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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

La Maschera Del Demonio (aka Black Sunday) (1960)

In 1630, a beautiful princess (Barbara Steele) is tortured and burned at the stake under orders from her brother but not before she places a curse on all her brother's descendants. 200 years later, she returns to carry out her threat. Based on the short story VIY by Nikolai Gogol, this was Mario Bava's "official" film debut as a director. A noted cinematographer, he had often helped direct several films on which he worked on. For 1960, this was quite a gruesome film, so much so that it was banned in Great Britain for 8 years. It's an evocative and stylish piece of Gothic horror pulp that was influential enough to be copied several times over but Bava's imitators have never matched his luxurious eye. The American version has been cut by 2 to 3 minutes and rescored by Les Baxter (Roberto Nicolosi scored the Italian version). This was the exotic Steele's first horror film and she quickly became known as the scream queen, at least until Jamie Lee Curtis came along to challenge her title. With John Richardson, Andrea Checchi and Enrico Olivieri. 

Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)

As the Civil War ends, the daughter (Rosalind Russell) of a proud New England dynasty is furious that her mother (Katina Paxinou) is having an affair with the man (Leo Genn) she loves. She plots to destroy their relationship when her father (Raymond Massey) and brother (Michael Redgrave) return from the war. Unlike Tennessee Williams, America's other great American playwright Eugene O'Neill hasn't fared well (the 1962 LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is an exception) on film. STRANGE INTERLUDE (1932) was an unmitigated disaster and his nearly 6 hour MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRA was cut to 3 hours for the film version but after it performed poorly at the box office, it was edited down to 105 minutes! Not surprisingly considering the source material, it's as close to Greek tragedy as an American play has got. It was potent material for 1947 film audiences as the incestuous implications of the son's Oedipus complex and the daughter's Electra complex as well as madness, murder and adultery ran rampant. But the audience stayed away and the film lost several million dollars and it would be another 11 years before Hollywood attempted O'Neill again. It's not quite a filmed play but it isn't very cinematic either and the director Dudley Nichols (best known as a screenwriter than a director) doesn't seem to have a handle on the film. That being said, the acting is excellent in particular Redgrave as the mama's boy slowly going mad and Paxinou as the passionate mother seething in a loveless marriage. The O'Neill purists may object but I liked it overall. With Kirk Douglas, Nancy Coleman and Henry Hull.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sissi (1955)

An unsophisticated young girl (Romy Schneider) who lives in the Bavarian countryside travels with her mother (Magda Schneider) and older sister (Uta Franz) to Austria where she catches the eye of the young Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (Karlheinz Bohm). Directed by Ernst Marischka, this was a huge hit in Germany and spawned two sequels. It was also Romy Schneider's breakthrough role and made her one of Germany's most popular actresses. All three films were edited down and edited together, dubbed into English and released in America under the title FOREVER MY LOVE in 1962. Although based on real people, the film has a charming fairy tale quality about it with princesses, castles, true love triumphing over all. In fact, Disney-esque is a good way to describe it. Schneider would later play the Empress Elizabeth once again in Visconti's LUDWIG (1973). It's the kind of film 7 year old girls would probably adore but captivating enough to hold the adults attention too. With Gustav Knuth and Vilma Degischer.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

Forced to live on the kindness of relations and friends, an impoverished widow (Kate Beckinsale) in 1790s England schemes, plots and manipulates her way into a profitable marriage. Based on an unfinished book by Jane Austen and directed by Whit Stillman (LAST DAYS OF DISCO). It may be from the pen of Jane Austen but if you're expecting a stuffy BBC Masterpiece Theater presentation or a tasteful Merchant Ivory production, you'll be surprised. Stillman tweaks the conventions of these period films and it has more in common with, say, TOM JONES (1963) than A ROOM WITH A VIEW. Smart and witty but with an acidic bite, the film is anchored by a terrific lead performance by Kate Beckinsale. Her Lady Susan is an amoral, self centered schemer but so assured in her drive that you can't help but like her. The rest of the ensemble are impeccable though I found Tom Bennett's doofus more annoying than amusing though my audience seemed to adore him. Even if costume period films aren't your cup of tea, I think you'll find much to savor. With Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cujo (1983)

A big and friendly St. Bernard dog is bitten on the nose by a rabid bat. A housewife (Dee Wallace) feels trapped in a small town life and is having an affair with a local man (Christopher Stone). But soon the the woman and her son (Danny Pintauro) and the dog will have a fateful encounter. Based on the best seller by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague (ALLIGATOR). The film opened to mixed reviews but was a huge hit anyway. It has developed a large cult following in the ensuing years and it's easy to see why. Teague and his team of screen writers have done a nice job of starting off with a bang and then alternating between the necessary exposition of the family's problems and the dog's deteriorating condition.  The film's lengthy showdown (almost half the film) is between the mother and son and the dog and it falls to Dee Wallace to keep everything grounded in a reality to keep the movie from spilling over into silliness and she does a superb job. The film sticks close to the novel except it gives the movie a somewhat "happy" ending which is understandable as the book's ending was a bummer. The lensing by Jan De Bont (DIE HARD) and the score by Charles Bernstein contribute immeasurably. With Daniel Hugh Kelly, Ed Lauter and Kaiulani Lee. 

The Man In The White Suit (1951)

An eccentric chemist (Alec Guinness) invents a fiber that never wrinkles, wears out or gets dirty. But when the fabric industry as well as its workers realize that his invention will render them obsolete, he becomes an enemy and must be stopped. I'm not a fan of the popular Ealing studio comedies from Great Britain. Everyone seems to adore them but they leave me indifferent. THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT is an exception, I'm quite fond of it. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS), the film is a pointed satire on big business and the nature of planned obsolescence as well as the power of unions. At the center of all this is Alec Guinness, one of the most acclaimed dramatic actors of his generation that we tend to forget he's a master at comedy too. Add that minx Joan Greenwood to the mix and the film is a real treat. Mackendrick directs at a brisk clip and gets us to the end without wearing out its welcome. With Cecil Parker, Ernest Thesiger, Michael Gough and Vida Hope. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Another Day In Paradise (1998)

A teenage petty thief and junkie (Vincent Kartheiser, MAD MEN) and his girlfriend (Natasha Gregson Wagner) are befriended by an older couple, a small time thief (James Woods) and his junkie girlfriend (Melanie Griffith). The four of them hit the road with plans to steal drugs from a pharmacy and make a financial killing on the street. But, of course, things go horribly wrong. The director Larry Clark is best known for his debut feature KIDS and this was his follow up film. In spite of having a "seen it all before" patina, it works fairly well for the most part. When your four main characters are drug dealers, junkies, alcoholics and thieves, you know it's not going to end well. The acting is uniformly good though I would have been more impressed with James Woods' out of control psychotic if I didn't know it was a role he could do in his sleep. More impressive were Griffith's maternal junkie and especially Kartheiser's baby faced wannabe tough guy. Clark's direction is often uneven, scenes that should crackle with tension fall flat and his use of music during certain scenes derails the effectiveness. With Peter Sarsgaard, Lou Diamond Phillips and James Otis.

La Gifle (1974)

A geography professor (Lino Ventura) is a strict single father to his daughter (Isabelle Adjani). But she's reached the age where she begins rebelling against his parental authority and wants to strike out on her own. But she's rather immature and has no focus. Directed by Claude Pinoteau, this is essentially a drama laced with some quirky comedic moments. To the film's credit, it doesn't tip the balance toward either the father or the daughter. Each is highly flawed, the father being rather unfeeling and short sighted while the daughter seems drifting without knowing what she really wants. Add to the mix, the ex-wife and mother (Annie Girardot) now living in Australia and one gets a bit more insight on the family dynamics. It's not an especially thought provoking film but Pinoteau (who co-wrote the screenplay) gets an authentic vibe to the father/daughter push and pull relationship. This was only Adjani's third movie but she would really come into her own the next year in Truffaut's STORY OF ADELE H. There's a very nice score by George Delerue. With Nathalie Baye, Nicole Courcel, Francis Perrin and Jacques Spiesser. 

The More The Merrier (1943)

Set in Washington D.C. during WWII, a young woman (Jean Arthur) reluctantly rents a room in her apartment to an elderly businessman (Charles Coburn in his Oscar winning performance) as part of her patriotic duty in alleviating the city's massive housing shortage. But when he rents part of his room to a younger man (Joel McCrea), problems ensue. Directed by George Stevens, it's no great shakes as cinema but it's awfully charming until it loses its way in the last fifteen minutes. I imagine the idea of an unmarried woman living under the same room with two men might have been rather titillating in the 1940s but it all seems rather innocent today. The film is lucky to have three expert farceurs in the leads and there's nary a misstep between them. As always, McCrea's underplaying stands out among the more frenetic performances of Arthur and to a lesser extent Coburn. Remade in 1966 as WALK DON' RUN. With Bruce Bennett, Richard Gaines and Ann Doran.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Brainstorm (1983)

A researcher (Louise Fletcher) and her colleague (Christopher Walken) have developed a device that allows the recording of someone's feelings and transferring them to another person via an electronic headset. But they are unaware that their boss (Cliff Robertson) has sold them out to the U.S. government who has plans for the device that were never intended. One of only two films directed by the special effects wizard Douglas Trumball (the other one was SILENT RUNNING), most noted for his stunning work on Kubrick's 2001. It's an ambitious film but too much of it is wasted on the domestic problems of Walken and his wife (Natalie Wood) which simply aren't compelling enough to earn our interest. The film's special effects and visuals are excellent but to what end? The film's resolution has a bit of THE BLACK HOLE, a bit of ALTERED STATES but its new age-ish gibberish makes very little intellectual or artistic sense. It's a double pity because this was Wood's last film (she died during production) and it would have been nice if it had been a stronger swan song.  Fletcher's performance is a strong plus as is James Horner's underscore. With Jordan Christopher and Darrell Larson.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Holiday In Spain (aka Scent Of Mystery) (1960)

An Englishman (Denholm Elliott) vacationing in Spain stumbles across a plot to murder a young American girl (Beverly Bentley). With the aid of a reluctant taxi driver (Peter Lorre), he attempts to track her down, tell her she's in danger and protect her. Adapted from the novel GHOST OF A CHANCE by Audrey Kelley and William Roos (a married couple) and directed by master cinematographer turned director Jack Cardiff (THE RED SHOES). Originally released as a roadshow in Cinerama (sort of like 3D without the glasses) as SCENT OF MYSTERY and the first film released in Smell-O-Vision, a process where scents would permeate the theater during certain scenes like fresh bread coming out of the oven. The film (and the process) was not a success and the film was released in Europe as HOLIDAY IN SPAIN without the Smell-O-Vision and cut by about 15 minutes. As to the film itself, its plot is a flimsy excuse for a travelogue on Spain. To that end, it's a handsome looking film as we see Spain from her cities to her countryside, from planes and autos and the panorama no doubt would be impressive in actual Cinerama. It's a harmless lightweight curio and an archival example of showmanship in cinema. With Paul Lukas, Diana Dors, Leo McKern, Peter Arne and Elizabeth Taylor, billed here as Liz Rolyat.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Madame Butterfly (1932)

A young Japanese girl (Sylvia Sidney) becomes a geisha in order to support her family. An American Naval Lieutenant (Cary Grant) is attracted to her and marries her rather nonchalantly as he knows he must eventually return to America where his fiancee (Sheila Terry) is waiting for him. Based on the 1898 short story by John Luther Long which in turn was dramatized in 1900 for the stage by David Belasco and eventually turned into the acclaimed opera by Giacomo Puccini in 1904, which he revised several times. As directed by Marion Gering, there are important differences from the opera but Puccini's music is incorporated into the film's underscore. The opera is passionate and heartbreaking but here, without Puccini's glorious music, it all seems rather cruel and sordid. I don't think I've ever found Grant as unappealing as he is here though granted his character is shamefully dishonest and cowardly. As usual for films of this period, almost all the major Japanese characters are played by Caucasians. That aside, Sylvia Sidney, she of the liquid eyes, is both lovely and charming and she conveys so much emotionally that it's a pity it's not a stronger film.  With Charles Ruggles, Irving Pichel and Louise Carter.

Moonlight And Valentino (1995)

When her husband is suddenly killed in an accident, a woman (Elizabeth Perkins) must deal with the aftermath and things left unspoken. Her sister (Gwyneth Paltrow), stepmother (Kathleen Turner) and best friend (Whoopi Goldberg) attempt to help her but they all have baggage of their own. Based on the 1989 play by Ellen Simon (Neil's daughter) which is semi-autobiographical. At its worst, it's the kind of movie that gives "chick flicks" a bad reputation. The dialogue is contrived and weighted down with psycho babble and homilies. On its own terms, I suppose one could call it a superior example of a Lifetime movie. On the plus side, and it's a big plus, the four lead actresses often do some amazing things with the material, giving it better than it deserves. But isn't that what a good actor is supposed to do? Paltrow comes across the least but to be fair, her character is almost impossible to play. Turner has the best moment in the film, a small speech that doesn't come till the very end. If you require more from a film than good acting, you can safely skip it but there's a thrill about seeing good actors overcoming weak material and finding some truth. Directed by David Anspaugh (HOOSIERS). With Jon Bon Jovi, Peter Coyote, Jeremy Sisto and Josef Sommer. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Alexander The Great (1956)

Living in the shadow of his father (Fredric March), the young Alexander (Richard Burton) is torn between his love for his mother (Danielle Darrieux) and proving to his father that he is a worthy heir. When offered the role of Alexander in this film, Charlton Heston turned it down reputedly saying, "Alexander is the easiest kind of picture to make badly". This is a noble attempt but the film was taken away from its director Robert Rossen (ALL THE KING'S MEN) by the producers and cut by an hour. This is problematic among other things in that there is a plethora of supporting characters and we're never quite sure who they are in relation to Alexander. The film is of interest as long as it concentrates on the family dynamics of the rivalry of Alexander's parents as each uses him as pawn for their own political purpose. But once March exits the picture, it becomes just another stodgy epic. Burton provides the kind of overacting he thinks such epics deserve, his performance here similar to his work in THE ROBE and CLEOPATRA. Normally, Fredric March is more than happy to chew the scenery too but he's actually quite good here. All in all, one of the weaker Hollywood epics of the 1950s. With Claire Bloom (terribly wasted), Stanley Baker, Harry Andrews, Peter Cushing, Niall MacGinnis, Michael Hordern, Peter Wyngarde and Gustavo Rojo. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

3 Women (1977)

In a small California desert town, a socially awkward girl (Sissy Spacek) from Texas moves in with a gawky but friendly girl (Shelley Duvall) who works at the health spa for the elderly with her. The awkward girl sees the other girl as sophisticated and worldly when, in truth, she's clueless and delusional. But a suicide attempt will change them both but in different ways. One of director Robert Altman's very best films, perhaps only NASHVILLE and MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER surpass it, the film has the feel of an Ingmar Bergman film, PERSONA in particular. Like Bergman's films, the actresses take center stage and both Duvall (who won the Cannes film festival best actress award for her work here) and Spacek (who won the New York Film critics award for her performance) do superb work. The third woman, who is an artist painting surrealistic images, is played by Janice Rule and while she doesn't have as much to do as the other two, she brings a certain gravitas to her portrayal. It's a moody, evocative piece of film making that comes as close to poetry as cinema can be. The effective underscore is by Gerald Busby. With John Cromwell (yes, the director), Dennis Christopher, Ruth Nelson and Robert Fortier.

A Bigger Splash (2015)

A rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her photographer boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts, RUST AND BONE) are vacationing on a small Italian island while her voice recuperates. But their idyll is interrupted by a visit from her ex-lover (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson). I was a huge fan of Luca Guadagnino's I AM LOVE (2009) so I was highly anticipating this. I wasn't disappointed. This is a loose remake of Jacques Deray's 1969 film, LA PISCINE which I liked very much. But while Deray's film was a stylish perverse thriller, Guadagnino gives his film a potent emotional core which Deray's film lacked. It's a discreetly sensual film in which full nudity abounds (both sexes) naturally and doesn't make a big deal about it. The four leads give strong performances with Fiennes giving the best performances he's given in years playing the kind of person who's all hyper and won't shut up till you want to punch his face in but ultimately Fiennes lets us understand his pain. The film goes beyond its expiration point but it's so good, I can forgive it that. With Aurore Clement, Corrado Guzzanti and Elena Bucci. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

La Pelle (1981)

In 1943, the American Allies liberate Naples from German occupation but there's a clash between the yanks and the native population. Based on a series of short stories by Curzio Malaparte (played in the film by Marcello Mastroianni) that documented the "liberation" by the Americans which seems more like a second invasion and the ignoble breakdown of Italian morality. Directed by Liliana Cavani (THE NIGHT PORTER), no one comes out looking good. Certainly not the Americans who often seem no better than the Germans and certainly not the Italians reduced to the most barbaric behavior due to the war. Cavani really pushes our faces in the blood red mud here, nothing is held back. Cannibalism, mothers selling their sons to Arabs for sex, animal cruelty, American contempt for the very people they're liberating and blood and guts literally spilling out among other horrors. Could it really have been as awful as all that? The film's most ill conceived character is a female U.S. Colonel (Alexandra King) though the first female Colonel in the U.S. Army didn't come until 1947! It would have helped if the Americans spoke English instead of being dubbed into Italian because we get an American dubbed into Italian asking an Italian to translate into English what another Italian is saying and the Italian "translates" the Italian into Italian! With Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale (wasted), Ken Marshall, Jacques Sernas and Liliana Tari. 

Don't Bother To Knock (1961)

After breaking up with his fiancee (June Thorburn), a Scottish travel agent (Richard Todd) travels the continent and cherchez la femme! He freely gives the keys to his apartment to his conquests including a French beauty (Nicole Maurey), an Austrian lovely (Elke Sommer) and a married woman (Eleanor Summerfield). He reunites with his fiancee when he returns to Scotland but then those continental beauties start showing up with keys in hand! Based on the novel by Clifford Hanley and directed by Cyril Frankel (NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER), this is the British equivalent of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson Hollywood comedy. It's amusing up to a point but the actors aren't expert farceurs so they don't get the most out of the material. The funniest one in the film is Judith Anderson (looking ultra glamorous) as a rich American heiress, not exactly an actress known for her comedic talents. Geoffrey Unsworth (2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY) did the cinematography and Christian Dior did some of the costumes. Although made in 1961, it didn't reach the U.S. until 1965 and then the posters played up Elke Sommer as the star, fresh off her success in A SHOT IN THE DARK. With Rik Battaglia and Dawn Beret.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Modesty Blaise (1966)

It takes a thief to catch a thief so the British government hires a master thief (Monica Vitti) to aid them in the prevention of a diamond theft by a criminal mastermind (Dirk Bogarde). Loosely based on the popular comic strip by Peter O'Donnell, the director Joseph Losey (THE SERVANT) would seem an unlikely choice for a spy spoof. The film does have a cult following but it just seems rather desperate in its attempts at being "cool". If it's a mess, I suspect it's an intentional mess but I prefer the unintentional mess of the 1967 CASINO ROYALE with which it has a lot in common. It's a nice looking movie what with Richard Macdonald's production design mimicking the pop art of the day (think Warhol and Lichtenstein) and Jack Hildyard's splashy lensing. But while Monica Vitti can be a comedic delight in her native language, it appears difficulty with the English language trips her up here. Bogarde as the fey villain fares better. Still, as a relic of what was being served up in the mid 1960s in the guise of humor, it has an archival purpose. With Harry Andrews, Clive Revill, Rossella Falk, Tina Marquand and Alexander Knox. 

Blithe Spirit (1945)

A novelist (Rex Harrison) doing research for his next book invites a medium (Margaret Rutherford) to his home to conduct a seance. This backfires when the medium conjures up his deceased wife (Kay Hammond) which distresses his current wife (Constance Cummings) to no end. Based on the hit play by Noel Coward and directed by David Lean, this is a rather enjoyable adaptation of the play though Coward disliked what Lean did with it. The British did drawing room comedies, not screwball comedies like Hollywood but this is probably as close to the genre as they ever got. I found Hammond's performance rather lackluster even if she was recreating her stage role from the original West End production. But Harrison, Cummings and especially Rutherford as the eccentric Madame Arcati more than pick up the slack. The writing is very good and the plot almost irresistible which might account for why the play is constantly being revived. Though I could have done without the "cute" ending which is different from Coward's play, Lean's film is a real charmer. With Joyce Carey, Hugh Wakefield and Jacqueline Clarke. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

3:10 To Yuma (1957)

After a stage is robbed and a driver killed, the outlaw (Glenn Ford) responsible is captured. The plan is to get the outlaw to a different town and then on the 3:10 to Yuma where he'll go on trial but first, he has to get on that train. A rancher (Van Heflin) in need of money takes on the responsibility of taking him to the town and the train but the bandit's gang are intent on rescuing their leader. This is a beauty of a western, one of the jewels of the 1950s proliferation of westerns. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard and directed superbly by Delmer Daves. There's a beautiful simplicity and starkness to 3:10 TO YUMA, richly enhanced by Charles Lawton Jr.'s Spartan cinematography. The film's most powerful moments aren't the gunfights or action but the quieter moments that gives detail to the characterizations. For instance, the lovely quiet interlude between Ford and a barmaid (Felicia Farr) that could have easily been eliminated since it doesn't move the plot forward but the film would be all the less richer for it. Even the most shocking moment, the killing of Henry Jones is done off screen. For anyone who loves westerns, no doubt you've already seen it but even the non-western fans should avail themselves of this one. With Leora Dana, Richard Jaeckel and Robert Emhardt. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ruby Cairo (aka Deception) (1992)

A woman (Andie MacDowell) travels to Mexico to bury her husband (Viggo Mortensen) who died in a plane crash. But it's in Mexico that she discovers her husband has hidden bank accounts all over the world which leads her to Panama, the Bahamas, Germany and to Greece where she discovers her husband had been leading a double life and what she's discovering could put her in danger. Directed by Graeme Clifford (FRANCES), this mystery thriller seems choppy as if chunks had been left out. Apparently there's a longer cut out there that's 21 minutes longer which might have filled in the holes. The film contains some awkward narration by MacDowell which seems to be a weak effort to make the film more cohesive and Olympia Dukakis, already an Oscar winner for MOONSTRUCK, pops in for one line so I assume her role was also severely cut. What we have left is entirely watchable but unsatisfactory in what's left out. There's very little of John Barry's score in the film which suggests it also might have been a victim of the pruning shears. With Liam Neeson providing some romance for MacDowell, Jack Thompson and Lydia Lenosi.

Night After Night (1932)

A mobster (George Raft) who owns a plush speakeasy wants to move up in society. To that end, he's hired a teacher (Alison Skipworth) to teach him etiquette and manners. He finds himself attracted to an elegant high class lady (Constance Cummings) but she's rather condescending toward him. Based on a short story by Louis Bromfield (THE RAINS CAME), this pre-code melodrama is surprisingly enjoyable. I've never been much of a fan of Raft's tough guy act but there's something boyishly charming about his eagerness to better himself in his scenes with Skipworth. There's an aura of sadness among the three leads, all of whom are looking for something. In addition to Raft and Cummings, there's Wynne Gibson's crass moll who's hopelessly in love with Raft, who doesn't reciprocate the feeling. But what the movie is most famous for is the film debut of Mae West as one of Raft's old flames. The movie is about half over before she comes charging in and steals the movie and it was the last time (until MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) that she would support anybody. Directed by Archie Mayo. With Louis Calhern and Roscoe Karns.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Night And The City (1950)

Set in London, an American hustler and con man (Richard Widmark) dreams of making it big. But his "get rich quick" schemes only frustrates his girlfriend (Gene Tierney). When he finally hits the big time or so he thinks, he finds himself over his head and no good can come of it. Based on the novel by Gerald Kersh, this was the first of many films that the blacklisted expatriate Jules Dassin (THE NAKED CITY) would make in Europe. It's a sensational piece of film noir, dark and gritty right through to the grim and fatalistic conclusion. In one of his very best performances, Widmark is desperate and pitiful yet he never begs for sympathy. He's a loser who can never get the right breaks yet convinced of his ability to hit it big but he just doesn't have the brains for it. The film is somewhat slowed down by Tierney and Hugh Marlowe's characters who seem somewhat extraneous and indeed, both characters were eliminated from the inferior 1992 remake with Robert De Niro. I watched the British version which is 6 minutes longer than the American version and has a score by Benjamin Frankel (Franz Waxman did the American score). With Googie Withers, Francis L. Sullivan, Mike Mazurki, Stanislas Zbyszko and Herbert Lom.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (1967)

Set in the Far East, a beautiful woman (Shirley Eaton, GOLDFINGER) has plans for world domination by the female sex and destroying the male population (I assume some would be kept around for breeding purposes). Her plans hit a wall when a secret agent (George Nader) stumbles onto her plot. Whew! This is the kind of cheesy bad movie that you can't turn your eyes away from. It tries so hard to be hip but the tossed off one liners fall like a crashing redwood. Example: as Maria Rohm undresses, Frankie Avalon wonders aloud, "I wonder if this is the part where I sing now?". Uh-huh, it's that kind of movie. The film's poster cried out, "She rules a palace of pleasure for women! The most most, diabolical, bizarre woman who ever lived!" That's a lot to live up to and, of course, it doesn't. The most "diabolical" moment in the movie is when a woman breaks a man's neck with her thighs. The film is also rather choppy. When Nader and Avalon decide to escape Sumuru's island, the next thing we see is them on a boat whereas most coherent films show us their escape. Of course, it's a film that was never designed to be taken seriously ..... I hope. Directed by Lindsay Shonteff. With Wilfrid Hyde White. 

Money Monster (2016)

A cheesy television financial wizard (George Clooney) with a popular money advice show is taken hostage by a distressed young man (Jack O'Connell, UNBROKEN) who lost everything based on the advice given by the TV host. As everything plays out in real time as his director (Julia Roberts) keeps the show on the air, the background of the financial disaster slowly becomes evident. Jodie Foster's fourth film as a director and her first mainstream film. I've not seen THE BEAVER but her first two films didn't show any indication that she could direct a thriller but she does very nicely here. The film's biggest problem is the script, notably the pure Hollywood ending. But up until then Foster cuts out all the fat and gives us a fast paced slick financial thriller (don't expect THE BIG SHORT). As expected, Clooney and Roberts are fine but O'Connell, who's British, overdoes the New York accent to the point of distracting from his otherwise solid performance. The police don't come off looking very well and, indeed, they almost seem as dark as the film's financial baddie (Dominc West). With Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham and Emily Meade.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mysterious Island (1961)

During the American Civil War, a group of Union soldiers led by a Captain (Michael Craig) escape from a Confederate prison camp in a hot air balloon. Along with the soldiers, there's a Union war correspondent (Gary Merrill) and an unwilling Confederate soldier (Percy Herbert). A horrific storm sweeps them out to sea where they eventually come to land on an unchartered island. Based on the the 1874 Jules Verne novel and directed by Cy Endfield (ZULU). This sci-fi adventure is one of the best of Ray Harryhausen's stop motion feature films. For those of us who first saw it as children, it's indelibly tattooed on our cinema psyche and I don't think I've met anyone, man or child, who didn't enjoy this film and next to JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, it's my favorite Jules Verne film adaptation. We've got giant crabs, giant bees, giant birds, pirates, a superb Bernard Herrmann score and the wonderful Joan Greenwood. What's not to like? With Michael Callan, Beth Rogan, Dan Jackson and as Captain Nemo, Herbert Lom.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

After murdering her parents (Rodney Dangerfield, Edie McClurg), an escaped convict (Woody Harrelson) and his teenage girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) go on a killing spree in the American Southwest. Based on an original screenplay by Quentin Tarantino that was subsequently rewritten by the films director Oliver Stone, David Veloz and Richard Rutowski. The first half of the film is brilliant, an audacious overheated surrealistic pitch perfect black comedy with great blasts of violence. It's unlike anything Stone has done before or since and if Stone's name wasn't on the film, one would assume it was directed by Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez. Alas, the second half of the film goes out of control and becomes increasingly self indulgent. The first half was over the top but it had one foot in something resembling reality while the second half gives us full cartoon caricatures with Tommy Lee Jones shamelessly hamming it up as a prison warden and perhaps worst of all, Robert Downey Jr. with a bad Australian accent. It was clear in the first half that Stone was trying to make a statement about violence in America but in the second half, it's as if he didn't trust his audience to "get it" and he hammers it home. Harrelson and Lewis are chillingly good but they still can't save the second half. That being said, it's still probably Stone's best film. With Tom Sizemore, Arliss Howard, Mark Harmon, Joe Grifasi, Balthazar Getty and Russell Means.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Le Desordre Et La Nuit (1958)

Assigned to a case involving the murder of a drug dealer (Roger Hanin), a Paris police detective (Jean Gabin) finds himself irresistibly attracted to the dead man's young German mistress (Nadja Tiller, DAS MADCHEN ROSEMARIE), who happens to be a junkie. Based on the novel by Jacques Robert and directed by Gilles Grangier, this has the feel of a film noir with its tough police detective, the femme fatale, the B&W cinematography of Louis Page with its smoky nightclubs and wet night streets. But the tracking down of the murderer isn't what drives the film, indeed when it comes it seems a bit of an anti-climax. It's the relationship and budding romance between the aged cop (Gabin was 54 but looks older) and the young girl (Tiller was 28 but looks younger). Gabin's flic is hard to figure out. He seems cold and rather pitiless especially during the film's final reveal when I thought a little sympathy was warranted. Yet he's drawn to the fragile junkie and handles her with kid gloves. With Danielle Darrieux in a supporting role but a juicy one, the black American jazz singer Hazel Scott, Paul Frankeur and Robert Manuel.  

This Gun For Hire (1942)

A professional hired killer (Alan Ladd) carries out a job only to find himself framed and double crossed when the money he is paid off in turns out to have been stolen and the bills marked by the very man (Laird Cregar) who hired him. Can he exact his revenge before the cops catch him? Based on the 1936 novel A GUN FOR SALE by Graham Greene and directed by Frank Tuttle. This was the first film in which Veronica Lake was top billed which solidified her position in the industry as a major movie star. But the film's breakout star was Ladd who gets "and introducing" billing here. You can see why he became a star. He's pretty magnetic here as the feline loving, people hating hitman. Unfortunately, for most of his career he was cast in conventional leading man and hero roles and as an actor, he became far less interesting. Ladd and Lake made for some nice chemistry and they would go on to do 3 more films together. As for the film itself, it's a taut and tight film noir with the appropriate atmospheric B&W lensing by John F. Seitz (SUNSET BOULEVARD). With Robert Preston, Tully Marshall, Marc Lawrence and in a bit part, Yvonne De Carlo.

Sparrows (1926)

A cruel and ill tempered man (Gustav von Seyffertiz) and his wife (Charlotte Mineau) operate a baby farm in the swamps. The oldest of the children is a young girl (Mary Pickford) who is in charge of the younger kids. But when the man becomes involved in the kidnapping of a baby (Mary Louise Miller) for ransom, it puts the rest of the children in danger. Directed by William Beaudine with an assist from Tom McNamara who finished the film when Beaudine and Pickford repeatedly clashed. This was the next to last of Pickford's silent films and at age 34, she was clearly getting too old to play teenagers any longer. But this is a very well done Dickensian film with some especially notable moments. The escape through the alligator infested swamp is superbly done, fraught with tension and excitement. There's some minor nitpicking (just where is the kidnapped baby's mother?) but on the whole, a solid vehicle. The transfer I saw points out the importance of music to silent cinema. Most "Mickey Mouse" scoring of silent movies do the films no favor, they're piano doodlings or worse (those godawful organ scores) but this print had a newly composed underscore by Jeffrey Silverman that works against the sentimental aspects of the film while a lesser composer would probably emphasis the sentimentality.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Melvin And Howard (1980)

While driving his pickup truck at night through the Nevada desert, a man (Paul LeMat) picks up an injured disheveled old man (Jason Robards) who claims to be Howard Hughes. Several years later when Hughes dies, the man (now running a gas station in Utah) discovers he is among those listed in Hughes will but is the will a phony? Based on the true story of Melvin Dummar and what came to be known as the "Mormon will", this is a wonderful film. The director Jonathan Demme and his screenwriter Bo Goldman (whose screenplay won an Oscar) have fabricated a perfect tall tale of the American dream. Whether one believes the will was authentic (and based on the evidence, there's no reason to believe it wasn't),  Demme has created an updated Preston Sturges movie. There's a genuine affection for his blue collar characters and not an iota of condescension. LeMat (an actor who should have had a bigger career) inhabits Dummar so completely that you never even think of it as acting. In the hands of a lesser actor, Dummar might have come off as a dim witted redneck but in LeMat's performance, he's a stand in for everyone who's had a dream. With a luminous Mary Steenburgen (justifiably Oscared for her work here), Pamela Reed, Michael J. Pollard, Jack Kehoe, Charles Napier, Dabney Coleman, Charlene Holt, Rick Lenz and Gloria Grahame whose role seems to have been severely cut.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Model For Murder (1959)

An American sailor (Keith Andes) visiting London contacts the former girlfriend (Julia Arnall) of his deceased brother. But when she turns up dead, he finds himself framed for her murder. In the 1950s, Hollywood wasn't the only country churning out "B" programmers. The British did more than their fair share, often including at least one recognizable American star in the cast so that the movie would appeal to the U.S. market. As directed by Terry Bishop (who co-wrote the screenplay), as far as "B" movies go, it's inoffensive if predictable. It helps to have two appealing leads. In addition to Andes, there's the lovely Hazel Court as a fashion assistant. It might have helped if the film were shot in color as it takes place in a fashion house and the frocks and jewels might have been shown to better advantage. With Michael Gough, Patricia Jessel and George Benson. 

Kings Go Forth (1958)

In the last days of WWII, a First Lieutenant (Frank Sinatra) and a Corporal (Tony Curtis) in the same reconnaissance unit both fall in love with a naive French girl (Natalie Wood). She's the daughter of two Americans who came to France before she was born but only her mother (Leora Dana) is still alive. But there's still a war to be fought. Based on the novel by Joe David Brown and directed by Delmer Daves (DARK PASSAGE). The film balances the romantic triangle against the Americans attempting to extricate a platoon of German soldiers from a small village which they hold. The war stuff isn't particularly interesting, in fact it's pretty much the same scenario we've seen in countless other war movies that preceded it and would see again. It's the relationship between the soldiers and the girl that gives the film whatever strengths it has. Sinatra was still a formidable actor during this period, Curtis is perfectly cast, perhaps too perfect as his subsequent actions comes as no surprise to us. Wood is lovely but there's something off in her performance, perhaps it's just her weak French accent but she's not quite believable.  With Karl Swenson and Ann Codee.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Something Evil (1972)

A producer (Darren McGavin) of television commercials and his wife (Sandy Dennis) move into a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania with their two children. But what they don't know is that the house has a history of a demonic presence. Before he expanded to feature films, Steven Spielberg directed some interesting TV movies like DUEL and this one that were shown theatrically overseas but also showed he was ready to cross over to the big screen. I suspect SOMETHING EVIL was very impressive when it debuted on CBS in 1972 but the ensuing years have brought us so many demonic possession films (this was one year before THE EXORCIST) that its shock value has diminished considerably and Johnny Whitaker is no Linda Blair! What holds the film together and what makes it watchable today is Sandy Dennis's performance. Not many actresses can say a line like "The devil is in my house!" and have you believe it instead of snickering. With Ralph Bellamy, John Rubinstein, Jeff Corey and Margaret Avery. 

Guns At Batasi (1964)

As a revolution wages in an East African country with ties to the British Commonwealth, a native Lieutenant (Errol John) who is part of the new government and his loyalist troop take over a British barracks. But a small group of soldiers led by a career military man (Richard Attenborough in a BAFTA winning performance) refuse to hand over a wounded native Captain (Earl Cameron) who is wanted by the new government for treason and a showdown ensues. Based on the novel THE SIEGE OF BATTERSEA by Robert Holles (who adapted his book for the screen) and directed by John Guillermin (DEATH ON THE NILE). Like ZULU, which was released the same year, this is a story of white colonialists defending their turf against a native majority in their own country. But the screenplay isn't black and white but allows a well rounded look at all issues surrounding the situation. The native rebels aren't faceless but merely want their own government with as little bloodshed as possible while Attenborough's stiff upper lip career soldier does what he perceives as his duty to country. All sides get their moment. It's a solid film with two distractions: the cliched militaristic underscore by John Addison and an unnecessary romance between a soldier (John Leyton) and a UN secretary (Mia Farrow in her film debut) that slows down the film. With Jack Hawkins, Flora Robson, Cecil Parker, Percy Herbert and Graham Stark.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Invitation (2016)

A small group of friends who haven't seen each other in two years gather together for a dinner party at a house in the Hollywood Hills. They haven't seen each other since a tragic event occurred two years earlier. But it slowly becomes clear that something just isn't right but what transpires is horrific! Directed by Karyn Kusama (GIRLFIGHT), this is the kind of film that starts off intensely and doesn't let up. You just know something terrible is going to happen and Kusama moves the film at a methodical pace as the tension builds and builds until you just about can't take anymore. I was squirming and shifting in my seat as my belly did flip flops that I thought about bolting. But I'm glad I stayed. This is a low budget independent movie with no stars, Tammy Blanchard and John Carroll Lynch are probably the most familiar faces in the cast. Do I recommend it? It's not a film for everyone, for some people squirming in their seats while their belly does flip flops is not their idea of a good time. But if you like an intelligent gripping thriller (some might even call it a horror movie), this is for you. Also in the cast: Logan Marshall Green, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Huisman, Karl Yune, Mike Doyle, Jordi Vilasuso, Jay Larson, Marieh Delfino, Michelle Krusiec and Lindsay Burdge.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mayerling (1957)

In late 19th century Austria, the rebellious Crown Prince Rudolf (Mel Ferrer) is forced into a marriage of state to a woman (Nancy Marchand) he doesn't love. But several years later, he meets a young innocent girl (Audrey Hepburn) from a good family and takes her as his mistress which causes a scandal that will end tragically. Anatole Litvak directed a French language film version of MAYERLING in 1936 which was very popular and he produces this version which was done live and in color for television in 1957 and he co-directs this version with Kirk Browning. It's a tasteful if bloodless retelling of the tale (it would be remade in 1968). Ferrer does a competent job as Rudolf but all Hepburn has to do is show up to make a lovely Marie Vetsera. I've seen all three versions and I've come to the conclusion that this "romantic" tale of political intrigue, murder and suicide is more sickly than romantic. It just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Still, for the legion of Audrey Hepburn admirers, it's an opportunity to see her in a rare TV acting appearance, she wouldn't do TV again until 1987. The large supporting cast is impressive: Raymond Massey, Diana Wynyard, Lorne Greene, Suzy Parker, Nehemiah Persoff, Judith Evelyn, David Opatoshu, Monique Van Vooren, Ian Wolfe, Isobel Elsom, Pippa Scott, Barry Kroeger and Basil Sydney.  

The Devil And The Deep (1932)

Set in North Africa, a woman (Tallulah Bankhead) is driven to the brink by the insane (literally) jealousy of her husband (Charles Laughton), who constantly accuses her of non existent infidelities. But when she meets a handsome stranger (Gary Cooper), she's ready to make her husband's accusations a reality. Based on the novel SIRENES ET TRITONS by Maurice Larrouy, this overheated melodrama becomes increasingly bonkers until its submerged submarine finale with Bankhead escaping the flooding submarine in an evening gown, pearls and heels while breathing through an oxygen tank borders on the kitsch. Which is not say I didn't enjoy it. One can't help but feel sorry for Cooper caught between the dynamos that were Bankhead and Laughton, he doesn't have a chance! But it's that very intensity in the scenes between Bankhead and Laughton that carry the film, the romance between Bankhead and Cooper is rather middling. Directed by Marion Gerng. With a very young Cary Grant as a naval Lieutenant who gets the brunt of Laughton's wrath.

The Portrait Of A Lady (1996)

A young American girl (Nicole Kidman) visiting her maternal Aunt (Shelley Winters) and her husband (John Gielgud) in England receives a large fortune upon her Uncle's death. She travels to Rome where she falls under the spell of an American expatriate (John Malkovich) and enters a marriage that soon turns into a private hell. Based on the 1881 novel by Henry James and directed by Jane Campion (THE PIANO). It works in bits and pieces but overall, it's not successful. We're never quite sure just why Kidman remains in the hellish marriage as her character is anything but weak nor is it clear what the motivations of Barbara Hershey (in an Oscar nominated performance) are in bringing the couple together. The acting is good (except for Christian Bale) but the screenplay by Laura Jones while literate is frustrating in its inability to make sense of the whole thing and the film doesn't so much end as sputter along for about 15 minutes and then just stop! Granted, James' novel was itself often ambiguous regarding Isabel's (Kidman's character) motives but there's enough good stuff here that its failings stand out prominently. But I must single Malkovich's performance which is excellent. He manages to be both repellent and compelling at the same time. With Viggo Mortensen, Shelley Duvall, Martin Donovan, Mary Louise Parker, Valentina Cervi and Richard E. Grant. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

I Vampiri (1957)

In Paris, a string of murders against young women is receiving great attention in the press. The killer is dubbed The Vampire because the bodies are all drained of blood but there aren't any bite marks on their neck but there are needle marks. I VAMPIRI is reputedly the first Italian horror film of the sound era. While it wasn't a success when released, it eventually paved the way for such giallo film makers such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava (who's the cinematographer here) among others. Handsomely shot in B&W CinemaScope by Bava, who finished the film after the director Riccardo Freda left the project. With its large old castle with dungeons and hidden pathways, mad scientists and bloodthirsty countesses, it combines elements of both FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA and its influence can be seen in some of the Hammer films like COUNTESS DRACULA.  It's remarkably subtle in its horror elements considering some of the giallo horrors that would follow. The film suffers from a rather dull leading man (Dario Michaelis) playing an irritating character so that I developed a perverse sympathy for the villainess (Gianna Maria Canale). With Carlo D'Angelo, Wandisa Guida and Angelo Galassi.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Melancholia (2011)

As a rogue planet called Melancholia races on a collusion course with Earth, a bride (Kirsten Dunst) falls into a great depression on her wedding day. Her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tries to maintain a semblance of normalcy but it isn't long before she begins to unravel too. The director Lars von Trier has a history of putting his female protagonists through the most horrible circumstances imaginable. Think Nicole Kidman in DOGVILLE, Bjork in DANCER IN THE DARK and Emily Watson in BREAKING THE WAVES. von Trier doesn't degrade Dunst or Gainsbourg the way he did those three "heroines" but he does push them through a dark and emotional nightmare which, of course, isn't a nightmare at all, it's real. It's a bold, fearless film with a killer performance by Dunst at its core. It has its flaws but von Trier is so daring in what he is trying to accomplish that it would seem churlish to dredge up its minor blemishes. That being said, I could have done without those blasts of Wagner on the soundtrack which in the context of the film sound as slurpy as some of those scores Max Steiner churned out at Warners in the 30s and 40s. With Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard and Udo Kier.  

Pride And Prejudice (1940)

In a small English country village, a mother (Mary Boland) is eager to marry off her five eligible daughters and sets her cap on two gentlemen of means: a newly arrived neighbor (Bruce Lester) and his even richer friend (Laurence Olivier). But the friend's pride clashes with the prejudices of the second daughter (Greer Garson) in spite of an attraction between the two. Of all the major film studios of the Hollywood "Golden Age", MGM was the most literary minded. Adaptations of Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy among others were filmed on a regular basis. Despite some changes, this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel is fairly faithful to the book and it's quite entertaining. Garson hadn't yet settled into her great lady of MGM mold and she's charming here while Olivier brings a genuine aristocratic authenticity to his Darcy. Of course, it looks great as it gets the full A budget MGM deluxe treatment but the screenplay (co-written by Aldous Huxley) is full of vinegar and wit. Tastefully directed with Robert Z. Leonard. With Edmund Gwenn, Mary Boland (stealing whole scenes), Maureen O'Sullivan, Marsha Hunt, Ann Rutherford, Frieda Inescort, Heather Angel, Karen Morley, Melville Cooper and Edna May Oliver. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Farewell My Lovely (1975)

Set in 1941 Los Angeles, a private detective (Robert Mitchum) is hired by a hulking ex-convict (Jack O'Halloran) fresh out of prison to find his missing girlfriend. It seems like a simple enough case but when people start turning up dead all over the place, it's clear that there's more here than meets the eye. Based on the 1940 Raymond Chandler novel which was previously filmed in 1944 under the title MURDER MY SWEET. Neo noir this may be and in color but it's a near perfect genre piece that holds its own with the better B&W noirs of the 1940s and 50s. The weary looking Mitchum makes for a perfect Philip Marlowe and the rest of the cast is right behind him. Charlotte Rampling makes for a classic femme fatale, John Ireland for a hard nosed cop and everyone else down the line, too. This isn't a revisionist look that sets the genre on its ear like Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE, it's the real deal.  John A. Alonzo's cinematography is a thing of beauty, the period milieu is superb (kudos to Dean Tavoularis' production design) and an excellent score by David Shire. Directed by Dick Richards. With Sylvia Miles (in an Oscar nominated performance), Harry Dean Stanton, Anthony Zerbe, Kate Murtagh and in one of his earliest roles, Sylvester Stallone.

The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981)

A film company is shooting a movie set in Victorian England about a paleontologist (Jeremy Irons) who is engaged to marry  a young woman (Lynsey Baxter) but who becomes obsessed with a woman (Meryl Streep) with a mysterious past. The two actors (also Streep and Irons) playing the lead roles, while married to others, are also having an affair. Based on the celebrated John Fowles novel and adapted by Harold Pinter, Fowles novel is one of those books that defies a faithful transition to the screen. In Fowles' novel, the narrator is a character and there is no equivalent in the film. The novel has three different endings and the film creates the "making a movie" scenario which is not in the book to parallel one of the endings. With all that in mind, the film does a good job of approximating the intent of the novel. The Victorian portion works better than the modern portion because we can accept the reserved passion due to the societal constraints of the time but the contemporary "romance" is passionless. Part of the problem might be due to the casting of the dried out Irons, perhaps one of the least passionate actors out there but Streep is excellent if perhaps too meticulous.  Karel Reisz's direction is exemplary. With Leo McKern, David Warner, Patience Collier, Hilton McRae and Peter Vaughan.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Signpost To Murder (1964)

Set in the English countryside, a man (Stuart Whitman) breaks out of a mental institution and hides from the authorities at the secluded home of a married woman (Joanne Woodward) whose husband is away and holds her hostage. Based on a 1962 play by Monte Doyle (with Margaret Lockwood in Woodward's role) that was a hit on the London stage. It's one of those plays like DIAL M FOR MURDER or DEATHTRAP that's more or less stage bound as the characters talk away until there's a neat little twist at the end. Unfortunately, Doyle's play, adapted here by Sally Benson (MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS), is never more than average and sometimes less than that. It plays out like an episode of the ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR. Curiously, why two Americans who don't know each other are doing in a remote English village is never addressed. The true star of the film is Edward C. Carfagno and George W. Davis's spectacular set design! A to die for 2 story country home surrounded by a river and lush foliage. An open living room with lots of windows and a huge water wheel in full view. Directed by George Englund (THE UGLY AMERICAN). With Edward Mulhare, Murray Matheson and Alan Napier.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Merry Widow (1952)

The King of Marshovia (Thomas Gomez) commands his nephew (Fernando Lamas) to woo a rich American widow (Lana Turner) so they can pay off the country's national debt. But the nephew mistakes the widow's secretary (Una Merkel) for the rich American while the real widow passes herself off as an American chorus girl. Based on the popular 1905 Franz Lehar operetta which had already seen two major film incarnations. Erich von Stroheim did a silent version in 1925 while Ernst Lubitsch did the first sound version in 1934 and even in the 1970s, there was a planned version with Barbra Streisand directed by Ingmar Bergman that never came to fruition. As directed by Curtis Bernhardt, this version gets the full lush MGM treatment so we get gorgeous sets and costumes though most of Lehar's songs have been cut. One has to question why film an operetta and cast the lead with a non-singer (Turner is dubbed in her one song) though I suppose we should be grateful we were spared Kathryn Grayson's trilling. Other than the sets and costumes (both Oscar nominated), the best thing about the film is Jack Cole's choreography though there's not enough of it. With Richard Haydn, Robert Coote, John Abbott, Marcel Dalio, Lisa Ferraday and Gwen Verdon. 

Mother's Day (2016)

As Mother's Day approaches, a group of disparate parents must come to terms with their relationship to their own parents and children: A divorced mom (Jennifer Aniston) whose ex-husband (Timothy Olyphant) has recently remarried. Two sisters with bigoted parents (Margo Martindale, Robert Pine), one (Kate Hudson) married to an Indian (Aasif Mandvi), the other (Sarah Chalke) in a same sex relationship. A widower (Jason Sudeikis) raising two daughters while still mourning his wife (Jennifer Garner). A young mother (Britt Robertson) with abandonment issues who refuses to marry the father (Jack Whitehall) of her baby. Flat as a pancake! I felt sorry for the poor actors (who've all proven their worth elsewhere) who have nothing to work with. They keep spinning their wheels in the hope that something will click but except for two very brief (like seconds) moments, it never does. Ironically, the dreaded gag reel which plays over the film's end credits is much funnier than anything that's in the movie. Maybe they should have tossed the script away and let the actors improvise. Poor Julia Roberts is saddled with the most disfiguring wig worn by a movie star since Stanwyck in DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Directed by Garry Marshall. With Hector Elizondo, Jon Lovitz, Cameron Esposito and Shay Mitchell.

Jane Eyre (2011)

After enduring a cold unhappy childhood, first in the home of an Aunt (Sally Hawkins) and then a cruel Spartan school, a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) accepts a position as a governess in the home of the charismatic but aloof Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Charlotte Bronte's great Gothic novel has seen over 20 film adaptations (if you count films like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and over a dozen TV adaptations. The 400 page novel has never been fully done for film but the story is so compelling that it's almost impossible to botch it. The director Cary Joji Fukunaga tones down the romantic elements that often permeated other film versions and concentrates on the harsher aspects of the tale. It's a brisk film and manages to avoid that stately but dull BBC Masterpiece Theatre aura that kills off most classic novel adaptations. Wasikowska is closer to Bronte's "plain" Jane than most actresses who've played the part but the Rochester of Bronte's novel who is described by Bronte as not handsome is played by the handsome Fassbender. In that respect, George C. Scott is probably the closest movie Rochester (1970's Jane Eyre).  With Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Simon McBurney.