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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Despite the objections of an engineer (Addison Richards) in charge of draining the swamps, two representatives (Dennis Moore, Peter Coe) from a museum arrive in Louisiana bayou country with the intention of locating some mummies that are allegedly buried in that area. Directed by Leslie Goodwins, this was the last entry in the Universal Mummy franchise until Abbott and Costello would meet him 11 years later. At about an hour long, it's practically over before it has a chance to start! Fortunately, little time is spent on the uncharismatic nominal romantic leads (Moore and Kay Harding). The Louisiana swamp lands seems an odd place for an Egyptian mummy so the movie always seems a bit off kilter. The high point of the film is the emergence of Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine) from the mud as the sun breathes life into her. There's something magical about that sequence but it occurs early in the film and it's business as usual after that. There's a lot of unexplained questions but it's not the kind of film where much attention is paid to logic. With Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy, Martin Kosleck and Hollywood's resident Frenchwoman, Ann Codee.   

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Loophole (1981)

After a successful American architect (Martin Sheen) living in England sees his company go bankrupt, he is approached by a businessman (Albert Finney) about a construction job. But it isn't long before he begins to get suspicious that all is not right with this new "job". Based on the novel by Robert Pollock and directed by John Quested. This is a straightforward heist movie and while not particularly fresh, it's decent enough to hold your interest right through to the end. Actually, the end is the biggest problem I had with the movie. The movie jumps from a crucial point in the narrative to about 24 hours later without  ever filling us in on what transpired. Being left out of a crucial part of the storytelling feels like a cheat! Other than that, it's well acted and moves along nicely generating just enough suspense that our attention doesn't drift. If you're partial to the genre, it's a pleasant 1 3/4 hours. Surprisingly, Lalo Schifrin (BULLITT) would seem the ideal composer for a project like this but his underscore is blah. With Susannah York in the dreaded "wife" role, Robert Morley, Jonathan Pryce, Colin Blakely and Alfred Lynch.

Women and Men (1990)

Three short stories by celebrated authors presented in anthology form. Frederic Raphael (TWO FOR THE ROAD) directs Mary McCarthy's MAN IN THE BROOKS BROTHERS SHIRT: a young Bohemian leftist (Elizabeth McGovern) encounters a married salesman (Beau Bridges) on a train and against her better judgment allows herself to be seduced by him. Ken Russell (WOMEN IN LOVE) directs Dorothy Parker's DUSK BEFORE FIREWORKS: a 1920s flapper (Molly Ringwald) finds her date with a playboy (Peter Weller) constantly interrupted by phone calls from his other women. Tony Richardson (TOM JONES) directs Ernest Hemingway's HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS: a writer (James Woods) and his mistress (Melanie Griffith) traveling through Spain come to an impasse in their relationship. As with almost all portmanteau films, it's a mixed batch. The Raphael film benefits from an excellent Elizabeth McGovern performance but the material leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. The Russell offering comes off as a one joke premise that wears out its welcome quickly. The most successful of the three is the final Richardson film of Hemingway's short story. It's a lovely if sad mood piece with fine work by Woods and especially Griffith. The underscore is by Marvin Hamlisch. 

Shinkansen Daibakuha (aka The Bullet Train) (1975)

A bomber (Ken Takakura) plants a device on a high speed train that is programmed to detonate if the train drops below 80 kilometers per hour. He demands a hefty ransom for himself and his two colleagues in crime (Kei Yamamoto, Akira Oda) before he will reveal the location and how to dismantle the bomb. Directed by Junya Sato, this is the film that "inspired" the 1994 American hit SPEED. While Sato's film is a solid effort with much to commend, in this case Hollywood comes out ahead. At over 2 1/2 hours, it's hard to keep the tension level and Sato spends a lot of excessive time giving us background. Unlike SPEED, Takakura's bomber is the hero of the film, an ordinary Joe driven to the brink by bankruptcy and an unsympathetic wife who abandons him and takes his son. He's the only character who gets a detailed background and how he came to this point in time. In the American release, his backstory was removed which caused the running time to drop under 2 hours. The passengers on the train are portrayed as hysterical buffoons and the police are incompetent to the point of eye rolling. The 1994 Hollywood film may be more cliched but it was a tight economical thriller with very little flab. With Sonny Chiba as the train's conductor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don't Give Up The Ship (1959)

A newly wed naval officer (Jerry Lewis) is whisked away from his bride (Diana Spencer) on their honeymoon by a senate committee investigating the disappearance of a WWII battleship that was under his command. Directed by Norman Taurog (BLUE HAWAII), this is a lesser Jerry Lewis vehicle. While not as inspired as his best work (usually directed by either Frank Tashlin or himself), there are still some hilarious bits scattered through out the movie like Lewis's attempt to walk through a hurricane. The honeymoon gag (he's whisked away before the marriage is consummated) gets tiresome very quickly and it doesn't help that Diana Spencer isn't much of a comedienne. I doubt non Jerry fans would be won over by it but for the Lewis fanboys, there's enough to keep us grinning. With Dina Merrill, Robert Middleton, Gale Gordon, Mabel Albertson, Claude Akins and Mickey Shaughnessy. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mutiny On The Bounty (1962)

In 1787, the HMAV Bounty sets sail from Britain to Tahiti with a mission to gather breadfruit from the island and transport it to Jamaica. The cold blooded cruelty of the ship's Captain (Trevor Howard) pushes his men to their limits and after a respite on Tahiti, the men won't tolerate his inhumanity any longer. Based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall which was previously filmed in 1935. Though the film is officially credited to Lewis Milestone, the film was started with Carol Reed (THIRD MAN) who eventually left the project. Scourged by the critics at the time of its release, I consider it the best of the three film versions (the third is 1984's THE BOUNTY). Visually, the film is more appealing thanks to Robert L. Surtees eye catching cinematography and there's a knock out underscore by Bronislau Kaper. Marlon Brando gives us a more layered Fletcher Christian than Gable: more wit, more complexity and a British accent which Gable didn't even try. Charles Laughton was a brilliant Captain Bligh in the 1935 film but Trevor Howard's Bligh isn't so black and white. The massive cast includes Richard Harris, Hugh Griffith, Richard Haydn, Frank Silvera, Henry Daniell, Percy Herbert, Gordon Jackson, Antoinette Bower and Tarita. 

Alien: Covenant (2017)

In 2104, a colonization ship bound for a remote planet seven years away collides with a neutrino (don't ask!) causing severe damage and killing some crew and colonists in hibernation. When they discover a previously unknown planet that seems susceptible to human life, they take a chance to explore it in the hopes of colonization. Big mistake! I approached this movie with some trepidation. Outside of the Bond movies, the Alien movies are probably my favorite movie franchise. Also, I loathed PROMETHEUS to the point of refusing to acknowledge its existence! Ridley Scott hasn't been in top form in years either. So I'm happy to report this is a marvelous entry in the ALIEN franchise! Scott takes a slow methodical approach to the film and it takes awhile before we get to action but the set up is crucial to the effectiveness of the film. The film seems on the verge of moving beyond the "Boo!" aspects of the franchise into something deeper and challenging but it only hints at the possibilities. After all, the Alien fans want their thrills! The ending is a downer which won't make the thrill seekers happy but I look forward to the next installment. The cast includes Michael Fassbender (in dual roles), Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Carmen Ejogo, Danny McBride and Jussie Smollett. 

Ophelia (1963)

When his father dies suddenly and his mother (Alida Valli) marries her brother in law (Claude Cerval), a young man (Andre Jocelyn) becomes obsessed with Shakespeare's HAMLET and its parallel to his life and is determined to prove they murdered his father. As directed by Claude Chabrol (LES BICHES), this is a highly stylized film. Beautifully rendered in artful B&W by Jacques and Jean Rabier, it strays easily from Shakespeare's play. Jocelyn's troubled son isn't as sympathetic as Hamlet, indeed he's a troublesome pain in the ass! Jocelyn's performance is also a bit of a mystery. Everyone else in the film acts in a naturalistic style while Jocelyn seems brittle and artificial. Not having seen Jocelyn perform before, I don't know if it's the actor or the performance. The title is a misnomer. Although called Ophelia, as played by Juliette Mayniel, she's an almost peripheral character often hovering around the edges (not unlike Shakespeare's play) and unlike Shakespeare's heroine, she isn't fragile. Actually, she's the strongest character in the film. An interesting experiment but not wholly successful. With Robert Burnier.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Aspen (1977)

After the body of a 15 year old girl is found brutally beaten and mutilated in the resort town of Aspen, a drifter (Perry King) is arrested for her rape and murder. A rising young lawyer (Sam Elliott) takes on his case but everything seems to be working against him and it will take nearly 8 years for justice to be served. Directed by Douglas Heyes, the film is ostensibly adapted from the novel ASPEN by Bert Hirschfield but in actuality it uses only the title. The film is based THE ADVERSARY by Bart Spicer although both books are credited as the source material. At 4 1/2 hours, this is an overlong soap opera. If it had stuck with the actual murder case and the trial and the years of appeals, it would have made for a compelling piece of drama. Unfortunately, it's padded out with subplots about land developers as well as an uninteresting romantic triangle involving Elliott, Jessica Harper and Roger Davis that only serve to detract. Also, is there a duller piece of white bread actor than Perry King? Fortunately, Elliott who is at the center of the story is a strong presence. The acting ranges from good to barely adequate. The large cast includes Anthony Franciosa, Gene Barry, Michelle Phillips, Joseph Cotten, John Houseman, Martine Beswick, Bo Hopkins and William Prince. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Prapancha Pash (aka A Throw Of Dice) (1929)

Set in India, two royal cousins rule in adjoining kingdoms. But one (Himansu Rai) plots the death of the other (Charu Roy) in order to inherit his kingdom. There is also the matter of the beautiful country girl (Seta Devi), they both love. Directed by Franz Osten, this is one of the unsung jewels of silent cinema. Inspired by the MAHABHARATA, it's a genuine romantic epic with shimmering visuals and an impressive sense of extravagance. The film is an Indian (Rai who plays Sohan was the producer) and German (Osten is German) co-production. Unfortunately, Osten (who lived in India) was also a member of the Nazi party which effectively put an end to his career when the British authorities interned him during WWII. But the film remains a superb combination of melodrama and exoticism with naturalistic performances by its cast that provide a richly cinematic experience. The transfer I saw has the 2008 score specially composed by Nitin Sawhney for the film's restoration and it's a beautiful piece of work that elevates the film onto another level. If you have any interest in silent cinema at all, this is a must see.