It's one of Christie's better books and this telefilm does it justice even if its budget didn't allow for actual location shooting, the California coastal city of Santa Barbara stands in for the Caribbean. The acting is generic though Evans and Barnard Hughes as a cantankerous millionaire bring some punch to their roles. Christie fans should be pleased. Directed by Robert Michael Lewis. With Swoozie Kurtz, Brock Peters, Beth Howland, Cassie Yates, Stephen Macht, Season Hubley, Jameson Parker, Zakes Mokae and George Innes.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Four Guns To The Border (1954)

Four bandits (Rory Calhoun, George Nader, John McIntire, Jay Silverheels) plot to rob a bank and then split the money once they cross the border. But a young girl (Colleen Miller) and her ex-gunslinger father (Walter Brennan) put a crimp in their plans. Based on IN VICTORIO'S COUNTRY by the western writer Louis L'Amour and directed by the actor Richard Carlson (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON), this is your standard 1950s Universal western that connects all the dots accordingly. Two elements stand out, however. The female characters (Nina Foch and Mary Field are the other two) are all strong women with minds of their own. The second is the sexual tension between Calhoun and the lovely Miller. Specifically, a scene taking place on a hot and humid rainy night as Miller in her underwear gets soaked to the skin and Calhoun (also soaked to the skin) attempts to take her and the passive aggressive "love" scene that follows which has an eroticism that seems out of place in a routine western. Russell Metty did the lensing. With Charles Drake and Nestor Paiva.   

Le Notti Bianche (aka White Nights) (1957)

A lonely young man (Marcello Mastroianni), a recent transplant to the city, meets a lonely young girl (Maria Schell) on a bridge waiting for the lover (Jean Marais) who abandoned her a year ago. A friendship develops that threatens to turn to something more but the phantom lover stands in the way. Based on the 1848 short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky and directed by Luchino Visconti, who co-wrote the screenplay with Suso Cecchi D'Amico. Filmed entirely on the sound stages of Cinecitta where Mario Chiari has created an entire city (wet streets, bridges, nightclubs, canals etc.) luminously shot in B&W by the great Giuseppe Rotunno. This is a fragile dreamlike piece of fatal romanticism that holds you spellbound while anticipating the heartbreak that is to come. Mastroianni and the lovely Schell are perfectly matched and bring a genuine pathos to both their isolated lovers. A unique film by one of the masters of Italian cinema. The underscore is by Nino Rota. With Clara Calamai .  

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)

Drunk and coked up as ever, PR agent Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and her parasitic pal Patsy (Joanna Lumley) attend a swank affair. But when Edina pushes fashion icon Kate Moss (as herself) into the Thames, the pair flee to the French Riviera to avoid the police who want her for Moss's murder. If you've never seen the TV series the film is based on, most likely the entire film will go right over your head but for fans of the show, this is a real treat! Into their 60s, Edina and Patsy are as irresponsible and self centered as ever but who would want them any other way. Everyone's back including Julia Sawalha as Edina's put upon daughter, June Whitfield as her clueless mother and the whole gang. All older but no wiser! Saunders' screenplay is really an extended episode of the show but the laughs are plenty and the director Mandie Fletcher never lets the pacing lag. I had a good time at it and ready to drag out the series and binge watch. The huge cast includes Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Rebel Wilson, Dame Edna Everage, Lulu, Jane Horrocks, Graham Norton, Stella McCartney, Barry Humphries, Kathy Burke, Celia Imrie, Chris Colfer (GLEE) and Robert Webb.