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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Los Amantes Pasajeros (aka I'm So Excited) (2013)

A flight from Spain to Mexico discovers problems with its landing gear which necessitates an emergency landing. Unfortunately, there is no runway immediately available so they must circle the skies of Spain until a runway can be found. What else to do but drug economy class into a comatose state and entertain first class with booze, drugs and sex? After his darker more serious ventures of the last few years, Pedro Almodovar returns to the zany irreverence of his early films. It's a playful Almodovar light but it proves you can't go home again. As an artist, Almodovar has moved beyond the campy antics of his early comedies and his heart just doesn't seem into it. Which isn't to say the film isn't great fun, it is. But one can't deny this AIRPORT/THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY spoof with its swishing flight attendants, romantic assassins, psychic virgins, bi-sexual pilots, blackmailing dominatrixes and horny honeymooners seems a bit tired even while you're laughing out loud. The talented cast is up for the hijinx however: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Antonio De La Torre, Hugo Silva, Javier Camara and Blanca Suarez.

The Heat (2013)

A rather uptight FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) reluctantly joins forces with a loudmouthed Boston cop (Melissa McCarthy) to bring down a drug kingpin. A rather formulaic cop buddy picture gets a makeover by casting two women in the leads. Indeed, if two guys were playing the leads, the picture would most likely do a quick fade. But the movie is lucky enough to have two actresses, who not only have great chemistry together but able to deliver the most dubious dialog with flair and style. As if sensing this is McCarthy's picture, Bullock backs off and lets her soar. McCarthy has some serious acting moments, in which she's good, in between her working out her potty mouth and kicking ass which bodes well for her as an actress since her loud broad act is starting to wear thin. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I had a good time at it but I doubt I'd be much interested in the already planned sequel, once is enough. Directed by Paul Feig (BRIDESMAIDS). With Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin (shamefully wasted), Taran Killam, Michael Rapaport, Kaitlin Olson and Michael Tucci.

Indiscreet (1958)

A famous stage actress (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with a NATO diplomat (Cary Grant) even though she knows he's married. What she doesn't know is that, in fact, he is a bachelor who uses his "marriage" as an excuse to avoid entanglements. Based on the stage play KIND SIR by Norman Krasna (who also wrote the script), this romantic comedy makes no attempt to be cinematic and most of the action takes place in Bergman's plush London apartment. The dialog is hardly scintillating nor particularly witty but I can think of worse ways than spending an evening with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman reuniting some 12 years after NOTORIOUS. There are pleasures to be had basking in their presence (these are real Movie Stars) and it's a treat to see Bergman in a rare, full out glamour role (her costumes are by Dior and Pierre Balmain). The talents of the great cinematographer Freddie Young and composer Richard Rodney Bennett are overqualified for fluff like this. Directed by Stanley Donen. With Phyllis Calvert, Cecil Parker, Megs Jenkins and David Kossoff.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Harvey Girls (1946)

When a mail order bride (Judy Garland), who has never seen her intended husband (Chill Wills), arrives in a small Arizona town, the pair realize they are ill suited for each other. So she becomes a waitress at the brand new Fred Harvey restaurant which is disliked by the town's saloon owner (John Hodiak) and his associate (Preston Foster) because it signals the arrival of civilization to the West. This bright and cheery MGM musical may not be as innovative as some of their more prestigious musical vehicles, but it's quite a congenial effort. Garland is in fine voice but the screenplay allows other cast members like Ray Bolger, Cyd Charisse (in her first acting role), Marjorie Main and Virginia O'Brien their musical moments too. The film's musical highlight is the sensational Oscar winning On The Atchison, Topeka And The Santa Fe production number, one of the great sequences in movie musical history. Outside of this film, I'd never heard of the Fred Harvey chain but apparently the film's thin storyline has a basis in historical fact. Directed by George Sidney. With Angela Lansbury as Garland's brassy saloon hostess rival, Stephen McNally, Kenny Baker, Selena Royle and Morris Ankrum.

WUSA (1970)

A down and out radio jockey (Paul Newman) takes a job with a conservative radio station in New Orleans. Politically burnt out, he dutifully spouts off the right wing rhetoric even though he doesn't believe in it. Meanwhile, an idealistic survey taker (Anthony Perkins) finds out he is being used for nefarious purposes. Forget THE SILVER CHALICE, this smug stinker is Newman's career low point! Two hours of platitudes and cliches, a "bleeding heart" liberal movie so bad that not even a liberal could love it! Sample dialog: Perkins to Newman, "You evil fool!", Newman retorts, "You cornpone Christ!". Joanne Woodward as the proverbial hooker with a heart of gold gives a performance better than the movie deserves but everybody else sinks. Perkins is all mannerisms and tics while Laurence Harvey discovers depths to his bad acting that he'd never plundered before. It's the kind of movie that when an assassination attempt is made, all the evil white bigots ruthlessly step all over each other in their race to get out while policeman on horseback beat poor black people outside the auditorium. Ineptly directed by Stuart Rosenberg (COOL HAND LUKE) with a hideous score by Lalo Schifrin. With Cloris Leachman, Pat Hingle, Wayne Rogers, Bruce Cabot, Michael Anderson Jr., Clifton James, Don Gordon and Moses Gunn.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Thirty Day Princess (1934)

While on a goodwill tour of the U.S.A. in the hopes of acquiring foreign aid for her country, a Princess (Sylvia Sidney) becomes ill with the mumps. A banker (Edward Arnold) who is funding her visit hires an actress (also Sylvia Sidney) to impersonate the Princess until she recovers. But while playing the Princess, the actress falls in love with a newspaper publisher (Cary Grant) who is opposed to the aid to her (the real Princess) country. This charming and breezy piece of comedic fluff (co-scripted by Preston Sturges) is a delightful contemporary fairy tale. Not yet quite the Cary Grant, he's well on his way but it's Sylvia Sidney who you fall in love with. It's a pity she's not as revered as many of her 1930s contemporaries (she's more talented than Crawford, prettier than Dunne, sexier than Loy) and it's a treat to see her kicking up her heels in this frothy confection rather than suffering like she did in so many of her vehicles. Directed by Marion Gering. With Edward Arnold, Henry Stephenson and Vince Barnett.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

From Here To Eternity (1953)

In 1941 Hawaii, a career soldier (Montgomery Clift) is pressured by his unit into joining the boxing team. Which he refuses to do because of a boxing accident where his opponent was blinded. Meanwhile, another career soldier (Burt Lancaster) conducts an affair with his Captain's wife (Deborah Kerr). Every once in awhile, everything falls into place (the story, the direction, the acting, the writing etc.) and you get as perfect a movie as you're probably ever going to get. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is one of those films. It's easily the best film director Fred Zinnemann has ever done. I don't think he's a particularly great director but he's an expert craftsman and his skills have never been put to better use. The acting by the five leads, which includes Donna Reed as a "prostitute" and Frank Sinatra as a scrappy soldier ill fitted for military life in Oscar winning performances, is perfect. The James Jones source material has been cleaned up which is a pity but that doesn't impede the quality of the film and to be fair, even Jones' publisher ordered certain portions of the book edited out (Maggio supplements his army pay as a gay hustler). The Oscar winning screenplay by Daniel Taradash distills the novel expertly, the expressive B&W lensing is by Burnett Guffey. The supporting cast is filled with recognizable faces: Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, Claude Akins, George Reeves, Jean Willes, Don Dubbins, Mickey Shaughnessy, Harry Bellaver and Philip Ober.

Black Friday (1940)

When his best friend, an absent minded professor (Stanley Ridges), is hit by a car driven by a gangster, a scientist (Boris Karloff) does a brain transplant. In order to save his friend's life, he gives him the gangster's brain. But this causes a Jekyll and Hyde personality as the mild mannered professor and the murderous thug fight for dominance of the body. While entertaining, this is a poorly constructed movie. Whether scientist or gangster, most of the characters behave stupidly. For example, when gangster Bela Lugosi (a minor role, but a nice change of pace role for him) holding a gun orders an unarmed Ridges to give him a case containing money, he says "Okay, come and get it". Instead of telling him to put down the case and move away ... Lugosi walks over to take the case! You can guess what happens. Also, inexplicably Karloff changes from a benevolent doctor to money hungry and manipulative crook without much explanation. Though Karloff and Lugosi are top billed, the movie belongs to Stanley Ridges. Without much make-up at all, he manages to shift between the professor and the thug smoothly and so believably that you'd almost never guess it was the same actor! Directed by Arthur Lubin (BUCK PRIVATES). With Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne, James Craig, Paul Fix and Virginia Brissac.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ethan Frome (1993)

After his mother dies, a young New England man (Liam Neeson) marries his mother's caregiver (Joan Allen). But soon after the marriage, his wife becomes very sickly and sends for a distant relative (Patricia Arquette) to take care of her. As his wife's condition worsens, the farmer finds himself attracted to the young girl. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton (THE AGE OF INNOCENCE), the film is relatively faithful to the book but the screenwriter Richard Nelson (HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON) makes the mistake of romanticizing Ethan's (Neeson) and Mattie's characters and Wharton's stark moralistic fable is anything but a romance. Bobby Bukowski's lensing of the wintery Vermont landscapes is too pretty but I suppose B&W was out of the question. Neeson and Arquette's performances are too anachronistic but Joan Allen perfectly realizes the bitter hypochondriac she plays. Directed by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) with a quietly effective score by Rachel Portman. With Katharine Houghton (GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER) and Tate Donovan.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

His Majesty O'Keefe (1954)

In 1870, an Irish-American (Burt Lancaster) decides to compete with a German monopoly in an attempt to harvest copra (from which coconut oil is derived) on a South Pacific island. The island's natives aren't inclined to do much work, however. But his industriousness mixed with his wiles and a dash of arrogance not only wins them over but he is soon declared King of the island. As far fetched as it may seem, the film is based on actual events. There really was a David O'Keefe. The film is a rather inconsequential adventure with Lancaster, once again, displaying his considerable athletic prowess. His early life as a circus acrobat held him in good stead. It's not as fun as his other adventure films of the 1950s (FLAME AND THE ARROW, CRIMSON PIRATE) but it moves quickly. The film was majestically (no pun intended) shot on location in the Fiji islands. Directed by Byron Haskin with a rambunctious score by Dimitri Tiomkin that tends to hit you over the head a bit too often. With Joan Rice, Andre Morell, Abraham Sofaer, Philip Ahn and Benson Fong.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dear Brigitte (1965)

A poet (James Stewart) is disturbed that his 10 year old son (Billy Mumy LOST IN SPACE) has no artistic or creative talent whatsoever. Instead, the kid turns out to be a mathematics prodigy! The precocious child is also obsessed with the French actress, Brigitte Bardot. This trifling excuse for a comedy is based on the novel ERASMUS WITH FRECKLES by John Haase and one would hope the book (I've not read it) offered more substance than this empty shell. I only laughed once during the film and I suppose I should be grateful even for that. The movie limps along without a clear destination and rather than end, simply expires. How does one critique a film like this when there's nothing concrete enough to discuss? Stewart is at his worst, his mannerisms intensified to the point of parody. But to be fair, the entire cast is adrift. Directed by Henry Koster (THE ROBE). The cast includes Glynis Johns, Ed Wynn (whose character has no function in the film except to talk to the audience), Fabian, John Williams, Jack Kruschen, Cindy Carol, Alice Pearce, Jesse White and as herself, Brigitte Bardot.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hakuchi (aka The Idiot) (1951)

A prisoner of war (Masayuki Mori) returns home to Okinawa after nearly being executed. But the trauma of the experience has damaged not only his body (he has epileptic seizures) but his brain. Because of this condition, he is considered somewhat feeble but his one redeeming feature is his exquisite purity of soul. Based on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, Akira Kurosawa transposes Dostoyevsky's 19th century Russia into post WWII Japan. It's an ambitious film and if it's not as well known or admired as his other films, it still ranks as one of his best. Which is not to say the film is flawless though most of the problems seem to be related to its somewhat fragmented nature. Though the movie pushes the three hour mark, Kurosawa's original cut was over four hours before the studio (Shochiku) removed over an hour from the film. Playing genuine goodness of heart is difficult to do without slipping into saccharine cliches but Mori does a beautiful job of it, even in his stillness, with nary a false note. Kurosawa elicits excellent support from the other actors: Setsuko Hara's doomed femme fatale, Toshiro Mifune as her obsessed lover and Yoshiko Kuga as the conflicted object of affection. A nicely rendered score by Fumio Hayasaka cinches it.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

World War Z (2013)

A former United Nations representative (Brad Pitt) is stuck in a traffic jam in Philadelphia with his family when all Hell breaks loose. A sudden and immense attack by infected humans whose bite turns their victims into ..... fellow zombies. A perilous and intense escape eventually allows a rescue by the U.S. government that takes them to the safety of a naval ship in the Atlantic ocean. But it's only the beginning of a zombie war that leads Pitt's character to South Korea, Israel and Wales in the hopes of finding the source and the cure for the world wide situation. Loosely, very loosely based on the novel by Max Brooks (son of Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks), the film doesn't resemble the novel much which was more interior rather than action motivated. For what the film is, it's a consuming and fervid action/horror piece. Somehow the zombie phenomenon which has gripped the country in the last few years has eluded me so I'm not zombie-ed out and it seemed fresh to me. The film has three sensational set pieces that had the audience breaking out into spontaneous applause: the chaotic first attack in the streets of Philadelphia, the stunning Israel sequence and the zombie attack on the airplane. It's not the kind of film that allows for much character development but Pitt manages to make his U.N. rep believably human rather than a standard action hero. Directed by Marc Forster (MONSTER'S BALL). With Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Matthew Fox, Fana Mokoena, David Morse and Ludi Boeken.

This Is The End (2013)

Actor Jay Baruchel is visiting Los Angeles, which he hates, in order to spend some time with his buddy actor Seth Rogen. Rogen talks Baruchel into going to a big party at actor James Franco's house where there are a lot of actor friends and celebrities attending. But what at first seems like a massive 9. earthquake, which swallows most of the party guests up, turns out to be the Apocalypse. This irreverent (and to some probably blasphemous) comedy combines outrageous satire with adolescent humor (the usual penis and urine jokes) but let's be honest. Adolescent humor can be very funny! The movie tickles your funny bone more than not and you have to hand it to its game cast for satirizing their own images, all actors playing themselves or what we perceive them to be at their worst, egos and all. I laughed a lot at its brazen silliness. Probably not for everybody but for its targeted audience, a hilarious time to be had. Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. With Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling, David Krumholtz, Channing Tatum and The Backstreet Boys.

Death Of A Salesman (1966)

A 60-ish traveling salesman (Lee J. Cobb) returns home from the road earlier than usual. It becomes clear that he is losing his faculties and the present, the past, illusion and reality interweave with each other as his condition deteriorates. One of the great American plays, Arthur Miller's beautifully written piece is frequently revived and Willy Loman, the salesman of the title, may be second only to Hamlet as the most challenging role frequently sought out by actors to test themselves. In actuality, Willy Loman is an obnoxious, blustery blowhard, the kind of man we would cross the street to avoid or make excuses not to have to be in his company. It's a tribute to Miller's great talent that he is able to make us understand Willy, feel his pain and ultimately to genuinely care about him. Lee J. Cobb originated the role in the 1949 original cast but when the 1951 film was made, the part went to Fredric March (who wasn't very good). Here, in this television production, Cobb gets to recreate his role for posterity and allows us to see how great he must have been on stage. Cobb is one of those actors (like Steiger, Scott, De Niro or Pacino) who often doesn't seem to understand that less is more but here his performance is perfectly modulated, punched when it needs to be punched, quiet when it should be quiet. Directed by Alex Segal. The first rate cast includes George Segal, Mildred Dunnock (also recreating her original stage role), James Farentino, Gene Wilder, Albert Dekker, Edward Andrews, Karen Steele, Bernie Kopell and Marge Redmond.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Swordsman Of Siena (1962)

In 16th century Tuscany, the brutal Spanish tyrant (Riccardo Garrone) overseeing the city hires an English mercenary (Stewart Granger) as a bodyguard to his fiancee (Sylva Koscina, HERCULES). Meanwhile, a secret rebel group called "The Ten" attempts to overthrow the oppressive regime. This late entry in the swashbuckler sweepstakes is unexpectedly entertaining. Its leading man (Granger) was beyond his prime by 1962 but he still was fastidiously adept in his sword skills proving all those years in those MGM swashbucklers weren't wasted. Handsomely shot in color and CinemaScope by Tonino Delli Colli (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), this appears to have been one of those international co-productions that were shot twice, once in Italian and once in English. The English language screenplay is credited to Michael and Fay Kanin (TEACHER'S PET) and the English language version is directed by Etienne Perier (BRIDGE TO THE SUN). The rather lackluster score by Mario Nascimbene could have used some punch. With Christine Kaufmann, Alberto Lupo and Marina Berti.

Baby Face (1933)

Spurred on by a Nietzsche reading cobbler (Alphonse Ethier), a small town Pennsylvania girl (Barbara Stanwyck) moves to New York where she literally sleeps her way to the top. Leaving a wave of scandal, murder and suicide in her wake, nothing will stop her ambition. One of the most notorious of pre-code cinema, this is a fascinating watch until it goes all sentimental at the end. Given her abusive past (she was pimped out in her teens by her father), it's hard to be offended by her attitude and the men are such clucks, they seem to deserve their fates. Never has Stanwyck's brittleness been used to such a strong effect, not until DOUBLE INDEMNITY anyway. It's amusing to see a very young John Wayne as the wimpy office worker Stanwyck steps on on her climb to the top. Some 4 minutes were cut from the original theatrical release before the film could get shown. Directed by Alfred E. Green. With George Brent, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Cook and the wonderful Theresa Harris as Stanwyck's confidante.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Mexican (2001)

A goof-off (Brad Pitt) working for a minor mobster (Bob Balaban in the film's only bad performance) is sent to Mexico to retrieve a legendary gun named The Mexican. But he's not the only one after the gun. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (Julia Roberts) is held hostage by a hitman (James Gandolfini) just to be sure Pitt toes the line. There's going to be a lot of dead bodies before the journey is over. Directed by Gore Verbinski when he still did small films before he becoming a mega-director via the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, this is a terrific movie that still hasn't found its audience. It's a dark comedy that balances giddy comedy, stark violence and poignant human moments. Audiences at the time were expecting a Pitt/Roberts romcom and what they got was this quirky "Road" movie where Pitt and Roberts actually have very little screen time together. It's a testament to Pitt's charm and screen presence that he makes his total dickhead so likable and Roberts' role allows her to run the gamut from silly capriciousness to emotionally charged dramatic moments. But the film belongs to James Gandolfini's (who passed away today hence the revisit) superb performance as a gay assassin who begins to question his choice of career. If the film had been a big success, an Oscar nomination would have been a given. Alan Silvestri's score is a nice homage to the spaghetti western. If you haven't seen it, it's highly recommended. With Gene Hackman, J.K. Simmons, David Krumholtz and Michael Cerveris.

Revenge (1971)

After the police release the chief suspect (Kenneth Griffith) in the rape and murder of his young daughter, a barkeep (James Booth, ZULU) kidnaps him and holds him a prisoner in his cellar with the intention of getting him to confess to the crime. But everything that could go wrong ..... does. Pedophilia is an unpleasant subject no matter what the circumstances but when it's exploited for a tawdry entertainment as it is here, one begins to feel unclean just watching it. Oh, it's undeniably effective but you want to jump into a hot bath and scrub yourself raw after it's over. The film makers are hardly subtle in their casting of the child molester, he may as well have had "Pedophile" tattooed on his forehead for their lack of refinement. As played by Griffith, he looks like a creepy, smelly troll so that I'm surprised they didn't give him a hunchback too! Released in the U.S. under the odd title of INN OF THE FRIGHTENED PEOPLE. Directed by Sidney Hayers (BURN WITCH BURN). With Joan Collins as Booth's trampy wife, Sinead Cusack and Tom Marshall.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lady Be Good (1941)

The wife (Ann Sothern) of a successful songwriting team gets a divorce from her songwriting partner and husband (Robert Young) when he becomes more interested in partying in high society than working. Since they're still in love, her best friend (Eleanor Powell) attempts to get them back together. The storyline of this musical is so flimsy that it almost seems an insult to call it a plot. Though it borrows the title and a handful of songs from the 1924 George and Ira Gershwin musical, the similarity ends there. While Sothern and Young make for a likable enough pair, it's Powell's spectacular dancing and the musical numbers that hold our attention. Powell does a terrific turn with a scene stealing terrier and highlights the thrilling Fascinating Rhythm production number (directed by Busby Berkeley) with an assist from singer Connie Russell and the dexterous Berry Brothers. Sothern does a lovely rendition of The Last Time I Saw Paris which won the best song Oscar. Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. With Red Skelton, Dan Dailey, Virginia O'Brien, John Carroll and Rose Hobart.

A Majority Of One (1961)

While traveling across the Pacific on an ocean liner with her daughter (Madlyn Rhue) and son in law (Ray Danton), a Jewish widow (Rosalind Russell) strikes up a relationship with a wealthy Japanese businessman (Alec Guinness) that leads to stronger feelings which doesn't please her daughter and son in law. This rather charming piece on healing old wounds (both protagonists have lost children in WWII) and overcoming racial prejudice was one of the hits of the 1959 Broadway season winning its star, Gertrude Berg, a best actress Tony. The film version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, clocks in at a running time of 2 1/2 hours which seems rather inflated for its slight story. But that's the least of the film's problems. Major miscasting of the leads compromises the film severely. As a Jewish mother Rosalind Russell is all wrong, she's every bit an inauthentic as Ellen Burstyn in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. She dutifully wears the gray wig, the frumpy old lady clothes and walks with a slight shuffle but when she says "messhuggah", you can't help but cringe. If they remake it, it would make a great role for Streisand. The political correctness of Caucasians playing Asian aside, Guinness is every bit as inauthentic as Russell. Unlike, say, Brando in TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON, he never suggests Japanese. With Mae Questal (who would have filled Russell's shoes nicely), Alan Mowbray, Frank Wilcox, Harriet MacGibbon and George Takei.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Elizabeth I (2005)

In the 20th year of her reign, Elizabeth I (Helen Mirren) is pressured by her council to marry and beget an heir. This provokes a negative reaction by her sometime lover the Earl Of Leicester (Jeremy Irons). Years later, she will fall dangerously in love with Leicester's son (Hugh Dancy) who has political ambitions of his own. The same year she played Elizabeth II (winning every best actress award around including the Oscar) in THE QUEEN, Mirren played Elizabeth I in this four hour HBO event. Mirren is, in a word, magnificent. While manipulating the historical facts makes for good drama, the film can't help but feel historically counterfeit. But who cares when you get a performance as rich and overwhelming as Mirren's Elizabeth I. As Mirren plays her, this Elizabeth is no archival monarch but a living breathing woman. The film is basically divided into two sections, the first dominated by her relationship with Leicester (Irons, surprisingly bad) and the second by Essex (Hugh Dancy, surprisingly good). While Mirren manages to carry the weight of part one on her shoulders (though there's a nice performance by Barbara Flynn as Mary, Queen Of Scots), part two is far more compelling as drama. Directed nicely by Tom Hooper (LES MISERABLES) with superb production values and costumes and a first rate score by Rob Lane. With Toby Jones (very good), Eddie Redmayne and Patrick Malahide.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cookie's Fortune (1999)

In a small Southern town, an old woman (Patricia Neal, the Cookie of the title) commits suicide. When her niece (Glenn Close) discovers the body, in order to save the family's name from the disgrace of suicide, she destroys the suicide note and arranges the evidence to look like her aunt was killed by a burglar. This second tier Robert Altman dark comedy may not be among his best work but it's an amiable, playful effort. He can't prevent himself from going the usual condescending to the South route but for the most part it's inoffensive (except for Chris O'Donnell's dumb rookie cop). It's Altman light and he appears to be coasting but it's still preferable to the mess that followed: DR. T AND THE WOMEN. The film is a showcase for Charles S. Dutton as Cookie's handyman but the acting honors go to Julianne Moore who gives a charming performance as Close's mentally challenged sister. The large ensemble cast includes Liv Tyler, Ned Beatty, Lyle Lovett, Courtney B. Vance, Donald Moffat, Niecy Nash and Ruby Wilson.

Juke Girl (1942)

Two migrant farm workers (Ronald Reagan, Richard Whorf), who are childhood best friends, find themselves on opposite ends of a fight between a Greek farmer (George Tobias) and the owner (Gene Lockhart) of the town's only packing company. Of all the major studios, in the 1930s and early 1940s Warner Brothers had a social conscience, at least in the cinematic sense. This middling effort, directed by Curtis Bernhardt (A STOLEN LIFE), combines a pro labor stance with an anti-mob violence cherry on top. Reagan gives one of his more effective performances as the rugged drifter always standing up for the underdog while Ann Sheridan (reunited with her KINGS ROW co-star) plays the title role, a good time gal aimlessly moving from town to town, afraid to commit to any one man. Actually, A.I. Bezzerides' (KISS ME DEADLY) script isn't half bad until the last quarter when the gripping power struggle gives way to a cliche found in the most routine of westerns, the lynch mob. The film could have used a stronger backbone. With Faye Emerson, Howard Da Silva, Alan Hale and Willie Best.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Balcony (1963)

While a political revolution rages in an unnamed fascist country with destruction and bloodshed everywhere, it's business as usual in a brothel. When some of the country's leaders are assassinated or executed, the brothel's madam (Shelley Winters) suggests to her lover, the chief of police (Peter Falk), that some of her regular "Johns" pose as government officials. Based on the audacious (for its day) absurdist comedy by Jean Genet, the film version has eliminated much of Genet's more shocking language but is pretty much faithful to the source material. As cinema, it's not particularly vital as remaining faithful to the play's roots necessitates the stylized acting, the proselytizing dialog and rigid setting. The section dealing with the whores and their customers is rather amusing most notably the Judge (Peter Brocco) and the thief (Ruby Dee) but the film weighs down with the political rhetoric of the chief of police, the Judge, the General (Kent Smith) and the Bishop (Jeff Corey) which, of course, are essential to Genet's themes. The director Joseph Strick was a specialist in taking controversial "unfilmable" works like Genet's THE BALCONY, Joyce's ULYSSES and Henry Miller's TROPIC OF CANCER and making films of them. Here, he seems content to let Ben Maddow's adaptation of Genet do the work for him, clearly a man who respects the written word. With Leonard Nimoy, Lee Grant, Joyce Jameson and Arnette Jens.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Kari Gurashi No Arietti (aka The Secret World Of Arrietty) (2010)

A lonely 12 year old boy (Ryunosuke Kamiki) with a heart condition spends the weeks before a major operation at his aunt's (Keiko Takeshita) home. He discovers a family of little people called "borrowers" who live within the walls of the house and attempts to strike up a friendship with a borrower of similar age called Arrietty (Mirai Shida), who is naturally suspicious of humans. Based on the popular classic children's novel THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton, this is another winner for Studio Ghibli. This time, Hayao Miyazaki serves only as an executive producer as well as co-writer on the screenplay. The directorial duties fall on first time helmer Hiromasa Yonebaya who worked as a key animator on SPIRITED AWAY and HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. The film provides exactly what you expect from a Studio Ghibli animated film: bright and vivid colors, finely detailed textures and compositions and lots of heart that speaks to our fancy. It's an intelligent offering that very young children can enjoy as much as adults. Joe Hisaishi didn't do the score but there's a very fine one by Cecile Corbel. I watched the original Japanese dub but the American voice actors include Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett and Bridgit Mendler.

Monster On The Campus (1958)

A college professor (Arthur Franz) doing research cuts his hand on the tooth of a prehistoric fish and thus being exposed to its blood turns into a Neanderthal ape man and begins terrorizing the campus. This rather silly tossed off sci-fi effort doesn't seem to have engaged its film makers. The director Jack Arnold has given us some choice examples of noteworthy science fiction cinema in the past such as INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON but perhaps sensing that it just isn't worth it this time, he goes through the motions. Even Sirk's great cinematographer Russell Metty seems satisfied to just give us an adequate flat B&W look. The special effects are sub par with a giant dragonfly looking like a wind up toy and the monster "make up" looks like a rubber mask. There is one genuinely shocking moment in the film however, when a forest ranger gets an ax to his face. The always appealing Joanna Moore dutifully goes through the routine horror heroine chores such as screaming, running and fainting. With Troy Donahue, Helen Westcott, Nancy Walters, Whit Bissell and Phil Harvey.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scene Of The Crime (1949)

A police detective (Van Johnson) attempts to crack a case involving the killing of another cop suspected of being on the take from bookies. This necessitates romancing a showgirl (Gloria DeHaven) to get information which doesn't sit well with his wife (Arlene Dahl), who hates him being a cop anyway. This is a pretty lifeless crime drama that's not dark enough to be called noir and not enough suspense to be referred to as a thriller. Johnson is possibly the least likely actor one would think of for a tough talking cop and while he gives it the old college try, he's never quite convincing enough though it does provide DeHaven with one of the best roles MGM ever gave her. The uneventful plot doesn't sit well with the glossy MGM studio bound treatment, it might have been better if it had gone the faux semi-documentary shot on location route of something like Dassin's THE NAKED CITY. Directed by Roy Rowland with a brief forgettable score by Andre Previn. The supporting cast is first rate though: John McIntire, Tom Drake, Leon Ames, Norman Lloyd, Jerome Cowan, Anthony Caruso and Donald Woods.

Alphaville (1965)

In a futuristic society, a secret agent (Eddie Constantine) from the "Outlands" arrives in the totalitarian metropolis of Alphaville with the express intention of destroying the computer Alpha 60 which rules the country. Jean Luc Godard's free wheeling mixture of sci-fi and film noir is quite ingenious for the most part but it can't sustain its cleverness. Perhaps it would have been better if Godard had shot it as a short film like Chris Marker's LA JETEE because after awhile it becomes repetitive without going anywhere. Raoul Coutard's superb cinematography creates a chilly eerie futuristic landscape out of contemporary Paris. It's not the kind of film where the acting matters much (and the characters are underwritten) but the craggy faced Constantine and the luminous Anna Karina manage to make their rather cipher like characters engrossing enough so that we care a bit about what happens to them. One can see elements of both 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (the Alpha 60) and BLADE RUNNER (the Constantine/Karina relationship is not unlike the Ford/Young connection) in Godard's visionary utopia. The wittily effective score is by Paul Misraki. With Akim Tamiroff and Howard Vernon.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Wonderful Country (1959)

An American (Robert Mitchum) living in 1880s Mexico is essentially a man without a country. Considered a gringo by the Mexicans yet an outcast because of a long ago killing in his own country. When he is injured running guns in a small Texas town, as he recuperates he finds himself attracted to the idea of returning permanently to the U.S. But another killing puts him back in the position he was before. Based on the novel by Tom Lea, this was a film Mitchum very much wanted to do, he's even the executive producer. One can see what attracted him to the part and it's a solid adult western with little gunplay and action sequences. Even the film's heroine (Julie London), while an adulterous wife with a promiscuous past isn't treated as a tramp and no big deal is made of the black "buffalo" soldiers who fight the warring Apaches. His slippery Mexican accent aside, Mitchum gives a tenacious performance and under the director Robert Parrish's guidance, the film accomplishes its limited goals. The handsome location photography (shot in Durango, Mexico) is credited to Floyd Crosby and Alex Phillips and Alex North provides the effective underscore. With Gary Merrill, Pedro Armendariz, Jack Oakie, Charles McGraw, Albert Dekker, Anthony Caruso and baseball great Leroy "Satchel" Paige as the head of the buffalo soldiers.

The Young Ones (1961)

When a wealthy tycoon (Robert Morley) buys up several blocks of real estate to put up new buildings, a youth club finds itself without a home. When a loophole in the lease allows them to keep the property for five more years if they can come up with 1,500 pounds, they decide to put on a show to raise the money. What the millionaire doesn't know is that his son (Cliff Richard) is the club's ringleader. While America had teenagers swooning over Elvis Presley and Pat Boone, England's equivalent was Cliff Richard who never quite caught on in the U.S. This youth musical is yet another resurrection of the old Judy and Mickey MGM musicals. The innocuous film doesn't have an original idea in its collective head. The songs are a mundane bunch though one of them, When The Boy In Your Arms was a top 10 hit for Connie Francis in the U.S. Fortunately, the choreography by Herbert Ross (yes, the future director of THE GOODBYE GIRL and THE TURNING POINT) is rousing and well done, the highlight being a terrific mambo number. Directed by Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE). With Carole Gray and, of course, The Shadows.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937)

An English visitor (Ronald Colman) to a middle European country is a dead ringer for the nation's King (also Colman). When the King is indisposed, the Englishman is talked into masquerading as the King for a night. But when the King is kidnapped, the visitor finds himself not only caught in the middle of an attempt by the King's brother (Raymond Massey) to take over the throne, but falling in love with the King's betrothed (Madeleine Carroll). This is the fourth film version of the 1894 Anthony Hope novel and it wouldn't be the last! Considered by most to be the definitive film version, it's a smooth swashbuckler that needed a livelier leading man than the stodgy Colman. Madeleine Carroll is lovely but it's a thankless role. Thus it's the supporting characters that give the movie its punch, especially Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as the untrustworthy Rupert Of Hentzau who provides the dash and the swash proving he was, indeed, a chip off the old block. James Wong Howe's cinematography is often imposing (the walk down the massive staircase) and Alfred Newman's rousing score was also re-used for the 1952 MGM remake. Directed by John Cromwell. With Mary Astor, David Niven, C. Aubrey Smith and Byron Foulger.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Spirit Is Willing (1967)

A married couple (Sid Caesar, Vera Miles), along with their teenage son (Barry Gordon A THOUSAND CLOWNS), rent a summer home in New England. But after some mysterious incidents, it becomes apparent that the house is haunted. By three ghosts, in fact: a homely woman (Cass Daley), her wandering husband (Robert Donner) and a sexy maid (Jill Townsend). I have a fondness for haunted house comedies like 1939's THE CAT AND THE CANARY and TOPPER RETURNS from 1941. But unlike those two films, there isn't a single smile much less a laugh to be had in this dismal attempt. Directed by schlockmeister William Castle (THE TINGLER), it plays out like a big screen extended version of 60s TV shows like THE ADDAMS FAMILY or THE MUNSTERS with Vic Mizzy's Mickey Mouse scoring only accentuating the fact. Sid Caesar was one of the great comedians of television's Golden Age but he never fared well on film and this role seems more suited to, say, the Disneyfied Fred MacMurray than to the inventive comic actor Caesar was. The special effects must have seemed shoddy even back in 1967. With John Astin, Mary Wickes, Jay C. Flippen, John McGiver and Jesse White.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Camp (2003)

A group of teenagers attend a summer theater camp called Camp Ovation where they put on several shows and concerts through out the summer. There's romances, rivalries and assorted "fun". Appalling! Hideous! Stunningly bad! Epic in its awfulness! This sick mutant child of FAME and GLEE (yes, I know GLEE wasn't in existence in 2003) is riddled with stereotypes (both ethnic and gay) and cliches to the point that you start groaning at every misstep. But hey, I could deal with the cliches and stereotypes if it weren't for the bogus screenplay, inept direction and amateurish performances. One can put up with the amateurishness of the musical performances, after all, these kids aren't supposed to be professionals. But with three exceptions, the amateurishness extends to the actors. One would be tempted to call them the dregs of their profession but that wouldn't be fair to them (still, there's no excuse for Robin DeJesus' irredeemably bad performance). No one could surmount the hackneyed script, a sexed up version of those Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland "let's put on a show" musicals. The exceptions are Alana Allen, Patrick Cubbedge and no surprise, Anna Kendrick (UP IN THE AIR) who miraculously resemble actual human beings. One musical number, Turkey Lurkey Time from PROMISES PROMISES is actually pretty good. The blame for this stinker falls squarely on its writer/director Todd Graff.

Where Danger Lives (1950)

A young doctor (Robert Mitchum) seems to have everything to look forward to including a promising career and a lovely fiancee (Maureen O'Sullivan). Then he meets a suicidal patient (Faith Domergue), falls head over heels and a ticket to Hell. This tightly drawn piece of deviltry takes the basic noir plot and director John Farrow, ably abetted by the great cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE), and turns it into a nightmarish ordeal for both its naive protagonist and the viewer. The screenplay by Charles Bennett plays out like a darker, more twisted version of the "couple on the run" scripts he turned out for Hitchcock like THE 39 STEPS and YOUNG AND INNOCENT. Mitchum plays against type, not the tough guy here but an upstanding everyday Joe who finds himself overwhelmed by a psychotic seductress. Domergue might have been Howard Hughes' latest protegee but she's really very good here, attractive but edgy and dangerous. With Claude Rains who makes the most of his brief role, Jack Kelly, Ray Teal, Sherry Jackson and Jack Kruschen.

Darling Companion (2012)

A woman (Diane Keaton) and her daughter (Elizabeth Moss) find an abandoned dog on the side of a freeway. She adopts the dog as a companion which helps relieve the empty nest syndrome as well providing the companionship her self involved husband (Kevin Kline) can't. But a year later at a family wedding in the Colorado mountains, the dog goes missing and it precipitates some insights, romance and adventure for the few remaining wedding guests who form a search party to find the dog. Directed and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (BODY HEAT), the film is an ensemble piece that resembles his THE BIG CHILL as six characters go through confrontations and changes laced with humor but the film seems so been there, done that. It's a conventional "safe" movie whose end is never in doubt without anything to upset or disturb us. One can't even recommend it to animal lovers since the dog is missing most of the movie. It's the kind of movie that depends totally on its cast which, luckily for us, is likable and works hard to jump start the movie. With Dianne Wiest, Sam Shepard, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass and Ayelet Zurer.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)

When an advertising agency is in danger of losing its biggest account, a lipstick brand, a struggling ad man (Tony Randall) attempts to persuade a Hollywood sex symbol (Jayne Mansfield, repeating her stage role) to endorse the lipstick. The resulting storm of publicity in which he is perceived as her lover wreaks havoc with his personal life. One could hardly call this a film version of the George Axelrod play since everything but the title and Ms. Mansfield has been tossed out. The director Frank Tashlin instead whipped up a new screenplay satirizing television, Hollywood and the advertising world. Most of its topical references are dated but if one is familiar with those references, it remains a witty and caustic barb of a movie. The film is laced with the usual Tashlin inspired visual and verbal gags (when Mansfield is referred to as the titular head of her production company, she indignantly squeals, "Don't talk dirty!"). Ironically, for a satire on advertising, Fox has its cake and eats it too as it publicizes its own films thru out the film: Randall's niece (Lili Gentle) goes to a theater showing A HATFUL OF RAIN, Mansfield is seen reading PEYTON PLACE in her bath, Mansfield's character's next film is KISS THEM FOR ME etc. With Joan Blondell, Henry Jones, Betsy Drake, John Williams, Barbara Eden and Groucho Marx.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Devil And Miss Jones (1941)

The wealthy owner (Charles Coburn, Oscar nominated for his work here) of a major department store goes undercover and works in his own store in order to discover who the agitators are that are attempting to form a union so that he can fire them. But things start to change when he becomes involved with the store's employees particularly a pert clerk (Jean Arthur) in the shoe department. This delightful comedy exemplifies what is referred to as the Hollywood "golden age" at its best. Norman Krasna's Oscar nominated screenplay manages to mix wit and charm with a progressive message and director Sam Wood (A NIGHT AT THE OPERA) easily coaxes first rate comedic performances from Coburn (whose picture this is) and Arthur. Even the vapid Robert Cummings manages to be less offensive than usual. It's not talked about as often as other screwballs from the same year as BALL OF FIRE and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY but it's every bit as good and in PHILADELPHIA's case, a darn sight better I'd say. The supporting cast is chock full of terrific character actors like Edmund Gwenn, Spring Byington, S.Z. Sakall, William Demarest, Florence Bates and Regis Toomey.

La Commare Secca (aka The Grim Reaper) (1962)

When the dead body of a prostitute is found by a river, the police round up a bunch of witnesses and suspects who were in the park where the prostitute plied her trade. Through a series of interviews, they attempt to get clues that might lead to the identity of the murderer. But as we see via flashback, the witnesses aren't as observant or as truthful as they should be. The directorial debut of a 21 year old Bernardo Bertolucci is so assured and fluid that you'd never guess it was a film by a first time filmmaker. Of course, it helped that his mentor Pier Paolo Pasolini provided the seeds of the storyline, and one would assume, perhaps some guidance on his first film. Each flashback by the witness/suspect is a short story, a movie unto itself, that are totally unrelated to the murder but give us an insight to each character from a purse snatching punk (Francesco Ruiu) to a lonely soldier (Allen Midgette). Even the prostitute (Wanda Rocci) gets her moments before she's killed. The film works just fine as a conventional murder mystery but even better as a series of life portraits. The discreet score is by Piero Piccioni.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dangerous When Wet (1953)

While peddling his health tonic across the country, a sales representative (Jack Carson) discovers a robust farm girl (Esther Williams) and talks his company into sponsoring her entry in a swimming race across the English channel. One of the better aquatic film vehicles of Williams' career, I watched it today in memory of her passing. The film personifies everything about her that made her a popular star. She sings a little, she acts a little, she has lots of sass and a strong screen presence and, of course, she swims like a mermaid. One would have to work awfully hard not to like her. The songs by Arthur Schwartz and Johnny Mercer aren't anything to right home about but they serve their purpose. The highlight of the film is probably the animated Tom and Jerry sequence where the pair swim with Williams. Fernando Lamas is Williams' romantic interest (she'd marry him 16 years later). Directed by Charles Walters (EASTER PARADE). With Denise Darcel, William Demarest, Charlotte Greenwood, Barbara Whiting, Ann Codee and Donna Corcoran.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932)

An archaeologist (Lawrence Grant) is kidnapped and tortured by the evil, power mad Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) in an attempt to find the whereabouts of the tomb of Genghis Khan. But the archaeologist's daughter (Karen Morley) takes her father's place on the expedition and guides the search party to the tomb. This silly piece of kitschy nonsense, based on Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels, is crude film making at best but its ludicrous racism (Karloff's Fu Manchu whips his followers into a frenzy with "Kill the white man and take his women!") and pre-code sexuality (Myrna Loy as Fu Manchu's sadistic daughter gets turned on by seeing a partially naked man whipped) make it a fascinating curio. Karloff seems to relish his role and Loy in her "Oriental" phase is sexy which renders them luckier than the rest of the cast who can't seem to shake off their stiffness. Asian groups, understandably, protested the film's attitude. Directed by Charles Brabin. With Jean Hersholt and Charles Starrett as the hunky but clunky romantic interest for Morley.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Princess Of The Nile (1954)

In 13th century Egypt, a royal princess (Debra Paget) secretly escapes from the palace each night and disguises herself as a dancer at a tavern. By this method, she can relay information to her people about the evil Shaman (Edgar Barrier), who keeps her father drugged and her a prisoner of the palace in order to rule the kingdom. When the son (Jeffrey Hunter) of the Caliph of Baghdad arrives, she hopes to persuade him to help rid her country of the Shaman. For a low budget programmer, the film has a vivid palette and first rate production values. Most likely because reputedly it was filmed on left over sets of bigger budgeted films like DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS and THE EGYPTIAN and cinematographer Lloyd Ahern (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) makes the most of it. Paget, the "go to" girl whenever Fox needed an exotic type like Polynesian, Egyptian or Indian, gets a couple of dance numbers though none as sexual as her snake dance in Lang's INDIAN TOMB. The blue eyed Jeffrey Hunter is as out place here as an Arab as he was as Jesus in KING OF KINGS. But as a mindless Saturday afternoon movie matinee, it's an enjoyable adventure. Directed by Harmon Jones. With Michael Rennie, Lee Van Cleef, Michael Ansara, Jack Elam, Dona Drake and Merry Anders.

Vampire's Kiss (1988)

A literary agent (Nicolas Cage) is undergoing a mental breakdown that manifests itself under the delusion that he's been bitten by a vampire (Jennifer Beals, FLASHDANCE). But is it a delusion? This invigorating mixture of horror and comedy isn't everybody's cup of tea but I find it both stimulating and mind blowing. It's just so deranged and Cage's performance is brilliant! There's often a thin line separating a bad Cage performance from a good one and he really walks a fine line here, often threatening to go just too far but inevitably pushing it to the very edge without crossing over. There's something inherently creepy and off balance in Cage (he seems to be channeling Dwight Frye here) and in his best work, like LEAVING LAS VEGAS and this, he uses that creepiness to great effect. He's both genuinely scary and very funny. The loopy storyline has some inspired moments (reputedly Cage actually ate a live cockroach in one scene, it looked real to me) and witty dialog. Still, it has a small cult following though others are, understandably, turned off by it. Directed by Robert Bierman with a darkly atmospheric score by Colin Towns. With Elizabeth Ashley, Maria Conchita Alonso (the principal victim of Cage's sadism), Kasi Lemmons and Bob Lujan.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ice Palace (1960)

Shortly after WWI, a soldier (Richard Burton) returning home to Seattle finds that his former employer (Barry Kelley) refuses to give him his old job back in order to discourage his daughter's (Martha Hyer) romantic interest in the ex-soldier. After running off to Alaska, he partners with a fisherman (Robert Ryan) in the hopes of building a cannery empire. But the next 40 years finds them embroiled in both personal and professional conflicts on Alaska's long road to statehood. Based on the novel by Edna Ferber, this wannabe epic film tries to do for Alaska what Ferber's GIANT did for Texas. I'm no fan of GIANT by any means but this 2 1/2 hour film is a cookie cutter imitation. It plods along, often jumping decades, in order to squeeze three generations (Richard Burton begets daughter Shirley Knight who begets daughter Diane McBain) of storylines. The film could have been funded by the Alaska Chamber Of Commerce for all the publicity and deference it gets. The normally impressive Joseph F. Biroc's lensing is compromised by obvious rear projection work as well as studio bound sets and Max Steiner's generic score is pretty pitiful (though he wrote a lovely Eskimo theme). Directed by Vincent Sherman. With Carolyn Jones, Jim Backus, Ray Danton, George Takei and Karl Swenson.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Les Uns Et Les Autres (1981)

Covering almost 50 years from 1936 to 1980, the film follows and intercuts three generations of four families: American, French, German and Russian and two generations of another French. A Russian ballerina (Rita Poelvoorde) gives up her career when she marries a man (Jorge Donn), who will be killed in WWII but spawns a son (also played by Donn) and a granddaughter (played by Poelvoorde). A German pianist (Daniel Olbrychski) is acclaimed by Hitler but his association will have consequences that will haunt him the rest of his life. A French Jewish couple (Nicole Garcia, Robert Hossein) are sent to the concentration camp but abandon their infant son (played by Hossein as an adult) to save him, when only she survives the death camp she spends the rest of her life looking for her son. An American band leader (James Caan) and his singer wife (Geraldine Chaplin) have children (played by Caan and Chaplin as adults) whose lives will not be as happy. A French singer (Evelyne Bouix) collaborates with the Nazis and her daughter's (also Bouix) destiny also seems as ill fated. All storylines merge by film's finale. The common thread that ties them all together is music whether as a composer, musician or performer. Claude Lelouch's (A MAN AND A WOMAN) ambitious three hour semi-musical is often hard to keep track of as the film bounces around the four narratives and having the actors play their own children is often confusing. But if you stick with it, you'll find a rich if flawed tapestry that is never less than engrossing. The songs and underscore duties are shared by Michel Legrand Francis Lai. The large international cast includes Macha Meril, Alexandra Stewart, Jean Claude Brialy, Fanny Ardant, Richard Bohringer and Sharon Stone.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

They Might Be Giants (1971)

After the death of his wife, a former attorney and judge (George C. Scott) has a breakdown and retreats into the delusion that he is Sherlock Holmes, the great detective. When his brother (Lester Rawlins), who wants his monies and estate, attempts to have him declared incompetent, the doctor (Joanne Woodward) assigned to evaluate the case bears the name of Dr. Watson. But instead of "curing" the patient, the doctor falls under Holmes' spell. Yet another throwback to those screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, this might have worked with William Powell and Myrna Loy ..... maybe. But it's another one of those films with the dubious underlying premise that the mentally ill are somehow touched by magic and that it's the outside world that's insane, not them. Scott and Woodward give it a valiant effort. Scott, in particular, never the warmest of actors is quite likable here but James Goldman's (based on his play) script lets them down. It's heavy where it should be light and Anthony Harvey's (THE LION IN WINTER) direction is of no help. Considering how disappointing it all is, the film's last five minutes are surprisingly poignant. There's a lovely delicate score by John Barry. With Jack Gilford, F. Murray Abraham, Rue McClanahan, Kitty Winn, M. Emmett Walsh, Eugene Roche and Theresa Merritt.

Crisis (1950)

A renowned American brain surgeon (Cary Grant) is on a vacation with his wife (Paula Raymond) in a Latin American country. But political tensions and a brewing revolution of its people against their dictator (Jose Ferrer) cause them to change their plans and leave the country. But they are forcibly detained and taken to the presidential palace where the doctor is ordered to perform delicate surgery on the dictator in order to save his life. But anti-government factions, lead by Gilbert Roland, threaten to kill his wife unless he allows the tyrant to die during surgery. The directorial film debut of screenwriter Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY), this is a taut compact thriller with Cary Grant in a very different kind of role. Perhaps politically simplistic, it nevertheless casts a cynical eye on both tyrants and revolutionaries, each cut from opposite ends of the same cloth. Grant shows that he could do more than just be debonair and charming and Brooks admirably restrains Ferrer's tendency to ham. The score by Miklos Rozsa is mostly a solo guitar by the Spanish guitarist Vicente Gomez. With Signe Hasso (very good as the Lady MacBeth-ish wife of Ferrer), Leon Ames and Ramon Novarro.