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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Anastasia (1997)

Set in 1916 Russiaan evil sorcerer (Christopher Lloyd) interrupts a ball and places a curse on the Romanov family. When the palace is under siege during the Russian Revolutiononly the young Anastasia (Kirsten Dunst) and her Dowager Empress grandmother (Angela Lansbury) are able to escape but they become separated. 10 years laterthe older Anastasia (now Meg Ryan) with no memory of who she is attempts to travel to Paris to find out. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (THE SECRET OF NIMH)this animated musical is a historical fantasy with no attempt at placing the historical events in a realistic context. Thus the Russian mystic Rasputin is now an evil sorcerer casting spells. If you've no problem with taking an actual historical incident and turning it into a wholesome family animated musicalyou should find much to enjoy here. The songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are pretty good with one showstopperthe Oscar nominated Journey To The Past. I think the villainous Rasputin was a mistake and his presence is the weakest aspect of the movie. It would have worked just as well done straight without the supernatural elements. Stillit was a big hit and even spawned a hit stage musical. With John CusackBernadette PetersKelsey Grammer and Hank Azaria.

Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1953)

Two Americans (Bud AbbottLou Costello) in London are working with the police. When a series of murders by a mysterious "monster" terrify the citythe two are determined to catch the monster who is really a doctor (Boris Karloff) who injects himself with a serum that turns him into the creature. Directed by Charles Lamont (MA AND PA KETTLE)this was one of a series of popular films where Abbott and Costello encounter famous horror icons like DraculaFrankensteinthe Invisible Manthe Wolf Man and the Mummy. I'm a huge Abbott & Costello fan but outside of an amusing sequence where Costello is transformed into a mouse and the movie's final gag shotI found this very disappointing. Unlike other famed actors who have impressively played Jekyll and Hyde like Spencer Tracy and Fredric Marchit's clear that Karloff has a stand in playing the athletic Mr. Hyde rather than playing him. The comic duo would do much better in their next encounter with the Mummy in 1955. With Craig StevensHelen WestcottReginald Gardiner and Marjorie Bennett.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Clemency (2019)

Years of carrying out death row executions have taken their toll on a prison warden (Alfre Woodard). It has affected her marriage and a tendency to drink too much. As she prepares for the execution of yet another inmate (Aldis Hodge)she must confront the emotional and psychological damage her profession has done to her soul. Beautifully written and directed by Chinonye Chukwuthis harrowing film is like a kick in the stomach. With her deliberate and methodical pacingChukwu spares us nothing and I had to fight the urge to look away during some scenes. Films on the death penalty are nothing new (I WANT TO LIVEDEAD MAN WALKING to name just two) but it's never been done with this perspectivethe executors rather than the executed. Woodward is sensationala searing and naked performance and Hodge is a revelation. Hopefullyboth won't be forgotten come awards time. There's an amazing amount of women behind this project. In addition to Chukwuthe film editingproduction designthe scorecostumes and visual effects were done by women. With Wendell PierceRichard SchiffMichael O'Neill and Danielle Brooks who has only one scene but she knocks it out of the ballpark. 

Proof (2005)

A young woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) has devoted years to caring for her mentally unstable father (Anthony Hopkins)a mathematical genius. But while she shares her father's unique mind and abilitiesshe fears she also inherited his madness. Based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony award winning play by David Auburn and directed by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE). The film's title is twofold as it refers to proof as a mathematical term as well as evidence. While it has been opened up considerably from its theatrical rootsit remains an intimate film focusing on its four protagonists. The film serves as a reminder of what a wonderful actress Paltrow was (she played this role on the London stage) before she turned to "goop". She dominates the film with strong performances by Hopkins and Hope Davis as her sister. Jake Gyllenhaal is considerably weaker but then againit's the least interesting character in the film/play. A film dealing with mathematics sounds imposing (especially if you're not into math) but the film's hub is in its emotional corenot in mathematical theory. With Roshan Seth and Gary Houston.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Calling Dr. Death (1943)

A neurologist (Lon Chaney Jr.) blacks out during a long weekend with no memory of where he was. But when his wife (Ramsay Ames) turns up deadhe suspects he killed her and so does the police inspector (J. Carrol Naish) assigned to the case. Directed by Reginald Le Borgthe film was part of a series of movies based on the popular radio show INNER SANCTUM. It's a rather dull piece and Chaney's rote acting doesn't help much. He wasn't much of an actor really and he was always better in supporting or small roles as opposed to lead roles. There aren't that many characters in the film so it isn't all that difficult to figure out who the murderer is. The film shows a surprising bit of artistry during the flashback when the real killer is revealed which is done in a surrealistic manner. With the always welcome Patricia Morison as Chaney's nurseDavid Bruce and Fay Helm. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Outcasts Of Poker Flat (1952)

A disparate group of "undesirables" are run out of the town of Poker Flat. They include a gambler (Dale Robertson)an aging prostitute (Miriam Hopkins)a drunk (William H. Lynn) and the wife of a bank robber (Anne Baxter). Traveling through the mountains to get to the next towna snow storm forces them to lodge in an abandoned cabin. Based on the short story by Bret Harte (previously filmed in 1917 and 1937) and directed by Joseph M. Newman (THE BIG CIRCUS). This is a nice little western which focuses more on its characters rather than action. Not that there isn't any tension or conflictthere is but it's not the movie's raison d'etre. Others snowed in at the cabin include a killer (Cameron Mitchell)a young man (Craig Hill) and his pregnant girlfriend (Barbara Bates). Since the majority of the action takes place in that cabinit often feels like a filmed play. It's different enough to be worth checking out even if you're not into westerns. I liked it a lot. The score by Hugo Friedhofer (BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES) add another layer of quality to the proceedings.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Deep End (2001)

Set in Lake Tahoea housewife (Tilda Swinton) confronts a sleazy low life (Josh Lucas) and demands he end an affair he's having with her teenage son (Jonathan Tucker). He offers to end the relationship for $5,000 but when he is accidentally killedthe police treat his death as a murder. Based on the novel THE BLANK WALL by Elizabeth Sanxay Holiding (and previously filmed by Max Ophuls in 1949) and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. As far as remakes gothis one is pretty good. Anchored by a nice performance by Swinton that brings layers that allow her to create a more complex character. Aside from switching the daughter to a gay sonthe film stays pretty close to the source material. It's a pity they didn't have a stronger actor in the role of the blackmailer. In the 1949 filmJames Mason did wonders with the role but Goran Visnjic in the same part never rises above adequate. With Peter Donat and Raymond Barry.  

The Reckless Moment (1949)

A housewife (Joan Bennett) confronts a sleazy low life (Shepperd Strudwick) and demands he stop seeing her 17 year old daughter (Geraldine Brooks). Insteadhe offers to stay away from the girl for a cash payment of $5000. When he contacts the girl at her lakeside homefate steps in when he is accidentally killed. But when his body is foundthe police consider it a murder. Based on the novel THE BLANK WALL by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding and directed by Max Ophuls (LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN). This is an expert slice of film noir. Ophuls takes a lovely everyday settingin this case the (then) sleepy beachside city of Balboa in Southern California and turns it into a sun drenched nightmare. Aside from Bennettthe other central character is a blackmailersuperbly played by James Mason. He starts out with a heartless streak but as the movie plays onewe see him evolve into a more humane being. Remade in 2001 as THE DEEP END. With Roy Roberts and Henry O'Neill.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976)

An awkward young girl by the name of Bernice (Shelley Duvall) visits her popular cousin (Veronica Cartwright) for the summer but she doesn't seem to fit into the social group of her cousin's friends. Her cousin then undertakes to makeover Bernice so that she will become more socially acceptable but when Bernice's popularity rivals hersshe realizes she may have gone too far. Based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (HESTER STREET). Fitzgerald's slight "the worm turns" tale gets a faithful rendering in Micklin's hands (she also adapted the story into a screenplay). Duvallperfectly castgives the gawky Bernice just the right balance of guilelessness and naivete while Cartwright as her cousin plays the conniving cat expertly. It's a pleasing piffle of a story really but popular enough to have been turned into a play and a musical. With Dennis Christopher and Polly Holliday.   

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Dolor Y Gloria (aka Pain And Glory) (2019)

A film director (Antonio Banderas) in ill health and whose career is in decline reflects on his childhood and memories of his mother (Penelope Cruz) while there is a resurgence in interest in him when one of his old films is restored and plays to new audiences. Directed by Pedro Almodovar (THE SKIN I LIVE IN)this autobiographical film is a lovely memory piece while still examining an artist's need to create and the emotional and mental blocks that can stymie that creativity. Antonio Banderas (who won the best actor award at the Cannes film festival for his performance her) gives his best performance in years. He almost always did his best work with Almodovar and I don't think I've ever seen him give a stronger performance. It's a lovely piece of restrained acting. The actresses playing his mother also bring some nice shading: Cruz as the younger version and Julieta Serrano as the older version. Those who were movie lovers as children should find much to appreciate and the final shot in the film should bring a smile to your lips. With Asier EtxeandiaCecilia RothLeonardo SbaragliaNora Navas and Cesar Vicente.