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Friday, July 31, 2015

These Thousand Hills (1959)

A cowboy (Don Murray) from Oregon arrives in Montana and joins up with a trail herd as a bronco buster. But he is determined to make a name for himself and become an important man. He uses a saloon girl (Lee Remick) in his rise to the top but she's not decent enough for a future Senator's wife so instead he romances a respectable woman (Patricia Owens). But his past will come back to haunt him. Westerns were so prolific in the 1950s decade that many good westerns got lost in the stampede. This fine western is one of them. Based on the A.B. Guthrie Jr. novel and directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), the film is heavy with strong characterizations and a solid moral dilemma for its protagonist. It's difficult to side with Murray's character as he benefits from exploiting others while wearing the cloak of respectability. While the movie's resolution leaves some unanswered questions, the film places thought over action. Performances are fine especially by Remick as the punching bag of a brutish rancher (Richard Egan, also good) and Stuart Whitman as Murray's ill fated partner. There's a lovely title song by Harry Warren and Ned Washington that Leigh Harline incorporates into his underscore. With Albert Dekker, Jean Willes, Harold J. Stone and Royal Dano.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Strange Interlude (1932)

When a young bride (Norma Shearer) finds out from her mother in law (May Robson) that she can never have children because insanity runs in the family, she is shattered because she desperately wants a child. So she takes her husband's (Alexander Kirkland) best friend (Clark Gable) as her lover and passes their love child off as that of her and her husband. Of all the theatrical pieces that resist transitioning to film, Eugene O'Neill's STRANGE INTERLUDE would seem to be at the top of the list. O'Neill's massive Pulitzer prize winning play which runs anywhere from four to six hours (either with a dinner break or performed over two separate nights) has its characters speak what they're thinking out loud often necessitating a slight difference in speaking tone so that its audience are able to decipher when the lines are addressed to the other characters and when to the audience alone. On stage, this can be quite tricky to carry off successfully and something the film doesn't even attempt. Instead, those inner thoughts are played as voice overs. In the end, it doesn't matter. O'Neill's 4 hours plus play has been gutted for the film to just under two hours. It contains the worst ensemble acting I've ever seen in one film. Shearer is godawful, Gable is, well ..... Gable but the most egregious performance is courtesy of Ralph Morgan as the prissy mama's boy in love with Shearer. Proof positive that not everything from Hollywood's "golden age" was golden. Still, it's an appallingly fascinating curio. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. With Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Perfect Storm (2000)

In 1991, the captain (George Clooney) of a fishing boat, disappointed with his recent catches, decides to go further than he's ever gone before and he and his five man crew head out to the Flemish Cap. What he doesn't foresee is the confluence of two powerful weather fronts which make the perfect storm. Based on a true story, many of the "facts" are ignored and instead dramatic license is given full reign. The fate of the Andrea Gail and its last moments are not known and the narrative for that segment is entirely a fictional creation. But one doesn't (I hope) go to the movies believing every "based on a true story" we see. What matter is the film and after a rough half hour which is all hokey exposition in which we're introduced to the men (and their women), the film kicks into high gear when it heads out to the high seas. There it becomes a rip roaring exciting edge of your seat adventure and even if we know the tragic outcome, the director Wolfgang Petersen (DAS BOOT) keeps us involved. There is a subplot about a yacht with 3 people caught in the storm that is given short shrift. James Horner's underscore, while good, pushes too hard. The large cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, John C. Reilly, Cherry Jones, William Fichtner, Karen Allen, John Hawkes, Bob Gunton, Michael Ironside and Christopher McDonald.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Pirates Of Capri (1949)

In late 18th century Italy, the people are revolting against the oppressive rule of Naples' Queen (Binnie Barnes). But in actuality, she's just a dupe for the prime minister (Massimo Serato) who's the real power behind the throne. Meanwhile, while masquerading as a fop at the court, a Count (Louis Hayward) is known to the people as the masked Captain Sirocco, the leader of the rebellion. This is your standard generic swashbuckler, not great but not bad either. The director Edgar G. Ulmer brings a certain panache to the proceedings but the hero masquerading as a fop plot (ZORRO, SCARLET PIMPERNEL, SON OF MONTE CRISTO) gives it a sense of deja vu. Hayward has done this sort of thing before and brings a comfortable fit to the part. The movie could have used a more exciting leading lady than the nondescript Italian actress (Mariella Lotti) used here. The unexceptional score is by Nino Rota. With Alan Curtis and Mikhail Rasumny.

Starting Over (1979)

After splitting up with his wife (Candice Bergen), a distraught magazine writer (Burt Reynolds) moves to Boston to be near his brother (Charles Durning). The brother and his wife (Frances Sternhagen) arrange a blind date with a school teacher (Jill Clayburgh) but he finds he can't get over his ex-wife so easily. A departure for the director Alan J. Pakula (ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, KLUTE), this is an above average romantic comedy that really gets to the core of the emotional messiness of entering the dating arena after the break up of a relationship. The script by James L. Brooks (TERMS OF ENDEARMENT) co-written with Dan Wakefield (based on his book) is intelligent and adult. The performances are spot on. Reynolds has never been better, no one does neurotic better than Clayburgh (well, maybe Diane Keaton) and Bergen (in an Oscar nominated performance) is the real surprise here. We could use more of this stuff today. The easy on the ears underscore is by Marvin Hamlisch with the song lyrics (excrutiatingly sung by Bergen) by Carole Bayer Sager. With Austin Pendleton, Wallace Shawn and Mary Kay Place.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Malice In Wonderland (1985)

In 1944, all Hollywood holds its collective breath as archrival gossip columnists Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Taylor) and Hedda Hopper (Jane Alexander) meet for lunch at Romanoff's. Everyone expects the fur to fly but instead ..... they reminisce. This is an enjoyable romp for fans of Old Hollywood even if it is sloppy with the facts. Example: they attend a screening of I REMEMBER MAMA in 1944. The only problem is ... it didn't come out until 1948. The two actresses have a field day even though Taylor is physically miscast. Even on her worst day, she was more beautiful than the homely Parsons. Parsons as written here isn't very interesting but Hopper's story has more range (washed up actress turns into feared gossip columnist) and Alexander plays it for all it's worth. The sumptuous cinematography by Philip H. Lathrop (THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY?) gives it a rich big screen movie sheen (it was shot for television). Directed by Gus Trikonis. With Tim Robbins as a young Joseph Cotten, Nancy Travis, Rick Lenz, Richard Dysart, Joyce Van Patten and Jon Cypher. 

The Torch (1950)

Set in Mexico, when a revolutionary General (Pedro Armendariz) takes over a small town, he arrests all the village's rich men and puts them in jail pending their execution. But when he meets the fiery and spoiled daughter (Paulette Goddard) of one of his prisoners, it's instant love on his part and contempt on hers. By the end of the 1940s, Paulette Goddard who had been one of the most popular actresses of that decade found her career on the wane. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to produce this film in Mexico with a Mexican cast and crew and cast herself in the lead role. Unfortunately, she was pushing 40 and the role was that of a young foolish girl. Is there anything more embarrassing than seeing a 40-ish actress acting all coy and girlish when playing a role she's too mature for? As for the film itself, it's an odd duck beginning as a drama then turning all comedy cutesy in the middle and then getting all serious again as a medical epidemic ravages the city. Directed by the actor/director Emilio Fernandez and nicely shot by Gabriel Figueroa (NIGHT OF THE IGUANA). With Gilbert Roland as a pious priest (it might have been better if he had switched roles with Armendariz) and Walter Reed.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tangerine (2015)

On Christmas Eve, a transgender hooker (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is fresh out of jail when her fellow trans prostitute pal (Mya Taylor) gives her the news that her pimp boyfriend (James Ransone) has been cheating on her with a non-trans white trash hooker (Mickey O'Hagan). Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and she goes off her rocker determined to find her rival and teach her a lesson. This low budget movie was actually shot entirely on an iPhone on the streets of Hollywood. This isn't the stylish Hollywood of GET SHORTY, this is the armpit of Hollywood ... the section of Santa Monica Boulevard where the hookers, street people and less unfortunate proliferate. While it's refreshing to see transgender characters actually played by transgender actors, as actors, they're clearly amateurs and it compromises the film severely. It makes one appreciate Jared Leto's work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB all the more. By far the most interesting character is the married Armenian cab driver (Karren Karagulian) with a penchant for trans hookers on the side. His story could have made for an entire film by itself. But it's gritty, honest, funny, sad and in the end, it's about the strong bonds of true friendship which has the ability to heal. Directed by Sean Baker. With Clu Gulager, Alla Tumanian and Luiza Nersisyan. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Behind The Mask (1958)

After passing his exams, a young doctor (Tony Britton) is offered a job at a prestigious hospital by a well known surgeon (Michael Redgrave), who just happens to be the father of his fiancee (Vanessa Redgrave). But the behind the scenes drama at the hospital threatens to sabotage his career. Based on the novel THE PACK by John Rowan Wilson, this is the kind of movie that has been taken over by television and shows like ER and GREY'S ANATOMY. Oh, it's decent enough but fairly predictable. Plot wise, there's an interesting subplot about a drug addicted doctor (Carl Mohner), a survivor of a concentration camp, and the woman (Brenda Bruce) he jilted that stands out and there's a surprising graphic look at open heart surgery in color (way before ALL THAT JAZZ) that must be a first for cinema. It's also notable as Vanessa Redgrave's film debut. She's the love interest and it's not a complex role and though she already has a strong screen presence, there's no indication of a great talent. It would be 8 years before she made another movie and soon become one of the greatest actresses of her generation. Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. With Ian Bannen, Niall MacGinnis, Lionel Jeffries and Margaret Tyzack.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Anna Karenina (1967)

In pre-revolutionary Moscow, a young aristocrat (Tatyana Samoylova, CRANES ARE FLYING) is in a loveless marriage to a much older man (Nikolai Gritsenko). When she meets a dashing young Count (Vasiliy Lanovoy), they begin a passionate affair that can only lead to tragedy. Leo Tolstoy's classic novel has seen more film (going back to the silent era) and TV adaptations from around the world than I care to count. Most of them have their assets and liabilities but this version from director Aleksandr Zarkhi has an authenticity that sets it apart from the others. The fact that it's actually a Russian film already gives it an edge and the film gives more time to the novel's subsidiary characters, notably Kitty (Anastasiya Vertinskaya) and Konstantin (Boris Goldayev) than most versions and Karenin is a major part of the narrative rather than a third wheel to the Anna/Vronsky romance. Try as I might, I've always found it difficult to give Anna much sympathy. Granted, she's a victim of a patriarchal hypocrisy where men are forgiven their infidelities with a wink while women are branded as outcasts but she seems so intently willful in her own self destruction. Still, as film versions go this one gets it right.