Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

White Cargo (1942)

In 1910 Africa, the white men working at a rubber plantation are driven to everything from alcoholism to madness because of the incessant jungle heat and boredom but most notably the half caste jungle beauty (Hedy Lamarr) who drives them wild. Based on the 1923 play by Leon Gordon by way of the novel HELL'S PLAYGROUND by Ida Vera Simonton and directed by Richard Thorpe (IVANHOE). Gordon also did the screenplay and he does nothing to disguise its theatrical origins, it's an MGM backlot Africa (what little we see of it). With the exception of the whiskey guzzling doctor played by Frank Morgan, the men in the are all insufferable and none more so than the prig played by Richard Carlson. What pushes the film into "camp" territory is Lamarr slinking around in dark Egyptian make up, speaking pidgin English in a baby voice and emoting in a manner that I assume is meant to be sexy. She finally got it right in SAMSON AND DELILAH but here she's ludicrous. It's hard to overlook the film's inherent racism and misogyny when a little sympathy toward Lamarr's half caste wouldn't be out of line. But no, she's evil and must be destroyed so the obnoxious white characters can be saved from her clutches. With Bramwell Fletcher and Henry O'Neill.

Milano Calibro 9 (1972)

After being released from prison after serving three years for a bungled robbery, a man (Gastone Moschin) is harassed and coerced into returning to a life of crime by his former boss (Lionel Stander), who believes that the ex-con has the missing $300,000 that was never found. Directed by Fernando Di Leo, this violent crime thriller is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino and it's easy to see why. Even before the opening credits, we're treated to a brutal series of beatings and murders that's still shocking to view some 40 years later! The film has a political subtext but it's buried under the body count. Curiously, the only "good" person in the movie, the police inspector played by Luigi Pistilli is portrayed as an ineffective weakling while the professional assassin played by Philippe Leroy is seen as honorable because although he is a killer, he has his own moral code that he lives by. The film's bloody nihilistic finale leaves a rather sour aftertaste. Still, of its genre, the poliziotteschi, it's a highly effective piece. With Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf (way over the top) and Frank Wolff.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Pardners (1956)

The son (Jerry Lewis) of a wealthy shipping magnate (Agnes Moorehead) runs off with a cowboy (Dean Martin) to achieve his dream of living life in the West. But the devious leader (John Baragrey) of a gang of masked bandits arranges for the greenhorn to become the town's new sheriff. Directed by Norman Taurog, this is a very loose remake of RHYTHM ON THE RANGE (1936), a Bing Crosby film also directed by Taurog. It follows the Martin & Lewis formula pretty tightly with Lewis providing the laughs and Martin the tunes although the best number in the film Buckskin Beauty is performed by Lewis, who passed away this week. This may not be the strongest of Lewis's vehicles but he and Martin's chemistry go a long way in keeping the high spirits that propel the movie forward. Lewis was one of the trues comic geniuses of 20th century cinema and he'll be missed. With Agnes Moorehead, who plays both Lewis's wife and mother, Lori Nelson, Jeff Morrow, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Jackie Loughery and Lon Chaney Jr.   

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

A mentally unstable woman (Aubrey Plaza) is released from a mental health facility after attacking a social media friend (Meredith Hagner) on her wedding day. When she discovers an Instagram celebrity (Elizabeth Olsen) with a seemingly trendy and fashionable life out in Los Angeles, she moves to L.A. and inveigles herself into the woman's life. So when a psychotic stalker hooks up with a narcissistic shallow L.A. media celebrity, it's only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan! Produced by Plaza (best known for PARKS AND RECREATION) and directed by Matt Spicer. This black comedy puts the spotlight on the social media generation. The people who have their Iphones attached to their hand and check messages every 5 minutes and even sleep with their phones. The ones who validate their lives by having thousands of "followers" and "going viral". Plaza's Ingrid is a hybrid of Travis Bickle and Adele H. She's psychotic but you can't help but feel her pain. The film is funny but the laughter often sticks in your craw. I'll be interested in others take on the film's ending which some might take as irony or even a happy ending. For me, it put the film in horror movie category. A monster has been unleashed. With O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Plaza's Batman obsessed landlord, Billy Magnussen and Wyatt Russell. 

Kurutta Kajitsu (aka Crazed Fruit) (1956)

During the summer, a group of bored and aimless young people drink, gamble, go boating and clubbing but the most innocent (Masahiko Tsugawa) of the group falls in love with a pretty young girl (Mie Kitahara), who's not quite who he thinks she is. Based on the novel by Shintaro Ishihara and directed by Ko Nakahira. This film was quite controversial in Japan when it opened because of its portrayal of the so called "Sun Tribe" youth culture. The young people in this film are of the post WWII generation who are unable to relate to the traditional Japanese culture of their parents. They justify their aimlessness by waiting for something to happen rather than actively participating in change. At its core, this is a coming of age story but Nakahira permeates the film with a sort of pessimism that reaches its apogee in the fatal finale. Kitahara's amoral femme fatale not only deceives her American husband (Harold Conway) but beds her innocent lover's older brother (Yujiro Ishihara) as well. Like Ray's REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, Nakahira's film captures youth on the cusp of change. I will say the movie has one of the worst scores I've ever heard (attributed to Masaru Sato and Toru Takemitsu), it sounds like music they would play at a Hawaiian luau. With Masumi Okada.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

China Rose (1983)

When a Minnesota businessman (George C. Scott) travels to China in search of his son (Michael Biehn, THE TERMINATOR) who went missing during the Cultural Revolution in communist China. With the assistance of his translator and guide (Ali MacGraw), he tries to unravel the truth behind his son's disappearance. A standard mystery/adventure with few (if any) surprises, this made for television movie (although it apparently was released theatrically overseas) is harmless fodder. The Hong Kong and Macao locations bring a flavor of authenticity as well as color to the proceedings while Scott and MacGraw make for an unlikely coupling. With James Hong, Dennis Lill and David Snell.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Gaudi Afternoon (2001)

Set in Barcelona, a Spanish to English translator (Judy Davis) is approached by a mysterious woman (Marcia Gay Harden) from San Francisco and offered a large sum of money to help find her missing husband. Almost broke, she is unable to resist the large sum of money but she soon finds herself caught in a web of mistaken identities, double crosses and kidnapping among a group of lesbians, transsexuals, bisexuals and drag performers. Based on the award winning mystery novel by Barbara Wilson and directed by Susan Seidelman (DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN). This quirky off kilter movie would seem ideal fodder for Seidelman based on DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN but what the film really needed was Pedro Almodovar who would have given the movie the impudent wit and madcap nuttiness it needs. While I can appreciate the film's daring (for its day) gender bending politics, one doesn't get the feeling that Sieidelman loves her spirited misfits the way Almodovar does. The film's title seems to be a homonym. It identifies the architecture of Antoni Gaudi prevalent in Barcelona but also the films' gaudy characters. The cinematography of Josep M. Civit is quite handsome as is the film's main title sequence created by Juan Gatti. With Juliette Lewis, Lili Taylor, Christopher Bowen and Courtney Jines. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

City Lights (1931)

A happy go lucky tramp (Charlie Chaplin) meets a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who lives in poverty with her grandmother (Florence Lee). She mistakes him for a millionaire and he does nothing to dissuade her and when she needs an operation, he goes to work to get the money. I'm not Chaplin's biggest fan and I can see why some are not taken with him. That being said, this is Chaplin's masterpiece and considered by many one of the greatest films of all time and I won't disagree with them. Indeed, the film is highly regarded by Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Woody Allen and Andrei Tarkovsky as one of the great films. This is Chaplin at his best, balancing pratfalls and pathos with equal dexterity. You may find yourself chuckling through out the movie but the film's final moments are among the most heartbreaking in all cinema. By 1931, talkies were in full force but Chaplin's insistence on making it a silent film didn't hurt the film at all as it was one of Chaplin's biggest hits. Even if Chaplin or silent cinema isn't your "thing", this should be mandatory viewing to anyone remotely interested in film. It's about as close to perfection as cinema gets. With Harry Myers as the drunken millionaire.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Tom Horn (1980)

A famed but notorious scout and gunfighter (Steve McQueen) is hired by a cattleman's association to investigate and deter cattle rustling. But when he becomes too good at the job he was hired to do, the association decides to cut ties with him. Based on the writings of the real Tom Horn and directed by William Wiard (mostly known for his TV episodic work), this underrated western is a sparse but straightforward film. Beautifully shot in earth tones (not a splash of red, yellow or green) by John Alonzo (CHINATOWN) in Arizona locations. The character of Tom Horn is a perfect fit for Steve McQueen in one of his last film roles. But as written, the character is problematic. He seems so complicit in his own destruction that it's hard to be sympathetic. Historically, whether he was guilty of the murder for which he was hung is still debated. The film itself is only slightly ambiguous but seems to favor the "not guilty" charge. That the film works is surprising considering its troubled history. It went through 3 directors (including Don Siegel) before Wiard was brought in to finish the film. With a deglamorized Linda Evans in her best performance as a frontier schoolmarm, Richard Farnsworth, Billy Green Bush, Slim Pickens and Elisha Cook.    

Brand (1959)

A religious fanatic (Patrick McGoohan) returns to the Norwegian mountains of his childhood where he becomes the village priest. But he is a hard unforgiving man who believes in the often cold and cruel God of the Old Testament and he places near impossible responsibility on his parishioners and even his own wife (Dilys Hamlett). Based on the play by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Michael Elliott. If an artist, like Ibsen, is great then it stands to reason that therefore everything he writes is great. But BRAND gives rise to the notion that even great writers have their off days/plays. I'll concede that BRAND probably reads better on the page than when played out on stage where it's a rather dull play with ideas on God and faith and one's duty to God are bantered about to the point of exhaustion. It doesn't help that McGoohan's performance is a really bad imitation of Richard Burton and he's played or at least comes off very unsympathetically. With Patrick Wymark and Peter Sallis.