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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Loving (2016)

In 1958 Virginia, a white man (Joel Edgerton) and a black woman (Ruth Negga)  are arrested and imprisoned for breaking Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws by marrying. They are quiet unsophisticated country folk who just want to live their life in peace and raise a family in a home of their own. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (TAKE SHELTER) and based on the landmark 1967 Loving vs. Virginia case which went all the way to the Supreme Court and a historic ruling. This film is different from anything Nichols has ever done and something I suspect even the Nichols haters (and I've met a few) would like. At its core, this is a love story. Its power lies in its simplicity and Nichols doesn't impede the telling with heavy handed lecturing. This isn't a mediocrity like GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER? with Sidney Poitier as a famous doctor any white girl would be lucky to get and set among posh San Franciscans. These are real people struggling to survive against almost insurmountable odds. But always at its center, the love story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The performances by Edgerton and Negga are impeccable though perhaps it's ironic that something so American are played by Australian (Edgerton) and Irish (Negga) actors. A subtle telling of a still pertinent subject on marriage rights. With Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas and Nick Kroll.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

How To Save A Marriage And Ruin Your Life (1968)

When an attorney (Dean Martin) finds out his married best friend (Eli Wallach) has a mistress (Anne Jackson), he decides to break it up by seducing the mistress thus proving to his friend she was no good. He sets his plan in motion but in a case of mistaken identity, he targets the wrong girl (Stella Stevens). By 1968, Doris Day was getting too old to play in these sort of romantic sex comedies and Stella Stevens fits her pumps very nicely with Martin substituting for Rock Hudson. It's a lightweight offering but so attractive and amiable with likable performers that it's hard to resist and I wasn't even trying. Stevens was one of those actresses whose career never really caught fire but she was luscious and quite talented in both comedy and drama, the girl next door or the brassy blonde. She carries this movie on her sexy shoulders. Fielder Cook (PATTERNS) isn't necessarily a director you'd associate with material like this but he gives it the fizz needed to follow through. The melodic underscore is by Michel Legrand (can that man write!). With Betty Field, Jack Albertson, Katharine Bard and George Furth. 

Die Ehe Der Maria Braun (aka The Marriage Of Maria Braun) (1979)

In post WWII Germany, a woman (Hanna Schygulla) remains true to the man (Klaus Lowitsch) she was married to for only 2 days before he left to fight in the war. Emotionally true to their love but not physically true as she does what she has to in order to survive and even succeed in the postwar years. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this was his breakthrough film in the sense of international recognition combined with box office success. Some look to it as an allegory of Germany itself during its post war years but for me, it works quite well at face value, the destruction of a woman's soul when she strays from her purest intent. Schygulla is marvelous here, her performance a myriad of mysterious and conflicting layers. But unfortunately the rest of the cast isn't up to her level. Indeed, some of the supporting performances are downright amateurish. Considered the first of a trilogy but I find it far superior to the two that followed, LOLA and VERONIKA VOSS. With Ivan Desny, Gisela Uhlen and Gottfried John.     

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hallelujah I'm A Bum (1933)

A hobo (Al Jolson) who is known as the "Mayor of Central Park" enjoys his carefree life and has no desire for material things or a steady job. But  when he falls in love with a young girl (Madge Evans) he saves from a suicide attempt and who has lost her memory in the process, little does he know she's the mistress of the Mayor of New York (Frank Morgan). Directed by Lewis Milestone, this is a lovely and lilting stylized musical with Rodgers & Hart (PAL JOEY) providing the songs and musical dialog and includes one of their standards, You Are Too Beautiful. Influenced by the musicals of Rene Clair and Rouben Mamoulian, the film is both witty and affecting. Normally, I'm not a fan of Jolson's broad brand of acting but his easy going demeanor here is quite welcome. This movie got in just under the wire of the Production Code crackdown so the leading lady being the mistress of a famous man and a startling suggestion of nudity got by with no big deal being made about it. The film is also notable for one of characters (Harry Langdon's trash collector) being an unapologetic communist and still be a good guy and Jolson's best friend being a black man (Edgar Connor). Reissued under the title THE HEART OF NEW YORK IN 1941. With Chester Conklin and Louise Carver.

Tender Mercies (1983)

A once famous country and western singer (Robert Duvall) finds himself stranded in a small roadside motel after a night of drinking. Without funds, he offers to work off the money he owes to the young widow (Tess Harper) who owns the motel. With her help, he begins a long road to recovery. Directed by Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY) from an original screenplay by Horton Foote. Foote (TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL) has a feel for characters like these and the terrain they inhabit. They're the real thing and he never condescends to them, they're allowed their complexities rather than being made "simple" because they're country people. Foote's story, however, is deceptively simple. It's a quiet unassuming film with a lot going on. Duvall's Oscar winning performance is the film's linchpin, his best work but the rest of the cast are all very good. At first, I thought Harper's role was underwritten and now I'm not sure if I was wrong or it's just that Harper brings a strong authenticity to the part. With Betty Buckley (excellent), Ellen Barkin, Wilford Brimley, James Gleason and Allan Hubbard. 

My Man Godfrey (1957)

Engaged in a scavenger hunt for charity, a rather kooky heiress (June Allyson) discovers a homeless man (David Niven) hiding near the docks. She hires him as her butler but the man soon discovers that the entire family is a bit "different". A remake of the classic 1936 screwball comedy which was based on the novel by Eric Hatch. Once again in the position of an iconoclast, I have to confess I'm not one of the fans of the 1936 beloved original. I don't dislike it but it seems to be trying too hard and I find Carole Lombard quite unappealing, more grating and annoying than funny. Ross Hunter (PILLOW TALK) produced this version in CinemaScope and Technicolor and it gets the full glam treatment with posh Manhattan upper West side settings and Allyson, Martha Hyer and Eva Gabor in chic frocks courtesy of Bill Thomas. Niven is an adequate substitute for William Powell but while screwball comedy isn't Allyson's forte, she seems more down to earth than Lombard thus giving the role a slightly more root in reality. Niven was a quick replacement for the Austrian actor O.W. Fischer who was to have made his American film debut. Directed by Henry Koster (FLOWER DRUM SONG). With Jessie Royce Landis, Robert Keith and Jay Robinson. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Theater Of Blood (1973)

A group of London theater critics find themselves slowly being killed off one by one in the manner of Shakespeare's plays. It would seem the person with the biggest motive would be the renowned Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price) except that he's dead ..... or is he? Directed by Douglas Hickox, this is a devilishly clever horror comedy. Price clearly relishes hamming it up as Lionheart and the film balances wit, horror and even poignance equally well. The film is a macabre lark and it shouldn't be looked at too closely as there things that just don't make sense. For example, how did the decapitated head get from the murdered man's bedroom to Ian Hendry's door? Or why though supposedly under police protection, Hendry is allowed unaccompanied to attend a fencing class which turns deadly. But a movie like this isn't supposed to be put under a cinematic microscope lest it unravel. The critics themselves are played by a who's who of British character actors including Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Coral Browne (who would later marry Price), Harry Andrews, Michael Hordern, Robert Coote and Arthur Lowe. With Diana Rigg as Price's daughter, Milo O'Shea, Diana Dors and Joan Hickson.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Manchester By The Sea (2016)

A janitor (Casey Affleck) is emotionally dead after a tragedy destroyed his life. There's a rage inside him he can't control and he can't connect to other human beings on the simplest level. When his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly and makes him the guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges), he must unwillingly confront his past. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME), the film is a showcase for Casey Affleck's dynamic performance. For quite awhile I feared the worst ... bonding, tears and a sentimental end but Lonergan is too good a writer for that and he sticks to the straight and narrow path to a more believable conclusion.  The film is not without its flaws, it could have used a good editor to pare some 15 minutes and Lesley Barber's underscore is over emphatic and unsubtle. But that's nitpicking really, Lonergan's script and direction are strong enough to weather the nuisances and at the center, Affleck's potent performance is flawless. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes' lensing of the Massachusetts location is spot on. With Michelle Williams as Affleck's ex-wife, Matthew Broderick, Tate Donovan and Gretchen Mol.

Dial M For Murder (1954)

An ex-tennis pro (Ray Milland) has quit playing professionally due to his wife's (Grace Kelly) urging. Since she is the one who holds the money strings and is having an affair with a writer (Robert Cummings), he concocts an elaborate murder scheme that will end with her going to the gallows and he inheriting her wealth. But, of course, the best laid plans don't always work as smoothly as they do on paper. Based on the hit play by Frederick Knott (WAIT UNTIL DARK) and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Originally shot in 3D, a process Hitchcock felt had been "forced" on him by the studio, he barely uses the possibilities of 3D except during the attempted murder scene. It's really one of Hitchcock's least cinematic offerings and it looks like what it is ... a filmed play. Visually, it's one of his most unattractive films (Kelly's beauty notwithstanding) despite the masterful Robert Burks being in charge of the cinematography. Milland is very good and Kelly icily effective but Cummings is just terrible here! Knott adapted his play for the screen and the complicated plot is clever enough to hold our attention in spite of the lackluster talky presentation. With Anthony Dawson (DR. NO) and Martin Milner. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Night Has A Thousand Eyes (1948)

A nightclub psychic (Edward G. Robinson) uses tricks to con his audience into thinking he can read minds. But suddenly he begins experiencing genuine psychic visions and they aren't pleasant. This sudden gift is tortuous and something he doesn't want and he runs away into anonymity. But 20 years later, he must use his gift once more. Based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) and directed by John Farrow. This is a good thriller with a sympathetic performance by Robinson. As long as the film focuses on Robinson and Gail Russell as the young woman he's trying to help, it's a fascinating puzzle. But unfortunately once the dull police (in the form of William Demarest) are brought in, it really puts a damper on the movie. So much so that I'd say it stops the movie from being what it could have been. Namely a first rate intense mystery. The dim unimaginative boyfriend (John Lund) isn't much help either. Luckily, it's not enough to ruin the movie but a little more ingenuity wouldn't have hurt. John F. Seitz noir-ish cinematography gives the film an appropriate sense of cataclysm. With Virginia Bruce, Jerome Cowan, John Alexander and Richard Webb.