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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

Tired of working for other people, three inept dimwits (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis) attempt to start their own company. But when they are taken advantage of by the head (Christoph Waltz) of a major corporation, they plot their revenge. There are pleasures to be had, however minor, in intentionally dumb comedies. For the first third of the film, I was having a moderately good time then it jumped the shark with a lame "been there/done that" kidnapping plot and the film never recovers. Bateman, Day and Sudeikis have their dumb act down to a science and they're likable enough so that their stupidity doesn't get on your nerves. But the film belongs to its supporting cast. Notably Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and especially Chris Pine as Waltz's whacked out rich brat son. They're not constrained by the limitations of the dumb act imposed on the three leads which allows them to take flight with their own lunacy. Directed by Sean Anders. And isn't it about time to retire those gag reel end credits? It's not so much that they're simply not funny anymore but the gags seemed forced as if they were planned ("Oh, this will look hysterical in the outtake reel!").

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Meteor (1979)

When an asteroid is hit by a comet, the five mile meteor spirals its way to Earth where it will collide in about 6 days. NASA frantically attempts to use a nuclear satellite to blow up the meteor before it reaches Earth but it doesn't have enough power. Even though it's the Cold War, they must reach out to the Soviet Union for help. METEOR came in at the tail end (no pun intended) of the 70s disaster movie cycle. Unlike many of the all star disaster movies, this film doesn't have a multiple character arc. Instead, it depends on its two leads, Sean Connery and Natalie Wood to provide star power while minor characters play the victims so there's not even the suspense of who will survive as these minor characters are played by unknowns and not enough character development so that we actually care about what happens to them. The special effects are remarkably shoddy, utilizing obvious stock footage. It lacks the genuine tension of a TOWERING INFERNO or the kitschy enjoyment of an EARTHQUAKE. There is a somewhat amusing contest between Brian Keith and Martin Landau as to who can give the worst performance (Keith wins by a sliver). The film attempts to avoid most of the melodrama inherent in the genre but what the film makers forget is that it's that very melodrama to wallow in that makes the disaster films work. Without it, we get an earnest effort but who watches a disaster film for earnestness? Directed by Ronald Neame without the finesse he brought to one of the best of the 70s disaster films, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. With Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Trevor Howard, Richard Dysart, Sybil Danning and Bibi Besch.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Una Breve Vacanza (aka A Brief Vacation) (1973)

In Milan, a factory worker (Florinda Bolkan) lives in near poverty with her disabled brutish husband (Renato Salvatori), freeloading brother in law (Hugo Blanco), mother in law (Anna Carena) and three children. While she is the sole support of the family, when she is diagnosed with tuberculosis, she is sent by the National Health to a sanitarium in the Italian Alps to recover. It is there, away from the poverty and parasitic family that she begins to blossom and see a different way of life. While it may not rank with his greatest films, UNA BREVE VACANZA displays Vittorio De Sica's assured grasp of the human condition in this part gritty neorealism, party swoony romance. While De Sica and his collaborating screenwriter Cesare Zavattini emphasis the plight of the working class poor and their exploitation, this isn't a political film. It fits easily into the niche of such screen romances as BRIEF ENCOUNTER, UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. Bolkan (who won the L.A. Film Critics best actress award of her work here) gives a touching performance. She has dead eyes as the film begins and as the film progresses, we literally see her come to life. A lovely if heartbreaking film. The delicate score is by Manuel De Sica. With Adriana Asti and Daniel Quenad.

Beetlejuice (1988)

A young couple (Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis) live a seemingly idyllic life in a quiet small New England town. An auto accident sends them to an early grave but they find themselves trapped in their own home as unwilling ghosts when a new family moves in. Who doesn't like a good horror comedy? I'm certainly very partial to them whether it's ABBOT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, the Bob Hope comedies THE CAT AND THE CANARY and GHOST BREAKERS or GHOSTBUSTERS. Tim Burton's creative and zany comedy was an almost instant classic when it debuted on movie screens in 1988. A lot of critics at the time complained that there wasn't enough of Michael Keaton as the title character but I think there's just the right amount of him. His manic energy keeps the movie's pulse beating but any more and he might start to wear out his welcome. In addition to Keaton, I have to single out the wonderful Catherine O'Hara who brings a wickedly superior attitude as the new lady of the house. Still, one wishes Burton could have come up with a fresher way to tie it all up. Danny Elfman provided the underscore. Also in the cast: Winona Ryder, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Jeffrey Jones, Dick Cavett and Susan Kellerman.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Conquest Of Space (1955)

A group of astronauts are in training in outer space awaiting orders to make the first moon landing. But their orders are suddenly canceled and they are ordered to proceed to Mars instead. However, the General (Walter Brooke) in charge of the mission is showing signs of fatigue and mental strain. Produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, the men behind the 1953 sci-fi classic WAR OF THE WORLDS, technically this is a well done film and the story itself full of possibilities even if scientifically it's way off the mark. However, the film is sabotaged by the horrendous dialog and performances that range from mediocre to terrible. The cast isn't even credited during the film's opening credits and one can see why. Eric Fleming (TV's RAWHIDE) fares the worst but the film's annoying comedy relief Foster Brooks isn't far behind. The special effects while crude by today's yardstick aren't bad by 1955 standards. The film aims for something resembling realism (no alien monsters) but it seems rather hackneyed. With Mickey Shaughnessy, William Hopper, Ross Martin, William Redfield, Benson Fong and Joan Shawlee.

The Public Enemy (1931)

A young thug (Frank Coghlan Jr.) engages in petty theft and as he grows into a man (James Cagney) and prohibition becomes law, he becomes a full fledged amoral gangster. As directed by William A. Wellman, this is one of the best of the Warners 1930s gangster epics. It's tough and gritty (except for the maudlin hospital scene late in the picture) and the gangsters aren't made attractive. This was Cagney's star making role and you can see why. There's a compelling presence to his unconscionable mobster that makes him attractive without being glamorized. He's not very handsome, he's rather weasel like actually but he has the bravura of the shamelessly bold. This is the movie with the iconic scene of Cagney shoving a grapefruit into poor Mae Clarke's kisser. Cagney is pretty much the whole show, not even the verging on stardom Jean Harlow can steal anything away from him. With Joan Blondell, Edward Woods, Donald Cook and Beryl Mercer as Cagney's over doting mother.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Images (1972)

The author (Susannah York) of children's books appears to be schizophrenic as she is unable to decipher reality from the hallucinations she sees and the voices in her head. The madness accelerates when she and her husband (Rene Auberjonois) go to their secluded country cottage. Heavily influenced by Polanski's REPULSION, Robert Altman's film (based on his original screenplay) is an unsettling puzzle that either works for you or it doesn't. It worked for me. Aided by his cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's suggestive camera work and John Williams' Oscar nominated atonal score, Altman whips up a genuinely creepy atmosphere where York (who won best actress at the Cannes film festival for her performance here) straddles the thin line between sanity and lunacy. Altman's script has all the actors (there are five) using the first name of another cast member. Thus York is Cathryn, Cathryn Harrison (Rex's granddaughter) is Susannah, Rene Auberjonois is Hugh, Hugh Millais is Marcel, Marcel Bozzuffi is Rene. The males are often interchanged, who York sees isn't necessarily who is there and there's a suggestion that the child Harrison plays may be a younger version of York. It does sound a bit pretentious, doesn't it? But really, it doesn't play out that way. A far better effort in the "unhinged heroine" genre than Altman's previous effort THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pocketful Of Miracles (1961)

In 1930s New York City, an old hag called Apple Annie (Bette Davis) peddles apples on Broadway. A minor gangster (Glenn Ford) believes her apples bring him luck so he won't make a move without one of her apples. But the old woman has a secret. She has a daughter (Ann-Margret in her film debut) raised in a convent in Spain who thinks her mother is an elegant society matron. When the daughter announces she's coming from Spain with her fiance (Peter Mann) and his father (Arthur O'Connell), the gangster and his moll (Hope Lange) conspire to give the old girl a make over. Based on the short story by Damon Runyon, this is the second time that the director Frank Capra adapted the Runyon story for the movies. The first attempt came in 1933 under the title LADY FOR A DAY which received Oscar nominations for best film and best director. I'll be upfront that I'm no Capra fan and LADY FOR A DAY didn't do much for me and I've always preferred this 1961 remake. It's colorful, whisks along amiably and heartwarming without being too treacly. That being said, Davis is miscast as Apple Annie. One can almost sense her discomfort in the part. Ford and Lange do fine but it's in the supporting players that the film shines with a roster of familiar character actors from Thomas Mitchell down to Mike Mazurki. But the scene stealer is Peter Falk who parlayed his performance here into an Oscar nomination (the costumes and title song were also nominated). Also in the large cast: David Brian, Edward Everett Horton, Ellen Corby, Mickey Shaughnessy, Sheldon Leonard, Jerome Cowan, Jay Novello, Frank Ferguson and Gavin Gordon.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Powder River (1953)

An ex-lawman (Rory Calhoun) puts on a badge again after his partner (Frank Ferguson) is murdered with the intention of killing the man who did it. He forms an unlikely friendship with an ex-doctor (Cameron Mitchell) turned gunfighter who's seriously ill and doesn't seem to care if he lives or dies. Based on the same source material by Stuart N. Lake that served as the basis of Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, this is an economical tight little western. Clearly a programmer that 20th Century Fox tossed out to keep theaters occupied in between their major releases, nevertheless it's a stronger film than many of their big budget offerings. Calhoun and Mitchell's characters are obviously based on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday though their names are different in the screenplay. Handsomely mounted in Technicolor and shot by Edward Cronjager (Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT), it's some 20 minutes shorter than the Ford film and thus doesn't have time to wear out its welcome. Directed by Louis King. With Corinne Calvet, Penny Edwards, John Dehner, Carl Betz and Robert J. Wilke.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

An innocent man (Vincent Price) sentenced to death for the murder of his brother escapes from prison with the assistance of a doctor friend (John Sutton). The doctor injects him with a serum that renders him invisible. The downside is that without an antidote, the serum will eventually make him insane. This was the first of three sequels that Universal made carrying on from the 1933 film of H.G. Wells' THE INVISIBLE MAN. As sequels go, it's not bad at all. Though the direction by Joe May doesn't have the assured hand of James Whale (the director of the 1933 film), it's a commendable effort with an effective story line and a solid performance by Price in the title role. Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the real murderer makes for an efficient villain. Though the film can't help but retread some of the same ground of the earlier film, the special effects are good and the movie entertaining enough to hold one's attention. Also in the cast: Cecil Kellaway, Alan Napier and Nan Grey (DRACULA'S DAUGHTER), looking like Jane Wyman, as Price's loyal fiancee.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sabrina (1954)

The young daughter (Audrey Hepburn) of the chauffeur (John Williams) to a wealthy Long Island family has been infatuated with the younger playboy son (William Holden) of the household, who is barely aware she exists. She is packed off to Paris for her education but when she returns, she is quite sophisticated and soigne and this time catches his eye. But the family sees this as a threat to the engagement (and business merger) and potential marriage to the wealthy heiress (Martha Hyer) to a sugar fortune. ROMAN HOLIDAY made an immediate international star of young Hepburn and this follow up film solidified her star status. Based on the play SABRINA FAIR by Samuel Taylor, Billy Wilder's film is an elegant and stylish adult fairy tale, Cinderella style. It's a very slight piece and its success is principally due to its three principals. Humphrey Bogart as Holden's older brother has often been criticized as miscast (reputedly he thought so too) but his rather austere presence is what makes his part and the film work. He and Hepburn make for an odd coupling but the mismatch somehow seems natural. Remade by Sydney Pollack in 1995. With Ellen Corby, Walter Hampden, Francis X. Bushman, Nancy Kulp, Marcel Dalio, Marjorie Bennett and Marcel Hillaire.

The Homesman (2014)

A lonely spinster (Hilary Swank) is self sufficient and lives alone which is an anomaly in the 19th century West. When no one else will, she takes on the job of escorting three married women (Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter), who have literally been driven mad by the hardships of the West, back to civilization where they will be cared for. She realizes she won't be able to do it alone so she saves a claim jumper (Tommy Lee Jones) from hanging under the condition he assists her in her journey. The American West has been romanticized by Hollywood for decades, giving the genre a nostalgic mystique that continues to this day. Even when the revisionist westerns of Peckinpah and Leone came in the 1960s, they didn't quite dispense with romanticism either. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout (WHERE THE BOYS ARE), Tommy Lee Jones directed, co-wrote the script and co-produced in addition to playing a leading role. Jones does not romanticize the West, indeed he gives us a western that shows what a shit hole the West could be and most likely was. It's a sparse, grim film that emphasizes the bleakness and lack of hope that the day to day life was in the West and no more terrible than for its women. It's a difficult journey for both its protagonists and its audience but well worth it. With Meryl Streep, John Lithgow, James Spader, William Fichtner, Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT) and Tim Blake Nelson in the film's only weak performance.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

This Rebel Breed (1960)

At a high school filled with racial tension and drug problems, two young cops go undercover as high school students. One (Mark Damon) passing himself off a half black/half Mexican attempts to join the black gang while the other blonde cop (Douglas Hume) attempts to join the white supremacist gang. Meanwhile, a romantic relationship between a Mexican girl (Rita Moreno) and a Caucasian boy (Don Eitner) leads to a killing. Make no mistake about it, this film is a pure exploitation flick utilizing headlines of the day to make their film "relevant". Yet there's more honesty, more realism about racial tension than in more mainstream movies at that time dealing with the subject (yes, THE DEFIANT ONES, I'm talking about you). At times, the movie veers toward the laughable sanctimoniousness of stuff like HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL as when a policeman (Gerald Mohr) lectures the kids on the brotherhood of man or when a thug (Richard Rust) force black kids to smoke marijuana to get them hooked. The 100% on location shooting on the streets of L.A. adds to the authenticity and gives the film a gritty quality. Directed by Richard L. Bare. The film was later re-issued with added scenes in a T&A version called BLACK REBELS. Also starring a very young Dyan Cannon, Al Freeman Jr., Jay Novello and Tom Gilson.

Merci Pour Le Chocolat (aka Nightcap) (2000)

A young girl (Anna Mouglalis) insinuates herself into the family of a famous pianist (Jacques Dutronc) in the belief he may possibly be her biological father. But the pianist's second wife (Isabelle Huppert), who just may be an amoral sociopath, seems to have other plans for the girl. Based on the novel THE CHOCOLATE WEB by Charlotte Armstrong (DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK), the director Claude Chabrol (LES BICHES) seems less interested in the potential thriller aspects of the film than the psychological complexities of the situation, notably Huppert's tranquil on the surface but manipulative and disturbed spouse. Though often compared to Alfred Hitchcock, Chabrol brings no tension to the setting, instead languidly taking his time to develop some ambiguous character development. Huppert's performance is a marvel, She's almost expressionless yet she manages to exude an imposing danger simmering below the placid exterior. I would have preferred a bit more intensity to the proceedings but perhaps that would have been too conventional. Also in the cast: Rodolphe Pauly and Brigitte Catillon.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Birdcage (1996)

A young 20 year old boy (Dan Futterman) and an 18 year old girl (Calista Flockhart) want to get married. But the drastic different lifestyles of their parents causes a major problem. She has a right wing politician (Gene Hackman) and a stay at home mom (Dianne Wiest) for parents while he was raised by his gay father (Robin Williams) and his drag queen lover (Nathan Lane). A remake of the French hit LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, this is one of those rare instances where the remake is just about as good as the original. Working from a sharp screenplay by Elaine May, the director Mike Nichols (who died today) has crafted a whirling dervish of a farce with an expert cast of jesters who go through their paces with assurance and aplomb. The sole exception is Hank Azaria as a Guatemalan houseboy whose performance is truly terrible. While it may not make you forget the 1978 French original, it remains an amusing piece of burlesque, broadly played but with its heart in the right place. With Christine Baranski.

Since You Went Away (1944)

It's 1943 on the American homefront as WWII wages in Europe and the Pacific. A wife and mother (Claudette Colbert) tries to keep up the morale and raise her two daughters (Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple) while her husband is away doing his wartime service. But the horrible reality of death and war can't help but intrude its way into their lives. One of the few WWII propaganda films to focus on the homefront rather than the battlefield, producer David O. Selznick (who also wrote the screenplay) takes what should have been a simple story and turns it into an epic. Pushing the three hour mark with Roadshow trimmings (Overture, Intermission and Entr'acte), Selznick's script often reeks of shameless sentiment. Notably Lionel Barrymore's Sunday sermon and Alla Nazimova's Statue Of Liberty speech. But there also moments of genuine poignancy, mostly in the scenes between Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker as a young soldier that are extremely touching. Particularly, their evening with a lonely sailor (Guy Madison) and the heartrending goodbye at the train station. Max Steiner won an Oscar for his score and it's pretty good except for his use of the sappy standard Together. The direction by John Cromwell is probably as good as anyone could do. The large cast includes Joseph Cotten, Monty Woolley, Agnes Moorehead, Hattie McDaniel, Keenan Wynn, Craig Stevens, Albert Bassermann, Ruth Roman and Dorothy Dandridge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1978)

A country doctor (Terry-Thomas) asks Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cook) and Dr. Watson (Dudley Moore) to look into the strange death of Sir Charles Baskerville, who was apparently killed (according to a family curse) by a spectral hound. He fears the new heir (Kenneth Williams) to Baskerville Hall will be the hound's next victim. This zany comedy, for some reason, is almost universally despised. I found it hilarious and laughed out loud several times. It's quite silly and wacky and not all of it works, Dudley Moore's one legged runner for example but I found its slapdash "anything for a laugh" style worked for me. The movie has some wonderfully awful puns. When a psychic medium dies, someone says "I've lost a medium rare in a world of high stakes!". Yes, it's that kind of movie. There are some parodies of famous films like THE EXORCIST and THE SEVENTH SEAL but the humor tends to be pretty lowbrow (chihuahuas peeing in your face) but it has the feel of a good Abbott and Costello movie. Directed by Paul Morrisey, the director of such Andy Warhol productions as TRASH and HEAT. The large cast, all game, includes Joan Greenwood, Denholm Elliott, Hugh Griffith, Jessie Matthews, Roy Kinnear, Spike Mulligan and Irene Handl.

Body Heat (1981)

A rather seedy lawyer (William Hurt) pursues the wealthy wife (Kathleen Turner) of a very rich but crooked businessman (Richard Crenna). Spurred on by passion and greed, they concoct a plan to murder the husband for his money. But the road to Hell is paved with unexpected twists and turns. This outstanding neo-noir, a clever updating of Billy Wilder's 1944 DOUBLE INDEMNITY, was the directorial debut of writer Lawrence Kasdan and the film debut of Turner. While it doesn't have the complexities or intricacies of CHINATOWN, the film is rich in mood and style and a killer performance by Turner, who was compared by critics to Lauren Bacall. But Turner gives us the real deal that Bacall faked. It's not all Turner's show by a long shot, she is matched every step of the way by her partner William Hurt, who plays the dupe to perfection. The cinematographer Richard H. Kline captures the muggy humidity of a hot Florida summer and John Barry's sensual score (one of his finest) propels the film forward. With Mickey Rourke, Ted Danson and J.A. Preston.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (aka The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari) (1920)

A young man (Friedrich Feher) regales a stranger with a curious story involving his friend and romantic rival (Hans Heinrich Von Twardowski), who are both in love with the same woman (Lil Dagover). At a carnival, a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt, CASABLANCA) tells him he will not survive the dawn and indeed, he is murdered in his bed. This landmark film has a justifiably exalted reputation. It's influence continues to this day and it is the most accessible example of what is referred to as German expressionism. Its plot is relatively uncomplicated but this is not a film driven by its narrative. The director Robert Wiene and his team of production designers (Walter Reimann, Walter Rohrig, Hermann Warm) have created a surreal, dream like world that disorients its audience. It's both terrifying and compelling simultaneously. Almost 100 years later, it hasn't lost any of its magic. This is a film that deserves the appellation of masterpiece. I saw it accompanied by a very effective hypnotic synth score by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky). With Werner Krauss in the title role.

She (1935)

Two men (Randolph Scott, Nigel Bruce) travel to the Russian arctic in search of the "flame of life" which gives immortality to those who bathe in its flame. It is there that they meet "she who must be obeyed" (Helen Gahagan) who rules her kingdom with an iron fist and recognizes Scott as the reincarnation of her late lover. Based on the H. Rider Haggard novel, this lavish and kitschy adventure is irresistible. The outlandish plot, the purple dialogue, the over the top Art Deco set design, the hilarious choreography (which was actually nominated for an Oscar) etc. all add up to one crazy movie! Produced by Merian C. Cooper, who hoped to duplicate the success of his KING KONG two years earlier, the film was not a box office success but has turned into a cult film in the ensuing years. This was Gahagan's only film. She entered politics and became the victim of a rather unsavory campaign against her by Richard Nixon's camp. The underscore by Max Steiner is rather impressive, one of his better efforts. Remade in 1965 with Ursula Andress. Directed by Irving Pichel and Lansing C. Holden. With Helen Mack, Gustav Von Seyfferitz and Lumsden Hare.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cat Ballou (1965)

When a young schoolteacher (Jane Fonda) returns from the East to her father's (John Marley) ranch in Wyoming, she finds that a land baron (Reginald Denny) is behind a scheme to take her father's ranch away. She hires a gunslinger (Lee Marvin) to protect her father but when he is killed by the land baron's hired gun (also Lee Marvin), she turns outlaw. This modest comedy was one of the surprise hits of 1965, winning Marvin a best actor Oscar and making him, after years in the business, a bankable leading man. It's a sweet good natured comedy, often poking friendly fun at the conventions of the western genre. While I personally may prefer other comedic westerns like THE PALEFACE or BLAZING SADDLES, it's an amiable treat. The cast all put their best foot forward (well, maybe not Dwayne Hickman) though Marvin's Oscar win does seem rather inexplicable today. Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye are two balladeers who occasionally pop up as a sort of singing Greek chorus, the songs courtesy of Mack David and Jerry Livingston and one of them, Ballad Of Cat Ballou, received an Oscar nomination for best song. Directed by Elliot Silverstein. With Michael Callan, Tom Nardini, Jay C. Flippen, Arthur Hunnicutt and Bruce Cabot.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Astonished Heart (1950)

As her husband (Noel Coward) lies dying, his wife (Celia Johnson) calls her husband's mistress (Margaret Leighton) to come over to see him before he expires. While waiting for her to arrive, the wife reflects on how and when the love triangle began. The title comes from the Bible, Deuteronomy 28:28, "The Lord shall smite thee with madness, blindness and astonishment of heart". Based on one of his one act plays featured in TONIGHT AT 8:30, Noel Coward wrote the screenplay and the film's underscore as well as playing the leading role. What might have been a decent romantic melodrama along the lines of his BRIEF ENCOUNTER falls flat in no small part by Coward's egregious miscasting. In a film about a man destroyed by passion, the rather dowdy Coward can't seem to even say his own lines with any conviction. It's hard to imagine Leighton and Johnson suffering for love of Coward when he can't summon up anything remotely resembling fervor. For example, there's a scene where a "jealous" Coward is harassing Leighton to find out about her former lovers with all the intensity of a tired schoolmaster quizzing a backward student! Not addressed is the concern that both the women are too good for him. Co-directed by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough. With Joyce Carey, Michael Hordern and Graham Payn.

Tarantula (1955)

In a small desert town, a biological research scientist (Leo G. Carroll) is experimenting with atomic isotopes on animals with the intention of creating a super nutrient that will take the place of food in the future when overpopulation overtakes the Earth. It has a side effect of making the lab animals grow much faster than normal and when a tarantula escapes from the lab, it's not long before he's terrorizing the countryside. One of many giant creature features that populated the 1950s, this Jack Arnold directed piece of science fiction is one of the better ones. The acting is sub par, the plot far fetched but the special effects are pretty neat and hold up well. It's a programmer that has probably long outlived its expected expiration date but it's good fun. With John Agar as the cardboard hero, Mara Corday as the screaming heroine, Nestor Paiva, Raymond Bailey Ross Elliott and a young Clint Eastwood in one of his earliest film roles as a jet pilot dropping napalm on the tarantula.

Turist (aka Force Majeure) (2014)

A Swedish family on a skiing holiday in France are having lunch on the terrace of a restaurant when an avalanche rushes down the mountain toward them. While the mother's (Lisa Loven Kongsli) instinct is to protect her children, the father (Johannes Kuhnke) in a moment of panic runs away leaving his family. Fortunately, the avalanche stops short of the restaurant and everyone is okay but the father's act of self preservation precipitates a crisis in their marriage. This is the first film I've seen from director Ruben Ostlund and I'm very impressed. We all would like to think we know how we would react to a given situation and we often judge others harshly when they don't meet our expectations or standards. But truthfully, no one knows for sure how they would react in a split second situation: be a hero, run like mad or freeze up and do nothing. The onus of being "the man" and society's viewpoint on masculinity are put under a microscope. Ostlund smartly laces the film with humor which alleviates the simmering tension. The excellent performances of Kuhnke and Kongsli as the married couple are exemplary. It's Sweden's entry in this year's foreign language Oscar category and it certainly deserves to among the five selected.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Shooting (1966)

An ex-bounty hunter (Warren Oates), now working in a mine, and his rather dim witted friend (Will Hutchins) are offered a thousand dollars by a rather enigmatic woman (Millie Perkins, DIARY OF ANNE FRANK) to accompany her through the desert to a town called Kingsley. She refuses to provide any more information but as the journey progresses, it is clear they are being followed by a fourth party (Jack Nicholson). Directed by Monte Hellman from an original screenplay by Carole Eastman (FIVE EASY PIECES), this low budget western had a checkered history. Never receiving an official theatrical release in the U.S., the film nevertheless garnered quite a reputation in France (Jean Luc Godard championed the film) and ran for a year in a Paris cinema. It has since acquired a large cult following and it's reputation enhanced in the ensuing years. Often referred to as an existential western, the film is sparse and bleak as it follows its ill fated characters in what seems a self defeating journey to its inevitable conclusion. The narrative provides us with as little as we need to know because it's not the plot that drives the film but the four protagonist's determined course to their destiny. Gregory Sandor (De Palma's SISTERS) is responsible for the marvelous Utah location lensing.

Alice Adams (1935)

A pretentious social climbing small town girl (Katharine Hepburn) lives with her middle class family: a simplistic ill father (Fred Stone), a nagging pushy mother (Ann Shoemaker) and an irresponsible brother (Frank Albertson). At the party of one of her wealthy acquaintances, she catches the eye of an upper class young man (Fred MacMurray) but will her "poverty" make her unappealing? Based on the Booth Tarkington novel of the same name, this is one of the 4 or 5 great performances Hepburn gave in her career. She manages to imbue her performance with a sad desperation that overrides the potential repulsiveness of her self wrapped pretentiousness, unaware that's she's better than the snobbish class she aspires to be a part of. The director George Stevens gives the project a structure and specificity that resonates with authenticity. That nightmare dinner is a classic and rings with the shock of recognition. It's a pity that the ending is a cop out. It's phoniness is hard to swallow but the studio (RKO) insisted on it so Stevens can't be blamed for it. It's both funny and heartbreaking. With a scene stealing Hattie McDaniel, Evelyn Venable, Hedda Hopper, Grady Sutton and Charley Grapewin.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gigi (1958)

At the turn of the century in Paris, a precocious young girl (Leslie Caron) is being raised by her aunt (Isabel Jeans) to be a courtesan. The girl is unaware of this but when a family friend (Louis Jourdan) stops seeing her as a child but as a young woman, plans are set in motion. Based on the book by Collete by way of a hit (non-musical) Broadway play, this Lerner and Loewe musical is near perfection. Elegantly directed by Vincente Minnelli, it sparkles and fizzes propelled by the effervescent Alan Jay Lerner (who also wrote the screenplay) and Frederick Loewe songs. Also, as exquisite as Joseph Ruttenberg's Oscar winning cinematography is, one cannot underestimate Cecil Beaton's contributions of production design and costumes to the film's success. Unfortunately, the ensuing decades have given Maurice Chevalier's opening song Thank Heave For Little Girls, so innocent in 1958, a disturbing implication which was never intended. Winner of a (then) record nine Oscars including best picture. With Eva Gabor, Hermione Gingold, Jacques Bergerac, John Abbott and Monique Van Vooren.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fright (1971)

A pretty young babysitter (Susan George, STRAW DOGS) arrives at the home of a couple (Honor Blackman, George Cole), who are going out to dinner for a special occasion, to watch their 3 year old son (Tara Collinson). But what they don't know is that the woman's homicidal ex-husband (Ian Bannen) has escaped from a mental asylum and is on his way to their house! This entry in the "babysitter alone in the house, maniac on the loose" genre is surprisingly effective for about 85% of the film, the 15% that doesn't work is the film's extenuated ending which comes across as implausible. Released some eight years before WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, perhaps the definitive terrorized babysitter film, the director Peter Collinson takes his time creating the mood and providing a nervous tension to the proceedings before going full force with the terror. Susan George does very well balancing the hysteria with a more restrained fear while Bannen pushes almost going over the top in his psycho. Harry Robertson's underscore is persuasive. With John Gregson, Dennis Waterman and Maurice Kaufman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Spanish Main (1945)

Blown off course by a hurricane, a Dutch ship carrying pilgrims crashes on the rocks of the Cartagena coast in the Caribbean. When the survivors are imprisoned by the cruel governor (Walter Slezak) of the island, the captain (Paul Henreid) and a few of his men escape and turn pirate bent on revenge on the governor. This routine swashbuckler is notable for its splendid use of three strip Technicolor and indeed, the cinematographer George Barnes (REBECCA) earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for his work. Frank Borzage (A FAREWELL TO ARMS) is at the helm and he seems an odd choice for a sea going yarn. But perhaps no more odd a choice than Henreid who seems ill at ease in the role of swashbuckling pirate. Maureen O'Hara, of course, was made for Technicolor and looks drop dead gorgeous but feisty as her character is, the distaff dueling pyrotechnics are the property of Binnie Barnes as the pirate Queen, Anne Bonney. Still, as handsome a production as it is, one can't help but wish it were just a little more fun. With Nancy Gates, John Emery, Barton MacLane, Jack La Rue and Mike Mazurki.

Abbott & Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)

Two newbie private detectives (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) are hired by a boxer (Arthur Franz) who has been framed for the murder of his manager. The boxer's fiancee (Nancy Guild) has an uncle (Gavin Muir) who has developed a serum that will render the body invisible. The boxer hopes his invisibility allows him leeway in trying to find the real murderers. After the smashing success of ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, Universal milked the idea dry and Abbott & Costello would also meet The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and here, the Invisible Man. While no where near the comedy classic of A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN, this offering has its own generous share of hilarity. Mostly in the scenes where the cowardly Costello masquerades as a boxer with the invisible Franz doing his fighting for him and no one does a double take like Lou Costello! Even if A&C aren't your cup of tea, you'd be hard pressed to keep from smiling during the shenanigans. Directed by Charles Lamont, who directed A&C in a total of seven films. Also in the cast: William Frawley, Adele Jergens and Sheldon Leonard.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ever After (1998)

In 16th century France, after her father (Jeroen Krabbe) dies suddenly of a heart attack, a feisty young girl (Drew Barrymore) is at the mercy of her cruel and selfish stepmother (Anjelica Huston). But an encounter with a Prince (Dougray Scott) may change all that. This revisionist take on the Cinderella fairy tale attempts a more realistic telling of the tale. There's no magic here, no fairy Godmother, no mice who turn into coachmen, no coach turning into a pumpkin at midnight. Barrymore's Cinderella is no victim but a determining factor in her own fate and the Prince is given a more prominent part in the story. Even Huston's wicked stepmother resists the cliched stereotype, we see the woman behind the cruel facade. Elegantly shot by Andrew Dunn (PRECIOUS) in Dordogne, France; director Andy Tennant manages to infuse a fresh perspective, adding bite and zest while still keeping the charm of the original story. It's an ideal family film in that it doesn't condescend to children and provides a strong, intelligent screenplay for the grown ups. The lovely underscore is by George Fenton. Also in the cast: Jeanne Moreau, Melanie Lynskey, Toby Jones, Judy Parfitt, Timothy West, Richard O'Brien (ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) and Megan Dodds.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Man From The Alamo (1953)

Before the final siege at the Alamo, several of the men vote that one of them should leave to warn and help their families of the impending attack by the Mexican army. The man (Glenn Ford) selected finds that he's too late and that his family has been slaughtered but he is branded a coward for fleeing the Alamo in its time of need. Though directed by the wonderful Budd Boetticher, this is a rather conventional western. Boetticher doesn't seem much interested in the material and it could have benefited from the edgy darkness he often infused into the classic films he did with Randolph Scott. It's not a bad film by any means, just nothing special. The film looks vibrant thanks to the Technicolor lensing by the great Russell Metty (TOUCH OF EVIL) who makes use of the Southern California canyon locations as well as the Universal backlot. Co-starring Julie Adams, Chill Wills (who would appear the John Wayne THE ALAMO seven years later), Hugh O'Brian, Victor Jory, Neville Brand, Jeanne Cooper and Guy Williams.

A Fever In The Blood (1961)

A judge (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), a district attorney (Jack Kelly) and a senator (Don Ameche) all have their eyes on the governorship of their state. But a juicy murder trial has ramifications that will soil the reputations of all three men. Directed by the veteran Vincent Sherman (MR. SKEFFINGTON), this is a two for one. A courtroom thriller and a behind the scenes political drama. A beneficiary of the gates opened by ANATOMY OF A MURDER two years earlier, the courtroom portion introduces abortion, nymphomania and adultery into the proceedings for a more topical feel. As we know the real murderer from the film's first scene, it's not a whodunit but rather will an innocent man be found guilty. The political melodrama is also interesting but it falls apart in an incredibly naive finale. Its "happy" ending doesn't wipe away the suspicion that our hero is just as corrupt and wrong as the opponents he denounced. With the exception of Don Ameche (in the film's best performance) in his first Hollywood film in over ten years, the cast is a who's who of Warners contract players, most of them TV regulars, at the time. In addition to Zimbalist Jr. and Kelly, we have Ray Danton, Andra Martin (UP PERISCOPE) and Angie Dickinson, wasted in a generic wife role. The above average score is by Ernest Gold (EXODUS). With Herbert Marshall, Jesse White, Carroll O'Connor, Parley Baer, June Blair and Rhodes Reason.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rashomon (1950)

In 9th century Kyoto in a mountain forest, there's an encounter between a bandit (Toshiro Mifune), a samurai (Masayuki Mori) and his wife (Machiko Kyo). The wife was raped and the husband is found dead. Those facts are not disputed. But what really happened between those three is unclear. When the stories of the bandit, the samurai, the wife and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) who watched from behind the trees are heard, each of them tells a different story. Akira Kurosawa's landmark film asked the question, "What is truth?" but the question was never answered. Kurosawa's concept (by way of a story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa) was influential enough to be usurped in the ensuing years by other films and film makers (George Cukor's LES GIRLS comes to mind). The film's wrap around framing device is rather heavy handed but it's a minor annoyance in a beautifully crafted film. Mifune is really amazing here. His animalistic bandit is like a simian creature, constantly jumping around, braying while picking bugs off himself or slapping them off. Winner of the best foreign language film Oscar. With Minoru Chiaki and Kichijiro Ueda.

Interstellar (2014)

Set sometime in an unspecified future, the Earth is dying. No longer able to sustain life, a secret NASA group has sent several manned spacecraft to find inhabitable worlds in another galaxy by going through a wormhole. With time rapidly running out, the latest and most ambitious voyage is set in motion. This aggressive space epic may be Christopher Nolan's best film, I'll have to give a rewatch to INCEPTION before I make up my mind. Pushing the three hour mark, it's clear that Nolan intended this to be a profound cinematic experience on the level of a 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY. It's not, it doesn't even quite reach the heights of last year's GRAVITY. That isn't meant as a dismissal, this is a very good film and definitely worth seeing. But Nolan crams the film with scientific gobbledygook, speeches about love and mankind, generous doses of sentiment (both sincere and twaddle) all accompanied by Hans Zimmer's bombastic underscore so that one is overwhelmed! It's not a film where acting matters much but the performances are excellent right down the line, notably Matt Damon as an unbalanced astronaut and Jessica Chastain as Matthew McConaughey's grown up daughter. It's a sensational looking and sounding film. Also in the cast: Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, West Bentley, Topher Grace, Brooke Smith, William Devane, David Oyelowo and Marlon Sanders.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

At Long Last Love (1975)

A spoiled cash strapped heiress (Cybill Shepherd) hooks up with a gambler (Duilio Del Prete) while a carefree millionaire (Burt Reynolds) hooks up with her schoolgirl friend, now a Broadway musical comedy star (Madeline Kahn). But it isn't long before before they switch partners which has some unexpected results. On paper, this must have looked good. A loving homage to both the screwball comedies and musicals of the 1930s. Alas, the end result is a misguided mess. The director Peter Bogdanovich's previous attempt at resuscitating the screwball comedy WHAT'S UP DOC? didn't show a talent for the genre and he doesn't here either. The Cole Porter songs seem arbitrarily shoe horned into the plotless narrative and most of the actors are so adrift, one almost feels sorry for them. Burt Reynolds (I'm not sure if he's channeling Cary Grant or William Powell) fares the worst: he confuses smugness for charm, has no singing ability and his "dancing" is better left ignored. Shepherd's singing voice isn't bad at all but she lacks the grace and appeal of a Ginger Rogers. Del Prete's lack of command of the English language renders him unappealing. Only Madeline Kahn (who has the best number, Find Me A Primitive Man) suggests what the film might have been like if cast correctly and directed with more style. Still, kudos to Gene Allen's exquisite Art Deco production design and Bobbie Mannix's perfect period costumes. With Eileen Brennan (too abrasive), Mildred Natwick and John Hillerman.

Dark Mountain (1944)

When a young bride (Ellen Drew) finds out her new husband (Regis Toomey) deals in stolen goods and is wanted for murder, she runs off to her ex-boyfriend (Robert Lowery), who is a mountain forest ranger, to hide. But the racketeer has no intention of his wife leaving him. This low budget programmer is barely an hour long which doesn't give it much time to wear out its welcome. It's quick and efficient and moderately entertaining if one isn't too demanding but it's not the kind of film that demands much. Lowery is stalwart, Drew is lovely and Toomey gets a chance to play a rugged villain instead the cop for a change. Competently if unimaginatively directed by William Berke. With Elisha Cook Jr. doing his usual weak gunsel and Eddie Quillan provides the comic relief.

Club Paradise (1986)

A Chicago fireman (Robin Williams) uses his disability money to invest in some island property in the Caribbean. He partners with a local reggae musician (Jimmy Cliff, THE HARDER THEY COME) to create an informal hotel for tourists called Club Paradise. But a land developer (Brian Doyle Murray) plots with the island's prime minister (Adolph Caesar, THE COLOR PURPLE) to take over their property and turn it into expensive condominiums. This good natured comedy is highly uneven. The jokes are tossed at you left and right in the hopes that some of them stick and, of course, many of them do. The film features an excellent group of comic actors (mostly in the supporting roles) that work hard and seem so eager to please that the result is rather charming. Chief among them Andrea Martin in overdrive as an adventurous housewife looking for excitement on vacation with her rather dull husband (Steven Kampmann). The lush tropical location is an added bonus and lovingly photographed by Peter Hannan. Directed by Harold Ramis (GROUNDHOG DAY). The large cast includes Peter O'Toole, Rick Moranis, Twiggy, Joanna Cassidy, Eugene Levy and Bruce McGill.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Test Pilot (1938)

A brash devil may care test pilot (Clark Gable) makes a forced landing on a Kansas farm where he meets a young woman (Myrna Loy). They rush into a marriage. But she seems ill prepared for the life of a flyer's wife and the waiting each time he test flies a plane and wondering if he'll make it back alive. As directed by Victor Fleming (THE WIZARD OF OZ), the film only comes alive in the aerial sequences even if much of it is model airplanes flying against a projected backdrop. On the ground, it's a tedious domestic drama and at a two hour running time, it takes up most of the film's narrative. Fortunately, the film has three charismatic actors (real Movie Stars) at the core of the film and this helps alleviate the banality of the plot. Poor Loy fares the worst in one of those hand wringing wives parts, putting on a brave face as her hubby flies off into the wild blue yonder all the while dying inside. Gable is fine as long as he doesn't try to act (his drunk scene is pretty bad) which leaves Spencer Tracy as Gable's best buddy and mechanic to take the acting honors. If you're a fan of the three actors, you'll probably enjoy it. If you're not, it's a slog. With Lionel Barrymore, Virginia Grey and Gloria Holden.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Big Combo (1955)

A police detective (Cornel Wilde) is obsessed with bringing a ruthless gangster (Richard Conte) to justice. His biggest hope is to encourage the mobster's unhappy mistress (Jean Wallace) to leave him and give evidence against him. This atmospheric film noir is a triumph of style over substance. Philip Yordan's script is serviceable though some of the dialog is clunky but the director Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY) and his ace cinematographer John Alton (ELMER GANTRY) transform the functional screenplay into a stylish, nasty and shadowy pulp thriller that belies its "B" movie roots. The movie pushes the envelope not only with its violence but sexuality. Notably, Conte performing a sex act on Wallace and the film's barely concealed gay lovers (Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman) who work as Conte's thuggish henchmen. David Raksin's jazzy underscore is also a big plus. With Brian Donlevy, Helen Walker, Robert Middleton, John Hoyt, Ted De Corsia, Jay Adler and Helene Stanton.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Redhead From Wyoming (1953)

An ambitious con man (William Bishop) with his eye on the governorship of Wyoming plots a range war between a cattle baron (Alexander Scourby) and homesteaders. To this end, he manipulates his ex-flame (Maureen O'Hara) into hiding rustled cattle among her own cattle against her will. There's nothing about this routine programmer to make it stand out from the countless other Universal Technicolor westerns of the 1950s. At an hour and twenty minutes, it moves quickly and it's a painless watch. O'Hara wasn't called the "Queen Of Technicolor" for nothing and she looks terrific in her colorful Edward Stevenson costumes and the Winston C. Hoch (THE SEARCHERS) handsome lensing makes Southern California look like wide open Wyoming territory. There's not much the director Lee Sholem can do except guide the actors through their paces though he does manage to whip up a well done shoot 'em up finale. With Alex Nicol as the sheriff and O'Hara's love interest, Dennis Weaver, Jack Kelly, Jeanne Cooper and Robert Strauss.

Anchors Aweigh (1945)

Two sailors (Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra) on leave in Hollywood meet up with an aspiring singer (Kathryn Grayson of the heart shaped mouth) and her nephew (Dean Stockwell). In order to impress her, they tell her they've gotten her an audition with the conductor Jose Iturbi (as himself) which, in fact, they haven't. This typically bright and shiny Technicolor MGM musical has some verve and vigor when it isn't being bogged down by Grayson's high pitch shrill trills or some of the more maudlin sequences involving young Stockwell. Kelly (in his only Oscar nominated role) and Sinatra have a wonderful chemistry (they would go on to do two more films together), their song and dance duet I Begged Her is one of the film's several highlights including the classic Kelly dance with Jerry the animated mouse. Sinatra gets to introduce the standard I Fall In Love Too Easily and Grayson even manages to restrain from shrieking and does a lovely quiet rendition of All Of A Sudden My Heart Sings. The film passes the two hour mark which is way too long for a piece of fluff like this. Directed by George Sidney (BYE BYE BIRDIE). Also in the cast: Pamela Britton, Leon Ames and Rags Ragland.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Delicate Balance (1973)

An affluent man (Paul Scofield) and his wife (Katharine Hepburn) live in an upper class neighborhood with her alcoholic sister (Kate Reid). But soon three visitors descend upon them. Their spoiled daughter (Lee Remick) going through her fourth divorce and their best friends (Joseph Cotten, Betsy Blair) who suddenly appear in a state of terror and refuse to go back home. Edward Albee's Pulitzer winning play has been transferred to the screen intact with no concessions to cinema. It's a filmed play, pure and simple. Like his most famous work WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Albee's filmed play is somewhat intangible. There's something unspoken hovering around the proceedings and the unnamed terror that drove their best friends away from their home serves a similar purpose to George and Martha's child in VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a catalyst to expose truths that have been buried too long. As expected, the acting is excellent with Reid, making the most of Albee's pungent dialog, a particular stand out. Directed by Tony Richardson (TOM JONES). If you're not a fan of filmed theater (I like filmed theater), you may have problems with it but I think it's good enough to overcome one's hesitancy.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Impasse (1969)

An American adventurer (Burt Reynolds) living in the Philippines hatches up a plan to steal three million dollars in gold hidden by the army during WWII. But when one of the key players (Clarke Gordon) goes missing, it puts the heist in jeopardy so he must track down the man first. This film must have been a tax write off for somebody. In the 1960s, the Philippines were a popular place to make quickie low budget movies with a couple of American stars and a Filipino cast and crew. CRY OF BATTLE with Van Heflin and Rita Moreno, SAMAR with George Montgomery and Gilbert Roland and MISSION BATANGAS with Vera Miles are three others that spring to mind. They were programmers that quickly vanished or played the lower half of a double bill. The film seems split in half, the first hour devoted to the search for the missing man and the second half, hunting down the gold and the heist. But for a thriller, the film drags which is fatal and the narrative bogged down with irrelevant characters who just waste the story's time. Like the American hippie played by Joanne Dalsass whose character seems to have walked in from some American International flick. The picture is held together (barely) by Reynolds whose ascent to stardom was still a few years away and the always welcome Anne Francis as the missing man's daughter. Directed by Richard Benedict. With Lyle Bettger, Jeff Corey, Rodolfo Acosta and Miko Mayama.

Under The Yum Yum Tree (1963)

A college student (Carol Lynley) insists that she and her boyfriend (Dean Jones, recreating his stage role) move in together platonically to test their relationship before getting married. Meanwhile, her lecherous landlord (Jack Lemmon) plots to seduce her. Sex comedies, usually adapted from Broadway plays as this one was, were very popular in the late 1950s/early 1960s. Very few of them hold up well today and this one with Lemmon's satyr leering and panting over nubile young things, sexual innuendo, snickering and the scandalous (for 1963) notion of two people of the opposite sex living together without benefit of marriage seems as tame as an episode of THREE'S COMPANY. Lemmon's character is particularly unsavory and today would be inundated with sexual harassment lawsuits. The real stars of the film are a scene stealing ginger cat and Dale Hennesy's marvelous California Spanish apartment building set. Outside of the scene stealing feline, laughs are near non existent. Directed by David Swift (THE PARENT TRAP). With Edie Adams, Imogene Coca, Paul Lynde, Robert Lansing and Joy Harmon.

Nightcrawler (2014)

A functioning sociopath (Jake Gyllenhaal) accidentally runs across a free lance video "journalist" shooting a bloody auto accident and discovers money can be made from such a career. He purchases a cheap camera and a police radio scanner and haunts crime scenes until he gets something he can sell. When the news director (Rene Russo, back and in great form) at a low rated local TV station buys the footage and encourages him, he becomes more successful until one day he crosses a line and once crossed can only lead down a path darkly! The directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy (THE BOURNE LEGACY), this is a disturbing yet slyly comic look at the media's obsession for being the first to break news and their appetite for graphic images as well as lack of ethical and moral scruples. The film is set in Los Angeles (several local news anchors play themselves) and truth to tell, I can't imagine this film being set in any city other than L.A. Gyllenhaal gives a bravura performance, possibly the most fascinating and disturbing sociopath since TAXI DRIVER's Travis Bickle. Gyllenhaal's lost his muscular build and his blank face and monotonous voice has an air of the living dead about him, even his smile is unintentionally creepy! Definitely one of the stronger American films of the year. With Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Broadcast News (1987)

A rather self righteous perfectionist (Holly Hunter) works as a television news producer at a Washington D.C. station. When a handsome but inexperienced sports reporter (William Hurt) is hired to anchor the evening news because of his charisma and good looks, she bristles. But she cant' fight her attraction to him. James L. Brooks' follow up to his award winning directorial film debut TERMS OF ENDEARMENT is an ingenious, if at times glib, look at the behind the scenes of network news. There's not much depth to it really although it seems to think it's saying something substantial. Although it runs pass the two hour mark, the film speeds along like a Japanese shinkansen so that we never have time to catch our breath which is just as well. Otherwise, we might start examining it more closely than is good for it. The film is well acted. Albert Brooks (Oscar nominated for his work here) as a resentful TV reporter is good enough to make us forget what a prick his character really is and Hunter is a dynamo. But for me, it's Hurt's performance that stands out. He makes it seem so effortless and natural that he makes his co-stars, as good as they are, seem just a little bit fake. Also in the cast: Jack Nicholson, Lois Chiles, Joan Cusack and Robert Prosky.

The House That Would Not Die (1970)

A woman (Barbara Stanwyck) and her niece (Kitty Winn, THE EXORCIST) inherit an old Colonial house built in the late 1700s. But once they movie in, mysterious things begin to happen. The woman hears voices in the night and her niece undergoes a personality transformation. Will they have enough time to unravel the dark secret of the house or will they become the fatal victims of the haunting? I'm normally a pushover for these possessed house horror movies. The benchmark film in the genre is, of course, the 1963 THE HAUNTING and very few of its brethren are good enough to be mentioned in the same breath. This cheapie is one of the very weakest entries in the genre. It has no tension, no style and no scares. Even the normally indefatigable Stanwyck can't overcome the production's ennui but she looks absolutely great in her Nolan Miller costumes. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (CITY OF THE DEAD) from a screenplay by Henry Farrell (WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?) by way of the novel AMMIE COME HOME by Barbara Michaels. With Richard Egan, Michael Anderson Jr., Doreen Lang and Mabel Albertson.