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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Michael (1924)

A famous painter (Benjamin Christensen) takes on an aspiring young artist called Michael (Walter Slezak) as a model and falls in love with him. They are happy for several years until a Russian countess (Nora Gregor) enters the picture and seduces the young man. But in spite of the unfaithfulness, the painter remains obsessively devoted to him. Based on the novel MIKAEL by Herman Bang and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer (PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC). Considered a landmark in gay silent cinema, MICHAEL is a subdued reflection on obsessive love or true love if you prefer, the film's final line is the oft quoted "Now I can die in peace, for I have seen true love". Absolutely, nothing Michael does (lies, betrayal, theft) can damage the painter's feelings toward him. But is that true love? Or is it a form of masochism? It's a fine line anyway you look at it. There's no hesitation that this is a beautifully rendered piece of cinema and I much prefer it to Dreyer's later cinematic treatise on the same subject, GERTRUD with which it has much in common. The young almost pretty Slezak bears no resemblance to the portly character actor he would become in 1940s Hollywood in films like LIFEBOAT. With Max Auzinger, Robert Garrison and Grete Mosheim.     

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Woman In Red (1935)

When a professional equestrienne (Barbara Stanwyck) marries a wealthy playboy (Gene Raymond), she finds herself confronted with a snobbish upper crust family who disapprove of the marriage. When circumstances beyond her control find her aboard a yacht when a chorus girl falls overboard and drowns under mysterious circumstances, she knows it's just the excuse her husband's family needs to renounce her. Based on the novel NORTH SHORE by Wallace Irwin and directed by Robert Florey (1932's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE). There's nothing particularly special about the film, it's a routine melodrama that doesn't disgrace itself. But what is special is the great Barbara Stanwyck and it's almost remarkable what she can bring to a routine role as an actress. Watching her go through her paces, she treats the role as if it were something special instead of a typical programmer. While many other actresses would just walk through the part, she invests so much in in her character that you're with her all the way. With Genevieve Tobin (effective as a society bitch), John Eldredge, Ann Shoemaker, Arthur Treacher, Doris Lloyd and George Chandler.

Burton And Taylor (2013)

In 1983, after being married and divorced twice, Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham Carter) and Richard Burton (Dominic West) prepare to star in a Broadway production of Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES. Directed by Richard Laxton, this is a surprisingly effective rendition of the (apparently) toxic relationship of the screen's legendary couple. Although based on a "true" story, I take what we see with a grain of salt. Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West do quite well (and in Carter's case more than well) as Taylor and Burton. They don't resort to caricatures or imitations and give enough suggestion of their real life counterparts to be believable. What we get is an intimate portrait of two people who love each other but will destroy each other if they stay together. Carter gives her Taylor just the right touch of diva toughness and vulnerability. With Lenora Crichlow, William Hope and Kathryn Walker.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Romance Of Rosy Ridge (1947)

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a small mountain community is still bitterly divided by allegiance to either the North or the South. The tension is so thick that it's only a matter of time before violence erupts. Enter a schoolteacher (Van Johnson) with a secret that he withholds as long as possible. Based on the novel by MacKinlay Kantor and directed by Roy Rowland. This is a rather touching story of romance and reconciliation. Although fairly predictable (I guessed the schoolteacher's "secret" almost immediately), there was still a twist I wasn't prepared for and my eyes couldn't help but water up. As the young farm girl who falls in love with Johnson, Janet Leigh makes her film debut and it was clear from the beginning that this was no ordinary starlet. The film is slightly overlong and that could have been remedied by eliminating some of the songs Van Johnson sings. The lovely score is by George Bassman. I can't say to seek it out but if it comes your way, definitely give it a chance. With Thomas Mitchell, Dean Stockwell, Selena Royle, Marshall Thompson, Jim Davis, Elisabeth Risdon and Charles Dingle.

Born Yesterday (1956)

A loutish and vulgar but rich junk dealer (Paul Douglas recreating his stage role) brings his ditzy mistress (Mary Martin) with him on a business trip to Washington D.C. Feeling her ignorance will be a liability, he hires a journalist (Arthur Hill) to educate her and give her manners. This plan works only too well. Based on the play by Garson Kanin and directed by its author. Kanin's play made a star out of Judy Holliday who owned the role of Billie Dawn. The big surprise here is how good Mary Martin is in the part. Oh, Holliday still owns the role but Martin is probably the last actress you'd think of when casting the part but she pulls it off beautifully. The play holds up reasonably well although it gets less interesting the smarter Martin's character gets. Douglas does just fine although it's a one dimensional part and Hill is adequate though of the three leads, it's the least absorbing role. With Otto Hulett and Larry Oliver. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Bel Canto (2018)

Set in an unspecified country in South America, a famous opera singer (Julianne Moore) is performing at a private concert in honor of a wealthy Japanese businessman (Ken Watanabe). The country's president is scheduled to attend but he cancels. But the concert is interrupted when a group of terrorist guerrillas invade the home and hold the guests hostage in exchange for their demands which includes the release of all political prisoners. Based on the prize winning novel by Ann Patchett and directed by Paul Weitz (ABOUT A BOY). Though not specifically addressed, the film (and novel) is obviously based on the 1996 Japanese embassy crisis in Lima, Peru where revolutionaries invaded the Japanese ambassador's residence and held hostages for 126 days until commandos rushed the residence and killed all the guerrillas. In the aftermath, there was strong evidence that the revolutionaries were systematically executed after surrendering which caused an outcry from human rights organizations. The film is fiction but it portrays the guerrillas sympathetically and suggests that the hostages and guerrillas bonded and became "family" and even seemed to accept the status quo. After awhile, we can feel it's going to end badly. No doubt there will be those who feel the "terrorists" deserved what they got but no one deserves to be murdered after surrendering or given a chance to surrender. While elements of the film seem far fetched (the added romantic elements), it casts an ambiguous eye on the thin line between revolution and terrorism. Moore's singing voice is dubbed by Renee Fleming. With Sebastian Koch, Christopher Lambert, Ryo Kase, Maria Mercedes Coroy and Tenoch Huerta. 

The Honeymoon Machine (1961)

A Navy Lieutenant (Steve McQueen) joins forces with a computer programmer (Jim Hutton) to use his ship's new supercomputer to predict where a ball on a roulette wheel will land in a Venice casino! Based on the 1959 Broadway play by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (PRETTY POISON) and directed by Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE). On Broadway, the show (Suzanne Pleshette and Tom Poston were the leads) was a flop but someone at MGM apparently thought it would make for a sparkling comedy. They were wrong. The play took place entirely in a hotel suite but the film opens it up to include a casino but it still feels stage bound. The romantic leads, McQueen and Brigid Bazlen (KING OF KINGS), have no comedic skills though their chemistry is a tad better. The rest of players do have comic skills including Hutton, Paula Prentiss, Jack Weston and Jack Mullaney but their effort hardly seems worth it. Still, it's a nice looking movie thanks to the art direction by Preston Ames and George W. Davis and Bazlen and Prentiss look quite glam in their Helen Rose frocks. With Dean Jagger, Ken Lynch and Barbara Morrison.

Mary Queen Of Scots (2018)

After her husband's death, the Catholic Mary (Saoirse Ronan) returns to her homeland of Scotland which is predominantly Protestant. Her ascent to the Scottish throne presents a danger to Elizabeth I's (Margot Robbie) reign as the Queen of England. Based on the biography QUEEN OF SCOTS: THE TRUE LIFE OF MARY STUART by John Guy and directed by Josie Rourke in her film directorial debut. The story of these two Queens is fascinating and has been a frequent source of films, plays, TV dramas, opera etc. In 1936, John Ford directed Katharine Hepburn and Florence Eldridge as Mary and Elizabeth and in 1971, Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson played Mary and Elizabeth on film. Alas, this version is bloated and dull and I had a hard time staying awake. The film perpetuates several historical inaccuracies and speculations including have the two Queens meet when there is no evidence whatsoever that they ever did. When Redgrave and Jackson met in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, the scene crackled. When Ronan and Robbie meet the scene fizzles. It's a revisionist film with Mary and Elizabeth played as strong feminist icons while the 16th century Scottish and English courts are populated with black and Asian actors. Whether this is progress or PC tokenism, I leave to you. Is there any reason to see this torpid drama? Yes, two reasons: Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Both actresses giving fierce performances that deserve a better movie. With Guy Pearce, Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Ismael Cruz Cordova and Gemma Chan.  

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Last Run (1971)

Leading a quiet life of retirement in Portugal, a former getaway driver (George C. Scott) reluctantly agrees to do one more job. He has to drive a thug (Tony Musante) just escaped from prison from Spain across the border to France. But the job isn't as simple as it seems and slowly turns into a disaster. Directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), the film was poorly received by the critics when it opened and it also failed at the box office. Despite its flaws, it holds up surprisingly well today. The script by Alan Sharp is very good and though Scott's performance is uneven, it seems a role he's well suited for. Fleischer's direction seems flabby however as if he couldn't quite get a grasp of the material. Tony Musante manages to restrain his tendency to overact and Trish Van Devere (soon to be the next Mrs. Scott) as his girl is good though slightly mature for her character. Sven Nykvist (FANNY AND ALEXANDER) is responsible for shooting the atmospheric Spanish locations and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is very good. It's a film that could have been so much better if everyone tried a bit harder. With Colleen Dewhurst (soon to be the ex-Mrs. Scott) in a rare poor performance and Aldo Sambrell.  

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Knock On Wood (1954)

A neurotic ventriloquist (Danny Kaye) has trouble controlling his dummy which results in a near nervous breakdown. While he's under the care of a beautiful doctor (Mai Zetterling), little does he know that his dummy is carrying the plans for a new secret weapon and he will soon find himself embroiled in espionage and murder! Written and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. Though quite popular at the time of its release, this is one of Kaye's less satisfying vehicles. While there is frequent hilarity (like the Russian ballet sequence), sometimes the movie just stops cold in its tracks as with Irish pub sequence. The Swedish actress Mai Zetterling doesn't seem to have any comic timing and is an unsatisfactory straight (wo)man to Kaye's antics. Fans of Kaye (like me) will probably overlook the dim spots but if you're not a fan, you may find it tough going. The songs by Sylvia Fine (Mrs. Kaye) are unmemorable but Michael Kidd's choreography is lively. With Torin Thatcher, Virginia Huston, David Burns, Gavin Gordon, Leon Askin and Henry Brandon.