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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Moonlight And Valentino (1995)

When her husband is suddenly killed in an accident, a woman (Elizabeth Perkins) must deal with the aftermath and things left unspoken. Her sister (Gwyneth Paltrow), stepmother (Kathleen Turner) and best friend (Whoopi Goldberg) attempt to help her but they all have baggage of their own. Based on the 1989 play by Ellen Simon (Neil's daughter) which is semi-autobiographical. At its worst, it's the kind of movie that gives "chick flicks" a bad reputation. The dialogue is contrived and weighted down with psycho babble and homilies. On its own terms, I suppose one could call it a superior example of a Lifetime movie. On the plus side, and it's a big plus, the four lead actresses often do some amazing things with the material, giving it better than it deserves. But isn't that what a good actor is supposed to do? Paltrow comes across the least but to be fair, her character is almost impossible to play. Turner has the best moment in the film, a small speech that doesn't come till the very end. If you require more from a film than good acting, you can safely skip it but there's a thrill about seeing good actors overcoming weak material and finding some truth. Directed by David Anspaugh (HOOSIERS). With Jon Bon Jovi, Peter Coyote, Jeremy Sisto and Josef Sommer. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Alexander The Great (1956)

Living in the shadow of his father (Fredric March), the young Alexander (Richard Burton) is torn between his love for his mother (Danielle Darrieux) and proving to his father that he is a worthy heir. When offered the role of Alexander in this film, Charlton Heston turned it down reputedly saying, "Alexander is the easiest kind of picture to make badly". This is a noble attempt but the film was taken away from its director Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN) by the producers and cut by an hour. This is problematic among other things in that there is a plethora of supporting characters and we're never quite sure who they are in relation to Alexander. The film is of interest as long as it concentrates on the family dynamics of the rivalry of Alexander's parents as each uses him as pawn for their own political purpose. But once March exits the picture, it becomes just another stodgy epic. Burton provides the kind of overacting he thinks such epics deserve, his performance here similar to his work in THE ROBE and CLEOPATRA. Normally, Fredric March is more than happy to chew the scenery too but he's actually quite good here. All in all, one of the weaker Hollywood epics of the 1950s. With Claire Bloom (terribly wasted), Stanley Baker, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing, Niall MacGinnis, Michael Hordern, Peter Wyngarde and Gustavo Rojo. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

3 Women (1977)

In a small California desert town, a socially awkward girl (Sissy Spacek) from Texas moves in with a gawky but friendly girl (Shelley Duvall) who works at the health spa for the elderly with her. The awkward girl sees the other girl as sophisticated and worldly when, in truth, she's clueless and delusional. But a suicide attempt will change them both but in different ways. One of director Robert Altman's very best films, perhaps only NASHVILLE and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER surpass it, the film has the feel of an Ingmar Bergman film, PERSONA in particular. Like Bergman's films, the actresses take center stage and both Duvall (who won the Cannes film festival best actress award for her work here) and Spacek (who won the New York Film critics award for her performance) do superb work. The third woman, who is an artist painting surrealistic images, is played by Janice Rule and while she doesn't have as much to do as the other two, she brings a certain gravitas to her portrayal. It's a moody, evocative piece of film making that comes as close to poetry as cinema can be. The effective underscore is by Gerald Busby. With John Cromwell (yes, the director), Dennis Christopher, Ruth Nelson and Robert Fortier.

A Bigger Splash (2015)

A rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her photographer boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts, RUST AND BONE) are vacationing on a small Italian island while her voice recuperates. But their idyll is interrupted by a visit from her ex-lover (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson). I was a huge fan of Luca Guadagnino's I AM LOVE (2009) so I was highly anticipating this. I wasn't disappointed. This is a loose remake of Jacques Deray's 1969 film, LA PISCINE which I liked very much. But while Deray's film was a stylish perverse thriller, Guadagnino gives his film a potent emotional core which Deray's film lacked. It's a discreetly sensual film in which full nudity abounds (both sexes) naturally and doesn't make a big deal about it. The four leads give strong performances with Fiennes giving the best performances he's given in years playing the kind of person who's all hyper and won't shut up till you want to punch his face in but ultimately Fiennes lets us understand his pain. The film goes beyond its expiration point but it's so good, I can forgive it that. With Aurore Clement, Corrado Guzzanti and Elena Bucci. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

La Pelle (1981)

In 1943, the American Allies liberate Naples from German occupation but there's a clash between the yanks and the native population. Based on a series of short stories by Curzio Malaparte (played in the film by Marcello Mastroianni) that documented the "liberation" by the Americans which seems more like a second invasion and the ignoble breakdown of Italian morality. Directed by Liliana Cavani (THE NIGHT PORTER), no one comes out looking good. Certainly not the Americans who often seem no better than the Germans and certainly not the Italians reduced to the most barbaric behavior due to the war. Cavani really pushes our faces in the blood red mud here, nothing is held back. Cannibalism, mothers selling their sons to Arabs for sex, animal cruelty, American contempt for the very people they're liberating and blood and guts literally spilling out among other horrors. Could it really have been as awful as all that? The film's most ill conceived character is a female U.S. Colonel (Alexandra King) though the first female Colonel in the U.S. Army didn't come until 1947! It would have helped if the Americans spoke English instead of being dubbed into Italian because we get an American dubbed into Italian asking an Italian to translate into English what another Italian is saying and the Italian "translates" the Italian into Italian! With Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale (wasted), Ken Marshall, Jacques Sernas and Liliana Tari. 

Don't Bother To Knock (1961)

After breaking up with his fiancee (June Thorburn), a Scottish travel agent (Richard Todd) travels the continent and cherchez la femme! He freely gives the keys to his apartment to his conquests including a French beauty (Nicole Maurey), an Austrian lovely (Elke Sommer) and a married woman (Eleanor Summerfield). He reunites with his fiancee when he returns to Scotland but then those continental beauties start showing up with keys in hand! Based on the novel by Clifford Hanley and directed by Cyril Frankel (NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER), this is the British equivalent of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson Hollywood comedy. It's amusing up to a point but the actors aren't expert farceurs so they don't get the most out of the material. The funniest one in the film is Judith Anderson (looking ultra glamorous) as a rich American heiress, not exactly an actress known for her comedic talents. Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY) did the cinematography and Christian Dior did some of the costumes. Although made in 1961, it didn't reach the U.S. until 1965 and then the posters played up Elke Sommer as the star, fresh off her success in A SHOT IN THE DARK. With Rik Battaglia and Dawn Beret.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Modesty Blaise (1966)

It takes a thief to catch a thief so the British government hires a master thief (Monica Vitti) to aid them in the prevention of a diamond theft by a criminal mastermind (Dirk Bogarde). Loosely based on the popular comic strip by Peter O'Donnell, the director Joseph Losey (THE SERVANT) would seem an unlikely choice for a spy spoof. The film does have a cult following but it just seems rather desperate in its attempts at being "cool". If it's a mess, I suspect it's an intentional mess but I prefer the unintentional mess of the 1967 CASINO ROYALE with which it has a lot in common. It's a nice looking movie what with Richard Macdonald's production design mimicking the pop art of the day (think Warhol and Lichtenstein) and Jack Hildyard's splashy lensing. But while Monica Vitti can be a comedic delight in her native language, it appears difficulty with the English language trips her up here. Bogarde as the fey villain fares better. Still, as a relic of what was being served up in the mid 1960s in the guise of humor, it has an archival purpose. With Harry Andrews, Clive Revill, Rossella Falk, Tina Marquand and Alexander Knox. 

Blithe Spirit (1945)

A novelist (Rex Harrison) doing research for his next book invites a medium (Margaret Rutherford) to his home to conduct a seance. This backfires when the medium conjures up his deceased wife (Kay Hammond) which distresses his current wife (Constance Cummings) to no end. Based on the hit play by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, this is a rather enjoyable adaptation of the play though Coward disliked what Lean did with it. The British did drawing room comedies, not screwball comedies like Hollywood but this is probably as close to the genre as they ever got. I found Hammond's performance rather lackluster even if she was recreating her stage role from the original West End production. But Harrison, Cummings and especially Rutherford as the eccentric Madame Arcati more than pick up the slack. The writing is very good and the plot almost irresistible which might account for why the play is constantly being revived. Though I could have done without the "cute" ending which is different from Coward's play, Lean's film is a real charmer. With Joyce Carey, Hugh Wakefield and Jacqueline Clarke. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

3:10 To Yuma (1957)

After a stage is robbed and a driver killed, the outlaw (Glenn Ford) responsible is captured. The plan is to get the outlaw to a different town and then on the 3:10 to Yuma where he'll go on trial but first, he has to get on that train. A rancher (Van Heflin) in need of money takes on the responsibility of taking him to the town and the train but the bandit's gang are intent on rescuing their leader. This is a beauty of a western, one of the jewels of the 1950s proliferation of westerns. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard and directed superbly by Delmer Daves. There's a beautiful simplicity and starkness to 3:10 TO YUMA, richly enhanced by Charles Lawton Jr.'s Spartan cinematography. The film's most powerful moments aren't the gunfights or action but the quieter moments that gives detail to the characterizations. For instance, the lovely quiet interlude between Ford and a barmaid (Felicia Farr) that could have easily been eliminated since it doesn't move the plot forward but the film would be all the less richer for it. Even the most shocking moment, the killing of Henry Jones is done off screen. For anyone who loves westerns, no doubt you've already seen it but even the non-western fans should avail themselves of this one. With Leora Dana, Richard Jaeckel and Robert Emhardt. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ruby Cairo (aka Deception) (1992)

A woman (Andie MacDowell) travels to Mexico to bury her husband (Viggo Mortensen) who died in a plane crash. But it's in Mexico that she discovers her husband has hidden bank accounts all over the world which leads her to Panama, the Bahamas, Germany and to Greece where she discovers her husband had been leading a double life and what she's discovering could put her in danger. Directed by Graeme Clifford (FRANCES), this mystery thriller seems choppy as if chunks had been left out. Apparently there's a longer cut out there that's 21 minutes longer which might have filled in the holes. The film contains some awkward narration by MacDowell which seems to be a weak effort to make the film more cohesive and Olympia Dukakis, already an Oscar winner for MOONSTRUCK, pops in for one line so I assume her role was also severely cut. What we have left is entirely watchable but unsatisfactory in what's left out. There's very little of John Barry's score in the film which suggests it also might have been a victim of the pruning shears. With Liam Neeson providing some romance for MacDowell, Jack Thompson and Lydia Lenosi.