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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

In Vienna, a Lieutenant (Maurice Chevalier) becomes enamored of a violinist (Claudette Colbert) in an all girl orchestra. But trouble pops up in the form of the Princess (Miriam Hopkins) of a small country who feels the Lieutenant has slighted her but it's all a misunderstanding. Based on the operetta EIN WALZERTRAUM by Oscar Straus by way of the Hans Muller Einigen novel NUX DER PRINZGEMAHL, Ernst Lubitsch's Oscar nominated (best picture) musical is a real charmer!  Both the screenplay and the song lyrics are witty and naughty and the three leading players perform with zeal. This is a pre-code film and boy, does it get away with a lot. Colbert enters Chevalier's apartment then a blackout then they're having breakfast after having spent the night together. I'm not a fan of Chevalier's overly Gallic charms but he's very tolerable here. Colbert and Hopkins aren't known for their singing abilities but they put over the delightful Jazz Up Your Lingerie number with gusto. With Charles Ruggles and George Barbier.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

La Veuve Couderc (1971)

In 1934 France, a young drifter (Alain Delon) walking through the Burgundy countryside is offered work by a lonely widow (Simone Signoret). But the machinations of her venomous sister in law (Monique Chaumette) will lead to a disastrous end. Based on the novel by Georges Simenon and directed by Pierre Granier Deferre. Lovely but terribly pessimistic tale about two loners just looking for a little patch of peace in their lives and how outside forces propel them to their doom. I've never been a fan of Delon, he just seems so distanced (which makes him perfect for Melville's films) much of the time but he's excellent here and it may be my favorite performance of his, even more than his Rocco. Signoret is, of course, perfection and everything we need to know about her character is in her body. The background of Delon's character is never fully revealed so the massive overkill on the part of the police seems perplexing. The subdued underscore is by Philippe Sarde. With Ottavia Piccolo and Jean Tessier. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Criss Cross (1949)

A man (Burt Lancaster) returns to Los Angeles after having been away for 8 months after the break up of his marriage. But his ex-wife (Yvonne De Carlo) is still under his skin and they renew their relationship even though she's married to another man (Dan Duryea). But it's the kind of love that will destroy them all. Directed by Robert Siodmak (THE KILLERS), this film is the very definition of film noir! It's all here: the doomed hero (Lancaster), the femme fatale (De Carlo), the tough police detective (Stephen McNally), the charismatic villain (Duryea), the atmospheric B&W lensing and lighting (Franz Planer), a Miklos Rozsa score and a fatalistic ending! All packed in a taut 90 minute package. While many noir films are often a case of style over substance, Siodmak and his writer Daniel Fuchs (adapting Don Tracy's novel) shore up the narrative with an almost poignant portrait of a man so obsessed with a woman that he can't see anything else and follows her to his own doom, the film's dark ending is among the best in the genre. Remade by Steven Soderbergh in 1995 as THE UNDERNEATH. With Richard Long, Percy Helton, Alan Napier and in his film debut, Tony Curtis. 

Why Must I Die? (1960)

A young singer (Terry Moore) with a sordid past is trying to make a new life for herself when her hoodlum ex-boyfriend (Lionel Ames) and his hard hearted accomplice (Debra Paget) coerce her into helping them rob the nightclub she works at. But when the owner (Phil Harvey) of the nightclub is killed during the robbery by the accomplice, it's the singer who is arrested for the murder. This "B" movie is an obvious knock off of I WANT TO LIVE (1958). The film makes a clear case against the death penalty but it's an exploitation film at heart and if it has good intentions, they're almost coincidental. In the hands of stronger actresses, they might have given the film some weight regardless of its low budget programmer status. But Moore and Paget, while often effective in other films, don't have the acting chops to make weak material like this work. The underscore by Richard LaSalle shamelessly steals from Herrmann's VERTIGO. Directed by veteran Roy Del Ruth (ON MOONLIGHT BAY). With Bert Freed, Sid Melton and Jackie Joseph.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Shallows (2016)

A medical student (Blake Lively) makes a pilgrimage to a secluded out of the way beach in Mexico (with Australia standing in) in honor of her recently deceased mother. But while surfing, she is attacked by a shark and finds herself stranded on a piece of rock as the shark waits ... and waits. The film starts off promisingly and the director Jaumet Collet-Serra keeps the tension simmering for awhile. But alas, he can't sustain the tension or momentum that he began. It's essentially a one woman show and while Blake Lively is very good, the long (and I mean long) stretches of her suffering on the rock just aren't very compelling. A good thriller shouldn't have so much down time. Some pretty good moments but overall ... a disappointment. Marco Beltrami's flabby synth score only shows how much JAWS owed to John Williams classic score. I hated the sappy "one year later" coda. With Oscar Jaenada and Brett Cullen.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

In 1890 Paris, a struggling writer (Ewan McGregor) living in Montmartre meets a showgirl and courtesan (Nicole Kidman) at the Moulin Rouge music hall and falls in love. But she must string along a wealthy Duke (Richard Roxburgh) with false promises in order to get him to fund a show written by the writer.  An unholy mess!  A musical for people who hate musicals. Loosely based on Puccini's LA BOHEME and directed in a fevered frenzy by Baz Luhrmann. The idea of a contemporary LA BOHEME using a pastiche of well known contemporary pop songs is intriguing and full of possibilities. But Luhrmann's frantic pacing and substitution of silliness and vulgarity over wit and style undermines the film at almost every level. He teases us with the promise of a killer opening dance number, the can-can, but he refuses to let the dancers shine and strut their stuff, the camera and the editing do the dancing for them! His musical numbers assault us, Like A Virgin and Roxanne being the most egregious. Sometimes he takes mercy on us and allows the camera and the editor a rest and McGregor gets a chance to just sing Elton John's Your Song or Kidman singing One Day I'll Fly Away one gets the sense of what might have been. The acting isn't very good, Roxburgh is awful but somehow Kidman (in an Oscar nominated performance) cuts through all the crap and gives a real performance. With Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, Jacek Koman and Kylie Minogue. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Parrish (1961)

A young man (Troy Donahue) moves with his mother (Claudette Colbert) to a Connecticut tobacco farm where his mother will work as a chaperone to the daughter (Diane McBain) of a struggling tobacco farmer (Dean Jagger). But it isn't long before he finds himself caught between the farmer and a ruthless tobacco tycoon (Karl Malden) as they fight over land. Based on the 1958 best seller by Mildred Savage and directed by Delmer Daves. Daves' previous film A SUMMER PLACE (also with Donahue) was a big hit so it was inevitable that Warners would want to reunite the two to test Donahue's potential star power. Savage's novel got good reviews but the film plays out like a juicy potboiler with one major flaw. The title role needs an actor with enough charisma and a soupcon of talent that can hold the screen and that ain't Donahue. The vanilla Donahue can be acceptable when he isn't pressed to actually act but here, the demands of the role are beyond his limited ability and we're not talking Eugene O'Neill material here, more like Erskine Caldwell. Colbert is wasted and only two performers manage to make an impression: Malden's rancorous baron and McBain's spoiled rich girl.  With Connie Stevens, Sylvia Miles, Sharon Hugueny, Madeleine Sherwood, Hampton Fancher, Bibi Osterwald and Hayden Rorke.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Como Agua Para Chocolate (aka Like Water For Chocolate) (1992)

As the youngest daughter, a young girl (Lumi Cavazos) is forbidden to marry by family tradition as it is her duty to care for her mother (Regina Torne) until she dies. So the boy (Marco Leonardi) marries her sister (Yareli Arizmendi) just so he can be near her. Based on the best selling novel by Laura Esquivel and directed by Alfonso Arau. Like Esquivel's novel but unfortunately not as detailed, the film makes a connection between passion and food. There is something very sensual about a delicious well prepared meal and Esquivel ties it together with the emotional and physical passion of love. The film is a sort of contemporary fable accepting magic as a realistic part of life. For example, when Cavazos' tears drop into the pot as she cooks, when the dinner is served, the guests feel the tremendous sadness that went into the food's preparation. The film has a visual glow to it (the cinematography by the great Emmanuel Lubezki) and imparts a sense of alchemy. But because of a major blunder in the casting, the film never quite worked 100% for me. Leonardi is bland and unable to suggest any sort of passion whatsoever. The film frequently talks about fire but Leonardi can't seem to ignite anything more than a dying ember. With Mario Ivan Martinez and Claudette Maille.

The World In His Arms (1952)

In 1850 San Francisco, a sea captain and seal hunter (Gregory Peck) wanted by the Russians for poaching seal pelts on Russian territory falls for a Russian countess (Ann Blyth), herself fleeing an unwanted marriage to a Russian prince (Carl Esmond). Based on the novel by Rex Beach (THE SPOILERS) and directed by the veteran Raoul Walsh who had directed Peck in another high seas adventure the year before, CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. This is a colorful and rambunctious action/adventure that races quickly to its conclusion with a small detour for some romance and when the lady involved is the lovely Blyth, who's going to complain? About the only sour note is the all too obvious rear projection which makes the film's highlight, a sea race between Peck's ship and a rival ship captained by Anthony Quinn, less thrilling than it would have been if filmed entirely on a real ocean. With John McIntire, Andrea King, Hans Conreid, Rhys Williams, Eugenie Leontovich and a young Bryan Forbes (yes, the director).

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Pope Of Greenwich Village (1984)

A maitre d' (Mickey Rourke) with aspirations of opening up his own restaurant is saddled with a cousin (Eric Roberts) always looking for the easy way to make money which mostly means criminal activity. The cousin assures him that a plan to rob a safe is fool proof but, of course, it's not and things go horribly wrong. Based on the novel by Vincent Patrick, who adapted his book for the screen, and directed by Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE). If you can accept that the film's two main characters are scumbags and try not to be too judgmental about it, you can find the movie entertaining. Which doesn't mean it's a good movie because it's not. The film feels fake and doesn't have the authenticity that a Scorsese would have brought to the project and the film brings up more questions than it has answers. Like what does Daryl Hannah who could do better see in Rourke's low life or is Roberts' character high on something or just mentally defective etc. Roberts overacts shamefully but in a film like this, that's not necessarily a bad thing. He gives the film some much needed juice and so does Geraldine Page, who in only two scenes punches a hole in the screen. With Burt Young, Tony Musante, Kenneth McMillan, M. Emmet Walsh and Philip Bosco.