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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rehearsal For Murder (1982)

One year after the suicide of his actress fiancee (Lynn Redgrave), a playwright (Robert Preston) gathers together the surviving cast members (Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Macnee, Madolyn Smith), director (Lawrence Pressman) and producer (William Daniels) ostensibly for a reading of his new play. In actuality, his intention is to ferret out his fiancee's murderer. This extremely clever murder mystery is worthy of Agatha Christie! Written by Richard Levinson and William Link, it won a 1983 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers Of America. As directed by David Greene (FATAL VISION), the story line is good enough to keep you compelled to watch but there's a corker of a "twist" ending that I doubt anyone saw coming. Although this was an original script done for CBS television, the production feels like a play adaptation of a good stage mystery by Frederick Knott (DIAL M FOR MURDER) or Christie herself (WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION) and indeed, it has since been adapted for the stage. If, as I am, you're a sucker for murder mysteries, then by all means seek it out though be forewarned that the market is flooded with public domain copies so not all transfers are equal. With William Russ and Buck Young.    

True Grit (1969)

A headstrong young girl (Kim Darby) hires a drunken and uncouth U.S. Marshal (John Wayne in his Oscar winning role) to find her father's (John Pickard) murderer (Jeff Corey). A Texas ranger (Glen Campbell) joins up with them in the pursuit which takes them into "Indian Territory". Based on the novel by Charles Portis and directed by Henry Hathaway. Although the 2010 Coen Brothers' remake was a tad more faithful to the novel, this remains my preferred version. Not only is Wayne's performance iconic (it's really a role he was born to play) but there's a straightforward charm to the film that's absent from the Coens' film. The film's major flaw is Campbell's performance. He was a very popular singer in 1969 and makes his film debut here but he's a terrible actor and says his lines as if memorized phonetically without any concept of what he's actually saying. But other than Campbell, this is a first rate western. With Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Jeremy Slate, Carlos Rivas, Donald Woods, Edith Atwater and John Doucette.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

City On Fire (1979)

After being fired from an oil refinery, a bitter employee (Jonathan Welsh) opens valves to storage vats and floods sewers with chemicals and gasoline. Soon the unnamed city (filmed in Montreal, Canada) explodes into flames. The first half of this disaster film suffers from the incredibly inept situations and dialog and some rather poor acting. It just looks slapdash and shoddy. The second half fares better when the characters shut up and action and adrenaline kicks in. It still doesn't make it a good movie but at least the intensity kicks up several notches and it becomes very watchable. The special effects are a mixed bag, some are good and some look fake though to be fair, much of the "special effects" are actually pre-existing footage from other films and newsreels. The story lines are trite and uninteresting with the exception of a TV news producer (James Franciscus) having to deal with an alcoholic newswoman (Ava Gardner) and trying to keep her sober enough to do her job. The cheesy and noisy underscore by Matthew and William McCauley only adds to the tawdriness. Directed by Alvin Rakoff. With Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, Susan Clark, Barry Newman and Cec Linder.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Too Late For Tears (1949)

Mistaking their car for another, someone drops a $60,000 payoff into the car of a husband (Arthur Kennedy) and wife (Lizabeth Scott). The husband wants to turn it over to the police but in true film noir fashion, his money hungry wife has other plans for that money and nothing and no one will get in her way! Directed by Byron Haskin (THE NAKED JUNGLE), this is an excellent noir. I'm not much of a Lizabeth Scott fan, she's really not much of an actress but she squeezes every bit of juice out of this role! As the ice hearted femme fatale, she's one tough cookie. Hell, even the normally tough guy Dan Duryea (as the guy the money was meant for) is afraid of her and he should be! As long as the movie stays on Scott or Duryea, it's intense stuff. But when it gives time to Don DeFore and Kristine Miller in supporting roles, the picture starts to get soft. I say starts because thankfully Haskin doesn't spend any more than is necessary on them. If you're into noir, then you've already seen it but if you're not, this is definitely worth your checking it out. With Barry Kelley and Denver Pyle. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kedi (2016)

A documentary on the feral cats of Istanbul where they are not a nuisance but a very part of the city's landscape. The cats wander thru restaurants, walk into shops and stores, nap on car hoods and tap on your window so they can visit. While we would shoo them away or call animal control, in Istanbul they are more than tolerated. They give the city's denizens a chance to connect with their humanity. If you're expecting a cute cat movie, forget it. While it's clear the Turks have a great affection for their feline citizens, the film is unsentimental. We see the unpleasant side as when an abandoned kitten is killed by an adult cat, cats asserting territorial rights as well as patrolling the sewers for  mice and kittens left to fend for themselves saved by the kindness of strangers. The bigger picture is also hinted at as the landscape of Istanbul is being changed from old fashioned charm to new high rises taking over and the very real possibility as the area begins to be demolished that the cats will perish too. But for the most part, the film is a paean to the relationship between man and feline and how their beauty and independence and parceled out affection can bring out the best in us. As I said, not a sentimental movie but I have to confess that during the film's final montage of these beautiful creatures, my eyes started watering up.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mad Max Fury Road (2015) In B&W

Devastated by a nuclear war, the world is now a vast wasteland. A group of survivors are ruled by a disfigured tyrant (Hugh Keays Byrne). When a truck driver (Charlize Theron) aids a group of fashion models to escape the clutches of the evil tyrant who plans to breed them, he goes after her with everything he's got. I've already reviewed MAD MAX FURY ROAD when it opened in 2015. But I just watched director George Miller's B&W cut of the film which he prefers to the color version. As to the film itself, my opinion hasn't changed. It still retains the virtues which made it so compelling as well its flaws which are minor overall. As to the B&W, I found that it made the viewing experience even richer. It seems more stripped down and bleak as well as giving the film an even more mythological feel. Sure, there is some loss in detail with the color gone but only some and what the B&W imagery gives us compensates for the little loss. The starkness and clarity of John Seale's cinematography in B&W adds a bit of elegance which the color version lacked. It's not a matter of which is better but simply of which one prefers.

Madame DuBarry (1919)

By way of sleeping herself to the top, a young girl (Pola Negri) rises from a milliner's assistant to the notorious mistress of King Louis XV (Emil Jannings, THE BLUE ANGEL). Directed by Ernest Lubitsch, this is a sumptuous historical epic which, in fact, is historically inaccurate and totally fabricated. If there's a sense of deja vu, it's because if you switch Madame DuBarry with Marie Antoinette, then you have seen it before in the 1938 MGM film with Norma Shearer or the 1956 French production with Michele Morgan. The famed Lubitsch touch is nowhere to be found here in this rather laborious effort. As King Louis XV, Jannings has very little to do but Negri brings a bit of impish charm to her role but it's a poorly conceived concept of Madame DuBarry. As written, she's a rather shallow, not too bright girl who makes a lot of bad decisions so it's difficult to drum up much empathy for her. The production values are first rate, I'll give it that and it might have benefited from the editor's shears. With Harry Liedtke, Reinhold Schunzel and Else Berna.

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Special Night (1999)

A doctor (Julie Andrews), who's also a widow, visiting a hospice offers a lift to a man (James Garner) visiting his wife who has Alzheimer's. They get lost in a blizzard and when the car breaks down, they are forced to spend the night in an abandoned cabin. Two lonely people thrown together, it isn't difficult to figure out what happens next. Based on the play A WINTER VISITOR by Jan Hartman and directed by Roger Young. Filmed in a snowbound Montreal, this is the kind of predictable if genial drama that is difficult to get excited about one way or the other. One can't find much good to say about it yet one can't really dislike it either. Its story line is contrived and therefore totally dependent on the two leads to sell it. Fortunately, Garner and Andrews are immensely likable and talented that they effortlessly carry the movie on their shoulders. There's much to be said for charisma and professionalism. The only time the film bogs down is when it is focused on the subsidiary characters played by decent but unexceptional actors lacking the screen presence of its stars. With Patricia Charbonneau, Stacy Grant and Stewart Bick.

L'Orrible Segreto Del Dr. Hichcock (aka The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) (1962)

Set in the late 19th century, a doctor (Robert Flemyng) returns to his estate twelve years after the death of his first wife (Maria Teresa Vianello). He brings a new bride (Barbara Steele) with him but it isn't long before she realizes there's something terribly wrong going on. Directed by Riccardo Freda, this is quite a perverse film for 1962 (it was released in the U.S. two years later). Necrophilia was hardly a subject for discussion in polite society so a film with necrophilia as its theme was rather outrageous. Although the "T" has been left out of the Hichcock of the film's title, the film borrows from the master of suspense and the movie references REBECCA, SUSPICION and even a bit of PSYCHO. The film itself is an atmospheric Gothic horror (though it is sometimes inexplicably referenced as a giallo) with a nice central performance by scream Queen Steele as the put upon second wife. It's rather subtle in its creepiness. As in most films of this type, when released in America, most of the Italians were given American sounding names and Freda is credited as Robert Hampton and most amusing, production designer Franco Fumagalli is credited as Frank Smokecocks!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

In Bruges (2008)

Two professional assassins, one experienced (Brendan Gleeson) and one relatively new (Colin Farrell), are sent to the city of Bruges in Belgium to await their next assignment. But it turns out that next assignment will have dire consequences for all concerned. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (an Oscar winner for his short film SIX SHOOTER), this is a gem of a film. Balancing dark humor with intense action, the film is never less than captivating. All the more remarkable because all of the characters are pretty reprehensible on some level yet you can't help liking them, even Ralph Fiennes (who steals the film) as a sociopathic mobster. I'm still unclear as to whether Farrell's rookie hit man is dim witted or an innocent or perhaps a bit of both. Set in the fairy tale city of Bruges, the contrast of the charms of the quaint old city against the violence the hit men bring with them provide a unique narrative. Perhaps more complicated than it should be, it nevertheless provides a satisfying film experience. The delicate underscore is by Carter Burwell. With Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten, Jeremie Renier and Zeljko Ivanek.